Star Wars: Tarkin

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There’s a lot to talk about on the Star Wars front, but before getting into that, I wanted to take a moment to make a brief post on the most recent Star Wars novel: Tarkin.

Like the title implies, this is a book all about one character in particular; Grand Moff Tarkin.  Tarkin was introduced in the original Star Wars movie (Episode IV) and was played by veteran actor Peter Cushing. In the movie, Tarkin is a high-ranking Imperial officer. Arguably an equal to even Darth Vader. As most Star Wars fans know, Tarkin meets his end when the rebels succeed in destroying the Death Star.

The next time we see Tarkin in any official capacity is a brief on-screen cameo at the end of Episode III. We again see a younger “Commander Tarkin” in a few episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. In these episodes, he works alongside Anakin Skywalker and handful of other characters.

I’ve always been very intrigued by the character, and when I learned there was going to be a novel dedicated to him I was thrilled. I was little let down to learn that the novel was being authored by James Luceno. I’ve had some touch and go experiences with Luceno’s writing in the past. I really enjoyed his novel Darth Plagueis, but I was less impressed with his novel Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. His dialogue is usually pretty spot-on for the characters he’s writing about, but he tends to be a bit wordy and overly descriptive for my tastes.

Regardless, in this book we get to Tarkin at a very young age. We learn a bit about his upbringing and family. A portion of the book is spent on explaining how he became the cold and calculating character we see in the movie. A large portion of the novel involves him working alongside Darth Vader as they undertake a task given to them by the Emperor.

For me, the best part of the book was seeing Tarkin, Vader and Palpatine interact with each other. I love anything that sheds light on the mysterious relationship between Darth Vader and the Emperor and there was a lot of that in the novel.

Several important aspects are also made clear for the first time in this book. Keep in mind, all these novels are now 100% official when it comes to fitting in with the existing Star Wars universe. So we finally get clarification here that the fact of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader is not common knowledge. Also, this book also cements the fact that “Darth Plagueis” was indeed the mentor of Palpatine. This is something explained in the previous novel Darth Plagueis (also written by James Luceno is no longer considered to be canon.) So now, we have once again established that connection.

As these new books continue to roll out, I think we’ll see more of these “wink and nod” links between the old EU and the new canon. Many authors are not the type to abandon concepts from previous novels that they’ve labored over. This is why I tend to feel that the contents of both “Kenobi” by John Jackson Miller and “Darth Plagueis” are likely stay pretty safe.

Story: Somewhat slow to start but picks up about halfway in. Very technical in parts. Great character interaction.

Recommended:  FOR HARDCORE FANS

Star Wars: A New Dawn

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Mere moments before the premier of the new Star Wars series on the Disney Channel, I managed to finish reading my copy of Star Wars – A New Dawn. This book is unique for a number of a reasons. First, it is actually the prequel to the Star Wars Rebels TV show. Second, it is the first Star Wars novel released under the new unified timeline. This means the story contained within this book is considered to 100% official.

For years, fans of Star Wars had to contend with the fact that while there was a plethora of written material out there for them to consume, any or all of it could be overwritten and invalidated at any moment. For the most part, this is didn’t happen. In fact, in several cases George Lucas would often borrow elements from the novels or comic books and incorporate them into this official stories. (Case in point, the name “Coruscant” was originally created by an author, and then added into Star Wars: The Phantom Menace). But occasionally, there were conflicts. For example, there was a whole backstory for the character Boba Fett detailed in a series of books. this was later completely overwritten when Boba Fett’s origins were revealed in episode 2. Now, for fans, this scenario is no longer a concern.

So here we have A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller, one of my favorite Star Wars authors. And as always, he does not disappoint. As I mentioned earlier, this book actually details the backstory for two characters that star in the new television series: Star Wars Rebels. The story focuses on Kanan and Hera. Two characters that until now, we have never heard of before. Creating books around new characters in the Star Wars universe has always been tricky. First, it’s hard to introduce a new character and make them interesting. Second, it’s even harder to make them the centerpoint of an entire story. But Miller manages to do this nicely.

