Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Lucas Canon Finally Has The Definitive Word On Star Wars Fiction

Star Wars: The Essential Reader’s Companion by Pablo Hidalgo advertises itself as “The Definitive Word On Star Wars Fiction.”  I absolutely agree.  And if anyone tells me that only a Sith deal in absolutes, then I admit to being seduced by the dark side.  The Force is strong with this one.  It’s as if Yoda told Hidalgo when organizing this collective, “Do, or do not, there is no try.”  And given Disney’s $4.05 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm and the total takeover of all things Star Wars, Hidalgo’s book is now the complete repository of the Lucas Canon - an entire literary generation codified into a single source.  Everything that comes after this will be considered, by me, non-canonical.

Having said that, there are important exclusions from Hidalgo’s compendium:  children’s literature and storybooks for those younger than twelve, graphic novels, and stories of video games unless they are “adapted into a book.”  As Hidalgo notes, “The Essential Reader’s Companion focuses on prose fiction.”  It spans thirty-six plus years beginning in December 1976 with George Lucas’ original movie paperback Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker and ending with Jason Fry’s adaptation of Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoon episodes “Revival,” “Eminence,” “Shades of Reason,” and “The Lawless” into the book Darth Maul: Shadow Conspiracy due for release in 2013.  This chronology, of first to last, is found in Appendix A.  The book itself is divided into eight eras where all the stories are put into their proper place on the timeline:
  1. Tales of Ancient Jedi And Sith
  2. Height of the Republic
  3. The Clone Wars
  4. The Dark Times
  5. The Galactic Civil War
  6. The New Republic
  7. The New Jedi Order
  8. Legacy
Since each of these “chapters” has its own introduction, the book reads like a grand narrative rather than an almanac.  When I browsed it on the shelf, I wanted to find the original Star Wars novel.  I was pleased to find it listed first in Appendix A.  So I then I thumbed to page 180 which begins Chapter 5 - The Galactic Civil War.  I found a host of comprehensive details about the original Star Wars novel such as cover artists, the publication history, timeline placement, worlds visited, and the main characters.  Moreover, a thorough summary gave all the detailed plot points and resolutions to the story.  There was even an endnote that pointed out how that first novel was ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster.

Seeing Foster’s name reminded me of his 1978 novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the second Star Wars book, but the first one I had read as an eight year old.  I thumbed to that summary as well, and it took me back to all the comparisons I used to make between Splinter and The Empire Strikes Back in 1980.  In Splinter Luke and Leia are on their way to meet with a Rebel group but get stranded on Mimban, the location of an Imperial mining facility where they are imprisoned and subsequently escape.  But from there the parallels begin.  Darth Vader is obsessed with finding Luke just as in Empire.  When Gammel fails to keep the Rebels captive, Darth Vader kills the Captain-Supervisor for failing him.  Sound familiar?  Mimban is a swamp/jungle planet where Luke meets the old woman Halla who informs him of the Kaiburr crystal which focuses the Force’s power, whereas Degobah is a swamp planet where Luke meets an old Jedi Master, Yoda, who teaches him about the Force’s power.  And, most importantly, Luke confronts Vader after Leia is injured trying to fight the Sith Lord in a lightsaber duel.  Luke cuts off Vader’s arm, while in Empire Vader severs Luke’s hand.

And with The Essential Reader’s Companion, Hidalgo has given me an amazing insight:

“The first Star Wars spin-off novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was written with the possibility of it being produced as a film.  According to Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz, the novel took into account production budgets by being set in filmable locations (jungles, underground caverns) and avoiding costly visual effects sequences like space battles.  Even Han Solo’s notable absence from the story is the result of a production reality - Harrison Ford was not contracted to appear in any Star Wars sequels at the time.”

I can’t imagine a sequel without Han Solo.  What would’ve happened had Splinter been Episode V?  But alas, Han almost lost out when Leia was wooed by another man in 1994’s The Courtship Of Princess Leia.  Then came Han’s and Leia’s kids and, before Harry Potter went to Hogwarts, their twins Jacen and Jaina Solo went to The Jedi Academy on Yavin 4.  I’ve enjoyed growing up with all the characters, and Hidalgo makes it easy to connect the dots.

I’d be remiss not to mention Appendix B: Works By Author.  I can find all 23 of Kevin J. Anderson’s novels and short stories so I can locate the few I have not read.  The same goes for Timothy Zahn.  I tallied 32 novels and short stories which makes him the most prolific adult author.  However, Jude Watson has written 42 juvenile books and short stories, most of which are in the series: Jedi Apprentice, Jedi Quest, and Last of the Jedi.  Each is an interlude between the prequel movies and before the original trilogy.  I’ve not read any of them, but I love the fact I can browse their summaries and follow new characters and their stories in the eras of Height of the Republic, The Clone Wars, and The Dark Time.

The Essential Reader’s Companion also speaks to my inner nerd.  I own several Essential Guides to the Star Wars universe.  There’s The Essential Guide To Alien Species, The Essential Guide To Planets and Moons, and, of course, The New Essential Guide To Alien Species.  Hildago is a master at tying all these guides together.  For instance, he lists the worlds visited in each novel and then provides coordinates that link to The Essential Atlas.  Now it’s easy to find Tatooine or even that destroyed planet of Alderaan in that galaxy far, far away.

In sum, I think the first paragraph of Hildago’s introduction speaks volumes about those of us who’ve read Star Wars novels from the 1970s until now:

“Before Star Wars graced the silver screens of packed movie houses, its story was presented to an eager public via the printed word ... .  As such, the very first Star Wars fans were readers.”

Now, those readers have the entire Lucas Canon in a single book.  And the canon is closed.

By Mark Schelske

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