Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Star Wars Under Disney: A New Era of Disappointments


A friend once summed up my relationship with Star Wars as that of a classic Noir detective: Someone who wants to desperately cut his ties with a corrupt and failing regime, sickened by the repeated failings about him, and trying to do his best in a bad world. He finished it up with this line:

"Just when I think i'm out, they drag me right back in."

He's probably right. Three times now I have tried to sever my ties to this setting after Disney butchered it. Three times I have said, "That's it, no more," only to go back on my word for one reason or another. Well, looks like we're breaking that promise entirely this time. Star Wars meant a lot to me, anyone who has read this article will understand that. Because of this, many claimed that any initial derision of Disney's creation was simply too soon. Some claimed that I hadn't given it a chance to show its stuff. Others that my reaction was a knee-jerk response born of simmering hatred. So, with that in mind, I actually agreed to hold off for a time. Save for a few reviews of series I had already started and the odd article to help highlight past points, I have held off on Star WarsDisney has been allowed a full sixteen months to prove me wrong following their reboot. They have had over a year to create the coherent, "better" universe they wanted to stand out on its own, so let's see what they have accomplished.

Now, to be clear, we're going to be skipping the films here for the most part. Why? Because it would take an entire series of articles to cover the problems there, and I want to focus upon the universe they're building. The old films, the old Expanded Universe, used the two trilogies as a starting point to work off of. They respected the creative choices and concepts, but opted to expand and building upon the setting based upon their example, or focusing upon the areas the films couldn't hope to cover. In short, it's where any new setting should be able to stand on its own two legs. These are the elements which are supposed to fully flesh out a new franchise, accomplishing big events on a massive scale television simply can't deliver, and rapid updates film cannot perform. It was where the old Expanded Universe stood its ground and proved that Star Wars had more to say. It's also where this brand new franchise hit a brick wall. 

Every story produced, almost every tale developed surrounding this new setting focused upon the same thing the Galactic Civil War. Oh you had your odd exceptions, notably the Aftermath series, but everything else from Twilight Company to Lost Stars was all focused upon this one era. No one went backwards, no one went forwards, it was as if the entire franchise was locked into a holding pattern surrounding this one small event in galactic history. Worse still though, even if you were to try and read many of the stories pushing onward, each of them was always looking back at what had come before. True, the Empire had left deep scars in the setting and it was going to impact all that had come before it, but it seemed that was all that the publisher was interested in.

Twilight Company, easily the best book to emerge from this new setting, focused squarely upon the Galactic Civil War and little else. We were given a better impression of how the Rebellion fought during this time and an idea of the conflict's grim nature, but even this was seen as extreme by the standards of the other tales. Tarkin ultimately proved to be the same in the long run, doing little to really push beyond the Death Star itself, and screwing up many other writers' ideas. Even Lords of the Sith, a book which stood the best chance of truly fleshing out and establishing new points, devolved into little more than repeating what many already knew. Vader is driven by his hatred and the Rebels want to kill the Emperor. Any attempt at character examination or pushes to flesh out this new world fell flat over and over again.



Still, surely some of the later books were exceptions right? Well, no, not even then.
Bloodline tried to push the setting forwards with the idea of the New Republic being established, but it never took any definitive step forwards. Every twist hinged upon something which had happened in the films, every major life-changing event related directly back to the Empire, and even the core conflict itself rapidly turned back into an old Imperial plot. Even with these elements the story could have resolved itself by giving an impression of some new change in times, but it went back to preserving the status quo under a new name. All we ended up with was a Rebellion Resistance fighting a Galactic Empire First Order with the same old faces in command.

Each and every time any novel verged upon doing something interesting or pushing any boundaries, it rapidly fell back, taking shelter behind anything which was familiar to the audience. Reading any and all of them, you can practically see the moments between chapters where demands were abruptly placed upon the author or they were told to avoid something. It's likely why Heir to the Jedi ended up ping-ponging back and forth between a multitude of different disconnected sub-plots until the book was all over the place. You can practically see exactly where Disney got involved as, by the first act's end, everything goes insane. At one moment it suggested the Force of the Church's involvement in something major, at another it was a possible relationship between Luke and dead-meat-love-interest-No.-6, then it's abruptly about Luke's own history. Each offered no connection to the other, and the moment they started to go anywhere, the line was abruptly drawn in the sand and they were told to halt.

You see, the books here were trapped. Each seemingly denied any opportunity to explore the juiciest area of the new canon: The events between the ending of one trilogy and the beginning of the next. That massive decades long gap, that era of monumental change and grand opportunities was open to them, and Disney was terrified to let anyone near it. Why? Simple - It might allow the setting to evolve, and it might disrupt their brand new films.

While a previous article bashed The Force Awakens for simply rehashing many ideas of the Expanded Universe - a point I strongly stand by - even if you ignore this there are obvious problems. Nothing advanced. Nothing moved forwards. Nothing even tried to change. Instead, the entire setting was bent over backwards to keep the same status quo of the very first film. Don't believe me? Consider, just for a moment, the arc that Han Solo and Leia Organa followed.

In the original trilogy, Han and Leia's relationship was one of the major highlights. We saw it grow from their conflict, their loyalties develop and their belief in one another solidify. The chemistry between the characters and actors elevated it further and, despite some often questionable dialogue, the almost traditional nature of this work meant you bought into it. It meant that you weren't questioning how two people, originally at one another's throats, were going to be together at the end, solidified in one final smile. 


