Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens first impressions

According to Entertainment Weekly, the Lucasfilm story group plans to release a slew of books, comic books, and other publications, chronicling the major events of the new continuity between Episode VI, Return of of the Jedi and Episode VII, The Force Awakens. This Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens will begin publishing in the fall.

Details in the EW article are sketchy, listing only a couple of titles and a handful of authors—it looks like the named ones will be writing YA. The only name I recognize from the list is Greg Rucka, whom I haven’t read, but I understand his run on Wonder Woman was highly regarded*. The only other thing I noticed about the concrete announcements is that it looks like we so far have three male writers and just one female writer confirmed. Hardly surprising, but discouraging nonetheless. Anyway, here’s what I think, given the preliminary nature of the information we have at present.

*Though as John Jackson Miller’s output attests, good comic book writing doesn’t necessarily equate to good novel writing. Not that his novels are terrible, they just can’t compete with his comics. (And yes, I know not everyone thinks Jackson Miller is that great a comic book writer, either, but I still do.)

You know, I was just wondering at the lack of book announcements coming out of Lucasfilm lately. I suppose I should have suspected something like this was in the works.

I find myself oddly conflicted about this development. I’ve already explained in detail why I, personally, am overall pleased with the decision to reclassify the former Expanded Universe as non-canon. So this should be no big deal, right? Why the trepidation?

Well, as I mentioned in the previous post, I’m still reluctant to let go of so many of my beloved stories from the New Republic era of the Expanded Universe, and more importantly, my favorite characters who debuted in that era. If they’re being retconned out in the context of a new movie trilogy unfolding before my eyes, and the story that trilogy tells is sufficiently compelling, that would soften the adjustment process. But if the first sight we get of the new continuity is in books and graphic novels—of which we’ve had plenty over the decade since the last trilogy ended—that’s a bit different.

Also, as I pointed out in the previous post, the sequel trilogy takes place more than three decades after the original films. If we started the new, EU-exclusionary continuity with The Force Awakens, we’d be free to imagine that anything which took place in the EU and isn’t directly contradicted by the films still happened more or less as originally written. Apart from elements like Mara Jade and the Solo children, that encompasses most of the New Republic era. Any necessary gaps could have been quietly back-filled in after the release of Force Awakens, when fans will hopefully be basking in the glow of a new Star Wars film. (I’m prepared to give Abrahms and crew the benefit of the doubt that that, at least, will be worthwhile.)

Instead, we get this. I was already steeling myself up to have my favorite characters erased, but to have all the great stories taken out along with them, and not even in the films proper, but in a bunch of spin-off media? I guess the Lucasfilm story group folks don’t believe in easing fans slowly into the new status quo. Perhaps they’re just that confident that the Journey to Force Awakens material will blow even the best New Republic era stories entirely out of the water. Forgive me if I take a more skeptical approach, at least until I’ve seen the finished products.

The one potentially hopeful possibility for me, which I almost don’t dare to type, is that Timothy Zahn has been brought on board as one of the writers for Journey to. That would be awesome. Granted, his Star Wars books have been of variable quality and none, in my opinion, have recaptured the heights he attained with the original Thrawn trilogy. On the other hand, I would contend that even his worst Star Wars material is head and shoulders above the best offerings of ~90% of the other authors who contributed to the old Expanded Universe*. More than that, he’s about the only Expanded Universe author whom I trust at this point to get what Star Wars means to me—perhaps because he played such a big role in shaping what it means to me with the Thrawn books all those years ago. If anyone can, he’d also find a way of slipping in favorites like Thrawn, Pellaeon, Karrde, and even some version of Mara. And most importantly, in the latter case, even if he takes her story in a wildly different direction than he did in the EU stories, Zahn can be trusted to write her in bloody character. (Yep, still sore about Legacy of the Force.) And if it was necessary to kill Mara off for the sake of a storyline, Zahn could probably find a way to give her an appropriate send-off, rather than the bullshit we got in Sacrifice. (Definitely still sore.) Even he couldn’t fit in the Solo children if that’s not in the sequel trilogy gameplan—as seems likely—but Zahn would still come closest to generating what I loved best from the New Republic era EU and deliver it in the form of a deeply engaging, fun, and exciting story.

*And Aaron Allston, perhaps the most prolific of the exceptions—when he’s not collaborating with Troy Denning—is sadly no longer with us.

(Also on the subject of writers for Journey to, please tell me Denning either isn’t involved, or at least has been relegated to low-key projects like Tatooine Ghost, which was a decent enough story.)

Like I said, I don’t quite dare to hope Zahn will be attached to this project, and even if he is, my mind can all too easily imagine scenarios where it still all falls apart. Given the general mediocrity of the books published in the lead-up to the Expanded Universe’s fading out, and the fact that from what I can tell, the folks who presided over that pile of unmitigated adequacy are still integral to the decision-making process, I have significant reservations about Journey to the Force Awakens.

Don’t get me wrong, even in my bleakest moments, I don’t expect a clusterf**k on the level of “Legacy of the Force.” Obviously, it could happen, but it would take an incredible amount of doing—I think the chances against it are pretty good. But I do worry that it’ll be a mess of bad stories on the order of, say, Scourge or Deceived, not-good stories like Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge, and some decent but forgettable stories like Kenobi, and maybe one or two pretty good but far from amazing, stories like A New Dawn. Admittedly, the old EU had of mediocre and outright bad stories, but it didn’t have another narrative of that period in Star Wars history to compare itself against. And the way nostalgia works is that the whole of the Journey to material is going to be compared against the best of the Old Republic era EU. Not fair, but that’s how it is. Even if most of Journey to is of similar quality to A New Dawn—which would be an accomplishment all on its own—it’s still not going to live up its competition for me.

Basically, what I’m saying here is that the Journey to folks have set a really high bar for themselves in order to win me over, and nothing I’ve seen so far gives me any reason to expect they’ll clear it. Overall, I’m still optimistic about the new continuity in the long run, but for the short term, I suspect I’m in for a lot of disappointment.

Peace out, everyone

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Passing of a legend

TERRY PRATCHETT?
“Hmm, yes? Oh, my goodness, it’s you.”
YES.
“And that must mean that I’m …”
YES.
“Well, well. I must say, I never expected to actually meet you. Never believed in this sort of thing, you know.”
IF I MAY BE PERMITTED TO USE THE PHRASE, WE LIVE AND LEARN.
“Yes, I suppose we do. So what now, then?”
NOW, I TAKE YOU TO THE NEXT PART.
“Of course. And what, er, what is the next part, exactly?”
THAT WOULD BE TELLING. BUT DON’T WORRY, IT ISN’T ANYTHING TOO BAD, AND THE JOURNEY ISN’T LONG AT ALL.
“I guess we might as well go, then.”
YES, BUT BEFORE WE DO, MR. PRATCHETT …?
“Yes? Go on.”
WOULD YOU AUTOGRAPH MY SCYTHE?
“Goodness, really? Well, after all, why not?”

I wrote those words in the fall of 2012, when I was in London. I don’t know why they came to me then, but I wanted to have them ready for when this day came. I hoped it would be many more years … don’t we always?

I should have known he’d beat me to the punch; I’m sure it’s better this way.

I’ll expound more upon what Pratchett meant to me at a later time. For now, suffice it to say that I consider him probably one of the greatest writers I personally have ever read, and it seems like he was a largely decent human being on top of it. His death is a great loss, and he leaves a rich literary legacy behind him.