Youtini’s March Madness: Book Edition concluded back in April with a massive result that sent shockwaves through the Star Wars book community. It has challenged ideas and standards that have been clung to for almost 30 years. The manner in which those ideas came tumbling down was nothing short of spectacular to watch.
The bracket started with 64 entries, each assigned a seed rank, with the simple task of determining which entry was the “most popular.”* Youtini first posted its bracket on March 1, 2023, and opened up voting on both Twitter and Instagram. Round 1 was filled with the sorts of standard knockouts that you would expect from a structure that pits the #1 seed (Lost Stars) against the #64 seed (Death Troopers). What Youtini did that set its bracket apart from similar entries or comparisons we have seen in the past is the mixing of both Expanded Universe titles (those published before Disney’s acquisition of the intellectual property known as Star Wars) alongside its own published materials released since 2012. Some titles and trilogies were combined into singular entities (Thrawn’s Legends Trilogy) while other entries were delineated from their overarching series (The High Republic novels’ entries were all separated one from another).
There may be an element of favoring the odds of certain series advancing further in this way, but that approach cuts both ways: while THR may have had more singular entries, was anyone going to advocate that The Last Command and Dark Forces Rising should have been separated from Heir to the Empire? In that vein, the Han Solo Trilogy was combined into one entry, just like the Queen’s Trilogy. The Wraith Squadron and Rogue Squadron entries of the X-wing series were grouped accordingly as well, as were Allegiance and Choices of One. But the two Galaxy’s Edge novels were separated out. These are editorial choices made mostly, according to Youtini’s Twitter account, following their Recommended Reading Order to assign seeds and group titles together. Youtini also noted that separating Thrawn (canon, self-titled) from its sequels (Alliances, Treason) was appropriate since the first entry (Thrawn) was intended to serve as a standalone novel and was not designed as part of a trilogy.
Out of the 32 battles in Round 1, seven ended in what we will can be called a blowout, meaning one entry received more than 80% of the vote. Yoda: Dark Rendezvous has the distinction of being the biggest blowout, not just of Round 1 but of the entire bracket, a brutal 92%/8% defeat when it faced the novelization of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. All the while, Round 1 had many matchups that were decided in the proverbial fourth quarter of their contest. For example, Alphabet Squadron (19) was pitted against X-Wing: Rogue Squadron series (46) and it ended up being the tightest match of Round 1, Rogue Squadron winning by 29 votes, making it 51.51%/48.49. Five matches were upsets, where Padawan (54) took down Most Wanted (11) by about 10%, the Wraith Squadron series (45) took down The Princess and the Scoundrel (20) by almost 20%, Outbound Flight (36) took out the Queen’s Trilogy (29) by 13% (a personal affront to me, the world’s champion of Queen’s Shadow), and Midnight Horizon (41) beat Phasma (24) by 25% (personally offending Clashing Sabers’ Lindsey to no end).
(Seriously, I love Outbound Flight, but it raises no candle to the Queen’s Trilogy. For shame, internet voters, FOR SHAME.)
But Round 3, the Sweet Sixteen, is where blood was to be shed and hearts were to be broken. But to understand why, we must first establish the lay of the Star Wars-book reading land. This is conventional, anecdotal information backed up by no evidence other than sheer conjecture. It is generalization and should only be taken as such. The Thrawn Trilogy (Legends) has largely been held up as some of the best Star Wars books ever written, and they were expected to go far. However, Lost Stars and Bloodline stand out among the Disney Canon (“DC”) as not just top tier Star Wars but quality science fiction writing in general. Lost Stars brought new life to Star Wars in the way it revisited the classic trilogy with a 21st Century lens. Bloodline breathed new life into Leia’s character and showed us that Leia was more than just a princess, or a Jedi, or a general: she was a person (and her name was Leia!), a daughter, a lover, and a mother. Surely Bloodline was destined for a high finish line.
But they were, all of them, deceived. Disney had forged (not quite in secret) the High Republic, which would turn into a juggernaut.
Five of the eight matches in the Sweet Sixteen were upsets. The tightest of votes was a win of only twelve votes.
- Lost Stars (1) lost to the Thrawn Trilogy (17) by 29 votes.
- Brotherhood (25) beat Dooku: Jedi Lost (9) by 41 votes.
- Light of the Jedi (13) upset Master & Apprentice (4) by 178 (almost 20% of the total vote, but an upset nonetheless).
- Bloodline (5) lost to Thrawn’s Ascendancy Trilogy (21) by twelve votes (458 to 470).
- Revenge of the Sith’s novelization (2) trounced The Fallen Star (THR) (15) by 15% of the vote.
- Thrawn (7) took down Darth Plagueis (10) by 10% of the vote.
- The Rising Storm (THR) (14) struck down Kenobi (3) by 123 votes, nearly 13% of the total vote.
- The Bane Trilogy (6) swamped the Han Solo Trilogy (22) by 45% of the vote.
