Fate of the Jedi Retrospective – Part I

With Apocalypse hitting bookshelves last month, the three-year Fate of the Jedi series came to a conclusion. Not only did it mark the end of the nine book series, but the end of the megaseries concept Del Rey has been known for since New Jedi Order kicked off in 1999. FotJ marks the end of an era in more ways than one, but how effective was it?

Part I of the Fate of the Jedi retrospective below the cut.

Putting the Grand back in Grandeur

Of the various subplots spread throughout the series, the Luke and Ben adventure may have been the strongest of them. While readers had issues with numerous elements of the series, I think it’s safe to say that the page time devoted to those two felt as close to the source material in the films as anything the post-RotJ Expanded Universe has seen in years. In general, these segments were rather fun and exciting adventures. These were the pages where we visited other worlds and explored different cultures, particularly in the first half of the series.

This isn’t to say adventure fun time was limited just to Luke and Ben’s wild ride. Han and Leia on Dathomir, Alanna’s exploits on Klatooine, Vestara’s visit to Abeloth’s world. Fate of the Jedi was at its best when it wasn’t on Coruscant and dealing with the doom-and-gloom ‘what’s out to get the Jedi Order this week?’ plot. This is the first series (at least the first half anyway) in a long while that seemed to remember that it’s a big galaxy with places to explore. Even if some of these locations had been visited before, we are finally getting away from Coruscant to have some fun in other settings.

The great news is this concept seems to be carrying into the future. For the first time in thirteen years readers will be getting a new X-Wing novel. Standalones, duologies, and trilogies are the on the slate for the future, formats that lend themselves well to tightly constructed tales that don’t need to be so deeply rooted to whatever planet the Jedi are calling home these days. There’s a lot of reason to be excited about the the next phase of Star Wars novels, especially if they keep in mind that there are all sorts of people to meet and places to explore.

Going Overboard With The Grit

While the adventuring was nice at times, there were long stretches of Fate of the Jedi where it didn’t feel like I was reading Star Wars anymore. Looking back, where things went sideways was Vortex. Up until that point, we had at least been under the pretense of an Odyssey-type adventure with Luke and Ben trying to retrace Jacen’s steps and figuring out what went wrong. Come Vortex, that grand adventure feel (and the Jacen subplot itself) was tossed to the side in order to facilitate an overly dark and overly gritty plot.

Every series since New Jedi Order, it’s been one galactic disaster after another. The Galaxy can’t go two weeks without some sort of apocalyptic event happening and it’s more of the same in FotJ. Enter Abeloth, the Eldritch Abomination that is but the latest threat to the Galaxy’s existence. I never thought I’d say this, but the Expanded Universe could do with taking a few cues from the comic universe. Series like Fate of the Jedi are akin to Marvel’s big-time events. You can have these gritty, universe changing events, but break it up every now and then. Smaller, character driven stories in the same timeline will help flesh things out and provide more texture and nuance to the overall narrative.

My biggest issue came in the last third of the series (specifically Apocalypse) in which it’s outright stated that Vestara Khai has no hope of redemption. I’ve heard the arguments as to why it’s impossible, that she’s born and raised a Sith and thus cannot feel the Light, but I can’t for a minute buy any of that. Star Wars is a story centered around redemption. Darth Vader was one of the most feared Sith Lords in Galactic history. Kyp Durron committed unspeakable acts of destruction. They were forgiven, they were redeemed. Yet, it is outright stated by Luke Skywalker that a sixteen year old girl is beyond redemption.

That isn’t the Luke Skywalker from the films. The only similarity these characters share is a name and a bad haircut. Saying that any character cannot be redeemed is an absolute that only the Sith should be dealing in and surefire sign you’re trying too hard to make established Star Wars characters edgy and gritty.

The Jedi Order: Now 110% More Bloodthirsty

The showdown between Kenth Hamner and Saba Sebatyne might be the best encapsulation of why a number of readers (myself included) have struggled with the Expanded Universe since the end of New Jedi Order. On the podcast, I’ve complained about the tendency of the EU these days to shoehorn characters into plots, rather than crafting plots around the characters. This fight was that problem to a tee. Up until that point, Golden and Allston had done a fairly admirable job portraying Hamner as an individual caught between the government and a petulant Jedi Order. Come Vortex, Hamner’s characterization was tossed to the wind and he given the idiot ball in order to facilitate an edgy confrontation. Saba kills Kenth, the Jedi rejoice, and go along their merry ways.

Unfortunately, the only thing this scene managed to accomplish was prove that the Strawman Has a Point. Daala was right, the Jedi apparently need to be reined in because they’re going to detain or kill anyone that gets in their way. Hamner was the one person trying to prevent an all-out armed conflict that would have put countless lives in jeopardy. He had already shown that he could quietly get Jedi off of Coruscant, so why the rush to launch their Stealth-X fighters? Do you mean to tell me that the Jedi were incapable of procuring other resources after sneaking off Coruscant? No, the Saba mutiny was never interested in diplomacy (because that’s hard), they would sooner risk the collateral damage caused by an orbital bombardment from Daala than find another, quieter, solution. They wanted blood all the way back in Outcast. Eventually they got fed up trying to play peace keeper and took their aggression out on Kenth, consequences be damned.

To quote Roger Ebert, “You can’t have heroes and villains when the wrong side is making the best sense.

I always admired Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Order because they genuinely seemed to be peacekeepers. Violence and bloodshed was the absolute last resort, but something went wrong in Fate of the Jedi. If it hadn’t been for Kenth, the Jedi Masters would have declared open season on the government and anyone that got in their way the second Luke left Coruscant’s atmosphere. In this series, they came across as petulant and overeager to ignite their lightsabers. While I understand they all were worried about the state of the Galaxy and their deposed Grand Master, I would have hoped they would have demonstrated more level-headedness. There were times when I wasn’t sure who was worse, the Jedi or Daala.

I’m pretty sure that’s not the question the authors wanted me to ask.

Arc Welding

I talked about this in my Apocalypse review, but the Mortis connection felt rather clunky. The way it was introduced so late in the book (and by extension, the series) made for a very bumpy narrative. If anything, it felt like this element should have been only hinted it if they weren’t going to introduce it sooner in the series. If this was something that was planned well before Apocalypse, it probably should have been incorporated into Conviction or an earlier novel. If it was a decision made late in the series, the creative staff probably would have been better excluding it entirely and allowing a future book to address it.

I have to admit, this arc tie-in has me very nervous about the future of the Expanded Universe. The Mortis plot in The Clone Wars was left intentionally vague, which is something that Denning and the creative staff didn’t seem to consider when they made it a foundational part of the EU moving forward. For all we know, Mortis was just a dream. If the writers with TCW ever decide to revisit Mortis or outright tell viewers that it was just some bizarre Force vision, we could see a canon disaster that would put the Republic Commando continuity pileup to shame.

This doesn’t even begin to address the philosophical issues that this tie-in brings to the table. The explicit manner in which Mortis was explained and worked into Fate of the Jedi has already created enormous debates amongst fans. Many are asking if it has invalidated Anakin bringing balance to the Force or whether the future is actually in motion as Yoda indicated in the films. This, unfortunately, is a post in and of itself, but suffice to say the Mortis tie-in is another reason Fate of the Jedi fails to feel like Star Wars at a fundamental level.

Part II of the FotJ retrospective examines the character building efforts, the authors, loose ends, and provide an overall wrap-up and series score.