September 2022 retrospective

Hey everybody,
The weather is definitely getting colder, and Autumn is definitely here at last. We’re here at the end of September, and I am quite shocked really at just how quickly this month has gone! I know I say this every month, but it really doesn’t seem like five minutes since I was writing my August retrospective blog! And after a very productive August, things seem to have just dwindled for me now, and I’m languishing a bit in a bit of a hobby … not slump, per se, but I’m certainly a bit all over the place when it comes to what projects I’m working on!

To start with, then, I have finished repainting the original group of 10 wyches from my Drukhari army. Back in 2017, I had painted ten to some level, but it wasn’t great. I also wasn’t entirely sure how I wanted them to look, so it wasn’t exactly what I’d call a good unit, and was probably why I have never really been that keen on the Wych Cult side of the army. Well, after getting ten of them done in August, I’ve got these other ten finished, plus the Succubus. I haven’t yet finished the third group (heck, they’re still bare plastic!) but I am kinda excited by the fact that I have been painting Drukhari miniatures again!

Especially because I’ve also been working on painting this Raider! It isn’t finished yet, of course, though somehow it seems to have been pretty quick to paint up to this level, which is nice! Painting it really took me right back to those early days with my Dark Eldar, and I have really enjoyed recapturing that feel. It makes me hopeful that I will, in fact, be able to make some decent progress with getting the army up to a better standard, as for the most part they were all just done to a tabletop standard.

I really want to try to pace myself on this front, though, because I don’t want to miss out on getting any other miniatures painted because I’m spending my time going over old ground – I mean, I still have a massive backlong, regardless of the amount of stuff I’ve got through over the summer!

Now, this came a little bit out of left field, as I think I’d made an offhand comment about having two carnifexes that needed painting, and then promptly dug them out and finished them off! Even though one of them had been mostly done, and it was just a matter of finishing touches and stuff, I feel really pleased at having got these big chunky boys done. The carnifex model is horrible to put together, and the back carapace in particular looks gross when you look at how mis-aligned the pieces are, but I can’t deny the overall effect of them is brilliant, even if I say so myself! It’s very rare that I look at something I’ve painted and think, “this is awesome!” but with my Tyranids (and, oddly, with my Dark Eldar) I really get that feeling.

Tyranids have been on the back burner for what feels like centuries now, of course, and I’m sure at some point I will burst forth with a bug infestation, but not quite yet… I still don’t even have the codex for the army, but it’s so far from finished that I suppose the codex is the least of my worries! I love the look of the army so much though, and even stuff as daft as the feel of some of those big bugs in the hand, it’s just a tremendous force!

I had a week away this month, and so had a week off from hobby stuff (which itself could be contributing to my hobby slump) but did take some Necromunda books with me. The end result is that I’ve spent the last week basically obsessed once again with the best skirmish game out there! I’ve really been fired up with a lot of inspiration for the game, but with the result that I feel a little bit like I have that sort of scattergun approach to the hobby, and I don’t know where I want to turn my attention first. I have some Delaque gangers that I want to paint, I want to paint more Van Saar, and I want to paint my Orlocks. I also want to paint more terrain, and I want to start an Outcasts gang. I have also – finally! – begun to look into the Goliath gang, mainly because I was looking at the new Goliath bikes and think they’re utterly hilarious! I’ve built up two gangers for the time being, and they are quite nice models – although the one who has a cigar in his mouth is just ridiculous. I mean, the cigar is a separate bit!!

So I’m trying to take it a bit slower, and I’m trying to just plan things a little bit, and work out what exactly I want to do here. I still want to get more Necrons and Sisters painted by the end of the year, but the Necromunda resurgence cannot be denied, so I think I need to focus on just the Delaque, as I try to get my sneaky boys finished off. James has started to work on some Enforcers that he is pretty excited for, so with a bit of luck we’ll get more games in there soon enough!

My big Necromunda news, though, is that I have finally decided to go for the Ash Wastes, after all! I am hoping to pick it up sometime soon, and have sold off my Nighthaunt army to finance the whole thing, as there is a lot of stuff that I haven’t yet got hold of. That was a bit of a shame, really, as I do love the models, and even though I hadn’t done anything with them in years, getting them all out again in order to work out what I have etc did make me wonder if I should keep them! But I’m trying not to go too crazy, I haven’t played with Nighthaunt in years, I haven’t thought about them or anything in so long, so it makes sense to just off-load them and turn it into something I will use.

The Nighthaunt may be beautiful, but my goodness me, they’re also fiddly as hell! I was almost having palpitations trying to get them untangled from each other! It’s the last complete army that I have wanted to dispose of, really, after selling off the Blood Angels, the Dark Angels, and others, and it is a bit sad to see them go as they are such good models! But it’s just not meant to be, I think. I have the Bonereapers for AoS, of course, although the main thrust of my hobby life is Necromunda and 40k, without a doubt, so it just makes sense to clear out the clutter. I haven’t really bought any models for a long while now, so I don’t feel quite so bad for adding the Ash Wastes box to the pile of shame. Plus, I’ve off-loaded 21 units of Nighthaunt (93 models, including the Black Coach which is much bigger than I remember!) so I suppose I’m making room!

On the whole, though, it feels very much like Warhammer has taken a back seat in September, and I have been focused on my Star Wars prequel re-read. I got through three novels and a half-dozen graphic novels, as well as the final movie in the prequel trilogy, so it was all very much about the galaxy far, far away! It’s nice to have finally made it through all of that, especially as it was meant to be a summer of Star Wars that just started to drag on a bit!!

Interestingly, it has left me feeling a little bit Star Wars-ed out now, though, and I have yet to start watching the new Andor show, despite having been stoked for that to come out! I also picked up a couple of the latest canon hardbacks, but haven’t got the inclination to make a start with those, either!

For the time being, I have started to read Deathfire, book 32 in the Horus Heresy series. I have been neglecting this of late, reading barely any novels in the series the last few years. There’s a definite feeling of lethargy about it now – 32 novels in, and I’m over halfway, but it still feels like I’m a long way from the end! Looking at my recent reading of these books, I finished Scars in June 2020, then Vengeful Spirit in April 2021, and The Damnation of Pythos in June 2021. I made an effort to finish a couple of the anthologies in June as well, which wasn’t too bad as I could cope with short stories while on new baby duty, but that was that! I find the anthologies are a struggle though at times, because there are so many throwaway stories, or tangential stories, and I begin to question just why on earth I’m reading this stuff. I still have 22 books to go before I get to the end of the Heresy series, around 15 of which are novels I believe, so that should help there. With a bit of luck, the storyline will resume somewhat and we’ll have more of a focus as the narrative begins to hone in to the march on Terra.

Deathfire is quite a good book though. I have zero interest in the Salamanders legion, it has to be said – I think it’s along similar lines to the Space Wolves, everything is fire this and pyro that, like the Wolves have wolf this and wolf the other. It’s all a bit blandly boring, really. I know the Salamanders have the reputation for being the good guys, as well, and their whole “caring about the little folk” thing, but that has never been something that appeals to me. I like the Ultramarines, as is well chronicled on this blog, and I always find it interesting how people like the Salamanders for the reasons they dislike the Ultramarines, and it’s almost like it comes down to preferring green over blue, or something! However, in the same way that I ended up liking Vulkan Lives despite kinda dreading having to read that, I am also enjoying Deathfire, so it’s all good for now!

It’s also weirdly nice to get back to the Heresy, as I think I do miss it, despite just how long and drawn-out it has become! It’s been almost seven years since I started reading the series, and while some of the earlier books have stuck with me as being really enjoyable, I really am at the point now where the fatigue has set in. It’s an epic story, and I get that, but some of the stuff that we have in this series does feel incredibly like filler, it’s hard to keep the level of enthusiasm for it! Maybe I should consider a “personal canon” for the Heresy, and start a re-read of just those books that I actually enjoyed…!

In other news, I managed to play a couple of games with the new edition of Arkham Horror, which really is a lot of fun! It’s a surprise to me, because I did enjoy the second edition of the game, but this new one really is great! I think having a story mechanic is a real plus, and adds to the overall feel of the game. I have now bought the Dead of Night expansion, which gives us more of the same stuff, but haven’t had a chance to play with it yet. I want to try and get more big games played in October, so hopefully I can play at least once a week with games like Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, and A Touch of Evil. Whether my long-suffering wife will join me, who knows! Though she does like Eldritch Horror, and I think I can persuade her to try A Touch of Evil. We’ll see. I have so many favourites though, and I haven’t played these things in years, so it would be nice to try and get more games in with them!

