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What Star Wars Can Learn From The Jupiter Pirates

We’ve got a bit of an interesting case on our hands in that the “What Star Wars Can Learn From . . .” series here at Eleven-Thirty Eight generally tends to focus on other franchises entirely disconnected from Star Wars. The Jupiter Pirates: The Hunt for the Hydra is a brand-new novel by veteran Star Wars writer and esoterica enthusiast Jason Fry, who has written in his own original world but is definitely a player in the Expanded Universe that we all know and love. To that end, this article may well have been named: “Reasons why Jason Fry should be allowed to write a Star Wars novel.”

We shall try to maintain a dignified and discreet air about all this, though, because that suits our style better. But please imagine a subtext running throughout this article that amounts to a wink and a nudge to Lucasfilm and Del Rey to give this man a novel. We – that is, we ourself and not ETE proper – can also give our approving endorsement of this novel and certainly encourage our readers to give it a look.

This novel is kid-friendly in the best way: it’s written for a young adult audience (aged 8 to 12, according to Amazon, though the young adult label on the official website would suggest to us the ages of 13-18) and balances action with thoughtful world-building. It’s set in the future, but influenced by familiar history in a way that leaves the story grounded. That future is still plagued by some of the problems of today, but despite the historical tinge it’s not mired in backwards gender structures. These are all things we could stand to see more of in Star Wars.

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Politics and the Expanded Universe (Part III) — The Galactic Empire

Today, we talk about the Galactic Empire. Always popular, either as a villain or by Imperial fans in general, the Empire’s making a rather splashy comeback as the primary villain of the new television series, Rebels. The promotional material leading up to the television show has featured a heavy dose of in-universe propaganda, and there’s a palpable excitement from the creators and the fans on having the Empire as a villain again. Despite being the primary villain in Star Wars from the beginning, the return of the Empire has people energized again – this article aims to answer the question of why, and suggests that future villains could take lessons from the Empire and avoid the pitfalls of the less-than-compelling Separatists.

We propose that the Empire was an exciting villain for three reasons: firstly, because it’s compelling (or cool, if you prefer), second because it’s actually villainous, and thirdly because it is multifaceted and complex. We will discuss the influence of the films as well as the Expanded Universe in making the Empire an interesting and well-developed villain, but we will not be engaging in a full length exegesis on the internal politics and structures of the Galactic Empire – as much as it would be our pleasure to do so. For that, we recommend reading the essays published at the Domus Publica.

So let’s begin.

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Take off the Metal Bikini: How to Serve Fans Properly

In an interview with BBC earlier this year, J.J. Abrams explained that his approach to the new Star Wars films centered more on what he thought was authentic to the characters and less on what he thought the fans might want to see. In doing so, he explicitly drew a contrast between having an authentic creative vision and trying to divine the preferences of fans. It’s not immediately clear that there is any such dichotomy between a well-crafted film and a film which caters to the whims and desires of the fan base. While a quality creative vision is paramount, is J.J. Abrams correct to draw a contrast between what fans want and what’s best for the films? Despite the sometimes pejorative usage of the terms fanboy and fangirl, aren’t they occasionally correct in their vision and isn’t supporting the fandom a sign of an attentive franchise? We say yes.

We often hear the term “fan service” used to describe a certain kind of pandering to the fans, usually involving the display of flesh. The archetypal example in Star Wars is Princess Leia’s metal bikini in Return of the Jedi, but fan service of that sort can be seen across various types of media: from comic books and character illustrations to racy writing.

You expected the actual metal bikini, didn't you? Tsk tsk.
Leia’s metal bikini has become almost a byword for fan service, parodied in movies and television and yet still easily exploited for sales.

It’s often used to describe women – usually fan favorites – in skimpy outfits, but it can also be used to describe men in similar conditions or even unnecessary plotlines featuring romance or violence. The defining characteristic of fan service is that it is gratuitous and it is geared towards pleasing fans, and therefore driving sales of a product.

