Star Wars: Battlefront II – Inferno Squad (a review)

It’s been a while, but I feel as though I need to keep up with the reviews of the books that I’ve made my way through recently! Star Wars Battlefront 2: Inferno Squad is a tie-in to the video game and not really anything to do with the first Battlefront novel, aside from the fact that it also ties-in to a video game. That kinda threw me for a while, I must admit! The second novel takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Death Star explosion, and has quite a few tie-ins to Rogue One as a result.

We follow the TIE fighter pilot Iden Versio, the daughter of ISB Inspector Garrick Versio, as she returns from Yavin to the Empire, and to her father, who is forming an elite team of operatives that will work to prevent corruption within the upper ranks of the Empire, and root out information leaks such as those that led to the destruction of the Death Star. The team consists of Iden herself as leader, her friend Gideon Hask, Del Meeko and Seyn Marana – experts in their fields, which include mechanical engineering and naval intelligence.

The novel then follows the team as they go from their first mission, which serves to form the backdrop of the team being simply excellent, to the main meat of the story – infiltrating a group of survivors from Saw Gerrera’s Partisans, who call themselves the Dreamers. Each member of the team splits up and infiltrates the group in a separate way, with Iden herself posing as an Imperial defector.

The Dreamers have gained some inside information on the Empire, which allows them to choose the targets for their insurgency activities with unerring accuracy. Inferno Squad’s task is to discover how they have gained this information, and then destroy the rebels utterly. Building trust with the Dreamers, they go on several missions and eventually learn that their leader is the son of Senator Mina Bonderi, Senator for Onderon during the Clone Wars. He has been getting his information from his step daughter, who works for the Empire. He hands the information chip to Iden, who only stuns him before the rest of the team kill the surviving members of the rebel cell.


I really enjoyed this book, as it felt a lot like an easy read adventure story. In a lot of ways, it has everything that classic Star Wars novels of the past have: adventure, intrigue, mystery and some epic battle scenes. I thought the mystery of the Dreamers’ leader was nicely done, with the payoff working nicely within the context – Lux Bonteri was in the Onderon arc of Clone Wars season five, but he was hardly a major character that would resonate through the ages. Here, Christie Golden has given him a continued storyline that fits really well with his character, and reminds me of similar instances of Prequel-era characters making the transition to the Classic-era. My yardstick for this has always been Captain Panaka being made a Moff, and I think having others like this come through the Rise of the Empire with different roles in a credible manner is always just wonderful.

The plot feels a little formulaic, as we see the team formed, they go on their first mission which is pretty much flawless, then the main business begins and things get a bit more tough. All the way through, however, we’re not brow-beaten into believing that the team is amazing, but rather we’re shown how they are experts in their respective fields. There are of course some slightly cringeworthy moments, but then, Star Wars has always been a little bit cheesy. I think this is the first time I’ve read a book by Christie Golden, who wrote some books in the now-Legends Fate of the Jedi series, although I don’t think I ever made it that far in the timeline (they’re up in the attic for now, anyway!).

It was a very enjoyable read, and while I probably won’t be putting it in my all-time top ten, it’s along the sort of lines of Resistance Reborn and Black Spire, which were similarly enjoyable books, if somewhat forgettable. Is that too harsh? Maybe. I suppose it doesn’t feel like it was all that important, but had plenty of tie-ins to the rest of the universe that made for a fun read. I suppose what I mean by this is, it doesn’t try too hard to be anything more than a Star Wars story within its context. It isn’t trying to re-write history, or put its main character(s) right up there in Tarkin’s or Palpatine’s inner circle. It is definitely an interesting book, in that it tells a story about elite Imperials who are fighting to maintain order in the galaxy, and shows that there were some good people working within that system to do what they thought was right. Really enjoyable, and worth taking the time to hunt it down!

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – Black Spire (a review)

I finished reading Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire last night, in what was possibly a record for me right now, as I’d managed to read a novel in less than a week! If I’m honest, I wasn’t entirely enjoying this book, but I knew I wanted to have it finished in time for Easter.

View this post on Instagram

#nowReading #StarWars

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

The book is almost a sequel to Phasma, as the central character is once more the Resistance spy Vi Moradi. Working on General Leia’s instructions, she heads out to the remote world of Batuu shortly after the Battle of Crait, in an effort to establish a base and recruitment ground there. As a partner, she is given her erstwhile nemesis from the earlier novel, Captain Cardinal, now having begun his rehabilitation and going by his given name, Archex.

The duo crash-lands on the planet, and have their supplies stolen by the local gangster’s thugs, and so Vi gets herself a job at the local scrapyard, sorting junk, in an effort to earn enough money to buy it all back. The first part of the novel is really quite schmaltzy, as everything goes well for her, and all of the locals are either positive or, at worst, indifferent to her. We get to see the locals at Black Spire Outpost, and tour the local sights in a manner
that underlines how the book basically ties into the experience at the Disney Resorts in Anaheim and Orlando.

However, the First Order is tipped off to her presence on the planet, and send Lieutenant Wulfgar Kath down to capture her. Vi’s efforts to recruit the locals to the Resistance do not go down too well at first, but over time, as the oppression of the First Order makes itself known, the tide begins to turn. While the Outpost never formally comes out in open support of the Resistance, they are nevertheless able to establish their base in some ancient ruins, and some of the local farmers begin to drift in as part-time recruits, at least.

