Star Wars: Resistance Reborn (a review)

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Hey everybody,
I’m continuing to catch up with all things Star Wars right now, and hot on the heels of my last blog, talking about the amazing Darth Plagueis, I’ve jumped forward in the timeline (and across canon) to the latest book to be released, Resistance Reborn! Part of the Journey to The Rise of Skywalker publishing programme, Resistance Reborn picks up close on the heels of The Last Jedi, with the Resistance having barely survived the Battle of Crait and needing to find both allies and a new home.

The book mainly follows Poe Dameron as he attempts to atone for his mutiny aboard the Raddis during Episode VIII. He comes across as maybe a little too guilty, as if the event is somehow more important than it seemed in the movie (though this could equally have been a problem with the movie, if I’m honest). Poe meets with Maz Kanata, who refuses to help the Resistance openly, but gives him word that the First Order have made a list of undesirables and are actively pursuing the names on it, locking them up before they can do any further harm. Poe sends his other pilots from Black Squadron to find other possible leaders to help rebuild, with Snap Wexley returning home to Akiva to bring along his mother Norra, and her husband Wedge Antilles.

Leia manages to convince her former colleague Yendor to aid them, and the survivors head to Ryloth to regroup. There, they are given the news that the list of undesirables has been stolen by a criminal group known as the Collective, and is to be auctioned off at the birthday party of notorious crime lord Hasadar Shu’s wife, on Corellia. Two teams are dispatched to Corellia, one headed by Poe to obtain the list, with the other led by Wedge in an attempt to steal ships from the shipyards there. A third team is dispatched to the planet Bracca, to obtain more ships from the junkyard world.

We’ve also been following the lives of First Order records clerk Winshur Bratt and his two underlings, one of whom stole the list of undesirables in order to pass it to the Collective. These plot threads intersect as the plot moves forward, as we see the oppression of the First Order leads to both of the underlings defecting in their separate ways. At the party, Poe is soon outbid on the list, but the First Order arrive and start shooting the place up (including killing the crime boss, himself). Poe rescues Shu’s wife Nifera, who in return gives up the list to the Resistance. Along the way, Wedge manages to rescue several high-level political prisoners being held at the shipyards, including none other than former senator, Ransolm Casterfo.

Resistance Reborn

The book is quite short, just shy of 300 pages, and so the plot kicks along at a pretty sharp pace. Some reviews that I’ve read on goodreads complain that the Resistance is in much the same place at the end of the novel as at the start, which isn’t entirely without foundation, although one could argue that they have a lot more materiel than they had in the closing scenes of The Last Jedi. More starfighters, some more recruits, a list of folks to go rescue. That doesn’t mean that the book doesn’t suffer from a kind of Bridge Syndrome, as if it were the central book of a trilogy that merely exists to stop those books being a duology.

It’s a really good story, don’t get me wrong, and I definitely enjoyed reading it. It pulls from a lot of the new canon, most heavily from the Aftermath trilogy and Bloodline, which helps to make the new canon feel like a much more homogenous place to be. One of my major gripes so far about the Disney stuff has been just how standalone everything feels. Having callbacks to earlier stuff, and minor recurring characters, helps to make something more of these stories. It’s something that I really enjoyed, anyway.

I suppose where it somewhat falls down, for me, is that we don’t get that sense of plot advancement, because we can’t know too much prior to the release of The Rise of Skywalker. I’m really hoping that his ludicrous level of secrecy about the state of the galaxy is going to be lifted once Episode IX has been released, and we can start to learn more about the First Order, Snoke, and all the rest of it. The First Order exists, at the moment, purely to be the bad guys, and there is next to no substance about them that we can tangibly cling on to. Sure, the Empire must have felt much the same back in the 1970s and 80s, but the way that Obi-Wan talks about the Clone Wars and Vader in those films gives them that sense of historical perspective that the First Order doesn’t yet have. Leia comes close to it in The Force Awakens, when she talks about Snoke seducing Ben to the Dark Side, but I honestly feel adrift when watching the movies right now, because we have so little to go on. There are snippets from the likes of Aftermath and Bloodline, but so much is just guesswork and hearsay, that requires too much work on the part of the viewer to put together into a cohesive narrative. I get that JJ and the rest want to create a sense of mystery and suspense, I really do, but having been building this since 2015, it’s wearing really thin right now, and I am more than ready for some actual answers. We need that cohesive narrative to make sense of how we got from the forest moon of Endor to the desolate sands of Jakku.

