Jay and Lisa Discuss Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge

Lisa: First off we’ll let Jay say some of his initial reactions to the book.

Jay: So in general, I thought this was a great story. At first blush, it seemed like a generic ANH-ESB bridge novel — random adventures of the Big Three, with mostly filmic references. And really, that’s my only major complaint — namely that this is a Big Three story. Leia was a Rebel hero before she ever met Luke and Han, and I really wish we had a chance to see her shine without the other two. That said, Luke doesn’t come in until the very end and Wells had a really fresh take on the Han and Leia romance. Maybe it’s because it’s different or maybe it’s because she’s a female author, but something about it felt more compelling than other authors’ takes on the initial stages of their romance.

Now as I just said, the story was better than the original impression would suggest. I like the high ratio of female protagonists to male protagonists, because it’s something we don’t see often: most generic soldier characters are males in EU works. I also like the way that Wells used EU: there are some nice, unobtrusive references that belie the notion that the Rebels series is not really focused on the EU. Yeah it’s mainly a filmic focus but it’s a filmic setting too — I didn’t think it too casual, or setting the stage for a reboot. I also especially liked the sense of scale, and the drama of the war. The main Imperial villain is a guy in a small customs corvette. He’s small fry — and he’s still a big threat. It gets the scope of the war right!

Lisa: Did you notice any EU references?
Read More

Razor’s Edge Review: A New Author Delivers

—–Warning Spoilers—–


Razor’s Edge takes place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. The book was advertised as Leia’s book and Martha Wells delivers that and more for Star Wars fans. The premise of the book is that Leia is going to meet with someone Han knows in order to get supplies for Echo base. The two are traveling on a ship with General Willard which is a great use of one of the lesser known Generals from the movies. Their ship gets attacked and as they are limping in to Arnot Station Leia discovers a long lost Alderaanian gunship marauding as a pirate. This bothers Leia who decides to interfere and ends up taking a small crew (including Han) over to the ship in the hopes of convincing them to join the Rebel Alliance.

Of course nothing goes as planned and the pirates end up sort of kidnapping Leia and Han by having to return to the pirate base in order to fulfill an obligation. Leia is now on a crusade to save the prisoners turned slaves from the ship the pirates took and ends up doing pretty cool action scenes in order to prove her worth to the Alderaanians. Both crews are betrayed by the traitor from Leia’s rebel crew but the heroes manage to survive and save the prisoners with the help of Chewbacca and Luke who were sent by General Madine to help protect the Gamble on its way back from the meeting which never takes place.

The story is pretty classically Star Wars EU and this story really shine from the minor details Wells includes. She definitely did her homework before writing this novel. Wells, while using a heavily female cast (yay!), also uses a variety of species and even invents a few of her own. She makes sure to include different races of humans as well, something the EU fans have been complaining about for awhile now. The three main females Leia, Captain Metara and Captain Aral tukor Viest are well written with detailed descriptions of their looks. The interactions between the characters are clever and the use of a Lorrdian is a nice nod to the EU and does a good job of explaining how a female pirate could have taken over the massive operation in a male dominated time during the Empire’s reign.

Some of the new or little used species include an Andulian (“grey skin, long white hair, furry brows, and atrophied gills in their cheeks”), Ishori an amphibious species, and a Videllan (“gold-brown skin of a leathery texture, a high forehead curving back to a fringe of fluffy golden hair, a beard, and large, expressive eyes with high, tufted brows”). I’ve often thought that during this timeframe the EU authors fall back on the classic movie species so it was very refreshing to read about new species.

“When it comes to trying to stop a crew of innocent bystanders from being sold into slavery, yes, I’m happy to lie with the best of them.”

Leia’s characterization was perhaps one of her best. We even got an introspection from Leia concerning her being seen as a figurehead or symbol for the Alliance. Leia shows some insecurity for being seen as this perfect symbol and wonders how long she can go before she makes a big mistake. This introspection actually strengthens Leia’s character and her grit and determination really shine through in this novel.

The use of Luke Skywalker in this book was also well done because it wasn’t overdone. It seems difficult for authors to use Skywalker without having him become the focus of the story but Wells was able to do so. A pre-Jedi Luke falls for one of the oldest tricks in the book showing the naive farmboy he was during that time but it was nice to see that she didn’t undervalue Luke’s ability since he basically had himself freed but Wells still allowed Leia to ride to the rescue and save Skywalker from being handed over to the Empire.

I really only have one complaint and this complaint probably was my own doing. So I was under the impression that this book was going to give me strong female characters and focus on Leia. Ok the book delivered, except for one part and it was a pretty big turning point in the story. Perhaps if I hadn’t had some expectations going into this book I wouldn’t have been so bothered by it and it might have been unfair of me to put my expectations and hopes for the heroine on Razor’s Edge. Leia is competing in a death match meets the Star Wars version of Quidditch for the sake of the pirates’ entertainment and she thinks if she wins she’ll get what she came for. That’s the ‘deal’ at least. So Leia is on the verge of winning even against the cheating pirates’ droid. Somehow they magically fall through the net and as they’re falling Han Solo who has also somehow fallen through several tunnels comes from the opposite side of the station and bizarrely finds himself in a position to save Leia by ramming a flatbed repulsor into the droid. There was no reason for Han to have done this. This was a perfect place to have Leia be the winner all on her own and it really made me angry to see this in the book that was supposed to showcase Leia. This scene was set up to deliver what I’ve been looking for in a female character’s part of the story and Wells fumbles the ball by having Han end up stumbling through a convoluted way and ending up saving Leia.

