Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Leia, Princess of Alderaan – Review

Leia_-_Princess_of_Alderaan_-_new_coverLeia is one of the most recognized and revered characters in film, yet we still know very little about her upbringing. From the time she was whisked away by Bail Organa, adopted by he and his wife and then shows up in A New Hope, we know almost nothing (we do know just a bit more now, thanks to an appearance by the rebellious princess in Star Wars Rebels). Now thanks to The Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Claudia Gray, Leia’s transition from princess to rebel is now complete.

The Cost

When Star Wars premiered over 40 years ago, the rebellion was more an ideal in the film. Even throughout the next two movies, the cost to those involved was never fully fleshed out. Leia is one of the characters that suffers most from this. She looses her whole planet and we never see the impact that has on her, at least on screen (it is seen in the Leia comic that came out a couple of years ago).

One of the highlights of Leia is the way Gray is able to explore the risks involved for people like Bail and Breha Organa in helping create a uprising against the Empire. The costs for them will be high if they are found to be peddling “treason” to the masses. Bail and Breha know that they are putting their lives and the life of their daughter on the line. In fact, through most of the book, Bail is insistent that Leia be kept in the dark about their defiant activities, with the slim hope that Leia might be spared by the Empire if they are discovered. Freedom is never free. Bail finally resigns himself to the fact that Leia will never be safe, even if she is not involved. The Empire will make an example of them no matter what, if he and Breha are caught, so they might as well allow Leia to be involved. Star Wars has done an excellent job recently of bringing to life the cost being involved in the Rebellion through Star Wars Rebels, Rogue One, Twilight Company and now in Leia.

Another price that we see in A New Hope is the annihilation of Alderaan. That loss has never feel so great till now. Gray does a magnificent job of creating a vibrant society and planet that is the jewel of the Empire, free, open and beautiful. The Organas are not just putting their lives in danger, they are risking their whole planet. If their insurgent activities are uncovered, the Alderaan that is will cease to exist. It’s eventual destruction is more poignant now that Claudia Gray enlivened it in the pages of her book.

Coming Together

Palpatine was a genius at using the selfishness of people to his advantage. His continued use of the Senate was a way of getting his hooks into systems and using their greed against each other. Pork-barrel spending and fear allow him to keep the galaxy divided against itself. Mon Mothma makes this point to Leia in the book when she says,

“More than anything else, I’m honored that you trusted me with this. The Empire’s worked so hard to destroy our faith in one another, throughout the galaxy. Only by daring to reach out will we ever make the allies we need.”

It’s a relevant point, even today. The more we are driven apart into our little tribes and groups the harder it is to benefit the whole. Making those connections, finding common ground and coming together are the only way to make a difference.

Connections

This book is under the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi banner and it uses this to familiarize readers with some things that will be seen in the film. Readers are taken to the new planet Crait, that has been seen in the trailer and also introduced to Amilyn Holdo who will be a Vice Admiral in the Resistance alongside Leia. The story also helps in building the character of Leia, showing why she would be able to recognize the danger the First Order presents to the New Republic and be willing to do whatever it takes to stop it.

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Crait and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo from The Last Jedi.

Conclusion 

Claudia Gray has already written two of the best books in the new canon with Lost Stars and Bloodline. Leia is not quite at that level, but it’s still a good book. The best thing any tie-in fiction can do is to enhance your viewing of the films or show it’s connected to and Leia does just that. In reading this book, you’ll never watch A New Hope in the same way again. Gray’s coming-of-rebellion story for Leia is wonderful and worth the read, especially before The Last Jedi. Leia is rated 4 out of 5 lost stars.

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Phasma – Review

phasma2This review originally appeared on The StarWars Report.

Listen to The 602 Club review here.

This review does contain spoilers.

