Meet Star Wars' macho femme, Karen Traviss

Karen Traviss: 7 p.m. Monday, July 28, at Changing Hands Bookstore

By Clay McNear

George Lucas is the sort of hypersensitive, litigious billionaire who'd sue a vending company for stiffing him on a soda pop, so he'll probably drag my ass to court for calling him sexist, but there it is.

That thought had never crossed my mind before I started thinking about Karen Traviss, the best-selling author who's deftly navigated the Star Wars universe with her contributions to the Republic Commando and Legacy of the Force series and the 2006 Boba Fett novella A Practical Man. Like that ever-businesslike bounty hunter, Traviss is pragmatic about her work.

On her Web site (karentravis.com), the British scribe responds to those who wonder why "a serious, respectable SF writer like me [takes] the Lucas shilling." She proceeds to offer up a lot of Chamber of Commerce rationalizations, but the reasons that ring true are 1) the pay's pretty sweet and 2) Star Wars made her what she is today.

And what, pray tell, is that? A member of one of the rarest species in George Lucas' far-far-away galaxy: a successful female. Now, I'm first-wave Star Wars and I don't hate Lucas, but I found it telling -- when I stopped to think about it -- that success stories like Traviss' are the exceptions in a world ruled by a purportedly enlightened dictator. So we're clear, I'm talking about both the cinematic Star Wars and its real-world incarnation(s).

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I won't bog us down in specifics. If you want that, Google "Is Star Wars sexist?" (Not surprisingly, many people beat me to that punch.) What I will say, with a loud bang on the metaphorical table, is that -- hey, dude! -- if you're gonna build a universe from scratch, why not build it right to begin with? A good contractor would tell you that a rebuild is out of the question and advise you to focus on the design matrix that makes the structure habitable. New shades here, a strategically placed ottoman there, a light touch of heroine accent applied to the base coat of Lucas' heroic tale.

Is Traviss that paintbrush heroine? I say yes, in a limited sense. Her forte is deep characterization, and while there are plenty of guys (in Travis' hard-sci-fi orbit and out) who can do character, most prefer the rattle and hum of the light saber. Traviss -- a former member of the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service and the British Territorial Army -- knows about macho, but it's her empathy that sets her apart. A striking example is her complex depiction of the clones in last year's Republic Commando: True Colors. Traviss gives the lockstep conformists identities -- even doubts. Her compatriates would've just blown 'em to hell.

Both ways are fine, but isn't it nicer to have it both ways?

Traviss signs and discusses her new book Star Wars: The Clone Wars -- based on the animated feature film of the same name that arrives in theaters August 15 -- at 7 p.m. Monday, July 28, at Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 South McClintock Drive in Tempe. Admission is free. Seating begins at 6, and is limited. See changinghands.com.

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