Thursday, September 30, 2010

Discovering the Star Wars Expanded Universe

Alright, I don't know if I've actually mentioned this yet, but I absolutely LOVE Star Wars.  I hear the sizzle of a light saber and my imagination just bolts off to a galaxy far far away.  I can't help it.  It is second only to Stargate in the realm of things Cori is a huge fangirl about.

Yes, Stargate still comes first.  In fact, just so there's no question, let's go ahead and get Cori's space opera hierarchy on the record, shall we?  First to last, it goes:  Stargate, Star Wars, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica (the 21st century version), and Farscape.  Okay, have we got that out of the way?  Good.  Now, back to Star Wars. 

For the sake of clarity, when I say the Expanded Universe (or EU), I mean things that are considered officially Star Wars but not part of the main cannon, which for my purposes includes the original trilogy, the new trilogy, and Clone Wars (the movie and cartoon).  So EU would be the official novels and comic books (of which there are a LOT), and video games.  I think technically Lucas is only counting novels and comics as EU, but there is a ton of story in the video games (and many of them are getting novelization tie-ins anyway), so I consider those part of the Star Wars EU.

Now, I think it would be fair to say that I have always enjoyed Star Wars.  It was always in the background when I was a kid, I was all about Ewoks, and USA used to always show the trilogy during holidays so I caught bits and pieces of it here and there.  It wasn't until the summer before my sophomore year of high school though that I actually actively watched the entire original trilogy (which I actually did at a sleepover at a friends house--back to back--staying up to finish long after she had fallen asleep).  When I was a senior in high school the theatrical re-release of the trilogy happened, and I got to go with my friends to see all of the movies on the big screen.  Yes, they were the special editions, but I didn't know any better, so I'll have to admit that the changes Lucas made have never really annoyed me as much as they have  all of the fans who came before me.  (Though I will admit that once I was older and wiser I was very irritated that he tried to take back Han shooting first.  That is truly just an insult to the character.)

The summer after my freshman year of college, The Phantom Menace came out.  My sister (a year younger than me) had fallen in with a crowd of ultra geeky Star Wars fans (one of whom was the assistant manager at the local theater), and so they had camped out for opening day tickets (ah the days before online movie ticket sales) and they got me one too.  And you know what, I really liked Phantom Menace.  I went to see it at least five times that summer.  (Admittedly, this was partly because I often got into movies for free that summer, and I saw a lot of things multiple times, but still.)  Was it as good as any of the original films?  Hell no.  Does it hold up well under scrutiny eleven years later?  Not really.  Was it a lot of fun for a casual Star Wars fan who just wanted more of the story?  Oh heck yeah.  I also liked Attack of the Clones, which I went to see at opening with my best friend (and now husband) and our ultra-hard core Star Wars fan roommate.  Sadly, I didn't get to see Revenge of the Sith when it opened (I liked Attack of the Clones but it was a bit of a let down and some of the fervor had died), but I did get to see it in theaters and am so glad I did.  It is arguably the best of the new trilogy and damn it if isn't just a good movie.  Still not quite up to par with the original trilogy, but I don't think anything ever can be because we've all placed it on a pedestal that is too high for mere mortal filmmakers to reach anymore.

Revenge of the Sith got my excitement for the franchise back up a bit, actually.  It is what got me to start thinking about the EU.  I thought maybe I might like to give some of the novels a try.  But oh my goodness, where to start?  Seriously, next time you're in a bookstore or goofing around on Amazon, check out the Star Wars books.  There are a very very lot.  My husband suggested the logical place to start would be with the three books by Timothy Zahn that essentially stand in for episodes seven, eight, and nine (The Thrawn Trilogy).  Those would be, in order, Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command.  So I read those books, and they were okay.  I have to admit some of the writing really took me out of the universe.  Zahn didn't quite have the world in his grasp--some things were just too close to Earth, and it felt a little like laziness on his part, given how rich this universe is, that he couldn't come up with something more Star Warsy than hot chocolate (if you've read them you probably know what I mean, if not, yes, Luke discovers that he loves hot chocolate in this series).  But the story itself was pretty compelling and it was a nice continuation of the original trilogy.  We got some closure and paths to whole new stories and adventures were opened up.  We also got some perspective on the events of the original trilogy from characters that weren't in the spotlight in the movies.  But still, I was sated.  I thought I might like to read more but didn't have enough motivation to find out which series should be my next to pick up.  At this point, I was still just a casual fan. 

