The Mandalorian (catch-up)

Hey everybody,
It’s time to catch up with The Mandalorian! So, rather than trying to write up some thoughts after each episode, I thought I’d just do the odd catch-up blog after a couple, having enjoyed the first three episodes immensely.

Chapter 4 branches out a little bit, as we follow Mando in his attempt to get away from the Bounty Hunters Guild, who are tracking him for both vengeance, and a chance to take back The Asset. Arriving on the forested world of Sorgan, Mando teams up with Cara Dune, a former Alliance shock trooper turned mercenary, to defend a village from Klatooinian raiders. After the battle, Mando realises that the Guild is still tracking the Asset, and so leaves.

This episode had all of the hallmarks of the classic Western, with the reluctant hero saving the village from marauders. What really excited me was the fact that the whole thing is so small-scale, which meant that the inclusion of the AT-ST walker in the battle was actually something to be worried about. It feels a little bit like this series is serving to enhance the films – I’m sure the next time we watch Return of the Jedi, the chicken walkers won’t be dismissed quite so easily.

Of course, the original trilogy was pretty much entirely told in small-scale, where the Alliance is depicted as just two squadrons of one-man fighters going up against the Death Star, or the small insertion force led by Han going up against the Empire on Endor. I suppose that’s what makes Return of the Jedi‘s final battle seem so epic when you look at the original trilogy in isolation – the limits of film-making at the time have actually served to give us a science fiction trilogy that is almost entirely character-driven, in direct opposition to the movies that have come thereafter. The Mandalorian is helping us get back to that small-scale storytelling, where a lone AT-ST can actually pose a visceral threat to the action.

I think my buddy JP put it really well, likening this episode to an RPG, or a mission from Imperial Assault. It has that feel about it, somehow. Sure, it comes across as a bit of a standalone adventure, though I’m once again wondering about that sense of gathering the crew, and whether we’ll see Cara Dune again before the season finale.

Chapter 5 was both written and directed by Dave Filoni, and I think it really helped me see him in a different light. Up until this point, I was only going off his work on both Clone Wars and Rebels, and I was not impressed. Considering he was George Lucas’ protege, I think he has done more harm than good to the Star Wars universe, by tearing up the continuity and twisting things to his own ends.

Here, we get a much more interesting Filoni, whether because he is now writing for the more mature end of the market, who knows. Yes, there are a lot of callbacks to A New Hope – indeed, you might almost say the episode leans so heavily on the original movie that it is propped-up by it. Mando is almost shot down over Tatooine, as bounty hunters continue to pursue him and the Asset. In order to pay for repairs, he takes a job with the bounty hunter wannabe Toro Calican, who is trying to get into the Guild. The bounty is on the renowned assassin Fennec Shand, who is believed to be hiding out in the Dune Sea.

They apprehend Fennec, but she attempts to drive a wedge between the two hunters, telling Toro that the Mandalorian has his own bounty now. Toro kills her, and attempts to apprehend Mando, but is definitely in over his head, and Mando kills him.

It’s a fairly simple episode, and while it only aired on Friday, there has already been an outcry about a lack of Baby Yoda time. Well, the show is much better than relying on the cuteness factor, for sure! It’s interesting to me, though, at how well the episode manages to integrate itself into the existing movie lore, while at the same time giving it almost an update. Mos Eisley is still a grim backwater, and there is something vaguely 70s about Peli Motto, the docking bay owner.

Did we need to rely so heavily on references to A New Hope? Probably not, but it was still undeniably cool to see these iconic locations once again. EV-9D9 appears to be working behind the bar at Chalmun’s cantina now (I wonder if Chalmun has moved on?) and business looks to be decidedly slow, but then the streets seem quieter as well – I wonder if this is meant to show the lawlessness of the Outer Rim, and people are keeping to themselves? Hm.

Coming at the mid-point of the series, I thought it interesting that the fifth episode borrowed so heavily from A New Hope, as that kind of tactic feels like something more appropriate to the first episode, as it tries to hook us in with nostalgia. I also find myself wondering if we’ll be seeing any more “classic” locations before the end of the season…


This show continues to delight me, and I am really looking forward to future episodes. The finale will be airing Christmas week, so I’m planning to do a bit of a roundup of the show sometime thereafter. Stay tuned for that!

Star Wars: Clone Wars – The Lost Missions

Hey everybody,
Well, I made it! It’s been a long slog over the past few years, as I’ve made my way through all of the Clone Wars animated TV series, but I’ve finally made it through all five-and-a-half series!

Star Wars Clone Wars

The Lost Missions is a thirteen-episode miniseries that brings us four story arcs, the final remaining episodes that were finished when the decision had been made to cancel the show in 2013. The episodes were polished off for airing on German network Super RTL the following year, and made their way to Netflix soon after. Writers had made significant inroads into a seventh season before the show was cancelled, and while these episodes are the last that were properly finished, there is the Legacy project that comprises some animated storyboards, comics and novels that I’ll cover as part of a separate blog. Of course, there has also been the announcement that the show is coming back to Disney+ early next year – but I’ll get to that in another blog!

We begin with a clone storyline, which involves an exploration of the Order 66 command. One of the clones shoots his Jedi general, saying that he is “following orders”, and so is taken back to Kamino for investigation. It is suggested that the Separatists have finally been able to create a virus that affects the clones, but upon examination a “chip” is found in the brain. Shaak Ti, who is the Jedi permanently stationed on Kamino to guard against Separatist attack (nice callback to some Legends stories, there) doesn’t believe the “chip” is anything other than a behavioural inhibitor, but travels back to Coruscant for the Jedi to examine it further. The Chancellor steps in, and Palpatine manages to dispose of the evidence by feigning an assassination attempt by the clone trooper in question.

