On The Front Lines: Extra Notes

In my review of Star Wars: On The Front Lines, I mostly talked about the narrative, but I really loved the art too. Writer Dan Wallace and artists Adrián Rodriguez, Thomas Wievegg, Aaron Riley, and Fares Maese (and of course the associated editorial/publishing team) produced an excellent product. The image at the top of this post is an example of some of that beautiful artwork; I’ll abstain from sharing any other images because you should check the book out for yourself.

If you haven’t looked through the book yet, though, you should probably stop reading here. While the book recounts major battles from the films and from The Clone Wars show, it does actually include a number of potential spoilers when it fleshes out additional details. And I want to talk about some of those details!

First, the level of diversity in these pages is great, with the focus on characters like Jedi Knight Bultar Swan, Jedi Master Mace Windu, Coruscant Home Fleet Commander Honor Salima (a woman of color and Republic officer who appears to have been invented for this book), Grand Moff Randd, and Resistance pilot Jess Pava. We also get a spotlight on a lot more aliens: Gungan General Ceel; separatists like Geonosian Archduke Poggle the Lesser, Kerkoiden General Whorm Loathsom, Techno Union Emir Wat Tambor, and cyborg General Grievous; Twi’lek freedom fighter Cham Syndulla and Twi’lek refugee Numa; Ewok chief Chirpa; Mon Cal Admirals Raddus and Ackbar; Sullustan smuggler Nien Nunb; Resistance pilot Ello Asty; and a new personal favorite of mine, Ranat commando Musmuris Reetgeet. With the addition of perspectives of droids and clones, this feels to me like a highlight of meaningful diversity in Star Wars, with diverse characters in diverse roles that don’t (to me, at least) come off as mere tokenism. This is truly a whole galaxy involved in war. Of course, there are plenty of perspectives from white characters, especially white men–and honestly, some of those perspectives are my favorite (I’ll touch on a couple examples later).

Okay, so the next thing I want to bring up is that it’s great to have Bultar Swan show up. Aside from her brief appearance in Episode II, I think this represents her first new canon appearance, and it confirms that she survived Geonosis! I’d like to see more stories with her. I’ve been somewhat fascinated by Bultar Swan ever since she showed up in the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Roleplaying Game supplement, Power of the Jedi Sourcebook.

20171001_150537 Instead of just another background Jedi, she had a deeper story. I thought that was cool. Most of the alien Jedi in the Battle of Geonosis have gone on to have stories told about them. Not all of the humans have more than a name and likeness. I don’t think there were ever that many stories about Bultar Swan, but she’s basically a complete enigma in the new canon.

That’s all to say that the character remains rather intriguing to me because of the mysteriousness of her background. I’d enjoy seeing her explored more. The brief excerpt in On The Front Lines that is written from her perspective seems reflective of her older personality, but there’s plenty of room for this character to grow.

 

 

I liked the reexamination of more well-known characters, as well. For example: I’ve always had a soft spot for Rebel fighter ace and Rogue Squadron pilot Wedge Antilles, the man who survived both Death Stars, and reading the section in his perspective was brutal. Wedge reflects,

I survived the Battle of Yavin, and for a long time, a part of me wished I hadn’t.

. . .

When a laser blast from one of [the TIEs] melted my micromaneuvering controls, I was done. I couldn’t continue the run. I had to get out of the trench. If I had stayed, I would have fishtailed into Biggs and taken us both out.

I apologized over the comm and pulled out of the trench. For just a moment I felt my fear turn into relief. That’s the moment I always think about. That’s the moment that hardened into guilt.

Poor Wedge! What a real emotion, what a sincere experience in this fantasy galaxy. And I think it gives Wedge a clearly defined narrative arc in the films, one that would not otherwise be there (at least explicitly). Wedge keeps trying to make up for that moment, and maybe he finally does when he helps to take down the second Death Star. At least, I sure hope he found some peace of mind in doing so (here I am, talking about this fictional character like he’s a real person–what can I say, the writing here worked really well).

And Nien Nunb, who got to have more of an interesting story and personality in the new canon’s Princess Leia comic, has a pretty funny and sassy section in which he cheers the superiority of smugglers in the Rebellion.

