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 taking a look back at the highs and lows of the Star Wars Expanded Universe in 2010, and offer a look at some of my expectations for 2011. Yes, the holiday season is over and EU Action/Reaction will be back to its regularly scheduled Monday posting starting 01/10/2011.
It was truly an odd year for Star Wars this year, at least for me. Major announcements like the Blu Ray collection and the 3D conversion didn’t get me excited, and it seemed that the bigger budget projects imploded while products without hype and fanfare held a more memorable role overall for 2010. So without further ado, a look back.
The 5 Best Additions to the EU in 2010
Set between Legacy of the Force and Millennium Falcon, and almost begging to be overlooked by the more hardcore fans because of it, Crosscurrent was nothing if not superb. Newcomer Paul S. Kemp proved that he could not only write a riveting tale, but that he could also bring a fantastic view of the Force (particularly the dark side) to the shared universe. Between the inclusion of the One Sith, and characters like Jaden Korr, Relin Druur and Saes Rrogon – all of which have remained memorable to me a year later, Crosscurrent had something for continuity buffs and the reader looking for a one-shot. It was no surprise to me when the sequel, Riptide, was announced, nor was it a surprise to learn that Kemp would be writing The Old Republic: Deceived, which is a book that looks to be filled with dark side lore. But most importantly about Crosscurrent, it proved that the idea of a one-shot in the Star Wars universe was not dead. If that opens the door to more authors like Kemp, then I embrace the strategy. Welcome to the EU, Mr. Kemp. And bravo with a truly fantastic book.
4. The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance.
If there was anyone who doubted Sean Williams more than me, I’d love to meet that person. He’s an author who continues to get work in the EU, despite co-authoring the dreadfully boring Force Heretic trilogy, and writing both The Force Unleashed and The Force Unleashed II – easily two of the worst Star Wars EU books in the last decade. When it was revealed that Williams would be writing Fatal Alliance, the first in a series of books based around the timeline of The Old Republic MMORPG, I was extremely disappointed. I’ve been looking forward to the game and the timeline, and I felt that handing the first book over to Williams was akin to lighting the funeral pyre months in advance. My interest plummeted, and I forgot about the book until it hit the bookstore. At first glance, it’s a meaty book – well worth the price, given the amount of pages inside. But forget page count, the book content is almost unparalleled. Williams really hit his stride with this book, though whether that is due to lack of constraints or playing in such an open period of the timeline is unknown. It’s a video game novel that, for once, doesn’t read like one. Yes, it’s fairly obvious that the main characters are all representatives of the various classes, but it’s handled in a way that doesn’t make the book an obvious tie-in. I’ll admit that extremely lowered expectations influenced my overall opinion of this book, but I’m always glad to be wrong if it means my pessimism turns out to be unwarranted. Fatal Alliance is a strong start for The Old Republic, and I think that bodes well for the series overall. It’s an oddball time period, but I think fans old and new will get a kick out of it. This is one not to be missed.
3. The Old Republic E3 2010 Hope Trailer.
Just when you think that anticipation had hit a fever pitch with the 2009 “Deceived” trailer for The Old Republic, fans were sent skyrocketing into the stratosphere with the 2010 “Hope” trailer during this year’s E3. It was another beautiful trailer that, unlike the first, had a bit of a happier ending. We watch as Republic forces seem to lose a battle on Alderaan, only to have reinforcements arrive… oh, and a massively awesome battle between a female Jedi and Darth Malgus, with an ending that reveals that this new trailer is actually set before “Deceived.” Now I’ll admit, I liked “Deceived” better than “Hope,” but it’s almost a moot point when the products are both so good. I can’t watch “Hope” without a few goosebumps rising up on my arms, and that’s the sign of a fantastic product. I really think fans were given a glimpse into a future teeming with possiblity, where Star Wars scenes can be created with such photorealism and emotion.