As I said at the beginning, I didn’t really enjoy this book. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it an awful lot more than Phasma, but I felt like the fact everything just went so well for Vi made it feel like it was pitched at a younger age range, as condescending as that might sound. I was trying to get this point across when I discussed it with the other half; Star Wars rarely has things going right for people, and so I’ve come to expect there to be some conflict, and a lot of stumbles and road blocks. However, once we’ve dealt with the crash, Vi meets some really helpful locals, who are almost sickeningly altruistic, and my preconceptions about what Star Wars is led me to expect a pay-off that never came. Once I was over that initial reaction (well, it took me to get to roughly the middle of the book before I could get to that stage!) I don’t think I disliked the book as much – it read so much better as a young-adult novel than a more adult novel, if that makes sense.

Along similar lines, this book also suffers from quite a lot of “movies-only” syndrome, whereby a lot of the references only refer back to the movies, often inappropriately. For instance, the Outpost cantina serves a bewildering variety of drinks, a couple of which have really bizarre names: the Fuzzy Tauntaun and Dagobah Slug Slinger spring to mind here. Sure, they’re fun and no doubt they’re sold in the theme park, but within the context of the universe, Dagobah is supposed to be a planet only a select few people know about, while Hoth is so far off the beaten track that Tauntauns may well have no meaning to the wider galactic public. It’s such a nitpicky point, I’m almost abashed at bringing it up, but it’s something that I always find myself railing against when I’m reading, because it goes against that suspension of disbelief.

My only other gripe with this book, then, was the way that the First Order is portrayed – but I don’t think that was anything to do with the author, so much as the way the organization has appeared since 2015’s The Force Awakens. We still don’t have any real substance for them as a group – they’re there as the antagonist, and there are hundreds of tiny little moments of playground-style bullyings and venalities, but there doesn’t seem to be a purpose to them other than being a group for our intrepid band of heroes to go up against. Sure, back in 1977, all we knew about the Empire was that they were the bad guys, but Tarkin’s talk of the Imperial Senate gave them a gravitas – we knew that the Empire was the established government, albeit a tyrannical regime that needed to be fought against. We’re now well into the sequel universe but we’ve still not seen anything beyond the shady “there was once an Empire, they retreated into the Unknown Regions, then the First Order appeared, but it was really Palpatine’s ploy all along”. It’s a problem that I’ve whinged about before, of course, but I feel like we now desperately need more of those gaps filling between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. We need to see more of what went on in the Unknown Regions; we need to find out what those secret storehouses on Jakku were all about, and we need to get more info about the New Republic, and how that all fits together. The Hosnian incident, referred to a couple of times in the book, lacks a lot of punch, I think, due to the fact we don’t know enough about that side of the galaxy.

But as I say, that’s a problem with Star Wars in general right now, and not specifically with this book!

Black Spire Outpost has obviously changed since I last checked in there, during the new Thrawn trilogy, and seems to be thriving as a result. There are several interesting mentions, including Hondo Ohnaka apparently taking up residence there, but also the scrap merchant that Vi works for, Savi, who is said to be a friend of Lor San Tekka, and his workers all seem to have some affiliation, however loose, with the Church of the Force idea. I’d like to see that explored more, and get some real meat on those bones! Vi finds a couple of items amid the junk that seem to be really potent Jedi artifacts (is one of them a holocron?) that makes me wonder where Savi is getting his junk from.

The novel ends with the First Order arriving in force at Batuu, with none other than Kylo Ren in orbit in a Star Destroyer. Now, I feel like this is very strongly setting up a sequel, though I believe it’s also tied quite strongly to the theme park experience, so maybe there’s something there that I’m missing. However, combined with the stuff about Savi, I feel like there’s more story left to be told. Despite not being the biggest fan of the book, I’d still like to see if there is more that we can expect to see here!

Star Wars: Resistance Reborn (a review)

View this post on Instagram

#nowReading #StarWars

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

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.

View this post on Instagram

#nowReading #StarWars

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

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: Thrawn – Treason (a review)

Hey everybody,
So I’m trying to catch up here with all of the books that I’ve read so far this autumn (although there haven’t been all that many, truth be told!) and today it’s time for the conclusion to the new Thrawn trilogy, Treason!

View this post on Instagram

#nowReading #StarWars #Thrawn

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

After the events of the second book, I had decent hopes for the third. Any book with the Emperor on the cover has got to be worth reading, right?

The novel takes place sometime after a raid on the TIE Defender assembly line on Lothal by Hera Syndulla and Kanan Jarrus, which I believe was featured in an episode of Rebels. Thrawn is desperate to secure funding for the project, but unfortunately Director Krennic’s Stardust project is eating up Imperial resources, and Tarkin informs the Grand Admiral that there isn’t enough to go around. Stardust has been put back a little by the problem of grallocs – larger cousins to mynocks – attacking the shipping points, so to settle the problem of funding, Tarkin suggests a wager – if Thrawn can solve Krennic’s problem within one week, the Defender project will receive funding. If not, any additional funds will be plowed straight into Stardust. Tarkin and Grand Admiral Savit both approve the plan, and Tarkin, who has designs to take over the Stardust project one day, quietly tells Savit to help Thrawn however he can.

