Thursday, February 04, 2016

War Reporting

The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
by Jason Fry with illustrations by Phil Noto

Heists are easy - heists, rescues, races, any type of story that has a ticking clock bolted onto the plot. Smuggler's Run profited from its status as a rescue story. The race against time, with Han and Chewie running to keep one step ahead of the Empire, gave the book a shape and trajectory of a classic thriller. Greg Rucka can write the hell out of those. The Weapon of a Jedi can't help but seem baggy in comparison.

Part of the blame must rest on the protagonist. It's accepted wisdom by now that Luke Skywalker is the least interesting thing about Star Wars. For all of the hot air expelled over the last almost forty years about the "heroic journey" and the cod-structuralism Lucas (almost certainly) picked up after the fact to explain the generic virtues of his heroic fiction, there's no evading the fact that the hero at the center of the original Star Wars trilogy was purposefully constructed to be as bland as possible. That's important in the story itself. When he appears at the beginning of A New Hope he's essentially an empty vessel, defined by longing and ambition and curiosity about and for the future, but still almost entirely a blank slate.

(As sexist as it seems in hindsight, the in-story decision to allow Luke to train as a Jedi while still maintaining Leia's cover makes sense in light of what we later learn about how the Jedi operate. She was raised as a politician, a diplomat, and a rebel, and was every bit as talented and confident as her twin brother was awkward and uncertain. She would have made a poor candidate for Jedi training given the fact that Obi-Wan and Yoda reasoned they probably were only going to get one more shot at the Emperor. Better to go with the blank slate farm boy who could be more easily indoctrinated to their dead religion than the willful, educated princess who would be just as likely to become the next Count Dooku as anything else. [To say nothing of the real-world fact that no one in 1977 had any idea that Leia was anything but a princess. The history of Star Wars is a history of turning ex post facto rationalizations of plot holes into narrative opportunities. Although Roy Thomas left the comic after a year, the evolution of the franchise evolution bears his influence, with the later Expanded Universe and even Lucas' own Prequels assuming a position in relation to the original trilogy similar to that of Infinity, Inc. and The Last Days of the Justice Society to the initial 57-issue run of All-Star Comics. In this light, it's hard to shake the association of The Force Awakens as, essentially, Geoff Johns' Star Wars, with all that implies.])


The Weapon of a Jedi isn't a thriller. The plot is simple: Luke, flying an unfamiliar Y-Wing on an undercover scouting mission, runs afoul of an Imperial patrol and is forced to put down for repairs on Devaron (you remember, where these guys come from). This just happens to be the site of an ancient Jedi temple that has been placed off-limits by the Imperial governor. With a three-day wait for his ship's repairs, Luke sets out with the aid of an unscrupulous guide to explore the ruins. (The plot is, literally, Luke killing time while waiting for car repairs.) The Empire arrives on the scene, a young Davaronian girl he befriends is jeopardized, and wouldn't you know that same unscrupulous guide who has basically been hanging around waiting to kill Luke and steal his lightsaber since his first appearance tries to kill Luke and steal his lightsaber. Luke wins, the Imperials get killed (and their bodies thrown down a giant hole, which is a nice gruesome touch), and Luke defeats the guide. The end.

If it sounds like I'm piling onto The Weapon of a Jedi, I don't necessarily mean to sound so negative. There's nothing wrong with it, but it struggled to keep my interest. Even though it's exactly as long as Smuggler's Run (which I polished off in two hours), it took the better part of a week to get through. I can't blame Jason Fry. The premise holds some of the responsibility. Set between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, the book has the unenviable task of needing to fill-in a three-year gap in the timeline of a character whose backstory leaves little room for deviation. To wit: even though there's three years between the end of A New Hope and the beginning of Empire Strikes Back, Luke learns precious little about being a Jedi in that time. He shows up on Dagobah knowing almost nothing, so any attempt to fill in the blanks about what he gets up to in those three years has to avoid him actually, you know, learning anything. Here Luke finds three old lightsaber training drones in the ruins of the temple of Eedit and spends time practicing the rudimentary forms Obi Wan managed to teach him before he died. He learns how to meditate a little better. Even that feels like skating up to the edge of violating continuity, however, considering just how little he understands when he meets Yoda about the significance of patience to the Force. Even the one aspect of Luke's training that can plausibly be developed in the period - his lightsaber skills - starts to seem problematic, as the book shows him beginning to understand the Zen-like concentration necessary to wield such a difficult weapon correctly. He then forgets all these lessons about patience and concentration before he leaves for Dagobah, perhaps thanks to a Hal Jordan-esque head injury that occurs off-panel.

