So this isn’t another essay or reflection on The Last Jedi. I’m not looking deeper at the themes in the film nor am I furthering my analysis on Star Wars’ future as folklore in this post. Rather, this piece is about an unexpected lesson I learned from The Last Jedi, care of everyone’s favorite chrome-plated stormtrooper Captain Phasma, regarding the growing Disney Canon of works in their Star Wars Universe. What lesson, you may ask, did you glean from Phasma’s fifteen seconds of screen time?!? While it’s probably quite the opposite of what Disney would want, I think it will make my Star Wars time far more enjoyable.
Here it is: I’m done reading the Disney Canon novels and comics.
This revelation may come as a bit of a surprise. Admittedly, I’m someone who has dozens and dozens (and dozens) of the old Expanded Universe novels. I’ve begun a slow-moving quest to buy and read them all, to complete the journey I began in my youth. I want to fill a floor-to-ceiling bookcase with all the EU novels along with some of my academic books about Star Wars! I’ve also read just about every novel the Disney Canon has given us so far. I love reading Star Wars novels. It’s been a major part of my love and experience of Star Wars for over twenty years. So why am I tagging out? The relationship of the books to the films has changed and it’s made me resentful of what I’m reading. It’s causing me to be frustrated by the films too. So why wouldn’t I stop reading them?
Here’s the crux of the problem, in the Disney Era, they are expanding the story of Star Wars across multiple mediums – movies, cartoons, novels, comics books, video games, YA novels, children’s books, card games, etc. – simultaneously. At the same time, they want to save all the big surprises for their films. Why wouldn’t they? Would they really build up this big question of What has Luke been doing? only to reveal it a few months before the film comes out in a novel or comic book about his journey? Of course they wouldn’t! But Disney still wants new novels (comics, etc.) to sell and we, as fans, want more Star Wars stories to explore. So the result is stories with no bearing whatsoever on the larger narrative. In inverting the process of how the Expanded Universe functioned, they’ve created a world full of superficial Easter eggs, devoid of content or importance.
Yes, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was technically the first EU novel, being published in 1978. But the Expanded Universe proper began in 1991 with the publication of Timothy Zahn’s Heir To The Empire novel and Tom Veitch’s Dark Empire comic series. This was eight years after Return Of The Jedi was released and the idea of a Prequel Trilogy was nothing more than the whisper of a rumor on the wind. There was no new Star Wars happening anywhere outside of the EU. This allowed the authors to create free of any constrictions outside of Lucas’s general approval and keeping the characters tonally and thematically consistent with what we saw in the films.
Authors created totally new characters and worlds (like Mara Jade, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Coruscant, etc. from Heir To The Empire) and they’d go back to flesh out the background characters in Lucas’s films, creating whole lives and worlds from a moment of screen time (such as in Kevin J. Anderson’s Tales from The Mos Eisley Cantina, Tales from Jabba’s Palace, or Tales of the Bounty Hunters). Since the films were finished, if you wanted to expand the world of Star Wars those were your two options – create new or develop what was there. Both were equally exciting! Was I a little sad all I’d ever get to see Bossk do in the films was stare after I read these exciting stories? Sure, but what else would I expect? The films were over.
What Disney’s doing that’s causing my resentment is they are actively developing side characters from the films in their novels knowing they will have no impact on the larger narrative. I am not cool with this! This brings us back to Captain Phasma as our prime example.
I’m pretty squarely a “good guy” kind of guy. While I may be best friends with a certain “Imperial Talker,” I’m not one for villain swag. Outside of a few t-shirts with Darth Vader on them (which I wear to open conversations about redemption and the power of unconditional love and faith (for real)) I don’t buy shirts featuring the Empire or their forces on them. They are the bad guys. Why would I want to wear the bad guys on my chest?!? I made an exception going into The Force Awakens though. I was SO captivated by the idea of this chrome-plated stormtrooper, this merciless and menacing new female villain, that I had to get a t-shirt with Captain Phasma on it.
I was more than a little upset with her lack of screen time and purpose in The Force Awakens. BUT Disney promised it would all work out. We’d be getting not one but TWO Phasma stories along “The Road to The Last Jedi” to flesh out her character. YAY!!!! The first was Delilah S. Dawson’s Phasma novel. I adored everything about it and still feel it’s the best the Disney Canon has offered so far (outside of Dark Disciple (but I feel Dark Disciple kind of has a foot in both camps as it was adapted from an unproduced episode of The Clone Wars)). This was the Disney Canon’s first true masterpiece! This novel traced Phasma’s life from her home planet of Parnassos to her rise in the First Order. Then there was Kelly Thompson’s brilliantly written (and gorgeously drawn!) Captain Phasma comic miniseries. This tale explained how Phasma survived the trash compactor in The Force Awakens and how she went about fixing her careless surrender of the shield codes which allowed the Resistance to destroy Starkiller Base. It took us right up to the beginning of The Last Jedi.
