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Saying Farewell to Thrawn (Probably) and Why it’s (Probably) for the Best

This piece avoids spoilers for Thrawn: Treason but does make vague mention of certain plot threads and new characters.

I fondly remember the day that Thrawn’s canon appearance on Star Wars Rebels was announced at Star Wars Celebration. There had been rumors and speculation that we’d be seeing Thrawn on the show, but nothing solid — and we didn’t even know if it would be the Thrawn we knew, or a new-canon Thrawn-inspired stand-in like Valen Rudor was for Soontir Fel. I asked a friend to text me if there was any official word — and we were pleased and relieved to hear that Grand Admiral Thrawn would be appearing on our TV screens. What none of us even came close to anticipating, though, would be that Thrawn’s TV appearance would be accompanied by a new Thrawn novel by the man himself, Timothy Zahn.

Years later, at the conclusion of a new Thrawn trilogy that isn’t officially a “Thrawn Trilogy”, it seems kind of strange that the Zahn Thrawn novel was the thing that blew our minds, instead of the TV appearance. We should have expected the books — that’s where he came from — and been surprised by his leap to the screen. Regardless, it was an exciting and wonderful time for old-school Expanded Universe fans and it was wonderful seeing Thrawn brought to life for new audiences young and old.

Thrawn’s fate remained unknown at the end of Star Wars Rebels, except that he was “taken off the board.” The three Thrawn novels — ending with the brand-new Thrawn: Treason — filled in the gaps before and during the third and fourth seasons of Rebels, never outpacing the TV show. It seems fair to say that Thrawn’s story is probably done — at least chronologically — until Dave Filoni sees fit to use him again. It’s not impossible that we’ll see Thrawn again in a post-Rebels story, but I wouldn’t bet any money on it. But you know, maybe that’s for the best?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against Thrawn. He was a fundamental part of my EU fandom and I was and am glad to see him transition into canon. But after two seasons of television and a novel trilogy about him, it’s possible the story possibilities with him have run their course. At least, the stories of Thrawn the Imperial Grand Admiral (what happens to him post-Empire could be another story!). But that’s not a bad thing. My favorite part of the three Thrawn novels Tim Zahn has recently penned turned out to be characters who weren’t Thrawn: Pryce in the first one, Amidala in the second one, and a whole ensemble cast in Treason.

There’s a whole galaxy of characters out there, and I’m excited to see where things go from here.

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“The Same Eyes in Different People”:  The Heroic Cycle, the Sequel Trilogy, and the Star Wars Saga

Thirty-six years ago, a movie cut from the image of its protagonists—together again, alive, smiling, and dancing—under the wavering torchlight of hundreds of bonfires and surrounded by the celebratory revel of a hundred sentient bear-creatures to a shout of familiar end credits music and blue lettering.

And, with that, the Star Wars movies were over.

Done.

There was never going to be another Star Wars movie again. The heroes had suffered but had triumphed. It seemed that good had conquered and even converted evil. Two characters were in love and another had found his place in the universe. Nobody was dead except the bad guys, and even then, one of them had redeemed himself in the process. The audience was satisfied and dissatisfied in equal measure. Everything was as it should be.

We had attained as close to a happily-ever-after as we, and the characters, could hope for.

Thirty-six years and five more saga films later, that’s not the case.

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Press B to Join the Dark Side – On Jedi Gaming in the New Canon

The first gameplay footage from Jedi: Fallen Order dropped recently, and it was…well, if I had seen it when I was twelve, I would have been very excited for this game. Most of the issues I have are things that you can see anywhere else on the internet, issues with out-of-date mechanics and unengaging combat. Instead, here, I wanted to talk about something different, how the game seems lackluster as a Star Wars story.

The developers have made a few things very clear about the game. It is a linear, story-driven, Jedi action adventure RPG about a Padawan who survives Order 66. A story we’ve all heard before—but just because you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean you can’t explore it from a new and exciting angle. You could explore the conflict between the dark and light as it relates to what he must do to survive conflicts with his Jedi teachings.

Except, they aren’t. The devs have said there is no light/dark moral system. There are no consequences to running into every situation swinging your lightsaber like a madman. It sounds like the game pretty much forces you to play that way. The devs also say they liked that the character was on the run because it meant that they could have you go into situations and kill without thinking about it. So rather than using the moral dilemmas involved in being a Jedi forced to fight stormtroopers who are essentially lawmen doing their jobs, we ignore that and go straight to being an indiscriminate killer.

The thing that puts me the most off of this game is the use of the Force in the trailer. For someone who never even completed their Padawan training, you do some crazy things with the Force: picking people up with your mind; running faster than blaster fire; even stopping blaster bolts in midair. Abilities we have seen used rarely, and when they are used, it’s by incredibly powerful individuals.

