Catching up with Marvel Star Wars comics

It’s been a while since I last caught up with the Star Wars comics – almost a year, in fact! If you read that linked blog, then you might know the reason for this delay – I’ve been so unimpressed with the ongoing series and its overall lack of meaningful content to the Saga, that I’d effectively given up. Sure, I’ve still been collecting these things monthly, but I just couldn’t bring myself to want to read anything more. However, after feeling a bit at a loss for reading material, and realising just how many comics I have to catch up on, I’ve made a return to the new canon, starting with the Darth Vader series…

When we last caught up with the Dark Lord, it was in the crossover event Vader Down. Almost worryingly, it’s been two years since I read these earlier comics! Just where does the time go?! Anyway. After those events, which saw Doctor Aphra captured by the Rebels and Vader assigned Inspector Thanoth as a liaison with Tagge, Vader is dispatched to the mining world Shu-Torun to resolve some industrial difficulties. Seems a bit weird, sending Vader for such a thing, but then we get a lot of this sort of thing, where the premise is never what it seems, or is merely a backdrop to a wider storyline. The mining conflict on the planet, where several ore barons have rebelled against the Empire’s demand for nigh-impossible quotas, almost becomes a backdrop to seeing Vader in conflict with Doctor Cylo from the earlier issues in the series. I thought it was interesting at first how he seems to be working much better with the various adepts Cylo has created, though that soon dissolves as the twins Morit and Aiolin try to defeat him, and end up seemingly killing each other instead.

The book ends with Thanoth sending a message to Vader, letting him know Aphra has been discovered. While the storyline itself was very much a throwaway one to my mind, it does feel like we might be returning to the wheels-within-wheels that characterised the second arc and Vader Down, which can only be a good thing!

End of Games is the final storyline in the Vader ongoing series, and brings all of the various plot threads nicely together. Vader concludes his vengeance against Cylo, who we learn was responsible for creating the suit that keeps the Dark Lord alive. Cylo almost shuts Vader down, but through the Force, everybody’s favourite bad guy manages to win the day. Triple Zero and Beetee, having recovered Doctor Aphra after her escape from the Rebels, bring her to the Executor, where she basically tells the Emperor everything that Vader has been up to in a bid to win his protection. Far from being annoyed at his apprentice, however, Palpatine applauds Vader’s cunning, and in turn, Vader pushes Aphra out of an airlock. Does she survive? Well, the Aphra ongoing series would be kinda redundant if she didn’t, now, wouldn’t it? Though I think it’s nice that that series was initially untitled in the solicitations in order to keep the suspense.

End of Games is quite a huge finale to the series, and I think it certainly rounds everything off really nicely – while I have found them a little uneven at times, I think overall the Vader series has been really very good – and the art has been just incredible!

I wish I could say I enjoy the Star Wars ongoing series, however! Yoda’s Secret War kinda picks up after Vader Down, in that we start off with Threepio being held by the Empire and boring them all with his incessant jabbering about nothing. Luke is, understandably, distraught at one of his friends being held captive, and decides to just head straight off to rescue him. Along the way, he once more turns to the journal of Obi-Wan, and reads about one of Yoda’s escapades on a world where all the kids are at war, and the adults have retreated inside a mountain that happens to be alive.

Look, this story is very weird, and I think the overall point of it is something to do with not judging things on their first appearance, or something. You know, because Obi-Wan left the journal more to help instruct Luke in the ways of the Force than as a series of bedtime stories about the days of yore. I must say, though, while the ongoing series has just been a letdown for me so far, the Obi-Wan journals have been particularly disappointing, as I don’t feel they really add anything to the story, such as that is.

