Stolen Pixels #213: The Force Unloved

By Shamus
on Jul 20, 2010
Filed under:
Column

My Force Unleashed comic.

It was only recently that I became aware of just how truly messed up the Star Wars expanded universe is. Randy (our player from Spoiler Warning season 1) is something of a Star Wars scholar and explained to me some of the stuff that appears in the avalanche of Star Wars novels. Some of it honestly sounds like fanfic. Some of it sounds like drivel. And some of it sounds pretty dang cool.

I think the magic ingredient that A New Hope had was that it wasn’t a normal sci-fi movie. It was actually a classic swashbuckling / save-the-princess adventure in sci-fi makeup. Errol Flynn in space. Almost everything that followed has simply ignored this and embraced the space opera angle. That’s not a complaint, it’s just an observation on how the thing has evolved. I’m not even sure it would be possible to go back now.

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  1. ToastyVirus says:

    I try to stay away from the expanded universe, it hurts my head.

    On an unrelated note, is there any word on today’s Spoiler Warning?

    • Bit says:

      I second both these points.

      I found today’s comic quite hilarious. Those darn kids with their backwards facing lightsabers and their new age bothan hip hop…

    • Meredith says:

      I’m with you two on the EU thing. Just thinking about how much material is out there makes me cringe.

      Also, the comic is great. Bet he wears his Sith robes all baggy with his underpants hanging out too.

    • Shamus says:

      I have put this very question to the individual in charge of uploading said episode.

      We shall see.

      • ToastyVirus says:

        Thanks, I never actually relised how important Spoiler Warning is to me. :|

        It’s quite sad really. :P

      • Factoid says:

        What is the posting schedule for Spoiler Warning? Are you generally tuesday-thursday? I never have to remember to check thanks to RSS, but it feels like it’s been a while since the last one. It is twice a week or just once?

        • Gale says:

          It’s been pretty much reliably biweekly, as far as I’ve noticed – I can’t remember what it was like in season 1, but season 2 has been every Tuesday and Thursday.

          Funny that I only noticed the schedule when Rutskarn said exactly that in his blog – up to that point, I’d just watched it when I found it. Now I’ve been checking here every ten minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, desperate for my fix. Was today’s intermittent downtime a coincidence, Shamus?

        • Shamus says:

          Tuesday + Thursday is the plan.

  2. Vladius says:

    I used to be really into the Star Wars Expanded Universe (including the prequels, I suppose,) until I realized it was almost all crap that betrayed the original intent of the movies.

    I have a very selective canon:
    Original movies.
    Thrawn trilogy and a few things that Timothy Zahn has written connected to them.
    The “big media” projects, including Clone Wars, Shadows of the Empire, and Force Unleashed.
    The Jedi Knight series, depending on how fun the games are at any given time.
    KOTOR, its sequels, and related things (like Tales of the Jedi comics.)

    You’re entirely right when you say that the sci fi aspects are just dressing. It’s fantasy, through and through, and any attempt to explain how or why an X-wing, a Star Destroyer, a Death Star, a lightsaber etc. works is ridiculous and contrary to having fun with the setting, as is fussing about the canon, which despite its consistency compared to other settings, is still nonsensical at best.

    • Dev Null says:

      I liked Thrawn. I like the idea of a clever bastard with no magical powers duking it out with all these wizards and winning. But then Timothy Zahn was already an established writer with a track record when he wrote them. Never been able to stomach any of the other noveloids churned out by the publishers cleaning lady at all.

      • Yar Kramer says:

        Yeah, I can honestly say that I really wouldn’t mind if the Expanded Universe began and ended with Timothy Zahn’s stuff. (Strangely enough, my favorite scene is probably in Outbound Flight, in which Darth Sidious impresses on one of his minions the importance of not letting Chancellor Palpatine know about his actions.)

      • Taellosse says:

        Zahn is virtually the only EU stuff I’ve read. My understanding is that he’s also the beginning of the formalized EU–there was Star Wars fiction written before him, but none of it was coordinated so as to be consistent instead of contradictory. But beginning with his first trilogy of Thrawn books, they started trying to make sure nobody stepped on anybody else. Except Lucas. He still gets to put on great big clown shoes and stomp in everbody’s puddle willy-nilly.

    • Zeta Kai says:

      I have a pick & choose approach to the canon, as well. I think any long multi-author franchise needs to let the audience choose what they wanna believe. Star Trek & Doctor Who have this in spades (while some could argue that every episode of ST is officially canon, I think we can all agree that Threshold didn’t really happen).

      My personal canon for Star Wars is multi-layered, with a hard canon & a soft canon:

      Hard Canon (Episodes III, IV, & V; The Thrawn Trilogy)

      Soft Canon (All movies, even Ep1; Shadows of the Empire; The Hand of Thrawn; Outbound Flight; the X-Wing series; the NJO series, which was ambitious & daring, if nothing else)

      Semi Canon (KOTOR; the Jedi Knight games; Clone Wars; the Han Solo trilogy; the Courtship of Princess Leia; Splinter of the Mind’s Eye; the book about the Ssi’Rukh whose name escapes me at the moment; the Tales “trilogy”, which is more fun than it should be, & is brilliant in parts)

      Non-Canon (all that other crap)

    • Blackbird71 says:

      I’m also a bit picky about which SW books I’ll accept, but I have to say that in addition to Zahn’s work and a few others, I found the X-Wing series to be fairly enjoyable. I think this was mainly because the few main characters in these books who had originally appeared in the movies were such minor roles that they weren’t constrained by any preset personalities, characteristics, etc.

      On the whole though, I have to say that Shadows of the Empire was utter crap. I honestly don’t remember a whole lot of what happened in it, just that the level and quality of the writing was so poor that it left me disgusted.

  3. Viktor says:

    EU is awesome, some of the time. The Mandalorian series, Shatterpoint, 2/3rds of NJO were all awesome and all doing something new with the universe. But it is a mixed bag. Some of the stuff they produce is utter drivel. It all depends on who worked on it.

    Edit: Forgot Thrawn. I should never have forgotten Thrawn. People who have never heard of Star Wars still need to read those books.

    • Another Scott says:

      Viktor speaks the truth!