Krennic leaves Thrawn with his aide, Ronan, to effectively try to ensure the problem is resolved, but outside of the week stipulated by Tarkin. This felt a bit weird to me, if I’m honest, as it seemed like quite the flimsy premise for a book, although in retrospect I suppose it was quite indicative of how irresponsible the upper echelons of the Imperial military can be…

There is a lot of politicking between the moffs and grand admirals that pepper the book, with each trying to claim credit over the other. Krennic admits to Ronan that he wants to claim the credit for solving the gralloc problem for himself, which is perhaps symptomatic of the man himself, as we see him in Rogue One: Catalyst pretty much using Galen Erso’s scientific prowess to bolster his own position.

Meanwhile, however, Thrawn manages to deduce that the grallocs are not eating ships, but that the attacks appear to be a ruse to steal their cargo. The Chimera follows one such lost ship’s vector, and the Imperials find the ship and its crew murdered on an abandoned space station.

The Imperials have attracted the attention of a Chiss patrol ship under the command of Admiral Ar’alani, under whom is serving none other than Eli Vanto. While their reunion is far from friendly, Thrawn and the Chiss begin to work together to get to the bottom of the larger threat, that of the Grysks. Backtracking further along the ship’s vector, they find a cloaked warship at an asteroid base and engage in a brief skirmish, destroying the Grysks and discovering a young Chiss navigator named Un’hee being used by them. Ar’alani believes that Un’hee can allow the Chiss to discover the location of the Grysks’ base, and destroy the alien threat once and for all. Despite Ronan’s protests that the Grysks have nothing to do with the grallocs, and calling Thrawn’s loyalty into question, Thrawn believes that the Grysks pose a very real threat to the Empire, having already penetrated far into Imperial space, and so continues on with Ar’alani.

Vanto is given the task of sifting through data on the missing Stardust supply ships, and deduces that the contents of 28 of these ships had enough parts to make a total of eight complete turbolaser batteries. Suspicion falls on Governor Haveland, the governor in charge of the sector, and Thrawn dispatches Vanto and Ronan to the Aloxor system in an attempt to find out what Haveland is up to.

The mission uncovers that local smugglers are moving goods through the system on orders of Grand Admiral Savit. Vanto and Ronan are almost captured as spies, but rescued by an ISB operative sent by Colonel Yularen as a favour to Thrawn. They learn that the smugglers are moving the gas used as bait for the grallocs, adding a further dimension to the proceedings.

Meanwhile, Thrawn and Ar’alani track the Grysks to a communications hub, and manage to defeat the aliens and rescue some of the original pirates behind the Imperial thefts. Thrawn and Ar’alani manage to destroy the Grysk threat, before Thrawn then travels to the Sev Tok system to rendezvous with Savit. There, he confronts the corrupt Grand Admiral with proof of his illicit dealings, all encrypted on a data card that uses an encryption key reserved for sole use by the grand admirals. Savit, under pressure, admits that Stardust has been bleeding the Imperial navy dry, and his principle concern was to ensure vital supplies could find their way to the navy. Savit attempts to defeat Thrawn, but the nature of his treason loses him command of his men, and Thrawn prevails.

Ronan’s report to Krennic and Tarkin is that Thrawn failed to eliminate the grallocs in time. Tarkin promises to divert funding to Thrawn once Stardust has been completed. Thrawn determines to return to Lothal, and Tarkin assigns Captain Pellaeon to the Chimera to assist him.

The new Thrawn trilogy has been a bit uneven, for me. While each book has its good parts and bad, there is always that nagging feeling at the back of my mind, that this isn’t the Thrawn trilogy that I know and love so much. That said, the trilogy did get better as it moved along, reaching a high point with the second book, and then seeing a slight falling-off in the third (in my opinion).

See, Treason is based on a bet that Thrawn cannot solve the gralloc problem for Krennic within a week. That feels like such a flimsy premise for a story, especially when you look at how that story unfolds, with the fight against the Grysks. As I said earlier, it does reveal perhaps more than I’d first thought about the upper echelons of the Empire, and how a lot of this stuff is like a game for them. But it just felt a little bit off, somehow.

Thrawn is much as we know him to be, once more, which was heartening after the Thrawn-at-school that we had in the first book. Eli Vanto is back, so we get to see a bit of what has been going on with him, though I felt the payoff between him and Thrawn felt a little bit lacking, somehow. Vanto seems to have embraced his life among the Chiss a little too limply, for me. I don’t know – I kept expecting more from that part of the story, and didn’t really get it in the end.

There is a lot going on in this book, and for that, I really liked it. The stuff with the Chiss added an extra layer to the story, which made this book feel like more than just the general Empire vs Rebels stuff we’re used to seeing for this timeframe. The sub-plot with Vanto and Ronan was almost like a return to the Zahn books of old, as we see the fringe through his eyes like nobody else seems able to capture. I do like Thrawn, but maybe we could get more Zahn books in the vein of Scoundrels? Far-flung, dusty worlds with battered and worn cantinas, street-toughs and crime bosses are all realised in a very Zahn-esque way, and I do love it!

Seeing Krennic and the Stardust project once more was a bit of a surprise, as it has almost begun to feel like he might be the sort of character we’ll never really get to now that his story has basically been told through Catalyst and Rogue One, so that was nice.