Consider as well the friendship they had with Luke, Lando and Chewie. The reason that they have become so iconic is because they were such a tight-knit and well-rounded ensemble of characters. Each was so solidly defined that you didn't question what they were going to do, and never cared if one moment or another was overly predictable. So what if you knew Luke was going to race to Cloud City to save the others? That idealism was why you loved to watch him. So what if Lando's turn back towards the light was still expected, that kind of traditional touch was what helped give the film such a lasting appeal. The fact that the film's followed such a natural major arc, featured such a definitive end for that chapter in their lives, is why they have stayed in the minds of others for decades. You knew the Empire as it was had been crushed, you saw the group have a happy ending, and you knew that whatever followed this conflict had ended in the best way possible.

Here's the problem: Everyone knows this moment, everyone is aware of this finale, and Disney looks to mine that nostalgia. So, in order to do so, they hit the reset button as hard as they possibly can. The Force Awakens requires you to love that initial arc, enjoy the ending, and then accept that Han and Leia's marriage ended in complete misery just so film can regress back to the scoundrel and princess dynamic once again. Why? Because it's not what made sense or is the next natural step forwards, it's just replicating what people loved about the original; clumsily mashing it together with other plot elements to try and force it to work while aping other ideas. 

Where's Luke in all of this? The film requires you to believe that he would go through hell and high water twice over, losing his hand whilst trying and save them, and then bugger off to the middle of nowhere in their time of need. Why? Because he's a Jedi Master, and the original trilogy always had Jedi Masters in hiding. Why's he hiding? Because the Jedi Order were wiped out. Again. Because the original trilogy's ending, featuring him set to rebuild the force of peacekeepers, was accepted and then reversed like everything else. Every victory was abruptly omitted, every step forwards carefully reversed and back-tracked until everything was back to square one. The Death Star is gone? Here's the Uber-Killy Star! Darth Vader is dead along with all the Sith? Here's some whining replacement aping Vader's every effort! The Empire has been broken? Here's the Super Empire!

Abrams, Disney, the people behind this entire endeavor? They probably heard of Star Wars, they may have even watched it, but damn if they failed to comprehend the point behind any of it. Rather than building upon the films, rather than using them as a starting point to work towards something greater, the best they can hope to do is keep mimicking and copying ideas from other people in the hopes it will make some coherent sense. Because of this mentality, because of this stagnant refusal to budge forwards and rampant creative sterility present across the new franchise, the books were kept on a short leash. No longer are they there to press forwards and help plan things out, they're just present as a kind of auxiliary to the films, only being allowed to follow in their wake and do nothing that Abrams wouldn't.

Of course, I imagine a few people on here are screaming "Well, Rebels fixes all of this!" No, please, do not fool yourselves.

Even accepting that this was once more delving back into the Rebellion era and shirking any opportunity to build upon what came before, what we ended up with was a sub-par saga. A ruination of the setting and quite frankly a series which squanders any opportunity to have this new storyline stand out on its own by playing to the most cliched of tropes at every turn. Now, I used the above point to cite how predictability isn't a problem under the right circumstances. If an audience is engaged enough by the characters, if they are enthralled by the ongoing events, then a few predictable traits can be endearing and engaging. We all know that in the Marvel films Captain America is going to be the big hero, after all, but that never detracts from the experience of watching him on the big screen. However, Rebels took this to the next level, by turning entire story arcs into generic by-the-numbers pieces you have seen a billion times before.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: A foe is set up for the heroes. He does his job badly over and over again, being beaten at every turn, and has an enmity with one person in particular. Eventually they're trapped on the same place, rely on one another to survive, and emerge with a respect for one another. When the threatening villain shows up, he acts as their informant, and then switches sides.

How about this instead: A bitter down on his luck orphan is thrust into great events because he has a great inner power and potential. He is immature, lacks self control and his personality begins and ends with bad jokes and snark. He uses an overly kiddy weapon and mockery to win fights, and repeatedly ends conflicts which should be well above his status. He is trained by an older member of a sacred order over years to master his skills, and an encounter with a villain starts to force him to become more serious over time.

Or, here's another one: A member of a warrior race is disgusted with her own kind. Having gone into a kind of self-exile, she is eventually convinced to return to them in order to change their ways and improve events, after lengthy self reflection and the encouragement of others. This immediately fixes just about everything and is rarely ever mentioned again once this is done.

This is 80s cartoon levels of simplistic characterization, and despite the heavy continuity involved, it never rises above the most absolute bare-bones storytelling quality. Perhaps you can argue that this is a children's show, and that this shouldn't be a problem as a result. It's an argument I have certainly heard before and one which will certainly be made again. Like many defenses for this franchise though, it's riddled with problems. 

Firstly, western animation has retained more complex and mature storytelling than this without needing to dumb it down, even for children. Avatar, Transformers Prime (AKA What if the Michael Bay films were actually good?), and others have dealt with complex storytelling while subverting or sidestepping cliches. Secondly, if this is supposed to be the grand defense of your new setting, how is "Well, don't be too hard on it, it's just for children!" some excuse? Finally though, even when you accept and ignore this, you're still left with nothing of real value. In fact, you're left with a lot of old mistakes and missed opportunities, along with butchered potential.

Take for example the idea that this is a time dominated by the Empire, where the effects of the Clone Wars are still being keenly felt. Surely this was an opportunity for some dark storytelling and great ideas right, perhaps even a few hold-overs from the past series showing up? Nope. Beyond three clones and one episode the rest is effectively forgotten entirely, and even then it's rushed through like there's no tomorrow. Really, here's the Clone Wars episode in question summed up in three lines, with all the drama and intensity it offered:

"We're droids, we're still at war and we hate the clones!"
"You have the Empire to fight now."
"You're right, we're now your allies and there's no ill will between us."
"Yay, the Clone Wars are over! Thank you Ezra, you have fixed everything!"

If you think this is a joke, here's the scene in full. Yes, this was supposed to be taken seriously.


