Star Wars: Tarkin

kanan11f-6-web

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

star_wars_a_new_dawn

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.

Rise of the MMOs – Part 2

rift_collectors-edition

So far, I’ve discussed a few of the early MMOs that I have had personal experience with. Of course, for every one I’ve played, there’s many more that I haven’t played. Most the games I’ve mentioned have been successful. But of course, what happens to an online game when it is NOT successful? Think about it for a moment. MMO games are, well, Online. If the game does not do well, there’s a good chance that the company behind it may pull the plug. And if the servers go off, so does the game. What happens to that $50 you spent on the retail box, do you get it back? Of course not. This is the risk of gaming online.

There have been several popular titles that have experienced just this very thing. Some of them like The Matrix Online, Tabula Rasa, and Star Wars: Galaxies did in fact go dark. Usually, when this occurs, the game developers attempt to have some sort of a sunset period that allows some closure for the players both in terms of storyline and player satisfaction. Others developers just pull the plug on a specified date and that’s it. The later is exactly what is happening to players of Sony’s Wizardry Online and Vanguard titles.

The first failed MMO game that I was follower of was the original version of Final Fantasy XIV.

Boss battle for Final Fantasy XIV version 1.0

Square Enix, the company behind the Final Fantasy series nearly destroyed their reputation with the original release of Final Fantasy XIV. Riding off of the success of their first online game, Final Fantasy XI, the company was admittedly lazy with their second online offering.

The game was beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. But upon release there was almost literally nothing to do. The game had very little content. On top of that, poor backend engineering led to server problems and a number of lag and congestion issues. The game featured a flawed combat system and the design of the gameworld was both repetitive and confusing for players. The title was almost universally condemned by both players and critics alike. As a fan of the series, even I stopped playing in those very early days and turned my attention towards other games.

Backed into a corner, it seemed obvious that Square Enix was going to pull the plug on the game. But instead, they replaced the game’s lead producer and made a startling announcement, something that no game developer had dared do before: they were going to scrap the existing code and rebuild the game from the ground up. And they did just that.

While keeping the service active, and attempting to improve the quality of life for current players, the developers were busy behind the scenes creating an entirely new game engine and content for a relaunch. This is something that normally take an average of 5 years, Square Enix managed to deliver the final product in just two. Upon its re-release, Final Fantasy XIV was a massive success. It is also my current MMO of choice.

A panned out view of combat from Final Fantasy XIV 2.0

During my stint away from those troubled early days of FFXIV, I found myself seduced by a game known as RIFT. This title, in many ways is very much a World of Warcraft clone. I say this in terms of gameplay, not so much in a storytelling and art direction. But really, that’s ok. RIFT had my attention pretty heavily for several months, but once I reached the endgame content, I found myself bored with it. Apparently, I was not alone. As the game’s population dwindled and profits started to sink, there was much concern over the fate of the game. To resolve this, RIFT switched from a subscription based model to a Free-to-Play model. This has appeared to work very well for the game. Although, I do not play RIFT anymore, I’m glad to see that it did not end up being just another game on the list of deactivated MMO titles.

This same scenario occurred for another very popular title. The long awaited Star Wars: The Old Republic.

SWTOR

From the beginning, Star Wars: The Old Republic looked doomed to fail. The game had been in development for many years and the hype surrounding the title had reached epic proportions. I mean, who does’t love Star Wars? Everyone wanted to play this game. It was supposed to the Warcraft-Killer. I think maybe we expected too much. Signs of concern started even before the game was released. The game came with a premium pricetag both for the standard and the collector’s edition. On top of that, for the first time the Collector’s version of the game seemed to offer more than just a few vanity items. The CE actually featured a whole in-game vendor with a stock of gear only available to those willing to pay the extra money for a special edition of the game. Upon release, the game featured a very rich experience at the beginning, but for players who rushed to reach the endgame content, there was little there. Rather than fail, Star Wars also switched to a Free-to-Play model. However, unlike RIFT, some of the business decisions for SWTOR drew heavy criticism. For example, certain content is locked out for free players. Even some UI elements are unavailable unless you’re willing to pay a little extra. Regardless of these issues, the game does seem to be thriving under its current pricing model. Now… if only I could get that $200 back that I spent on the original Collector’s Edition.

So what’s the next for MMO gaming? As I type this, everyone is keeping a close eye on The Elder Scrolls Online. At this very moment, the game is currently in its Early Access phase. The game goes live for all players on 4/4/14.

The Elder Scrolls is a well respected and loved series of single player RPG games. So its only natural to want to extend that to an online world. Personally, I hope the game is successful. I have purchased the game, and I plan to begin getting my feet wet this evening. But despite my anticipation, the warning signs are already showing…

The Elder Scrolls Online

I participated in the beta test, and much like the original launch of FFXIV, the beta version of the game felt VERY incomplete. Yes, I realize that a beta test is just that, and early TEST. But trust me, there’s some things that should be fully working. I encountered frequent disconnects, incomplete textures and other strange issues during the test. Also, there’s again concerns with this game’s Collector’s Edition. Whereas SWOTR offered a CE exclusive vendor, TESO is offering a whole playable race that’s only available to CE purchasers.

I’m very curious to see what happens with this game. So instead of being an observer, I’ve decided to do an experiment. I’m going to use this blog to chronicle my thoughts on the game. I’m not a huge fan of The Elder Scrolls. I purchased the series Anthology but I’ve only logged a few hours into the most recent entry; Skyrim. I really like what I’ve seen of the series and I do plan to catch up in the near future. But for the time being, I’m a rookie. So to me, this is going to be a whole new experience.

I’m going to approach the game with an open mind and I’m going to try my best to set aside any expectations and pre-conceived notions I may have. The game comes with a free thirty days. I’m going to take advantage of the time and then make note of my observations. If this interests you, please look forward to the posts.

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.