One character revision that certainly stood out to me, though I didn’t necessarily like it, involves Hobbie Klivian (the image at the top is from this section). As you may know, in the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back, Hobbie is dying in a crippled snowspeeder and directs it into General Veers’s AT-AT, apparently killing them both. The novelization concludes the scene as follows, from the perspective of General Veers:

At that instant, Hobbie’s burning ship crashed through the walker cockpit like a manned bomb, its fuel igniting into a cascade of flame and debris. For a second there were human screams, then fragments, and the entire machine crashed to the ground.

This death scene does not appear in the film. It could not happen offscreen exactly as written, either. In the novelization, Hobbie appears to interrupt Veers’s attack on the shield generator. But in the film, Veers survives at least long enough to personally destroy the shield generator.

In the old canon, a version of the crash did occur. In this version, Hobbie and his gunner ejected in time, and he went on to become an important figure in the X-Wing franchise of comics and novels (confession: as beloved by fans as the series is, I never read the books and only saw maybe a couple issues of the comics). Veers, meanwhile, was left disabled by the attack, although he continued to serve in the military as well.

Hobbie’s kamikaze death has been restored–and there’s no way he got pulled from the wreckage this time. The first sentence of Hobbie’s section notes his “heroic death.”

What I’m worried about now is the fate of General Veers. Apparently Hobbie crashed into Blizzard One, the lead AT-AT, just as in the old canon. As I’ve previously mentioned, General Veers is my favorite Imperial of the films and one of the few Imperial officers who is actually competent. Dan Wallace recognizes this competence, writing of Veers that he was a “brilliant tactician” whom “Darth Vader respected . . . for his eerily calm demeanor under fire.” I saw nothing definitive about what happened to Veers in the book. It certainly seems likely that he is dead. But he could have survived, evacuating the AT-AT in time. Maybe he was badly injured in this new canon version and will once again return to active military service. I hope so. It’s always more interesting when the Rebellion actually has a challenging and recurring foe. And I suppose I don’t love the idea of Veers dying in a nearly identical way to Piett, killed by a damaged kamikaze craft when his forces are overextended.

At this point, I could go on and on, but I’ve covered the things that most fascinated me about the book (though I have to name-drop Musmuris Reetgeet again, because he’s a cool guy). It’s a great Star Wars reference book, and it’s also a lovely art book. I hope there are more guides like this released for the new canon!

Maybe not the galaxy’s greatest

I’ve never really been active in any fan community. At best, I’ve been on the periphery. Suits me fine. But I am an observer, and from the periphery I’ve been observing the Star Wars fandom, especially through Twitter, more and more. The people I follow are people I like, with interesting things to say; they generally have warm, positive attitudes, which is impressive for an impersonal venue like Twitter. My little bubble blinded me to a lot of the gross, hateful elements of fandom, however.

My bubble’s been burst a little bit. I’ve watched from the periphery as fanboys flailed about in rage, insulted by the very idea that someone would publicly announce, in the context of an off-hand tweet, that they thought Boba Fett was boring. I have no role in that conversation, and I’m not going to involve myself there. It doesn’t affect me at all. But it did remind me of the toxicity and rigid adherence to nostalgia that fan communities so often become consumed by.

Again, I have nothing to say about that larger discussion. It has nothing to do with me, and it’s not my place. But it did make me reflect on my own engagement with Star Wars. While I try to critically engage any property, no matter how much I love it, at some point views do calcify. With something like Star Wars, where I’ve had exposure since a young age, it can be surprising to realize that my views have crystallized, sometimes in ways that would never have occurred to me.

I thought about Boba Fett in particular. I don’t love Fett, but I have (typically) thought he was a cool character. I started thinking about Fett and some of the other small, supporting characters I loved in The Empire Strikes Back, thinking about why I liked them, and trying to reexamine them from different angles.

Background characters from the film that I’ve been especially fond of are Admiral Piett, the bounty hunters, and General Veers. While I still like the characters, and I think they serve their roles well, I realized they may be less a collection of the galaxy’s most badass and more a collection of the galaxy’s…most simply bad. (Note that I’m evaluating the characters here based on the new canon, so things like Boba’s death-defying crawl from the Sarlacc are simply irrelevant to these versions of the characters).

databank_admiralpiett_01_169_18014135.jpegPiett’s an easy example of how my uncritical childhood fandom obscured flaws. I saw him as a survivor, someone who could course-correct and avoid the pompous ego of Admiral Ozzel. He seemed to have a healthy respect for Vader. And the fact that he made it to Return of the Jedi indicated (to child-me) that he was capable.

