Why Obi-Wan is not Qui-Gon is not Anakin

From time to time, I’ll see a reader of Star Wars fiction give a longsuffering digital sigh, cock a jaded eye at all the newbies on the board/list/whatever, and say, “Oh, geez.  Another Star Wars novel with Jedi and Sith.  I’m just, you know, so sick of the whole Jedi-Sith thing.  And you would be too, if you were only as well-read as me.  What I want is a Star Wars novel about how hard it is to be a toilet-cleaning droid on Coruscant.  Now that would be interesting.”

This has always struck me as a bit weird.  We could, after all, offer similar complaints about epic fantasy.  I mean, all those swords and magic and dark lords get annoying.   And urban fantasy?  Please. Don’t even get me started on the whole world/veil beyond the visible, which only the gifted/magicians/devilborn/whathaveyou can truly see through/into (or we could think across genre and complain about all those Chosen One books, or all those quest books, or all those damned books with MacGuffins).

Those would strike me as equally weird.   Swords and magic and dark lords are integral to a lot of epic fantasy, and the conceit of the veil/hidden world is common in urban fantasy.  And, yea verily, the Jedi-Sith dualism is at the core of most Star Wars fiction.  And that’s cool, baby.  That’s as it should be.  That’s what makes those kinds of books those kinds of books.  But it doesn’t make books that feature those things the same as all other books that feature those things.

Well, why the Hell not, Paul?

In a word — execution.

The details of the story matter.  They’re what give a story its emotional core (or its lack thereof).  They’re what make it a good or bad story.   The rest of it is, to some degree, mere costuming.  Thus, in the context of Star Wars, not every Sith is Maul or Vader or Palpatine, and not every Jedi is Obi-Wan or Luke.  Or at least they shouldn’t be, provided the author is delivering a well-executed story.

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24 Comments

  1. This is so true. Most of the stories of one genre or another are going to have similar characters, locations, plot, themes and who knows what else. It is up to the author to bring all of these various elements into a cohesive narrative that differentiates itself by how it all plays out from begining to end.

  2. I don’t know if it’s the “I want to read about the garbage droids” so much as “more Han Solo, less Luke” but I do agree with you.

  3. While I agree that Jedi and SIth are at the core of Star Wars stories, there are other elements as well that play in – heroes and villains who are not Jedi nor Sith: rogues, droids, princesses, pilots, assorted scum. Remember in the Original Trilogy, while the villains are indeed Sith Lords, we really don’t see learn anything Sithly about them – and the number of Jedi can be counted on one hand, and while we hear about the Force, we don’t see the hierarchy. We see more into the hives of scum and villainy than we do into the intrigue of the Sith.

    Every Jedi and Sith is different – or at least should be, and I think the EU is doing a fairly good job of trying to make both the characters and their sects stand out. As you point out, the story matters, and the detail matters. And there’s a lot of stories that can be told about the Jedi and Sith and other Force users… but the galaxy is just more than them. The cool thing about SW is that it’s a big galaxy, with lots of room for lots of stories.

    • Oh, I agree. My point isn’t to say that non-Force users shouldn’t be featured (heck, I feature them pretty prominently in my Star Wars fiction), it’s just to say that a complaint about “another Jedi-Sith book” is (at least in theory) as misguided as complaining about another “Good v. Evil” book. The complaint is so broad, at such a high level of abstraction, that it is (to me, at least) meaningless.

      • I think perhaps that one of the turnoffs for some people with a book that is heavily focused on the Jedi or on the Sith is that both Jedi and Sith can’t have normal human relationships – on one hand, the Jedi are bound by a code that forbids emotional attachment, and on the other end, the Sith are constantly plotting or anticipating betrayal. While I find it interesting to dive into some of the history and mindsets of different Sith, I know that others don’t really like focusing on the inner struggles of essentially evil characters.

        Someone complaining about a “Jedi vs Sith” book might not mean a complaint about “Good vs Evil” but may be more code for “Looks like there’s not much in the way of friends out on an adventure”

  4. Maybe it’s not Jedi and Sith fatigue, maybe it’s “same ol’ character fatigue.” I love Han Solo to pieces but after 120 stories about the same guy, y’know… It seems like every book these days has Han or a slated Han cameo, from the Fate of the Jedi series to Deathtroopers to Shadow Games.

    Even if it worked out for their storylines, I still think DelRey’s biggest mistake was killing off some of the most popular A-Level EU characters created by Bantam (Mara, Jacen, etc.) without investing enough resources into making enough A-Level EU characters of their own. Bantam has a couple of interesting B-level characters like Jagged Fel, but perhaps aside from Ben Skywalker, these characters have not achieved the same level popularity.

