Thursday, January 3, 2008

My Top 10 Star Wars Stories

2007 was the thirtieth anniversary of the Star Wars film franchise. A lesser known fact is that it was also the thirtieth anniversary of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. After all, the EU began with the Star Wars novelization, and then the addition of the Marvel comics. On the Force.Net's Literature Board, they're collating the 100 Greatest Star Wars Stories as voted upon by the board goers. Since I'm not above the blatant stealing of ideas for content, I've decided to publish my own lists of the top 10 story lines in the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

Below, are my top 10. For good or ill, these are things which have made an impact on me as an individual consumer of the Star Wars franchise, as well as the fandom as a whole. So take note that I do not believe that these are necessarily the BEST stories from a personal point of view, but rather are the greatest stories (in one way or another) in the EU.

Honorable Mention. Knights of the Old Republic (video game)

Star Wars has long been in video games. From the paddle lightsaber game for the Atari 2600 and on. Yet, for me and thousands of others, BioWare's 2003 entry for LucasArts Knights of the Old Republic was a startlingly reminder about everything a game could be. It was singularly responsible for reminding me that I loved RPGs, and had a compelling storyline (with a wonderful twist at the end) in addition to beautiful graphics.

This is what a Star Wars video game should be: immersive, compelling, and above all fun to play.

Unfortunately, because the dismal Star Wars Galaxies was being released at the same time; BioWare was unable to release an online component, nor a module building system (like they have for their Neverwinter Nights game) to this game. Despite the fun of an RPG, the lack of online play and expandability seriously damaged the reuse for this expensive piece of software.

10. Splinter of the Mind's Eye

Outside of the novelization of the Original Trilogy, this was the first book published in the Star Wars universe (yes, I know the comics were earlier, that's why I specified book). This book had it all: sexual tension, kissing, sword fights, possession and even some of the most gruesome death scenes in the EU. Above all, it was a fun romp staring Luke, Leia and R2.

Of course all the flirting, and sexual tension did become somewhat creepy post Empire.

9. I, Jedi

This is the novel ultimately responsible for my love affair with Star Wars. Additionally, not only is it a wonderfully written novel, but it has a couple of even more interesting attributes. First it is one of the few (if not the only) Star Wars story told in first person, and secondly it is not the story of a movie character, yet is set within the post-RotJ time-frame. This novel shows that we can have strong, well-written novels that features characters who don't appear in any movie.

8. The Thrawn Trilogy

This is the trilogy which is credited for breathing new life into the Expanded Universe. After years of having nothing, LFL gave us what has become the benchmark against what all other Star Wars EU is compared. Love him or hate him, Zahn created some of the most compelling and beloved characters that have not appeared in a Lucas film. In fact his novels read almost like the films--a very cinematic experience filled with the Empire, Jedi, and romance.

7. Dark Empire, Dark Empire II & Empire's End

This is the Thrawn Trilogy for the comic tie-ins. The premier series when Dark Horse brought back the comics, and consequently saw the birth of Anakin Solo, as well as the ultimate death of the Emperor. Beautiful artwork, a host of new technologies, and of course a trip to the Dark Side and back; this series is what George Lucas has claimed to be the closest to the third trilogy that would ever be produced. Happily ignoring most of the Marvel continuity, Dark Empire is a beautiful piece of art and literature.

6. Revenge of the Sith (Novelization)

This is probably the ultimate in movie novelizations. It took the somewhat trite and tired plot, and the uneasy characterizations which appeared on celluloid and gave them a breadth and dimension not seen in any other novelization which I have ever read. A number of things are explained here, things which are totally glossed over, or outright ignored, in the movie itself. For example, why did Yoda leave the battle? Why did he tell Bail that he had to go into exile. If you want to know, then read the book.

5. Traitor

Philosophy, darkness, light, torture and an insane attempt to destroy the good/evil theology upon which the entire franchise is built. That is the novel Traitor in a nutshell. This is one of, if not the best novel found in the NJO, and specifically it is one of those stories which fractured the fandom, causing countless threads on various forums in a vain attempt to determine if Vergere was a Sith or not, and if Jacen was going to end up going dark or not. This book had the potential to shift how all the fans viewed the EU and the Force itself, yet, the authors and editors had apparently forgotten that Jacen had learned those lessons at the hands of the Shadow Academy during the YJK.

Despite all this, Traitor succeeded in its effort, and pushed the Solo child that nobody liked into the limelight and actually gave him fans--a far cry from what his sister's Dark Journey did for her character.

And then to top all of that, there was Ganner.

4. The Star Wars Holiday Special (TV Show)

There have been a number of attempts at bringing Star Wars to the small screen. Droids, Ewoks, those Ewok movies, and of course the Clone Wars series for Cartoon Network. Yet they weren't the first. The first was the Star Wars Holiday Special. This is a Christmas television special so bad that it makes even hard core Christmas special lovers, like my wife, look upon it with horror; forget about what it does to the average Star Wars fan. Actually, scratch that, even George Lucas despised this, as he's on record as saying "If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it." From virtual Wookiee porn to Carrie Fisher's singing, there is literally nothing as bad as this in the rest of the EU (and that includes the almost equally awful Star Wars Christmas album featuring R2-D2 and C3-PO). And until the release of the Clone Wars cartoon, every other Star Wars television attempt was snarled by the train wreck which was the Holiday Special.

