Fangirl Speaks Up: Star Wars Books and Me – Caught in a Bad Romance

In Honor of Valentine’s Day…

Ladies, have you ever been in a relationship, sure it was true love, flush with the feeling that the possibilities were limitless – then one day you woke up and the bloom had faded? The fire that had ignited that passionate flare inside was gone?  I think that moment has happened for me.  Now when I think about the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, I keep hearing Lady Gaga in my head.  Yet I seem to be struggling to avoid it, refusing to say the words, My love affair with Star Wars books is well and truly dying

When the realization struck me, my first reaction was denial.  Much like the stages of grief, which they say can last for weeks and months, I stayed in that frame of mind for quite a while.  Honestly, it’s been about a year now.  It took me that long to begin to accept the withering in my attraction for books that in the past had required Amazon pre-orders and rush-delivery, or begging bookstore clerks to “just pull one out of the back early.” Having previously cemented my participation in ensuring that Star Wars books reached the New York Times Bestsellers List each and every time, I now found myself not hurrying to the local bookseller, not hitting the pre-order – and I found I felt guilty for my lack of enthusiasm.

Guilt inspired reflection.  At first I thought I was falling out of love with Star Wars as a whole. Maybe I was growing up. (Finally, some might say.) But when I really considered how I spent my free time, I quickly recognized that wasn’t the case at all. A Spike weekend marathon can still get me in my chair for hours on end to watch the movies.  Friday nights in my house are reserved for The Clone Wars; we watch it twice.  On the days the Legacy comic comes out, I rush after work to get my copy. If it’s a rainy day, you will often find me curled up with one of my favorite Star Wars books: Starfighters of Adumar, Revenge of the Sith, Rebel Dream

That’s when I realized the problem isn’t me. I’m a woman who loves to read, loves to write, loves books, and loves Star Wars. I’m not falling out of love with Star Wars – it’s the Star Wars books that are thoroughly failing me as a fan.  Once I realized this, I knew I had to blog about it and hope that the Powers That Be will listen. Otherwise nothing’s going to change in the EU novels, and they’re going to keep losing customers like me. And the sad fact is, there’s simply no reason in the world for them to let that happen.

There was a time when I knew hundreds of women who actively read Star Wars books. The fanfiction community, comprised mostly of women, was pulsing with excitement during the New Jedi Order series. We lived and breathed spoilers, discussed the current book, and speculated where the next one would take the characters. It was a vibrant community with tons of excitement and enthusiasm about the EU novels. Of course, there’s ebb and flow in every online community and fandoms are constantly in flux, but there is no doubt in my mind the Star Wars books have been hemorrhaging female readers for some time, and at a rate much faster than the natural decay of the post-prequels fandom would have suggested. Of the hundreds of women I chatted with on message boards or communicated with privately, some I have lost touch with, others I speak to less frequently, but many I still talk to quite regularly.  And almost all of them express the same sentiment I feel: that Star Wars books just aren’t doing it for them anymore.

How did the EU novels get to this point? Considering women make up well over half of the market of book buyers, it seems counterintuitive to me as a business person for the books to not meet the expectations of female fans. So what could have happened to cause them to lose so many female readers so quickly? The answer, I believe, lies in the shift in the kinds of stories that the EU books have been telling. The editors and the authors they’ve hired have lost touch with some very important story elements of the Star Wars saga, and those elements happen to be the ones that most often captivate the imaginations of their erstwhile legions of female readers.

Let’s get real here.  Star Wars did not grow into an epic saga that has become imbued in the collective consciousness of our society by only grabbing the attention of male fans.  There are plenty of elements of Star Wars that captivate everyone equally.  I’ll be the first to admit I love a good starship dogfight and I about fell off my seat in excitement upon first seeing the Darth Maul duel in The Phantom Menace. But the fact is, Star Wars is just not a story about X-wings and lightsabers; it’s also a love story.

Women want to read stories about romances and relationships: not just first-love thrills, but strong and enduring mature love too; not just love but friendship and lasting bonds, the kind of camaraderie that Han and Luke or Obi-Wan and Anakin shared. (I could do a whole blog post to say a lot more about this issue, and I will at some point soon.) Sadly, stories featuring those kinds of elements have been sorely lacking in the last six or seven years of Star Wars book releases, and I think that’s why so many female fans have walked away – to other franchises that do offer them those kinds of stories.

