Review – The Thrawn Trilogy: “The Last Command” (1993)

The_Last_Command_Cover“I was thinking about Leia’s twins. Thinking about how I’m going to have to train them some day . . . They’re going to be strong in the Force, and with that strength comes responsibility. How do I teach them that? How do I teach them wisdom and compassion and how not to abuse their power?” – Luke Skywalker


 

The Last Command is the final installment in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. Many Star Wars fans still consider this trilogy to be the best that Star Wars literature has to offer, even today, nearly 25 years after The Last Command was released. And it’s not hard to see why.

Timothy Zahn brought new life to the then-dormant Star Wars franchise, introducing us to extremely fun and interesting new characters, and bringing back our old favorite characters for their continued adventures. On top of that, Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy actually felt like reading a trilogy of Star Wars films. Before this trilogy, there were a few other Star Wars novels out there, but none of them took themselves as seriously as this trilogy did, and none of them quite nailed that Star Wars feeling like Zahn was able to.

The Last Command takes place a few months after its predecessor, Dark Force Rising. The whole cast from the first two books make their return in this one, plus, a couple of new characters! Jacen and Jaina Solo make their first ever appearance in Star Wars media a few chapters into the book, after Leia gives birth to them. The twins don’t have much of a role in the novel, since they’re newborns, and can’t really do or say anything. But still. Jacen and Jaina are two of my favorite Star Wars characters of all time. They might actually be my favorites. So I was happy to see them come into the world like this.

The greatest thing about this third part to Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy is the character development we see. More than the actual events that are occurring in the novel, I found myself so invested in the characters in this book, especially Mara Jade. Mara’s inner turmoil is in full-force this time, as she once again has to decide whether to help Luke Skywalker–the man she wants dead more than anything–or to kill him. To me, this book is Mara’s story, and I was thrilled by that, because like Jacen and Jaina Solo, Mara Jade is one of my favorite Star Wars characters of all time. Getting to know what she’s thinking, and seeing the decisions she makes with those thoughts in the back of her head, was my favorite thing about this book. So much so, that I was actually disappointed whenever I got to chapters that focused on other characters instead of her.

Seeing Leia–and especially Han–trying to adjust to being parents is fun. We don’t get a whole lot of this in the novel–because the twins are being taken care of by Leia’s helper, Winter–but it is nice when we do. Leia is in the middle of the action a bit more in this story, which I appreciate. She is very in-tune with the Force which is always fun to see, even though she feels very inadequate when it comes to anything Jedi-related. Luke, now an uncle, realizes that he will eventually have to train Jacen and Jaina in the ways of the Jedi. He is afraid, he doesn’t think he can do it. How can he teach them not to abuse their power? Although he has taught Leia some of what he knows, he worries about the responsibility of training her children.

Thrawn himself is essentially the same character we’re already familiar with from the first two books. His growth isn’t as significant. We know what we need to know about him. He is still just as much of threat, and just as much of a tactical genius as he has always been. His relationship with the insane Joruus C’baoth has become strained and C’baoth’s power has grown substantially. Like Thrawn, C’baoth thinks he is the rightful heir to the Empire, and with his rapidly-growing Force abilities he is now a serious threat to Thrawn.

Joruus C’baoth has become terrifying by this book. Not only is he substantially more powerful than we’ve seen him before, but he is also more insane than ever, which makes for a pretty frightening combination. My one gripe with this story is that C’baoth seems too powerful. He is doing things that Emperor Palpatine could never do. Though never stated explicitly in the text, it feels like C’baoth is significantly more powerful than Palpatine, which just doesn’t sit well with me, but, it is something that I’ll let pass because overall this book is very, very good.

There were a lot of details that I found fun in this book. Little things like how Rogue Squadron flies in “Porkins’ Formation.” The novel states that the original construction facility of the Death Star was located at Horuz. In the new canon, the original Death Star construction location was Geonosis. On that same line of thought, this book, like the first two books in the series, gets a lot of things wrong about the Clone Wars. Mostly dates. Timothy Zahn didn’t have the luxury of the prequel films, the Clone Wars animated series, or the many, many books, comics, and video games that later went on the flesh out the Clone Wars. Zahn just had to guess what the Clone Wars were like. Luckily, he doesn’t get too specific, so nothing he writes is too jarring. Mostly, the dates are just off. In Zahn’s vision, the Clone Wars happened much further in the past than George Lucas eventually revealed it to.

