THE WHAT?: It’s a column on Star Wars news and rumors and therefore contains SPOILERS and SPECULATION. If you’re not into those things, well, you're rookie status is showing.
THIS WEEK: The pieces have begun to come together and now I’m feeling a little bit better about the Expanded Universe getting the big boot before Star Wars: Rebels and Episode VII.
Hello LucasFilm Story Group!
Do you remember that scene in Hook where all the lost boys are on Rufio's side until a little kid (Pockets? Patches?) stretches his face out to get rid of the wrinkles and he says "Oh THERE you are, Peter?"
That just happened with me and Star Wars: "Oh THERE you are, post-Avengers MegaFranchise."
Up until now it looked like JJ Abrams was going to get to call the shots like he did with Lost, Fringe and the Star Trek reboot, but now I'm thinking that LucasFilm did something really smart which was to commit to the Marvel Cinematic Model before anyone noticed. It used to be you could separate your Star Wars fandom and live in a variety of time periods in this fictional universe. All that bound it together was the idea of The Force and that there were Jedi and Sith forever at odds. Outside of that there were free-floating stories and characters that got interesting, but it was more like looking at a historical document, less like getting pieces of an ongoing narrative.
Star Wars fans developed a certain attitude around the re-releases when we started to wonder if George Lucas was really working off a grand story or just making stuff up as he discovered new computer methods of doing things. That era is over, Star Wars fans, we no longer have to wonder if there's anyone behind the wheel. The LucasFilm Story Group is going to take us through the next decade and their doing it very specifically.
They're fixing Star Wars. It's risky and they ripped off the band-aid of fan outrage by downgrading the old EU to "Legends," but they're going to attempt to make everything feel like one deliberate whole.
I first noticed this was happening when the last three episodes of the digital final season of The Clone Wars animated series took time off to explain Midichlorians, their connection to the Force and why certain Jedi can become Force Ghosts. It wasn't changing anything from Phantom Menace, but it deepened the understanding of the Force beyond the brief "stuff in your blood" Qui-Gon exposition. And the dividing line between the Cosmic Force and the Living Force is going to have to be important to fully connect Anakin Skywalker's divine birth to how we understand The Force.
It seemed odd to me when I learned more about Rebels that it was set between Episode III and A New Hope because it seemed like revisiting something I'd seen when what I wanted was a glimpse at how my favorite sci-fi/fantasy universe was doing. Call me old school, but I think I've read or played a good 5 or 6 different Star Wars EU stories where the goal was to get part of or all of the first or second Death Star Plans.
But that's not what Rebels is at all. Rebels is going to be the Agents of SHIELD to the new Star Wars Universe, feeding bits of world building into the greater whole. Let me explain by way of talking about A New Dawn, the first new novel by EU veteran John Jackson Miller.
A New Dawn is pretty good as far as Expanded Universe books go. It suffers from a lot of the same faults of old Expanded Universe books as well, because Star Wars is a lot about action, but sometimes that action gets confusing in paragraphs. That’s why people liked old Legends character Admiral Thrawn, because being inside his mind was just as exciting as watching someone fight. A New Dawn also has that old EU problem of sending me to Wookiepedia every few chapters to make sure I’m picturing the correct alien race in my head. “Oh that character has FOUR arms? To the Wookiepedia!”
The prologue starts with an Obi Wan Kenobi lecture to a group of young Padawans in the twilight of the old Republic and the book proper time jumps off to a few years after Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan Kenobi was able to get a message out directly after Order 66 was enacted to kill all the Jedi: “This is Obi-Wan Kenobi. Republic Forces have been turned against the Jedi. Avoid Coruscant, avoid detection, stay strong. May the Force be with you.”
This explains how Kanan, a Padawan in the prologue of the book and the Jedi protagonist of Star Wars: Rebels can exist. This is the first of many subtle pieces of retroactive continuity: Obi-Wan and Yoda may have been the the last Jedi, but if there were Jedi out there, they were supposed to keep their head down. They’re all waiting for the rise of Skywalker and they don’t even know it. The Old Republic Jedi were Knights of the Republic. Now that there’s no Republic, they are more like travelling monks: they never stop and they never identify themselves.
