Star Wars: Thrawn (a review)

Finished the new #Thrawn today! #StarWars

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At the weekend, I finished reading the latest new canon Star Wars novel, Thrawn. I know that this is becoming a theme for me with new canon novels lately, but if I’m being completely honest, I was not a fan.

The storyline follows Thrawn’s climb through the ranks of the Imperial Navy, starting with him attending the academy. Thrawn in school? Urgh. True, it isn’t quite the true Hogwarts experience, but… I mean, seriously?

Okay, so the story immediately starts with a basic retelling of the Mist Encounter short story written for the Adventure Journal, which details how Thrawn was discovered on an abandoned planet close to the border with the Unknown Regions by Voss Parck. Captain Parck returns here very briefly, as he discovers Thrawn and brings him to the Emperor as “a gift”. Turns out, Thrawn met Anakin Skywalker on some nebulous adventure during the Clone Wars, and the Emperor, believing his power to originate somewhere outside the known galaxy, wants to keep Thrawn close.

Thrawn is given the cadet Eli Vanto as a sort of translator/aide as the two go through the naval academy, graduate, and begin their career. We follow the two as they pursue smugglers and pirates, and tangle with the High Command as Thrawn inevitably shows up his superiors. In the middle of all of this, we also follow the career of Arihnda Pryce, who hails from the Outer Rim world of Lothal but travels through the Coruscant elite until she has enough dirt on high-ranking Imperials that she basically forces Tarkin to give her the governorship of Lothal. The character is one I’m not familiar with, though was convinced I’d heard the name somewhere – turns out she’s from Rebels, where I believe she’s kind of a badass. I still haven’t started watching that show yet, though. Her character development is a little jumpy as a result of trying to get her from A to B, though that is still symptomatic of Thrawn also, who sometimes feels like he went through years of growth in the space of a chapter.

Thrawn

Thrawn has been brought out of Legends and into the Star Wars canon proper thanks to his use in the Rebels cartoon. While I’m not against this fundamentally, as I’m all for keeping the classics alive, I’m a little dismayed that he doesn’t seem to be the same guy that I came to know and love from Heir to the Empire all those years ago. True, we have the art thing going on, and he’s still in command of the Chimaera (a point at which I actually cheered), but he doesn’t feel like the same guy who is in control of everything. Of course, this book tells his origin, but this brings me to the point I was getting at in the video above – did we need this story? His inclusion in Rebels seems to indicate that yes, we do, but for years we’ve pretty much made do with the couple of short stories by Zahn that show specific points in Thrawn’s life, and that’s been fine. Do we need to see Thrawn at school? Do we need to see him as Lieutenant, Commodore, Captain, and the like? I don’t think we do.

Something that I always appreciated about Thrawn as a character was the element of mystery that was involved there, how an alien had risen so high in the ranks of the largely xenophobic Empire. I mean, sure, we had a lot of snippets of info dropped throughout the years, but those snippets felt like they were a part of his legend, and that was enough. I also really enjoyed the fact that we never had a point-of-view scene from him – everything was always told through the filter of, primarily, Captain Pellaeon. Now, we’ve seen behind the curtain to some extent, and I’m not sure I want that.

Speaking of Pellaeon, his replacement appears to be Eli Vanto, who probably has the most character development of any of the characters. Vanto goes from a supply cadet to being on the frontline, and moves from being resentful and almost jealous of Thrawn’s career advancement, to content at being where he is, and improving in tactical nous and leadership. The novel ends with an epilogue that kinda confused the hell out of me, though, where Vanto suddenly appears in the Unknown Regions making contact with the Chiss Ascendancy on the recommendation(?) of Thrawn, who is now Grand Admiral. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and I have the strong feeling that there is going to be a sequel of some sort that will follow up on this. The sad thing for me, then, is that I don’t know if I’d actually want this…

This is really the biggest issue for me with this novel. As a book, it was fine, I think it was a fine story that is actually pretty enjoyable. The biggest problem for me is the fact that it’s about Thrawn. If it was any other character, I think I would have been really interested all the way through. But the baggage that I have from Heir to the Empire fandom really gets in the way, and I find that I really can’t get past that. Heir to the Empire will forever be among my top three (if not the top) Star Wars novels ever written, and this unfortunately just doesn’t really come close.

Aftermath: Empire’s End

Hey everybody,
Well, it’s been a slog, but I’ve finally made it through the third book in the Aftermath trilogy, Empire’s End. It’s been a slog for many reasons, not all of which are to do with the book itself, weirdly. But I have to say this now: this book just feels too weird to me, and I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to review it. Prepare for lots of spoilers, and also lots of rambling!

The book continues the story of Norra, Sinjir, Jas and Temmin, alongside the daemonic Mister Bones, as they continue to pursue high-ranking Imperials for trial. Discovering the Imperial fleet has assembled around the dirtball planet of Jakku, they head into the Western Reaches and almost get shot down – Norra and Jas make it to the surface in an escape pod, though Mister Bones is also ejected to look after them. Point number one on the weirdness chart: Norra abandons her son in the middle of a warzone in order to pursue her vengeance against Grand Admiral Sloane. Having previously abandoned him to go fight with the Rebellion, I find this woman to be utterly reprehensible, and literally went from having any interest in the character to absolutely zero sympathy in the space of a couple of sentences. At pretty much all of her subsequent appearances in the book, she just irritated the hell out of me, and I just can’t explain how awful this woman is.