Urgh. First of all, I hated the way they kept referring to it as a chip. I mean, I get why they did, but still – the idea of Order 66 was always supposed to have been part of the flash-learning process that all clones are subjected to, and not a “chip” that can be implanted or extracted at will. It does allow for the writers to “save” certain clone characters for later, of course, but it’s just so irritating to see concepts reduced like this.

Furthermore, I get that there is the idea of the Dark Side clouding the Jedi’s judgement, as Mace Windu himself expresses the notion in Revenge of the Sith, but characters in this episode arc seemed to just willfully ignore the fact that some serious allegations are being leveled by the clone troopers. Wouldn’t you at least be curious to see what was going on? Hm.

The next arc sees the return of Clovis, in episodes originally intended for season five (as seen by the fact Ian Abercrombie is still the voice of Chancellor Palpatine). Clovis is put forward to lead the Banking Clan out of its current crisis, in a three-part arc that makes little sense and just gets worse. I think it mainly suffers from the Padme-problem, whereby virtually nobody has any idea of what to do with the character outside of the films (and even then, it’s debatable). Padme supports Clovis, causing Anakin to bridle with jealousy, and the whole thing turns into a Separatist plot, with Count Dooku manipulating Clovis into his eventual death. There’s talk of interest rates going up for the Republic, and the arc ends with the Senators all chanting “long live the banks!” while Palpatine takes personal control of the InterGalactic Banking Clan, in a move that surprised me, as I thought they were firmly in the Separatist camp.

However, if you thought that three episodes about banks was drivel, just wait for the Jar Jar two-parter, which sees our intrepid Gungan on a diplomatic mission to Bardotta, at the express request of the world’s Queen. Who apparently wants to get him into bed. Erm… Basically, there is a nefarious plot to capture the people of the planet, who are all Force sensitive to some degree, to drain their Force essence. Turns out Mother Talzin is behind it, and she’s attempting to become more powerful than anybody by using these Force batteries.

The whole idea is just awful, reducing the Force to something that you can “get more of”. I don’t know if this idea dates back to Mara Jade gaining strength under Luke’s guidance during the Bantam era, as she goes from being not very good while operating with Talon Karrde, to becoming a Jedi Master using the Force with ease by the time of the Legacy of the Force novel series. But anyway, it annoys me, and the inclusion of Jar Jar is just the icing on the turd, really.

Finally, we have a four-part Yoda arc that serves almost as the season highlight, and in some ways does form a fitting conclusion to the cartoon series. Plo Koon discovers Master Sifo-Dyas’ lightsaber, prompting an investigation into the Jedi Master’s death some ten years ago. The mission that led to his death was classified by order of the Supreme Chancellor, which allows for the return of Finis Valorum to the story!

The Yoda arc is a bit troubling for me, because I so wanted to like it, but in the end it just fell so flat. We have something of an exploration of Sifo-Dyas, the Living Force, and all that business with coming back as a Force ghost. It should have been terrific, but it just felt like run-of-the-mill stuff. There is an attempt to make the Force mystical once again, and to try and retcon the midi-chlorian stuff with the spirituality stuff, but it didn’t really come over well. The series has tried to do the spiritual stuff before, most noticeably with the Mortis trilogy, but even then, what sounds decent enough on paper end up being just weird and silly, and quite frustrating for fans of Star Wars in general.

Good retcons will take account of everything, and work it into a fairly neat parcel. Here, we have several instances where important stuff is just ignored or omitted, most annoyingly calling the Sith homeworld Moraband, as opposed to the traditional Korriban. Apparently, this change was done at the behest of George Lucas, who preferred the name. Hm. There isn’t a great deal of lore on Sifo-Dyas, considering the importance of that plot element during Attack of the Clones, but I suppose that is a subject for another blog. However, it had been established that Dooku was a close friend, and was tasked with his murder by Sidious in order to cement his commitment to the Sith cause. That is now thrown out of the window, as we instead get this jumble of hearsay about the Jedi Master’s eventual fate.

Yoda visits Dagobah and communes with the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn, who instructs him to visit the Force Priestesses at the Wellspring of Life. There, he undergoes a series of challenges (including his visit to the Sith home planet) before they notify him that he will train with Qui-Gon to learn how to retain his consciousness after death.

It’s a four-episode arc that I really wanted to like, but ultimately it really didn’t shed a great deal of light on anything. Sure, there is a case that can be made where the Force should be kept as a great mystery, but if you’re going to spend this long on a story, it would be nice if it went somewhere, you know? The arc ends with the Council asking Yoda for details of his travels, but he is unwilling to share the scope of his knowledge. Hm.


One of the major issues, for me, with the Clone Wars as a series has been the over-exposure of Anakin and Obi-Wan, something that I’ve talked to death before now, but I want to touch on again now that I’m summing-up the whole thing. In more than a hundred episodes, which span maybe 60 distinct storylines, we see Anakin and Obi-Wan show up in probably 80-90 of those episodes. The problem with this, for me, is that the conflict spans around three years, in-universe, and crosses the entire galaxy in its breadth. How the hell are these two supposed to have been able to accomplish this? There are thousands of Jedi, and the TV series had a real opportunity to develop several new ones who could have become series regulars, but that was neglected in favour of episode after episode that shows the derring-do of Anakin, his erstwhile master, or his annoying padawan. Sure, that’s probably what people want – the show is aimed at the younger audience, after all, who will likely want to see their favourite on-screen Jedi. But this just leads to such ridiculous feats of continuity that irritate me far more than perhaps they should!

