EU Action/Reaction: A Look to the Past and Future (2011)

weekly-column-v2Welcome to another installment of EUCantina’s opinion column, EU Action/Reaction! When time permits, 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 taking a look back at my personal highs and lows of the Star Wars Expanded Universe in 2011, and offer a look at some of my expectations for 2012.

In comparison to 2010, Star Wars had one heck of a great year – for me, at least. It seemed as though Star Wars comics were revitalized with an array of great new titles to look forward to, the novels released were (as a whole) much more enjoyable, and we all got to buy the Star Wars saga again so we could have an excuse to finally own a Blu Ray player. So without further ado, a look back.

The 2 Releases from 2011 Worth Mentioning

2. Star Wars on Blu Ray.

As the actual Star Wars films are not considered part of the Expanded Universe, they were ineligible for inclusion in this year’s list. Still, the release of the six films on Blu Ray was an explosive issue among fans, and it is a release that begs for some special discussion. From a technical standpoint, the Star Wars films have never looked better. There is a noticeable visual and audio improvement in the quality of all six films, though perhaps not enough to warrant an upgrade to Blu Ray. The real reason to buy the Blu Ray collection is for the undying love of Star Wars. And if that isn’t enough, the plethora of deleted scenes and documentaries will make the purchase even easier. The special features found in the collection are astounding, and fans can lose hours just looking through them all.

Then there are, perhaps most controversially, the tweaks that George Lucas has made to the films. Although these changes reached a fever pitch when first revealed, the complaining has largely died down. Fans often have a knee-jerk reaction whenever the Original Trilogy is altered, even when the changes don’t necessarily deserve such an outburst. It’s understandable, though. We don’t like not having control over something we love so passionately. In the case of the Prequel Trilogy, very little was altered overall – with the exception of the now-digital Yoda in The Phantom Menace. The tweaks are mostly unnoticeable to all but the most die-hard of fans (like the clone troopers being much more vocal when they attack the droids on Utapau), and they were all changes that helped to benefit those movies. But let’s face it: the Prequel Trilogy is nowhere near as beloved as the Original Trilogy. And while the Original Trilogy doesn’t have many big changes, the changes overall did seem rather nonsensical. Yes, Obi-Wan’s krayt dragon call still sounds ridiculous. Digitally adding rocks to R2-D2′s hiding spot in A New Hope was also silly, as were the changes to Jabba’s palace door, inserting a Dug into Jabba’s palace, and making the Ewoks blink. None of those changes were really all that important, they’re just minor annoyances at best. The only major changes was in Return of the Jedi, when Darth Vader cries “No!” while hurling the Emperor down the Death Star II shaft. It’s a pretty significant change, as it completely changes the overall tone of the scene and destroys some of the suspense of the film’s climax (while also giving Vader that utterly ridiculous “No!” line that was so ridiculed from Revenge of the Sith). I was a huge opponent of that change, and by association, all of the Original Trilogy changes. But at the end of the day, I still love Star Wars. And I needed an excuse to buy a Blu Ray player, and wanted to see the changes for myself. Truly, they’re all really cosmetic. The “No!” at the end of Return of the Jedi… I can take it or leave it. I’d prefer it out, and it still annoys me a little, but it’s such a quick moment that I can overlook it. The films are still Star Wars. They’re still awesome to watch, and they have never looked better.

1. The Old Republic.

Although many readers have likely beta-tested The Old Republic, a December 20, 2011 release date was simply too close to the year’s end to warrant the game’s inclusion on the 2011 list. In essence, The Old Republic is simply just too much of an unknown quantity, and it will likely take several months before a truly clear picture emerges of how it has impacted the Expanded Universe. But fan anticipation for this game is through the roof, and released cinematic trailers have only fueled the fire that this will be an MMORPG that will not just capture our imaginations once, but constantly capture them countless times as fans play with friends through a massive story – the likes of which the Star Wars Expanded Universe has simply never seen. Will the storytelling live up to the hype? Will each playable class be viewed favorably? Will the game be able to launch without major issues, and will technical issues bar some from fully enjoying the game? There are many questions that, as of now, cannot be answered. As fans, all we have is the hope that The Old Republic will become a memorable experience for many months to come.