In the lead up to The Force Awakens, the anticipation for the new filmwas palpable. Fans were atwitter about everything they were seeing in the trailers, toys and through the media, including one of the most striking new characters–Captain Phasma. This chrome-plated stormtrooper had many fans asking questions about who she was, where she came from and just how awesome she would be in the movie. It’s not an overstatement to say that she was a letdown in the film as she was given nothing to do other than be thrown into a trash compacter by Chewie, Han, and Finn. Fortunately, the rehabilitation of Phasma has now begun. She’ll be back in Episode VIII, she’s starring in her own comic (where she’ll escape Starkiller Base) and her backstory has finally been revealed in the latest release from Del Rey by Delilah S. Dawson.

The Title Character

Phasma is an enigma, not only for fans but also for the rest of the characters in the latest book. She jealously guards her secrets about where she comes from and who she was before arriving with Brendol Hux at The First Order after helping him escape her home planet of Parnassos. This story offers a character study in who the “real” Phasma is.

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Cardinal

In The First Order’s efforts at training children they have “rescued” and molding them into a stormtrooper corp, Cardinal has been acting as Brendol’s right-hand man. This all changes when Phasma arrives and he is demoted to training only the younger children while Phasma is given control over the cadets from their teens to graduation as troopers. A mistrust grows between Cardinal and Phasma in response to this turn of events. Spurred on by his misgivings about her, Cardinal begins digging into Phasma’s past to uncover exactly who she is and if she can be trusted. What he finds will change his life forever. Cardinal captures Resistance spy, Vi Moradi, who has been hot on the trail of Phasma’s history, and forces her to reveal what she knows of The First Order’s “perfect” solider.

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Vi Moradi

Vi Moradi’s story exposes the heart of who lies beneath the armor. Phasma is revealed as the embodiment of Darwinian ideology, survival of the fittest. She knows who she is, a stone-cold dealer of death, and no matter who gets in her way, she is determined to survive. Phasma adheres to no other belief system than her own survival, which is her highest ideal. As Vi weaves her tale, Cardinal realizes that Phasma is a user not a believer. She constantly looks for the next best thing to further her existence; as long as it benefits herself,that’s what she will side with. Phasma proves time and again that she will turn on those “closest” to her if it means bettering her position in life.

The most interesting thing to see is how even on Parnassos, where survival is about being the fittest, Phasma’s approach to life is viewed as an aberration. Her supreme selfishness and lack of care for others shocks those she lives with. Phasma is comfortable with who she is, yet she knows that the rest of the galaxy does not share this opinion, so she covers up her past. She makes sure that everyone she betrays ends up dead, unable to tell the truth, and in doing so, creates her own reality. Phasma truly exists as only what she allows people to believe her to be. She has exchanged the truth for a lie and that lie has become her “truth”.

The First Order 

So far, we have been shown very little about The First Order in the sequel trilogy, and luckily, Phasma lets readers get a peak behind the curtain. The character of Cardinal demonstrates just how committed the Order is to creating an army that will do its bidding, no matter what they are asked to do. Children are taken at a very young age and brainwashed through training, conditioning and subliminal messaging permeating every single moment of their lives.

When The Force Awakens was released, J.J. Abrams compared The First Order to Nazis in hiding after WWII, yet in Phasma, it comes off more like the Soviet regime. The people and military are told that they are going to be saved from the evils of the New Republic, that the corruption of the powerful will be brought down and that all will be treated with equality under The First Order. In reality, those in charge of the Order do not actually care about equality, they only care about control. Phasma explains it to Cardinal,

“Ah, Cardinal. That’s your problem. You were only ever meant to be the tool, not the hand that wields it. You’re what Brendol thought he wanted, a dull creature he crafted to do his will. But me? I’m what he didn’t know he needed. I am your evolution. And that means you’re deadweight. Extinct.”

