Yeah, you had to know something like this would be coming, really. I’m a massive Star Wars fan, and I’m pretty unapologetic for that. I’m lucky, in a sense, because I’ve never not known life without this incredible universe, but I missed all the theatrical releases by being born a year after Return of the Jedi premiered. So as I was growing up, the Star Wars phenomenon was really on the downswing. Lucky for me, though, the folks still had the movies on VHS, so the magic was never truly gone.
There are many reasons why I love this whole thing, but perhaps foremost among them is the sheer joy that comes from the level of escapism it provides. While there are many fictional universes that are enjoyable, the GFFA is, to me, so well-put-together that it just feels so much better than any other. The three movies created compelling characters and relationships, that all the subsequent material is blessed by this solid foundation and can really blossom. Even when the galaxy is being torn apart by the Yuuzhan Vong, and all manner of nonsense is taking place with ridiculously overpowered Sith lords rising from ever crevice, the universe still feels basically amazing, and it is that sense of amazement that has carried me through all these years.
It’s impossible to say which is my favourite Star Wars film, because I’ve always thought of them as essentially one cohesive product. With a gun to my head, though, I would most likely go for A New Hope. The original film has so much to commend it, but the sense of myth that comes from the ‘pure fool’ origin tale is of course a timeless classic. The galaxy feels so vibrant and alive in this film, and even though it’s obviously the oldest of any Star Wars product, and even though I can probably recite the script (with sound effects and soundtrack) in its entirety, it still feels new and fresh whenever I watch it. Classic sequences like the escape from the Death Star, or the Battle of Yavin, have me completely invested no matter how many times I see it.
It’s the same with the novels and the comics. There are, of course, several turkeys in the middle of so much content, but there are also some absolute diamonds to be discovered there. Heir to the Empire, the Timothy Zahn novel that put the paddles to the Star Wars universe in 1990, will probably always be my favourite. It was, as I’ve previously discussed, the first Star Wars novel that I read. The entire Thrawn trilogy will most likely always form my own personal episodes VII, VIII and IX, no matter what Disney would have me believe. And no amount of ‘legends’ banners across the covers will make me give up on at least half a dozen other books.
If George Lucas is the father of the saga, Timothy Zahn is most assuredly the favourite uncle. With ten novels (including the longest Star Wars novel to date, Vision of the Future), over fifteen short stories, and one comic miniseries to his name, he is one of the most prolific of Star Wars authors, and justly a fan favourite. His stories are so compelling, and his characters so well-crafted that one of them was married to Luke Skywalker to become a permanent feature in EU fiction. For me, Zahn’s work is Star Wars at its best, and there can be no higher accolade than that.
I’d like to mention The New Rebellion while I’m here. This 1998 novel comes quite late in the New Republic timeframe, and sees, fairly obviously, a new rebellion. The Bantam era was marked by the almost comic repeated attempts of the Empire to overthrow the Rebellion-turned-New Republic and re-establish itself as the galactic government, with a series of warlords and renegade admirals. Superweapons were popular, of course, but the result was fairly often a re-hash, with the New Republic always triumphing in the end. The New Rebellion, however, is a much more interesting story. A lengthy standalone novel, it packs a lot into the story, and if you haven’t yet read it, I can highly recommend you do so!
Another of my favourite authors is James Luceno. One of the ‘new batch’ of authors to come on board after Bantam lost the licence to Del Rey in the late 90s, Luceno has written eight Star Wars novels, including three in the New Jedi Order series, for which he was initially hired as a consultant/co-ordinator only. For me, Luceno has written two of the most important novels in the prequel-era timeline: Cloak of Deception and Labyrinth of Evil (at the time of my writing this, I’ve not actually made it to Darth Plagueis yet). A lot of criticism has been made of the prequel trilogy, and one of the slurs thrown at The Phantom Menace is that the political aspect of the plot makes little sense. Cloak of Deception is required reading in this sense: it gives so much back story to the film that I would go as far as to say you haven’t really seen the film until you’ve read this book. Cloak of Deception was written as episode two was being filmed, so did a lot of its work in retrospect. Labyrinth of Evil, however, was marketed as the lead-in novel to Revenge of the Sith, and while I wouldn’t say it’s as important to read this novel before watching the film, you will certainly enjoy the movie a whole lot more if you do. Both books are an absolute pleasure to read, which is always very handy, as well!
