With Episode II: Attack of the Clones released and the much mentioned but little known about Clone Wars begun, the summer of 2002 saw the start of a unique piece of the EU. But in order to recognize just how revolutionary this was, we need to look at what had gone before. Previous bridge stories had been done but only in very limited fashion – The Approaching Storm gave little away of what Episode II would be about, while Splinter of the Mind’s Eye betrays a pre-Empire Strikes Back origin.
No, the best bridge stories up until this point were done retroactively, after the film had come out then there were stories filling in the gaps. Thus for Episode I there are the Darth Maul stories and Cloak of Deception. More significantly, the much praised Classic Star Wars run by the great team of Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson bridged Episodes IV and V, but ran 1982-1984! It could take full advantage of knowing what pieces needed to be set for Episode V to begin! The 1996 Shadows of the Empire project operated on similar grounds.
What Lucasfilm (LFL) seemed to realize is that they had a unique opportunity here, to tell the stories of the Clone Wars, to greatly expand and show the full scale of this vast galactic conflict. A twin track strategy was deployed – Del Rey (DR) would do a series of books, each focusing on particular aspects of the conflict, while Dark Horse Comics (DHC) would spin their own ongoing tale.
Of the two, I would judge DHC to have been the more successful. This is due to the two stories it told – one continued the story of Quinlan Vos, ultimately concluding it post-Episode III, while the other was on Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. The latter was of particular importance given the disastrous portrait that was established by Episode II. The tragedy of Anakin Skywalker only works if the audience has reason to care and want him to do well – in both respects Episode II failed completely for me. Where the film failed, however, the Expanded Universe would succeed.
At the same time what has since come to be known as the Vos epic took the character deep into dark territory as he attempts to do an inside job on Dooku’s operations. This evoked the likes of Dark Empire but it took advantage of the far greater space to spin a deeper tale. It looked far more closely at how a person like Dooku would work, what he would require of his minions and then showed why that was so perilous for a Jedi. In doing this it also drew fully on all manner of EU lore, with the planet Korriban making an appearance and dark-side creatures featuring.
DHC adopted a split focus; their Republic title would do a story of Anakin and Obi-Wan, then one on Vos, then something else, just to add variety – like the story of what happened to ex-Chancellor Valorum. There was one final, additional strand running through the entire set of stories and that was the corrupting effect of the conflict. That it was being used, in part, to kill Jedi but there was more to it. The greater part of the design was to subtly shift the galaxy towards a more martial, more militaristic, more imperial mindset. For instance, one early highpoint saw the Republic using AT-ATs!
DR’s books took more of a scattergun approach: Stover’s Shatterpoint was highly praised – for myself, it took the notion of being as brutally honest as possible about war while still being an entertaining read. In terms of showing the brutality of war, it still only likely scratched the surface but it went far enough to make the point that some pools are not to be dived into! The Cestus Deception was an interesting but not too successful attempt to breathe life into the clones. Jedi Trial was to be the story of how Anakin Skywalker becomes a Jedi Knight, but many saw it as more military manual than story. The Medstar books were a success, but then riffing on M*A*S*H in a SW setting was a great starting point. They were also a neat continuation by stealth of a couple of characters previously established by Michael Reaves.
Following this initial set, there were a few further works done, some bearing the A Novel of the Clone Wars tag, some not. One was Republic Commando: Hard Contact by Karen Traviss, a book that remains her best work by far. More significant still was Yoda: Dark Rendezvous, a tale of Dooku and Yoda with each trying to convert the other to their way of thinking. Alongside Shatterpoint, Dark Rendezvous consistently tops lists for best Clone Wars book. In a way it’s fitting as Shatterpoint was first and Yoda: Dark Rendezvous the last. The next book was a lead-in to Episode III, Labyrinth of Evil and it built further on the continuity the Clone Wars stories had built.
As DR brought their set of stories to a close with an eye on Episode III, so too did DHC. Vos’ infiltration, subsequent corruption and return formed the main spine of the overall tale, which culminated in a major battle on an outer rim planet. These Outer Rim Sieges continued into Episode III and were a major part of Darth Sidious’ plan to spread out and isolate the Jedi, so as to enable their killing to be much easier.
And then, in 2007, it was decided to re-set the Clone Wars, to tell the story again! In doing so, much of what was done here effectively got steam-rollered! But, far more importantly, is what this shows about the corporate mindset. The corporate mind is blind to things being unique, to things being one-off, to things being unrepeatable!
And Clone Wars 2002-2005 was all of this! We got a continuing story from one film to the next across 3 years! The whole time it was new territory, it had this mythic sense of momentum to it, that this would take us all the way into Episode III. While that film did what it could to show Anakin Skywalker’s better aspects, it was still a botch job. The real reason Episode III had an edge to it for me? Because I’d been reading the Clone Wars work, because I had a greatly expanded portrait of the friendship between Anakin and Obi-Wan – watching that fall apart was sad. Equally sad was the sheer blatant artifice of it too.
Reading it was quite, quite superb and it’s not going to happen again, not like that. Part of the fun was the surprise factor, that a project of such ambition was sprung on the fans out of the blue. I’m sure there’ll be attempts to re-engineer this, but like the attempts to re-create a character like Boba Fett, it’ll fail. Why? Because you only get to catch lightning in a bottle rarely. The years since have only emphasized this sense, only increased the sense of having seen something special. At the time it felt like this would be a real one-off and so it has proven.