All in all, I think Treason was a decent end to the series, managing to continue the story, wrapping up some aspects while – potentially – setting up the future. Thrawn is now with Pellaeon on the Chimera, do we think that Disney means to make the Thrawn Trilogy canon, after all? Who the hell knows…

What we do know, however, is that Zahn will be back with The Ascendancy Trilogy, starting next May…

Star Wars: Battlefront – Twilight Company (a review)

Hey everybody!
It may have taken some time, but I’ve finally finished Battlefront: Twilight Company last night, so I thought I’d come here and ramble about my thoughts just ahead of Celebration 2019 – where, it is rumoured, we’ll finally get to hear some long-awaited news of Episode IX!

This book was really good. I need to get that out there right away. I’ve been feeling a little less-than-impressed with the new canon over the last few months, I was really chuffed to finally find a book that I actually thought was a decent read pretty much all the way through. A lot of reviews mention that it does drag a little in the middle, but the story that it tells overall is so interesting that, by the end of it, I could forgive that.

I was so impressed, I made an 8-minute video rambling about it!

So the story follows the titular Twilight Company as they fight a rear-guard action in the Mid Rim, which in itself is quite fascinating. (Not for the first time, I’ve found myself wondering how a story with the Big Three would look set in this particular event). On the planet Haidoral Prime, during an open recruit for the Company, the Imperial Governor there, Everi Chalis, surrenders to the Alliance with the promise of information about Imperial military logistics, possibly the sort of information that could help to swing the tide of the war back in the Rebels’ favour. Her defection doesn’t go unnoticed, and Prelate Verge, a former protege of Count Vidian, is tasked to find her, so brings Captain Tabor Seitaron out of his teaching post at Carida in order to assist in the hunt.

Twilight Company’s luck goes from bad to worse with Chalis along for the ride, and the soldiers are convinced that she is some sort of bad-luck charm. However, once she has presented her information to the Captain of the Company, arrangements are made to take her to Hoth and the Alliance High Command. However, it really does go from bad to worse while at the secret base on the ice planet, as not long after Chalis has made her presentation to High Command, the Empire arrives and the Battle of Hoth begins!

Chalis is convinced that Vader is on the planet chasing her down, but when the Millennium Falcon manages to escape the Dark Lord’s clutches, Vader turns his attention on Chalis and crushes her throat in an attempt to find the location of the rebels. Chalis and the others only manage to escape with their lives because they don’t know where Leia and the others have fled to.

However, during the battle, the Company Captain is killed, and Twilight Company is left in a sort of limbo while they try to gain news of their next orders. It’s at this point that the book seems to slow down a bit, though I suppose it could be seen as reflective of the fact the Company itself is wandering aimlessly until Chalis, getting over the fact that she was never that important to the top brass in the Empire, comes up with a plan to re-energize them all: disable the shipyards of Kuat. To do this, she plots to make a series of surgical strikes at different planets along the Rimma Trade Route, forcing the Empire to redeploy resources that would be used in defense of the shipyards.

These strikes go perfectly well until they reach Sullust. Captain Seitaron has managed to pick apart Chalis’ plan to the point where he could guess she would hit Sullust or Malastare, and so they arrive in-system with a Star Destroyer, shooting down the rebels’ ship and stranding them on the planet. The rebels team up with local resistance cells, one of the leaders of which is none other than Nien Nunb, and manage to hold off the Imperials while Chalis, who everyone believes to be pursuing her own personal vendetta at this point, manages to get herself aboard the Star Destroyer and kill Verge as well as disabling the ship with an ion bomb. Seitaron calls a retreat, and the rebels manage to claim a victory.

I really enjoyed this book, in case it wasn’t clear!

There was, somehow, a feeling of returning to the Star Wars I grew up with. I said in my video ramble that it reminded me a lot of the X-Wing novels, which were about the regular troops doing regular troop stuff, and there is something really interesting about that. For starters, everybody in the book is fair game to be killed off, and there was one death in particular at the end that I found myself quite surprised by. There are a lot of call-backs to the lore of yore, such as references to Cartao (Timothy Zahn’s short story ‘Hero of Cartao’) as well as very obscure tie-ins to the movies, like Twilight Company hitting the planet Xagobah (the homeworld of the podracer Neva Kee from Episode I). I’ve sometimes felt myself a bit lost with this new canon, but as it happens, I found this book made me feel right back at home in the GFFA.

It does have that lag in the middle, as I mentioned, and I did feel myself cringing a little during some of the Hoth scenes, as it felt a little bit like it was being shoe-horned into the movie setting during the confrontation with Vader. At the very beginning of the book, there was also a vague sense of this being a book based off a game, with the sort of mission-style narrative that can sometimes feel far too join-the-dots and generic. However, that sense quickly left me, and we’re left with this really good book – apparently, it’s the author’s first!

If I ever get around to writing a novel, I hope it will turn out this good!

Star Wars: Thrawn – Alliances (a review)

After reading a lot of Black Library novels of late, I’m back in the GFFA with Thrawn – Alliances! And I made a video too!

This book picks up a number of years after the first, and we find Thrawn and Vader tasked by the Emperor to undertake a mission on the edge of Wild Space, starting on the planet Batuu. As it turns out, Thrawn has previously undertaken a mission on the very same planet back during the Clone Wars, when he partnered up with Anakin Skywalker while the Jedi General was trying to rescue his wife from the hands of the Separatists, and the novel is told as much in flashbacks as it is in the “present” time.

The second Thrawn book is a lot better than the first, in my humble view. Whether it’s just down to the fact that it isn’t really showing Thrawn as a military cadet, or whether because the story is a lot more established this time around, it’s just a lot better.

