Film · Movie Review · Movies · Uncategorized

Best Movies of 2021

2021

Movies in theaters were back in 2021! But, because of the persisting fear of COVID, there were a lot of films that were still released on streaming platforms alongside or in lieu of theaters. For this reason, this year’s list will include movies I saw in the theater as well as through streaming. So here it goes, I’m going with a top 14 (it’s my blog and I can do what I want) – 

dune_ver23_xlg

There are movie experiences you never forget and seeing Dune: Part One in IMAX was one of those experiences for me. This, like Star Wars, is a movie that was made to utilize the theater in every way possible. Villeneuve immersed you in sound and spectacle in ways difficult to describe and are better experienced. There are movies made from books where they might not be 100% faithful to the source, yet the soul of the source is fully felt throughout the movie, Dune is one such film. Hands down, best picture of the year and it will leave you eagerly anticipating part two. Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

pig_ver2_xxlg

This is a beautiful film about loss, life, forgiveness and the connections between all of us. Nicolas Cage has never been better in this movie about a world class chef who has left it all for solace in the woods outside of Portland. He spends his days truffle hunting with his faithful pig and when that pig is murdered it leads Cage’s character on the hunt for the killer. This might sound like the strangest movie of the year, but it is well worth your time and can be found streaming on HULU. 

belfast_ver2_xxlg

Kenneth Branugh’s love letter to the city of Belfast is devastating. It is a movie about the impact of home and the loss felt when we find it needs to be left. The performances are outstanding by everyone here. This is also one of the most beautiful movies of the year, almost completely in black and white, the cinematography is stunning. Well worth your time. 

dig_xxlg

The Dig is based on the novel by John Preston which reimagines the discovery and excavation of Sutton Hoo. As with the films before it on my list, it is another who’s cinematography is absolutely stunning. Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes give outstanding performances as kindred spirits who find ways to support one another when no one else believes in them. You can find the film on Netflix!

EvfYQsNVEAIqk9z

No movie has been more of a cultural force than Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Since the debacle of Joss Whedon’s version in 2017, fans have mobilized on social media with the hashtag #ReleasetheSnyderCut. Turns out, fans were right. Snyder delivered the goods, proving that he knew what he was doing all along. Building perfectly on Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman, ZSJL thrills in this expansive, 4 hour epic. DC Comics would do well to learn their lesson and give fans the end of the Snyderverse with the second and third Justice League films. This is the best and most ambitious comic book movie ever made. Don’t miss the episode from Snyder Cuts and The 602 Club

green_knight_xxlg

This may be the most esoteric film on my list. This movie is adapted from the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Dev Patel gives a phenomenal performance as the title character. This film is about the arrogance of youth and misunderstood manhood.  It’s incredibly shot and stunning to look at. The more I thought about this movie, the more it stood out to me. I know I’ll be returning to it soon.

french_dispatch_xlg

Wes Anderson is back in what may be the most Andersonian film he’s made. This movie is a series of short stories meant to mimic the style of the magazine it is about. There are three sections, “The Concrete Masterpiece”, “Revisions to a Manifesto” and “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner”. I enjoyed the first and the third the best, personally. This will not be a movie for everyone but I found it utterly delightful. 

last_duel_ver6_xxlg

Yes Ridley Scott made a lot noise about how and why his film underperformed at the box office but that should not distract from how good this movie is. Once you get past the terrible choices they made for Damon and Affleck’s hair in the film, you’ll be immersed in a movie that is all about the truth. I was stunned with how moving the film was. It is split into three parts, each one telling the story of what happened from the points of view of the three main characters. This is not a movie for the faint of heart, but I think it is worth watching and discussing. 

quiet_place_part_ii_xxlg

If there was a movie I thought never needed a sequel it was A Quiet PlaceIt was just so perfect and I just couldn’t imagine it being followed up and being half as good. Thankfully, John Krasinski proved me to be completely wrong in his second directorial effort. A Quiet Place: Part II is not just good, it is as good as the original. Like the first film the performances are outstanding and the cinematography is gorgeous. I’ve rarely been so happy to be proven wrong about a film. Don’t miss The 602 Club review. 

no_time_to_die_ver17_xlg

The final film in the Daniel Craig era has finally been released. I’d been waiting for this since April of 2020 and it was my most anticipated movie of the year next to Zack Snyder’s Justice League. I really liked this movie and I felt like it wrapped up the story for Craig’s Bond very well. I love that he has a full arc, from start to finish with his version of the character. Craig gives this movie everything he has and leaves nothing on the table. If this was the last James Bond movie, it is a fitting end to 60 years of the character. Don’t miss The 602 Club review! 

