It’s time to sell me on Jaina Solo

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.

19 Replies to “It’s time to sell me on Jaina Solo”

  1. I totally agree with you about Jaina and kids. There is ABSOLUTELY no need for her to have any yet. I’ve seen people say ‘Well Jacen has a daughter, Jaina is already falling behind.’ That is nonsense though. Ben wasn’t born until the Solo kids were teens, Jaina still has plenty of time.

  2. Yah, I WANT to like Jaina because she’s the DAUGHTER of Han and Leia and that should be a whole bunch of awesome right there. But 90% of the EU these days leaves me totally disinterested. Now…if they let Zahn take a crack at Jaina…that would be awesome.

    I did read the Young Jedi Knights – but I was young enough then, and so desperate for Star Wars anything, that I gobbled them up with only a passing thought for how cheezy they were. :)

  3. I’m a big Jaina fan, and the books that most sold me on her, more than Dark Journey even, were Aaron Allston’s Rebel Dream & Rebel Stand. At that time she was interesting, complicated and her love life was a side-plot more than the focus.

    I have, however, been disappointed with how she’s been treated ever since the final books of the NJO. The final two LOTF books finally had some promise, only to have the final confrontations between Jaina & Jacen seem anti-climactic and more focused on Jacen, Tenel Ka and LUKE of all people, than Jaina, and then have absolutely no attempt at emotional resolution at the end of the series /sigh.

    As someone with little interest in Ben, and a general dislike of Jacen (he went from dull child to incredibly annoying young adult, and finally became moderately interesting just before he died) I really want to once again have a Jaina I can love.

    Christie Golden – well, I’m not a big fan of her FOTJ work, but then Aaron Allston is one of my favourite SW writers and I wasn’t too impressed with his FOTJ novels either, so maybe when she’s writing by herself we might see an improvement?

  4. I’m one of those hardcore Jaina fans–YJK was unfortunately, the first EU I read. I was even younger than the characters were, and it was just like any other cheesy action kid series to me.

    NJO Jaina had some pretty awesome moments. LOTF Jaina was good before she went to Mandalore and became pretty much a really un-subtle way for Karen Traviss to display her Mandalorians once again.

    I was quite disappointed with Jaina in FOTJ, since most of her own pages were just romance. And while I like romance, and like the J/J pairing, it seemed mostly obligatory and tired in FOTJ.

    As for the remaining “YJK herd”, it feels like they can’t decide which character to develop next. Adding all these new characters aren’t really helping, when characters like Tenel Ka are still pretty much slightly blown-up versions of what they were in YJK.

    So this trilogy looks good to me, and hopefully hints at future books aimed at developing some of these characters that have been waiting around forever.

  5. I’m right on the same age path as you, and so I never read any of the young Jedi Knight stuff — I think the problem is this. When did the Solo kids ever capture the imagination — when did you run around and think, “Boy, I wish I could be _______”? Did that happen for the Solo kids for a chunk of readers? If anything — well, they were the foil, the problem in so many of the books that you didn’t… want to be them. They get in trouble, and it causes problems for the Characters you do connect with.

    Jaina could still be really neat… but… she needs to be heroic.

  6. Eric, I remember wanting to be Anakin after reading the Edge of Victory duology…but then Star By Star happened. While I love Star By Star (probably one of my favorite SW books behind Mindor), it did kind of end up ruining the Solo kids, especially Anakin obviously.

  7. Actually, the only reason I was ever interested in Jaina after the YJKs books almost killed all interest in the “kiddie” generation, was once Jag appeared, they HAD to breed. Not to do so would be tantamount to, if you by some miracle of time-travel or cloning owned both Man o’ War and Zenyatta and DIDN’T breed them-insanity. And even THAT got dulled to disinterest by the ‘will-they won’t they’, books that meandered through a million characters I didn’t care about (I’m even having trouble with “Mercy Kill” because it stars “a bunch of people I don’t care about and the Gamorrean”), plots that were either Bataan Death Marches of grimness (NJO) or long-winded and meandering until I couldn’t remember why I was supposed to care….

    I really, really hope that, Jag and Jaina uberoffspring aside, now that we’ve killed off a bunch of the chaff and settled the issue of who ends up with whom, we can just get a nice adventure without any overly complicated galaxy-spanning plots with casts of thousands and contrived emotional trauma. (And no Allana unless she grows up quick, please. Before a certain age, kids are not characters, they’re plot devices.)

  8. I find it depressing but not surprising that most messageboard discussion of Jaina focuses on her fertility. Why does she even have to have kids at all? As a childfree woman myself, I find it absolutely beyond irritating that virtually every single female character in virtually every single medium either has kids or desperately wants them, just because society still has this backward notion that That’s What Women Do. I don’t see anyone sitting around discussing when male characters are going to start breeding. Female characters are more than incubators, and writers need to wake up and realize that instead of automatically taking the lazy “women –> kids!” route.

