The recent return of Jar Jar Binks & Co. with Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace‘s 3-D conversion, coupled with creator George Lucas’ rabid insistence that fans are to blame for all his movies’ faults, has once again ignited the debate over Hollywood’s most meddlesome filmmaker.
This guy probably gets the award for most creative and entertaining response since the infamous “Phantom Edit” of years’ past. But I’ve decided to give in to the dark side and take the quick and easy path, believing that there is more than enough blame to spread around for tarnishing our collective memory of that Galaxy Far, Far Away.
Bantam Books and Dark Horse Comics
To start off with, it would be unfair to point the finger at any one person for this one.
Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire kicked off a beloved trilogy that continued the story of the Rebellion and the New Republic that followed it after Return of the Jedi and brought Star Wars back in people’s minds long before the prequels were even really in pre-production. Many fantastic books and series followed, beginning under Bantam Spectra and continuing to this day under Del Rey’s management with the just-ending “Fate of the Jedi” saga.
Dark Horse Comics, likewise, made a splash with Dark Empire, its first entry in a Star Wars comics series that still persists today.
Both Dark Empire and Heir to the Empire burst on the scene in 1991, but while each was a worthy story in its own right, the campaign lacked the polish it deserved. Zahn’s more optimistic, Tom Clancy-esque approach of calculating Imperial villains and smugglers clashed with comics writer Tom Veitch’s apocalyptic vision of clone Emperors and a corrupted “Lord” Luke Skywalker. The result is an ill-fitting mash-up of concepts — galactic capital Coruscant, Princess Leia’s pregnancy and explorations of the Force are all there, but presented as if given the “Mirror, Mirror” treatment more suited to Star Trek.
Despite Zahn’s finesse and the amazing Dark Empire artwork of Cam Kennedy (and covers by Dave Dorman), the whole enterprise of official Star Wars publishing in these early days suffered from a lack of coordination that would be unthinkable in the well-oiled, money-making machine that is today’s “Expanded Universe.” Many of the writers that followed would make noble efforts to weave these frayed threads together, but it always felt like ret-conning to me.
Kevin J. Anderson
Zahn’s monumental “Thrawn trilogy” and the Dark Empire comics miniseries were followed by Kevin J. Anderson’s “Jedi Academy” book trilogy, which attempted to reconcile dissonant elements like Zahn’s pristine capital and Veitch’s war-torn wasteland by simply filling Coruscant with giant reconstruction droids while Luke Skywalker trotted about the galaxy seeking pupils for a new Jedi Order — one of whom, of course, would betray him and be redeemed. Meanwhile, Anderson actually had the audacity to crash the Millennium Falcon into the disappointing planet Kessel with catastrophic results, and introduce a third Death Star. To be fair, it was just the skeleton of a Death Star — but it had company: the sleeker, smaller, yet more destructive Sun Crusher.
Anderson’s trilogy would have made a wonderful animated serial addition to the Star Wars universe, but felt out of place next to Zahn’s initial work — to be fair, this probably had more to do with the sudden explosion of licensed fiction and the chaotic way it was organized than the writers’ own talents. He was, after all, hand-picked to continue Frank Herbert’s Dune saga based on that author’s notes and in coordination with his son, Brian Herbert. Not that this did anything to dispel his reputation as an interloper in beloved classic sci-fi properties by hardcore fans of those franchises.
The Courstship of Princess Leia novelist Dave Wolverton gave us the haughty Hapans, a planet full of rancor monsters and the first appearance of the Nightsisters of Dathomir, recently featured prominently in Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars. But he also gave us perhaps the worst line of Star Wars dialogue to ever be uttered by someone who wasn’t Anakin Skywalker or Padme Amidala: “Kiss my wookiee.” Spoken by General Han Solo, no less.
From “Kiss my wookiee” to “Kiss your wookiee goodbye.” The prolific fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, known best for his contributions to Wizards of the Coasts’ Forgotten Realms range of Dungeons & Dragons-inspired novels, will go down in infamy as the Man Who Killed Off Chewbacca in Vector Prime, the opening salvo of the epic “New Jedi Order” series that saw the galaxy invaded by hordes of Jedi- and droid-hating zealots who worship pain. How do they kill Chewie? By dropping a moon on top of him.
If you still want to blame George Lucas, feel free. It’s widely believed he hand-picked Chewie to die in Vector Prime, or at lease indirectly did so by omission when providing a list of characters that could not be killed off, and excluding the wookiee.
But ultimately it is, as Lucas is so fond of saying, his universe to do with as he wishes. That doesn’t mean we have to like it.