We asked our friends and colleagues for a word that describes the opposite of fan service, which would be something along the lines of being attentive to the needs and concerns of fans: something more than dismissiveness and less than pandering. Nobody could come up with a handy term, and responses ranged from “good writing” to “being thoughtful and treating your fans like intelligent people.” It’s telling that this sort of thing is so uncommon that it doesn’t have a label, but we argue that it’s crucially important for successful franchise work. For lack of a better term and to avoid circumlocuitousness (spellcheck, if that isn’t a word, it ought to be!), we’ll stick with fan engagement.

What is fan service exactly?

Since we’re talking about a continuum between a good level of engagement with fans and fan service, we have to reject extremes at the outset. Our position is not that the display of any sort of flesh, that any romantic plotline, or that any use of a fan-favorite character is necessarily fan service. It’s a question of degree, and perhaps more importantly, a question of purpose. We state a proposition that we assume is not terribly original, yet it becomes all the more surprising that blatant fan service still exists in spite of it. We propose that the difference between fan service and fan engagement is that fan service involves pandering to the audience in a way that does not actually enhance the story or creative version – in other words, the paramount difference between the two is actually more about purpose than degree.

This is an important distinction, especially when it relates to sexuality or nudity. Franchises – especially those in the science fiction or fantasy genres – often feel the need to exploit sexuality in order to make their content more palatable to mainstream audiences. Not only is this assumption unwarranted with the success of science fiction and/or fantasy blockbusters such as the Star Wars films themselves, or the more recent Trek reboot and the Game of Thrones television adaptation, not only does it offend both casual and hardcore fans and followers of the same, but it is often thematically and narratively unnecessary. This is the key: while some would argue that all sexuality and/or nudity is obscene, unseemly, and unnecessary, we argue that it is only that which is pandering that is problematic. It is that pandering that creates a host of extra problems which have long plagued media properties: problems of sexism and the male gaze, issues of privilege and objectification, and – for some – even issues of moral decay. Why is pandering problematic? Because fan service is – by its nature – unnecessary. It is when creators and designers make a decision to make a thing “sexy” merely for the purpose of pleasing fans who drive sales, and for no other underlying goal. This underlines how cheap and instrumental such sexuality is, which is why so many of these problems (each of which could probably sustain its own article) get reinforced: because said sexuality and nudity is monetized, and that is its only value.

Seriously you know there's a Dexter fanclub out there on the Internet somewhere...
Dexter Jettster shows a lot of skin, and his service is known for being very profitable.

 

We do not advocate censorship or bowdlerization, however. Ours is not a moral point, and we do not wish to see a Victorian ethos in the Star Wars franchise (unless that involves a steampunk aesthetic, which is almost always cool – but it too, can be overdone).  Sex, nudity, revealing costumes – all of them can serve vital narrative purposes, can establish a dramatic setting, and can be used creatively. In our modest opinion, the problem has never been with their presence in franchise work but that they were used for pretty exploitative purposes. Note well, creative types, that a narrative purpose does not simply mean that a character dresses in a skimpy outfit because it “empowers” him or her (but note also that such a thing is also not impossible: such people do exist, but make sure it is about the character and not about pleasing the fans who will buy your work!).

Not just sex

Some of the friends we surveyed used the term “fan service” to exclusively refer to the sexualization of characters and scenes, while other sorts of pandering were called just that – pandering. We subscribe to the broader view of fan service, which includes gratuitous violence, gratuitous romance, or even gratuitous character appearances. For us, it’s never just been about sex: but anything that is primarily geared at pleasing the fans to drive sales, at the expense of narrative concerns.

Fans often complain of unnecessary love triangles, and romance plotlines are often stretched out beyond all reason in order to drive sales from fans who favor relationships between differing couples (beware: few wars leave fewer casualties than shipper wars – appeal to fans by inserting relationships at your risk, creative types, as people have been known to leave franchises when their ship sinks!). This is a problem that has plagued more than just franchise work: network television soap operas and even a few sitcoms have long been known to use this method of fan service, and entire series have spawned out of romantic fan service.

