Revisiting Star Wars–X-Wing: Wraith Squadron, and X-Wing: Iron Fist

It was a true underdog story!

The veteran in this competition was a recent newbie himself. But he had four wins under his belt, and that’s more than enough. It only takes five kills to make an ace. And he was good, too–his wins weren’t just wins; they’re still talked about today. How could any challenger think to take his crown away?

And yet, that’s exactly what happened. I’m speaking, of course, of the X-Wing series…or rather, its authors.

Not that it was a literal competition. In all the background reading I’ve done, I’ve never seen any indication that the two authors involved were anything but cooperative. The competition is all in the minds of us fans, who pick our favorites and make comparisons. And until recently, I was sure I had mine all figured out.

A little background here. To understand the X-Wing series, you need an idea of how the Star Wars Expanded Universe (today called Legends) was shaping up in the 1990s. Prior to 1991, it had been eight years since the previous novel, 1983’s Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka (not covered in this reread, but very entertaining–I recommend that entire trilogy). 1991, then, gave us a single novel–but what a novel! Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire hit the then-quiescent fandom like a bomb (that’s “explosive”, not “failure”). The results were instantaneous and far-reaching; and it’s no exaggeration at all to say that with a single book, Timothy Zahn launched the entire future of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. (He’s still doing it today–he’s published several books in Disney canon that essentially parallel the role of Heir to the Empire and its sequels from the EU.) We’ll get to Zahn’s work soon.

The next several years were packed with new releases. If you look at the list of novels by release date, you’ll find a number of adult-level novels, accompanied by a similar number of children’s and YA novels. Nearly all were set in the era we’re covering, the post-Return of the Jedi era (aka the New Republic era), because this WAS Star Wars. No new movies were yet in the works (although there was some early hints of the prequels), and so the novels were carrying the torch for the future. Many of the novels we will be covering here were published during that time; in fact, it’s surprising to me now, looking back, just how many important novels were published between 1991 and the end of 1995. First the remainder of Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, then The Truce at Bakura (which we’ve already covered), The Courtship of Princess Leia (coming up soon), the Jedi Academy Trilogy, the widely panned The Crystal Star (yes, we’re going to cover it), the early parts of the Young Jedi Knights series of YA novels, the Corellian Trilogy, and Darksaber (not to be confused with the hand weapon of the same name)–all of these novels launched in that short window. Most novels were released in a loosely consistent chronological order; there were gaps, but not much doubling back. The major exception was that the Thrawn trilogy had been set later than some of these novels; but it gets a pass, because it came first, and had such an impact.

Therefore, the X-Wing series was something of an insert. The first book, Rogue Squadron, was released on New Year’s Day 1996. However, it–and most of the series–is set in 6-7 ABY (After the Battle of Yavin, according to the out-of-universe dating system in common use). This predates everything thus far released in the 1990s except The Truce at Bakura (4 ABY). Thus it’s very early days for the New Republic–when the series begins, they haven’t even captured Coruscant, the galactic capital. I can imagine that such a maneuver is both liberating and restricting for the authors. On one hand, it’s virgin territory–no one had set any stories in that period. On the other hand, there’s a tight set of expectations that have to be met, because one cannot contradict anything that came later. It’s not without its stresses; in an interview with Jim Fisher, when asked how much research was required, Aaron Allston said:

“A lot. I wish I’d had time to do more. I read every Star Wars technical manual I could get my hands on, plus Stackpole’s novels, Zahn’s novels, other novels in which Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron make appearances, comic books, and several of West End’s Star Wars game supplements. I watched the movie trilogy repeatedly. I played the X-Wing computer game. I bought eight of the Action Fleet toys and used them for measurements and estimations of their performance in atmosphere. I read books on aircraft carrier life and pilot survival.

Michael A. Stackpole was the initial choice to write the series, and released the first four novels (Rogue Squadron, Wedge’s Gamble, The Krytos Trap, all in 1996, and The Bacta War in early 1997). Those novels, which we’ve already covered, continue the exploits of the rebuilt Rogue Squadron in the taking of Coruscant and the battle against Ysaane Isard. The novels are heavily told from the point of view of Corran Horn, former CorSec investigator and future Jedi Knight. When Stackpole was approached for a four-book continuation of the series, however, he declined, citing other commitments; but he recommended Aaron Allston for three of the four books (and planned to write the fourth himself when his schedule cleared). Allston was obligated to hit the ground running…and that’s where we are today.

Allston’s diligence and research paid off. We open with book five, Wraith Squadron. Wedge Antilles looks back at the amount of infiltration and guerilla work his pilots had to do on Thyferra in The Bacta War, and comes up with the idea of a new type of X-Wing squadron, one that is built around the idea of doing its own ground work as well as flying. With the help of veteran Wes Janson, he pulls together a team of screwups and wash-outs, each of which has some valuable secondary skills–and some destructive tendencies. There’s Kell Tainer, a hand-to-hand combat and demolitions expert who freezes up in battle, and lives with a terrible secret: That his father was killed by none other than Wes Janson in a friendly-fire incident. There’s Garik “Face” Loran, a former child actor living under the weight of guilt for his unwitting work in Imperial propaganda, whose disguise and espionage skills are nearly inhuman. There’s Tyria Sarkin, a mediocre pilot with a lot to prove, and a grudge to settle. There’s Ton Phanan, a cyborg doctor with an allergy to bacta and an unmatched wit. There’s Hohass “Runt” Ekwesh, an undersized, horselike Thakwash with multiple personalities and a wide array of unexpected skills. And there’s Voort “Piggy” saBinring, a genetically-modified Gamorrean with a frightening level of mathematical and analytical acumen. Others come and go, ensuring a constant rogues’ (wraiths?) gallery.

Where the Rogue Squadron novels have concerned themselves with Ysanne Isard, the director of Imperial Intelligence who seized control of Coruscant, the Wraith Squadron trilogy deals with the other major threat among the Imperial warlords: Warlord Zsinj. That’s a name I’d been hearing for years–he gets mentioned time and again through other stories–and here’s our chance to witness his downfall. He’s more entertaining than most Imperials, in my opinion; he’s not the caricature that most are, but rather he’s very human. He’s moody but not usually angry (or at least not comically so), he swings from emotion to emotion, and he makes mistakes. He’s very skilled at constructing his own little empire, and yet he remains approachable to his underlings–the very opposite of the terrifying Isard. Like Isard, he commands power from a Super Star Destroyer; Isard had the Lusankya, while Zsinj has the Iron Fist. The first novel chronicles the Wraiths’ efforts to pick away at his empire; the second, aptly titled Iron Fist, covers the first attempt to strike directly at Zsinj and his vessel.

But, as interesting as Zsinj is, it’s the Wraiths that steal the show. When one takes different types of dynamite and throws them into the fire together, there’s bound to be explosions. The Wraiths are no exception; one by one, their problems and flaws boil to the surface; and like the other kind of boil, they must be lanced. From Kell Tainer’s fear of freezing up and his hatred of Wes Janson, to Tyria’s imposter syndrome, to Runt’s failure to coordinate his various minds, to Phanan’s bitterness and Face’s guilt and Piggy’s loneliness and Myn Donos’s depression over the loss of some former comrades, one challenge after another threatens to destroy the Wraiths…and one by one, they learn to survive and overcome. They do this in the midst of an increasingly insane series of military and paramilitary feats that leave their supervisors shaking their heads, more often than not.

Of particular interest to me is a character introduced in a minor way in Wraith Squadron, but raised to protagonist status in Iron Fist: Lara Notsil, also known as Gara Petothel. In Wraith Squadron, Gara Petothel is an Imperial intelligence officer–a spy, essentially–working as an analyst for one of Zsinj’s underlings. She’s a troublesome pest to the Wraiths, although they are unaware of her presence. She survives the catastrophe that destroys her employer, and escapes to forge a new cover identity on Coruscant; she takes the name and identity of a long-dead farmer from Aldivy named Lara Notsil. In the midst of planning to escape back to Zsinj, she is unexpectedly caught up in a plan by the Wraiths to take down a corrupt officer; and much to her own surprise, she ends up in the squadron. However, she soon begins to suffer identity problems, as she finds that she would much rather be the hopeful and upright Lara Notsil, than the Imperial-aligned and deceitful Gara Petothel–but, in doing so, she’s perpetuating another lie to cover the lies she wants to escape. As of the end of the book, her mental state seems fragile, and I’m interested to see where it goes from here.

In the end, I have to hand it to Allston. I expected competence–most Star Wars authors have demonstrated as much, and even bad Star Wars is better than no Star Wars (except The Rise of Skywalker; there’s no excuse for that one). I didn’t expect him to outdo Stackpole, but that’s exactly what happened. His characters are more vital and endearing; his battle sequences and strategies are top notch; and his stories are endlessly creative. Someone at Lucas must have agreed; Allston would go on to write a total of thirteen Star Wars novels, right up to the and including a third of the Fate of the Jedi series that (nearly) closes out the post-RotJ era of the EU. (No, Crucible, we haven’t forgotten you!) Unfortunately and sadly, Aaron Allston passed away seven years ago today, on February 27, 2014, of heart failure; and we remember him fondly.

Aaron Allston, 1960-2014

Next time: We’ll round out the Wraith Squadron trilogy with Solo Command! See you there.

Happy reading!

X-Wing: Wraith Squadron and X-Wing: Iron Fist are available from Amazon and other booksellers.

You can find Wookieepedia’s treatment of the novels here and here.

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Family Movie Nights

We are a family of five (if you don’t count the pets). In addition to me and my wife, there are three children. My oldest daughter is fourteen, about to turn fifteen (learner’s permits! Driving lessons! Gasp!). My son is in the middle, at the awkward age of thirteen (puberty! Personal hygiene! GASP!). And then there’s the little one, my younger daughter, who will be seven in a few weeks (yelling! Picky eating! GASP!!).

