I’m willing to bet that everyone reading this blog has, at some point, watched one of the Star Wars movies, probably read some of the Star Wars novels. Watching the Episode VII trailer (and no, I don’t get that weird lightsaber either, unless it is actually designed to cut off the user’s thumbs) has brought me to the realisation that everyone has their own Star Wars. Despite the attempts of George Lucas to harmonize everyone to his continually evolving vision of a film that he had finished cutting in the late 1970s, all of us take something different from the movie. For many, the story of Luke Skywalker is compelling, or the Han/Leia romance, or the fight against the Galactic Empire…
Not for me. Yes, becoming a Jedi is cool enough, but it was never the story of the Rebel Alliance that compelled me, it was the seedy underworld surrounding it - frankly, it was Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. They’re the interesting characters in the movie, the smuggler and the gambler, and it was those I always wanted to see more of. I had Doc Smith and Star Trek for my big epic space heroes, after all. Whenever people talk about a Star Wars TV show and the high-budget huge space battles, I usually shake my head and wonder why they don’t just do the Han/Lando/Chewie show. Hell, in canon (what’s left of it, anyway) there was a time when all three of them were flying around on the Millenium Falcon having adventures. Show that!
It’s probably no coincidence that the first novel spin-offs for the series - well, not counting Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, I guess - were trilogies based around Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, written by Brian Daley and L. Neil Smith respectively. Both of these were written before the initial trilogy had been completed - hell, the Han Solo one started before Empire was released if I remember correctly - but they worked perfectly, and did what you would expect them to do. Han Solo broke out political prisoners for an old flame, dug up ancient artefacts (pre-Indy, I point out), and smuggled weapons, while Lando gambled his way across the galaxy while a hacked-off evil Force user chased him around.
The setting was still in its infancy, so both of them managed to put their own creations in; Daley put most of his trilogy in the ‘Corporate Sector’, an area run and exploited by Imperial Megacorporations, and Smith used the ‘Centrality’, which always struck me as East Germany to the Empire’s Soviet Union, which actually struck me as a rather cool idea. Hmm…, that gives me an idea. But that’s for another time. Most of this setting material didn’t really stick, and that’s a great pity, because it would have been a far richer arena than the novel-verse eventually ended up using.
Ask anyone about the Star Wars novels, and Timothy Zahn’s name will come up first, and in my opinion, the Thrawn Trilogy is both great and a curse at the same time. It’s a great trilogy and ‘gets’ the setting very well, producing new stories with old characters, but it also led to a hell of a lot of imitators, and began the idea that the novels had to continue the stories of the original characters no matter what. The Han Solo and Lando Calrissian novels were never really repeated as ideas, which is frankly a damn shame. Instead we got the...shudder...Yuuzhan Vong, and all that went with them.
The trilogy - the original trilogy - was always meant to stand on its own two feet. That doesn’t mean that the setting can’t be used for other things, but it is that big a surprise that games like Knights of the Old Republic proved to be the ones that are remembered? Ones that use the setting to tell a different story, which does not get in the way of the original. Let’s face it, in two films the major characters wipe out the Galactic Empire and bring Freedom to the Galaxy. Top that, if you can. And the problem is that you otherwise end up bringing Freedom to the Galaxy...again. And again. And again. Until everyone has been freed to death. (Anyone here remember William Tenn’s Liberation of Earth? I bet Coruscant feels like that after a while.)
One of my plans for this year is another science-fiction series, and though I don’t have any concrete ideas as yet, certainly nothing that I am willing to commit to print at the moment, I think I’ll be going back to these novels for my inspiration. Somehow, I don’t think there can be too many rogues and renegades flying about the Galaxy, do you?