Book Reviews · Books · Galaxy's Edge · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire – Review

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This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Most of the Resistance did get wiped out by the First Order, but that’s the tricky thing about doing what’s right and fighting the good fight: people just keep doing it no matter what.”

Black Spire p. 221

The celebration for the opening of Galaxy’s Edge continues as Del Rey Books releases Delilah S. Dawson’s Black Spire. Picking up where her previous book Phasma left off, as well as the events of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, Vi Moradi is tasked with helping the decimated Resistance by traveling to Black Spire Outpost on Batuu to set up a new base and recruit. Unfortunately for her, she’s not going alone, as General Leia sends her with Archex, who was formally known as Cardinal of the First Order, newly deprogramed and freed. What could go possibly go wrong?

Freedom Isn’t Free

One of the stand out themes of Black Spire is something Vi struggles with while trying to recruit new members for the Resistance among the denizens of BSO. She finds that most people are of the opinion that if they keep their noses out of galactic affairs they will be safe from the tyranny of the First Order. She is frustrated with the lack of interest in the common good and reminds them that, “…if you keep letting bullies bully other people, eventually they run out of other people.”(p.164). It brings to mind the age old adage about evil flourishing when good people do nothing. Vi’s pleading with them harkens back to Obi-Wan telling the gungans in The Phantom Menace, “You and the Naboo form a symbiont circle. What happens to one of you will affect the other. You must understand this.”. It’s a lesson that the Star Wars galaxy struggles mighty with but it’s also one that feels universal for the real world as well. The fight for freedom and the protection of it takes constant vigilance. It’s a fight that can happen in many different ways, but the commitment must be total and the character arcs of this book illustrate that perfectly.

The Trauma of Life

Life has a way of beating people down and Black Spire is very much about the ways people deal with the trauma that happens along the way. Vi is suffering from the torture she received at the hands of Cardinal which continues to give her nightmares. Archex has lost his entire way of life. He’s been a slave for most of it, being told what to do, what to believe and how to behave since birth, first in a Jakku orphanage and then as a “recruit” for the First Order. The psychological trauma of going from never having to make up his mind about anything and always know his purpose, to feeling broken and purposeless has taken it’s toll. He sums up his feelings when he says, “I’ve been through some bad things…People have hurt me. Most of the time, I manage to ignore it to hide it, but it’s always there, lurking underneath. And what I’ve learned is that the only way out is through. That I have to feel the fear, acknowledge it, and do it anyway. Fear can’t hurt you.'(p. 282)

His John Wayne philosophy of, “Being scared to death and saddling up anyway” is at the heart of each one of the characters in the book. Each one is having to face a fear, brought on by the trials of life and the only way to get over them is to deal with them head on. It truly is a beautiful reminder that the only thing that can beat us is us, if we give up; that’s when we lose.

The Book

The Galaxy’s Edge series has been about introducing fans to the new planet and location for the theme parks. Yet what sets Black Spire apart from A Crash of Fate is that it truly makes you feel like you know this place. Dawson’s descriptions are fantastic, but more importantly she brings BSO to life through the characters and their experience in this world. The book also does an incredible job of following up The Last Jedi and through this story of absolute desperation showing just how fragile the Resistance is after their narrow escape on Crait. With all of the themes talked about, you’d think this book is dower and serious and yet Dawson’s wicked sense of humor and sarcasm are on full display through the characters. This adds the levity needed in the story and truly makes the book a joy to read. Black Spire helps fill in the gap between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker perfectly and is the perfect way to fill the time waiting for Episode IX. Black Spire is rated 4.25 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire provided by Del Rey.

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Book Reviews · Books · Galaxy's Edge · Star Wars · Uncategorized

A Crash of Fate – Review

iu-2This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report. Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

“I know the galaxy will never be big enough to fill that emptiness in you heart, Izzy, because you don’t want it to. You want to keep running because you wound’t know what to do if you had to stop.” A Crash of Fate pg. 241-242

Since the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, the public has eagerly anticipated, what would be named Galaxy’s Edge, that has opened at the Disney theme parks in California and Florida. To celebrate and promote the new parks, the publishing line of Star Wars books and comics has been readying fans for their visit with stories that take place on the world of Batuu and the Black Spire Outpost there, which is the place fans can visit. Black Spire Outpost was mentioned in Solo: A Star Wars Story, it was featured in Thrawn: Alliances, there is a comic series about it and both arms of publishing have books being released in the month of August 2019 staring it. First up is A Crash of Fate by Zoraida Córdova.

