To Buy or Not to Buy

Lucas: All of us at Eleven-ThirtyEight are passionate about Star Wars. But that doesn’t mean we’re passionate about all the Expanded Universe material that’s being put out. That puts us in a position shared by many fans: do we keep buying all the EU even if we don’t care for particular works, do we pick and choose carefully, or do we check out of the current output to some extent? We’ve brought together three Eleven-ThirtyEight contributors at various positions on that spectrum for a discussion about what we buy, why, and what impact it has on our fandoms.

First, I’d like everybody to give an idea of where you’re at in your Star Wars purchases. Myself, I’m at the buy-everything end. Within reason, because I don’t have endless money, I don’t play the RPG, et cetera, but I’m a completionist at heart. I wait for paperback on a few things, and there are a few books and comics that I have low interest in and haven’t picked up quite yet, but I intend to get around to all of them eventually, and basically, I buy all the books and comics that come out. I always have.

Ben: My purchases are highly selective across the board, but this is very recent.

Used to buy books and comics up to New Jedi Order, which I had disagreements with. Sticking with that strand of books after NJO became untenable after Legacy of the Force: Betrayal came out. But other eras got bought so Rebellion era, ancient era, odd late post-ROTJ stories even, but those were exceptional.

Dark Horse’s product was far more stable but even there I wasn’t buying absolutely everything, just most of it, until Star Wood blasted an even bigger hole in their credibility than axing KOTOR and Legacy! Combined with the ending of titles like Agent for the Empire, Blood Ties, Knight Errant and a lack of interest in the Darth Vader series, I was down to Dawn of the Jedi and Legacy Volume II. About a week ago I pre-bought the trades for those that are due in May, June and August 2014 – then within the next 24 hours the news about Marvel broke. The result? As of now there’s one comic series I’m interested in, the upcoming Rebel Heist, and zero books!

As to why things aren’t bought, simple answer: My assessment is that I will not enjoy the item, therefore it doesn’t get purchased. Of course, there’s a good few factors that go into that and are highly variable on a case-by-case basis.

Lisa: I probably fall between Ben and Lucas. I would love to have everything and read everything but time constraints and money constraints don’t always allow that. I have also been blessed with fantastic geek-friendly libraries so I’ve been able to read quite a few of the older comics but I don’t own them (yet). There are very few of the books that I don’t own or haven’t read. I also count myself among the few that is still enjoying the majority of things that I read so I’m not sure that I’m a completionist or if I am just continuing on because I like most of what I see.

Lucas: Lisa, do you think you’d stop buying if you stopped enjoying? And you say that you enjoy the majority of things — have you checked out of aspects of the franchise or are you still keeping up with stuff you don’t care for?

Ben, have you always been selective, or were you basically buying everything until something happened to turn you off? And what exactly made you decide that you didn’t want to buy anymore? You were unhappy with the NJO, but it didn’t stop your purchasing it. Was there a level of active disgust that you had to reach? Disillusionment? Just lack of interest? An economic judgment that it wasn’t worth the money?

Lisa: I’m not sure. I’d like to logically say that yes I would stop buying if I stopped enjoying but at this point it may be force of habit. I am kind of seeing this with the comics a little. I haven’t been excited about much comic-wise lately other than the one carrying Star Wars as its title. I liked DotJ but then it went on hiatus and I got frustrated. I have purchased the new Legacy but I haven’t read it yet. That’s one aspect of my illogical “I am still mad at them for cancelling Legacy in the first place” that I can’t explain but someone on here convinced me to buy them however they haven’t made it to my reading plate yet. Though to be fair I think when I got them it was when a few of the books were coming out so I had plenty of Star Wars stuff to keep me away from them. I actually looked for them the other day but somehow I seem to have misplaced them so I can’t read them at the moment.

I checked out of The Clone Wars but that’s not a purchase thing and that really wasn’t even a lack of interest. The show just happened to be on at the wrong time and I kept forgetting to set it up to record and then got behind and kinda blah’d out. That’s one thing when I have money that I’m going to jump on first because I liked what I was initially watching. I, however, was completely uninterested in the books that came out to accompany them. I got through a few chapters of one and stopped. Those were one of the things I was not purchasing but that wasn’t necessarily subject matter but more of a I didn’t like how the author wrote things (prose/style/characterizations)

I actually think I’ve jumped into more aspects of the franchise this year than in the past. I got a Steam account and started playing some of the Jedi Knight Academy games that I had not ever played before. The library system here has older comics that I haven’t been able to find.

