As my hands rest against the keyboard, I realise this is an article i've attempted to write almost a dozen times now. There's so much here to critique, so many angles which might allow the subject of Episode VII to be discussed. Ultimately the problem is none of them carry the full weight of what i'm about to say. I've always tried to keep personal details away from this blog, something i've kept up in some attempt at professionalism as much as avoiding troll baiting. Sometimes however, you just need to open up and tell the full story. Rather than an analytical article, this is going to be more of your common blog post about what Star Wars meant to me personally. Namely in how it shaped my future and why that means the upcoming film is doomed to be a failure in my eyes.
Were it not for Star Wars you would not be reading these words. While many usually say this referring to how it drew them into the science fiction genre - and i'll admit that's equally true here - it's one of several reasons i'm capable of reading and writing. The truth is that, well, i'm dyslexic. Even in the early years of high school, I was still stumbling over some basic words, struggling to string certain sentences together and even get a basic grasp on grammar. You've probably seen signs of this, especially in my older works, where basic structure seems skewed and obvious mistakes are rather rampant. For all that though I was, at least, writing and Star Wars was to thank for that.
The franchise was hardly the only driving force which allowed me to actually start comprehending the English language. A great deal of credit needs to be given to a very kind, very patient teacher who was willing to even move schools with me to keep serving as my tutor. Her contributions, her time and efforts cannot be denied, but just as she was teaching me in class, there's no denying that my comprehension of words, terms and the like started to seriously improve upon taking up reading as a hobby. Just as Warhammer 40,000 assisted me in learning basic multiplication and arithmetic - yes, you're reading about someone unfortunate enough to be plagued with dyscalculia as well - Star Wars helped me to read through its video games.
Unlike many, it seemed I was one of the few who watched the original trilogy asking "what's just beyond the screen?" When the characters talked about Kessel, Lando's past or the efforts to steal the Death Star plans, I was less content with the basic information and kept asking "How did that happen?" "What followed that?" "What happened between films?" "Who else was a part of the Rebellion?" Eventually I discovered LucasArts had given us the answers. This was in the era of the N64, so spoken word in video games was in its infancy. Even those which used it tended to feature very muffled or difficult lines, such as Rogue Squadron. As such, my first chances to truly learn about the bigger setting were stumped from the outset. Rather than merely learning in class, I started actively trying to force myself to read things beyond it, usually assisted by another person.
Gradually I started to learn more of the story and how things had played out, and started to value the pilots alongside the heroes. Being seven at the time, seeing the characters beyond Luke, Han or the others receiving even a vague storyline came as something of a shock. They introduced me to the feeling that many of the drama fodder accompanying the heroes were characters in their own right, actual people, and as were many Imperials. Seeing Kasan Moor, an Imperial squadron leader, defecting thanks to the Empire destroying Alderaan actually gave many of those the heroes were gunning down a face. They weren't robots or emotionless drones, each were humans in their own right. It was more depth than most of the black an white morality plays of my childhood had been willing to explore, and even the major films themselves.
Over time my hunger for more stories expanded to other games with Shadows of the Empire depicting how events had played out between films and even led into other series such as the seminal Legend of Zelda. However, one thing always stuck in my mind during all of this: Rogue Squadron's final level. Rather than being set between films, it showed a battle set on Mon Calamari where the Rebellion was fighting an entirely new war, years after Return of the Jedi. The game mentioned that the Emperor had been reborn, hinting of a darker, more desperate time with small bands of fighters desperately trying to hold back titanic siege engines known as World Devastators. The idea that there was an even bigger universe out there, kept needling me until I started to find these novels. It was quite a shock when I finally found them.
Despite starting on the venerated X-Wing series, and admittedly wondering where the events of the game were for a while, after a couple of years I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of the New Jedi Order, specifically Dark Tide I: Onslaught. While still visibly Star Wars, the universe had been distorted and changed in some astounding ways. Chewbacca was dead, the New Republic had been fully established and had made peace with the Empire, the Jedi Order was rebuilt, and there was an entirely new enemy emerging from outside the galaxy. One who not only could fight the Jedi to a standstill but had no presence in the Force. Many say that bigger settings and big continuities drive readers away, but in this case it had me hooked. I hungered to know how this had all come about, how all the massive changes had started to come into play. Here, continuity and wanting to know about the stories which had led up to that point dragged me in, and I was ready to hunt every one of them down and read them. More importantly though, it showed me just how vast certain settings can become or how they could evolve.