Huh, that was quite a rant there, wasn’t it?

Moving on!

Wedge is back in this one, and both Orrimaarko (Prune Face) and General Riekkan! I was really quite chuffed when I was reading those parts, even though I had it in the back of my mind that Dennis Lawson has said he doesn’t want to reprise his role as Wedge, and Bruce Boa sadly passed away a few years ago. I really wanted this book to show us Lando returning to the fold, but no such luck – so I’m guessing that will be something that is dealt with in the actual film. Well, that’s fair enough. Maz Kanata was criminally under-used, once more, though I’m choosing to think there might be something coming for her in IX, as Lupita Nyong’o is confirmed as returning. Maybe she’s best when lightly sprinkled into a story, rather than her backstory delved into too much.

I don’t know for sure, but I get the impression that the scenes with the Black Squadron pilots draw heavily from the Poe Dameron comic series, so I feel as though I need to get round to them at some point. For the time being, though, a quick Wookieepedia search has shown that Suralinda Javos, at least, is a recurring character from the comic book. Definitely need to catch up more there. Interestingly, we have a lot of Poe and Finn moments, where Poe is squeezing Finn’s arm. It should be nothing, but the fact it is called out so often makes me wonder if the idea of the two of them getting together might actually be where this bromance is going, after all!

Rey is in the novel, though she is another character who is criminally under-used. In fact, she might as well have not been there – I think it was only because she was on the Falcon at the end of VIII that she was included here at all. There was something about her character that felt off to me, too. She is portrayed, basically, as a timid mouse – not the sort of person we saw doing all that crazy stuff in the movie. Indeed, even at the start of her journey in VII, she has something about her, to have survived in the wilderness alone for so long. Hm.

I guess I’m really being fussy here, because this book was the sort of novel that I’ve been wanting from the Disney expanded universe for a few years, now. Something that plainly inhabits that same world, that doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Something that tells a story with the big movie characters, even if sometimes things felt a little off. It’s definitely recommended, and I think it serves up a better “journey to the next movie” story than Phasma did…

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis (a review)

Oh my goodness, what a book!

I recently finished reading one of the last, and arguably one of the most important novels from the Legends canon. It was an absolute joy to read, and I really cannot believe that it has taken me so long to get round to reading it! Long-time Star Wars fans might be aware that the book was originally slated to be released in 2008, but it wasn’t published until 2012, putting it among the final few novels to be published prior to the Disney take-over.

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The novel follows the life of Darth Plagueis as he kills his own master, Darth Tenebrous, and begins his quest for immortality through the manipulation of the midi-chlorians. As Hego Damask, the CEO of Damask Holdings, he goes about life as a wealthy financier, bankrolling the Trade Federation’s exploitation of Naboo’s natural plasma reserves. In so doing, he befriends Palpatine, and discovers a latent power for the Dark Side within the youngster. He encourages Palpatine to kill his entire family, and thereafter apprentices him as Darth Sidious.

Eliminating political rivals, Palpatine climbs the political ladder to become the Senator for Naboo. Political shenanigans abound, as Palpatine and Damask both set about initiating the Grand Plan for the Sith to take their vengeance on the galaxy (specifically, the Jedi). Along the way, Palpatine is given a Zabrak infant on Dathomir, whom he trains on Mustafar to be a living weapon for their vengeance. Damask makes contact with the cloners of Kamino, and begins to investigate the possibility of creating a cloned army.

As the novel moves on, it becomes as much a biography of Palpatine as it does of Damask, as the latter becomes consumed by his research into midi-chlorians and immortality. We see Palpatine court a friendship with the Jedi Master Dooku, engineer the fall of Naboo’s King Veruna, to be replaced by Padmé Amidala, as well as the assassination of Pax Teem, the Senator for Malastare. When Damask returns to public life, he renews an acquaintance with the Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas, and plant the suggestion that the Republic may need an army to ward against the increasing privations in the Outer Rim.

