Tag Archives: Books

Rebel Dawn – Review

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Rebel Dawn arrives as the last book in A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy. The series spans most of the 19 years from the end of the Clone Wars to the beginning of A New Hope. One of the greatest strengths of the series and something that’s fully on display in this book is that it’s not just a story about Solo. This series explores the underworld of the Star Wars galaxy and the beginning of the Rebellion. In many ways, this last book is less about Han and more about the pieces of the galaxy that Crispin has been playing with throughout each book.

The first of these elements is the Hutt syndicate and Jabba’s rise to power. Crispin wraps up the power struggle between the Desilijic and Besadii clans while also setting up other underworld crime bosses like Xizor of Black Sun. The series does a magnificent job of playing with these elements, depicting the way Palpatine is using them for his benefit and delving into a whole other side of the galaxy rich in characters and potential. You can see how Solo: A Star Wars Story uses some of these elements and just how ripe the underworld is for stories. Reading this series has me praying that Lucasfilm will continue to make movies with Han, Chewie, Qi’ra, and the rest of this underworld they set up in the film.

The second element that is fleshed out is the Rebellion. Bria is now a commander in one of the rebel cells, so we get to see the rise of the Alliance through her character. Rebel Dawn shows us not only the rebellion’s rise, but it tells the story of the theft of the Death Star plans and their transmission to the Tantive VI. Of course this is all before Rogue One came out and just one of a few stories in Legends on how this went down. Honestly, this part of the story, especially the theft of the plans, seems rushed and not all that satisfying. When it’s just about Bria and her part in the Rebellion it works, but the moment Crispin tries to squeeze in the Death Star plans, it just feels too cluttered.

Something I was not expecting was for Crispin to work in Brian Daley’s Han Solo trilogy into her narrative. This was an interesting choice and it works for the most part. Even if there are parts of the Daley novels that do not always feel completely like the Star Wars we have come to know, it’s a nice tip of the hat to the first Solo stories we ever got outside of the films.

One thing that does not work for me is Han’s relationship with Bria. Her betrayal of him and her death just feel too close in time to the events of A New Hope. It is hard to buy that Han would be interested in Leia so soon after the loss of the love of his life. It feels like this book would have better served the larger story if it had been set four to five years before A New Hope, giving Han time to move on from such a tragic loss.

Regardless, Rebel Dawn is probably my favorite book in this series. Crispin does such a good job of utilizing all the plot elements she set up in the previous books to bring this to a mostly satisfying conclusion. There are parts that feel forced to me, but ultimately they’re not detrimental to my enjoyment of this underworld of Star Wars that she’s developed through the story of Han Solo. I’ll say it again, reading this has me hoping and praying that Lucasfilm will continue what it started in Solo. This series shows just how much they could do with it on the big screen. Rebel Dawn is rated 4 out of 5 stars.

 

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The Hutt Gambit – Review

The_Hutt_Gambit_coverMy look back at A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy continues with the second book in the series, The Hutt Gambit. I was pleasantly surprised that this was a better book than the first. The writing was better and I just personally found the story line a more engaging.

The book starts off with Han already having been kicked out of the Imperial Academy. I found this frustrating because I was hoping that Crispin would delve into his time there, it seems like something that gets glossed over too easily. The other annoying thing, and Crispin makes a habit of doing this in the series, is telling important parts of Han’s story in flashback. What I don’t like about it, is that it feels unnecessary, especially when the flashback is the meeting between Han and Chewie and Han’s rescue of him, which is the cause of his dishonorable discharg. The meeting of these two icons deserves more than a flashback. I wish the book had started with Han, in the Academy and then let his meet-cute with Chewie be the focus of the first few chapters.

This book also introduces Boba Fett and Lando into Han’s life. I felt like Crispin does a great job of creating enmity between Han and Fett so that you believe there is true hostility between the characters. Lando on the other hand, just came out of nowhere and his reason for looking for Han just didn’t seem to fit the character, he’s wanting piloting lessons. Couple this with Chewie needing to be taught by Han how to fly, it just makes everyone a little too dependent on the “GREAT HAN SOLO”.

