Star Wars thoughts

Oh my word, have you guys seen this?!

I have been in a bit of a Star Wars flunk lately, after having been burned by mediocre (or less) Star Wars novels and comics coming out from Disney. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been enjoying the new films, it just feels a bit like everything else on offer has been just stale, somehow, and uninteresting at best.

Well, I think I’ve just stumbled across the thing that will get me back among the stars, with the announcement of Star Wars: Outer Rim, from Fantasy Flight Games! It’s not a co-op game, but looks like it can be played solo, which is always an interesting point for me these days.

There’s no mention in the article of any kind of AI or beating a game engine, but rather just trying to become the best scoundrel in the galaxy. Of course, I imagine there would be some kind of way to make it enjoyable solo, though I do feel it might end up a bit like playing a deck-building game without any opponents. Certainly sounds like a fun time with more players, as you each race across the galaxy trying to gain influence and the like! Sounds a bit like the much-vaunted Firefly game, which I’ve never played but hear pretty much nothing but good things about!

It looks like an encounter-based system that should be a lot of fun, and being designed by Corey Konieczka – the man behind Eldritch Horror and Rune Age among others – I have high hopes that it will be an immersive experience as well.

My love of Star Wars has been on a definite decline recently, though, so I’m really glad there has been something like this come along to kick-start it once again. The upcoming release of the ninth installment of the main Saga hasn’t even got me this interested, though I think this has a lot to do with internet-fatigue. You know, I kinda liked how different The Last Jedi was from all the other movies, in the same way that I’ve come to appreciate the Prequels more and more for being different to the Original Trilogy. The Sequel Trilogy (are we calling it that, now?) has been markedly different, for me, and while there have been some hiccups for me along the way, nevertheless I think they’re telling an interesting story in their own way. If all of my frustrations with these sequels could be boiled down to one thing, it would be that we still haven’t really yet gone wider in the universe. I guess that’s my own problem, because the OT wasn’t particularly wide, but the EU we had for years did a very good job of filling the rest in, so it still felt like a whole universe. I suppose once we’ve had all of the plot holes filled in with Episode IX, we’ll hopefully get some novels that can go back and tell us more about Snoke, the First Order, how the Rebellion became the New Republic which became the Resistance (though I believe that is starting already). I suppose I just need to try and give it some more time.

View this post on Instagram

And now, this! #StarWars #Solo #nowReading

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

I started to read Last Shot back in July last year, and had to give it up as a bad job roughly halfway through. I read a few more books, got married, and then came back to finish it in, I think, October – mainly because I hate to leave a book unfinished, even if it’s a bad book. And this, in my opinion, was a bad book. It suffered, for me, from having an author who seems determined to only use the movies as reference material, and begins to incorporate all manner of ridiculous, annoying things in here, because he doesn’t know anything else. The Ewok slicer just got on my nerves, and the Gungan prison warden in Kessel made me want to punch the book multiple times. I mean, there was just so much wrong about this book that it just annoyed me to pick it up and try to read it.

I’m not going to attempt to do a full review of it on my blog, because I’ve been trying to cast all memory of it from my mind, but suffice it to say, I did not enjoy this one, and as it happens, I’ve been pretty much away from Star Wars since. I suppose it’s just part of this burn-out, where I’ve still not really read an enjoyable SW novel since the excellent Bloodline, and the comics are so bad I’ve actually stopped buying them month after month, as I’ve only marginally found one or two interesting, at best. I’ll probably do another catch up with them at some point, but otherwise, I’ve just been feeling decidedly unimpressed with the new stuff.

In all honesty, I don’t think this has got a lot to do with my nostalgia for the old EU, either, as there was plenty there that was, shall we say, less than inspiring? But it’s a shame, because I think there has been some good stuff to come out since the Disney take-over, and for me, one of these has actually been the Solo movie. I’ve been quite disappointed with the internet reaction to this, as while there were some odd things, and some unnecessary things, overall I thought it was actually a good movie, and definitely worth its place in the movie-verse.