There are well over a hundred Star Wars Expanded Universe novels now, so I’m going to put the specifics of my book-by-book assessment in a separate blog post as an appendix to this one for those who are interested in how exactly I’ve broken down the stories. Here, for now, I’ll just give you the summary. From 1991 to 2003, nearly all of the novels released contained substantial amounts of story elements that appealed to female fans. These included stories about the early years of the Han/Leia marriage, Luke’s romances with several different women before he circled back around to marrying Mara, the Big Three’s own deep bonds and their friendships with a broader group of close pals, and the fantastic portrayals of romance and comradeship among starfighter squadrons in the X-wing series. Starting in 2004, however, those kinds of stories all but disappeared in the EU novels. By my count, hardly any of the novels since that time involved substantial amounts of story elements desired by female fans. Given that, it’s no surprise at all that so many have left and found what they were looking for elsewhere.

A couple of examples should make the point pretty clearly. In the last several years there have been Star Wars mystery novels, Star Wars horror novels, and Star Wars novels featuring Sith as protagonists – but where are the stories about new romance flowering against the backdrop of galactic threats, or the stories about mature love enduring the greatest challenges? If the editors and authors think they’re doing that in Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi, they are sorely mistaken. You can see how I feel about the utter failure of the romantic plotlines in Fate of the Jedi in my review of Vortex. Suffice to say: the love of Luke’s life is dead, Han and Leia are making terrible parenting decisions in raising their granddaughter, their surviving daughter Jaina has been sabotaged and undermined in her love life for nearly twenty books at this point, and the ill-conceived Ben-Vestara romance has been an utter flop in catching reader interest.

Another good example is the recent book Knight Errant by John Jackson Miller. I’ll post a full review of the novel within a week or two, but for now the point is this: it lacks any romance and it fails at building relationships between its characters, and that makes it a far cry from what a typical female fan wants to read. This is somewhat surprising, frankly, because Miller’s previous EU endeavor was the highly regarded Knights of the Old Republic comic series, and it had notable doses of both. Yet it seems that this nature of the story for Knight Errant is entirely intentional on the author’s part. In a recent chat held on the Star Wars Books page on Facebook, Miller had this to say about his story:

[T]he interesting thing with Knight Errant is that there’s a pretty complete lack of romantic threads, at least to date. Kerra is just waaaaaaay too busy to even think about it. Lord Daiman is in love with himself, but that’s not quite the same!  VEEEEERY early in the planning, I had considered Daiman being the sort of person where you might have a Twilight thing happening with him and Kerra — but once I figured out who Daiman was and who Kerra was, that was obviously impossible. And, yes, it’s been done. But I do explore Sith/Jedi romance in the two Lost Tribe stories, “Purgatory” and “Sentinel.”

The original concept that Randy Stradley at Dark Horse presented to me was “lone female Jedi” and then the time period. It seemed pretty obvious that she would travel, Lone Ranger style — but without even having a Tonto. Any kind of sidekick or droid would just weigh her down, and of course, that’s the situation we keep hitting her with, the burden of having to take care of others. Kerra gets a little testy about these things, and it’s not going to get easier for her. She’s been interesting to write, because unlike Zayne, she’s a little too intense to be lovable. But she doesn’t want our love, anyway! She just wants to do her job.

It’s unclear if a female protagonist was a deliberate attempt to capture female readers or if that was simply an editorial whim. Knight Errant is receiving rave reviews in the TFN Literature forum, but as far as I can tell not one of these glowing reviews is from a female reader.  Knight Errant was written by a fanboy for fanboys; it will not draw in new readers, specifically not female readers. Accordingly, the people making choices about Star Wars books should regard feedback from a slim fraction of the fans with caution. Making business decisions about who and what to sell in the literature market within the confines of an echochamber isn’t the wisest course.

Why aren’t women, who spend as much if not more money on books as men, responding with resounding 10/10 reviews for this tale of a female Jedi? Because women don’t want to read stories about female characters who are too busy for love – that’s all too often the story of our real lives, not what we want to find in our escapist fiction. Too busy even for a sidekick? Come on! Every week working women struggle to balance work and friends, and too frequently our pals are the ones who suffer. If they were using a female protagonist to draw female readers in, why would they think we would want to read about a Star Wars protagonist who does the same thing? And the notion of Jedi/Sith romance; it’s inherently doomed, if not downright perverse, and certainly not the kind of hopeful, uplifting, romantic love that most women are looking for in their favorite fiction. At least I give Miller credit for skipping that. Knight Errant is not a Star Wars book I’d recommend to any of my female friends, not even my fellow fans, because honestly, there’s really nothing in it that they’d like.