kings_man_ver4_xxlg

This was one of the last films I saw in the theater this year and may be the most surprising. I saw this in the final week of 2021, sandwiched between Licorice Pizza and Nightmare Alley, two movies that I thought might make this list. Neither of them did but The King’s Man does. I’ve not really liked the previous entries in this series, they’ve felt like ridiculously over-the-top, Roger Moore Bond films. The King’s Man is a prequel to the other two movies and is what I’d hoped they would be. It is a more serious and earthbound film, that has a much more constant tone throughout than the first two. It’s also a movie that has heart. I’m actually excited to see it again and it’s one I’ll be adding to my collection once it is released for home. 

q48q205top181I’ve not really liked the previous MCU films for the character of Spider-Man. He’s never felt like Peter Parker because they’d stripped him of the emotional core that makes the character who he is. Thankfully this has been rectified in No Way Home. This is another film in 2021 that knew exactly how to use nostalgia perfectly. If only the Star Wars sequels could have been this good. The movie is not without its issues but it comes together in the end, well. Don’t miss The 602 Club review. 

free_guy_ver5_xlg

These days almost every movie that comes out is based on some kind of IP, thankfully Free Guy is not. This movie is so much fun and has so much joy to it. There are some incredible themes of true love, redemption and salvation in it as well. This was one of the feel good movies of the year and perfect for the whole family! Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

ghostbusters_afterlife_ver2_xxlg

I was really worried about this movie going into it. The previous Ghostbusters movie had been such a train wreck so I didn’t know what to expect with this one. Honestly, it was wonderful. This is proof that you can do nostalgia right. Afterlife pays homage to the past and also introduces a whole new generation of characters perfectly. In all honestly, I hope this is the final film in the series because I don’t see how they can improve on this (even though I know it will not be). Don’t miss The 602 Club review. 

Honorable Mentions: 

  • Dream Horse
  • Stillwater
  • Nobody
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  • Army of the Dead
  • King Richard

Worst Movies of 2021:

  • The Eternals 
  • Mortal Combat 
  • Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

 

 

Christmas · Movies · Uncategorized

Favorite Christmas Movies

iu-7

I rewatched this film for the first time this year in a quite a while and it  is so clearly the best Christmas movie of all time. A movie that reminds us all of the preciousness of every life and the impact we all have on those around us for good or ill. Still moving and just as relevant as ever!

 

iu-4

Every year the Gospel is preached through this special and I love it. The reminder that Christmas has nothing to do with the commercialistic extravaganza it’s been turned into is eternally evergreen as the little tree Charlie Brown picks. In fact, that’s the beautiful metaphor Shultz was going for.

 

iu-8

My family has been watching this movie since it came out in theaters. When it became available on home release it became the movie we put the Christmas tree up to. It’s funny, has the best family scenes that I can quote completely and it’s just not Christmas till I watch this.

 

iu-2

This is not a movie for everyone but I do love it. It’s a beautiful movie about all the types of love that bring us together in the Christmas season, not just romance. There are some fantastic lines in this film and the soundtrack is great, as is the cast!

 

 

iu-10

Yes, this is the Chris Columbus movie I have on the list. It’s become a classic in the few years it’s been out for me. It’s heart-warming to watch as a family learns to come back together after a devastating loss. Plus, Kurt Russell is the Santa that finally makes the song “Santa Baby” make sense. 

 

iu-2 copy

I still skip the “Choreography” musical number most of the time but this movie is just kinda perfect. The music, the cast and the setting just cannot be beat. It does a great job of reminding us that success is best when you have someone to share it with, either a friend or a partner. 

 

iu-6

The cast is phenomenal. This might be my favorite Jack Black performance, but it is actually Kate Winslet’s relationship with Eli Wallach’s character that will steal your heart. And if that is not enough, the girls that play Jude Law’s daughters are adorable and will make you wish your own children had British accents.

iu-11

Everyone should have known with this movie that Jon Favreau would be perfect for the Star Wars universe. Here he is able to tap into everything people loved about Christmas movies and replicate it without it feeling like a rip-off. A must watch every Christmas season since its release. 