Our family is blended, though that always sounded like a weird term to me; my older children are the product of my first marriage, while the youngest came as part of the package with my current wife (and what a package it was!). Needless to say, every part of this life is a new experience for someone. My wife never had older children before she was thrown into the deep end with two of them; I never had such a range of ages to deal with at once (there’s only twenty months between the two oldest). And for the kids, well, everything is new, all the time. Relating to each of them can be a challenge.

But tackle that challenge we do, each in our own way. Now, I can’t speak for my wife, whose talents and interests–and thus her tactics for connecting with the kids–lie in other directions. For myself, though, I’ve always tried to connect with them through the thing that I love: fiction. Be it video games, books, or television, I try to find things to enjoy with the kids, things we’ll all love. And more, I try to introduce them to old favorites from my life. I want to know them, and get inside their heads and their worlds–but I want them to feel that they’ve done the same with me. They’re too young now to understand how important that will one day be to them; so my job is to put the experiences and memories in place, and let them come around to them in their own time.

To that end, I’ve started orchestrating movie nights with the kids. (My wife joins us when she can, but between work and parenting and nursing school, she’s understandably busy right now–so we save the movies that will appeal most to her, and watch them when she can be with us.) Mind you, I have to go out of my way not to call it a Movie Night, capital letters; my kids will balk if they feel like it’s an obligation or appointment. Instead, I just catch them and ask them if they want to watch a movie. Or, sometimes, now that we’ve been doing this for awhile, they’ll ask me. To which I very solemnly, but enthusiastically, say “Yes! Yes, I will watch with you!” Sucker, you fell right into my trap! Come and spend time with me, bwa ha ha!

The oldest never falls for it. She’s quite happy in her own world, as far as I can tell. Now, don’t take that as a problem; she connects in other ways. But, she would rather spend time talking to her friends on the phone than sitting through a movie with me. (I thought those phone calls would have long since been replaced by some form of texting, but nope–I can hear them getting loud all the way from her basement bedroom to my living room. The old ways live on!)

But the others, though–they join me. Lately it’s superhero movies–thank God for the Marvel Cinematic Universe! The boy and I have been slowly working through the MCU in release order. He likes everything he’s seen except for Thor: The Dark World (which is, admittedly, the least memorable of the Thor films). He skipped Captain Marvel entirely, not for any sexist reason, but because he has a thing for chronological order, and Captain Marvel violates it by about twenty-five years (if you haven’t seen it, it’s set in 1995). He hasn’t picked a favorite movie, but Iron Man and Avengers: Infinity War seem to be in the running.

As for the girl–the younger girl–she did watch Captain Marvel with me, and loved it. Her mom has been watching the WandaVision miniseries with her, and I’ve come along for that ride. She wants to know everything about everyone in every movie and episode, which delights me to the core of my comic-nerd soul, and I’m glad to tell her whatever she wants. After the recent surprise cameo in WandaVision episode 5–no spoilers here; if you know, you know–we decided it was time to branch out and check out the X-Men series (except for the Deadpool movies; she knows she’s not allowed to watch those yet, and will solemnly tell you that “Deadpool is not for children” if you ask her). She’s also, not coincidentally, the other big Star Wars fan in the house; we’ve watched the entire film series, and most of The Mandalorian, and I expect to introduce her to The Clone Wars when I get a little time.

None of this, of course, is about the movies.

I love fiction. I love science-fiction, and fantasy, and comic book superheroes. I was a comic book nerd in the nineties, during the heyday of the X-Men and all their related series. I was a Star Wars fan as far back as I can remember. I got into the Lord of the Rings in junior high. I collect old pulp Golden Age sci-fi novels. These things are my world. You know what else is my world? My wife and my children. None of these things would be worth it to me if I didn’t have them.

I love that I can use these things that I’ve loved for so long, to connect with the people I’ll love for the rest of my life. It might just seem like a movie night to the kids; but it’s so much more than that to me. One day, they’ll see that it was more than that to them, as well. That’s worth it.

Welcome to 2021! And, Review: The Infinite and the Divine

Welcome to 2021! And we are definitely off to a running start, at least here in the USA. Granted, the “running” has included Congress running from a mob, our president running from responsibility, and our nation running from the consequences of its actions; but, here we are!

But let’s put that aside for a second. This isn’t a political blog. I do occasionally make reference to what’s going on in the political sphere, but not as a topic of my posts. (Don’t hold me too tightly to that; I may have made a political post before–I’m not going back to check. It’s not my general plan, though.) We’re here, as always, to talk writing, reading, and books!

So, how did 2020 end for you? I mentioned a few weeks ago that I didn’t make my own goals for the year. I suppose, with the Coronavirus pandemic turning all our lives upside down, not many of us did. Or maybe you found the time to meet one, but everything else fell by the wayside. That’s okay. Hard times are, by definition, hard; and if you simply survived to this point, you did it. You made it through (as much as we are through, anyway). That’s all the victory we require right now–everything else is grace.

Personally, I didn’t make my writing goal for the year. It was a nebulous goal, I admit; I wanted to make significant progress on a few projects. I fell short of that goal–I finished a few chapters of The Courier’s Tale, wrote one short story (Doctor Who-themed, not posted here), and did a fair bit of behind-the-scenes work. That ain’t “nothin'”, so to speak, but it’s not nearly where I planned to be. Given the circumstances, I’ll take it. This year, I’m refining that goal a little, but it’s still fairly nebulous; I still want to make considerable progress on The Courier’s Tale, and I’m working toward another project that I’ve had on the back burner for awhile. We’ll see if any of it pans out, given that we’re not out of the woods yet with regard to the pandemic and our bizarre political situation. We’re still in “go easy on yourself” mode here!

Nor did I make my reading goal. I set my initial goal last year at a rather ambitious 100 books for the year; halfway through the year, I knew the situation was hopeless, and reduced it to the 52 books that I had set as the previous year’s goal. I fell short, at 38 of 52. I’ve been tracking long enough now to notice a pattern; I seem to succeed at my goal every other year. Here’s hoping that’s good news for 2021! Having learned my lesson, I’m starting out with a goal of 52 for this year again. I also know that I tend to slack off in the busy fall and early winter–that is, the last quarter of the year–and so I’m trying to front load the year by knocking out as many books as possible here in January and February. We’re almost two weeks into the year as I type this, and so far I’ve finished four books (Goodreads tells me that puts me three books ahead of schedule).

This year I’m doing a new thing for me: Adding in audiobooks. I’ve never been much of an audiobook reader; most of my reading has been in ebook form the past several years, with occasional print books thrown in. I’ve warmed up to the idea, though; and it’s an easy way to have two books going at once. Time that I can devote solely to reading will go to print or ebooks, and I can listen to audiobooks while driving, cooking, etc. I realize this is nothing revolutionary for most people, but it’s new territory for me.

I also want to review what I read this year. I’ve always posted reviews of some of the books I read. Generally I post according to certain series or lists I’ve tried to finish–over here I’m working through The Great Reddit Reading List, and the Star Wars Expanded Universe (aka Star Wars Legends), and over on The Time Lord Archives I review various Doctor Who novels. So this goal isn’t revolutionary either; the only difference is that I want to pick up the books I read that don’t fall into those categories. I believe this will help me stick to my goal, and may push you to stick to yours as well. The reviews may not be in-depth or long (ha, who am I kidding??), but I hope to include them all here.

To that end, here’s my initial review, of Robert Rath’s Warhammer 40000 Necrons novel, The Infinite and the Divine, my first read of the year!

I have not been a Warhammer 40000 fan for long. I had been seeing incidental Reddit posts about this fictional universe for some time before, in 2019, I finally built up enough interest to join one of the discussion subreddits about it. Finally, in March 2019 (which, in terms of my reading, really isn’t long ago at all), I picked up my first novel, Guy Haley’s *Death of Integrity*. I can’t recommend that book enough for 40K noobs like me; it’s a great intro to the Space Marines, the general setting, and even the deeper lore and history, and it’s as action-packed as one could ever want. I was quickly distracted, though, by what is arguably THE set piece of the 40K universe: the Horus Heresy. This historical series actually takes place in what is informally termed “Warhammer 30K”, ten thousand years prior to the “present day” of the series; it paints a far different world from the grimdark setting we all knew and loved–and then smashes it up and grinds it to powder, and uses the powder to paint said grimdark setting. It’s all very dramatic, very exciting, and deadly serious (well, serious for Warhammer anyway–a series which is notorious for practically parodying itself). That’s where I’ve been since then; I’m several books into the Heresy, and it will likely show up again this year.

And THEN, there’s *The Infinite and the Divine*.

Have I mentioned everything so far has been serious? Well, throw that out, because *The Infinite and the Divine* is hilarious. It’s the first (and only, so far) 40K novel I’ve seen that is deliberately comedic. Necrons, for the unaware, are a race in 40K that, many millennia ago, made a Faustian bargain for immortality, trading their physical forms for replaceable robotic bodies, but in the process losing their souls. The bulk of the race remains in hibernation, but are on the verge of waking up and crusading to reclaim their place in the universe from the other major races. “Verge” is a relative term when you’re millions of years old; accordingly, this book takes place over more than ten thousand years.

It’s the story of two rival Necrons: the archivist Trazyn the Infinite, and the chronomancer Orikan the Diviner. Over the centuries, these two powerful Necrons fight a private war for the fate of an artifact called the Astrarium Mysterios, which proves to lead to an even greater–and much more dangerous–piece of history. I won’t spoil it; the end of the quest has great implications for the Necrons and their place in the 40K universe.