I think this is becoming a serious issue for me now, that Marvel’s Star Wars comics have consistently failed to provide any kind of proper, cohesive narrative beyond a need to fill another slot in the solicitations every month. We’re not getting anything that is actually important to the storyline, and it’s just driving me nuts wading through these books in the hope that maybe, just maybe, there may be something worth reading. Dark Horse tried to forge a kind of ongoing series in their Empire comic that told significant storylines such as the Grand Moff Trachta plot against the Emperor, or the very human drama of Luke’s reunion with Tank, to say nothing of the Darklighter story arc. And while that series did have odd patches that didn’t feel like they were really more than just throwaway stories, overall the series felt like it was a meaningful part of the Star Wars canon. Seriously, Darklighter is an incredible piece of storytelling, and I can recommend it to anyone. So far, Marvel has just failed to deliver on anything that is anywhere near the same level, and I’m wondering if it’s even worth carrying on with these books now. When you compare something like The Wrong Side of the War to Last Flight of the Harbinger, I’m frankly disgusted the Story Group has let it pass! But I’ve ranted about this before, after all…

That’s a lot of emotive language, for sure, but I just can’t get past the fact that these new stories we’re getting are just meaningless in the wider scope of the Star Wars lore, and I’m just tired of having throwaway story after throwaway story. We need something better, damn it!

After the Vader series had finished, Doctor Aphra clearly made it out alive as she gets her own ongoing series, which is kinda nice to think that a completely new, non-movie character gets this treatment. I’d found her a somewhat difficult character to get my head around, as it’s almost like Han Solo teams up with Darth Vader, it just felt so unlikely, somehow. But through his ongoing series, we learn that Vader really just sees her as a means to an end, in building up his own powerbase away from the Emperor. In a lot of ways, then, it’s a continuation of Vader’s association with the galactic underbelly that had been seen back with the bounty hunters in Empire.

Aphra, the first arc in the series, picks up after End of Games as we follow the doctor on a quest to restore her doctorate credentials after her estranged father has called them into question. He persuades her to help him on a quest to uncover the existence of the Ordu Aspectu sect of the Jedi from thousands of years past. The adventure takes them to Yavin IV, where the Imperials are still sifting through the Rebel base under the command of Captain Tolvan, an interesting new Imperial character who I’m hoping becomes more of a feature, as we really need anchor points in these comics, and this would be a great way to do that!

Aphra and her father eventually find the ruins of the Ordu Aspectu citadel, confirming their existence, but find more than they’d bargained for in the survival of one of the leaders, Rur, in a crystal (that, for some reason, is never referred to as a holocron, but I get the impression it basically is that).

The first arc is heavily influenced by Indiana Jones, from the estranged father, to the double cross at the beginning, right to the ending where the Rur crystal is deposited in a warehouse for safe keeping not unlike the lost Ark. Somehow, though, it doesn’t overly detract from the story, and it was nice to return to Yavin and see what’s up there, so I have high hopes for this series!

This blog is kinda getting long now – not helped by my rambling rant earlier! – so I’ll end it here with the second crossover event, The Screaming Citadel.

Much like Vader Down, we get a standalone issue that introduces the series, followed by alternate books from the ongoing series and its new partner, the Doctor Aphra ongoing series. Aphra teams up with Luke in an attempt to open the Rur crystal, which obviously she didn’t really deposit in that warehouse at the end of her own series. It’s interesting to see Luke quite desperate to follow the Jedi path that Obi-Wan firmly placed him on, but the fact he seemingly never gets very far is a little dull now. I know we can’t have Luke very Jedi-like before Empire, but I think if that must be the case, then they should stop doing these things and instead focus on making him the war hero that he seems to be when we see him as the leader of Rogue Squadron.

Anyway! Aphra and Luke head to Ktath’atn, whose Queen famously grants favours once a year, provided they’re interesting. It turns out the Queen is something of a vampire, and longs to feed on Jedi. Learning of what’s happened, Leia, Han and Sana all head off after them, where we learn that Sana and Aphra have had some kind of relationship in the past. Hm. After some attempts to implant parasites in Luke and Han (who actually does end up infected), the Queen is defeated and Aphra makes it out with her activated Rur crystal. The storyline ends with the Queen’s body being discovered by relic hunters, and the parasite infection continuing…

While it wasn’t as interesting a storyline as Vader Down, it’s still nice to see the characters from the two series crossing over like this every so often. I’m even finding myself warming to Sana this time around, which is a turn-up for the books! The fact that Aphra is here confirmed as gay was an interesting touch, something that first cropped up towards the end of the Aphra storyline, with her attraction to Captain Tolvan. While it has previously felt like Disney has been forcing the issue that there are gay characters in the Star Wars universe now, I think there’s a very good case that Aphra, of all the new characters we’ve seen, needs her sexuality confirmed if they’re to continue playing up the Indiana Jones line.