Moving along, though!

Temmin and Sinjir return to Chandrila to warn the New Republic of the Imperials above Jakku, but they’re in the middle of electing a new Chancellor, as well as relocating to a new planet, so there’s a lot of politicking going on. A massive chunk of the book is then taken up with the manoeuverings of Mon Mothma, Leia, Han and Temmin and Sinjir (along with Sinjir’s former boyfriend, Conder), which seems to rob any sense of urgency that Jas and Norra being abandoned in the middle of the Empire ever had. Point the second on the weirdness scale.

Mon Mothma (who has always been referred to by her full name until this book, where people casually call her “Mon”, again a weird thing to me) is opposed by Tolwar Wartol, an alien whose world was subjugated by the Empire, the natives only managing to throw off that yoke by destroying their world to make it useless. Tolwar actually makes an assassination attempt on Mon Mothma’s life, but is thwarted in this. Sinjir takes up a job as Mon Mothma’s aide, along with Sondiv Sella (whose daughter Korr would later become Leia’s aide in Bloodline).

Anyway.

The Empire has been brought to Jakku by Gallius Rax as a failsafe planned by the Emperor back in the day. We slowly learn that Palpatine, thinking if the Empire fell, planned to relocate outside of the galaxy and create a new Empire there. Comparisons are made with chess, and it’s all very, very weird. Rax comes across as slightly mad (though not as bad as Yupe Tashu, who is definitely insane), and plans to destroy the failed Imperial Remnant as well as the New Republic fleet over Jakku, but cracking the world in twain. Lots of things break and snap and crack in twain throughout the book, and it’s all very archaic. But anyway.

Sloane and Brentin attempt to break through Rax’s defenses with the help of the thin Hutt, Niima, but the Imperials get the better of them and both are captured, though not held prisoner – Rax wishes Sloane to see the death of the Empire and the Republic. Things don’t go entirely as planned, however, when the New Republic eventually shows up and, after an uninteresting space battle, manage to tractor-beam-pull a Super Star Destroyer down onto the surface of the planet. Yeah, that happens.

So Rax sets the world to blow up, but is followed into his lair by Sloane and Brentin, and ultimately Norra too, and there’s another confusing fight between first Rax and Sloane, then Norra and Rax, then Brentin is shot, and finally Sloane and Rax again. Sloane kills Rax, who tells her with his dying breath of the Imperialis yacht that is waiting to take off into the uncharted realms with the future of the Empire on board – Brentol Hux, Armitage Hux, and a group of feral child-warriors. The yacht is a replica of the ship stolen by Lando and co in his comic book, by the way…

Sloane shuts off Rax’s doomsday device, and leaves in the Imperialis, while Norra is rescued by Jas and they manage to take Brentin’s body back to Akiva for burial. Niima begins to claim the enormous amounts of salvage that have resulted from so many spaceships crashing into the planet – you may recognise her name as being shared by the Outpost where Rey sells her tech in The Force Awakens?

Throughout all of the book, Leia has been pregnant, and Han hasn’t known what to do with himself, what with Chewie on Kashyyyk with his family. Leia finally has her baby boy when the formal peace accord is signed between the New Republic and the Empire, Mas Amedda finally having escaped Coruscant with the help of some children. Norra heads off to Corellia to teach piloting with Wedge, Temmin being among the first intake of students, and it all ends a bit sugary, somehow…


Throughout the novel, we also get Interludes that tell tales of what is going on across the galaxy, and they have to be some of the best parts of the book. We see Lando reclaiming Cloud City with the help of Lobot and some New Republic soldiers; we see Mas Amedda’s escape from Coruscant; we even catch up with the weird asexual pirate from the previous book. Notably, we also catch up with Jar Jar on Naboo, and learn that he’s now entertaining people as a street clown. That interlude is actually really quite emotional, and I wonder if anyone will re-evaluate how they feel about the Gungan in light of this. I really liked these things, but having now seen the structure of them across all three books of the trilogy, I’ve been wondering if it wouldn’t have been more interesting to have made the three books feature these stories more prominently…

See, these interludes predominantly have one common theme: the galaxy is a changing place. I sometimes wonder if this book isn’t a little too self-aware, and the interludes are casually showing us that the universe is no longer the swashbuckling adventure-ride of the Bantam era, and everything we thought we knew is wrong. Conspiracy theories aside, the interludes have a tremendous sense of “anything can happen now the Empire has fallen”, and I absolutely loved this freshness from them!

Aftermath trilogy

Overall, I think the Aftermath trilogy has got to be among the weirdest, uneven fiction set in the Star Wars universe. It’s not Bounty Hunter Wars awful, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t think it’s that great for it to hold up against the old canon stuff. I’m not about to lurch into a “back in my day” rant, but this stuff essentially replaces most of the X-Wing series of novels, and a good portion of the Thrawn trilogy, as well. I think the X-Wing series is probably a very close comparison here, actually, as those novels were also propelled by characters from outside of the movies, and we even get to see Wedge form a squadron of washouts (Phantom Squadron, rather than Wraith Squadron, but you get the idea). Now, I used to be a big fan of the X-Wing books, but went off them when I last re-read the series. Even so, the basic premise of those books is somehow a lot more interesting, and certainly a lot more tightly-wrought, than this trilogy. While Mike Stackpole and Aaron Allston may have assembled a cast of tropes and grafted them onto the universe, the main characters from this trilogy just don’t honestly feel like they belong there. The most interesting character, to me, is Sinjir, and the way he is treated as a drunken smart-mouth is really quite the waste.

