*puts down coffee cup, startled by your presence*
Oh! Hello. I didn’t see you there.
What’s that? You have an email for me? An email about the Star Wars novel I wrote, Star Wars: Aftermath, which is both a defacto sequel to both Return of the Jedi and the TV show Perfect Strangers? Sure, sure, I’ll take a look — I get emails every week from adoring fans such as yourself, so here, hand it over, I’ll take a look and —
It’s one of those emails.
I get these, too, every week.
But! I shall persevere, and though I believe I’m not supposed to, ahem, respond to negative reviews, it’s hard not to considering how many people want to deliver them straight to my inbox. And besides, I need blog content for this week anyway, so here we are.
I will take your email, Unnamed Individual, and go through it bit by bit.
Let’s see where we go, shall we?
Long before I could make memories, I was a Star Wars fan.
Me, too. I had a lightsaber in the womb. That is how I carved my way free from my mother’s belly, as if she were a Wampa cave and I was an imprisoned young Jedi.
These films were a major part of my upbringing, and it plays a major role in my life now as I go forth aspiring to be a filmmaker. And I’ve loved Episode 7, Rebels, The Clone Wars and many of Disney’s Star Wars media. Now, I know that Star Wars, is just a movie, but has this amazing power to bring people of diverse cultures and backgrounds together and share in the joy of fantasy. So when I read your book (Star Wars: Aftermath), I felt almost offended as well as disappointed.
Well, that’s not good. I too like that it brings together people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, and I would hate to have violated that in some fundamental way. Disappointed, sure, I can handle that. But offended? Oh my. ZOUNDS. ZOINKS. JINKIES! I apologize in advance, and now let us get to the heart of this offense, shall we? Because I’m very sure that the offense is purely based in the way I wrote the book, not in anything untoward or political, right? Right. Let’s go through it.
I thought that the writing style was jarring and choppy; the diction in no way suited to the tone of the book and syntax and grammar created something really off beat. It was bizarre and rough on the eyes –especially when the droid would talk AND IT WOULD BE IN ALL CAPS. It’s incredibly jarring.
SORRY SOMETIMES I VERY MUCH LIKE TO WRITE IN ALL CAPS. ESPECIALLY WHEN WRITING IN THE VOICE OF A LOVABLE-IF-DERANGED BODYGUARD VIOLENCE-PERFORMING DROID. I AM SORRY IF IT IS ROUGH ON THE EYES. NEXT TIME I WILL ENDEAVOR TO WRITE LIKE A SILKEN SHEET RATHER THAN A SCOURING SINK SCRUBBY.
As for the writing style being jarring and choppy — well, I covered that recently. Stylistically it’s one of the things I tend to like, and I’m very sorry you don’t dig it.
I thought the plot was incredibly weak (as well as predictable) and I found the characters to be thinner than the paper that you wrote them on.
Point of trivia: I did not write the story or the characters on paper, but rather, on my fancy COMPUTER MACHINE. It is not made of paper, but instead comprises electrons and steel and the ghosts of old, dead, forgotten novels.
I found it absurd that three of the five characters that served as heroes all had some origin story connected to the battle of endor, and I found it even more ridiculous (and unnecessary) that the bounty hunter had Princess Leia in her scopes and then chose not to take the shot just for the hell of it (which by the way felt like it was lifted straight out of the Force Unleashed Two comic book –because the same exact thing happened in it)
All of the characters being connected is a conscious choice, because in some ways, that’s how Star Wars works and has always worked — a small group of characters come together, bound by common purpose or shared event, and they change the galaxy. In the novel Lost Stars, the two characters are present for most of the major events in the recent Star Wars universe. In the films, Yoda was pretty much everywhere.
He’s under the carpet right now.
As for Jas Emari, the bounty hunter, not taking her shot — that isn’t a plot hole or a Hamilton reference. It’s on purpose. It’s necessary because it is a breach in the character’s protocol. Storytelling is an act of violating the status quo, and Emari’s status quo as a bounty hunter is have a target, take the shot. That circuit gets interrupted with Leia. And why?
If only the novel explained it…
“You think, yes, I’ll kill this spunky rebel princess-warrior like the Empire wants, but then you watch the rebels turn the tide and you realize the winning side isn’t the winning side anymore and if you wanna survive, you’d damn well better change your skin or just plain disappear.”
She doesn’t take the shot because she sees the tide turning. She is on the wrong side of history — and, practically speaking, she doesn’t know if the Empire will be around to pay for the bounty.