Let’s get concrete. We’ll use Boba Fett as an example. His very existence as a character has to do with his popularity with the fans: he began as a random character in the Holiday Special, had a small role in The Empire Strikes Back, and drove such action figure sales that he had a sizeable role in the beginning part of Return of the Jedi. Then he died. But he was shortly revived by the Expanded Universe, and continued to play a role into the very post-ROTJ Legacy of the Force series as well as a role in the Star Wars prequels and associated comics and video games (to the point that the character Jango Fett was created to tap into his fan base while the actual character was too young to be fighting).  Boba Fett is incredibly popular, and that has caused him to appear in settings where he might not properly belong. Some have protested his inclusion in the Legacy of the Force novels, while others have argued that his story arc in those novels is well-written and compelling enough to warrant his inclusion aside from his popularity. As we have not read that series ourself, we could not possibly comment. We will observe that sometimes the line is difficult to draw: the most excellent comic by the most excellent John Ostrander – Agent of the Empire – featured what at first struck us as an annoying bit of fan service: the introduction of Boba Fett for no reason than to justify his placement on the cover of the comic. Yet as the narrative unfolded, it turned out that Fett did have a role to play in the story. Did that mean the financial considerations of his placement were out of the creators’ minds? Of course not – but we acknowledge that business considerations are important and will inevitably play a role. We just ask for some restraint and discipline.

It’s a fine line to draw, and the very nature of franchise work is that inevitably someone, somewhere, will object to something as inappropriate, or as pandering. The key is to have honest motivations and intentions. Give fans some credit: they can tell when they’re being pandered to. Some fans are fine with that and would like to be pandered to, and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that (but as noted, there can be problems with objectification of people, trivialization of violence, misleading and unhealthy views of romance, et cetera) but plenty of fans will resent it.

What is fan engagement?

So how is fan engagement done right? This is a harder question. Giving fans what they want is sometimes exactly what is called for: Marvel’s The Avengers succeeded largely in part because it was what everyone wanted and expected from a superhero film of its nature – but did not pander, because its entire premise was that it was a fun superhero film that did not take itself terribly seriously. If it had attempted to cash in on Nolan Batman films’ narrative weight, it would have probably struck viewers as artificial and not have succeeded as well as it did.

The best recent examples of fan engagement from Star Wars at our disposal come from recent Expanded Universe offerings. From novels to reference materials, the Star Wars EU has been getting it right lately. A few years ago, Matthew Stover penned Luke Skywalker And the Shadows of Mindor – its campy title foretold what the story would end up being, which was essentially a love letter to the fans of the old and sometimes maligned Bantam-published EU of the 90s. It was retro in a way that appealed to nostalgic fans, but in a way that strongly enhanced rather than undermined the nature of the story: hammy and over the top was exactly what the story and its villain called for, and Stover delivered in spades. The fans that enjoy Star Wars reference materials inhabit a bit of a niche in the Star Wars fandom, but that hasn’t stopped EU writers from delivering. Writers such as Dan Wallace (writer of The Jedi Path and The Book of Sith) and Jason Fry (The Essential Atlas, alongside Dan Wallace, and The Essential Guide to Warfare, alongside Paul Urquhart) have written reference books that had glitzy and glamorous designs, and the Jedi/Sith books even featured little inserts and toys to drive their appeal. They were well-publicized books which aimed at a mainstream audience (as far as Star Wars fans go), but the authors of those works also regularly conversed with the niche fans of EU arcana on messageboards and social media sites in order to capture the pulse of that segment of the fandom: they were consequently able to both create works geared at selling well but showed by their conduct and writing that the views of the fans were very important to them. Even the StarWars.com blogs have joined in on positive fan engagement – a series of articles written by individuals such as Abel Peña, Rich Handley, Pablo Hidalgo, James McFadden, and many others have added both new lore and shed light on previously unknown facets of the Star Wars mythos and moviemaking process in ways that have fascinated and delighted fans of such: and they’re doing so on a completely free website feature.

