#StarWars: Thrawn – A Review

I just finished the latest entry in the Star Wars “Expanded Universe” books, Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn.

For those unfamiliar with Zahn, a respected author in his own right, the short version is this: he kicked off the 1990s Star Wars merchandising explosion by writing three well-received sequels to Return of the Jedi, set five years after the original trilogy and featuring a brilliant new villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Thrawn didn’t survive that series, but he was so beloved his shadow hung over the Expanded Universe for its entire existence. He was a constant comparison for future villains and storylines.

When the Expanded Universe was scrapped in favor of the new films, Thrawn was one of the few characters that was universally mourned. Even people like myself, who were thrilled with the reboot of the timeline, talked about how we would miss him.

So They Brought Him Back

They’ve always been up-front about their willingness to “resurrect” characters eradicated with the old Expanded Universe. If the raw material is there, why not?

So they brought Thrawn back, which delighted the old timers like me. First it was in Star Wars Rebels. The show itself has had its issues finding its footing, but Thrawn’s introduction seemed to give it real focus. He’s a cool villain, and putting him in the timeline of the originals was a great move. He belongs there.

Then they brought back the writer who created him, the aforementioned Timothy Zahn, to write a new origin story for him.

I mean, really. How cool is that? They gave the guy who created a character the opportunity to reboot that same character.

And It Was Good

Star Wars: Thrawn is really good. It meets the general criteria I have for heaping praise on any Star Wars ancillary book: it would be enjoyable even if it was just a sci-fi/fantasy book not based in the Star Wars galaxy. It lives and breathes on its own terms and the characters are all intriguing and clever.

Zahn even makes an improvement to the character development by pairing Thrawn with an original creation who, like the audience, is trying to get to know him throughout the book. As a result, more pain is taken to guide you along with Thrawn as he makes his conclusions. If there was a knock on the character’s appearances before, it’s that his reasoning process seemed semi-magical and a bit of a cheat at times to get the character where he needed to go.

Zahn redresses that here by creating a character who is methodical and observably brilliant. You are rooting for him, despite the fact that you know he’s working for a ruthlessly tyrannical government that represents the death of light.

You root for him because that part of the conflict not only seems not to matter to him, it’s that he’s taken a longer view of life than a single man’s rule. I don’t want to spoil anything, as I think you should read the book; what I will say is that his reasoning is so consistently and ruthlessly non-emotional that there are hints of Spock about him.

I’ll also say that Zahn’s writing style has matured in such a way as to make this a truly grand addition to the lore. The Heir to the Empire trilogy of the 1990s has its flaws, writing style being one of the more-watery parts of it. Zahn’s refined his style over time, though, and it pays off here.

Well-written and infused with style, if you’re a Star Wars fan with an interest, I highly recommend this book. If you’re not a Star Wars fan of particular note, I still recommend it. It’s worth your time.

Worthy read.

So, What Are You Really Reading?

Something interesting happens when you write something online.

To be sure, I’m just some random crank on the Internet who occasionally writes screeds that a few people read. Sometimes the ‘bots crawl through WordPress and give what I write a meaningless “like.” Sometimes someone connects with it and offers a comment.

Blogging has always been about having a way for me to work things out that randomly come into my brain. I’m not so vain as to regard blogging as anything other than something fun to let off nerdy “steam” that’s built up. Despite constantly hurling my voice at the world through podcasting, sometimes I return to it.

I’m Just a Simple Blogger

“Who’s the more foolish, the blogger or the fool who podcasts?” as Obi-Wan might ask. I do both because they’re fun, and when people like it for some reason, it’s even more fun. The terrifying thing is that this blog has, in one form or another, been around since the Prequels.

Anyway, what fascinates me is that frequently what I write isn’t the thing to which people are reacting. This has been true since the days of “Tony” trolling the comments panel, but I’ll take a recent blog as an example.

Not to Belabor the Point

Recently I wrote something highly critical of the Star Wars story group. It had sprung forth from a discussion I’d had with a friend of mine who kept his head low while the storm of Internet Outrage and Virtue Signaling attacked me, this blog, and my social media accounts.