But the details of the plot are not the selling point here. The rivalry between the two protagonists–one can hardly call either the antagonist; they’re equally good and bad–is the key. Trazyn and Orikan spend literal centuries sniping at each other, taking more potshots at each other’s egos than at their bodies. Since starting the book, I’ve often said they are the Statler and Waldorf of 40K; they insult each other constantly, but absolutely deserve each other as well (I’d be tempted to call them soulmates, if Necrons had souls). Together, they create a wonderfully funny commentary on, well, everything else in 40K, from the Aeldari to the C’Tan to the upstart Imperium of Mankind. It’s entertaining to imagine these strong, immortal bodies, housing the essence of two old men who just can’t let things go; the book even goes so far as to say that, were they still in their mortal bodies, their physical combat would be laughable. When the Necron leaders are finally forced to step in and moderate their fight, the duo just double down; rather than shooting at each other, they make obscene gestures across the courtroom (made funnier by the fact that they haven’t had context for such gestures in millions of years) and conspire to hide their rivalry from their watchers while still stabbing each other in the back.

The book pokes fun at everything. There’s a Necron play that lasts for literal years, poking fun at their long lives and slow paces. There’s Trazyn’s collection of, well, everything, including living samples of other societies (where else would you find a space marine in a museum display??). There’s Orikan’s habit of winding back time to make the courtroom drama play out in his favor–with hilariously disastrous results.

In the end, there are no winners and no losers here…except us, the audience. I love Warhammer for what it is–grimdark (it literally coined the term, I believe), serious, overpowered, action-packed. But it’s wonderful to take a step back, get a little perspective, and just laugh at the absurdity of it all. It is absurd, after all–how could a universe like this be anything but? It’s a credit to the authors that they can take it seriously as they do; but it’s a credit to Robert Rath to round things out with this great comedy. If you’re a 40K fan, and looking for some levity, you should check it out.

Happy reading!

Wrapping It Up

I’m a historically bad gift wrapper. Everyone in my family knows when the gift is from me long before they ever look at the tag. They can tell by the end flaps of mismatched length; the uneven and irregular tape work; the occasional patch job when I’ve miscalculated the amount of paper I would need. It’s become such a running joke, that a few years back I quipped on Facebook that I was going to write a book and call it Badly Wrapped and Impractical: A Gift-Giving Guide for Men.

I never did write that book, but I find myself thinking about it as we “wrap up” the year 2020. I don’t think many of us would call it a gift; but if we did, well, it’s certainly both badly wrapped and impractical! But it has another thing in common with most gifts (at least in my house): It’s never quite what you expected it to be.

For us it was a combination of good and bad. On the bright side, we started the year fresh off of buying our house (the first either myself or my wife had ever owned). We’ve all been healthy and reasonably happy. One child started high school; one became a teenager; one started first grade. We ended up with two new (to us, that is) vehicles. We got to visit my wife’s family on the other side of the country, for the first time in three years (and the first time ever for the two teenagers). I celebrated ten years at my current job, and my wife was accepted to nursing school (starting in January!).

But there was the bad, too. The new vehicles happened because we saw the deaths of not one, not two, but THREE vehicles. One of those went out in a blaze of glory as my wife had a serious accident (she was somehow uninjured, thank God, but the car was totaled). All of those blessings have stretched our finances to their limit. My wife’s schooling (including the preliminaries she did this year) means that she spends the bulk of her time either working or in class, which frustrates her. The newly-minted teenager may have an unexpected health issue–I’ll know in a few hours, when I take him back to the doctor. And all that isn’t even considering the COVID-19 pandemic, or the election cycle, both of which are plaguing our entire country.

Ah, COVID, you awful bastard. What a mess this year turned out to be, all because of you. I won’t even try to mention the infection and death stats right now, because they change so fast that it’s impossible to keep up. And so many of us deny it’s even happening, or else deny that anything can be done…it’s downright disheartening. In my house, we’ve been fortunate; everyone, right down to the six year old, is pretty handy with a mask and a six foot distance, and so far we’ve avoided illness. We have had two exposure incidents, both from the children’s schools; one resulted in the six year old testing positive, though she was asymptomatic and never spread it to the rest of us. Far too many people haven’t been so lucky. The disease has gone through both my and my wife’s workplaces like wildfire, with a number of serious cases (not sure about deaths–none at my workplace yet, but possibly at hers).

As for the election…don’t get me started.

This was not the year for reaching anyone’s goals. 2020 blew in like an out of control truck, sending people flying in every direction, and we’re frankly lucky if we made it through; so perhaps we can be understanding with ourselves if our plans were derailed. Most of us don’t thrive in an environment of restriction, of confinement at home, of constant stress and worry.

That’s okay.

Go easy on yourself.

I didn’t meet the goals I set this year, either. Back in January, I set a very ambitious goal for myself: I planned to read 100 books this year! Audacious, I know, but people manage it every year. I had managed 60 books in 2019, over a goal of 52; so one hundred didn’t seem impossible at all. Then, suddenly, COVID! And my motivation, like everyone else’s, went down the drain.

It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? Here we are, with more time than we anticipated having, and we ought to be able to put it toward whatever end we like. But instead, suddenly everything feels like a chore. Reading shouldn’t feel that way, but it did. Even now, the thought of opening a book feels heavy in my mind.

Halfway through the year, I knew I was in trouble. I cut my goal down to the previous year’s 52; but even that, in the end, proved not to be enough. I’m going to finish the year tomorrow with 38 completed books of a total of 52. But I’m going to call that, if not a win, at least acceptable. (Hey, it could be worse–in 2018, I only read 17 of a planned 50! Actually, now that I think of it, I seem to fail my challenge every even-numbered year–maybe there’s something to that.)

I didn’t finish my writing goals, either. I’ve been aware for some time that this isn’t prime time for my writing career; between childcare and a full time job and managing the household, it doesn’t leave a lot of spare time. Most mornings I’m rushing to get the six year old to school or daycare, and myself to work; most nights, I’m falling asleep before I can even think of sitting at the keyboard. I want to post here at least a few times a month; it comes out to a little less than once a month. I hoped to finish several short stories, and some work on a few longer projects; I put in a few chapters on one of the projects (The Courier’s Tale) and finished one short story (not posted here). But I made progress, and for now, I’ll take it.

Tomorrow, we wrap up this year. Someone joked that they’ll make sure to stay up til midnight tomorrow, not to see 2021 in, but to make sure 2020 leaves! I don’t believe that the problems of 2020 will magically be over at midnight tomorrow; but there’s something symbolic about it. After that, Lord willing, we’ll set some new goals. Perhaps they’ll be more reasonable goals than my 100 books for 2020; or maybe we’ll chase our ambitions again. Either way, plan to go easy on yourself.

You made it this far. That’s accomplishment enough for today. Don’t knock it.

Thanks for reading, and happy new year!

To Days to Come

The year is 2020, and it’s Thanksgiving.

It’s a little different this year, as I’m sure comes as no surprise to anyone. Around the country and around the world, thousands of people are a little more alone this year, courtesy of a disease that still plagues us. People are separated and sometimes lonely. People are short on food and money. Here in the US, we’ve just come off a difficult election season. It is, in short, not a great year.

For us here in my household, we’ve put off celebrating until tomorrow, so that my amazing wife can work today. In the midst of all the above, paramedics like her–and other EMTs and nurses and doctors and others–are out saving lives; and since we’re talking about Thanksgiving, I think we can all agree that we can’t thank them enough. Even if it leaves a few more families separated on this holiday.

But I don’t mind, for myself; this gives me the opportunity to think over the words I’m saying to you now. And so, on a quiet November evening, I sit and listen as Frank Sinatra and his friends (thank you, SiriusXM) slowly begin to slip Christmas tunes into their lineup, and the sun has sunk beneath the horizon, and my kids are watching television in the other room, and the dog wags her tail beside me, and I type.

This has been some kind of decade for me. Ten years ago, I was a very different man, in a very different place. In 2010 I gave up a job I had worked and loved for years to bring my family home to West Virginia. My wife at the time–my first wife–was suffering some mental health issues that had grown severe enough that we couldn’t make it without family support; so we packed up and moved, giving up on a life that was almost a decade in the building.  Two years later, those problems would have grown strong enough to bring about the end of our marriage. We went, in a few short years, from a growing–if not happy–middle class family, to going our separate ways and living in poverty. One month after we separated, on Christmas Eve, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, in the middle of a flareup that I truthfully thought was going to kill me.

And then, the losses. Four years ago, my grandmother passed away. She was my only remaining grandparent. She’d been ill for some time–a common refrain–and then, suddenly enough, it was over.  She was only the first. Just before Halloween, 2017, my father passed, again after a long illness, at the too-young age of 62. A month and a half later, my mother’s oldest brother passed. She had already lost two brothers prior to that (it’s a large family, eleven children–four brothers, seven sisters). Since then, two of her sisters have also died. My father’s oldest brother died as well; and then, to cap things off, my own younger brother died unexpectedly on September 3rd of this very year, at the age of 36.

Lest you think that I’m deep in self-pity here, I’ll say now that there’s been much good as well, and I will get to that. But it occurs to me, ten years along, to take a moment and look back over where I’ve been. Bear with me, if you will.

I’m a fan and sometimes writer of science fiction. It’s been a part of my life so long that it’s practically inseparable to me; and so, let’s have a little sci-fi thought exercise here. Would I change it all? If I had a time machine–after all, on this blog I call myself “Timewalkerauthor”–would I go back and undo all that sadness? I could, you know, if given the opportunity. Maybe I couldn’t prevent it all–especially not the choices of others–but it wouldn’t be so hard to go back and tell my ex-wife the combination of medicines that would stabilize her mind to the degree it’s stabilized today. I could tell myself the meds that would control my Crohn’s disease and keep it in check. I could tell my father’s doctors the course his illness was going to take; I could even show them the scans and x-rays and lab results, with just a little planning. I could tell my uncle not to have that leg amputated, so that the complications wouldn’t take his life. I could tell my brother about the blood clot in his leg that was going to migrate to his lung and take him away from us. Would I do it?

I don’t know.