The 5 Best Additions to the EU in 2011

5. Choices of One.

Timothy Zahn proved, without a doubt, that he’s still got the magic when Choices of One was released. A pseudo-sequel to the rather dull Allegiance, Choices of One ramped up the tension and excitement to new levels with an extremely layered mystery, the absolute best portrayal of Han Solo in the EU thus far, and the return of Thrawn. Some might accuse Zahn of relying too much on characters he created two decades ago, but you’ve got to give him credit – he writes them extremely well. All that really matters, in the end, is that the story is good. In the case of Choices of One, it’s a great story. Set in the time leading up to The Empire Strikes Back, this is a book that all fans will really enjoy. It’s got a classic, cinematic feel to it that makes it memorable long after the last page is turned.

4. Riptide.

Continuing the story that began in Crosscurrent, Paul S. Kemp’s Riptide takes Jaden Korr to places that fans will likely never have imagined. Riptide is intense, and it rarely lets the reader stop to catch their breath before plunging them back into the story. The fast pace is refreshing, as Kemp has trimmed all the fat and crafted a book that is masterful at keeping readers from putting it down. While the trio of protagonists from the first book return in all their glory, Riptide also has a really memorable villain that stands out as the highlight character of the book. The locales are just as eerie as those found in Crosscurrent, but with an added complexity that is new to Riptide. There are a great deal of revelations and unanswered questions that Riptide presents the reader with, and once the initial frustration wears off, it’s actually really cool. So often, authors hammer their points home and assume the reader isn’t bright. Kemp, on the other hand, seems to want the readers to dissect the book and debate it with others, forming our own theories. The author’s job is to write a story that the reader will enjoy. To keep the reader talking about the book long after it ends, though, is the sign of a great writer.

3. Knight Errant.

In a year of great books, it’s easy to forget about Knight Errant. Released in January 2011, John Jackson Miller made his novel debut and swept readers into his tale of Kerra Holt and her struggle against a bunch of crazy Sith rulers. This was the first time that a story tied in directly with the comics also being published at the same time, and the effort was obviously massive. Knight Errant has everything that Expanded Universe readers are looking for these days: a strong main character, humor, a compelling story and overall timeline placement, and interesting villains. Knight Errant has all of that in spades, and I’ve been clamoring for a sequel ever since I turned the last page of Knight Errant. This is a largely unexplored period of time in the Expanded Universe, and the idea of a long Jedi stuck behind enemy lines as the Sith are dissolving into infighting is really unique. It’s a refreshing read, and one accessible to fans old and new.

2. Fate of the Jedi: Ascension.

To be frank, Ascension saved the Fate of the Jedi series from being a complete waste of time. In that single book, all of the plotlines were reestablished and everything quickly reached a boiling point that perfectly set up the finale, Apocalypse. The series has had its bumps along the way, but Christie Golden’s last entry was a great read. The action was visceral and superb, the twists were shocking, and the characters were a joy to read. There were points in the book where I chewed my fingernails down to nubs. Ascension can really capture the imagination of the readers ready and willing to take the journey through Fate of the Jedi, and is probably the strongest book in the series thus far.

1. Shadow Games.

You know, Shadow Games was simply the best story of 2011. Not only is it the first Star Wars thriller, but it’s a fantastic thriller novel. It stars characters that, with the exception of Han Solo, are all blank slates in the eyes of the reader. The result is a refreshing tale of Rebellion and intrigue, of torn allegiances and mysteriously layered plots. It also contains the most brilliant humor found in any Star Wars novel. Leebo is guaranteed to make every fan laugh out loud with each appearance. It’s a smart book, and that is what makes it such a rewarding read. Shadow Games is proof that the Expanded Universe can successfully tackle other genres, and it’s also proof that the entire galaxy doesn’t need to be in peril to create a story worthy of being the year’s best. I can’t wait to see what Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff and Michael Reaves have in store for us next.