I’ve talked plenty about Ahsoka and how much I hate her as a character, so I’ll leave that for now.

The annoying thing in all of this is that, for me, the series does have a lot of interest, and there are moments where I feel the show could have come across so much better, had it not been pitched at the younger end of the market. A great example of this, I think, is the relationship between Obi-Wan and Asajj Ventress, which we see as something dark and twisted in the first season, but is then left unexplored – indeed, the character seems to have been forgotten about for a long time. It’s a shame, because it could have become something so much more interesting. Other storylines, such as Darth Maul’s formation of the Shadow Collective was handled fairly well, and we see some pretty decent lore being developed for it overall. The Pyke Syndicate is definitely one of the best things to come out of late seasons – in fact, in The Lost Missions, when we see the spice den during the Yoda arc, it’s surprising at how adult the material comes across. The Pykes were later used in Solo, as the cartel in charge of the spice mines of Kessel.

But for all of the points that could be enumerated for the series, there are just so many more that really pull it down. So much exists that is flashy and there for show, it just infuriates me when I think how much this show could have given us! But then I remember that it’s a cartoon show, and I control myself…!


I wish the Clone Wars had tried to tie themselves more strongly into the narrative of the movies, as opposed to trying to become its own thing. By this, I mean there rarely seems to be a clear trajectory for the series, despite Revenge of the Sith having come out years prior to the first episode being aired. This ties once again into the over-exposure of Anakin and Obi-Wan. Aside from seemingly being the only Jedi required to win the war (with a healthy dose of a precocious adolescent), using these two as much as the series does really seems to make what should be a huge galaxy so much smaller. How does Anakin have the off-time to continually save Padme if he’s literally fighting battles across the entire galaxy?

To my mind, a three year conflict will contain a finite number of battles. Of those, there will be a percentage of decisive battles, which turn the tide one way or another. We’ll see set-piece action, we’ll see numerous fronts, and then we’ll get to the capture of the Chancellor and things will dovetail nicely into the opening of Episode III. If I were in charge of this endeavour, then, I would have sat down at the beginning and come up with a timeline that shows how we get from the arena at Geonosis to the battle for Coruscant. I’d draw up the plan for exploring the battlefronts that I want, put together an idea of who will be there, and then just set about making that. It’s a simple scheme that can afford to then be peppered with off-stories that deal with bounty hunters and banking clans, without losing that sense of scale.

And that is precisely what the Clone Wars multimedia project set out to do, back in 2002. We had a handful of novels, the ongoing comic series, as well as the Clone Wars shorts cartoon series. The comic series was a real gem in this period, as it followed the adventures of Quinlan Vos as an undercover operative, with a focus on Anakin and Obi-Wan much more sparingly. Other Jedi were featured along the way (and we did get an exploration of Sifo-Dyas at one point, as well), giving a sense of scale to events. It set out the stall that this was the Clone Wars, being told in real time as Revenge of the Sith was being filmed.

As it is, we have Anakin and Obi-Wan jumping around the galaxy, winning battles in a matter of minutes, and destroying any sense of the realism that Star Wars has always tried to maintain. Sure, it’s a space fantasy, but the key tenets of the original trilogy were of the lived-in universe, keeping things real within its own internal logic and rules. For the sake of the spectacle, we now have this. And it’s canon. And in February 2020, we’re getting yet more of it.

Urgh.

The Grey Knights (again!)

Hey everybody!
Remember this post from last year, when I started with my plans for a Grey Knight army? Well, surprisingly, I haven’t managed to get very far with them over the last twelve months but, as it is clearly that time of year again, I’m now poring over the codex, and planning once more to get round to the massed psykers of Chapter 666!

Almost a year to the day (it was a year yesterday), I’m once more planning how to bring this army to the tabletop. Since I wrote up the original blog, I’ve not really done a great deal of work on them, truth be told. It was always my intention to build it as a sort of slow-grow thing, where I would build a unit, and paint it, then move on. So often in the past, I’ve fallen into the trap of building up a whole truck load of models, and then found myself almost overwhelmed and just shelving everything. Not wanting to fall into that trap again, I’ve therefore decided to pace myself, and go at things on a much smaller scale.

Last winter, I built up the contents of a Strike Force box, as well as adding two HQ units to the mix: a Grand Master built from the Paladins kit, and a Brotherhood Champion built from bits. It’s only a patrol detachment currently, and weighs in around the 450 points mark (pre Chapter Approved 2019, of course!) so I will need to get my act together here if I want to get in some games with it!

I’ve bought the almost-obsolete Doomglaive Dreadnought, an awesome model from Forge World that is now, inexplicably, discontinued. However, since I had built it up at the weekend, I think it has come to pass that I’ve been sold a recast, with some fairly toxic smells coming from it when I was cleaning it up! I’ve decided to plough on regardless, but the more I think about it, the more I’m probably going to go for the regular Venerable Dreadnought in my list, as time goes on.

Anyway, enough of that, where do I stand with the army right now?