2. Red Harvest.
I have got to hand it to Joe Schreiber. Red Harvest is everything I wanted Death Troopers to be. I found his first addition to the EU, Death Troopers, to be overhyped, a predictable product with too little emphasis on the plot. It had some good qualities, but the overall lack of questions answered made the book feel very bittersweet. Red Harvest suffers from a few of the same issues I had with Death Troopers, like cliche characters and subplots that are introduced for no other discernable reason than to be filler in an already appallingly short book, but this time, Schreiber gave readers the appropriate build-up. The reader sees the origins of the zombie virus, but Schreiber leaves out just enough material to keep certain things mysterious as the book continues on. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this is a novel set in the Old Republic period (although not in name), a timeline ripe with interesting characters and conflict. Red Harvest is an absolute page-turner, and gripping from start to finish. The short chapters work well with a horror story, and I’m proud to say that my nails were mere nubs by the time I made it halfway through the book. There has been a lot of griping about length, and I’m probably one of the biggest complainers when it comes to that. After all, no one wants to spend $27 on a story that is told in 247 pages, right? In this case, Red Harvest was the perfect length. Sure, I wouldn’t have complained if it were longer. But the story was told in what I felt was the right amount of pages, and that’s really what matters most. In the end, it doesn’t matter if it takes you three days or a week to rip through a book from cover to cover. It just matters if you enjoyed the story. And in the case of Red Harvest, it is a story that is most definitely one of the most enjoyable of the year.
1. Fate of the Jedi: Vortex.
Once again, Troy Denning has shown to be the saving grace of Fate of the Jedi. After kicking the series into high gear with his first entry, Abyss, the series has largely stagnated to the point where I had really lost interest. Then Vortex came out, and reminded me why I love not only Denning’s work, but this series. When the series is bad, it’s pretty terrible. But when it’s good, it is utterly fantastic. Denning didn’t manage to squeak in every subplot introduced in the series thus far, but he was able to keep the suspense high with Tahiri’s trial and the continuing adventures of Luke, Ben and Vestara. A lot of great reveals are made in the book concerning the nebulous villain, Abeloth, and even the normally boring Coruscant scenes now threaten to steal the entire show as it highlights some of the most emotional moments of the series thus far. Without a doubt, fans will be debating certain outcomes that were reached in this entry, long after the series ends. Oh, and it also has an ending that is so delightfully action-packed that it’ll coax your best Jake Lloyd “yippee!” impression from you. Yes, Vortex really begins the shake-up that this series has been in desperate need of. I could not recommend it more highly. This is the book you’ve been looking for.
The 5 Biggest Disappointments in the EU in 2010
5. Fate of the Jedi: Allies.
You know, Allies wasn’t really all that bad. It’s just incredibly obvious after her second entry in the series that newcomer Christie Golden is clearly out of her league. It’s bad enough that she’s alongside two Star Wars powerhouse authors like Aaron Allston and Troy Denning, but she is an extremely poor substitute for Karen Traviss. Golden’s prose leaves a lot to be desired in Allies. Don’t believe me? Go back and read Luke’s internal thoughts as he realizes that Abeloth is inhabiting Callista. Rather than showing us how Luke feels, Golden tells us that he hasn’t been that shocked since Darth Vader revealed he was Luke’s father. It’s just sloppy writing. Even the more interesting points of the book, Tahiri’s trial and the slavery subplot, are out-classed when they both show up again in Denning’s Vortex. I seriously doubt we’ll see another Golden entry in the EU once this series ends.
4. Clone Wars Gambit: Siege.
As much as I enjoyed Stealth, Karen Miller really dropped the ball with Siege. Clearly, this was a story meant to be told in one book. If you take all the various plot points of both, and combine them, you could do it in a meaty paperback. Instead, each book is filled with a lot of filler. Meaningless conversations between Anakin and Obi-Wan, or between Bail and Padme, litter Siege. The antagonist, Lok Durd, spends entirely too many pages beating his prisoner senseless, and all with gruesome detail that, more often than not, made me cringe. It didn’t make me dislike the character more. It just made me reflect on how little he resembled his television show version, and that’s where some of my disconnect with this story comes from. It’s got to be tough to write adult novels based on a television show that is primarily serving kids. And I’m sorry, but how ridiculous was Taria Damsin? She’s a Jedi Master, and she’s dying from a disease she got after eating a poisoned mollusk. Ridiculous! How many times have we seen Jedi use the Force to rid themselves of poison that has entered into their system? It’s just tough to take a character like her seriously, just like it’s tough to take most other characterizations in this book seriously.