The fact is, I’d give anything to fix some of those things…if I could fix them in isolation. I may not be in love with my ex-wife anymore, but she’s still my children’s mother (the older two kids, that is), and they deserve to have a happy relationship with her, which they don’t truly have under current conditions. I would give up the fingers I’m using to type these words, if it meant having my dad back. I miss my brother, to whom I hadn’t spoken for some months, because of certain strains on our relationship that I wish I could have undone. And if I could just fix those things, and not tamper with the totality of our lives, I’d do it at once, right this minute.

But I can’t do that. Had I known at the time, I still couldn’t do it. Because we aren’t a single point; we’re the sum of everything that’s happened to us. Or maybe we’re the product of it (in the mathematical sense, that is). Our lives are like Jenga; you may tug and pull at certain pieces, but sooner or later, the whole tower comes down.

And for better or worse–no, for better and worse–there’s a tower in this life. You see, I’ve had some good things come along, too. In late 2010, months after the move to West Virginia, he gave me the job I still hold today, ten years later, in a field I love as much as the one I left. In 2011 he gave us a home that, though humble, saw us through a lot of hard times. From 2013 to 2015, he carried me through as a single father, and helped me be there for my kids in ways I never expected, with a bit of help from my parents. In 2015, I met my second wife, and my second daughter, whom I would later adopt. She (wife, not daughter) tells me that God told her she was going to marry me, and I can’t speak to whether God said it or not, but I can say that if He did, He was right. He’s led us to owning our own home, to having better and more reliable vehicles, to a new and productive career for my wife, to a family that’s slowly grown together and overcome so many early hurdles as we blended these five strands together.  He’s given me three nephews and three nieces. He may have taken one brother, but He gave me a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law, and did the converse for my wife. He called my father out of this life, but gave me a mother-in-law and two fathers-in-law (my wife’s father and stepfather). All of us get along and love each other.  If I went pulling out the pieces of the tragedies of my past, none of those things would come to be.

And who’s to say? Maybe what resulted then would be just as good. I don’t know; it didn’t happen. But I think, maybe, things are better this way. I have to be careful saying that, because it makes it sound like maybe I’m glad those tragedies happened. I’m not. I could never be. 

I’m not happy with those things, but I’ve come to terms with them.

I think that coming to terms with things is a necessary part of being thankful.  The fact is that we live lives where the bad is inseparable from the good. I’m not suggesting we be thankful for the bad things, though by grace sometimes we come to a point where we can be even that. I am suggesting that we be thankful through them.

We aren’t building the past; we’re building the present and the future. The things that have happened are the materials out of which we build, the bricks and mortar of the people we’re becoming. That’s why we can’t think of trading in the past; we need it for who we will soon be.

We honor the past, and we show thanks for it, because it creates who we are today and tomorrow.

And so–to borrow a beautiful line from Doctor Who–I offer this toast: “To days to come…and all my love to long ago.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

Star Wars: Availability and Piracy

I seem to be on a Star Wars kick lately. Hope you don’t mind. In the middle of all the turbulence leading up to the presidential election, it’s a comforting distraction to me, and hopefully to you too–and besides, it’s a topic I love.

Last night, on a whim, I started a reread of a true Star Wars classic: The original 1976 novelization of what would later become known as Episode IV, A New Hope. I present it to you in that convoluted way for two reasons. For one, the original title of the novel made no mention of “Episode IV” or “A New Hope“; it was titled, instead, Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker. And for another–which is, to me, more interesting–the book actually predates the movie by most of a year.

star wars first edition cover

I could talk–and have talked–for hours about the nostalgia factor of this original presentation of the story. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the world of Star Wars as it appeared early (but not right at the beginning!) in George Lucas’s vision for the series, before he ever knew it might succeed or become the behemoth it is today. It’s very nostalgic for me–the book is actually older than me by three years, the movie by two–and I love digging into it, seeing how things have grown and changed. I get a similar feeling when I read through Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the Alan Dean Foster-penned sequel that predates The Empire Strikes Back (Foster also ghostwrote the movie novelization, under Lucas’s name).

But I’m thinking today about the availability of materials like these, and where we may be headed.

In my collection–which is mostly packed away, and really needs to be pulled out and organized (but not where the maniacal six-year-old and the bibliovore dog can get to them)–I have very old copies of both Star Wars and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, possessions which are precious to me. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is not a first edition, but an old copy (I’m not sure which printing) I picked up at a used bookstore many years ago–long enough ago that I don’t actually recall which store. My copy of Star Wars is a first edition, which I rescued from a condemned home (long story). Both books have had numerous reprints, and they’re not hard to find–but it wouldn’t be that difficult for them to become rare. First editions are already hard to come by; they didn’t sell particularly well (remember, Star Wars was published before the movie, so it didn’t have the movie’s fame to prop it up).

Splinter_of_the_Minds_Eye

But, these books have the advantage of being famous in the Star Wars fandom. They’ll likely never go completely out of print. What about lesser known works?

Yesterday I was browsing the /r/StarWarsEU subreddit, and I ran across a post where a Redditor had acquired a copy of two graphic novels, Dark Empire and Dark Empire II. We’ll eventually, Lord willing, be covering them here as well; I don’t plan to generally cover comic books, but these are important to the overall plot of the post-RotJ EU, so I’ll make an exception. I remember attempting to collect Dark Empire “back in the day”, before its comic-book issues were collected in graphic novel form; being a broke teenager, I only managed a few issues, which I still have. In the comments, we generally agreed that, although it is wonderful that these stories have been re-released in digital form, there’s something magical about holding a print copy. It’s unfortunate that that privilege is increasingly rare; the user was admittedly lucky to get his copies at a good price, but he acknowledged it’s increasingly hard to do so.

With Dark Empire, we’re starting down the scale of obscurity; certainly fewer fans know about it than, say, the original films and their novelizations. But it gets worse. There are many stories in the EU that never had an extensive reach to begin with, and so copies just aren’t readily available. Then there are stories that are truly hard to find, because they were published in niche formats or locations. This morning there was another Reddit post discussing two comic strip series, Reversal of Fortune and Evasive Action, which were originally posted on Hyperspace, the website of the Official Star Wars Fan Club. However, that site shut down in 2011. The comics were never printed or otherwise released. Are they now lost forever?

Reversal of Fortune clip

I did not pirate this copy; this image is taken from a partial collection in the Reddit post referenced above. Not sure if it comes from Reversal of Fortune or Evasive Action.

Which brings us to the uncomfortable topic of piracy.

I am forced to admit I’m something of a hypocrite in my personal involvement with literary piracy. I’ve certainly engaged in it often enough. That’s doubly an awkward admission, because all of the arguments against it from the content creator’s standpoint are perfectly valid–and I’m a content creator myself, who hopes to someday get paid for my writing. I have mixed feelings; on the one hand, writers and publishers deserve to get paid, and on the other hand, information shouldn’t be gatekept by cost. Those two things are incompatible, and I know it.

So, here’s a philosophy on piracy that I think we may be able to agree on. I haven’t lived up to it fully, but I try to stay as close to it as I can. It comes in three parts:

  1. If a piece of material is utterly unavailable in any other format, piracy is an acceptable alternative. This would include the comics I mentioned above; I can’t find an official source that is still active, but I was able to locate them through unofficial sources in about two minutes. For my own purposes–this is NOT a legal opinion, and I am not a lawyer–I liken this to the preservation efforts of organizations such as the Internet Archive.
  2. If the ONLY non-piracy source for the material is through (usually expensive) resellers, and there is NO non-reseller source available, piracy is an acceptable alternative. The vast majority of my own ebook collection falls into this category: there were never official ebooks, and the print editions are out of print, and can only be obtained from resellers, most of whom are seeking prohibitively high prices. In this instance, I liken piracy to library usage; the writer and publisher aren’t making any money from resells, and you’re essentially reading someone else’s copy. While resellers have the right to try to make money, they don’t have the rights to the material that the writer and publisher have; and they can still sell their copies, because there will always be non-pirate fans of the material.
  3. If there IS a legitimate source that results in profit to the publisher and writer, you should if at all possible purchase the item. However, once you legitimately own the item, it’s permissible to pirate a copy for your own use. There are a number of books that I own in print, but I’m not comfortable carrying them with me out in public (where they would get damaged), so I’ve obtained ebook versions that I can read on my phone while I’m out, and save the print versions for when I’m at home.

I didn’t set out today to rehash the entire discourse on piracy, so please don’t @ me to tell me how wrong I am. Other people have argued both sides much more eloquently than I have done. My goal is to set forth my own attitude toward the subject, and maybe give some food for thought–because as fans, and especially as readers, we all have to figure out our stance on this issue.

But further, I wanted to relate it to the Star Wars fandom in particular, especially the Expanded Universe. Time continues to move forward, and material will continue to become obsolete and hard to find. That’s true with all material in every fandom, but it’s doubly true in the Expanded Universe; by setting it up as “Legends”, and calling a halt to further EU production, Lucasfilm/Disney essentially relegated the EU to a secondary level of publication. All good things eventually end, and that includes the reprinting and re-release of this material that is now outdated not only by time, but by fiat of the content owners. How do we as fans tackle the problem? If we can’t obtain this material we love through the original means, then what do we do? That’s a good question.

Revisiting Star Wars: X-Wing: The Krytos Trap, and X-Wing: The Bacta War

I have to admit up front, I’m a little ashamed of myself every time I return to this series. My goal was to, y’know, be quick about it; but it’s taken me a few years to get this far. There are no excuses, but there are reasons; the Star Wars EU is one among several reading lists I’m working through; I don’t read quite as quickly as I once did; and I have a full-time job and a family on top of doing the things that feed this blog. Still, I feel a bit guilty about it.

I feel even more guilty, though, when I realize–very much to my chagrin–that I didn’t post a review for the last book I completed! So, today, we’ll be talking about two novels in the X-Wing series, both by Michael A. Stackpole: Books three and four, The Krytos Trap and The Bacta War.