Fan engagement is good. We want to see creators more responsive to fans, but in a way that showcases their appreciation of both the franchise they work in as well as the fans of that franchise. Fans can be pretty harsh critics and some people have said some pretty awful things about people who work in the Star Wars franchise, but ultimately we’re all seeking the same thing: the best Star Wars franchise we can have. We hope, looking forward, that J.J. Abrams realizes that it is perfectly ok to approach his work as a Star Wars fan – as we know he is – without undermining his creative integrity or that of the franchise. After all, many of the individuals we have praised in this article are fans themselves: this is how we know the franchise is in safe hands with them.  That’s not to say that fans always make the right decisions or what fans want is always the best, but creators who are fans themselves and who think of the fans as actual people are probably in a better position to make those decisions. Mr. Abrams just needs to set the right course between too much pandering and too little: but that’s what astromech droids are for. You can never have too much Artoo Detoo.

Firing the Canon: It’s the Caliber that Matters

Ever played a Star Wars video game and wondered how much of it was a “real” part of the Star Wars universe? Ever picked up a lunch box or a coloring book and thought to yourself whether or not this was part of the Star Wars mythos? For most people it’s unlikely, although for readers of this blog it’s a distinct possibility. Today we examine whether most everything with a Star Wars label on it should be part of the Star Wars continuity – or canon – or whether some products should exist just for the sake of fun and enjoyment, without complicating things unduly.

At the start, we’ll note that we’re not arguing for film purism. We’re not even arguing for snobbery that suggests a certain time period of Expanded Universe products was written better than others, which should be written out of the universe. In fact: we submit that the widely varied, inclusive, and richly textured Star Wars canon is what gives the Star Wars universe its scale, life, and energy. Instead, we want to focus our analysis on two specific recent Star Wars endeavors: The Force Unleashed video game and the Star Tours: The Adventures Continue attraction at the Disney theme parks. The question is: should these be an official part of the Star Wars canon, or can a ride be a ride and a game be a game sometimes?

**********Needless to say, this essay will contain spoilers for both the video game and the amusement park attraction**************

Canon – why all the sound and fury?

Canon – the term is redolent of literary and religious prestige. The canon, according to the Greeks and the Romans, was the body of literary work that was held in the highest esteem by the great and the learned: what we might today call classics or great works. To religious authorities, the canon is the list of books that can be deemed authoritative within religious dogma, and canon law is therefore the law set down by the Church since late antiquity. Both definitions derive from the original Greek word κανων, which was basically their word for a “yardstick” – later, a standard by which to judge other things.

Fictional franchises, including Star Wars, have adapted this usage: a canon work is a work within a franchise that is part of the official storyline. It is often distinguished from apocrypha – another term with religious roots – which refers to works which may share the same fictitious universe, but are not part of the official storyline or world that the creators have constructed. For the longest time, Star Wars fans debated whether anything that wasn’t a Star Wars film could ever be part of the authentic, canonical Star Wars saga.  Debate raged on among the fans, who clung to off-hand remarks and scattered quotes from George Lucas and Lucasfilm representatives over the difference between “canonical” and “licensed,” “official” or “alternate universe.” Eventually Lucasfilm Licensing settled the issue, creating a tiered system for canon. The system, as it stands today, refers to the highest level of filmic canon as G-canon, The Clone Wars television show as T-canon, the Expanded Universe of books, guides, and games as C-canon, obscure and sometimes contradictory material that might gain canon status by reference in other works as S-canon, and works that aren’t canon at all are called N-canon (or by a prior name, Infinities).

So why this complex scheme? Well, it’s a concession to the idea that the Lucas-created world has primacy and that spin-off materials might sometimes conflict with it (though usually it’s the other way around, such as when the Prequel films contradicted some of the material established in the older EU). This canonical hierarchy resolved the problem by declaring that EU materials would be displaced by television or filmic materials, although continuity-minded folk will tell you that a hierarchy only solves part of the problem: trying to reduce the damage to the EU continuity by mitigating and massaging potential conflicts through retroactive continuity adjustments is an on-going process.