3. Tales of the Jedi: Redemption

Themes are important in Star Wars. Concepts and myths are the building blocks of the entire franchise, and as such, certain themes are by default built in. Good fighting evil despite overwhelming odds. Love conquering all. Of course one of the more powerful themes in the franchise is redemption. The thought that someone can be absolved of the crimes and evil they have done. As the title suggests, Redemption is just about that. Told through the brilliant colors of Yavin IV and the Jedi Concave to the stark barrenness of Rhen Var; this is the story of one man's hunt for absolution. Powerful, haunting, and with a finale that gives us all hope that we can be Jedi Masters even without being able to touch the Force.

2. Edge of Victory: Conquest & Rebirth

Anakin Solo & Tahiri Veila. Two simple names which mean so much to so many fans. They are the stars of the JJK series, the youngest son of Han Solo & Princess Leia and an orphan girl fromTatooine . Despite being the stars of a juvenile series, it is in this duology that they are truly defined, and given a breadth of character that is startlingly in its brilliance and pain. Likewise, most fans of Anakin Solo's character can trace their way to this duology. It is where his character starts to outshine that of his uncle's and firmly begins its climb to being the sort of hero that we expect in Star Wars.

Which brings us to my #1 EU story

1. Star By Star

This is the book where Del Rey destroyed all that work that they had just done in giving us a next generation character that we liked, that we rooted for. The great Jimmy fiasco of 2001 if you will. It is this point that Star Wars completed its shift away from a focus on the Hero's Journey (and what we view as traditional SW heroes), and towards a more post-modern concept of antagonists/protagonists (anti-heroes, misunderstood evil, etc). Outcry over this novel was huge, helped in part because the destruction of Coruscant so closely paralleled the falling of the Twin Towers here in the States. While there were numerous other deaths in theNJO, and this novel, it is Jimmy's which still polarizes fandom into three camps: returners, anti-returners, and those who want both sides to shut up. The mid-point of the massively long mutli-novel story arc, the New Jedi Order, Star By Star is often said to be the NJO's ESB, and I can understand why. The YV are nearly triumphant, while the heroes are left reeling from the events of the novel--many of which are still causing ripples in the franchise today.


RJ said...

Very interesting list. My thoughts on the list.

KOTOR: Probably the most fun I've had in the Star Wars universe since I was a kid.

Splinter of the Mind's Eye: Didn't really do much for me either for good or ill.

I, Jedi: A very good story with a unique perspective.

Thrawn Trilogy: Maybe because I didn't read these at the time, but I've never been all that impressed by these three. They were good, but they don't come anywhere near my top 10.

Dark Empire: Here's where I really verge. I am not a fan of the art in these at all. And I think the story is bleh.

Revenge of the Sith: Very, very good, perhaps even great.

Traitor: Great. So compelling.

Holiday Special: A great reminder of how far things have come since the campy early days.

Redemption: Don't believe I've read that yet.

Edge of Victory: Highlights of the EU for me. Anakin & Tahiri, sigh.

Star by Star: Without question my least enjoyable experience in Star Wars. Beyond the severing of so much potential with that death, it was just the dreariest, most unpleasant read I've ever had in the EU. It took me weeks to get through it because I couldn't stand to read more than a few pages at a time. With that said, I've moved on and am actually enjoying the rest of the NJO so far. I'll write more thoughts on that when I finish the NJO.

Great stuff!

Stephen Wrighton said...

Thanks for your thoughts - like I said, I wasn't going for my personal favs, but rather those stories which I believe affected fandom the most.

Personally, I'm not that fond of the art in DE either. I kind of think it's ugly in fact. But it did revitalize the comics.

Redemption is probably the best of the comics. I highly recommend you find a copy of the graphic novel.

SbS - I understand. It took me until the end of the NJO to accept that Anakin wasn't coming back in that arc. It just made so little sense to kill off the best of the next-gen characters. *sighs*

Thanks for reading, an I can't wait to see your thoughts on the NJO as a whole.

Ex_Sailor79 said...

If you look at the larger context of the pain, emotional and physical, that the two key deaths in the series did to the rest of the characters and to all of us readers, it makes perfect sense.
Without any real threat to the lives of the characters; every story is not as tense and believable as it could be. The main character never you know no matter how impossible the odds; she/he will always walk away. Not so anymore in the EU. Now when you turn the page of any EU book written after SbS; you wonder if someone influental and/or lovable is going to cease to be. It breathes so much more life into the storytelling. It makes it more riveting, the "What if..".
Plus, you never really see what someone is made of until you witness their heart, hopes, and dreams dashed upon the rocks of life. It brings out the best or worst of us; and how someone deals with that situation is a testiment to their true inner-self.
Remember that the ripples caused by the deaths of Kenobi and Yoda are still felt in the EU. It's the same with Anakin. He's shaped all that is to come by -not- living.

Stephen Wrighton said...

@Ex_Sailor79 - I understand the concepts and theories behind the deaths. Additionally, just killing off a movie character such as Chewie opened up the vistas that nearly anyone was fair game for death.

Frankly, the twins just don't have the character to drive forward the franchise, and Ben is just a poor-man's Anakin Solo, and also lacks that heroic something which a fantasy hero needs.

Which as I've said a number of times: SbS effectively changed Star Wars into a Hero's Journey based fantasy story without a Hero. And it has suffered for it: which is why Luke is STILL having to rescue the day

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