    • Ben says:

      Agreed, although I’m not sure it’s just Thrawn, so much as Timothy Zahn in general. Both his Thrawn trilogy and the related duology set ten years later are extremely good books. I’ve not read his other three Star Wars books, but I’ve been meaning to for some time now.

      Aside from those, only a small handful of the EU books I’ve read have really captivated me. Some of the books are almost tangential stories, not really going anywhere and simply taking advantage of the well-established back-story and setting. A lot more are incredibly disruptive, taking things in totally new directions to squeeze more writing material out of the universe – although indeed, a few of these stories are very interesting, they bear almost no relation whatsoever to Star Wars as the average person knows it.

    • Greg says:

      You’re forgetting the excellent X-Wing novel series as well.

      You’re quite right about the rest, especially the Kevin J Anderson books or the stuff after the NJO series.

      As for the NJO series, the turning point for it (to me) was after a certain death in Star by Star. While there were some excellent books after it, on a whole that’s where the downturn began.

      • pinchy says:

        I will also recommend the X-wing novels (the ones by Stackpole got me into the Star Wars EU in the first place and also led to me picking up his (classic) Battletech novels which were also mostly superb). Other than Thrawn there really isn’t much else to recommend most of the EU, admittedly I haven’t read most of the more recent stuff but it just seems to have become a confusing mess from what I have read. This I think is one of the biggest problems with some of the NJO and later stuff, it just isn’t that accessible- whereas with Thrawn and the X-wing novels if you’d seen the movies that was about all the preparation you needed to understand what was going on.

        • guiguiBob says:

          It was also apparrent that the authors of the X-wing novels had consulted someone that had played the X-Wing – TIE Fighter games the way the maneuvers of the Fighters were described and I believe a few other things were lifted from there but my memory fails me.

    • wootage says:

      Shatterpoint was a very good book – the best of the EU I’ve read. The Zahn books were pretty good but a tad slow in places. I did like the Stackpole books about Wedge to a point, but I just want to force slap some sense into the main characters of all of the rest of the EU books I ever read.

  4. Integer Man says:

    Aw, come on, man. Cite examples.

    • Shamus says:

      I didn’t cite them because the books were explained to me over voice chat and I can’t remember which ones said what. But I would say that the Return of the Emperor:

      http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Luke_skywalker

      (About halfway down that page.)

      …is a pretty good example of comic-book hack work. The Emperor comes back to life in a series of clones. Luke gets captured in a Deus Ex Machina and falls to the dark side. The Emperor is imbued with Plot Powers that let him do anything required to keep the story going. It’s pretty far from A New Hope in both tone and style, as well as being loaded with contrivances.

      • Bugbear says:

        This right here is the ultimate example of why I don’t pay attention to the EU. Not only does the existence of any post ROTJ stories take away from the idea that the original trilogy ended in a complete victory for the good guys (the Sith are wiped out, the Force is in balance, all that should remain are various decidedly non-epic mopping up operations and political struggles), but writing a story where Luke goes to the dark side COMPLETELY UNDERCUTS THE DRAMATIC CLIMAX OF THE SERIES!

        I mean, wasn’t Luke saying “I will never turn to the dark side” the actual victory of good over evil in Star Wars? Wasn’t that what it was all about? Wasn’t that simple statement the most important moment in the original trilogy?

        Having Luke turn to the dark side in a later novel is essentially heresy to an old-school Star Wars fan.

        That’s not to say I don’t occasionally read EU novels, play EU games, or watch the Clone Wars series, and I am perfectly capable of enjoying any of those that are well done. I just treat them all as “Elseworlds” stories. Come to think of it, I kinda think of the prequel trilogy that way too…

        • Chris Arndt says:

          “The Force is in balance”?

          You saw the prequels first?

          TOTAL fail.

          • Coffee says:

            Also example of crappy EU attempts to tie into the source material: the roughly two metric bajillion (which is 1.7 imperial bajillions) of prototype, alpha, beta, gamma, secondary, production, and related Death Stars, all manned by Stormtroopers and commanded by renegade Imperial generals who dream of rejuvenating the Empire under their own iron grip… All of them.

            Only good thing to come out of the EU was the idea that Slave One has a built-in catapult in case the digital systems go offline.

          • Bugbear says:

            I saw the original film in the theatres in ’77. Nonetheless, I am not one of those blowhards who blathers on about how “It wasn’t originally called Ep.IV A New Hope, it was just called Star Wars”.

            I found the prequels to be a terrible disappointment, but that doesn’t stop me from referencing elements of those films where it helps to illustrate a point.

            For the record, I’m sure a LOT of people saw the prequels first. Are you suggesting that we should think of them as “failures”?

            • Tizzy says:

              Oh Bugbear… All that gushing over RotJ… Hmpf! I bet he’s an Endor Holocaust denier too!

              ;-)

            • Lambach says:

              It was originally called “Episode IV: A New Hope” 20th Century Fox just wouldn’t let Lucas release it that way. It was intended to have a middle of a Saturday matinee serial feel to it.

              • ATMachine says:

                No, that’s not even remotely true. It’s just what Lucas WANTS you to think.

                Lucas has a track record of “embellishing” the history of Star Wars, in order to make it look like he’s planned everything out from Day 1. Which is very obviously NOT the case.

                It’s pretty clear that the moniker “Episode IV” only came about during pre-production on Episode V. There was even some discussion, early on, that Empire Strikes Back might become Episode II – witness the “Chapter II Company” set up to manage the film’s affairs.

        • Jeff says:

          I never really got the “bring balance to the Force” thing. Wouldn’t “balance” be an equal mixture of dark and light side? All light-side doesn’t sound very balanced to me.

          • silver says:

            think of it more as balance over time – you have 16 or 17 years of “all darkside” and Anakin balances that with a last minute conversion and destruction of Palantine to save his son. Follow with a few years of goodness before some of Luke’s apprentices pick up the badness again(*)

            (*)I’m guessing, having never read any EU novels except the very earliest – Zahn’s Han Solo trilogy (mostly “and the Falcon has a gadget for that!” fluff) and “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” in particular.

            • Ben says:

              The Han Solo Trilogy isn’t Zahn, it’s A.C. Crispin. And terrible. Your judgement of the Star Wars EU should not be based on those books, or Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.