While we’re on the subject of the prequels, I’ll change media now to comics. While there were 107 issues of a loosely ongoing series published by Marvel around the release of the movies, it was Dark Horse Comics’ acquisition of the licence in the early 1990s that revitalised the genre, and the Dark Empire series has become a seminal work since. Detailing the return of Emperor Palpatine, and seeing Luke turn to the Dark Side, the comic is nevertheless a classic. While Bantam were keeping Star Wars on life support with their novels, Dark Horse were doing a similar job in a similar timeframe, notably departing with the Tales of the Jedi comic series, set 4000 years before the films. The cohesion between the two media has never really been matched since, I feel.
The 1990s were a golden age for Star Wars, a time when it was still almost indie, without the mass-market that the prequels’ marketing strategy gave it. It is a bit selfish of me to think like that, of course, but there we have it. There was a nicely cyclical feel between the novels and the comics, both media supported and extended through the RPG content that West End Games put out. It’s unfortunate that the prequels seemed to split all of that up. The novels jumped forward to the New Jedi Order, with only a few prequel-era works coming out; the comics re-launched with gusto into the prequel era, and the RPG licence went to Wizards of the Coast, who seemed only interested in fits and starts, and otherwise largely just produced stats for the existing material.
However, it was the prequel comics that really saved this time, in my view. Writer John Ostrander, and illustrator Jan Duursema created the character of Quinlan Vos, a Jedi Knight who had had his memory wiped by an experimental drug. We followed Quin’s story as he pieced together his past through several arcs of the ongoing comic series. He met up with his former master, Tholme, and eventually rescued his erstwhile padawan Aayla Secura. By the time Attack of the Clones was released, Quinlan, Aayla and Tholme were plunged into the thick of the Clone Wars, with Quinlan going undercover as a spy in Count Dooku’s camp. Did he turn to the Dark Side? Well… The entire Quinlan Vos storyline was crafted so superbly that I felt more attached to these characters than I did to those of Anakin, Obi-Wan and Padme on the screen.
Dark Horse have since blazed new territory with their Knights of the Old Republic (tie-in to the video game from BioWare), Legacy (set over a hundred years after the events of the original trilogy) and most recently, Dawn of the Jedi, chronicling the almost mythic beginnings of the original Force-users. All the while, there have also been stories set during the timeframe of the original trilogy, with first Empire, then Rebellion, and of course Dark Times focusing on the characters we know and love from the films, and introducing us to more new faces. Recently, we’ve seen the beginnings of a new ongoing series, simply called Star Wars, and taking as its launch point the notion that A New Hope is the only story currently in the saga. How prophetic that decision was, in light of the recent news on the fate of the expanded universe!
It was with great sadness, then, that I read that Dark Horse will finally lose their licence to Marvel at the end of this year. There have been some truly incredible moments in Dark Horse’s run, giving Marvel a very hard act to follow.
To be honest, in writing this blog, I’ve become quite sad, as it really does feel like the end of another era! The EU as I know it has gone, Dark Horse is going, we’re getting new films by a new company… I know it should be an exciting time as the next chapter begins, but it’s more bitter than sweet for knowing all that we’re going to lose.
But I’ll end with a quote that will hopefully put a more positive note on this post:
The Force will be with you. Always.
(I think it’s fairly obvious, but I don’t own any of these images, they’re all (c) Lucasfilm/Disney, but have been used for illustrative purposes. If this contravenes any policy, then please let me know and I shall remove them)