I thought it was interesting that Triple Zero gives Leia almost a lesson in morality when he calls into question her use of Han and Luke as tools. We’ve previously seen Leia almost as the head of a spec-ops team, but we’ve not had a great deal out of her character-wise so far. It also fits entirely with her persona at this point in the movies, and really gels with how she is in Echo Base.

The story reminded me a lot of the Vector crossover event from Dark Horse, with its emphasis on parasite infestations and Jedi from the distant past. Whether that was intentional or not, who knows, but it is interesting to see potential antecedents for the stories like this.

I can’t talk about these comics without mentioning the artwork, either. This is more often evident in the crossover titles, where the respective teams handle their own issues, leading to two distinct art styles that can often be quite jarring. I much prefer the ongoing series art from Salvador Larroca, who is responsible for most of the Vader series as well – there is a beautiful realism to the art that reminds me of my favourite Star Wars artist Tsuneo Sanda, and I just adore it!

Anyway, there will be a lot of issues from the Star Wars ongoing series to catch up with next, so hopefully there will be something more interesting to read next time I write one of these blogs…!

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…

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!

The Last Jedi! (spoilers within)

Hey everybody!
I went to see The Last Jedi last night, and I have to say, I was really blown away. Considering, at its core, it’s a very straightforward movie, there was a hell of a lot going on! This blog post will contain spoilers, so please turn back unless you’re willing to take the risk – but suffice it to say, I really liked it!

The Last Jedi

The movie picks up almost immediately where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey meeting Luke on Ahch-To and returning his lightsaber. Luke is initially very reluctant to teach Rey anything, but eventually offers her three lessons. During their time together, Rey learns that Luke almost killed Ben Solo during their training, as he had seen the corruption Snoke had managed to inveigle into his student, but stopped himself. However, Ben turned on Luke alongside a handful of students at the Jedi temple, killing the others and leaving to join the First Order.

The Resistance is on the defensive against the First Order fleet, being hounded across the galaxy due to the First Order’s ability to track their ships through lightspeed. Realising this, Finn and a mechanic named Rose decide to infiltrate the First Order star destroyer tracking them, and disable the device in order to allow the Resistance the chance to flee. In order to do so, they travel to the casino city of Canto Bight on Cantonica, but are apprehended by the police and imprisoned. There, they meet the slicer DJ who offers to help them, and after a hectic breakout, manage to flee the world. DJ gets Finn and Rose to the First Order flagship, but betrays them and they are once again captured.

During a First Order attack on the Resistance, however, General Leia was seriously wounded, leaving command of the fleet with Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. She and Poe clash over the vice admiral’s apparent lack of determination, and when Poe discovers she is seemingly intent on abandoning ship, he leads a mutiny against her, as he is desperate for Finn and Rose to get through and disable the tracking device. However, Leia stuns him and the extent of Holdo’s plan becomes clear: she intends to allow cloaked transports to flee the Resistance flagship, providing a decoy for the First Order to continue to follow.

Rey, communicating through the Force with Kylo Ren, decides to leave Luke and return to known space, intent on turning Ren from the dark side. She allows herself to be captured by the First Order, and Ren takes her to Snoke, who chides her foolishness for thinking she can turn him. As Snoke laughs in triumph, seeing Ren using a lightsaber to destroy “his true enemy”, Ren uses the Force to bisect Snoke with Luke’s lightsaber. The two kill Snoke’s guards, then Ren offers Rey the chance to join him in ruling the galaxy. A Force struggle ensues, and Rey leaves to rejoin the resistance.