Towards the end, the book runs concurrently with several other books and comics, such as Cloak of Deception, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, and latterly, The Phantom Menace. At the novel’s climax, Palpatine kills Damask, revealing that he had been manipulating his former master for years. With Dooku as a potential ally in the upcoming war, and his eye firmly on Anakin Skywalker, Palpatine begins his own plans for taking over the galaxy.


This book is amazing. James Luceno is one of my all-time favourite Star Wars authors, as has been well-chronicled here on this blog, and I do particularly enjoy his prequel-era novels from the Legends canon. I don’t really know why I had put off reading this for so long, but I suppose other books have come under my glance, and whatnot. Luceno is definitely steeped in Star Wars lore, and is able to weave a story around the existing body of literature with ease. References bogged down his first novel for the franchise, Agents of Chaos: Hero’s Trial, but over the years since then he has shown himself to be adept at wielding the mythos like no other.

That said, the book is definitely much more interesting when it can be its own animal. The first two-thirds are an absolute joy, as we see Plagueis established as both a Sith Lord and his alter-ego, Hego Damask. The politics of the Republic are one of the more interesting aspects of the lore, to me, so it was fascinating to see how things worked at this point. As the story wore on, and we got to the point where it needed to weave in and out of pre-existing material, however, things did tend to get a little more muddy, almost forced, due to the fact that Luceno was trying to use characters who had already been written about – ironically, I think this was at its worst when he was trying to weave Palpatine and Valorum into his own Cloak of Deception.

Cloak of Deception, incidentally, is one of my all-time favourite Star Wars novels, and I will doubtless be writing up some thoughts on that book sometime soon!

Attempts to tie up loose ends, and weld the narrative firmly into the established events around The Phantom Menace aside, things certainly gather momentum as the book moves on. The middle portion, where Palpatine is moving up the political ranks and trying to learn more about the Dark Side, did often feel a little bit like it was dragging, but nevertheless I think it was good to let the plot breathe in this way. The story of the apprenticeship of such a seminal character as Emperor Palpatine should not be treated lightly, after all! I do wish that this was maybe a duology, and we could actually have expanded upon certain parts. For sure, the book jumps ahead a few years twice, to eliminate some of the more mundane stuff, but I thought there were a couple of missed opportunities for further exploring the characters in the wider universe. I mean, we’re likely to never see Darth Plagueis in another book, as this one pretty much tells his entire life story, and the same is true for Palpatine, so it would have been interesting, to me, for the story to have been properly expanded upon.

Something that almost seems to have been glossed over, or just mentioned in passing at first, is the creation of Anakin Skywalker within the Force. I suppose it’s possible that George Lucas wanted this to have been kept deliberately vague (Lucas, for those who don’t know, had a significant amount of input into this novel, making it as close to G-canon as any other book had come up to this point). Somewhere between the end of Part Two and the start of Part Three, Sidious and Plagueis both undertake a Sith ritual that shifts the balance of the Dark Side, almost like they’re firing the starter pistol to let the Jedi know that they’re coming for them. It’s intended to be a grand scheme to show that the Dark Side really is ascendant in the galaxy. When Palpatine then learns of the existence of Anakin, he mentally back-tracks and learns that the boy was born around this time, and it is theorized that Anakin could have been a product of the Force “fighting back”. It’s interesting, because since Revenge of the Sith, I think most fans had been of the mindset that Plagueis’ experiments with midi-chlorians had actually caused the birth of Anakin, but it turns out that he genuinely is a product of the Force itself.

Interesting…

There are a lot of call-backs to the Darth Bane trilogy, and often Luceno will reference all manner of Darths as part of the history of the Sith. It’s interesting to note that Plagueis sees himself as the last of the line of the Bane tradition, but even when the Rule of Two was still in force with his master, Darth Tenebrous, there were still Dark Acolytes being trained to use the Force, as Tenebrous seemed to need a failsafe against the loss of Plagueis as an apprentice. I suppose this meant the revelation of Palpatine training Darth Maul in secret on Mustafar was slightly less jarring. I suppose this problem of three Sith lords being around at the same time could have been solved by having Sidious kill Plagueis before the timeline of The Phantom Menace, but for whatever reason, it was decided to place the death of Plagueis at the eve of the Battle of Naboo.