But really, Piett is a bumbling idiot. He gets promoted to Admiral by Vader not because of quality but because he happens to be the highest-ranking officer aboard the ship after Ozzel is killed. While it may be unfair to blame Piett for the many escaped rebel ships in the aftermath of the Hoth invasion, since he was left with what could be salvaged of Ozzel’s failed plan, he led a very ineffective search for the Millennium Falcon. And while it was Captain Needa’s crew that was fooled by Han’s quick flying, Piett did not uncover the deception. Nor did his fleet find Han–the bounty hunters he dismissed as scum did that job. And he fails to properly carry out Vader’s orders on Bespin: his troops fail to secure the prisoners, his technicians fail to droid-proof their sabotage of the Falcon, and his crew fails to seize the freighter before it makes its jump to hyperspace. Piett surely escapes death at Vader’s hands for the mounting failures only because the Dark Lord is distracted by his encounter with his son.

Then in Jedi, Piett dies, the whole of the Executor along with him, because he only recognizes the weakness to forward defenses in a reactionary fashion. He is emblematic of every other Imperial officer who fails to adequately assess the ability of the rebels until it is far too late.

He’s a decent military officer in the sense that he can comply with orders, he doesn’t seem to get a big ego (at first), and he manages to stay on Darth Vader’s good side. But he’s not a great officer, nor a clever tactician, nor even a challenging foe.

bountyhuntersAs with Piett, so with the bounty hunters. A couple of droids and a bunch of low-lifes in mismatched armor and bandages, the group does manage to at least look cool. But none of them do anything. I always viewed Boba Fett as a badass for two reasons: (1) the “no disintegrations” line, and (2) his capture of Solo. Not that his Return of the Jedi death by way of jetpack malfunction did much to help his image. But even the two reasons I’ve cited can be easily weakened. As many have pointed out, Darth Vader could be warning Fett, not because of lethal efficiency, but because the bounty hunter has a history of messy screw-ups and virtually-impossible-to-identify bounties. As for the second reason, and I’m surprised that I never realized this (or heard the theory circulated, not that I looked), but the only reason that Fett realized Solo’s trick and could find him amid the emptying garbage of the Star Destroyer is that Obi-Wan had pulled a similar disappearing trick on the back side of an asteroid during Boba’s formative years. Given that Obi-Wan’s escape soon after resulted in a sequence of events that left Boba’s father dead, the boy probably would have remembered it. Boba was not necessarily a skilled tracker; his prey just so happened to use the one trick that any prequel viewer would know he is very explicitly aware of.

The Clone Wars also establish Boba and his fellow bounty hunters as a lot of losers, for the most part. In “Death Trap,” Boba repeatedly fails at a covert mission to assassinate Mace Windu. Bossk, Boba, and their companions also screw up another attempt to take down Mace Windu in “R2 Come Home.” Bossk and Boba end up captured in the following episode. Bossk and Dengar fail to escort moving cargo in “Bounty,” and that same episode sees Boba outdone by Asajj Ventress. In short, they’re definitely not top-notch hunters like Cad Bane.

With a relative dearth of writing about the Empire bounty hunters in the new canon, we have not fully seen their stories developed. What there is remains mixed. For example, Boba is shown to be a brutal hunter when tracking down Luke in the Star Wars comics, although he fails to capture the boy in the ensuing confrontation.

On further reflection, I kind of like the idea that the bounty hunters are not aboard the Executor because they are the best, but instead simply because they could get there the fastest. Perhaps they’re just a bunch of desperate Outer Rim lowlifes who could hop into orbit around Hoth to get the mission almost immediately after the end of the battle because they were already in a nearby backwater sector.

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So that leaves General Veers for reexamination. What are his flaws?

Um, none. He’s an awesome bad guy. He successfully leads a massive Imperial land victory even after the Imperial Navy screw-up on approach. He obeys orders and keeps a cool head. He delivers. He’s great.