By : FernWithy
Alternate Universes in Star Wars Fan Fiction
All about Alternate Universes and how they're used
Admiral Han Solo reports to the battle bridge of the Executor.
Empress Amidala carelessly destroys a city in her eagerness to reclaim her children.
Luke Skywalker slips through the shadows to assassinate Mon Mothma.
Leia Skywalker falls to the Dark Side.
The brave Jedi Anakin Skywalker leads the Rebellion against Palpatine.
The possibilities for alternate Star Wars universes are nearly infinite, and creating them has long been a staple of fan fiction.
What is an alternate universe story (AU)?
Simply put, an alternate universe story is any story that takes place in a Star Wars universe in which some part of canon (the Star Wars universe as it has been shown) has been deliberately changed. It might be changed for better or for worse; it might be a large change or small one. Someone who died could live, or someone who lived could die. An AU tries to understand what is by asking "What if?"
Plausibility. A successful AU depends not on the changes in the scenario, but on the constants in the characters. This is what makes any given universe plausible. Would these characters, given a change in the course of their lives, behave this way, and create the worlds around them in the way you need them to?
For instance, it's one thing to say, "I'm going to write a story where Leia becomes a Sith"--that's good, that's possible... but what kind of Sith would Leia be? What might make her turn, and how would she behave on the Dark Side? Like Palpatine, tormenting people for her own amusement? Like Vader, using the Dark Side as a blunt instrument to subdue political opposition? Like Maul, showing off her skills to intimidate people?
There's not a "right" answer to the question, of course. It depends on how you personally see and interpret the character of Leia as she exists in the movies. Is the salient fact of her personality that she has a short temper? Then maybe she's a capricious Sith Lady who's taken to lashing out with the Force at people who cross her in some way. Or perhaps you see her devotion to the Rebel cause as the biggest facet of her personality. That could create the truly frightening prospect of an "any means necessary" Sith, corrupting the "good guys" by using evil methods to try to achieve noble ends. You might also see her need to control every situation as her most vulnerable point. A Sith with that point of view certainly wouldn't put up with apprenticeship very well... she could be the Master by the time you catch up with her, and quite possibly Empress.
So your alternate Leia is created... how will she then change the universe? The middle Leia would certainly create a very different Rebellion, and an entirely different dynamic to the war. The final one would create a different Empire. How would those changes effect Luke? Han? Vader? And in turn, how would those changes effect Leia's behavior through the course of the story? An alternate universe always feeds on itself.
I mentioned that there are no "right" answers to the question of what Leia would be like. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean there are no "wrong" answers. Plausibility depends on recognizability. It would be very difficult to conceive of Leia as a Maul-like show-off; vanity is never shown to be one of her faults (Amidala, on the other hand... well, that case could be made). She's also unlikely to be a dabbler, just experimenting, or giving Sith philosophy a fair shake--Leia as shown chooses her opinions rather quickly, and doesn't seem to shop around. You might find it interesting to write a story in which Leia discovers that vanity can be fun, in a guilty sort of way, or one in which someone convinces her to think for more than thirty seconds before making a judgment about something or someone, but basing an alternate universe story on the notion that such a thing was her natural tendency... that would be a stretch in plausibility.
Interest level. Obviously, you want potential readers to hear about your alternate universe and think, "Yeah, I've gotta go check that out!" For that, the change has to be both noticeable and significant.
To make a noticeable change, you need to make it something that a reader will see immediately. Anakin (as a middle-aged man) is not in a durasteel mask. Han is serving the Empire. Lando's in jail. A change may be small but quite significant--Leia not wearing Alderaanian white could really mean something--but you need to draw attention to the meaning of the change right away, rather than simply expecting a reader to pick it up and guess.
To make a significant change, you need to change something that will have an impact on the full sweep of the saga, and it should be in a way that will interest readers.
It would technically be an alternate universe if you posed the question "What if Luke wore a blue poncho instead of a tan one in Mos Eisley?" or maybe "What if Chewbacca got a haircut at Bespin?" Either of those things could be used as an impetus for a real alternate universe. Luke's poncho could lead to him being mistaken for someone else, causing him to be beaten up by someone looking for an enemy in a blue poncho (thereby preventing him from going to Alderaan, and the real question is, "What if Luke was prevented from accompanying Obi-Wan on the Falcon?"); Chewie might hear rumors at the barber shop about lots of stormtroopers getting haircuts (in which case the question would be, "What if Han and Leia found out about the trap on Bespin before it was sprung?"). Neither scenario by itself, though, would create an interesting alternate universe.
Potential for conflict and possibility of victory. Any setting--AU or not--falls somewhere on the continuum between a utopia, where everything is as good as it is possible for it to be, and maybe a few steps better, and a dystopia, where everything has gone to seed and everything that was right once is now wrong.
