Razor’s Edge: Why I Struggle With Star Wars “What-Ifs”

The embodiment of evil in the galaxy lies disarmed at Mace Windu’s feet.

Ravaged by his own reflected lightning, Palpatine whimpers helplessly. Anakin Skywalker, standing uncomfortably close, insists that he live to stand trial. Mace swats the notion away: “He’s too dangerous to be left alive!”

Maybe he is, maybe he’s not. Maybe he’s faking his current weakness, maybe he’s not. With the entire galaxy hanging in the balance, Mace refuses to take that chance. After a moment of agonized uncertainty, he swings his lightsaber.

The saber connects. Palpatine has wagered everything on Anakin’s loyalty, and dies knowing he’s lost.

What happens next?

*     *     *     *     *

AUs—alternate universes—are having a moment right now.

This is mostly Marvel’s doing, with the first season of Loki introducing several “variants” of the titular character and What If…? now doing the legwork to show how those variants might come about by changing one or two little details from the history we already know. Whether coincidentally or otherwise, Star Wars is now poised to dive heavily into AUs for the first time since D-Day with Star Wars: Visions, an anthology of anime shorts untethered by canon—some diverging in small ways (if at all), some existing in wholly different realities with only aesthetic and tonal connections to Star Wars as we know it.

While we’ve seen lots of ambiguously-canon stories over the years—from the recent LEGO games and specials all the way back to “Skippy the Jedi Droid” in the Star Wars Tales comics—that material has almost always been set in the familiar continuity, with its ambiguity stemming solely from a comedic tone. Only once before, with Star Wars Infinities, has the franchise so pointedly and prominently delved into AU storytelling. Where in Visions continuity is ultimately beside the point, Infinities was much more in line with Marvel’s What If…? model—picking a single point of divergence from the story of each of the three original films and then spinning out a whole comic miniseries from how that divergence might change the story.

Read More

Let’s Talk About The High Republic’s Republic Problem

This piece contains spoilers for the second wave of The High Republic,
including major spoilers for Out of the Shadows.

I’ve spent a lot of time defending Light of the Jedi over the past few months.

Not so much the book itself—most of the people I’ve spoken with were at least satisfied with it if not blown away—but specifically its tone where the Republic is concerned. In going quite so far out of its way to underline that this was a new! era! of optimism and belief in the government and people working together and so on and so forth, it’s fair to say that it ended up with a bit of a, um, West Wing problem. Watching people of good faith and peak competence run a government can be quite stirring if you’re prepared to take that premise at face value—but for a lot of people, simply being told that Lina Soh is a good chancellor just isn’t enough.

Especially not when the government she runs, stronger than Valorum’s though it may be, still plainly has its problems. How could a strong, benevolent chancellor cooperate with groups like the Byne Guild that thrive on indentured servitude? How could she not see how nakedly propagandistic a lavish Republic Fair would appear to people barely scraping by on the Rim, people too preoccupied with murderous raiders to worry about their planet getting its own Biscuit Baron? Worse, how could she not see how appealing a target that fair would be to those same raiders?

I gave Charles Soule a lot of leeway where Light‘s tone was concerned because it had a unique role as the first novel of a huge new initiative—the nonstop recitations of “we are all the Republic” made me think less of The West Wing than of Han Solo ruminating on the death of Chewbacca in Vector Prime:

“They had been living on the very edge of disaster for so very long, fighting battles, literally, for decades, running from bounty hunters and assassins. (…) So many times, it seemed, one or more of them should have died.

And yet, in a strange way, that close flirting with death had only made Han think them all the more invulnerable. They could dodge any blaster, or piggyback on the side of an asteroid, or climb out a garbage chute, or…

But not anymore. Now now. The bubble of security was gone, so suddenly, blown apart by a diving moon.

(…) to Han Solo, the galaxy suddenly seemed a more dangerous place by far.”

Light is a strong book on its own terms, don’t get me wrong—but like Vector before it, it’s also a marketing exercise. It’s a flashing neon sign signaling to new or lapsed readers that THIS IS DIFFERENT FROM ALL THOSE OTHER STAR WARS BOOKS, AND HERE’S HOW.