The only other minor complaints I have is that Wells turns Han into a horny teenager at one point. I understand what she was getting at with the scene and she was trying to recreate some of that sexual tension we see between the two but the writing was off here and it became kind of creepy and awkward instead of Ford’s suave devil-may-care portrayal of Solo.

If you enjoy Star Wars EU during this time period or you enjoy Leia Organa as a character I would highly recommend this book. Pay attention to the details and enjoy a well written Leia.

(Thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for providing Eleven-ThirtyEight with advance digital copies of this book)

The Staff of Eleven-ThirtyEight Discusses Rebels

First, a little history. A long time ago on a website far, far away, I started a feature called EU Roundtable—wherein I would pick a few people from the Jedi Council Forums that I enjoyed talking to, and we would meet up in a chat room of some sort and discuss various Star Wars topics for eventual publication. Empire vs. Republic, Super Star Destroyer lengths, you know—simple stuff. In addition to being a rough prototype for this site in a way (ETE staff writer Jay was even a guest once), the goal of EU Roundtable was “to showcase the nitty-gritty of fandom – interesting, straightforward debates, typos and all”.

I was very happy with the way the roundtables turned out, by and large, but at the time I was beginning to drift away from my writing duties at TheForce.net, and ultimately the feature became a casualty of my waning devotion. While I would’ve loved to see someone else take over, alas, it was not to be, so I’ve decided to take the initiative of resuscitating the concept here at ETE—now known as Aggressive Negotiations, because let’s face it, “EU Roundtable” was hardly inspired. The goal of this first…volume? incident?…was partly to discuss the given topic, and partly so readers could get to know our staff’s individual voices (except for Ben, who is British and needed to sleep) in as raw a context as possible.

There is no spell-check here. No second drafts. And in my case, very little capitalization. What there is, on the other hand, is unapologetic adult language—so keep that in mind. As for the topic, well…

Final note: in honor of Rebels’ stated Ralph McQuarrie influence, I asked everybody to pick out a favorite McQuarrie image to include in this article. We’ll discuss our picks near the end. Enjoy!

Mike: Okay, first things first—obviously TCW was the show that launched a thousand discussion threads, but for better or worse…are we at peace with how it ended? Did it at least deserve another season to wrap up, or was cut-and-run as good an option as any? Read More

Escape Pod: Mara Jade Skywalker

I find myself surprised to be writing this article. Surely if I wanted one thing from the Expanded Universe to survive the anticipated Disney purge and make its way into the Sequel Trilogy that it would be my favorite character, Corran Horn, right? The more I thought about what to write as I sat down to write that article though, the more my appreciation for the character of Mara Jade kept pushing itself into my thoughts. So I’m writing to save Mara Jade instead.

This appreciation was completely unexpected, not only because I thought I was going to write about a different character but because I have never been a big Mara fan. Looking back I realize now that I should have been and I can’t even explain why I wasn’t a fan. She really embodied what I look for in strong female characters in the Star Wars books. I didn’t quite know what I had until she was no longer included in the stories.

Zahn’s Jade

385px-Choices_of_One_PB_artThis Jade is perhaps the one I least like which is weird since he invented the character. Don’t get me wrong, I find the concept of her character to be enticing and I like how despite being the Emperor’s Hand she constantly makes decisions for herself and doesn’t feel like killing is always the answer to a problem. I think as a youngster reading the books I didn’t want to like her because she wanted to kill Luke and no one was taking my hero away from me! However, as an adult reading Zahn’s books now I find myself not liking the situations she’s written into. Zahn created this amazingly strong character and for the most part she is written into books where she can’t really win because Luke, Leia and Han are always in the way. By the time Choices of One came out I was really expecting or hoping to have a book with Mara Jade and without Luke, Han and Leia in it. I actually can’t figure out why all of her stories have to revolve around them. I believe she is a strong enough central character to the EU that she could hold a book by herself. I feel like we’ve never gotten to see her be the ultimate assassin/dark agent because the Big Three are always there to spoil things.

Now you might be thinking that during the timeframe that Zahn writes in Mara is the bad guy. Should the bad guy get to win? Answered simply, yes, if you consider her a true bad guy. I don’t. Time and again we’ve seen her administering Imperial Justice on people who actually deserve it for one reason or another. She’s not ruthlessly killing anyone she encounters and she usually tries to find out the truth before passing judgement. That’s part of what makes her character unique and intriguing to the reader. Therefore I don’t understand why we’ve never had a novel where we solely followed Mara Jade around. She’s the total package of a female character and could definitely hold down a book of her own. She is intelligent, independent and powerful which are all qualities I would like to see in the female Jedi that are included in the Sequel Trilogy. Why invent a new character when the perfect one already exists?