So why does this game have a Padawan that is freely using powers that most Jedi Masters struggle with? Simple, the game is a power fantasy. Most video games are power fantasies, with the story written around the fantasy rather than a story being written, then a game built around the story. There is nothing wrong with this; I’ve never complained about any game doing it before, so why does it rub me the wrong way when this particular game is a power fantasy? Is it possible that the Jedi and the Force are anti-power fantasy?

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Yrica Quell’s Defector Shields: How Alphabet Squadron Plays With Expectations

The introduction of this piece is spoiler-free. If you don’t want details of Alphabet Squadron a warning will let you know when to stop.

We think we’ve seen this story before. But we haven’t.

There are certain types of stories in Star Wars that seem to recur again and again. Stories of Imperial defectors joining the Rebellion / New Republic tend to be among the most common of them. Even since the continuity reboot of 2014, we’ve seen stories of defectors more than once. Zare Leonis, Thane Kyrell, Sinjir Rath Velus, Alexandr Kallus, and Iden Versio were all Imperial defectors. It’s a type of story we know well: a character believes in the Empire and its mission, comes to a realization or crisis of conscience (often during an atrocity), and joins the good guys with their past seemingly forgotten and behind them. The stories play out a bit differently each time and the specific details vary — but the broad strokes are the same.

Those small differences do matter. In a galaxy-wide Empire, we would figure (or hope) that it’s a common thing for people in the Emperor’s service to recognize the error of their ways and defect. The details affect how the story is told, and even why it’s told. Famously, Battlefront II’s promotional materials led us to believe that Iden Versio and her Inferno Squad were helping to establish the die-hard First Order. When the predecessor novel Inferno Squad underscored the idea that Iden and her group were Imperial loyalists, we were surprised that Battlefront II would end up being a story about defection from the Empire. Rather than being “gotcha” subversion for the sake of a twist, it invited the reader to look again at the novel and look at the seeds that had been planted; it turned out that the story was less about defection and more about the whys and the hows and the what-nexts of defection.

Alexander Freed’s Alphabet Squadron examines all of this — the ideas and expectations we have for Imperial defectors and the idea of subversion of expectations less for its own sake and more for telling a more interesting story. Beyond that, Freed does what Freed does best — he grounds the story in reality and causes painful realizations through the characters’ emotional journeys. Sure, defection is common — but what does that mean in a post-Endor, post-Operation Cinder galaxy where the Empire really has outstayed its welcome? And just how trusted would an Imperial defector be by those who the Empire has harmed not just once, but many times? Is there such a thing as too little, too late?

Former Imperial pilot Yrica Quell is our window into all of this — we see things from her perspective, and from outside her perspective. She’s the leader of a fighter group, but she’s not the unifying squad leader that we’re used to in pilot stories. She holds herself apart — both because of her past and because of her actions, and that what makes her interesting. Alphabet Squadron is a story about many things — but I want to dig most deeply into Yrica Quell and the topic of Imperial defectors.

Article will contain spoilers after this point! If you have not yet finished the novel and do not wish to be spoiled, come back to the rest of the article later!

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The Asexual Awakens – An Interpretation of the Journey to Adulthood

“Every Generation Has A Legend”.

That we fade from Rey to these words in the Rise of Skywalker teaser is of cultural significance: that a woman would define a generation. In the exhibit hall at Star Wars Celebration, the declaration drew a thundering howl of approval from the audience. However, I found myself affected for another, more personal reason. When examined through a queer lens, Rey’s journey from “no one” to “legend” can be interpreted as the acceptance of one’s aromantic and asexual orientation.

The path of the Jedi is one that’s long been associated with adulthood, and the burgeoning maturity of our leading characters. By their powers through the Force, we see our own adolescent journeys amplified. All of our emotions and choices – for good and ill – are made physically manifest as these characters form into Jedi or Sith, the adults they will become.

Most of our heroes actively pursue their paths of dark or light. Those that need extra prompting are usually granted it by the loss of a parental figure, frequently by the death thereof. It’s a metaphorical shedding of childhood to take their first steps into the larger world of adulthood.

For Rey, this aspect of childhood was shed long before we meet her in The Force Awakens. Yet she doesn’t immediately embrace the path of the Jedi laid out before her. She rejects it to the point of running away from the first offer of a lightsaber. This carries into other areas in her life: avoiding job opportunities, the chance to have her own ship, and other milestones that could define her adulthood. She keeps trying to press pause on her own life.

In our world, society likewise marks our paths to adulthood. We have achievements like driver’s licenses, certain levels of education, employment, or housing. Emotional milestones like one’s first love or sexual awakening which lead to socially-treasured events such as marriage or the loss of virginity. The lack of any of these is usually interpreted as an adulthood on pause, the indicator of something childish, repressed, or stagnated.

Rey keeps delaying her journey as a Jedi because she doesn’t see herself as one. It’s how I once felt I was holding myself back from maturity because I wasn’t matching the narrative of adulthood that I was watching play out around me. It’s how I felt before I embraced my identity as aromantic and asexual.

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