You might also notice a few oddities there as well, such as how utterly un-threatening and poorly trained the Stormtroopers are. Well, that's because Disney didn't want to explore the theme of heroes becoming villains or the programming involved with such a turn. No, rather than having the original troopers slowly replaced, all the clones were dumped at once with trite reasons and the show uses the excuse that "All Stormtroopers are new, poorly trained and rushed into service!" to turn them into jokes. 

Such a move would be bad enough on its own. Mooks or not, if you stop making your enemies threatening, if you turn them into literal jokes for the heroes to simply make a mockery of with no veneer of possible threat, why become invested in any fight? However, in an attempt to mine the "herp derp stormtroopers badd" idea taken up by pop culture, the show doubled down on this. Again, and again and again.

They're not only rushed into service, but badly trained, ignoring even the bare basics of squad tactics. In fact, rather than being trained to work together, the show actively displays Stormtrooper cadets being told to screw one another over in order to gain personal glory. When it gets to their equipment, it promptly decides that their armour is worthless, their helmets hinder them, and their blasters are so pitifully inaccurate they're effectively useless.

So, whereas the Expanded Universe tried to subvert this, tried to make the Empire a threat and the Stormtroopers human, all Disney is concerned about is turning them into slapstick comedy and cannon fodder. So much so that, if the Rebellion were to simply wait, it seems that their entire military would collapse in upon itself.

Almost every criticism supposed fans of Star Wars level at the Expanded Universe, damning it a hundred times over for daring to exist, is repeated here. 


Too many super weapons? Rebels re-introduces the B-Wings as mini-Death Star laser equipped machines which can one-shot capital ships. Keep in mind, these are mass-produced attack fighters. 

Too much focus on the Jedi? The main character is a Jedi in training, the deuteragonist is a Jedi, and the series repeatedly cuts back to re-introduce Jedi from the past series. 

Too many Force related subjects? Entire sagas are about nothing but the Force, often getting many points wrong and hand-waving it away with "It's magic, so we don't have to explain it!" treatments.

Too many fantasy elements, fairy tale ideas and Lord of the Rings style ideas, often taking Force powers to supposedly insane levels? The show introduces an inexplicable gigantic Minotaur-ghost creature on some random world, who is capable of single-handedly decimating entire armies with Force lightning.


Too reliant upon unbelievable twists and elements? The show plays so fast and loose with physics that it quite literally thinks that outer space simply means you need a helmet. Yes, really, one scene has two characters without tanks, suits or protection save for unsealed Stormtrooper helmets go on a lengthy spacewalk bereft of any negative after-effects.

Too much focus and sheer reliance upon big names? The series drags up Wedge, Dodona, Vader, Tarkin and Thrawn later on. Hell, it becomes so desperate it resurrects Maul to keep the drama going.

Even then, Rebels can't even manage to get this one detail right, as it continually underplays or just ignores the capabilities of these figures as the story demands. Take Wedge for example, the man who keeps being screwed over by Disney in this new setting. He is no longer an ace pilot but someone presented as little more than above average at best, so the show can force the main characters into a more prominent role. Really, when you block off the nostalgia rush of seeing Tarkin, when you try to shun the brief joy of thinking how exciting it will be to see Thrawn on a TV screen, you realise they're non-entities. Their actions, behaviour and overall impact is reduced to the point where they could have been performed by just about any Imperial officer, and they're only notable because the show isn't treating them as a joke.

Really, think of the two Thrawns just for a moment. In the Expanded Universe, the Grand Admiral was a expert tactician and general. Capable of commanding absolute loyalty in his troops - with one very notable exception - he rebuilt the Empire's shattered remnants with little more than a single crew at his side and a few forgotten resources. At a time where the New Republic had been expanding on all fronts, he took on the best of them. Overcoming planet after planet and turning a rout into a near defeat for the Republic despite the heroes' best efforts, and lost only because he overestimated one critical factor in his plans.

Thrawn in the Disney franchise is an attack dog. He's sent in to try and hunt down the Rebellion, and what we're treated to is episode after episode of him racing around, trying to hunt down one ship and failing over and over again. Half the time he's not even there, wasting troops under incompetent commanders and unable to ensure the loyalty of those who follow him, and even his "victory" is only earned through sheer overwhelming force of arms. Hell, even then he ends up losing a sizable chunk of the army he brought with him.

One was treated as a genius because he was able to out-think his foes. The other was simply a genius because he was the only competent person with a basic grasp of long term strategies in the entire Empire. They weren't being added to expand borders or even experiment with new ideas, they were just shoved into the show for a ratings boost, and this laziness is inherent throughout much of the show and Disney as a whole. 

Many of the ideas the show is often praised for supposedly introducing were openly pillaged from the Expanded Universe, only to be just as quickly discarded without a second thought. The big, very obvious one is the Inquisition, of course. Originally the group of fallen Jedi and witch hunters used to help cull the remnants of the old Order, their role was more or less the same here. However, they ultimately served as a faceless villain with a recognizable name and little else. Oh, their role was supposedly the same and they were fallen Jedi, but that's as far as this new setting took things.

In effect, the Inquisition was treated as a gimmick squad for the good guys to rapidly take down. The sort of foes who would hang around for a short while, do a couple of things to get them noticed and then get bumped off. While the old setting offered a lengthy articles about their hierarchy, the history of their members, what drove many of them to side with the Sith, and even their core tenants, Disney offered us nothing. Well, no, they offered us less than nothing. Rather than making them individually stand out, it gave each Inquisitor replaceable non-names and little to no personality short of "gets angry, hunts Jedi" and treated them like Sith-lite. So, it took away anything which might have made the group interesting or would have helped them stand out in any way, using nothing but an old nostalgic name from the Expanded Universe. What was the only thing it gave them? This:



Yes, again, this was supposed to be taken seriously. Please do not try to think how this works, you will simply end up with an extreme headache and a craving for pain-dulling alcohol.