[This should go without saying but SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW for The Last Jedi.]
As I went in to The Last Jedi, I was ready! We were getting more Captain Phasma and I was armed with alllll this brilliant knowledge about her character! I COULDN’T WAIT TO SEE HER…and then, in all honesty, I forgot she was even supposed to be in the film until she came out of nowhere to fight Finn and (maybe) die fifteen seconds later. Not only did I spend all this time getting excited for a character who had even less importance in The Last Jedi then she did in The Force Awakens BUT everything about her character in The Last Jedi contradicted what we learn about her in the Phasma novel and the Captain Phasma comic!!! WHAT THE HELL?!?
The DEFINING TRAIT of Phasma’s personality, as introduced in Phasma and developed through Captain Phasma is that SHE IS A SURVIVOR. Phasma will do anything to survive. Survival is her prime motivator. But I’m supposed to believe this fierce warrior who is concerned with her own survival at all costs would a) engage in a pointless battle in an exploding hangar bay, b) fight Finn with some dumb spear thing when she has a blaster and could have ended the battle with one shot, c) wouldn’t leave his execution to her soldiers in those perilous circumstances anyway, or d) wouldn’t take two seconds to look down and confirm her kill before turning her back on the man she was fighting?!? I call bullshit.
Not only did this magnificent novel and comic series flesh out a character who wasn’t important at all but everything that Phasma does in The Last Jedi DIRECTLY CONTRADICTS what I learned about her in Phasma and Captain Phasma. So, yes, I’m tagging out. The Expanded Universe developed background characters to allow us to spend more time in a universe we loved that was otherwise closed. That was all we had so that’s the playground they used. The Disney Canon develops background characters because they want to sell a fucking novel and not give away secrets for the next movie. It makes sense. But it also makes me angry. I feel manipulated and used. And I resent them for it. I would have none of these feelings if I wasn’t reading what the Disney Canon was putting out either.
So I’m done. I enjoyed The Force Awakens (eventually) and I really enjoyed Rogue One and The Last Jedi. But nothing I’ve read in any novel or comic has added anything to my enjoyment of those films (with the exception of James Luceno’s brilliant Catalyst which I feel added to my understanding and experience of Rogue One in every way – it was a perfect pairing!). If anything, they detracted from my enjoyment because I felt manipulated into buying something that was promised to be part of a large, cohesive narrative (the Story Group’s oft cited role) where everything carries equal weight, when in reality it’s pointless filler. Why would I keep doing something that makes me frustrated much less pay for something that makes me angry and resentful? It seems stupid at best and masochistic at worst.
Now, I’m not saying I’ll never, ever read another Disney Canon novel or comic. Only humbled pride would come from a statement like that. There may come a story I’m super excited about and I’ll give it a try. Or maybe, years later, once I’ve finished the Expanded Universe in its entirety I’ll see what Disney’s been producing, independent of my watching their movies. And of course there’s always gifts :).
Seriously! I received several Disney Canon stories for Christmas and I’ve begun reading the short story collection From A Certain Point of View and I’ve read Jason Aaron’s trade paperback Yoda’s Secret War. I’ve found myself really enjoying both! In part I think it’s because I didn’t invest my time and money only to be upset again. Rather, when I’m reading these stories I’m thinking of the people who gave them to me, excited to explore a Star Wars story they thought I’d like and share with them all the fun I took from it. The nature of the gift fundamentally changes my experience of the work. For me, this is a far more rewarding approach to the Disney Canon of stories.
When I have a craving to read about the world of Star Wars, I have hundreds of Expanded Universe stories I’m excited about (many I’ve read and many that are new too) waiting for me. As to the Disney Canon, I think I’ll just stick to the movies for now, minus the exciting presents I have waiting for me :). That’s, understandably, where the main focus of their worldbuilding is going on and where I find myself most enjoying what they’re giving us in their era of Star Wars.
If you’re interested in more thoughts on Captain Phasma, Jeff has a nice little two-parter where he looks at Phasma in The Last Jedi and his earlier reflection on her in The Force Awakens. You should read those too!