In The First Order, there is a clear distinction between those who are in power and those who are not. The First Order and its troopers are a dark mirror for the Jedi Order in many ways. The Jedi took children to the temple with the permission of their families andraised them to adhere to the Jedi Code, a philosophy which taught them to free themselves from familial attachments so that they could best serve the needs of the Force and others. Conversely, The First Order takes children in order to indoctrinate them to think and act only according to the dogma of the Order. It squashes all of the humanity out of them, leaving only automatons to be wielded as those in power see fit. This is groupthink at its most dangerous.

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Conclusion

Delilah S. Dawson’s Phasma is a deliciously chilling character study. Its revelations about the character and the nature of The First Order make it a perfect read going into The Last Jedi. The prose is well done and the creation of Cardinal is something that will leave the readers wanting more of him as well as Vi. Phasma is rated 4 out of 5 downed Naboo yachts.

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Inferno Squad – Review

BFII-InfernoSquad-2This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

In the aftermath of Scarif and the destruction of the indestructible Death Star, the Empire finds itself vulnerable for the first time in twenty years. Its time to get serious about the treat of the Rebellion and destroy what is left of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans. For this task, the Empire forms a new group who will work on the outside, an elite team who will suss out the Imperial traitors, infiltrate Rebel and Partisan groups to find out where the leaks are coming from and bring them to justice. The group, Inferno Squad.

Moral Quagmire

Christie Golden has given Star Wars one of it’s most thematically rich and complex books to date. Following the Inferno Squad through their missions, they are constantly being faced with the moral questions of just how far they should go to complete their mission. Is it right to kill Imperial subjects to keep their cover? Is it right to loose a member of their team for the same reason? How far is too far in war? Was the destruction of Alderaan justified?

The point becomes even more complicated when Golden introduces the Partisans. Rogue One made it clear that it was Saw’s militancy and extremism that lead to his split with the Rebel Alliance. Calling themselves the Dreamers, what is left of his sect works to continue what Saw began. Yet the actions they are willing to take, to fight the Empire, leave the reader uncomfortable. They are supposed to be the heroes, right? The Partisans are asking the same questions Inferno Squad has, how far is too far? In the end, when do you lose your moral superiority over your enemy?

Golden never makes it easy on the reader and for that she should be applauded. The answers to these questions are not easy and their expansion in the Star Wars universe feels like a milestone. It continues the fantastic groundwork laid in Rogue One and books like Rebel Rising.

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The Book

Many of the books so far in canon have allowed the read to peak behind the iron curtain of the Empire and see what life is like for those among it’s ranks and Inferno Squad continues that trend. Each of the new characters Golden introduces feels fresh and recognizable, creating an immediate sense of intimacy with the story and desire to keep turning the page. Don’t let the brevity of this review fool you. The length is the highest compliment. This book needs to be experienced and read for itself, the less you know going in, the better. Golden has done it once again, batting 1000% in the Star Wars canon. Inferno Squad is a must read and is rated 4.5 out of 5.

This review was completed using a copy of Inferno Squad provided by Del Rey.

Thrawn – Review

thrawn12f-2-webThis review originally appeared at The Star Wars Report.

It is said that to create a compelling villain an author must make them sympathetic in some way. Villains never see themselves as such, as with the rest of us, they believe they are doing the right thing. Timothy Zahn, in his new book Thrawn, has given us just that; a villain that believes he’s doing what he must to save his people and possibly the galaxy itself from an evil worse that the Empire. Thrawn is a masterpiece in subverting the readers expectations, especially in light of Star Wars Rebels. Many readers will come in expecting the ruthless, cold and calculating character they know from the show, yet that is only one side of the multifaceted Chiss. Zahn has created the most nuanced Imperial to date allowing readers a both, insider and outsider’s look at the Empire.

Breaking the Mold

One of the true highlights of the book is this theme. Both Thrawn and Arihnda Pryce (who fans will recognize as the Governor of Lothal in Star Wars Rebels) must overcome the prejudices of the Empire throughout the story. The Empire is one of the most elitist and xenophobic places you will read about in literature. The Core systems in the galaxy have very little regard for aliens or people from the Outer Rim or beyond. Each of these characters has at least one of these strikes against them and Thrawn has both. Thrawn and Arihnda must overcome these prejudices. They never feel sorry for themselves or blame the system they are apart of, they simply overcome the obstacles in their own way, though determination, hard work and in Arihnda’s case, foul play.

