A couple of days back I grabbed Jeffrey Brown’s trio of Star Wars books for a bargain price and, after getting them delivered, went through them pretty quick. His latest is Jedi Academy, but it’s the preceding books, Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess that really got him attention and deservedly so.
For me, it was the Jedi Academy book that showed the limits of Brown’s skills – namely, he’s great at observational cartoons that capture a single moment but this book doesn’t really work in that way, instead telling the story of a new student at the Jedi Academy, which from what I can tell, pretty much mostly resembles a US school in its structure and social interactions. This is unfortunate as it immediately limits the story in a parochial way and greatly reduces my interest in one swift stroke. Nor do I ever end up caring about the character I’m supposed to.
In contrast the Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess books are far superior showcases for his skills. They mix observations about parenting and children with comedy riffs on all those famous one-liners from the films that we all know so well. It’s a very clever and inspired combination that’s nowhere near as easy as it looks to come up with. A lot of the best ideas are very simple but only once someone else has come up with them! All of these pieces are, on their own, excellent but it’s the overall sense of enthusiastic affection that runs through the books that raise them to another level of brilliance.
Spend time on a Star Wars message board and you will see, at some point, talk of what is canon and what isn’t, what stories are deemed to have counted and happened and which haven’t. Suffice to say, these books are a double cannon shot right through that outlook! There’s no way it could ever happen and it doesn’t affect in them in the least!
If the Jedi Academy book proves one other point, it is that more is not always better. The audience may demand more, but it is, often, a good idea to leave the audience wanting more – it means they’ll appreciate what they have instead of carping over when it all jumped the shark. In corporate terms, however, this rarely ever happens, more is always deemed better. Would more work like this be a boost for Star Wars?
There is a lot to be said for easy, instantly accessible books – especially in light of how convoluted Star Wars’ continuity has become due to 2-3 decades worth of development. No, it doesn’t match the likes of X-Men – what could? – but neither is that easy to navigate. Brown’s books require no such ability. Perhaps their nearest match, though utterly different, but sharing the same fun irreverence for Star Wars, is the Tag and Bink stories. Like Brown’s duo, this pair also would not benefit from continued use.
If we look to other mediums, there is of course animation which has given us the Family Guy Star Wars riffs, to, it has to be said, diminishing returns. There is also Robot Chicken, which also falls prey to the same diminishment. The first Robot Chicken and Family Guy: Blue Harvest were fun, mick-taking roller coasters. Their reason to exist was quite clear – to be very enthusiastic about Star Wars, while sending it up with equal enthusiasm. They represent the polar opposite to the Star Wars represented by the likes of the Prequels, one that didn’t take itself too seriously.
It is very hard to know, in advance, what will and will not be a hit – the popularity of Boba Fett is testimony to this. As were the failures of Darth Maul and Aurra Sing to replicate that, which bears another lesson: Don’t underestimate your audience’s intelligence! As such I don’t think Star Wars or those in charge of publishing it across multiple entertainment mediums can manufacture hits, nor should they try. Instead they just need to be open to doing something off-kilter, which is certainly what giving the go-ahead to Brown’s superb duo represents.
At the same time there needs to be care given to what to do in the event of a smash hit, should it always be followed up? The best answer here is to not opt for any absolute rule save for operating on a case-by-case basis. What sequel might be possible? What is the likely quality of it? Vader’s Little Princess is the perfect follow-up to Darth Vader and Son, but after it? There’s really nowhere for it to go, nor should somewhere be rustled up. What is in place is a perfect set of paired works that can be read in any order. That is a rare occurrence at best – don’t break it!