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Continuity vs. Accessibility: The Struggle of Star Wars Writers

Assume you’re a Star Wars fan. It should be easy since you’re on Eleven-ThirtyEight. You’ve watched the movies and perhaps some of the cartoons. You may even own an action figure or two. However, one thing you haven’t done is read any of the books or comics.

Maybe you were too busy living a so-called normal life or perhaps you didn’t have a bookstore in your neighborhood. The latter is especially likely since there are fewer bookstores today than there have been since Star Wars opened in 1977.

Still, you’re open to trying new things and see a copy of a book called Star Wars: Crucible. The cover contains an image of Han, Luke, and Leia—somewhat older but still recognizable. You pick up the book and start flipping through it. Who is Ben Skywalker? Who is Vestara Khai? Lando is married? The Sith are back? What’s a Mortis? Crucible is actually one of the more accessible books because it stars the “Big Three” of Star Wars.

Compare Crucible to Crosscurrent. Read More

How the Expanded Universe Can Benefit from the Sequel Trilogy

Our new contributor, Alexander, wrote an article the other day about a case for starting over and my opinion piece kind of piggybacks off of that. I had not read his piece before writing my own so I apologize if some of this overlaps.

To use a well known phrase, the EU has jumped the shark. Sometimes I feel like I am one of the only fans out there who still actually reads the majority of the books being released. I’m not a continuity buff. I don’t ask for much out of the EU except for the books to feel like Star Wars and a semi-decent story. I’m more of a character girl. I like to fall in love with characters in the books I read. For the most part that is why I can read just about anything since the majority of authors can at least write one character well enough to make me feel a connection to them. This is something I crave in life. So I can overlook minor errors in the books though I do admit that with the current plethora of sources the current authors have at their fingertips these errors really seem like laziness to me.

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I generally liked the death of Chewbacca and mourned his loss alongside Han Solo while enjoying feeling closer to Han’s character through the depth at which he was written during that time. It was a different side of Han that we hadn’t gotten before and I ate it up. As I continued through the NJO I liked wondering if characters I’d grown attached to were going to make it through the series. The different author’s characterizations didn’t always fit together  seamlessly but each did something to further the main story. NJO worked in the Star Wars universe and provided a much needed change to the EU to shake up the universe for the characters and provide more depth than we were receiving before then.

I no longer feel like I am reading in the Star Wars universe when I pick up a book in what I’ll refer to as the current time period: the place where Han, Luke, and Leia are in the Legacy era. Crucible really solidified this feeling for me and I now believe the best think that can happen for the EU is to have a reboot from the Sequel Trilogy. I’d still like to see the ST keep certain characters, for instance, if Luke has a wife her name should be Mara Jade), but giving us a new set of circumstances from which to launch new stories would hopefully bring the Star Wars back to the EU.

I will mourn the loss of my beloved Corran Horn, but his story has been told and is still there for me to read whenever I feel like curling up with a good book on a rainy day. The EU has not a good enough job of developing characters for the future. The current EU is unable to successfully move on from Luke, Han, and Leia. Crucible was the goodbye from the spotlight for the big three and what do we have left?

Jaina Solo is the most developed character to take over but the cast of characters surrounding her are in name only and that is terrifying. Ben Skywalker is also a little developed, but characters around his age are even more sparse. He never received the same treatment as the Solos. There are no books about his early days at a Jedi academy like KJA’s Young Jedi Knights series which introduced us to what should have been the next generation of Jedi to take over the EU. So many of these characters were destroyed mentally or physically. They were seen as expendable and no one was created to fill the gaps left behind by the loss of these characters. I remember when people got excited to see Seha Dorvald in the Legacy of the Force series, but even she is 6 years older than Ben. So while Jaina and Ben should have well fleshed out peers, the mishandling of the younger characters has left the EU with a major hole that is going to be difficult to dig out of.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with killing off characters or having them go through a hard time. The mishandling comes from not creating new ones properly to replace the characters that have been sidelined with such issues. I can’t figure out why the EU authors have had such a hard time creating new characters. It isn’t just the heroes since we’ve seen this with antagonists coming back from the dead as well. Star Wars is an amazingly vast universe and we seem to continually get the same characters we’ve been getting for 22 years.