It’s actually incredible to watch Thrawn continually prove his naysayers wrong and obliterate their preconceptions about him, time and time again. He uses all of his talents and skills to his advantage, making himself invaluable to the Emperor and the Imperial Navy. Strange to think one could learn a valuable life lesson from Thrawn, but he never allows anyone else to define his worth, value or to be held back from completing his objectives. Of course, full disclosure, Thrawn is not a perfect role model, but this was a great theme to see play out in the book.

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The Story

Thrawn is an expansive novel that covers a lot of time. It also allows us to get that look inside the Empire, but from the outsider’s perspective. Because Thrawn is not human, he does not always see things the same way and this sheds light on much of the corruption in the Empire as well as the inefficiencies. The story does a good job of sucking the reader in and created a subtle enough character with Thrawn that you are on his side during the book.

Zahn also creates, for this book, a new person to be at Thrawn’s side, his name is Eli Vanto. Think of him as the Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock. This is a really fascinating character that, by the end of the book you’ll be begging Zahn for more.

As is mentioned above, the story features Arihnda Pryce. The book is set up to parallel her rise to power and Thrawn’s, seeing the different ways they overcome the obstacles to get where we see them in Rebels. She is not to be trifled with and her story is every bit as interesting as the title character. There are many familiar faces in the book, that fans would come to expect from a story tied in with Star Wars Rebels as Yularan, Grand Moff Tarkin, the Emperor and a few more are sprinkled in .

Conclusion

This review is not meant to be expansive and in many areas I wanted to be vague because it’s a book that just needs to be read and experience. Zahn has done exactly what I hoped for and written the definitive, canon book of Thrawn. It ranks up there with the very best of the new canon and is rated 5 out of 5 turbo laser blasts.

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

Aftermath: Empire’s End – Review

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This review was originally posted at The Star Wars Report.

Star Wars fans’ first taste of the end of the Empire came in Lost Stars as the Imperial characters in that book experienced the Battle of Jakku. It was the first taste of the end of all things for the Empire as seen in The Original Trilogy. Now, in Chuck Wendig’s final Aftermath book, Empire’s End, fans finally have the particulars of what led to the showdown between the Empire and the New Republic over this remote world.

Is This All There Is?

This series has followed two big characters, Rae Sloane and Norra Wexley. Each of these women has been moving closer to the other throughout the story, and it’s in this book that they come face to face at last. What’s most interesting is that even though they are on opposite sides of the war, they find themselves driven by the same thing, revenge. Each woman wants revenge on the person they believe has taken everything away from them. Norra desires revenge on Rae for attacking the New Republic and for brainwashing her husband to help carry out the plan. Rae’s object of revenge is Gallius Rax, who has taken the Empire she loves away from her. As these two women wrestle with how to get their revenge they see that they are truly not that different from one another and are even left with the same question plaguing them: “Is this all there is?” Is revenge truly enough to live for? Their answers will be different in the end, but the outcome will be the same. Revenge is not enough.

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Who is the Enemy?

Building off the previous theme is also this question, “Who is the enemy?” Norra will find that in the end, her understanding of the answer to that question was wrong and she must put aside her presuppositions about Rae, specifically, to fight the right fight.

What is most interesting is to see the way this struggle is mirrored on a galactic scale and how it will plague the sequel trilogy of Star Wars. The New Republic and Mon Mothma specifically have grappled with the challenge of identifying who the enemy is and what actual threat that enemy poses. All throughout the Aftermath series she’s longed to have peace and put war behind her. She might have been too late to act correctly if not pushed by her opponent in the upcoming election to take a strong stance on the security of the New Republic. Seeing the galaxy the way it is and not as she wants it to be is hard for Mon Mothma, but in the fight to bring democracy, the lesson that freedom is never free cannot be lost.