Supreme Leader Snoke

I mean, that assumes that Plagueis died, of course. Since The Force Awakens debuted in 2015, fans have been theorizing that Snoke is in fact Plagueis, pointing to the wounds on his face (particularly his mouth) as being in a good fit. I’m not personally a fan of this idea, not least because Plagueis is said to have been using the Force to heal himself, and intended to return to the galaxy as co-Chancellor with Sidious, and be revealed to have fully healed. If he had survived Sidious’ attack, then surely the interval of 50+ years would have seen him not only return from the dead, but continue that process? The mangled mess that is Supreme Leader Snoke is, I feel, a new character – at least, I bloody hope so!

Anyway!

Darth Plagueis is a cracking book. Even if it is, after all, no longer canon, it is still well worth reading, even today!

Star Wars: Clone Wars season five

Hey everybody,
So it’s been almost three years since I last watched The Clone Wars, but I’ve finally managed to make my way to the last season, so I’m on the home stretch now!

Star Wars Clone Wars

The fifth season ran between September 2012 and March 2013, and consists of 20 episodes organised across five major arcs. This is a bit of a departure for the show, as there were no single-story episodes at all.

The series begins with the Battle of Onderon, a planet from deep in the distant past of Star Wars, and the Tales of the Jedi series. The Jedi are asked to intervene on behalf of the locals, following the Separatist invasion, but instead of leading a task force of clones, Anakin and Ahsoka are dispatched to help train the locals to fight for themselves. It’s pretty Ahsoka heavy, and as the five episodes progress, Ahsoka takes a pretty major role in staying behind to help the locals in their fight against the droids. Somewhere in here, there is a half-decent story, and there was a small part of me that was intrigued by seeing the Beast Riders still active in the more modern galaxy, but as usual I found myself just unable to get on board with the fact that Ahsoka is treated like such a special case, considering she is still supposed to be a padawan learner, and is portrayed as an early teenager.

Clone Wars Onderon

The arc is actually fairly noteworthy for the inclusion of Saw Gerrera, seen gesturing forward in the picture above. One of the leaders of the Onderanian rebellion, he of course goes on to transition to the big screen in Rogue One.

From Onderon, we next have another Ahsoka-heavy arc, featuring the trials and tribulations of a group of younglings getting their lightsaber crystals. Apparently, this arc was intended as a possible jumping-off point for a new series of young Jedi during the Wars, though thankfully that didn’t come to pass. The whole arc is trope-heavy, as the group of Jedi hopefuls embodies the usual mix of American high school teens. What was most alarming, for me, was that one of these younglings is voiced by Jeff Fischer, who I am most aware of through American Dad.

Clone Wars younglings

Once they have their crystals, the younglings then get attacked by Hondo Ohnaka, seeking profit as ever, and there is an interesting sequence when the pirates board the Jedi ship that is reminiscent of Han being boarded in The Force Awakens, which was of course still in development at this time. Ahsoka is kidnapped by the pirates, and the younglings are able to rescue her, more’s the pity.

The next arc is centred around droids, and an infiltration mission to obtain a Separatist encryption key. The whole four-episode arc is goofy as hell, following the diminutive Colonel Gascon as he leads a group of astromech droids and a mouthy pit droid onto the Separatist ship. Along the way, they crash-land on a distant planet and discover a clone trooper with amnesia, or somesuch nonsense. Probably a crowd-pleaser for the young ‘uns, but let’s just move on… At least it didn’t involve Ahsoka…

Clone Wars Eminence

Next up is the Eminence arc, which returns to the storyline that began at the end of last season. Darth Maul and his brother Savage Oppress are set on taking their revenge against the Jedi and the Republic, by establishing a criminal empire. It sounds goofy, and I do still kinda think the idea is a bit silly, but the execution is actually not that bad, and we get to visit the criminal underworld as we see Maul first attempt to take over Hondo Ohnaka’s organisation, only to be foiled by Obi-Wan. The brothers flee, to be rescued by the Mandalorian Death Watch under Pre Viszla.