The 5 Biggest Disappointments in the EU in 2011

5. The Old Republic: Deceived.

It is somewhat ironic that Paul S. Kemp is the author of one of my least favorite additions to the Expanded Universe this year, and also one of my favorites. The problem with Deceived was in its marketing, which promised a book focusing on Darth Malgus. Malgus, as many fans know, was the Darth Vader-esque Sith that led the Sith attack on the Jedi Temple in the first cinematic trailer for The Old Republic. With the character standing menacingly on the cover, and with the Darth Bane trilogy having just recently finished, fans were abuzz with the idea that Deceived would be the next Sith-centric story. Early reviews were overwhelmingly positive, proclaiming that Deceived put a fresh spin on the Sith lore, and many of these reader sentiments were tweeted by Kemp to his followers. For me, this meant seeing a fairly constant stream of glowing reviews for weeks. I went into the book with a great deal of anticipation and excitement, only to be severely disappointed. The book fell victim to overhype, to the point where I wondered if I had read the same book as others. Although Kemp tends to write books that fall on the short side, there’s nothing wrong with that if it fits the story. In the case of Deceived, though, I didn’t want a book that barely passed 250 pages in length. In addition, Malgus was the lead character with the least screentime, as the book followed Zeerid (a smuggler) and Aryn (a Jedi) much more closely. This was especially disappointing, as the aforementioned Darth Bane books showed that a Sith could be the lead character and a great story could still be told. Zeerid and Aryn simply couldn’t command the story, and were far less compelling than Darth Malgus. Deceived is a story that I didn’t expect and, in many ways, didn’t want. It’s difficult to market a product, because you don’t want to undersell a product – but you don’t want to oversell it either. Deceived wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t the story that readers were expecting.

4. The Clone Wars.

In 2011, Star Wars fans saw the second-half of The Clone Wars: Season Three, and also the first half of the show’s fourth season. The problem with The Clone Wars, though, is that it’s just completely lacking a sense of urgency. There’s no reason to tune in every Friday, other than to watch a show that will most likely include gratuitous use of lightsabers and the Force. The Savage Oppress trilogy started off quite well, actually, until it introduced Oppress. Even when watched all together, the story is far too rushed. Rather than work Oppress into a villainous character slowly and make his character progression wonderful, he’s simply turned into a brute in seconds. Of course, the whole trilogy was just a teaser for Darth Maul’s inevitable return… which never happened in 2011. The Citadel trilogy and the Trandoshan slaver duology were solid, but they weren’t particularly memorable, even with Tarkin and Chewbacca shoe-horned for no real reason. The biggest flop, though, was the Mortis trilogy. Here’s the thing about the Mortis storyline… it makes no sense. It’s like the writers wanted to do a fantasy story, and they wanted to reveal Darth Vader and have Anakin and Ahsoka turn evil briefly, and that’s all they cared about. Force ghosts show up with no reason and say nothing of substance. The nature of the Force Wielders is never expounded on, and it’s nearly impossible to care about their plight. And to cap it all off, they end it with the “it was all a dream… or was it?” ending that should have outraged every viewer. The first half of the fourth season has pretty much been the same as the start of the third season, with some decent episodes (the Umbara arc, in particular), and a bunch of forgettable ones. The much-hyped Mandalorians and Darth Maul? It looks like we’ll have to wait until 2012 to see if they will help breathe new life in a show that is quickly running out of ways to keep fans tuning in.

3. The Old Republic: Revan.

As much as I enjoy a good Drew Karpyshyn novel, Revan is far from his best work. He must have known, going in, that Revan could never hope to accomplish what fans were hoping to read. The book is extremely disjointed, broken into two parts that flow well enough to tell a cohesive story – but that’s about it. The biggest problem with Revan is that it relies on the storyline of two video games that are almost a decade old. Plenty of readers will have never played the games, and those who have will have played them years ago. The book requires something of an encyclopedic knowledge of the events of the two games, at least to gain full enjoyment of the story and to make sense of all the references. To that, Karpyshyn wrote on his website that readers should peruse the Wookieepedia pages of Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II to prepare for the book. Yes, potential readers, read all the back story on an online encyclopedia before reading the book. It’s a lot to ask of readers. The book is laughably short, with a large chunk of it dedicated to info dumping Revan’s background with various characters and organizations. The ending, though unexpected, isn’t likely to please many readers either. Drew Karpyshyn can tell a great story, there’s no doubt about that. Revan, unfortunately, is not one of those stories.

