Fangirl Speaks Up: Does the Star Wars Expanded Universe give a Yaddle?
The sixth book in the Fate of the Jedi series, Vortex, will be released this week. I’ve read the book and plan on giving my own review once it hits the shelves.
Before that, though, I thought I’d comment on something most of you won’t ever see, because it’s not contained in the hardcover print edition sold in stores. What’s that? The marketing material included as the first printed page of every official, Del Rey-issued softcover Advanced Review Copy, which is mostly a reprise of content previously published in Del Rey marketing catalogs. I think this promotional material gives some interesting insights into where the Powers That Be are setting their sights for the series as a whole.
Here’s one interesting quote from the marketing page –
FAN FAVORITES: This series follows the characters Star Wars fans want and love: Luke, Leia, Han, and Lando, and continues to develop Ben Skywalker, Luke’s son, and Allana, Han and Leia’s granddaughter.
Is it just me or did they skip an entire generation of characters? Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin Solo, along with Tenel Ka, Jag, Tahiri, Zekk, Lowie, Raynar, and others, were supposed to be the next generation of Star Wars heroes. The young Jedi Knights drew many fans to the Expanded Universe, and the New Jedi Order series was supposedly (ironically, if you believed the marketing at the time) about their rise to join the heroic stage with the movie characters. Despite the fact that I’ve always had the impression they were fan favorites, the Powers That Be still appear to be afraid to let them even share center stage with the Big Three, much less take over it. Admittedly Anakin and Jacen are dead now, but surely there’s plenty of room to feature Jaina, Jag, Tenel Ka, Tahiri, and others in the stories – heroes in their thirties, not their sixties and seventies.
It’s also disheartening as an adult woman to see that the marketing people think the developing heroes worth mentioning are a 16-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl. Ben, certainly, has captured the imagination of many Star Wars fans, but Allana? Children are too far removed from moral and personal dilemmas that allow adult readers to relate to the stories. If you peruse fanfiction, there aren’t tons of fans spinning out fantastical possibilities for Allana’s character. In fact, Allana stories are outpaced about ten-to-one by Jaina stories.
So why aren’t they promoting a developing heroine that female readers can relate to? I have a lot of theories as to why and how, and I’ll discuss them in later posts. To give a glimpse. One reason, I think, is that female readers spend a lot of time expressing their hopes and desires for their favorite characters through fanfiction, the forbidden land for authors and other book handlers. A lot of fan feedback is lost in this disconnect, with the pros misunderstanding the expectations of some of their most loyal purchasers. The second reason is that adult women tend to express their disappointment in much more passive modes – for instance, they simply won’t buy books that lose their interest, rather than venturing into the message boards and fansites where VIPs frequent but that are also perceived as unfriendly by some female fans.
Another marketing quote –
BIG TIME: The first two books of the series, Outcast and Omen, already have more than 170,000 copies in print.
I wonder how many copies in print there are for the next four novels? Perhaps the book-buying public expressed their opinion silently? Over the past couple of years, I personally know many women who have been walking away from the Expanded Universe. Most quietly, others not so quietly, and a few loud kerclunks could be heard around the country as Allies met many an untimely demise in the rightful fit of reader outrage. Most of those departed fans had been drawn in during the NJO and have strong affinities to all the YJK. We’ve watched them struggle through the ramifications of Star by Star and Dark Nest, but I think it’s about time to release them from that grim cloud hovering over them and allow the characters to shine once more.
For one character in particular, I ask, why isn’t Jaina Solo getting top billing on these marketing pushes or in the books themselves? She is the last living child of the union of two of Big Three. Without a doubt, some of the ridiculous turns in the story design of this latest series have proven that it’s not just the female fans who find her current predicament untenable. It’s worth noting, though, that she’s the most relatable in age and life responsibilities to the female fans who have expendable income to spend on Star Wars books. It’s also worth noting that industry-wide, women are responsible for far and away more novel purchases than men or boys.
All that said, I look forward to seeing where Fate of the Jedi goes. If the marketing material actually does reflect the truth of the story design, however, I fear those big time numbers Del Rey seems to want to brag about will not continue. This is certainly not what I want for the books. Right now the central characters are geriatrics and children. The one positive female character in her thirties has had her relationship with her soon-to-be husband sabotaged. Women aren’t going to be drawn to that, not even just for the gleaming Star Wars imprinted across the top of the book. What I hope for is better storylines that appeal to a broader cross-section, especially that lucrative adult women audience. That is what will maintain big-time sales. Hopefully, Del Rey will look for new and different ways to reach out to a cross-section of fans in an effort to understand where the fans feel they lost their Star Wars.