    • “Same ‘ol character” syndrome I get, but that’s really a problem that exists separately from any complaint about the frequency with which Jedi and Sith appear.

      • I don’t think it’s that unrelated. “Same ol’ character” syndrome runs into “same ol’ story” syndrome. After 20 years of neo-EU publishing (from Timothy Zhan’s trilogy onward), there are so many times you can read about a young, good looking, white, human male Jedi struggling with the dark side. A bajillion of these stories are about Skywalkers.

        Jedi vs. Sith stories are the “hallmark” of the Star Wars genre. To a large extent they are what make Star Wars stories recognizable. They’re archetypes, and those classics are not bad stories, but they also are not fresh and new. New bells and whistles on an old story can feel like lipstick on a pig.

        The redundancy can have an impact on the franchise as a whole, as well. One of the silliest things about Star Wars is how damn important the Galactic Empire seems to have been on the galaxy’s history–but Palapatine was in power for only 21 years! (Compare that to Fidel Castro, or even Hosni Mubarak–the Sith Empire, even Gilad Pelleon was in charge of the Imperial Remnant for longer than that.) Placed in that context, the impact Luke Skywalker’s overthrow of a two-decade dictator gets pretty diluted.

        Now, I know the TV show Battlestar Galactica (version 2.0) would say, “everything has happened before and will happen again” but I’m not in any rush to rewatch the show on DVD.

        I think the complaint about “all Jedi, all Sith” is a ultimately byproduct of static character development and low stakes. The EU uses a huge slate of reoccuring characters who cannot develop too much from their existing archetypes, because they are classic characters. There is only so much authors can do with Han and Leia. (In contrast, Luke has developed a little recently, but they had to have his nephew murder his wife to do it.)

        When there is a character that can be written dynamically, EU authors still face daunting barriers. One is pressure to keep the story still “Star Wars” and to follow familiar Star Wars storylines. Another might be pressure to keep the character consistent because in a shared universe, characters are handed off to different authors like a relay race.

        It is difficult to create dynamic characters when the Star Wars universe operated in a forever-loop of Jedi versus Sith. But there are ways to write a forever-loop from a different perspective, and fans seem to embrace these. Like, for example, how the Clone Wars might look from the perspective of a clonetrooper, how the rebellion might look from the perspective of an X-Wing pilot, how Jedi versus Sith drama might look from the perspective of a level 4 civillian.

  5. If the toilet-cleaning droid is well written, I would read it.

    The problem with a lot of Jedi vs. Sith books is, that there is a lack of character developement. Or just written like watching somebody else playing a video game.

    I miss books like the Rogue Squadron ones.

    • A lack of character development in ANY book is a legitimate critique. I don’t think it necessarily correlates, though, with the presence of Jedi and/or Sith. Lots of room for character development among Force Users (at least I think so).

    • What Corran Antilles said. Yeah, yeah, Jedi/Sith is a big thing. The thing is, many of the books DON’T work out detailed character development for them, and it is like watching someone else play a video game. Jedi good, Sith bad.

      Plus, part of what made Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine scary and effective villains was…beyond a little backstory from Obi-Wan, we didn’t hear that much about them. What we DID get was important to the individual–Vader was a Jedi who’d fallen from the good side to the dark, he was Luke’s father, and in ROTJ (and even hints in ESB) he’s clearly conflicted about his position. I do not mean ‘development’ like a bunch of teaching dodecahedrons or whatever the heck they are with Holo!Palpatine and a huge backstory with there suddenly being a million Sith and don’t they have cool ships and there’s this whole culture and stuff and maybe not all of them awful… I mean one individual with enough of a character to make them worth reading about, even as a villain. They’re Sith, not the Klingon Empire.

      And as mentioned, books like Wraith Squadron show you don’t have to make Jedi vs Sith the centerpiece for it to be an enjoyable, effective Star Wars book.

  6. I agree with much of the sentiment of this post, but I feel it goes a little too far with the analogies in that it seems to imply books without a heavy Jedi/Sith presence (which defines two of the best series of Star Wars books) are not Star Wars.

    • Fair point, but definitely not my intent. What I’m taking issue with is the notion that stories featuring Jedi and Sith prominently are essentially the same story told and retold.

      I’m actually a fan of prominently featuring non Force Users in SW fiction, and do so myself. :-)

  7. I agree that Jedi/Sith is overdone. But I think “epic” is overdone. I must admit that I resent the “return” of the Sith however long after ROTJ. Seems that most authors are really trying to make their stories stand out as the most epic of

  8. Sorry, most epic of the whole saga, is what I meant to say.

  9. The whole Jedi/Sith thing is a big part of the SW Universe, It always has been and always will be and there are plenty of fans that like the books because of the Jedi/Sith stories.