Details seem to be pretty scant as to what new movies we can expect from Disney post-episode 9, which I find to be quite curious. Solo was, apparently, the most expensive Star Wars movie ever made, and that it failed to make that back at the box office seems to have put the nail in the coffin – or at least, the brakes on – any further movies being developed. Maybe they’re just waiting to see how well IX does before they announce anything further? At any rate, while I’ve not been enjoying the new films anywhere near as much as I enjoyed a movie with Lucas at the helm, I’ve still been finding a lot to enjoy in these new offerings, and I think I’m over that initial fear of Star Wars-saturation. It’s been a long slog since The Force Awakens started us on this road, but I’m hopeful that, once we’re out of the communications blackout that always seems to surround making an “episode” movie, we’ll have a lot more to look forward to. And, y’know, I hope they finally go wide and let some really talented and imaginative authors explore this new universe and finally flesh it out for the fans!

Solo: A Star Wars Story

I went to see the new Star Wars movie on Thursday night, Solo, and I have to say, it was pretty damn good!

There will be extensive spoilers throughout this post, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!!

The film follows Han during his early years prior to the events of A New Hope, and I was actually surprised by how much of the existing back story for him has been kept. He starts out as a street kid on Corellia, mixed up with the crime lords there, and attempts to flee for a better life with his girlfriend, Qi’ra, but the two are separated while escaping. Han joins the Imperial Academy in an effort to gain the money to come back and rescue her, but three years later, he has washed out of the Navy and is part of the Infantry on a hellish action on Mimban. There, he comes across the smuggler Tobias Beckett and his gang, posing as Imperial soldiers. For insubordination, Han is thrown into a cell with “the beast”, a Wookiee named Chewbacca and, due to his ability to speak Shyriiwook, Han manages to break out, and they both escape to join Beckett.

Solo Vandor

Beckett’s gang is on a heist to steal the hyperfuel coaxium on the planet Vandor, a job that goes sour when the Cloud Riders pirate gang then try to steal the shipment. Beckett and the others get away, but the job was taken on for Dryden Vos, head of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate. Vos is not happy, but Han and Chewie go along with him to try to retain favour and offer to steal another shipment that will replace the refined fuel from Vandor. Han explains there is some unrefined fuel held in a vault under the spice mines on Kessel, so the gang head off to steal it. Han also discovers that Qi’ra is now working for Vos, and she is sent to keep an eye on them during the job.

Solo movie Lando

In order to get a ship fast enough that will get the coaxium to a refinery before it degrades, Qi’ra introduces the gang to Lando Calrissian, a retired smuggler who owns the Millennium Falcon, said to be the fastest ship in the business. Han attempts to win the ship in a game of sabacc, but he loses – however, for a cut of the profits, Beckett persuades Lando to join the crew. The gang then heads off to Kessel and stages a prison break out to cover the theft of the coaxium, however an Imperial patrol shows up as the smugglers are about to make it out. Han manages to out-fly the Imperials, and the group makes it to an old refinery on the planet Savareen.

There, the Cloud Riders show up to steal the fuel just as Dryden Vos appears to collect it. They learn that the Cloud Riders are a nomad group attempting to rebel against the tyranny of the Empire, and need the fuel to continue their raids. Han comes up with a plan whereby they can help the Riders, but Beckett doesn’t want to fall foul of Dryden again and walks away, saying he has heard of a gangster on Tatooine and offers Han the chance to join him if he makes it out alive. Han then gives Dryden the coaxium, but Dryden has been told of Han’s double cross by his inside man, who is revealed to be none other than Beckett. Dryden’s men are sent to collect the real coaxium from the Cloud Riders, however, Han has triple-crossed everyone by presenting the real coaxium to Dryden, and giving the Riders nothing. The plan works to lure out all of Dryden’s men, however, and Beckett attempts to steal the fuel, leaving Han and Qi’ra alone with Dryden.

Qi’ra, who has been taught Teräs Käsi, manages to kill Dryden, and tells Han to go collect the fuel from Beckett, whereupon she’ll join him. However, Qi’ra sends a message to Dryden’s boss – none other than Darth Maul! – telling him that Dryden is dead and she has now assumed command of the Crimson Dawn. Han recovers the coaxium with Chewie, killing his mentor Beckett in the process, but is dismayed to see Qi’ra leave in Dryden’s ship.