So far, though, this is the entirety of what I have built. Yes, I know, I’ve built a lot more without getting it all painted, but that’s just a fact of life where my hobby is concerned! I’ve got a game planned in for Monday, my first since becoming a daddy, so we’ve agreed to have a small 1000-point battle. My buddy JP has got more daemons for his Heretic Astartes list, so I think it might be an ideal opportunity to bring out the Grey Knights and see what I’ve been missing for the last twelve months!

In order to bring the total up nearer 1000, I’m hoping to get a Purgation Squad built, with three psycannons for some heavier support, but I don’t know whether that will be a thing, so I’m erring on the side of caution for the time being and not including them in the list.

Grey Knights, perhaps more than any other army that I’ve played so far, appear to rely a lot on overlapping buffs. There aren’t many aura effects – the Grand Master allows for re-rolls and the Brother-Captain extends the Smite range, but that’s about it. Instead, they seem to rely on psychic powers going off that will buff each other as they progress through the battle. Reading tactica generally confuses me, anyway, but I’d been so hung up on the idea of units needing to know a power to benefit from it, I’d not really thought about it in terms of one unit using the power on another unit. So, for instance, it doesn’t matter if I give Hammerhand to the Strike Squad, when the Paladin Squad might be the best target for it – the Strike Squad can simply target the Paladins when they use it. Thus, the mental image of some crazy psychic shenanigans has been born, with eight psychic powers going off per turn!

It should be glorious!

It is important to me, however, that I don’t go too crazy with this army when I get going with it. I want to try, as much as possible, to stay true to the initial plan of painting up the units that I build as I go, and not end up in the situation where I’m looking at a whole desk full of unpainted models! The game on Monday will certainly be using grey plastic (but they are Grey Knights…chortle…) and, while I do hope to build up that Purgation squad, that will then be the limit, and I’ll set to work on painting what I have. The Purifiers are so close to being finished, it’s almost tangible, so I have no excuse to still be in this position in another twelve months’ time!

Looking ahead, I think Grey Knights could be a really fun project to use alongside the Sisters of Battle, as they’re both chambers militant of the Inquisition that work very well together: Sisters pursuing the Heretic, and Grey Knights pursuing the Daemon. Heretic Astartes are known for summoning daemons, after all, so it’s always a possibility that both elements will have stuff to do. Indeed, it could well be the sort of army that the old Imperial Agents codex inspired! Might even slip in an inquisitor!

Star Wars: Resistance Reborn (a review)

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Hey everybody,
I’m continuing to catch up with all things Star Wars right now, and hot on the heels of my last blog, talking about the amazing Darth Plagueis, I’ve jumped forward in the timeline (and across canon) to the latest book to be released, Resistance Reborn! Part of the Journey to The Rise of Skywalker publishing programme, Resistance Reborn picks up close on the heels of The Last Jedi, with the Resistance having barely survived the Battle of Crait and needing to find both allies and a new home.

The book mainly follows Poe Dameron as he attempts to atone for his mutiny aboard the Raddis during Episode VIII. He comes across as maybe a little too guilty, as if the event is somehow more important than it seemed in the movie (though this could equally have been a problem with the movie, if I’m honest). Poe meets with Maz Kanata, who refuses to help the Resistance openly, but gives him word that the First Order have made a list of undesirables and are actively pursuing the names on it, locking them up before they can do any further harm. Poe sends his other pilots from Black Squadron to find other possible leaders to help rebuild, with Snap Wexley returning home to Akiva to bring along his mother Norra, and her husband Wedge Antilles.

Leia manages to convince her former colleague Yendor to aid them, and the survivors head to Ryloth to regroup. There, they are given the news that the list of undesirables has been stolen by a criminal group known as the Collective, and is to be auctioned off at the birthday party of notorious crime lord Hasadar Shu’s wife, on Corellia. Two teams are dispatched to Corellia, one headed by Poe to obtain the list, with the other led by Wedge in an attempt to steal ships from the shipyards there. A third team is dispatched to the planet Bracca, to obtain more ships from the junkyard world.

We’ve also been following the lives of First Order records clerk Winshur Bratt and his two underlings, one of whom stole the list of undesirables in order to pass it to the Collective. These plot threads intersect as the plot moves forward, as we see the oppression of the First Order leads to both of the underlings defecting in their separate ways. At the party, Poe is soon outbid on the list, but the First Order arrive and start shooting the place up (including killing the crime boss, himself). Poe rescues Shu’s wife Nifera, who in return gives up the list to the Resistance. Along the way, Wedge manages to rescue several high-level political prisoners being held at the shipyards, including none other than former senator, Ransolm Casterfo.

Resistance Reborn

The book is quite short, just shy of 300 pages, and so the plot kicks along at a pretty sharp pace. Some reviews that I’ve read on goodreads complain that the Resistance is in much the same place at the end of the novel as at the start, which isn’t entirely without foundation, although one could argue that they have a lot more materiel than they had in the closing scenes of The Last Jedi. More starfighters, some more recruits, a list of folks to go rescue. That doesn’t mean that the book doesn’t suffer from a kind of Bridge Syndrome, as if it were the central book of a trilogy that merely exists to stop those books being a duology.

It’s a really good story, don’t get me wrong, and I definitely enjoyed reading it. It pulls from a lot of the new canon, most heavily from the Aftermath trilogy and Bloodline, which helps to make the new canon feel like a much more homogenous place to be. One of my major gripes so far about the Disney stuff has been just how standalone everything feels. Having callbacks to earlier stuff, and minor recurring characters, helps to make something more of these stories. It’s something that I really enjoyed, anyway.