There were other little things too. In my review of Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu I pointed out how weird it was that Lando–and so many other characters in that novel–smoked cigarettes so often. Cigarettes. Well, in The Last Command, there is a character named Niles Ferrier who smokes cigarras. Which sounds a little more Star Warsy than “cigarettes,” but not really.

There is a character named General Bel Iblis who tells Leia that they’re “about to give the Stardust plan its first try, if you want to come and watch.” The Stardust plan? Like, the plans to the Death Star, that were code-named “Stardust” in Rogue One? No, it’s something completely different and unrelated. But I found it interesting that a plan named “Stardust” existed in Star Wars 23 years prior to the release of Rogue One.

Stardust

Without giving anything away, The Last Command is a great book. Easily one of my favorite Star Wars novels that I have read. It is a great conclusion to the Thrawn Trilogy and a great setup for the direction the Expanded Universe takes after this book. This was a great trilogy that I definitely recommend to every Star Wars fan, and The Last Command is my favorite book in the series. Not only did Timothy Zahn write a great trilogy of Star Wars novels, but he completely revitalized the Star Wars franchise while doing so.

If you’re interested in Star Wars books at all, read the Thrawn Trilogy. It’s some of the best there is to offer.

The Last Command: 9/10

The Thrawn Trilogy: 8.5/10

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Review – “Darth Vader Vol. 1: Vader” (2015)

darth-vader-1-cover“Do not underestimate how much you disappointed me on Mustafar.” – Emperor Palpatine


 

The Marvel Star Wars comics continue to be great. I loved the first issues of Marvel’s Star Wars comic series, compiled in a trade paperback collection called Skywalker StrikesThe first six issues of Marvel’s Darth Vader series are just as great.

The thing is, the two series aren’t really separate series. They both reference and tie into each other heavily. The Darth Vader series takes place at the exact same time as the Star Wars comic series. They share many of the same events. In fact, the first trade paperback collections of each series end the exact same way, with the same scene (though the scene in Darth Vader is expanded upon and even better than it is in the main Star Wars series). Though the two are technically separate series, I highly recommend reading them together. If you prefer reading the trade paperbacks to individual issues, like I do, read Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes first, then read Darth Vader Vol. 1: Vader. It is not necessary to read Star Wars to understand Darth Vader, but it will definitely make the experience more enjoyable. Plus, the two series eventually cross over with each other, so you might as well be reading them both anyway.

What can I say about this? I love it. I don’t know why it took me so long to get into the canon comics, but so far I am probably enjoying them more than most of the canon novels. This is coming from a guy who almost always prefers novels to comics. These comics are that good. Hopefully as I read more of them I will continue to feel the same.

In this series, we basically get to see what Darth Vader is up to “off-screen” in the main Star Wars comic series. It really is more of a spin-off of the main series than something completely new.

We get to see Vader speaking with Palpatine inside the new Imperial Palace, which is actually the old Jedi Temple on Coruscant. The Emperor is furious with Darth Vader. Palpatine is ruthlessly tearing into Vader, making him feel as worthless and bad about himself as he possibly can. Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine hate each other, and Palpatine relishes any change he gets to rub Vader’s failures in his face. Palpatine is angry about the recent destruction of the Death Star, and while Palpatine is ripping into Vader, placing all of the blame on him, we learn a piece of interesting information, when Palpatine says “You tagged the rebel ship with a homing beacon then let the rebels escape with the Death Star plans. Deliberately.

Whoa.

So you know that scene in Rogue One? You know, that scene? Vader let the rebels escape with the plans. Oops! Big mistake, buddy. (Keep in mind, this comic was released more than a year before Rogue One came out.)

Vader knows that Palpatine is up to something behind his back, so he decides to investigate. Vader tracks down a young woman named Dr. Aphra, because he needs her to help him find a factory for old battle droids from the Clone Wars, that he can reactivate and use for himself. “There was a time I had armies at my beck and call. That time has passed.” Vader must not consider the Imperial forces a true army, like the clones were. Interesting.

Dr. Aphra is a great new character. So great, in fact, that she actually ended up getting her own comic series after this! This makes Dr. Aphra the first of the new Star Wars comic series to be focused on a character that was introduced in the comics, instead of well-known characters from the movies, or television series. She’s an archaeologist who is very good at her job. So good that Darth Vader personally requests her help to recover the droid factory on Geonosis. She’s one of the few people I’ve seen who isn’t afraid of Vader. Or, at least, she doesn’t act like she’s afraid of him. She talks to him like a normal person, even though Vader isn’t too talkative. I can’t wait to read more about Dr. Aphra.