Moreover, the canon hierarchy does not really solve the problem of conflicts within the Expanded Universe C-canon category. The general rule of thumb is that almost everything is C-canon unless stated otherwise as a higher level of canon, and more recent C-canon sources trump older ones. Here’s where the problem arises. We could have an entire discussion on whether it’s a bad idea to have the most recent source trump older ones, especially as a strict chronological assessment takes no account of quality. But today, we’ll be focusing on the all-inclusive nature of C-canon instead.

The Force Unleashed

The Force Unleashed – hereinafter “TFU” – was a video game with an accompanying multimedia blitz of books, action figures, and RPG materials that resembled the great Shadows of the Empire (“SotE”) project of the late 90s. However, as far as continuity goes, the similarity ends there: where SotE carefully made use of existing continuity to expand and develop the universe, TFU ran roughshod over existing continuity and failed to make a good accounting of itself.

Let’s be specific: we’re talking about two issues. First is the over-powered nature of the main character, and second is the way that TFU changes the story about how the Rebellion was founded.

The main character in TFU is capable of astonishing feats of the Force, as per the game’s title and premise: to showcase Force usage beyond any limits we had previously conceived or witnessed. Consequently, Starkiller can not only blow his enemies away with gale-level Force bursts, crumple reinforced bulkheads as if they were tin soda cans, or wield enough lightning to embarrass both Thor and Zeus, Starkiller can also pull an Imperial Star Destroyer out of the sky while destroying its TIE Fighter escorts – all on his own! Oh, and he can outfight Darth Vader. No big deal.

Additionally, Starkiller – once Lord Vader’s secret apprentice – redeems himself and becomes a good guy because it’s thoroughly necessary for every Star Wars work to completely undermine the mythic saga of Vader’s redemption… whatever! As part of his redemption story, Starkiller inspires Bail Organa to formalize his opposition to the Empire and arranges for him to set up meetings with key resistance leaders to create a movement that will be known as the Rebel Alliance. Now, to the game’s credit, the story does make use of existing continuity on the Rebellion’s foundation by involving three Old Republic Senators – Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and Garm bel Iblis, but it places Starkiller in the central role. Worse yet, it turns the signing of the Declaration of Rebellion into an Imperial ambush, after which none other than the Galactic Emperor himself – on board the Death Star! – personally beholds the new Rebel leaders. Why is this problematic? Because Bail Organa in particular continued to serve in the Senate, and because the EU had long since established that he was a secret backer of the Rebellion within the Imperial Senate, as contrasted with the rather public retirements of Mothma and bel Iblis.

This is not only an EU problem: it stretches credulity for Princess Leia Organa to be Alderaan’s senator, and shielded by diplomatic immunity if her father is a known traitor. Why did Lord Vader need a pretext to arrest her? Why was her father free to operate as he saw fit?

One last insult to injury: Starkiller’s family crest became the symbol of the Rebel Alliance. Might as well go all the way, we suppose.

There’s an easy solution to all of this: TFU is just a game. Treat it as such. Now, we can hear the cries of all the EU completionists already: they’ll point out that games are a valuable part of the EU canon and have made a lot of important contributions, in terms of storyline, ideas, and even integration of existing continuity. This is all true, and we do not argue that video games are intrinsically non-canon. Yet when the logic of a video game requires immense suspension of disbelief – such as when Empire at War had us believe that Princess Leia’s corvette at the beginning of A New Hope was escorted by a Rebel fleet as it fought with Lord Vader’s Star Destroyer (making one wonder if she thought Lord Vader was mentally compromised to believe her protestations of diplomatic innocence) – one should just say a game is a game.

The premise of TFU was to break boundaries and astonish the audience. It succeeded. But its very goal demands that it just be treated as an imaginative exercise rather than an existing and functional part of the Expanded Universe.