Further, it’s suggestive that Jas as a character is deeper than the bounties she takes.
Certainly more strategic. And possibly a better person than she admits.
As for The Force Unleashed Two comic book? Never read it, sorry.
In addition to the characters being thin, they all kind of felt like less interesting off brand versions of other characters already in existence. Norra Wexley (which isn’t even a Star Warsian name), was basically Hera, but worse, Temmin was like Ezra, but unlikable, and Mr. Bones (another ill name) was horrible incarnation of HK-47 but with a hint of Jar Jar Binks.
I admit: I bought my Star Wars characters at an Aldi store. Instead of Trix, it’s COLORFUL FRUCTOSE ORBS. Instead of Triscuits, it’s ASBESTOS ROOF SHINGLE SALTCOOKIES. I just took other characters, filed off the serial numbers, and re-used them. I was hoping nobody noticed? BUT YOU GOT ME. *insert shrug emoji*
Also, what, exactly, is a Star Wars-ian name? And why does Norra Wexley not have one? Not everybody is named like, FLORGIM FINFAM or ZOOP MAGOO or something. Sometimes they have names like Colonel Kaplan or oh, I dunno, Luke Skywalker.
To make matters worse, I felt like your grasp on the world you were exploring was tenuous; you would use a lot of analogies that only serviced the fans and when it came down to establishing the narrative’s universe, you just kind of tried to force in the aesthetics rather than letting them grow out of the story naturally.
Here’s the problem sometimes with writing metaphors or analogies in the Star Wars universe: you can choose one of three ways to go with it.
First, you can use a very Earthy metaphor: “He was like a HAMSTER caught in a JOCKSTRAP.”
Second, you can use something purely Star Wars-ian in nature: “He was like a GRAKKUS caught in a LASER SPINDLE.” Or, for the variant on this, you can choose something familiar in the Star Wars universe: “He was like a BANTHA on a SPEEDER BIKE.”
Or, third, you can try to jostle the metaphor around so that it serves both — it’s Earthy enough to be understood, but Star Wars in feeling. So, it’s like, “He was like a SANDEATER FALCON caught in a PROTEIN RECYCLER,” which tells you, okay, that bird is not an Earth bird but with ‘falcon’ we at least know that it is a bird, and protein recycler is not a known thing but it’s close enough we can figure out what it is.
Trick is, certain fans get mad at each approach differently. If something is too Earthy, they buck because this is Star Wars and nothing is ever Earthy (except for milk and hot chocolate and falcons and X-Wings and A-Wings and Y-Wings and tea and brandy and Cognac and — well). I mentioned a hamster in the book and people are mad because I “canonized” hamsters, which sounds like I put hamsters up for Catholic sainthood.
If you do something too Star Warsy, people don’t like it because really, what the hell are you even talking about? What is a Grakkus? What is a Laser Spindle? If I say “Bantha,” but the character isn’t from Tatooine, someone will complain, “In a galaxy of thousands of systems, how does Zoop Magoo even know what a Bantha is?”
If you do the mix, you do the best you can contextualizing the metaphor for both fans of the world and average readers and so that the metaphor can be understood.
But, it’s a tricky balance. I tried! Sometimes, I failed. Sorry!
A case of point would be the colloquialisms such as “space diaper” or “space bus” –words nobody in this universe would utter because like here on earth, diapers and buses are the norm in day to day life –there wouldn’t be need to be more specific. In the case of the space bus, shuttle would probably be the more apt term and in the case of the space diaper…well I don’t know…when I read those words I almost threw the book at the wall…
I’m glad you didn’t actually throw the book against the wall. It is a large book and you might have hurt your wall and I don’t want VIOLENCE AGAINST WALLS OR BOOKS on my conscience.
As for “space bus” — that phrase does not exist in the book.
As for “space diapers” — goddamn right that phrase exists in the book.
If I could include that phrase in all my books, I would. Maybe I can…
It exists in the book because:
a) It’s funny. I still laugh at it, and I laugh even harder knowing it bugs people. Plus, the humor factor has context for me. In the book, it’s older Dengar saying it to a younger bounty hunter in a scene that is a deliberate riff on the climax of one of my favorite movies, Grosse Pointe Blank, where Grosser (Dan Ackroyd) tries to recruit Martin Blank (John Cusack) into his mercenary assassin’s guild. In this mode, Dengar is Grosser, trying to convince his younger counterpart to join in a bounty hunter union, basically. Further, my version of Dengar is the Clone Wars cartoon version — which is to say, voiced by Simon Pegg. So, Simon Pegg saying “space diapers” is, for me, just the best. That version of him — listen to it here — is ego-fed and cocky. And “space diapers” is fundamentally funnier than just “diapers.” IT JUST IS.
b) Space diapers are actually a thing, anyway. Astronauts use them.