The standard disclaimer, and a quick recap: When I post about Star Wars, I generally only post about the Expanded Universe, or “Star Wars Legends”, as it was relabeled at the Disney takeover of the franchise. I’ll be honest: I prefer the older work to the Disney canon. I think that it’s a better story, even at its low points, and that Disney would have been well served to port it over to television and film rather than going their own way. Now, that in no way means I dislike everything about the Disney canon; without it, we wouldn’t have Rogue One or The Mandalorian. Nor are my posts here to talk shit about Disney, as it were; I acknowledge it up front, and then basically ignore it. If canon is your preference, I respect that; thanks for coming by, reaching out of your comfort zone, and seeing what the EU is all about! It’s where I have most of my experience, and it’s what I love, so I like to talk about it here.

To recap: We’re covering the EU novels from the post-Return of the Jedi era (plus a few other bits and pieces). Thus far we’ve covered The Truce at Bakura (taking place hours after the end of Return of the Jedi), the trilogy of Dark Forces novellas, Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, and the first two entries in the X-Wing series, Rogue Squadron and Wedge’s Gamble. We will–hopefully–be covering all the adult-level and teen-level novels (i.e. Young Jedi Knights), as many short stories as I can acquire, and a few comics (such as Dark Empire), from The Truce at Bakura to the end of the EU. We will not be covering stories explicitly aimed at children, such as Junior Jedi Knights and Galaxy of Fear; most comics; any video games; or any televised media. There’s only so much time, and I’m already taking too long.

Rogue Squadron re-established the titular Rogue Squadron of X-Wing pilots, under the command of veteran pilot Wedge Antilles, who is possibly the most underrated hero the Rebellion ever had, in my opinion. The squadron includes–and the novels generally focus on–future Jedi Corran Horn, who is hands down my favorite EU character. The book establishes the fight to take the capital world of Coruscant and unseat Imperial Intelligence Director Ysanne Isard, pejoratively called “Iceheart” by her friends and enemies alike. In Wedge’s Gamble, after several campaigns across the galaxy, the Rogues take the fight to Isard, and ultimately liberate Coruscant–but all within Isard’s plan, as she releases the engineered Krytos Virus, which targets non-humans. Worse for the Rogues, Corran is captured and held in the infamous and secretive prison, Lusankya.

And that’s it! Spoilers ahead for books three and four (if you’re concerned about spoilers for a book that’s 23 years old, that is). Also, a reminder that because we’re covering two books, this post will be longer than usual.

Rarely have I enjoyed a Star Wars novel as much as The Krytos Trap. It’s not that the book is particularly well written–it’s as good as the rest of the X-Wing series, but not a standout among them. (That doesn’t mean it’s bad, either!) It’s not revolutionary in its characters or even its plot; it concerns the battle to take an impossible target, and that’s the most Star Wars plot ever. Rather, it shows us what the fast-moving, focused movies can’t: Real life in the Star Wars galaxy. We get views of Coruscant’s common people and life beneath the skyscrapers and towers, and we see some of how life must have looked both under the Empire and during transitions. It’s a great glimpse into things that are normally passed over by the heroes and villains alike; in that regard it’s a bit in line with what we’ve seen more recently in The Mandalorian. To be fair, this began in the previous book, Wedge’s Gamble; but it continues here.

The story has two plotlines at play, with occasional commentary from Isard’s faction on both lines. On one hand we have the Rebels–excuse me, the New Republic, for they’re the legitimate government now that they’ve taken Coruscant–discovering and fighting the Krytos virus. Again, this started in the previous novel, but it comes to a head here. Only bacta–the healing liquid that seems to be a cure-all–can properly treat the virus; but bacta is already in short supply, and soon to get worse. This creates a secondary problem: How can the Republic distribute the dwindling supplies without seeming to favor one group over another? It’s Isard’s plan to allow the Republic to destroy itself from within in this way. The Republic does develop a substitute substance, ryl’ca, developed largely from the Twi’lek drug ryll, but it’s essentially a stopgap measure to relieve the pressure until more bacta can be acquired.

On the other hand, we have Corran’s imprisonment. His friends believe him to be dead, and have compelling reason to blame Tycho Celchu–once a Lusankya prisoner himself–for the catastrophe. Wedge maintains Tycho’s innocence, but it’s a battle he can’t win. Meanwhile Isard tries desperately to turn Corran into a sleeper agent, but fails. She dumps him in with the general prisoner population; but this, too, turns to his advantage, as he meets a remarkable older man named Jan. Unbeknownst to Corran, this is Rebel general Jan Dodonna, presumed dead since the Battle of Yavin; but he conceals his identity, because he knows he is the only thing keeping the other prisoners going. Nevertheless, he and his men assist Corran with an escape attempt.

The story comes together as Corran makes his escape. Along the way, he learns two stunning truths. First, his father was not who he claimed to be; though he grew up as Hal Horn, he was actually Valin Halcyon–the son of slain Jedi Master Nejaa Halcyon. Coran learns that he himself is heir to that Jedi tradition and power, and he finds and claims Nejaa’s lightsaber as his own. Second, he learns that Lusankya is not a building after all, but a Super Star Destroyer like Vader’s ill-fated Executor–and it is buried under the surface level of Coruscant. Before he can use that knowledge, however, the ship tears itself free of the city, causing massive casualties; and Isard makes her escape.

Corran is, however, able to provide evidence that exonerates Tycho…just as his old enemy, Kirtan Loor, is killed by the real sleeper agent, former prisoner (and Iella Wessiri’s husband), Diric Wessiri. After the trial, Corran is approached by Luke Skywalker, who asks Corran to study under him and become a Jedi Knight; but Corran declines, stating his first loyalty is to the Rogues. On the heels of this choice, however, comes news that Isard has established herself in a coup on the planet Thyferra, the source of nearly all the bacta in the galaxy–and because of the Republic’s political arrangements, no mission can be staged to liberate the planet. Thus, as one, the Rogues resign their commissions, and set out to wage a private war to bring Isard down.

The Bacta War sees the prosecution of that war. While Isard entrenches her position with three more Star Destroyers in addition to the Lusankya, the Rogues prepare to take the fight to her–but first, they have to acquire the means to do it! Their ships and gear are all Republic property, and so Wedge and Tycho set out to acquire new equipment. Fortunately, Isard’s frame-up job against Tycho included a very large sum of money to indicate his alleged corruption; and that money is available to him now. A little maneuvering by a supporter within the Republic results in much of their original equipment coming up for sale; and some help from Republic pilot Pash Cracken sees a space station in the Yag’dhul system erroneously listed as destroyed, giving them a base of operations. The Rogues soon acquire new allies in the form of Mirax Terrik’s retired-smuggler father, Booster Terrik, and current smuggler-entrepreneur Talon Karrde.

Meanwhile, Isard grows increasingly unhinged as she focuses in on taking down Wedge and his people, leading her advisor Fliry Vorru to conspire with former Rogue and traitor Erisi Dlarit against her. Through a number of stratagems, Wedge and his allies slowly whittle down Isard’s forces, first destroying the Victory II-class Star Destroyer Corrupter, then buying out the services of the captain of the Imperial II-class Virulence. At last he leads the Lusankya into a complex trap at Yag’dhul, allowing him to make a final assault on Thyferra and Isard. The Lusankya is freed by the actions of its escort, the Imperial II-class Avarice; but when it jumps back to Thyferra, it is overwhelmed in record time by a multilayered attack from the Rogues, their allied fighter pilots, several other ships adapted for the purpose, and the Virulence. Ultimately the Lusankya‘s XO assassinates its now-insane captain, and surrenders the ship. Vorru is captured, tried, and returned to imprisonment on Kessel; Irisi is killed by Corran in a dogfight over Yag’dhul’s moon; and Isard is (apparently) killed in the destruction of her escape shuttle (though I’m not convinced). In the end, Booster acquires the Avarice, renaming it the Errant Venture; Karrde facilitates some very profitable deals; the Rogues are reinstated into the Republic; and oh yes, Corran and Mirax get married (much to Booster’s consternation).

Whew! That’s a lot of ground–err, space–to cover.

Thus far I’ve been generally pleased with the X-Wing series. It wasn’t until preparing to write this post that I realized that the series has multiple arcs (I know, I know, I should know better…); and now we’ve reached the end of the first one. Next time, we’ll be picking up the tale with a new squadron, new characters, and a new mission. It’s a little bittersweet to realize; I’ve been having fun with Corran, Gavin Darklighter, Mirax Terrik, Tycho Celchu and the rest. They’ll be back, but we have a lot of material to read before then!

Corran Horn remains my favorite EU character. I was introduced to him, many years ago, in *I, Jedi* (also written by Stackpole), and have been a fan ever since. He’s very much in the rough here; he has a long way to go. But in this novel we get the payoff of what’s come before; he knows about his Jedi heritage and is starting to feel it out; he’s no longer imprisoned by Isard; he’s overcome his rivalry with Bror Jace (who–spoiler!–isn’t as dead as we thought); he’s past the awkward bit of his budding relationship with Mirax (and now has an awkward, budding relationship with her father). He’s starting to smooth off the rough edges and become more mature, and I’m happy to see it. He’s actually sidelined a bit more here; Mirax Terrik and Iella Wessiri move to the forefront, and Wedge gets more screentime, as do Booster Terrik and Talon Karrde, and–most surprisingly, but pleasingly–Ooryl Qrygg, Corran’s Gand wingman.

Ooryl gets the highest honor he can get in Gand society, for his spectacular accomplishments: he becomes janwuine, and gains the right to refer to himself in the first person. It’s a subtle, background plot, but very pleasing when it pays off.

When I first encountered Booster Terrik–I don’t recall which novel–he was already tooling around the galaxy in his personal Star Destroyer, the Errant Venture. As soon as he appeared in The Bacta War, I realized this must be where he acquires it, and I wasn’t disappointed. The scene in which Talon Karrde negotiates between Booster and the Republic for ownership of the Star Destroyer–and gets the better of both of them–is a thing of beauty. ” As Palpatine once said, “we will watch your career with great interest!”