The lead character is that of Kanan. Kanan is a bit of a drifter a “rough around the edges” kind of guy who is always on the move from job to job and planet to planet. Kanan has a secret. He was a youngling in training to become a Jedi Knight when the purge came at the end of the Clone Wars. He witnessed first hand the destruction of the order by the hands of the Empire. After managing to escape, he has lived a life on the run, concealing his true identity and trying to put the past behind him.

When the story begins, he is a materials handler working for a mining corporation. All is well until the Empire takes a sudden interest in the planet where he is working. It is at this time, that he encounters the mysterious Hera. A young woman who seems to be on a mission seeking those who might have grievances with the Empire. At first, his interest in her is purely one of a flirtatious nature. But eventually, he comes to realize there is much more to this woman than meets the eye.

Considering that this book is the set up for the upcoming Rebels TV series, I don’t think it will be much of a spoiler to reveal that eventually, Kanan and Hera join forces and end up working together to cause some much needed chaos for the Empire in the end.

All in all, this book is very well done. John Jackson Miller does a fantastic job of introducing these characters and making you care about them. Everything here feels right. This book does a great job of capturing the tone of the time in which it take place. The evil Empire looms above and sees all things. Even some of our heroes are a bit reluctant at first, but are driven to strike by the very brutal nature of the Emperor’s oppression.

I finished this book nearly 20 minutes before the debut of the new show so the characters were very fresh in my mind when I sat down to watch the premier of Rebels. I must say that the characters in the book match perfectly with what was presented on the screen. Mr. Miller did a fantastic job of staying true to the characters that were outlined to him by Lucasfilm. I can only imagine how much of a challenge that must have been.

Story: Fast paced, and engaging. New, interesting characters A wonderful set up to a new era in Star Wars storytelling.

Recommended:  YES

Star Wars: The Official Canon

A few months back, I wrote a short entry regarding the state of the Star Wars canon. Disney made the announcement that they were “rebooting” the Star Wars timeline so to speak. This meant that all of the comic books, novels, and other story properties were no longer “official” in any way shape or form. However, they did announce that all future publications were now going to 100% official canon.

Before I continue, let’s spend a moment talk about what is and what was “canonical” in the Star Wars Universe. As of the time of this writing, only the following are considered 100% official Star Wars stories. (Meaning, they are a true and undisputed account of Star Wars history):

Film/TV:

The original six Star Wars films: Episode 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

The Clone Wars animated series; Seasons 1-5, and the Lost Episodes

Comic Books:

Darkhorse Publications: Darth Maul – The Son of Dathomir

Literature:

Short stories published in the official Star Wars Insider Magazine, starting with issue 149

Prior to this announcement from Disney, there were literally hundreds of miscellaneous comics, novels and short stories. The previous canon was divided into different levels of validity. First, we had the feature films, and other motion picture/television productions that George Lucas had a direct hand in creating. Next, up were novels and comic books. These remained “canon” as long there was nothing in them that was contradicted by George Lucas himself. The final tier were video games and other playable type of media. For the most part, this system worked fairly well. Authors and publishers did a pretty decent job of making sure that they didn’t trample over each other’s works. However, as you might expect over the years, there were more than a few really questionable entries added to the mix. Plus, with new movies on the horizon, it was about to become near impossible to avoid some major storyline conflicts in the post-ROTJ era.

In many ways, the whole Expanded Universe really did need to be flushed out. But naturally there are a few really amazing stories that many of us are reluctant to let go of. So, I still maintain what I call my “Personal Canon”. For me, this is a collection of old EU novels, that I feel will unlikely be overwritten by any future work and contain stories have been backed up in some way or another by the existing “Official Canon”.  For the curious, these are:

The Darth Bane trilogy, Darth Plagueis, Cloak of Deception, The Approaching Storm, The four Clone Wars novels, Labyrinth of Evil, Dark Lord, Kenobi, Honor Among Thieves, Razor’s Edge, and Shadows of the Empire.