Some of my favorite moments in this series are brief flashbacks (often only one panel long) that Vader has. One such moment is when Vader and Aphra arrive on Geonosis. Aphra says “Ever been to Geonosis, Lord Vader?” We cut to a one-panel shot of Anakin and Padmé Amidala, kissing each other as they are being led to be executed in the colosseum on Geonisis. Vader replies to Aphra: “Cease your probing.” There are a few such moments in this series. Sometimes flashing back to the movies, and sometimes flashing back to the Star Wars comic series. This is one of many reasons why I recommend reading both series together.

My favorite thing about the Darth Vader series is learning more about the relationship between Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. Their relationship is not a good one. “The Sith always betray one another” is a quote by Jedi Master Shaak Ti that I often remember from the Legends video game The Force Unleashed. Both master and apprentice are constantly going behind the other’s back, looking to overthrow the other, and we get to see a lot of that in this series.

The artwork is great. The story is engaging. What more could you want? I usually think Star Wars comics are lesser-quality stories than what we get in the novels. With these comics, I think it’s the opposite. These comics are some of my favorite things in the Star Wars canon right now. I cannot recommend them enough. I am personally enjoying them more than the majority of the canon novels out there right now. Any fan of Star Wars should read both of these series.

Score: 9/10

Review – The Lando Calrissian Adventures: Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka (1983)

starcave-of-thonboka-cover“The Falcon’s holds are full of gigantic gemstones–every variety I’ve ever seen or heard of, and a few I’m going to have to consult experts on. I could buy an entire city.” – Lando Calrissian


 

Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka is the final novel in L. Neil Smith’s Lando Calrissian Adventures trilogy. It was released on November 12th, 1983, just two months after the previous book in the series, Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon was released. I wish books in series I loved came out that fast more often!

This book picks up basically where the last one left off, and acts as a somewhat underwhelming conclusion to the Lando trilogy.

In this story, Lando stumbles upon a manta-like creature in the void of space who communicates with the Millenium Falcon using electronic signals or radio waves  or something of the sort. This creature is named Leheshu, and he is an Oswaft, a translucent-clear race of space-dwelling creatures who live in a nebula known as the ThonBoka, or “Starcave.” Oswaft also have the ability to jump through hyperspace, granted them the ability of faster-than-light travel that so many ships have in the Star Wars galaxy.  Lando and his droid Vuffi Raa befriend the Oswaft, and decide to help him when his home, the ThonBoka is blockaded by the Imperial Navy.

imperial-navy-oswaftOur villain Rokur Gepta makes a comeback, and for reasons still-not-totally-clear, he absolutely hates Lando Calrissian and wants him dead more than anything else. His total obsession with killing Lando is strange and seems to be based on boredom more than any legitimate reason for wanting him dead. Along with Gepta is Klyn Shanga, who believes Vuffi Raa to be the reason his civilization is destroyed. Shanga wants nothing more than to see Vuffi Raa–who he believes to be an organic, living creature–dead. Shanga teams up with Gepta so that they can hunt Calrissian and his droid together.

In the midst of everything, Vuffi Raa begins to wonder where he came from, and who created him. He starts questioning his programming and becomes frustrated with whoever programmed him to be the way that he is.

Honestly, this book is a little boring. I was waiting the entire time for things to get more exciting, but not much happens in this story. While the first two books in the series were fairly entertaining, this one never really grabbed my attention until literally the last chapter.

The whole book feels like it’s leading up to something big, but there’s never really a big payoff. The “final battle” between our heroes and our villains isn’t very exciting and ends completely abruptly and unsatisfyingly. At the end of the story, Vuffi Raa finally does learn where he came from, and even that–while being perhaps the most interesting part of the entire book–just isn’t that interesting, and feels like it was just tacked on as an afterthought at the end of the book.

I really don’t have much to say about this one. I was completely underwhelmed, which is kind of a bummer because I did like the first two books in the trilogy.

I felt like we didn’t even get to see much of Lando in this book. Yeah, technically he is the main character still, but it felt like this book was really about Leheshu more than anyone else, with side-stories about Rokur Gepta and Klyn Shanga, and with Lando and Vuffi Raa acting as supporting characters. There is no character growth for Lando in this story, and that’s pretty disappointing. At the end of the story he’s the same person he was at the beginning. Sure, Lando hasn’t changed all that much in the entire trilogy, but in this final book there was no character development at all.

vuffi-raa-2One thing that makes me sad though, is that much like with Bollux and Blue Max from Brain Daley’s Han Solo Adventures trilogy, we hardly ever get to see Vuffi Raa again in other Expanded Universe stories after this one. Both of these trilogies introduce us to really great, lovable droid sidekick characters who aren’t really seen again in future Star Wars stories. This is a bummer, because Vuffi Raa is probably my favorite thing about this trilogy.

