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Alphabet Squadron – Review

download copyThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

“We’re old hats at loosing. We’re still learning how to win” – General Hera Syndulla

When Disney bought Lucasfilm and rebooted the literature, to be in line with canon, one of the biggest losses was the fan-favorite, X-Wing series. Not only did it given fans some of the best characters in Legends, but it also told the story of important events post Return of the Jedi. Now, for fans clamoring for the return of a squadron based series comes the first book in Alexander Freed’s new trilogy, Alphabet Squadron.

The Cost

Alphabet Squadron takes place, months after the Battle of Endor and the events seen in the Battlefront II story involving the Imperial initiative, Operation Cinder. This a book that is truly about the cost of war and the toll it takes on everyone involved, on the winning and the losing sides. Freed’s strength, like his previous book Battlefront, is the psychology of war. Each one of the characters is dealing with the aftermath of the Galactic Civil War in different ways. For some it’s about revenge, for others it’s about just trying to get home, while for others it’s about trying to stay out of the fight at this point all together; the war has left an indelible mark on everyone.

The New Republic is also facing these same pains, as it transitions from a rebellion to a legitimate government. As the quote from Hera says, it takes time to learn how to win and to do that well.

This story, like Battlefront is a story that puts the war in Star Wars, it is a military minded story. It makes you feel like you are in this period of galactic unrest, in the cockpit, trying to survive the mission.

The Book

The book, since it is the first of a trilogy, does not feel rushed. It takes its time introducing you to the characters and this post Endor world. It helps not rushing into the action, getting the time to spend with the characters before turning up the heat on them. It also gives the book a sense of realism to not have this dispirate group of people, thrown together as a squad, immediately best buddies.

One of the highlights of the story is the inclusion of fan favorite, Hera from Star Wars Rebels. It would have been nice for her to have a larger role in the book, but here’s hoping it will be larger in the upcoming stories. She’s written perfectly by Freed so that you can hear Vanessa Marshall delivering every line of her’s in the book.

One drawback I had, was that I was not as connected to the characters in the story as I was the themes they were playing out and the larger ramifications of their actions. I didn’t dislike any of them but I was never as interested in them as I was the plot of this time period. I am hoping that this issue will be resolve with the subsequent books to come in the series.

This book is doing something very unique, Del Rey has partnered with Marvel Comics to tell both sides of the story. While the books will follow Alphabet Squadron, the comics will tell the Imperial side of the story and the happenings of Shadow Wing, together giving readers the full tale. The comic is called Tie Fighter and the first two issues are available now.

Alphabet Squadron is a solid entry in the canon, giving us our first real taste of what life is like after the Battle of Endor and it is rated 3.75 out of 5.

This review was completed using a copy of Alphabet Squadron provided by Del Rey.

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Dooku: Jedi Lost – Review

Dooku-coverThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

I need to say this up front, I have never been much of an audio book guy unless I am on a very long car ride. But, I did grow up listening to audio dramas, so I was excited when they announced that Del Rey was going to release its first audio exclusive, Star Wars story with a full cast. This excitement was enhanced when it was announced it was a backstory for Dooku and Asajj, written by Cavan Scott. His work on Adventures in Wild Space, as well as his short story in From a Certain Point of View, gave me confidence that this could be something special. Thankfully I was not mistaken, Dooku: Jedi Lost is something special indeed.

Scott’s story efficiently and expertly expands our knowledge of Asajj and Dooku’s past. We finally learn what led to Dooku becoming one of the Lost Twenty. The book not only expands our view of characters, it increases our understanding of the Jedi and the Republic at a time we previously knew little about. This book, along with Master & Apprentice, has done much to show that the Jedi were far from the monolithic group they are sometimes thought to be. Characters like Lene Kostnana and Yula Braylon help show the variety in the Jedi Order, in their jobs, their passions and the way in which they teach their padawans. It’s something I hope we get much more of in the years to come.

The story is also able to portray how the Republic is already beginning to collapse. The lack of cooperation in the senate is palpable. It’s become a place increasingly overrun with corporations and self interest, forces which consistently undermine the symbiotic relationship of the Republic and encourage planets to retreat to a more tribal, protectionist mentality, with the Jedi caught in the middle. Many times the Jedi find themselves unable to take any actions because of their mandate to the Republic, instead of the Will of the Force.

As important as the story is for Dooku, this book is even more so for Asajj. The entire story is a fight for her soul. Will she choose to follow Dooku completely, giving herself over to the dark side fully, or can she escape her latest enslavement for freedom? The way Scott is able to do this is brilliant, but best left discovered in the listen!

Dooku: Jedi Lost is a story rich in details about this time period. It immediately left me wanting to re-listen so I could soak up more of the milieu. The time before the Prequels is a perfect playground for Star Wars stories, so I hope they will continue to mine it as often as they can. There is still so much that can be gleaned. On the heels of Master & Apprentice, this is the perfect companion piece, but it also completely stands on its own as a story. Dooku: Jedi Lost is rated 5 out of 5 stars.