Together with the Mandalorians, Maul and his brother take over Black Sun, the Pyke Consortium, and the Hutt cartels, as they gather the resources to wrest control of Mandalore from the Duchess Satine. In order to consolidate his position, Maul challenges Pre Viszla to single combat and kills him, only for Darth Sidious to hear of the uprising and travel to the planet to see what his former apprentice has been up to. Sidious kills Oppress, but saves Maul, promising a future use for him.

Clone Wars Sidious

Within the context of this being a cartoon, I was quite impressed by the scope of this three-episode arc, as we get to see a lot more than merely the Jedi and clones fighting droids. Sure, the cartoon series has explored a lot over the course of its five seasons, but this time it did feel kinda exciting to see – though I do admit that this is possibly due to the fact we’re seeing the foundation of the Crimson Dawn, and establishing how Maul gets from falling down that reactor shaft to leading the criminal empire in Solo. It’s definitely one of the more interesting storylines, and I think for its wider ramifications within the canon universe, it does need to be watched.

And finally, we have the last arc of the season, which is firmly on Ahsoka’s shoulders. An explosion at the Jedi temple leads Anakin and Ahsoka to investigate who could be responsible. When they find the culprit, however, Ahsoka is framed for her death, and flees into the underbelly of Coruscant. She teams up with none other than Asajj Ventress in an attempt to keep the clones off her back while she seeks to clear her name, but it is up to Anakin to discover that it was actually Barriss Offee who framed her, owing to her own dissatisfaction with the way the war has gone. Or something. It was all a bit weird, if you ask me, the only good part of the story being that Ahsoka leaves the Jedi Order as a result.

Clone Wars Ahsoka Asajj

I get that Ahsoka Tano is meant to be a strong female character for girls to identify with, and broaden the target audience of the show, but there is a whole essay waiting to be written on the ways that she derails the integrity of the series through being such a blatant Mary Sue character. It is for this reason that I just cannot bear her as a character. She could have been so much better, but she becomes so bloody annoying that watching through these later seasons has been the drudgery that it turned into. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve now got my baby daughter to look after, and so have found myself awake at all hours of the day and night while being unable to do much beyond watch TV, I doubt I would have made it to the final season so soon.

Putting her in positions where she is seen as an equal of the Jedi around her is faintly ridiculous, especially seeing as how those Jedi are most often Anakin and Obi-Wan. Remember, Obi-Wan is a Jedi Master, and yet he is often upstaged by Ahsoka, either in terms of battle tactics or just common sense. Her life experience far outweighs her supposed age, and her abilities are such that she is frequently the lynchpin of a storyline. There is a difference between writing a strong female character for a younger demographic to engage with, and writing her as being brilliant to the point where she could win the war single-handed.

Ahsoka is a blight over the whole Clone Wars cartoon, which is a shame because there are some intriguing stories being told here. There is a lot that goes against established lore, even before the Disney take-over, and for that I feel like I need to take a stand against it as a show, but nevertheless, I have found myself looking back on some of the episodes and thinking vaguely positively about them.

The cartoon series does suffer from an over-exposure of Anakin and Obi-Wan, who hop around the galaxy like it’s the size of a modest kitchen, and not, well, a galaxy. They crop up almost everywhere, an issue that gets worse as the series goes on. I’m sure that was in response to consumer feedback, wanting to see more of them, but I do often hark back to the earlier series, where we had episodes focusing on Kit Fisto, Aayla Secura, and Plo Koon. I think it would have been a bigger benefit if we had seen more of this, exploring other Jedi both from the movies but also original creations that were more fair-game for the show. Of course, that’s the perspective of me as a Star Wars nerd – I’m sure, again, that consumer feedback would have been overwhelming in the desire to see more of Anakin and Obi-Wan, leading to them having a major part (if not pivotal roles) in almost every battle of the Clone Wars. It feels a little bit like the rest of the Jedi Order, to say nothing of the civilians like Wulff Yularen, could have happily sat out the War, leaving it up to the dynamic duo and Mary Sue.

