If you were looking on eBay for a Star Wars novel recently, you might have seen something odd: listings for a book that was "Rare Out of Print", "Extremely Limited Edition — Out of Print", and "No longer available." The editions in question are listed for exorbitant prices: bids in some active auctions going for around $80, while buy it now prices range anywhere for $300 to $1000. Already, a handful of people bought copies for hundreds of dollars.
To an untrained eye, the book looks like it could be a pristine copy of a Star Wars novel that you might have found on bookstore shelves in the mid-1990s, maybe one stashed in a box in some forgotten corner of a basement or closet. But this book isn't a rare collectable: it's a fan-printed copy of The Heart of the Jedi, a Star Wars novel that was never published, and which you can read freely online. It's appearance lit up the world of Star Wars fandom, and highlights some of the divisions that fracture it.
In 1989, Bantam Spectra acquired the license for the Star Wars franchise and soon discovered that it was sitting on top of a gold mine. Its first release out of the gate was Timothy Zahn's novel Heir to the Empire, which climbed The New York Times' bestseller list, and stirred up considerable attention for fans who'd long desired new adventures in a galaxy far, far away.
Flush with the success of Zahn's trilogy, Bantam Spectra moved to continue the story: it upped its contract with Lucasfilm for twelve more novels, and began recruiting additional authors to write them. One of those authors was Kenneth C. Flint, who was brought on to write a book set immediately after the events of Return of the Jedi, The Heart of the Jedi.
Flint had enjoyed a solid career as an author throughout the 1908s, writing Celtic-inspired fantasy novels like A Storm Upon Ulster, The Riders of the Sidhe, Challenge of the Clans, Isle of Destiny, and others. He was also a Star Wars fan, and when the opportunity to write a new novel in the franchise came from his editor, he jumped at the chance.
In an email, he explained to me that he'd been told that he'd been picked by George Lucas himself. "I was chosen to write the first book of the series. A massive honor! I knew that it would have to start right after the 2nd Death Star’s destruction and should include the principal characters from the movies. That was it!"
Armed with the West End Guide books and the original films, he set off and wrote up the book, delivering it in 1992. The initial reaction that he got back was positive — "his people 'quite liked' my final manuscript," he said.
The story picked up right after the destruction of the second Death Star and the deaths of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, and saw the Rebel Alliance now contending with the task of reinstalling the Republic in a shattered galaxy.
Those efforts are threatened by an Imperial officer called High Admiral Tharkus, who's accompanied by some mysterious allies, the Dioskouroi. While this is happening, Luke Skywalker embarks on a quest to discover a secret left behind by his former mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Flint finished up the book in 1992, turned it in, and waited.
Despite responding to some revision requests in the months that followed, he didn't hear anything back from Bantam Spectra. Months later, he discovered that there seemed to be some sort of behind-the-scenes issue with the order, and was and was eventually told that The Heart of the Jedi "couldn’t be published because it “no longer fit into the sequence for the new series.”
It's hard to tell exactly what went on behind the scenes and why his book wasn't published, but he wasn't the only author to run into trouble: Dragonlance co-creator Margaret Weisman had been assigned to follow Flint with a book titled Legacy of Doom, and which was also never published. In hindsight, it looks almost like a situation where Lucasfilm and Bantam Spectra didn't quite plan out the strategy with their books, wires got crossed somewhere, and the result of straightening out the timeline was Flint's book getting cut.
Flint noted that the cancellation of his book was a fatal blow to his career. Star Wars was incredibly popular, and had helped raise the profile of a number of other authors in the mid-1990s. "Nobody at either Bantam or LLC ever talked to me, then or now," he told me. "Somehow their screwing me had made ME a pariah to them. And my whole, prolific, successful-‘til-then career with Bantam came crashing down."