There are a few other minor things that bugged me about the book. One is that Han is a little too good at leadership and willing to fight for a cause here. I would have much rather seen him have to learn these things throughout this entire series than see him pretty much be the guy that could transition into Rebel general at a moments notice. Lastly, the way they fool the Empire (and I won’t give it away here) felt straight out of Star Trek not Star Wars. Lastly, there is a bit of this book in the middle that drags and it definitely has the middle book syndrome because some major plot elements are left dangling for book three.

Where this book excels is in the world building. Crispin creates such a vibrant smuggler community. Her descriptions of Smuggler’s Run and the Kessel Run are excellent. She also gives us a lot of insight into the Hutt cartel. I found myself using The Clone Wars hutts and their looks as stand-ins for her hutt meetings. Crispin is also able to make what Daley did with the Corporate Sector work well in this version of the Star Wars galaxy. It’s not just the Empire that’s a worry or of interest here, there are a lot of neat factions and she brings the seedy underbelly of the galaxy to life.

I feel like The Hutt Gambit is an improvement over the first book, leaving me excited to finish the series. I rate it 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

The Paradise Snare – Review

The_Paradise_Snare_coverIn light of Solo: A Star Wars Story I thought it would be fun to go back to the Legends line and read some of the books that deal with the character’s origin and his homeward. Having recently read Brian Daley’s trilogy for Aggressive Negotiations, A.C. Crispin’s trilogy felt like the right place to begin.

What is really fascinating is reading this book post-Solo. There are some things here that feel very familiar. Han’s life on Corellia has a lot of similarities to the movie and I feel like it’s well done here in the book. It does a good job of beginning to show us why Han is so “solo”. I will say him having a wookiee raise him was a bit on the nose. I was also a little disappointed to find out that Solo was not an orphan but related to a well-to-do family on Corellia.

The Paradise Snare is a mixed bag for me. The Han we get in this story seemed a bit too much like the one we know from A New Hope and therefore his arc to becoming the man who will live up to his last name does not seem as pronounced as I’d like it to be. On the other side, seeing the way he gets to the Imperial Academy was great. Far from the Empire being seen as the bad guys, it was neat to see how people think of the Academy and being part of the Empire is a good thing at this point in time. This point of view, in light of the end of Revenge of the Sith, still works well.

The part of the book I like the best is the way it shows us the galaxy outside the Rebellion/Imperial conflict. Seeing the cartels like the Hutts, the spice trade and the seedier parts of Star Wars opens up so many story-telling opportunities. It also uses Daley’s ideas about the Corporate Authority in that, these crime syndicates are another major faction in what is happening between the Prequels and Originals.

The goal of these reviews will not be spoilers or to get into every single detail, but more to give an overview of my impressions looking back on something with all the knowledge of canon. The fun thing for me is I’ve not read these books and it’s enjoyable to see just how much of what is canon now references works such as this. I’d rate the The Paradise Snare 3 1/2 out 5 stars. Worth going back and reading.

Last Shot – Review

91tEyqnYV6L.jpgThis review first appeared on The Star Wars Report.

As Solo: A Star Wars Story approaches, Del Rey books sets the stage with Last Shot, a Han, Chewie and Lando adventure set in the period surrounding the new movie and continuing their stories post-Return of the Jedi. What follows is an adventure as outlandish as you’d expect from scoundrels such as these.

Moving On

One of the hardest things to do as we get older is to move on and grow. Daniel José Older digs into this theme for Han and Lando in his post-Return of the Jedi portion of the book, exploring what it means for them to develop into more mature people.

For Han, he’s finding marriage and fatherhood to be a lot harder than he imagined. Nothing in his life has prepared him for how to perform either of these roles, and he’s certainly not had any good role models to look to. When he’s away from his family, there’s an intense longing to be with Leia and Ben again, yet when he’s at home, he struggles with feeling like everything he does is wrong. Older does a wonderful job of showing how difficult it is to make this kind of transition in life, to find a way through the adjustment period and develop the patience that is required from both you and your partner along the way. This is the strongest part of the book, as we witness Han take this emotional journey and come out the other side stronger for finally confronting his feelings and being willing to at least attempt to share them with Leia.