A Need To Be Loved

The story of A Crash of Fate is a simple one. Jules and Izzy are best friends growing up on Batuu until one night Izzy and her family leave unexpectedly. As fate would have it, Izzy returns to Batuu for a smuggling job and her and Jules are thrust together after years apart. As they work to stay alive and complete the mission, they must deal with the unresolved feelings they have for one another that have resurfaced throughout their day on Batuu.

There is a beautiful theme that runs through the story. Izzy has been left alone in the universe with the death of both of her parents. Her mother had taught her that to survive, you can only rely on yourself, which has led to a very lonely life. She begins to question this worldview in her time with Jules. She finds that deep longing that all beings have, to be known and loved by someone. She struggles with the desire to belong to a family and to have a home, when all of her experiences have told her that you can’t trust either. The story plays this out well as Izzy realizes throughout the story that not only was her mother wrong, but that she can be known and loved, not just by Jules, but by the people of Black Spire Outpost as well. It’s a good reminder of the importance of community in our lives and that life is much better as part of group than as a lone ranger.

The Book

The theme of the book is good, but the story itself does have some issues. One: it is a terribly cliched love story. Unlike all of the other Young Adult books so far in the new canon, A Crash of Fate is never able to transcend it’s genre, it’s firmly intrenched in the YA tropes. Now this is not bad per say, since it is a YA book, but it is disappointing with the track record these books have so far. Second: because the book is based on Batuu, most fans won’t have any connection to the place unless they have been to Galaxy’s Edgealready. Since this book has nothing familiar, in either characters or place, it is hard to feel like it matters much in the canon of stories. Lastly: the story has very few connections with the larger Star Warsuniverse. It takes place after the destruction of Hosnian Prime in The Force Awakens, with some very tangential connections to Resistance and First Order activity on Batuu, but it’s just not enough to actually feel important. With these issues, A Crash of Fate is mildly entertaining but inconsequential, it is rated 3 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of A Crash of Fate  provided by Disney Lucasfilm Press.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Star Wars Rebels · Thrawn · Uncategorized

Thrawn: Treason – Review

D9hyp-SXsAE4yN5This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report. Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

“I tire of this bickering,” the Emperor said. “You, Governor, were the one who arranged this meeting. What precisely was your intent?”

Excerpt From: Thawn: Treason, p17.

This review does contain very mild spoilers.

Thrawn is back, this time in the interlude of Star Wars Rebels season four when he was summoned away from Lothal. Thrawn: Treason illuminates what was so important, that it could pull him away from finally closing in the the rebels, once and for all. Project Stardust is in danger as it’s supply routes have been disrupted by grallocs, a cousin species of mynocks, causing important shipments to disappear and putting the titanic project behind schedule. With resources for his own TIE Defender project on the line, Thrawn faces his most Sherlockian mission yet; can he deduce the gralloc problem in a week?

Politics, Politics, Politics

Thrawn: Treason is full of Imperial politics. Palpatine is actively stoking the fires of political machinations in his minions, fostering discord, as men like Krennic, Tarkin and a new Grand Admiral, Savit all jockey for postion, power and their own self interest. What makes this so fascinating is how Zahn helps lay the foundations for the reasons the Empire will ultimately fail. By encouraging this, Palpatine is creating a system that will eventually crack under the weight of ambition and egocentric behavior. As those in the Empire realize the immense corruption, they will eventually turn away, looking out for themselves or seeking out an alternative ideal to believe in. Zahn offers the perfect juxtaposition with Thrawn, the alien, being the embodiment of everything the Empire says it stands for yet doesn’t when you get past the crisp uniformed shell.

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One of the best things about this novel is Zahn getting the opportunity to follow up on his first Thrawn novel. He answers the question of why Vanto was sent to the Chiss Ascendancy and gives readers what they all want, more Vanto! He is also able to expand on our understanding of the Ascendancy, their navigators and their importance to the survival of the Chiss. Furthermore the Gysks are back and the threat they face looms larger than was previously believed for the Chiss and for the Empire.

The Book

Zahn is a master at what he does. The mystery surrounding the supply lines is the kind of thing you want Thrawn facing. He’s also thrown the challenge of navigating the politics of the upper echelons of the Imperial Navy, something he’s no skill in. The book feels like the end of this era for Thrawn as he heads back to Lothal and Rebels shows us how that plays out. If this is the last we see of the illustrious Grand Admiral, Treason is a fitting end, the book is rated 4 out of 5 stars.

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

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Alphabet Squadron – Review

download copyThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report. Don’t miss The 602 Club review with Alex Damon of Star Wars Explained!

“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.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Uncategorized

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.

 

Book Reviews · Books · Solo: A Star Wars Story · Star Wars · Uncategorized

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.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Uncategorized

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.