Ben: Up until 1999 I was pretty much buying all the books and the bulk of the comics. What changed? Not an easy Q to answer.

I suppose it’s hard to convey now just how successful and effective Del Rey’s marketing for NJO was, I don’t think anyone was not really looking forward to it – a new big story, new enemy, with the Republic and Jedi having to deal with them. Vector Prime was something of a stinker, Dark Tide I was pretty good, the sequel overdid the gore but also had some highly effective strikebacks that I wanted to see more of.

It was the subsequent books with all the division and infighting that wrecked my interest. Having read the Bantam stuff and seen the NR go to the brink of self-destruction due to external manipulations and then pull back, it was not pleasant watching that all get ripped to pieces. Plus a galaxy that had, then, spent 20 years fighting a civil war with all kinds of warfare involved suddenly doesn’t seem to have a clue? It felt forced. One of the best fan answers is the civil war was more restrained and the Vong were total war. Regardless, there’s two years, the Vong take Coruscant and suddenly the Republic have the weather vane and have loads of victories. The problem, I suppose, is not that I didn’t take NJO seriously but that I did, whereas NJO itself was actually in the more breezy comic-style “event” outlook, where it doesn’t matter how much destruction you heap on the heroes, they still win, somehow, probably implausibly.

That DR’s marketing often invoked some weird notion of realism, while being oblivious to the absolute horror of the abyss it was looking at – yes, you can read realistic accounts of war for history, but they’re never going to be deemed as entertainment. Oh we want more realistic war! No, no you don’t, you really don’t. But then the books didn’t seem to want to follow through on that, why was Ithor not used to galvanize the galaxy into a more aggressive stance? Why was there no demonizing of the enemy after they screwed over a natural paradise and demonstrated their honour was worthless? If the Republic and Jedi have to take back Coruscant with dead Vong everywhere because none of them surrendered would that be so horrific? In war terms no.

Despite being saddled with near-insurmountable odds against it, The Unifying Force provided one very effective finale. It was a remarkably well-balanced book too, had the entire NJO been of that model I’d have perhaps been not quite as critical although there’s still story decisions I’m never going to agree with. One of the most impressive accomplishments of the finale is it raised up the series as a whole. No, the wheels well and truly came off the books with Dark Nest

Anyone could have written the sequel trilogy to NJO and I would not have been happy! A 5-year time jump? So all those interesting consequences from NJO are getting ignored? In which case what was the point? Then Denning had Jacen go off the rails but not dark side (yet), had the Jedi going loco and politicians back in the ‘pointless bastards’ mode. DN1 was the point where I said screw this for a lark! But DN2 had some good comments so gave it a go, wasn’t bad, didn’t like DN3 but decided to give Betrayal a chance, after all it’s by Allston, can’t be that bad right? Wrong. Loathing the two central concepts the series was built around, Jacen Solo going dark and a second civil war, I bailed and focused on other eras instead. Best move I ever made.

On the comics, DHC axing both KOTOR and Legacy in 2010 was immensely infuriating and incredibly dumb. This blasted a major hole in their credibility and I did consider dropping their subsequent works in retaliation – you can only vote with your wallet in these matters! I relented and it was only with Star Wood that I encountered a product that was, despite the skills of those producing it, insulting, and bailed. Of course there’s also the reverse option, but comments on recent issues are not good so no need to.

Economics do play a role, up until the last two years, a SW hardback could be bought online for around £12-13, which is quite standard. Over the last 2 years the price has gone up and the discounts reduced, raising the cost up to £15-17 which is practically full-price! So that has reduced the buying anyway, SW books are good but they’re not that good. £10-13 is the standard for most hardbacks in the SF/fantasy area when buying online.

But they’re still a minor point. The bigger Qs are: Do I like the look of this story? Do I like where it is going? Are the characters handled well? If I don’t like volume X, is there any reason to think the next one will be better? I buy that which I’m convinced I’ll enjoy. It’s why I kept buying JJM and Ostrander’s work post-Legacy and KOTOR, they had such a great track record that it’s a near-certainty I’ll enjoy their newer stuff, which I did. Ultimately it comes down to whether or not I have confidence in the creative teams, which collapsed completely for the likes of LOTF, having been severely weakened by DN.