More board games, more painting, potentially more Necromunda… I don’t know when I’m planning to sleep during the next month…

The Great Prequel Re-Read, 2022

Hey everybody,
Well, what a summer of Star Wars it has been! It’s been a little over five months since I started my great re-read of the prequel era stories, starting with Darth Plagueis back in April. Since then, I’ve read quite a few novels and comics, although not everything that has been published in this timeframe – I’m not that much of a masochist. There have been ups and downs, for sure, and there’s a part of me that does still think I should perhaps have read everything, as I doubt I’ll be reading the odd Clone Wars graphic novel just for the sake of it, you know? But I’d still be on this re-read project in twelve months’ time, if I were to do that to myself…

On the whole, it has been a lot of fun. There were some short stories in here that I’d not read before, and there were a few books that I’ve only ever read once before, so it was nice to have the opportunity to read them again, and reacquaint myself with them. Especially because I read these things when they first came out, 20-odd years ago. Of course, when reading these things as one continuous story, cracks do appear, and it’s these cracks that I kinda want to explore a bit today.

So let’s take a moment to reflect back on the last five months of reading…

The Clone Wars
A common theme throughout my rambling “reviews” of these things is that I have been a bit disappointed by how the Clone Wars turned out. I’d be lying if I said I was fascinated by the idea of what the Clone Wars were since watching the original trilogy as a child – I had always just thought of it as a piece of history, there to give depth but nothing more. Knowing that the galaxy is now in a post-war period is all part of the setting, I didn’t have a thirst to know precisely what those clones were up to that caused a war.

Having the clones be the “good guys” was definitely a reversal that I don’t think many people had seen coming. Ever since Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy from the early 90s, we had the suspicion that the clones were the bad guys, and were led by evil “clone masters”. The threat of another clone wars was something that hung over a lot of the decisions being made by the New Republic, alongside the ethical battle of growing people specifically as soldiers.

The execution, though, does feel more than a bit slapdash. I mean, I struggle to think of this as a cohesive war, which is probably a problem of the galactic scale. The only common theme is that the clone troopers are fighting droids, but they do so on a variety of battlegrounds with seemingly no thought to strategy whatsoever – the end result is almost like galactic whack-a-mole, as the clones are deployed to a planet maybe because it wants to secede from the Republic, nothing is ever really explained as to what is going on, it’s just “here’s a battle! Here’s another!”. There’s talk of “Separatist space” as if there are borders, but this honestly isn’t the feel that we get from the various storylines, either in novels or comics (and certainly not the films, because they don’t show the actual war, after all). We never learn if it is better to live under the Separatists rather than the Republic, we don’t see much of the little people as the war goes on. There are “insurgents” and “freedom fighters” but we don’t really get any explanation of what the hell is going on. It’s like we just have to take it on faith that there’s a war happening because reasons.

Is that really the best we can expect?

The villain of the piece is Count Dooku and his Separatist Movement, something introduced in the middle of the second film of the trilogy. His name is just thrown out of nowhere, and we’re left a bit bewildered as to what on earth is going on. But the movies do look awfully good.

I’m not about to launch into some kind of “if I were in charge…” moment here, but I think the prequel trilogy would have made more coherent sense if we had significant plot points from the first two movies shuffled round. It’s almost to the point of episode two becomes episode one, where we could have Count Dooku deployed as part of the diplomatic mission to Naboo, he sees the political stagnation and, possibly, Qui-Gon’s death, and he decides to leave the Jedi. Given his influence, many worlds begin to think similarly and he begins the Separatist movement before the end of the film. Episode Two then becomes a war film, basically depicting the push-and-pull of the clone wars as we see the Jedi trying to diplomatically stop worlds from seceding from the Republic, while the Separatists actively invade others – possibly a retaliatory strike on Naboo where Anakin’s heroism can be shown, and provide a more credible love interest for Padme (but I’ll get to that later). One of the big let-downs of the trilogy, I think, is how we basically get the start of the war towards the end of one movie, then the end of the war near the start of the next, and there’s just not enough meat on the bones to allow it to make sense.

In many of the novels from this period, we get comments that tell us the Jedi were never supposed to be fighting the war, the war is going against everything the Jedi stand for, etc. Depa Billaba makes the point quite beautifully in Shatterpoint. It’s interesting how the war is almost designed to make the Jedi into something else, but again this is something that isn’t really delved into within the movies. It really makes it clear how the war is a fabrication, intended to break the back of the Jedi and pave the way for the resurgence of the Sith, but it’s unfortunate that more of this couldn’t be explored in the films, due to the massively condensed timeframe Lucas was working with.

I think if more explanation were given for why the clones are actually fighting, what brought about the actual conflict rather than a nebulous situation where planets want to leave the Republic but the Republic won’t let them, it would maybe make more sense. In some ways, the clone wars could have simply been a series of events like The Approaching Storm, where the planet Ansion tries to leave the Republic so the Jedi are deployed to mediate. What I want to know is, why did mediation get replaced with warfare? Were the Separatists forcing planets to secede? Doesn’t fit with the ideology. Were the Republic forcing planets to stay in the fold? Kinda proves the Separatists’ point. It’s just never explained why the clones are fighting. If the clone wars are actually nothing more than local disputes using the Separatist crisis as an excuse, like we see on Haruun Kal in Shatterpoint, then that’s a bit rubbish, though at least we’d get more of an explanation.

In Shatterpoint, there is the sense that both sides are arming opposing local factions to better-fight their own, local war. But why? The Separatists are trying to cause chaos, and perhaps make the Republic look bad by not being able to defend planets. But this is never properly explained, and it’s a bit of a rubbish take on things if that is the case. The other main problem with this, of course, is that it isn’t explained in the films.

I also think Lucas kinda wrote himself into the corner by calling A New Hope episode four – he has a maximum of three films to give the backstory, and it’s just not enough. It tries to cover too much ground, and in the end we have everything without enough justice done to it.

“…he was a good friend”
Obi-Wan fondly remembers Anakin when he’s telling Luke about their exploits. There’s an element of shielding Luke from the worst of it, for sure, but at the same time, you can tell that Alec Guinness has genuine warmth in his performance. When we get to see them together, the two of them are bickering, between Anakin’s petulant outbursts of “it’s not fair”. We spend so much time with him as a child in episode one, establishing that he’s basically the nicest kid ever, that the rest of the arc is rushed as we have the ever-present “he’s gonna turn into Vader, look!” kind of overshadowing.

Episode Two really misses a trick when they split up, and Anakin is given the task of having picnics and fireside chats while Obi-Wan is tracking down bounty hunters and uncovering mysterious plots. Now, I get it, Lucas wanted them together so they fall in love, but really Anakin should have been with his master. This is kinda where we get back to the idea of episode two being episode one, though – where it could well have been the case that Anakin and Obi-Wan were on a mission to track down bounty hunters and uncovering devious plots together, which leads to the clone wars breaking out. Then in the new episode two, when Anakin is tasked with defending Padme while Obi-Wan is leading the defense of Naboo, they have the time together to fall in love, once Anakin has a name for himself as something other than the winner of one podrace.

Unfortunately, there are only two, probably three scenes in the entire prequel trilogy where Anakin and Obi-Wan come across as actual friends. Which makes Obi-Wan’s remark in episode four a little out of the blue, much like how Count Dooku must be behind the plot to assassinate Padme when we have no idea who he is or why he’d be trying to kill senators.

The Rise of Darth Vader
George Lucas’ main objective with the prequel trilogy was to show how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, and to give that whole family saga arc to his six films. We start off with him as a small child, then leap forward ten years and miss out a great deal of his life. Rather than having the whole slave issue and tying everything back to Tatooine, I would have preferred it if we had begun with Anakin as a padawan learner, and we follow him on his adventures much like we end up following Obi-Wan. I mean, there’s a case to be made that the prequel films have a better storyline in making the saga about him, rather than Anakin. I know that Lucas had intended the six films to be about Anakin, but the original trilogy’s focus on Luke didn’t need to start with him as a little boy, so I think it would have been equally valid to start with an older Anakin.

I wish we’d had Anakin as a padawan in episode one, but as a generally good guy. Maybe he breaks the rules to get the job done, but he’s generally good. Then in episode two we get to see how good a war leader he is, and maybe he gets a taste for the power that comes from being in command of an army. He grows closer to Padme, and becomes enraged at the thought of losing her. When Palpatine plays into the possibility that he may well lose her, he goes over the edge and ends up in the black suit.

It’s an unpopular opinion, but I also think the old plot device of Palpatine stoking Anakin’s jealousy, making him think Padme and Obi-Wan are a couple, would be what comes between the two friends. It’s no doubt cliché, but then wasn’t the whole original trilogy?