 

Scanned Image

The message of this movie captures the heart of the season perfectly. I’m still touched by it every time I watch. I love being reminded about the importance of belief, but more importantly that seeing is not always believing. Reminds me of John 20:29 “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'”

iu-9The message is classic but still important. Another reminder of the need to look past the commercialization to the reason for the season. This season is meant to bring us together, think of others and not ourselves. Riches mean nothing if there is no one to share them with and giving is better than receiving. Does it all sound cliché? Maybe, but sometimes it’s important to dust off the clichés and remember why they became them in the first place. 

PS. Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Star Wars: A Test of Courage – Review

star-wars-the-high-republic-a-test-of-courage-by-justina-ireland

The High Republic series continues in A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland. The book is not a direct sequel to Charles Soule’s Light of the Jedi, but more of a companion piece that chronologically takes place in the middle of that book. Venestra Rwoh is one of the youngest Jedi Knights at the age of sixteen. Her first assignment is to escort Avon, the twelve-year old daughter of Senator Ghirra Starros, to the dedication of the new deep space station, Starlight Beacon. They are joined by Avon’s opinionated droid J-6, a Jedi Master, his Padawan and an ambassadorial  delegation from the planet of Dalnan, who is contemplating Republic membership. Their journey is interrupted when bombs incapacitate and destroy their cruiser, allowing only enough time for Venestra, Avon, J-6, Jedi Padawan Imri and Honesty, son of the Dalnan ambassador to escape in a broken down shuttle. They are forced to land on a planet and try to survive till they can find a way to call for help.

A Test of Courage is a middle grade book, but that does not mean the story is watered down in any way. Ireland has done a marvelous job crafting a story that is in line with Lucas’ ideas of what Star Wars is meant to be, a way of helping teach young children about the morals of life. Venestra snuggles with the responsibility knighthood has brought, Honesty learns the foolishness of living life comparing oneself to others and Imri must learn to deal with loss and the anger that results. It is a strong collection of themes about the trials of growing up from multiple points of view.

Ireland is able to continue the work Soule did in building out The High Republic time period. Readers are given a further understanding of the Jedi, as well as the Republic, two hundred years before The Phantom Menace. She is also able to give more on the Nihil and their plans to disrupt the Republic’s expansion into the Outer Rim. Ireland also explores droid personalities in a way that’s only recently been seen in Solo with L3, to humorous effect.

 A Test of Courage is a fun, quick read that will leave you wanting more books in this time period. It fits nicely with Light of the Jedi in opening the series of The High Republic and is rated 3.5 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of A Test of Courage provided by Disney Lucasfilm Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Movies · Television · Uncategorized

The Best of 2020 in Entertainment

Untitled-1

Normally my lists for the year are about the movies that I was able to see in the theater, well we all know how that went in 2020, so this year, I am listing out the best things I saw that were released in 2020. 

Best Movies 

Tenet

tenet_ver5

So thankful this was one of the few movies I was able to see on the big screen during the COVID season. It truly was meant to be experienced in the theater. In my opinion there is no greater filmmaker of our time than Christopher Nolan. This film is, in many ways. the culmination of all that he has been building on since Memento. The imagination at work in this movie is astounding. Some may have had trouble keeping up with the story but thankfully a lifetime of Star Trek and sci-fi allowed me to get what Nolan was doing. This is a movie I cannot wait to watch over and over, allowing me to pick up all the little connections placed throughout the film. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on this one! 

Soul

soul_ver3Pixar has brought our inner world to life with Inside Out and now they tackle the great beyond. What a perfect gift at the end of 2020, to be reminded of the beauty of life, even with all the bumps and bruises we acquire along the way. The movie smartly stays away from answering what lies beyond and its message about the souls we all have is one of the most pro-life messages I’ve seen. Don’t miss Soul on Disney+ and look for The 602 Club episode next week!

Fatman

fatman_ver3This was the perfect Christmas movie for 2020. So sad I was not able to see it on the big screen but it was something I’ll be returning to as a new Christmas classic every year. Mel Gibson is perfect as a Santa that has almost run out of holiday cheer and who’s being hunted by a hitman payed but the indefatigable Walter Goggins. Do yourself a favor and rent this! 

The Gentlemen

gentlemen_ver8This is a fantastic ride from start to finish. Every single actor is on top of their game. Hugh Grant is the standout and almost unrecognizable from his usual fair. Don’t sleep on this one if you missed it at the beginning of the year.