And that is also a prime example of the marketing shipwreck by Del Rey on behalf of Star Wars books sales – the utter failure to utilize the power of passing the book along and word of mouth. How is it that books reach staggering sales figures? Is it in marketing blitzes and brand recognition? If it were that, you’d think Star Wars would have the edge.  Everyone recognizes the name, so that should be in the plus column, yet Star Wars has failed to create a name for itself within avid book readers at a time when scifi and fantasy book sales are shooting out through the roof.  In the past couple of years, I’ve been forced to hesitate when female friends browsing the bookstores or noting my bookcase full of Star Wars books asked me, “Should I pick up that book?” or “What book should I read?” Back in the day, I passed along many of my Star Wars books, which were rife with romantic developments and great friendships. The current roster, though, is devoid of romance, and anything I might have recommended from the past would require a dozen or more frustrating and completely unsatisfying companion books with no foreseeable promise for the futures of any Star Wars pairings. For a saga built around the notion of hope, it is very much lacking in the romance department.

What about the future? Unfortunately, the horizon of known upcoming titles is just as bleak. Not one of the novels on the publishing schedule for the rest of 2011 looks to have anything meaningful to offer to female readers.

Here’s a perfect example of the problem. A couple of years ago, Sue Rostoni at Lucasfilm revealed that Michael Reaves, a well-regarded established EU author, and Maya Kathryn Bohnhoff, a newcomer, would be writing a novel tentatively titled Holostar. There was much initial excitement, in large part because fans speculated that the book might be the story of the most famous holodrama actress already established in the EU: Wynssa Starflare. She has a marvelous life story, but it’s only been spoken about in dribs and drabs over the years, in hints and glimpses of flashbacks and backstory. Originally Syal Antilles, she’s the sister of famed Rebel hero Wedge Antilles. During the later years of the Empire she became one of the most famous actresses in the galaxy, and married one of the Empire’s most famous starfighter aces, Baron Soontir Fel. But when the Empire collapsed they ended up on the run, pawns in the struggle among various Imperials to rule after the Emperor’s death. Soon they vanished from the face of the galaxy, ultimately reappearing over a decade later in the Unknown Regions among the Chiss and the forces left there by Grand Admiral Thrawn. Their son Jagged has been a major character since the New Jedi Order series, and we know from the Legacy comics that in time he’ll become the first Emperor of a new Imperial faction. Can you see why fans would have been so excited about the possibility of a Wynssa Starflare novel? Fans have been asking for more stories about Starflare and Fel for years. It would have been a must-read book for every fan of Star Wars, and one that more than likely would have been a must-pass-along-to-my-pals type of story.

But what we’re getting, of course, is something entirely different. First we found out that the holostar in question isn’t Starflare, but some entirely new character in which the fanbase has no vested interest at all. Then we learned that the male protagonist would be Dash Rendar, a character from the 1996 videogame and novel, Shadows of the Empire. Seriously? Who cares? I’ll tell you who – a very small niche of fanboys. Recently the book was retitled to Shadow Games. In commenting online about the change in response to a fan who speculated that the Rendar-actress story sounded like the famous Kevin Costner-Whitey Houston film The Bodyguard, Bohnhoff said the following:

Just a word about the plot. The Bodyguard, it ain’t. So you see, if it was called that, it would horrifically misleading and a bunch of pre-teen girls would buy it and cry out with great tween angst when their expectations of dreamy romance were rudely, rudely quashed.

Honestly, I find this quote to be nothing short of insulting. I’m an adult, well-educated professional woman, not a tween, and I love dreamy romance and angst and all the cheese that comes with it.  In fact, I think The Bodyguard sounds like a fantastic premise for a Star Wars story. Because, you know what? That’s exactly what George Lucas has been doing for some time – he retells his favorite stories with a Star Wars twist. (At Celebration V, Dave Filoni talked about how a number of the episodes of The Clone Wars are consciously based on classic films George loves, just as the original film borrowed heavily from Kurosawa and others.) Based on Bohnhoff’s quote, I have come to the decision that I won’t be spending my money on Shadow Games; but I most certainly would have bought Holostar, and so would all of my female Star Wars friends, if it had in fact been the Wynssa Starflare book – or even the Star Wars version of The Bodyguard.