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

In 1987, George Lucas and Industrial Light & Magic dusted off their old Star Wars models and created the first live-action Star Wars film experience since Return of the Jedi. It was an astonishing feat and it echoes all the rollicking good fun and excitement of the original Star Wars films. It remains this author’s favorite theme park attraction.

Yet the attraction – a short film projected onto a motion simulated space transport – had some continuity wrinkles too. Ostensibly, the Star Tours company operated Starspeeder 3000 transports – providing an amusing Star Wars-ified view of air travel, but in space, complete with airport humor – on tours to familiar locales from the original Star Wars films. The attraction itself featured the “Endor Express,” but the riders never arrive at the planet, instead experiencing a wild ride through ice comets, a close call with an Imperial Star Destroyer, a dog-fight among X-wings and TIE Fighters, and finally an honest-to-goodness Death Star trench run. But wait – which Death Star was this? It had a trench, but it’s at Endor – but it’s fully complete, too! Lucasfilm employees and Star Wars writers have as much fondness of the ride as this author does, so they took great pleasure in referring to a hypothetical Death Star III, effectively treating the ride as canon. Yet there was no pressing need for the ride to be C-canon: an author could express their fondess for the ride by referring to specific aspects of it, such as when Timothy Zahn referred to the “Starspeeder 3000” craft in his Thrawn trilogy of books in the early 90s. The ride could have been S-canon!

Star Tours was recently redone with modern simulators and a 3D, HD video track. Since the ride eventually became “stale” among park attendees over a period of two decades, the new version of the ride featured several alternate scenarios: the odds of any two ride experience being the same were now much smaller. The potential sequences span different worlds, from arboreal Kashyyyk to urban Coruscant. Though the ride is notionally a prequel to the original Star Tours – featuring Starspeeder 1000s – and consequently set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope (confirmed by video displays inside the ride waiting area itself), the Coruscant sequence features scenes right out of Episode III’s opening battle while the Hoth sequence features an Imperial attack on a Rebel base complete with AT-AT walkers. Even the Naboo sequence features a Trade Federation attack on the planet, even though the Naboo pilots offer to lead the Starspeeder to the planet’s “Rebel base,” where the passengers are inducted into the Rebel Alliance.

EU continuity buffs enjoy challenges of this nature: they enjoy coming up with convoluted explanations, such as a Clone Wars reenactment above the Imperial capital, or a pirate attack on Naboo using captured Trade Federation ships (admittedly it was enjoyable coming up with those). The question is, though, aside from an intellectual exercise: what do these fixes accomplish? What benefit do they provide to the larger Star Wars universe? Can’t a ride just be a ride?

Recently, Star Wars writer James McFadden published a blog article on the official Star Wars website chronicling, in-universe, the two incarnations of the Star Tours ride. He very deliberately avoided answering the question of whether or not the new Star Tours ride was canon in every aspect, although he did reveal in comments on TheForce.Net’s Literature forum that he favors treating the ride variations as snapshots into different Starspeeder journeys taken by Rebel spies at different chronological periods of the Galactic Civil War. This solution is probably the best solution offered: although we still wonder if perhaps a fun ride or a fun video came can be just that, without requiring so much extra effort just to squeeze it into continuity.

Politics and the Expanded Universe (Part II)

Politics and the Expanded Universe (Part II)

Ah, the Clone Wars. Where to begin? Always controversial, the Clone Wars presents a veritable motherlode of potential discussion topics, from the characterization of the Jedi, to the failure to employ original characters to the extent of the post-ROTJ EU, and extending beyond those to the innumerable discussions of clone troopers. There have been a lot of let downs in the Clone Wars era, and a lot of missed opportunities to make that conflict have the dramatic heft it truly deserves. One aspect of the juvenility of the Clone Wars is simple: the lack of a truly compelling villain. We’re told that there are heroes on both sides, but – if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor – we rarely ever see that grand-sound phrase ever ring true.