It’s unfortunate that DR’s other eras’ work is eclipsed by their big arc of recent years because I think it’s far, far better. I’ve got nearly all of that – I’m a big fan of the mini-author-verse, so Luceno and Reaves and co, plus, of course, Kenobi! I’m also open to recommendations thus the Scourge and Lost Tribe omnibus, both very welcome surprises. Even buried in the late post-ROTJ era, there’s gems like Crosscurrent, Riptide and X-Wing: Mercy Kill.

I do admit to being quite mystified as to why you would still buy everything Lucas given your comments on the likes of LOTF and Fate of the Jedi, which were hilarious reading by the way, but why subject yourself to that? At times it seemed a painful experience for you!

Lucas: Well, part of it is just the desire to know what’s going on. I’m invested in the Star Wars universe as a whole. I want to know what’s happening in the galaxy far, far away. I’m the type of guy who always wants to be familiar with the lore for the fictional settings I invest in, but especially so with Star Wars, since it’s the franchise that I really have the most investment in and the longest, deepest relationship with. On top of that, I’m also active in the fandom, and that reinforces the desire to be on top of everything so that I can discuss it, form an opinion on it, be part of the conversation. Even if I don’t like something, I’d rather read it and be able to speak intelligently to exactly what’s wrong with it and have an informed opinion.

Do you feel that, in not reading stuff, you’re missing out? Does it make you less of a “fan” to not keep up with the main post-Return of the Jedi storyline? Does it limit your perspective? Do you lose authority as an observer and commentator, as a “fan,” if you’re not reading big chunks of the franchise?

Ben: In an age of internet summaries and various forms of info, both official and fan-made though, do you think it’s necessary to buy all the books in order to accomplish that? Admittedly, the prospect of buying nine hardbacks didn’t help sell me on LOTF nor its sequel FOTJ, but had they received stunningly positive reviews I likely would have given either a chance in paperback form.

It’s interesting that I’ve found not reading the material doesn’t really impair me greatly from making general comments, while ceding the specifics to those who have read it. The notion to have to read an item in order to discuss it at all strikes me as both foolish and detrimental to fandom as a whole. That said I rarely end up really discussing either LOTF or FOTJ because the concepts alone tend to exasperate me. If it was going to affect or reduce my posting it would have done so by now, but to my surprise, it hasn’t.

The other element to this is time, my to-read pile, not counting SW, is a few thousand pages easily! Yet, what I enjoy most, is reading other people’s takes, sometimes especially I haven’t read. There I might end up asking questions to get a better sense of the story, which may in turn persuade me to buy it. Most fans of an item see that and there’s a mutual interest, insofar as they enjoyed story X and so want others to read it too. This being the internet there’s always the chance of some moppet saying go read it and find out, but those are fortunately few on the ground.

I also suspect, with good reason, the stories I bailed on, would have killed my interest in SW if I had. In terms of the late-post ROTJ I’ve bought a bare handful of books and enjoyed, but the casual, wider picture mentions in part – I love Riptide‘s use of the One Sith – tell me I’m right not to read the bigger, more controversial series i.e. Daala as Chief of State.

Finally, I’m far less inclined to engage in the typical internet antics of carping on the negative, we all do it from time to time, but I’ve wanted to get away from that and by not reading stories I’m unlikely to enjoy, I’ve done it. In that respect I’m far less inclined to indulge the fan tendency of declaring X ruins SW than I would have been, say a decade ago when I was far more caustic.

As to notions of being a “fan” or being authoritative, in this particular arena, I don’t think I’ve cared that much about it, although I’m fairly blind in this respect. I really do despise people playing debating games as they rarely end well. If all you’re online for is to score points and demolish opinions, “you need to go home and re-think your life”! Equally, none of this stuff is really all that important, but you’d never know it from the way some people go on! One of the strangest elements of the Vector Prime “wars”, people really were convinced those not impressed by it would end up killing the EU! It was utter bunk, a sliver of the fanbase wielding such “unlimited powah”? No way was that so.

In sum, by not reading stories I’m not likely to enjoy, I’m able to focus on those I do, which enables me to be more positive in my posting and general outlook on SW. I’m probably going contra-flow to some sections of fandom, but that’s nothing new!

Question for you both: In the event of a reboot, do you continue buying in the same volume as before? Every time a comics company has rebooted the result for me has been the same – reduction. How might it affect your purchasing outlook?

Lisa: I think we can safely say there is no reason for “In the event of a reboot” now. As long as they are producing stories I enjoy I will keep buying and Disney/Marvel has not given me any reason to think I’m not going to like what they’re going to produce. We might even get a few more exciting authors to add to the pool. I am giddy about new characters to read about as well.