I suppose where it somewhat falls down, for me, is that we don’t get that sense of plot advancement, because we can’t know too much prior to the release of The Rise of Skywalker. I’m really hoping that his ludicrous level of secrecy about the state of the galaxy is going to be lifted once Episode IX has been released, and we can start to learn more about the First Order, Snoke, and all the rest of it. The First Order exists, at the moment, purely to be the bad guys, and there is next to no substance about them that we can tangibly cling on to. Sure, the Empire must have felt much the same back in the 1970s and 80s, but the way that Obi-Wan talks about the Clone Wars and Vader in those films gives them that sense of historical perspective that the First Order doesn’t yet have. Leia comes close to it in The Force Awakens, when she talks about Snoke seducing Ben to the Dark Side, but I honestly feel adrift when watching the movies right now, because we have so little to go on. There are snippets from the likes of Aftermath and Bloodline, but so much is just guesswork and hearsay, that requires too much work on the part of the viewer to put together into a cohesive narrative. I get that JJ and the rest want to create a sense of mystery and suspense, I really do, but having been building this since 2015, it’s wearing really thin right now, and I am more than ready for some actual answers. We need that cohesive narrative to make sense of how we got from the forest moon of Endor to the desolate sands of Jakku.

Huh, that was quite a rant there, wasn’t it?

Moving on!

Wedge is back in this one, and both Orrimaarko (Prune Face) and General Riekkan! I was really quite chuffed when I was reading those parts, even though I had it in the back of my mind that Dennis Lawson has said he doesn’t want to reprise his role as Wedge, and Bruce Boa sadly passed away a few years ago. I really wanted this book to show us Lando returning to the fold, but no such luck – so I’m guessing that will be something that is dealt with in the actual film. Well, that’s fair enough. Maz Kanata was criminally under-used, once more, though I’m choosing to think there might be something coming for her in IX, as Lupita Nyong’o is confirmed as returning. Maybe she’s best when lightly sprinkled into a story, rather than her backstory delved into too much.

I don’t know for sure, but I get the impression that the scenes with the Black Squadron pilots draw heavily from the Poe Dameron comic series, so I feel as though I need to get round to them at some point. For the time being, though, a quick Wookieepedia search has shown that Suralinda Javos, at least, is a recurring character from the comic book. Definitely need to catch up more there. Interestingly, we have a lot of Poe and Finn moments, where Poe is squeezing Finn’s arm. It should be nothing, but the fact it is called out so often makes me wonder if the idea of the two of them getting together might actually be where this bromance is going, after all!

Rey is in the novel, though she is another character who is criminally under-used. In fact, she might as well have not been there – I think it was only because she was on the Falcon at the end of VIII that she was included here at all. There was something about her character that felt off to me, too. She is portrayed, basically, as a timid mouse – not the sort of person we saw doing all that crazy stuff in the movie. Indeed, even at the start of her journey in VII, she has something about her, to have survived in the wilderness alone for so long. Hm.

I guess I’m really being fussy here, because this book was the sort of novel that I’ve been wanting from the Disney expanded universe for a few years, now. Something that plainly inhabits that same world, that doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Something that tells a story with the big movie characters, even if sometimes things felt a little off. It’s definitely recommended, and I think it serves up a better “journey to the next movie” story than Phasma did…

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis (a review)

Oh my goodness, what a book!

I recently finished reading one of the last, and arguably one of the most important novels from the Legends canon. It was an absolute joy to read, and I really cannot believe that it has taken me so long to get round to reading it! Long-time Star Wars fans might be aware that the book was originally slated to be released in 2008, but it wasn’t published until 2012, putting it among the final few novels to be published prior to the Disney take-over.

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The novel follows the life of Darth Plagueis as he kills his own master, Darth Tenebrous, and begins his quest for immortality through the manipulation of the midi-chlorians. As Hego Damask, the CEO of Damask Holdings, he goes about life as a wealthy financier, bankrolling the Trade Federation’s exploitation of Naboo’s natural plasma reserves. In so doing, he befriends Palpatine, and discovers a latent power for the Dark Side within the youngster. He encourages Palpatine to kill his entire family, and thereafter apprentices him as Darth Sidious.

Eliminating political rivals, Palpatine climbs the political ladder to become the Senator for Naboo. Political shenanigans abound, as Palpatine and Damask both set about initiating the Grand Plan for the Sith to take their vengeance on the galaxy (specifically, the Jedi). Along the way, Palpatine is given a Zabrak infant on Dathomir, whom he trains on Mustafar to be a living weapon for their vengeance. Damask makes contact with the cloners of Kamino, and begins to investigate the possibility of creating a cloned army.

As the novel moves on, it becomes as much a biography of Palpatine as it does of Damask, as the latter becomes consumed by his research into midi-chlorians and immortality. We see Palpatine court a friendship with the Jedi Master Dooku, engineer the fall of Naboo’s King Veruna, to be replaced by Padmé Amidala, as well as the assassination of Pax Teem, the Senator for Malastare. When Damask returns to public life, he renews an acquaintance with the Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas, and plant the suggestion that the Republic may need an army to ward against the increasing privations in the Outer Rim.

Towards the end, the book runs concurrently with several other books and comics, such as Cloak of Deception, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, and latterly, The Phantom Menace. At the novel’s climax, Palpatine kills Damask, revealing that he had been manipulating his former master for years. With Dooku as a potential ally in the upcoming war, and his eye firmly on Anakin Skywalker, Palpatine begins his own plans for taking over the galaxy.