I appreciate the wrap-up to Ysanne Isard’s story. (I know it’s not the final end; after all these years, it would be hard not to know she’s going to put in at least one more appearance. But still, the bulk of her story is tied off now.) I found her to be a compelling villain at first, a sort of dry run for Thrawn’s later appearance. But, in this final novel, she begins to slip into madness, and loses much of her edge–as well as much of what made her distinctive. Her ruthlessness and extreme pragmatism were her “plus one” (see my review of Wedge’s Gamble for what I mean by that), and without it she’s not nearly as interesting. It was very much a relief when her apparent death occurred. The stage quickly gets stolen by former Moff Flirry Vorru and Rogue traitor Erisi Dlarit; but with the pace of the story, neither of them can gather enough screen time to make the impact they should make. There is, instead, a handful of other minor villains, but for the most part they are standard villain fare, and gone as quickly as we meet them. (I do hope, though, to see Captain Sair Yonka, of the Star Destroyer Virulence, again. Again, spoiler ahead! –His defection to the New Republic instantly makes him fascinating, and he gets a great line: “The Empire is dead—we all know that—so this is our buy-in to whatever follows it.” I vaguely recall that he appears again later, but I’m avoiding researching it.)

I’ve really only had two complaints so far about this series. For one, everyone speaks in a highly stilted manner. At first I thought it was just Corran; but by this novel, everyone does it, especially when explaining things. I can sympathize–if you read these posts at all, you know I’m the same–but an author’s job is to ensure that not every voice is his own. The second complaint is that there are a few too many lucky coincidences in these books–too many instances of “right place, right time”, on which major plot points then hang. For example, the Rogues are about to get thoroughly swatted at one point; but they are saved by the appearance of a droid-crewed Alderaanian War Cruiser dating to well before the destruction of Alderaan. That’s a coincidence itself, but it’s compounded by why the ship appeared: Tycho, in a fit of nostalgia, set his ship’s IFF transponder to a code identified with a nearly legendary Alderaanian warship, of which this cruiser was a wingmate, and thus the ship responded to him as though he was the mythical ship. This kind of thing happens often enough that it stretches credibility even to consider the Force to be the answer.

Overall, though, I’ve been pleased with the books, and I highly recommend them. We have three more to go, and then we’ll move on to other novels. See you there!

X-Wing: The Krytos Trap and X-Wing: The Bacta War are available from Amazon and other booksellers.

You can find Wookieepedia’s treatment of the novel here.

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Star Wars Chronology and Canon, Part II

I’ve come to believe that, as humans, we really don’t have a good grasp on the kind of time required for societal changes to develop. We don’t fully grasp how long it takes for large numbers of people to break away from beliefs and attitudes that are passed down from our parents and grandparents; and–not to be too morbid about it–we’re skewed by the brevity of our own lives. As an easy example, look at how long it’s taken here in America to go from slavery–arguably the nadir of civil rights–to the situation we have today, in which racism has lost a significant number of its institutional teeth, but is still rearing its ugly head. We’ve been fighting this battle for 160 years at least, and probably longer. 

Now, this isn’t a history course (but if you’d like one, I could recommend one!). I’m generally here to talk fiction, and today especially, to discuss Star Wars. And I believe that this natural myopia about change, also carries over to the fiction we write. Too often it takes the form of fictional worlds that are static for far too long for realism–I’m looking at you, Dune saga! That series covers thousands of years, and very little ever changes. (In Frank Herbert’s defense, he did try to explain it away. He indicated that cultural stagnation was a feature of his universe’s human empire, not a bug–that it was an outgrowth of their ban on thinking machines. But in my opinion, stagnation itself is unstable; stagnant societies in the real world have had a tendency to self-destruct or be conquered, and thus replaced.)

But, every once in a while, we get a major societal change that seems to be written too short. That’s what we have with the rise of the Empire, in Star Wars.

(As I usually do, I’m going to focus on the Star Wars Expanded Universe, aka Legends. It’s my area of interest and preference, and I think it’s a better story overall than the current Disney canon. That’s not to offend any Disney canon fans–preferences are just fine, and I respect yours. There are things that overlap between the two, and things unique to canon that I love. But I’m working from the perspective I know best.)

The rise of the Galactic Empire is well documented. We had a front row seat for it (and it’s all Jar Jar’s fault, as we well know! Just kidding. Sort of). The part that always astounded me wasn’t the fact of the Empire’s rise; even before watching The Phantom Menace years ago, I was sure they had that covered. I knew enough real history to know how it could happen.

What concerned me is how the Empire became so pervasive. If the Empire is as patently and grandiosely evil as it claims to be, and if it arose suddenly (as we now know it did), then why do people go along with it? How is there such widespread support for such an evil institution, and all in only twenty-odd years? Why do we only see one Rebellion, instead of resistance movements on nearly every planet in the galaxy? It’s a good question.

It’s made even more remarkable when one considers the longevity of the Old Republic. According to Wookieepedia, the Galactic Republic (or Old Republic if you prefer) was founded in the year 25,053 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin). Now, the Republic’s existence wasn’t untroubled for the entire twenty-five millennia of its existence; many EU writers have labored to give us a varied and interesting history of the Republic’s wars and troubles, of which there were plenty. But, it existed, unbroken, for twenty-five thousand years! Remember that “too long” category I mentioned up there? Yes, Star Wars has its offenses in that category, too.

I titled this post as “chronology and canon” in part to tie it to the previous post, as this idea grew out of that one. And it would be easy to say that the Empire’s success owes to the fact that it was invented with a longer scale in mind than what we ultimately go, as I argued in that post. In fact I’m sure that’s at least partly true. There are scattered references throughout the older parts of the EU to generational families in Imperial positions of authority; to children going to the Imperial Military Academy in the footsteps of older family members. The Empire was always meant to have existed as such for less than one lifetime; but if it’s enough of a lifetime, you can fit in a couple of generations, and that’s more believable for entrenching a new view.

Nevertheless, I don’t think that’s the only explanation. I think, instead, that the real world teaches us that a civilization can make a rapid change–especially one for the worse. 

I don’t want to draw the comparison too closely. I’m not going to say that the Empire is equivalent to Nazi Germany, or the Communist revolution in Russia or China, or the Trump administration in the US. I don’t hide my political views, but I don’t want to argue about them here either. But I will say that the Empire draws on some techniques common to real-world authoritarian regimes, especially when it comes to propaganda. Further I think that we often underestimate the power of those techniques, and just how quickly they work. Think about these:

  • False attacks. This includes logical fallacies of all kinds. The Empire waged a smear campaign against the Jedi, and also anyone else whom the Empire opposed. (The Bacta War, which I’m currently reading, contains an early reference to holofilms that paint the Jedi as villains and monsters.)
  • Racism (or, in Star Wars context, we’ll say “species-ism”). The Empire was violently anti-alien; they considered humans to be superior in every way. There was both rhetoric and action; once the Emperor was in power, he made slaves and/or second-class citizens of every nonhuman race he could reach. Which was essentially all of them.
  • Imprisonment and attacks against political rivals or dissenters. The EU talks about the imprisonment of Rebels such as General Jan Dodonna. Now, you may argue that that was a military conflict, and you’d be right, but there are also political actions taken against figures such as Bail Organa and Mon Mothma. This didn’t stop when the Empire was fully entrenched, either–Ysanne Isard’s Lusankya high-security prison contains plenty of Imperials who made the mistake of crossing the establishment. This is probably the oldest authoritarian technique in the book, second only to outright assassination.
  • Repetition. There’s power in words, and much of the Empire’s propaganda machine would have consisted of simply repeating untruths and slogans so often and so forcefully that people either accept them, or tire of fighting them. It happens that way in the real world as well, unfortunately.
  • Seizing and/or destroying any government apparatus that can be used against the Empire’s authoritarianism. The most prominent example, of course, being the dissolution of the Imperial Senate at the completion of the first Death Star.

To the Empire, it didn’t matter ultimately whether they were believed by the populace. What mattered was that the populace gave the appearance of belief–and thus fell in line as thoroughly as if they really did believe. To bring that about, the Empire relied on fear and oppression and lies–and if one can create an environment where those things are pervasive, then the route to compliance can be shortcut. It won’t take generations after all. Twenty years becomes quite believable–and in fact, it took the Empire far less than twenty years, because they were well entrenched for years before the Battle of Yavin.

Fortunately for the galaxy, not everyone was fooled. The Rebellion happened. Fortunately for us, the same thing has happened in the real world in most cases. Even better: We’ve never had the whole world in such a situation together. There have always been places where freedom survived.

But it’s scary how quickly it can happen.

Bedtime Stories: Moo and Lou and the Backyard, Too!

This post will be a little different–let me say that up front.

I’ve posted a number of pieces of original fiction on this site. Some of it is good (in my humble opinion), some…not so much. I keep it here anyway, because among other things, this site is a record of my own progress as a writer. And, while I don’t have a lot of time to put into original fiction these days, I still try to keep my skills sharp, and so occasionally new pieces still show up here.

Here’s a glimpse into my family life: I have three children, whom I’ve mentioned before, though it’s been awhile. The older two are fourteen and twelve as I write this, and I’ve talked extensively about them at earlier times. The youngest is six, a daughter by the name of Marley (real name, not changed). Marley has had a lot of nicknames over her six years, but the one that stuck the most is “Moo”, not in an insulting sense, but short for “Marley Moo”, partly for the alliteration and partly because she likes cows. What can I say–six year old likes what she likes.

We also have  a dog, named Lula. (And a cat named Zelda, but this is not her moment.) Lula is a year-old yellow lab with more energy and less discipline than is good for her (“Training? What training? I thought we were here to have fun!”), but she is absolutely devoted to all the kids, no matter how annoyed they get. (Especially the twelve year old boy, Ethan, whom she adores.) Lula’s name also gets shortened often, to “Lou” (or lengthened to Lulabelle, but that’s just me).