2. Atrocious Comic Cover Art.

In a perfect world, a book wouldn’t be judged by its cover. Heck, in a perfect world, all books would have outstanding covers. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world – as evidenced by the simple fact that the cover art for Star Wars comics this year was – to put it bluntly – atrocious. Legacy: War, Knight Errant, and Dark Times have all fallen victim this year to cover art that can actually dissuade readers from picking up the stories. I’ve been in my local comic shop, and on more than one occasion, I’ve seen people browsing that have flipped through the latest Star Wars releases, only to skip Knight Errant after a quick glance. The cover art is what sells a story, and though the interior artwork and actual stories themselves are of the highest caliber, the cover does not showcase that. Cover art isn’t just a one-sheet that looks cool, either. It’s also used by the comic shops to promote the latest “great story” and sell. It’s exceedingly difficult to promote a great story without that cover art that makes a potential reader think, “I need to read that.”

1. Conviction.

You know what the best part of Conviction was? When it ended, and readers knew that Aaron Allston wouldn’t be phoning his way through any more installments of the Fate of the Jedi series. It’s hard to believe that this is the same author behind the Wraith Squadron series, or Legacy of the Force: Betrayal. In comparison, Allston’s work on Fate of the Jedi has felt too safe. There’s no sense of urgency in any of his books, and Conviction is just the latest example of how outside his element (i.e. space battles and witty humor) Allston seems to be. As with Backlash, Allston completely derailed the momentum gained from the previous Troy Denning novel (Vortex, this time). Although billed as the start of a mini-trilogy within the Fate of the Jedi series, Conviction felt like anything but a good place to start. Things progress slowly, and to be honest – nothing really happens in the overall story. Therein lies the problem with all of Allston’s Fate of the Jedi books. Nothing really happens.

The Top 5 Upcoming EU Additions of 2012 with the Most Potential

5. X-Wing: Mercy Kill.

If there is any series in the Expanded Universe that deserves a rebirth, it is X-Wing. Dormant for a decade, Mercy Kill looks to be a great reintroduction to one of the best parts of the Expanded Universe. The book does, however, come with baggage. Mercy Kill is technically the 10th book in the series, which is most likely why the book’s cover does not point this fact out. Oddly enough, Mercy Kill also takes place after Fate of the Jedi. In terms of storytelling, it’s been close to 20 years between the time of this book and the previous X-Wing book, Starfighters of Adumar. The book will be in hardcover, and although it has been hinted that it will address leftover plot points from Fate of the Jedi, I find it hard to believe that will be the case. A beloved franchise isn’t resurrected to pull janitorial duty following a big series, and Del Rey will want this book to be as accessible as possible to all kinds of readers – not just the hardcore. But let’s face it, we’re all at least a little bummed that this isn’t being penned by Michael A. Stackpole. Don’t get me wrong, Aaron Allston did a great job with his Wraith Squadron trilogy. I’m just a little worn out from Allston. His entries in Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi have been the weakest of each series, and Starfighters of Adumar, Allston’s last X-Wing book, was an absolute bore that was the antithesis of what an X-Wing book should have been. Still, I believe the odds are in Allston’s favor to deliver a great story worthy of the X-Wing name. It’s time that this sleeping giant finally awoke.

4. The Fresh Authors Coming to the Expanded Universe.

If there is one thing the Expanded Universe could always use, it is an outlook that is fresh and exciting. In 2012, readers looking for something new will get their wish, as two new authors will make their debut. In April, Jeff Grubb’s Scourge will be published – which pits an untested Jedi Master against the Hutts and criminal underworld. This could end up as a sleeper hit, as much isn’t expected from a small-scale book that takes place before the New Jedi Order series. But with an appropriate pulp and gritty feel, Scourge stands a good chance at being the gem of 2012. In September, Alex Irvine’s untitled Tales of the Jedi era novel (the current working title is Mandorla) will be published. Taking place just before the Knights of the Old Republic, this book will focus on Nomi and Vima Sunrider, along with resurgent Sith and Mandalorian forces. If Irvine can carefully navigate the rich back story of Tales of the Jedi without succumbing to the issues that The Old Republic: Revan had, this book might be one of the year’s best. Nomi and Vima are two nuanced characters that have long deserved a story of their own, and Irvine might just end up with the year’s best book if he can craft the story well.

