BOOK REVIEW: Wild Space
Somewhere towards the beginning of Karen Miller's The Clone Wars: Wild Space (the second spin-off novel from the Clone Wars animated series, and Ms Miller’s first Star Wars novel), Bail Organa, the senator from Alderaan, mulls over a concept known as buyer's remorse.
This is a real psychological condition sometimes experienced by people after the purchase of an particularly expensive item. A luxury apartment on Coruscant, for example. This feeling of guilty regret - of not wanting to have made a mistake - hits Bail when he first sees the vast clone army which will eventually be instrumental in both the extinction of the Jedi Order and the downfall of democracy. Yeah. Maybe not such a great buy, then.
But in fandom, and, arguably, in Star Wars more than any other, there exists another phenomenon I would like to call fan's remorse. By this I mean the reaction of a fan to a new, officially endorsed branch of fandom which doesn't live up to their very high expectations. The emotion that made Simon Pegg want to burn his Star Wars collection after watching The Phantom Menance. The angry regret at ever-bothering-to-get-so-excited, experienced, in turn, by some of the generation whose love of SW began with that very film, when they sat in the movie theatre and watched the animated feature-length Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
It is a reaction stemming, perhaps, from limitless, unrealistic childhood imaginings of how amazing something can be. Or from the bitter, entirely arrogant disappointment of discovering what is presented isn't exactly what you had personally envisioned. Or possibly from anger at the humiliating knowledge that, while you care deeply for your fandom, its creator simply doesn't care too much about you. What a fool you are, to love it so.
It must be pretty terrifying to be tasked with writing a Star Wars novel. In a post to her LJ, Karen Miller talks about her desire with Wild Space, to get it right, to please everyone, and the disappointing inevitability that of course, she couldn't. One thing is unequivocally true: there are many different kinds of Star Wars fans.
Some of us do not concern ourselves, particularly, with explaining away those glaring continuity errors. Do not worry about finding a reason for why Leia can remember her mother (although we might spend some time thinking about it). Are only mildly perplexed by Ashoka's existence, and only bothered at all because it contradicts a key plot point in Matthew Stover's skilful treatment of Revenge of the Sith . But hey, Ashoka's pretty cool. Leia kissed her brother, after all. No problem. It's not an instant fail. We'll cope.
But I digress. What I was meaning to say was, for us, okay, for me, personally, it's all about the characters. They are my fandom. Give me Anakin: powerful, headstrong, arrogant, insecure, desperate to love and be loved. Give me Padme: self-possessed, intelligent, feminine, wily, but in some ways, naive. And give me Obi-Wan, with his own brand of arrogance, rational, intimidating, perhaps, but witty, self-effacing, conflicted… and so the list goes on. You get the point. Give me my characters. Outline them. Colour them in. Add those features that make them recognisable. Get them wrong, New York Times best-selling author Karen Traviss, and I’ll become upset and wish I'd never bought your book. This is my fan's remorse. But get them right, and you could probably transplant them into an episode of Red Dwarf - I’d still be happy.
Also true: the GFFA is imperfectly described in canon. That's just one part of the fun of writing fic in this fandom. And fanfic is available by the megabyte-load. It's free, sometimes poorly-written but it's occasionally of astounding quality. Moreover, you can find any combination of characters you desire, and, if you are so inclined (and we are, of course), any combination who desire each other. So why bother with the EU at all?
Here's the answer. Because it's difficult to top the joyful, fannish thrill of finding the characters you love, skilfully portrayed by a talented author, resting between the shiny, clean, white cover of an official Star Wars novel.
Not resting, in fact, but brought, laughing and hurting and crying and loving, so perfectly to life, that you have to exclaim your approval out loud, making your family think you’ve gone slightly mad, and you have to stop yourself from racing to finish the book like Mario collecting ding-ding-dinging nuggets of delighted agreement, because you don’t want it to end.
That you have to write an overly-effusive review, in order to communicate this joy, so you don’t explode.
Please excuse me. I love Star Wars.
And I loved Wild Space.
The novel kicks off right after the battle of Geonosis, deftly sketching in our characters before jumping to the aftermath of Christophsis, where a still relatively freshly knighted Anakin, together with his anomalous padawan are sent on a mission to chase General Grievous. Obi-Wan, riding, (well what do you think he might be riding, fellow McGregor fans?) gets himself involved in a bit of an RTA combined with a terrorist bomb, so he’s forced to remain on Coruscant to convalesce. When good old senator Bail Organa alerts the Jedi to intelligence from a source so mysterious it can only possibly be a trap, Obi-Wan is sent to investigate, and, fancying the idea of himself as an adventurer, Bail insists on going too.
Two stubborn men. One tiny space ship. It's a recipe for conflict, grumpiness and bickering, of that kind that, if this were fanfic, would have to end in sex. And that's before they get stranded on the remote (wild space) planet of Zigoola. But this isn't fanfic, so all we get, in the end, is manly, silent, mutual respect. And that's okay by me. I've always thought the getting there should be the good bit anyway.
Putting Bail and Obi-Wan together like this is a clever idea. First, we get to learn more about Leia's adoptive daddy: a hero in his own right, a man born into privilege who still feels the need to prove himself. Second, we get to see the Jedi, and Obi-Wan in particular, from an outsider's point of view. And third, we witness the genesis of the trust and friendship Bail and Obi-Wan must have by the time of Episode III. This makes their arguments entertaining, instead of annoying, because we know they must end up liking each other.
The book isn't perfect, of course. Obi-Wan and Bail's adventure is a little repetitive, or monotonous in places, and a handful of words get repeated oddly too. Bail says vape a lot. People consider each other a lot. And I don't quite believe Padme really would have been sent into such dangerous territory to collect her two beleaguered ‘boys’. Although I'll ignore the niggle of doubt, because it's worth it just for her to call them that. And to see her reaction to the state they're both in.
As I mentioned, there's plenty of those little ding-ding-ding nuggets of joy. A likeable Palpatine. One of those "Obi-Wan's fighting Anakin" Matrix-eqsue scenes you know must have happened. Moments of humour too. Bail's wry thought to himself when he finally reaches the Sith Temple after three days of hell: if the kriffing thing’s locked, I’m going to look like a fool. Obi-Wan's two words to Anakin, describing what must have been one of the worst experiences of the Jedi Master's life. Moderately uneventful.
It's tempting to list them all, but on the off chance you're reading this to decide whether to get the book, I won't. I don't want to spoil it for you.
I'd just like to quote one more line, from Obi-Wan’s frustrated musings while stuck on that claustrophobic ship, away from the centre of action, unable to help his fellow Jedi.
The life of a contemplative is certainly not for me.
Oh Obi-Wan. And there you have it: the heartbreak referred to in the book's dedication, in that single, poignant, resonating line.
Possibly more heartbreak than the novel's evocative description of a close-to-death, nearly mad, Force-deprived Obi-Wan, struggling valiantly to beat the Sith voice whispering, like a lover in his ear, for him to DIE JEDI DIE.
Which reminds me. A lover, Obi-Wan? And how would you know what one sounds like, eh?
You old devil. ♥
Buy this book. Read this book. Fan's remorse? I can't guarantee you won't get it. We all have different opinions, after all. But if you hate this book, don't bother coming to tell me. You are definitely wrong.