 

Hillbilly Elegy

hillbilly_elegy

This might be a controversial pick but I found this movie to be a powerful depiction of a side of life many of us don’t even know exists. The performances are brilliant and Glenn Close is perfection as Mamaw. I’m honestly not sure why people have not responded better to this movie but it’s worth your time, as is the book it’s based off of. 

 

The Way Back

way_back_ver2

In many ways this movie feels semi-autobiographical for its star Ben Affleck. He is so good as a man struggling to overcome is addiction to alcohol and find a way to rebuild his life. It feels like the kind of intimate storytelling that gets lost in the blockbuster shuffle but that 2020 has made more relevant since studios will be looking for ways to get people back into the theaters with films that don’t cost $300 million to make.  

Love and Monsters

LoveAndMonstersPoster

This movie was a complete surprise and one of the few I was able to see on the big screen during the COVID season. It has such heart and it’s message about not staying locked away because life can be dangerous was one of the most timely in 2020. My favorite quote from the movie, “There is a great big beautiful inspiring world out there. Crank open that hatch, breathe some fresh air, go live your life. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.” Worth checking out and enjoying with friends!

Greyhound

greyhound

I am so thankful that Apple+ picked this one up. The movie knew exactly what it was, an intense war thriller about the trials of a Captain trying to get as many ships safely to England in the middle of “Battle of the Atlantic”. It’s a story from WWII that is often overlooked and yet was one of the most pivotal. You really feel apart of the stress and worry these men went through as they knew that any minute could be their last. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode! 

Onward

onwardSuch a fun idea, a world where magic use to be a way of life and has now become mundane. It is a beautiful story about brotherhood, as well as the importance of good male role models in the life of a young boy. Pixar was on fire this year. Don’t miss The 602 Club and Cinema Stories episodes! 

 

Wonder Woman 1984

EovJdXvXIAMKqA7

I’m positive this will be the most controversial pick of the list. I cannot get over how important the themes are in this movie, what it has to say about Truth is astounding. It was not as good as Wonder Woman, but it was a lot of fun and the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine is electric. Please don’t miss The 602 Club episode about this film, I’m so proud of the conversation we had about the movie. 

Best Shows

The Queen’s Gambit

iu-7Engrossing and utterly fascinating character study of a chess prodigy in the 1960s. Anya Taylor Joy is beyond brilliant as Beth Harmon, as is Isla Johnston who plays her as a young girl. This is a series you just have to watch. 

 

The Mandalorian: Season 2

EoVumzTVoAESrJcSeason one blew everyone away, season two left everyone speechless. Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau continue their resume for why they should be running creative for Star Wars at this point. The way they have been able to connect with the larger universe is excellent, while at the same time never losing sight of the story of The Mandalorian himself. Don’t miss The 602 Club conversation about the season!

Documentaries

The Social Dilemma

iu-9

We tweet, we like, and we share— but what are the consequences of our growing dependence on social media? This documentary-drama hybrid reveals how social media is reprogramming civilization with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.

This is what The Social Dilemma looks to answer. This documentary from Netflix explores, in depth, how social media, technology and smart devices are reshaping the human race. To do this Tristan Harris, former Google design ethicist and the co-founder of The Center for Humane Technology has gathered experts from all over social media and technology to talk about the dangers they see in their own creations. 

This panel of experts breaks down the ways in which technology is dangerous. They help explain the ways in which social media is addictive by describing the algorithms behind these platforms and the ways they are meant to keep people engaged, even tempt people to become engaged when they are not actively using them. 

They also dive into the ways in which fake news has rapidly spread on these networks and the way in which people can fall down the “rabbit hole” very quickly. These “rabbit holes” are the ways people can become radicalized because they only see one side of an issue because algorithms suggest new content based on what you’ve previously watched.

Each of these experts also confesses that this is all driven by profit, the more you scroll, watch, like, stream, the more they make on advertising. For them it’s about keeping you engaged. They never had any thought as to how this would impact the lives of kids. Therefore entire generations are the test subjects for the impact of these devices and platforms. We’re only now realizing what these things are doing to our children and to ourselves. It is interesting to note that none of these experts allow their children time on social media or much time with the technology they helped create, says a lot. 

With all this said, I would recommend spending the hour and a half to watch this, watch it with your teens and talk about the impact these things are having on their lives and your family.  This may just be the most important thing to come out of 2020, don’t miss it.

The Last Dance

iu-8There are very few teams as storied as the Chicago Bulls from the 90s and this documentary shows why. A look inside the dynasty that defined a generation as well as reminder of who the true GOAT of basketball is. The series will have you binging for sure. 

