Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The High Republic

Star Wars: The Fallen Star – Review

“A flaw more and more common among Jedi.”

81jKM-zTF9LThe might of the Republic has been challenged twice. First it was the great hyperspace disaster, then it was the debacle of the Republic Fair and now the pride of the Republic, Starlight Beacon, is under siege. Will the Jedi be able to pull a miracle out of their hats or will Starlight be extinguished forever?

Pride Goes Before The Fall

Proverbs are such because of the truth held in them and none is more true of the Republic and the Jedi in The Fallen Star. The Republic, Jedi included, have become drunk on their own hype and because of that, they have underestimated the Nihil. One would have thought that after the hyperspace disaster and the Republic Fair fiasco, the Republic would have taken the threat of the Nihil much more seriously. To their detriment, they’ve trivialized the threat and Marchion Ro takes full advantage. He masterfully plays the Jedi, preying upon their hubris and compassion leading to the destruction of Starlight Beacon.

This theme of pride is echoed in a few different characters throughout the story to help drive the point home. It does seem a bit strange that this theme has already been covered in the Prequels and with this being set 200 years before that, you’d think that the Jedi would not be struggling with this so much already. It is a great theme to cover, but it doesn’t feel like new territory, which is frustrating.

The Book

I hate spoilers and for some inexplicable reason, the marketing for this book gave away that Starlight Beacon was going to be destroyed and that there were going to be quite a few deaths. This makes reading this book a strange experience since you’re never surprised when someone dies and knowing that Starlight is going to be stardust by the end takes a lot of investment out of the reading.

The deaths of major characters also lacked a lot of the punch that you’d hope for and this stems from a complaint I’ve had about the series since it started. There has been too much going on. The High Republic has felt like someone was creating a tree and started with the branches instead of the seed. With so many characters and storylines, happening in so many different places (comic, middle grade, young adult and adult books), it has been hard to connect emotionally to the characters. I’d love to say I was moved by any of the deaths, but I just wasn’t.

The most interesting thing about the book was the new threat that the Jedi face. Readers will know it as the Great  Leveler, which was first seen in The Rising StormIt feels like an ysalamiri, force-dementor, fear monster that preys upon Jedi, smothering their connection to the Force, paralyzing them with fear and turning them into husks. It is an interesting parallel that the Nihil started the series by disrupting hyperspace thereby throwing the Republic into chaos. Now, they threaten the very fabric of the universe and the Jedi by disrupting the Force. This new threat feels a little on the nose as the incarnation of “fear” itself, but it has potential, so only time will tell how well it works.

The Fallen Star benefits from Claudia Gray’s deft writing, this book breezes by, but it is not as polished as her previous work. There are some issues with the editing of the story and some logical issues with plot points along the way that pulled me out of the book. There were a few times when something happens and all I could think was, “Why didn’t they just do that earlier? More people would have been saved.”. The Fallen Star is a good read but unfortunately not great, it is rated 3 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed with a review copy of Star Wars: The Fallen Star from Del Rey Publishing.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The High Republic

Star Wars: Into the Dark – Review

star-wars-the-high-republic-into-the-dark-by-claudia-gray-1There have been two books in The High Republic time period so far, both were released on the same day to kick off the series. Light of the Jedi was an adult novel and A Test of Courage was a middle-grade novel. Into the Dark is the first young-adult novel in the series from best-selling author Claudia Gray. The story follows a group of Jedi who have hired a ship to take them to Starlight Beacon for it’s opening. On the journey they are waylaid by the Emergences, causing them to fall out of hyperspace at an ancient space station that holds mysteries who’s uncovering might signal doom for more than just our intrepid crew.

Gray’s novel is character driven first and foremost. We are introduced to Padawan Reath Silas who is traveling to join his master Jora Malli, the recently named Jedi leader of Starlight Beacon. He’s joined by Jora’s former Padawan Dez Rydan, as well as Jedi Knight Orla Jareni and Jedi Master Cohmac Vitus. Jareni and Vitus have a history with the area of space around Starlight Beacon which Gray expounds upon through interludes that take place twenty-five years before the current story.

The absolute best thing about Gray’s book is how the story feels completely driven by the characters. This is a story about these Jedi in The High Republic, their insecurities, failings, fears, arrogance, compassion, love and struggles with what it means to be a Jedi. Gray really gives readers a taste of what it is like to be a Jedi in this era, how they are different that those we’ve seen before, yet she plants seeds that connect with what they will become.

One of the themes from the previous books was the idea, “We are all the Republic”. In, Into the Dark, Gray takes this theme and instead of just having the phrase said by a character, she shows readers what that looks like through the actions taken by the characters throughout the story. It’s an incredible example of thematic writing and one of the most important keys to writing which is, “show don’t tell”.

Into the Dark, chronologically takes place in the same time frame as Light of the Jedi. This allows the book to give us more detail on the Nihil while also introduce readers to a new villain, the Drengir. Coming into this book, I was not sure how they would make the Drengir work. From the information we’d been given before the book’s release, it just felt like a bridge too far for even Star Wars. Yet in Gray’s deft hands, it works! In fact, it fits perfectly with what we’ve already seen in a previous book, The Mighty Chewbacca and the Forest of Fear!