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The Sequel Trilogy is the perfect excuse to start over. The authors can have the chance to do things right. They can develop more nonhuman characters. They can develop and use black, Chinese, Indian, pink skinned and green skinned humans. With the hopeful diminished presence of Luke, Han, and Leia from the ST, the authors can successfully expand on the next generation and properly surround the main characters with a compelling and fleshed out supporting cast. The EU was so successful as a story initially, not because the movies were successful, but because authors like Stackpole, Zahn and L. Niel Smith gave us books fleshing out new or smaller movie characters. Mara Jade, Wedge Antilles and Lando Calrissian really came alive in the series released by these authors. Each of them were surrounded by their own set of supporting characters who have shown up in the EU for many years following because the early authors did such a good job of creating compelling characters.

A new start is necessary because the EU has firmly entrenched itself into a hole that it cannot hope to climb out of. I look forward to seeing the Star Wars feel return to the books with the next generation of characters’ stories.

Escape Pod: Ania Solo

Show me a good Star Wars story, and I’ll show you a character who just plain does not want to be there.

As I sit here writing this, the fifteen-second teaser for Star Wars Rebels has just showed up online, and already people’s eyes are twitching over one particular phrase: “the Jedi will rise”. Let’s be realistic here: of course there will be Jedi in Rebels. As I mentioned in our chat on the show a while back, I’m personally hoping for more of a Yoda vibe than a Luke vibe—an old, retired Master the characters occasionally seek out for advice, and maybe a handy li’l slogan for the opening titles.

But really, I doubt Lucasfilm wants that—they want a Luke, someone learning the ways of the Force that young viewers can relate to; and in all likelihood, someone with a spunky twenty-something Togruta to show them the ropes.

But why? Does Force enhancement enhance a character’s gateway potential as well?

I don’t think so. Enter Exhibit A: Ania Solo. If you haven’t been reading the new Legacy comic series, Ania is the great, great (great?) granddaughter of Han and Leia, and while she shares that common ancestry with her contemporary Cade Skywalker, the protagonist of the original Legacy, Ania is everything Cade is not.

Far from being an aloof, landed figure struggling to shoulder the weight of her family history, Legacy creators Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman took Ania Solo from “elite”, cruised straight past “everyman”, and didn’t stop until they reached “works in a junkyard”. To what extent she knows or cares about her ancestry remains to be entirely illuminated, but what’s clear is that all Ania wants is to stay out of the way; the sad little queen of a sad little hill. The series’ drama begins when the old Solo luck comes knocking and deposits an errant lightsaber at her door—thrusting her into the center a series of events she could not give less of a crap about; at least, not at first.

In my earlier article What Star Wars Can Learn From The Avatar Franchise, I pointed out that while one of that series’ highlights was its tendency to empower “the Han Solo character type”, they were only, naturally, riffing on the role that Han Solo himself perfected. When I look back on the great tapestry of characters Star Wars has offered over the years, even I am surprised by how little people seem to have appreciated what Han brought to the Original Trilogy—ironic distance. The language of Star Wars—the first one, I mean—was one of broad, sweeping archetypes and mythological melodrama, but as much as it tapped into ideas that everyone can understand, I would argue that the secret ingredient in the Star Wars formula, the thing that keeps it from collapsing under the weight of its own artificial portent, was a simple eye-roll every once in a while.

To make a good Star Wars story, someone needs to be there to tell the protagonists how exasperating this all is. While overall, I think this was one of the biggest failings of the Prequel Trilogy, note that Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan came as close as it got to a Han figure. Who, after all, was the audience-identification figure in The Phantom Menace? Qui-Gon? Anakin? Or the one guy who wondered aloud why the hell Jar Jar was sticking around?

But this problem isn’t just with the Prequels—even the Expanded Universe, especially as the years after Return of the Jedi kept ticking along, became less and less about everymen and women and more about big kings of big hills, and lately has seemed to have, well—collapsed under the weight of its own artificial portent.

Of course, to shove Ania Solo into the Escape Pod is a smidge disingenuous, as there’s likely no way for the ST to really use her without reinterpreting her as a child or grandchild of Han and Leia. But if there’s one big mistake I’m willing to lose the New Republic Era in order to correct, it’s the lack of any non-Force-sensitive Skywalker or Solo offspring.