 

The Worst

There are a few movies this year that belong on this list. Ava and The New Mutants were absolutely dreadful, avoid them. 

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Star Wars: Light of the Jedi – Review

This is a spoiler free review. Star Wars: Light of the Jedi will be released on January 5th, 2021. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode review!

For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire. – Obi-Wan Kenobi

In 2012 the Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm and one of their first acts was to mothball the Expanded Universe that had begun with Heir to the Empire in 1991. Since that time, the literature has been made canon but have stayed in the time periods of the Star Wars galaxy that have been seen onscreen. That has all changed now, with this quote from Obi-Wan as inspiration, the publishing arm of Star Wars is venturing into the unknown with The High Republic era. It is set two hundred years before the events of The Phantom Menace and is going to be seen in all print forms; adult novels, young adult, middle grade, young readers, picture books and comics.

For the first book in the series, Light of the JediDel Rey has turned to author Charle Soule for his first Star Wars book. Soule has written some of the best comics since Disney took over, with his Darth Vader run in contention for the best. His writing is crisp as one who has read his comic work would expect and his dialogue is snappy. Soule does an excellent job for setting the stage of what is to come in this era.

The Republic is at its height, as the title for the era would suggest. For those that know history, it feels akin to the golden age of Elizabethan England. Things are bright for the Republic as they look to open their first deep space station in the Outer Rim, the Starlight Beacon. Soule differentiates this version of the Republic from others we have seen through a motto of this iteration, “We are all the Republic”. The Jedi are at their height as well, serving the Republic, yet not officially as part of the government. This is a time period unencumbered by war. Everything seems to be perfect when a hyperspace incident causes a chain reaction that could threaten the very existence of the Republic.

The “villains” of the story, the Nihil also feel historically based. Anyone familiar with the vikings of the eighth to eleventh centuries will feel right at home with this group. These raiders are the antithesis to the Republic and only have their own interests in mind. Their goal is nothing more than plunder and pleasure.

The most exciting aspect of this series is the ability for it to do something new. Since it is two hundred years before The Phantom Menace there is not much the authors will be bound by, giving them freedom to create something all their own. There are a few characters that fans will know from the Prequel era but the majority of them are new. Soule’s also given readers some interesting relationships to follow in the stories to come. The book’s storyline feels timely and timeless, creating a sure foundation for the High Republic era. Light of the Jedi is rated 3.75 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed with a review copy of Star Wars: Light of the Jedi from Del Rey Publishing.

This post originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Thrawn · Uncategorized

Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising – Review

iuIn 1991 author Timothy Zahn continued the Star Wars trilogy with his book, Heir to the Empire. The story was not only a continuation of our favorite characters’ stories but also an introduction to new characters. One of these creations has stood the test of time, having been adapted into canon by appearing in Star Wars Rebels and having his story continue in the literature. His name is Thrawn. This mysterious blue alien from the Chiss Ascendancy is finally getting his origin story in Zahn’s latest book, Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising.

The Book

The book is broken up into two different, alternating story lines. One is the “current” story of Senior Captain Thrawn and the second is the Memories section which tells us the history of Thrawn. The memories section also works to fill in the backstory for the relationships between the galactic powers inside the Chaos region of space, where the Ascendancy is located.

The absolute pleasure of this book comes in finally gaining an understanding of why Thrawn is the way he is. Getting to explore his history coming up in the Chiss military is fascinating and gives readers the fullest understanding of the character by letting us see his successes and, more importantly, his failures. Thrawn has always felt like the Sherlock Holmes of the Star Wars galaxy, but Zahn is not above showing readers hisblindspots. By alternating between the “past” and the “present”, the character of Thrawn comes to life in a way readers haven’t gotten to see before. Zahn gives us his motivations and worldview in the clearest possible way by having Thrawn tell, as well as show, what they are.

But this book is not just about Thrawn. It is about the Chiss Ascendancy as well. Fans have long wanted to know more about his power in the Unknown Regions and thankfully Zahn provides an opportunity to explore them. There is a richness to having this group fleshed out and developed as deeply as any race in the Star Wars galaxy. (I could spend the rest of the review diving into everything that’s revealed about Thrawn as well as the Chiss, but honestly it’s just more fun to experience it for yourself!).