The closer your universe is to a utopia--say, Anakin never turned, the Empire never rose, the corruption in the Republic was peacefully cleaned up, the Jedi are thriving, and everyone is happy with everyone else--the harder it is to find potential for conflict in your story. A pure utopia is almost impossible to write, since there's just not much happening. It might make a nice vision, and it might well be restful for the characters to live there, but restful characters are characters whose stories are already over.
If you want to write in a utopian universe, you need to bring in some kind of threat. It needn't be a new enemy, which can be tedious after awhile. Maybe a natural disaster is threatening the galaxy, or a character who has been a lynchpin for the utopia dies of natural causes, leaving a power vacuum. A more common route, of course, is to have someone unhappy in utopia, and discover all things that are wrong with it... the sordid underbelly of an allegedly "perfect" society. There's nothing wrong with this--it's probably the easiest way to deal with a utopia, because it's expected that when you introduce a perfect world, you're only doing so to show its less-than-perfect side--but it does mean that the story is no longer utopian.
The closer your universe is to a dystopia--say, everyone who's not evil is imprisoned or already beaten, a plague is rushing through the centers of population, and the one person who might have been a hero turns out to be either duplicitous or inadequate--the harder it becomes to create a possibility of victory. Is that important? It's harder to argue for this than it is for the necessity of conflict, because nihilism has a fairly strong tradition in literature. Nevertheless, even if your hero ultimately loses, I would argue that the possibility of a victory creates an interest in the hero's journey. It is the difference between tragedy and malaise.
These may be generally recognized definitions, or they may be my own quirky use; I'm not sure. I just find them helpful.
The "pure" alternate universe. In a "pure" AU, the characters are simply living in the changed universe, with either no knowledge of the universe we know from the movies, or knowledge gained only through psychic experiences of some sort. The author may or may not directly explain what changed. It may be a single event, or it may be a lot of cumulative things. The first requires an explanation. The second? Maybe so, maybe not. The salient feature of the "pure" AU is that it is self-contained, and its conflicts arise from its milieu.
The What-if. A what-if story usually begins in the universe as we know it, then throws in a wrench, which ends up creating an alternate universe as you write. What if the Empire sent time travelers back to find Amidala (as in In the Hands of Time, by Darth Pipes and ami-padme)? What if the Queen's transport came forward in time before going to Coruscant? In a what-if, you'll spend some time going over the same ground as the original, because the changes are just beginning, but you need to then follow the consequences of the actions to their best (or most interesting) conclusions.
The mirror universe. In a mirror universe, characters and situations are the opposites--the "mirrors"-- of the characters and situations that appear in the original source. These frequently involve the originals meeting their mirrors in some way, and so become partly What-ifs and partly "pure" AUs. The thing about mirrors is, they must reflect the person they are aimed at. Seeing your own distorted reflection in a carnival funhouse has some shock value; seeing a distorted picture of a stranger is just puzzling. The rules of plausibility are very much in effect.
Like any other type of fan fiction (and for that matter, most other kinds of fiction), Alternate Universe stories are written for fun. But what particular kind of fun are they?
First, AUs are just a chance to get some fresh air into corners of the known universe that may be feeling a little bit stale. What dark mirror lies behind Han's grin? It gives a fresh perspective, and new things to look for.
AUs are also a great way to really examine what you think about the original universe. You can take the source material apart, spread it out on the table, and examine each little part of it before you assemble it in some new way. To do that, you have to know all the parts, and how they originally fit.
Mostly, though, it's just fun to watch the characters you've gotten to know being put through new paces, to see how they handle it... the fun of asking what if, and discovering the answer for yourself.
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Author: Mcily Nochi
Date posted: 9/12/2001 7:32:29 PM
Mcily Nochi's Comments:
A very helpful article. As I wrote my AU, I used this as a reference to make sure everything worked together. It's also interesting, which is plus-- I enjoyed reading it!
Author: Viari Skywalker
Date posted: 5/23/2002 6:47:50 PM
Viari Skywalker's Comments:
Very good advice. I was thinking of writing an AU story after I finish the one I'm working on now. Now I know where to look if I need help making a good AU fic. Thanks!
Date posted: 4/13/2003 6:46:39 AM
Great article, very helpful. I am writing an AU and now I saw this and I am starting all over. Thanks!
Date posted: 5/2/2004 4:12:29 PM
This was great, thanks for writing such a helpful AU guide! I love that line, "Seeing your own distorted reflection in a carnival funhouse has some shock value; seeing a distorted picture of a stranger is just puzzling." I laughed for 2 minutes!
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