If you didn’t read the blog, the point was simply that the “Story Group” was not as powerful, nor as all-knowing, as had been portrayed. [2019 EDIT: And that came to be accepted fact well after I wrote it, but was highly contentious at the time.]

Mistakes happened and stories introduced inconsistencies. In the era of “It’s All Connected,” that’s supposed to be what story groups are invented to prevent. Details in Story A should not contradict details in Story B, and vice versa.

This little sentiment was greeted with comments online that “I don’t understand how Hollywood works” (patently false, and a marvelous case of overstatement with the intent to insult) and that the “story group hasn’t f*d it all up.” (I’ll also note that neither commented on the blog itself; it was relayed to me via screenshot since I was off Twitter at the time. But I did see the person who jokingly recommended ritual suicide as the only way to prove my sincerest apology, which garnered no reaction from the blue-checked account who was leading the assault.)

At no point did I say that the Story Group had “f*d it all up.” At no point did I betray some lack of understanding of the mythical “Hollywood machine.”

But that was what people “read.” They “read” some universal condemnation of the Star Wars Story Group, and rose to defend them as if they’re all friends and super tight because someone RT’d them once.

When I invited one of them to re-read the blog, they admitted they saw my point. I wrote about the fact that the Star Wars Story Group is not as authoritatively powerful, nor all-knowing, as has been touted. I talked about how Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath books were both underwritten (my opinion, how dare I!) and serve no point aside from conveying some bullet points none but the most die hard fans will learn. If we’re living in the time of the Connected Universe, that’s doubly unforgivable by the rules of that game.

So What Happened?

There’s a brilliant piece of dialogue from a bit that was cut before the release of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Mia Wallace asks Vincent Vega if he listens, or waits to talk.

Maybe that’s why we’re all in so many arguments online nowadays. Maybe that’s why friendships fray on Facebook. We go into every conversation with our minds already made up, paying half-attention, and skimming instead of reading. We’re not actually “listening” the way we should, and have no interest in understanding.

Certainly, that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s circumstance. But it’d be nice if people took a second to ask if they “got” what the author was trying to say, instead of attacking.

It’s called giving the benefit of the doubt, and it was, at one time, the default starting point.

My Repeating Hope: Killing the Expanded Universe (EU)!

OK, that headline is a little bit of an attention-getter on purpose. Maybe I really just want the wounding of the Expanded Universe since there is some stuff worth retaining, like the Thrawn books and a lot of the Prequel Era stuff I’ve read.

I won’t spoil anything, but the recently-unveiled Season Six of Star Wars: The Clone Wars had a final story arc that completely blew up an accepted fact from other sources of “Expanded Universe.” People not very steeped in non-film Star Wars lore likely won’t even catch onto it, but I literally giggled when the simple twist of a name erased a footnote to the “history” of the EU.

Like I said, I won’t spoil anything. But it was a gleeful moment for me that signaled again the willingness on the part of Lucasfilm (and now Disney/Marvel, buying back the comic license) to destroy even a tiny piece of the complex arcana that has been constructed over the last couple of decades.

How much they’ll destroy remains a question. Some sources indicate that it will steer clear of what has happened to allow fans who like the EU to reconcile the new films with the extra materials. This is something I still contend is an issue some fans had with the Prequels; they contradicted EU materials blatantly and willingly. If a fan held those materials dear, there’s undoubtedly a sense of “betrayal” that is felt.

But at least I can believe that the new films won’t feel restricted to follow only the stories that have been put in novels and games up to this point. This gives it all a real chance to feel as fresh and original as the first six, and that’s sure to please me as much as an all-you-can-eat buffet would please Jabba.

And in the end, isn’t the new trilogy just about making me happy?

I think we can agree that it is.

Also, every time I write “EU” I imagine that Vladimir Putin is nodding, saying, “I hate it too!” And then getting really disappointed when I tell him we’re not talking about the same thing.

The EU Is Not Authoritative (and Flashback Blog: It’s Likely That Mr. Lucas Doesn’t Know)

Recently on The Twitter, a conversation along these lines came up again.

