Today I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write. I thought about writing on luck, since I have often (in my opinion, not always accurately) been accused of being too lucky. I thought about writing on how to be a good employee, or at least how to make your boss think you are a good employee; I thought about revisiting monopoly, in light of Lina Khan’s excellent piece on Amazon and antitrust.
Nope. I’m writing about Star Wars today. Buckle in.
Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars was as notable for what it ended as what it set in motion. We are getting new, good Star Wars films for the first time in decades (I said “good”) but the tradeoff is the unceremonious demise of the Expanded Universe. The EU sprang into being soon after the first movie, and consisted of hundreds if not thousands of comic books, video games, miniseries, toys, and above all, novels that filled the galaxy far far away with Tolkienesque characters and history, if Tolkien was recovering from a head wound in a nitrous oxide-filled garage.
The EU covered time periods from before the Old Republic to long after the death of the Emperor, but the heart and soul of it followed the main cast of the original trilogy as they lived and loved in the decades after the second Death Star’s destruction. To put it briefly, Han and Leia got married, had three kids, then aliens from outside the galaxy invaded and killed their youngest son, then after that war their other son turned evil and launched a civil war.
Also, there are Mandalorians.
Remember Boba Fett? Remember how he had like three lines total? Remember how he got knocked into the Sarlacc like a doofus by a blind Han Solo as a slapstick gag? No? You just remember him having cool armor and a flamethrower and a jetpack and stuff? That’s how most people remember him. He had a brief cameo as a sad child in the prequels, but in the EU sequel novels he really came into his own as a butt-kicking one-man-army, less Dog the Bounty Hunter than The Man With No Name. His strong moral code and ruthless unstoppability when faced with foes not named Han Solo made him stand out. So naturally, Star Wars being Star Wars, they decided to make a whole race of Boba Fetts.
The Mandalorians are one part samurai, one part cowboys, two parts Spartans-via-Zack-Snyder, all envisioned by nerds who wanted to wear a trenchcoat to middle school but were afraid of being made fun of. Naturally, they attracted a fanatical following among cosplayers, fanfic writers, and other sundry geeks. Full disclosure: when I was a kid with a shelf full of Timothy Zahn and Michael A. Stackpole novels, I wanted to grow up to be Boba Fett. I get it. I do.
The problem is when these young Mandalorians-in-waiting grow up to be published sci-fi authors and begin to write in the Expanded Universe. Which brings us to Karen Traviss.
Traviss was an established author of scientific fictional works when she blew in to the dusty Star Wars Expanded Universe saloon. Her early bona fides were established with the Republic Commando series, centered on the clone troopers… based on Jango Fett, and taking visual cues from Boba Fett. We see already a predilection for all things Mandalorian which would not flower until she was tapped to write the Legacy of the Force series (alongside two other authors) which dealt with the aforementioned Leia/Han child-inspired-civil war. In this, it became clear that Traviss likes Mandalorians, uh, a lot. You see, with the increasing prominence of the Jedi in the expanded universe, there was no real counterweight to them outside of other Jedi. The Mandalorians, as an elite warrior group, make sense as a powerful non-Force using culture that could provide an alternative to stop Star Wars being All Jedi, All the Time.
Traviss went a bit beyond this. Her Mandalorians are handsome, wise uber-conquerors who spit on Jedi and their silly light sticks. Non-Mandalorian characters in her books tend to be stupid or foolish and have to be shown how to do things the right way by Mandalorians. Pages upon pages are spent going over Mandalorian cultural minutiae. Often ludicrously unlikely plot twists would occur merely to allow Mandalorians to save the day or demonstrate another facet of their omnicompetence, especially against bumbling Jedi. Everyone who meets them is enthralled by their majesty and their proud warrior culture. This is most noticeable with Jedi, who Traviss treats with barely concealed contempt.
Traviss is not a particularly good author, but that’s not a problem when writing Star Wars books. The problem is that she’s not a particularly good author and she seems to really hate her source material. Of course, the biggest enemy a superfan has is another superfan, and Karen Traviss met hers in Troy Denning.
Denning is another sci-fi author assigned to the same series as Traviss, and immediately the two butted heads. When Traviss set up a Mandalorian/Jedi comparison to favor her armored husbandos, Denning picked up the gauntlet on the Jedi side. His books have Jedi humiliating and defeating shell-shocked Mandalorians, effortlessly using the Force to undermine them and bypass their defenses, and generally show them up at every turn.
The two of them sniped back and forth in their books, each having their gang of Mary Sues oneup the other, until Denning got sick of it and had his characters design a special genetic plague that would kill all of the Mandalorians, forever, and released it on their planet. But aha! Joke’s on him. The next book Traviss wrote addressed that. She was a little hampered by the fact that the Legacy of the Force series was over, and the next book she was contracted to write took place decades earlier, but in it her characters got genetic enhancements that would render them immune to any kind of genetic plague, you know, in case someone in the future decided to make one. And this immunity could be spread to their descendants as well.
The whole thing was incredibly stupid and childish. The death of the Expanded Universe with Disney’s acquisition of the franchise was a mercy killing. But at least it served as an inspiration for fans: do well enough, and you too can take your fanfiction forum feuds offline and into canon!