And then Clone Wars came out and everything changed. I knew I had to see the movie because it came out just a few days before my birthday, a birthday which my husband and I were celebrating with a trip to my hometown, hanging out with those same friends I saw the original trilogy in theaters with.  So, on my birthday, my husband, my best friend from high school, and his daughter all went to see Clone Wars.  I think I liked it best out of anyone in the group.  It got my imagination going again.  There was a lot of negative feedback for Ahsoka Tano--but even at her whiniest moment (and remember, she's a teenage girl and a padawan being tossed at a new master who isn't really a master himself yet, just a knight) she was nowhere, and I mean NOWHERE, near as whiny as Luke Skywalker in A New Hope.  And she stepped up pretty darn quick.  Plus, I thought the baby hutt was cute.  Sue me. 

But the point is, I was quickly falling more in love with the Star Wars universe than I ever had been before.  I had dithered on getting the new trilogy on DVD but suddenly, I had to.  My husband, who had been trying to get me to see the awesomeness of PC gaming (at this point I was strictly Gamecube, Wii, and PS2 games, and really only casually), was finally able to talk me into playing Knights of The Old Republic (which was totally my gateway drug into PC gaming and I really haven't looked back).  In between KOTOR and the Clone Wars series, I was gone.  Total fangirl.  I wanted, no I needed, more.  The joy I get from dipping my toes into the Star Wars universe takes me to a happy place surpassed only by Atlantis.  And thus, I have begun my foray into the EU.  On the video game front, I have played KOTOR and its slightly less entertaining sequel, as well as, of course the Lego Star Wars games  for each of the trilogies.  My copy of the Clone Wars Lego Star Wars game, coming out next month I think, is already on preorder.  I've got quite a few console games (like The Force Unleashed) sitting in my Amazon wishlist waiting patiently for me to bring them home and give them a whirl.  I just picked up Republic Commando and will be playing it as soon as I finish my current game.  As far as comics go, I have been reading the online tie-ins to the upcoming MMO The Old Republic (set after the events of KOTOR), which I am eagerly awaiting.  For my birthday I picked up the first volume of the Legacy series, set a few generations after The Return of the Jedi.  I enjoyed that quite a bit, and will be picking up the rest of the series as my budget allows.  There's also a new series of comics called Knight Errant about to come out that I've subscribed to.

And what about the insanely massive amount of EU books I mentioned earlier?  Well, I've jumped back into those waters as well, with the Republic Commando series by Karen Traviss.  I just finished the first book, Hard Contact, a few days ago and am currently working on book two, Triple Zero.  In all honesty, everything that I've said so far was supposed to be a quick intro into my review of Hard Contact.  But it is clear that I have more than a little to say about Star Wars and the EU.  So we'll save my book review for tomorrow, and I'll wrap this up. 

You may have heard that George Lucas has recently announced his plans to re-release both trilogies (in chronological order, which I think is just a terrible idea) in 3D (which is an even worse idea) over the coming years.  This is getting him a lot of (well-deserved) flak.  But the fallout is landing on Star Wars itself as well, and that makes me more than a little sad.  Flick Filosopher, who I adore, asks in her question of the day why we keep letting Lucas make us his bitch.  And instead of focusing on why we, the fans, time and time again give Lucas money in exchange for disappointment, the comments have mostly been just remarks on how the new trilogy sucked and no one will be seeing them in 3D, and they refuse to give any more money to Lucas.  While I respect their right to these opinions, and the fact that they don't want to pay for what they perceive as crap, they are clearly in the minority--because Lucas doesn't keep messing with the original trilogy (and didn't get to make the new trilogy) because nobody went to see what he came up with.  So I suppose my point in all of this is just to say that yeah, somebody needs to love Lucas enough to tell him "no" once in a while (and actually enforce that no), but just because he's gone off the deep end, we shouldn't forget that without him, we wouldn't have this wonderful sandbox that is the Star Wars Universe to play in at all.  Right now, with the movies and the television show, along with all of the EU, Star Wars has something to offer pretty much any fan.  I, for one, will remember to thank him for that at least, while hoping he eventually realizes he's a bit too big for the sandbox and maybe he should just let the other kids play in it now. 

A few fun quick links for you folks:

Darths & Droids (A webcomic that retells the new trilogy as if it were a RPG campaign, using stills from the movies.  It is hilarious.)

The Old Republic MMO (I seriously cannot wait for this game to come out--at which point my family and friends are probably going to need to just say goodbye to me for a while.)

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