Ben: Another Q that occurred to me: Could either of you see yourself jumping off the SW bandwagon as it were? I know I’m looking forward to more finite stories these days, things that aren’t so open-ended. Due to getting older? I’d have to admit it’s got to be a factor certainly.

For myself, I buy very few superhero titles from Marvel and DC now, but keep an eye on their output, just in case something crops up of interest or a story gets recommended by someone I trust. SW could end up becoming this for me.

Lucas: If the series reboots, I could definitely bolt. If the movies are good enough to keep my interest, I’ll still probably keep an eye on what’s happening, and I’d perk up if they got Stover or somebody of that caliber on the license, but I think the incentive to buy everything, to keep up with the franchise, would be gone if the franchise I’ve gotten invested in is pushed aside for a new continuity. To get me away from Star Wars entirely would take, I guess, either a reboot that ends the production of new material for me, or a complete dropoff of quality to the point where there’s just nothing worth taking an interest in and my attention wanders away from the franchise.

Ben, Lisa, what would it take for you guys to drop Star Wars?

Lisa: Complete lack of character development. I enjoy falling in love with characters I read about. As long as someone is writing a compelling character for me to fall in love with I will keep reading. Now I’m not saying I need a dashing, handsome Corran Horn in all the books I read; I read plenty of books where my main ‘love’ is actually the female character’s strength. I want to cry over a character’s death. I want to experience what they’re experiencing in the story. That is why I read books and why I can throw continuity to the wind because as long as I’m getting some emotional connection to the characters the rest really doesn’t matter. If it all meshes, great that’s icing on the cake that is already yummy.

Ben: That covers an awful lot of my thinking Lucas.

I can’t see myself seeing Episode VII in the cinema, it’s something I’ve ceased doing and I’m not missing it, but buy the blu-ray? Unless some truly horrific plot details convince me it’s a festering pile, definitely. Buy Episode VIII blu-ray? Well, who knows if the format will still be going by then? So, will keep an eye on things.

What has convinced me to reduce my buying, to bail on strands of the EU is the sense of being taken for granted, that they can do whatever they like and I’ll still be buying no matter what. If I don’t buy? Doesn’t matter, there’s plenty of others still buying, so no hit – the usual consumer rules are, in effect, suspended. Unless sufficient numbers choose not to buy and are not replaced! Chances of that happening on a franchise like SW? Hell freezes over first.

Even though I don’t buy 90% of their product, possibly more, I keep an eye on the Marvel and DC solicits just in case something good crops up. I can see the SW EU going the same way – the bulk of it of no interest whatsoever, but there may be something here and there. I’m not sure there’s anything that would see a total cessation of interest on my part.

Lucas: Alright, here’s the last question, so we can finally wrap this up: what makes Star Wars different? Why stick with Star Wars through discouragement? Why feel the need to buy everything? Is that the treatment you give every big multimedia franchise you’re interested in? Or is there something that sets your approach to Star Wars apart, that gives you a different kind of investment in the series?

Ben: For all that the lack of obvious escape hatches or rewrite mechanisms infuriate where lousy or ill-thought out decisions infuriate, that declaration at the start of the 90’s that they were going to try to weave it all together really threw down the gauntlet! It immediately set it apart from the likes of Trek and superheroes, it distinguished it from Transformers – which has various continuities. It was an attitude that said: Clearly we’ve got something special here, let’s treat it as such.

Over the last 15 years there has been a sustained contempt for that project and ethos, quite a bit of it emanating from Lucas, who’s certainly done his best to undermine and marginalize it – despite benefiting from it! That in turn, with the PT, led to an ongoing and unresolved identity crisis that has done a great deal of harm. Not only does Lucas not know what he wants SW to be, neither does anyone else and the EU reflects this systemic haze. Will the ST fix it? I’m skeptical. Yet, despite all of this, I still stick with it because I didn’t want to be a hard-nosed realist and conclude I was being taken for a ride. There was much I liked; from 2006, it was reduced, but still a good amount. With the end of DHC’s comics run and no books of note on the horizon, my EU involvement, at least in terms of purchasing, may well have come to a natural halt courtesy of these corporate shenanigans.