Politics

Thrawn’s biggest blindspot has always been politics. Unfortunately for him, the Chiss Ascendancy is rife with politics at every level of life. Our current climates makes this a fitting theme to explore. We live in a time when politics inserts itself into every aspect of our lives. Watching Thrawn struggle with this reality mirrors the experience of many  in our world who also struggle to come to grips with this hyper-political existence.

In many ways Thrawn is not fully aware of the depth of the political wars raging behind the scenes as he works to quell the external threats to the Chiss. What will be interesting to see, as this new trilogy progresses, is if the political nature of Chiss life emerges as a detriment to them in their quest to keep themselves safe. Politics has a bad habit of clouding the most important issues because of partisan blinders. Chaos Rising clearly shows the danger of becoming myopic through the main antagonist’s end.

Conclusion

The start to this latest Thrawn trilogy is fantastic. Zahn finally gets to run wild with his creation by digging intothe Ascendancy as well as the title character. There is so much to love about the world building on display and about a story that’s only hindrance is the canon of where Thrawn will end up. Thankfully there is so much to play with, it makes the book feel fresh and new. Chaos Rising is rated 4.75 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed with a review copy of Chaos Rising from Del Rey Publishing.

This review first appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Uncategorized

Free Fall – Review

iuThe character of Poe Dameron was not supposed to live beyond his salvation of Finn at the beginning of The Force Awakens, yet J.J. Abrams was so taken with the character, he worked out a way for him to survive. Fast forward to 2019 where The Rise of Skywalker finally gave fans a peek behind the curtain of this hotheaded pilot’s history by introducing us to a mysterious spice runner from his past. Now author Alex Segura bring Poe’s story to life, letting readers experience the good, the bad and the ugly of his early life choices.

In the Shadows

Poe lost his mother, leading his father to become over-protective of his free spirited son who desires nothing but adventure and the thrill of flying. This thirst for excitement leads to Poe meeting Zorii at the local bar, who along with a crew of “smugglers”, needs a way off Yavin 4, Poe’s home. It’s this fateful encounter that will irrevocably change the course of Poe and Zorii’s life.

Both of them have grown up in the shadow of famous parents. Each one of them has been raised with certain values and a feeling of destiny about their future that feels inescapable. Their chance meeting leads them to question whether these destinies are truly what they want for their lives. Is Poe really cut out to be nothing but a farmer on a backwater planet? Is Zorii always going to be a spice runner? They both wrestle with the question of who they want to be when they grow up and by the end of the book they find their answers.

For Poe, this question is accentuated with another, even more important question; does he want to live life in a completely gray world? Is a life of crime really the best use of his talents? As Poe slides further into the world of a spice running, he is confronted with the classic Star Wars theme of whether to live the selfish life or the life of selflessness. The voice of his mother Shara Bey rings in his ears, “‘You should always make your own choices, Poe, We’ll never take that from you. But we will teach you enough so you’ll know how to choose the right path when the time comes.'”

Segura does a fantastic job with the “coming of age” story for Poe and Zorii, using them as mirrors for one another that reflect the difficulty of growing up and making the hard choices of who they’ll be and how to live. Star Wars has always been about rhyming and Poe’s tale feels reminiscent of Luke, Han and even a bit of Anakin, all in one.

The State of the Galaxy

One of the best parts of this book is just how well Segura is able to lay out the state of the Star Wars galaxy in this time period. The New Republic is stretched thin as it tries to subdue the last remnants of the Empire, leaving a power vacuum that is being filled by the criminal underworld. They are finding it much more difficult to manage the galaxy than they thought it would be. This perfectly captures the milieu that is ripe for the First Order to be able to gain a foothold. Honestly this book is everything that should have been released before The Force Awakens, to lead fans into the Sequel era.

Conclusion

Segura has perfectly captured the character of Poe and Star Wars storytelling. His work feels like Solo with a little bit of the Godfather sprinkled in for good measure. He truly adds to the understanding of the characters as well as the state of the galaxy, while at the same time using the classic themes of the Saga. This is tie-in fiction at its finest, something that changes the way you view the movies the next time you watch them. Free Fall is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Free Fall provided by Disney Lucasfilm Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Shadow Fall – Review

iu-2

Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

Shadow Fall continues the adventures of Alphabet Squadron as they help General Syndulla and her battle group secure the Cerberon system as well as create a plan to entrap the dangerous Shadow Wing. In many ways, Shadow Fall follows the mold of The Empire Strikes Back in splinting up the characters, as well as getting to the heart of who they are and who they are going to chose to be. Friendships are forged, alliances are shattered and secrets are revealed that will change the future of Alphabet Squadron forever.