As it is, I have no idea why Padme is interested in Anakin. His “it’s not fair” tantrums must be what get her going. Either that, or Palpatine is clouding her judgment too. Padme’s whole story arc is unfortunate though, as presented through the films. I have read some great fan theories online that try to explain things to us so that we get a different slant on her death, but sometimes you do need to squint and/or use some huge leaps of logic to understand them. As it is performed on screen, Padme goes from a teenage queen with a spine of iron to a battered wife who has nothing to live for, her twin babies notwithstanding.

The constant need to foreshadow Anakin’s fall to the dark side becomes an intrusive distraction within the expanded universe material, also. Yes, we all know he will turn into Darth Vader; even his costume in episode two is meant to foreshadow the black suit of the original trilogy. I think we end up with too much of this sort of brow-beating, and the story actually suffers for it. He’s never allowed to be a nice guy because the authors of these stories always have to show the simmering rage under his surface. It’s a comparison I’ve probably made before, but I’m continually drawn back to comparing Anakin with Horus, of the Horus Heresy series. In the first book, Horus Rising, Horus Lupercal is a genuinely nice guy, beloved of his legion and favoured son of the Emperor. His brother primarchs think highly of him, and he’s generally just a good man. He then gets injured in the next book, and falls into the hands of the wrong ‘un, Erebus, who takes him for some cult healing on Davin where he has his eyes opened to the Ruinous Powers, and he falls to Chaos, launching a crusade of violence against his brothers and father. Unless you count the schmaltzy kid bits of episode one, we never have nice-guy Anakin, and it’s to the detriment of the saga. I’m not suggesting the prequels should have been 54 movies long, but we need at least some good in there before it all goes to hell.

This blog is now getting slightly unwieldy though, and I’m thinking I might be on the way to a 54-volume critique of the prequels, myself!

More random thoughts
As it stands, we have a lot of interesting things going on here. I think it’s possible to make something more coherent out of what we have, just shuffling stuff around here and there. Lucas has obviously stayed true to his own vision, and while they’re enjoyable enough (at times!) I do think something is lost when you try to watch them as part of a coherent storyline. You could make similar comments about how we never really see “the rebellion” in the original trilogy, but rather there is a family saga unfolding with the rebellion as a backdrop, but it is nevertheless much better than the same saga’s origins being told against the backdrop of the clone wars. I have nothing against Jake Lloyd, but I do think it was a mistake to have child Anakin in episode one. Going back that far has caused too much of a time jump within the trilogy and it causes quite a bit of friction with the story.

When he was writing the initial drafts, Lucas said he split the story into chunks (quarters, then thirds) and made the middle bit first, because the first bit was more of an intrigue/noir story and he felt it wasn’t exciting enough for the time. I think it’s really only Obi-Wan’s storyline in episode two that comes close to that, but again I’m thinking of the missed opportunity for showing how worlds secede from the Republic, and how the Jedi could be leading covert ops into Separatist heartlands as part of the main war story for the Clone Wars.

But that circles around to the problem of what the clone wars turned out to be. A disparate series of nebulous conflicts, with no real clarity. Was that the point? It’s not like the rebellion, which is clearly a band of freedom fighters going against the oppression of the Empire. Most of the time, it is unclear why the clones need to be deployed to a battleground, or how a particular conflict seems to have escalated. In the EU material, we see Dooku leading worlds such as Tibrin to secede from the Republic, which is all fine and good. Would the Republic seriously throw a clone battalion at the Ishi Tib and bring them back by force? Surely that’s proving the Separatists’ point? As I said earlier, I guess I just don’t understand why a Separatist movement has caused so much actual physical conflict, because it is never spelled out for us. We’re just told to accept that some worlds want to leave the Republic, and now there are clones shooting the place up. Enjoy the lightshow!

I sound like I really hate the prequels, don’t I? I don’t, honestly. I think there is a great political storyline in there, which is why I enjoy novels like Cloak of Deception so much. I love seeing the machinations of the Sith, and the intricacies of their schemes. Following Palpatine’s plan through the various media is often a real joy, as we see just how many contingencies and how far reaching he actually thought. There are many missed opportunities for political thriller type stories, I think because in general there was a backlash to the politics as presented in episode one. In many respects, it has fallen to James Luceno to attempt to stitch everything together with the political narrative through his novels Darth Plagueis, Cloak of Deception and Labyrinth of Evil. There are so many moments that I enjoy from those books where there is almost that eureka moment, “ah, so that’s how it happened…” and the like. I still love the way Luceno shows how Valorum was discredited through Cloak of Deception, tying in beautifully to The Phantom Menace and making the whole thing just make so much sense. Labyrinth of Evil is similarly required reading for Revenge of the Sith, although I do feel like the balance is slightly off in the later book, and he was probably more constrained by writing a book that was published before the movie was released. Cloak is able to delve quite freely into so much more than Labyrinth is able to show, principally, I suppose, in the need to avoid spoilers. I think if it too had come out after the movie, then we could have had much more in terms of the tie-ins, perhaps more made of Bail Organa and Mon Mothma (with correspondingly more given to Padme than simply a disappointing meeting with the chancellor and then watching in horror as Coruscant is invaded). But that’s a minor point in the scheme of things.

I do have issues with how the Jedi have been turned into some kind of corporate entity, with Yoda as chairman of the board of directors (Jedi Council). It’s never stated one way or another in the original trilogy, of course, so there’s no actual case for saying “that’s not how it was supposed to be!” However, I do like the Jedi that we see in the Tales of the Jedi comics, where there are roving teachers who have a small group of students/followers/disciples, all learning at the feet of the master. I suppose it’s that image of Yoda teaching five or six students who have crossed the galaxy to learn from him, that has been in my mind prior to episode one. I’m sure there are old references to the Jedi being akin to wandering samurai or something (I’m not really up on that lore), so having them as a centralized organization just seems to fly in the face of its mysticism. But then, that’s nothing in relation to the midi-chlorians… For all that I dislike the direction taken with the Jedi Order, I nevertheless enjoy reading about what they get up to, especially in the pre-Clone War days.

During my re-read, I incorporated a lot of stuff that I would ordinarily not have read as part of “my personal canon”, to lend a phrase from goodreads. Stuff like Outbound Flight and Shatterpoint were included because it has been so long since I read them, but ordinarily I would confine myself to just a small handful of novels and then most of the Republic comics. In retrospect, I probably could have shaved a couple of months off this re-read if I had stuck to what I wanted to read! But anyway, it has been fun to go through these stories again, even if I am berating them for their lack of coherency, or the fact they aren’t showing the war, etc!

However, this blog has now rambled on for far too long, and I’m not sure anybody is even that interested in all this nonsense!

Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader

The novel begins on Murkhana, homeworld to the chairman of the Commerce Guild, Passel Argente. The Republic is leading an assault on the Guild, with no less than six Jedi in the fray, when suddenly the clones receive Order 66 and some of them question its validity. After a disagreement between the clones, three of the Jedi, led by Roan Shryne, are able to escape into the city, however Darth Vader is sent to investigate why the order was not carried out, during which he kills one of Roan’s companions. Roan and the padawan Olee Starstone are finally able to escape the planet thanks to one of his smuggler contacts, and they rendezvous with none other than Roan’s own mother, who became a pilot with the express purpose of one day finding her son.

Vader suffered an injury to his prosthesis during the fight on Murkhana, leading him to begin the process of upgrading his suit. He is tasked by the Emperor with retrieving the dissident senator Fang Zar, who has sought political asylum on Alderaan ahead of returning to his homeworld of Sern Prime. Roan has thrown in his lot with the smugglers while Olee is determined to find more Jedi who may have survived Order 66, and uses her master’s comm to tap into the Jedi Temple records to find the location of other Jedi at the time the order was issued. They are able to meet up with a beleaguered band of Jedi, many of whom are injured, but the activity in the Temple archive is being monitored by Armand Isard, who brings it to the Emperor’s attention.

Olee and Roan go their separate ways, Roan helping his mother and her crew to smuggle Fang Zar off Alderaan. Unfortunately for them, Vader shows up and is able to kill the senator before they can rescue him. Olee finds out that Yoda was on Kashyyyk with two other Jedi at the time of the Order, so the band of Jedi heads there to find the local population busy reclaiming the hulks of Separatist droids abandoned shortly after the abrupt end of the war. However, Vader is tipped off to their presence and joins forces with Moff Tarkin, who has an interest in taking Wookiee prisoners for his superweapon project. Roan comes back to help Olee, and he and Vader duel among the wroshyr trees as the Imperials begin to bombard the planet. Feeling Roan’s death in the Force, Olee determines that she was wrong to try to team up with other Jedi, and they must all heed the advice of the beacon and go to ground, hiding from the Empire and biding their time.

