So here we are, in the post-Legacy of the Force Expanded Universe. And, as we learned at Celebration, one of the first things out of the gate will be a trilogy focused on Jaina Solo. Fans of the only remaining Solo kid greeted the news with boundless enthusiasm – and just a hint of trepidation. My feelings are less clear. On the one hand, I think it’s long past due. On the other hand… No one has really managed to make me actually care about Jaina yet, and I think it’s probably long past time.
I haven’t made a whole lot of secret of what I read Star Wars books for: The characters I actually care about. As in, I generally only read books set after Return of the Jedi and featuring Skywalkers. As in, I spent most of the New Jedi Order rolling my eyes at the bad plots (Mara) paltry page time (Luke) and generally just annoyed with all the time spent on the Vong and those annoying brats from Young Jedi Knights. (Sorry, but bear with me.) It’s why I was, remarkably, on board with Legacy of the Force initially, which somehow managed to construct a plot using existing characters who readers actually had some investment in, instead of bringing on cardboard baddies from offstage. LOTF even made me, if not actually care per say, but certainly interested in Jacen Solo – I count his characterization, if not overarching plot, to be one of the few successes of the series. I have plenty of issues (ahem, Mara, Mandos) with LOTF, but on that point they were successful.
Here’s the thing about me and my Star Wars reading: I grew up with the books, more or less. I was 13 with Heir to the Empire, in college for Vector Prime, and out in the real world by the time the NJO wrapped up. But I always had a hard time actually caring about the Solo kids. Being no fan of Kevin J. Anderson’s adult offerings, I only made it through enough Young Jedi Knights to be turned off the characters entirely.
I’m not really a fan of the New Jedi Order either, but looking back, it had to do one thing for the future of the EU: Sell the Solo kids to those of us who had no patience or interest in YJK. Sadly, that’s exactly what the series failed to do for me. Intellectually, I don’t begrudge them a place in the series, or those that followed – they certainly belong there a hell of a lot more than Boba Fett or Kyle Katarn does – but emotionally? Nada.
Anakin Solo got some depth in the Gregory Keyes’ Edge of Victory duology: just in time to get killed off in the Star by Star bloodbath. Jacen did get Matthew Stover and Traitor… Only to fall right back into fail in the next book. He got LOTF, then killed off himself. Jaina got… I dunno. Dark Journey was supposed to be the Jaina book but honestly all I remember about it is a faint gloss of Hapan catfighting and backstabbing. (Now that we’re officially stuck with them, will someone develop the Hapans beyond the horrible lady-stereotypes, please? For Allana.)
The one thing I wish the NJO had was single-serve books like Traitor early on to develop at least a few of the major new characters, but… There weren’t. Granted, I have a distinct lack of interest in new characters in Star Wars books generally, but the NJO had so many wandering around I couldn’t even begin to get invested in any of them. (When you don’t care that much about Ganner, his grand moment in Traitor is just a Gandalf pastiche, you know?) I am the person who cheered at the Star by Star deaths, because at the very least it thinned the YJK herd.
But, Monday morning quarterbacking serves no one. It happened. It’s done. The thing is, I know it’s possible. Legacy of the Force, for all its faults, really did sell me on Jacen. And Ben Skywalker, for that matter. I don’t even mind Allana. But Jaina? I don’t know. Sword of the Jedi may be the last chance, because I’m not sure how much patience I have left.
In theory, Jaina has had her moments. There are certainly hardcore Jaina fans out there, and they have their reasons. I’m not denying that… Just that they never managed to hook me in, which is a damn shame. I’ve never actually hated Jaina, I’ve just been frustrated with how much time has been spent on her love interests. Annoyed with how Traviss used her to push the Mandalorians with more vigor than I read into the actual kill-your-own-brother plotline… But, again, it’s done. It’s there. And it is, in theory, plenty to go on. A skilled author could use all that, get into her head, make it work.
There’s nothing wrong with the concept of Jaina – it’s the execution that I see as lacking. As a Mara fan, I’m more than familiar with bad characterization damning a character – it was a constant issue that never really went away with her. But what Mara had was a baseline characterization from Timothy Zahn. Besides Young Jedi Knights’ laundry lists of traits, Jaina and her brothers got, what? The Crystal Star? Not exactly the EU A-list.
And while I hesitate to use message boards and the like as an example of readers as a whole, I do find it rather telling that Sword of the Jedi discussion I’m seeing out in fandom seems more concerned with when Jaina is going to spit out a kid than any of the other myriad possibilities of the still wide-open series. (Is there anything more frustrating as a fan of female character than unironically reducing her to her reproductive ‘imperative’? It wasn’t cute when they did it to Mara – with a hell of a lot less to go on – and it isn’t cute now. Legacy Fels or no Legacy Fels, if Jag and Jaina want to wait until they’re 70 and have kids out of a can Vorkosigan-style, more power to them. Welcome to the wonderful world of science fiction.) Maybe these folks need to be sold on Jaina as more than a branch of the Fel family tree as well.
I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on Christie Golden, and I try not to judge authors based on decisions made within mega-series. I honestly don’t know – maybe she’ll be more than workmanlike outside of those confines. Hope springs eternal in the EU… But please just keep one thing in mind: There are plenty of doubters. Make me give a damn about the only original Solo kid you have left. Please.