star wars: a literary countdown

My love for Star Wars is like an exposed nerve in a way. On one hand, I’m very proud to show it off. If there was some sort of badge I could put in my wallet to show people how much I love Star Wars, I’d be flashing it at every pub, diner, and hardware store I wandered into. (The latter clearly being an accident.)

On the other hand, I’m so close to Star Wars that it’s hard to look at it objectively. When people ask which Star Wars movie is my favorite, I clam up. How can that be answered? That’s like asking which star in the night sky is your favorite?

How can you even quantify a piece of such a vast universe?

I’ve kept it kind of close to the vest but I suppose the cat is out of the bag: I’m going to Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim next month. It’s been a dream of mine since I knew what a convention was, one that seemed impossible, but now–knock on wood–it looks like I’ll be peeling back the curtain for a peek into the galaxy far, far away.

Truly, it’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan. We have a new movie on the horizon, spinoff movies, new shows and merch, and a new canonical storyline in place.

But that new canon also makes me weary. Star Wars books have been my go-to–my staple–since my middle school days. The Expanded Universe (now called Legends) was the closest thing I had to a soap opera. I followed Luke Skywalker and his friends for some 30 years after Return of the Jedi via those books, and all the while I was told it was the official history of those characters. Canon. Even Star Trek books didn’t have that cred behind them.

I bought and read every one of the New Jedi Order books…and loved them! Say what you will about the Yuuzhan Vong or Chewbacca being killed off in the first novel, those books are some of my most memorable reads and to me they’ll always feel real. Maybe even more real than The Force Awakens.

The New Jedi Order is where I first discovered Matthew Stover, one of my favorite authors. (If you’re not reading him, you should be.) And if it weren’t for Republic Commando: Hard Contact, a Star Wars book based on a video game that I had only watched from over a shoulder, I never would have discovered Karen Traviss and all the wonderful books she’s written. When I’m in a slump and haven’t read anything inspiring for awhile, I go to Amazon and search her name.

But it was with the Karen Traviss novels that my love affair with Star Wars lit became a little disenchanted. Not for the content of her books, but because of what they did to her.

Karen Traviss was the first author to be knocked completely out of the Star Wars canon, long before the EU became Legends.

Traviss’ Star Wars novels spanned decades–generations–within the Star Wars universe, all linked together by a cast of memorable characters, either invented or finally fleshed out by Traviss herself. It was a gutsy move, linking all her books together in one way or another, but it proved to be a work of true genius.

And, ultimately, fatal.

I’m still not entirely sure why exactly they needed to undo her work. It had something to do with The Clone Wars animated series and the history of the Mandalorians, but with one fell swoop all her books were no longer considered canon.

As a Star Wars fan I was devastated, but as a writer I was hurt.

I contacted Ms. Traviss after reading through all her Star Wars books via email, just to tell her how much I loved them, how some of them actually brought me to tears, and how I would follow her writing career wherever it went. She sent me a lovely email back, telling me thanks, but that, at the end of the day, it was just a job. A very Boba Fett-esque approach.

A job she wasn’t fully compensated for either. But that’s another story, and a punch-in-the-gut to any author. Surely Fett wouldn’t have taken that sitting down.

In the end, I think Traviss took the high road. She updated her site with notes on where her stories and characters were headed (oh yeah…did I forget to mention they clipped her wings mid-series?) and politely asked her followers not to ask much more about it. A lot of Star Wars fans pretended she never existed. Her name in relation to Star Wars is often paired with an eye roll or a groan, but her diehards will never forget her awesome contributions to the Star Wars universe.

This row with the canon nearly killed my fandom. It was just too close to the heart, writing-related and all. I boycotted The Clone Wars show for a long time, and didn’t read much of the Star Wars literature that was released post-Traviss. It just didn’t seem very interesting. Maybe it wasn’t, or maybe my palate was soured.

While this was a regrettable moment in Star Wars lit, Traviss has gone on to do some amazing work for franchises I never would have glanced at otherwise: Gears of War, Halo, even G.I. Joe just to name a few.

And fortunately Star Wars literature seems to be on the upswing. I’ve finally accepted that all those countless hours and dollars I spent following the adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han post-cinema are only Legends now. Mara Jade is a thing of the past. A ghost, and I don’t just mean of the Force variety.

But there is a new hope, so to speak. As Celebration (and the The Force Awakens) draws closer, the list of upcoming Star Wars books grows larger. And these promise to be official, canonical, and in the vein of Our Beloved Wars.

For now, at least.

But I can’t help but drool over the upcoming Aftermath, a direct continuation of Return of the Jedi, written by one of my Twitter favorites, Chuck Wendig. Or Lords of the Sith, what I lovingly call a “Star Wars Buddy Cop Flick” featuring Vader and the Emperor busting skulls side-by-side, written by perfect guy for the job, Paul S. Kemp.

In my mind, the existing Star Wars novels won’t be uncanonized until the new movie premieres. So until then, I’m going to spend the rest of 2015 reading those Star Wars novels that I never quite got around to. If you want to catch up as well, I still stick by my original list of great Star Wars literature, and would add these as well:

Allegiance Revelationcover Shadows_of_Mindor_cover

 

Until next time: Don’t stop believin’ and may the Force be with you.

 

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