In the closing pages, Obi-Wan is watching over Luke on Tatooine when he hears of the news from Kashyyyk, and the praise lauded upon the Emperor’s enforcer, Darth Vader…

As is usual with James Luceno books, there’s a lot going on in this one, and he proves that he is as adept as ever at weaving a story around the pre-existing material at the time. In many ways, it’s quite a straightforward story really, as we see how the aftermath of Order 66 affects a couple of Jedi, and the polarizing ways in which they choose to deal with it. For Roan Shryne, who was never particularly happy with a lot of the Jedi bureaucracy, he is quite able to slip into the life of a smuggler and put his Jedi past behind him. For the “temple acolyte” Olee Starstone, who had a promising career in the archives but wanted to see the galaxy before cloistering herself up, she is completely unwilling to let go of all she has ever known, and is quite manic at times in her efforts to reunite with other members of the Jedi Order.

I was quite pleased, in a way, that all of the Jedi that we meet along the way are nobodies – we’ve never met them in any other story before, at least! It means the stakes are higher, as we just don’t know if they’re going to make it. But this isn’t just a Jedi story, of course. We also get to see how Bail Organa and Mon Mothma are dealing with the transition from Republic to Empire, and it was quite shocking, in a way, to see the death of Fang Zar. He didn’t make the final cut of Revenge of the Sith, of course, but I think the way in which it all happened seemed to be quite brutal. A member of the Senate, attempting to return to his homeworld following a period of political asylum on Alderaan, is brutally cut down by Darth Vader. Not a great deal is made of this, unfortunately. We do get a lot of rumblings about dissention and rebellion, but a lot of the political stuff seems to have been stripped away this time, which is unfortunate as I know Luceno could have quite brilliantly put something out there that dealt with the political backlash, and perhaps even incorporated more action as Vader quashes a rebellion on Sern Prime? Shame.

Of course, the book is all about Vader, and it reads quite beautifully at first, as we get to see how much Anakin is struggling to adapt to the suit etc. Well, I suppose he’s not Anakin anymore, is he? It was really well done, how we see Vader is disappointed with his prostheses at first. It still seems a bit weird to believe the fan theories about the Emperor wanting to keep Vader in his place by making the suit cumbersome and painful, because surely he’d want a strong apprentice? Indeed, in one of his many brooding monologues, we see the Emperor planning to find a stronger apprentice in the fullness of time.

One of the things I liked about this book is the fact it begins on Murkhana, as the Republic are taking the fight to the Commerce Guild. To me, the clone wars should have involved more of the Republic actively fighting the Separatist leadership on their homeworlds, and not the continual “battle of the week” style thing, where we see the clones liberating yet another random world. I’ll have more on this later in the week though, hopefully, as I plan to write up a bit of a post mortem of the prequel re-read!

All in all, though, it was a good book. Sadly not up there with Labyrinth of Evil or Cloak of Deception, probably more on a par with Darth Plagueis. Very enjoyable, and provides a very interesting window into the post-Order 66 world that the Jedi find themselves in. But with this one, my prequel re-read is now over! I hope you’ve all enjoyed my rambling thoughts on these books and comics as I’ve been wading through them all, anyway – five months of Star Wars reading has kinda done me in for now though, so I think it’ll be time for something a bit different before I return to the GFFA…

Small Men + Big Guns

It all started as an April fools bluff…

The Leagues of Votann are basically space dwarves re-imagined for the modern age. After being a shorthand for any army at risk of being removed from the setting, Squats are back on the menu, as GW have ushered in another new faction for Warhammer 40k.

Having seen a lot of these little guys around the internet in recent months, it has got me thinking as to whether I’d want to collect any of them, as well. I have models for ten full armies already, with a correspondingly massive backlog of stuff to paint, so I don’t really want to start yet another new army as I do have a lot to be getting on with. But I do really like the look of them, I have to say!

I’ve been reading up on the WarCom articles that I’d missed over the last five months, and I’m quite intrigued by the lore behind them – specifically, how the whole Dwarf thing has been brought into the far future. The whole cult of the ancestors thing is there in glorious technicolour, as we learn that they jealously guard their “Votann”, a type of super-computer that holds all the wisdom of the centuries. It’s fascinating, in its way, because it’s definitely on-theme for the sort of future that Warhammer 40k represents. A people that has developed a way to collate all of their wealth of knowledge and protects it in true isolationist fashion.

The startling thing, I think, is that all of the kin are cloned – not identical clones, but it seems to be a bit like they had reached a perfect level of society, so stopped at that point and just started to clone themselves rather than reproduce normally. Reminds me a little of Dorsk in the Jedi Academy trilogy and later, Darksaber.

The space dwarves have some very interesting tech, for sure. Hover trikes?! Blimey, I never thought I’d see the day. It seems to stem from the fact that the Votann contain, among other things, a set of fully-functional STCs, which means they are able to fabricate much better weaponry than their Imperial cousins. They also do not find themselves constrained by the Adeptus Mechanicus and the taboo on trying to improve on their designs. As such, they have all sorts of crazy stuff going on, and as this has been translated to the tabletop, it has already been called out for being slightly ridiculous.

There are a few stratagems that have been officially shown that seem to be ridiculous, from the bikers ability to shut down re-rolls to the strat that rolls what would be two or three effects for other armies into one. All for a single command point. I am a bit salty about that, even while considering collecting them! I don’t think that designing rules to sell these models was necessary, given the reception they’ve had so far, but I suppose we already have stupid possibilities in space marines, which turn off the fun in any game where you’re going up against them. If only the rules writers thought as highly of literally any xenos race!

Something that I’ve found particularly confusing is the new type of weapon, HunTR, which I suppose can be thought of as a basic gun – you can’t run and shoot with it, you can’t double-fire at half range, it’s just a gun that you can shoot things with, but which is still affected by other rules for shooting. That said, it’s a stupid name for the weapon…

At least it doesn’t ignore invuln saves and the damage doesn’t overspill through a unit. That’s just oppressive and unnecessary (except to sell new models).

The rules feel stupid and a blatant case of power-creep, possibly the worst we’ve yet seen. I’ve complained before about how oppressive it can be to play against space marines, but these little chaps are doing things which might well exist within the lore they’ve established for the race, but because it’s brand new to the setting, it’s like some other game has been imported into 40k. Sure, they aren’t constrained by AdMech prohibitions on tech development, but neither are the Tau, who also have an established thing for developing new weapons, and having experimental weaponry etc. But they don’t have the stupid overpowering rules these guys have. It’s probably great to sell the models, but the models look good regardless, so they don’t need the ability to put out 20+ mortal wounds per turn, in addition to all the shooting and stuff they’ll be doing. It feels like a bit of a mess, and I’m now seeing rumours online that the faction has been banned in some tournaments because of their as-yet-unreleased codex. It’s just stupid.

But the models!! The models!! The more I think about these little guys, the more I kinda feel like getting my hands on some. They do look like they would be fun to paint, with some interesting contrasts between the armour plate, the leather, and the undersuit. The little details like the shades and the wrist comm things do just make it even more interesting.

I think the hover-trikes look a bit funny, but they have some good looking vehicles in the garage, such as the Sagitaur (above) and the Hekaton land fortress (below).

These things somehow manage to give off that rugged miner/prospector vibe while also being credible vehicles of war, rather than the way the Genestealer Cults look like they’ve gone into battle with what they’ve got. I suppose part of that is due to the lore of being isolationist, and prepared for hostile encounters as they move on to start plundering new areas.

One of the models that most impresses me is the psyker, the Grimnir. I think anybody who strides into battle in a leather robe with his floating gun-buddies gets my vote! A lot of these models are taking a lot of design cues from the Primaris range, when you look at the rounded greaves or the multi-layered plackart, which specifically calls to mind the Gravis Captain. This guy is fairly similar, at first glance, to the Phobos librarian, too. It also strikes me that it’s becoming a thing to have units that consist of a character with retinue, and here we get the psyker but also the techmarine-analogue coming with his mates, as well.

Some of the models are a little silly though. There are some very weird and wonderful things coming up for the new force, I can’t imagine if I were to start a new army of these guys, I would be getting everything from the range…

Yet other models look like they might be worth picking up regardless, as it’s always good to have multiple options for ranged and melee combat. I would put the bikes in this category as well, because they look a bit daft, but by the same token they look like they should be useful on the battlefield. They also have some amazing details in there, too, which makes me think they would be a lot of fun to paint up.