Many of these are direct prequels or sequels of individual Star Wars films, or are sandboxed stories and do not contain anything that is likely to be overruled by future content. Of course, there are many more wonderful stories out there that are not on this list. For example, I’m a HUGE fan of the Han Solo Trilogy. But there are rumors of a future spin-off film that may cover Han Solo’s origins, so until I know for sure that Solo’s history will be left alone, I’m leaving it off of my Personal Canon list.

So that brings us to today. What’s next for the official Star Wars canon? Well, in just a few days the first full-length novel in the new official storyline will be released: A New Dawn. This book takes place between episodes 3 and 4, and actually sets up the background for the upcoming Star Wars Rebels animated series.

So right away, we have A New Dawn, followed by the launch of Rebels. Sounds like we’re off to a good start. So what’s coming next? Well here’s the schedule for the near future:

9/2/14 – A New Dawn – John Jackson Miller
11/4/14 – Tarkin – James Luceno
2/17/14 – Heir to the Empire – Kevin Hearne
4/21/14 – Lords of the Sith
Summer/15 – Untitled Asajj Ventress Novel

It’s safe to say that there won’t be any lack of reading in the near future. Naturally, I plan to read and review each novel. Also, keep in mind that each issue of the official Star Wars magazine all features short stories that are now 100% official. But wait there’s more! Starting next year, Marvel comics becomes the exclusive publisher of Star Wars material. Three new comic titles have been announced by Marvel:

Star Wars – ongoing series
Darth Vader – ongoing series
Princess Leia – 5 issue mini series

The future is bright for Star Wars fans. I’m counting the hours until I can am able to go down to my local bookstore and get a copy of A New Dawn tomorrow.

Comics: STAR WARS – Darth Maul; Son of Dathomir

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Today saw the release of the fourth and final issue of Dark Horse’s Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir comic book. To hear why this is significant, keep reading.

There have been many Star Wars comics printed in the last 30+ years, so why do I make a big deal out of this one? Well, Dark Horse has been publishing fantastic Star Wars comics for years, but since the introduction of the unified Star Wars canon, this four-part comic series is the first 100% official comic book under the new banner.

Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir was created using an unused story-arc that was intended for inclusion in the ill-fated 6th season of the Clone Wars cartoon. It wraps up the saga of Darth Maul and his newly created army of thieves and mercenaries as he executes his plot for revenge against Darth Sidious.

Like always, Dark Horse has done a fantastic job with this book. The writing and artwork are spot on. I started reading this almost immediately after finishing the Clone Wars series and this book picks up perfectly where the series left off. It truly carries the spirit of both the classic EU comics and the Clone Wars television series. Quite an odd combination actually. But it works well here.

As Star Wars fans patiently wait for upcoming content, this comic is a fantastic way to pass the time. I have purchased all four individual issues, but I expect to sell them in the near future and replace them with the trade paperback collection that is being released in October.

Keep in mind, if you’re a Star Wars fan who is interested in reading the comics, this is the PERFECT starting point. Being the first official release in the new canon, you can get in on the ground floor right here. This book is the last Star Wars comic Dark Horse will be publishing. Starting next year, Marvel takes over the comic book license and a handful of new books will hit the shelves.

Artwork: Excellent. Good use of color, artwork is true to the source material.

Story: Excellent overall. Ending still leaves some loose ends. No definitive end to the Darth Maul story. I’m unsure exactly how the Lucas Story Group plans to handle Maul in the future. So, time will tell.

Recommended:  YES

Star Wars: The Expanded Universe Retconned

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A long, long time ago… I made on post on this blog regarding Star Wars. It was the day that Lucasfilm announced the sale of the Star Wars IP to Disney. It was both an exciting and somewhat fearful day for Star Wars fans. It meant that we were finally going to see new Star Wars movies! This was great! Episodes 7, 8, and 9!!! We might actually see Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill reprise their iconic roles! Bring it on! – But wait. If there’s new movies, how will they fit in with what’s known as the Expanded Universe? This was a concern for many Star Wars fans. A concern well deserved, it seems.

