EU Action/Reaction: The Merits of Fate of the Jedi

weekly-column-v2Welcome to another installment of EUCantina's (sometimes) weekly opinion column, EU Action/Reaction! Each week, I tackle a specific Star Wars EU event that has garnered a significant reaction from Star Wars fans and offer my own view to further the discussion. Once you read the article, feel free to leave a comment and offer your own thoughts!

This week, I'll be discussing Fate of the Jedi. Don't worry, there will be no spoilers from Conviction in this column.

More than any other publishing era, the stories that continue the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo have come under fire from various segmented fan groups with such vitriol that it can sometimes be hard for online-savvy fans to remember that these outcries represent only a fraction of the readers that will inevitably go on to make the next book a New York Times Bestseller. Are we so quick to forget our past? I can easily recall the days when The New Jedi Order was lambasted for its grim atmosphere, constant character deaths and the deconstruction of much that the Bantam stories had introduced. Nowadays, these are books that are viewed much more favorably than a vocal fan community gave them credit for. The same can be said for Dark Nest, and even Legacy of the Force. In time, our opinions temper. When coming across material we don't care for, fans seem to do one of two things. Either we attempt to either experience the stories again, knowing what to expect and looking for something new to create a sense of enjoyment, or we simply bottle up the frustrations and take out our anger and frustration on the next wave of stories.

Well, it's time to let Fate of the Jedi stand for judgment based on its own merits, rather than the stories that have come before it.

Battle Fatigue: The New Jedi Order Effect

Despite all the death that occurred in The New Jedi Order, I never really got the feeling of battle fatigue until Legacy of the Force. With The New Jedi Order, Chewbacca's death convinced fans that no character was safe from death, and forums would regularly explode with each release as fans clamored to learn who lived and (more importantly) who died. With all the widespread death and destruction, though, there were really only a small handful of deaths that rocked the fans to their core. When Legacy of the Force hit bookshelves, though, it was quick to realize just how much of a one-trick pony all the senseless death really was. Jacen Solo turned to the dark side, Mara Jade was ruthlessly murdered... and it seemed like a real disconnect. At least with The New Jedi Order, there was the backdrop of an unbelievable war. With Legacy of the Force, fans were still struggling to come to terms with a beloved hero becoming a villain. But Del Rey heard the fans, and there was no secret that Fate of the Jedi would avoid major character deaths and take a backseat to senseless violence. In that regard, Del Rey has been true to their word. Of course, there have been a few deaths, but certainly no one major. The impact has been noticeable too. Whereas The New Jedi Order and Dark Nest were scrutinized constantly, Fate of the Jedi discussion among fans has been almost nonexistent. Sure, there is about a week of discussion when a new book hits, but then it all dies down again. Without the promise of death and a changing landscape, Fate of the Jedi has become as neutered and boring as could be expected. That isn't to say that death and battle is needed to tell a great story. But I think when it comes to telling a 9-book series, the stakes have to be raised. Abeloth has yet to become a credible villain for that exact reason, she is every bit as unknown now as she was when first introduced. The reader has no emotion toward her, no reason to root against her. That said, this approach has given way to a plethora of fantastic moments between Luke Skywalker and his son, Ben. The books have tended to focus internally on its characters more, which leads us to...

Character Studies: The Legacy of the Force Effect

With Legacy of the Force, a real attempt was made to contrast the systematic killing of fan favorite characters with some great internalization. Jacen Solo has a few poignant moments before turning to the dark side, and Ben Skywalker steps up to become an impressionable and heartbreaking character. As Jaina Solo's role in the series increased, so too did her determination and internal struggle shine on the pages. Whether you loved or hated the Mandalorian sections of the Karen Traviss entries, there can be no denial that the Mandalorians (and Boba Fett, too!) were given more character than they had ever before received. The characters may not have always been believable in the decisions that they made, but it was clear that the writers wanted to add a sense of gravitas to the deaths. Even despite the battle fatigue, it worked. Mara Jade's death, and the reactions of the various characters that followed, was one of the single saddest moments I've ever read. Even Invincible, lambasted by readers for a variety of reasons, at least captured the sense of immense sadness as many chapters began with an old corny joke that Jacen had told during the Young Jedi Knights books. Fate of the Jedi used this aspect of Legacy of the Force, the idea of focusing more on character development and growth, and has taken it to new heights. Yes, Fate of the Jedi has been sparse with character death and action. In fact, space battles have been virtually nonexistent. But the brightest part of the series has been the character growth and interaction between Luke and Ben. The addition of Vestara, the young Sith woman, has been a delightful twist on the relationship between the two Jedi. The remaining Jedi on Coruscant, virtually trapped in the Jedi Temple, have also grown new dimensions as they have squared off against each other and through different ideology. Characters like Tahiri and Raynar, who shined in The New Jedi Order and have since fallen to obscurity, have been given a new lease on life. No longer are the post-Return of the Jedi stories simply another adventure of the Skywalkers and Solos. Now, more than ever, the story is in the hands of many new heroes... and villains.

