Why Isn't there More Attack of the Clones Fiction?
by Lucy Gillam
This column was originally intended to be a short essaylette that would be a part of a group-authored column following up my "Why isn't there More"/"Why is there so Much?" columns from 1999. I would still like others to send in contributions (the Call for Essaylettes can be found here), but as with so many things I write, this got a tad lengthy. So we'll consider this a kick-off.
In the first version of these columns, I marveled at the absolute explosion of Phantom Menace fan fiction, so it may seem odd that I’m wondering here why the second movie of the trilogy has generated so little interest. Okay, point taken. However, even if you don’t personally get the appeal of TPM for fanfic writers and readers, the existence of that appeal certainly can’t be denied. Taking that as a given, why then has AOTC generated so little fiction, and in particular, so little slash? I mean, you’ve still got Ewan, looking yummy as ever (and IMHO, yummier, now that he isn’t saddled with that dorky haircut). And while I know not everyone shares my opinion that the second movie was at least marginally better than the first, I’m betting that even those who thought AOTC was a step down aren’t holding TPM up as a major artistic achievement. So – why so little fiction?
As with other recent phenomenon, I’ve heard a lot of surface explanations, all of which are valid and logical and no doubt true. And as with those other phenomena, I suspect that there’s another reason lurking underneath the surface. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Many of the more apparent reasons for the lack of slash involve the appeal of the most obvious couple. Or, more precisely, the lack of appeal. I am, of course, speaking of Obi-Wan/Anakin, and you can stop shuddering now – I’ll try to refrain from giving you mental images. Unless you want them, of course, in which case you're on your own.
One of these reasons is that Anakin is smack in the middle of a major romance (more specifically, a major heterosexual romance. Not sure how much that matters, but accuracy and all). No matter how badly that romance is handled (and it’s handled pretty darned badly), we can’t deny that it’s there, and as long as Anakin is professing (badly) that Padme is the center of his universe, it’s a bit harder to throw him into bed with someone else. Now, you could point out that this hasn’t stopped LOTR writers from slashing Aragorn with 2/3 of the Fellowship, but I would point out that the courtship there is in the past (or in the books, in a glorified footnote), and is a fairly minor part of the story. The (really, really, really bad) love story between Anakin and Padme is central to AOTC, and thus harder to ignore. Some stories have taken the route of portraying Amidala (the name is deliberate, since the examples I’ve seen were written pre-AOTC) as a sort of consolation prize (see Basingstroke’s Shores of Destiny and Clarence’s Good Intentions on the Road to Hell), but these are rare.
As a side note, I’m a bit surprised that there haven’t been stories in which Obi-Wan tries to “save” Anakin by seducing him away from Padme. Please note that this should not be taken as a challenge. I am informed, however, by someone who knows TPM fandom better than I do that there is a rather large Obi/Padme fandom, which would mean that O/A writers would be working against both a canon pairing and two popular non-canon pairings (although I wonder how many slash fans are necessarily aware of the O/P stories).
The second apparent answer, and perhaps the reason for the lack of such stories, is the lack of any “vibe” between Obi-Wan and Anakin. I confess I’m sometimes perplexed by those pronouncements, not because I particularly see a slashy vibe between the characters, but because there is a whooooooole lotta slash based on one or two or no character interactions. Supplemental novels aside, the TPM explosion was at least begun by ten lines of dialogue and a half-second touch. At least Obi-Wan and Anakin spend some screen time talking, and it could be argued that their snarking provides more of a traditional basis for slash than “train the boy.”
Which brings us to the most often-cited reason: Anakin’s lack of appeal. Yeah, he’s cute in a boy-bandish way, but he’s also (a) bloody annoying, and (b) poorly acted. He’s a step up from Jake Lloyd, but simply put, he has all the charisma of a pet rock.
A corollary to this that I have haven’t seen but might argue is that Obi-Wan isn’t particularly likable. Well, let me qualify: he’s not very likable in his scenes with Anakin. On his own or with other people, he’s downright charming. I suspect that if Dex were not…well, whatever he is, there’d be a small explosion of Obi-Wan/Dex stories (I’d say that this should also not be taken as a challenge, but I have a friend who wants to see that pairing, so I won’t). I suspect Obi-Wan gets cut a fair amount of slack because, well, Ewan McGregor, but frankly, in his scenes with Anakin, he’s a bit of an asshole. In fact, he bears very little resemblance to the Future!Obi posited by much TPM fic – he’s not hopelessly in mourning (in fact, he never brings up Qui Gon himself, only responds when someone else brings him up), or living in the past. He seems to have moved on rather thoroughly, and has more of an edge than the Obi-Wan usually seen in TPM fic.