How does the marketing material strike you as a fan?
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4 thoughts on “Fangirl Speaks Up: Does the Star Wars Expanded Universe give a Yaddle?”
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You are absolutely right about the “generation skipping”, particularly with regard to the way they’ve treated Jaina Solo of late, and it isn’t only ignoring her character’s obvious potential. She, her siblings and their peer characters have been dark-sided, killed, gone insane, and generally become victims of more torture than I care to recall. It makes no sense to destroy or ignore the children of Han and Leia – two-thirds of the Big Three – let alone the majority of their generation as a whole.
If Del Rey is pinning its future on Ben Skywalker, that is the equivalent of putting all their eggs in one basket. There is plenty of action to go around and I believe that the fans need (and deserve) more than one primary character per generation to hold their interest. Plus, as another adult female fan, I like Ben but reading his character does not come close to holding my interest as much as reading good, kick-butt Jaina Solo action or plots that pursue her future with Jag Fel.
As for Allana, I don’t find her compelling – yet. In fact, I found all three of the Solo children a lot more fascinating at the same age.
I have questions for Del Rey’s Marketing people. Based on what research did they compile that list of characters they call “Fan Favorites”?
For example, I like Lando (who is listed fourth, right with the Big Three), yet despite Del Rey’s suggestion that his character is extremely popular, they have given him even less to do in the last few book series than Jaina – who is not mentioned at all. How can they justify that? If Lando makes the list, what about known favorites like Wedge Antilles and Soontir Fel or other pilots who have their own fan legions? (In support of that, I cite the very excited cheers at the CV announcement of Aaron Allston’s new Wraith Squadron book, something fans have lobbied for years to get.)
Historically, the Solo children had plenty of page time during their early years and through an awful lot of books – they even carried a number of stories as children – so why slowly get rid of them? Does Del Rey think that fans wanted to read about their births and childhoods but would not continue to invest in them as adults? Why write teenaged Jaina’s exciting enlistment into Rogue Squadron, bring Jag in with obvious relationship potential, keep their characters involved for the NJO series, and then gradually let them both fade in and out of later books? Who lost interest? Del Rey? It certainly wasn’t any of the fans I know.
It seems to me that there are huge disconnects among Del Rey’s marketers and editors, Lucas Licensing’s publishing staff, and the fans who buy EU books. Does Del Rey Marketing understand the demographics of the EU fanbase? I don’t see any real indication that they do.
The stylistic change to a new cover format for the Fate of the Jedi series is evidence that the marketing strategy is off-course. Not only were the new covers poorly received, they showed that Del Rey was missing the point. We don’t want new covers, we want to read better quality stories on the pages inside. With FOTJ, it feels as if the plots have lost direction.
Readers of any genre want to be able to relate to characters in a good story. As a Star Wars fanGIRL, I feel like some of the most interesting characters are being dropped in favor of what Del Rey believes will appeal to their assumed readership of fanBOYS.
That, in my opinion, is taking leaps and bounds – backwards.
Back in the day, I read every single Star Wars book that came down the pike. In an era before new movies, they were fun if occasionally wiggy trips back to the GFFA.
Then in 2008, I threw in the towel on everything except for the Clone Wars stuff. Why? The post-ROTJ continuity had painted itself into a dreary corner and short of a reboot there was no way out. There was no happily ever after for the cinematic heroes we grew up with. All they fought and sacrificed for was for more war, more stray Sith wannabes, and more instability. Luke passed on what he learned, only to have the Order decimated again and again. Anakin and Padmé were denied their happy ending; so Han and Leia get to have their two sons die, one as a Sith Lord who was killed by his own sister. Did Han, Luke, and Leia fight the Empire so that they could stupidly hand the Republic over to FREAKIN’ ADMIRAL DAALA??!! Thank God I do not accept the Expanded Universe as canon or else Star Wars is nothing more than an exercise in cynicism. Fight the Empire, restore balance to the Force, and it’s all for nothing. For me, the beginning of the end wasn’t Chewbacca’s death, it was Anakin Solo’s death some books later. Chewie’s sacrifice meant nothing and I really liked Anakin Solo. It all went to heck from there. No thanks. I’ll stick to stuff set during the time frame of the films.
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