I think a lot of my negativity on this score has to do with the distinct lack of movie characters involved in such a big story, though. There’s literally no Luke; Leia spends pretty much the whole book being pregnant, and Han does have some moments, but he’s once again the cocky smuggler, though feeling out of his depth with fatherhood pressing down upon him, and his interactions with baby Ben near the end once more seem to fly in the face of any personal growth he may have made over the course of the original trilogy. When I think of how present the big three movie characters were in stuff like the Thrawn trilogy, and compare that to this, it is just a crushing disappointment. There is still an important story being told somewhere in these pages, for sure, but it’s told through a focus being on entirely the wrong people, in my opinion.

The trilogy certainly had a tall order when it began: connect Return of the Jedi to the as-yet unreleased The Force Awakens. The hype for the novel was insane, and I’ve talked already about how much of a let-down I felt it was. Life Debt, without having quite so much weight on it, wasn’t exactly a great book, but I did find a lot to enjoy there. The conclusion to the trilogy, however, seemed to set itself up to fail almost immediately, having a massive story to resolve, yet following only a part of that.

There are still a number of questions left, for me, which also makes it feel like something of a let-down. I mean, we only learn a modicrum of what exactly the Emperor was planning out there beyond the galactic rim, with Thrawn’s name thrown into the mix in a manner that is clearly intended to anticipate Tim Zahn’s new book that is set to release in April. The whole plot with the Imperial Remnant was by turns confusing and weird and bad, and I feel like a trick really was missed here. Indeed, I feel that the entire point of this element of the book was just there to explain why there are so many wrecks on Jakku in Episode VII. There are so many things that I wish had been focused on in this novel, but instead we got to meet the withered Hutt of Jakku and her weird slaves…

All through writing this blog, I’ve been trying to think of something good I can say about the book. True, I did like a lot of the interludes, and wish we’d had more of those, or that they had been expanded upon. We also get some throwaway bits sprinkled into the mix, such as the canon confirmation of Durga the Hutt being a character in the lore, here said to be based on Ulmatra. Things like this made me feel annoyed, because there is a story between the lines that I want to be reading instead. The main thrust of the story just felt like such a lacklustre way to end this.

To sum up: this book (and really, this trilogy) just didn’t do it for me.

While this entire blog has pretty much felt like an attack on the whole trilogy, I think it’s important to say that you should still read the book for yourself, or get it on audio or whatever. I am a huge believer in forming your own opinions on stuff anyway, but in particular I think it’s important that any Star Wars fan picks up these novels to take a look, as I feel the story will be crucial background in the years to come. While it’s true that this message is perhaps a bit disingenuous to come at the end of a long ramble about what I disliked about it, I would still say read it for yourself first – and then by all means come back here and we can talk about it!

Aftermath: Life Debt

Hey everybody,
I’ve made good use of my time off work by reading the second novel in the Aftermath trilogy, Life Debt, and I have to put this out there now: this novel is weird to me. I alternately really, really like it, and find it so annoying that I wonder why I was even spending the time reading it.

First, let me tell you what happens – spoilers will be all over this blog, so you have been warned!

Picking up where the first novel ended, we see Norra, Sinjir, Jas and Temmin as a group of Imperial-catchers, travelling the galaxy picking up rogue Imperial officers and bringing them to account for their actions during the years the Empire was in control. The opening sequence also introduces Jom Barell to the team, a New Republic commando from the first book who I’d actually forgotten about. Anyway, the Imperial they catch ends up dead, but as soon as they return to Chandrila, they’re given a new mission: Han Solo has gone missing, and Leia wants him back. We learn that Leia is pregnant, too, providing even more motivation. So Norra and the team split up to find some clues as to where he could be, and find themselves on the trail of an Imperial prison-designer, Golas Aram. During an attempt to break into his compound, Han shows up and tells them Chewie has been taken prisoner by the Empire, and he was after Golas to attempt to find out where. Sinjir manages to get the details on the prison, which happens to be on Kashyyyk, and so they all head off to the Wookiee homeworld, just about managing to evade the Imperial blockade of the world, though their passage does attract the attention of Admiral Rae Sloane.

That should actually be Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, who is being used as a figurehead for the new Empire by the mysterious chap from the end of the first Aftermath book: mysterious, no longer! Gallius Rax was an orphan from Jakku who managed to stow away aboard the ship of Imperial Advisor Yupe Tashu, who we met in the clandestine meeting on Akiva in the first novel. Sloane is determined to find some kind of history on this guy, as she doesn’t trust him despite all that he has done for her career. There is a lot of intrigue around the new Empire in this book, as we see Sloane head to Coruscant which is still under ISB control and the like. It’s a really interesting look at the galaxy post-Endor, I must say!