Ironically, if Han and Leia had had a child who couldn’t become a Jedi, that character would probably have been much safer—since Star Wars mostly seems interested in telling stories about Jedi, non-Jedi tend to run up against much less life-threatening peril. That bias worked out pretty well for Ania up until the still-ongoing events of her comic, but seeing a strong, young woman with so much of the smuggler and the princess in her, yet without all the baggage that comes with Jedi indoctrination—ah, excuse me, I mean training—makes me honestly excited at the prospect of someone like her in the Sequel Trilogy. Even three or four generations removed, she’s got all the tenacity and dignity of Leia, and all the honor and resourcefulness of Han; but all the courage and ideals in the world are no match for a good facepalm every now and then.

A Case for Starting Over, Part I: The Road to Coruscant

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Episode VI was released in 1983. Episode VII is currently set to be released in 2015. In our own world, thirty-two years will have passed between the two films. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher will be more than three decades older than they were at the end of the original trilogy. Barring any Jeff Bridges-in-Tron: Legacy digital rejuvenation, Luke, Han, and Leia will have aged accordingly. In those three intervening decades, it is beyond any doubt that the galaxy far, far away will have undergone a great number of significant changes. The Rebel Alliance will likely have restored the Galactic Republic, or at least founded a successor state of their own. Luke will have reestablished the fabled Jedi Order and begun training a new generation of Jedi Knights. Our heroes will have children, who now go on to face their own challenges. All these things have occurred at one point or another in the Expanded Universe that has been growing since the day A New Hope was released. Some hope that these stories will be respected by the sequel trilogy, and accepted in one form or another as the true history of what happened after Endor. Others feel that it is inevitable that the current continuity will be overwritten, and new stories invented to replace the old. I believe the latter will be the case, but I do not dread it – I choose, instead, to embrace the possibilities it offers us.

When Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire was published in 1991, it marked a major step forward for the franchise. Not only had the rebellion evolved from a ragtag band of revolutionaries into a legitimate government, but they now held in their possession the bright center of the universe itself – Coruscant! The story of how they came to wrest the world from Imperial control, however, was left to be told another time – more specifically, in Michael A. Stackpole’s 1995 novel X-Wing: Wedge’s Gamble. Read More

The Star Wars Expanded Universe: The Pithy Reader’s Companion Vol. II

Welcome to Volume II of the Pithy Reader’s Companion! This round takes us all the way up to the marriage of Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade, and includes some of the biggest hits—and biggest misses—of the EU, most from what’s popularly known as the “Bantam Era”. Buckle in!

 


 

The Truce at Bakura – Curse your sudden yet inevitable betrayal! – @cavalier_one

xwrsThe Rebel Opposition – The introduction of a new roster of Rogues, as well as the beginning of the greatest romance in SW history- that between Wes Janson and Hobbie Kliv- I mean, Tycho and Winter. – @Todd the Jedi

The Phanton Affair – On a college campus infested with avian space-hippies and thinly-veiled Nazi analogies, a professor invents the GFFA equivalent of the suitcase nuke, which is used against Captain Blobface – the Joker of Wedge Antilles’ Batman-style origin story – and then never heard of again, even when it would come in handy against enemies uglier than its first and only victim. – @Darth_Culator

Battleground Tatooine – Bib Fortuna masterminds a plot that gets him out of his brain walker and is ready to take over the galaxy, but sadly his reign will be cut short by some sort of Viper. – @Lugija

The Warrior Princess – Despite what the cover wants you to think, Leia is not in this story — the princess turns out to be the beer-swilling, face-punching redneck who’s been in the squadron the whole run, allowing Stackpole to do a riff on the Anastasia story that’s just as bald as the princess is. – @Havac

Requiem for a Rogue – Hot Human on Bothan action. – @Gorefiend

In the Empire’s Service – Isard sets a trap for both the Rebels and Pestage, and they Fel for it. – @GrandAdmiralJello

Blood and Honor – Finally, a Star Wars story with a good guy as the protagonist! – @GrandAdmiralJello

Masquerade – By failing to see the disguise, Tycho proves that he’s not meant to be with Winter, as her one true love would have instantly known it was a trap. – @GrandAdmiralJello

Mandatory Retirement – There once was a lady named Isard
to whom a coup d’etat seemed wizard
so after gaining his ear
she betrayed the vizier
who played the decoy-clone-thence-to-Byss card. – @Parnesius

Read More