This book is amazing. James Luceno is one of my all-time favourite Star Wars authors, as has been well-chronicled here on this blog, and I do particularly enjoy his prequel-era novels from the Legends canon. I don’t really know why I had put off reading this for so long, but I suppose other books have come under my glance, and whatnot. Luceno is definitely steeped in Star Wars lore, and is able to weave a story around the existing body of literature with ease. References bogged down his first novel for the franchise, Agents of Chaos: Hero’s Trial, but over the years since then he has shown himself to be adept at wielding the mythos like no other.

That said, the book is definitely much more interesting when it can be its own animal. The first two-thirds are an absolute joy, as we see Plagueis established as both a Sith Lord and his alter-ego, Hego Damask. The politics of the Republic are one of the more interesting aspects of the lore, to me, so it was fascinating to see how things worked at this point. As the story wore on, and we got to the point where it needed to weave in and out of pre-existing material, however, things did tend to get a little more muddy, almost forced, due to the fact that Luceno was trying to use characters who had already been written about – ironically, I think this was at its worst when he was trying to weave Palpatine and Valorum into his own Cloak of Deception.

Cloak of Deception, incidentally, is one of my all-time favourite Star Wars novels, and I will doubtless be writing up some thoughts on that book sometime soon!

Attempts to tie up loose ends, and weld the narrative firmly into the established events around The Phantom Menace aside, things certainly gather momentum as the book moves on. The middle portion, where Palpatine is moving up the political ranks and trying to learn more about the Dark Side, did often feel a little bit like it was dragging, but nevertheless I think it was good to let the plot breathe in this way. The story of the apprenticeship of such a seminal character as Emperor Palpatine should not be treated lightly, after all! I do wish that this was maybe a duology, and we could actually have expanded upon certain parts. For sure, the book jumps ahead a few years twice, to eliminate some of the more mundane stuff, but I thought there were a couple of missed opportunities for further exploring the characters in the wider universe. I mean, we’re likely to never see Darth Plagueis in another book, as this one pretty much tells his entire life story, and the same is true for Palpatine, so it would have been interesting, to me, for the story to have been properly expanded upon.

Something that almost seems to have been glossed over, or just mentioned in passing at first, is the creation of Anakin Skywalker within the Force. I suppose it’s possible that George Lucas wanted this to have been kept deliberately vague (Lucas, for those who don’t know, had a significant amount of input into this novel, making it as close to G-canon as any other book had come up to this point). Somewhere between the end of Part Two and the start of Part Three, Sidious and Plagueis both undertake a Sith ritual that shifts the balance of the Dark Side, almost like they’re firing the starter pistol to let the Jedi know that they’re coming for them. It’s intended to be a grand scheme to show that the Dark Side really is ascendant in the galaxy. When Palpatine then learns of the existence of Anakin, he mentally back-tracks and learns that the boy was born around this time, and it is theorized that Anakin could have been a product of the Force “fighting back”. It’s interesting, because since Revenge of the Sith, I think most fans had been of the mindset that Plagueis’ experiments with midi-chlorians had actually caused the birth of Anakin, but it turns out that he genuinely is a product of the Force itself.

Interesting…

There are a lot of call-backs to the Darth Bane trilogy, and often Luceno will reference all manner of Darths as part of the history of the Sith. It’s interesting to note that Plagueis sees himself as the last of the line of the Bane tradition, but even when the Rule of Two was still in force with his master, Darth Tenebrous, there were still Dark Acolytes being trained to use the Force, as Tenebrous seemed to need a failsafe against the loss of Plagueis as an apprentice. I suppose this meant the revelation of Palpatine training Darth Maul in secret on Mustafar was slightly less jarring. I suppose this problem of three Sith lords being around at the same time could have been solved by having Sidious kill Plagueis before the timeline of The Phantom Menace, but for whatever reason, it was decided to place the death of Plagueis at the eve of the Battle of Naboo.

Supreme Leader Snoke

I mean, that assumes that Plagueis died, of course. Since The Force Awakens debuted in 2015, fans have been theorizing that Snoke is in fact Plagueis, pointing to the wounds on his face (particularly his mouth) as being in a good fit. I’m not personally a fan of this idea, not least because Plagueis is said to have been using the Force to heal himself, and intended to return to the galaxy as co-Chancellor with Sidious, and be revealed to have fully healed. If he had survived Sidious’ attack, then surely the interval of 50+ years would have seen him not only return from the dead, but continue that process? The mangled mess that is Supreme Leader Snoke is, I feel, a new character – at least, I bloody hope so!

Anyway!

Darth Plagueis is a cracking book. Even if it is, after all, no longer canon, it is still well worth reading, even today!

Star Wars: Clone Wars season five

Hey everybody,
So it’s been almost three years since I last watched The Clone Wars, but I’ve finally managed to make my way to the last season, so I’m on the home stretch now!

Star Wars Clone Wars

The fifth season ran between September 2012 and March 2013, and consists of 20 episodes organised across five major arcs. This is a bit of a departure for the show, as there were no single-story episodes at all.

The series begins with the Battle of Onderon, a planet from deep in the distant past of Star Wars, and the Tales of the Jedi series. The Jedi are asked to intervene on behalf of the locals, following the Separatist invasion, but instead of leading a task force of clones, Anakin and Ahsoka are dispatched to help train the locals to fight for themselves. It’s pretty Ahsoka heavy, and as the five episodes progress, Ahsoka takes a pretty major role in staying behind to help the locals in their fight against the droids. Somewhere in here, there is a half-decent story, and there was a small part of me that was intrigued by seeing the Beast Riders still active in the more modern galaxy, but as usual I found myself just unable to get on board with the fact that Ahsoka is treated like such a special case, considering she is still supposed to be a padawan learner, and is portrayed as an early teenager.