Perhaps I jumped in because I was in the process of migrating a lot of these into draft format; I was up late doing so when I saw something that I knew to be incorrect regarding how much the prequels were supposedly shaped by Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars work. It was something I consider a complete misrepresentation considering all Mr. Zahn did was roll out ideas that Lucas had already written but not used.

Love them or hate them, the prequels are completely original works by Mr. Lucas using his own concepts that were left dormant when he made the original films. He picked up a few bits here and there, like Aayla Secura as a background character, or dropping in an off-hand reference to Quinlan Vos, but all those did was solidify his revenue sources as legitimate and ensure fans kept up their fanaticism.

Did Lucas never actually name Coruscant (from the potential other draft names like Had Abbadon) until Zahn committed it to print? Yes. But that’s like giving the EU credit for all of Christmas when all it did was hang an ornament in the perfect spot.

I love to point to it, but Lucas threw out all of Boba Fett’s supposed back-story with the prequels, because he wanted to use him in the story he saw. He did pretty much kill the idea of “force madness” being what drove the clones to problems. The EU later went back and shoe-horned these things back into the firmament of lore, but it just proves that they’re not the owners of the story, just fellow fans lucky enough to get paid for what they dream up.

Anyway, it’s strange how relevant this blog is, still. It’s a real chicken–and–egg conversation.

Small note: The ref to “PH” is to Pablo Hidalgo, who was/is content manager for starwars.com/indianajones.com. He read my original blog and would comment occasionally. I’d like to think that at some future point, our paths will cross so I can shake his hand for being a pretty level head and voice back in the days of the old, crazy message boards. I’d hope he’d think the same of me.

Maybe we’ll meet at a future Star Wars convention, where I’ll finally wear a shirt stating “I am kesseljunkie” just to see if anyone remembers those old Message Board days. They are, after all, where kesseljunkie really began.

Flashback Blog: It’s Likely That Mr. Lucas Doesn’t Know

Originally published at blogs.starwars.com/kesseljunkie on Oct. 17, 2005

George Lucas knows a lot about Star Wars. He knows that Jedi are good and Anakin turned bad. He knows that the Jedi Starfighter is a visual predecessor to both the Star Destroyer and the TIE fighter, depending on which incarnation you are viewing. He knows that in Star Wars, space carries sound.

He does not, however, know that Plo Koon was a better fighter than Saesee Tinn – or that Tinn was a better pilot than Koon. Even if he knows, he does not care. This did not weigh in his mind at all when he directed Episode III. He simply knew that they were both members of the Jedi Council, and so he wanted to show each member of the Council get struck down in some way when Palpatine was revealed.

I remember that it was an actual point of contention for some on the boards that Tinn whould have been the pilot, and Koon should have gone to fight with Mace Windu. Not that it would have mattered, because in the grand scheme they both would have died still.

The fans have blurred the line, much like Star Trek fans, who hold their writers accountable for violating what was written in the tech manuals (exploit psuedo-science for fun and profit!). Saesee Tinn is the pilot! Plo Koon is the fighter! Both are echoes of “You can’t transport at warp speed!”

(And before you ST geeks jump all over me – yes, I know that now you can if both ships manage to merge warp fields…blah, blah, blah…)

Guess what? If the writer and/or director needs for it to happen, it does. He needed Tinn to go with Mace windu because – well, whimsy if that’s what it boils down to. He wanted the guy with horns to die with Sam Jackson. Okay.

Star Wars fans in general are mighty good sports about it, but for those of you that can’t let it go, just accept that it got re-written on the spot, and now Plo Koon is the better pilot. The EU is remarkably flimsy when held against Mr. Lucas’ wishes for his story.

Just ask Jaster Mereel.

[P.S. Thanks to PH for mentioning Plo Koon in response to an earlier blog, and tossing some fresh fuel onto the embers in my never-ending Reform the Fans Crusade.]

Was V’Ger a Borg?

According to the “Shatnerverse,” everyone’s favorite ham has put out into Star Trek lore that the Borg were actually responsible for V’Ger.

If you don’t recall V’Ger, it was the somewhat lame recycled plot device from The Changeling the antagonist from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Though if you’re reading this blog and you don’t know Star Trek intimately enough to know V’Ger, I’m going to need help remembering how or why you know me. Except for Agent Bun, who may have just learned that Star Trek movies existed.

