When Equal Isn’t Equal – Troy Denning’s Role in the Star Wars EU

Fate of the Jedi author Troy Denning (username Tailone) showed up today in the TFN Literature Fate of the Jedi: Ascension Discussion Thread to offer a clarification to a fan misunderstanding of the authors’ roles for the series.

I don’t know where you get your information. But, out of respect for Aaron and Christie, I’d like to clarify that I’m not the “head writer” for FotJ (or any other Star Wars series). Both Aaron and Christie are veteran authors with dozens of novels under their belts; Aaron has written more Star Wars novels than I have, and Christie has written more novels period. It would be inappropriate and untrue to assert that I have any sort of leadership role in the group. We are all equal writers, with equal influence over the series.

First, Denning was the head (and only) author for the Dark Nest series, so I’d beg to differ with his parenthetical addition. Second, it’s been publicly confirmed on numerous occasions that the basic premise of the Legacy of the Force series – Jacen Solo’s fall to the dark side – was Denning’s proposal, which he pitched to the editors (Sue Rostoni and Shelly Shapiro) and they accepted. So the fans rightfully hold Denning responsible for the directions of the storyline in those twelve books.

Moreover, even if he may not have a formal role as the leader of the writing team for LotF or FotJ, it’s plenty clear from the objective evidence that his influence over the shapes of those series has not been equal to the other writers.

Since Star by Star – the turning point of the NJO series where the first Skywalker-Solo heir was killed (by editorial, not authorial, decision) – Denning has written 9 of 32 books in the flagship series, or 28%, while Allston has written 8 of 32 books, or 25%. Since the post-NJO flagship books began in 2005, Denning has written 8 of 21 books, or 38%; Allston has written 6 of 21, or 28%.

While it’s admirable that Denning wants to share creative ownership equally with his co-authors, there are a few other factors that weigh into considering who’s had more influence.  First, Golden in her own acknowledgements in Allies refers to Denning’s “Yodaesque advice and support,” so obviously she feels he’s offering her masterful guidance.  Her books also reflect many elements and characters fans can easily recognize as Denningesque.  Second, after Allston’s first book was written and published, he suffered a heart attack.  It’s reasonable to wonder how much input, much less influence, he actually had when discussions were ongoing during his recovery. Third, just take a look at the list of secondary characters who have been given significant subplots in FotJ: Tahiri Veila, Saba Sebatyne, Nek Bwua’tu and Eramuth Bwua’tu, Han’s old friend Lando Calrissian… Which author’s list does that look like?

It’s true Allston has written more Star Wars books than Denning; it’s also worth noting that Allston’s books are more popular with fans.  Mention of his upcoming Wraith Squadron book at the Star Wars books panels at both last year’s Celebration V and this year’s San Diego Comic-Con garnered enthusiastic applause.  As far as storytelling, there has been an obvious and ever-expanding gap between where the two authors want to take the series.  Allston’s FotJ series opener, Outcast, heralded such promise for female fans. It included the almost all-female Darkmeld team, a long-awaited healthy romance between Jaina and Jag, and the opening epigraph that suggested the flagship series’ arc might actually focus, at least in part, on a strong female character. And look where we’ve gone since. Between LotF and FotJ (and even dating back to his NJO entries), Allston has repeatedly attempted to develop arcs for female characters such as Jaina Solo and Tahiri Veila, which Denning’s books invariably have subsequently obstructed in some manner.

This may be the most important point in countering Denning’s deflection of his influence in the flagship series: Denning has closed the last two series and will close FotJ.  The Dark Nest series certainly hasn’t proven to be anywhere near a fan favorite.  LotF’s closing book, Invincible, left fans, who had spent considerable money and devoted quite a bit of time and emotional energy on the series, a bit wanting.

Fate of the Jedi, unlike the NJO, Dark Nest, or Legacy of the Force, has banked itself on a design that offers little to no denouement as the books progress.  Each book is in essence an installment on a roughly 3,000 page tale that gives the readers no release over the three years of its run. So readers are left having to hope that Denning, who is a fantastic technical writer with a track record of darker endings, will finally step up and give FotJ a Star Wars-worthy ending.

