Redemption in Writing: How we pick who gets saved

I finally watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night. And it was really good. From characters to plot, it was both a great nostalgia flick and a neat addition to the canon. But it also reminded me what a huge role class and privilege play within movie universes when it comes to redemption storylines.

(This piece is going to include some mild spoilers, so watch out.)

One of the major subplots in the movie was whether the villainous Ren would reconcile with his parents and reject the dark side. Presumably, upon rejecting the dark side, he would return home, hug his mom, cry in the arms of his parents and then retreat to a Jedi monastery to think upon his misdeeds, or heroically join the battle against the dark side and his evil former mentor.

ren

Mind, this character’s screen time included :

  • ordering the wholesale slaughter of an entire village,
  • running guy through with his light saber,
  • torturing a resistance fighter off-screen,
  • and colluding in the destruction of three to five heavily inhabited planets.

And this is just what happened during the movie. But his parents love him and want him to come home. Continue reading

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[ Roost Report ] Star Wars: Thrawn turns 20

Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition by Timothy Zahn

Ask any Star Wars fan what their thoughts are about Lucas’s enhancements to the Star Wars Blu-Rays and you’ll get everything from “Who cares?” to “Darth George is destroying my childhood!”

At least there’s one reissued Star Wars classic coming out this month that no one has redone.

The 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire, book one of the Thrawn Trilogy and #88 on NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books list, features no extra scenes, no digitally-enhanced text, and no additional adjectives. The only thing that’s changed is the cover… and maybe the font.

So, it’s been twenty years. Now it’s in hardback and includes a new short story; big deal. And I want this because…?

First off, what’s it about?

The war between Imperial Forces and the Rebel Alliance didn’t disappear overnight. Five years after the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader, Princess Leia and Han Solo (married and expecting twins) and Luke Skywalker (lone Jedi Knight) are still working hard to help reestablish the New Republic government and drive out any remaining Imperial Forces.

And they missed one. Lightyears away from the capital planet, Grand Admiral Thrawn, a brilliant military tactician, is piecing together the remains of the Imperial Navy in order to strike back at the New Republic. He’s got a couple aces up his sleeve that will make it nearly impossible (i.e. will take three books) for the New Republic to win.

There’s also a former employee of the Emperor out to kill Luke. That’s always fun.

Why is this book so awesome?

The Thrawn Trilogy is credited for establishing the Star Wars Expanded Universe, allowing other authors to pick up where the Hugo Award-winning author left off, as well as reinvigorating the space opera franchise. It’s not just the solid story, but the incredibly well-developed characters that make Heir to the Empire along with the other two of the trilogy (Dark Forces Rising and The Last Command) three of the best Star Wars novels ever published.

There are two characters in particular that make Heir to the Empire worth reading. The first is the trilogy’s namesake, Grand Admiral Thrawn. Considered to be the best villain in the Expanded Universe, the blue-skinned, red-eyed military leader was inspired by historical and literary figures such as Robert E. Lee, Alexander the Great, and Sherlock Holmes. He’s cold, calculating, intimidating, and a lover of art–all traits he uses against his enemies. (As Thrawn explains, “Learn about art, Captain. When you understand a species’ art, you understand that species.”) He was featured later in the Hand of Thrawn duology (Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future, also by Zahn) as well as the recently-published Choices of One (another Zahn novel) and miscellaneous mentions here and there.

The second character is Mara Jade. A powerful Force-user, Mara was once an Emperor’s Hand–a dark side spy/assassin who could go places and do things the Emperor couldn’t. Despite the Emperor’s death, Mara’s days as a Hand aren’t exactly over. (Just mention “Luke Skywalker” and watch her reaction.) Mara also keeps in the spirit of strong female Star Wars heroines. She isn’t a damsel in distress; Mara’s intelligent, powerful, skilled and in every way Luke’s equal. Thanks to the Thrawn Trilogy, Mara went on to become not only one of the most central characters in the Expanded Universe but Mrs. Luke Skywalker.

What does this version have the other doesn’t?

Littered throughout the book are footnotes by Zahn, explaining his thinking process, why he made the choices he did, and what was carefully planned versus “That sounds good.” The annotations also cover how he approached specific scenes and characters, and how his choices have impacted the overall mythos of Star Wars.