I mentioned in my review of The Flamewind of Oseon that there was too much sabacc playing in that book. In this book there are too many cigars. Is that a weird complaint? Lando is a heavy, heavy smoker, who basically smokes a cigar whenever possible, which is all the time. But it’s not just him. Essentially every human character in the book seems to be craving a cigar at every moment. Maybe cigar addiction is a huge problem in whatever sector of the galaxy this is. I don’t know, but halfway through the book I was already very tired of cigar references. There’s even an entire subplot about Lando masquerading as a cigar salesman, selling high-quality cigars to the Imperial Navy. Lando even goes so far as to modding his spacesuit so that he can smoke while he’s out in the vacuum of space. Enough with the cigars! Good to see that he got his cigar addiction under control by the time of The Empire Strikes Back.

Overall I wasn’t a fan of this one. I liked some of the characters. Leheshu was intriguing, and I liked Rokur Gepta only because I liked him in the previous books, even though he was incredibly boring in this one. Lando didn’t really feel like Lando this time around. The book had some good moments, but they were rare, which is sad because this story seemed like it had promise. The worst part is that not only is there no satisfying conclusion to this book, but there’s no satisfying conclusion to this trilogy as a whole.

Unless you’re a completionist, I’m not going to recommend this book. It just didn’t grab my interest at all.

The trilogy as a whole though is pretty good. Two decent books and boring one isn’t so bad I guess. This definitely doesn’t come close to the best Star Wars literature out there, but overall L. Neil Anderson’s Lando trilogy is a fun ride for the most part. These books don’t take themselves too seriously, like a lot of Star Wars novels do, and that can be fun every once in a while. These stories are a little goofy, especially the first book, Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu, and it’s fun to see how the early Expanded Universe got its start with stories like these.

Though this last book didn’t interest me, I still look back at this trilogy with fondness. The first two books kept me entertained even though this third book was a dud. I still say this trilogy is worth checking out. Whether or not you decide to stick with it through all three books is up to you.

Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka: 4.5/10

The Lando Calrissian Adventures (trilogy): 6/10

lando-calrissian-adventures-trilogy-cover

Review – “Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes” (2015)

star-wars-1-skywalker-strikes-cover“The boy is your last great hope, isn’t he, Obi-Wan? He is what you died to protect. He may be strong in the Force, but he is untrained, and who is there left to train him now? No one but me.” – Darth Vader


 

One of the first things that happened when Disney bought Lucasfilm was that the rights to Star Wars comics reverted back to Marvel, after being with Dark Horse Comics for many years. Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir was the last Star Wars comic released by Dark Horse. Marvel quickly started writing their own series, naming it, simply, Star Wars. The first six issues were compiled in a trade paperback released called Star Wars Vol.1: Skywalker Strikes, which is what I will be reviewing. I read it a couple years back and I thought it was pretty great. Reading it a second time, in preparation for this review, my opinion hasn’t changed: this comic is fantastic.

The first Marvel Star Wars comic series from the ’70s began with a six-issue adaptation of the original Star Wars film, before continuing into new original stories. The 2015 Star Wars series decided not to begin with a movie adaptation, which I believe was for the best, since there are so many comic book versions of A New Hope already. Instead, this series takes place after A New HopeWhen I reviewed The Weapon of a Jedi long ago, I mentioned that this comic takes place after that story, but before The Empire Strikes Back.

The whole main cast of A New Hope is back (aside from Obi-Wan, obviously) and the story starts off with them infiltrating an Imperial weapons facility to destroy it. While there, Darth Vader arrives, and the group has to escape the planet without being caught or killed. My favorite thing about this is that we get to see Luke’s inexperience. This isn’t Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker, this is still A New Hope farmboy Luke who isn’t yet a Jedi. Luke is brave but he is in way over his head, getting himself into dangerous situations and watching the people around him suffer because he’s not strong enough to help them yet. His heart is in the right place, but he is not ready to be doing the kinds of things he’s trying to be doing.

Luke eventually meets Darth Vader, making this their first in-person interaction (remember, the two never actually met in A New Hope). Vader doesn’t yet know who Luke is, and he tries to get Luke to lead him to the boy who destroyed the Death Star. Luke takes out his lightsaber and Vader immediately takes it from him with the Force. He is about to strike Luke, when he suddenly realizes that the lightsaber is his. Then, from out of nowhere, an AT-AT–piloted by Han Solo–bursts through the walls. Luke escapes, and he’s able to recover the lightsaber before leaving the planet.