Things come to a head when Sloane contacts the New Republic to offer to begin peace talks, coinciding with the return of the prisoners from the Kashyyyk prison, several of whom are high-ranking Rebels, Norra’s husband Brentin among them. While the prisoners return, Han doesn’t, however, having stayed behind with Sinjir, Jom and Jas to help liberate Kashyyyk. A month passes, and the celebrations for the return of the prisoners take a horrific turn when they are revealed to have been sleeper agents for the Empire, and they all try to assassinate Mon Mothma. In the confusion, Sloane escapes Chandrila having been shot, but steals a shuttle that Brentin has also stowed-away on.

Meanwhile on Kashyyyk, Jom is captured by the Imperial governor of the planet, who has not so much gone native as gone feral, and pulls out Jom’s eye for the hell of it. Thankfully, we don’t actually see that. Turns out the Wookiees are being controlled by a chip in their brains, so Sinjir masquerades as one of Sloane’s men to attempt to disrupt the signal to these chips. He gets soundly beaten-up in the process, but it works, and the Wookiees rise up against the Imperials and, with the timely intervention of Leia, Ackbar and Wedge, the blockade is broken.

The novel ends with the fall-out from all of this, as Sloane and Brentin learn of Gallius Rax’s origin on Jakku, and decide to head there to find out what’s going on. Rax, for his part, has decided to make a final stand against the New Republic at the planet, and arrives there with the entire Imperial fleet…

Like its predecessor, there are a number of Interludes that continue to show the state of the galaxy post-Endor, and while some of them are a little bland, I do like they way the break up the main narrative, and allow for an even wider scope for the book. Not many of them stick in the mind, though there is one that is set in Maz Kanata’s Castle, and being a big fan of her from Episode VII, I did enjoy seeing that one. It didn’t really tell us anything new, but it was good to see her again!

So that’s the story, broadly speaking. Overall, I thought the storyline was pretty great, and I think it would have been more deserving of being the one to come out before Episode VII last autumn. The first novel had a massive hype, and really fell flat as we learnt next to nothing of any real use, in my opinion, as to how the galaxy had changed. This book, however, shows us a lot more of the galaxy, and its wider scope is certainly to be commended. I love galaxy-spanning epics, and this definitely delivered on that! There are also some really great action sequences, such as breaking into the prison on Kashyyyk, the assassination attempts and Sloane’s escape from Chandrila. Indeed, the overall plot is exactly what I want and love from Star Wars novels.

Of course, here comes the “but”…

The characters were just so off for me, I can’t quite express how distressing it was sometimes to read. Let’s start with the movie people. Han knows that Leia is pregnant, but follows up on a lead with Chewie that might be able to save the planet Kashyyyk (it’s the lead we see them discuss in the interlude from the first novel). So Han willingly leaves his pregnant wife (we learn they married on Endor) to travel across the galaxy and put himself in danger. He’s also more of the cocky smuggler from A New Hope, which pretty much negates his growth that we see across the original movies – the Han of the ending of Return of the Jedi just doesn’t seem like the kinda guy to just abandon his nascent family like that. And the excuse he keeps giving is “it’s a thing I have to do…” which is just so damn stupid.

Leia isn’t much better. A lot of writers have had trouble writing Leia, because they seem to confuse the take-charge princess for a bossy, overbearing woman. This was certainly the problem with a lot of the Bantam novels, and a lot of the earlier Del Rey stuff. Leia here comes across as fairly erratic, particularly with her dealings with Mon Mothma. Spoiled brat springs to mind, actually. I think what’s worse is that I get the impression we’re supposed to put it down to her being pregnant? Hmph. That said, there was a nice little spark of character for her when she heads off to go save her husband without NR approval, that sort of take-charge attitude is definitely in character for her.

I was really surprised to see Evaan show up from the Princess Leia comic, wasn’t really expecting to see that, so it was nice to know that these things don’t exist in a vacuum, and they are all bleeding into each other.

Chewie is Chewie, but I was a bit dismayed to see that he still has the life debt thing to Han. Reading Bloodline, it looked as if they’d decided to do away with that, as it was wholly an EU creation, and even given the title of this novel, I was hoping it would have some other connotation. But no. It does look, at least, like it won’t be quite the issue it was for the Bantam and Del Rey series’, as our two favourite smugglers look like they might actually be parting ways now, rather than Chewie continually following Han around because he has to, ad infinitum. So that will hopefully be a thing, anyway.

Norra actually interested me in this book. She is still mostly just a bit of a blank character, unfortunately, but there are moments where she comes across as genuinely interesting. Her burgeoning romance with Wedge was nice to see, and I’m left wondering once again how her story will progress in the third book in the series.

I think the biggest let-down of the book, and one that I kept wincing at whenever I came across a scene with him, was Sinjir. He’s one of the earliest gay characters in the Star Wars universe, but I felt this was really quite badly handled in the first book, insofar as it seemed to come out of nowhere. The idea of Sinjir’s character really interests me, an ex-Imperial Loyalty Officer whose job was to root out dissension within the ranks, finds he’s actually losing his own faith in the regime so deserts, and wallows in self-pity at the irony of the situation before stepping up to the challenge in the last book, and now finds himself in a position where his particular set of skills can be put to good use. That’s a character arc I can get behind. The fact that he’s gay is interesting insofar as we have seen just one other such character (I believe) up to this point, and I find it interesting to see if the Empire would have any kind of reaction to that in its heyday. However, so many of Sinjir’s scenes show him to merely be a caricature of the campest of gay men, it’s borderline offensive, but also has little to no impact on the storyline. I’m just bemused as to why it’s even in there, to be honest.