To be clear, I’m not saying I want romance in Star Wars to be Gossip Girl or The Vampire Diaries, but I don’t think it’s asking too much to have romance in Star Wars, just like in some of my other favorite franchise like Buffy, Alias, and Lost. Let’s not forget, The Empire Strikes Back and Attack of the Clones have romance as their core stories. I also don’t think it’s the least bit coincidental that the part of Star Wars with the most direct involvement of George Lucas currently – The Clone Wars – has maintained its sense of romance and relationships throughout. Obviously there’s the camaraderie between Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka, but there’s romance too: Anakin and Padmé, Obi-Wan and Satine, even a bit of flirting between Ahsoka and Lux. Because let’s not forget: Star Wars isn’t hard scifi and it isn’t fine literature – it’s space opera. It’s in fact built on the backbone of pulp fiction and cheesy B-movie serials from the early 20th century. At its core, space opera is all about romance and relationships, the very same things that female readers crave.

The biggest irony of all, though, is that Star Wars is leaving enormous bags of money on the table by not reaching out to these female readers – and if there’s anything we know about George Lucas, it’s that he’s usually pretty good at making money. It goes all the way back to George holding onto the merchandising rights to the first movie, and proving to the studio just how foolish they were in not understanding what the public wanted. In 2010, Star Wars was still the number one toy franchise in sales to young boys. So why would Lucasfilm be turning their backs on all the money there is to be made in book sales to female readers? The evidence is numerous, but one recent report that really rang true to me is the shift in strategy at Barnes & Noble (B&N) to increasingly target female readers, especially in the romance markets. I can see it in every B&N I’ve been to: where there used to be more than a whole case of Star Wars books, they’re now relegated to the bottom two shelves on one case. Not only that, but B&N has extended the romance section in most of its bookstores to make room for more titles that appeal to the female reader. Likewise, a quick check of the Amazon SciFi/Fantasy Bestsellers list reveals not one Star Wars title in the top hundred, not even Knight Errant released within the past month, but a preponderance of books bought undoubtedly by women. Back to the word of mouth phenomenon I mentioned earlier – fantastical romantic tales are so powerful, a self-published twenty-something from rural Minnesota became a bestselling paranormal romance author in less than the span of a year. If the big booksellers like B&N have figured out where the money is, then I have to ask, how could Del Rey, a major publishing company, have failed to follow the swelling tide?

When I started working on this blog post, I made a note to myself to make sure that I was clear that my main concern is the absence of romance and relationship stories embedded within the stories told in the EU novels. But if they’re working other niche novels anyway, it surely does beg the question why they haven’t attempted a romance-centered novel. As I said above, the novels used to do that just fine prior to 2004. The New Jedi Order remains one of my favorite series in the EU, and it has plenty to offer female readers. So my fundamental point isn’t that there needs to be Star Wars romance novels, but that Star Wars novels need to return to their space opera roots in romance and relationships. And that right there is the irony for me – because a romance novel set in Star Wars is absolutely something I would tell all of my friends to read, knowing they would enjoy it. I have no doubt whatsoever that a true Star Wars romance novel would outsell the other niche books by an order of magnitude. Del Rey has published mysteries and horror but no romance? From a business perspective it makes no sense, especially in light of the fact that Star Wars’ own creator has always made an affirmative choice to include romantic elements in his storytelling. If it’s intellectual snobbery by the Powers That Be guiding the books side of Star Wars, then shame on them for their arrogance and for forgetting their Prime Directive (to make George money). If it’s failure to find an author to write it then it’s just laziness, because believe me there are plenty of (already published) authors who would grab the opportunity in a heartbeat.

The fact is, if Star Wars novels don’t get back on a track where female fans can be excited about them too, then Del Rey will be turning their back on a market share equivalent to, and probably greater than, men. The decision so far to leave all that money on the table speaks volumes about the misguided thinking and poor decisions that have shaped the recent EU releases.