Luke_vs_vader

Vader eventually hires Boba Fett to hunt down the boy who destroyed the Death Star. The boy who was with Obi-Wan Kenobi. This leads Boba to Tatooine where he begins interrogating people. Boba Fett is brutal in these comics. In the films, Boba Fett doesn’t do much of anything, and then he “dies” in an embarrassingly clumsy way. He kinda sucks in the movies. But in the Expanded Universe, Boba Fett was a force to be reckoned with, which is also true in this story. Boba Fett is terrifying, essentially torturing people to learn who the boy was who came to Mos Eisley with Obi-Wan. He finds a boy who knows, and he immediately spills the beans, fearing for his life. “His name is Luke Skywalker! He’s the one you’re looking for! I swear!” Then, in a much-appreciated nod to the original Marvel comics, he goes on to say “We called him ‘wormie.'” Boba Fett then kills the boy.

Yikes.

These issues of this series are very entertaining. I’ve never been to big on comics before, almost always preferring novels instead. However, these comics are honestly some of my favorite stories in the canon so far, moreso than most of the novels. They’re just so fun to read, and they have some really great scenes. My favorite of which, is when Vader finally learns Luke’s name: “Skywalker.” (This scene also appears–and is expanded upon–in the Darth Vader comic series).

The artwork is great. I’ve seen people hate on the artwork in other reviews but I really like it. It’s a bit more realistic looking than your average comic book, without being too realistic, and it is very cinematic. I don’t know what there is not to like about it. Different tastes, I guess. I think it looks great.

I really can’t recommend this series enough so far. It is fantastic. If the first six issues are anything to go on, this is going to be a truly great series of comics. This series is something that I believe any Star Wars fan would enjoy, and it is one of the canon stories that I recommend the most, right up there with the best books. This is a must-read.

Score: 9/10

Review – The Lando Calrissian Adventures: “Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon” (1983)

Flamewind-of-Oseon-Cover“Yes, I have a way of living in your head, and yes, I am willing to suffer every bit of pain you suffer, so that I will know that I am torturing you enough!” – Rokur Gepta


 

Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon is the second book in L. Neil Smith’s Lando Calrissian Adventures trilogy. It is a direct follow-up to the first book, and takes place just a few months after. Though the book probably could be enjoyed by itself, I would not recommend reading it without first reading Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu. These books are meant to be read as a trilogy.

This book felt a little more like Star Wars to me than the last one did. It was a little bit more believable in the context of the Star Wars galaxy, for one. Less things happened that made me stop and think this is just too weird for me…

This story is the continuing adventures of Lando Calrissian, and his droid Vuffi Raa. It has been a few months since the events of The Mindharp of Sharu, and Lando has improved his piloting abilities somewhat since then. The author writes: “He had been a perfectly terrible flyer when Vuffi Raa had taken him in hand–rather, in tentacle. Now, at least sometimes, it was as if he were wearing the Millennium Falcon instead of riding in her.”

Lando acquired a large fortune at the end of the last book, but at the beginning of this story he is already struggling for money again. He is invited to play a high stakes game of sabacc in the Oseon system, a system of asteroids that have been made inhabitable by some of the richest people in the galaxy. Lando accepts, and heads off to Oseon.

There is a lot is sabacc playing in this book. A little too much for my taste. It reminds me of the 2006 version of Casino Royale. I love that movie, but I feel like too much of the movie is spent watching Bond playing poker. That’s kind of how I feel about this book too. Too much sabacc. Lando gambles a lot, I get it. I honestly feel like I could adequately play sabacc myself now, just from reading about it so much.

Rokur Gepta, the Sorcerer of Tund from the previous book is still alive and he’s looking for revenge. He’s hellbent on destroying Lando Calrissian for ruining his plans to acquire the Mindharp in the Rafa system. I enjoyed seeing him return since we really didn’t see much of him in the first book, and we get to learn a lot of fascinating new things about the villain in this story.

While in the Oseon system, Lando has constant bad luck, as he always seems to in this series. Someone is trying to destroy the Falcon, and trying to kill him. In one such attempt, Lando kills his attacker in self-defense. However, he is sentenced to death for possession of a deadly weapon. Yikes. But he is given an alternative: he has to travel through the Flamewind of Oseon, a dangerous storm that has strange effects on those it reaches, to catch a man named Bohhuah Mutdah in the act of buying illegal drugs so that legal action can be taken against him. Obviously, Lando chooses this option over death.