Rather than be relatively isolated, the New Jedi Order linked into countless books across the Expanded Universe's history, intertwining themselves into everything from the Marvel Comics to the Thrawn trilogy. Over time we witnessed the series using that to its benefit, setting up some of the best character arcs the universe had seen and showing dramatic, but ultimately extremely natural changes to the new generation. Jaina Solo becoming the Sword of the Jedi, Jacen's growing resentment of his powers before embracing a greater understanding of them, and the new pilots of Rogue Squadron; all came into play. Across the twenty or so books, the various authors pushed for new ways to explore these characters and - no pun intended - expanded upon that had come before it. Compared with the arcs of the original trilogy such as Luke's slow growth, these were complex and dramatic sagas in their own right.
Showing how a universe could gradually evolve and utterly change pushed me into new settings. My interest in Dune, Lord of the Rings, Marvel, DC Comics, Black Library, and even the works of Bernard Cornwell all stemmed from this. Rather than, as is the cliched opinion, turning me into a basement dwelling obsessive only focused upon a single setting, it encouraged me to embrace all others. It encouraged me to try and see how others could construct whole new worlds within their narrative, building into a true setting rather than limiting themselves to a single, simple storyline. Perhaps most importantly though, it helped me to keep my sanity.
When I think back to my time of my education there is simply a blank haze. There's little which truly comes to mind and I have spent a long time desperately trying to forget most of what took place. Only two still remain and neither are especially pleasant. The first, towards the end of middle school, is of a mob standing over me, kicking me unto submission. The second was being taken to hospital to ensure that someone's exceptionally violent beatings had not fractured my skull. I was a science fiction fan, and my learning disabilities left me regulated to the bottom set in any class involving English or Maths. I was an easy target for thugs looking for a new plaything. Were it not for the escapism of those books, I probably would have drowned myself long before graduation. That or, given my hatred for certain classmates, perhaps something much worse. I won't claim to be someone who suffered the most traumatic time at school; only that I feel nothing but rage, frustration and pain when thinking back to those times. It's no exaggeration to say that Star Wars helped me retain hope in an extremely bleak chapter my life.
Even after finally escaping high school however, I did not stop reading. While they might have served as a crutch, keeping me going, the enjoyment I felt in keeping up to date with that universe never diminished. While I might not have had many happy memories, returning to those books time and time again brought a fresh wave of nostalgia each time. I would remember the joy of seeing each battle, each chase and each moment of fun, but at the same time it wasn't purely thanks to that childhood connection. So often, I would read over the same book but gain greater comprehension, better understanding themes or subtleties I had missed when first thumbing through their pages. Many times I would find new elements, new links or ideas, or even commentary and read off of those, searching for new stories. Their quality never lessened over time, but I nevertheless developed as a reader and a person.
For all of that joy though, I never looked through those novels with rose tinted glasses. The Expanded Universe was mighty, dynamic and massive, but certainly flawed. The likes of Darksaber or Karven Traviss' works were something I still hold up as major creative failures among successes of their eras. Many times I would see mistakes made by new creators or old cliches overplayed, perhaps even terrible concepts which never should have been invented in the first place. Yet for all of this, it was here I actually learned to enjoy a franchise as a fan truly should. I learned that you didn't need to aggressively defend everything, adamantly love every story, and that fans should learn to enjoy franchises despite their flaws. More importantly however, it allowed me to remain optimistic in spite of storytelling failures.
For every terrible story, for every terrible decision or botched concept, quite often we'd see something better emerge from its ideas. While Palpatine's return might have been a flawed chapter, it led to many fantastic spin-offs such as the Crimson Empire series. While Kevin J Anderson might have overplayed the super-weapon cliche, it led to the Hand of Thrawn duology, Star Wars: Leviathan and a more dynamic era. Even as the Sun Crusher dominated Jedi Academy Trilogy might have led to a parade of mind-numbing stupid moments, it planted the seeds for new stories. We saw the Jedi being rebuilt, Kyp Durron would slowly transform into a better character, we saw a moment which explicitly depicted the Light Side having advantage over the Dark Side of the Force, and it led to I, Jedi. No matter how dark or dumb things seemed, you could always be sure some good would slowly emerge from them.
While I might not have kept fully up to date with the series past the New Jedi Order into Legacy of the Force, I always returned for the books which interested me. As Knights of the Old Republic emerged from development and new installments such the Shadows of Mindor were written, I found myself returning and even keeping up to date with the slowly evolving universe. Even as I objected to some of the dumber stories, I could always appreciate the ever evolving narrative and huge scale of the universe, finding solace in how a massive, thriving setting had sprung forth from a relatively simple trilogy. Of course, this is no longer the case, is it.
