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Antagonism: The Next Generation

Should the Empire still be the primary antagonists of the Sequel Trilogy, or can the film saga move on and still remain relevant? What can we learn from the Expanded Universe about this?

Mike: While I’ve always been quick to point out how crazy it is to believe that the entire Galactic Empire just folded their cards and went home after Endor, I’m on the fence about whether they should remain the villains of a bona fide Episode VII. On the one hand, I think the New Jedi Order series is hands-down the closest the EU has come thus far to giving us a Sequel Trilogy in terms of tone, and something as wholly different as the Yuuzhan Vong would be awesome on the big screen and would go a long way toward rejuvenating what’s bound to appear to some as a tired, extraneous post-Return of the Jedi status quo, but on the other hand, George Lucas really did tie his story up in a nice little bow there.

The question, really, isn’t do the films need the Empire, it’s do the films need Palpatine? Even Lucas has admitted that if he were to have done sequels himself, Dark Empire—wherein the Emperor returns in a cloned body—came the closest to what he’d have come up with. In fact, given that Michael Arndt is ostensibly working from Lucas’ own outline, it’s entirely possible that a reborn Palpatine will indeed be what we end up with.

I don’t know if we need to go that far, but I can see the argument that the threat has to come from Palpatine in some direct way—maybe a cult of rabid non-Sith followers sowing dissent, maybe even a crazed and manipulated Jedi like Joruus C’Baoth. If the Prequels were about the Republic crumbling from within, and the Classics were about the ideals of the Republic rising anew, then the Sequels need to be about demonstrating that new Republic’s fortitude, and most importantly, showing that it—and our heroes—have learned the lessons of the Prequels and created something better, in terms of both the government and the Jedi Order. Anything that doesn’t deliberately and aggressively make that case—whether it’s more Sith, Imperial remnants, or an alien invasion—won’t truly feel like the same story. Jay, am I right?

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Star Wars and Genre: The Crime Story

Jabba the Hutt, Star Wars’ original gangster

The criminal underworld is a rich part of Star Wars’ tapestry. Han Solo was one of the three main characters of the original trilogy, and supporting characters like Lando Calrissian, Boba Fett, and Jabba the Hutt abounded. Our introduction to the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” was one of the most memorable moments of A New Hope, and Return of the Jedi spent its opening act in Jabba’s palace. Smugglers, crime lords, bounty hunters, pirates, and grifters all play major roles in many Expanded Universe stories. This is fairly natural, as crime stories are a major part of modern fiction in general. The number of popular movies, TV shows, and books about crooks is massive, reflecting the tremendous storytelling potential of criminality, which comes prepackaged with loads of the element most key to storytelling: conflict.

The greatest gangster epic of all time

Not every story featuring criminals or crime is what I would count as a crime story. Crime fiction focuses on the stories of the criminals — unlike, say, mysteries, which tell the stories of the people investigating the crimes. It can come in many forms. The great “gangster movies” of cinema — The Godfather and its sequels, Goodfellas, Once Upon a Time in America, Casino — have associated the genre with stories of the rise and fall of organized crime figures (and primed audiences to expect Robert De Niro to play a major role). A very different type of crime fiction is the heist story, following crooks who execute a complex plan to make a major theft. Many films noir documented an individual — crook, innocent, or investigator — caught up in a web of crime that threatens to consume him. Think Out of the Past, Double Indemnity, Night and the City, and The Killers. The varieties of crime story are even more numerous than the varieties of crime.

As might be expected of a franchise with such a large share of criminals among its cast, Star Wars features a reasonable number of crime stories. The recent Scoundrels is a high-profile example of a heist story, and I could stand to see several more such capers from Han, Lando, or the other scoundrels of the setting. The Ahakista Gambit is an overlooked entry in the same subgenre, and similar caper elements can be found in almost any story involving the execution of an elaborate plan, the Knights of the Old Republic comic series being a good example thereof. In its depiction of an underworld broker caught in a nightmarish scenario as a result of a bad deal, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter has a great deal in common with the film noir style cited above. The Han Solo Trilogy does not engage in particularly heavy use of crime story tropes, but it is certainly the story of Han Solo’s criminal career.

The cantina scene was such an iconic introduction of the fringe that it got its own short story anthology

Far more stories make heavy use of “the fringe,” the Star Wars underworld, in a way that brings criminals and crime-story elements into play without revolving the entire story around crime. The pirate Nym plays a lead role in the Starfighter games. Talon Karrde’s smuggling and information brokering storylines play a significant role in the Thrawn trilogy and The Hand of Thrawn Duology. Scourge explores the Hutt crime syndicates, Darksaber uses a Hutt kingpin as a major villain opposing the New Republic, the comic Darth Maul sets the Sith Lord against the gangsters of Black Sun, and Shadows of the Empire plunges the heroes deep into the criminal underworld to face the galaxy’s biggest crime lord, Prince Xizor. The fringe was central to West End Games’ roleplaying game, which envisioned players acting out their own underworld stories, and it is reassuring to see the fringe again taking a leading role in Fantasy Flight Games’ RPG. Of the many genres I intend to tackle, the crime story is certainly one of the best-represented in the EU, with numerous stories revolving around criminal endeavors.

Booster Terrik is a badass. Write me more stories about Booster Terrik.

