A year ago today, Marvel Comics released the first issue of the Star Wars: Shattered Empire miniseries. It was an exciting and central piece of Disney’s “Journey to The Force Awakens” celebration. With the old Expanded Universe of stories “thrown out,” this was our first look at the new Disney Canon’s version of what happened immediately after the Battle of Endor. In the year that’s followed I’ve read seventy comics, eleven novels (five were YA), watched two full seasons of Star Wars: Rebels and (obviously!) seen The Force Awakens (a ridiculous nine times in theatres). I’ve approached the Disney Canon excitedly, eager to see their new vision of a post-Return Of The Jedi universe…and, honestly, I’ve been disappointed. For me, it’s not as good as the old EU. I’m sad, a little frustrated, and (perhaps weirdly) still very hopeful.
Let’s start with the reminder that art is subjective. I’m not saying my view is “right” and someone who’s loved everything in the Disney Canon is “wrong.” That’s ridiculous; this is just how I feel. What we like is always about what moves us. I wrote last week of my passion for the Expanded Universe. I found the EU in 1995. I was thirteen years old and falling in love with Star Wars. These were the stories I grew up on, adding to the movies I loved so much. I fully own I’m an EU baby. For me, The Truce at Bakura will ALWAYS be what happened after the Battle of Endor. A corporate decision of what “is” or “isn’t” “canon” can’t affect how I personally experience a myth or fantasy world in my mind. That’s not how art works.
However, I’m not a “Bring back Legends!” guy. (“Legends” is what Disney’s decided to rename the EU in order to keep selling the books even though they’re “not canon” the stories a part of Star Wars.) No, I think the EU versions of Luke, Han, and Leia have earned a rest. I also think the Expanded Universe had reached a point where it was essentially just rehashing the films (a Jedi Council, corruption in government, the rise of a Dark Jedi in the Skywalker line, etc.). So yes, I’m okay with the Expanded Universe narrative coming to a close.
Nor am I saying I hate all that the Disney Canon has offered us. I think the Disney Canon is a lot of fun! And I’m completely open to the idea of different authors, artists, and directors offering a different vision for the time period after Jedi with a new set of stories. My heart and my imagination are more than capable of accommodating two different narratives for the lives of Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie. It just gives me more Star Wars to love!
I’ve written passionately before of how beautiful I think the Darth Vader comic series ended up being. For me, it is every bit as good as the EU and unquestionably the best the Disney Canon has offered so far. The new novel Bloodline was also captivating. I thought the YA novel Smuggler’s Run was solid and I’ve loved the Princess Leia and Lando comic series too. I’d say the current Han Solo miniseries is a lot of fun as well.
But that’s part of my problem with most of the Disney Canon. I struggle with many of the comics and novels because (with a few exceptions) the good ones are just a lot of fun but don’t feel necessary to me nor do they add something important to the Star Wars Saga :/. When the EU began to take shape with Timothy Zahn’s Heir To The Empire trilogy (1991-93) and Dark Horse’s Dark Empire comic series (Dec. 1991- Oct. 1992), they were continuing the stories of Star Wars and taking it in a new direction. They gave us more of the characters we loved and had to leave behind after Return Of The Jedi. The stories felt important in their stakes as well as content (expanding on and (most importantly) honoring George Lucas’ mythology) and they were certainly necessary if we wanted to see “what happened” to Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie after Endor.
Given the decades of EU stories we already have, the Disney Canon can only prove itself necessary if what it contributes to the Star Wars Saga can improve on the EU’s vision/narrative or if they can take it in an exciting new direction. (Note, simply calling something “canon” or “equal to the films” is not, in an of itself an improvement or new direction. It’s semantics.) For me, Darth Vader‘s done this. To a lesser degree the Princess Leia and Lando comics have too. And I’d put a solid portion of Bloodline in that category as well. They rest…not as much. As to importance in stakes or content, I’ve found much of the Disney Canon lacking there as well.
With the Disney Canon, every comic save Kanan: the Last Padawan (which felt necessary and important), Anakin & Obi-Wan, and Shattered Empire have taken place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. This naturally creates a lack of tension or risk. Why? Wellllll we know that everyone survives because they’re in the next movie. Granted, some new characters could die. But simply googling “Ahsoka” shows fans have trouble letting characters die and Norra Wexley’s remarkable ability to cheat death in the novel Aftermath shows authors seem fine with giving those fans what they want. With few exceptions these stories often feel like serialized TV shows in the worst way – no risk to the characters who easily foil the villain each week. What’s worse is they aren’t teaching us anything new or important about the characters or adding depth to the message and myth of Star Wars.
