[Sab-note] Before we get into this month's column, a
special announcement: This month's column represents the official start of Fried
Circuits' syndication on Newsvine.
I've been doing this column on Starwarz.com for just over three years now, but I
thought it was time to branch Fried Circuits out to include discussions on
topics other than Star Wars. My purpose in writing this column has always
been to write up my opinions on topics in a format a bit more formal than a
message board posting, and yet a bit less restrictive than magazine or newspaper
articles where I would ultimately end up writing something to suit the editorial
needs of the publication rather than what I wanted to say. I started this column
to encourage civil and informed discussion about Star Wars issues of the
day. I don't see any reason why we shouldn't have civil and informed discussions
about other topics as well, and Newsvine will allow me to explore those other
topics. My Star Wars articles will always be posted first on Starwarz.com,
as they should be, then they will be reposted on Newsvine along with my non-Star
Wars articles. If you've only ever read my Star Wars articles, please
pop over to my spot at Newsvine (click
here for a
direct link) every now and then and have a look at the other things I am writing
about. If you've only known me up until now from the articles I've posted on
Newsvine, then by all means, visit the
Universe page at Starwarz.com for my in-depth coverage of the development of
the Expanded Universe over the past few years. Either way, I bid a hearty
welcome to my new readers and a heartfelt thank you to my long standing readers
for sticking with me for so long.
I've heard a lot of fans mention recently that they have noticed a paradigm
shift in the Star Wars novels. There is a feeling that the books used to
be "about something" as opposed to simply gung-ho adventures or lightsaber hack
fests starring whichever cast of characters happen to be popular at the moment.
I tried my best to critically analyze the recent novels to find the book at
which this shift happened, but truth be told, I couldn't find it. From what I
can tell, the Expanded Universe is merrily chugging along as it always has. The
only thing that has changed are the characters that make it onto the cover and
the fact that Luke finally got his artificial hand repaired so he doesn't need
to wear a glove anymore on those covers when he makes an appearance. It's true
that books these days tend to contain more duels, fights, and the obligatory
space battles, but like special effects, these are all accents to the story.
They are not the story themselves. If ever the books decline to the point where
they are simply a series of battles connected by a few pages of exposition then
we know we have reached the end of the Expanded Universe. Each writer allowed to
contribute to the Expanded Universe has their own particular writing style and
preferences. Some writers are good at the softer stories of relationships, some
love to delve deep into the politics of the Empire or the New Republic, others
are more adventure oriented and like to spin a good space-battle yarn. There is
space for all these books in the Expanded Universe. In fact I would even go
as far as to say that the Expanded Universe needs a mix of all these books to
remain viable. Any author who is chosen to write a Star Wars novel will
research studiously to make sure that what they are writing is relevant to what
the characters at that particular time in their lives would be thinking and
doing. They don't have to, but if they do miss a crucial detail they run the
risk of Lucasfilm not approving their novel for publication or insisting on
massive edits. More importantly, they will never hear the end of it from the
In the original pulp hero tales like Flash Gordon that inspired Star Wars,
there was no brooding over whether to resurrect a lost order of spiritual
warriors, as Luke has done with the Jedi. The heroes were not plagued by
horrific nightmares of their mother's death, as Anakin Skywalker was, unless it
was pertinent to whatever adventure they were about to embark on. Any
consequences of the hero's actions seldom lasted more than an episode or two.
Pulp adventures were not meant to be pieces of literature that fans could piece together to form a rich and vibrant tale of the main character's life and the world they lived in. They were quick-hit adventures designed to give the reader an escape from reality for a few hours and make their publisher many, many shiny nickels. This is still true for Star Wars as well, but someone figured out that by linking the stories in these quick-hit adventures to each other they could encourage more readers to buy more books, thus netting them even more shiny nickels. Each book with the Star Wars name on it must be both self-sufficient enough to tell its story, yet link to the greater universe that is all the other products out there. Every Star Wars book is an advertisement promoting every other Star Wars book out there. And the movies, comics, video games, and action figures for good measure.