The movie ends with Han playing sabacc once again with Lando, but this time, Han manages to win the Falcon, and he and Chewie head off to Tatooine to look up the gangster Beckett had mentioned…


This was a really good movie! It follows a lot of the established storyline we’ve come to know about Han from the expanded universe, which I thought an interesting choice, but at the same time it’s nice to see how much of that has been retained. Some random thoughts:

It was really nice to see Kessel in the film, and interesting how much of that lore has been retained in so far as the deadly approach and the Maw are still a thing.

Alden Ehrenreich is signed up for two more films, which makes a lot of sense as, while the film was really good, I thought it definitely set up at least another story, but if the quality can be maintained, then a Solo trilogy could be a wonderful thing. Much more than Luke or Leia, Han Solo at this point in the timeline can be such a vehicle for seeing the wider galaxy, but the seedier side of it as well. We could get to visit the Corporate Sector, which we know to be a thing in the new canon thanks to Catalyst, among others. But I think we need to see how Han came to be under the thumb of Jabba the Hutt, and we need to see more of Han and Lando beyond this one adventure. Lando is the guy Han turns to when he’s in a jam, but I didn’t get that from their relationship here.

While Rogue One was fine on its own, I think a Solo sequel would be great.

The references to the wider expanded universe were off the charts with this one, and I absolutely loved it! Lando makes at least two references to the godawful L Neil Smith trilogy from the early 80s, which was actually really fun; however, for the main part we get a lot of really nice throw-away lines that help to really fix the place of this film in the wider Star Wars lore. While you could argue against calling on the same small pool of names when you’re dealing with a galactic wide cast, mentioning Bossk as a potential hire for Beckett’s gang was a cool touch. We also learn that Beckett killed Aurra Sing, at which point I had a huge grin on my face!

I really want to know why Maul is now head of the Crimson Dawn. I should probably catch up with the Clone Wars cartoon series, not to mention Rebels, in case we can learn anything there! It was good to know that he was played by Ray Park once again, and while Peter Serafinowicz doesn’t return this time, we do get Sam Witwer, who played Vader’s Secret Apprentice for The Force Unleashed back in the day.

Hopefully we’ll find out more in the Solo sequels…

The Cloud Riders are an interesting bunch, and I think I’d like to see more of those guys – while it’s always a bit worrying seeing the amount of pre-Alliance rebel groups hanging about in the galaxy, the fact that Benthic from Saw Gerrera’s Partisans is a part of the group was a nice touch, and serves to help pull these people together I think.

I think it’s an interesting point here that both of the stand-alone movies released by Disney so far have been instant hits for me, while the episode movies are a lot slower to burn. I’m still a little undecided about The Last Jedi, while I didn’t even need to wait until the credits to know that I liked Solo a whole lot more! I suppose it has something to do with Disney tapping into the original trilogy era, and the sense of nostalgia we all have for those movies, by creating a universe that draws on that same style. It’s a lot more difficult, I suppose, when you’ve got the task of creating something that must move away from that look by definition of the fact it takes place decades later. There’s probably more to be said on that topic, but this blog is already running quite long already, so I think it’s time to stop for now.

If you haven’t booked your tickets already, definitely go check this movie out! If you’ve read through this entire post to get here, you probably don’t need to go see it for yourself of course, but it’s definitely an enjoyable movie!

New Star Wars stuff!

Yes, that’s right folks, there’s all manner of cool new Star Wars stuff coming at us right now! While there’s a part of me that still feels a little like it might be too much new Star Wars stuff, I’m still excited as all hell to see this stuff, so let’s jump right in!

The next anthology movie is, of course, the Han Solo standalone film, Solo. I actually wanted to not like this, as I felt like it was a step too far somehow. Rogue One was really good, and while I think the idea of a film about how the Rebels got the Death Star plans was a bit shaky, I think the film itself is one of my all-time favourites from the franchise, and definitely one that I find myself wanting to watch time and again. It really is quite amazing, but the thought of another film set within this timeframe, one that could quite likely find itself leading up to that point that Han walks into the Mos Eisley cantina, seemed a little flat to me. Maybe I just don’t want anyone other than Harrison Ford to play the role. Maybe my inner hipster is just too loud on this point. But I was, at times, determined to not like this one…

Well, the teaser is now out, and I am enraptured! Oddly, I didn’t think much of Rogue One from its trailers, yet have come to really enjoy that film, so maybe the same will be true here, as well! The cast looks great – I don’t actually mind Alden Ehrenreich as the young Han Solo, it looks like he’s going to be making the role his own rather than trying too much for a young Ford impression, and Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian could be amazing!