Like the novels, most of the time Rebels itself seems hesitant to actually take any real steps forwards. It often just lifts concepts from the EU, but rather than building upon them or actually taking them in a new direction, they either do nothing or botch them horribly. The above example is obviously a point towards the latter, and the few times the show has tried to push any concepts into the limelight they lack even a fraction of the original's depth. It seems that, while Disney wants to use the recognition of the names and the ideas of the old EU, it lacks the commitment and skill to truly flesh them out. This is true across the board, as Disney's conservative and narrow minded views have hindered this new setting over and over again. 

Whether or not you enjoyed Rogue One, you have to admit that it was a poor showing for the first film to try and "break the mold" as Disney put it. Rather than showing us something we have never seen before, rather than pushing to explore the ideas possible in this new setting, it resorted to the old Death Star plans theft plot. A story so overdone and returned to so many times in the Expanded Universe, that it practically became a running gag to see how convoluted the system could be. Returning to the most obvious of ideas, banking on the most obvious and easy nostalgic rush was hardly proving that they had any faith in developing this setting, but even then they managed to get things horribly wrong. Rather than sitting back and thinking about it, they merely went with "herp derp, exhaust port is because sabotage!" story. An idea which becomes more nonsensical and ludicrous the more you think about the actual effort of trying to exploit this weak point.

Now, some of you might already be prepared to argue that this was because Disney wants to ensure high standards in its works. It wants to take things carefully, and make sure that everything lines up perfectly, avoiding the conflicting canon of the old setting, or to ensure that everything is of the highest quality. These are points you would have to be blind to agree with. Why? Well, you have to first accept that the supposedly high standards of said editors are lax enough to stamp "approved" on books with this sort of dialogue in them: 

"“Oh ho ho, you think I’ve lost a step, huh?”

“Can’t lose a step you never had.”

Dengar guffaws. “You little scrap muncher. I was putting away bounties while you were still in your space diapers.”

“What’s it say about you that you’re still in your space diapers?”

“You don’t much like me, do you?”"


That's from page 182 of Star Wars: Aftermath, in a back-and-forth between Dengar and Mercurial Swift. Yes, apparently Disney not only thought that this was a practically Shakespearean exchange, but that name was a winner; the kind of one which is up there with Superfly Johnson on the scale of bad to apocalyptically atrocious names. Please also keep in mind, this isn't the exception to these new books, this is their average quality across the board.

Then, atop of this, you have to also ignore all the times these same editors have completely thrown any and all coherency out of the window. We discussed this before when, within less than a year, Disney's authors managed to write two completely contradictory ways in which lightsabers work. This would be bad enough on its own, given they effectively screwed up arguably the most simple and essential idea behind the Jedi short of the Force itself, but they couldn't stop there. Oh no, instead we started to have books butting heads at every turn.

For example, Twilight Company and a few releases backed the idea established by the original films that the Jedi were some old forgotten remnant of history. Something which had been actively erased and destroyed until only a scant few people were even permitted to recall they had once defended the Republic. Aftermath, Rebels, the Marvel comics and others then promptly went in completely the other direction, by having everyone know about the Jedi. It honestly reached the point where more than once the same characters in these books suddenly had an in-depth historical knowledge of the Order at one moment, and then forgot everything in the next once you line up events.

Knowledge of the Force was censored and severely limited in every possible way, until its very name and nature had been forgotten by many people. This wasn't to the same extent as the Jedi, but it was present. Yet again half the releases accepted this, only for the other half to have everyone and anyone know everything about it, right up to an uneducated street urchin having knowledge of the Force on par with a Jedi Master.

No one seems to know whether Kashyyyk was enslaved or is entirely free. Despite Life Debt focusing entirely upon a wookiee uprising to take back their world, establishing that this slavery has been going on for decades, Marvel comics and others completely ignore this. In fact, they go so far as to feature multiple flashbacks on the planet, where it is prospering without any issues, at a time when the Empire was turning the place into a giant concentration camp.

How about the very nature of the Force and who can wield it? In Rebels, the Clone Wars and others, it's presented as an extremely difficult skill, a challenge to truly live with such power, and it requires incredible training to master. Then, all of a sudden, we have Force cults everywhere, with people displaying abilities on par with Padawans and Knights after training which is little more than "You have pain, use it!" and sending them into battle.

Hell, even some of the basic background ideas can't be decided upon. Several books treat the Krayt Dragon - an old and very exciting monster from the Expanded Universe - as alive and well, while the rest keep referring back to it as if it's extinct.

There are hundreds of these contradictions bridging across every book, interfering with every film. After Disney's big bold claim that it will improve everything, it's honestly amazing to see that they have so horribly botched this that multiple novels can refer to someone as both alive and dead between chapters (Arsin Crassus, for example, is shot dead in one book only for the next one to claim he's alive and well with no explanation). The sheer level of apathy and incompetence is utterly astounding at times, until you can be left just wondering if this is some bizarre gamble on Disney's part to try and make people apathetic to any flaws and failures in their works. It would certainly explain a great deal, given how they've already wholeheartedly embraced Sturgeon's Law within two years of taking over the license.

Oh, and to top all of this off, they're quite happy to perform acts of character assassination. If you think this is somehow exaggerated or an overblown claim, say hello to R2-D2, the murderous cold blooded espionage droid:



The end result of all this is the kind of explosive cluster-fuck of poor planning no amount of training could ever hope to match. With bad stories, unoriginal pitches, new works rife with basic mistakes and a stubborn unwillingness to actually explore the universe without ignoring or spitting on everything Lucas' had originally established, it's amazing to think this franchise has been a success. Quite frankly the only reason it still seems to be standing at this point is the willing blindness of fans to accept anything with the logo on it, and the effectiveness of the Disney hype machine.