This brings me to another major problem I have with the Disney Canon. With a few fantastic exceptions, the new characters they are introducing feel flat, one dimensional, and unmemorable – especially compared to those who populate the EU! I thought Bloodline‘s Ransolm Casterfo was FANTASTIC. Given how much I adored Darth Vader it’s to be expected that I’ve grown to love Dr. Aphra, Beetee, and Triple-Zero. I really enjoy the majority of Rebels‘ cast. And how could I not love Rey?? (Even if Disney can’t fathom this as I still can’t find a men’s t-shirt featuring Rey; her action figures are few and far between; she was left out of the Monopoly game; and was (and remains) basically NOWHERE in any of The Force Awakens merchandise.) Poe and Finn are great too! On the Imperial side, I think Admiral Rae Sloane and Captain Phasma have a lot of potential. But everyone else? I’m honestly struggling to think of three more Disney Canon character’s names…
On the character note, the next paragraph (in between the two big pictures below) will have spoilers about what they’ve been doing with Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie in the Disney Canon stories, across the novels. If you’d like to avoid those spoilers, please skip ahead. Coolio? Coolio.
The absence and/or neutering of the core characters is even worse! I’ve written extensively about how frustrated I am with Luke Skywalker’s character-denying absence in the Disney Canon post-Endor. Leia has been turned into a powerless figurehead, largely ignored by Mon Mothma, who’s done basically nothing (unless you count political bickering of no consequence “something”) until Bloodline happens. Han Solo, everyone’s favorite renegade and rogue, has become boring. What’s Han been up to? He basically manages a spaceship race car team. FOR REAL. He flies around the galaxy with pilots who race ships. Does the Falcon excitedly win everything?!? No because they decided to have Han lose the COOLEST SHIP IN SCIENCE FICTION for most of the period between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens. Chewie’s not with Han either as they’ve abandoned the CHARACTER-DEFINING LIFE DEBT and broke up their beautiful relationship when Han basically says, “S’cool. Stay with your family. I’ve got family stuff to do too.” Then Chewie says, “Aaarrrggrrahh [Alrighty then]. Ggrragghhhah [Have a good life bro; been cool hanging].” I guess Han and Chewie aren’t family…? I think you’d be hard pressed to honestly or convincingly argue these plots are an improvement on or an exciting new direction from the Expanded Universe’s narrative. At least they certainly aren’t for me.
Disney jettisons the EU and everyone spends the thirty year time period between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens doing THAT. It seems painfully obvious Disney’s trying to marginalize the original characters – Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, and Lando – in favor of their new characters. Who cares what Luke’s doing when we can follow Sinjir Rath Velus and Jas Emari right?? Um…while some of their new characters are legitimately interesting, I’d posit everyone still cares about what Luke’s doing. And Luke needs to be doing something IMPORTANT. Star Wars, at it’s core, is the story of the Skywalker family.
Most disturbing of all is a fear that’s been ringing through my mind as I re-watch The Force Awakens and read more and more of the Disney Canon. This is a strong gut feeling that’s been steadily growing for months. I get the sense that the Disney Canon is comfortable discounting or changing what George Lucas has created in the original six Star Wars films in favor of whatever story they feel like telling. To be blunt, YOU CAN’T DO THAT. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t discount what the myth-maker has created and still expect me to take the story seriously as part of Star Wars. Rather, it becomes bad fan fiction and nothing more, regardless of what the Story Group (the official Lucasfilm organization created to oversee the new Star Wars stories being produced to make sure everything lines up) may say.
For example, there was a the persistent rumor, later confirmed, that early drafts of The Force Awakens had Anakin appearing as both a Light and Dark Side Force ghost – Vader guiding Kylo Ren and Anakin with Luke and (presumably) Rey. These rumors have now latched themselves onto Episode VIII. If you’ve ever seen Return Of The Jedi then you know that the ending of the film – hell, the whole point of the Star Wars Saga – is that Luke’s love of and faith in his father redeems Anakin, allowing Anakin to bring balance to the Force. You can’t have a Dark Side Force ghost without undercutting that. Period. There is no more Darth Vader. In Anakin’s redemption, Vader is destroyed and Anakin lives on in the Force. No matter how cool the villain is Vader’s gone forever…unless you change Lucas’ film.
