Teasing the Fate of the EU
No matter the franchise, a key element of success is generating buzz to build enthusiasm for the characters and the story. In a crowded marketplace, nothing says “Pick me! Pick me!” like creators who show enthusiasm for their product. One great way to do that is to give the fans hints and teasers from upcoming stories. When done well, it raises interest in what’s next and sparks speculation and theorizing about where the characters’ lives are going.
Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed an interesting contrast between the strategy taken by The Clone Wars in promoting itself on the one hand, and Lucas Books and Del Rey with the Expanded Universe novels on the other. They’re both part of the same Star Wars franchise, yet they’ve followed completely different strategies, particularly when it comes to teasing the fans with juicy hints from future storylines.
Before getting into that specifically, though, I wanted to say a word about the difference between a teaser and a spoiler. Really, it’s a matter of degree, in the sense that both involve revealing information from an upcoming product (like a TV episode or a book). But in the traditional sense, spoilers tend to involve plot points: Qui-Gon dies in The Phantom Menace; Darth Vader is Luke’s father; Jaina Solo kills Darth Caedus. A good teaser, by contrast, reveals nothing major about the plot but catches attention and interest. At the same time, a good teaser hints toward something that will actually pay off in a fun or unexpected way when the surrounding details of the tidbit are revealed.
The Clone Wars has done some really effective teasing during Season Three, especially for the second half of the season. At times they chose to reveal outright spoilers, such as allowing some fans to see the Nightsisters trilogy in theatrical screenings weeks earlier than the television premiere, and some of the plot points revealed in Star Wars Insider articles. For the most part, though, TCW has relied on much more discrete teasers. They released a trailer with flashes of images from many episodes, which led to lots of fun speculation of what those glimpses might be. Some of the guesses were wildly wrong, of course, but that’s all part of the game. The teasers got more specific as the episodes approached. For example, a short clip of Obi-Wan talking to (seemingly) Qui-Gon’s Force ghost was very cool – but gave away nothing even approaching the amazing scope and thematic power of the Mortis trilogy. The reveal that Tarkin would appear in the Citadel episodes spoiled none of the drama of the jailbreak – and the teaser paid off when Tarkin lived up to a younger version of the ruthless, scheming persona of A New Hope, right down to his respect for Anakin and disdain for Obi-Wan. Similarly, the teaser that Chewbacca would meet Ahsoka couldn’t possibly have prepared us for the chilling context in which it occurred – and yet we got to see the beloved Wookiee we know so well, from his compassion and mechanical skills to his courage and fierce protectiveness.
Compared to TCW, the relative dearth of teasers for the EU books has been rather conspicuous. Some books have been given sneak peeks, like the excerpt from Knight Errant included in the Issue #0 giveaway at Celebration V or the early chapters of Red Harvest posted on starwars.com in the weeks prior to its release. Paul Kemp occasionally tweets or blogs a teaser from a manuscript in progress, but as far as I’m aware none of the other authors do this. Recently the Star Wars Books Facebook page has posted sneak peeks at the annotations from the upcoming Twentieth Anniversary Edition of Heir to the Empire, but so far it’s been facts that informed fans have known for a long time.
The absence of enthusiastic teasers from Lucas Books or Del Rey is most noticeable, though, in the flagship series. When the Fate of the Jedi series began, an initial burst of promotion included a free PDF to introduce new readers to the characters and their backstories, and later three free online downloads in the form of short letters from Ben Skywalker to his cousin Jaina Solo while he traveled about the galaxy with his father. We were given funny lines and interesting settings from the manuscript. Yet, now six books in, the use of teasers to build fan interest has all but vanished. Five of the novels released to date had advanced reader copies distributed to reviewers at fansites – but on the condition that their reviews be posted only after the book had hit the shelves. The authors have stayed silent, and the editors have been sparse in their public statements too. Sue Rostoni did reveal that Lando Calrissian and Luke’s former love Callista would appear in Allies – but the payoff to each of those fell rather flat, with Lando’s role in the book seemingly being written simply for the sake of having him in the book and Callista being revealed to have been consumed by the monstrous creature Abeloth long before Luke actually arrived to discover that fact. With the release of the next book, Conviction, a little over a month away, fans have seen no teasers about the book; the only information we do have is the jacket cover blurb for the novel, which appears to contain flat-out spoilers for what occurs in the book (in contrast to all the recent previous jacket blurbs in the flagship series, which had described how the story got to the point where the book began). This way of handling the books is puzzling to say the least – particularly when most of the options available for spreading the word are free, other than the cost of the authors’ and editors’ time.