 

Avengers: Endgame – Review

avengers_endgame_ver44_xxlgThis is a tricky one to write when many people have still not seen the film, so no worries if you are reading this, there will be no spoilers. Look for the spoilers on The 602 Club podcast next Tuesday. If you listen to my podcasts or have read this blog, you know I am not afraid to be critical of Marvel movies when I feel it is warranted. Case in point, I felt like Infinity War was, “ a mixed bag that has the effect of one being served a gourmet burger and then only being given a minute to eat it. There is so much happening, yet there’s so little pay off, leaving the audience unfulfilled, wanting a better movie and resolution. We all know the conclusion is coming in 2019, so now that the compulsory is over, we wait and wait and wait.” It was frustrating to feel this way, specifically since I just didn’t feel much about the movie, other than ambivalence and this left me trepidatious for Endgame.

So with that preamble, I know you are are all waiting eagerly for my thoughts on the end of the Infinity Stone Saga…. it is satisfying. That’s really what we want after this twenty-one film, eleven year investment, right? We want to be satisfied emotionally and thankfully Endgame is everything Infinity War was not in that department. The movie will capture you from start to finish. Personally I am happy with where my favorite characters are at the end and that is enough.

With the three hour run time and the contrivances to overcome Thanos, there are some issues. The movie does feel a bit long, but it also plays out better than Infinity War. Where that movie left you feeling unable to focus because there were so many characters and not a moments rest, Endgame is able to take its time. This may be it’s greatest strength, that you don’t feel rushed, you’re allowed the opportunity to care about what’s happening because you’re not being whiplashed between stories every other minute. For my book, Endgame is the poignantly satisfying conclusion to this part of the Marvel saga I wanted. It is not the perfect movie but it’s the one we deserve. Endgame is rate 4 out of 5 Cap Shields.

Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making Solo: A Star Wars Story – Review

71FyiYhJsjLThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

I unabashedly love Solo: A Star Wars Story, so when I heard that there was going to be a “making of” book about it, I was excited. Not only would this offer a look behind the scenes, but it also had the added draw of being authored by Industrial Light & Magic’s own Rob Bredow who had been the VFX supervisor on the film. The idea for this book came to Bredow as he was on set, taking photos for reference and realizing that he was the only one around with a camera. 23,953 photos later and with Kathleen Kennedy’s seal of approval, Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making Solo: A Star Wars Story was born.

There have been a lot of “making of” books for Star Wars movies, but none have ever felt this intimate. Bredow’s photos are as behind the scenes as it gets, raw and completely in the moment. He captures the essence of what it is like to be on set from pre production to post, making you feel as though you are actually there. Because of his experience working in VFX, the book helps show the relationship this production had between the SFX on set and their partner VFX. Bredow not only breaks down the images he shares but also interviews different people from the production about their part in the movie. His daughter’s interview with DP Bradford Young for a school project stands out as one of the best exchanges and illustrates how Star Wars truly is a family affair, even for those behind the camera.

This book is about being behind the scenes and therefore does give fans a clearer idea of some of the things Lord and Miller were responsible for shooting and where Ron Howard was able to put his stamp on the film. Reading the book will leave you with a whole new appreciation for just how much Ron Howard took on when he agreed to finish Solo. To quote a famous Star Wars character, it was impressive, most impressive.

Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making Solo: A Star Wars Story is a book best experienced. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and Bredow’s book proves that axiom to be true. If you want a truly immersive look behind the scenes of a Star Wars movie, this is the book for you. This is the kind of book we need more of in fandom, so I encourage you to pick up a copy and support it so we can get more like it in the future. I give this 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Master & Apprentice – Review

MAThis review first appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

I have to get something out of the way, right up front. I’m predisposed to love this book. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn are two of my favorite characters in Star Wars. I have, of course, followed their careers with great interest, reading the Jedi Apprentice series from Jude Watson for the Aggressive Negotiations Podcast that I cohost with John Mills and loving every page of it. Now, all this love of these characters as well as this time period in the Saga also made me very apprehensive as I approached Claudia Gray’s Master & Apprentice. I worried it would not live up to my own hype and expectations. Luckily, there was no danger of that at all, it exceeds them.

Gray’s tale takes place in Obi-Wan’s eighteenth year and he’s been Qui-Gon’s apprentice for some time, yet their partnership has never been a smooth one. Obi-Wan chafes at Qui-Gon’s disregard for the rules, creating a rift between them that grows even larger as a new opportunity for Qui-Gon has the potential to rip the two apart forever.

Motivations

One of the strongest parts of Gray’s work is the discussion of the different motivations for the Jedi, “why do they do what they do and how far do they go to do that?”. This is a question that each of the Jedi in this book struggle with. Qui-Gon wrestles with the constraints of the Jedi within the political system of the Republic. He is frustrated over how thisseems to put the Jedi at odds with their mandate as part of the Republic and with what is right. He questions the wisdom of the Jedi becoming little more that the chancellor’s police force and in that, loosing touch with the Living Force. This, in turn, allows for things such as slavery in the galaxy to continue.