What does this show us? The DC lost a lot of its champions here when Lost Stars, Master & Apprentice, and Bloodline were taken out in a singular round. Their conquerer? Thrawn, Thrawn Ascendancy, Light of the Jedi (THR), and The Rising Storm (THR). There is some certain longevity to the character of Thrawn and strong public support for the character and series’ popularity. But Thrawn is not alone in that regard. Whereas some in the Star Wars community have been quick to dismiss THR as unimportant, unengaging, and ill-adored, but the numbers don’t lie: THR has a movement behind it that would not end at this round.
Looking at the support for The High Republic in concert with the continued support for Thrawn and his enduring legacy is essential. Thrawn first entered the Star Wars canon in 1991 with Heir to the Empire, which brought the Star Wars saga back into the pop culture zeitgeist. After Return of the Jedi concluded the story in 1983, Star Wars didn’t mean much except for the Ewok and Droid cartoons, the dreaded Holiday Special, and serialized comic strips. However, Thrawn’s debut set up so many things to come, with him being a strong presence over the Expanded Universe.
Disney, however, has been on a slow and steady reintroduction path for Thrawn, using him as an antagonist in Rebels and making him the shadow hanging over the upcoming Ahsoka series. Timothy Zahn even wrote new stories for the character he invented nearly 20 years beforehand and has several new titles with Thrawn as the focus character. Clearly, Thrawn has a strong grip on the imagination of the fandom with no plans to loosen anytime soon.
Keeping all this in mind, the Elite Eight steadied the race without too much drama. The higher seeds beat out their lower seed opponents without much shock, except for the tightness of Episode III’s novelization (2) only beating out Thrawn (7) by fifty-one votes. Out of a total of 1095 votes, to be decided by only 51 votes is only a 5% victory which was far from certain. But that set the stage for the Final Four where Light of the Jedi (13) would upset the Legends Thrawn Trilogy by 57 votes (682 to 625, respectively), putting The High Republic in the championship round. But who would LOTJ square off against? That would be decided by the Episode III versus The Rising Storm matchup. It seemed unreasonable for the Rising Storm to have outperform Episode III, yet it did, winning by 105 votes and posting the most votes in a singular round (1,731). The championship round would *not* include Anakin or Obi-Wan, but rather feature a High Republic version of a Subway Series.
It may feel almost anti-climactic at this point to determine the winner since THR was clearly the winner overall. The difference between LOTJ winning and TRS is whether Charles Soule or Cavan Scott gets the bragging rights. For the sake of completeness, know that Light of the Jedi won by about 9% of the vote, cementing its place (at least until next March) as the ‘best’ Star Wars book out there. One interesting thing to note about this vote is the sheer quantity of voting. It would be easy to assume that fans of certain entries or eras within the saga might have disengaged with the bracket once their preferred titles were knocked out. However, the data does not bear that out. In almost every round, Light of the Jedi received more votes than in its previous matches, regardless of its opponent. That indicates that it picked up support rather than picked up anti-voters (those that would have voted against it after knocking out a favorite, regardless of what LOTJ was up against). The only time LOTJ lost support was after defeating Wraith Squadron (652 votes for LOTJ) and subsequently defeating Master & Apprentice (555 votes for LOTJ).
The entirety of this exercise demonstrates the impact of The High Republic on the Star Wars fandom. Prior to this it would seem difficult to find anyone who would stake the claim that Light of the Jedi was the singular best entry in Star Wars written word form. Perhaps THR is benefitting from a recency bias and the obvious support that Disney is throwing behind it. This exercise only included Phase I entries and THR is currently slated to go through at least Phase III, with the potential for more after that. But Legends has had time on its side to reach a larger audience, growing from pre-Internet word of mouth popularity, and having a more widespread influence on the Star Wars’ canon. While Legends has had its run, and even the rest of the DC could have made its own particular claim to greatness, a new era dawning. One that starts with its own Light yet unabashedly has Storms on the horizon…
This should be celebrated by fans of all stripes and walks. The Legends-fiends can know that their beloved entries are still just as beloved. Fans of the newer DC stories can be proud of how many titles got seeded so high, some immediate quality works being released so soon after Disney’s original purchase of LucasFilm. It is hard to deny that the High Republic fans have their heads higher than the rest, but it seems fair to let them** have their due. It won’t be long before some new series or title changes the conversation once again. That’s part of the fun. As new Star Wars is released, as the series grows and matures, there’s always room on Mount Rushmore for another great book or series to be added.
*There was no definition provided as to what makes something the most “popular” other than a simple raising of hands in favor of one or the other. This is a simple and clean way of having to define what makes something “better” than another. No need for challenges over writing style, critique, copies sold, etc. While normally we at Clashing Sabers are big fans of “define your terms,” this seems to be at least one situation where it was more successful for less definition. Allow me now to go and eat my shoe.