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Eleven-ThirtyEight – Where do I start?

Now that we’re officially live, this post is just a brief rundown of what we’ve got going on for your reading pleasure. First up, under “About the Site” you’ll see a Site Map page with a rundown of every current part of the site–even a couple that haven’t kicked into gear just yet.

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the territory, check out some of our staff contributors’ op-eds—over in Cry Havac, Lucas Jackson is already three entries into his series Star Wars and Genre, and Ben Crofts is using Obiwomble’s Outlook to explore fans’ fear of “the end” of the story, and how the EU feeds into that. Maybe later he’ll explain what an “Obiwomble” is. As for myself, I wrote a little about the background of this site in D-Day, an’ Everything After, and I had a bunch of stuff I just had to get off my chest about X-Wing Alliance.

Beyond the op-ed section, if you look under Feature Articles in the “Simple Tricks” section, you’ll find “The restoration of the Republic and the ‘Glorious Cause’“, a piece by guest contributor Nick Adams on the New Republic—both the one we’ve seen already in the books, and the one we’re hopeful to see in Episode VII.

Last but not least, keep an eye on Not a Committee—that’s our group discussion feature, and by the end of this week we’ll be tackling our first topic: the bad guys of the Sequel Trilogy.

D-Day, an’ Everything After – The Story of Eleven-ThirtyEight

One of my earliest memories of Star Wars fandom is the day Attack of the Clones was announced.

Not the film itself, which was obviously a given, but the title. It was August 7, 2001—I had been posting on the Literature section of TheForce.net’s Jedi Council Forums for a couple years at that point, in addition to running my own low-rent fansite dedicated to the New Jedi Order novel series, but before that day I had never ventured into the more, let’s say, mainstream waters of the movies-only section. I knew enough to know that most people, even many of those you might call superfans, were at best only dimly aware of the novels and comics of the Expanded Universe, and many were downright hostile to them.

At best, they saw the EU as silly, or crass; at worst, they saw it as illicit, as glorified fan fiction. Even those who were reasonable enough to believe that the Empire wouldn’t simply have given up after the Battle of Endor felt that the real story ended at Return of the Jedi—anything else was beside the point. And besides which, Star Wars was George Lucas’ story. Even if he grudgingly accepted the existence of tie-in material continuing his story, it still wasn’t his story, so it didn’t really count, when you thought about it.

aotc-posterAnyway, back on that day in the summer of 2001, I tiptoed into the movie forums to see what people were saying about Attack of the Clones. Some of you are probably too young to remember a time when Episode II was just “Episode II”. Suffice it to say, Attack of the Clones was not what people were expecting. Ewan McGregor was caught reacting to the title on camera, while doing press for Moulin Rouge, and he and Nicole Kidman were visibly flabbergasted. The reaction at the Jedi Council Forums, meanwhile, was somewhat less good-humored. I happened to have the day off from school, and I pretty much spent the entire day staving off a riot from bitter, betrayed fans—and these were people who’d already weathered The Phantom Menace.

It’s not that I thought it was an awesome title or anything; I just didn’t think we should’ve expected anything else from the man behind The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and if there’s one thing that pushes my buttons, it’s unreasonable complaints. Love it or hate it, Lucas has a shtick and he sticks to it—and I’ll never understand why anyone who isn’t at peace with that would want to waste their time with him.

Which brings me to D-Day. The “D”, of course, stands for “Disney”.

Much hay has been made (at least if you’re reading the sites I’m reading) of the Disney sale presaging the obliteration of the Expanded Universe. And certainly, no one in their right mind could ever have believed Disney would voluntarily shackle themselves to adaptations of 20-year-old tie-in material—though some were happy to insinuate that we did. The best we could, and still can, hope for in terms of preserving the existing canon is that the jainafiguresequel trilogy jumps clear past the bulk of the EU into 50 ABY or so, and maybe—maybe—sticks Jaina Solo or Ben Skywalker into the slot of “next generation character” that we all know very well is coming.

Of course, Ben would be hard (though not impossible) to use without explaining his mother Mara Jade, which means explaining Emperor’s Hands, and possibly Thrawn, and well…you can see why that probably isn’t going to happen.

But I don’t see that as the death of the Expanded Universe—I see it as a new beginning. Remember those movie fans I mentioned? The ones who thought Lucas’ story was the only story, and that it ended at Jedi? Well, Episode VII breaks both of those rules. Jaina or no Jaina, from here on out, it’s all the Expanded Universe.

That’s what I’ve come to learn in the twelve years (Christ, I’m old) since I logged into TFN to stand between AotC and a bloodthirsty mob—deep down, we’re all here for the same reasons. The Unofficial New Jedi Order Homepage begat TFN Books begat a blog at Starwars.com back when Starwars.com had blogs, and what I know now is that Star Wars fans are like the three blind men who place their hands on an elephant and describe three different creatures depending on what they’re touching, when the reality is all those things and more. Star Wars wouldn’t be the phenomenon it is if that weren’t the case.