Yet for all the presence of the underworld in the Expanded Universe, it could still stand to show off a greater diversity of crime stories and to focus more on stories about crime, rather than about petty criminals who get caught up in bigger Empire-and-Rebellion plots. We get some smuggler stories featuring Han or others, but efforts to make a major storyline, something on the level of a novel or comic arc, out of Han’s criminal exploits have been relatively lacking. A story about one of Lando’s grand con games wouldn’t be amiss, but Lando stories are depressingly rare to begin with, and those that do feature him have tended to look elsewhere for their material. Efforts to get a fringe-set game off the ground at LucasArts have come to nothing, most recently with the cancellation of 1313. The rise and fall of crime kingpin Jorj Car’das, together with the rise of Talon Karrde as his successor, cries out for “gangster movie” treatment in a novel or two. Star Wars has many bounty hunters who could hold down a gritty novel about tracking down dangerous criminals. A war between crime syndicates could provide a fertile setting for storytelling. Everyone likes pirates, and a pirate crew could make interesting protagonists. The proliferation of fringe supporting characters in his circle — Karrde, Booster Terrik, Droma — and the breadth of enemies in his past offer many avenues for a story about an older Han (and Lando) being dragged back into the fringe for a bar-brawling, cargo-smuggling, con-playing, card-sharking adventure in the classic “one last job” tradition.

Scoundrels was great, and it featured Lando, two related qualities. Feature Lando more, EU.

The underworld has gotten a lot of mileage as a key Star Wars element, and is among the genres most exploited in the Expanded Universe. EU storytellers could still stand to do more, however, as many potential angles for crime fiction remain underused. Hopefully, with Scoundrels and Scourge leading the way in the recent embrace of standalone stories and genre exploration, that will change.

The Future of the Female Star Wars Fan

Sitting in the movie theater in May 2005, I was convinced that was the last time I would ever see new Star Wars live action material on the big screen.  George Lucas was clear that Star Wars was about Anakin Skywalker’s story and thus it was over for him as far as movies were concerned. After leaving the theater I admit to being disappointed for a variety of reasons. The biggest one was the way Padmé was written in the movie and how a strong female character was replaced with someone unrecognizable. Don’t get me wrong, I adored the movie and the action and I classify it as one of my favorites from the series, but it could have been hands down my favorite had Padmé’s storyline been handled a bit differently.

Fast forward to 2012 and the announcement that Disney is buying Star Wars. The news could not have been better for the female Star Wars fan. Over the past few years Disney has been on a woman empowerment kick with their movies. As a nanny I am subjected to seeing Disney movies rather frequently and sometimes repeatedly. For those who haven’t seen some of these movies I would look at the following: Rapunzel in Rapunzel, who throughout most of her journey is the one getting the man out of trouble, The Princess and the Frog which saw Tiana embarking on a journey to save Prince Naveen, and most recently Brave which featured a princess who refuses to be a prize to be won and goes on an adventure with her own skills and bravery. This trend of the Disney princess being more than a damsel in distress is surely going to be carried over into Star Wars.

The current information that we have about Episode VII casting suggests that we will see some strong females.

“Late-teen female, independent, good sense of humour, fit.”

“A second young female, also late teens, tough, smart and fit.”

The words “independent” and “tough” are what I like to see when discussions are centering on female choices for a character and I believe these are the types of characters that Disney has been most interested in portraying. These characters might not be the main cast. I get that but I’m hopeful that female fans could finally be getting the story they have been after for a long time.

One can’t discuss Episode VII without also discussing the important figures we already know about who will influence the story and direction of the film. J.J. Abrams has experience in strong female leads. His series Alias, starring Jennifer Garner as a female spy who uses brains and brawn to take down an international spy agency ran for 5 seasons. His series Felicity, which ran for 4 seasons, starring Keri Russell, chronicled the journey of a young woman coming into her own. Both showcase Abrams’ ability to create and use strong females in successful stories.

Michael Arndt’s involvement is also a hopeful sign for female fans looking for a strong heroine. He penned Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games, a story about a strong heroine who believes she is sacrificing herself for her younger sister. In the book by Suzanne Collins, Katniss is written as an unlikeable heroine who believes she can do anything to save someone who is a better person than she is. Katniss drags this person through seemingly impossible situations and is the ultimate survivor. I am optimistic that Arndt will take what he learned from working with Katniss and apply some of that to the females in Episode VII; though I am reserving judgment on Arndt until November when I can see for myself how he handles Katniss and her story.

George Lucas is the third person directly impacting the story for Episode VII and I consider him a bit of a loose cannon. He favors male-centric stories (Star Wars and Indiana Jones are examples) but he has created a strong female character before in Princess Leia. Yes she had to be rescued at one point (what Princess hasn’t?) but it was because of her strength of character and her determination to do what is right even at the risk of personal harm that put her into that spot in the first place. Princess Leia paved the way for the female heroes of today.  We see Leia constantly putting herself in danger and using her brains as well as strength to get herself out of danger. She fired blasters, ran with the troops on the front lines during the Battle of Endor and knowingly entered the lair of Jabba the Hutt to rescue her scoundrel.

As a female fan I want to see a heroine that I can point to and say to my niece, “See, you don’t need a prince to come rescue you.  You can be strong and do it yourself!” I am optimistic that the stars have aligned and Star Wars Episode VII is going to give me that. Look for a revisit of this topic in November after I get to see how Arndt handles Catching Fire.

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.