Into the Dark is the best book in The High Republic series so far. Claudia Gray will have you falling in love with the characters, which in turn helps root you in this era in a way that I personally hadn’t been able to do so far. I couldn’t put this book down. I hope that moving forward, The High Republic will take this story as touchstone and continue to craft stories from character arcs first. Regardless whether you have read the other two book, I highly recommend Into the Dark and it is rate 4 out of 5  stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Into the Dark provided by Disney Lucasfilm Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Uncategorized

Master & Apprentice – Review

MAThis review first appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

I have to get something out of the way, right up front. I’m predisposed to love this book. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn are two of my favorite characters in Star Wars. I have, of course, followed their careers with great interest, reading the Jedi Apprentice series from Jude Watson for the Aggressive Negotiations Podcast that I cohost with John Mills and loving every page of it. Now, all this love of these characters as well as this time period in the Saga also made me very apprehensive as I approached Claudia Gray’s Master & Apprentice. I worried it would not live up to my own hype and expectations. Luckily, there was no danger of that at all, it exceeds them.

Gray’s tale takes place in Obi-Wan’s eighteenth year and he’s been Qui-Gon’s apprentice for some time, yet their partnership has never been a smooth one. Obi-Wan chafes at Qui-Gon’s disregard for the rules, creating a rift between them that grows even larger as a new opportunity for Qui-Gon has the potential to rip the two apart forever.

Motivations

One of the strongest parts of Gray’s work is the discussion of the different motivations for the Jedi, “why do they do what they do and how far do they go to do that?”. This is a question that each of the Jedi in this book struggle with. Qui-Gon wrestles with the constraints of the Jedi within the political system of the Republic. He is frustrated over how thisseems to put the Jedi at odds with their mandate as part of the Republic and with what is right. He questions the wisdom of the Jedi becoming little more that the chancellor’s police force and in that, loosing touch with the Living Force. This, in turn, allows for things such as slavery in the galaxy to continue.

Rael Averross is a Jedi that was Dooku’s padawan before Qui-Gon. He was brought to the Temple at the age of five, much later than is normal. Because of this he’s always been an outsider, never truly feeling like he belongs and he’s only worked to foster that more. He’s never lost his accent and his manner and dress reinforce his “otherness”. The Jedi Council has consistently bent the rules for him in an effort to help him reach his full potential, and the loss of his padawan has left him more determined than ever to not repeat the mistakes of the past. Yet all this intent has actually blinded him to his own shortcomings.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is a rule follower, living his life by the Jedi Code, to the letter. Unfortunately his Master sees the Code more as guidelines, which puts them at odds more often than not. The struggle between duty and thinking for one’s self frustrates Obi-Wan.

For each of these characters, motivations drive them as do their assumptions about the universe and their place in it. Gray expertly weaves their tales together to show the ways in which our own assumptions can get in the way and lead us astray. The question of whether or not they will cling to their perceptions, even when they are challenged by new information that renders those perceptions obsolete, is instructive for the world we live in today.

On top of all of this each character has to figure out why they are following the light and what is right. Are they doing it for personal gain? Are they doing it to win some cosmic game? How do they do what is right and work inside the system? What are the principles that are paramount and therefore cannot be forsaken? The answer in the book is, “We don’t choose the light because we want to win…. We choose the light because it is the light.” What makes this answer so beautiful is not just the sentiment, but the way Gray gets the characters who believe it to this point. Each one has their assumptions challenged, they allow themselves to be open to that challenge, and they ultimately have the willingness to turn from those assumptions if they are wrong. What relevancy! In a world where sides are taken based off assumptions about the opposition and where listening is a lost art, it’s edifying to see characters choose the better path. Communication, as always, is the key. As Qui-Gon rightly thinks in the book, “There was no Jedi so wise that he could not be undone by his own assumptions.”

The Book

Master & Apprentice is a prime example of expanding the universe. The Prequel Trilogy is full of things we still know so little about and this book helps fill in some of those gaps. Gray adds to our understanding of the Jedi before Episode I, giving us insight into their relationship with the Republic and some of the reasons why they have set themselves up under its leadership. We are finally given more on Dooku and his relationship with Qui-Gon, as well as the Jedi, since he’s only left the Order a short time before this story takes place. And most importantly, Gray expounds on the core relationship of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, helping to set the stage for what we’ll eventually see in The Phantom Menace. I particularly love the way she sets up Qui-Gon’s fascination with prophecy and ancient Jedi lore which will set him on the path of immortality in the Force and the “Chosen One”.

There is so much more that I could talk about in this story, but honestly it’s best left for you to discover on your own. For my money, Claudia Gray has written a book that stands with her best Star Wars work, Bloodline and Lost Stars, which also happen to be two of the best books in the new canon. After reading this book, one can only hope that Del Ray and Lucasfilm will allow Gray to continue telling stories about these two. It would be magnificent to see the story about them on Mandalore, protecting Satine for a year, as well as more on Qui-Gon’s journey in the Force. Master & Apprentice is rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The Last Jedi · Uncategorized

Leia, Princess of Alderaan – Review

Leia_-_Princess_of_Alderaan_-_new_coverListen to The 602 Club review here!

Leia 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.

Untitled-1
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.