Rael Averross is a Jedi that was Dooku’s padawan before Qui-Gon. He was brought to the Temple at the age of five, much later than is normal. Because of this he’s always been an outsider, never truly feeling like he belongs and he’s only worked to foster that more. He’s never lost his accent and his manner and dress reinforce his “otherness”. The Jedi Council has consistently bent the rules for him in an effort to help him reach his full potential, and the loss of his padawan has left him more determined than ever to not repeat the mistakes of the past. Yet all this intent has actually blinded him to his own shortcomings.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is a rule follower, living his life by the Jedi Code, to the letter. Unfortunately his Master sees the Code more as guidelines, which puts them at odds more often than not. The struggle between duty and thinking for one’s self frustrates Obi-Wan.

For each of these characters, motivations drive them as do their assumptions about the universe and their place in it. Gray expertly weaves their tales together to show the ways in which our own assumptions can get in the way and lead us astray. The question of whether or not they will cling to their perceptions, even when they are challenged by new information that renders those perceptions obsolete, is instructive for the world we live in today.

On top of all of this each character has to figure out why they are following the light and what is right. Are they doing it for personal gain? Are they doing it to win some cosmic game? How do they do what is right and work inside the system? What are the principles that are paramount and therefore cannot be forsaken? The answer in the book is, “We don’t choose the light because we want to win…. We choose the light because it is the light.” What makes this answer so beautiful is not just the sentiment, but the way Gray gets the characters who believe it to this point. Each one has their assumptions challenged, they allow themselves to be open to that challenge, and they ultimately have the willingness to turn from those assumptions if they are wrong. What relevancy! In a world where sides are taken based off assumptions about the opposition and where listening is a lost art, it’s edifying to see characters choose the better path. Communication, as always, is the key. As Qui-Gon rightly thinks in the book, “There was no Jedi so wise that he could not be undone by his own assumptions.”

The Book

Master & Apprentice is a prime example of expanding the universe. The Prequel Trilogy is full of things we still know so little about and this book helps fill in some of those gaps. Gray adds to our understanding of the Jedi before Episode I, giving us insight into their relationship with the Republic and some of the reasons why they have set themselves up under its leadership. We are finally given more on Dooku and his relationship with Qui-Gon, as well as the Jedi, since he’s only left the Order a short time before this story takes place. And most importantly, Gray expounds on the core relationship of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, helping to set the stage for what we’ll eventually see in The Phantom Menace. I particularly love the way she sets up Qui-Gon’s fascination with prophecy and ancient Jedi lore which will set him on the path of immortality in the Force and the “Chosen One”.

There is so much more that I could talk about in this story, but honestly it’s best left for you to discover on your own. For my money, Claudia Gray has written a book that stands with her best Star Wars work, Bloodline and Lost Stars, which also happen to be two of the best books in the new canon. After reading this book, one can only hope that Del Ray and Lucasfilm will allow Gray to continue telling stories about these two. It would be magnificent to see the story about them on Mandalore, protecting Satine for a year, as well as more on Qui-Gon’s journey in the Force. Master & Apprentice is rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Shazam! – Review

MV5BMjIyNTkwODY1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUyMTA5NjM@._V1_DC Comics saw its last movie, Aquaman obliterate expectations and it all began with doing early screenings for fans. Now with Shazam!, two weeks away and garnering strong, early buzz, they’re hoping to repeat that success by giving fans the opportunity to see their latest movie. I was lucky enough to see it durning one of these screenings and the question is, ” Is the magic strong with Shazam! or does it fizzle out?”.

Shazam! is bewitching. It feels like the type of superhero movie that Steven Spielberg might have made in the 80s. The movie’s greatest strength is its stars. Asher Angel as the young Billy Batson, Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman and Zachary Levi as Billy/Shazam, make this movie work. They are the heart of the film, in a movie that’s just as much about family, as it is about being a superhero.

Like all good 80s movies, this one does not shy away from the PG-13 label, in fact there are a few moments that it leans into it harder than one might expect, with some truly scary moments that might be too much for an audience that is much younger than the label.

Because the movie is not out till April 5th, this review is brief and vague but don’t let that fool you, DC Comics and Warner Brothers have a hit on their hands. Shazam! charts its own course and while rooted in the DCEU with wonderful references, at the same time, it’s completely its own. David Sandberg knew exactly how to take the source material and bring it to life in a way that feels fresh, fun and yet grounded in heart the whole time. Shazam! is rated 4 out of 5 stars!

Grading on a Curve

I think this is a must read from my good friend John.

kessel korner

I’m going to speak honestly with you for a moment about the Marvel©™® movie franchise. I won’t take too much of your time. I value you, and who you are, but I think we need to have this talk.

I’m a fan, generally speaking, of the Marvel©™® movies. I know it’s stale at this point to heap praise on the franchise. It’s also stale to point out which ones you rank in what positions. It’s tiresome, really, and goes down the rabbit hole I pondered recently about what motivates us to rate, as opposed to discuss.

Back to the point at hand, Marvel©™® gets graded on curve. People at large, at least the ones who are devoted enough to record and write their opinions to share, are viewing Marvel movies largely through the prism of other Marvel©™® movies.

This Is the Issue

To be clear, Marvel©™® has

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