Lisa: For me it isn’t different. I’ll use Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series as an example. I’ve been so fed up with her series lately that I haven’t actually purchased a book in several years. That hasn’t stopped me from reading them, however, through the library. So despite being so angry at the dropping of actual plots in the story, I was so invested in the characters after eight books that I continued to read eight more, completely hating them the entire time, until the author finally gave us another book that had a plot. There is nothing rational about my continuing to read a series I despised. It drove me crazy to feel the need to pick one up and read it every time one was released. I’ve never gotten to that point with Star Wars yet. I’m nowhere near as discouraged as I was with the Anita Blake series. Honestly I think the difference is the number of authors involved. So even though the Big Three’s storyline is subpar at this point and I was so not happy with the last book released, there is more to read. Mercy Kill was phenomenal and Kenobi was even better. Even books concerning the Big Three that aren’t at the end of the timeline are a joy to read such as Razor’s Edge. Basically if you like the genre there is something out there for you to read under the name of Star Wars. I also have hope that the next book has to be better and I’ve not yet reached the point where I no longer have that hope.

It’s interesting that Lucas feels like he would give up if they throw out the EU as we know it. I’m excited about the prospect of new characters and having a do-over. I can’t even fathom how Ben is saying that he doesn’t feel the need to go see Episode VII in the theater. I never really thought of myself as a completionist before because I certainly don’t buy everything (though as I stated earlier there are very few books I don’t own), but apparently I am a fan who still has hope for the future and is excited about new characters to fall in love with.

Ben: I’ll add that the cinema aspect isn’t at all specific to SW, it’s due to changes in my life that has rendered it far less of an option for me.

Second, I think it’s fair to say I am finding new characters to follow, but they’re not in Star Wars!

Lucas: Well, Lisa, there’s a certain level of energy that goes into an investment in a series, I guess. Once that’s gone, it takes energy to reinvest. Maybe momentum would be a better word. I’ve currently got a lot of momentum built up from years of engagement with the EU. It can keep me coasting even when there’s not a lot of good material feeding that momentum. But take the EU away entirely, and it takes away seventeen years of momentum. It would be on the new films and new tie-ins to build that up over again, and they’d have to be really good for me to want to sink the energy into building up that momentum again.

I guess that’s part of what makes Star Wars unique for me: there’s so much to invest in that I can build up so much momentum. No matter how much I may want to, I simply can’t plunge as deep into Assassin’s Creed or The Lord of the Rings as I can with Star Wars. There’s not as much there. Probably the only other franchises with that depth of material are superhero comics. And what makes Star Wars worth investing in is that the EU is in the driver’s seat. The films are obviously the mainstays of the franchise, but there were only three, and then there were six — the EU was able to run with the story, to build up a whole universe, basically free of the idea that the mainstays of the franchise would eventually roll over them (though now they finally have) the way video games keep coming out and tripping up their tie-ins or fencing them in as permanently second-class supplements, or the way that anything James Bond that isn’t the movies or original Ian Fleming books will always just be an afterthought attempting to cash in on the brand rather than a dynamic component driving the universe forward.

I buy everything in Star Wars, because unlike anything else I’ve gotten into, everything in Star Wars matters, because there’s a whole universe to get sucked into and lose myself and my imagination in, rather than a smattering of second-fiddle tie-ins. That’s a unique appeal and one I haven’t quite seen anywhere else.

Lucas Jackson

Lucas Jackson's biggest interests are history, political theory, the art of storytelling, and talking about any of the preceding three interests. Star Wars captivated his imagination at age nine when he learned that not only were there amazing movies, but an entire galaxy of interconnecting stories to discover. That appeal, of an interconnected set of stories in an almost impossibly deep setting, has kept the Expanded Universe a constant part of his life ever since. Since age seventeen, as Havac, he has enjoyed discussing that passion online with friends, strangers, and strangers who become friends, primarily via the Jedi Council Forums and Wookieepedia. Now someone has been stupid enough to give him his own forum in which to spout off.

3 thoughts to “To Buy or Not to Buy”

  1. I picked up Dark Force Rising when it was released — this was back in High School, after I couldn’t cajole my parents into getting my Heir to the Empire when it was released. Since then, I have picked up every non-juvenile novel as a first edition (except for paperback reprints). And I get some of the video games — and the Original Legacy comic series.

    There are times I lament the fact that I keep on keeping on – then there are times I am surprised. I’m reading Maul: Lockdown – even though I don’t like the horror genre, I’m actually surprised and enjoying a lot of the things in the book.

    Of course, this also colors a lot of my views on the EU — it’s really focused on the books. Sometime weird happens in a video game or a comic… eh, those aren’t as important. But that’s my own bias.

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