He has to travel with a man named Bassi Vobah and a bird creature name Waywa Fybot. Traveling through the Flamewind has weird effects on the crew. Bassi has a panic attack, Waywa vividly hallucinates, and Vuffi Raa is suffering from radiation which is causing him to do stupid things.

Lando soon realizes that someone is still trying to murder him. Is it Bassi Vobah or Waywa Fybot? He doesn’t know. Eventually they find Bohhuah Mutdah on a small planetoid, and he kills Bassi and Waywa, and then reveals himself to be none other than Rokur Gepta himself. Gepta hates Lando with a passion and begins torturing him. The torture momentarily stops when fighters start bombarding the planetoid. Lando takes advantage of this and stabs Gepta in the eye, and escapes to the Falcon. The planetoid is detroyed, and both Lando and Rokur Gepta escape.

There were some odd moments in the book, like when the author specifically points out that space is incapable of conveying sound waves. While true in real life, I don’t think this is a thing that should ever be pointed out in Star Wars literature, since every Star Wars movie ever made has plenty of sound in space.

This book is goofy, like its predecessor. Though I don’t think it ever reaches the same levels of strangeness that the first book does. This is a fun little adventure that leaves me wanting more stories about Lando Calrissian. The book doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it isn’t too silly either. It’s a great balance and makes for a really fun kind of Star Wars story that we don’t get to see much of anymore.

Though not quite as enjoyable as Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu, this book is a worthy successor, and leaves me excited to read the final part in the trilogy, Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka. As with the first book, I can’t say I recommend this book to everybody. But, if you enjoyed the first book, then I think you’ll enjoy this one too.

Score: 6.0/10

Review – The Lando Calrissian Adventures: “Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu” (1983)

MindharpBLOG

Lando-Calrissian-And-The-Mindharp-of-Sharu-Cover“My Millennium Falcon’s only a small converted freighter, and a rather elderly one at that, I’m afraid.” – Lando Calrissian


 

I had no expectations when I started reading L. Neil Smith’s Lando Calrissian Adventures trilogy. Though I had yet to read a Star Wars Expanded Universe novel that I didn’t like, with something like 200 novels in the Expanded Universe library, I knew it was bound to happen eventually.

But it didn’t happen with this book.

Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu is probably the goofiest Star Wars book I’ve ever read. I mean, just look at that title. Look at the titles of all three books in the series. “Mindharp of Sharu,” “Flamewind of Oseon,” “Starcave of Lonboka.” Just two random nouns smashed together with a place name attached at the end. Based on the titles alone, I assumed these books were going to be different than any other Star Wars book I’d read. And I was right!

The book is just very campy. It sort of downplays the science fiction aspect of Star Wars and really upscales the fantasy aspect. Sometimes it felt like I was reading the plot of a Legend of Zelda game instead of a Star Wars novel. Lando is on a quest for an ancient instrument that has magical powers? Sounds… familiar…

Mindharp

It’s a fun adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously and isn’t afraid to really push the limits of “believable” fantasy within the context of the Star Wars universe. In some ways, I love the book for that. If nothing else, it was a very entertaining read, and in the end that’s what you want out of a book, right? On the other hand, sometimes it felt too out-there. Just a little bit too ridiculous, even for Star Wars. This book takes place a few years before the original Star Wars trilogy. I find myself having a hard time believing that the Lando Calrissian I saw in The Empire Strikes Back and in Return of the Jedi would have a backstory like the one I read in this book.

The book definitely does still have a Star Wars feel to it. First off (and probably most importantly) Smith writes Lando very well. His characterization is great, and it truly feels like the same character we love from the movies. Obviously having Lando in the starring role is going to make the story at least a little bit Star Warsy. There’s the Millennium Falcon, space travel, and even a fun new droid companion. And honestly, the things that didn’t feel like Star Wars are mostly excusable because the story takes place in a new solar system that we haven’t seen on-screen before. Obviously things are going to be a little bit different on new worlds, with new alien races and different cultures and technology. So, the “weirdness” of this story actually might not be that weird if we remember that it actually makes sense that things are super different in different parts of the galaxy.

The story starts off a short time after Lando won the Millennium Falcon in a game of sabacc. He’s not very familiar with the ship yet, and he’s a pretty terrible pilot. That was one thing that annoyed me from the beginning. This doesn’t take place very long before the original movies, and I very clearly remember Lando expertly piloting the Falcon through the insides of the Death Star, which would, y’know, be basically impossible to do. So the fact that he is a terrible pilot in this story was kind of hard to accept. Though, I assume over the course of the three books that is going to change.