I’ve been listing my top three episodes from each season each time I’ve done these blogs, but for this season, the quality has been so low that the only three I can single out are those of the Eminence storyline, so:
1. Eminence
2. Shades of Reason
3. The Lawless

Even these are not without their flaws, of course, but it was quite a decent look at the criminal underworld, and I thought it was particularly interesting as backstory to Solo, a film that I do actually enjoy.

So there we are! The last full season of the Clone Wars has been watched, at long last. Up next, there are still The Lost Missions, a half-season’s worth of episodes, as well as some of the comics and at least one novel that is spun out of scripts that had already been developed for the show. So I’ll try to get round to these and bundle them all up together at some point, hopefully before the end of the year. Though with Rise of the Skywalker less than a month away, I might well be finding my reading absorbed by a different portion of the timeline…

The Mandalorian (so far)

Hey everybody!
So Star Wars has finally got a live action TV show, and I have to say, it’s really something. For years now, we’ve been hearing about the possibility of there being a live action series set in a galaxy far, far away, but nothing has ever come of it. There were strong rumours from 2005-ish, talking about the possibility of young Boba Fett helping the Empire to hunt down Jedi between III and IV, but I don’t think that idea ever made it out of development hell. Following the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, the scripts were reviewed, and in 2018 Bob Iger announced that a few shows were being developed.

the mandalorian

First out of the gate, we have The Mandalorian, currently streaming via Disney+. To date, three episodes have aired – contrary to Netflix, the show sees new episodes released every Friday, which is quite refreshing for a streaming service these days.

The show is set five years after Return of the Jedi, around the same period as the Aftermath books. It takes place in the Outer Rim, and sets out to have a Wild West feel while staying true to the Star Wars name. We are introduced to the titular Mandalorian bounty hunter as he goes about his business, collecting a bounty and using his earnings to support his clan brothers. The sense of clan loyalty is obviously quite strong here, although the clan is not above some fractious behaviour, as we see in the third episode.

The Mandalorian

 

The story, so far, has followed the bounty hunter, called Mando by those who hire him, as he collects on a bounty for The Client. This mysterious figure appears to be an ex-Imperial, or possibly still is with the Empire, or trying to get back in with the Empire by bringing them The Asset. Memes abound across the internet, with a lot of not-so-subtle spoilers doing the rounds now showing us the delight that is Baby Yoda. Apparently it’s not actually Yoda, of course, but rather one of the same species – rumours are flying around that it could be a clone, but who knows.

The Mandalorian

Baby Yoda is a delight, and helps Mando during a tough spot when his ship is ransacked by Jawas, and the only way he can get his stuff back is to bring them the egg of a horned beast. Despite this, Mando still trades him in for the bounty, but then has second thoughts and infiltrates the (former) Imperial’s base, rescuing Baby Yoda from what appears to be genetic experimentation.

The Mandalorian

Along the way, we get to meet quite a few Underworld / Fringe types, and get to learn a little of the state of the galaxy right now. Seems the New Republic is struggling to establish its rule across the whole galaxy, leading to the feeling of general lawlessness across the Outer Rim – perfect for that Wild West vibe, as we’re very much on the frontier here.

The Mandalorian

Star Wars has always been famous for the lived-in universe feel, at a time where sci-fi was showing us a pristine future, we saw grubby-looking outlaws and collections of junk piled in the garage to be forgotten about. That sense of place carries over here in the TV show, and we definitely get that sense of realism, not just because the sets feel grubby, but there is also that sense of time passing. The impaled stormtrooper helmets, above, convey so much information about where and when we are, and the show is replete with these sorts of visual references.

I hope we get more of this – not just of The Mandalorian, but more live-action shows. Hopefully they stick to the shorter eight-episode format, as we’ve seen so often with those running to 22 episodes the quality suffers as the need for filler increases. Sticking to the Outer Rim would allow stories to be told without having to re-cast pivotal roles like Luke and Leia, and doing so could link in with stuff like the Aftermath books, and show us the beginnings of the First Order in live-action.