          • Syal says:

            The idea is that the Light Side is balance, and the Dark Side is imbalance, thus “bring balance to the Force” means “stop those guys from screwing with it”. (Although if that’s the case, they should have said “harmony”.)

          • Cthulhu says:

            well, yeah, balance is equal numbers. Anakin was the “chosen” one who was supposed to bring balance to the force, and when he gets done killing all the Jedi, there are two Jedi left (Yoda, Kenobi), and two sith (Sidious and Vader). Kind of struck me as the old, “be careful how you interpret your prophecies” lesson.
            This is of course ignoring the hundreds of Jedi and Sith the EU retconned into existence.

        • ehlijen says:

          To be fair, the original three movies couldn’t agree on a dramatic baseline.

          A New Hope: The rebels won, the deathstar is kapooey, everyone gets medals and the princess smiles at luke. A fairy tale ending. Even if you see the parade as not all encompassing, the info given in this movie suggests that without the deathstar or the now dissolved senate, the empire will immediately crumble.

          The Empire strikes back: Somehow the empire is still in command of vast chunks of the galaxy, churning out more modest but still ridiculous death ships. They find the rebels, solidly beat them and the big victory is ‘Yay, most of the important people escaped!’
          This is not a fairy tale ending. It’s a bleak ending, pretty much in line with the view many of the EU novels set after RotJ say about the ongoing struggle.

          Return of the Jedi:
          Puppets win the day, the big bad dies, the Imperial fleet mysteriously vanishes once the death star comes under serious attack (no seriously, they just go poof after the Executor dies). Huge parties break out immediatly (accross the galaxy in the expanded edition). Happy tree bear dance all around. Back to fairy tales.

          So we have 2 immediate and total victories against the same opponent and one more subdued, possibly ‘realistic’ ending.

          It’s no wonder other writers can’t follow them all accurately.

          • Taellosse says:

            Much hay has been made about the difference in tone from IV to V to VI. To a large extent it has to do with who had directorial control. Lucas likes fairy-tale endings, and so IV, which he directed himself, and VI, which was directed by a puppet director Lucas could control, does as well. V was directed by Irvin Kershner, who had his own vision for the movie, and refused to allow Lucas to tell him how to make the movie (the two disagreed, often loudly, during filming). This is why Empire is the odd duck in the series–it’s got a darker tone, a much more ambivalent ending, even the cinematography is very different.

            It’s interesting that this is the film that is most widely cited as the favorite in the original trilogy by hardcore Star Wars fans–because it’s the one Lucas had the least influence in creating.

            • Tizzy says:

              I must admit that I simply did not get Empire when I saw it as a kid. I enjoyed it, of course… but all that Freudian stuff… Waaaay over my head. (Vader’s big announcement struck me as so out of place that I didn’t know what to make of it. I had to assume it was some kind of trick on Vader’s part to throw Luke off his game.)

              • Zeta Kai says:

                I wouldn’t say that Luke needed to be thrown off his game. At that point, his “game” was clinging for dear life over an abyss with one hand, while nursing his cauterized stump. The guy was beaten, & so Vader’s revelation had no strategic value in the physical fight. He was, however, hoping to lure his son to his side with an appeal to familial fidelity, not realizing that Luke was well on his way to being an altruistic loner. Vader’s true intent in that scene is a matter for debate for other reasons, but it definately wasn’t solely for shock value.

                • cassander says:

                  The light saber duel between luke and vader is probably my favorite part of that movie. Luke has just finished like a week’s worth of jedi training, and the choreography of the duel is just perfect. Vader completely obliterates luke, just like he should. he’s completely in control of the whole fight.

            • ehlijen says:

              But even without that, we have the two other movies with the same ending: supposedly complete victory over the empire.

              And that is exactly the trap much of the EU fell into. The empire’s making trouble again, Luke! Quick, let’s put them down once and for all once again! To the force-mobile!

        • Daimbert says:

          Oddly enough, some of the things you’re complaining about are WHY I like the EU, and in some ways (and for only some of it) like it a bit BETTER than the movies. There’s a lot more complication in there, and a lot more thought. In many cases, the authors put a lot of thought into building their characters and stories, fitting it into the main story (or what was implied by it) and fleshing out and explaining things that were left out of the original story (admittedly, sometimes things that didn’t need to be explained [grin]).

          I LIKE that the EU basically says “Um, yeah, destroying the Death Star was neat and all, but there’s a lot more to saving a galaxy than that.” I liked how in a number of cases they explored grayer areas in the Force and looked hard at the “Light Side/Dark Side” dichotomy. I liked how some of the stories of new Jedi showed how things affected people other than the main characters, in smaller, more subtle ways.

          I think I only read part — if any — of the story where Luke turned to the Dark Side, but it doesn’t bother me that much. If I was a writer in the EU, I’d probably address your concerns with “But then he had something to cling to: turning his father back to the Light. He was also young and naive. When the weight of the world is on his shoulders, can he keep that outlook? Or can he be seduced?”. In a sense, it proves more that ANYONE can be corrupted; Luke was not himself special in being uncorruptable.

          Of course, I see that as more giving Leia a chance to do what Luke did in RotJ to make her more prominent as a Jedi …

          Anyway, I like it overall just because it had the ability — as novels, generally, which is mostly what I read — to do things that movies can’t without getting boring (ie politics) and to take the time to tease out some of the odd things that never really got explained in the movies.

  5. Valaqil says:

    I have not been able to find much time/money for the EU, ever. I like Star Wars, but it’s too mammoth to know where to start or continue these days. I read the Thrawn trilogy and the NJO. Liked both a lot. Thrawn was outstanding.

  6. kaljtgg says:

    @Viktor: I’m in total agreement, speaking as a total fantasy and sci-fi geek, the Republic Commando series are some of the better books on the market.

    • Joe Cool says:

      I’m reading through The Republic Commando series right now, and it has taught me three things:

      1) I wanna be a clone commando when I grow up.
      2) Kaminoans are pure, unadulterated evil.
      3) The Jedi fell because they were corrupt. (Really? You’re handed an army of clone troops and no one really questions where they came from or the morality of using them to fight your war?)