Sabacc-Idiots-Array-RebelsLando is once again playing sabacc. We get to see a lot of sabacc in this trilogy, and the books do a pretty good job of explaining the rules of the game to us. Star Wars Rebels has given us our first on-screen look at sabacc (and at Lando playing the game) in the season one episode Idiot’s Array (which is named after a winning move in sabacc, as revealed in this novel). During this particular game of sabacc, Lando is told about a treasure called the Mindharp of Sharu. This intrigues him. He wins a droid in the game, but he has to go pick the droid up in the Rafa system, which just so happens to be where the Mindharp is located. He goes to the system and gets the droid, a meter-high, starfish-shaped robot (though he looks more like R2-D2 on the book’s cover) named Vuffi Raa. This little guy sort of fills the same role that Bollux and Blue Max filled in Brian Daley’s Han Solo Adventures trilogy. Though I didn’t love the character quite as much as I did Bollux and Max, Vuffi Raa was still a fun character whose presence I enjoyed throughout the story.

Lando gets arrested, on stupid charges, and is brought to the governor’s office. He is given a strange key, that is said to unlock the Mindharp, and is forced to go retrieve the instrument by a sorcerer named Rokur Gepta. Lando has no choice, and goes off to find the Mindharp.

Along with his new partner, Vuffi Raa, Lando meets a humanoid native of the Toka species, named Mohs. Mohs’ people know the legends of the Sharu (the now-extinct ancient race who created the Mindharp and all of the colossal architecture in the Rafa system) and Lando decides to let the him come along to help find the treasure. The Toka, however, are not a very advanced race, and Mohs seems kind of crazy throughout the story. Still, Lando thinks he’ll be a valuable asset to his quest, since Mohs knows more about the Mindharp of Sharu than anyone else he’s met.

Vuffi-RaaThroughout the story Lando has the worst of luck, with seemingly everything working against him to prevent him for retrieving the treasure and finally getting back to his normal way of life. It’s almost frustrating to read at times because the guy just can’t get a break. He’s always getting attacked, arrested, betrayed, or whatever else that could possibly prevent him from getting the harp.

Being one of the earliest Star Wars books ever written, there were a few things that stood out to me as feeling out-of-place in a Star Wars story. Cigarettes abound in this book. Everyone, including Lando, smokes cigarettes. Now, I’ve watched every Star Wars movie there is–including the spin-off movies–and I don’t remember ever seeing a cigarette. Another funny thing is that Lando’s drink of choice is something called “coffeine.” That’s pretty creative, I have to say. Honestly, it’s no worse than “caf,” which is what became the more commonly accepted fake coffee ripoff in Star Wars literature as the years went on.

Also, apparently jackalopes exist in the Star Wars universe. On the planet “Douglas III” in fact. I don’t know what I think is funnier. The fact that jackalopes are real in Star Wars, or the fact that a planet is called Douglas III. They don’t even appear in the story. They are just mentioned one time. It was such a pointless inclusion in the story that it makes me laugh.

The story ends pretty abruptly, and it became clear to me that this is not meant to be a standalone book, and should be followed up by reading the other two books in the trilogy to get the full story. I haven’t read them yet–at the time I’m writing this–but the story didn’t feel finished, and it definitely left you on a cliffhanger. It caught me a little off guard, but it’s not really a bad thing. I am looking forward to reading the next book.

Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu isn’t an amazing book, but it is a fun story despite being so goofy. It left me excited to read the sequel, which is always a good thing. Plus it’s just nice to have Lando take the lead role for once. Outside of this trilogy, and Marvel’s new Lando comic mini-series, we don’t see him at the center of the action very often. I can’t say I’d recommend the book to all Star Wars fans, but I think if you enjoy the other early Expanded Universe novels like Splinter of the Mind’s Eye or The Han Solo Adventures trilogy, you’ll probably enjoy this book too.

Score: 6.5/10

 

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Review – “Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure” (2015)

ANNOUNCEMENT

Before I get started with this review, I want to announce the launch of our social media channels! We’ve had a Twitter account for a while now, but with this review we are officially launching our Facebook and Instagram channels. Follow us on any of these channels for some extra Star Wars book news, and to connect and chat with fellow fans of Star Wars literature! Links to all three accounts can be found right here, but they are also now found on under the “Categories” section on our right-hand sidebar (on mobile view this is at the bottom of the page). We’d love to connect with all of you!