Finding the medium between safety and freedom is never easy. Sinjar says of Mon Mothma she is, “…a woman that wants to give democracy to the entirety of the galaxy. Freedom for all. Oppression for none.” It truly is the noblest of goals. The book does a good job of showing this struggle in all its messiness.

It is fascinating to see how this connects to The Force Awakens. Ancillary materials fill in the details of a senate that does not wish to see the First Order as a threat. Because of their lack of understanding of what’s truly happening in the galaxy, or worse, a blatant disregard for the signs before them, their blindness becomes their doom. A poignant lesson in any galaxy.

Spoilers begin after this point


The Good

The book has some things worthy of praise. The plot. The plot of the book is honestly what many expected from the first book. The portrayal of the inner-workings of the New Republic, seeing characters like Mon Mothma and Leia in their roles, trying to take care of the Empire while at the same time transitioning to a new galactic government, is excellent.

The book also continues one of the best things about the series, the Empire. The power plays and infighting between Grand Admiral Sloan and Gallius Rax as they try to find a way forward for the fledgling Empire are great. Another standout comes in the character of Rax and the revelation of his connection with Palpatine, Jakku, and what’s happening there, ultimately leading to the formation of the First Order.

The Bad

Empire’s End, like the rest of the series suffers from Wendig’s prose; it’s just frustratingly prosaic. There is also a lack of exposition and detail with major plot points, such as the Black Sun and Red Key crime syndicate’s involvement in the attempt to destabilize the galaxy or the full scope of Palpatine’s contingency plan. Each would benefit from more explanation and detail. There are also times throughout  where there seems to be a jump in the story and fuller connection of the dots would be welcome. This is so important because tie-in fiction that’s being written concurrently with a tv series or films will always come in second to those mediums. The major revelations will inevitably be saved for the next movie or episode, and because of this, it’s a struggle for the books to feel important. The Aftermath books suffer from this problem. There really are no major revelations in them and it leaves the series feeling a bit hollow. Therefore good writing is essential to making the reader feel they are being rewarded for their time and that the book is necessary to the canon.

The interludes continue to be an issue. Most of them are unnecessary. With all of the pre-release hullabaloo about Jar Jar’s fate, the actual reveal lacks any punch. The interludes that do work would be better served by being worked into the narrative in a more organic way. The space for the others could better be utilized to flesh out the main plot with more detail.

Most frustratingly, the character’s voices still sound off. Han and Leia do not sound like themselves. Tie-in fiction, when it is at its best, plays like an extension of the show or film it draws from. The best way for that to happen is to capture the “voices” of the characters so that the reader can hear the actor in their heads as they read. Unfortunately for this book, just as in Life Debt, this does not happen.

Conclusion 

Empire’s End is an improvement on the previous two books in the series. The plot is more engaging and seeing the end to the Empire is enjoyable. But with continuing prose, “voice” and importance issues, it’s still not one of the new canon’s best, landing somewhere in the middle with a rating of 2.75 downed Star Destroyers out of 5.

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Rogue One Novelization – Review


rogueonenovelRogue One
 brings to life the crawl from A New Hope, vividly showing us just how difficult that first victory against the evil Empire was and who carried out that harrowing mission. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has also been novelized by Twilight Company author Alexander Freed. He is the perfect choice as author, capturing all the grit of Star Wars‘ first true war film, just as he did in his Battlefront tie-in.

The goal of any movie novelization is to adequately represent the story on screen as well as give you all those little insights as only a book can. It’s here that Freed excels. The way in which he poignantly dives into the psyche of key characters gives the reader a greater understanding of the motivation as portrayed on screen, expanding the resonance of their actions and decisions. It’s wonderful to hear Jyn’s internal wrestling about her father, Cassian’s struggle as he contemplates his orders to shoot Galen or Mon Mothma’s feelings about the Rebellion and the course they are on. Each addition enhances the film and helps make this novelization worth the time and money.