The Mandalorian

There is a similar feeling to Rogue One here, as well – in keeping with the fact that the movie was originally pitched as an arc for a TV series back in the day. It has the sense of nostalgia for the original trilogy, updated without losing the charm. As I’m watching the show, I find that I’m not particularly thinking about “what will happen next?” and endlessly theorising about Baby Yoda’s possible origins as a clone of the OG Jedi Master, but rather I’m just sitting back, soaking it all in, and enjoying the ride.

But I can’t wait to see where this story takes us!

Star Wars: Thrawn – Treason (a review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (final trailer)

So the final trailer has dropped, and the little Star Wars fanboy in me has gotten really quite excited once again, as we look upon the final Episode movie in the Skywalker saga.

You know, this could well fall flat, it could well be a dreadful series of set-piece action scenes with no substance to them, or it could be a fitting end to what began back in 2015. Personally, I’m still not entirely sure we even needed a sequel trilogy, but given what has happened with episodes 7 and 8, I’m feeling pretty much that the film will at least draw those films to a decent conclusion. Will it also be a satisfying one? Well, we’ll just have to wait another couple of months to find out.

I’ve been a little busy with real life for the last few weeks, so haven’t had all that much time to take a look into it all. As such, I may well be coming to the film almost as blind as I did for The Force Awakens back in the day. We’re due for so much Star Wars content now, I’m expecting the saturation point to reach critical level, so it might be real nice to approach this bookend with (almost) fresh eyes…

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (teaser trailer)

It’s here, finally!

I’m one of those who did quite enjoy The Last Jedi, so I’m not about to launch into some kind of, “finally, we’re back on track” diatribes. If I’m honest, there isn’t really a great deal to go on here, it’s your classic teaser trailer, where there’s some bland scene making up the most part, then a series of cuts with almost single-shot action that, by itself, doesn’t really mean much.

The ending of it looks quite interesting though – is that Endor? Is that the remains of the second Death Star? Hm. I’m really hoping that the Palpatine laugh at the end is either misdirection entirely, or else there’s some remnant of his spirit haunting the wreckage that Rey and co will have to confront.

Also, how good is it that the band is back together here? The new big three are reunited for their trip, and it’s quite nice to have them all in the same place – much like we had with Return to the Jedi, and the old big three starting off their adventure together!

Lando’s back, and he’s looking glorious! Billy Dee is definitely a welcome return, I just wish he’d been brough out of retirement sooner, really! But he’s here now, and I can’t wait to see just how he reunites with the Rebellion. It was also really nice to see General Leia is still here – I know there had been the reports of using unused footage from the previous two films to make up Carrie Fisher’s contribution to the movie, but there was a part of me that still thought she might be relegated to a bit-player. Hopefully they’ve got enough footage that they can make her into at least the presence she deserves, and if she has to go out in a blaze of glory, then so be it.

Overall, I’m quite excited! I just hope Palpatine isn’t brought back as an effective replacement for Snoke, as it would make the whole Vader arc in the original trilogy pretty meaningless if Anakin hadn’t managed to destroy the Sith and bring balance, etc. Unless that prophecy is going to come back and feature in some way? I can’t really see it, as there has been a bit of a trend to almost deny the prequels exist, or certainly to ignore the material of that time.

The only thing that bothers me, if I’m honest, is the title. The Rise of Skywalker – while I’m not about to conjecture that it’s Rey, or Kylo’s redemption, or anything, I am a bit disappointed with it. I’m sure I’ll get used to it – I have a feeling I didn’t like The Force Awakens when I first heard it, but even so, I have the feeling that JJ is going to try and give us something I’m not sure I want at this point.

Time will tell, I guess, and in a little over 8 months’ time, we’ll get to find out! I’ll have a two month old baby at that point, so hopefully we can find childcare to make it to the cinema for opening day!!

Star Wars: Battlefront – Twilight Company (a review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars: Thrawn – Alliances (a review)

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

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

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

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

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

But anyway!

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

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

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

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

Star Wars thoughts

Oh my word, have you guys seen this?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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