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Lit Death in Tie-In Fiction

Discussion in 'Literature' started by instantdeath, Jan 27, 2013.

  1. instantdeath

    instantdeath Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Jul 22, 2010
    This is one of the more controversial topics that I see occasionally pop up, and is naturally one to inspire somewhat heated arguments. After all, there aren't very many better ways to anger a rabid fanbase than to kill its favorite characters, even if that death is justified for the sake of the story. But that's why I made this thread: I'm curious if you feel that major characters dying is ever truly justified.

    It seems among both fans and authors of science fiction and fantasy (and many other genres), there seem to be two main points of view. The one that has been traditionally more popular, but has also come under some derision in recent times, is the philosophy that protagonists should live through their stories, that it's more fun to figure out how all the characters are going to get out of there alive than it is to wonder who will live and who will die. That certainly seems to be George Lucas' philosophy, as well as some notable Star Wars writers, like Zahn and Stackpole (though Stackpole likes his red shirts :p).

    Of course, the other that gets increasingly more popular is that death, as it's a natural part of life, should be a natural part of stories, that it can lend emotional weight to a story, and that it can help maintain a reader/viewer's willing suspension of disbelief. For my part, I take a somewhat moderate stance. I like it when characters die, but I will never, ever understand the crowd who believe a stories success hinges on the ratio of characters who make it out alive versus the ones who died. Many Star Wars fans exhibit this, when complaining about books set between films, or before later books. "Well, I know everyone will make it out alive, therefore this story has no suspense and isn't worth reading". To which I say, you've got to be freaking kidding me. Shadows of Mindor, for instance, has a "everyone makes it out alive" stamp right from the beginning, but is every bit as suspenseful as Apocalypse, or whatever the farthest book on the timeline is.

    Obviously, all authors are different, and will have very different approaches to how they handle the fate of their characters... but what place does death have in tie-in fiction? Most tie-in fiction is, by it's very nature, shared. It's one thing for an author to decide a character needs to die in their own universe... in a shared universe, however, you are removing a character from the status quo, and ensuring that later authors cannot do anything with them. Once again, for my part, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. One of the pitfalls of long running tie-in fiction series is the fact that things remain static, that the characters from the source material keep doing what they've always been doing. With the NJO, for better or worse, the status quo of the GFFA was fundamentally and permanently changed (even if the powers that be decided that they didn't like most of the changes and essentially ignored them...). Is it presumptuous, then, to so fundamentally attempt to change a universe that is not your own? Or does it lend much needed credence to what's so often viewed as the very bottom of literature?

    I've always considered the act of killing a major character a contest between the emotional impact or story necessity that killing said character would generate, versus the potential waste of development that character can receive; when fans say that a characters death is a "waste", I agree in the sense that a character death always eliminates the possibility of potentially interesting development on that character, but sometimes the impact that characters death causes is more than enough to justify it for me.

    With all of that said, I think it's fairly obvious to figure out what side I'm on. I think death in tie-in fiction is a perfectly acceptable thing, when done well. I believe that Chewbacca and Anakin's death, at least in overall conception, were perfectly fine. Mara Jade and Jacen come off as somewhat unnecessary, with the former being the ever annoying "kill a character just to kill a character", but I'm not fit to judge them, as I have not yet been able to read LOTF. That said, that didn't even come close to stopping me from enjoying Scoundrels, and books like it. I don't at all believe that knowing the destination will lessen the journey itself.

    But that's enough babbling.

    TD;DR: Should writers be so quick to kill off characters in shared universes? Does it ever lessen your enjoyment knowing that the main players are unkillable (and face it, that's as true for Apocalypse and beyond as it is for all books in the past featuring the Big Three).

    DARTH_MU Jedi Master star 4

    Feb 9, 2005
    Stephen King in memoir of the craft said to Kill your darlings.
    Writers are mature when they can make a character, make the reader and him/herself care about said character, and have the gut to kill her.
    Do it, strike her down. She's too dangerous to be left alive.

    Edit: Although to be fair, if anyone were to kill Mara, Zahn should have been asked to do it.
    I don't know who came up with Anakin Solo, probably Allen, but he just came up with the concept
    of another Solo baby, so probably don't count.