Lando’s journey is similar to Han’s. He’s finally found someone who causes him to think about settling down, and that has him scared. How does he put aside the scoundrel persona for something more stable? Is it possible to embody a little bit of both? With Lando, his characterization does feel a bit more like the comedic caricature that’s become prominent in things like The Freemaker Adventures or Robot Chicken, but Older uses this to show who Lando was, giving the character an arc.

What Older does so well is use the stories from the past to show who Han and Lando were and the seeds in their lives that have led them to be who they are becoming. It is a good reminder that for us to grow, it is our responsibility to learn from the past, using those experiences to push us forward and not letting fear keep us in our old routines.

The Book

As one would hope from a book staring Lando and Han, the story is fun. There is plenty of great banter and the book offers a unique plot that fits the characters. It’s structured into chapters that alternate between the post-Return of the Jedi story, Lando’s past, which takes place before Solo, Han’s past which is set after Solo, and our villain’s past, which seems to be set sometime before Solo as well. For the most part the book is well written. There are some times when the writing style, especially in the dialogue, feels much toomodern, which may take some readers out of the story. The style can also make it difficult to keep track of the action, but neither of these issues outweighs the positives of such an enjoyable romp through the galaxy with our favorite nerf herders. There is so much more that could be added to this review, but honestly, it’s best left to you to enjoy in the story! This book will leave you energized for Solo and wanting more books like this. Last Shot is rated 4 out of 5 stars.

The Last Jedi Novelization – Review

TheLastJediExpanded(1)This review originally appeared on the Star Wars Report.

Novelizations for films can be two things, they can be straight adaptations of a film or they can bring context to the movie in ways that only a book can. Star Wars has a good history of this with some of it’s novelizations, Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One both being prime examples. Each allowed the reader to go deeper into the characters thoughts, expand scenes or even add new scenes that gave even more connective tissue to the surrounding scenes or material outside the film with comics, short stories or other novels. The release of The Last Jedi‘s novelization has followed in the footsteps of the aforementioned Revenge of the Sith or Rogue One novelizations and expanded on the movie to give readers an even fuller understanding of characters thoughts, motivations and whole new scenes.

The Good

Jason Fry’s Star Wars pedigree is unquestionable and his work on atlas’, visual guides, short stories, novels and much more speaks for itself. Therefore he was an inspired choice to write The Last Jedi‘s expanded novelization. What really works here is the way he’s able to incorporate the ancillary materials, comics, novels, young adult books which are all represented in some way, helping to make everything that came out in the Journey to The Last Jedi feel cohesive. A specific example is the way Rose’s story in Cobalt Squadron is used to play directly into Holdo’s plan and the reason the escape craft will be invisible to the First Order. This is just one instance, but Fry weaves many of these throughout the book and they enhance the experience, especially for those who have read most of these ancillary works.

Other expansions are the added scenes. There are two that really stuck out, one is the funeral for Han at the beginning of the book. It slowed down this part of the story and instead of it being a detriment, it was a blessing. Have that feeling that this was not just seconds after the end of The Force Awakens helped with the flow, that there was time for Rey to travel to Ahch-T0 and that the Resistance would actually be able to evacuate their base.

The second added scene comes at the very end as the Falcon escapes Crait. Leia makes her way to the cockpit and has a hauntingly beautiful moment with Chewie as they break down over the loss of Han, Luke and Ben. It’s powerful and honestly should have been in the film.

The Bad

Some of this added material seemed to make this reviewer’s issues with the film even more complicated. There is a moment with Luke, as he’s on his way to Rey’s hut and when he get’s there he’s going to announce his intention to leave with her, which is amazing! Then, he gets to the hut and of course if one has seen the movie, he blows up the hut and goes right back to refusing to leave. The two scenes just don’t seem to flow together at all.