A lot of ink has been spilled – and electrons shuffled – over why the Separatists are cookie-cutter caricature villains. We need not dwell on that aspect too heavily. Suffice it to say that the EU – and The Clone Wars animated series in particular – has singularly failed to answer the question of why anybody would ever want to be a Separatist in the first place, if the movement and its supposedly charismatic leader waste no time in subjugating its erstwhile allies at the nearest possible opportunity. Instead of providing a catalogue of the various ways in which the EU has failed to convincingly portray a credible Separatist cause, I thought I would instead propose three changes that would have made the Separatists good villains.

These changes are not strictly political – indeed, this article is more about how the political faction that was the Confederacy of Independent Systems could have been a more credible group.

I. A truly charismatic leader

Sir Christopher Lee performed quite well in Attack of the Clones, and it’s a shame that much – though not all – of the subsequent material failed to capitalize on his potential as a villain. Part of that is a failure of the films themselves: revealing Dooku as a darksider too early and eliminating him in the opening stages of Revenge of the Sith really reduced him as a character. Yet even without those filmic bounds, the EU still had the ability to use him to his fullest.

What gave Dooku such potential was the fact that he wasn’t a villain in the public eye. He was a former Jedi of some renown who had left the order because of philosophical objections to the state of the Republic. It was all well and good for Dooku to cater to the greed of the Separatist leaders, but the rank and file should have seen Dooku differently. When a world of difference it would have made if Dooku were a more heroic figure instead of a cackling villain who backstabbed any ally he could find!

II. Greater utilization of the Separatist Council

One of the greatest things that The Clone Wars TV series did for the Confederacy of Independent Systems was endow it with a legislative body that reflected its origins as an alliance of states seceding from the Galactic Republic. Their existence not only underscored the notion that the Separatist cause was one that many thought worth fighting for, but it also would have synergized well with a more charismatic Dooku: if he were a rallying figure or a roving idealistic ambassador instead of the de facto head of state of the CIS, the Council would have even greater means of showcasing the points of view of those opposed to the Republic. It may have even added nuance to the Separatist movement, because not all Separatists need have the same grievances against the Republic. Moreover, the vibrant, multipolar Separatist Council with the inspirational Dooku figure would have contrasted strongly with the toothless Galactic Senate and the increasingly dictatorial Chancellor Palpatine.

III. (Non-)Human Perspective

The constant use of droids in the CIS undermines the ability for the audience to ever empathize with the Separatists. Droids in the CIS have none of the personality and warmth that the audience associates with Threepio or Artoo, and consequently the audience lacks a basic emotional and mental touchstone. How can there be heroes on both sides when one side uses droids? Efforts were made all over the Clone Wars EU to show the human side of clone soldiers, and their individuality was often highlighted. Separatist droids, however, were dehumanized to an extent that even stormtroopers would envy; their lack of humanity is what lets them be cut down in droves in this family-friendly franchise, but it is also a cause of audience alienation. The viewers and readers know that the Separatists use droids so that our heroes can kill them with impunity – but this comes at the cost of compelling storytelling. Some of the most successful EU portrayals of the CIS made great use of human (or alien) face characters to make the confederate cause relatable.

This isn’t to say that the Separatists need to be portrayed as good guys: but given that the whole war was orchestrated to begin with, it might have done well to underscore the fact that the Separatists were victims of Sith machinations as well. It might’ve done well for people to realize the Republic already had its problems, even had Palpatine never come along. At the very least, it could help explain why so many worlds left the Republic and why this war raged on for so long: and a personal touch would go far longer towards accomplishing that end than any extended monologue on economic corruption and stagnation.

Going forward

These three suggestions share a common theme: compelling characterization. This is essential and basic. One of the hallmarks of the OT and the OT EU was that the villains were seductively evil. This was more than a matter of cool ships and uniforms:  Lucas intended for the Empire to appear just a little bit tempting. Villains in Star Wars are all the more sinister because of that. It’s something important to the essential feel of the universe.