    Edit 2: On Mara, in my own personal opinion, she had a good life, she was like going on 70s, so
    her death didn't generate too much emotion from me. Now if she were to have died in her 20s or even 40s, I would have been broken like I was reading For One More Day.

    Edit 3: I love the character of Callista, and through spoilers I read that she died because of Abeloth, so there wasn't too much attempt at grabbing a tissue, that's one of the reasons I
    haven't read all of FOTJ, only the first 3.
  3. _Catherine_

    _Catherine_ Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Jun 16, 2007
    It depends on the way the death is written. I think that the NJO, broadly speaking, did a better job of killing off recurring characters than LOTF (and, from what I hear, FOTJ, although I haven't read it). Chewbacca, Anakin, Borsk, Ganner, and Ackbar all had decent to great deaths that suited their character and development and/or their role in the story. Chewbacca dies after saving the son of his best friend, crushed by a falling moon, because only something so absurdly over-the-top would have been able to overcome one of his two defining characteristics: his immense physical strength (the other, of course, was his strength of character, which not even the moon could overcome). Anakin was set up the whole series to become a hero, and that's how he died; the cruel irony is that it happened halfway through the story, thereby subverting our expectations and capsizing the status quo of the series. I know some people have a problem with Ackbar's death scene (namely that he didn't have one), but I thought it was very well written. Not everyone has to go out in a blaze of glory; going quietly in his own bed was the peaceful death an old hero like Ackbar deserved. What's more important is that he had already turned the tide of the war for the Federation, and having saved the galaxy (again) there was nothing left for his character to do. And I don't think I even need to talk about Ganner and Borsk.

    Even some of the minor characters got emotional or appropriate sendoffs. Elegos A'Kla's character was always the peacemaker. He helped stop the war with the Empire, and when he tried to do the same thing with the Yuuzhan Vong it cost him his life; someone with his ideals couldn't survive in the NJO world. I literally cried when Ikrit died, no joke. The JJK books were my childhood, and there could have been no better ending for that character than giving his life to save the kids he spent that whole series protecting. Even some minor nobody character like Dorsk 82 got a really well written death scene. I have no idea who the hell he was, but Greg Keyes invested him with enough character in the opening pages of EoV to make his death at least somewhat resonant. Given all the pointless deaths in the NJO, dying to save droids was a very Jedi way to go, especially since he died knowing he had failed and still managed to keep his dignity.

    Some characters got thrown away like they were nothing (Lyric, Lusa), but for the most part the NJO, despite overflowing with death, managed to treat the deaths of recurring characters with the appropriate gravity. LOTF, on the other hand, killed off even more characters, but none were so artistically done. The only character with a really memorable or appropriate death was Lumiya, whose nearly perfect death scene was only slightly negated by the fact that she'd been written horribly out of character for the entire series up to that point. But look at the other major characters who died. Why did Mara have to die? How did being killed by Jacen via an obvious deceit complete her character arc or deliver a satisfactory payoff to an earlier setup? How did her prior relationship with Jacen justify a meaningless death at his hands? What about Pellaeon, another of the EU's longest running characters, being backstabbed by another good-character-gone-bad for no reason? Had he ever even met Tahiri before that book? What did this accomplish for the story or the character? Why would you kill off a character who was introduced to be the biggest Thrawn fanboy ever without having any mention of Thrawn in his last appearance? And why the hell was he buried on Corellia? All that is despite the fact I thought Pellaeon's death was one of the better written ones in the series, but any emotional satisfaction I could have gotten out of it was ruined by the nonsensical details. Cal Omas's death was all right but loses points for being EXACTLY THE SAME as Borsk Fey'lya's. I don't really remember the circumstances of Thrackan Sal-Solo's death very well but I thought it was kind of random to have Boba Fett kill him, then kind of weird and creepy to have Han shoot his lifeless corpse in the face. Like... why?

    I'm not even going to touch Jacen's death except to say that the scene itself was horrible and was made even worse by how poorly he'd been written throughout the entire series leading up to it.

    LOTF's minor characters didn't fare any better. Introduce Boba Fett's daughter, kill her off, and immediately replace her with Boba Fett's granddaughter. Throw Isolder into the meat grinder like he's nothing (which, to be fair, he kind of was, but for some reason Troy Denning thinks adding death where there is no need or reason for death always makes a story better). Kill off Sien Sovv off-page because LOL who is that guy anyway. Whatever.

