There were several very interesting developments at the tail end of this week that I think warrant brief mention.
On Thursday, Star Wars Books on Facebook posted a “mini-excerpt” from Fate of the Jedi: Ascension, which is schedule for release on August 9:
She pointed to a message flashing on the screen.
INFORMATION YOU WILL WANT TO HAVE.
SAFETY FOR YOUR FAMILY GUARANTEED.
…REPLY FOR MORE.
“Short and completely mysterious,” Han mused, frowning a little.
“It came in on my private channel.”
“The one only about six people and two droids have access to?”
“That would be the one.”
This is exactly the sort of marketing and fan-relations technique in which that Lucas Books and Del Rey have been so far behind, so it was a nice and welcome surprise. Previously, they had been posting some of Timothy Zahn’s annotations for the upcoming twentieth anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire, but nothing for Fate of the Jedi: Conviction or Choices of One, even though those books were scheduled to be released sooner. Hopefully it’s a good sign that they’re spreading out the teaser material to the other upcoming releases, and they’ll continue to do that in the future.
But what Del Rey giveth, it can also taketh away. On Friday, starwars.com posted the front cover art for the final Fate of the Jedi novel, Apocalypse, scheduled for April 2012. Although it’s visually interesting on its own merits, it once again features Luke Skywalker – giving Luke three of the nine covers in the series. To borrow a phrase from the hilarious Seth Meyers of Saturday Night Live: Really, Del Rey? Really?
With Han and Leia getting one cover each, and Luke’s son Ben also getting two covers, unfortunately the FotJ covers are giving the impression that the Star Wars universe is contracting, not expanding. Focusing on an ever-smaller number of characters isn’t the path to sales success.
Even more disappointing is the way the Powers That Be have hamstrung the possibilities presented by the cover: Luke, dressed in dark robes, with a background evoking the cityscape of Coruscant in flames. Could it be the last stand of the great Luke Skywalker? Could my blog Luke Skywalker Must Die, and my guest appearance on the ForceCast, really have been that prescient? Some fans on Facebook and message boards have been suggesting that the cover might mean Luke could die in this book.
But fans who keep up with the marketing and fan-relations news know he won’t – because the Powers That Be have already given that away – the one type of teaser I think should almost never be offered up. Before the first book of the series was ever published, though, Sue Rostoni publicly stated that the series was going to be lighter and more fun, and she emphasized that, unlike the New Jedi Order or Legacy of the Force, none of the major characters would die in the series. In her recent Facebook chat, Shelly Shapiro expressly reaffirmed that statement, as well as clarifying specifically: “No current plans to even touch that.”
Tons of fan speculation – and yes, maybe some anxiety or even dread – could have been triggered by this cover if Luke’s fate were really in doubt. Instead, in their attempt to do damage-control from the previous thirty books of overly dark-themed and death-riddled stories, they’ve undermined what could have been a moment to engage fans in caring about the characters and the story’s outcome.
Luke’s appearance on the last book of Fate of the Jedi isn’t all that surprising given that the series was billed as the Luke/Ben odyssey from almost the start. The trouble lies in the fact that while Shapiro believes the books are offering diversity, the covers don’t even speak to that reality. If the Powers That Be truly intended for the flagship series to represent diversity in its storyline and characters, they would have shaken up the middle book covers and saved Luke for the beginning and the end covers. And that doesn’t even speak to what’s between the pages…
From the Fictional Frontiers podcast interview:
“I’m always looking to improve things. … I think I’m most proud of the fact that we try really hard, and I think for the most part succeed, in making these good novels. … We have an extraordinary group of talented authors who write well, who are good at character development, who are good at action and adventure but the deeper stuff too. Things that make these books something you might want to read more than once, which to me is one of the ways I define a better book. You read it more than once, you get something else out of it.”
From the Facebook chat:
[Q:] Who is your favorite character, author, novel, and movie?
A: I confess to being very fond of Han; I like Jaina, Ben, and Allana a lot, too.
Then again, there have been a lot of things said recently that don’t jive with what we’re getting as customers. As they move forward with filling in their future book schedule, I hope Del Rey does some market research and reads the fan responses on any variety of websites.
The great thing about fans is that they can whip up great alternative cover offerings relatively quickly. For fans of Jaina Solo – with one action cover in the past 22 offerings down the post-NJO timeline – fan artist Snow Duchess hopes even if the books aren’t making you smile, this will.
Finally, also on Thursday, it was officially announced that the next official Star Wars convention, Celebration VI, will be held in Orlando, Florida, on August 23-26, 2012. Unlike previous Celebrations, this time fans have more than a year to prepare and make plans. I bet that means this convention will be one to remember.
And of course FANgirl Blog will be there!