One plus is that we learn more about what Luke had been up to in the period between the two trilogies. Sadly, the impression we are left with as to why Luke restarted the Jedi Order leaves a lot to be desired. Luke still feels as incongruous with who he is at the end of Return of the Jedi if not more so with the revelations the novel gives us.

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Conclusion

Fry adds a lot to the story but in the end, he can’t change the foundation of the film so it can only help so much. For those that liked or loved The Last Jedi this is a must read. If you didn’t like the movie, Fry’s ability to weave in so many references from other works makes this worth your time. And, in fact, he blew this review’s mind with a rumination Hux has about the Jedi and their link to the First Order stormtroopers. The novelization is rated 3 out of 5 stars.

Best Books of 2017

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Making_sense_of_GodTimothy Keller cements himself with this book as the C.S. Lewis of our time. He writes to the skeptical in an age of reason by taking on Nietzsche, Marx, Freud and others. Its a book for those that may be interested in the Christian faith as well as a wonderful reminder for those that profess it. Honestly, it’s a must read.

 

 

under-our-skin-coverBenjamin Watson has written one of the most timely books. In an age of growing tribalism and segregation, Watson confronts race relations head on. With clarity, humility and raw honestly he dives into the issues we face, bringing light to areas we so often try to sweep under the rug. This book deserves your immediate attention.

 

9781578061259-usGeorge Lucas it not the most loquacious filmmaker and much of what he’s said over the years has been twisted to fit a writer’s preconceived ideas about him. Here, Sally Kline collects all of his interviews from 1971 through 1999. It’s fascinating to hear from the man himself, in his most formative years. The only bad thing about it is that it does not cover through is sale of Star Wars (which makes sense since it was released in 1999).

 

591b42d3aeb66.imageSasse does a marvelous job at pinpointing the major issues facing the American people in the 21st century. The book looks to begin a conversation about what has been lost in the last 50 years and some ways which we can possibly get them back. Whether you agree completely or not, it’s worth reading and thinking deeply about these issues, if we don’t, we might not like where we end up.

 

9781455540181_DemocracyHC.tifI think this is one of the most important books of 2017. Rice uses history to show the story of democracy from the American experience to it’s experiments in places like Russia, Poland, Africa and the Middle East. In each, looking at what has made it successful or lead to it’s corruption. It’s a “long road to freedom” and unless we understand what’s come before, we’ll never know how to get where we want to go.

 

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I know in my own life and faith that there are times we need the simple reminders of what we believe and why. Butler does such a good job at laying these out and reminding us that, “…God’s reckless love is on the prowl, willing to crash through our distance and crush down our idols to get to our heart. God’s divine grace bears down upon us, calling us to turn and receive his love. As his footsteps draw closer, the sound of his voice breaks through the silence, and the light of his encroaching presence begins to pierce the darkness. The question we’re then faced with is not whether we’ve been good enough, jumped high enough, or sought hard enough. . . .”

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I love this book. It speaks directly to us in the 21st century and lays out the importance of thinking deeply. Just to whet you appetite here’s a quote, ‘Why would people ever think, when thinking deprives them of “the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved”—especially in an online environment where the social approval of one’s attitudes is so much easier to acquire, in the currency of likes, faves, followers, and friends? And to acquire instantaneously?’

 

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The election of 2016 dominated the news and much of our collective conversation. Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes spent that time interviewing those in the campaign, compiling an account of just went wrong and why. It’s an important read for all Americans.

 

 

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Carr, like Jacobs, is worried about our thinking. He looks at the history of how mind works and how we as humans have learned in the past. Each invention we create, impacts the way our brain’s behave, so how has the internet changed us and is it a good thing? It’s a fascinating read and again, one of the most important. We must think critically about these things or, “…as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

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I love Isaacson’s work. Each of his previous biographies has been brilliant and his work on Da Vinci is the same. This does differ in that since Da Vinci lived so long ago, the records about him are not as extensive, yet Isaacson finds a way to weave the narrative of his life alongside his artistic and scientific accomplishments well. Da Vinci was a man, who in many ways was before his time but his impact is still being felt. One major plus is that the book has color pictures showing you his art and sketches which enhances the experience as you can look at what Isaacson is referring to.