I think a lot of my initial warmth comes from the fact that it looks like a lot of the established lore of the character has been preserved. Han was always a washed-out Imperial pilot-turned-petty-criminal, and it seems this is going to follow that premise but with its own spin on things. That looks to be very cool. What I like the most, though, is that we seem to be promised a look at the more ordinary lives of folk within the Empire. Sure, Luke’s life on Tatooine might be said to provide that already, but we’re mainly concerned with events of galactic import in both A New Hope and Rogue One. If Solo pans out as I think it will, we’re looking more at a film with the possibility of showing us a lot more of the regular galaxy during this time, and that is a very exciting thought, I have to say!

Solo is out on 25 May, and I’m already counting down the days!

But that’s not all the news out right now…

Disney have confirmed that a couple of TV shows are in the works, with some theories that at least one will be replacing the Rebels cartoon with another animated show. We’ve been promised a live-action TV series since before Revenge of the Sith, of course, so it would be cool to finally see something come from that kernel, too. I’m not a huge TV watcher, but it does strike me that people are doing fantastic things with the small screen these days, so I guess it could finally be the right time for something amazing to come along!

We’re also getting a new series of movies that are separate from the episode films, and from the new trilogy being worked on by Rian Johnson that was recently announced. This new series will be created by David Benioff and DB Weiss, the creators of the Game of Thrones TV series, though hopefully with a little less violence… The series will reportedly be spun from “a point in time in Star Wars mythology”, which rather makes it sound like a series of anthology films in the vein of Rogue One. Could it be the Old Republic? Who knows. I’m finding myself a big fan of these anthology films, and I’m really stoked for Rian Johnson’s trilogy, but to have yet another series of films feels a bit like Star Wars overload once again.

I’ve talked about this before, of course, but a new Star Wars movie used to be An Event, with fans waiting years while gathering the hints and clues. Now it’s just, “oh yeah, there’s another Star Wars film coming out…” For sure, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven to be a huge success, but even that vast juggernaut is not without its flaws, especially the longer it has gone on. Are we going to see the same with Star Wars? A series of formulaic movies that are created solely to create more money? It’s arguable that the original three only existed to create money, but I rather liked the fact that George Lucas’ six movies actually felt complete in and of themselves, and while the story of that universe had been expanded through novels and comics, the films themselves were basically self-contained. Now, we have the potential for an expanded universe situation to exist in movie form, where my shelf of DVDs (or whatever medium we’re using then) in twenty years’ time is full of throwaway movies of varying interest and significance. I feel a bit uneasy with how my beloved Star Wars is being pumped for every last dollar that it’s worth, though ultimately I guess it doesn’t really matter if these movies are all beautiful and fantastic!

But what does everybody else think? Are we in danger of over-saturation? Or is it just a glorious time to be a Star Wars fan? Let me know in the comments!

Easter!

First of all, Happy Easter everyone! Whether religious or not, I hope we can all at least appreciate the chocolate festivities of this time of year. Though, sadly, I have been chocolate-less for some time now – it’s a trauma I’ll just have to live with. Anyway! For me, Easter is always synonymous with my discovery of the Star Wars expanded universe – many many years ago, a schoolfriend pointed me in the direction of Heir to the Empire, and I have not looked back since. It’s hard to believe now, but for a long time my love of Star Wars was confined to just the three movies, and I had no idea of this whole load of accompanying literature! But twas over the Easter break that I first read Mr Zahn’s absolutely amazing work, followed swiftly by the graphic novel Crimson Empire, which was the sum of our school library’s Star Wars collection, but these two books launched me on a career from which I have not had a moment’s regret!

This Easter, I read another Timothy Zahn novel, Scoundrels. Released last year, I’ve taken so long to read it for a variety of reasons, not least being that I dislike reading books in hardback, so always wait for the paperback release before sampling them (I did once request the local library order in Star by Star upon its release, because I just couldn’t wait for that to come out, but otherwise, yeah…) Scoundrels is set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and is really a book that’s focused on Han Solo (as the cover might have led you to believe!) Han isn’t quite in with the Rebel Alliance yet, so is still off around the galaxy smuggling and getting up to all sorts of shenanigans on the fringe of galactic society, and he still hasn’t paid off Jabba the Hutt.