In the end, it seems to me that Star Wars books have become caught in a vicious cycle. By releasing books that appeal mostly to fanboys and not fangirls, they’ve lost a lot of fangirl interest. This has created a feedback loop where they’re only listening to the readers they still have, instead of thinking about the readers they could also have. (One reason for this is the failure to pay attention to the fanfiction community and the numerous female fans there, which is the subject of my next Fangirl Speaks Up blog post.) As a professional working for a multi-national company, I’m well aware that every successful business needs to do two things. One is to hold onto its existing customers, and Star Wars books have failed dramatically in this regard over the past few years.  The other is that, at the same time, successful businesses are constantly striving for growth by bringing in new customers. By ignoring the fangirl market and then assuming that there’s no fangirl interest, the Powers That Be in Star Wars books have committed the cardinal sin in business. I only hope they figure out where the future – and the dollars – in Star Wars books are before it’s too late.

25 comments to Fangirl Speaks Up: Star Wars Books and Me – Caught in a Bad Romance

  • [...] Fangirl Speaks Up: Star Wars Books and Me – Caught in a Bad Romance    Metaphors of Mortis [...]

  • Star Wars Fan

    I think the lack of romance is part of the poor character-writing in general in the current main-plot series. Honestly, if the authors can’t even make up their minds on whether Vestara is a teen girl in a Sith world, a mysterious, cunning young woman who still may have good in her, or a hard, cold schemer with her only hope of redemption resting in The Light of Ben Skywalker (*not terribly amused after Tahiri in Invincible*) – or whether Daala is still Our Lady of Lunacy or a sympathetic, overworked Chief of State – or whether Ben is a wisecracking investigator, pure-hearted boy in the throes of his first crush, or a hard-edged cynic with some Pasteded On Yey hope for the best – or whether Allana is a wide-eyed little girl who likes hugging her nexu, “precocious” girl who comes off as a bit of a brat, or a bossy brat who thinks she’s much smarter than she is (hmm, wait, that’s actually somewhat consistent outside of Golden’s novels…) – or any of those things – well… Would you REALLY trust them to write a romance? Just look at what a mess Jaina/Jag is right now!

    Imagine, if you will, a Luke Skywalker romance written by the current trio:
    (Allston)
    Luke and Love Interest: *get started by cheerfully bantering all book* *get along well and without unnecessary angst*
    (Golden)
    Love Interest: Oh… Oh, Luke! You… The Light Side… It’s so beautiful
    Luke: *sparkling with his own inner sunlight* You aren’t bad-looking yourself, [Insert Name Here]. *smiles, his cerulean eyes softening and golden hair rippling in a spontaneous breeze, and gathers Love Interest to his tanned, muscular chest*
    Love Interest: Oh, Luke, my love… If only… *tears up*
    Luke: *soulfully looks at her with concern* If only what?
    Love Interest: It’s nothing… Oh, Luke…
    *typo-filled fade to black*
    =End of Book=
    Luke: WHAT DO YOU MEAN, SHE WAS ABELOTH?!
    (Denning)
    [Denning: *mutters to himself and performs a hasty retcon* ]
    Love Interest: I’m not Abeloth, but I am EVIL. Yet I cannot resist your masculine Skywalker charms…
    Luke: *coldly* Get out of my sight. *checks out her rear* Okay, you’re actually pretty hot, I’ll consider redeeming you. Just a moment, I have to go chop off somebody’s limb, Troy Denning has a quota for these things.

    Joking aside, not only romantic relationships are suffering – you’ve already mentioned the incompetent child-raising from Han and Leia, but loyalties and relationships in general are dissolving. Kenth’s psychotic break with characterization is the most recent vivid example in FOTJ, but one can also point to others in FOTJ: Vestara betraying her almost-love-interest Ben (and later, the society in which she’s believed all her life), all the crazed Jedi turning against the world, the supposedly-non-crazed Jedi becoming loose cannons to follow the “will of the Force” (which conveniently seems to align with whatever they feel like doing at the moment), Jaina turning on Jag not only as a lover, but as a friend (at least, that’s how I saw it in Allies)… Nothing is stable. None can be trusted, save the Designated Family Groups (Ben and Luke, Han, Leia, and Allana). Of course, this problem was TEN TIMES worse in LOTF (and was almost the premise!), which is what caused the wreckage that underlies FOTJ, I believe – let me grab just a few examples of dissolved-relationships. (It’s been a while since I read LOTF, so I may have some inaccuracies.)