The main Resistance forces are making their way to the old Rebellion outpost of Crait, but are discovered by the First Order and largely destroyed. However, Holdo sets a course directly for the First Order flagship and jumps to lightspeed, destroying her own ship and tearing a chunk out of that of the First Order in the process. In the confusion, Finn and Captain Phasma duel, with Finn managing to best his former boss before he and Rose escape the ship.

The Resistance reconvenes on the salt mining world of Crait, but so few remain and soon the First Order arrives in force. After an initial bombardment, Luke seems to appear within the base, and heads out to confront the enemy. Ren, now Supreme Leader of the First Order, orders every gun to blast him to pieces, but he emerges unscathed, at which point he goes out to duel his uncle. However, it soon appears to be nothing more than a Force projection, Luke allowing the remaining Resistance leaders time to flee from the mine with Rey and Chewie aboard the Falcon. Exhausted by the effort of projecting his consciousness across the galaxy, Luke dies.

The film ends with the confirmation that the Resistance is more than the surviving band of freedom fighters, but the idea that you can fight the First Order.


Like I said, there is a lot going on in this movie, for what is essentially a two-story arc of the Resistance’s flight from the First Order, and Rey’s search for training. That isn’t meant to do the film a disservice, as I thought it was actually really very good. There was so much happening, though, I feel that I need to go watch it again to really take it all in.

Much like my initial thoughts on The Force Awakens, I didn’t really feel like this movie fits with the others, either. Though I’m sure that will change in time! It feels like a really good film, don’t get me wrong, and I really did like it, but it definitely felt like a world apart from the others.

In common with the last movie, it also has a lot of throwbacks to the original movie trilogy, this time to Empire. The Resistance base on Crait felt exactly like Hoth, and there were at least a couple of shots that directly reference similar shots to the Battle of Hoth. It seemed quite silly that a random soldier dude has to make reference to the fact that the white stuff is salt, not snow, as if just to differentiate. Later on, there is a sequence where Chewie flies the Falcon through the salt mine, which is almost entirely lifted from the Death Star attack during the Battle of Endor – right down to the same music playing. The Canto Bight casino feels like the Cloud City shots we never got to see, etc etc. It’s not as obvious as episode VII, don’t get me wrong, but it still feels a little like this sequel trilogy is being propped up by the original three, and I would prefer to see more entirely new stuff, if I’m honest.

The Last Jedi

Now, let’s address the elephant in the room here. Leia survives the film, while Luke becomes one with the Force. I was really perplexed by this, and I don’t really know where we’re going from here. Of course, we knew earlier in the year that Leia had a larger part to play in IX, but with Carrie Fisher’s death almost a year ago now, and Kathleen Kennedy stating that she will not be brought back for episode nine, I can’t really see how they’re going to get round this. Leia is too pivotal a character to be killed off-screen, but the only thing I can think of here is that the opening crawl for the next movie will start with something like “General Leia is dead.” I suppose it’s too early to be speculating with what could happen, but I was fully expecting them to give her a similar death to Oliver Reed’s Gladiator demise.

On a related note, though, I was quite pleased to see Luke dying to save his friends, but not being killed in battle. I mean, Luke is my favourite character, so I’m biased here, but I’d always thought he wouldn’t just go out like a chump, as he’s too powerful with the Force. That he managed to project himself across the galaxy to provide the distraction for Leia and co to flee, then just goes into the Force, it really was the best way for him to go.

There’s so much to talk about with this movie, I’m really looking forward to seeing it again and just becoming more familiar with it as part of the ongoing saga. There is definitely a lot going on – it’s possibly the most action-packed of the films so far – so I’m sure I’ll be devoting many more blog posts to it in the months to come!!

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.

Right then, time for a return to some #StarWars I think! #Phasma #TheLastJedi

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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?

Star Wars new canon musings

Hey everybody!
It’s been a bit of a Star Wars week here at spalanz.com, and today I thought I’d talk about some various musings that I’ve been having about the franchise, with the new books and comics as well as thoughts on the new and up-coming movies… It’s going to be a ramble, but let’s begin!