It all started with the Squat Prospectors for Necromunda, of course, and the more I’m thinking about it all, the more I’m thinking it might be a better idea to get the gang box and be done with! I mean, I really like the basic troops for the Kin, but I like the Ironhead blokes better

Due to the rules controversy, and given how many projects that I currently have on the go, I should probably think long and hard about it before I go ahead and buy anything else, though…

Did someone say bugs?

Hey everybody,
It only seems like five minutes since I was happily writing up my plans at the end of August for what I would like to get finished, painting-wise, and patting myself on the back for how well I was doing for burning through the backlog. September is always a great hobby month for me, and I think I was looking forward to getting loads more done again, and then I just seemed to stall! At the very start of the month, I finished painting (and re-painting) the Dark Eldar Wyches that had found their way to the front of the queue, so I now have 20 Wyches and a Succubus finished for that aspect of the army, which is definitely exciting! It’s been far too long that I’ve had these miniatures floundering.

But then, I started to paint Tyranid Carnifexes! Why? I don’t know – I mean, they’re a project that has been going on almost as long as I’ve been in the hobby, it seems, but I had started to paint one of them around the time my eldest was born (she’s 3 next month), so I suppose it’s nice to have finished painting the two of them now.

I do love the Tyranids army, there’s something about seeing all my big bugs that just fills me with a weird kind of joy! The carnifex model, while I hate the fact that it goes together so poorly (it is quite old, after all), is one of the best 40k models out there, too. I just love the fact it’s this huge beastie that somehow manages to sit nicely in the palm of my hand while being full of deadly claws and teeth! I have been doing a bit of investigation into the carnifex unit, as well, and I am quite impressed, I have to say!

The first guy I have has got a pair of scything talons and a pair of crushing claws, in addition to which he has a bone mace, chitin thorns, acid maw and toxin sacs. He’s pretty tooled-up, then! As a base, carnifexes are S6, T7, W9 and A4. They move 8” and have WS3+. So they’re not the brightest buttons, bless them, but that does link in to the lore of them being mindless beasts that get flung into combat. Anyway. The way I’m thinking about splitting the four attacks is as follows:
– 1 attack for the bone mace (which grants 1 additional attack) – S7 AP-2 D2. Respectable.
– 2 attacks for the claws – S10 AP-3 Dd3+3
– 1 attack for the talons (which grants 1 additional attack) – S6 AP-3 D3.

So already, we’ve got a potential maximum 11 damage just from the basic attacks he’s making. Let’s make things really interesting, though:
– toxin sacs allow for unmodified 6s to hit auto-wounding (and Gorgon have a strat for 1CP to make that a 5+).
– the chitin thorns means I get to improve the AP of my attacks by 1.
– acid maw allows me to roll 3D6 before the fight begins, and for each 3+ I get to dish out 1 mortal wound.
– for 1CP, Voracious Appetite allows me to re-roll the wound roll.

This means that I could potentially add a maximum of 3 additional mortal wounds, so the maximum damage output is now 14 for these bad boys, if all goes well. But let’s not stop there, hey?

I’m playing as Hive Fleet Gorgon, which means that 4+ to wound is always successful (except against vehicles or titanic models). In addition, I’ve chosen exoskeletal reinforcement as my secondary hive fleet ability, which means AP-1 attacks are treated as AP0 attacks by my models. So that’s a nice bit of defensive capability there. The Gorgon-specific psychic power means that units affected by it deal one mortal wound on an unmodified 6 to wound, in addition to the usual damage – so it kinda goes against the toxin sacs ability a little bit, as I won’t be rolling those wound rolls for any 6s to hit, but the way I roll dice, it could still come into play. Finally, the warlord trait that I have chosen is Direct Guidance, which grants units +1 to hit (which works nicely, as any 2s will become 3s, so it will help to make them more accurate from the off).

Of course, I have another carnifex in the party as well. This one is a little more basic, just with four scything talons, but he also has tusks and adrenal glands. He’s modelled with a bone mace, but I’m not paying for that option (in retrospect, I wish I’d put a thresher scythe on his tail, but never mind!)

The scything talons mean he’s making a straight up 8 attacks at S6 AP-3 D3 each. He also has tusks, which means that I have access to a 1CP strat to roll a D6 at the end of the charge phase, on a 2-4 the target suffers 3 mortal wounds, but on a 5+ they suffer D3+3 mortal wounds. Very nice! His adrenal glands mean those talons are actually S7, and he’s moving 9” instead of 8”, and there is a stratagem that can boost the attacks by D3 on the charge for 1CP. So that is potentially 11 attacks at S7 AP-3 D3 each, with potentially 6 mortal wounds being dished out before we even start to trade punches!

Now, they are clocking in at around 130 points each, and there is a fair investment of command points for each of them, but I could see these guys being let loose in a squad of marines and just tearing them to literal pieces. It’s very exciting, I have to say!

I have yet to fully digest the Tyranids codex, mainly because it hasn’t really been a priority for me with having other army projects going on and whatnot – and the Tyranids army isn’t really close to completion as far as painting goes (though I do think I have all of the models that I would ever need for it, all the same…) I think I will need to overcome my natural reticence to get into melee, something that I have started to see with my Necrons in the last couple of games, with Lychguard and Wraiths doing so well, but even so – I think we’ll soon be looking at more bugs on the menu!

The Great Prequel Re-Read, part eight

Star Wars

Here we are, then – the long-awaited conclusion to the Quinlan Vos storyline that had begun all those years back! When we last saw him, he was moving his troops to Boz Pity (as we learnt from the movie, too), having finally embraced the position of General within the Grand Army of the Republic. He’s now on Kashyyyk, supporting Luminara Unduli as the Republic helps to defend the Wookiees against the Separatist incursions. The Separatists seem to be bolstered here by Trandoshian raiders, who are after more than Wookiee pelts this time – the promise of secret hyperspace routes has brought an invasion in force, and ultimately leads to Master Yoda himself coming to aid in the defence of the planet.

With the raid on Kachirho as we see in the film comes a fairly significant Republic victory, with no small part played by none other than Vilmarh Grahrk coming back into the limelight. Seems Villie has turned almost noble during the war, as every side has got it in for him. Villie has been running supplies to the Wookiees, and befriended many of them. One of those Wookiees who has accompanied him on a supply run leaked info regarding the routes, leading to the Separatist attack.

However, there’s little time to do anything, as just at that moment, Order 66 is enacted and Luminara is killed. Quinlan narrowly escapes death, with Clone Commander Faie leading sorties into the jungle trying to find him. Quin is able to evade capture, but comes dangerously close to the dark side in the face of the loss of what he thinks is the entire Jedi Order. However, Villie is able to rescue him, and they leave the planet for Nar Shaddaa to get Quinlan the medical attention that he needs.

Eight months later, the two return to Kashyyyk, where Tholme and T’ra Saa have arrived with Khaleen, who has been safely delivered of a baby boy, Korto Vos.

I think, as the end of the whole arc of Quinlan Vos and stuff, it’s a nice story to finish the Republic run. Looking back, it was probably always going to be on the cards for Quinlan to survive Order 66, as otherwise the story would have become far too bleak, if realistic, for Khaleen to have been left to raise Korto by herself, or even with Tholme’s help or something. It does make sense for someone as sneaky as Tholme to survive, and I guess T’ra Saa making it through is reasonable as well. There is a part of me that just finds it convenient though, and if it weren’t for Lucas deciding to kill Aayla off in the movie, I would guess she would have also been in that final all-together-now scene. But schmaltz aside, it was a decent finish.

Part of me does wish that we had the opportunity to see more of the Jedi in hiding in later stories, though that never came to pass of course. Not that he should have necessarily shown up repeatedly in the Dark Times run or anything, but I think an isolated miniseries set ten years later or something might have been nice! Jedi in hiding during the dark times does interest me though, so I suppose I am biased on that front.

Volume 9 of the Clone Wars graphic novel series also features arguably the first story in the Dark Times series. Into the Unknown introduces us to some of the key players in the later ongoing series, such as Dass Jennir, as we see the fallout of Order 66, and learn that the Emperor’s purge isn’t all it was cracked up to be. Speaking of Purge, the final comic in the collection is the one-shot that serves as a bit of a showcase for the new Darth Vader. Several Jedi band together in an attempt to take him down, but with disastrous results. Mostly nobodies, we nevertheless get to learn the final tragic fate of Tsui Choi, who featured all the way back in Jedi Council: Acts of War, as well as Bultar Swan, who was one of the arena Jedi from episode 2.