Over the nine months or so since D-Day, what I’ve witnessed to a large extent is that the most vocal fans have divided into two main groups—those who worship the ground Lucasfilm walks on (or would, if it had feet), and those who believe the whole thing is going to hell (or worse, being maliciously driven in that direction).

With the help of some of the smartest internet beings I know, my goal is for Eleven-ThirtyEight to be the bridge between those two camps. Passionate, but not sycophantic. Pragmatic, but not cynical. Intelligent, but not haughty. Well, maybe a smidge haughty.

And above all, genuinely excited to see what comes next.

Everything Disney Needs to Know, it Can Learn from X-Wing Alliance

Everyone’s got pieces of media—probably several, really—that they have to drag out every once in a while and binge on, despite already knowing them backwards and forwards. Firefly, West Wing, Harry Potter, that kind of thing. Despite having read well over a hundred books and playing maybe twenty games in the Star Wars franchise, the one thing I have to relive every so often is X-Wing Alliance.

The culmination (some might say apotheosis) of the X-Wing flight simulation game series of the 90s, XWA is now almost fifteen years old, and barely even functional on a modern computer, but it remains an essential part of my fandom and a periodic touchstone to my seventeen-year-old self, who had only discovered Star Wars a couple years earlier and was still learning the difference between a Skipray Blastboat and a CloakShape fighter. Indeed, the more I look back, the more I’ve come to appreciate why this particular game sits at the core of my decade-and-a-half obsession with Star Wars. In this piece, I’d like to explore some of those reasons in the hopes that they’ll be no less true of the dawning Disney era. Read More

Ignorance is Bias: The Diversity Manifesto

(Editor’s note: what follows is a “reprint” of a piece that was originally posted on TheForce.net’s Literature forum in 2012. As such, it may occasionally come across as a conversation-starter more than a standalone work. Comments are welcome both here and in the original discussion thread, where the conversation continues—116 pages and counting as of this writing. – Mike Cooper, 7/8/13)

div_exhibit_a

This won’t be new information for many of you, but now that the new forums are up, I thought the launching of Diversity 2.0, so to speak, would be a good opportunity to sum up the conversation thus far, in particular all of the great statistical work done on the temp boards.

The foundation of this essay, and the ensuing discussion, is the belief that the Star Wars Expanded Universe has a responsibility to present a diverse galaxy of characters, and that with some notable exceptions, this responsibility has been largely neglected.

Following from that are a few more precise assertions:

  • There are too many white human men. While passionate and fair arguments can be made for any number of specific “minority” groups being given a larger role–aliens, people of color, women, LGBTQ, the disabled, and so on–the one thing everyone should be able to agree on is that more white human men (hereafter referred to as WHMs), of standard body type and orientation in particular, are helpful to no one, and only by making their long-held “default” status painfully obvious can anyone else hope for a fair shake.
  • Ignorance is bias. Which is to say, when presented with a divisive issue, choosing to disregard it still constitutes taking a stand. To ignore race and orientation is itself a biased act, not a neutral one. The images above are of the Jedi Council from Episode I and the leadership of the New Jedi Order as of the early Legacy Era. It is my position that no clearer evidence of a problem exists than in these two images, wherein the WHM ratio is essentially inverted.
  • Lastly, it should be understood that this situation stems from the accumulation of numerous decisions, policies, and cultural trends–over a period of decades–and cannnot be laid at the feet of any specific author, editor, or even publisher.

The primary goal of this manifesto is for you, the reader, to look at those two images and see a problem. The goal of this as a discussion thread, then, is to break down the can of worms that follows from that.

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The nexus of fandom and logic

“Nexus” – get it?? –>

Heh. Anyway…

Introduction

I should start, of course, with the famous caveat that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. In the nebulous world of polling, people’s feelings are one of the hardest things to quantify, and even if that were not the case, the fact remains that I am by no means a statistician. There are always mitigating factors – one or two of which became apparent to me as this experiment went forth – that could, and do, prohibit me from making any absolute declarations as the result of my survey. My goal, then, was simply to probe an area of fandom I felt could stand some probing, in the hopes of starting up a conversation I felt was worth having. I’ve been wrong in the past (once or twice), and I could be wrong now.

To recap, requests were posted on both TheForce.Net’s Books and Comics pages and the Jedi Council forums for Expanded Universe fans to complete a survey that involved rating certain books and comics, as well as certain plot elements, on a 1 to 10 scale. The order of these ratings was random, but the selection was very careful and very specific – aside from a handful of red herrings, the vast majority of the plot items were “paired” with their respective book/comic, and vice-versa. The idea for this was as follows: I’ve always sensed, from extensive conversations with other fans, as well as fan news articles and reviews, a degree of variation between how much we like the events depicted in a Star Wars book and how much we like the book itself. While I’ve been keeping an eye on other related factors, like how long ago a book came out, and the amount of people who’ve actually read the item versus the amount familiar with the plot, the central question has always been “do we like the books more than we like the plots, and if so, what does that mean?”
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