    And like I said, I haven't read FOTJ, but I had my head in my hands for a good while after hearing that they finally brought back Callista--after YEARS--only to kill her off-page and have her body possessed by a monster. THIS IS NOT THE WAY ANY STORY SHOULD BE WRITTEN, TROY DENNING, YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS TOO MUCH, IT'S TOO MUCH.
    CT-867-5309, JackG, Ulicus and 4 others like this.
  4. Todd the Jedi

    Todd the Jedi Mod and Soliloquist of SWTV star 6 Staff Member Manager

    Oct 16, 2008
    I'll say this, Cathy, there's more to Callista's return than that. IMO she does in fact get a satisfying ending.

    I think a lot of killing off characters has to do not only with that particular character's arc, but also the arc of the entire book or series in which the death occurs. Does this death serve any good purpose? Does the death affect other characters and/or events? If so, how much or little? There's a fine line authors have to walk on when killing off a character, especially when other authors have to write more stories taking place after the death.
    The_Forgotten_Jedi likes this.
  5. The_Forgotten_Jedi

    The_Forgotten_Jedi Jedi Master star 4

    May 12, 2010
    Killing off major characters is absolutely justified. Without at least some risk of the main or supporting characters dying, the story has no personal stake for me. In literature, thousands of nameless characters dying offpage really doesn't compare to one of our heroes dying. But it needs to be handled right.

    Have literally just finished a reread of Star by Star a few hours ago, I can say that Anakin and Borsk's deaths were pretty much perfect for the characters, IMO. That said, the number of young Jedi killed offpage... ugh. At least Denning did a great job with the deaths of the minor Jedi on the strike team. Eryl Besa in particular: that death got me a lot more than some of the more major ones in other books. Chewie, Ackbar, Ganner all had great deaths as well.

    After the NJO the deaths started to get a bit iffy, particularly the ones Denning handled. I really wish they would let Aaron Allston write all the major characters death scenes. He knows how to do them masterfully.

    Mara's death... ehh, I go back and forth on that one. I get why it was done, and I thought the actual death scene was written well. But the lead up to it made zero sense. Mara would have told the rest of the council what she had learned.

    Cal Omas death was a blessing for his character: he didn't have to suffer any more sudden personality transplants.

    I liked Pellaeon's death: seemed a fitting way for the character to go. Didn't like him calling Daala back in though.

    Shevu's death was bullcrap. Tahiri had already killed Pellaeon, we knew how far she had gone down the dark path. She didn't need to torture Ben's cop mentor to death.

    Caedus' was just a inevitable death that went through the motions. Nowhere near the impact it should have had.

    Kenth Hamner was wasted. His death had zero impact on the progression of the series. Saba suffered no consequences, and he wasn't even mentioned in the last novel of the series!

    Stupidest death ever though: Etain Tur-Mukan. I don't even want to say anymore than that. :mad:
  6. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    If a major character has to die, they had better go down fighting!
  7. Zorrixor

    Zorrixor Force Ghost star 6

    Sep 8, 2004
    Having read Memoirs, that quote was more about knowing when to let go in a more general sense, e.g. just because you wrote this awesome line in your first draft or had this idea for the greatest character possible, you need to know when to let it go if the story ultimately goes in another direction and your Best Idea Ever is no longer right for the story.

    Not that King is someone who is against killing characters, but just wanted to clarify that particular quote. ;)
    TrakNar likes this.
  8. Iron_lord

    Iron_lord Force Ghost star 8

    Sep 2, 2012
    Yup. It goes right back to 1916 at least:

    though I saw the phrase for the first time in a Jervis Johnson essay in White Dwarf (April 2011) on games development.
  9. thesevegetables

    thesevegetables Jedi Knight star 4

    Nov 11, 2012
    Death is a natural part of life and character-shielding can get old and implausible. Death can be a very powerful thing and make people like you more *JESUS*. I view Star Wars as a whole (I'm not into Star Wars for specific characters), and the movies support my consumption, given that they are really with ensemble casts and not focused on one shining star. If a character I really like dies, I will be sad, but Star Wars has so much more to offer. I can like their surviving friends, other characters, etc.