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
I’m really intrigued about what’s going to happen in this film. Something that I like the idea of is how VII mirrored IV so much, VIII might actually begin by imitating V before vectoring off really onto its own thing. There is a lot of footage in the trailer that shows the Resistance seemingly under attack, and I like the idea that this is an escape sequence much like the Battle of Hoth, where we may see a lot of similar story beats to the earlier movie.

We’ll also have a lot of Rey being trained by Luke and, if VII can be relied upon, Kylo Ren being trained by Snoke, which will somewhat follow the theme of Luke being trained by Yoda. But what else could we see? Some stories have been circulating that speculate the film starts with Leia meeting Snoke in a sort of meeting-of-minds, and she has to be rescued by the Resistance. I suppose the scenes that I thought of as an escape could equally be a rescue.

Leia is said to have an expanded role in VIII, which is excellent because she wasn’t in VII nearly as much as she should have been. But I guess we needed to see the next generation established. The idea that she meets with Snoke could be interesting as, like the rest of the world, I’m deeply intrigued as to who he is and how he fits into the world. I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll reiterate here: I don’t believe Snoke is somebody who we’ve met before, insofar as I don’t think he’s a clone of Palpatine/Anakin/Jar Jar, or whatever. I do think he’s a completely new creation, though he does seem to be known to Leia and Han, given their exchange before Han leaves for Starkiller Base in VII. I’m intrigued as to how he fits into the First Order hierarchy, as I would have expected to have seen him somewhere in Bloodline if he’s a major player. (Well, maybe I did!) Whoever he is, though, it needs to be fully explained in the movies, as the vast majority of moviegoers aren’t following the comics and novels and cartoons and everything else, and Disney knows this. The movies need to be able to stand on their own, and so I’m confident that we’ll be getting a full reveal in either VIII or IX.

Again sticking with the parallels with V, I think the climax will have an “I am your father” style explanation – though obviously, he won’t turn out to be Rey’s father or anything like that…

The mystery of Rey is, I think, perhaps the best thing to be coming out of the sequel trilogy so far. While I know plenty of people are rabidly chomping at the bit for anything, I think it’s being done really well in that I’m intrigued, but I find her interesting enough on her own terms that I don’t need to know who her parents were. Does that make sense? She’s great enough on her own terms, and I love that about her.

The new EU
This brings me on to something in general about the EU right now, though, which is a continuation of something I mentioned the other day. So far, we’ve only had two movies from Disney, but they’ve been movies that tell pretty decent stories, and which have succeeded in drawing me in to the universe they have created. Bear with me here…

The Force Awakens lands us slap-bang in the middle of the galaxy some 30-or-so years after Return of the Jedi, and while the interpersonal story of the main characters plays out pretty much okay, we’re left with so many questions about the state of the universe that we’re now in. Rogue One returned us to a more familiar time period, but has shown that there are so many questions that we thought we knew the answers to, but it turns out we barely scratched the surface there. While it can be irritating to a lore nerd such as myself to suddenly not know where we are in the universe, I’ve noticed that I’m actually starting to pore over all of the stuff that I can get my hands on once again, such as the Visual Dictionaries, and branching out into the YA books that I would usually avoid.

Basically, Disney has made me enthusiastic about Star Wars once again.

There is, however, a “but” coming…
Despite the fact that I’m now really intrigued by the new setting, including that for Rogue One, which has shown us a new way of looking at the time period of the original movie trilogy, I’m finding it difficult to stay enthusiastic about the new EU when I begin to devour the offerings we have that flesh out this landscape.

I’ve been particularly hard on the Aftermath trilogy (you can see exactly how harsh by checking out my blog reviews here, here and here!) However, I’ve been thinking again recently, and I’m fully prepared to completely re-evaluate those opinions in the light of anything we learn at the end of Episode IX. I think it’s very likely that there will be a number of things mentioned in passing during those books that will prove to be important later – not just the interludes, but a lot of the general story will likely make more sense when we’ve seen the whole trajectory of the sequel trilogy.