Thrawn is pretty much Thrawn during both storylines, although I thought it was interesting seeing how he plays along with the subservient role to Vader despite almost always pushing his luck there. As it turns out, Thrawn is well aware of who Vader is, something that I have always been quite fascinated about in the lore, as not many people really make the connection in-universe. It’s almost a bargaining chip that he has, and just when Vader is beginning to perhaps throw his weight around a bit too much, Thrawn just reminisces about the time he met Anakin Skywalker. Even though Thrawn has to play along with being intimidated by him, even if it is only up to a point, you get the impression that Thrawn is really the one in charge, and Vader is at his best when he’s just an intimidating thug.

Which, of course, is a shame, because Vader has been portrayed in this manner a number of times now in the new canon, yet he is just so much more than that – or, at least, he should be. While I’m not about to go into a massive critique of this here, I do feel a bit that Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side in Revenge of the Sith was just so very poorly executed, and ever since he has come across a bit like a gullible idiot.

But anyway!

In the Clone Wars-era timeline, Thrawn is a little more self-assured, as he teams up with Anakin in an attempt to gather information about the Clone Wars as a whole. This was perhaps my favourite part of the book, as it turned out, despite being laden with the reason why Jedi should never marry. Indeed, Anakin being trained as a whole was just a big mistake, as we can see quite glaringly from how impetuous he is. That he was even made a Knight, let alone a General, is quite beyond me. It’s frustrating, because at times he does come across with some military nous. But I suppose that is a product, in part, of having multiple authors write him.

There is much more a sense of mystery to the earlier storyline, however, which is why I think I prefer it. It’s also interesting to see Padme in action, however flimsy the premise, so I appreciate that as well. I did like the fact that the storyline almost had a damsel-in-distress feel to it but, very much like Luke Skywalker’s rescue of Princess Leia from the Death Star, we see the damsel is actually a lot more capable of looking after herself than anybody gives her credit for.

The book is notable for taking place on Batuu, specifically at Black Spire Outpost – remember L3 making the comment in Solo about Lando needing her to fly there? This is going to be the next huge thing for Star Wars and Disney (not counting episode ix, I guess, though the lack of any info on that is getting me a little concerned now!) A “Star Wars Land” within the resorts at Anaheim and Orlando, I believe, Black Spire is the setting not only for theme park rides, but also a comic book series and at least one novel. For a while now, we’ve been seeing a tendency for Disney’s new canon to look more at the Unknown Regions than perhaps we’re used to from the old EU, most blatantly at the end of the Aftermath trilogy with the relocation of the Imperial Remnant there, and it makes me wonder whether there’s something afoot to maybe re-establish some of the old EU stuff but then move the action to the Unknown Regions so they can continue telling their own tales. Who knows. The exciting thing about all of this, though, is that the galaxy is feeling fresh once more – rather than feeling a bit lost in the wilderness, with new books attempting to establish new planets for the sake of it, or else rehashing the movie stuff as if there is no wider galaxy to acknowledge, we’ve got a genuinely unknown area of space to explore here, with some significant stories to tell if the Imperial Remnant is in fact still out there. I think it’s this aspect of it all that has got me the most excited, so I can’t wait to see what’s coming from this! I just hope it’s good Star Wars storytelling, you know?

At any rate, I thought Thrawn: Alliances was a great deal better than the earlier novel, and while I still mourn for the loss of the original Thrawn trilogy, I still have high hopes for the third book in the series, Thrawn: Treason.

The Hand of Thrawn

Hey everybody!
I’ve been rambling a lot in my recent blogs about Warhammer stuff, but it’s time for a change of scenery today as I switch over to my other obsession, Star Wars, and the Tim Zahn duology from 1997-8, The Hand of Thrawn!

The Hand of Thrawn

I first read these novels years ago now, completely out of sequence as I had just finished Zahn’s seminal trilogy, the Thrawn Trilogy, and was hungry for more! It was the summer after my GCSE exams had been finished, and I was free to read whatever I wanted, rather than trying to catch chapters of The Last Command in between revising physics, or whatever.

Specter of the Past begins with the discovery of a badly damaged copy of The Caamas Document – a datacard that details the Bothan saboteurs involved in the destruction of the planet Caamas long before the Clone Wars. The planet’s inhabitants, the Caamasi, were well-known peacekeepers and valued mediators, and the destruction of their world was cause for galactic outcry back in the day. The discovery that there were Bothans involved leads the New Republic almost to civil war, as several species come down either on the side of wanting to make the Bothans pay for their crime, or else on the side of those who believe a more peaceful solution is needed. Of course, plenty of folks are just using the discovery of the document to reignite old hatreds and resume petty conflicts that the Empire had pretty much put on hold.

While Leia attempts to keep the New Republic from fracturing too much, Luke is off trying to discover who is backing the Cavrilhu Pirates into attacking New Republic shipping, with what he believes to be clone pilots. His investigation almost leads to his death at their asteroid base, but Mara Jade manages to rescue him and, as they’re leaving the system, they notice an odd type of TIE-fighter lurking in the asteroid field.

