Star Wars: Bloodline (a review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel Approaches

So!

First of all, I did not go to Comic Con at San Diego, as I have been working. However, I’ve been waiting to hear if Marvel would be making any announcements about their upcoming Star Wars line, now that there are scant months left before the licence reverts to them.

SDCC revealed some details on three books: a Princess Leia title, a Darth Vader title, and an ongoing series. I must admit, now that we have some details on these things, I am beginning to lose some of my ire about the existing EU being trodden-over!

The Princess Leia story will be written by Mark Waid, and is due out from March 2015. starwars.com has put together a nice little feature with all three of the authors talking about there books, and here’s what Waid had to say about his:

So, our story is about Leia not long after the end of Episode IV deciding, “Well, as the princess, there are still responsibilities that fall to me, like making contact with any stray Alderaanians out there who may not know what happened. It is my job as princess to deliver the bad news. It is my job to bring those who survived by being in other places, together. It is my job to help preserve some sort of cultural heritage of my people, so that everything my planet stood for and everything my people stood for doesn’t get forgotten.” So it’s a five-issue story [arc] that takes her across the galaxy in search of others of her kind to try and pull them together. Of course, some of them are going to be suspect, because they suspect this could be some sort of weird trap by the Empire. Some of them are going to be very angry, as they rightly or wrongly blame the house of Organa for what happened. Obviously, Leia will be traveling as low profile as she possibly can. If and when the Empire gets wind of the fact that Leia is doing is this, they’re going to be very interested themselves in what she’s doing, what she thinks she’s doing, and what information there is to be mined from these people.

Five issues of running around the galaxy trying to find stray Alderaanians, set in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin? Sounds like it could be interesting. I really like the idea of a Leia story, as she seems to have been perhaps unjustly neglected by the Legends stories. There were a few issues of Dark Horse’s Empire series that saw Leia in action, but largely the classic trilogy era was filled with tales of derring-do from Han and Luke, with lots of pilots and soldiers and whatnot. Seeing what Leia gets up to will be really good!

I really hope we see people like Winter and Tycho Celchu brought back into the Canon fold. Something I had often thought about was whether Winter and Leia knew of each other’s survival, and imagined a fun little tale that saw them meeting up under fire with an emotional reunion. Of course, whether Winter will be kept on as a Canon character will remain to be seen, though I hope that most (if not all) of Zahn’s creations will prove to be too good to leave on the scrapheap. We shall see!

Next up, the Vader book will be written by Kieron Gillen, and is due from February. This is what Gillen has to say about his upcoming work:

The high-level concept is that it picks up very shortly after the destruction of the Death Star. Vader is the sole survivor of the greatest military disaster of all time. A disaster he isn’t entirely to blame for, but at least some of the blame is his. He completely let the Rebels escape with the plans. So this kind of comes back to him. So there’s an implied sense that Vader might not be in the Emperor’s best graces at this point in the story.
It’s a story set inside the Empire, but a lot of the driving force is Vader’s own personal choices and the people he keeps around him to achieve his aims. The one problem with doing a book like this is it’s just kind of, Vader plus dudes in uniform plus stormtroopers. It’s very gray, you know? If you move the story into the underworld and [bring in] some of the more colorful characters, you get a much wider tone without undermining Vader.

So, an Empire story, but we’ll be investigating Vader as a much more widely-drawn character, looking not only at his position within the Empire, and specifically how he rose from the debacle at Yavin to head of the Death Squadron, but also at the other aspects of his life, including his relationship with the Emperor and his contacts with the galactic fringe. This should be a really interesting story, I feel, and one that I had hoped we’d see back when Dark Horse launched their Empire storyline with Betrayal. I loved that book, but was a bit miffed when we meandered through generic rebellion stories for the most part. While it’s doubtful we’ll see Grand Moff Trachta, I still look forward to seeing a Vader story with some intrigue and stuff! So that should be interesting, too.

And finally, we have the ongoing series. From the mind of Jason Aaron, the series is set to begin in January next year. Says Aaron:

We wanted this to feel like the movies. We wanted to feel like we were hired to do the direct sequel to the original film. So in terms of look, feel, and tone, that’s what we’re shooting for. It’s very much a team book and we’ve got all the main players here. Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, the droids, and Darth Vader all get big moments in this first arc, and that’s our core cast going forward. I do want to be able to use Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’ve always liked the old Ben Kenobi version of Obi-Wan, so we will see him in some capacity.

I always get worried when people say these sorts of things, as they so very, very rarely deliver. But I’m forcing myself to have an open mind, so we’ll see what happens…

There will be “new stuff”, in terms of the comic universe, but there are also hints that we might be seeing stuff from the upcoming movie, which is an interesting idea. I imagine, though, that we won’t know it at the time. Unfortunately, the question of reviving Legends material was not broached. However, all three of these books will be crossing over at some point – particularly the Vader title with the ongoing series – in true Marvel fashion. That should be good for now, but could prove to be a nightmare in the future (if House of M was anything to go by…)

But still, I feel fairly excited about these upcoming stories now. While it’s a bit difficult, because it’s not going to be the Star Wars that I know and love, I’m still trying to keep an open mind, so have a cautious curiosity about it all…

Just, please, give us Mara Jade back!

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