Practical and Poignant Deaths: How the New Jedi Order Got It (Mostly) Right
The New Jedi Order series kicked off with Vector Prime and the highly controversial death of Chewbacca. Following the release of the book, fans were livid – going as far as to send death threats to author R. A. Salvatore. I’ll level with you, though – I never really cared much for Chewie in the Original Trilogy. Yeah he was the lovable sidekick with the heart of gold, but I think his inability to speak English created a sort of rift between myself and the character. Clearly, that rift continued in the novels. Chewie was just a hard character to grasp. In some novels, his growls were actually spelled out. But in others, his voice was simply translated into English. The Bantam books often saw the Wookiee relegated to babysitter of the Solo children, and I think that’s because authors really didn’t know what to do with him in the context of a novel. In that sense, it wasn’t really a surprise to see Chewbacca meet his end. It was a definite shock, considering how large of a role he had in the films, and the death absolutely gave the Yuuzhan Vong the street cred that the aliens needed. I even found the death itself to be very fitting. Chewie died saving Anakin Solo, essentially fulfilling his life debt to Han by giving up his life to save a Solo. And what does it take to kill that walking carpet? How about a moon crashing into a planet and pulverizing him! It’s just a great death, the kind that sticks in the mind of the reader long after the book is finished. For those that don’t like deaths or change in general, disliking this one won’t come as a surprise to anyone. But I think the bottom line was that the authors were stuck with what to do regarding Chewie’s character. Could the right author have come along and done the Wookiee justice? I’m absolutely sure of it. But Chewie was never a character that translated well to the novels, and I think that his death was both beautiful and primal. His character arc came to an impressive close, and led to some great characterization that strengthened both Han and Leia. But most importantly, I know his death was perfect because I don’t find myself wondering how things would be different if Chewbacca were still around. Deaths are sad, absolutely – and Chewie’s was no exception. But in what his death provided, both for the other EU characters and the readers, it was anything but sad.
Perhaps even more than Chewbacca, though, the death of Anakin Solo was an event so cataclysmic that it still divides fans of the EU. It happens in Star By Star, easily the darkest moment of the New Jedi Order series. Anakin led a Jedi strike team to Myrkr to destroy a cloning facility for voxyn, genetically engineered creatures that hunted the Jedi. During the assault, Anakin was mortally wounded but still fought on. He achieved oneness with the Force as he fought, and his death created a beacon of light that surrounded the Yuuzhan Vong he had been fighting. He fought and died to protect his loved ones and friends. Honestly, Anakin’s death is a tough one to come to terms with. On the one hand, the death was written very artfully – there can be little debating that. Once seen as the future of the Jedi Order, Anakin proved the worth of his selfless character right up until the end. It also sent Jaina Solo flirting with the dark side, forced Jacen Solo to step up and become a hero and (sadly) utterly destroyed Tahiri’s character – the latter having only really begun to see redemption in Allies, the latest installment of Fate of the Jedi. First off, I don’t think Anakin’s death invalidates Chewie’s death – a claim I often seen suggested. Had Chewie not saved Anakin, we can only begin to guess at how the Yuuzhan Vong invasion might have turned out. Futhermore, Anakin really reached a mature level not seen until Chewie gave up his life to save the young Jedi. But as touching and poignant as Anakin’s death was (don’t tell me that “kiss Tahiri” scene didn’t make you choke up a little!), the fact remains that he was a character that was killed in the prime of his life. Anakin wasn’t a character who had run out of stories to tell. In fact, he had just been the star of the Edge of Victory dulogy right before Star By Star, proving that he could be a great lead character and that he had plenty of depth left in him. Even now, fans constantly wonder just how things would have been different had he survived. But I’ll tell you this: I think it’s time to stop blaming George Lucas for Anakin’s death. Lucas was right in rejecting the original proposal for the NJO, because if he hadn’t, we’d be complaining about how lame it was that history repeated itself and saw the rise of a great Jedi named Anakin twice in less than a century. I don’t think I’ll ever buy the idea that consumers would confuse the two Anakin characters together, but… there are a lot of dumb people out there. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anyone that we can specifically point to as the reason for the demise of such a beloved character. In some ways, it was a waste of a great character. I don’t think anyone would disagree that Anakin’s death was wasteful in that regard, but it did also make other characters more interesting. I never cared for either Jacen or Jaina until Anakin’s death, and both were fundamentally changed because of it. But we still love Anakin, and that’s why the authors tease us with robots that have his personality (Anakin Sal-Solo) or the Jedi’s appearance in the Lake of Apparitions in Fate of the Jedi‘s Abyss. But one thing is definitely for certain regarding Anakin’s death: it was once meant for Jacen Solo. The question, of course, becomes whether Anakin would have fallen to the dark side like his brother and become a Sith in a later series. I suppose we’ll never know, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that it could have happened. Were that the case, I would much rather leave Anakin to his original fate – becoming one with the Force as he battled valiantly to save the lives of those he held so dear. But you know… if the authors find a way to bring him back from the dead and reunite him with Tahiri and his family… I’d be a big supporter. Because as much as I have come to terms with Anakin’s death and have come to see it as a highlight of the New Jedi Order for the directions it pushes the other characters, I still really love the character of Anakin Solo. If he ever decides to come back, he’ll always be welcome.
Despite the major deaths found in the New Jedi Order, I think that the death of Ganner Rhysode stands among them as the most memorable. From the start of the series, Ganner was a fantastic character, overconfident and living with a strong desire and hope to become a real hero. Ganner finally gets that opportunity in Traitor, when he finally fulfills his heroic dreams by buying Jacen Solo time with the Yuuzhan Vong’s World Brain. The Jedi Knight’s final words are one of the purest forms of badassery found in the EU, when he says, “No. I am Ganner. This threshold is mine. I claim it for my own. Bring on your thousands, one at a time or all in a rush. I don’t give a damn. None shall pass.” When I first read the scene, I actually got chills. At first, the Yuuzhan Vong engage Ganner in honorable one-on-one combat… which ends when he kills all those eager to fight. Frightened, the Yuuzhan Vong begin to rush and attack him in greater numbers. They don’t stand a chance, though, as Ganner achieves oneness with the Force and continues to fight even after his battle wounds should have forced him to stop. He utilizes full mastery of the Force, everything from unparalleled lightsaber combat to telekinetic storms. After he kills an undetermined amount of enemies, the Yuuzhan Vong finally start thinking strategically and send a massive tank beast to kill him. In response, Ganner uses the Force to collapse most of the Senate dome – killing himself and the beast. His actions would later lead to becoming a part of Yuuzhan Vong mythology as a minor deity. Simply put, it’s the single-most badass death in the EU. What makes it all the more memorable is that the fate belongs to Ganner, who had been a fairly forgettable figure until his death in Traitor. His sacrifice was a practical one for the story, and it succeeded in living well past the final pages and into the minds of the readers.
Shattered Potential: How Legacy of the Force Got It (All) Wrong
So… let’s talk about Mara Jade Skywalker. She dies in Sacrifice, at the halfway point of the Legacy of the Force series… and it was the event that made a return to grace for the series impossible. Now, I am a big fan of Mara Jade’s character. I thought that the impact her death had on Luke, particularly when he feels her death in the Force, was the single-most emotional scene I’ve ever read in the EU – I actually had to put the book down when I read it. It also made sense that her death, or least a death of someone of similar stature, was needed to really show that Darth Caedus was going to be a purebred villain from that point further. The problem was the execution, not only of the death, but of everything that came after it that continued to lessen the importance of her death. The final duel between Mara and Jacen was well-written, I thought. I can even accept the split-second hesitation she experiences when Jacen projects an illusion of Ben’s face over his own before he kills her – especially considering that Mara spends Sacrifice thinking of little more than her son and how to stop Jacen from twisting him further. Although I can understand the reasons for her death, it just doesn’t work for me on an emotional level.