Turns out, the renegade Imperial Moff Disra has been using the Pirates as part of his plan to restore the Empire to greatness, a plan that involves resurrecting Grand Admiral Thrawn through the use of the con artist known as Flim, and the tactical acumen of a Major Tierce, former Imperial Guardsman to the Emperor. He sets a plan in motion to cause said civil war above Bothawui, using elements from Imperial Intelligence to forment riots and general dissension over the Caamas issue, leading our heroes to try and find an intact copy of the Caamas Document, and name those Bothans responsible for destroying the shield generator, rather than holding the entire species accountable.

This is the background, and the duology takes us through the sort of galaxy-spanning epic that we expect from Zahn in his Bantam era. It really has that sort of feel that we know from the earlier trilogy – our heroes flying across the galaxy, visiting planets we have never heard of and encountering a whole load of weird aliens along the way. While Admiral Pellaeon is trying to sue for peace with the New Republic, Disra’s plans lead to a more subtle conflict with the Empire at first, which is a different change of pace for pretty much any Bantam novel. There is a lot of the shadow war with Imperial Intelligence, and while Flim’s Thrawn impersonation is seemingly flawless, he is nevertheless kept almost hidden from view, with merely the rumour of his return being cause enough to send the New Republic into a frenzy. The civil war is balanced along a knife edge that almost runs on too long, but is nevertheless built up really very well.

One of my earliest gripes with this novel was the fact that Zahn seemingly felt the need to bring Thrawn back from the dead. Of course, the book is pretty much from the off about a con game and we know it, but it did feel a bit like he couldn’t think up a more convincing villain for the heroes to go up against, so he just brought the earlier one back. Of course, when you get to the end of the book, and reflect on the story as a whole, it actually works really well.

We get to meet Thrawn’s people, the Chiss, and learn that Thrawn had in fact set up a clone of himself to return to known space ten years after his death, should that come to pass. Irony of ironies, it’s been ten years and now Disra puts his plan into action. The Chiss almost enter the war on the side of the Imperial Remnant, but by the end of Vision of the Future, it appears that they’re content instead to sit this one out, keeping their focus on the myriad threats of the Unknown Regions.

I find it interesting to go back and re-read these old novels, and compare them with what we have now from Disney. While I don’t feel that The Hand of Thrawn has held up as well as The Thrawn Trilogy, I still think there is a lot of good stuff in here, and it’s a shame to see so much of it just thrown out, really. The idea of the Unknown Regions holding some unimaginable threat was never really picked up on, of course, Vision of the Future was one of the last novels Bantam got to publish before Del Rey got the licence back and started the New Jedi Order off. However, the Aftermath trilogy does feel a bit like it’s picking up on this idea of the Unknown Regions and the threats there, having the Imperial Remnant following the Battle of Jakku head off there. What is going on, I wonder? Of course, Disney has managed to open up so much of the Star Wars galaxy once more, and really make it feel like a huge place, so we’re probably fine for now to leave the Unknown Regions as they are…

Naturally, given when this duology was published, Zahn has got a lot more Star Wars lore to pull from this time around, rather than having to make the whole lot up for himself, and there are a lot of references to Mike Stackpole’s work, particularly the Rogue Squadron comics. Baron Fel makes an appearance, and Corran Horn is something of a major second-tier character. Zahn and Stackpole are friends, of course, so that isn’t unexpected, but it does feel weird that we get that sort of detail this time around. There is also reference made to both the Black Fleet Crisis books and the Callista trilogy, though these do feel a little forced at times.

In the midst of all the chaos, we of course get to catch up with Talon Karrde and his organisation, and get to see a lot of the smuggler chief’s history. It was interesting to see this sort of thing expanded upon, and we get a lot of links back to The Thrawn Trilogy and some of the plot points that were left hanging from that series are wrapped up. Notably, Mara Jade leaves the Karrde organisation at the end of the duology, although Karrde has already had an almost-replacement for her in the form of Shada D’ukal, the Mistryl Shadow Warrior from The Last Command. There is a lot of weaving of threads from earlier Zahn stories throughout the pair of books here, but I suppose Shada shows how far this goes when we get an almost synopsis of the short story Hammertong that Zahn wrote for Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina. I wouldn’t say the references are particularly necessary to enjoy the books – I certainly did enjoy them when I first read them back in the day, having only previously read Zahn’s trilogy and Crimson Empire up to that point. But there is another layer that can be enjoyed if you have indeed read through the myriad offerings of short stories in this way.

Prior to reading the pair this time around, I re-read Jade Solitaire from Tales of the New Republic, which merely serves to show why Talon Karrde has a Togorian working on his crew now, as well as giving Mara Jade her ship, Jade’s Fire, which is featured in a somewhat significant plot point in Vision of the Future. It’s not necessary, for sure, but does add a layer or two that can be enjoyed. For me, I think it just helps to harken back to those days when the narrative was keen to explain away every single point in the movies and beyond, and brings back a lot of nostalgia for me. Talon Karrde’s journey into the Exocron system has even got me wanting to dig out my copy of The DarkStryder Campaign! Maybe that can be the subject of another blog here soon…

Don’t get me wrong, of course – it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Far from it, I was actually surprised to discover that I didn’t rate this duology nearly as highly as I remembered. I think a lot of that is down to the fact that I have such fond memories of reading these books as a sixteen year old, that now I’ve come to expect more from my literature in general, I found them to be a bit lacking. There is quite an effort made, I feel, to recapture the spirit of the Thrawn Trilogy, almost to the point where it becomes annoying, and I find myself wishing that Zahn had branched out into a completely new direction. Elements of the storyline such as Karrde’s plot were a lot more refreshing, because they had the hint of the earlier trilogy without rehashing it as much as, say, the Luke and Mara trek through the caverns of Nirauan – which Luke actually explicitly compares with their trek through the forest on Myrkr. There are also some vaguely silly scenes, particularly around the Caamas Incident politics. It’s nice that we get reference to the senate being rebuilt following the Almanian Uprising, that does help to make the universe feel really coherent, but the fact that the senate is populated by weird senators, one of whom is jabbering on about needing to sit on her eggs, just feels too out there. Weird.