Honorable Mentions

There were some fantastic Star Wars books this year, Thrawn (Don’t miss my panel from Dragon con with author Timothy Zahn and Star Wars Rebels co-executive producer about Thrawn),  Inferno Squad, Rebel Rising and Phasma were all top notch. I thoroughly enjoyed Harry Potter’s Bookshelf as it explores the inspirations in literate to Rowling’s creation. George Perez’s Omnibus volume one for his run of Wonder Woman was brilliant.

Canto Bight – Review

DelReyStarWars_2017-Sep-13This review first appeared on The Star Wars Report. Don’t miss The 602 Club review as well!

One of the very first glimpses fans got from The Last Jedi was a menagerie of high rollers from a brand new casino planet called Canto Bight. It featured aliens of all shapes and sizes while evoking feel of Las Vegas in the 1960s. Now as the film rapidly approaches (2 days from the writing of this review), the last book in the “Journey to the Last Jedi” gives us a taste of what life is like on this “paradise”. Canto Bight is like a few of the most recent Star Wars books, a collection of short stories connected by a single theme or place. It has four different tales by four different authors, each giving us their own unique perspective on this world.

Rules of the Game

In the first story, Saladin Ahmed tells the story Kedpin Shoklop, the winner of VaporTech’s Salesbeing of the Year award. The award comes with a full, two-week, all-expenses paid trip to Canto Bight. The tale is mildly amusing. Kedpin is a trusting soul, which leads him to being a “mark” from the moment he lands on the planet. As hijinks ensue, he finds himself mixed up in a dangerous game with a corrupt police officer and the man hired to kill him. It’s a weak opening to the book, but luckily there are three more stories.

Wine in the Dreams

The second story is by Rae Carson. Her writing is exquisite, and her exquisite use of language is mesmerizing. She leaves you feeling like you understand Canto Bight perfectly when you’re done reading her installment. The story revolves around Derla, a sommelier who’s arrived in hopes of procuring one of the rarest wines in the galaxy. She finds herself in an interesting game with one of the casino owners and some twins. The theme that, “Everything is the legend. Everything is the lie,” is perfectly portrayed. Canto Bight is a beautiful lie, and most people in it are as well, and by the time this story is over you know intrinsically what that lie is all about.

Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing

The third story by Mira Grant adds the mob element that every good casino town needs. Lexo Sooger is a simple massage specialist who ends up having to relive his past in order to save an adopted daughter. The question is, just how far will he go to get her back? Carson finds that right balance between the mob and action genres to craft the perfect yarn for this “Star Wars Vegas.”

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The Ride

The last story is by a name familiar to Star War book fans. John Jackson Miller writes the story of Kaljach Sonmi, determined to make it in Canto Bight. He’s a decent card player and a proposition player employed by the casino. But that’s not good enough for him; he wants to win big. This desire puts him in debt with one of the mob bosses and he’s got just till sunrise to pay it all back. As luck would have it, he runs into “The Lucky Three” and they may just help him find the right streak.

The best thing about the story is the way it ties in the theme of losing joy in life and how many times we’re the ones responsible for killing the magic in our own lives. Much of the time, the way to get that joy back is have it shown to you by a friend. It’s not only the theme of joy that is well done, Jackson is also able to comment on the importance of places like Canto Bight existing. One of the characters sums it up best when he says,

“Of course not—because people come to Canto Bight so as not to have to think about all that.” He gestured to the casino floor, teeming with happy people. “When there’s so much bad going on, it helps to know that there’s a place where none of that matters.”

Conclusion

Canto Bight is a fun book. Three out of the four stories really work. Yet, there is still a feeling like none of them are truly essential or add anything to the mythos of Star Wars in a way you’d be missing if you hadn’t read them. It is a fun way to wait for The Last Jedi and could possibly be even more rewarding to read after the movie is out and seen. Canto Bight is rated 3.5 out of 5 stars.