I think that the death of her character came far too soon, especially since she spent much of the New Jedi Order suffering from a life-threatening illness. We rarely got to see her, Luke and Ben as an actual family unit. Futhermore, Jacen kills her with one of Alema Rar’s poison darts – making everyone think that Alema killed Mara. So not only did Jacen kill Mara far too soon, but the characters didn’t even know the true identity of the killer. I had hoped that after killing Mara and donning the identity of Darth Caedus, Jacen would embrace his evil side and be a real villain… but he doesn’t. Not only that, but he actually continues to flip-flop on the idea of whether or not Mara would even be the sacrifice he supposedly needed to become a Sith, ultimately deciding that her death was not the appropriate sacrifice. And, as we’re all aware, Darth Caedus was a terrible Sith. He wasn’t the least bit menacing until the final book in the series, Invincible, and by then… it was far too late to rehabilitate his character. So in essence, Mara Jade died so that Jacen could prove his worth as a villain… and Jacen never lived up to it. Mara really died for nothing, in that respect, and it was a huge blow to fans. Shannon McRandle, the actress who portrayed Mara Jade in various EU appearances, appeared on the most recent episode of The EU Review and spent a portion of the interview weighing in on Mara’s death. “I don’t think any of us, as fans, would have chosen that end for her,” she said, adding that she felt Timothy Zahn, the author who created Mara Jade, should have been the one to write the death. Still, Mara Jade was a fantastic character, and she’s appeared since in Fate of the Jedi as some sort of Force projection in the Lake of Apparitions (complete with her trademark loving snark), but it doesn’t heal the sting of her death in the way that Anakin Solo’s appearance did. It just makes her absence all the more noticeable. It wasn’t the reason for her death that was bad, and surely not the death itself or the emotional impact on other characters, but rather that the authors didn’t follow through and make her death meaningful. And by failing to do that, Mara Jade was given one of the worst deaths in the EU.
Even minor, but fan favorite, characters really got the shaft in Legacy of the Force. Everyone’s favorite Imperial, Gilad Pellaeon, finally met his end in Revelation – shockingly at the hands of Tahiri. After refusing her request to send his forces to help Jacen in battle, and realizing that Tahiri would kill him if he did not comply, he orders his fleet to instead engage Jacen’s forces in combat. Tahiri shoots him, and Pellaeon slowly dies as the Moffs gather around him and plot how to take power. Now, I understand that Pellaeon is an old man at this point, but I would have almost rather him faded into legend than actually be killed. He has served in roles as both Imperial villain and ally over the years since the EU was crafted in earnest with The Thrawn Trilogy, and his end was one of the most blatant examples of unneeded deaths in the series. For the authors, Pellaeon stood between Jagged Fel and leadership of the Imperials – apparently death was the easiest way to solve that issue. Strides have been made, at least recently, to allow the impact of Pellaeon’s death to finally catch up with Tahiri, giving her the most memorable role she’s had since the New Jedi Order, but she could have just as easily killed a high-ranking Imperial officer and kept the same character arc. But now, it’s harder for me to appreciate Tahiri after she killed one of my favorite Imperials. Jacen’s muder of Mara was done so that the readers would understand he was a villain, but Tahiri never reaches the level of believable villain in the series. The murder of Pellaeon, completely out of left field, just highlights the blood fever that the series apparently relied on to get from one book to the next. It’s a real shame, too. Pellaeon deserved a much better fate.
Another minor character that really got the shaft with a shocking and unneeded death? Isolder, the father of Tenal Ka. Essentially, he dies because he frustrated Darth Caedus. He had been held prisoner aboard Caedus’s ship and tortured to give the Sith the location of the hidden Jedi base in the Transitory Mists. In an effort to show favor to Caedus, the Imperials offer to create a nanovirus using Isolder’s DNA that would effectively kill all Hapans with royal blood. Not wanting Tenal Ka and Allana to die, Caedus frees Isolder so that he could warn the Hapans. Isolder refused to believe the Sith, enraging Caedus and causing him to snap Isolder’s neck with the Force. It’s a death that is shockingly quick and brutal… and it was completely unneeded to move the story along to its final end. Invincible, as readers will remember, was an extremely short book – not even 300 pages long. You would think that Troy Denning would have taken the time to at least flesh Isolder’s role out more, but apparently it was decided that he was a loose end that just needed to be wrapped up as quickly as possible. And the quickest way to remove obstacles? Well, just think back to Pellaeon’s ridiculous demise. Death is always the quickest way! Poor Isolder has been around since The Courtship of Princess Leia, and although not a prominent EU character, he was certainly had an interesting role as father of fan-favorite Tenal Ka. Isolder deserved better, especially from the father of his grandchild.