Regardless of the reasons, Flint's book wouldn't be published. Bantam Spectra swallowed the loss by letting him keep his advance, and he moved onto other things, and put the incident behind him. "So basically the single, old, printed copy of the manuscript (printed in dot matrix) [was] in a box in my file drawer."
Nearly 20 years later, Joe Bongiorno, a long-time fan of the Expanded Universe and the editor of a fansite called Star Wars Expanded Universe Timeline, was interested in what had happened to that lost book. He'd come across references to it over the years, but had never come across it.
His site is an extensive guide to the various tendrils that was the Expanded Universe: an effort to reconcile and celebrate the stories that were published throughout the 1990s and up through 2014. In an email, Bongiorno explained that he's been "obsessed with preserving stories that would otherwise vanish," and that his website is the perfect outlet for archiving and distributing those particular stories.
Over the years, he's published a handful of projects, like two unpublished editions of the Star Wars Adventure Journal, and an unpublished novella from Ryder Windham, Adventures in Hyperspace: The Big Switch.
Bongiorno explained that he'd been looking for Flint's novel for a while, and that "I'd always wondered what became of that book (which had been advertised), but didn't have high hopes for its survival," he says. "So, I reached out, and Ken was thrilled to have someone take an interest in it. I explained that I wanted to first edit it to ensure that the story wasn't chucked aside by fans because it wasn't in continuity, and he was fully onboard with that."
"I happily sent [Joe] an electronic copy," Flint says, after the webmaster got in touch and asked if he could read the manuscript. "He afterward proposed the idea of putting it up online as fan-fiction, which he said would be acceptable. I was convinced to go along, wanting people to finally see the book I’d labored on for months."
Bongiorno gave the book a light edit — noting in his editor's note that it was already complete and edited — and commissioned a piece of artwork that resembled the look and feel of the books of the era, and posted it online in 2015. The arrival of a new Star Wars novel on the site sparked a flurry of headlines and interest from fans — as well as some physical editions.
Flint credits Bongiorno with all the work editing and posting the book online. "I’m an old guy and have no technical expertise or online connections to accomplish this," he says. "When it went up, I told my friends and family. That was about it. I expected little more. So, I was very surprised when the print copy came out too! I didn’t have any idea that was happening. I managed to secure a single lousy copy in the 5 minute-window before the book got taken down."
In his notes, he explained that he helped to provide some minor edits, and that they made some small adjustments to ensure that the book fit within the existing Expanded Universe continuity for those readers who had been missing that era of storytelling. While it wasn't published as intended, Bongiorno notes, it was well-regarded: series creator George Lucas apparently sent Flint a letter saying that he enjoyed the book. "I've been grateful to see that fans — with the exception of the most pedantic — have embraced the story."
It was left as that: a curious story that would likely appeal to that small sliver of Star Wars fandom that clamored for more stories from those early days of the franchise.
That might have been the end of the story. At some point, fans had taken the PDF that Bongiorno published online and printed up their own copies, but they never lasted for long online before they were taken down.
Getting a physical copy — even if it was not an official release, was a "massive joy after so many years," Flint says. "From the comments I’ve had, I think people like the book because I did a good job capturing the feel and characters of the movies, which was my big intent."
"I especially like one review which said 'nobody has written Luke Skywalker as well as you did.' I hope that’s true. I think of him as the chief character (the Dorothy of this sci-fi Wizard of Oz), and I really wanted to deal with what must have been his massive PTSD issues a very young man would have dealt with after the traumatic events of the movie were thrust upon him from nowhere. At that point, that had never been done, to my knowledge. The more recent sequels, however, have addressed it."
Fast forward to March 2021: A user going by the name iFrankenstein on the Jedi Council Forums took the text and started up a new run of copies, unbeknownst to Flint or Bongiorno.
Posting on the Jedi Council Forums, the seller explained that they simply wanted a copy of their own for their bookshelf and designed a copy that matched the look of the original Bantam Spectra paperbacks. They ordered a print-on-demand copy for themselves, then forgot about it.
