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!

Rogue One, again

Hey everybody!
At the weekend, I finally sat down to give Rogue One a second viewing, having bought the DVD weeks ago but not really being in the mood for it up to now. Well, I have to say, I enjoyed it just as much this time around as I did back in December!

Rogue One

The film actually feels like an expanded universe story, which I thought was a bit weird at first. When Lucas was at the helm of the franchise, he was always very careful with setting and location – I recall an article somewhere back when Attack of the Clones was shooting where this deliberate choice of worlds was discussed, though it’s really quite obvious across all six of his films. In Rogue One, however, we jump around from planet to planet with not so much a careless abandon, but certainly more an eye towards opening up the universe. While Geonosis and Tatooine are both desert worlds, they feel distinctly different because they’re meant to; Jedha (and Jakku, come to think of it) could basically be Tatooine by another name. This is something that the expanded universe did a lot, providing “just another x planet” and the like. I’m not laying this down as a criticism, of course, but more an observation. I love a lot of the old EU after all!

While Scarif was a very interesting location to me, and I wouldn’t be averse to seeing more of it – both before and after the battle there – I think Jedha is by far the more interesting of all the locations we’ve seen so far. I’ve talked about how I feel Disney may be on the verge of declaring the Prequels non-canon before, but I do get a sense that, to show more of Jedha, we’d need to tread on some fairly rocky ground. The location of a Jedi temple there seems to run counter to what we know of the Order from the Prequels – indeed, the fact that there is a buried-treasure-trail of such temples as per The Force Awakens also reinforces this point. But I find it incredibly interesting that such a thing could be, and really want to know more of what was actually involved there. Was it more of a Jedi outpost? Was the Church of the Force a Thing during the Prequel era? Jedi seemed to be nothing more than an elite police force back then, so what would prompt people to worship them, and what was the attitude of Mace Windu et al to this veneration? Or does the Church of the Force not so much worship the Jedi themselves as the idea of the Force, in which case what did they think of the Jedi as people? I so desperately want to know more about this stuff, so I really hope we get these answers!

There is what I think a young adult novel coming out in the next couple of weeks, Guardians of the Whills, which features Chirrut and Baze between their time as Guardians and the arrival of Jyn and Cassian, so hopefully we’ll get some more information from that!

Speaking of Cassian Andor, I mentioned this back in December, but I’m even more curious as to this guy’s back story now. He’s apparently the head of Alliance Intelligence, though having watched the film again, I got the impression he was more a sort of go-to guy to get the Alliance’s dirty work done. This seems to be the feeling from his orders from General Draven, and I quite like the idea that he is more of a mercenary sort. I believe he’s in the other upcoming YA novel, Rebel Rising, which I also have on preorder, so it’ll be interesting to learn more about this guy.

Rogue One

Despite the fact we’re no doubt likely to be inundated with the stuff, I think of all the characters I’m not particularly interested in, Jyn Erso is top of that list. This isn’t meant as a slight on the character, but rather just because I think we learn all that we need to about her from the film, and her story is pretty self-contained there. Of course, I’m braced for plenty of tie-ins to her time with Saw Gerrera, but hopefully they won’t neglect the other stories that could be told around these chaps…

Anyway!

This is already turning into a rambling blog (my specialty), so I’ll wrap it up here. Suffice it to say, I thought the film was just as good the second time around, and even though parts of it were a bit too on-the-nose, I found myself just wrapped up in the magic of it all and enjoying the ride! Interestingly, the CGI Tarkin didn’t seem to be as good this time around, while the CGI Leia looked a lot better on the smaller screen.

I actually started to watch A New Hope immediately after, but actually didn’t see the point after the droids launched in the escape pod. I thought it was interesting because so many people talked about watching them back-to-back in this manner when it was released, as if one would greatly enhance the other, but I actually found that Rogue One, while leading immediately into A New Hope, is self-contained enough that it doesn’t actually demand such a marathon. While this is probably due to the fact that I know A New Hope like the back of my hand, and can thus fill in the entire film from memory, I thought it worth pointing out that, in my view, nothing is gained from watching them both like that.

Anyway! Great film, definitely worth its place in the series.

Star Wars: Thrawn (a review)

Finished the new #Thrawn today! #StarWars

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

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

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

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

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

Thrawn

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

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

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

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

Aftermath: Empire’s End

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

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

Moving along, though!

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

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Aftermath trilogy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rogue One (spoilers within!)

Well, wow!

I’ve literally just gotten back from the cinema, having been to the 10:15 showing of the new Star Wars movie, and I have to say, that was one hell of a film right there!

Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance got those Death Star plans that we see Princess Leia racing across the galaxy with at the start of A New Hope, and it’s a story that has really been done to death back before the days of the story group. I am going to talk about some of the story of the movie, so please don’t read on if you’ve not yet seen it and want a surprise! Just know that the movie is really great!