It feels a little bit emotional at this point, to have finished my Prequel Re-Read of the comics! I think there’s just one more novel on my horizon, and then I’m done, but yeah, what a ride it has been! I’ve missed out a few of the graphic novels that I wasn’t really looking forward to, and now I don’t know whether I ought to have re-read those as well, just for completion’s sake! That said, if I had re-read everything, I doubt it would have been a matter of months to finish this project – more like years!

In checking off the stories on Goodreads, I’ve found it interesting how many of the reviewers over on that site refer to their own personal canon of what constitutes the clone wars, and even more interestingly, many align with my own! I’m glad that I’m not the only one to miss out some of those less-than-stellar storylines.

The Republic run with Quinlan Vos has always been a favourite of mine, though. I think I have especially enjoyed how it broadened out to the high point with the Siege of Saleucami story. That arc really crystallised most of what we as readers had been enjoying for years already, and gave a really satisfying pay-off for having stuck with the series since the beginning. I think the way in which it followed a good number of characters, and interweaved them so beautifully, is worth commending time and again. I particularly enjoyed the four Jedi one-shot issues, which due to their increased size from a regular 32-page comic meant they could cover a lot more ground. They really pulled together a great number of threads, such as Aurra Sing and Dark Woman coming back in the Aayla issue, or introducing big players like K’Kruhk and Jiesel in the Mace Windu book, to have them go on to recur throughout. It was a big cast, but it seemed to perfectly run that line between not being so big as to be unwieldy, and not being so small as to shrink the galaxy.

The story arc has so many twists and turns that it becomes hard to follow at times – just whose side is he on? Well, mostly it seems that the answer to that is “his own”. Having infiltrated Dooku’s camp, and been forced to do some pretty unsavoury things along the way, killing the second Sith is Quinlan’s sole motivation as means of some kind of atonement. He does some very dark deeds, but does he ever go down the dark path? Yoda and others will often say that the dark side will forever dominate you if you so much as give it a toe-hold, but Quinlan is eventually able to fully reject the dark side almost like Luke aboard the second Death Star, and walks away from the Jedi Order as one of the lucky few who survived.

Of course, Order 66 doesn’t appear to have been quite so effective as we all thought, and rightly so, really. It was arguably only ever meant to break the back of Jedi supremacy, and eliminate as many as possible, not all of them. We see plenty of Jedi mystics who roam the wilds of the Outer Rim, and who were never part of the war effort – presumably, all of them survived? I find it interesting that we basically buy into the Empire’s propaganda by believing so many Jedi would be killed when, in reality, probably hundreds of them never went near a clone trooper…

Anyway, I’m getting massively off topic here!

Once I’ve read Dark Lord, I think it might be fun to have a proper look back on my Summer of Star Wars, and write up some more rambling thoughts about the clone wars in general – so stay tuned for that!!

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

After three years of fighting, the Clone Wars have taken a dramatic turn when Coruscant itself is under siege, and the leader of the droid army, General Grievous, has kidnapped Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. He has been prevented from leaving the system by a massive clone trooper response, and during the pitched battle, Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi are able to fight their way onto Grievous’ flagship, the Invisible Hand, and locate the Chancellor thanks to his personal tracker. However, once they have found him, it seems to have been part of a trap, as Count Dooku arrives to duel with the two Jedi.

Dooku is able to incapacitate Obi-Wan, but Anakin manages to overpower the Sith Lord, and urged on by Palpatine, he beheads Dooku. Palpatine urges Anakin to leave Obi-Wan as well, but Anakin is determined all three of them will escape the ship. At this point, however, the flagship receives a concerted attack from Republic ships, and the droids are able to capture the fleeing Jedi. They are brought before Grievous but manage to escape their bonds, destroying the droids on the bridge. Grievous escapes, and jettisons all the escape pods while fleeing to a nearby Trade Federation vessel. Unfortunately, the amount of damage sustained during the Republic attack causes the ship to break apart, and Anakin is barely able to land the remaining portion on the surface.

With the loss of Count Dooku, Grievous becomes the de facto leader of the Separatists, and retreats to their current base of operations on Utapau. There, he is instructed by Darth Sidious to move the Separatist Council to Mustafar. Sidious also expresses his confidence that he will soon have a better replacement for Dooku.

On Coruscant, Anakin is reunited with Padme, who tells him that she is pregnant. Soon after, Anakin begins to have prophetic dreams similar to those he had about his mother, which suggest Padme will die in childbirth. Anakin meets with the Chancellor, who tells him that he is being appointed as the Chancellor’s personal representative on the Jedi Council. Anakin, who already mistrusts the Masters, is irritated when they refuse to grant him the rank of Jedi Master, leading to further friction. The Council agrees to send Yoda to Kashyyyk to assist the Wookiees in their battle against the droid army, and privately Mace Windu expresses his distrust of Anakin to both Yoda and Obi-Wan. Privately, Obi-Wan tells Anakin that the Council has asked that he report on the Chancellor’s dealings.

At the Galaxies Opera House, Palpatine meets with Anakin and tells him that clone intelligence has discovered Grievous is hiding in the Utapau system, and later learns that the Council has asked Anakin to spy on him. Palpatine further sows seeds of mistrust, suggesting the Jedi Masters are holding Anakin back, and goes on to tell of the story of a Sith Lord, Darth Plagueis, who was rumoured to be able to keep people from dying. Anakin reports to the Council and tells them that the Chancellor has recommended him for the mission, but Mace Windu overrides that decision and the Council votes to send Obi-Wan instead.

Obi-Wan arrives on Utapau and makes contact with the chairman of Pau City, Tion Medon, who informs him that the population is being held hostage by Grievous and the droids. Obi-Wan sends his ship back into orbit, aware that Grievous’ spies will be watching him, then begins his search of the city. He finds Grievous just as the Separatist Council is leaving the world, and the two engage in a lightsaber duel, Grievous having been trained in combat by Count Dooku. At that moment, Obi-Wan’s clone trooper escort arrives, led by Commander Cody, and a fierce battle ensues. Grievous flees, with Obi-Wan in close pursuit, however he loses his lightsaber in the process.

On Coruscant, Anakin tells Palpatine that Obi-Wan has engaged Grievous, and in their ensuing conversation, Palpatine reveals himself to have knowledge of the Dark Side. Anakin realises that the Chancellor is the Sith Lord that Count Dooku told them about. Despite the fact Palpatine represents Anakin’s best hope of saving Padme’s life, he decides to turn him over to the Jedi Council. He informs Mace Windu, who tells Anakin to stay in the Temple while he gathers a team of Masters to confront the Sith Lord – Agen Kolar, Saesee Tiin and Kit Fisto. The four Jedi arrive at the Chancellor’s office, and Sidious attacks them, dispatching Kolar, Tiin and Fisto quickly. Anakin is unable to remain at the Jedi Temple, however, and returns to the Chancellor’s office as Mace Windu overcomes Sidious. However, when Anakin prevents Mace from killing Sidious by cutting off his sword hand, Sidious unleashes a barrage of Force lightning that pushes the Jedi Master out of the window. Anakin is distraught at what he has done, but Sidious twists the events to show that the Jedi were plotting all along to take over the Republic. He accepts Anakin as his new apprentice, dubbing him Darth Vader, and sends him to the Jedi Temple to consolidate their position by killing any Jedi still on Coruscant.

Obi-Wan is able to kill Grievous, and reunites with his clone troopers, Cody returning his lightsaber. Within minutes, however, all clone commanders begin to receive communications directly from the Chancellor, telling them to enact Order 66 – the Jedi are traitors to the Republic and must be killed. As Jedi across the galaxy are cut down by their clone troopers, Yoda feels the disturbance in the Force and is on guard when Commander Gree attempts to enact the order, Yoda killing him before he is able to execute it. Yoda escapes Kashyyyk with the help of Tarfful and Chewbacca, and while Obi-Wan is initially attacked by Cody and his clone troopers, he is able to escape Utapau in General Grievous’ personal starfighter. Both Jedi Masters are picked up by Bail Organa, who had witnessed the clone troopers killing Jedi at the Temple, and determined to search for survivors elsewhere in the galaxy. Upon learning of a coded message to all Jedi informing them the war is over and to return to the Temple, Obi-Wan determines to return there to re-calibrate the message, warning any Jedi survivors away.

Following the attack on the Jedi Temple, Anakin returns to Padme and tells her that he has helped the Chancellor to thwart a Jedi plot to overthrow the Republic. He informs her that he is heading to the Mustafar system to end the war, and once there he systematically kills the Separatist Council. The Chancellor holds a special session of the Senate, for which Bail Organa returns to the capitol, allowing Obi-Wan and Yoda the opportunity to slip into the Temple and re-calibrate the message. There, the two check the security footage and realise that Anakin is responsible for leading the attack on his fellow Jedi. Yoda determines to confront Darth Sidious, while Obi-Wan is sent to find Anakin. He visits Padme, who refuses to believe Anakin could have done anything so brutal. Obi-Wan stows away aboard her ship when she decides to follow her husband to Mustafar to learn the truth.