At the end of the day, book sales flow from fan enthusiasm as much as anything else. Word of mouth generates sales, and pre-publication buzz is even better. TCW has certainly figured that out for promoting their series. For example, Dave Filoni spent over an hour in a live chat with the ForceCast crew last week, even though Season Three is over and Season Four is probably five or six months away. In recent months we’ve also seen media interviews with several of the voice actors, a Los Angeles Times profile of the series’ head writer, and new podcasts from Ashley Eckstein. In addition to Dave as the very effective, very public front-man of TCW, there’s a solid ground game always keeping TCW in the public eye. The central marketing program for Star Wars books is a pale shadow by comparison. There’s a small presence on Facebook, including Erich at Del Rey and Leland Chee’s new Holocron page, but little else in the ground game; there’s certainly no significant public face comparable to Dave Filoni. When Lucas Books and Del Rey are doing so little to hype their books, while TCW is doing so much, the dissonance is hard to miss.
There’s no reason for the market penetration of Star Wars books not to be much greater than it is. On any given day you can find a new interview or release for the Hunger Games trilogy, to the point that everyone knows who you are talking about when the name Katniss is brought up. When was the last time Ben Skywalker, Mara Jade, or Jaina Solo were mentioned that way? One of the best ways that the Powers That Be can get more readers back to being excited about the books is to show the fans just how excited they themselves are about their books – in part with well chosen teasers that hint at just how fun the books are going to be to read.
With the beginning of the exciting mini-trilogy – as the publishers have dubbed books seven through nine of Fate of the Jedi – just a little over a month away, it’s time for the market saturation to begin, in earnest.
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7 thoughts on “Teasing the Fate of the EU”
Insightful article, as are many on this site!
I think the reason we’re not seeing the enthusiasm from LFL these days (as opposed to Filoni’s camp) is the fact that Sue and Leland don’t have much reason to celebrate. With The Clone Wars regularly contradicting elements of the EU, elements that Sue in particular has spent around 30 years ensuring the consistency of, it’s frustrating to see Lucas allow it to be dismantled. The EU has always seen contradictions, of course, but whereas in the past, retcons came readily to provide fixes, nowadays it seems that LFL is just as blindsided as the fans are. Why are they out of the loop?
A big part of the problem (aside from the lack of communication in Lucas’ corporation), and this addresses the issues brought up on this site as regards the direction of the EU and its character-and-narrative development, is the fact that Sue and Leland have too much on their plates, and can’t oversee it all in the way they need to. While that may be an issue of apathy on Lucas’ part, it boils down to the amount Lucas budgets to their department. They need not just more bodies, but those who have the knowledge and wisdom to steer the ship in the right direction. Right now, they’re struggling to just keep it afloat. They need people like Pablo Hidalgo, who’s already working there, as well as others like Able Pena and Dan Wallace, who should be.
Over at the Dark Horse boards, the Star Wars fans there have come up with a petition to politely ask Lucas to re-consider the EU and the harmony that once existed in the Star Wars saga. We’d love to have you guys check it out, sign it, and pass it along. It may not do much other than give those fans who feel disenfranchised a voice. But it might just raise awareness to the powers-that-be that those fans who’ve been financially supporting Star Wars through its literature for three decades would like to go back to the consistency and quality that Star Wars once boasted. The anti-EU faction over at theforcecast have stated that the EU is “crap,” “fan-fiction,” and that its fans are little more than “kooks” and “fanatics,” who amount to a tiny minority. I say otherwise. I think us EU fans should speak out together and say otherwise: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/starwars2000/
As someone who works in a corporation and felt frustrated with some of the processes, it’s still imperative to sell the product (in spite of whatever frustrations occur internally). People tend to forget that this is their job.
Personally I don’t think continuity or their hard work has been all that damaged. It’s a difference of opinion. I’d pick storytelling over factoids any day of the week. For instance (there is a blog half done on this topic) Master Piell’s death really isn’t as tragic to continuity as many would make it seem. With that said, I’m completely opposed to the notion of reboots and I believe Lucas needs to be careful of letting his imagination damage what Star Wars has achieved as a continuity based series.
I’m going to have to disagree with you here. More Pablos, Abels or Dans is the farthest thing the EU needs right now. The storytelling has gone downhill in the EU since the editors have begun to rely too heavily on uberfanboy input. It’s a good thing on some level to have these folks involved who know the universe in and out, yes. But they’ve listened to one type of fan to the exclusion of many others. Women in particular, and women buy lots of books. I can’t say Pablo’s web comic shows he’s got a good handle on storytelling. I’m not going so far to say it’s a direct correlation to him, but it’s symptomatic of an overall problem.
