The Star Wars saga took a number of dramatic turns in 1999 which forever reshaped the series. The best known one was of course the release of Episode I, which fractured the fandom and alienated a wide swath of fans. Even though I love the film, I know it muted the fandom in a way that took Disney stepping in to fix. The other was the dawn of The New Jedi Order, which shook up the EU. It would be impossible for me to write this entry in the style of the previous ones so I’m dividing it into two sections covering the major series I followed. I’ve got a lot to say.
The New Jedi Order
Up until this point, the EU books more or less happened at random chronologically. There was no particular sense of anything building. A lot of key events were doubled back to rather than covered. The result was a true lack of suspense. If you read a book set before Heir to the Empire, you knew certain things wouldn’t happen. Only the very last book both in publication and order had any freedom to shock. (It did)
The New Jedi Order dispensed with all of that. Told in order and focusing on a tight narrative, it brought back a sense of serialization and suspense to the universe. There was a sense that nobody was safe, nothing was guaranteed. It also meant that every book mattered. Even the smallest paperback advanced the plot. It was exciting. But was it good?
The books focus on an invading force from outside the galaxy known as the Yuuzhan Vong, a race of technology despising monsters who exist outside the force. They manage an unexpectedly strong level of success until they’re finally beaten back by the Jedi and the New Republic. It’s a very simple story for a large scale project but easy enough to sell to a casual fan.
Before I get into my thoughts on the series, some vital context. The first book hit my freshman semester of high school. The last book hit during my freshman semester of college. It’s impossible for me to discuss this series without admitting that this was THE focus of my entertainment during this age. I didn’t have comics, The X-Files sputtered to a close, and there weren’t many film series other than Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter to excite me. This was the best for me. So there’s a lot of nostalgia here.
But even with the nostalgia admitted, this is a pretty damn good set of books. It’s not high art in the least. These are fundamentally pulp reads. One book flows into the next. Reviewing individual books would feel silly in that light. But it’s a great propulsive narrative. We care about this invasion ending.
What makes it this amazing read is that we are deeply invested in the characters who seem less stuck in place. Luke Skywalker has genuine doubts about his world. Han Solo and Leia Organa Solo struggle with tension from loss they suffer. Junior Jedi Knights heroine Tahiri emerges as one of the great figures of the saga, someone who is affected by the events but becomes stronger for it.
We also get just the greatest villains. The Yuuzhan Vong are an incredible creation. Everything about them is unsettling. They’re monstrous but with very human emotions. They’re anti-machines so they rely on organic based tech. There’s a strong religious bent to them. They’re a genuinely interesting threat.
The books benefit from the structure of a hardcover each fall followed by a duology and maybe a stand alone book or two during the year. There’s a nice even pace throughout and while an important event or two happened in the hardcovers, events of equal value occurred in the paperbacks. With the books generally landing one every 3 months, there was rarely a lull. You had enough time to anticipate but not enough to lose interest.
The books also felt a bit clearer written than the previous line. The worst got bogged down in lore. Here, there was a clear, to the point style cross the line. Admittedly it meant less individuality but you could always safely know what you were getting here. It helped the serial flow.
But here is where I end the praise to concede some serious faults. None are more grievous than the fact that while this is a great storyline, it does feel like it’s been grafted onto a universe it doesn’t sit well in. The Vong are great villains but they’re dream Star Trek not Star Wars villains. It winds up freshening things but it’s awkward and hard to ignore. It makes the uniqueness of the franchise dim a bit.
The books also lean far too heavy on shock value. Why did Chewbacca die? To show us nobody was safe. A number of valuable characters leave the EU in ridiculous ways. After a point I understood this was a grimmer Star Wars. It wasn’t a more mature one for it. There’s a balance between everybody is safe and anybody can die. It’s not struck here. Besides, are you Luke, Leia, or Han? You’re safe.
Lastly I really despised Jacen Solo’s treatment. I called Boba Fett SW’s Poochie. No, Jacen really was. He’s “the best Jedi ever” even above Luke in these books. He’s not. He’s a moody asshole whose ideas about the force are heretical. He’s not dissimilar from his canon counterpart, Kylo Ren, except nobody sees that he’s awful.
Then there’s the hard truth. While I was still high on these, was I rereading them or revisiting racing to Kroger to get them? I’m not sure. But my nostalgia hits hard with these.
All the same, as tie-ins go, it’s a great ride. When it was over I was left with real closure for the series. Not as strong as the prior run, but closure. Unfortunately that wouldn’t last.
The Dark Nest Trilogy: When did I first feel my fandom waning? It was when I didn’t finish this series. In fact I never even got through book one. There was a feeling of been there done that pervading the whole book. I really did not care. And that was a strange feeling.
Legacy of the Force: After a break, I returned for the next major series, Legacy of the Force. I was instantly hooked with the decision to send Jacen Solo into the Sith. The New Jedi Order was irritatingly wishy washy with Jaina going rogue so it was nice to see them commit hard to one of the characters. I had hope for this new series.
By the end that hope was gone, replaced with a sense of utter exhaustion.
Legacy of the Force is a perfect example of why the EU ran far too long and eventually stopped mattering. It’s a bloated epic that demands you read every single piece of Star Wars fiction ever published beforehand to have any idea what was going on. This would be utterly impenetrable to someone only knowing the movies. Furthermore, the focus was completely lost. Despite returning to a focus on the Sith, it somehow didn’t feel right. The books also relished in the wave of death permeating the series. A lot of very popular characters died and died badly.
I made it through but with each succeeding book, I cared less and less.
When this series was over, I was done for good with the EU. I skipped Fate of the Jedi. I skipped Crucible. I skipped Millennium Falcon. I sure as hell didn’t read the books about minor characters. Forgive me if I’m not racing to read a 500 page book about someone who had 3 lines in another book. I was done with Star Wars.
It was strange to find myself roughly 12 years after I discovered Star Wars to stand completely outside the fandom. I didn’t watch The Clone Wars tv show. I didn’t read the books. I didn’t read the comics. Between 2008 and 2015, this was more or less the status quo. Something big would have to happen to lure me back in. Something did.
In the next entry, I’m going to cover the books that didn’t fit as smoothly into the previous entries, and wrap my thoughts on the Star Wars Expanded Universe.