The book was publicised as “Oceans 11 meets Star Wars”, and that’s a pretty close description, really. Han is recruited to break into a vault for a guy who has had some money stolen, and recruits a team to help him do it. If you’re wondering how Zahn manages to spin this out to cover nearly 450 pages of story, then you’re obviously not familiar with the man’s work! A whole raft of colourful characters, some old favourites and some new blood, are assembled, and the criminal organisation Black Sun are thrown in along with Imperial Intelligence – if you haven’t read this novel yet, you’re in for a really fun experience!

I really liked seeing the nods to Zahn’s previous work, but the new characters he has come up with are so well-done that I was racking my brains for the first few chapters trying to think if they’ve come up before – they mesh that well with the whole. But this is the guy who gave us Thrawn, Mara Jade and Talon Karrde, so I’m not really surprised there. Of all the newbies, Bink Kitik and Rachele Ree were probably the two most interesting, and the two I’d most like to see more of. Fortunately for us, then, Zahn has written two other short stories that feature Bink, one of which is handily included in the back of the paperback release!

Something I was really concerned about with this book was Lando’s inclusion. In case you don’t remember, there is some bad blood between Han and Lando, as suggested in Empire Strikes Back (“You’ve got a lotta guts coming here, after what you pulled”, remember?), which is explained in the 1998 novel Rebel Dawn (part three of the excellent Han Solo trilogy, which I can recommend to anyone if you can pick it up!) by Han recruiting Lando, among some other smugglers, for a similar sort of heist-job that goes sour on all the scoundrels involved, Han included. Lando blamed him for it, and smacked him in the mouth, telling him he never wanted to see him again. This has, for years, been the accepted reason for Lando’s comment, but now we have a story with the two of them set between these events, and I was concerned that it wouldn’t pan out. Well, it does – kinda. Zahn really captures the changed dynamic in their friendship since the Han Solo Trilogy, but unfortunately I felt it seemed to resolve the tension too much for the events of Empire to feel right. Instead, I suppose I would have preferred it if Lando had been left out altogether, but then how would you have a book called Scoundrels without him? Hm. Zahn does a great job, but it does somehow feel unnecessary.

Something else that I was a bit baffled by was the very end, which I won’t spoil here. Suffice it to say there was a surprise twist, but I felt it was completely redundant, and done more for fan-appeasement than for the demands of the story. If you’ve read the book, I’d love to know what other people think of this!

In addition to Scoundrels, I’ve also read some shorter fiction by Zahn, including one of the aforementioned short stories – Winner Lose All. This is a great prequel to Scoundrels, featuring Lando in a high-stakes sabacc game, and serves as an introduction to three of the new characters, including Bink. I kinda like Lando a lot, and feel he’s been terribly underused by the expanded universe. The L Neil Smith trilogy is just apalling, but any other time I get to read about the dashing gambler is usually good. Having his own short story here is just great – there are no galaxy-spanning massive events taking place, it’s just a good piece of fun fiction that is written really well, with some really compelling characters. Hopefully we’ll see more of Bink and Tavia soon, anyway!

The other short story I read this Easter was Command Decision, which was originally published in the Star Wars Adventure Journal in 1994, a now-defunct publication for a now-defunct Role Playing Game line from a now-defunct publisher. Sigh. I’ll probably wax lyrical about the Role Playing Game in another blog, but for now, suffice it to say that it was awesome, and has some really awesome stuff in it. Including short fiction! Zahn wrote four stories for the Journal’s 15-issue run, if I remember correctly, and Command Decision appeared in #11. It’s basically a short piece featuring Grand Admiral Thrawn, but uses some characters that were taken up again in his later work – including a whole other species that wasn’t properly investigated until 2005! It’s a good bit of backstory to the blue-skinned, red-eyed Grand Admiral, and I enjoyed it very much!

Image

 

So I hope you’ve all had a tremendous Easter, whatever you’ve been up to, and I’ll be back again soon with more awesome stuff!