People get very mad about that phrase, “space diapers” — so much so that you start to wonder if these critics are all reading from the same playbook. Either that, or “space diapers” is your safeword and it bucks you out of the storytelling? Spaaaace diaaaapers.
According to Wookieepedia you wrote your 360 page book in under 45 days, so it perplexes me that you have the energy to defend this novel when you clearly spent very little time developing it. Dr. Seuss wrote his 50 page epic Cat in The Hat over the course of a year, and personally I think that may have made a better Star Wars book. You can’t rush a piece of art if you want it to turn out.
I did not spend 45 days in total on the book. I spent months workshopping it with the publisher and Story Group. I wrote the first draft in 45 days, and then there was a second draft, and a copy edit. (And no, that copy edit did not catch everything, which is a shame, but a woeful reality of publishing where perfection is just not possible.)
I tend to spend around 30-60 days writing most of my novels. Again: first drafts. I think Life Debt took me about 90 days on the first draft, but that’s because I had hellacious pneumonia smack dab in the middle of it and that halted forward progress.
Writing quickly is not that weird.
Nor is writing slowly. Every author writes at a different speed because writing is not digging holes. I worked in freelance game writing for over a decade and learned to write quickly and cleanly to hit deadlines. It serves me well now as a speed skill that I practiced over many years.
And no, Cat in the Hat is not a better Star Wars story, and now you’re just being silly.
The good news here is, I appreciate you engaging with the book on a critical level without bringing up any of that homophobic stuff, because —
Oh, oh, no.
*takes off glasses*
I know how this might sound, but I also had a problem with the homosexuality in the book. Not because I have a problem with gay people or anything –in matter of fact I do have a friend that is lesbian and I think she is a delight, but I am appalled by the pandering and pedaling of your own political agenda into something so pure as Star Wars. Star Wars is supposed to be above the politics, but in this novel you made it about that when you needlessly added homosexuals just for the hell of it. Temmin’s aunts served no purpose, the two fathers served no purpose. The only one that did was Sinjir and even his orientation made no sense in context. Considering that it felt like a romance was set up in the beginning of the book between him and Jas, your decision diminished the payoff. And even worse than that, the scene where he reveals this was just horribly executed. It was by far some of the most clunky dialogue I had ever read or seen (maybe even worse than Anakin in Attack of the Clones). The offense comes in at this point: you crammed your politics into a franchise that is universal that is supposed to be above the politics –a subject that would so obviously divide us –and to make it worse when we tell you that your book is no good, you call it a weaponized nostalgia from the Evil Empire comprised of hateful bigots. But the truth is, we do not dislike your book because of the politics as you believe it is, but it is because this book was sloppy and poorly written.
And, there it is.
The kicker, the corker, the game ball, the goal unit.
So, let’s unpack this a little.
You don’t have a problem with gay people in your life — because you have one lesbian pal, and boy howdy is she a delight — but you do have a problem with gay people in your fiction. Sorry, “crammed” in your Star Wars fiction. The inclusion of homosexual characters in the book offended you. An inclusion that, according to you, is forced in and overly political and agenda-driven and yet, paradoxically, done “needlessly” and “just for the hell of it.” (Newsflash: agendas are never just for the hell of it, sport.)
These characters serve no purpose? Temmin’s aunts raised him. The two fathers that died are missed because they were fathers. They were parents. Sinjir is gay because he’s gay. It’s not for the hell of it, but it’s also not because his homosexuality is a plot point. Listen, I’m not some kind of culture hero, and nor is this book some kind of paean to homosexuality. But it includes them as people, as real people, as married people or as people who can love one another and not be marked by stereotypes. That’s their purpose. To be real, complex, compelling characters. It’s the same purpose of the straight characters. Or the asexual droids. They are there to be characters — realized, interesting, and with their own agendas and agency. I did the literal bare minimum here in including these characters and even still, I get weekly fucking emails from people who just can’t hack it. The very thought of there being a man inside Star Wars wanting to kiss — whether sweetly or sloppily — another man is so utterly sphincter-clenching that I’m surprised you folks don’t just implode into your own asshole like a star collapsing into its own center.
