Welcome to another installment of EUCantina’s 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 the recent trend of major fan involvement in the Expanded Universe. Sure, it’s never been uncommon for an author to name a character after someone in real life, or for fans to win a role in an EU product by winning an auction. But in recent years, fan contests have been gaining notoriety for the ability to give one fan a major impact on the EU. But what does this mean for the Star Wars universe, and is this a viable method to keep fans interested in future EU releases?I’ve never really been a big fan of contests. Probably because I never win any. Whenever I see any contests held online, I immediately get wary. They can be subverted really easy, though, like when hordes of anonymous people thought it would be hilarious to vote for Justin Bieber to have his next concert in North Korea. There are definitely caveats in the system, but it has to be one of the easiest ways to get fans involved with the EU. It puts everyone on a level playing field, where no one person has an advantage of anyone else. What scares me about looking to the fans for input, though, is that it always looks to me as though the minds at LucasFilm have essentially run out of ideas. Can’t decide on the name of a character or a novel title? Just give it to the fans, they usually have some good ideas lodged between the crazy ones. But through it all… heck yeah, I still participate in the contests. Who would pass on the chance to influence Star Wars? Even if it’s just a small detail in the overall scheme of things, it’s still pretty fun.
The Darth Who Contest
For Legacy of the Force, Jacen Solo received his Sith name through one such contest. According to Del Rey, more than 8,500 entries were submitted. How the names were properly vetted, I have no clue. And I have trouble believing that only one fan picked the winning name. But eventually, the top five names were chosen for fans to vote on. For some fans reading Legacy of the Force as it happened, this contest was deflating news. Many had speculated that Jacen Solo would become Darth Krayt, the Sith that was causing a reign of terror in the Legacy comics almost a century later. Sure, straws had to be grasped to connect the two characters… but so did the scene that led to Tenal Ka’s pregnancy in Dark Nest. Perhaps the fans had been too used to being challenged, and the contest pulled the rug out of a great many theories. Unlike The New Jedi Order, fan reception of Legacy of the Force as a whole was largely muted – with the negative far outweighing the positive. A fan contest to name the Sith lord could have easily been an olive branch to a contentious fanbase.
The final names in the contest were pretty cool. Obviously, there was the winner: Darth Caedus (LucasFilm definition: “A battle of darkness”). Other names in contention were Darth Acheron (“A river in Hell for those who deny justice”), Darth Judicar (“The final judge”), Darth Paxis (“Bringer of peace”) and Darth Taral (“Ancient Sith for ‘he who protects’”). I’m pretty sure I voted for Darth Paxis, but I thought all were pretty decent names. To me, voting for stuff like this is a lot like watching reality television. Sure, I have one or two people I root for… but I’m not going to stop watching if the contestants I like get canned. But it does make me wonder if there were fans who were so passionate about other names that the final choice turned them off of the series.
Name That Novel!
Right now, Star Wars fans can vote in a new poll. This time, the fate of an upcoming book title is in our hands. Unlike the Darth Who Contest, the voting is between three pre-selected titles. Yes, we will all be proud owners of either Shadow Play, Pursuit, or Shadow Games this time next year. Of course, EU fans have been used to future book as its working title, Holostar. The novel, written by Michael Reaves and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, is a thriller starring Dash Rendar. I couldn’t have been happier, given my love of Shadows of the Empire. For me, having “Shadow” in the title is a no-brainer – it’s an obvious nod to Rendar’s first appearance. For those highly critical of titles with “Dark,” “Shadow,” “Night” or similar words, the choice simply falls to the one-word title. I voted for Shadow Play, and voted twice for it. Not by being devious, I just happened to load the voting page up about a week after I first voted, and I had the option to vote again. So again, I don’t know how the votes are actually vetted. It seems far too easy to subvert the system.
Oddly enough, Holostar isn’t even a choice. To me, that isn’t too terribly surprising. Working titles almost never become the final title. It simply doesn’t have any sort of “cool factor” in a name, and I think it sounds like an American Idol knockoff. Don’t believe me? Close your eyes and tell me the first thing that pops into your head when you think of “holostar.” It also gives no indication as to what the content of the book is. At least with the title choices available, you get the sense that you’re about to dive into a thriller. To me, Holostar sounds more romance-driven, like Black Orchid did before being renamed to (the far superior) Red Harvest. But still, I can understand the frustration felt by fans that had grown accustomed to Holostar as a title. These voting contests are only as good as the choices, and to leave out an option like the working title really brings home the realization of just how limited our control is.
Choose Your Own Adventure
It seems pretty likely that these kinds of contests will continue to pop up in the near future. Don’t expect to be voting on anything of value, like the next Star Wars video game or how the Big Three will die, but voting on cosmetic things like names and titles seems a sure-fire way to not only increase dialogue among fans but also to increase notoriety of the product in question. So often, fans of the EU often feel like Star Wars is their playground. Even I feel that way. The last thing we want is for new releases that contradict older information (coughTHECLONEWARScough) and make us aware that Star Wars is truly only George Lucas’s playground. Any little grasp that fans can take, any influence on continuity we can make – no matter how small – will simultaneously make us feel like our input matters while driving home the point that our input is only worthwhile on a minuscule level.
But fans have already been choosing their EU experience for as long as the EU has existed. There are fans, believe it or not, who simply refuse to acknowledge the Expanded Universe. Others will pick and choose which stories are the ones they consider to be canon, from their own personal level. Voting does get the fanbase active, but usually for all the wrong reasons. The biggest topic following the winner announcement of the Darth Who Contest was why everyone else had a better entry. The discussion surrounding the no-longer-named Holostar has been dominated with an overall dislike of the titles in question. By and large, I’m fine with what the fans vote on – though I’d rather the votes stick to titles rather than character names. Voting for titles doesn’t reek of desperation like the Darth Who Contest did. But if you vote for Pursuit and it wins, I will NEVER buy that book. Nah, I’m just kidding… I’ll write “Shadow Games” on some duck tape and slap it on the front cover.
Nah, I’m just kidding again.
I don’t know if voting in these little contests actually does increase discussion or excitement for a product. Personally, I think it gets the job done. But for a picky fanbase that throws its arms in the air at the first sign of change or something new, it probably doesn’t do much to satisfy fans in the long run.