And you know what? On some level I could forgive most of this. Really, it wouldn't be hard at all, were it not for two things. The most obvious of these being if they were honestly just trying to do some good. If they were actively attempting to do something interesting, if they were trying to experiment and push ideas the EU never could have attempted that would be something. Perhaps if they were to turn Boba Fett into this universe's Dread Pirate Roberts, or even to delve deeper into the idea that the Empire had a stronger hold on the galaxy than anyone knew, I could support this. Instead, rather than determined to wallow in mediocrity, if it had pushed to deliver great ideas it could have garnered some goodwill for such effort.

And the other point? Well, that should go without saying - The Legends brand. The final mocking insult, with Disney executives openly pissing on everything which came before them. De-legitimising it and declaring that only their stories were the real ones, that anything anyone had read and loved before now was nonsense gibberish. The very label lists them off as a mere myth, a series of old wives' tales and falsehoods passed around a campfire, apparently all we had dreamed about, invested in and become hooked by was never important at all. No, apparently it was something, according to so many of their fans, which was never canon and we never should have bothered to even become invested in the first place. That we simply don't deserve to enjoy the Star Wars we liked.

Such a stunt naturally gives Disney the excuse to shun everything written before they took control, while pilfering everything they can get their hands on. If there's an idea they like, they have full permission to just up and steal it, without crediting the original writer, without referring back to the first book it appeared in, or even just creating their own name-swapped stand-in. They could have done anything to help bridge this gap, to separate this out and make their own mark on the setting. They could have made the Expanded Universe an alternate timeline, another dimension, or even just set their own galaxy decades on, welcoming those fans onto the next part of the saga. Instead they opted to deliver one gigantic middle finger to those who enjoyed the EU's works.

Some people, as always, will defend this. As with everything else cited above, their arguments amount to nonsensical bullshit.

Two universes would just confuse people, you say? If that's so, why can you find Legends and Mouse canon books crammed together on the same shelves, both newly printed by Disney? Why can you find them all shunted together with no explanation of which one is which, and why does Disney not bother to even offer a cursory explanation of which is which?

No one reads those new books? Believe it or not, but the attention paid towards new books has dropped considerably since Disney took over. Whereas the old EU books were frequently appearing on the New York Times Best Seller lists, and a few of their related titles even reaching that golden #1 spot like The Star Wars, Disney's books are struggling. Despite Aftermath's initial splash, the numbers have been falling, with Life Debt: Aftermath only reaching #9 at its height, while Catalyst struggled at #15 and the Rogue One novelization bottomed out at #16.

There's too much storytelling and too much continuity to keep track of? An old argument and a very understandable one, but also a very flawed and failing angle to approach this one. Why? The old EU novels were usually good enough to explain things as they were introduced and recap old events up to a point, and even if they weren't you would usually get a re-introduction by the villains themselves thinking back on what had happened since their last appearance. Some people don't like that, claiming it's wrong not to let the readers easily see everything which has led up to that point, and it's somehow "cheap". To these people, I simply point to one of the most iconic visual elements of the films they claim these books don't live up to:



It's a basic storytelling idea to keep the ball rolling, but believe it or not, but Disney actually screws this up quite frequently. Bloodlines tried to ignore the necessary role of an opening act, instead favouring to just throw things in or update people as the book went along, meaning you were often left utterly baffled as things played out without any explanation. Equally, if you were to give the novel Ahsoka to someone who has never seen Rebels or Clone Wars, they would be at a loss for words. Why? It never stops to introduce elements for the book itself, instead relying entirely upon the reader having seen every episode from her past outings to keep up with things.

How about that most obvious one though? The so-called fact that Disney did not owe fans anything, that they could not possibly work around such a lengthy history, and that anything which took place without their permission should be immediately non-canon. Perhaps  they're right. Perhaps Disney doesn't owe the fans who have supposed Star Wars for a decade, and that they feel driving away a sizable chunk of a large established community is somehow a good thing. I'm not going to argue this personally, but I am just going to list what every other franchise did when confronted with this same situation.

Star Trek - The new timeline is established while often paying homage and thanking the old one. It was willing to use some of the same elements as the old series, but often only so it could twist or rework them for its own benefit, and explore things with new angles. The comics in particular favoured doing this, while both the 2009 film and Beyond tried to thank and respect the setting it was replacing without rendering it meaningless. In fact, the only disrespectful act of openly plagiarising elements of the old universe came from the same man who is currently doing this to Star Wars, and it was quickly reversed the moment he was out of the picture.

Battlestar Galactica - Unlike many others, this was a reboot which completely turned the entire franchise on its head. It was grim whereas the old series was oddly optimistic. It was realistic whereas the old series was filled with 70s camp, and it was determined to focus less upon the journey than the human element within the fleet. Yet, despite this, it still found ways to pay homage to its origins. Quotes were often thrown in, several actors were brought back to show a link between the two, the old Cylons showed up at multiple points, and the subject of spirituality was core to the series. In multiple commentaries the creators cited that they were fans of the old franchise, and that their re-imagining of BSG was not intended to supplant or erase the past series.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe - For all the problems it has caused comics, the films have shown nothing but respect for the sources which have created it. At no point have they encouraged fans to overlook or ignore the originals, and quite often they will cite their inspirations and thank the publicly creators involved. Iron Man 3 in particular actually cited each arc and comic in turn, from Extremis to the Living Armour saga, saying it would experiment with ideas but wouldn't take any single one wholesale. Something which would allow others to pick them up and read them as needed.

