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Star Wars Expanded Universe: The Dark Days

Awards recipient director Lucas listens to a question from the media before the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival's Film Society Awards in San Francisco...Awards recipient director George Lucas listens to a question from the media before the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival's Film Society Awards in San Francisco, California, May 3, 2007.   REUTERS/Dino Vournas (UNITED STATES)

So there was the Expanded Universe, beloved by Star Wars fans everywhere. There were great games, memorable stories, and characters that no one could forget, all from a slew of talented writers. What happened next, you may ask?

Well, to put it bluntly, it all went to shit.

Look, the books I’m going to talk about have their fans, but objectively speaking, not only are they unpleasant, but the books stand against everything that Star Wars represented. From the first book of what would be called “The New Jedi Order” series in October of 1999 all the way through the new millennium, the trend for the stories was to try and be dark and edgier and it permeated through the rest of the Expanded Universe. But as always, a big change had to start somewhere… and this one all started with the death of Chewbacca.

His death was both the result and the introduction of a new enemy called the Yuuzhan Vong. The Yuuzhan Vong were an alien race from outside the galaxy far, far away that used organic technology and ships while considering people who used mechanics and the like infidels that needed to be purged, but they were also Force-absent, so the Jedi couldn’t sense them and their powers didn’t work on them, except that the entire race used to be Force-sensitive until a living planet deemed them unworthy…


Yeeeeeah, some of the problems in there should be plainly obvious, but let’s move on. The death of Chewbacca shocked everyone and split them into camps of those who thought it was well executed and awesome (it took dropping a moon on him to kill him, after all) and those who thought it was a cheap ploy (and another, smaller group that sent death threats to the author about it, but we don’t acknowledge them if we can help it). This wasn’t the first time that a character from the movies had died in an EU book, but Chewie was a main character and a beloved one at that, so emotions were naturally high. The thing is, though, if it had stopped there, things might have been okay. But they didn’t. Things got a lot worse.

There’s a lovely term I’ve become fond of called Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy. What it boils down to is that the world, situations, or characters are so bleak and unpleasant that the audience just says, “I don’t care. There’s nothing to strive or hope for in this piece, so what’s the point?” And the New Jedi Order series brought this out in people with a vengeance. While the Empire was certainly evil, the Yuuzhan Vong routinely engaged in mass slaughter and enjoyed it. Beautiful worlds like the lush planet of Ithor were turned into uninhabitable wastes and by the series’ end the death toll exceeded trillions. On top of that, throughout the 26 books in the series (yeah, this one was as long as it was relentless), there were many, many more named characters killed off, including Han and Leia’s third child. I’d love to tell you how many, but I have yet to find something that lists them all. The closest I found was a forum post that listed seven names before giving up and saying “too many to list.” George R. R. Martin can get away with this because that’s the kind of world he created, gritty and practical, showing what would actually happen in a medieval setting if someone tried to be the idealistic knight in shining armor. Star Wars isn’t like that; it draws on the hero’s journey and is about high adventure, romance, and wonder.

But history would be kinder to “The New Jedi Order” series over time. Oh, not because of some hidden brilliance that needed to gestate, but because they weren’t as bad as the books that would follow. I’m going to skip over the “Dark Nest Trilogy” and get right to the real problem child which was “Legacy of the Force.” Right off the bat, the premise of this nine-book saga is made of liquid stupid. You remember how I mentioned Han and Leia’s twins and that their development was the subject of a beloved book series? Yeah, these new books decided that one of them is a Sith Lord now. Yeah, hope you liked watching Jacen grow because now he’s a remorseless villain. Kinda takes the fun out of the “Young Jedi Knights” series now, doesn’t it?

I’m going to save the absolute nadir of the series for later, but for now I’ll dissect one of the series’ most prevalent flaws. You know how most book series have a single writer to keep everything cohesive? Well, that wasn’t the case with “Legacy of the Force.” This series had three different writers that alternated between books (one author would write books 1, 4, and 7, another writer would do books 2, 5, and 8, etc.) rather than writing in a trilogy format. To make it even more complicated, each writer had their own differing ideals and biases that worked their way into the stories, dragging the tone and feel all over the place as the series progressed. This was beginning to be a problem in “The New Jedi Order,” but this is where it became a real issue.

Of the three writers, there’s one in particular that draws the most scorn: Karen Traviss. Just mentioning her name on forums is enough to send fans into a tizzy and for good reason. One of the predominant things in her Star Wars books is the glorification of the Mandalorians (Jango and Boba Fett’s people) and how they and their clone trooper offshoots are the best and most amazing things that ever graced the galaxy. The other is that the Jedi are reprehensible scum that shouldn’t be let anywhere near your children and who willingly and gleefully make use of “slave armies” (the clone troopers). Some could argue that that’s what the Jedi look like from the Mandolorian’s perspective, but when these beliefs are spouted by non-Mandolorians who have no reason to think like that… well, you can see the problem. Some people have noted that they really like the Mandalorian culture she builds and that’s perfectly okay. But just because you find one beautiful golden kernel of corn in a piece of poop, it doesn’t make the whole thing any less crap.

And yes, this bias came into her Legacy of the Force books, but the real crime is something else that happened under her pen. I forget if I’ve mentioned it, but by this time, Mara Jade had married Luke Skywalker and they’d had a child together, who would be near his teens at this point. In the fifth book of the series, Betrayal, which, again, was written by Traviss, the Sith Lord Jacen violently and without remorse murdered Mara Jade. Yes, you read that right; a beloved character was killed by someone from a series beloved by kids who was turned into a villain for the sake of the plot. Four books later, the series ended (not under Traviss’ pen) with Jacen getting chopped up and left in an incinerator by his sister, who made no efforts to try and bring him back to the light side like a Jedi should, and the galaxy was left torn after another pointless war with an Imperial military dictator in charge.


At this point, the fans threw up their hands and gave up. The EU was dead to them and the franchise would officially be killed by the next series, “Fate of the Jedi,” which had the Jedi acting as hitmen and, unlike a certain book I reviewed, this was viewed as the right thing. Everyone thought it unsalvageable at this point; too much had been dragged through the mud and almost every character they had grown up with or adored as children had been killed, maimed, or psychologically scarred. Other writers tried to mitigate this by writing stories in the distant past, distant future, or around the prequel timeline. Unfortunately, the first two weren’t as popular with audiences because they were set in wildly unfamiliar settings and the third had problems because being associated with the prequels did not endear those books to quite a few fans. Even Lucasarts games were failing the fans, coming out ad nauseum and most of them came to the stores as incomplete products. I’d go into more detail, but I think that deserves its own article further down the line.

It seemed like the flame had died out and this would be the last we’d hear about the old Expanded Universe. But then a certain mouse corporation came along and the old EU’s name was in the light one more time…

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