For those that don’t know, the Expanded Universe is… or was, a term used by Star Wars fans to describe anything “Star Wars” that existed outside of the six feature films and animated TV shows. The EU consisted of over one hundred novels, hundreds of comic books, and a number of video games. All of the stories told in the EU were considered to be “official” unless their contents were directly contradicted by something in one of the feature films. For the most part, this worked beautifully. Authors worked with each other to incorporate elements from each other’s stories. They avoided stepping on each other’s toes, and together they formed a cohesive universe that helped breathe life into the Star Wars saga.

Over the course of twenty years, there were naturally some imperfections. For example, novels were written between the time that the original and prequel movie trilogies were released. Some plot elements such as the backstories for certain characters were invalidated, etc. But even this was fixed thanks to the due diligence of the EU contributors. Notably, there was an issue with the origins of the character, Boba Fett. A novel was written for this character, and when Star Wars Episode II was released, it featured a young Boba Fett. The details in the film did not align with the book. To fix this, another story was written to explain the conflicting accounts. All was right with the world.

On April 24th, 2014. StarWars.com released an announcement proclaiming that moving forward, they were unifying the Star Wars canon. Meaning that from this point on, anything released under the Star Wars name is 100% official. Anything released prior, is not. The existing EU is being re-labeled “Star Wars Legends”. These books will remain in print and their contents may be mined and used for future projects. But as of today, the contents of these books are as official as any other fan-fiction one might find floating on the Internet.

I both despise, and understand this decision. It’s tough because I can see it from both sides. Please allow me to explain.

First, while most of the EU contains great content. There are few stinkers. (The “Callista” trilogy comes to my mind immediately). There’s also controversy regarding the direction the EU has ultimately taken. Many fans were divided over a series of books known as the New Jedi Order series. These books take place something like 15-20+ years after the end of Episode VI. They detail the New Republic’s battle with an extra-galactic army. Several beloved characters meet their end in this series, and the entire storyline is controversial.

Assuming the new movies feature the characters we know and love, I can understand the need to include a fresh plot that fans have not previously read about. This means, that some of these post-Jedi books will need to removed from the official timeline. It’s a sad truth, but one that many fans are willing to ultimately accept. But what I don’t understand is the need to wipe out the ENTIRE EU. I mean, the EU is something that even George Lucas himself has borrowed from. You know that planet that’s in Episode I, II and III, Coruscant? The center of the entire republic? Yeah, an author made that up. Or what about the Nightsisters, the group of force-sensitive females featured in the Clone Wars animated series? Also from the EU.

I feel it may be a bit excessive to just wipe the whole slate clean. I would have preferred they spent a little more time and analysis on this. Perhaps, give a little more thought and come forth with a list of old novels that have a stamp of approval. Books like “Kenobi” or “Cloak of Deception” contain nothing that could possibly conflict with any future stories. Of course, I know there is nothing stopping me from reading and enjoying these books. But that’s somewhat beside the point.

The backlash on this has been fairly significant, and while I do not expect it, it would not surprise me to be hear some type of a revision to this eventually.

Regardless, there is some good news in all of this. A handful of new books have been announced and they are 100% official. I’m excited to read them. Plus, this does give fans who have never experienced the EU a chance to enjoy the new novels without a feeling that they might be missing out on something. So I suppose I’ll end my rant here and see what becomes of this fallout.

Nerd Shock

Today the nerd-world was rocked with news that Disney has purchased Lucasfilm. On top of that, it was also announced that Disney would create a new trilogy. Yes, you read it right. Episode VII VIII and IX.

What does this mean for the all the “expanded universe” novels out there? No one knows yet. Stay tuned… Once Halloween is out of the way and I’m done with this Castlvania playthrough, I’ll have some comments on this shocking bizarro-world we’re now apparently living in.