And you know the one earmark with all these comments?
The comments always come part and parcel with The Defense.
The Defense of, “I’m not homophobic. Your book just sucks.”
And yet, the most substantive, thought-out portion of Random Guy’s email critique is, drum roll please, a harangue against the inclusion of homosexual characters. A minor portion of the novel gets the major part of your attention.
That, dear emailer, is homophobia.
That is bigotry.
That is hatred.
You worry about how it sounds?
You should! Because it sounds super-homophobic!
You can pretend it’s not. If that helps you sleep better at night, far be it for me to disturb your restful, hate-fueled slumber. But you can object and gesticulate all you like: if the thought of characters being gay upsets you, then that is textbook homophobia. And you can hate the book for all kinds of reasons, and I get that. Not everybody is going to like every book, and maybe I was a controversial choice to write Star Wars because of my style. But what shouldn’t ever be controversial is the act of including gay characters. The moment you poison your critique with that bigotry, everything else you said is now out the window. Because I see one thing: “I am a homophobe, and I’m going to mention these other criticisms in order to try to quaintly pave over my raging prejudice. I’m going to tell you I don’t like sentence fragments, but what I really want to tell you is that I hate that you have two women who are married and who love each other because ew gross yucky face. I mean, also sentence fragments, but really, two dudes kissing.”
No, I don’t believe that everyone who didn’t like this book didn’t like it because of its “politics” — and, by the way, Star Wars has always been political, and science-fiction is profoundly political as a genre — but I do believe that the moment you mention it, you’ve proven that you’re the one with the agenda here. You’re the one with the toxic, nauseating politics that would exclude other people because they make you uncomfortable. (Sidenote, at Amazon, the troll mobs continue on. Someone wrote an admittedly luke-warm five-star review recently, and that review has 18 comments from the self-identified trolls — trolls who mob every positive review and use words like SJW and “cry-bully” and other phrases often earmarked by bigots while simultaneously calling me out for claiming that they are, in fact, bigoted idiots.)
And of course, that brings us to Luke Skywalker and his Rainbow Gaysaber.
Something something ruining Star Wars.
Something something ruining Ghostbusters.
Something something Idris Elba ruining James Bond or the Gunslinger.
It’s all the same shit.
It’s all people from the status quo bleachers mad because their team doesn’t have the ball anymore — never mind the fact we’ve been hogging the ball for too damn long now.
See, earlier I said that storytelling is an act of breaking the status quo. This is part of that, too. White gender-normative dudes have had the run on not just protagonists, but villains, supporting characters, everything. We’re like wallpaper. We’re roaches in the walls. We’re everywhere. But the power of story is the power of breaking the status quo — even when that status quo is about the stories themselves. It’s time to break the status quo. The Force Awakens succeeds because it’s a great story, yes, and also because the protagonists up on the screen are not a bunch of white boy Luke Skywalker clones running around, being white and kissing their sisters. There is great power in breaking the rules, in shattering toxic norms, in doing what other people aren’t: representing all kinds of people inside fiction. Time to pass the ball. Time to let other people see themselves inside stories, and just as importantly, it’s time for you to get comfortable with that — because everyone else has had to be comfortable with it for far too long, now.
Star Wars, to quote the guy who emailed me, does bring people from diverse cultures and backgrounds together. And everybody of those cultures and backgrounds deserve to be seen on the screen and on the page and in comic book panels. This isn’t a joke. This isn’t glib. This is their lives. Not everybody is you. And as I said before, if you can imagine a Star Wars where Luke Skywalker hates gay people, I got bad news for you, hoss: you watched a different Star Wars than I did. You fell to the Dark Side. You joined the Empire. And I hope one day that Big Gay Luke Skywalker shows up at your battlestation door and he shines his rainbow gaysaber at you and you can do nothing but melt beneath its warm rays of inclusiveness and kindness and you come to realize that love is good and gay people exist and dang, were you a huge asshole.
But, if you’re not on board with that, here is a picture of heterosexual love to make you feel better about your choices. Please click and enjoy warm, comfortable familiarity.
Oh, and thanks for the email, Random Guy. Glad you liked Aftermath, and Life Debt will be out this summer. WITH EXTRA SPACE DIAPERS ALL FOR YOU.
Bye! Off to ruin more Star Wars.
*sings Perfect Strangers theme song*
*bounds away on a grunting gay tauntaun*