Now, none of this gets into why there hasn’t been more stories that slash Obi-Wan with other characters. I don’t have any precise stats, but from what I’ve seen, there were more Obi-Wan/Bail stories before AOTC came out than after. If I had to guess, I’d say that this was due to some let down over Bail’s very brief (and somewhat weak) appearance in the movie. I am a bit puzzled by the lack of Obi-Wan/Mace stories, given Samuel L. Jackson’s fairly powerful presence. You could argue limited screen time together, to which I will again point you to the Tolkien slash archive. I suspect that what’s at work there is a residual sense of OTP from Phantom Menace. After thousands of stories celebrating the True and Fated Love of Qui Gon and Obi-Wan, shifting gears to put half of that pairing with someone else will meet with resistance. And, much as I hesitate to bring it up, there is the race issue. I’m not suggesting that Mace (or rather, Jackson’s) race is the sole reason for the small number of Obi/Mace stories, but it can’t be ignored as one possible reason.
Which brings me to that underneath reason I mentioned earlier. I would argue that one of the most powerful reasons for the lack of AOTC fiction is resistance to AOTC itself, or more specifically its implications for the Star Wars universe and thus the fiction set in that universe.
Seldom has an entire fandom been Jossed quite as thoroughly as TPM fandom was Jossed by AOTC. Leaving aside the “reviving Qui Gon” AUs for the moment, let’s consider the nearly ubiquitous soul bond. You know the one I mean: the psychic/empathic connection in the Force, created either intentionally or involuntarily, that represents the ultimate level of romantic commitment for Jedi. Well, penultimate: the ultimate is the rarer “lifebond,” which ensures that neither partner will survive the other. Try finding ten stories in the Master Apprentice Archive that don’t contain one of these. Really. It’s harder than you think.
Now, AOTC does not directly refute the existence of soul bonds, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that in a Jedi Order where “attachment is forbidden,” Jedi do not hold public ceremonies in which they create a romantic Force bond. Basically, any story in which Qui Gon and Obi Wan (or any Jedi) form an open romantic commitment has been rendered AU. Nothing terribly odd there: the likelihood of any fiction set in an ongoing canon stands a very real chance of being contradicted, or we wouldn’t have a term for the occurrence. But the soul bond is not just ubiquitous: it is for many writers and reader the romantic ideal of the fandom. As such, it’s not hard to see why writers might resist a movie which at the very least complicates its existence, and at worst renders it nonexistent.
And then there’s those “Qui Gon Lived” AUs. Again, no stats, but they are certainly at least as common, of not more common, than post TPM stories that follow canon. One TPM writer/reader suggested to me that a reason there’s so little fic based on AOTC is that quite a few TPM writers have created elaborate AUs, most often springing from the premise that Qui Gon did not die. They may ignore TPM altogether and posit an entirely different set of events for the characters (see Lilith Sedai’s Elements series), they many involve many other twists of canon (see Lori and Wolfling’s Letters universe), they may be the AU to end all AUs. Some have concluded, others are still ongoing. The bottom line, however, is that few, if any, of these AUs can be reconciled with the events or even the characterizations of AOTC. So for whatever reason (perhaps the reasons like the unexpected characterization of Obi-Wan discussed above), writers and readers have chosen largely to ignore AOTC in favor of the existing AUs.
I’m not sure this should be read as a call for more AOTC fiction, or at least not slash. I think there are some interesting narrative gaps to be filled – say, Dooku’s background, particularly his relationship with Qui Gon. On the whole, though, I have no overwhelming desire to see Anakin in bed with anyone. Also, while I wouldn’t mind seeing a good Obi-Wan/Mace PWP, I’m largely a canon junkie, and the rules that have been established for the Jedi by AOTC would make such a story complicated at best, and I fear the cliché of “forbidden love” rather deeply.
As a side note, I can’t be the only person rather intrigued that Lucas has basically said that Jedi can fuck but not fall in love. Interesting value system, there, George - considered suggesting that to the Vatican? On the one hand, this could be an intriguing idea for exploration in fiction. On the other hand, it can be an intimidating one, and honestly, I suspect that a lot of writers and readers might find it a little distasteful. There is the "forbidden love" angle, in which feelings develop despite attempts to avoid them, but there's also the possibility that someone raised in this value system would embrace it as unselfconsciously as so many people raised in contemporary Western culture embrace the idea that sex and love should be tied. And such a character could easily come across as cold or unfeeling, or just generally unsympathetic.
At the same time, I suspect there are TPM readers (and to a limited extent, I'm one of them) who've grown bored with the repeated themes and stories and would like to see something new, perhaps something done with the new material AOTC provided. They may (or may not) be in the minority, but I can't believe they aren't there. Something my beta reader pointed out intrigues me: in many ways, it is still "TPM" fandom. Even in this essay, I've used the term "TPM" to refer to second-trilogy fiction. I suspect that originally this was a convenient way to separate second-trilogy fiction from "SW" (first-trilogy) fiction, but terminology can shape perception. The primary second-trilogy archive is called "Master-Apprentice" and for all that it does contain a variety of pairings, does reinforce Q/O as the primary pairing (the picture on the front page is from the first movie, and I'll give you three guess who it's of). None of this should be taken as accusatory: if that's where the majority of interest lies, that should be reflected in the archive. At the same time, I wonder if writers who might be tempted to explore AOTC feel they would have a limited audience.
To which I can only say: if you write it, they will come.
Er...maybe not the best choice of words.
Jossed is a term that arises out of Buffy fiction. The strict meaning is having a work in progress blown out of the water by canon development.