Even with hundreds upon thousands, perhaps millions, of fans devoted to the EU, Disney came. Disney took one look at this beloved, thriving place and slit its throat. They declared it worthless. They declared that it did not suit their needs, and determined that its existence didn't serve the "true" fans of Star Wars. You know, not those who had read the additional material, but merely the people who had perhaps glanced at the films once or twice. Not those who actually cared about the setting or how the characters evolved, but those who would saw the enjoyment of Star Wars as an excuse to try and crack open a fan's cranium. They didn't want a true setting. In the typical modus operandi these executive shit-stains running the corporation operate on, they didn't bother to actually stop and think. No, instead, they decided that rather than putting any effort in they were just going to plagiarize everything.
There's no denying that greed drove Disney into murdering the Star Wars universe, it's obvious wherever you look. They have been putting out all the stops to sell as much merchandise as possible and hype up the "continuation" of the story, all the while openly defecating on anything which actually developed the story. That would be bad enough, but then you have all those lovely attempts to steal ideas. You see, the likes of Thrawn, Corran Horn, Revan, Mara Jade, Darth Bane and others are all owned by authors. They created them and have some say in how things develop, and Disney doesn't want that. Disney wants dig their claws into any idea or concept, and wholly own it for themselves, not bothering to credit or reward those who created them. As such, after they lambasted everything involving the EU, we start to see hints creeping in. We start to see old stories emerging all over again, plots already well trodden re-appearing an EU exclusive species showing up under Disney control.
So we have many old ideas being repeated over and over again, but things start to get far worse than that quite quickly. We start to see very slightly edited older versions of characters emerging in Disney's new series or works, claiming to be wholly original all the while mysteriously resembling EU characters quite closely. Don't believe me? Let's take this example of Rebels' Kanan Jarrus:
Now here's Kyle Katarn, protagonist of Dark Forces, Jedi Knight and quite a few other EU Star Wars series:
Don't see it yet? Well, here's Jarrus with a slightly larger beard and slightly different coloured clothing:
|See Original Image Here|
Oh, that's rather unfortunate, isn't it? Still, at least they're wholly different characters. I mean, they're only both Rebel special agents loosely attached to the Alliance, learning to use their force powers in an age where the Jedi are being hunted down. They're only both fighting a Sith Inquisitor with aspirations for power, hunting for information on Jedi relics and flying around in a beaten up freighter with an amusing droid and another agent voiced by Vanessa Marshall. It's not like they have exactly the same quips, exactly the same reactions and exactly the same personality, right?
Yeah, they're the same fucking character. It's just that one, to try and sidestep any ownership issues, is a slightly re-edited version of the other. You might not believe this, but Disney is actually engaged in acts of "ORIGINAL CHARACTER, DO NOT STEAL!!" usually reserved for rabid twelve year olds on DeviantArt. Hard as it might be for Disney to understand, but murdering something fans loved will not earn their loyalty. Ripping off its metaphorical face and parading about in it, pretending to be the EU, will only earn the undying bloody hatred of anyone who once loved that setting.
When you actually strip away all the stuff Disney's authors stolen, all the stuff they've replicated or tried to life from that "flawed and failing" setting they relentlessly crap on, you're left with very little. Almost all of that shred left, those fragments of stories, serve only to try and hype Episode VII in some way, be it hints of what will follow or vague suggestions of what will become of the characters. They're often not stories in their own right, but mere vehicles for the Disney hype machine. So, what we're left with isn't some new age for better novels, some new push to build a bigger universe, but a single storyline. The simple idea that all that matters is the visual media, and that unless it serves as their propaganda machine, the novels can burn for all they care.
This is the respect the Expanded Universe gets for keeping Star Wars alive for decades, long after the films had been forgotten and further helping to hype their return. Whatever else you can say about the prequels which were bad, the vast majority of the comics, novels, shows and material it spawned via the Expanded Universe were all pretty damn solid. And guess what else? The prequels fitted into the Expanded Universe without too much trouble. A few rectons here and there were all that were needed, because the universe adapted, altered and shifted to suit them. Apparently though, that isn't good enough for a shit peddling failure of a director like JJ "I can't be bothered to do research beyond pop culture, so burn everything" Abrams.
So, unless VII manages to make up for the loss of multiple generations of characters, unless it makes up for the loss of any push for original material not driven by nostalgia for the opening trilogy, unless it can make up for the loss of everything worth caring about with Star Wars, it will be a failure. Unless, in two hours, it can replace everything we lost for two decades, then the franchise will be left as a lesser shadow of itself. So please, don't try to stop and defend this move by claiming it somehow build a better fucking setting.