In fact, this could extend to many other works and cinematic series. DC might be failing time and time again to get its heroes right, despite the best efforts of the actors, but then you have moments like this from those associated with Fox.

Doctor Who - This is the big one, the really big one, above all others. How so? Because it was in the same situation as Star Wars. The show ended, concluding the main series, and after a while other outlets were allowed to take over. Within a few years over a hundred novels began fleshing out ideas from the show, continuing on from where the last story had left off, and even going back to give past Doctors a second chance with new tales. Some were fantastic, some were bad, others were just middling concepts. It didn't just stop there though, as it set up a second alternate series running alongside it: The audio dramas, which eventually recruited every living actor they could get their hands on to create ongoing sagas, massive crossover events, ideas the series never even considered, and even fixed many old problems. Hell, it's what finally convinced fans to see that Colin Baker really was a fantastic Doctor when given a proper writer.


So, do you know what happened when the BBC took over and the series was brought back in 2005? They kept it all. They made multiple shout-outs to the audio dramas at several points, adapted a number of their concepts and ideas, eventually even solidifying the link between the two with Paul McGann's televised regeneration. While it wouldn't relentlessly rely upon knowledge of them, it understood that there was a massive fandom following this out there, and it respected that. The same even went for the novels, effectively treating them as an alternate setting within its own right, and treating them as something just as relevant as the big remake. 

Even when it did take ideas, even when it did adapt stories entirely, do you know what happened? It treated them as adaptations. It hired the original writers to adapt the scripts, gave them the same titles and said "Hey, this was originally a book and, if you're interested, check that out as well!" Something which is a far cry from The Force Awakens' decision to pick and choose which bits they wanted to openly steal from certain stories.

The immediate difference between Disney and everyone else is very quickly apparent. At every turn, at every choice, just about every other company with a major successful sci-fi reboot decided to show some degree of respect to its past. It actively avoided creating bad blood with its fandom, and always preserved the stories which had existed before it in some way. Instead, in the name of greed, Disney put a gun to its head and pulled the trigger.

It would be an easy thing to rail again Disney time and time again, to cite their failings and hammer them for their multiple errors. Yet, after over a year of nothing but bargain bin failures which have accomplished nothing besides looting half of their ideas from the EU, and utterly screwing up the other half, I am done. I do not wish to cover Last of the Jedi, citing a trailer which has already so badly screwed over the entire concept behind the Force that it contradicts even the bare basics Lucas set down. I could delve into the problems behind a company which is so creatively bankrupt that it's trying to present the idea of grey Jedi fixing everything, treating them as some brand new idea no one has ever thought of before, but we'll not be doing that.

Instead we'll be doing something I should have been covering from the start. Many of you don't know why the loss of the Expanded Universe was such a tragedy, so let's remedy this issue. Alongside Warhammer 40,000, video games and Age of Sigmar, the Star Wars Expanded Universe will become one of our main wheelhouses, citing some of the best and worst the setting had to offer, and the underrated classics in this setting. Disney has failed to do anything good with this franchise, but I will be damned before I let people forget the great ideas it once stood for.


14 comments:

  1. I figured this would be a thing where I'd be defending the new universe again (or at least one specific part with it), but as soon as I read "...we're going to be skipping the films here for the most part." I knew I probably wouldn't be, and that's probably because the 7th film is the only part of the new series that I really like (no I wasn't really a fan of Rogue One).

    That being said you did get to that film and I have to disagree with your interpretation of the events in it.
    I don't think everything remained the same, as Han and Leia's relationship didn't really regress, instead it's made clear that they still very much care for each other, and had broken apart thanks to a third element: their son. I never got the same sort of feel from their relationship when they met again, to me it seemed a sad one of two people who want to be together but choose not to because it reminds them of better times, though that might be thanks to personal experience and I might be reading too much into it (I do know people who used to be friends or husband and wife who split apart due to something involving a third party or their own children, and seeing this relationship onscreen reminded me of them).
    I also would like to point out that we did get significant advances in their technology, and while a lot of old things make a return we do also see them upgraded or modified in new ways, which helps the films feel like they're progressing.
    I also disagree with your assessment for why Luke's gone missing. In the film they state he did it out of shame, and though I don't think he'd do that and have my own problems with what happened there, I think I'd be able to buy it so long as the explanation was half-decent (I haven't seen episode 8, but from what I've seen and heard I don't think it will be).
    While I agree that that Starkiller Base was basically Deathstar 2.0, saying that Kylo Ren is just aping what Vader did is to miss the entire point of his character, and the First Order are definitely not the Galactic Empire as they have no real galactic control over anything. Their greatest weapon was destroyed in episode 7, and past that they're actually a very small faction, small enough that they could very well lose in a fair and open fight against another force.
    Also if interviews are anything to go by, episode 8 is definitely going to be something that Abrams wouldn't do (whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is debatable in my book, though after Mark Hamill's interview I'm leaning towards bad).

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    1. Well, if it helps, this is probably the last time i'm going to direct anything truly negative against TFA. I know it has fans, and I do try to respect that, but equally, I personally just look at it as wasted potential. Even if they had stuck with some of the ideas, even if they had actually stuck to some of the points you cited here and use them to excuse events, that would have been something, but the problem is that they seemed to be taking the "bull in a china shop" approach to things.

