Category Archives: Star Wars

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.

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

Queen’s Shadow – Review

91JhTQBZyMLThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Attack of the Clones vaulted all of the characters from The Phantom Menace forward by ten years, leaving a gap for fans to wonder what happened in that time period to each of them that returned. One of the biggest changes was for Padmé, who had gone from being Queen of Naboo to its representative in the Galactic Senate on Coruscant. E.K. Johnson has now given fans something they have wanted for years, a book devoted to Padmé, her handmaidens and the time transitioning from planetary to galactic politics.

Connections

The strongest point of Queen’s Shadow is the way Johnson is able to flesh out the relationships that we see Padmé have with other senators in The Clone Wars as well as Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. In The Clone Wars, we were introduced to people from Padmé’s early days as a senator like Rush Clovis and Mina Bonteri, which Johnson is able to finally illuminate their first interactions. There is little more exciting than seeing the connective tissue between the films and the animated series made tighter.

Other relationships from the senate are highlighted as well. We are shown why Bail Organa and Mon Mothma become some of Padmé’s closest allies in the senate. It goes a long way to understanding just how close the Organa’s were to Padmé, so that when they take Leia as their daughter in Revenge of the Sith, you can think of no one better to raise her. It also helps with understanding why Leia would feel like she felt her mother as a very young child, since her mother had been to Alderaan and stayed in the palace before, which one assumes was not just a one time visit.

Johnson is also able to make the connections to the milieu of galactic politics which leads to what is seen in Episodes II and III. She shows the way that Palpatine is already starting to control things, behind the scenes, as he keeps Padmé away from the anti-slavery committee, knowing that if she’s there, she’ll move things in a direction he doesn’t want. Johnson also shows how relevant the Prequels are as she accentuates the problems of galactic politics that’s swayed more by factions, news outlets and self interest more than what is right.

The last major connection is that of the handmaidens. Johnson is finally able to show the interworking of this group that should satisfy the most ardent Padmé fan. The way this group to talented and dedicated women work together to protect and take care of Padmé and each other is inspiring.

The Book

By the end of the book, the story does come together well, but the way that it gets there is not as cohesive as it could be. Even half way through the book, it seems to lack a clear through-line, story wise. In many ways, it feels more like vignettes from Padmé’s first year as a senator than a connected story. The thematic elements of Padmé transforming from queen to senator are there and done well, but something just feels like it’s missing.

The best example of this is the story about slavery on Tatooine, which feels like it will be a major thrust of the story early on and then just peters out unsatisfyingly. The book also has an ending that makes you think there will be a sequel, but also doesn’t feel like it fits completely with how the main trust of the story wrapped up.

In all, Queen’s Shadow is an enjoyable read that allows fans the opportunity to understand better the character of Padmé, who she is in The Clone Wars and beyond. In fact it even helps lay the foundations for her emotionally, that explain the why and the how of her relationship with Anakin. It’s this, on top of the connections made with other parts of the Prequel era that lead to a rating of 3 out of 5 stars.

Solo: A Star Wars Story Novelization – Revew

solo-novel-cover

This review was originally seen on The Star Wars Report.

It’s been a good year for Star Wars books. Most Wanted, Thrawn: Alliances, and The Mighty Chewbacca and the Forest of Fear are just a few examples of the good stories that have been released. This month Del Rey released the novelization of Solo and, like they did with The Last Jedi, it’s an “Expanded Edition.” An “Expanded Edition” means it contains deleted scenes incorporated back into the story, as well as extensions to existing material seen in the film. This tactic worked well for The Last Jedi, whose novelization was better than its source material.

So the question is, does it work again with Solo? Thankfully the answer is a resounding yes!

Murr Lafferty has seamlessly integrated the new material with what was seen in the movie to create something truly special. She masterfully takes what was there and accentuates everything you wanted to know more about while watching the film. Han, Qi’ra, Beckett, Chewie, L3, Enfys Nest, and almost every other character in the film benefit from added time spent with them, as well as the added bonus of being privy to their thoughts. It cannot be overstated just how much fun it is to be back in this story with new material that adds to the depth and richness of the Solo part of the Star Wars galaxy.

The rest of this review could spend the next few paragraphs laying out all the additions the novelization has, but there would be no fun in that. Part of the joy of reading this book is the delight in not knowing exactly what has been expanded. The highest praise this book could be given is how deftly it shows the fertile playground the underworld is in the Star Wars universe. It’ll leave readers longing to watch Solo again and to see more Solo films that continue the story. Solo is a must read and is rated 4.75 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Solo: A Star Wars Story provided by Del Rey.

Thrawn: Alliances – Review

Dh6ituIXkAApangThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report. Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

There was, Vader had noticed, a strange sort of symmetry in the Force, a balance that often manifested in patters and resonances and strange reunions. People long separated would unexpectedly meet again; events of significance would see echos of themselves within new events; places once visited would somehow draw a person back to create new memories, whether good or for ill” (Thrawn: Alliances 254)

Vader’s ruminations are the perfect summation of Timothy Zahn’s latest book Thrawn: Alliances, which explores the first the meeting of Anakin Skywalker and Thrawn as well as a mission Vader and Thrawn are sent on by the Emperor. Loyalty is tested and secrets are uncovered as the Unknown Regions become the backdrop for two events that will help shape these men’s lives forever.

The strength of this book lies in it’s characterizations. Each main character is written so well that it’s impossible not to hear Matt Lanter or Cat Taber’s voice when reading Anakin or Padmé. James Earl Jones and Lars Mikkelsen are almost audible with every word of dialogue from Vader or Thrawn. And it’s not just the voices that Zahn captures, it’s everything the characters think or do feels completely in line with who fans know them to be. Zahn has written something that feels like an arc of The Clone Wars and Rebels all in one. Using Padmé and Anakin together was a perfect touch as they bring out the most intimate parts of the other’s personality. And their individual interactions with Thrawn give us a nuanced sense of who he truly is. Lastly, Zahn does not disappoint in his Vader/Thrawn showdown, as each man works to understand the other, seeing if they
can be trusted.

thrawn-alliances-poster-Star-Wars

The other thing Zahn does well is the way he weaves the mysteries of each story and the implications they have on the prequel time period and possibly the sequel era. The Clone Wars era story adds one more layer of machinations of Palpatine, adding dimension to his plans for bringing down the Republic. The Imperial era story continues to build on the mysteries of the Unknown Regions, races there, the Chiss Ascendancy and what the Emperor could be so interested in. This may be the most intriguing part of the story and it’s one that leaves the reader clamoring to know more and with the hope that all this focus on the Unknown Regions is going to pay off in the future.

Thrawn: Alliances is a book that much could be written about, but as a review, it’s honestly best left to the reader to discover. Zahn has created something wonderful here, so should you buy it, yes! Warning, it’ll leave you hungry for more, but isn’t that the hallmark of a good Star Wars book, opening the door for more? Thrawn: Alliances is rated 4.5 out of 5.

This review was completed using a copy of Thrawn: Alliances provided by Del Rey.