Excerpt annotations hit the web earlier this year, and later a scanned page to show fans how the footnotes would be worked in. Here’s an example of one of the hundreds of excerpts, this one explaining the origin of Thrawn and his title:

“I wanted HEIR’s villain to be a military leader, as opposed to a governor, Moff, or Sith. But a normal admiral seemed too commonplace. Hence, the Grand Admirals. I first ran across the title, by the way, in connection with the German navy in William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” –TZ

Star Wars or not, having the opportunity to jump inside the author’s head is fantastic. As a writer, I love learning how authors approach their novels and characters. Knowing Zahn’s thinking process while reading along with Heir to the Empire instead of an interview at the end or a memoir-ish forward is worth repurchasing the novel.

So this is like repurchasing a movie on Blu-Ray you already own on DVD just because of the extra behind-the-scenes stuff?

Yeah, kinda.

Unless you really want to read Zahn’s thinking process or the exclusive short story, there’s no need to repurchase the hardcover. $30 can be a lot to ask for these days, so stick with your $7 paperback. Otherwise, the 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire is a fun addition to a literary collection.

And if you’ve never read Heir to the Empire? Shame on you.

Is there more to come?

So far there’s been no official word whether Dark Forces Rising and Last Command will get the same 20th anniversary treatment (internet rumor is it depends on how well Heir to the Empire‘s sales go). I hope they do just so nerds like me can have a complete collection.

[ Book Review ] This is how you write Star Wars

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Deceived by Paul S. Kemp

Audiobook read by Marc Thompson

I once read that the best villain is one you feel sympathetic for. I thought about that, then thought about all the villains I love. Javert from Les Miserables, Elphaba from Wicked, Khan from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan… All loveable characters, despite their evilness.

Darth Malgus from Star Wars: The Old Republic – Deceived is right up there.

In all the Star Wars novels I’ve read, this is the first Sith Lord I’ve seen depicted as a vulnerable human being–and that includes Vader. There’s more to this guy than his one-dimensional balls-of-hatred counterparts. Darth Malgus may have been born in the Empire, trained in the dark side his whole life, and views the Jedi as misguided idiots, but he has one weakness: his female servant Eleena. He loves her, and she him, and it’s that vulnerability–that love for not only a slave, but a non-human Twi’lek slave–that the other Sith take pleasure in exposing. 

But at the same time, Malgus isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. He leads an all-out attack against the Republic’s capitol planet, destroys the Jedi Temple and kills a powerful Jedi Master. He’s an evil, evil man… but still finds time to make out with his girlfriend before killing Jedi scum.

And that’s what gets him in trouble with his master: Lead a Sith Army against Republic forces, destroy the Jedi Temple, and then get sent to babysit the planetary blockade because you ordered the Imperial medics to treat your injured slave as they would an injured Sith Lord. Sucks to be you, Malgus. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Luke, I am not in this book at all

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams

(Oh, 3.5 happy canaries! Happy, dammit, happy!)

Audiobook read by Marc Thompson

Star Wars Fan Intro: The Hutts have found a new civilization and are willing to sell the information to the highest bidder. Representatives of both the Republic and Sith Empire (and some uninvited guests) have traveled to Nal Hutta to attend the auction, including a Jedi Padawan, a former Republic trooper, a mysterious Mandalorian, an Imperial Spy, and a heartless Sith apprentice.

Non Star Wars Fan Intro: Giant slug-like creatures are holding an auction for information about a new planet they’ve found. They’ve invited good guys and bad guys to attend. May the man with the most money win.

JediCanary Time Out: One, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is my favorite video game ever of all time. Two, I’ve got the collector’s edition of SWTOR pre-ordered and have had a glimpse of the beta (and have joined a guild, and read everything about the game, and, and, and…) So trust me when I say that you don’t need to be familiar with either games to read and enjoy this book, but you’ll appreciate it more if you are.

JediCanary Time In.

Unlike the rest of the Star Wars EU (that’s “Expanded Universe” for you non-Jedi), Fatal Alliance is in a wholly new timeline; approximately 3,650 years before the farm kid from Tatooine blew up his first Death Star. It’s also the first novel in the Old Republic series, a media tie-in series for Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR), a Massive Multiplayer Online video game that’s still in its beta-testing stages. Continue reading