    * Jacen betrays all of his family, the Jedi Order, and everything he’s ever believed in.
    * Jaina kills her own twin, telling him “Just die already” when he pleads for a ceasefire so he can save Allana and Tenel Ka.
    * Han disowns Jacen and tells him that he wished he had died in the Yuuzhan Vong war.
    * Tenel Ka abandons Jacen mid-battle, as does the Jedi Order.
    * Tenel Ka has to give up her only child.
    * Jacen kills his aunt.
    * Mara dies (not willingly, but death is a pretty solid way to cut off a relationship), leaving Luke and Ben alone.
    * Wedge and his daughter end up on opposite sides of a conflict (though they do reconcile in the end).
    * Ben is betrayed and tortured by the man he once looked up to more than his own father, and in return, does his best to kill Jacen.
    * Shevu and Niathal pass information to the Jedi at the expense of their nominal ally Jacen.
    * Tahiri turns against the Jedi and joins Jacen.
    * Jacen sabotages his own master-servant relationship (please don’t remind me they supposedly had *gag* more than that) with Tahiri by telling her the truth about flow-walking.
    * Revolving door of betrayal with Gejjen, Sal-Solo, Omas, Jacen, Niathal, etc…
    * Allana turns hostile to Jacen.
    * Jacen kills Nelani.

    I mean, the first main characters who come to mind when I try to figure out who DIDN’T turn on former friends at some point are Lumiya and Alema, and they didn’t have friends in the first place! (Okay… them and the Mandalorians, but that’s because Traviss would never write the sainted Mandos turning on comrades.) What sort of romance could bloom in that environment?

    The cause of all this is that the authors want to be edgy, and so everything that you knew and loved must crumble for the sake of drama. But what’s left, after all that? …Not much, as FOTJ is proving. Oh, it builds up, but for every new character it adds, it tears down another and a former Luke-girlfriend. Who are these people? Why are we reading about them? And what do we care? What does it MATTER if someone receives the Abeloth’s Kiss or not? He or she’ll just be replaced with yet another bland, boring cardboard character soon enough. It’s not as if his or her plot thread was going to go anywhere anyway. Anyone [Interesting] Can Die, after all.

    From what I’ve observed, it’s a oversimplification to say that romance alone draws in female readers. The readers have to care about the people involved, and for that, they need to have vaguely consistent characterizations, something that, as I said before, FOTJ definitely lacks, like its father LOTF before it. Even if the characterizations jump about strangely from book to book (hello Harry Potter Twilight series), the romance can retain readership if it at least retains some core element from book to book – wait, why are Ben and Vestara attracted to each other, again? For that matter, why are Jag and Jaina attracted to each other? What’s supposed to appeal about them? Who knows?
    I have seen some truly horrendous romance during my time in various bad-fiction-mocking communities, but even eye-searing romance will have fans so long as it can answer the questions of “Why should these people appeal to us?” and “What is the core of their relationship?”. The answers don’t even have to be good, so long as they’re consistent. But FOTJ doesn’t answer these questions (or, when it does, the answer changes every other chapter), and thus its romances fail. (The same principle goes for platonic fictional relationships too, actually. FOTJ doesn’t do much better on that count, either.)

    Sorry for rambling, but I think that adding more relationships alone will do little for the success of current Star Wars novels – making us care about the characters will do a world more good. A relationship is dependent upon the characters within it, after all.

    Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

    [On a more cheerful note, did you see TIE Light? Rather amusing fic: http://boards.theforce.net/beyond_the_saga/b10477/31486729/p1/?11

  • Joanne

    it’s the Star Wars books that are thoroughly failing me as a fan

    Amen that. Luke didn’t leave Tatooine because he wanted to be a pilot (despite clearly reaching for those dreams). He didn’t leave because of his father. He left because of an image of a princess. And he charged off to rescue that princess when he was on the Death Star with Han and Chewie.

    And then in ESB Han sticks around for Leia repeatedly despite it not being in his best self-interest.

    And in RotJ Leia temporarily leaves the Rebellion to go rescue Han. And then he steps up and takes his place in the Rebellion for her (and if you don’t think it was for her you are fooling yourself).

    The folks in charge of the EU books need to wake up and watch the movies that spawned the universe they are now in charge of. Cause as far as I am concerned they are screwing around in another dimension entirely, completely failing at their jobs and the legacy of the stories they are supposed to be telling. Romance is just as important as explosions. Relationships are just as important as space battles and lightsabers. It’s not Star Wars without balance in all the aspects.