Clone Wars Onderon

The arc is actually fairly noteworthy for the inclusion of Saw Gerrera, seen gesturing forward in the picture above. One of the leaders of the Onderanian rebellion, he of course goes on to transition to the big screen in Rogue One.

From Onderon, we next have another Ahsoka-heavy arc, featuring the trials and tribulations of a group of younglings getting their lightsaber crystals. Apparently, this arc was intended as a possible jumping-off point for a new series of young Jedi during the Wars, though thankfully that didn’t come to pass. The whole arc is trope-heavy, as the group of Jedi hopefuls embodies the usual mix of American high school teens. What was most alarming, for me, was that one of these younglings is voiced by Jeff Fischer, who I am most aware of through American Dad.

Clone Wars younglings

Once they have their crystals, the younglings then get attacked by Hondo Ohnaka, seeking profit as ever, and there is an interesting sequence when the pirates board the Jedi ship that is reminiscent of Han being boarded in The Force Awakens, which was of course still in development at this time. Ahsoka is kidnapped by the pirates, and the younglings are able to rescue her, more’s the pity.

The next arc is centred around droids, and an infiltration mission to obtain a Separatist encryption key. The whole four-episode arc is goofy as hell, following the diminutive Colonel Gascon as he leads a group of astromech droids and a mouthy pit droid onto the Separatist ship. Along the way, they crash-land on a distant planet and discover a clone trooper with amnesia, or somesuch nonsense. Probably a crowd-pleaser for the young ‘uns, but let’s just move on… At least it didn’t involve Ahsoka…

Clone Wars Eminence

Next up is the Eminence arc, which returns to the storyline that began at the end of last season. Darth Maul and his brother Savage Oppress are set on taking their revenge against the Jedi and the Republic, by establishing a criminal empire. It sounds goofy, and I do still kinda think the idea is a bit silly, but the execution is actually not that bad, and we get to visit the criminal underworld as we see Maul first attempt to take over Hondo Ohnaka’s organisation, only to be foiled by Obi-Wan. The brothers flee, to be rescued by the Mandalorian Death Watch under Pre Viszla.

Together with the Mandalorians, Maul and his brother take over Black Sun, the Pyke Consortium, and the Hutt cartels, as they gather the resources to wrest control of Mandalore from the Duchess Satine. In order to consolidate his position, Maul challenges Pre Viszla to single combat and kills him, only for Darth Sidious to hear of the uprising and travel to the planet to see what his former apprentice has been up to. Sidious kills Oppress, but saves Maul, promising a future use for him.

Clone Wars Sidious

Within the context of this being a cartoon, I was quite impressed by the scope of this three-episode arc, as we get to see a lot more than merely the Jedi and clones fighting droids. Sure, the cartoon series has explored a lot over the course of its five seasons, but this time it did feel kinda exciting to see – though I do admit that this is possibly due to the fact we’re seeing the foundation of the Crimson Dawn, and establishing how Maul gets from falling down that reactor shaft to leading the criminal empire in Solo. It’s definitely one of the more interesting storylines, and I think for its wider ramifications within the canon universe, it does need to be watched.

And finally, we have the last arc of the season, which is firmly on Ahsoka’s shoulders. An explosion at the Jedi temple leads Anakin and Ahsoka to investigate who could be responsible. When they find the culprit, however, Ahsoka is framed for her death, and flees into the underbelly of Coruscant. She teams up with none other than Asajj Ventress in an attempt to keep the clones off her back while she seeks to clear her name, but it is up to Anakin to discover that it was actually Barriss Offee who framed her, owing to her own dissatisfaction with the way the war has gone. Or something. It was all a bit weird, if you ask me, the only good part of the story being that Ahsoka leaves the Jedi Order as a result.

Clone Wars Ahsoka Asajj

I get that Ahsoka Tano is meant to be a strong female character for girls to identify with, and broaden the target audience of the show, but there is a whole essay waiting to be written on the ways that she derails the integrity of the series through being such a blatant Mary Sue character. It is for this reason that I just cannot bear her as a character. She could have been so much better, but she becomes so bloody annoying that watching through these later seasons has been the drudgery that it turned into. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve now got my baby daughter to look after, and so have found myself awake at all hours of the day and night while being unable to do much beyond watch TV, I doubt I would have made it to the final season so soon.

Putting her in positions where she is seen as an equal of the Jedi around her is faintly ridiculous, especially seeing as how those Jedi are most often Anakin and Obi-Wan. Remember, Obi-Wan is a Jedi Master, and yet he is often upstaged by Ahsoka, either in terms of battle tactics or just common sense. Her life experience far outweighs her supposed age, and her abilities are such that she is frequently the lynchpin of a storyline. There is a difference between writing a strong female character for a younger demographic to engage with, and writing her as being brilliant to the point where she could win the war single-handed.

Ahsoka is a blight over the whole Clone Wars cartoon, which is a shame because there are some intriguing stories being told here. There is a lot that goes against established lore, even before the Disney take-over, and for that I feel like I need to take a stand against it as a show, but nevertheless, I have found myself looking back on some of the episodes and thinking vaguely positively about them.