    I for one am more of a fan of the Mando’s and the X-wing novels, but I also like the Legacy of the force story arc. I think it was well thought out and it didn’t just revolve around the Jedi and Sith, it brought more characters in to the fore-front for many fans and not just Jedi and the first meeting of the One Sith.

    Many people complain about alot of the books being about Jedi/Sith but thats their problem in my opinion, if they don’t like the characters or the plot then simply don’t read the book.

  10. You’re exactly right, but my point in this whole argument is that the galaxy is a big place. How many planets have been described, again? How many factions are there? How many battles have taken place? There is room for much more than just Jedi/Sith stories.

    I remember reading the Force Unleashed – Behind the Scenes book they released, and they were saying one of their ideas was that the player was playing a Wookiee that was escaping imperial enslavement. While the original Force Unleashed story was original and enjoyable to some extent, the Wookiee story would have been much more refreshing and enjoyable, at least from my standpoint. I *know* how to play a Jedi. I *know* how a lightsaber works. I *know* how human psyche is. Wookiees? Now that’s different.

    The same works for novels. I’d be much more interested in hearing, let’s say, the adventures of Lt. Kettch than seeing yet another story about someone with a lightsaber. Even though what you says rings true about characters, and how that’s what decides if a book is good or not, I kind of like to read stories about characters that don’t rely on Force abilities to solve their problems (or to create them). It just seems like after the NJO (where the Jedi were cleverly stripped of their Force abilities against their enemies), the Force has been the deus ex machina of SW, the end-all-be-all. I’m tired of it. I don’t care if the Jedi/Sith characters are interesting anymore, because lately, it doesn’t feel like characters are defined by what traits they have, but how powerful they are in the Force.

    That, in my opinion at least, is where Star Wars has gone horribly wrong.

    Eagerly awaiting my Lt. Kettch story.

  11. I don’t think the complaint is that all of the Jedi vs. Sith stories are the same. To me, the complaint is more along the lines of “All we have are Jedi vs. Sith stories.” (I hope that distinction makes sense)

    One of the most common issues I hear from friends of mine who have been part of the fandom for years upon years is that the EU has become increasingly insular. There are stretches were it feels like the entirety of the Galaxy consists of a few dozen Jedi and the Big Bad of the week. Jedi and Sith are great. The different Jedi and Sith stories are great. The problem is that we’re not branching out beyond Jedi and Sith anymore.

    It’s been twelve years since the last X-Wing novel. Since that point, the EU has largely told only tales about the Jedi. Many of them are unique tales with unique characters, but they all revolve around the Jedi. There have been a few brief respites from this model in the form of Imperial Commando and (to a lesser degree) Zahn’s Rebellion era works, but beyond that there hasn’t been much in the way of novels that focus on non Force Sensitives.

    The Allston Wraith novel set for 2012 is a good start, but I still can’t help but feel that there’s a lot more that can and probably should be done in that area. Unfortunately, given what Erich Schoeneweis said today, it doesn’t appear that we should hold our breath for more stories set around Rogues, Wraiths, and other non Jedi characters.

  12. Darth Maul: Shadowhunter is one of the best written EU books in my opinion. But it wasn’t because of Darth Maul. It was because of the regular ordinary human, whose Force using kid was taken from him, and his droid. In fact, all that still stands out for me today in that book is the plight of the non-Force using human. But my point is, mixing the “normals” with the Force users can be done and done well.

  13. Perhaps your opening paragraph is meant to be hyperbole but to me it represents a complete misunderstanding of the complaints of some fans.

    We’re being inundated with stories written about Sith recently – free ebooks, novels, comics – and even if they were all executed well Jedi versus Sith isn’t the universal draw for fans. And that is where the problem lies for some fans.

    It’s not that people want to read a story about “the toilet-cleaning droid,” but about heroes of all types overcoming many different adversities, not just Sith.

    ANH wasn’t about Sith; it was about good versus evil, the Rebels vs the Empire. Some of the fan favorite books – HTTE or the X-wing books – don’t have Sith. The Clone Wars uses Sith bad guy but also has created many different types of antagonists – bounty hunters, Mother Talzin, Hutts, etc.

    What I take away from what fans are saying is that it’s the new, imaginative bad guys that people enjoy and would like to see more of. Really the complaints stem more from the balance of the types of stories being told.

    Personally I feel that while Sith are getting expanded, deeper characterization, the Jedi are becoming water-downed, greyer characters instead of being held up as grand champions of the light.

    • “ANH wasn’t about Sith; it was about good versus evil, the Rebels vs the Empire. Some of the fan favorite books – HTTE or the X-wing books – don’t have Sith. The Clone Wars uses Sith bad guy but also has created many different types of antagonists – bounty hunters, Mother Talzin, Hutts, etc.”