Anyway, as happens from time to time, it sent me to the Blogoratory!

Honest Thought

So I really did give it an honest thought and I just don’t see how V’Ger could be considered a Borg. The Borg were a meld of organic being and machine, who started as a wonderful illustration about the dangers of a homogeneous dissent–free society, the theoretical antithesis of the Federation, Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a diverse society where nobody dissented. (Um…wait a minute…)

Anyway, the Borg are clearly established as the Evil Robocops of the Universe. I’m discounting a lot of the bullcrap they foisted on us in First Contact, V’Ger, on the other hand, was an emotionless machine seeking the ability to evolve and feel emotions. It was able to communicate telepathically with Spock (because they had to have a reason for Nimoy to be in the movie), and Spock came to realize the gift that emotions were.

So on to my reasonings.

Argument A: It’s Shatner

Arguably, Bill Shatner actually knows less about Star Trek than I do. He’s not going to go into the obsessive detail level and reason out why/how something works as a plot point or not.

For Pete’s sake, the guy wrote TekWar. And as much as I might love it, he also helped birth Star Trek V. Not the strongest track record in writing history.

Now I love Shatner as much as the next guy. Possibly more, because he’s done something that everyone else on that show never could (save Nimoy): have a decades-long, meaningful career afterward. (Also, a true pioneer for toupeé technology.) But it’s Shatner.

Argument B: V’Ger Is Purely Machine

Throughout the entire film, V’Ger is purely machine. Granted, it’s a gigantic machine with enormous power output and the willingness to vaporize people in ill-fitting leisure suit uniforms at whim. But it’s still a machine.

Argument C: V’Ger Arguably Becomes a Borg at the End…

But not really. The Borg are purely corporeal beings basically connected over a galaxy-spanning mesh network.

At the end of the film (spoiler!) V’Ger is much more than that.

What, exactly, is open to interpretation. But it involved a poorly-lit set, a half-naked bald chick and hand-animated sparkles.

I’d say a valid interpretation is that it’s a climactic burst of Roddenberry’s ego.

Argument D: Not Everything Needs to Tie Together!

True!

One of the reasons I became so much more selective about what Star Wars “Expanded Universe” titles I read is because the authors became positively obsessed with tying everything in with some other event, whether in another book or one of the films. If the extensive literature is to be believed, every person in the Star Wars galaxy was, at one point or another, “just off camera” in at least one of the films, if not all. They even tied in those poorly–imagined antagonists, the Yuuzhan Vong, to the timeline as far back as Anakin’s childhood.

(For this fan, when Lucas hit the “reset” button with the prequels it was a major relief. Boba Fett’s a bad guy again, not just a stupid anti-hero!)

It makes me want to shake them violently and remind them that their story should be able to stand on its own merit. One of the more egregious examples of needless tie-in was the Star Wars book “Death Star,” which actually did stand on its own until the very end, when they felt the need to have the protagonists be at the Battle of Yavin but “just off-camera.” It was forced, it didn’t flow and it actually detracted from the book. Just have them get away “just before” or something.

And this trap-laden path has captured Star Trek writers before. I remember a particularly egregious episode of Star Trek: Voyager (ironic, right?) wherein they had Tuvok on the crew of the Excelsior during the events of Star Trek VI because George Takei needed a paycheck, and there was some weirdness that killed someone. Only problem is, the character they show dying is in the final shot of Star Trek VI. You can’t see him on the Pan & Scan edition, but in the full aspect ratio…there he is, not just alive but smiling. Just a great example of how this after-the-fact referencing can get you into trouble if you don’t do it right.

Anyway, I know I went a little off-topic there, but the overall point that it ties into is that as a mature Star Wars fan, I’ve learned one important lesson: if it’s in a book and not on film, it’s not official and can be disregarded. Sometimes for the sake of your own sanity, it has to be.

In Closing

Probably about three people have even stuck with this blog up to this point, so I want you to give yourselves a moment to appreciate that accomplishment.

And remember, V’Ger is not Borg. Never was, never will be. That is all.