Sloane, and her stuff with the Empire, was definitely the highlight of the book, much as the scenes with the Imperial Future Council on Akiva were probably the most interesting from the first book. As said above, I really enjoyed seeing Coruscant, almost under martial law, and the addition of Mas Amedda as the Grand Vizier of the Empire was really nice. Of course, I am a bit sad that they seem to have done away with Sate Pestage in this regard, though he is still a name in Tarkin, so maybe we’ll see some more of him and what he’s up to. It’s stuff like this that I feel really ought to have been in the first book!

Gallius Rax was a bit of an annoyance, if I’m honest. I think his appearance at the very end of Aftermath was touted as being the new-canon version of Grand Admiral Thrawn, and so my expectations were high. However, he comes across more like he wants people to think he’s more of a big-player than he perhaps is. Whether this is actually the author’s fault or not, I don’t know, but he’s definitely no Thrawn. (Of course, while I was in the middle of reading this, the announcement came out of Celebration Europe that Zahn is writing a Thrawn novel for April 2017, so in that sense, Rax is kinda superfluous).

Speaking of comparisons with earlier novels, I thought the stuff with the sleeper-agent prisoners highly reminiscent of the Lusankya prisoners from Mike Stackpole’s Rogue Squadron series of novels. Very interesting to see how the old canon is informing the new canon, and while I do think that Stackpole implemented it better, he did essentially have three novels to build the storyline over, but still, it was a nice little throwback.

Finally, we have Yupe Tashu and the whole Jakku thing. I read somewhere in the run-up to this book’s release that Life Debt will demonstrate that Jakku is more important to galactic history than we were expecting (or something like that), and this book certainly delivers on that front. The book starts with a prologue set 30 years beforehand, and shows a young Rax stowing away aboard Tashu’s ship, after he had set some droids down in the middle of the desert. The book ends with a scene between Rax and Palpatine, who asks the boy to return to Jakku and guard whatever it is those droids are doing. It’s all very mysterious, but there’s clearly something going on down there, and while part of me is rolling my eyes at how Jakku is almost becoming the new Tatooine, I’m nevertheless really intrigued, and looking forward to the third novel in the trilogy to see how this all ends up. Looks like the bulk of the book will be the Battle of Jakku, which has already been dealt with in parts, but since when has Star Wars had a problem with re-telling a story multiple times? (Death Star plans, I’m thinking of you!)

Oh, and Luke’s absence from any and all new-canon stuff is now becoming really annoying. What’s worse is we probably won’t get anything until Episode VIII, either!

This blog has been a lot bigger than I actually thought it would be, and I think that shows the mark of a good book. I mean, as much as I could say I dislike the characterizations, I still have a lot to say about it! Like the first, it’s also told in the present tense, which really helps you to propel through the pages, and I do think that perhaps it would be worthwhile going back through and re-reading the two of them, though I might wait until the third book, Empire’s End, comes out in January.

So yeah, something of a love-hate thing with this book. It was a lot better than the last book simply because of the scope, and while I wasn’t entirely impressed with the characters, getting to see the wider picture of the Star Wars galaxy has made reading this book definitely worthwhile overall!

Star Wars: Tarkin

Continuing to make my merry way through the new Star Wars canon, I’m just done reading Tarkin by my old favourite, James Luceno. What a good book! It wasn’t what I was expecting, and it wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but my goodness, it was good all the same!

70ish pages in, and I'm loving this book!! #StarWars

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

First of all, this is essentially a biography of Grand Moff Tarkin, but principally told through flashbacks, as Tarkin remembers key moments from his upbringing that clearly inform his actions as an adult. I wasn’t really expecting or hoping for this, as I don’t honestly feel that we need to know that Tarkin’s childhood was a harsh one, with very primal lessons drilled into him as he was mentored by his great-uncle in the wilds of Eriadu. I know he’s the villain of A New Hope, and his ruthless, uncompromising nature led to such atrocities as the Death Star – and that’s fine, I don’t need to see why he is like this; it’s enough that he is. I think I was hoping for something that shows us the Grand Moff in his prime, not necessarily working on the Death Star project, though that is of course a big part of his story.

We do get some of this, as the main storyline involves Tarkin pursuing a group of dissidents who have stolen his ship. Vader is along for the ride, and there are some really great moments between the two that show why the Dark Lord was essentially willing to play lapdog to Tarkin during A New Hope. I actually found myself really liking the fact that Tarkin doesn’t truly know who Vader is, but has a strong suspicion that it is in fact Anakin Skywalker, with whom he worked briefly during the Clone Wars.