Similarly, there’s the question of Rey’s parentage as it’s looking less and less like she’s a Skywalker. At the Tribecca Film Festival earlier this year J.J. Abrams said, “Rey’s parents are not in Episode VII. So I can’t possibly say in this moment who they are. But I will say it is something that Rey thinks about, too.” Okay, that’s cool. In theory the idea of Rey being a brand new character is fine…but we must remember Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One. Rey’s clearly powerful in the Force. Without any practice or instruction she calls a lightsaber with ease. She has powerful visions. She can fight with the Force flowing through her and guiding her actions. And she can perform a successful Jedi mind trick never having seen one before. We’ve never seen anyone in Star Wars demonstrate this much natural ability/untrained power. How can Rey be more powerful than Luke – the one who redeemed the Chosen One? Or how can she be more powerful than the Chosen One?? If it’s true that Rey is not a Skywalker and she’s developed as being more powerful than Luke or Anakin, then they’ve dismissed Lucas’ vision and, again, you can’t do that.
There are a bunch of little things too, that seem to throw off the tone of Lucas’ films. Looking just at the comics for examples, in Star Wars Luke is spending all of his free time trying to scrounge up Jedi artifacts and learn how to be a Jedi. It always seemed clearly implied, if not expressly stated, at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back that Luke had been focusing on being a Rebel pilot and forming Rogue Squadron. Then, Obi-Wan sends him to Yoda and Yoda picks up his training where Obi-Wan left off. Luke certainly never says or does anything while on Dagobah to indicate he knows anything outside of what Ben taught him. On a similar note, in the new Han Solo miniseries, Han’s feeling confined so he’s left the Rebellion to spend some time smuggling. Leaving aside the Why didn’t he pay Jabba with his reward money in his free time??? question, it’s still obviously implied from Han’s exchange with General Rieekan on Hoth at the beginning of Empire that he’s been with the Rebellion since Yavin.
Now, I’ve got another spoiler-y little paragraph tucked between the two pictures below here. This is my BIGGEST fear with the Disney Canon. However, it also spoils some minor moments in the Star Wars novel Life Debt. Read or skip the paragraph as you’d like.
As I finished the novel, I got the feeling – a feeling I’ve had before – that Disney is trying to pull their story over Lucas’ films. Jeff and I have spent a lot of time talking about this. Essentially, they’re crafting the new material in a way to make it look like they are now telling the big story while the original films were just the lead up battle. Life Debt‘s big bad, Gallius Rax, is introduced as someone Palpatine took an interest in at a very young age and used him with an eye toward developing his talent – it just so happens Palpatine met Rax before he met Anakin and this guy’s lived beyond their deaths. Jakku comes into the conversation again as a place where something important is going to happen concerning the Force. It’s all a murky mystery…but I fear they may be setting up Rey to be virginally conceived by the Force just like Anakin and/or they will use Yoda’s “A prophecy misread, could have been” line in Revenge Of The Sith to claim she’s the Chosen One. I can’t express how much I hope I’m wrong. But, if that happens? Yeah, then I think that’s the moment I say “goodbye” to new Star Wars stories and go back to happily live in the past.
Whether big or small, you can’t abandon, neglect, forget, or change anything George Lucas created in the Original Trilogy or the Prequel Trilogy. You just can’t. To use an imperfect analogy, doing so is akin to the second century Christian heresy Marcionism. In 144 C.E., Marcion began preaching that there were two Gods (an evil one as depicted in the Hebrew Bible and a good one as illustrated in the Christian New Testament). He also offered a highly edited form of Paul’s letters, Luke’s Gospel, and Acts of the Apostles and claimed they were the only authoritative scripture. For obvious reasons, this view was condemned as heretical because you can’t change the message/point/purpose of the established myth and/or religion to suit your own ends. To discount Lucas’ vision and message discredits your story as anything more than generic sci-fi, a bad Star Wars rip-off.
Frustrations aside, I want to re-reassure everyone that I don’t hate the Disney Canon. Really! As I said above, there have been stories that’ve deeply moved me. And I’ve found many parts of it to be a great deal of fun but – by and large – I’m still disappointed. I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter of reading the EU as a kid and looking at the Disney Canon as a more critical adult either. I wrote last week of my love for the Expanded Universe and how I’d just read Dark Empire for the first time. Reading it initially as an adult, Dark Empire blew me away as nothing in the Disney Canon (save Darth Vader) has.
Regardless of all of this, I’m not giving up on the Disney Canon just yet. For now, I’m going to keep seeing the films and reading the comics, novels, and YA books because they’ve been fun…and because I’m hopeful that the quality will increase. I’m still hopeful because Kieron Gillen, Dave Filoni, and Claudia Grey are there. I’m hopeful because Timothy Zahn, James Luceno, and John Jackson Miller are back. I’m hopeful the Disney Canon will find its stride and finally begin to center their stories on expanding and respecting the sacred nature of Lucas’ story. If not, then Star Wars will go on without me. And I’m okay with that. However, I love Star Wars so I can give the Disney Canon a little more time. After all, Star Wars is built on a new hope and even the Expanded Universe wasn’t drafted in a year.