Secrets

On of the most interesting themes in this book is the idea of just how dangerous secrets are to a group. In Freed’s first book in the series, the reader was given the true reasons Yrica left the Empire. This information is held over her like a proverbial Sword of Damocles which finally does fall and irrevocably damages her relationship with her squadron.

In a world where the past has come back to haunt some of the most famous people on the planet, the theme of secrets feels as relevant as ever. It’s a reminder that it is much better to just be forthright about our mistakes. The truth will come out, no matter how hard you work to suppresses it and when it does, it almost always has the power to destroy. There are few things worse than living in the shadow of your past and just waiting for it to fall. Honesty, truly is the best policy.

Desiring Hope

Since this book takes place not long after the Battle of Endor, it’s fascinating to see how the galaxy is responding to life removed from the oppression of the Empire. One of the most interesting ways this is happening is in the rise of cults all over the galaxy. There seems to be an explosion of religious expression following the fall of the Empire.

One of the main cults we see in this book is based on Catadra, one of the planets in the Cerberon system, called The Children of the Empty Sun. Their main teacher challenges Chass as she explains their philosophy,

“Judge us by the same standards you judged the New Republic. There’s millennia of wisdom from a hundred cultures that teach what the Force wants—the flourishing of life, tranquility, community—yet the ruling powers only fight. You don’t trust the military to turn away from violence any more than I do. They don’t know how.”

“But you know how,” Chass said. She laughed and shook her head. “You listen to the Force, so you can build a better civilization.”

“Hard to believe, but what’s more likely to work? Holding on to war hasn’t given you peace, Maya. Maybe, just maybe I’m an alternative.”

It is not hard to see why this kind of philosophy would be appealing to the people of the galaxy and why cults like this would be popping up everywhere after 30 years of Imperial rule. Rebellions are built on hope, but so are lives in general, the hope that things can and will get better. Now that the galaxy is out from under the groupthink oppression of the Empire, people have the freedom to be able to express that hope in a variety of ways. And as is true in the real world, many people turn to religious expression to find that hope. Star Wars has always had a religious component and it’s fascinating to see the resurgence of that in the post-Endor galaxy as people exercise their new found freedom of religion.

The Book

There is a lot that is good in Shadow Fall. Readers finally have some mysteries revealed, the back story of Kairos and Adan, insight into Chass past, as well as the furthering of Nath and Wyl’s friendship. The book also continues to show the New Republic as it tries to govern, while still subduing the Imperial resistance. It is also nice to see the book use some previously established characters, especially on the Imperial side to continue building the post-Endor universe.

As good as these things are, there are some issues. The book’s focus is so myopic that there is little understanding of how and why this story is important to the over all story to the galaxy. There is no indication as to why this system is important to the New Republic, as there is never any connection with anyone outside this system. This was one of the strengths of the X-Wing series in the past is it’s ability to tell a focused story that also felt important to the Star Wars galaxy.

The first book gave us just a taste of Hera. Shadow Fall does have more of her in it, but sadly she’s still not given much to do and in all honest, as neat as it is to have her in the book, the character could have been any general in the New Republic and the story would have been the same. It truly feels like a wasted opportunity in storytelling.

In conclusion, there are some intriguing themes in the book but the rest of the story just didn’t hold my attention the way I would hope it would because of the things I mentioned above. Shadow Fall is rated 2.5 out of 5 stars.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Queen’s Peril – Review

OIP.fYT3gSEF1XdmA1HgFkmcqwHaLkThe Phantom Menace introduced viewers to the youngest queen ever elected on Naboo and her loyal handmaidens who not only helped serve her, but also protector in a variety of ways. The depth and the breath of just how this group was formed and came together has often been discussed by fans since 1999. Now, the answers have been revealed, as E.K. Johnson returns to the life of Padmé, as she assumes the role of queen, in the book Queen’s Peril.

The Good

The beginning of the book picks up immediately after the election of young Padmé. She is quickly introduced to her new head of security Quarsh Panaka, who has a plan to help keep the queen safe. He wants to revive the use of a handmaiden to be the queen’s protector and when needed, a decoy. Padmé approves of the idea but also improves on it by asking for more than just one handmaiden, she asks for five, so that with her as the sixth, it will be even more difficult for people to know who is the “playing” the queen when a decoy is needed.