  7. Factoid says:

    I’ve been pretty lucky in my daliances with the star wars EU. The Thrawn Trilogy was amazing. The couple of books in the New Jedi Order are good. And from my days reading Young Adult fiction I really enjoyed the Young Jedi Knights series. A bit on the edge of fan-fiction.

    But then I don’t really mind some fan fiction as long as it isn’t Mary-Sue fanfiction where the author has simply written theirself into the story to live out a fantasy.

    • ehlijen says:

      Then in the name of the force, avoid ‘Death Star’. A truck load of Mary Sues, continuity porn AND retcon porn for fans of a certain other Mary Sue character and ‘no really, it makes sense’ for all the things that ever annoyed anyone about the special editions…
      Seriously, it ‘explains’ why the deathstar blows up in a two dimensional shockwave…

  8. tremor3258 says:

    Let’s give West End some credit here, too. I know they were one of the resources the first writer batch tapped.

    You can actually probably blame Zahn for upping the space opera: many of Thrawn’s plans relied on coordinated uses of a perfect communication system across long-distances, and I think in general swashbuckling is hard to do in books. Also, the well-liked X-wing books are, after all, about starfighters.

    I was feeling pretty burnt out (I actually, so help me, own the entire Jedi Academy triliogy) by the publisher switch, so I never got into NJO so I can’t comment on recent novels.

    I think the KOTORs may be a step away from the space opera – KOTOR is a lot of problem solving and Jeding it up without much space combat in an effort to find the evil sorceror’s power source and destroy it, and KOTOR 2 doesn’t actually seem to LIKE Star Wars as much, as an incredible a narrative as KOTOR 2 is.

    I wonder where the Old Republic will balance it.

    • ehlijen says:

      I actually admired KOTOR 1 for having as much important space and ship combat as it did without compromising it’s RPG gameplay. The escape from Taris(sp? I keep thinking Tardis), the final battle, the leviathan…

      The original movie did not have a lot of space combat either, compared to its lenght, but like KOTOR it made it count.

      KOTOR 2 did indeed not feel like star wars for large parts, but I’m pretty sure the fresh angle is part of its appeal.

  9. Robyrt says:

    The only universally praised part of the Star Wars Expanded Universe is Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. Here’s why it succeeds:
    1. Freedom of action instead of cruft from other writers. (This is obviously not replicable today, but when Zahn was writing, most of the EU consisted of comic books and RPG sourcebooks, and the timeline was uncluttered.)
    2. Reuse of established archetypes for new characters – smuggler, lone Jedi, cultured evil mastermind, unstable evil Jedi, etc. This saves on exposition time and forces the heroes to do something other than rehash their movie roles, while still being able to write those familiar scenes.
    3. Natural fit of writer and universe – Zahn always writes sci-fi diplomatic thrillers that turn on a couple central characters with independent plot threads and a couple novel uses of technology, a perfect fit for Star Wars.
    4. Good writing in general. Snappy dialogue is a bigger component of Star Wars success than most people realize. (Conversely, the cringe-worthy script of the prequels overwhelmed their good qualities.)

  10. Tesh says:

    I’m allergic to any EU stuff past the Thrawn books. The NJO still makes me break out in hives. It is one of my prime examples of the stupidity of popular entertainment in the 90s.

  11. Dev Null says:

    I always thought of A New Hope as more of a samurai western than a swashbuckler, But maybe thats just all the desert talking. Kept expecting Toshiro Mifune to jump out and show them all how to use a sword properly.

  12. kikito says:

    We don’t know how many apprentices Vader had *initially*. The one still alive was the one that learnt not to cry and to eat his vegetables.

    Concerning the expanded universe, two words: Yuuzhan Vong.

    • Zeta Kai says:

      Yeah, but what does that mean? Do you like the Yuuzhan Vong? Do you hate them? Did they revive a stagnating series of disconnected fanfics, & give them a coherent direction? Or did they Ruin the series Forever? Where are you going with those Two Words?

      See, this is why people should stop using the Two Words trope: unless your Two Words can succintly encapsulate your point, then your statement is meaninglessly vague. If you can’t use a trope than just don’t. Put it down, & go play with a linguistic convention that you can handle.

  13. Mari says:

    I realize this will make me the most unpopular geek ever but I’m only lukewarm on the original trilogy and have no love for EU at all. I think maybe it’s because I was in my late teens (and having breasts) before I saw any of the Star Wars movies. Lucas has spelled out pretty clearly that the original trilogy was really targeted at pre-pubescent boys and certainly it seems to have won in that demographic.

    I’ve tried really hard to love me some Star Wars but looking at it for the first time through (mostly) adult eyes spoils it, I think. It just came off as melodramatic and silly. In my ongoing effort to love it, though, I read many of the novels and comics. Some (especially the Zahn works) stand well on their own; most do not.

    Strangely, despite my tepid reception of the Star Wars Universe, I think it’s probably the world I’ve spent the most time roleplaying inside. Setting was not one of the weaknesses of Star Wars and it’s been fun to make my own stories inside of that setting. Plus, I mostly RP with guys and they’re strangely attached to it so there’s that. I can almost always get together a group willing to play Star Wars but it’s hard to find a group willing to play D&D, GURPS, White Wolf, or even DC Heroes.

    • silver says:

      Maybe unpopular taken over an average, but there are exceptions :)

      I have this the ability to re-evaluate childhood memories in light of adult experience, and when I watched Star Wars again at age 30, I found it… lacking. (I also completely despised Flash Gordon as an adult, and found Highlander to be weak – so much for my childhood memories. Even Wrath of Kahn became mediocre to me over time – and don’t get me started on how much I can’t stand Original Series Star Trek now that I’m not watching it reruns as a 7 year old like I was originally. Except, now that I’m on that tangent, let me say, [i]that isn’t what logic freaking means[/i]. On the other hand, Lawrence of Arabia held up well between college (when it was digitally remastered and released) and adulthood).

      (reference: born in 1970. TOS was reruns when I saw it. I did actually see Star Wars in first theatrical release but as a tag-a-long with adults – it didn’t really register with me until I saw it in a re-release just before Strikes Back).