It's not Fry's fault that Luke is a bland protagonist. One of the smartest things they did in The Force Awakens was realize that the best way they could build anticipation for the guy was to have him gone. Here, left to his own devices and without any of the other main cast to play against (although R2-D2 and C-3PO are on hand), the book can't help but seem like marking time.

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
Hey, you like C-3PO's red arm? Well guess what, he's still going on about that in the framing sequence. At this point, I am beginning to think that the red arm schtick was designed specifically to troll fans, given our relentless "fill-in-the-blanks" attitude towards gaps in continuity. Books like these wouldn't even exist if there wasn't a market for it, though, so I guess there's really no one to blame but ourselves. In buying a Star Wars tie-in novel in the first place, we advertise our status as marks.

Just as in Smuggler's Run, the framing sequence is notable far more for what it leaves out than what it says. The main story is a flashback being narrated in the present by C-3PO to Resistance pilot Jessika Pava. She wants to hear a story about the legendary Luke Skywalker. Anyone having read this before the movie might not have read much into that, but it's obvious in hindsight that Luke is a "legend" at least partially because he's been missing for a while.

The other connection comes in the form of the aforementioned unscrupulous guide, a vaguely insectoid fellow named Sarco Plank. Yes, the same Sarco Plank who appears literally for less than a second onscreen in The Force Awakens, as one of dozens of dudes hanging around the trading post on Jakku in the movie's first half-hour. He does have his own toy, though, so you can now relive the adventure of that time he tried to kill Luke in a YA tie-in novel, or that time he was sitting around while Rey did something else in the foreground. Viva la Star Wars!


Anonymous said...

Question - Does the three year gap between Star Wars and Empire still apply in the 'new canon'? I can't recall it ever being mentioned in the original (or special edition) movies. Is it something that has been announced in connection with the Disney / Marvel material?

And Luke is the Cyclops of Star Wars insofar as fan interest applies. Fans, especially tween boys, want to be the 'rebel' (pun not intended), not the good-two-shoes.

It is astonishing in Empire to consider how much Luke actually needs help and rescue throughout the movie. About his only solo hero acts are escaping from the ice cave (after being captured) and destroying the Imperial Walker in the opening Hoth battle. From about 40% of the way through the movie he fails again and again.

Do these books line up with the Star Wars comics being published?

Tim O'Neil said...

Yeah, the three year gap is still in play according to every source I can find. As to where it is specifically stated . . . it may come from the original novelizations, I don't know. But it's been consistent forever, even through the Disney shift.

The books do line up - I mentioned before that there's a specific plot thread in the Han Solo book that gets picked up in the Chewbacca mini Marvel just finished. The goal going forward after the Disney sale has been for every aspect of the new EU (I don't even think they use that term anymore) to "count" - it's all centrally coordinated by the Lucasfilm story team. The folks who write the Marvel books get flown out for meetings and such. We'll see how long that lasts before everything gets too convoluted to follow.

The Cyclops comparison is really good. I don't know why I never thought of that before.

Mr. K said...

February 2016: Disney: All of Star Wars canon moving forward counts
February 2017: Marvel announces X-MEN VS. DARTH VADER ongoing.
February 2018: JAXXON & THE MIGHTY AVENGERS cartoon coming to Disney XD!

Mr. K said...

Also, I have an alternate idea for your continuing series:
WAR JOURNAL... because some might see it as a rather "Punishing" task to take on.

... I'll show myself out.