There’s a discussion going on in the Club Jade comments (as well as on Twitter) regarding why people read Star Wars books. I took exception to a comment that people don’t read Star Wars books for characterization, but rather for action, because that’s exactly why I started reading the EU. I was 11 years old and had just watched the Original Trilogy. I loved Luke Skywalker (actually all the characters, but Luke especially) and wanted to know what happened to them after the movies. Thankfully, right around that time Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy was released. I learned what happened to these characters I loved, as well as got to know new characters, who are still some of my favorites (Mara and Karrde).
As far as action is concerned, I can take it or leave it. My judgment usually falls upon whether or not the action scene did something rather than just drive the plot forward. I’m thinking of the first scene of Rogue Squadron, introducing Corran Horn; any of the action scenes involving Luke in Shadows of Mindor; or the fight with C’baoth in The Last Command, to name a few. Mindless action in films and television don’t bother me as much, because it’s pretty (or it can be). But in a book, there is nothing that makes me fall asleep faster than action with no plot or character development included.
There’s nothing wrong with lightsaber fights, starfighter dogfights, or chase sequences. I love those, if done correctly. But even in the films, Star Wars has never been just about action. Let’s take a look at the film that started it all, A New Hope.
- Starts out with a bang, as Darth Vader captures Princess Leia. The plot is driven forward, but we meet Vader, Leia, the droids, and get a sense of exactly who they are.
- We move to Tatooine. More character development with the droids. Eventually we come upon the Lars homestead. Basically, this sequence is entirely character development, ending with the death of the Larses and Luke’s decision to go with Obi-Wan to Alderaan.
- The Cantina. Introduction of Han and Chewie, establishment of conflict with Han and Jabba. The plot moves forward again and we get off planet.
- Escape from Tatooine. Finally, another action sequence, during which we learn more about Han’s personality and Luke’s “aww, shucks” farm boy nature.
- Destruction of Alderaan. Is this considered an action sequence? To me, it’s all character development and plot advancement.
- The Death Star. The action eventually begins, after learning more about Obi-Wan (“there are alternatives to fighting”), Luke (willing to rescue the Princess at any cost), and Han (he just wants a reward). Leia is rescued, and then grabs a gun and decides to take matters into her own hands. Obi-Wan and Vader face each other again. Even without having seen the prequels, we knew that there was something between those two. In the end, Obi-Wan sacrifices himself so Luke and the others can get away.
- Tie Fighter Attack. This is another pure action sequence, but it’s fun! And it works on film, with clever lines (“Great, kid! Don’t get cocky!” “You hear me, baby? Hold together.”), great music, and eye-popping effects.
- Arrival at Yavin. More character development and plot advancement. We see Luke jumping headfirst into the Rebellion and Han wanting to get out of there. Leia pushes aside her sorrow to focus on being a leader of the Rebellion.
- The Battle of Yavin. The climax of the film is one long action sequence, but how boring would it be if there was no dialogue, no music, no concerned looks as the camera flashes to Leia, no cheering when Han Solo returns to blast the TIE fighters off Luke’s tail, no determined expressions as Luke turns off his targeting computer to “use the Force”? In this sequence, we learn that there’s more to Han than money, Luke has what it takes to be a Jedi, Leia is a leader, R2 is the true hero of the saga, and Vader is going to be angry come the next movie!
- While A New Hope doesn’t have any explicit romance, the hints are there with Han and Leia, and possibly Luke and Leia (yes, ew, but they didn’t know, give them a break). But besides romance between characters, the film itself could be classified as romantic in the broadest sense of the word. I mean, you have Luke getting a kiss for luck, then swinging across the Death Star chasm with John Williams music blaring in the background. If that’s not “romantic”, I don’t know what is!
So there you have it. Does Star Wars, as a franchise, contain action elements? Yes. Is it an action franchise? I say no. There are elements of action, drama, romance, and humor, combined with a ton of character development. In my opinion, the best Expanded Universe novels are the ones that echo this tone. Too much action, and you bore me. Not enough , and it’s not exciting. And if your characters don’t drive the story (rather than characters acting stupid to fit the plot), then I’m not interested at all.
What do you say?