  • Mary

    I agree wholeheartedly with all of the above.

    The EU has strayed so far from the central themes established by George Lucas in the Original Trilogy that the most recent book series, “Legacy of the Force” could more appropriately be titled: “Farce”. I will admit to having read each of the first six novels in this set and every day wonder why I bothered. I feel increasingly insulted by the themes and apparently cavalier attitude of, as you put it, the Powers That Be.

    The loss of swashbuckling action AND romance a la Han Solo and Leia Organa or even Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade (bless you, Tim Zahn) has vanished along with coherent storytelling.

    That is not to say, however, that Star Wars cannot return those elements to its stories but it is extremely concerning that they instead appear to be moving in the opposite direction. As you point out with “Knight Errant”, for example, what is the point of creating characters who aren’t going to relate to one another? Is this the way DelRey and Lucas Licensing believe people exist in today’s world and that the reading public will/can relate to purposely isolating characters?

    Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

    I will be the first to admit that we are becoming disconnected from personal contact and more connected to anonymous communications and social networking (Texting-Before-Phoning Syndrome). That is actually a compelling reason to give us MORE examples of human connection – romance – not LESS.

    Fangirl, your blog has already covered this, but I wanted to emphasize that there most definitely IS a large Star Wars/SciFi fan base of mature women that is being increasingly ignored. I wonder how many of us have already jumped ship for less patronizing, more friendly and romantic shores? The way things are going, the rest of us will be joining those early birds shortly.

  • I can’t agree with you enough about Holostar. I was so excited about the prospect of a Wynnsa Starflare book. I would have even loved a Face Loran or Tetran Cowall story! But instead we get Dash Rendar and an unknown holostar. Why?! Wynnsa has a GREAT story. Soontir has a great story! She’s the mother of the future Emperor Fel! Come on, Del Rey!

    I was thinking about this article last night, and the lack of compelling relationships in Star Wars today. The ONLY reason that I’m bothering to read FOTJ is because of the Luke/Ben relationship. I don’t care about anything else. So far I’ve only read Outcast, and I loved their story. I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed Jaina/Jag together, knowing what happened to them in DNT and LOTF. Of course, I know what happens to them later on in FOTJ, which is just ridiculous. Those two should have been in an established relationship by the time the Dark Nest Trilogy came around. There was absolutely no reason for them to have been separated, especially after the way the NJO left their relationship.

    Thinking back to the Bantam and NJO era, there were always romantic relationships as part of stories. I was trying to count, and was overwhelmed at how often relationships were focused on, without taking away from the overall plot, and greatly adding to the enjoyment. Nowhere is this more evident than the X-wing series – books about FIGHTER PILOTS, and yet there are more romantic relationships in that series than the entire LOTF/FOTJ combined. I held off reading those books for so long because I thought I’d hate reading about fighter pilots, but they are some of the best books of the EU, because they’re about the characters.

    That is what is sorely missing in the EU today. I may be in the minority, but I care much more about the characters themselves than who the new Sith Lord is. Yeah, compelling plots are brilliant (look at Timothy Zahn), but it’s the characters, first and foremost, that drive the story. If I didn’t care about Luke Skywalker, and later Mara Jade, I wouldn’t still be a Star Wars fan today.

    • I may be in the minority, but I care much more about the characters themselves than who the new Sith Lord is.

      I’m not sure you’re in the minority. Many Star Wars sites are populated by male fans but they are necessarily representative of the fanbase as a whole. If you go to a convention it’s pretty much 50/50 in the fanbase. There are a lot of factors that make it seem as if you are in the minority. For instance men and women interact through the web differently – men gravitate toward lit threads, women to fanfic. There is a feedback loop in place now that tells the PTB to write books for the likes of a certain niche set, particularly fanboys who like Sith or videogame characters.

      The X-wing books are some of my favorites because they are devoted to characters interacting. The snubfighters and dogfights are a backdrop to developing relationships (not just romance). There are so many potential characters to use for these type of story arcs in what they have today – Syal, Jysella, Valin, Doran…do you see a pattern here? Children of the X-wing characters. Stackpole and Allston knew what they were doing, and I hope Allston is now free of writing in these series and back to writing great character stories with his upcoming Wraith book.