On an unrelated note, Chuck Wendig’s highly-anticipated conclusion to the Aftermath trilogyAftermath: Empire’s End, was released this week. I just wanted to remind those of you who have not read it yet to be careful online of unwanted Aftermath: Empire’s End spoilers! I’ve seen a few article headlines and YouTube video titles already that I wish I hadn’t. We promise that we will not spoil the story for you on this blog (our upcoming review will be spoiler-free!) or on any of our new social media channels!

With that out of the way, let’s get back to book reviews…

smugglersrunblog

Smuggler's Run cover“You will never stop us. We will not be broken. However long it takes, we will never stop fighting.”—Caluan Ematt


Immediately after finishing Brian Daley’s trilogy of Han Solo novels, I decided I wanted to jump back in to the new Star Wars canon to catch up a little before The Force Awakens came out (yes, this was a long time ago now). I decided to do that by reading yet another Han Solo story. Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure is the first Star Wars book written by Greg Rucka. This book takes place immediately after the events of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. It is a short story, and it is aimed at a younger audience than the adult novels I’ve been reviewing so far. However, it is still a lot of fun to read.

Part of me wanted to read this book immediately after reading Daley’s Han Solo trilogy so that I could compare and contrast them. Did Daley or Rucka write a better Han Solo? Who told the better story? I don’t feel it’s fair to compare this junior novel to full-fledged adult Star Wars novels, but I will say this about Rucka’s Solo story: I was not disappointed. Smuggler’s Run holds up quite well to the adult novels.

Like Daley, Rucka nails writing Han Solo. You can just see Harrison Ford speaking Han’s dialogue in this story, and that is a great thing. The way Han speaks and the way he acts feels perfect, and that has to be the most important thing when writing a Han Solo story.

Caluan-Ematt-The-Force-AwakensAside from the depiction of Han, my main point of praise for this book is the rest of the main cast in the story. I loved the characters this book introduced us to. In this story, Leia sends Han on a mission to rescue a man named Ematt, who was the leader of a small recon team for the Rebellion called the Shrikes. The Shrikes were ambushed by imperials, and Ematt was the only survivor. Ematt is the only person who knows some information that is vital to the success of the Rebellion, so rescuing him is urgent. We don’t get to see much of Ematt in this story, but he is a very interesting character that I would love to learn more about in future stories, especially since he’s already popped up in a few novels and he actually appeared in The Force Awakens!

Alicia-BeckAnother character I loved was a woman named Alicia Beck. She is an officer of the Imperial Security Bureau. She is missing one eye, and has it replaced with a mechanical one that can see in multiple spectra. Commander Beck is very good at her job, and she will do whatever it takes to complete her assigned tasks, including shedding the blood of fellow Imperials. She is feared by those around her, and she leads a large squadron of Stormtroopers for a good portion of this story. When we are introduced to her, our narrator tells us that “she was a woman—and there were very few of those holding high ranks in the Empire.” That seemed kind of strange to me, because so far in the new canon there have been quite a few high ranking women in the Empire. Whatever. Beck was also mentioned (though not seen) in Rucka’s comic series, Shattered Empire. I always love it when these stories reference each other. I hope to see Beck make another significant appearance in a Star Wars story in the near future.

Like in Weapon of a Jedi, the prologue and epilogue of this story take place shortly before The Force Awakens. They’re mostly irrelevant to the story, but reading this book before the movie came out, it sure helped to get me excited to see an older Han Solo on screen! It wasn’t until after the movie came out that I realized how little these stories in the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” series actually have to do with The Force Awakens. I expected that all of these stories were going to be much more relevant to the movie, and after seeing The Force Awakens on opening night I felt confused as I left the theater and realized that nothing in the “Journey” series really had anything to do with the movie. Oh well! They’re all still good reads.

This adventure is short and sweet. In a way it feels like reading an episode of an ongoing TV series. This is the adventure of the week. A short but exciting story that leaves you wanting more. Since it’s so short, I can’t say much about it without giving away most of the story. But, it’s a great Han Solo adventure. It does hold up to Brian Daley’s Han Solo Adventures trilogy, even though it’s probably not fair to be comparing them. It’s written really well, like Rucka’s other works in the Star Wars canon. Personally I’d love to see Rucka tackle a full-length adult Star Wars novel.

If you’re just looking for a fun, quick read, and aren’t really too concerned about reading anything “important” when it comes to Star Wars lore, then definitely check this one out. If you’re more interested in “big” events in Star Wars canon, this book is extremely skippable, as nothing of note really happens. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Score: 7/10