Talking Shadow Games and Dark Gritty Storytelling

An excerpt from the upcoming book Star Wars: Shadow Games by Michael Reaves and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff was posted at yesterday.  The scene features main character Dash Rendar, his Nautolan sidekick, a pair of droids, and Han Solo.  For a while now, I’ve noted that Star Wars books have been too reliant on the Big Three to sell their product, and I can’t help but continue to wonder about this when an excerpt is pulled from mid-book for seemingly no purpose other than showcasing Han. 

The Powers That Be need to start recognizing that the success of the Expanded Universe lies in creating bold and fresh characters, exciting new hero’s and heroine’s journeys, and quality storytelling.  At this point, even a nicely crafted excerpt probably won’t convince many fans to buy this book.  Star Wars is going to have to emulate many new authors: post eight or nine chapters from the beginning of the story to get readers hooked.  In other words, prove that the book is worthy of our hard-earned money.  The day has long passed when legions of fans will buy books simply because they’ve got Star Wars emblazoned across the top.

Every once in a while you catch a retweet, pop over to a blog or website you haven’t visited before, and say, “Wow, someone sees the same problems I do!”  Yesterday I came across a new post titled “Light in the Dark” on the blog Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, and that’s the kind of reaction I had. While it hasn’t been the focus of my main criticisms of Star Wars, I have commented on the inability of many on the production side of movies, television, and books to recognize that dark or gritty stories aren’t where it’s at, and aren’t what many people really want or need right now.

Here’s the thing: I am sick and tired of super-heroes who aren’t super and aren’t heroes, but more, I’m sick and tired of Hollywood blaming us for their failures. 

After taking his son to see Captain America and having fun, the post’s author, Greg, reflects on the dark and gritty stories being churned out by Hollywood.  When I had first seen the trailer for the movie, I had remarked that I was happy to see the true heroic spirit being highlighted for once – and having seen the movie, it was true to the trailer’s vision. Like him, I want to see more movies like that.

Art – and even if that art is commercial art, produced for entertainment – feeds and is fed by the society that consumes it. So I ask you, right now, looking around you, what flavor of escapism will go down best with you? In an era of terror alerts and bipartisan dysfunction, of rising hate and blossoming intolerance, of bank failure and wide-spread, global unemployment and recession, is gritty really what we need?

Look, I like gritty. I write gritty. There is a time and a place for gritty. I’ll take my Batman gritty, thank you, and I will acknowledge that such a portrayal means that my 11 year old has to wait before he sees The Dark Knight. But if Hollywood turns out a Superman movie that I can’t take him to? They’ve done something wrong. Superman is many, many things. Gritty he is not, something that Richard Donner certainly understood.

For me, the notable part of this blog is that Greg is a creator of gritty stories, but he also recognizes that there is a time and a place.  I like gritty, too.  For a Star Wars EU fan, that would be books like Star by Star or Traitor, which are masterpieces that will drag you around by your heart and twist you in knots.  But who wants to read that all the time?  I don’t.  The fans I know don’t.  And I think the dismal performance of recent Star Wars books, and the truly uninspired responses from fans on message boards, proves that a majority of people don’t want or need exceptional amounts of darkness from their books, either. 

This is not an argument of era or audience sophistication. Sophistication does not negate sincerity, nor does it even deny it, as the Captain America movie proves. Sophistication demands better storytelling, clearer motivation, purer intention. “Gritty” is an apologist word in this sense, used in the place of “realism.” We don’t go to the movies for “realism.” This is why documentaries aren’t the major product in the theaters. Sophistication does not demand realism; it demands smart.

For a while now, I’ve wondered if the Powers That Be believed that in telling these disheartening stories they were trying to be more sophisticated than the average tie-in novel.  Honestly, the fans don’t care that the Star Wars books are tie-ins.  We just want to experience once more the bliss of walking out of a movie theater after a farmboy blows up a manmade moon with a damn good shot.



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

2 thoughts on “Talking Shadow Games and Dark Gritty Storytelling

  • August 26, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Wow – thanks for the link. I had no idea Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett were doing a webcomic. They’re responsible for some of my favorite comics, so it’s pretty awesome to find out they’re doing something more together!

  • August 27, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    I do completely agree with you that dark and gritty isn’t always what we want in our superhero movies– even if sometimes it supplies a sort of escapism of its own. However, I had exactly the opposite reaction to the excerpt from Shadow Games. Han is, if I recall correctly, only mentioned toward the end. The almost slapstick nature of the scene with Dash and the malfunctioning gravity reminded me of the frenetic sense of adventure I got from OT scenes such as Han running into the room filled with stormtroopers, or those same troopers shouting “Open the blast doors!” Michael Reaves’ previous series may have been noir mystery with Twi’leks thrown in, but I think Shadow Games is off to a good start.

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