Padmé and the handmaidens begin to figure out how this will work between them, what their specific roles will be in the group and how they will work together to make this as seamless as possible. This is one of the best parts of the book, getting to see the team come together. It almost has the feeling of the superhero, team-up origin story, as each handmaiden discovers her talent that adds to their place in the overall group.

The beginning of the book also establishes the way in which Padmé will differentiate herself from the previous queen of Naboo, who was much more of an isolationist and jingoist. Padmé longs to have Naboo establish itself as a friend to neighboring systems and reinstitute better trade relations with them. This is not a completely an altruistic desire on Padmé’s part, since Naboo is struggling with a crop failure, which has them in need of better supply lines from other planets to make up for the loss.

Both of these things play perfectly into setting up the milieu of The Prequels. In many ways Queen’s Peril feels like a prequel to a prequel. Johnson is able to not only show the happenings on Naboo, but we get snippets of what is going on with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan as well as Darth Sidious to help round out how this all ties in to what we will see in The Phantom Menace.

The Bad

The book has such a strong, first half but sadly it does not continue the goodwill it created into the second half. The final portion of the book mistakenly plays out through the events seen in Episode I. We see the events through the eyes of the handmaidens, which does give us a slightly different perspective but it’s not enough to justify basically becoming a novelization for the movie that already has a novelization.

Not only does the second half of the book feel like a rehash, but it’s also written in a very choppy format that jumps between different character perspectives. So for example, we might be seeing something through the eyes of one of the handmaidens and then jump to a couple of lines that describe Anakin’s joy in flying, only to jump quickly to another perspective after that. The book truly feels like the tale of two halves.

Conclusion 

The first half of this book is very good and was a vast improvement on Queen’s Shadow yet sadly it all falls apart in the second half. Honestly if this story had just been a prequel to The Phantom Menace without taking readers back through the film it would have been a fantastic book. In light of what was given, Queen’s Peril is rated 2.5 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Queen’s Peril provided by Disney Lucasfilm Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The Rise of Skywalker · Uncategorized

The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Review

iuIn December 2019, the final film in the Skywalker Saga hit theaters. Unlike the previous two films in the Sequel Trilogy, which saw the release of the “Art of” book on the same day as the film, the book for The Rise of Skywalker was delayed for almost three months. Thankfully the wait is over!

The “Art of” books for the Sequel Trilogy have taken the place of the “Making of” books common in the era of The PrequelsThe Force Awakens and The Last Jedi “Art of” books generally followed the development of the movie, through the art, in a chronological fashion. The Rise of Skywalker book starts off much like The Last Jedi edition did, giving us a look at the art from the previous film which was deemed too much of a spoiler to be released the same day the movie came out in theaters. The first section of the book is called “Return of the Last Jedi” which gives us the art for Luke Skywalker’s showdown with Kylo on Crait, the throne room battle, the mirror cave, Kylo’s memories of Luke’s attack and the Holdo maneuver.

However, after this first section, the book is organized in a less chronological format. Chapters include: “The Costume Department”, “The Props Department”, “The Creature and Droid Department”, “The Art, Set Decoration and Computer Graphics Departments” and “Industrial Light & Magic and Post Production”. This layout presents frustrations for the reader with its lack of cohesion with the text that illuminates the making of the movie from start to finish. The art and the timeline of the movie never seem in sync enough to give you the feeling you know how it all fits together. Although there are some great tidbits in the text that offer readers some idea of what the movie was like through Abrams and Terrio’s different iterations, this edition lacks the depth of the previous two books for the Sequel Trilogy.

With this book there are also a few things completely missing. There is absolutely nothing from Trevorrow’s time working on the movie no art or story ideas. The only mention, which doesn’t even refer to him by name, comes in the description of Abrams taking over the production in 2017. Exegol and Palpatine are other notable omissions. How this book can have nothing from one of the most significant portions of the movie is astounding. The addition of Palpatine to The Rise of Skywalker is legitimately the most important plot point in the whole film and the lack of any art or information on his return hurts the book.

The art itself is beautiful, as always, and the presentation of it in the quality of the printing is what one would expect. If you are a completist, this book will be a must. If you are not, this might not be something you’ll feel like you have to have. Where the novelization for The Rise of Skywalker added a great deal to the movie, the “Art of” left me wanting. The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is rated 3 out 5 stars.

This review copy of  The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was provided by Abrams Books.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.