There were also a lot of elements that felt a lot more like fan fiction than perhaps they should have been. I probably need to elaborate a lot more on this, so here goes. Any movie tie-in like this can of course fall under the heading of fan-fiction, as that’s basically what it is. However, for official licensed media by Lucasfilm, novels like these should feel more like a continuation of the storyline, and while new characters of course need to be introduced to keep the narrative fresh, the way that new characters interact with movie ones is usually where these things fall down. During the Thrawn Trilogy, the interaction was superb, and it felt like these people truly inhabited the same universe as the movies. But when you get a character (or characters) being made into something “better” than the movie heroes, the whole situation can quickly devolve, and it feels a lot like that happens in the scenes where Mara is berating Luke for his actions over the last few years. I know why it was included, of course, as the Bantam novels did have a tendency to make Luke into a kind of demigod at times, but it smacks of something I particularly dislike from Stackpole’s novel I, Jedi, where Corran tells Luke off in such a manner that makes Corran out to be a much better person – maybe even a better Jedi – than Luke is. It makes me cringe so much, and unfortunately that does happen a couple of times in the course of Vision of the Future. It feels very much like Zahn is trying to re-set the narrative by taking Luke away from the god-like portrayal of other novels, and instead set him up for the next stage (which may or may not have involved fighting the unnamed threats of the Unknown Regions), but has the end result of almost returning him to the sort of farmboy he was in A New Hope.

That was a bit rambly, but hopefully you can follow my point!

There is still a tremendous amount to enjoy from these books, and I can definitely recommend you getting a hold of them if you can and giving them a read. While they pretty much have no bearing on the Star Wars narrative post-Disney, of course, they’re nevertheless some of the better books to come out of the Legends canon, and are still some of my favourites!

Rogue One: Catalyst

Rogue One: Catalyst

Rogue One: Catalyst is, as the name might suggest, a tie-in novel to the standalone Star Wars movie, Rogue One. Written by James Luceno, I had high hopes for this novel, which were sadly not borne out by the end. Let me explain…

The story is basically that of Orson Krennic’s ambition to oversee the Death Star project, and details his machinations as he climbs the corporate ladder. Along the way, he makes use of a variety of people, notably Galen Erso, a former school friend (unlikely though that may seem), to advance his career. Galen is portrayed as that typical scientist-type who is so wrapped-up in his own work, he’s barely aware of his surroundings, including his own family. Which I thought was weird, based on his portrayal in the movie…

The novel begins while the Clone Wars are still in full-flow, though Galen is notably undertaking research far from the front line, attempting to synthesize kyber crystals to create a renewable energy source. He is soon wrapped up in the fight between the Republic and the Separatists, however, and it is Krennic who comes to his rescue. Over time, Krennic manages to seduce him into working indirectly on the Death Star project, as Galen researches the energy output of the crystals that is then weaponised by a separate team of scientists.

During this time, we do get to see the fascinating upheaval from Republic to Empire, which is something that I enjoyed. It’s interesting how quickly people seem to forget the Jedi – I’d always liked the alternative idea that is often hinted at within the Dark Times comics, that the idea of the Jedi carried with it such inherent danger that people chose not to involve themselves. Anyway!

Another strand to Krennic’s ambition is his use of the smuggler, Has Obit. Has is used to basically deposit weapons on the so-called Legacy Worlds – worlds that are the Star Wars equivalents of National Parks. With this, Krennic is able to claim the worlds were arming themselves against the Empire, and so their Legacy status is stripped from them – and the strip-mining of all natural resources can begin. Over time, Has sees what he is doing and, thanks to Galen’s wife Lyra, turns against Krennic and helps the Ersos escape Coruscant for good.

There’s more to it than that, of course, but the basic gist of the story is here. So what’s so bad about it? Well, first of all, Galen Erso has got to be one of the most infuriating characters ever to grace the pages of a Star Wars novel. He just annoyed me so much, I found myself wishing his bits were over so that we could get back to Krennic, who is actually quite interesting, for all his naked ambition.

While the book is a really nice marriage of the Prequel era and the Original Trilogy era, these ties are somehow relegated to the background in comparison with other Luceno novels. There was a nice sequence with Krennic and Poggle the Lesser, as he tries to get the Geonosians to construct the focusing dish for the battle station. Also, Krennic’s patron throughout the book is Mas Amedda, who comes across as slightly more competent in this book than, say, his Aftermath appearances. Tarkin also has a significant role, though he serves more as an obstacle to Krennic than anything – he doesn’t quite come across the same as he does in, say, Luceno’s Tarkin.