Vader is very much Vader, but we do get to see more of Emperor Palpatine, especially in Tarkin’s flashbacks as we see the Senator help him on his way. There were a couple of mentions of Palpatine’s master, and I feel like I would probably have gotten a lot more out of this book if I had also read Luceno’s Darth Plagueis. It’s still annoying to me that I haven’t gotten round to that one yet, but it’s increasingly in my sights, so expect a review once I’ve read it!

Perhaps most strongly tied to this book is Luceno’s earlier novel, Cloak of Deception. That book is one of my all-time favourites, and so I was really happy to see that they haven’t written it off entirely. While there are several bits and pieces scattered throughout this new continuity that make me feel like, “oh, that’ll mean x will be part of canon” or “y is out, then!”, there is much more than merely referencing the fact that Tarkin was a native of Eriadu and once held the post of Sector Governor; the majority of the book’s plot is discussed as historical fact within this novel, which makes me feel that Cloak of Deception can pretty much be the first old-canon novel that can be considered to be new canon, too. Of course, we may yet be proven wrong, but I hope not! On the subject of books that we can assume are definitely no longer canon, Admiral Daala is not mentioned at all in this book, so take from that what you will…

Luceno can be very verbose, and sometimes goes to great lengths to tie in bits of continuity that sometimes feel forced. This was particularly a problem for his first Star Wars novel, Hero’s Trial, but had been less and less of an issue, but it’s now back here, unfortunately. There was also a cute little meta-moment where Tarkin is being fitted for a uniform and remarks on the importance of boots that fit properly, recalling Peter Cushing’s experiences on the set of the film. That’s pretty much the only thing I can find to say that’s actually bad about it. Sure, I wish Tarkin had been treated much as Palpatine was in Cloak of Deception, and have him be the centre of attention without delving into his background like this, but aside from making Tarkin appear somewhat sentimental, it doesn’t really hamper the plot – indeed, it should probably be expected, with a title like Tarkin!

So overall, I liked it a lot!

This is also the 50th book I’ve read so far this year, counting all of the comics as well as the more traditional novels, so I thought that was impressive! I wonder if I’ll get another 50 read by the end of the year…

Lords of the Sith (a review)

Finished reading Lords of the Sith, one of the new canon books that came out about a year ago now, and I have to say, this was a really great book. Of course, if you read the tweet up there, you’d know that already, but still!

The book follows Vader and Palpatine as they are embroiled within a rebellion on the planet Ryloth. A lot is made of the time Anakin spent there in season one of the Clone Wars cartoon show – indeed, a lot is made of Vader’s past in general, and I have to say, I kinda like it! It feels quite similar to the flashbacks in Empire: Betrayal, an awesome comic book that I would recommend to anyone, even though it isn’t canon anymore. Only eight years have elapsed since the events of Revenge of the Sith, and Paul S Kemp has said in an interview that he wanted to show how Anakin became the badass Vader of the original trilogy, by purging himself of the memories of the past. It comes across really well, and I think it was one of the best parts of the book.

Vader and Palpatine are targeted by the Free Ryloth movement, headed by Cham Syndulla (also of Clone Wars fame, and father of Rebels’ Hera Syndulla). The resistance movement is really interesting, and while I am a bit dubious at seeing these various, localised rebels at this time, feeling like we’re being led to seeing a kind of grand alliance of all the various cells into the Rebellion of the movies, at the same time it seems utterly believable, especially on a world like Ryloth, that is being abused by the Imperials for the mining of ryll spice. The Free Ryloth movement manages to destroy the star destroyer on which both Sith Lords arrive in the system, leading to something of a cat and mouse act as they are hunted across the surface. It’s kinda cool to see the two survive in the wilderness like this, though I was much more interested in the dynamics between them than the action scenes. Something I thought was really nice was that the captain of the Emperor’s Royal Guard is a clone trooper – perhaps Commander Thire?

Another awesome thing about this book is how it seems to turn something of a tired trope on its head. At the beginning, we’re introduced to Moff Delian Mors and Colonel Belkor Dray – the Moff has become a hedonistic, pampered thing living in luxury on one of Ryloth’s moons in full abuse of her power, while Belkor is the archetypal scheming underling, with many officers in his pocket just waiting for the right time to leap to power. It’s something I feel has been done plenty of times, and is a little old, really. However, in Lords of the Sith, this is almost entirely reversed. Belkor thinks he can eliminate the spice-addicted Moff and take her place, by using the Free Ryloth movement to have her killed along with Vader and the Emperor. However, Mors realises just how absent she has been with her job, and over the course of the story, seeing her put herself back together, essentially, was a really intriguing character arc. Belkor, meanwhile, comes to realise he has been played by the rebels all along and, backed into a corner, resolves to go out in a blaze of glory by killing Vader, Palpatine, the Moff and the rebels, but Mors gets to him first…

Something that should probably be mentioned here is the fact that Moff Mors is the first canon homosexual character, and unlike Sinjir in Aftermath, it’s almost entirely natural. The only mention that is made of it is when her wife’s death is described as sending her off the rails a bit. I like the fact that we can have a diverse universe without it being made an issue out of, you know?

