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Not Just a Walk in the Park: Why the Galaxy’s Edge Books are Worth Reading

Tie-ins have a bad name. The term isn’t neutral, and it frequently suggests low quality, or stories that are simple cash grabs. Discussions of the recently-released Galaxy’s Edge tie-in novels Crash of Fate and Black Spire have occasionally focused on references to locations and objects from the parks that come across almost like product placement or commercials for the Disney Star Wars theme park. To be certain, corporate synergies are at play when designing and creating products that tie into other aspects of a multimedia franchise, whether it’s a theme park or a newly-released movie. But are Star Wars tie-in novels published by Disney-Lucasfilm Press and Del Rey just commercials for other Star Wars products? I don’t think they are.

A lot of my favorite Star Wars novels published over the last few years have been tie-ins. Del Rey’s Battlefront novels are among the highest-regarded of the adult canon Star Wars novels, and they have the name of a video game plastered on the front of them. The Servants of the Empire series tied into the Star Wars Rebels television series, but they’re among the highest-quality middle-grade novels in Disney-Lucasfilm Press’s repertoire of high-quality middle-grade novels (I will always say that you should never miss out on the Star Wars young adult and/or middle-grade novels, because they are almost always superb). Heck, Rogue One was surrounded by well-regarded books from the film’s novelization to companion stories like Catalyst, Rebel Rising, and Guardians of the Whills. And I haven’t even mentioned any of the Marvel creations here because I’m focusing on the Del Rey and Disney-Lucasfilm novels.

These tie-in novels exist to do more than just promote a film or theme park, more than just making a quick buck out of people who are excited about a related product. They are genuinely good stories that flesh out and expand characters and locations from their baseline story. Think about the Canto Bight novella collection: we got a series of great stories about random characters we might see for just a moment in The Last Jedi. Those great stories are what you’re paying for.

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The Expanded Universe Explains, Vol. XVI – Obi-Wan on Tatooine

“Years ago, we removed one child from Tatooine, thinking him to be the galaxy’s greatest hope. Now I have returned one—with the same goal in mind. I hope it goes better this time.”1

Well, here we are. After several years, countless rumors, and (if you believe those rumors) multiple false starts, Ewan McGregor is officially returning to the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. What may or may not have once been planned as a spinoff film a la Solo: A Star Wars Story will instead be produced as a streaming series on the imminent Disney+ platform, meaning that this thinnest of concepts—guy sits in the desert for twenty years—will end up receiving at least as much screentime as an entire film trilogy put together.

But with that extra screentime comes different expectations. Without a hard two-to-three-hour time limit, streaming television can tell stories that film, perhaps Star Wars films in particular, just can’t; the stakes can be lower, the dangers more psychological, the character development more methodical. With a playground of two decades at their disposal, Lucasfilm can cherry-pick the most interesting thing (maybe the only interesting thing) that could possibly have happened to Obi-Wan during his exile and build a series around that, rather than try to tell an epic, multi-decade story just for the sake of filling a gap. With the timeline revealed at D23 placing the project around year eight of Obi-Wan’s nineteen-year desert vacation (during Solo‘s time jump, which may or not be important), it seems as if they do indeed plan on the former, which is music to my ears.

But even then, how much could really have happened to him? If Obi-Wan’s streaming exploits are too elaborate, too significant, doesn’t that undercut the whole idea of his exile? What if Luke gets trampled by a bantha while Obi-Wan is off fighting the Crimson Dawn?

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  1. From Kenobi, by John Jackson Miller []

Boba Fett and The Mandalorian: A Role Fulfilled

How many of our readers out there remember the show Robot Chicken? It was a sketch comedy show with crude stop motion puppetry, and odds are if you do remember it you mainly remember their various Star Wars segments or specials. I ask because there’s a particular sketch that’s been stuck in my mind ever since it originally aired over a decade ago. It’s a cold open for an episode that has Boba Fett returning from the dead to arrive on Endor’s moon, killing a bunch of Ewoks with blasters, rockets and lightsabers, and winding up with Leia clad in her gold bikini wrapped in his arms. The segment then switches perspective to show that the whole scenario was a fantasy narrated by the show’s stereotypical nerd character, a fantasy his equally nerdy friends fawn over.

It’s meant to be satire and is a pretty biting one at that. And the most biting part about it is that it’s not too far off from a lot of the stories that did involve or star the OG Mandalorian. Boba Fett has been both a role-fulfillment and wish-fulfillment fantasy character for authors and fans of Star Wars since his first appearance, and perhaps more than any other character in the whole saga in terms of what he does in “official” material versus his role onscreen. As time has gone on his character has evolved and developed away from that, but those fantasies haven’t gone away, and the old version of Fett (or a character like him) is still sought after.

Let’s get a couple of definitions really quickly: wish-fulfillment means that a character does things that the author or the author’s intended audience wish they could do in real life but can’t. Role-fulfillment means a character that people want to see within a given fictional universe and haven’t, so they adjust an existing character to fit that bill. And I want to emphasize that neither of these are inherently negative things. They are, like all creative tropes, tools in a creator’s toolbox, and it’s how they’re used that ultimately matters. In the context of this discussion, many people have used Boba Fett both to fill a role that appeals to them that Star Wars otherwise lacks, and to do things in Star Wars that they might like to do. I can illustrate both of these points with an example.

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Cover Art of Myths & Fables

Myths & Fables & Bedtime Stories: On Reading the Tie-In for Galaxy’s Edge

“George, you can type this s[tuff], but you sure can’t say it!”

Harrison Ford

First night at Celebration Chicago, my dad and I plopped on the floor of our hotel room, pizza in hand, and cracked open Master & Apprentice, freshly purchased from the Del Rey booth. Trading off eating and reading at each double-paragraph break, my dad somehow always ended up with the sections filled with Kitonaks, Shawda Ubbs playing Growdi harmoniques, and long strings of Huttese. We finished the first chapter that evening and did not continue this activity the following nights. Partly, we were simply too exhausted by the end of each day’s events, but also – as good a novel as it is – Master & Apprentice was simply not written to be read aloud.

In contrast, when I decided to try reading aloud a single story in George Mann’s Myths & Fables, by the second page, my tone had taken quite the dramatic turn. By page three I was up out of my chair, pacing the apartment. Page five had me gesticulating with my free hand like a bard with an audience gathered about a tavern’s hearth.

Now this is a book tailor-made to be read aloud, beside a fireplace or at the foot of a bed.

Spoilers and Direct Quotes Ahead

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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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