Indeed, the book's description on Amazon (since taken down, but you can see an archived version here) included a line: "Reprinted here in paperback for the first time, this is a non-profit listing for private collectors only."
On May 1st, the larger Star Wars fan community discovered the book, and word spread like wildfire. Fansites like The Expanded Universe pointed out that the book hit some of Amazon's internal bestseller lists, outselling a number of other books, including (briefly) Andy Weir's new book Project Hail Mary and Timothy Zahn's latest novel, Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good. The book sold briskly until May 9th, when Amazon eventually pulled it from sale, but not before some readers began posting pictures of their new copies:
Judging from pictures that have since surfaced on Twitter and eBay, the books look as though they were designed to replicate the look and feel of the chunky Bantam Spectra paperbacks from the era. In a post on TheForce.net, user SheaHublin posted a handful of comparison photos with the books of the era:
"If it weren't for a few minor details and how white and crisp the pages are, I would not be able to tell this unofficial version apart from a Bantam paperback from the 90s. As it is, this custom printing is at a glance indistinguishable from a real copy. The size, fonts, layouts, etc- they are all exactly correct, and this looks exactly like real EU paperbacks. Only the inner cover (which confirms that it is not official), the presence of the "L word" on the inside with much later EU works, and the modern prices on the spine give it away."
In a response to my question on their profile, they noted that they "haven’t read the book yet," but that the thought that "it’s cool that people who wanted a physical copy had the chance to get one, though. I’d like to see more of that happen in the future with other books that were never released in a physical edition."
On his site's Facebook page, Bongiorno noted that he had begun hearing from followers that the book was available, and noted that while he wasn't involved in the printed edition, he was "thrilled that it's available for you guys — and AT COST — which is the only ethical way of doing this (as Star Wars belongs to Disney who — along with their licensing partners — are the only ones entitled to profit)."
Despite the short window that it was available, it looks like the book sold pretty well, hinting at some pent-up demand for a new-old story set within the larger Expanded Universe.
And because Amazon pulled the copy fairly quickly, only a relatively small number of the books made it out into the world, turning them into a hot collectible item for the Expanded Universe fan who wants it for their bookshelf. As I'm writing this, there are a handful of listings on eBay for hundreds of dollars, with deceptively-written headlines that make it out to be a rare edition of a book that had somehow never seen the light of day.
There are some real, complicated issues with these newly-created collectors items. While fans like Bongiorno and readers on the TFN's forums or Twitter have cheered on the release, its existence as a physical book seems like it's a pretty cut-and-dry case of piracy on the seller's part, no matter what the intention. Amazon pulling it from its storefront isn't a surprise.
Flint also isn't sure of the legal status of the book. Contractually, most authors don't actually own the tie-in work that they produce: ownership resides with the company, while the authors get royalties and an advance. Flint didn't remember the terms, and didn't know where his contract ended up after nearly 30 years. But, nobody's asked that the book be taken down from its online home.
Bongiorno noted that Lucasfilm and Del Rey are well aware of his site and his intention to act as an archival resource for some of these lost works in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. "They also know that the moment they announce that they're publishing something that's up on my site, it's taken down immediately. For me, getting it properly released in physical media is the goal. Until then, it's available for free to fans, ensuring that it won't disappear forever."
But Flint and Bongiorno don't mind that someone's undertaken the effort to print up the book: "Naturally, I am vastly honored, gratified, and thrilled by a physical book being available to folks," Flint says, while Bongiorno expressed similar thoughts. "I'm thrilled that fans around the world are finally getting to add this wonderful book to their collections! It's a great story and one that nails the characterizations of Luke, Han, and Leia--something we haven't always seen."
Now in physical form, the story will now exist out in the fan community, even if the book gets pulled from the internet at some point in the future. But it's also a sad reminder of what might have been: Flint won't get back years of payment in the form of royalties had the book come out as intended.