Star Wars Lords of the Sith

If I had to say anything against the book, there is something of a plot hole around Senator Orn Free Taa. I really liked seeing him again, it formed another nice bridge between the prequels and the new stuff. The Free Ryloth movement get wind of Vader and the Emperor’s visit, ostensibly by a traitor in the senator’s staff. It’s kind of the whole driving force for the plot. But Orn Free Taa isn’t really heard of again from the point where the star destroyer is destroyed. I think he’s described as making it to an escape pod, but we don’t know if he lives, and we never find out how Syndulla discovered the Emperor was coming to Ryloth. It’s hardly going to keep me awake at night, but I thought perhaps it should have been addressed? The book is quite short, 285 pages in hardback, so I feel there was plenty of room to tie up stuff like this.

But maybe I’m just being too picky – the story of these characters was otherwise excellent, and I can highly recommend it (despite kinda spoiling most of the storyline in this blog…erm…!)

But wait, there’s more!

In the May 2015 issue of Star Wars Insider, John Jackson Miller wrote a short story called Orientation that takes place as Vader and the Emperor are en route to Ryloth. It’s a nice little story that shows there are still people loyal to the Republic out there, and features Rae Sloane (of both A New Dawn and Aftermath fame) as a mere cadet. Definitely worth the time picking up if you can still find it!

More Star Wars musings!

I feel like this could become a theme soon, as I’m spending a lot of time with fiction from the Star Wars universe, particularly surrounding the new movie. Having recently finished the excellent Bloodline last week, I watched The Force Awakens on DVD at the weekend and was mightily impressed with it second-time around.

Let’s be honest, the film rocks! I caught a lot of things that I think I’d missed first time around, and found myself focusing more on stuff like Rey’s flashback/hallucination/whatever it might be, because I was expecting it this time. A lot of stuff really interests me about the movie, but I think the overriding thing that piqued my interest this time around was Lor San Tekka, Max von Sydow’s character who appears for, what, a whole five minutes of the film’s opening scene? The Visual Dictionary has described him as belonging to something called “the Church of the Force”, which itself is really intriguing, and I suppose goes some way to explaining why he thinks of Leia as “family”, but I hope we get to see a lot more of this explained in the future comics and novels.

Although his first line, “This will begin to make things right”, does feel a little too much like a dig at the Prequels, which I still kinda like…

Of course, fanboy nerds like me will always find something to poke at, and there were one or two things that I found myself thinking, ‘I wish they’d done it like that’, or whatever. I enjoyed the movie when I first saw it in the cinema, but in the ensuing days and weeks I kinda felt a bit down on it, largely because it felt like such a blatant rehash of what had gone before. However, I think a lot of my initial complaints about the lack of a sense of history have begun to be addressed, primarily by the aforementioned Bloodline, and I do think that it’s as a result of that novel in particular that I was so interested in watching the film again, if not in my subsequent enjoyment!

But anyway, that’s getting really rambling.

Following the movie, I then turned to a recently-released short story anthology, Tales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens:

I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting with this one, if I’m honest, but I suppose the ‘Tales‘ prefix there put me in mind of the Bantam anthologies from back in the day.

The book is a collection of six stories released as part of the Journey to The Force Awakens, and deals with some of the background characters we see in the film. Of all six, only one of them actually has a speaking role – Unkar Plutt, the garrulous junker. The rest are the set-dressing characters that, in true Star Wars style, become fully fleshed-out characters here.

This book is weird! The chapters are super-tiny – just one page in some instances – and the overall feeling is that this is a weird collection of tales. We have a Star Wars version of Masterchef meets CSI; we have a weird kind of Frankenstein-esque story; there’s a cautionary tale about internet dating – it’s all just decidedly, well, not Star Wars-like, to me! By about halfway through the book (the Masterchef/CSI crossover, in case you were wondering), I’d decided to just take these as really throwaway stories that happen to make reference to stuff like Maz Kanata and the like, because I found it really hard to take them seriously. The final tale, The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku, has almost an interesting storyline to it, as we follow the guy in the red helmet from Maz Kanata’s castle in a treasure hunt to recover a crashed Separatist cruiser. Turns out the treasure is a cryogenically-frozen clone trooper who had discovered Order 66 had been hardwired into the clone troopers’ minds, and tried to warn the Jedi.

Overall, they felt a bit silly, and a part of me is a bit annoyed by the entire Journey to The Force Awakens marketing ploy in retrospect. I’ve not read absolutely everything from this campaign, don’t get me wrong, but I’m surprised at how little information we actually get from any of these stories that are sold on the basis they provided the lead-in to the movie. Shattered Empire, for instance, was a story about Poe Dameron’s mother flying errands for Luke and Leia, while Aftermath was just such a huge let-down given the fanfare it received on release, I can’t bring myself to go back over that.

That said, I am feeling excited about the new lore that we’re getting for Star Wars right now. I know I’ve talked a lot about this, but Bloodline was a really excellent novel, and has put me in a much more positive frame of mind for seeing what comes next. I’m even looking forward to seeing the next installment in the Aftermath trilogy, despite my feelings on the first book! Though that is possibly because the second book, Life Debt, hasn’t had anywhere near the same hype…

The Vader series has recently been announced as cancelled, which has also gotten me thinking about the comics that we can look forward to soon. We’ve got a few more miniseries to go through yet, though, including a Han Solo series starting next month, so maybe Marvel will just continue providing one-shot series like this. I hope not, as I like my comics to have more of an ongoing feel to them, though as the Vader article says, it’s always a concern that such a series can get to a point where issues are published for the sake of it, with a few major storylines peppered through. At least it’ll be going out on top!