The new canon of Star Wars introduced a new feature that has now been seen in the Aftermath books, Ahsoka and are featured in Freed’s novelization, interludes.  In previous books they have been used to varying degrees of success and the trend is much the same here. Some of the interludes do feel like they add to the story, but for the most part, they don’t feel necessary. Honestly the new canon authors should work harder to integrate this material into the actual flow of the stories or do without it. Here they feel more like interruptions, especially since almost everyone reading the book will be familiar with the flow of the movie.

The rest of the review can be found in it’s original location at The Star Wars Report.

George Lucas: A Life – Review

tumblr_o61hphwviy1us2txqo1_1280George Lucas: A Life by Brian Jay Jones.

George Lucas is one of the most enigmatic and fascinating people in Hollywood, although he’d probably resent that statement as his whole life has been about not being part of they Hollywood system. In this new, non-authorized biography, Brian Jay Jones traces Lucas’ quintessentially American story from humble beginnings to titan of the film industry.

The book is split in to 3 parts, Hope, Empire and Return, each on taking on a different part of George’s life and doing their best to synthesize a very full existence in a mere 550 pages (really only 470 as the last 80 pages are notations).

Hope is actually the the best section of the book, chronicling Lucas’ family and his early life as a greaser who found school boring and working for someone else even more so. This is the most formative section of the book, much of who Lucas became would be a direct result of things that happened during this period. The issues with his father (which would play in in his two biggest franchises), his desire to be completely free to do things his way and a car accident that would illuminate the truth of life’s fragility cementing his character. The reason for most everything else Lucas would do in his life could be traced back to his beginnings in Modesto, California.

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Empire tells of Lucas’ fortunes after American Graffiti as he struggle to bring his idea of The Star Wars to screen. Next to his youth, this is the the most integral to who Lucas would become. His experiences with THX-1138 and American Graffiti would set him on course to chart a future away from the influence of the studio and Hollywood system. Everything he did was a move to allow him to make movies without compromising his artistic creativity as well as building a place where others in the industry would be able to do the same. This same drive would also cost him dearly, as he neglected his wife in favor of making his movies and the neglect would cost him his marriage.

Return recounts the journey from the Original Trilogy to the Prequels and the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney. It’s the weakest section of the book, feeling too condensed and too reliant on the most superficial understanding of the Prequels as well as the work that truly went into them. It sadly glosses over the importance of The Clone Wars series as well, making it feel more like a footnote than the project that helped Lucas fall in love with Star Wars all over again. Also left out is the fight with Marin County which lead Lucas to giving up his dream of making the Star Wars sequel trilogy himself and the resignation of selling the company to Disney.

The one true strength in this section is the way it highlights the correlation between Lucas, his divorce and the story of the Prequel Trilogy, especially, Anakin and his choices. After reading this book one can see how much of himself he actually poured into the story. Anakin and Lucas both have the same fall on their way to Empire-building.

lucasWith the strength of the first two sections the book is recommendable, yet it’s not without it’s faults. Frustratingly the last section does devolve into most every criticism of Lucas in the Special Edition to Disney sale that everyone has surely read online. Honestly this can be attributed to the non-authorized nature of the book and the lack of interviews, which would have helped the last section of the book specifically. Peter Jackson is quoted in the book saying about Lucas, “I can’t help feeling that George Lucas has never been fully appreciated by the industry for his remarkable innovations…He’s the Thomas Edison of the modern film industry.” In some ways the book leaves one feeling this way as well. Lucas’ accomplishments in film, his tireless struggle for innovation and consistently putting his hard-earned money where his mouth is, should be given more due. Hopefully this is just the beginning of books to come out about Lucas and here’s to hoping the next is even more in depth, but Jones’ book is a good place to start and is rated 4 out of 5 Death Stars.