3. The Upcoming Lineup of New Star Wars Comics.

There’s a bunch of great Expanded Universe titles launching next year, and almost all of them are completely avoiding the film era. It’s smart, because it lets the comics develop their own internal continuity without having to pay a whole lot of attention to everything else that has been established. The biggest name, without a doubt, is Dawn of the Jedi. As the title suggests, it will chronicle the beginning of the Jedi/Sith conflict and take place so far in the timeline that it’ll probably blow all our minds. The Force will be new and exciting, and lightsabers won’t even exist yet. Another title that will take place toward the start of the Expanded Universe is Knights of the Old Republic – War. Yes, fans of the Knights of the Old Republic comic series are thrilled to see their favorite characters returning for a major storyline that has long been awaited. Agent of the Empire will really kick into high gear in 2012, in a James-Bond-meets-Star-Wars fashion that, by all accounts, looks like a fresh take on the Star Wars galaxy that should appeal to fans new and old – and even the jaded. And, of course, what fan isn’t excited for Blood Ties: Boba Fett is Dead (well, the lame ones aren’t, I guess). The title alone has stirred up some great controversy and debate. Without a doubt, 2012 is looking like one of the strongest years for Star Wars comics in a long time. Fans are in for a real treat.

2. Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse.

Whether you love it, hate it, or have no opinion because your interest in the post-RotJ stories has fizzled out, it’s safe to say that everyone is looking forward to Apocalypse. For some fans, it will hopefully be a fantastic ending to a series that has slowly picked up steam throughout the course of the nine books. Denning’s entries in Fate of the Jedi has stood head-and-shoulders above every other entry thus far, and assuming he can provide a strong ending to the series (unlike how Invincible ended Legacy of the Force), I think fans will enjoy it. For the haters, it means that the series is finally over. Finally, they’ll be able to pick apart the entire series as a whole, rather than having to wait for each book. Hah, I kid! Well, sort of. I find Fate of the Jedi hate to be undeserved. It’s a decent series. But if you hate it, perhaps the next series will hook you. Because that’s the other great thing about Apocalypse: a new series. Let’s face it, there’s going to be a huge gap to be filled after Fate of the Jedi ends. The Old Republic hasn’t had enough time to embrace a strong series that readers will care about, and although Del Rey has promised only standalones and trilogies for the future, I can’t help but think they’ll all somehow be tied into a larger storyline overall. But you know what? I’m excited for Apocalypse. I want to see Luke take the Jedi back to Coruscant and lay the FINAL smackdown on both Abeloth and the Lost Tribe. I want the Barabels to pour out of the Jedi Temple, and I want Jagged Fel to reveal that he’s got the cure that Boba Fett has been looking for – letting everyone’s favorite bounty hunter join the winning side at the last moment. There’s a lot of potential, and I think Denning has it in him to close out the series with an incredibly strong finish.

1. Darth Plagueis.

Does this really need any explanation? Darth Plagueis is probably the most anticipated Expanded Universe novel of all time. James Luceno returns to the franchise to explore the true story of Palpatine and his Sith master. Palpatine’s background is one of the few true mysteries remaining in the Expanded Universe, and based on the released excerpts, it promises to reunite fans with Darth Maul, Count Dooku, and tie in with several other Expanded Universe tales. When Luceno is writing at his best, he’s almost unparalleled. This is a book that was written, and then canceled, only to be returned from death years later. He’s had plenty of time to perfect this book and deliver an experience that fans will adore. I, for one, can’t wait to experience it. Without a doubt, 2012 will start off with a bang.

So that’s a look back at the good and bad of 2011, and a brief glimpse into the future that 2012 promises to bring us. I remain cautiously optimistic about this new year, especially with The Old Republic kicking off, possible announcements regarding the future Star Wars series on the horizon as Fate of the Jedi draws to a close and, most importantly, still no The Force Unleashed III in sight. I hope everyone has a Happy New Year, and I look forward to another fun year of EU Action/Reaction with you readers!

- 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.