      Frankly, I’d be more willing to play D&D or White Wolf than DC Heroes (I loved the DC Universe in college, but find it too disjointed and obvious as an attempt to join many crazy different mythologies together) – and, of course, GURPS would depend on what actual universe behind the rules is being used. Universes where people matter is important – I think that’s why I still like [i]The Prisoner[/i] in my old age (and I have, or used to have, the GURPS module for it) – despite the puerile fight sequences, it was ultimately a great series about individuality versus society.

      (another side reference: first DVD I ever bought: [i]Gattaca[/i]. Favorite DVD I ever bought: [i]Fight Club[/i]).

      Anyway. I think I started with the simple point “not all gamer geeks are into Star Wars” and probably I should end there, too.

      • Mari says:

        For the record, you were watching Star Trek in re-runs and millions of children were lining up to see Star Wars: A New Hope open the year I was born, 1977.

        My own strange ability is separating critical response from personal response. Case in point: from a critical perspective I’m able to rip apart all that is Star Trek (especially TOS) but a personal part of me is still that 9-year-old kid wondering if I can play sick tomorrow to see some more of this wonderous “new” show I’ve discovered playing reruns at 10 AM on the local pre-Fox affiliate because it’s just too awesome for words.

        That’s why I suspect that I might have loved Star Wars more if I had been exposed a few years earlier. Exposed to the actual movies, that is, not their effect on popular culture. Goodness knows I wasn’t able to escape THAT part. I basically “knew” the story from the ravings of my many friends and the commercialization of all things Star Wars long before I saw the movies. I was once forced to endure Ewoks on Ice. Around 7 at the time and I wanted those little fuzzballs to DIE. I had pretty much the same reaction to them in Return of the Jedi at 17. (Side note: my husband has been letting our daughters watch Star Wars since pre-school. My youngest daughter at some point came to the conclusion that Wicket’s name was “Tomato.” We all refer to him/her/it as Tomato now.)

    • Vekni says:

      I’m sorry, one can’t criticize Star Wars as being melodramatic and silly and then site a desire to play anything by White Wolf of the Hot Topic Mallteen Clan.

    • ehlijen says:

      In the words of the wise Kevin Murphy of Riffrax:
      “So that…that thing we just watched…that was the world shattering star wars? […] Must not have been much going in back in 1979…”

      :P

    • Viktor says:

      There’s a lot of hate inside the Star Wars fandom for any of the various works set in it. The original movies, the prequels, the EU*, almost all of them fail to live up to the promise of the setting. It’s love for the universe Lucas created that keeps these fans interested, dispite hating most of the official work set in that world.

      *Thrawn is the exception to this, since almost none of the Star Wars fandom dislikes it.

      • cassander says:

        A wise man once said that there are no star wars fans, only people who are fans of the “idea” of star wars. A throwaway line to be sure, but one I’d say is at least 90% right.

  14. Johan says:

    I think there’s a saying for this. “Any sufficiently established franchise is indistinguishable from fanfic”

    In all fairness, it’s a lot like everything else out there: 10% awesome, 20% OK, 60% “this is pretty bad” and 10% “how did this get published?”

    I’ve read only about 3 books of the EU, and each of those were standalones about small sidenotes to the Universe at large. this might be part of the reason some of the EU is so terrible, in that everyone is trying to fit themselves into the canon, and things pile on top of other things until it looks like a comic book hack as you said.

    “Well we want this character to fight someone awesome.”
    “The Emperor! Who’s more awesome than him!”
    “Isn’t he dead?”
    “hmmm… make a clone?”
    etc etc

  15. Kelly Fowler says:

    I have not touched much of the EU personally. I read some of those Jedi Apprentice novels when I was younger and enjoyed them at the time, but doubt I would today.

    Other than that, it’s pretty much just video games for me. Specifically, the Jedi Knight series, which I toyed with a bit a long time ago and go on steam during the holidays. They’re workable for the most part, though I’ve yet to touch Outcast (which I’ve heard is great) and Academy (which I’ve heard is complete drivel).

    And of course both KOTOR games are awesome, but for different reason. KOTOR 1 is just crazy Star Wars+Bioware fun and I love Bindo, HK, and Canderous. KOTOR 2 (which I’ll admit, I’ve only played patched) is a different beast. It takes Star Wars and picks apart everything about it, right down to the force itself. It’s bleak as hell, but I love that there’s some actual DEPTH to the cast and story as opposed to the usual light and fluffy Star Wars material. Also THE HK DROID FACTOR HOLY SHIT.

    All that New Jedi Order/Emperor Returns craziness sounds like complete shit, but I’ve heard good stuff about the Thrawn book and Vong invasion.

  16. Preston says:

    I loved KOTOR and while KOTOR II may have been good, it just didn’t feel like Star Wars to me. It had the Star Wars setting, but little of the feel I associate with the movies or games, which is that light and fluffy feeling. I want blaster fights where the heroes only get singed on the shoulders and the good guys are good(But sometimes they fall to the Dark Side) and the bad guys are bad(but sometimes they can be redeemed). That’s Star Wars to me.

    Otherwise I ignore book/comic EU materials.

    • Tizzy says:

      KOTOR felt like Star Wars because it essentially plagiarized a substantial amount of background elements from A New Hope. Off the top of my head:

      * Rebels fighting an evil empire led by a dark Jedi — check.
      * Endless seas of faceless mooks in helmets — check.
      * Tatooine and Sand People — check.
      * A whole planet murdered on a whim to prove that the evil guys are truly evil — check.
      * The bad guy is a former good guy who has been hideously disfigured, towers over everyone and wears a cape — check.
      * A poor man’s Millennium Falcon — check.
      * Defend your spaceship against a handful of fighters using a gunner’s turret. — check.
      * Wookie companion with a life debt. — check.

      I’m sure you can find more instances easily. The point is none of those are crucial plot elements, and of course a Star Wars game should have instantly recognizable features (and shout outs!). It’s the sheer accumulation of tropes from that specific episode that kept destroying the immersion for me.

    • Kelly Fowler says:

      And I can certainly understand. I think KOTOR 2 worked as an interesting deconstruction of the setting though.

      It can’t, at the very least, be denied that the cast was more interesting.

      • Zekiel says:

        Absolutely! I’m playing KOTOR 2 through again and enjoying it immensely. I think it appeals to me (over KOTOR 1) precisely because it deconstructs the setting – which I feel is a bit lacking (the concept of The Force in particular)

        And also because Kreia is an awesome character.