      I mean, take the Han and Leia situation for example. I actually agree that would have been a good angle to explore, an interesting one which if it had been well handled could have actually won me over into thinking this could try things the old EU had never considered. The problem, for me personally, was that this wasn't done to try and actually explore or address old ideas but to simply reset things. So, rather than really using it to build upon their personalities in any way, it just seemed as if they wanted things to go right back to the way they had been late Empire Strikes Back or mid Return of the Jedi. I mean, okay, we all know Han is always going to be something of a rogue with a smuggler background, but at least the EU addressed the problems he faced in becoming such a public figure and his role within the Alliance. In this case, it really seemed like the film was bending over backwards to try and forget about that.

      As I said though, i'm going to try and stick to the approach of "each to their own" from here on though, and spend more time promoting the underrated parts of the EU over bashing the new stuff. Well, unless they find a way to go full Draigo on us anyway.

      Though, out of curiosity, could I ask what was said in the Hamill interview which turned you off? Sorry, I have only seen it in bits and pieces, and I would like to hear your own thoughts on what was hinted at thus far.

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    2. Personally I see a lot of the returns and references as more of a necessity. They wanted to win back fans, so they chose to do it by taking stuff from the earlier episodes but doing it in new ways, to try and show that this was going to be and feel more like the original trilogy rather than something entirely different like the prequels (which is also why there's a lot of practical effects, even some shots that look like CG are practical).

      The thing that won me over as to how their relationship was now was how Han and Leia initially avoided each other, and when they met again Han talked about how he felt he'd failed as a father. To me it showed the character had matured more while still remaining true to how he used to be based on what we saw earlier in the movie.

      This really does seem like a case where we're going to have to agree to disagree, as I don't really see any other outcome.

      This is the relevant bit in the Hamill interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBstE89j_7w
      The whole interview's good, and no that bit isn't taken out of context, he doesn't like what the director of episode 8 is doing with him (sorry but he isn't talking about Abrams in that clip). You only need to watch that bit though, as it in particular is what gave me a bad feel about the new movie (a disturbance in the force?).
      Star Wars, more than any other series should have input from the actors as to what should happen, at least in my opinion anyway. The original trilogy was written on the fly and that kind of input helped shape very memorable scenes, such as Han saying "I know." To Leia. Originally that wasn't going to happen, but Harrison Ford convinced the others that it was more fitting for his character. If they don't take input from the actors as to what should/shouldn't happen, and they don't work as a team, well then we're left with the same mindset that brought us the prequel trilogy.

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    3. There was an error when I tried to post the previous comment, so I retyped it as best I could, you don't have to post this one if the other one made it through.

      I feel that the things they did in TFA were more necessary because they wanted to win people over immediately and try to get across the idea that this film was going to look and feel more like the original trilogy, so what better way to do that than to lift a few things from it while playing them in different ways? I feel that this is also why there's also a lot of practical effects with episode 7 (even some shots that look CG are practical) and I think that even some of the parts people have trouble with (like the lightsabre fight against the melee trooper) were nods to the original sketches that Star Wars had. In those the Stormtroopers had melee weapons (usually lightsabers) and shields, and when we see the melee trooper the shield he tosses away looks a lot like the ones in those sketches too.

      I also feel that the Han still has changed at a character, but they did the part earlier with him before meeting Leia to show that he's still the same character when it really comes down to it. I still feel that their relationship has matured rather than dialed back however, as they first avoid one another, then when they meet Han talks about how he's failed as a father, which is definitely something episodes 5 and 6 wouldn't have the opportunity to get close to.

      We're probably going to have to agree to disagree on these points though. As for the interview, the relevant part's right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBstE89j_7w
      That bit isn't taken out of context (and he's not talking about the 7th movie or Abrams, sorry to get your hopes up), Mark's talking about how he disagrees with what the director is doing but doesn't have the ability to do anything about it.
      Now maybe it's just me, but I feel that more than any other film series, Star Wars should have input from everyone involved, including the actors. If we didn't have that we wouldn't have scenes like Han saying "I know." To Leia, and we'd be left with the same mentality that brought us the prequel trilogy. Seeing as how the series was mostly done episode by episode and without initially being planned as a trilogy, I personally see that level of input as just a part of the series.
      Also I think the trailer's terrible and that interview didn't help my impression of how the movie will be.

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  2. Now that being said, I can't defend Rebels, aside from the idea that it could have been a good show, all they really need to do was have Ezra fall to the dark side.
    That's seriously it, have him fall to it but still oppose the Galactic Empire. Have him take a 'whatever means necessary' approach, which happens a few times in the show but not nearly enough. It would also allow us to see how the Sith used to be, how they used to work and would allow us to explore a bit in Star Wars that hasn't been done in the shows or movies yet. Hands down my favourite part in that series is when Darth Maul's training Ezra on how to use the Dark Side, and how he shows him the Sith, despite their backstabbing tendencies, need to rely on one another. I also thought that Maul was the best character in that show because not only does he introduce the most interesting lore that series covers, but he also kills off the incredibly stupid sabre-copter users (either directly or by assisting in their demise, I'm also not calling them Inquisitors).

    Of course a major flaw in Rebels is how they introduce an interesting point, and then write it off in one episode and with the weakest of excuses. Ezra's never really tempted by the Dark Side, Kanan tells him it's wrong and that's the end of that discussion, as well as the end of the most interesting plot point in that show.

    I also agree with the droids and troopers being mere jokes, and it's a shame because they could have done something neat, like show what it's like for humans to work next to/with clones as they're being phased out. Everything else is spot on as well. I'm also calling bullshit on the R2 sabotage thing because I have the original movie guide to episodes 4, 5 and 6, and that's not mentioned once in them on top of R2 having no way of knowing that Luke could have helped him out (he seriously could have waited, then drove off whenever the next person bought him).