Rogue One Star Wars

We follow the daughter of Imperial weapons scientist Galen Erso, Jyn, as she helps the rebels make contact with the extremist Saw Gerrera, who has received a message from Galen telling them of a flaw in the Death Star’s design. Jyn hears the message, and determines they must recover the plans from the Imperial databanks on Scarif. Jyn brings this message to the Alliance, who initially refuse to assist, so Jyn leads a small band to the planet with the intention of getting them, herself. In a desperate final battle, the rebels succeed in beaming the plans to the Alliance fleet, and while Vader arrives to stop them, one blockade runner manages to escape…

The film is just amazing. This is the first of the new breed of Star Wars ‘anthology’ films, which will deal with stories outside of the central saga of the Skywalker family, and focuses on a cast that is pretty much entirely new to the lore. Having grown up with stories like the Jedi Academy trilogy, which tells of the scientist Bevel Lemelisk and his team of weapons experts who developed the Death Star, I must admit I was a bit hesitant to like this film, as it was stripping away so much of what I had come to think of as the Star Wars storyline. But, much like stories like Bloodline, I think this film succeeds in providing a more cohesive, and just plain better, story for this aspect of the lore.

(I’m going to be doing a blog about the now-Legends story of the Death Star plans in the coming days, so stay tuned for that!)

Rogue One Star Wars

Jyn Erso is a fairly compelling character, though at times I thought the role was a bit of a cypher, and merely existed to tell the story around her. There is definitely something there, however, and either a second viewing or something like the novelization will perhaps change my opinion. The head of Rebel intelligence, Cassian Andor, was much more interesting, and I would definitely like to see more of his involvement in the nascent Rebellion. Hopefully this is something dealt with in the novel Catalyst, which I plan to read soon!

The more peripheral rebels we get in the group, Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus, were much more interesting to me, former guardians of the Jedi temple on Jedha that is being stripped of its kyber crystals, the fuel required for the Death Star superlaser. I have to say, the addition of kyber crystals, as well as mention of the Temple of the Whills, were a nice addition for fans of the lore of the original movie, but felt a bit like they were only included to make us fans of said lore “oooh” at the words. Similarly, how Chirrut initially says “May the Force of Others be with you”, which was the original greeting/blessing/whatever. But these are minor gripes.

The main thing here is that the new movies are restoring the spirituality of the Force to the mythos, rather than going with the scientific explanation given in the prequels, and I have to say that I absolutely love it. I actually expect Disney to come out with the message that episodes I-III aren’t actually canon at some point, as I find it very suspicious that they’re focusing all of their attentions on the period of the original trilogy and afterwards, and now working to unravel things like midichlorians. It’ll be interesting to see, anyway.

Jedha Rogue One Star Wars

The locations of this movie are worth mentioning at this point. We get a handful of new planets, centring on the spiritual planet of Jedha, and the Scarif base at the end. I really love the locations of these movies, and I was not disappointed! Jedha (above) is a desert world with a Mos Eisley feeling to its main city. There is a religious centre kind of feel to the place, with huge broken statues out in the wastes, and what seem to be pilgrims wandering the streets. Of course, the place is under Imperial cordon, due to the kyber crystal thing, and is the base of Saw Gerrera and his attacks on the Imperials.

Scarif Rogue One Star Wars

Scarif is a more tropical kinda place, which perhaps looks too much like the islands of the Indian Ocean, but what the hell. It’s here that the Imperial records are kept, and where the Rebels infiltrate to steal the Death Star plans. AT-AT walkers on the beach, ahoy!

Speaking of Imperials, our main villain is Orson Krennic, the man in charge of the development of the superlaser technology, it seems. An ambitious Imperial, I found him to be fairly interesting, particularly his place in the command structure under Grand Moff Tarkin. I have to say, I had no idea that the movie was going to resurrect Peter Cushing for this, and the CGI was actually pretty amazingly done. Unfortunately, things like this do tend to drag me out of the story, as every scene he was in made me focus on how they did that – was it CGI? Was it just a very good double? It’s going to be worth watching again to actually pay attention to the scenes this time.

Rogue One Star Wars

We also get a bit of Vader in the movie, though again, I found myself focusing on the physical appearance of the character and not the story. The costume looked a bit strange to me, and whether Ben Mendelsohn is just very tall or not, he also seemed a bit short. But I’m being really pedantic here! I do find it interesting that we got a lot of resurrected characters on the Empire side, and yet Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor was left alone. Maybe it’s for the best that the Emperor remains a shadowy overlord? He did get quite a lot of exposure in the prequels…

Along with the return of Cushing and Vader, we get Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, reprised by Jimmy Smits and Genevieve O’Reilly respectively. While Mon Mothma has been in the trailers, I was excited to see Smits once again, as it lends a lot of nice continuity to the movies. I think there was a guy who was supposed to be General Dodonna, but can’t be sure of that… It was really nice to see more of Yavin IV, anyway, and I actually enjoyed seeing things that reminded me of A New Hope – though there are several shots of the rebel pilots from the Death Star trench run sequence repurposed for the attack on the Scarif shields, and that kinda jarred a little too much for me.