Which is a bit weird, as they’re by the same author, but I think herein lies the main gripe I have with the book: it feels a bit rushed. I can’t quite decide if I mean it feels like it was pushed out to meet a deadline, but the action sometimes feels entirely too glossed-over. True, a battle station the size of the Death Star is going to take years to build, which could be tedious if we had to have all of that detailed to us, but there were several instances where I felt we could have done with more detail. Whether all new canon novels need to conform to a certain page length, who knows, but I definitely felt like we could have benefited from a bit more.

So, while I did feel a bit let-down overall, there were still some good bits to be enjoyed. Mentions of the Corporate Sector and COMPNOR were particularly nice, as it’s always fun to see the old canon being referenced. And the way the novel straddles the Prequel and OT eras was nicely done, too. While the Jedi stuff could have done with more time spent on exploring how they just dropped out of the galactic consciousness, I guess this book isn’t trying to tell that particular tale.

I don’t think it really adds anything to Rogue One, save perhaps explaining Saw Gerrera’s relationship to the Ersos (which itself seemed a bit forced). Which brings me on to my final point – why can’t we have Star Wars novels for their own sake anymore? It feels like everything that has come out so far has been trying to tie into something, either a new movie or an appearance by a beloved character in a cartoon. Why can’t we just have a book for its own sake? Heir to the Jedi springs to mind as perhaps the only one, so far, and that was originally planned as the third in a loose trilogy prior to the abolition of the old EU. I’d love to have something that tells its own story, that can run to 500 pages or more, and just brings back some of the old Bantam magic. We still don’t really have that feel right now, I think, where the galaxy feels like a cohesive whole. Where’s the new canon’s Mara Jade, or Talon Karrde? The novels feel like they exist in some kind of weird vacuum, and I’m really not sure that I like it. Sure, plenty of them are good, but they’re good by themselves, with no real reference to the wider galaxy. The hipster in me is thinking, this is what happens when a franchise hits the big time, and everything has to have a mass-appeal. Whereas previously we could have novels that reference comic books, which reference other comic books, which reference other novels, which reference RPG material. There was an expectation that people reading these things would be immersed to the next level at least. Now everything seems to need only the films – the widest audience for this material – to rely upon. It’s just feeling kinda fractured, and I’m not sure how much longer I can keep myself interested in this way of doing Star Wars.

Anyway, I don’t mean to be quite so down on the book, or the franchise as a whole, but sometimes I do wonder what’s happening to the GFFA…

Star Wars: Phasma (a review)

Hey everybody,
Yesterday, I finished reading the latest new canon novel in the Star Wars universe, Phasma. One of the new “Journey to The Last Jedi” books, the novel is very much in line with previous books that we’ve had in the run-up to The Force Awakens back in 2015, providing no real meat for the rumour-hungry, but just teasing tidbits for the new film.

The book takes place somewhere around the same time period as last year’s Bloodline, with most of the book forming a frame story around Phasma’s past on the post-apocalyptic world of Parnassos. We meet Captain Cardinal, a stormtrooper tasked with training the children taken into the First Order’s ranks, as he interrogates the Resistance spy Vi Moradi. Moradi has been researching several high-ranking First Order personnel, which makes her the exact tool Cardinal needs to take down his hated rival, Captain Phasma.

Moradi’s tale is basically Phasma’s life, and is told through several extended sequences that are lightly dusted with a return to the interrogation. We see Phasma encounter General Brendol Hux after his ship crash-lands on Parnassos, and their trek across the desert to find it and thus salvation from the harsh world.

Once Cardinal thinks he has enough information that he can discredit Phasma as the poster-child for the First Order, he confronts first Armitage Hux, and then Phasma herself, with dire consequences.

I have to say, I was not really a fan of this book. For the most part, it felt like Mad Max, not Star Wars, and once I was done with it, having had some time to reflect, I really don’t think this is the sort of backstory that I wanted for Phasma. Sure, I’m not really sure what I did want, but I don’t think it would have been this.

This is really turning into a theme for me with these new canon novels of late. I think it boils down to the fact that we’ve had a number of years of new canon material now, and yet the universe still doesn’t exactly feel like a cohesive place, really. Part of this has to do with the fact that we’re still waiting for the new trilogy to resolve, of course, but I’ve read a good number of these things now, and I don’t feel at home within the universe as I used to. I don’t feel that I know anybody, or anywhere, or, really, anything.

I’m trying not to be negative about these novels, because I’m sure that a lot of work is going in, behind the scenes, to keep the narrative more focused than it ever was under Bantam, but at the same time, my expectations for new Star Wars novels have been reduced so much, I’m quite shocked that I’m even still buying them. (And don’t get me started on the comics!)

Now, don’t get me wrong, the story is a fine tale, and the concept of the framing device is quite interesting within Star Wars literature generally. My biggest gripe, I suppose, is that there’s still that air of expectation around the novel as there was with Aftermath; for sure, Phasma seems to be a major player in the next movie, so a book about her origins is bound to be a big-ticket item. There are some interesting slants on the First Order that we get later in the book, as well, but in the main this is the tale of how Phasma met Brendol Hux, and how she escaped her origins on a backwater world. Mad Max fans will possibly enjoy the feel, but even then, any story that involves a foot-slog across a desert is bound to get tedious after a while.

If they stay true to form, we’ll get a novel next spring/summer like Bloodline, which will vindicate the publishing programme and fill us in on several of the details that couldn’t be discussed before the new movie hits.

Which leaves me thinking – why not just publish different stories in the run-up to the new movies, if they’re not going to give us anything really meaningful?