      Where’s my like button? ANH is good vs evil but not jedi vs sith – it is about a bunch of freedom-seeking rebels against an oppressive state. In the OT, is the word Sith even mentioned at all? nope. it’s only side information that ID’s vader as a lord of the sith. As Tricia points out, TCW mixes it up. The current crop of EU is a bit Sith-heavy.. Knight Errant, FotJ (which at least also has Daala and Mandos), Bane series, TOR, Legacy, even Red Harvest… It’s kinda funny, cuz probably 3 or 4 years ago, fans probably would have thought the EU was getting too Mando-heavy…

  14. Star Wars Fan (just dropping in)

    “The details of the story matter. They’re what give a story its emotional core (or its lack thereof). They’re what make it a good or bad story. The rest of it is, to some degree, mere costuming. Thus, in the context of Star Wars, not every Sith is Maul or Vader or Palpatine, and not every Jedi is Obi-Wan or Luke. Or at least they shouldn’t be, provided the author is delivering a well-executed story.”
    Agreed. But the problem these days is that (it seems) a Jedi toilet-cleaning droid would have to whip out a lightsaber, fight a Dark-Sider or two, indulge in an episode of ruthlessness to show how Grey Jedi it was, and have a Light-Side-enhanced power-toilet-clean fueled by love for its fellow toilet-cleaning droids before the book was over. Likewise, a Sith toilet-cleaning droid would, to fulfill its quota for the book, have to think about its angst-filled past (it kept getting dropped by the people transporting it from the factory to the building, and one of them kicked it out of sheer frustration and called it nasty names), control an entire building full of toilet-cleaning droids, elaborate on its ends-justifies-the-means plan to create an ideal world (with some sort of creepy flaw, such as killing off all organics in order to ensure freedom for toilet-cleaning droids everywhere), and then, because it just wasn’t enough to be a totalitarian tyrant, commit an act of small-scale villainy clearly meant to communicate to the readers that THIS DROID IS EVIL – such as sabotaging all the toilets in the building to explode upwards when flushed at the hour of peak toilet usage.

    Oh, yes, and a female Jedi toilet-droid, unless its designation was K3RRA-H0LT, would have to romance a fellow toilet-droid in a molasses-speed plot spanning the better part of nine books.

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Star Wars books (Knight Errant being my recent favorite, due to the various unusual Sith), but the main-series books have become rather repetitive in their characterization for the Jedi and Sith recently, with other personality traits as “mere costuming” – so-and-so wisecracks, another worries about her lover, thiz one speakz as all true Barabelz must… :)

  15. I think that in theory, writing SW books about an average citizen of the EU is a good idea. But when you look deeper into it, I don’t think you would have a great SW book. As mentioned in several books, whether the galaxy is under control by the Republic or the Empire, the average citizen is not affected. It’s like when a Republican or a Democrat takes over presidency, yeah it’s a big deal, but in the end it doesn’t affect our everyday lives.
    In order to make a dramatic story, which I think is what authors strive to do, characters need to evolve, and to do this they need to go on an adventure, and with Star Wars it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to do that while avoiding the stereotypes of the classic character types such as a smuggler, bounty hunter, Jedi, Sith, etc.
    When you examine the stories too much, you will always find a sterotypical story. I myself fell vitium to this mindset, I used to think, “Oh, what going to happen this time? A jedi turns Sith, A Sith turns Jedi, Jedi kills Sith, Sith kills Jedi?” But I realized that with this mindset, I was ignore all the fine details that the authors work so hard to create, to individualize their characters.
    That is why I think that if you took the galaxy’s events from an average citizen’s prospective, you wouldn’t have that great of a story. “I am so-and-so, this morning I had a cup of caf. I am a farmer on Dantooine. I was out on a walk when I noticed the ruins of an ancient temple. turns out it used to be the Jedi Temple. etc.” I think with this view point, we lose the Star Wars spirit. All you would be doing is taking an average person’s life and changing a few choice words. That you be about the only difference between the EU and us.
    So although you may not be able to write a magnifisent story on that, I do think it is important to keep that prospective in the stories. That’s when you have the Jedi and Sith encounter civilians, so we can still have that insight. As an example, When Darth Bane goes to the Healer Caleb. Caleb is a pretty average guy, not concerned with the whole galaxy, not taking sides. We get to see the average person’s life, or at least a glimpse at it.
    I’ll admit, I like to read Star Wars so I can escape from the everyday normal around me, and I don’t think I’m the only one and a story about a normal life with a few different words for a few different items wouldn’t live up to Star Wars in my opinion

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