Add in one more ingredient: Bedtime stories. For a few years, I’ve been making up bedtime stories for Marley when I have the time. It’s good for me–I get to practice my ability to create plots and dialogue–and it’s good for her, for obvious reasons.

Thus was born “The Adventures of Moo and Lou.”

Now, I am not a writer of children’s stories under normal circumstances. I can break things down into “children-ese”, as the ministry I once worked with called it, but for some reason that doesn’t usually translate to written work. I like my big words! Not to mention my extensive punctuation, and convoluted phrases (as you well know if you read this blog). But, I want to start putting down some of these bedtime stories, and this seems as good a place as any to do it. It’s for a few reasons: One, my wife asked me to, and what she wants, she gets, because I like making her happy. And two, these are memories that are all too fleeting–and I want to keep some of them.

And who knows? Maybe someday I’ll be able to polish them and make something of them, for more than just my own daughter.

A few things up front, though (because I ALSO like my bulleted lists):

  • These stories will be ROUGH. They’ll probably stay that way–I won’t do more than surface editing on these posts and pages. I make the stories up on the fly, and I want to preserve that version as much as possible. If I ever polish them, it’ll be later.
  • They may not even be good stories. Because I make them up as I go, I sometimes include details that I might think better of if I was writing them formally. They may not hang together well, either. There isn’t time in the moment to think them through fully. Improv is not my strong suit, though it’s getting better.
  • These stories are written for a six-year-old who knows the context. So they may not work for you. If that’s the case, that’s fine, just skip them and we’ll catch up again later. I acknowledge they may need not just editing, but revision, in order to appeal to others.
  • These might be stories that should be illustrated. They aren’t illustrated here. They won’t be. If it ever comes to trying to publish them as storybooks, we’ll look into that.
  • I’ve been doing this for awhile, but I’ve already forgotten some of the early stories. There’s no continuity here; we just do what we do. I’ll preserve what I can from here on out.
  • I’ll do as I do with most fiction: I’ll create a post first, and then add a page with the story, for easy access from the sidebar. So, if you want to find these stories again, you won’t have to search through mountains of posts; you can go to the “Stories” page, and there will be a subcategory there with all of the Moo and Lou stories in one place.
  • I hope you like talking dogs, because we do. A lot. I mean, a lot. No, seriously. So, of course Lou can talk. 

 

The real Moo and Lou, living their best life

So, thanks for putting up with more silliness from my crazy house! To start us off, here’s the inaugural post in The Adventures of Moo and Lou: “Moo and Lou and the Backyard, Too”.

 

“Moo and Lou and the Backyard, Too”

Once upon a time there was a girl named Moo. That wasn’t her real name; and if you asked her, she would tell you her real name, for she was quite proud of it. But her mom and dad called her Moo; and because she loved them, she was very proud of that name, too.

With Moo lived a yellow dog named Lula. Lula had a nickname too; her friends called her Lou. Now, since her friends were Moo and Moo’s older brother and sister, she didn’t have to explain to anyone why she went by that name. But she also liked it very much, even though she secretly would have liked to be called Princess Lou instead.

Now, the thing to know about Lou is that Lou was a very special dog. Why was she special, you might ask? Well, you should ask, and you should ask Lou herself–for the thing that made Lou special was that she could talk. And when one is a girl of six years, like Moo, one can be especially good at hearing talking dogs–and Moo was exactly that.

Moo didn’t think it was strange. After all, Lou was her best friend. And Lou didn’t think it was strange, because after all, other dogs talked–to her. Couldn’t everybody understand them?

But that wasn’t very important. What was important was that Moo and Lou liked to go on adventures. They were very good at it, too.

But sometimes, their adventures could get them into trouble!

***

Now, things had changed in Moo and Lou’s house. Specifically, the house had changed–for Moo and Lou (and Mom and Dad and the brother and the sister and the moody cat, Zelda) had just moved into a new house. And what a house it was! New rooms, new floors, new windows, and a biiiiiig backyard! 

That’s why, one evening when the sun was setting and dinner was done, Moo decided to go exploring.

“Lou,” she said, “come with me! Let’s have an adventure!”

“I’d rather have some dessert,” Lou said. Dogs think all the food is for them, all the time.

“Never mind that!” Moo said. “Let’s visit the backyard!”

Well, Moo, being a cultured dog, could hardly resist that. And so, while Mom was putting leftovers away, and Dad was washing dishes, and the brother was playing a game, and the sister was watching TV, and the cat was being moody–Moo slipped out the front door, and Lou went with her.

So they wandered around the corner of the house, and past the water hose, and below the porch rail, and down toward the apple tree–and there they met–

“A squirrel!” Moo shouted.

“SQUIRREL!” Lou said. “I LOVE SQUIRRELS!” And she ran after the squirrel.

But the squirrel ran up into the apple tree, and sat on a branch and chattered at them. Lou barked at the squirrel, until it shook its finger at her. “How rude!” the squirrel said. “Were you going to eat me?”

“Why, no,” said Lou. “I just wanted to play!”

“Well, you need to be careful!” the squirrel said. “Wild animals might think you want to eat them.”

“We’re very sorry,” Moo said.

“I forgive you,” said the squirrel. “But you had better watch out! There’s a bear in the woods, and HE might eat YOU!”

“We’re not scared!” Lou said.

“Right!” Moo said. “We’re tough! But thank you very much, squirrel.” And so they kept going.

Soon they came to the shed at the back of the backyard. And there, they saw…

…A SNAKE!

“SNAAAAKE!” Moo shouted, looking at Lou.

“SNAAAAKE!” Lou shouted, looking at Moo.

“SNAAAAAAAAKE!” They both shouted, together.

“SNAAAAAAA–oh, wait, that’s me,” said the snake.

Moo and Lou looked at him curiously. “Are…are you a BAD snake?” Moo said.

“Do you bite?” Lou said.

“Are you ve…ven…venomous?” Moo said.

“Are you going to EAT US?” Lou said.

The snake coiled up into a circle, and then raised his head. “No!” he said. “And yes, but not you! And no! And NO!” He shook his head. “I’m a black snake. I don’t eat little girls! Or dogs!”

“Then…what DO you eat?” Moo said.

“Rats!” said the snake.

“EEEEEWWWWWW!” said Moo and Lou together. The snake didn’t hear them, because he was thinking about a tasty rat.

“But you should be careful,” the snake said. “I won’t eat you, or even bite you, because you’re not a rat. BUT, there’s a BEAR in these woods, and HE might eat you!”

“We promise to be careful,” Moo said. “Thank you, mister snake!” The snake nodded to them each, and uncoiled, and slithered under the shed. Moo and Lou kept walking.

Soon they came to the edge of the woods. And then they heard a rustle in the leaves. “What’s that?!” Moo said.

Lou sniffed the air. “I don’t know, but it SMELLS delicious!”

And suddenly, out of the woods, came three deer!

The deer stopped and looked down at them. The first deer, who had big antlers, said “My name is George. Pleased to meet you!” The second deer, who had no antlers, said “My name is Gracie. How are you?” The third deer, who had only little antlers, said “Bleh! bleh! Bleh!” with his tongue hanging out, ’cause he’s a little silly sometimes. “And that’s Bob,” Gracie said. “He’s a little silly sometimes.”

“It’s very nice to meet you,” Moo said. “I’m Moo, and this is Lou.”

“Are you going to eat us?” said Lou.

“What? No!” Bob said. “We would never eat you!”

“Deer eat grass, and leaves, and we especially like apples,” Gracie said.

“Bleh, bleh, bleh!” Bob said, ’cause he’s a little silly sometimes.

“But!” George said. “You should be careful out here! There’s a bear in these woods.”

“And HE might eat you!” Gracie said. 

“We’ll be careful!” Moo said. “Thank you!”

And with that, George, Gracie, and Bob headed on past them and toward the apple tree. Moo and Lou kept walking, into the woods.

In the woods it was very quiet. Moo and Lou walked slowly through the leaves under the trees. “This is a little scary,” Lou said.

“No way! We’re tough!” Moo said.

There came a roar.

“…Okay, maybe we’re only a little tough,” Moo said, and moved closer to Lou.

They heard the roar again! “We should run!” Lou said.

“Which way?” Moo said.

“I don’t remember!” Lou said. They turned around and got ready to run…

…And there was the bear!

It stood up on its back legs, and walked toward them. Moo and Lou were very scared! They held on to each other, and they were shaking!

The bear leaned down over them…it reached out a paw…

…And it booped Moo on the nose!

“Hey!” the bear said. “What are you doing here?”

“Running away from you!” Lou said. But she was too scared to run.

The bear sat down. “Well, that’s okay,” she said. “As long as you aren’t here to be mean to me!”

“So, you’re not going to eat us?” Moo said.

“No! I like fish, not kids! And not dogs!” the bear said.

“But, the squirrel said–” Lou said.

“And the snake said–” Moo said.

“And the deer said–” Lou said.

“That you would eat us!” they both said.

The bear thought about it. Then she thought about it some more. And then she thought about it one more time. “Well, that’s silly,” she said. “I’m a POLITE bear. I don’t eat people!”

“That’s a relief!” Moo said.

“But they were right about one thing,” the bear said. “The woods are not safe for little dogs and little girls at night! What if you met another animal, who WASN’T nice?”

“We didn’t think about that,” Lou said.

“We should go home,” Moo said. “But, we’re lost! We don’t know the way!”

“I can show you,” the bear said. “I’ll take you back to the apple tree. But you must promise not to sneak into the woods alone anymore! Your mom and dad must be worried about you!”

“We promise,” Moo said, and Lou agreed.