Kanan is hiding out on a planet called Gorse which has a moon rich with an element that is both rare and necessary in the construction of Star Destroyers. The Emperor is expanding the Empire and the Rebellion isn’t even close to being a real idea. Most of the time Kanan or one of our soon-to-be-Rebels interferes with the Empires’ plan, the Imperials assume it’s back-stabbing from within their ranks. The Empire has grown so strong, no one can even think about standing up to them.
Kanan is hauling explosives to the moon to be used in the mining operation when he’s confronted by his conspiracy-theory acquaintance, Skelly (a human, just for your mental picture) about how unstable the moon is and how if they’re not careful, the moon might shatter entirely, killing a bunch of innocent miners. Skelly is another character that subtly retcons some things people complained about. Skelly is a Clone Wars veteran, but instead of that being a thing to be impressed by, like when we hear Obi-Wan mention the Clone Wars in A New Hope, it’s more like Vietnam. No one wants to talk about the veterans because once the Empire took over, it became exceedingly obvious that the Clone War was war profiteering.
Yes, the fact that The Separatists making the droid army and The Republic making the clone army were both controlled by Emperor Palpatine is the 9/11 Truther theory of the Star Wars universe. Which makes sense why we didn’t hear too much about it in the Original Trilogy, because at no point during my current adventures through the world am I like: “Let’s stop and talk about how 9/11 was an inside job.”
The Empire shows up in the form of a very imposing villain who likes to beat people to death. His name is Count Vidian. Count Vidian was a great character while I was reading the novel, but with today’s developments in Episode VII news, Count Vidian has become the new key to understanding why THIS, A New Dawn, is the starting point of our new Unified Expanded Universe (UEU, y’all!).
Count Vidian was human until a flesh eating virus started to consume him. Like General Grievous before him, he decided to live and persevere. From his hospital bed, he started trading stock in business the Empire would need to expand (yes, galactic economics is still very key to this story, much like the prequels were a two-hander between politics and the Vader Opera). He used his money to slowly replace all his body parts with upgrades. He’s now all droid with no real skin.
But he has fake skin, the first or second generation of fake skin, not the kind Luke gets on his hand in Empire. They describe it as looking fake and rubbery and it’s made even worse by the fact that Vidian has installed a mechanical voicebox on himself so when he talks his mouth doesn’t move. His arms and legs he didn’t even bother to cover in synthetic skin, they’re all droid. And his eyes are plussed with technology (his originals rotted away), so he has yellow eyes.
I’m mean, stop me when I’m talking about the Sith Inquisitor, right?
That’s A New Dawn’s contribution to the storytelling world of Episode VII - to provide a technological, world-building connective tissue between General Grievous, Darth Vader, Count Vidian and Sith Inquisitor. Cyborgs, man, you can NOT trust them.
Vidian wants to mine the moon, people be damned, long live the Empire! When he shows up, he’s followed by Hera, also a Star Wars: Rebels character. She’s the Twi'lek, the green girl with the two head tentacles. She’s spying on the Empire with the glint of a rebellion in her eye, but no good way to do it.
As you can imagine, these characters are thrown into conflict. And I don’t want to spoil THAT, because that’s the book.
It did a really good job on introducing me to Kanan and Hera and their dynamic before Star Wars: Rebels. It’s nice that when I get to see the pilot, I’ll have a vague idea of how these people know each other without a complete idea that makes watching the cartoon moot.
Kanan and Hera don’t really reveal a ton of their backstories, leaving that for the series. This book is entirely about Gorse and it’s moon and the first time anyone even thinks about betraying the Empire.
And subtly, throughout the book, they change a little something. It’s so small you can’t notice it, but it’s building. It’s building the world that we’ll live in for the next ten years.
Star Wars: Rebels is going to change after Episode VII and provide a different sort of tension. When we realized Vader and Leia would probably end up in a later season of Star Wars: Rebels it seemed like the purpose of that would be to connect the series directly into A New Hope, but we were wrong.
Vader and Leia will be in Rebels to connect it to Episode VII (Billie Lourd, I hope you can voice act).
Unlike the EU, the UEU is going to make sure every piece is essential to the whole and they’re all going to start talking to each other, just like Marvel.
And it’s great because now Star Wars: Rebels isn’t meaningless fun like The Clone Wars animated series: it’s ESSENTIAL. If you want to know the full scope of the Inquisitors, I’m telling you: Read all the books, watch all the shows, then we’ll get the last puzzle piece next December.
Thank you all, it’s been a great day to be a Star Wars fan.
A New Dawn comes out September 2nd. You can pre-order it here.