Then, of course, there’s the death of Jacen Solo. Or Darth Caedus, if you prefer. To be blunt, Jacen’s death was one of the worst decisions to ever hit the Star Wars EU. Here was a character who had an incredible journey through the New Jedi Order, finally stepping into the role of a real and believable hero. His entire character arc was impressive, and by the end of the series, I really believed he would lead the next generation of Jedi. That was not to be the case, though, and he ends up showcasing an incredible arrogance in both the Dark Nest trilogy and Legacy of the Force, the latter series causing him to become a Sith. Honestly, I had hoped that Darth Caedus would survive Legacy of the Force intact. For so long, it seemed that the ending would either be to kill the Jedi-turned-Sith or redeem him, and I didn’t want either ending. Caedus had no credibility as a villain, to the point where he would trip over his cape or simply make stupid decisions that would cause readers to groan. Redemption would have made his time as an awful villain too short, while death would simply destroy his character. No, I wanted him to escape and return in the next inevitable series as an actual force to be reckoned with. Or hey, remember when Nomi Sunrider punished Ulic Qel-Droma by cutting him off from the Force forever? Yeah, that would have been a real sweet twist if Luke had gone all Grandmaster on Jacen and showed him just who the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy was.
Instead, Jacen was killed in combat by his twin sister, Jaina. I can’t even praise the final fight scene, because both combatants were just so unbelievable. In one corner, you have Darth Caedus trying very hard to not act like a villain so he can warn Tenal Ka and Allana of an attack that threatens their lives. In the other corner, you have Jaina doing her best to be Sword of the Jedi and be a bloodthirsty killer that doesn’t believe a word of what her brother tells her. It was just an awful fight, where the final outcome was the death of a character who had once carried near limitless potential. The series of bloodshed and murder was capped with its most heinous decision yet: the death of Jacen Solo. So disgusted were fans by the death that interest in books that take place after the series has really plummeted. Little mention was made of Millennium Falcon or the underrated (but extremely excellent) Crosscurrent. Where debate had once raged during the New Jedi Order and Legacy of the Force, it is now a trickle as each new Fate of the Jedi installment is released. Fans are probably still suffering fatigue from this particular area of the timeline. I know that I am, and I still read the new books. I try to get invested into them, but it’s really not the same. Even Jacen’s final fate – did he die as a Jedi or a Sith? – isn’t known, and it is the unknown that frustrates fans. Denning wrote that Jacen took a step toward the light of a furnace as he died… was that a subtle hint that he died as a Jedi? Jaina noticed that right when she struck her brother down, their Force bond returned… perhaps allowing for some form of redemption? All the fans had were straws to grasp, and his appearance in the Lake of Apparitions did nothing to resolve these feelings. When speaking to Luke and Ben, Jacen was smug and unapologetic for his actions. He also tells them that he’s suffering damnation, though whether the apparition is actually Jacen or not has yet to be confirmed. It still does nothing but leave a bad taste in the mouths of those who once cheered the character on. Jacen Solo, hero of the Jedi, didn’t just fall – he plummeted. His awful characterization and awful final fate still don’t sit well with me. I often think back to how I felt reading the New Jedi Order growing up, being amazed that a character like him could grow into the role that he feared – much as I feared growing up into roles that were expected of me. But then Jacen turned to the dark side, mimicking Anakin Skywalker’s fall, and one of the best characters in the EU was utterly and completely destroyed. Another character that longtime readers were emotionally attached to was killed – making me wonder just who they’ll kill next, or if there will be any EU characters left to carry on the torch from Luke, Han and Leia.