Bantam’s Mara Jade:

Jade survives the death of the Emperor and becomes successful in Talon Karrde’s organization. This version is definitely my favorite of the Jade character. I like how she decides to train as a Jedi only after a lot of thought and living of life. She continually tries to avoid the attraction to Skywalker and busies herself with the Smuggler’s Alliance and Lando. Her travels keep bringing them together and in a touching scene we finally get Luke admitting his love for her. She challenged him at every meeting and the Mara they developed became the best match for Luke.


Del Rey’s Mara:

The only part I enjoyed of this version of Mara was her determination and strength shown on Dantooine during the NJO. Despite her sickness and hordes of Vong attacking them, she was able to stay alive long enough for backup to arrive. The ultimate motherly instinct and I applauded Del Rey for keeping her alive even after Ben was born because I seriously thought they were going to kill her off then. So often storytellers feel the hero needs to be motherless. When Anakin Solo died the readers shifted their focus to Ben and were hoping for great things from the offspring of Luke and Mara.

I am not going to get into the bad parts of the Del Rey Mara Jade and those are definitely something I don’t want to see saved from the purge. I’d also ask that any discussion doesn’t go into that either. I’m interested in having Disney preserve the character that is Mara Jade Skywalker and seeing her with Luke in the Sequel Trilogy (while also being a badass female Jedi too!).


Final Thoughts:

Mara Jade is the perfect match for Luke Skywalker. If they are going to have the story call for an offspring of Skywalker, and it seems logical that it would, I sincerely hope they include Mara as a female role model for the young Jedi in the series and as a wife and mother. Mara Jade has been a part of the Expanded Universe for a long time as a strong female character. I’m also slightly tired of heroes always having a missing or dead parent(s) in movies. So many of the recent sci-fi/fantasy stories seem to start with dead parents and I don’t think it is always necessary. I know some of this contradicts my thoughts on how Luke is going to die in Episode VII but I have been persuaded by some of the comments made on that article that the death of the mentor has been overdone. Star Wars also has a track record for having missing parents ie. Luke initially had no parents and Anakin’s father was unknown and then his mother was killed off in Episode II. If they can find a plausible way for Luke and Mara to remain together alive and on the sidelines I am all for them staying that way but I don’t want to see it at the expense of not fully developing the next generation of Jedi. Mara Jade is a great example of a female Jedi and I hope that they decide to include her in the Sequel Trilogy and other stories.

Kenobi: Roundtable Reactions

Before we get started, I want to note that there’s been a lot of great Kenobi-related content online this week—both fan-made and official. While it’s the goal of Eleven-ThirtyEight not to get bogged down in reporting every little thing, I do want to quickly shout out two awesome fan reviews—one by Bria at Tosche Station, and one by Megan at Knights’ Archive. Lastly, whether you plan on reading the book or not (though why the hell wouldn’t you?), do yourself a favor and head to EW.com to hear James Arnold Taylor, voice of Obi-Wan in The Clone Wars, read one of the book’s first-person segments in character. It’s magnificent. Anyway, ETE’s own Jay Shah and Lisa Schap received advance copies of Kenobi their own fine selves, so I thought it only appropriate to check in for their thoughts. Enjoy.

Mike: The thing that most stands out to me about Kenobi is that is might be the smallest-scale Star Wars novel ever. Not just in terms of the events of the book, but in terms of the perspectives presented, which are so tightly-focused that you don’t even know the gender of one of the major characters until halfway through. The best decision JJM made perspective-wise was to not actually tell any of the story from Obi-Wan’s point of view, instead only giving the occasional window into his mindset via his first-person attempts to commune with Qui-Gon. As for the plot itself, I feel like the whole thing could be boiled down to the word “parenting”, which is a pretty minor concern for a Star Wars book—no one is trying to take over Tatooine; no one even really cares about the Empire. Even the most outwardly antagonistic character, A’Yark, is also the one with the least power. They may be dangerous, but there is no threat whatsoever that her clan is going to wipe out the Pika Oasis. Thus, the book’s drama comes from how each of these people’s motives clash with the others’—and how even the slightest interference from Obi-Wan can totally alter that dynamic. Discuss.

Jay: The scale is small, but the ideas aren’t — and I think that’s a crucial element that Star Wars has been missing for a while. The post-NJO novels in particular have been stuck in this mindset that seems to think that a big conflict is required to discuss big issues, and that’s clearly not the case. The conflict in Kenobi is about as irrelevant as one gets on a galactic scale: we’re talking moisture farmers on a backwater dustball fighting with a group known pejoratively as either “sand people” or “raiders“. Heck, the farmers are living out in the boonies even by Tatooine standards: places like Bestine and Mos Eisley are referred to the way somebody out in the American west might have referred to glittering New York in the 19th century. Despite the technological advancement of the setting, there’s a clear sense of isolation and distance.

Read More