Would you like to hear the story of how Jar Jar Binks turned me into a writer? It’s true! It’s fair to say that the Thrawn Series by Timothy Zahn and the awful Star Wars movies that followed are the reason I decided I must / should write. Call it fate, call it artistic envy, my journey toward being a professional author began back in the late 90s with the Thrawn Series by Timothy Zahn and Jar Jar Binks.
Back in the early 90s, as a Xennial high school kid who loved all things Star Wars, I was captivated by Heir to the Empire as the first, genuine piece of Star Wars fiction that felt like a worthy addition to Episodes IV, V, and VI. Zahn had the right level of character development, pathos, pacing, action. He got what Star Wars was about, and he wrote a story for all of us who got what Star Wars was about.
THEN EPISODE ONE HAPPENED.
In the run-up to Episode One, like many other geeks I was prepared to wait my turn. Lucas wanted to do the prequels, okay. If they’re anything like these amazing Zahn novels, I told myself, then I’m sure they’ll no doubt set up the brilliant story arc that will conclude with the sequels that Zahn was obviously writing. That was my expectation.
Coming out of the theater – after three hours of ho-hum dialog, uneven pacing, obvious over-reliance on CGI to cover up the tissue-thin story and ye gods, Jar Jar Binks. We all know where we were the first time we saw Jar Jar Binks.
I talked myself down. “Okay, okay – he’s doing this to please the younger kids. He’ll get it right eventually. We had twenty years to wait, it’s unrealistic to expect everything to meet my expectations.” Settle in, find your tribe, things are gonna be okay!
Three years passed between Episode One and Episode Two. I bit my teeth while the Star Wars fandom split into two factions – George Lucas could do no wrong, and George Lucas could do nothing right. Nothing made sense. My world had been shaken – everything I had believed about the superiority of Star Wars over Star Trek (which, let’s face it, has been an ugly cash grab since the 70s with all those god-awful tie-in novels by James Blish … but that’s another argument) was gone.
The more I tried to make sense of it, the more confused I got. Episode Two will be better, I told myself. It’s grittier, more action-packed, reviews said it was better than Episode One. Be cool, it’s gonna be okay.
THEN EPISODE TWO HAPPENED.
I felt like an idiot, walking out of the theater. No, no … my earlier concerns were justified. These movies were just … not good. They weren’t entertaining, they weren’t compelling, they weren’t fun. The ridiculously overwrought love story between Padme and Anakin looked as forced as the acting by otherwise-competent professionals. Poor Haydn Christensen looked like he was getting a Force proctology exam. Natalie Portman in a variety of sexy outfits could not evoke the same level of sexual tension as Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in a greasy motor pit (The Falcon in Empire … the kissing scene).
There are other problems, too (continuity errors, the story revolving around the same people) I’m not re-hashing everything wrong with Episodes One and Two – you know what they are, I know what they are. Other people have spent more time and energy (looking at you, People vs. George Lucas ) on breaking down what went wrong with those movies.
The point is, I came away from the Zahn series *knowing* what good writing looked like and I felt incredibly cheated that the rest of Star Wars threw that energy in the toilet. But I also came away from the Episodes One – Three experience going “We deserve better.” We deserved better, right? I spent countless hours debating and arguing why Star Wars had lost its way.
But there were no answers. No matter what, I could never bridge the divides between the different factions of SW fandom and I could never rationalize continuing to love something that obviously didn’t love me. What am I supposed to do now, I asked. Sure, I could scream about this online for the next twenty years, but what would that change? Star Wars would still suck.
Then It Hit Me
About the same time, I read Stephen King’s “On Writing” and he says something profound that reflects the conclusion I drew from the blood, sweat, and tears. “Most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this.” For me, that was Episodes One through Three.
It was time for me to get out of the universes that I no longer fit into. It was time to begin creating my own universes to explore and share. If people could enjoy writing as bad as Episodes One, Two, and Three, then they would *love* the stories I tell. Then I sat down and began to write.
The journey from 2003 until now, well that’s another story. But I wanted to tell you this part. Every writer gets their start through inspiration, for me inspiration came in the form of a ridiculous sock-puppet CGI monstrosity that should have been stepped on by the first Bantha it came across. This is the story of how Jar Jar Binks turned me into a writer.
Thought you’d like to know how much the Thrawn Trilogy influenced me as a person. Timothy Zahn showed me the path, but George Lucas made me want to travel it – if for nothing else than to prove to myself it could be done.
I’ll tell the rest of the story later.