I do think the High Republic creative team recognized how that was going to come across to some people, just like I think they recognized that the Republic Fair was also going to smack of colonialism to a lot of people. But while Cavan Scott’s The Rising Storm makes a point of demonstrating Soh’s willingness to roll up her sleeves and risk her own safety in the name of those oft-repeated ideals, I’m starting to think it’s a mistake to dwell on her at all.

Read More

Better Heroes, or Simpler Problems? – Taking Stock of The High Republic So Far

While this site has a content tag named “Reviews” and articles are regularly added to it, I try not to publish actual book reviews here. There’s value in being able to present our immediate reactions to a new work—often but not always the same week it’s released, when interest is at its peak—and if you’re among the people who might specifically seek out those reactions, well, who am I to disappoint you?

But what I try to do here, rather than just jump at every sudden noise, is to always keep the big picture in mind. There are plenty of fans out there whose judgment is at least as good as ours and will gladly tell you whether a new book is good or not, so if we’re going to build an entire piece around one particular story the ideal is to discuss what it says about the franchise as a whole, or its real-life context, or where it falls in the history of stories like it, or the previous work of that author, or something beyond just “is it good?”

This goes extra for stories by authors who have already proven themselves to more or less know what they’re doing, which is where The High Republic comes in. Before we knew anything else about it, we knew it was being shaped and guided by Charles Soule, Claudia Gray, Justina Ireland, Daniel José Older, and Cavan Scott, and for me at least, that came with a certain degree of trust. So I’m not going to be reviewing any of the High Republic books that were released over the last couple months—Light of the Jedi by Soule, A Test of Courage by Ireland, and Into the Dark by Gray—because for my money those author credits speak for themselves. What I’d like to talk about here is, how well does this first wave of stories set itself apart from existing “Old Republic” content, and how might things develop from here?

To that end I’m going to revisit some of the creators’ own words over the last year and see how things are shaping up not on the books’ own terms (they’re good, if you were still wondering) but on how they stack up to those early promises and mission statements.

Read More

The Case For Boba Fett’s Life

I’d like to talk about that one character’s surprise return in the new season of The Mandalorian.

No, not that one.

No, not that other one. The one in the premiere.

No, not that one, the other one in the premiere.

Heh. Anyway, Boba Fett. I think a lot of people, especially those whom you might call the core Mandalorian fanbase, see the nineties Expanded Universe as Boba Fett’s golden age—a time when the mainstream sensibilities of the Star Wars franchise, in both comics and prose, aligned perfectly with Boba’s gritty, amoral vibe in the original trilogy, and thus a slew of gritty, amoral content was released—famously including his resurrection from the sarlacc pit, but much of it set during the Empire’s reign, giving him no shortage of killable adversaries. Boba had no confirmed origin, no character arc, and frankly, no personality. He simply was.

I came into Star Wars at the peak of that era. I read all those stories, and they were mostly decent enough—I think the tone worked better in comics than in prose, but as part of the tapestry of what Star Wars was at the time I had no objection to them. But I don’t think I’d have called myself a Boba Fett fan.

Read More

Poe Dameron: Free Fall and Star Wars’ Evolving Relationship With Criminality

The final third of this piece contains spoilers for Poe Dameron: Free Fall. If you’d like to avoid them, stop when you see Babu Frik.

Governing an entire galaxy isn’t easy. As initially conceived, government in Star Wars was despotic and militaristic and led by people with magical powers—and even then, with no civil liberties or red tape to hold the Empire back, small pockets of rebellion were still able to slip through their fingers over and over, to say nothing of run-of-the-mill criminals like Han Solo.

As conceived, though, that was a good thing. The Empire was bad, so breaking its rules was justified, or at least a lesser concern to the good guys than what the Empire itself was up to. Even in the prequel era, the Old Republic is already riddled with corruption, and morality is often in conflict with the law our heroes are still desperately clinging to.

The sequels, then, were our first opportunity to experience a fundamentally righteous, if imperfect, galactic government—for about seventy minutes, anyway. Then it explodes.

But there’s a generation or so prior to that where even Luke Skywalker at his most cynical concedes that the galaxy was in balance, and a whole crop of younger characters managed to grow up with little to no awareness of how hard-fought that balance had been. For now, at least, that peacetime generation is unique in the canon, and crafting good, old-fashioned Star Wars adventures with them isn’t quite as easy as it used to be.

Read More