3. The Clone Wars: Season Three.
Secrets Revealed! That was the tagline for Season Three of The Clone Wars, but we’ve gotten very little so far. The season opened with “Clone Cadets,” probably the weakest season opener yet, and although the impressive “ARC Troopers” episode followed after, the show quickly spiraled into boring episodes and lots of Senate talk. What happened to the cool episodes teased, with the Nightsisters and Savage Oppress? Where are the Republic Commandos? (Hint: Check out TCW in 2011). But for 2010, I thought the show really had a poor run. So far, the season has been plagued by continuity issues (still!) and it jumps around the timeline so much, I’ve lost considerable interest. I know Star Wars loves its prequels, but is it really too much to ask that the episodes at least be run in chronological order? It was a mess in 2010, perhaps best highlighted by the episode where R2-D2 gets a bath while C-3P0 gets tortured by a cackling Cad Bane, who has been reduced from a badass to a cliche-spouting caricature. Secrets revealed? Maybe in 2011. And for those who were privledged enough to see the Savage Oppress episodes and gush about them, they are still technically 2011 episodes. So hah! But for 2010, the only secret revealed was how bad all the fans got suckered by Dave Filoni at Celebration V.
2. Fate of the Jedi: Backlash.
Oof, what a lousy book. Well, perhaps I should preface this by sharing my love of Aaron Allston. I think he’s one of the best authors in the EU, and I love Wraith Squadron with a passion. In essence, Backlash is everything that Allston shouldn’t have written. Hot on the heels of Troy Denning’s Abyss, which kicked the series into overdrive with an absolute ton of Sith intrigue and our first real introduction to Abeloth and her odd world, Backlash took the fast pace that the series was running in, and reduced it to a crawl. The book takes place almost entirely on Coruscant and Dathomir, and it was just a really bad choice. Luke and Ben’s portion of the book, where it takes them the entire book to catch Vestara, could have been summed up in a simple chapter or two. Instead, Backlash gives readers a scenario so drawn out and ridiculous that it takes legitimate effort to not dismiss as being… well, stupid. And how about the oddball inclusion of Zekk, who sat around with his girlfriend in a “Hey, you don’t get Blood Oath but here’s my obligatory cameo” moment, and let Allana wander around and almost get herself killed in a screwball scene that, again, defied logic. It was a pointless book, ending with a battle between our heroes and Nightsisters with rancors. It would have been cool, if the battle hadn’t been so drawn out that it became a chore to read. Or if Allston didn’t suddenly have Ben describe the battle in terms of a starfighter battle. It was just a real clunker, badly damaging what Abyss had built up.
1. The Force Unleashed II.
Unlike most EU fans I run across on Twitter and various message boards, I didn’t like The Force Unleashed. Everyone praised the game for its plot, but I just didn’t get it. Cliche, one-dimensional characters litter the story, with a plot by Darth Vader and Palpatine that is so ludicrous that I still can’t wrap my head around it. When the announcement for The Force Unleashed II hit, I was hugely disappointed. After all, Starkiller dies in the end of the first game! Ah, but now he’s a clone! Or is he? You’ll have to experience The Force Unleashed II to find out! Oh, except that you don’t. Well, there’s some storyboard cinematics in the video game that seem to reveal the answer to the question, but surely that can’t be the only place to find an answer to such an integral question, right? Ugh.
Everything about The Force Unleashed II was downright awful. The comic adaptation, starring a cartoonish Boba Fett, makes no sense without the context of the other mediums. The book was a chore to get through, with alternating chapters between Starkiller, who spends every other paragraph pining for Juno, and Juno, who alternates paragraphs between thinking she is a role model for Princess Leia and pining for Starkiller. The two were so unlikeable in the book that I was really hoping for the dark side ending. You know, the one where they die and stay dead forever and ever. Instead, the story has one of the most ridiculous endings of a Star Wars product. Ever. It’s awful. Oh, and all the hype about Yoda and Ackbar and Wedge Antilles showing up? Consider it a smokescreen, because they have no impact on the story. Oh sure, get some fanboys to squeal when Ackbar says, “It’s a trap!” How about this one: THE FORCE UNLEASHED II IS A TRAP!