I whole-heartedly agree with you on maintaining consistency and quality in Star Wars, and there is a point with reboots and AUs where I’d probably walk away. I’m aware of the petition and respect your right to express your concern as fans. But I think it’s aimed too much at George Lucas in particular so I won’t be signing it. Yes, I’m concerned that he might start running amok but I have the utmost respect for his vision. Creative types like to tinker, but they can do that to the detriment of their creation. But I also see why Lucas wouldn’t be overly concerned about one Jedi Master’s death, and why Filoni and company might let that battle slide in favor of others.
I’m not a continuity buff, myself, but I do think there’s a point where continuity and many non-“factoid” complaints about the recent direction of Star Wars intersect – continuity of characterizations. To have Jacen Solo becoming a Sith Lord, Jaina Solo condemned to spend her time twiddling her fingers and engaging in never-goes-anywhere romantic subplots, Tahiri disturbingly obsessed with her lost teenage love (which she was not in NJO), Luke Skywalker being all but labeled as the Dark Man, Daala as Chief of State…
Does this not seem like, somewhere, continuity has blown a major fuse?
To use a fanfiction example – maintaining continuity of characterization is generally regarded as a good thing. So is maintaining continuity of events with canon if the fic is not labeled AU. Good storytelling is also important – is VERY important – but even a well-written story with poor continuity of events and characterization that the author INSISTS is in line with canon is liable to leave readers in a confused daze, which is not conducive to impressing them. ‘Wait, this is very touching and all, but since when does SNAPE swoop around carrying roses and reciting Victorian love poetry to Hermione?’ A poor story with good continuity is liable to be regarded as boring, but with its heart in the right place. A story with neither good writing nor continuity of characterization nor continuity of events… is liable to be stabbed with a thousand sporks.
And if that’s important for stories put out online for the entertainment of whomever may come across them, but not for profit and not affecting canon itself, surely it is vastly more important for works that people pay good money for and that have permanent effects on the canon storyline forever afterwards?
“The storytelling has gone downhill in the EU since the editors have begun to rely too heavily on uberfanboy input.”
I’m not disagreeing with this point, but – out of curiosity, at which point do you think this occurred? Can you point to a specific series where the shift began, what were the first signs, and what are the continuing signs of too much of a “uberfanboy” influence? And if we’re speaking to the post-NJO – are you sure that wasn’t the work of Troy Denning*?
Besides, I think his (?) point was less geared towards bringing in “uberfanboys” and more geared towards bringing in people who genuinely care about the EU. I don’t recall this blog objecting too much to “uberfanboy” Dave Filoni’s influence over The Clone Wars.
Sorry, bit of a devil’s advocate over here…
*Marked interest in brutal action scenes, the prequels, general darkness, power levels through the roof (Luke Skywalker going Super Saiyan against Abeloth in Vortex comes to mind), killing people off for shock value (whether major, minor, or just-introduced), Han and Leia never retiring and handing off their duties to the next generation, etc. I am not speculating on whether the storytelling going downhill had anything to do with his writing, but rather asking if these points line up with what you are calling “uberfanboy” influence.
I definitely wanted to say more about “uberfanboys”, so I’ve done that in the latest blog post. Hope you’ll take a look!
Hey Tricia: I don’t disagree with many of your points. Both uberfanboys are needed, as you noted, as are the uberfangirls. That’s why I want to see Lucas give Lucasfilm the budget it needs to do what it takes to maintain quality and continuity (which includes proper character and story development).
One problem we’ve recently faced, even more so than Even Piell’s death, was losing Karen Traviss. I don’t know if you consider her an appropriate fangirl/author, but I’m disappointed in losing her, as well as her series, which is now left dangling, and potentially irreconcilable with Lucas’ reworking of Mandalorian history/culture. Other great female authors (and male — because it’s not only female authors who can write realistic character development and relationships) may not be so willing to tread into the EU if they see that their works are subject to being rendered null and void by a seemingly capricious whim for the sake of an episode or two.
The petition is really a way of saying “let’s get back to basics here and look at the bigger picture and the importance of story.” And while it’s directed at Lucas, it’s also meant to address all of the powers-that-be (Leland Chee is already aware of it).
With an rough estimate of 100,000 EU fans worldwide buying the books, we’re not the insignificant minority that theforcecast would have everyone think, nor are we the “kooks” and “fanatics” they’ve claimed. Thus, I would hope that the goals of the petition are line with your own goals (as an EU fan), and while it doesn’t address all of the other important issues you’ve brought up, we can’t solve those problems without addressing the larger issue at hand. At least, in my opinion. I respect that you might have a different perspective.
You raise some good points worth discussing further, so I’ve addressed them in the latest blog post.
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