Palpatine informs the Senate of the Jedi plot, and declares the foundation of the Galactic Empire, to general approval. Later, in his office, he is surprised to learn that Yoda survived, and the two engage in a titanic battle that moves into the Senate chamber itself, Sidious flinging the pods around in an attempt to kill the Jedi Grand Master. Yoda, realising he cannot defeat the Sith Lord, flees the building with Bail Organa’s help.

On Mustafar, Padme confronts Anakin and cannot believe the path he has begun to follow. When he catches sight of Obi-Wan, he leaps to the conclusion that they are conspiring against him, and Force chokes his wife, only letting her go when Obi-Wan intervenes. The two erstwhile friends clash, and their lightsaber duel takes them across the mining facility and into the lavafields, ending when Obi-Wan dismembers Vader, watching as the lava sets his body alight. He leaves, C-3PO having already begun to administer medical help to Padme, shortly before Sidious, having felt through the Force the danger that Vader was in, arrives and is able to keep his apprentice barely alive for transport back to Coruscant.

Obi-Wan and Padme arrive at the asteroid field of Polis Massa, and reunite with Bail Organa and Yoda. There, Padme gives birth to twins, Luke and Leia, but dies after seemingly losing the will to live. Yoda determines the twins should be split up, until the time is right, and Bail Organa offers to adopt Leia as his own. Obi-Wan volunteers to take Luke to the Lars family on Tatooine, and watch over him – Yoda tells him that his old master, Qui-Gon Jinn, has discovered the secret to immortality, and will train him while in exile, too.

Darth Vader is reconstructed on Coruscant with replacement limbs, and given a mechanical suit to keep him alive. Sidious tells him that it was Vader who killed Padme, which causes him to further give way to his anger. Later, the two Sith Lords are seen on the bridge of a Star Destroyer with Governor Tarkin, overlooking the construction site of the Death Star.

Padme’s funeral is held on Naboo, her body made up to look like she was still pregnant at the time of death. Bail Organa returns to Alderaan with Leia, and Obi-Wan delivers Luke to his family on Tatooine before heading into the desert.

This is a very busy film! Lucas had a lot of ground to cover, and it really shows with the massive synopsis there! There was a lot to do with the film, and as such many things were cut, unfortunately a significant portion of Padme’s role. I think this is one of the things that annoys me the most about this film, because Padme’s character arc goes from such a strong female lead in Episode I, to just a casualty of Anakin’s fall in Episode III. Originally, she was to have a small handful of scenes that showed the formation of the Rebellion, in broad terms, as Padme was part of a group of senators that included Bail Organa and Mon Mothma who were opposed to the ongoing war and Palpatine’s never-ending term as Chancellor.

We’re left with some fairly stilted “romance” dialogue and awkward moments, which makes the unlikely romance all the more suspicious – did Palpatine really engineer all of this? Possibly. Many people have complained about the wooden acting from Hayden Christensen, which I won’t reiterate, but suffice it to say, Anakin does not come across as a sympathetic character here. He’s whining about the Council not making him a Master (in the Legends continuity, Ki-Adi-Mundi was not a Master during Episode I, at least), which does grate on me. I mean, there’s a moment after the rescue of the Chancellor when you think, yes – that’s the sort of thing that may have drawn the attentions of Senator Amidala.

For all that, though, I do like the film. I think it’s interesting to see how the story develops and serves to link the two trilogies, as it starts out still in-keeping with the pomp and splendour of the art-deco style established in the first two films, but shifts ever-so-subtly into the more austere tone that we know from the original trilogy as the story focuses down on Anakin and Obi-Wan, Yoda and Palpatine. The fact that most of the new characters are dead by the time the film is over is perhaps a help here. Certainly by the time we get to the view of the Death Star from the bridge of that star destroyer, it does feel like a very smooth transition into the original movies.

While Count Dooku was criminally under-used, General Grievous is an interesting villain for the film, and one that I think we could benefit from discovering more about. We did get some further insights in the Clone Wars cartoon series, but it is something of a shame that he just pops into the movie with very little explanation. For such a significant part of the Prequel trilogy, we don’t yet have much in the way of canon media for him, either, which is quite a glaring hole really, but I suppose it’s only with the recent TV shows that Disney seems to have begun to embrace the Prequel era further.

It’s perhaps a casualty of the fact that the film covers so much ground, but I do find myself wanting to learn more about a lot of the stuff that we see on screen. For example, Mustafar is a planet that has begun to be heavily developed in the canon lore, being the site of Vader’s castle etc, but its only purpose here is to serve as the backdrop to the climactic duel. Utapau, a name from the very earliest drafts of Star Wars, is a fascinating world that particularly intrigues me when we see the clones rounding up the natives during Obi-Wan’s escape from the planet. The Order 66 montage has since been explored, with worlds such as Cato Neimoidia and Felucia receiving attention in The Force Unleashed series. Interestingly, the dialogue has a lot more throw-away lines that tie it back to the expanded universe than we have otherwise seen, with mention of Saleucami (also seen in the Order 66 montage) and “Master Vos” – Quinlan Vos is of course a huge figure from the Dark Horse Republic series. It’s something that really surprised me when I first saw the movie, I suppose it’s along the lines of the bounty hunter on Ord Mantell.

The novelization of Episode III is one of the most-lauded of all those books based on the movies. Written by Matthew Stover, who had by this time written a some really stand-out books for the expanded universe, it is renowned for including a lot of additional material that manages to round out the story much more than we’ve seen previously.

So there we have it! The final movie in the Prequel trilogy caps off the clone wars, in what must have been a decidedly odd move for people who only watch the films – it starts in the last third of episode two, and it finished in the first half of episode three. Is that it? We should definitely have had a movie that dealt with the major story beats, I feel. Constraining himself to the character drama of Anakin’s fall to the dark side, Lucas has made a major plot point into nothing but backdrop, really. But I’ll have more to ramble on about this when I finally finish my Great Prequel Re-Read of 2022, so stay tuned! The end is in sight!

Labyrinth of Evil

Well folks, we’re hurtling towards the end of my Summer of Star Wars now – is September still the summer? Well, I’m counting it. Today it’s the turn of Labyrinth of Evil. This is one of my favourite Prequel-era novels, so as with some of the other blogs in my great prequel re-read, prepare for some slightly biased reporting!

Labyrinth of Evil

The Clone Wars are raging across the galaxy, with the Separatists finally on the run. Dooku and his forces have been pushed back from the core and inner rim, and the war is predominantly being fought now in the Outer Rim, as Palpatine is committing more troops to besieging the worlds still held by the Confederacy there.

Obi-Wan and Anakin are on the trail of Nute Gunray, who has stopped off at the Trade Federation purse world of Cato Neimoidia. In his rush to flee the planet, however, the Neimoidian Viceroy has left a mechno-chair behind, which incorporates a hyperwave transmission grid into its seat that Anakin quickly discovers contains a recording of part of a call between Darth Sidious and Nute Gunray. Having the final proof of the existence of the Sith Lord, after Dooku’s initial confession to Obi-Wan on Geonosis, the Jedi Council decide to pursue the lead, and Anakin and Obi-Wan head to Charros IV, to speak to the Xi Char artisan who made the chair.

The trail leads from the manufacturer of the chair to that of the transmission chip, a Bith technician currently holed up in a mining facility on Escarte. He points the Jedi to a pilot who delivered the device to Coruscant, a Twi’lek who is now living on Naos III, and she is able to indicate a factory building in The Works on Coruscant where she delivered the Sith Infiltrator ship. However, Grievous has attempted to contact Gunray through the mechno-chair, telling him that the Separatist Council will soon be re-located to Belderone – when Gunray disn’t answer, and the Jedi had a task force waiting in orbit at Belderone for the Separatists, Dooku informs Sidious that their comms are compromised, and the Jedi are on the Sith Lord’s trail.

While Anakin and Obi-Wan are dispatched to Tythe to confront Dooku, Mace Windu and Shaak Ti lead an investigation team into The Works and soon discover forensic evidence of both Dooku and Sidious being in the building. They learn that the tunnels used by Sidious leading eventually to the sub-basement of 500 Republica, the monad where so many senators and other celebrities live, including the Supreme Chancellor. However, just when the Jedi team has made this discovery, Grievous launches his attack on the capitol planet, and the Jedi are soon called to the defence of the Chancellor.

