Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End

February 2017 saw the release of the final novel in the Star Wars Aftermath trilogy; Empire’s End. This is the series that bridges the gap (somewhat) between Episode VI and Episode VII. Over course of the these three books, we’ve been introduced to new characters as well as been able to peek in on a few of our favorite personas from original trilogy.

In retrospect, I was a bit cold on the original Aftermath. I didn’t care much for many of the new characters introduced, and I didn’t like the way the story seemed to jump all over the place. With the release of “Life Debt”, I began to feel a little more at home in Wendig’s post-ROTJ era, but still had my reservations. Now, I’m happy to say that I’ve actually come to enjoy several of the new characters he’s introduced. To me, Empire’s End is easily the best of the three novels in the series.

Those curious about the secret identity of Supreme Leader Snoke in Episode VII, will still be disappointed. Despite what many readers suspected to be a major tease regarding that character’s origins – nothing about the character is actually revealed. What we DO get in this story is a lot of background info on the planet of Jakku, as well as the Emperor’s plans post-mortum. It seems like Lucasfilm will be unlikely to give us any major revelations outside of the actual films,  but we’re certainly getting plenty of hints and breadcrumbs.  But YES – in this novel, you will finally see the fall of the Imperial Remnant and the reigns of power being handed to the New Republic. This alone, makes this novel worthy of your attention.

I’ve been an open critic of Chuck Wendig’s writing style in the past, and I’m happy to say that he seems to have really toned it down in this novel. This books reads much more like a started fantasy novel in terms of verbiage and standardized punctuation. To me, this one actually feels like it was written by a professional author and not some amateur who’s looking to make his name by being different and daring.

If you’re a serious fan of Star Wars and you love to consume every morsel of new information out there. This book is a need-to-have.

Story: The bulk of this book follows the characters that we’ve come to know from the other Aftermath novels, as well as longtime fan favorites. This story, when combined with the other three books, puts a nice end-cap on the events that occurred in Return of the Jedi, and helps set the stage for what we eventually see in The Force Awakens. However, even thoug ha lot of answers can be found here, fans are still left asking plenty of questions.

Recommended:  FOR HARDCORE FANS.

Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi

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Today I share my thoughts on the newest Star Wars novel, Heir to the Jedi. This is another big release that I have been eagerly awaiting since the original announcement. This novel is set between Episode IV and V, and focuses on Luke Skywalker as he works for the rebellion and learns to develop his abilities with the force. This is a topic that has always fascinated me. When we last see Luke in Episode IV, he has only the most rudimentary understanding of the force as a whole. Yet by the time we catch up with him in Episode V, he has seemingly learned the secrets of telekinesis. Finally, we have an official account of just where he learned that ability! Sadly… the way this plays out in the novel is not exactly what I and many fans were hoping for.

Before diving into that topic, I should also mention that this book is written in the first-person, which is a bit of an oddity for a Star Wars novel. But it was actually a decision that excited me quite a bit. I enjoy first-person narratives and the idea of getting into the head of Luke Skywalker seems too good to pass up. All in all, this works well for the book. The author does seem to capture a “voice” for Luke that seems fitting.

WARNING: The rest of this post may reveal some minor spoilers about the contents of the book.

The novel mostly focuses on Luke as he runs various errands for the rebellion. During the course of his adventures, he visits a few planets and even manages to obtain an old lightsaber that belonged to a late Jedi. He takes this opportunity to disassemble it and learns a bit about the construction of the weapon. He notices that the construct of the saber requires precision far beyond what most people would naturally posses. It is during this time, that Luke realizes perhaps Jedi Knights used the force to help assemble these delicate weapons.

During the book, Luke encounters a young woman who becomes a brief but important love interest. It is through her encouragement that he attempts to expand his mastery of the force through meditation and self exploration instead of searching in vain for someone to teach him. At one point, while the two of them are sharing a meal together, she slaps a noodle down on the table and suggests that Luke attempts to move it—- using the force. That’s right. Luke’s first attempt at telekinesis is laughably wasted on… a noodle.

Now, I’m not an author. But I’m sure I could have come up with at least 500 better options than scooting noodles across the table. Hell, a loose patch of rocks on the side of road seems like a better option than some slimy noodle out of a takeout box.

To add insult to injury, after Luke manages to twitch the noodle a bit using his mind, his dinner-date has the audacity to exclaim; “Oh, look at you! You little noodle-scooter!”   I shit you not.

Despite this grave offense, the book is overall well done. Which may actually make this situation even worse. I mean, I have looked at this from multiple angles and I’ve tried to be objective. I understand that one might naturally practice an ability like this using a mundane object. But for some reason using noodles just seems silly and comedic. I mean, even using trying to move his fork would have been better. I don’t know. I’ll drop it here. Maybe it’s not that big of a deal. It just struck me as stupid.

Content-wise, the book is average. There are few very interesting passages to be sure, but overall it didn’t seem to reach the level of either A New Dawn or Tarkin. This is disappointing due to the high hopes I had for the book.

Side note: before the announcement of the new canon, this book was scheduled to be the third part of a loose-trilogy called Empire and Rebellion. This series of books are all three set between Episode IV and V and each one focuses on a particular character. Razor’s Edge was the first entry in the series and is essentially a Leia novel. (I didn’t care much for this one). Honor Among Thieves is the second entry and features Han Solo and Chewbacca as the main characters. (This was a fantastic book!). Of course now, both of these are part of the “Legends” branch and are not considered part of the official Star Wars timeline. (Although its highly unlikely anything in these novels could or would ever be trumped by the new movies).

All in all. Heir to the Jedi is a decent, but flawed book. If you’re a fan, it is certainly worth your time to read despite having a few cringe-worthy moments.

Story: Interesting concept and narrative. Contains new and familiar locations and races. A bit silly at times, unnecessarily so.

Recommended:  FOR FANS

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 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.