The cartoon series does suffer from an over-exposure of Anakin and Obi-Wan, who hop around the galaxy like it’s the size of a modest kitchen, and not, well, a galaxy. They crop up almost everywhere, an issue that gets worse as the series goes on. I’m sure that was in response to consumer feedback, wanting to see more of them, but I do often hark back to the earlier series, where we had episodes focusing on Kit Fisto, Aayla Secura, and Plo Koon. I think it would have been a bigger benefit if we had seen more of this, exploring other Jedi both from the movies but also original creations that were more fair-game for the show. Of course, that’s the perspective of me as a Star Wars nerd – I’m sure, again, that consumer feedback would have been overwhelming in the desire to see more of Anakin and Obi-Wan, leading to them having a major part (if not pivotal roles) in almost every battle of the Clone Wars. It feels a little bit like the rest of the Jedi Order, to say nothing of the civilians like Wulff Yularen, could have happily sat out the War, leaving it up to the dynamic duo and Mary Sue.

I’ve been listing my top three episodes from each season each time I’ve done these blogs, but for this season, the quality has been so low that the only three I can single out are those of the Eminence storyline, so:
1. Eminence
2. Shades of Reason
3. The Lawless

Even these are not without their flaws, of course, but it was quite a decent look at the criminal underworld, and I thought it was particularly interesting as backstory to Solo, a film that I do actually enjoy.

So there we are! The last full season of the Clone Wars has been watched, at long last. Up next, there are still The Lost Missions, a half-season’s worth of episodes, as well as some of the comics and at least one novel that is spun out of scripts that had already been developed for the show. So I’ll try to get round to these and bundle them all up together at some point, hopefully before the end of the year. Though with Rise of the Skywalker less than a month away, I might well be finding my reading absorbed by a different portion of the timeline…

The Mandalorian (so far)

Hey everybody!
So Star Wars has finally got a live action TV show, and I have to say, it’s really something. For years now, we’ve been hearing about the possibility of there being a live action series set in a galaxy far, far away, but nothing has ever come of it. There were strong rumours from 2005-ish, talking about the possibility of young Boba Fett helping the Empire to hunt down Jedi between III and IV, but I don’t think that idea ever made it out of development hell. Following the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, the scripts were reviewed, and in 2018 Bob Iger announced that a few shows were being developed.

the mandalorian

First out of the gate, we have The Mandalorian, currently streaming via Disney+. To date, three episodes have aired – contrary to Netflix, the show sees new episodes released every Friday, which is quite refreshing for a streaming service these days.

The show is set five years after Return of the Jedi, around the same period as the Aftermath books. It takes place in the Outer Rim, and sets out to have a Wild West feel while staying true to the Star Wars name. We are introduced to the titular Mandalorian bounty hunter as he goes about his business, collecting a bounty and using his earnings to support his clan brothers. The sense of clan loyalty is obviously quite strong here, although the clan is not above some fractious behaviour, as we see in the third episode.

The Mandalorian

 

The story, so far, has followed the bounty hunter, called Mando by those who hire him, as he collects on a bounty for The Client. This mysterious figure appears to be an ex-Imperial, or possibly still is with the Empire, or trying to get back in with the Empire by bringing them The Asset. Memes abound across the internet, with a lot of not-so-subtle spoilers doing the rounds now showing us the delight that is Baby Yoda. Apparently it’s not actually Yoda, of course, but rather one of the same species – rumours are flying around that it could be a clone, but who knows.

The Mandalorian

Baby Yoda is a delight, and helps Mando during a tough spot when his ship is ransacked by Jawas, and the only way he can get his stuff back is to bring them the egg of a horned beast. Despite this, Mando still trades him in for the bounty, but then has second thoughts and infiltrates the (former) Imperial’s base, rescuing Baby Yoda from what appears to be genetic experimentation.

The Mandalorian

Along the way, we get to meet quite a few Underworld / Fringe types, and get to learn a little of the state of the galaxy right now. Seems the New Republic is struggling to establish its rule across the whole galaxy, leading to the feeling of general lawlessness across the Outer Rim – perfect for that Wild West vibe, as we’re very much on the frontier here.

The Mandalorian

Star Wars has always been famous for the lived-in universe feel, at a time where sci-fi was showing us a pristine future, we saw grubby-looking outlaws and collections of junk piled in the garage to be forgotten about. That sense of place carries over here in the TV show, and we definitely get that sense of realism, not just because the sets feel grubby, but there is also that sense of time passing. The impaled stormtrooper helmets, above, convey so much information about where and when we are, and the show is replete with these sorts of visual references.

I hope we get more of this – not just of The Mandalorian, but more live-action shows. Hopefully they stick to the shorter eight-episode format, as we’ve seen so often with those running to 22 episodes the quality suffers as the need for filler increases. Sticking to the Outer Rim would allow stories to be told without having to re-cast pivotal roles like Luke and Leia, and doing so could link in with stuff like the Aftermath books, and show us the beginnings of the First Order in live-action.

The Mandalorian

There is a similar feeling to Rogue One here, as well – in keeping with the fact that the movie was originally pitched as an arc for a TV series back in the day. It has the sense of nostalgia for the original trilogy, updated without losing the charm. As I’m watching the show, I find that I’m not particularly thinking about “what will happen next?” and endlessly theorising about Baby Yoda’s possible origins as a clone of the OG Jedi Master, but rather I’m just sitting back, soaking it all in, and enjoying the ride.

But I can’t wait to see where this story takes us!