And actually, it is a trap. It’s a get-rich-quick money making scheme, designed to sucker Star Wars fans out of their money as fast as possible. Don’t believe me? Look at the video game, which can be beaten in four hours. Oh, and it has no multiplayer and no replay value. Oh, and half the cool stuff that happens in the book and comic don’t even show up in the game. Somehow, the characters became even more one-dimensional, caricatures of themselves. It made me wish I was experiencing The Force Unleashed all over again, and I never thought I would wish that. The only thing worse than looking forward to something that turns out to be a failure, is seeing the writing on the wall and watching it fail. Forget The Force Unleashed III, and forget the chances of LucasArts releasing anything worthwhile for the forseeable future. Everyone who stood behind this product should be ashamed of themselves for this embarrassment. The Force Unleashed II wasn’t just the biggest disappointment of 2010, it was an abomination.
The Top 5 Upcoming EU Additions of 2011 with the Most Potential
At this point, it’s Paul S. Kemp’s game to lose. Crosscurrent was just fantastic, and the continued adventures of Jaden Korr is just what I’ve been looking forward to. The book looks to continue the very interesting plotline regarding cloned Force users, which will likely end up being both creepy and entertaining. I expect to see more of Jaden’s wrestling with his views of the Force, something I much enjoyed in the first book. Without having to use time travel as a crutch to tie this book into Fate of the Jedi like Crosscurrent did, I think readers are likely to get a story that is much more grounded in traditional Star Wars lore than the first book. Get ready, because this one is likely to impress.
4. Shadow Games.
I’m a big fan of Michael Reaves, there’s no question. This time, he’s bringing his accomplice, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, who writes a series of blog entries about the Star Wars writing process that has left me more than satisfied that the two will give us a great read. Promising a thriller, and starring Dash Rendar and Leebo (two of my favorite underutilized Star Wars characters), there’s almost no way that this book will fail to impress. Not only will Han Solo, the character Dash Rendar is modeled after, make an appearance as a “hated rival,” but the book is actually called Shadow Games. It is a clear play on Shadows of the Empire, which tells me that our authors have done their homework, and they’re looking to make fans of the oft-overlooked story very happy.
3. Fate of the Jedi: Conviction, Ascension, Apocalypse.
Following Vortex, my expectations for Fate of the Jedi is higher than it has ever been. Despite some questionable entries by Allston and Golden in the past, the series seems to be running too fast, with too little time to fix mistakes, to hit any further snags. I fully expect the series to hit a quick pace in its finale, and based on Denning’s stellar entries thus far, Apocalypse may end up being his best work yet. There is still so much that is unknown in the scope of this story, with many subplots that have yet to be fully realized or tied together. There seems little doubt that the series will give readers shocking reveals, with plenty of emotional twists and turns as well. But between you and me, I have my fingers crossed that Tahiri makes it out unharmed. She’s really come full circle.
2. The Old Republic: Deceived.
Another Paul S. Kemp novel, and this one tells the story of Darth Malgus, the super awesome Sith seen taking the Jedi Council to task in the E3 2009 “Deceived” trailer for The Old Republic. The first few chapters are already available for reading online, but I’d prefer to wait for the entire story. Kemp does seem like a great choice to write this, though. His interpretation of the Force, seen in Crosscurrent, really seemed a step above how other authors approach it. And having the novel set in the Old Republic era helps, because it’s a wide open area that Sean Williams has already proven is quite a furtile area for stories to be told. I expect this to be a runaway success, and that The Old Republic novels will likely get a much more in-your-face marketing that Fatal Alliance lacked.
1. Crimson Empire III.
What more needs to be said? The greatest Star Wars miniseries, Crimson Empire, got a decent sequel in Crimson Empire II (including our first look at Nom Anor!) and then the series vanished entirely. Growing up, I loved Kir Kanos. I loved his sense of duty and honor, and that he was a villain that I could root for. This is something I have been practically begging for, for a very long time. To now know that I only have to wait a few more months… it’s really awesome. I don’t remember the last time I bought a Star Wars comic, as I prefer trade paperbacks and the Omnibus collections, but you better believe that I’ll be buying each issue as they hit the stands. I think we’ve all waited long enough.
So that’s a look back at the good and bad of 2010, and a brief glimpse into the future that 2011 promises to bring us. I remain cautiously optimistic about this new year, especially with Fate of the Jedi wrapping up, The Old Republic hitting its stride, novel/comic interaction with Knight Errant and, most importantly, no The Force Unleashed III in sight. I hope everyone had a Happy New Year, and I look forward to another fun year of EU Action/Reaction with you readers!