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 discuss the role of the Expanded Universe… and try to figure out why there are fans out there who either hate the EU in its entirety or hate portions of it. What makes Star Wars so different from other licensed products, and is it possible for me to come up with a way to karate punch every irrational EU hater in the face through the computer?
I’ve spent all my life devouring every piece of Star Wars EU that I can get my hands on, and it’s really been the only “expanded universe” of a licensed product that I’ve experienced… at least, until this year. I always thought it was normal for fans to simply cherry pick which stories they considered to be “canon,” or for other fans to simply deny the stories as fan-fiction. I mean, everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But in our comfort with the Star Wars EU, which has been around for decades, it’s really enabled us to become overly negative whenever we want. I think that, as fans, we’ve lost our way. Some EU fans have become increasingly arrogant whenever a new addition makes its way to the EU, and the film fans who have turned a blind eye toward the EU are blatant in their ability to be some of the most close-minded people I’ve ever had the misfortune of interacting with.
This year, I finally started branching out and experimenting with new series. Not because I’m tired of Star Wars, which I doubt I could ever be, but because I’m all caught up with Star Wars and there are plenty of series that I enjoy. I’ve spent the last handful of months delving into the expanded universe offered by Gears of War, Halo, and Dead Space. Not only have I experienced the rich storytelling that I now know is no longer exclusive to Star Wars, but I’ve also interacted with groups of fans that are totally and completely different from Star Wars fans. See, where as Star Wars is an established brand that was ultimately created by one visionary, the series I listed are relatively new and created by companies in a more collaborative effort. It was a shock when I realized I’d spent a portion of my night railing against The Force Unleashed II (having not read or played it yet) and the latest episode of The Clone Wars… and then spent the next day excited to run to the bookstore and grab the new Halo book before I came home to dive back into Halo: Reach. Just two diametrically opposite sides of fandom. You see…
We’re a Bunch of Ingrates
Yep, I said it. Many Star Wars fans have to be among the most ungrateful people ever. Do you realize that we have time to find excessive faults with a series that currently has a television show in production and gives us roughly 10 new books a year? Let’s take a look at the latter part of that question first. Every year, we end up with around 10 new Star Wars books. That’s almost one book a month. That’s insane! In comparison, Gears of War and Dead Space each had one book released this year, and Halo had no new releases. I think that, as fans, we’re spoiled. It’s always a game of finding an equilibrium between quality and quantity, and we’re really deluding ourselves if we believe that every single new release will be of the highest quality. With 10 books a year, you’re bound to have a clunker or two. But you know what? None of the EU is unreadable. And I would know, because I’ve read it all. And the television show… it’s actually not a bad show at all. But it’s hard to see it for what it is, when it’s a half hour that is constantly interrupted by commercials that are aimed squarely at very young children. And frankly, we’re lucky to have it. Here’s George Lucas, working hard to give fans more Star Wars, and we thank him by being generally ungrateful.
Poor George Lucas. There are days when I just really don’t envy him at all. The man came up with the basic story for Star Wars, and he’s the mastermind behind it. It’s gotta be frustrating to Lucas. Here’s a guy who is the brainchild of one of the most beloved movies of all time, and all he wants to do is add to that story. But when he tinkered with his original work, legions of fans denounced him as evil – as if the special editions really changed the overall viewing experience. When he created the prequels, and our own preconceived notions of the prequels were swept aside in favor of something that was much more enormous and magnificent, some fans lashed out and cried that the prequels were an abomination to the Star Wars saga. And now we have The Clone Wars, a television show that takes place between Episodes II and III, and gains the ire of most EU buffs because we would rather limit Lucas in his ability to tell a great story by the constraints that the EU has placed on the era, rather than just let the man throw in what he wants and worry about the speed bumps later on down the line. And the sad thing is, I’d be doing the exact same thing if I were George Lucas. I’d be looking at ways to add really cool things to my masterpiece. But it’s gotten to the point now where fans are ready to accept him as some sort of bumbling oaf, blaming him for everything from the ruination of Indiana Jones (as if Stephen Spielberg, one of the most powerful directors in Hollywood, couldn’t stand up to Lucas if he disagreed) to the destruction of our childhoods.