  • I totally agree with you. Recently I was going through my old books because my son wanted to start to read them and it gave me the urge to read them as well. I started from The Truce at Bakura, but by the time I got to some of the more recent ones, I found myself flipping pages to get back to something I was interested in reading. It isnt just the romance but some of the story lines as well, I have a feeling most of the writers of the EU are not big fans of the SW universes, or I would think they would have more respect for these great characters and their legions of fans like us.

  • [...] REVIEW: Knight Errant (novel) by John Jackson Miller    Fangirl Speaks Up: Star Wars Books and Me – Caught in a Bad Romance [...]

  • Star Wars Fan

    *extremely puzzled* What happened? Your blog seems to have lost everything after February 17th.

    • We were hacked, unfortunately, by Tunisian hackers. Hope they had their fun. We had a backup done Feb 17 and between a few DRL issues hadn’t gotten another one done. So we’ll be restoring posts, but some comments may have been lost. Lesson learned, keep to that back-up schedule.

  • Great Websie…

    I loved this great post I saw today….

  • [...] I discussed in the Bad Romance blog, in today’s marketplace novels are sold primarily to women. It follows, then, that for Star [...]

  • James W

    You’re spot on. I can’t understand the rationale behind shutting out such a key demographic – they seem to be stuck in a rut, which they should jump of with great haste. In particular, there seems to be a dismissive attitude to these concerns, which is bizarre.

    That’s not to say I’ve not enjoyed recent offerings. Death Troopers is one of my favourites. But the powers that be need to make serious efforts to bring back lost (mostly female) readers. The romance novel is an especially credible idea.

  • [...] mindset of writing what’s interesting to them instead of remembering that their job is to write what’s going to motivate fans to remain or become their customers. Passing the torch in-universe may require a change of [...]

  • Lisamarie

    Oooh, I love this!!

    I used to also be a VERY avid reader of Star Wars EU. I can’t say that I read it ‘for the romance’ (although I do have a mushy side) but I think you did hit the nail on the head about what exactly drew me into Star Wars in the first place – the relationships and characters, and their struggles. I don’t know that I agree that all women want to read that kind of thing – but I certainly miss that focus.

    I pretty much stopped reading EU in the middle of the Legacy of the Force series – I’ve noticed that everything is taking this ‘gritty realism’ feel – good isn’t good, evil isn’t evil, everybody is just grey and in some ways it kind of undermines the whole point of the movies. I don’t mind there being some greyness or internal struggle within characters, mind you…but there is no payoff for me.

    I do really enjoy some of the newer offerings though – actually I LOVE Karen Traviss’s Clone Trooper books. But I can’t stand what they’ve done to the OT characters.

    • Oooh, I love this!!

      Ah, yes, “love” is in the air. Just not in Star Wars yet. Crossing my fingers that the next editor appreciates a good love-story and we see some different stuff coming out. Conviction has some interesting developments for one female character that was fun to watch develop and it didn’t drag down the story. It just sort of worked.

      Interestingly enough Super 8 pretty much explains, using the teenage “director” character, that romance draws viewers/readers into the story. JJ Abrams lays out the conceit right there on the screen.

  • [...] Heir defending herself from shadowy assassins. But the Han-Leia bond is only one small piece of the friendships and relationships that form the core of the story Zahn weaves. Luke couldn’t succeed without the help of his sister [...]

  • [...] those hopes were dashed – literally – when it was revealed the story centered around Dash Rendar, a character from the [...]

  • [...] allows fans a means to become invested in the characters, and that’s why I have lobbied for more romance in Star Wars books.  A few days ago Racheal Ambrose wrote a nice piece, “Where’s the Love?”, discussing [...]

  • [...] (on google) suggests females generally care more about romantic subplots than males do. See this article for a Star Wars related example. The question becomes, if my book is aimed at a primarily male [...]

  • [...] Similarly, portraying a heroine as valuing her family, friends, lovers, and other relationships is often critically important to writing her in a credible and relatable way. Heroines also frequently undertake their journeys [...]

  • [...] had a large and active female fanbase, but they lost much of it over time as fangirl-friendly storylines and character arcs grew more and more scarce. As many of the women commenting this week have aptly [...]

  • [...] equality in the portrayal of female characters, authors who are disconnected from the fans and the realities of the customer market, and ultimately a lack of faith in the creative team to deliver stories fans [...]

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