The rest of the novels that I’ve so far read from the new canon have been very much a mixed bag, with Heir to the Jedi being a particular favourite, but only Bloodline standing out for me as the absolute best and most important of them all so far. I don’t think I’ve read anything from the new canon that has managed to capture the feel of this new, Force-Awakened universe more than this book, and cannot recommend it enough to even the casual fans of the franchise. The others tend to fall into something of a “meh” category of general tie-in fiction that is really neither good nor bad, but overall you’re not missing anything by not reading it. This is in stark contrast to some of the Legends books, which often form important leads-in to films or provide important explanations of plot-points. Maybe the Disney films are too reliant on themselves to tell their story, leading to the novels not having a great deal to cover?

The comics from Marvel have, so far, been the single most consistent let-down in all of this, however. While a lot of my criticisms of the new canon can perhaps be explained away with “well, it’s still early days yet – Dark Horse and Del Rey had years to build up their lore!” (which is, incidentally, true), I feel that Marvel in particular has so far been playing so fast and loose with Star Wars in general, that it’s really wearing me down as a consumer. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve read probably half of the total content they’ve put out, and cannot think of a single issue or series that I can put my finger on and say, “that was great”. The Vader ongoing series was probably the closest we get to that, though I have only read half of it up to this point. The general ongoing series had a fantastic issue #1, and went downhill so quickly it was unbelievable. We’re now being treated to Han and Leia racing around a Star Destroyer as serious wartime adventure, and I just can’t believe they got rid of stuff like The Wrong Side of the War and replaced it with this!

First world problems, for sure, but I think we deserve better stories than this dumbed-down junk. The time period of the original trilogy was a period of civil war, according to the opening crawl of the movie that started it all – how about seeing some actual war stories, rather than this inane rubbish about three people hijacking a Star Destroyer, or the ongoing boredom of Han Solo’s not-wife.

For me, part of the problem with the ongoing series from Marvel is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a plan for the story these books are telling us. The time period between IV and V was always set at three years, in-universe, and was replete with “just another story” about Luke and the gang going up against the Empire, having a series of narrow scrapes, but always winning in the end. Sure, that’s the adventure serial type of story that inspired the movie in the first place. But when you just have endless one-shot storylines that have that “and they all lived to fight another day” ending, it’s kinda pointless. One of the main selling-points for removing the expanded universe as it was, was that they could start to tell more cohesive stories in the EU, but I’ve not yet seen any real evidence of that from Marvel. Yeah, the monthly books have had some nice interlocking connections, but nothing important has happened, and it’s all just much of the same junk that Marvel pumped out in the 80s.

I have been expecting a coherent narrative across the comics that ties in with the films, and any other novels that take place at the same time period. So far, the only consistencies seem to be that Dr Aphra has shown up as Darth Vader’s groupie, and Han Solo’s annoying not-wife seems to have grafted herself on as Leia’s informal attache. We don’t really have a stable of characters that Marvel has created, including villains for the rebels to go up against, so it all feels like so much diaphanous rubbish.

Are you familiar with the Republic ongoing series from Dark Horse, which ran for over 100 issues and spanned the period from Phantom Menace well beyond Revenge of the Sith? The series had a somewhat bumpy beginning as it followed Ki-Adi-Mundi on a variety of throwaway adventures that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, before it introduced the Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos and his erstwhile padawan Aayla Secura. While their adventures were interrupted with other issues, the series really picked up steam when John Ostrander and Jan Duursema were telling the story of these two, and a whole cast of recurring faces began to pepper the pages, to the point where now, if you read the whole lot, you get a wonderfully cohesive narrative arc that actually serves as a counterpoint to the prequel movies themselves.

My point is, Star Wars comics can be better than this! First of all, we don’t need big-name movie characters in Star Wars books in order to make them interesting, not least because those stories tend not to have any real sense of danger to them. We know Leia is always going to survive any and all stories set between A New Hope and The Last Jedi, because she is in those films. Showing Leia at death’s door in the Annual #2 had absolutely no sense of drama to it, because we know she’s fighting fit again in Empire. So why not focus on a larger cast than just the movie three, and put them in danger, instead?