  17. I think one simple thing sums up why I grew tired of the EU as a child (and eventually Star Wars in general as an adult):

    George Lucas: Boba Fett is dead. Period.
    90% of the EU (Fake statistics are fun): Fett lives!
    GL: Dead!
    EU: Not! You authorized us!
    GL: *pfft* “Authorized”

    I saw a debate recently that Harry Potter was not going to endure like Star Wars, and one of the reasons was that Rowling doesn’t license her characters for tons of spin-off properties and books. I think it’s far better if a created universe can stay consistent in its story and setting, rather than have a ton of contradictory or vastly inferior expansions to it.

    • Zeta Kai says:

      Yeah, that Middle Earth franchise doesn’t have legs at all. I mean, only 4 books?! Published 50 years ago?!? Whatever. If they don’t crank out a sequel series soon, Tolkien is doomed to obscurity.

      [/sarcasm]

      • Viktor says:

        Try 19 books, some of which were published as late as the 90’s. All set in the LotR universe. Granted, at this point his son is basically publishing any paper Tolkien ever owned and nothing beyond the first 5 books really matters, but it’s definitely not as small as you imply.

      • Blackbird71 says:

        Comparing J. R. R. Tolkien to J.K. Rowling is like calling a 2-bedroom house the Empire State Building. I’m sorry, but as popular as Harry Potter is, the level and quality of Rowling’s writing is really nothing impressive (and even painful at times).

  18. Louis says:

    I’m unfortunately versed in Star Wars EU, and while I recognize that most of it is junk, I have to give a shout out to a very under-appreciated author who keeps trying to add dignity and Literary Value to the franchise- Matthew Woodring Stover. He wrote “Shatterpoint” (which finally gave Samuel L Jackson’s prequel character some actually character), the “Revenge of the Sith” novelization (which fixes every problem the movie had and made it all more Aweseom), “Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Miner” (an actual Errol Flynn-esque space opera with added Awesome), and “Traitor” from the New Jedi Order series (which succeeded in quadrupling the actual Philosophical content of the whole franchise and is still debated by fans today).

    Seriously, “Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor” will remind everyone of what they loved in those classic movies in the first place.

    And I loved this comic. Secret Apprentice Man is such a joke to me. I’m glad he’s finally getting some good ridicule.

    • Volatar says:

      Oh yeah, Traitor was really really good. I remember that one. I need to read it again. I might get 10% more of it this time.

    • Viktor says:

      The only issue I have with Traitor is how so much of it got ignored or misinterpreted by other authors. It’s one of the last good books chronologically in the EU though, IMHO. The others mentioned all rocked. I didn’t realize they were one guy, I’ll have to check out his other work.

      • Chris says:

        First time I’ve ever been compelled to reply to anything on here (though I spend a lot of time reading comments and on the site in general).

        Matthew Woodring Stover is, for lack of a better word, amazing. I highly recommend picking up his other works (assuming you can find them), especially the Caine series. I can’t say enough good things about his writing style and storytelling ability. Easily my favorite author and the (on-going) Caine series is simply spectacular.

        I’ve only read his novelization of Revenge of the Sith but I definitely plan on picking up his other Star Wars novels (I didn’t realize he’d written so many others).

    • Zeta Kai says:

      Can someone briefly explain what make Traitor great? It sounds intriguing, & I’d be curious to know what could be said philosophically to revolutionize the franchise.

      • Volatar says:

        It would be best to just read it. The book is too deep and complex to summarize.

      • Zeta Kai says:

        Thank you, that is super helpful for a person asking for a brief explanation.

        “Why should I do X? I’m unfamiliar with X, but I’m curious, so an explanatory endorsement would likely convince me.”

        “Dude, just do it.”

        “Oh, okay, thanks.”

        FAIL.

        • Viktor says:

          Really, he couldn’t have done much more. Traitor is incredibly complex. I tried 3 times to give you a competent summary/lead-in and failed. It’s very much focused on morality, mortality, the Force, and the role of the Jedi. The writing is excellent, it is the high point of Jacen as a character and gives 3 characters CMoAs. I can’t recommend it enough, and trying to describe or summarize it in less than 100 pages is a disservice to the author.

  19. far_wanderer says:

    I was all ready to jump in here in the defense of the Expanded Universe, but then I went and read some of the other comments and I was quite disappointed in the examples I saw. I’ve never read any of the comics, and I refuse to recognize most of the games as cannon. So I will now qualify my originally intended statement and say that the novels are good. Many of my favorite books are among the Star Wars EU, and they are good enough that the average of the collected novels is well worth reading.

    • Blackbird71 says:

      There are a number of novels in the EU which are quite good.

      However, there are quite a few that are just plain awful. Just to name a couple that stick out in my mind:

      The Courtship of Princess Leia (the big line in this one was “Kiss my Wookie!” Really Dave Wolverton? That’s the best writing you can do for Han Solo?)

      The Black Fleet Crisis (one of the many novel Trilogies, I honestly don’t remember too much about it, just the overall impression that it was terrible through and through. I remember it feeling like the author had no idea who the characters were, and just slapped their names and faces onto completely different characters that suited the story)

  20. The problems began with the second movie they shot. Then the writer’s strike during the third movie scripting, losing the writer and replacing Nova with the Princess and making Vadar Luke’s father. By then it had jumped the shark.

    It has been all retcon since then. But great special effects.

  21. On the other hand, the SPI game, Freedom in the Galaxy is still around, written from the original setting (so the emperor is a patsy, etc.).

  22. Vekni says:

    I still think anyone who heralds the Thrawn series is completely oblivious to anything Star Wars. The Nazis would never put a Jew in charge, and the all white English male Imperial Navy/Army/Pooperscoopers would never put an alien in charge. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…perhaps George Lucas was just too subtle about beating people over the head with the Empire=Nazi Germany angle, since most fans just don’t seem to get it.

    • Electron Blue says:

      Ah, yes, because we all agree that that angle of the Empire was entirely necessary and totally represented in the films (lol no). Seriously, not once in the entire original trilogy do I remember the Empire ever saying “filthy alien” or anything of the sort. The only evidence of that in the films is that you never saw an alien in the Empire, but it was never made explicit.
      Also: DAMN YOU MASS EFFECT seriously every sarcastic remark I make is prefixed with “ah, yes,” now.