While iFrankenstein noted on the forums that they sold the book at cost and apologized for the appearance that they'd stolen Flint's work, there's no way to really verify that. And those copies that end up on eBay advertised as super rare collectors items won't benefit him or his efforts to write the book in the first place: it'll just line the pockets of those buyers who snapped up copies when the appeared online.
The revelation that there was a new Star Wars novel up for grabs on Amazon sent the Star Wars twittersphere ablaze in early May, and it proves to be a demonstration of the sort of culture war that's been broiling ever since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, and when Lucasfilm opted to reset the franchise's canon in 2014 to make way for the new films.
That move was not well received by some segments of fandom who had grown up reading those books. While there are plenty of stories of folks seeing Star Wars for the first time in 1977, an entire generation grew up with the adventures that they found not only on VHS tapes, but the bookstore shelves as well. Over the course of more than 20 years, those fans — myself included — followed along with characters as they literally grew up and made their own impacts on the franchise.
In some ways, The Heart of the Jedi is a bit of a weird time capsule for fans: those like Bongiorno and his followers who miss the early days of the Expanded Universe have found something like a piece of lost treasure.
While The Force Awakens and Rogue One were generally well-received by critics and fans, some segments of fandom found their frustration grow with the release of The Last Jedi and the directions it took. That frustration has grown and become toxic, with vocal, bad-faith YouTube channel hosts and Twitter users complaining about the series and Disney at every opportunity.
One argument that they've co-opted is Disney's decision to de-canonize the Expanded Universe, pointing to that line of stories as feeling more in line with the original films, and there's been a bit of a resurgence of popularity for those works that came before the franchise.
In its brief availability in print form, Flint's novel has found itself in the middle of that environment. For some fans, it's a neat visit to the Expanded Universe for an unexpected adventure that they had — a second chance at reading something from that era.
But for others, it's proof-positive of Disney's failures as an IP owner, and have been using it as a way to make a handful of bad-faith arguments that what Disney's produced is bad, and a way to create some sort of imaginary divide between "true" and "fake" Star Wars fans.
It's a sad, frustrating, and ultimately pointless situation over something that's objectively subjective. One person's appreciation of the franchise is different from another's, and where one fan might like The Last Jedi, another might prefer Heir to the Empire. Neither choice is the wrong one — unless you're using those opinions to harass or generally be awful to someone.
Bongiorno noted that it's unfortunate, and while he's firmly in the corner of the Expanded Universe, he doesn't think that "bashing Disney or LFL is the best approach," and that while "I don't dictate how a fan should respond to a corporation in protest, only that we could do better treating each other with dignity."
A large number of fans, he says, miss the Expanded Universe, and the best case scenario, is that this instance might help demonstrate that there's still interest in the Expanded Universe, and that maybe Lucasfilm will either fold the existing stories into the continuity somehow, or publish some additional books set in that continuity.
Flint had put Star Wars behind him. He turned to a career as a technical writer and writing instructor, and was surprised when the appreciation of the book flooded in after it went up online.
"I went from 14 published books, a back-list of 7 books, and a million books in print to NADA—overnight," he says. "I got the rights to all my Bantam/Spectra books back from them, but I didn’t know what (if anything) I could do with them. Then a Canadian online publisher offered to put them up. But my librarian son told me I should try getting the Irish sword-and-sorcery ones (starting with the Sidhe trilogy) republished as YA books, which weren’t a big thing back in the mid 80s."
A backlist can be a valuable bit of content for an author. He hopes that that new found attention from fans will highlight those other works and potentially attract the attention of an agent or someone who could help him figure out a way to republish those books for a new audience.
And maybe, it'll signal to Lucasfilm that the fans who enjoyed those Expanded Universe novels are still out there, and that it might be worth returning to that version of the franchise every now and again.
Hopefully, some of those buyers who snapped up and enjoyed The Heart of the Jedi will be moved to look up those other stories, and put a new chapter on Flint's career.