  9. I’m right with you there on Anakin, Brian. I think that’s where my dislike of Denning novels started (the modern Kevin Anderson, in my opinion)

  10. I think I actually liked Jaina in YJK but I enjoyed that series anyway (no, I never quite got the Anderson hatred). I was with her, more or less, up until Dark Nest, and then everything got weird and science-fiction-y, and that was it for me. :-/

    As for the whole fertility issue: I don’t see it quite as negatively as many of you. In a sense it’s a compliment: Heroes die, but they live on in their offspring. Since we grow older and since our heroes grow older, what would be more natural than to wish for the next generation to keep fighting the good fight.

    I admit, though, that so far EU writers rarely know what to do with female characters. Leia is the perfect example for that: She spent the 20 years after Endor getting nowhere. The great Leia moments in that period are, for my taste, limited to Tatooine Ghost which was a terrific Leia story. The rest was almost as bad as the current Padmé fiction, and that’s saying something. *cough* ;-)

  11. Disclaimer: I haven’t managed to get through FOTJ yet.

    I am a big Jaina fan, but I’m not a fan of her characterization in LOTF at ALL. I have what is going to probably seem to be a really weird perspective, so… here goes.

    I had stepped away from the Star Wars universe for years and then picked up a Dark Nest book at an airport when I was horribly bored my first year of grad school. I read it and loved it. I know the whole “joiner” storyline is hated by most, but I really loved what I saw as an incredibly strong characterization of Jaina in that series.

    The thing that kills me (as a mom) is that they’ve killed two of Leia’s babies, and the one that’s left, they have made boring. How freaking cruel to Leia is that? It makes me sick. I HATED, HATED, HATED the Mando storyline in LOTF. I also am not much of a Jagged Fel fan, so the obvious romancing of Jaina was really sort of meh to me, aside from the fact that turning her life into a romance novel was a real turnoff for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like romance, and the romance novel genre, even, I just want women to have more going on for them than that. Post-NJO, Leia never really took on the “Sword of the Jedi” role. Instead she got to stan for Mandos and whatever else. She’s become the IWOD (Imperial Womb of Destiny), and I think it’s horrible that they’ve taken their best second-generation female character and done that to her.

    Heck, in a lot of ways I think Tenel Ka’s character arc has been stronger than Jaina’s. What’s up with that? I mean, I like Tenel Ka, but seriously, ?Jaina should be the flagship character.

    As a female fan, the recent direction of the SW novels has just left me cold. I did love, love, love Knight Errant novel. And I love the comics.

    Anyway, I have high hopes for a Jaina trilogy. I really want more single character-driven novels. That’s what I crave. I may be the only person who was really disappointed when the Zekk book got cancelled – for just that reason.

  12. I’m actually 100% with you on the Zekk book breathesgelatin, but you’re right, I think we’re in the minority on that.

  13. Yeah, I was sad about the Zekk book, too.

    I remember people were rooting for Jaina/Jag progeny out of this super creepy eugenics argument that the child would be the best pilot ever (because Skywalker/Solo/Antilles/Fel bloodlines or whatever.) That was before the Imperial Womb of Destiny.

    I would find it deliciously ironic if Jaina found out that she had fertility problems, had to cope with it, etc. Challenging character conflicts and going against trope. Doubt it would happen, though.

  14. I think the EU should just ignore the Legacy comics. It really kills post-ROTJ stories to know that everything is just going to Sith in 100 years anyways. It ruins the ability of a character like Jaina to matter.

    To me, the Solo kids were always a bit like Wesley Crusher from Star Trek Next Generation. The seemed a bit too spoiled, too smart, and too annoying. We never really saw them GROW into interesting characters because we already saw them as Jedi heroes as kids. Oh well.

  15. I liked Jaina at first because yeah, as a kid I read the YJK series and it was nice to see a sci-fi character who was female and not completely relegated to rescue or romance status. So when NJO came out I was happy to see the effort being made to really develop her character as a young adult. And there were a lot of high spots, but it seems that for every step forward it was immediately followed a slide back into romance novel territory. I started LOTF, and stopped halfway through because it seemed almost criminal how the authors squandered all these wonderful opportunities to deal the consequences of NJO and the whole Jacen plotline as it affected Jaina in favor of yet more romance subplots. I don’t know, in my head I never say Jaina as attaching to anyone, and I really could see her as never having a kid. But it seems that there are still expectations out there for female characters that aren’t there for male ones.

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