By comparison with their pulp novel counterparts, the characters who inhabit the Galaxy Far, Far Away are a brooding lot possessed of long memories. They remember clearly everything they have done and everyone they have met, unless of course it is pertinent to the story that they have forgotten as poor R2D2 has demonstrated so clearly in the Dark Nest Trilogy. The characters can say or do nothing that won't come back to haunt them someday. The continuity imposed on the Star Wars series requires them to be this way. The Star Wars novels are ultimately about dynasties of characters living their lives in a universe trapped in a state of perpetual conflict. Sometimes the books are about their great victories or losses, sometimes they are about the brief furloughs the characters are permitted where they can fall in love, marry, have children and pass the other milestones of life that would be considered worthy of our attention. It was a conscious decision of Lucasfilm and the publishers of Star Wars novels at the time to deviate Star Wars from its pulp origins and create an Expanded Universe from the seeds within the few items in the Star Wars catalog at the time.
When the Expanded Universe started back in the 80's the stories were light, simple adventures because the characters they featured were still new to us. We didn't even know at that point that Darth Vader was Luke's father. We didn't know much of anything aside from the fact that Luke was, apparently, the heir to a mystical order of warriors known as the Jedi, that Han was a scoundrel looking for a more rewarding life, and that there was an empire that needed defeating. It wasn't until many books, comics, and movies later that we came to know the characters as we know them now.
If the newer novels feel in any way as though they are of less substance than the rest of the Expanded Universe than it is not because the authors are just churning out new adventures to sell books, well, not entirely. In the newer books, already familiar characters who have had nearly three decades to tell their stories are taking a back seat to newer characters. In the New Jedi Order, we focus on the children of Leia and Han and the galaxy they have inherited from their parents. In the prequel novels we focus on Jedi and statesmen and soldiers who died before either Leia or Han were even born. These new novels simply represent the cycle of Star Wars storytelling repeating itself. When the characters are new to us, we shape our perception of them solely on their actions. We haven't formed enough of a connection with them yet to really see beyond their actions, or other superficial things like their costumes or the ships they fly or the uppity tones they take with characters we do know (Boba Fett, I'm looking at you). When the newer characters become as familiar to us as Leia and the rest, we will be able to look back on the books that form their story and see the characters as people with hopes and fears, people who are something beyond blaster-toting heroes or anti-heroes who simply shrug off whatever crosses their path as they go from one adventure to the next. Inevitably a new group of characters will then arise and the cycle will begin anew. For Star Wars to remain successful it must constantly reinvent itself to tell stories that will appeal to longtime fans, and yet will also attract new fans. The forthcoming Legacy of the Force book arc will focus on Jacen and Jaina Solo and their peers with Han, Leia and her brother playing only supporting roles. On the comic book side of things we have Dark Horse's Legacy project. Cade and the other characters of that comic series will exist in a galaxy a century removed from the one we read about now, just far enough away that the characters will have no real connection to the characters we already know.
This transition point that I couldn't find in the novels really represents what Star Wars is. Star Wars is not the story of Luke or his sister, or even the resurrection of the Jedi and the defeat of the Empire. It started out that way, but it has become much more than that. These are just elements to the larger story that is Star Wars. With the advent of the Expanded Universe, Star Wars has become the universe that these characters live in and the challenges they have to endure that shape them into the people they are. Before the prequels it would have been unthinkable for Star Wars novels to focus so much on characters so unfamiliar to us. Even the X-Wing novel series had Wedge Antilles, and cameos from Han Solo. If the pace of change in the books has felt so shocking, it is because the transition to the Solo children and to the Jedi of the Old Republic has happened more quickly than we are used to. We went from having books where the characters we were already familiar with were supplemented with new characters who eventually came into their own, to books like the Republic Commando novels in which all the characters were completely new to us and the only thing we had to go on to understand them at all was the fact that the Star Wars name was on the cover and the characters alluded to Jedi and the Force every now and then. The strength or weakness of this new generation of books is not the number of space battles they contain, or the number of badass Jedi running around amputating limbs with their lightsabers. The strength of these new novels is the Star Wars universe itself, and how well it can adhere to its promise that every character has a story worth telling.