    • ehlijen says:

      I’m not entirely convinced the alien prejudice thing was ever even in any movie script or the like.

      At no point in the movies is any Imperial openly hostile to aliens purely on principle. In fact, we have:
      -An elephant man clearly collaborating with the storm troopers in A new Hope
      -The empire hiring alien bounty hunters in Empire strikes back. Sure the officers grumble, but it’s made clear that they resent their profession, not their species.

      The only anti alien moment is chewbacce pretending to be a prisoner and not being questioned about it. A moment undercut by princess Leia(!) using what could be a racial slur only a few scenes later.

      The prequels had an opportunity to add that layer into the movie canon, but chose not to. The emperors closest aide was an alien after all (for what little impact he had on the story).

      Sure, nazi germany allusions were made by the dozen, but all the real horrors were avoided meticulously.

      The empire was more than just nazi germany. It was also the evil british empire trying to clamp down on the freedom loving colonies. It was also the roman space empire. Going by Lando’s explanation of the cloud city mining operation, you could probably make a college dorm room case about the empire being communists.

      Symbols were used, but it’s because they all added up to a new final picture, that we like star wards for being star wars and not 1930’s in space.

    • Blackbird71 says:

      “The Nazis would never put a Jew in charge”

      Never mind the fact that Hitler was 1/4 Jewish… No one said that Fascists can’t be hypocrites as well.

      I think the whole point of Thrawn being an alien was to underscore just how good he was, being able to succeed despite the anti-alien sentiments within the Empire. Also keep in mind that even though he was one of the greatest known strategists in existence, the Emperor still kept him tucked away in a distant corner of space, and he only emerged on the scene after the Emperor’s death, and the Empire itself had shattered and fragmented. Anyone with a few ships was laying a claim to command, and there was a desperate need for a leader. People tend to forget their principles and ideals in the face of desperation.

      But yes, in respons to ehlijen, I think the whole “alien prejudice” thing just developed from the practicality of putting a lot of extras in uniforms versus putting them all in alien make-up. The movies show the rank and file of the Empire’s soldiers to be human because it was the simplest and least expensive solution. The EU saw a military made up entirely of humans, and fabricated an explanation.

  23. Ramsus says:

    Well, I’d just like to point this out to everyone who dislikes EU. If there weren’t EU authors writing stuff (and proving that people will buy more SW stuff) there would be no games like Kotor, Battlefront, and Republic Commando which are all some of my favorite games (each for very different reasons). Sure not everything out there is great but without the greater bulk of it we wouldn’t get the gems that shine.

  24. OEP says:

    Never mind the Expanded Universe, the prequel trilogy that Lucas created is as hackneyed and contrived as any fanfic.

    -“midichlorians”? come on!
    -Luke and Leia’s mom, who went from a blank slate in the original trilogy to a…blank slate played by an excellent actress who had so little to work with all we know is she apparently died of a “broken heart” despite having 2 babies to care for. At least we know that after some strategically placed blaster shots, she carries off the bare midriff look quite well.

    -Darth Vader, who went from the quintessential badass to a whiny brat.

    The entire premise of the prequel trilogy was to show to descent of Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. There is so much there to work with. Go with any of the cardinal sins.
    Lust
    Envy
    Wrath
    Sloth
    Gluttony
    Pride
    Despair

    Pick something. Instead we get this dumb kid who one minute is a good guy except for going postal on some baddies that killed his mom. The next minute he saves his pal from Mace Windu and does a heel-face turn and is killing Jedi kids.

    I mean wtf.

    It could have been done so much better. Yes the EU is a pile of crap. But after the prequels, all of Star Wars smells of sewage.

    • Tizzy says:

      And don’t forget that the original trilogy establishes (more or less) that Anakin was truly a good person. Not just a badass, but a true embodiment of the values of the light side, before his fall. We don’t get to see that aspect of him either in the prequels.

      PS – I think you need Greed rather than Despair in your list of sins, although despair would be a good theme for Anakin’s fall too.

      • cassander says:

        The prequel series really should be more about obi-wan than anakin. He’s the character that can tie the whole thing together. We need to see him getting promoted to fast, taking on anakin, then fucking up his training, full of the knowledge of what the future holds. Unfortunately, his actions in the movies we actually got were almost totally meaningless and the plots of the movies based on the idea that we don’t know what’s coming.

    • Blackbird71 says:

      “-Darth Vader, who went from the quintessential badass to a whiny brat.”

      While it was incredibly annoying to watch and made for a terrible movie, that point actually made some sense: like father, like son.

      “And you must be the CRY BABY!”
      -Oobedoob Benubi, Thumb Wars

  25. Scourge says:

    Aww, no joke about the creating a profile problem?
    Quite a pity.

    And for all who don’t know what that is: For a reason unbeknowns can the game bug out and whenever you try to create a profile it will become corrupted and crash the game. So far no fix has been found, neither by the cracker forums nor by the officials. Albeit they suggested a helpfull “Reinstall your OS” suggestion.

  26. Nyaz says:

    Oooh, Star Wars? This is the perfect time for me to quote my nerdy teacher here (he’s 50-something years old):
    “Star Wars is NOT science fiction, it is simply a story about wizard-warriors in space. That being said, it isn’t bad, it just isn’t sci-fi.”

    • Zeta Kai says:

      Agreed. GL did a really good job at making the movies look sci-fi, but that’s more from his love of hotrods & airplanes & other gadgets, than from a genuine appreciation for the genre. The entire movie series has almost no science in it anywhere, & is as hard a sci-fi as talc is a rock.

  27. Simulated Knave says:

    I find that, generally, the older Star Wars novels are better.

    My pet peeve about the EU actually has relatively little to do with its content:

    Children of the Jedi is a massively disliked book – a LOT of people don’t like it. I do. It’s both creepy and actually feels like Star Wars. But there is nothing more annoying than people complaining that it doesn’t mesh up with the prequels. It was published before the prequels, you morons! GAH!

    Anyway, the EU is like everything else – 90% of it is crap, and no one’s sure which 90%.