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. It had a very gritty feel to it, and in fact felt incredibly grown-up for a Star Wars movie. The galactic scope of the film was really well-done, and the characters were interesting enough that they could sustain a movie that we all know the ending for. Perhaps even more so than The Force Awakens, I found myself enjoying this movie from the outset, and really want to learn more about things like Jedha and the Church of the Force.

Highly recommended!

Exciting times!

Hey everybody!
It feels like there is a lot of excitement in the air at the minute for anybody of a geeky disposition. We’re almost a month away from a new Star Wars movie, for starters, but the slide into December is always packed with so much awesome that I really should look to setting up a savings account specifically for the purpose…

I’ve been watching the second international trailer for Rogue One, which does subtly differ from the last official trailer released last month. It’s always cool to see new bits, and I’m certainly feeling pretty excited about this movie right now: I think, more than anything, it just looks fantastic. It has the Classic Trilogy sense of style but with today’s technology making more possible within that setting. Sure, I mentioned this in my musings on the first trailer, where I thought it would make the movie make the original films look shabby in comparison. However, I don’t think that will be the case any longer; maybe I’ve mellowed over the past few months!

While the story of the Death Star plans has been done to death in the old canon, I’m actually looking forward to this movie for giving us the definitive story around that. It’s a fascinating part of the Star Wars lore, and while some of the trailer seems to have some bits that look overly cheesy or cliche, I’m still looking forward to what promises to be an overall good film.

I’ve pre-ordered the lead-in novel, Catalyst, and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on it as it’s by one of my favourite Star Wars authors, James Luceno. I’d been thinking I might keep the book to read closer to Christmas, but I might not be able to wait that long, so there may be a review coming in sooner than you think!

Speaking of trailers, I’m still super hyped for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie next year! I won’t deny, I was kinda speechless when it first dropped, as it looks like it should be everything we could ever want from such a movie. I still haven’t seen Batman vs Superman, so have nothing to really go on (though by all accounts, her role was somewhat limited in that movie). But these trailers look incredible, and I heartily cannot wait for it!

But let’s talk about some games for a minute.

Picked this bad boy up today! #ArkhamHorror #cardgames #Lovecraft #Cthulhu

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

I picked up the new Arkham Horror LCG the other day, and it does look kinda fantastic, I have to say. To date, all I’ve done is take the cards out of the airtight bags and quickly ruffle through them, but I’m hoping that, once I’m caught up with my degree, I’ll be able to try it out and see what all the fuss is about. I’ve been subscribed to the page on boardgamegeek since it had one, and have been astonished at the amount of new posts created for it, talking about the minutiae before it even landed. It was akin to the Rise of the Runelords Pathfinder ACG, and I’ve considered unsubscribing because of it! I’m sure it’ll die down in time, however.

Speaking of the Pathfinder ACG, the fourth box, The Mummy’s Mask, has apparently been released, though I have yet to see it for sale in the UK. Of course, I haven’t really been trying all that hard to find it, but even so! I’ve only recently made it to the end of the first adventure pack in the Rise of the Runelords game, of course, so I’m hardly chomping at the bit for the next box, but it does look amazing!

Android Netrunner Terminal Directive

Last night, FFG announced the next expansion for Android: Netrunner, Terminal Directive. The article doesn’t have a great deal of information for how exactly this expansion works, but it looks to be extremely similar to the Pandemic Legacy stuff that involves game components opened and used at specific points of the game/when specific conditions have been met. I’m not surprised that another company has used this idea, because it seems to be doing well for Z-Man Games, though I am surprised that it was used for a living card game rather than a boardgame.

The implementation aside, I think the idea of having a game of Netrunner where your actions have consequences for a campaign is really interesting, and I hope I can get in on this when it starts…

Along with the Arkham LCG, I also picked up the final packs for the latest Lord of the Rings cycle, as well as the final pack for Warhammer Conquest! I do feel kinda sad that the game is over now, but talking about it down at the local store, it sounds like the game isn’t quite dead yet, so I can still try out my Slaanesh demons deck now that we finally have a warlord for the Dark Prince!

I still haven’t played with any of the new Lord of the Rings cards, unfortunately – it doesn’t seem so long ago that I would eagerly be playing through the latest pack no sooner had I gotten my grubby little mits on it! I’ve mentioned it on this blog fairly recently how I want to get back into playing this game with more regularity, so I hope that I can make that a thing soon! All of my free time at the moment seems to be taken up with either working on my degree or painting up little plastic guys… I do feel like I need to get back into gaming though, that’s definitely been sliding of late…