Grievous has been furnished with intelligence supplied by Count Dooku, and is able to pursue Palpatine across the planet as the Jedi and Senate Guards attempt to spirit him to his armoured bunker. The Separatist General captures the Chancellor, and is able to return to his flagship in orbit, while Anakin and Obi-Wan realise Tythe was a ruse to keep them away from Coruscant after all.

The book is pretty action-packed, especially considering it is something of a detective story. The opening on Cato Neimoidia is fairly tense at times, and there are space battles at Belderone and Tythe, as well as a snow sledge chase on Naos III and of course, the climactic battle of Coruscant, which takes up roughly the last 100 pages of the book. In some respects, it’s similar to Luceno’s earlier Cloak of Deception, as we follow the Jedi as they’re tracking down clues, with intermittent action sequences, though I think the earlier book is much superior, as it doesn’t have quite such a tight deadline to meet. With Labyrinth of Evil, we have a lot of plot threads to weave into the tapestry, and there is a definite end-point with the beginning of Revenge of the Sith.

That’s not to say it’s not a good book, however! Indeed, I think it’s one of the best prequel-era books out there. We get to learn a lot about the major players, including a complete backstory on General Grievous. Luceno is adept at bringing together many strands of stories to make a cohesive narrative, perhaps reminiscent of the fact his original role in the New Jedi Order was a continuity overseer. Threads from the comics, particularly Quinlan Vos’ storyline, Yoda’s meeting with Dooku on Vjun in Dark Rendezvous, as well as the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars cartoon series, are woven in here to make things feel like we’re in one coherent narrative. Ironically, though, it’s with the Clone Wars cartoon that things become a little unstuck, as we know that the third season of the cartoon essentially deals with Grievous and his invasion, but also involves Anakin and Obi-Wan on the planet Nelvaan, in an episode that once again rams it down our throats that Anakin will become Darth Vader. I believe the cartoon was based on the novel’s outline as it existed at the time, though once the animation was finished, it then caused the novel to change as things had been sexed-up for TV.

Nevertheless, the invasion sequence is pretty spectacular, I have to say. It is absolutely frenetic, as Grievous is pursuing the Chancellor and his bodyguard across the planet. There is a lot of reference made to the real-world politics of the Second Iraq War during the Clone Wars, as we were at war while these stories were being published. It was perhaps natural, even if Lucas and others refuted the claim at the time. Palpatine makes a State of the Republic address, we have the Triad of Evil in Felucia, Mygeeto and Saleucami, etc. However, the way Palpatine was spirited to his hardened bunker was apparently purposefully modelled on the way vice president Cheney was moved during the 9/11 attacks – I remember reading something years ago where Luceno said he had originally planned to write it where Palpatine was instead flown around the planet on the Star Wars equivalent of Air Force One, as happened for president Bush.

There isn’t as much politics as you might expect in this one, perhaps in reflection to how Cloak of Deception had been received. There are a few scenes with Mon Mothma, Bail Organa and Padme where they try to persuade Palpatine to find a diplomatic resolution to the war, though they are few and far between, and eventually the three senators are caught up in the invasion and don’t really have much more of a part to play. It is a shame, given that the political stuff with the Loyalist Committee was cut from the final film, that more wasn’t afforded to it here, but I suppose this novel is more about the intrigue with the search for Sidious than mere political machinations.

We do have a very angry Anakin in this book, and sometimes it seems like he’s almost primal, like when he brings the roof down on top of both him and Obi-Wan simply by being annoyed with Dooku. Now, it might just be me, but this kind of behaviour must surely be setting off alarm bells to someone like Obi-Wan, a member of the Jedi Council? Hm? I get that they kinda cut him some slack, him being the Chosen One, and the late training and all, but even so. On the subject of coming to training late in life, it’s always kinda bothered me that they allowed Obi-Wan to train such an important, such a potentially difficult padawan when he had barely made Jedi Knight the day before. Someone like Mace or Yoda should surely have taken on the fabled Son of Suns? At any rate, Angry Anakin is given a lot of lassitude, even when Obi-Wan is dropping massive hints that he knows what’s going on between him and Padme. Another hm.

But I guess that’s part of Lucas’ overall plot. There are some genuinely good spots of camaraderie between the two of them throughout, and you begin to see that perhaps they were friends after all. Angry Anakin might bristle at the merest hint of Obi-Wan in the majority of the Clone Wars media, but even Count Dooku remarks on how well they have come to work together here. It does go some way to help show that Alec Guinness wasn’t lying when he called Anakin “a good friend”.

There isn’t really a great deal more to be said on this one, though, I guess. It’s a good book, tells a very good tale as we lead directly into episode III. One of the downfalls of the story, of course, is that it doesn’t resolve, and you kinda have to watch the movie to finish it off – even if you know that going into it, it still manages to leave you hanging on the edge of things, more so than Rogue One. Of course, this works both ways, and if you have ever been bothered by the fact that Revenge of the Sith opens directly into the middle of a battle, and you’ve wanted to know what was going on, then you can wonder no more as to what is going on there!

The Great Prequel Re-Read, part seven

Hey everybody,
We’re very much getting towards the end now with the Star Wars Prequel Re-Read, and today I have a pair of graphic novels to update you all with!

Clone Wars

Let’s start with Volume 7: When They Were Brothers. It’s basically the five-part Obsession storyline that was touted as the comics’ lead-in to episode III. Obi-Wan is convinced Asajj Ventress still lives, something that Anakin takes issue with since he electrocuted her and tossed her body down a chasm on Coruscant during the finale of Dreadnoughts of Rendili. However, Obi-Wan drags his former padawan away from his leave on Naboo on a hunt across the galaxy to find her. We meet up again with Durge, General Grievous makes an appearance, and we get some first-looks at some of the ships from Revenge of the Sith. While the book ostensibly deals with Ventress, and wraps up her story before the final prequel movie, it primarily seems to exist to show Anakin and Obi-Wan “as brothers”, but after so many stories having missed that opportunity within the run, it does feel a little late to try and establish this relationship. I’ve talked about this elsewhere, but I honestly think the whole prequel series pays a great disservice to this dynamic, and we’re left with a long series of stories where the principal motivation is to show how Anakin can become Darth Vader. As such, he’s rarely allowed to be a nice guy, and his relationship with Obi-Wan suffers greatly for it.

Let’s move on!

Volume 8: The Last Siege, The Final Truth, continues to draw story threads to a close, with two distinct arcs from the Republic run. To start with, we have Trackdown, a two-parter where Tholme heads to Anzat to speak with an old friend about the existence of Anzati-trained Nikto Morgukai assassins. I can remember reading this coming when it came out, and being really struck by just how many story-threads it manages to pull together from just those two things – reaching back into the earlier days of the Republic series, such as Darkness and Rite of Passage. Tholme learns that they are being trained on Saleucami, so heads there and is ambushed by Sora Bulq. Tholme heads into the catacombs of the planet, and the Jedi Council mobilises for war!

The next arc, The Siege of Saleucami, deals with the Jedi offensive as they attempt to overcome the Separatist facilities there. Turns out, they’re cloning Nikto in a very quick-and-dirty way, not breeding soldiers like the Republic “because Count Dooku doesn’t need them to last long”. It’s kinda creepy, and you have to wonder why on earth the Separatists hadn’t tried their hand at it before – Dexter Jettster’s comments about Kaminoans being “damn good cloners” does seem to suggest there are other groups in the galaxy (Spaarti?) who perhaps aren’t as good, after all! The Jedi offensive is led by Oppo Rancisis, who has always been very much a background Jedi for the entire run up to this point, but always with reference to the fact he is excellent at battle meditation. He is co-ordinating the Jedi and clones as they attack the Separatists, and while the Republic forces aren’t making much headway, they are at least continually able to repel the Separatists. Sora Bulq therefore assassinates him to give the Separatists the upper hand, but a showdown in the caverns with Quinlan Vos ultimately turns the tide in the Republic’s favour, as Quinlan finally is able to proclaim the fact that he is a Jedi.

I’ve said it before, but it’s been incredible to follow this arc throughout the larger clone wars, as in many respects Quinlan’s storyline is more interesting than Anakin’s, which is a foregone conclusion, and mostly consists of foreshadowing his fall to the dark side. Quinlan definitely flip-flops between whether he is a Jedi or not – did he ever go over to the dark side, for reals? The story ends with his redeployment to Boz Pity, which of course is mentioned during Episode III, after which he intends to leave the Jedi Order, as Khaleen is pregnant with their child. It’s all feeling very much like it’s being set up for tragedy, but next we’re back to a novel, with another of my favourites: Labyrinth of Evil! I wonder what Mr Bookstooge will think of this one!!