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    1. You know what? I was personally against Maul's return on the whole as it seemed like too much of a stretch, but looking back, I actually have to agree with you entirely. That could have been a fantastic turn for the series and might have been enough to truly elevate it well above its many core problems. Hell, it once again really could have been enough to really add that extra edge which the Clone Wars benefited from. After all, both series suffered from many of the same critical problems, but the Clone Wars seemed to have more direction, and ambition, when it came to using character arcs and ideas. Not to mention that, as you pointed out yourself, they tended to keep a few ideas around a LITTLE more often than its replacement. Though, please take that view with a pinch of salt, it could be love of the Tartakovsky series bleeding over.

      Also, thank you indeed. I have seen so many times for people to defend the trooprs and droids being treated as jokes that it has become ridiculous just how often people seem to have missed out on what concepts or stories could have been told by just allowing them to retain some degree of actual competence.

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    2. What I find odd is that they kept the original droids. I remember talking with somebody before who had some good things to say about the prequel trilogy, such as the progression of technology.

      At the start of the prequels the Trade Federation was just that, a federation of traders who were trying to fight with whatever they had, which ended up being mostly loading/construction bots. In the second movie they were upgrading to war droids, but it was still a transition period and by the third movie you could tell they'd finally figured out how to make an army to be reckoned with.
      Then the Clone Wars came along and promptly said "Screw that, loading bots are funny!" And that was the end of one of the (few) redeeming qualities of the prequel movies.

      As another side-note, something else I thought was cool that the prequels did was actually doing away with the lightsabers for the final duel between Yoda and Palpatine. I've talked to a number of people who feel that the Jedi fights too often boil down to lightsaber duels, as if they're more important than their mastery of the force or even the force itself and the idea that Palpatine used the force over his sword (and blasted Yoda's saber out of his hands) helps discredit that line of thinking. In the Clone Wars and Rebels however, I don't remember a single legitimate fight where they relied on the force over their swords.

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  3. On one hand, I get the complaints from the fans and critics against having both universes, but like you I don't think they hold any weight. I've enjoyed many EU books and if they introduced another EU then keeping it separate would be as simple as adding a foreward in them, if that.

    On some level too I understand the poor writing across the books. I've done amateur writing for a bit now, and most of the time I'll write the sections I care about at the time, and then connect them all afterwards. It makes it easy for it to have those mistakes, but unlike these authors I actually go over my stories at the end and smooth them all over, and I try putting myself in the shoes of somebody who wouldn't know what I'm thinking, and just seeing if the scene/story alone is enough to explain everything I'm trying to get across. Whenever it isn't, I go back on it and fix it, not enough to spell out everything, but enough that I think a new reader would get the gist of what I'm going for.

    As a final point though, it's odd to me how Bioware can make a four minute trailer that carries far more emotion and covers more points than the vast majority of the new EU: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nzq9epS2b1A
    Seriously, there's so many minor things in that trailer that I didn't notice until somebody else pointed it out, such as the father looking like he's starting to smile at 3:10 because he knew what was about to happen. Granted I'm not really a fan of the game itself, but at least that part was very well done.

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    1. Well, the thing is, I could even understand or accept the poor writing. They're trying to set up a new universe, trying to establish new ideas and rework something which has been established for decades. The problem I personally feel lies as much in the editors as anyone else, as their approach really seems to be "Fuck it, it's legible, put it on the shelf!" so you end up with multiple major contradictions between books and, well, what looks like first drafts as you say. I also occasionally delve into creative writing from time to time, as much to experience what it's like to have to churn out a heavy workload as back up any criticisms if needed, but even then there's some things I would never try which gets by here. Odd moments where the chapters keep ending abruptly, where character personalities basically loop themselves to excuse stories and even bad rimshot style jokes.

      That's one very good example, i'll definitely agree, and those trailers are the ones I keep going back to for quickly conveying action, information and drama with SW. A personal favourite is Betrayed Trailer for Knights of the Eternal Throne, but that one holds up pretty damn well as well, and I have to agree I actually didn't notice that hint before now. Might need to go back and rewatch a few of these to see if there's anything else like this in them.

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  4. The Stormtroopers are hopeless in the movies.

    I had the benefit of watching Rogue One with a friend not familiar with the original story and she went off shopping about halfway through because she was bored. Without Episode 4, Rogue One just can't stand on its own.

    And it doesn't help that Stormtroopers seem to be able to be taken down by stiff breeze. Similar their fleet can be taken out by Poe, who kills 20 ships in about 5 seconds to show how awesome he is.

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    1. To be fair to Poe's character, he's nothing without a ship and he still can't do impossible stunts, like escaping a star destroyer unscathed.
      They also could have renamed him Wedge and it would've been just fine in my book, since he pulls off the stunts that Wedge should be able to do.

      As for Rogue One, I can't blame your friend, that was a very boring, slow and almost entirely pointless movie. It didn't even cover the full cycle of getting the plans to the Rebels since we still don't know how several people in that movie became aware that it had a weakness (on top of introducing other plot holes).

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  5. I always enjoy your stuff on how bad it's gotten on Star Wars. Even if it can't be easy to go through, you still present your ideas well. Seeing your work, and that of EU fans on Facebook and YouTube, has made the days without the original EU easier.

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    1. Well, it's just a push to try and keep saying that they should be so much better on the whole. Many thanks for the compliments though, and I hope you do enjoy some of the EU stuff which is to come.

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  6. Honesty in some ways I agree. In others not so much. Ren's not a bad character; he's a kid desperately trying to be his grandfather without realizing why it's bad.

    Kallus's heel turn was well done. Even after his initial bonding with Zeb it takes Thrawn's cruelty for it to stick. The scene at the end where Kallus realizes no one missed him was good.

    The CW cartoon made Anakin a genuinely likable character (and his anger at Ahsoka's mistreatment made his disdain for the council FAR more understandable)

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