A Return to Swashbuckling: The Bantam Effect

When you pick up a Star Wars book published under Bantam, there is a sense of swashbuckling adventure that has been missed in the last decade. The New Jedi Order abandoned the carefree adventuring for gritty realism, an exciting take on the franchise that gave it a much-needed breath of fresh air... but a take that has also started to wear out its welcome. To that effect, Fate of the Jedi was meant to be a return to the lighter adventures found in the early days of the New Republic. So far, it has been. Luke, now with Ben and Vestara in tow, adventures to a new, exotic locale with each book and always learns something new as he tracks down a monstrous villain. His story rarely intersects with the other developing plots, conjuring memories from his storyline in The Black Fleet Crisis Trilogy. Han Solo and Leia are still having adventures... only this time, it is with their granddaughter, Allana, instead of their children. And like her relatives, the young Allana always manages to sneak off and get into her own trouble. This Bantam atmosphere is further intensified by the fact that many Bantam-era stories and characters are being revisited and receiving a sense of closure. It is very clear that the writers have been tasked with not only creating a more adventurous spirit in these books, but also with reaching out to the older stories and reminding the fans of what they loved decades ago. Truly, Fate of the Jedi is a love letter to the Bantam-era books that so many have been crying out for a return to. In that regard alone, Fate of the Jedi has succeeded.

Giving Fans What They Want

Obviously, Del Rey can't bring characters back from the dead. What the writers can do, though, is give the fans what they are hoping to see. With Fate of the Jedi, there is a real Sith threat, an unknown enemy worthy enough to stand up against Luke Skywalker has appeared, and the Mandalorians have returned to the role of menacing villains. Boba Fett hasn't been heard from since the rather cliffhanger ending his character had been given in the final Legacy of the Force book, but his appearance on the back cover of Ascension suggests that readers will receive the closure on that character that has been asked for. Natasi Daala has, with each new entry, spun deeper and deeper into the paranoid and insane woman that readers remember her being. More than ever, vocal fans have been listened to with regards for what we'd like to see. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised to see Jaina Solo and Jagged Fel finally wed before the series ends. That would be the ultimate fan service. Fate of the Jedi has also been showcasing new Jedi, as a way to help repopulate a cast that has been decimated in recent years. Tahiri has taken a star role once more, and Raynar has been given new life following his abysmal fate in Dark Nest. Even relatively newer Jedi, like Seha Dorvald, have stepped up and become more memorable. It's not just Jedi, either. Vestara, the sassy and deadly Sith, is quickly shaping up to be a lasting character for future stories. Wynn Dorvan, perhaps the first politician character I've ever constantly enjoyed, has made a lasting impression with his constant sense of loyalty and honor. Best of all, these characters, both new and old, have never felt forced in their appearances. They simply step up and shine, so that there is no gaping hole from a deceased character. It's easy to take our anger out on Fate of the Jedi for the perceived mistakes of all the series that have come before it. The fact remains that if you're still bitter about something like the death of Anakin Solo, then you will always be blinded to the merits of Fate of the Jedi. It's not a matter of "too little, too late." It's time for readers to ease up on their grudges, and at least judge a series based on what it actually brings to the table. Fate of the Jedi is far from perfect, and is probably too safe. But it is also a perfect meld of all that has come before it, both from Del Rey and Bantam. Never before has a series seemed to capture, so perfectly, what fans have been vocal about wanting to see. In fact, we may never  be this lucky again. So as Fate of the Jedi draws to a close over the coming months, let's focus on the story being told rather than all that have come before it. You just might end up warming up to the series a bit more.

- Chris

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About the Author

Chris Carey contributes to EUCantina as a writer and editor. He pens our popular column, EU Action/Reaction, and also contributes to our novel and comic reviews. Chris joined EUCantina in 2010 to help edit articles, but it quickly became obvious that his writing skills needed a more visible platform. He currently resides in Maryland, and has a degree in journalism.