Star Wars EU fans are throwing a decade-long temper tantrum. We need to understand that we don’t control the story, we’re just along for the ride. Stop trying to reach for the wheel to this car, because you’ll never reach it. Experience it, and love it for what it is (a continuation of a rich story) or don’t. I’m not saying don’t complain. But I am saying to stop being so ungrateful for what we’re given. Goodness, be thankful you aren’t a Star Trek fan. What a nightmare that expanded universe is.
Nice to Hate You!
One of the weirdest moments as a Star Wars fan, for me, was when I visited the official Gears of War forums a few months back. It was post after post, page after page, of fans praising the excellent work that Karen Traviss had done bringing the Gears of War franchise to life in the novels. It was like I stepped into some sort of twisted opposite world. To be frank, I was glad to see it and I think she’s completely deserving of all the praise. But it was such a difference of opinion, when one thinks of the Star Wars forums being littered with post after post, page after page, of fans bashing her and undercutting her every contribution to the EU. And Traviss isn’t the only author. EU fans make it a hobby to find an author that strikes us as incompetent, and then trash them until they just give up and go somewhere else. My goodness, fans actually sent death threats to R. A. Salvatore! How did we get this crazy?
In general, licensed products have never had a great track record when it comes to quality. Most movie novelizations are by the numbers, and most books based on video games tend to be pretty terrible. All that is changing now, though. Companies are finally beginning to understand the marketability of their product – which is why you don’t see video game novelizations anymore. Anyone who wants to buy a Halo book has already played the games. They don’t want to read about the adventure they’ve already experienced. And as these companies recognize this product potential and hire better writers, the genre of licensed fiction becomes more competitive. And you know what else? Most readers of licensed fiction adore the writers. Karen Traviss is probably more happy now than ever, because she’s still getting a paycheck – but now she’s got a legion of fans that love her instead of hate her. If we keep acting in such a rude and disrespectful manner, we’re going to lose out on more great authors who simply decide that we’re too fickle and conceited to write for – that the end result isn’t worth their time or trouble when more receptive fanbases are waiting just around the corner. We may dislike the product, but when we go personal, we go too far. We stop becoming critical fans, are start becoming real jerks.
I doubt there’s any Star Wars fans reading this who simply refuses to acknowledge the Expanded Universe as part of the franchise’s canon, but if any out there are reading: grow up. You may not like or agree with the direction that the EU goes in, but the fact remains that the stories are sanctioned by LucasFilm and sometimes receive input from Lucas himself. You can’t plug your eyes and yell “LA LA LA!” and think that the EU will just suddenly disappear. If you’re a fan of something, you do whatever it takes to experience as much as you can. If you’re a fan of a video game series, that might mean picking up a comic book or novel. If you’re a fan of Star Wars, that better mean the same thing. A fan doesn’t watch the movies and think, “Hey, they were great! Oh, and there’s a whole expanded universe out there that catalogs even more stories? Wow, well that’s stupid and I don’t believe any of it.” And what is up with Star Wars fans in their 20s who think they’re too cool for The Clone Wars? Again, it’s Star Wars. This whole, “Oh, well TCW is for babies and Ahsoka is dumb and it screws with canon so I’m just going to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist” mentality is every bit as stupid as that of the EU-deniers. Sure, there are some groans and generally uninteresting scenes… just like every single Star Wars movie has. It’s also got some fantastic music, action and a poignant moment or two… again, just like the movies.
Honestly, I think we are some of the worst fans in existence. Just last week, a rumor bounced around that Lucas was thinking of doing a new Star Wars trilogy after the 3D conversion of all six movies… and the fan reaction was overwhelmingly negative. What the heck is wrong with us? I think we all need to take a look in the mirror. Because if Star Wars isn’t fun for us anymore, then it’s time to move on to something else to enjoy. But let’s not suck every bit of fun and excitement out of this franchise for everyone else, all right?