The Rogue One comic tie-in was also announced as cancelled yesterday, which seems slightly concerning the Vader cancellation, but hopefully this is merely pushed back rather than outright off the agenda. Given that Rogue One is taking place in a much more stable continuity, I’d have thought this would be a much safer place to set a comic. But what do I know?!

At any rate, I’m really excited to see what’s coming next for Star Wars!

Star Wars: Bloodline (a review)

I think it's time to start on #StarWars #Bloodline. My Saturday night just rocks! @delreystarwars

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Last week, I read the latest canon Star Wars novel, Bloodline. Written by Claudia Gray, the novel takes place in the years prior to The Force Awakens, a period of time I, for one, am immensely intrigued by since watching the movie last Christmas.

This is very much a Leia-centric novel, as we follow the princess through the inner workings of the new New Republic. Just when she’s contemplating retiring from the senate to join her husband Han on the racing circuits, a plea from Ryloth to investigate what is possibly the biggest crime cartel since Jabba the Hutt puts her firmly back into the action, as she thinks this might be the perfect last job before leaving. She is joined by Ransolm Casterfo, a senator from the opposing Centrist party, and the two are immediately on opposite sides of the field when Leia finds out he collects Imperial relics such as TIE pilot helmets.

The two travel to Bastatha, and Leia meets with the Nikto crime boss Rinrivvin Di, a meeting that is interrupted by Casterfo as he thinks she needs rescuing. While on the planet, however, Leia has picked up on a clue that leads the investigation to Daxam IV, on the trail of a paramilitary organisation calling itself the Amaxine Warriors. Leia and Casterfo grow more friendly as the investigation progresses, though this is shattered when Casterfo learns who Leia’s father was.

The Centrist party seeks to re-establish a strong central government, while the Populists, Leia’s party, want worlds to have more autonomy and take more responsibility for themselves. Casterfo’s relics make Leia think he’s a pro-Empire kinda guy, but it emerges he has suffered while still a child under the hands of Darth Vader, which initially brought the two together. When Casterfo finds out Leia is Vader’s daughter, he flips and denounces her secret to the senate. It’s a really interesting point, and one that the Bantam-era novels didn’t really take much interest in exploring – in fact, I think it was just taken for granted that Leia was Vader’s natural daughter, but owed more of her history to the Organas of Alderaan so the point was moot. Here, however, it proves to be a political scandal that forces Leia to leave office.

She decided to see her investigation through to the end first, however, and manages to gain a lot of intel on the Amaxines and the various criminal activity of Rinrivvin Di. This intel comes perilously close to the nascent First Order, a group that is essentially backed by a die-hard core of Centrist politicians.

This book is fantastic! Back when I wrote my review of The Force Awakens, something I found particularly difficult to follow was the political landscape of the galaxy in light of the removal of all of the now-Legends stuff. Following the Battle of Endor, we had nothing to go on until suddenly there was a New Republic, but also a Resistance, opposed by something called the First Order, which looks an awful lot like the Empire, but there also may be an Imperial Remnant hanging out there somewhere? This book is definitely required reading if, like me, you’re a huge Star Wars nerd and love the political aspects of the universe. Indeed – if you enjoyed Cloak of Deception and the way in which it made so much sense out of The Phantom Menace, then you’ll love this book, as well!

Something I like about these new Star Wars novels is how new the galaxy feels, yet also how familiar. I remember mentioning this during my review of Heir to the Jedi, which involved a new history for Luke yet also featured Givin as mathematicians, a facet to the species that has been there since the 80s. Here, we see the New Republic that was set up under Mon Mothma’s leadership following Endor, yet it is vastly different to the state we read about during Bantam’s tenure. I’m not saying it’s better, but I find it really interesting to see how the new take on things and how it will be developed. Having a government by party might seem to be too Earthbound for some sci-fi enthusiasts, it’s nevertheless a decent enough framework from which to hang the wonderful character portraits Gray creates for the various senators. I’d have liked to have seen more of the Centrist party, but maybe that will be for another book. I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that Lost Stars was the first of three novels for the author, so I guess we’ll see.

Something that I want to mention here is the lack of Chewbacca. For decades, we’ve read of his Life Debt to Han that has led to him following around in the wake of the big three with very little to do. Sure, there were some stand-out moments for the big furry guy (specifically, I loved his role in the Black Fleet Crisis), but he’s often relegated to a sidekick with little more to do. The Life Debt seems to be well and truly a thing of the past, as brief mention is made of him living on Kashyyyk with his family. So I wonder what brought him back in with Han?

Of all the stories that need to be told between episodes VI and VII, I want to see a Han story that explores what he’s up to with this racing malarky, and I actually want to see more of Chewie! We also get a few mentions of Luke off training Ben somewhere, but I honestly don’t believe we’ll be seeing much of those guys before episode VIII comes out next year, so I suppose it’s pointless wishing for more Luke so early into the sequel trilogy.

Anyway, I’ll stop my rambling now! This book was amazing, and highly recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in the new Star Wars lore.