It would take no imagination to come up with stories involving other rebel agents – agents in the mould of Cassian Andor, for instance – who might well serve alongside Luke on a dangerous mission to uncover a supply train that the rebels desperately need – medical supplies, whatever – and then put that rebel agent in the spotlight for the next arc where we follow a commando team on an undercover mission into an Imperial arms depot. Maybe that agent survives, to become a more regular fixture in the ongoing series, or maybe he dies heroically, and his protege makes it back to Yavin with the news, whereupon she can become a more regular character. I came up with that in the about-fifteen seconds it took to type. There are more people in this universe, and more stories to be told, than the adventure of Han and Leia’s race around a Star Destroyer to see who can be called captain of the bloody thing!

I’m beating on the comics quite badly now, and I’m very aware that there are still plenty of these books that I’ve not yet read. I think it would be hilarious if the next arc I pick up is the best thing I’ve read from the new canon since Bloodline

This blog is already getting pretty hefty here, and the tone has been somewhat whiny in parts, so I think it’s time to draw it to a close. In conclusion, then, I think the movies are doing a tremendous job of setting up a new world order, of sorts, and I’m incredibly intrigued by how they’re managing to change the Star Wars universe for the better. The novels have been hit and miss, though everyone should head out and read Bloodline if they haven’t already done so. And while I’ve yet to read a new comic that I like, I remain optimistic that there may be an arc out there that I can finally say, that’s fantastic!

Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section below, I’d love to get other peoples’ opinions on this! We’ve been in the new EU for almost three years now, and I’m interested to see what you fine folks make of the state of things!

Star Wars comics catch-up!

Hey everybody!
Continuing the theme from earlier this week and the classic Assault on Hoth, I thought I’d take some time to talk about the quick catch-up I had with the Star Wars ongoing series from Marvel. Despite collecting up issue after issue, I’d not actually read any of the new series for over a year, so it’s time I try and make the long slog to catch up with what’s going on…

Star Wars Rebel Jail

First up, then, we have Rebel Jail, which comprises issues 16-19 of the ongoing series, and is framed by two more stories “from the journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi”. Rebel Jail takes up where Vader Down left off, as Leia and Sana (yeah, Han Solo’s not-wife) deposit Doctor Aphra on a secure Alliance jail that is positioned ridiculously close to a sun for security. Only it’s not so secure, as the facility is infiltrated by a mysterious figure who turns out to be the guy sent to infiltrate Coruscant in the first Star Wars Annual, Eneb Ray. Turns out he was trying to make Leia into the leader he believed the Alliance needed, by forcing her to kill the Imperial prisoners held there.

The story was a bit of a let-down, particularly seeing as how it was drawn out over four parts. I did like how the Annual was brought into this universe, as I was beginning to wonder if these things would ever amount to anything, so that was good. (My only previous experience with such things has really been the DC annuals, which tend to be side stories at best). I’m disappointed that Sana Starros is still around, however. The character is constantly made out to be a mercenary and only hanging around because Leia is paying her for her services – but we already have that storyline in Han Solo at this point in the timeline. I would have preferred to see a few more real rebels fleshed out into the background, and maybe even get some folks like Toryn Farr in on the pre-Hoth action, you know? While they could be downright silly at times, Bantam often made an excellent effort to integrate these characters across all points in the timeline, building up a proper stable of characters that all felt part of the mythos. I get that Sana is a scoundrel, and we’re probably expected to respond better to her than a rebel operative, but it just feels a bit redundant somehow.