  28. rofltehcat says:

    Aww… I sooo wanted to play that game. But then I found out it has insane hardware requirements which puts me just about at the minimum requirements.
    Well, you know what minimum requirements mean: Sufficient for entering the main menu.

  29. Daimbert says:

    As I’ve said above, I actually like the EU better than the original movies, but it is hit and miss:

    Novels:

    Zahn’s stuff is great. Thrawn is an interesting character and one that can be even sympathetic … if he wasn’t quite so ruthless.

    The X-wing series is great, too, from Stackpole’s stuff down to Allston’s stuff. I’d read anything that Allston puts out that talks about pilots, because he does incredibly good pilot banter. (“Starfighters of Andumar” is an excellent example of this, and gives Wedge some good character development). Some people call Corran Horn a Mary Sue, but he’s one of my favourite characters … and I think he screws up too much to be Mary Sue. Which leads to …

    I, Jedi is, in my opinion, great. It tries to make some sense out of the Jedi Academy trilogy, and seems to fit neatly into it while adding to it, which I always like. And I like Corran Horn, so there’s that, too.

    The Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy is great. It brings Fett back and gives him a personality, and lets you know just how he gets to be considered such a great bounty hunter, and has a nice mix of action and intrigue.

    The collections of short stories, especially “Tales from Jabba’s Palace”, “Tales of the Bounty Hunters”, and “Tales from the Empire” are really good.

    Shadows of the Empire was good.

    New Jedi Order is okay. It can be hit and miss, but it’s worth reading.

    Legacy of the Force is okay. A lot of people dislike Traviss, but my biggest complaint on re-reading the whole thing is that she does have a tendency to write a lot that doesn’t really say or move anything along, but her portrayals of Mandalorians and distrust of the Jedi have their roots in KotOR; she didn’t invent it, as far as I can tell.

    I liked Death Star, and Millenium Falcon.

    About the only novels I hated were Denning’s “Joiner Trilogy”. I own them all and have read them all … once. I generally read things more than once. My opinion is that these are the only novels not worth reading.

    Games:

    KotOR and KoTOR2 are excellent, and probably the best Star Wars games ever made, with it maybe being close between it and …

    The X-Wing series, ending with Alliance. Fun games with decent storylines.

    I don’t like FPS’, and so never really played the Jedi Academy games, so I can’t say much about them. People who like those sorts of games say they’re great.

    I have an odd attachment for Rebellion. There’s no storyline, really, but what you make … but it includes the EU characters and is all the better for it. It’s amazingly addictive (to me) and the fact that you can send Darth Vader to assassinate Admiral Ackbar is really interesting. The newer Empire At War didn’t do that justice, really.

    I liked Galactic Battlegrounds, mostly for the editor.

    I won’t comment on Galaxies [grin].

    Force Commander was, um, … yeah.

    So, that’s my survey of what I know of the EU …

  30. Drexer says:

    Funny enough that you mentioned this now, just three days ago while trying to get my new passport and waiting for my number to be called, I noticed I would probably have to wait some 4 hours, so I jumped into a small bookstore near by and saw what I could find.

    Inbetween a lot of romance crap and weird Sci-Fi that I did not recognize, what did I find? ‘Outcast’ and ‘Omen’ of the recent ‘Fate of the Jedi’ series. Better the devil that I’d heard talked about than the devil I do not know, right?

    So, as my first forays into the EU, I have little to say. It is mainly okay in terms of writing, but I have so many pet peeves with it. The way the story seems to be a DragonBall/Deltora/anything serial about collecting artifacts, except it’s about Luke learning new Force powers instead. The way they seem to want to support the story with references to the movies(“I thought they smelled bad on the outside”, “Do you want to hear about when I was considered a golden god that helped overthrown the empire”, “Carbonite freezing”, I GOT IT IT’S STAR WARS; NOW CAN WE GET SOME PLOT? ). The way the story doesn’t really seem to advance anywhere, and the seemingly multitude of red herrings that seem to appear and disappear. Of course, some of those points can be retconned in the following ooks that I haven’t read but still.

    Oh, and a special note about Omen. If you need to read the back cover to properly understand a part of the story without being completely confused about its relevance, then it’s not a very good book. Stupid 5000 year old Sith planet…

    I also thought the writing was particurally flawed when organizing the change of viewpoints parallel to the ending and beginning of chapters. But that might be just me.

    • Viktor says:

      Notice how no one in the comments mentioned FotJ? NJO was long, post-RotJ war that went beyond simply picking up where the movies left off and tried to take the franchise in a new direction, with fairly good results. Then they came out with Legacy of the Force, which was a mid-length post NJO war that tried to take the franchise in a new direction, with generally poor but occasionally good results. FotJ is a post-LotF series and you should be able to extrapolate the rest. Pick up Thrawn, Shatterpoint, or the X-Wing series, but don’t judge the EU from the most recent stuff produced.

  31. Leviathan902 says:

    Regarding your point about A New Hope being essentially a swash-buckling adventure in space and everything else ignoring it, I think that’s what I liked about the old nerd standby Firefly.

    It had that same sort of vibe.

    Motley crew on adventures in space.

    Also: Cowboy Bebop

  32. Kdansky says:

    I have to explain this time and time again. Star Wars is not Science Fiction. It is Fantasy, in a setting with space-ships. But people have no clue on how proper genre classification works. Setting is not the same as genre. If you made a movie about a love triangle on a moon base, you would end up with a romance, not with science fiction. If the movie were about a love triangle between a robot, a cyborg and a human and the confrontation with existence, then it would be SciFi (and arguably also romance).

    And if a movie is about a prince with magical powers and a magical sword who goes and saves the princess from the evil Baron Von Badass, then that is fantasy, no matter if the sword is a light saber, a vorpal short sword or a gunblade.

    A movie is about X: Genre.
    A movie at place X: Setting.

  33. Slothful says:

    I won’t deny that almost everything about the EU starts to get ridiculous if you look at it long enough, but if you start discounting science fiction for being patently ridiculous, you won’t end up with much.

    Heck, alot of science nonfiction seems pretty ridiculous if you look at it hard. I mean, Strange Matter? Infinite density? Dark Matter? pfffft.

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