So the bear led them out of the woods…past George and Gracie and Bob, who were coming back to the woods with their bellies full of apples. Past the shed, where the snake blinked at them from underneath. Past the squirrel, who was searching for acorns. All the way to the apple tree, where they could see the lights of their house.

They waved goodbye to the bear, who didn’t eat them after all, and walked back to the house. As they went in the door, Moo’s mom and dad met them. “Moo! Lou! Where have you been?!”

Moo told them all about the adventure they’d had. And when it was done, she got in a little bit of trouble, because of the danger, and she had to go to bed early.

But as she lay in bed, she thought about how nice it was to be safe at home, and there was no place she–and Lou–would rather be.

The End

 

Star Wars Chronology and Canon

One of my niche areas of interest, in terms of science fiction and general nerdery, is the way that the Star Wars saga evolved over the years. I’ve lived through very nearly all of it–Star Wars, now known as A New Hope, was released in 1977, and I was born in 1979–and have had a front row seat for the series as it grew and changed (and was ultimately slaughtered and carved up into a parody by Disney, but that’s another story. Uhh…apologies if you are a Disney canon fan–stick around, it has a few good points too).

Corran Horn

Corran Horn. Courtesy of Wookieepedia.

In this area, I’ve mostly done my own work; I haven’t read much of the material that’s been written about Star Wars, but have worked from the stories themselves. That’s my disclaimer here: I could be wildly wrong in some things I say. I think, though, that I’ll keep it simple enough here that we can be confident in what I suggest. It’s not much, anyway, at least for today’s post.

George Lucas’s vision for Star Wars seems to have been very different in its original form. (Even the term “original form” is misleading; it’s not clear that he had a cohesive vision at all to start with, as evidenced by how often even the character names changed!) That’s not at all unusual–every story has its rough drafts–but it comes as a surprise to people, because Star Wars is such an institution these days. It all feels very codified and canonized–but that’s never been the case, not even once. There’s always been spinoff material, since not very long after the original movie (looking at you, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, you wonderful and bizarre old friend), and it’s always told tales that didn’t quite jell with the films, or even with its own components. And that’s not even getting to Disney’s change in canon!

I first became aware of this phenomenon many years ago, when I–still a child–picked up a copy of the novelization of the screenplay of what was then called simply Star Wars, now redubbed Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope.  (That it’s the novelization of the screenplay is significant; the book preceded the movie by much of a year.) The prologue jumps in immediately with changes; Emperor Palpatine, for example, is said to be “controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office”–a far cry from the Sith lord we all know today! But it’s the closing attribution of that prologue that told me there were secrets here. It reads:

From the First Saga

Journal of the Whills

And just like that, I was hooked. I had to know more.

That phrase appeared in print forty-four years ago, and I’ve been alive for forty-one of them. Today we know more about the Whills, or at least, the version that Disney-Lucasfilm has given us; but what we have is still somehow less, in my opinion, than what was hinted so many years ago. Star Wars still has mysteries to tease out, and an entire galaxy–far, far away; you know the drill–of history to uncover.

This post isn’t about that particular mystery. I’ll discuss the Whills another time (for the record, I think they’re one thing the Disney canon does well, whether or  not it matches Lucas’s original plan). But let’s talk about something else that I find interesting: The chronology of the Empire and the Rebellion.

It appears that Lucas originally intended for the Empire to have been established for considerably longer than the approximately twenty years that was eventually established in film. As always, sources conflict. Still, it seems to have been the intention from the first film’s release that the Clone Wars were much earlier than we eventually see–perhaps twice as early. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s visible age seems to suggest that he’s older than he’s later revealed to be, and that the Clone Wars were in his youth. Aiding this conclusion, a number of stories seem to indicate that the Jedi Purge at the Empire’s establishment was a drawn-out event, not the Order 66 extermination that we saw in Revenge of the Sith and The Clone Wars. (This discrepancy has been mitigated by more recent stories establishing that Darth Vader and others hunted down Jedi not killed at Order 66–but the point is that Order 66 itself is a later addition, and the purge was seen as a crusade in the older material.)

Why does it matter? It’s just a few more years, right? It matters because from the beginning of the Expanded Universe’s revival in the nineties, this concept was woven into everything up until the films contradicted it. Enormous portions of the post-Return of the Jedi EU (or Legends, as it’s now called, but I prefer the older term) deal with Luke Skywalker’s quest to re-establish the Jedi and reconnect them with their history. The fact that he had such a tough time of it owes to the Empire’s suppression of Jedi history–and that process itself relied heavily on time and the power of forgetting.

Consider:

  • The Jedi Temple was not known for most of the post-RotJ EU. Later stories would show and/or retcon that it still existed in various corrupted forms, but the fact that the Empire expunged its memory so thoroughly that Luke couldn’t find it is a monument to…well, to something terrible about them. But you don’t do that overnight. There are still people on Coruscant that lived in that neighborhood!
  • The Jedi never had just one temple. They had a presence on many worlds besides Coruscant, such as Illum, Ossus, and the world of their founding, Tython.
  • The Chu’unthor was so forgotten, there was only a single obscure reference to set Luke on the path to finding it. If you’re unaware, the Chu’unthor was a ship fielded by the Jedi five hundred or more years before the Battle of Yavin as a mobile training academy. Although it crashed on Dathomir long before Luke’s time, it was the namesake of a second Chu’unthor during the Clone Wars–and we can safely conclude that references to that ship were also heavily obscured, or else Luke would have gotten on this path sooner. (And that is not a later addition; the first Chu’unthor first appeared in The Courtship of Princess Leia in 1994, and the second was first mentioned in the novels Darksaber (1995) and Planet of Twilight (1997).
  • Jedi holocrons, a common teaching tool right up to the Jedi Purge, were exceedingly rare and close to unknown in the post-RotJ era, at least at first. 
  • The earliest examples of Jedi who survived the purge, were all elderly. (Same with their clones–looking at you, Joruus C’Baoth with two u’s!) The implication was that they had had years to age. This, too, was retconned in various ways, but we’re talking about earlier contributions.

The bit that brought this topic to my attention today, however, is of a smaller scale–a downright familial scale, one might say. I’ve been slowly working my way through the post-RotJ EU novels (too slowly, if I’m being honest). Some months ago, I finished the third volume of the X-Wing series; in that novel, Corran Horn escapes the Imperial prison Lusankya, and in the process he learns that his family history has been, at least in part, a well-meant lie. In the opening of book four, The Bacta War (which I have just started), he muses on the situation:

Throughout his life Corran Horn had come to believe his grandfather was Rostek Horn, a valued and highly placed member of the Corellian Security Force. His father, Hal Horn, likewise was with CorSec. […] His grandfather had always admitted to having known a Jedi who died in the Clone Wars…

Corran found it no great surprise that Rostek Horn and his [i.e. Corran’s] father had downplayed their ties to [pre-Clone Wars Jedi Master] Nejaa Halcyon. Halcyon had died in the Clone Wars; and Rostek had comforted, grown close with, and married Halcyon’s widow. He also adopted Halcyon’s son, Valin, who grew up as Hal Horn. When the Emperor began his extermination of the Jedi order, Rostek had used his position at CorSec to destroy all traces of the Halcyon family, insulating his wife and adopted son from investigation by Imperial authorities.

The Bacta War

Stick with me for a little math. According to Wookieepedia, the Star Wars wiki, the Clone Wars (in both Disney canon and EU canon) lasted only three years, from 22 BBY to 19 BBY (“Before the Battle of Yavin”, the dating convention used by fans and official materials to describe dates in Star Wars, although almost certainly not the calendar used in-universe. The Battle of Yavin, of course, is the climactic battle of A New Hope, in which the first Death Star was destroyed). Corran Horn was born in 18 BBY, making him one year younger than Luke Skywalker. Meanwhile, Nejaa Halcyon is said to have died during the Clone Wars, before the Jedi Purge that began in 19 BBY with Order 66. Also before the purge, Rostek Horn had to have had time to cozy up to Nejaa’s widow, marry her, and adopt Valin/Hal–so, Nejaa’s death probably happened early in the Clone Wars. (Wookieepedia actually gives it an uncomfortably tight date of 19.5 BBY.) But, there’s another piece of crucial information: Valin/Hal was not close to adulthood–and therefore parenthood–at the time of adoption. Corran says that Valin grew up as Hal Horn.

Can you see the conflict here?

Of course, it all works out fine if the Clone Wars were earlier and/or lasted longer. And that was almost certainly the intent of the writers; after all, in the 1990s they didn’t have the depth of material we have today, from which to draw context and canon. The Bacta War was published in 1997; The Phantom Menace would not launch until 1999, and Attack of the Clones, until 2002. Certainly there was a scramble to make things fit when the films came out; that’s why you’ll find contradictory statements, such as Wookieepedia stating that Nejaa was killed after the Clone Wars, allowing them to also postulate that Valin was his father’s apprentice. Of course, it can’t all be true.

Or, can it? That is a decision left to the reader, because the end result is that Star Wars has a practically byzantine maze of layers of canon. It really comes down to what you choose to accept; but this fandom, despite its occasional habit of biting its own, has a spot for everyone.  It’s all a product of Lucas’s original policies on what constituted canon, which were both efficient and constraining all at once (honestly, we didn’t know how good we had it back then). Those policies have become something of a morass today, and especially under Disney–but the result is that there’s really something here for everyone.

For myself, since I consider myself a diehard fan of the post-RotJ EU, I usually choose not to think too deeply about the timing of the Clone Wars and their related events, at least when reading these books. If the books suggest that the Clone Wars were decades ago, I can go with that for now. And when it’s time to deal with something that canon has given a definite date, well, we’ll cross that spacelane when we come to it.

I was going to dig a bit into the topic of the Empire’s propaganda machine in this post, and how they were able to suppress the memory of the Jedi so thoroughly when there were literally still living Jedi, but that’s a topic for its own time.  For now we’ll stop with this minor history lesson. Happy reading!