Just this week Joshua Jackson commented on the cliffhanger ending of this past season of Fringe, where his character apparently has been erased from existence.  It was a dramatic move to take for a show that owes its continued existence on television to the devotion of fans who rallied when it was slated to be cut from Fox’s roster.

“Part of the reason they ended up making the decision to go with that cliff-hanger is because there’s a belief, given how passionate our fans are, that there is a level of trust in us — and we are all keenly aware of not violating that trust,” he shares. “So as much as there was a freak-out and panic, it was done with the hope that everyone understands that we’d never [mess] with our audience, which has been so faithful to us and kept us on the air.

“It was just a case of stealing a page out of [executive producer] J.J. Abrams’ playbook,” he continues, “and keeping people on their toes with anticipation… and then hopefully satisfying their desire.”

The Fate of the Jedi series is relying on this same sort of trust from their readers, but it’s pretty clear from comments on message boards like TFN Literatue that there aren’t a lot of fans willing to put that much faith in Denning to satisfy their desire after books of anticipation.

It’s possible Apocalypse will prove to be the most epic book ever.  But there are plenty of movies, book series, and television shows that start with a bang, just as Outcast did, and end with a disappointed sigh from its fans.  It all boils down to the ending. If Denning can’t close the deal, by its design the series is screwed.



Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and the intersection of women within Star Wars fandom. She is co-author of Ultimate Star Wars and Star Wars Visual Encyclopedia from DK Publishing, a featured writer for Star Wars Insider magazine with numerous articles on the Hero's Journey. Her FANgirl opinions can be heard on the podcasts Hyperspace Theories and Fangirls Going Rogue. Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.

3 thoughts on “When Equal Isn’t Equal – Troy Denning’s Role in the Star Wars EU

  • August 8, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Seems extremely disingenuous of Denning…I mean, sure, it’s probably slightly unfair to say he’s completely responsible for my own unhappiness as a fan (I did sort of like Tatooine Ghost and Star by Star), but most of the things I really hate about Star Wars recently have happened, not just in series he’s reputed to be “head writer” of, but his actual books.

  • August 8, 2011 at 12:39 am

    IMO, an excellent summary of facts over spin, Fangirl.

    I recall reading somewhere that Shelley Shapiro recently commented about the burden of responsibility Troy Denning carries as author of Apocalypse. While I am not able to provide the exact quote, if I recall correctly the essence was that Mr. Denning is “afraid”.

    That would seem to be a fair assessment, given the limited success of LOTF and the rather desperate need for DelRey to publish a penultimate closer for this forgettable story arc. The author has every right to be wary of responses from paying customers this time around.

    Early leaks indicate that Mr. Denning will once again dip into his personal-favorite character files to have some of them help to end this unfocused series. I would have to ask, “Why?” The previous eight books are already over-populated with lots of characters sauntering around in disjointed plotlines yet it appears that Denning may involve more? That has me concerned. How about simply ensuring that the major players have something meaningful to do?

    And, by the way, weren’t we promised that the final three LOTF books would be some sort of climactic, re-boot, wind-up for FOTJ? We’re two-thirds of the way through that “mini-trilogy” and aside from the typically witty and therefore enjoyable Allston installment, I’m still waiting for something really interesting and unpredictable to happen.

    I long for the time when Sith were truly, frighteningly evil and Jedi were truly masterful and good; when a Princess was a fighter, a leader, and a lover; when a “monster” was actually monstrous instead of a mutant blob that the real, pre-widower Luke Skywalker would have dispatched in a single, decisive show of Force; and when devil-may-care ace pilots fought epic space battles written so well that I literally could not put a book down until I’d read it two, maybe three times.

    Those were the days. That was Star Wars. Good luck to you, Mr. Denning.

  • August 9, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Clearly no one wants to be responsible for this bantha poodoo. This series has definitely lost my trust.

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