The two Obi-Wan stories, while nothing particularly special in and of themselves, are still notable for the really cool artwork that show an aging Obi-Wan that is part-way between Ewan MacGregor and Sir Alec Guinness. Issue #15 introduces the Wookiee Bounty Hunter, Black Krrsantan, who has already made an appearance in the Vader ongoing series that took place correspondingly later in the timeline. There was a reference to his being on Tatooine in that story arc that is now resolved here, anyway, and I really had a bit of a thrill from getting that connection! Something that Marvel can never be accused of is bad continuity in major series like these, and their multitude of crossover events show that they are dab hands at placing little tidbits like these across their products, which do help to make the whole thing feel like a cohesive universe. Issue #20 really pulls the two previous Journal entry stories together, as Black Krrsantan faces off against Obi-Wan in the Dune Sea. We also get a fairly surprising insight into the relationship between Obi-Wan and Owen Lars, which I kinda want to see more of. I mean, I get that Owen is hostile to Obi-Wan to protect Luke from him, but I’d like to see how their relationship managed to get to that point, you know? Presumably Owen didn’t go overnight from that final scene of Revenge of the Sith, where he takes delivery of the newborn Luke from Obi-Wan, straight to pounding his fists around and shouting til he’s purple for the crazy old wizard to stay away from his family, you know? Anyway!

Star Wars Last Flight of the Harbinger

The Last Flight of the Harbinger is next on the list, starting with a bit of a prologue as we follow Sergeant Kreel (the Games Master from the Showdown on the Smugglers’ Moon arc) leading an elite group of stormtroopers against the rebels. I don’t actually know if this is meant to replace the notorious 501st regiment “Vader’s Fist”, but it’s certainly built up as an elite group of soldiers who are hard-as-nails, so who knows.

The rebels are attempting to break through the Imperial blockade of the planet Tureen VII, and the only thing big enough to break through with is an Imperial Star Destroyer. Leia, Luke and Han manage to steal the ISD Harbinger, forcing its crew to abandon ship, then pilot the war machine through space and straight at the cordon of the planet. When Imperial High Command hears of this, Vader sends Kreel and his men to recover the ship, which is inexplicably flying at sublight speed across the galaxy. The stormtroopers infiltrate the ship, but cannot re-take the Harbinger before the rebels fly it directly at the Imperial ships above Tureen VII.

While Rebel Jail was a bit drawn-out, this storyline was pretty much one of the worst kinds of goofy story I’ve yet encountered in the new canon. Allow me to ramble for a moment…

First of all, the entire five-issue arc seems to have hinged upon the idea of “Hey, you know what would be cool? If Luke and the gang hijack a Star Destroyer!” So we have a blockade of a planet that is apparently impregnable – the actual cordon, like so many comic-book planetary cordons, is in a ring around the equator, and does not exist in three-dimensional space. You know those blockade runners that are so prevalent in the universe? Why not just use one of them? They have “blockade runner” in their name, they might be built for this very task. Nope, we’ve got half a dozen people stealing a Star Destroyer, and also successfully managing to fly it with that many people, too…

Secondly, Han and Leia have a foot race around the ship to see who will be the captain. It actually features as the cover art for one of the issues, too. I can’t even begin to explain just how inane this event is, so I’ll just leave it there.

The story is also just another one of these throwaway things, which is beginning to irritate me about almost the entire new expanded universe so far. I won’t get into full-blown rant here, because this blog is running kinda long already, but suffice it to say, the only book that seems to be anything more than “just another adventure for Luke and the gang” is the excellent Bloodline. There are just so many books and comics coming out that really seem to have no impact on the greater Star Wars storyline, it’s honestly beginning to depress me as a Star Wars fan, and probably the single biggest reason why I’ve not picked up any of the new comics in over a year.

It’s a similar story with the Star Wars Annual #2, which sees Princess Leia injured during the line of duty on Skorii-Lei, and helped by a new character called Pash Devane. Pash is kinda interesting, as she’s not your usual female comic book character, but rather a heavily-muscled type who was forced out of her career as an engineer when the Empire came, and now survives by doing menial labouring. Pash at first expresses apathy towards the Rebellion as well as the Empire, but we get a typical Leia story that sees the Princess change someone’s mind. It’s the usual kind of throwaway story that I mentioned earlier about these Annuals, but worth mentioning just for the different depiction of females in the universe.

The next arc in the ongoing series is, I believe, a longer Obi-Wan Journal, so I’ll leave that for another time. I’ll be back soon with some more musings on Star Wars comics, catching up with the Vader storyline!