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.

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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

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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

Review – “Return of the Jedi” – Novelization (1983)

Return-Of-The-Jedi-Cover“The Rebel fleet has gathered all its forces into a single giant armada. The time is at hand when we can crush them, without mercy, in a single blow.” – Darth Vader


 

Two weeks before Return of the Jedi premiered in theaters, it was released as a novel written by James Kahn. Can you imagine having read the final chapter of the Star Wars trilogy before actually having seen the movie? I guess some people did that. What a strange thought. This novel is Kahn’s first and only contribution to the Star Wars universe.

Being a novelization of the movie, this book is pretty much what you’d expect. It’s the same story, and there isn’t much added to it. What little extra bits of information the book does give us are pretty great though, and they really made this novelization worth reading.

One thing I noticed right off the bat when I started reading was that I really liked Kahn’s writing style. I’m afraid I can’t really describe what exactly I liked about it. There’s just something about it that intrigued me and held my interest even though I already knew the entire story I was reading.

A few scenes that were deleted from the movie still appear in this book, to my delight. Most notably, we get to see Luke building his new lightsaber at the beginning of the story. It doesn’t flat-out say “Luke is building a lightsaber” but, he totally is. He assembles his lightsaber in a cave, and gives it to Artoo. Then, like in the movie, R2-D2 and C-3PO make their way off to Jabba the Hutt’s palace.

Luke-Building-Lightsaber-Deleted-Scene

Speaking of Jabba, this book is, to my knowledge, the first time “Hutt” was ever spelled with two T’s instead of one. And, finally, he appears as we know him from the movies. He’s a big ol’ giant ol’ ugly ol’ slug. Not a human. Not a… yellow… guy… He’s normal Jabba the Hutt. However, when describing Jabba in the first chapter of the book, Kahn writes: “He had no hair–it had fallen out from a combination of diseases.” So, apparently, Jabba the Hutt had hair once. I can’t picture him looking anything but ridiculous with hair on his head, which is why I kind of love this random detail.

For me, the best parts of the book were parts where we got to get into the heads of the characters a little more. Through the narration we get to know and understand the characters better than we do in the film. For example, it is pretty obvious right away that Leia is in-tune with the Force (though she doesn’t know it), as there are many times throughout the entire story where she connects with the Force unknowingly. These are things that cannot be shown in a movie. We only learn about them through reading.

Another thing that this book did great that the film couldn’t do was describe to us Luke’s struggle with the dark side of the Force. The dark side is really starting to creep into Luke’s life here, and not just at the end of the book during his confrontation with Vader and the Emperor, but there are hints of darkness from the very beginning. Here’s an example:

Dark-Empire-Luke-Skywalker.jpg“[Luke] found Jabba despicable–a leech of the galaxy, sucking the life from whatever he touched. Luke wanted to burn the villain, and so was actually rather glad Jabba had refused to bargain–for now Luke would get his wish precisely. Of course, his primary objective was to free his friends, whom he loved dearly; it was this concern that guided him now, above all else. But in the process, to free the universe from this gangster slug–this was a prospect that tinted Luke’s purpose with an ever-so-slightly dark satisfaction.”

And then, a few pages later:

“The deck gunners were lining up . . . their shots for the coup de grace, when Luke stepped in front of them, laughing like a pirate king. He lit his lightsaber before they could squeeze off a shot; a moment later they were smoking corpses.”

Though still the clear hero and protagonist of the story, darkness is beginning to overtake the light, and Luke is enjoying it. Towards the end of the story this becomes much worse, as we realize how close Luke almost came to actually turning to the dark side while in the Emperor’s presence, like his father did at the end of the Clone War. “In this bleak and livid moment, the dark side was much with him.”

In the Expanded Universe, in a comic series set a few years after Return of the Jedi called Dark Empire, Luke actually does fall to the dark side for a short time before turning back to the light. I guess his struggle wasn’t over after the Death Star blew up.

This novelization includes another deleted scene from the movie of when Luke, Han, Leia, Lando, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO are all walking back from Jabba’s palace to their ships through a sandstorm (and in the words of nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker: “Sandstorms are very, very dangerous!”). It doesn’t add much to the story, and it’s easy to see why it was cut from the movie, but it did offer some great moments and good dialogue. It was a welcome addition to the book for sure.

Return-Of-The-Jedi-Sandstorm-Deleted-Scene

Many moments are expanded upon and leave us with some great new insights about the story. Early on in the book we learn more about Darth Vader’s desire to kill Emperor Palpatine and rule the galaxy in his stead, with his son at his side.

We learn that Obi-wan never told Luke about his real father because Yoda forbade him from revealing the truth to him.

When Obi-wan appears to Luke, he says “If I was wrong in what I did, it certainly wouldn’t have been for the first time. You see, what happened to your father was my fault.” Obi-wan blames himself for Anakin’s fall to the dark side. Like in the movie, Obi-wan tells Luke that he believed he could train Anakin as well as Master Yoda. He then says “My pride had terrible consequences for the galaxy.”

He regrets training Anakin. He was told not to train Anakin in The Phantom Menace, but he still did, against his own better judgment, because he promised Qui-Gon that he would. He trained the boy anyway, taught him about the Force and how to be a Jedi knight, and then Anakin became a Sith Lord. Obi-wan thinks this is all his fault. Man, he’s being pretty hard on himself.

The scene goes on, and it is one of my favorite scenes in the novel, because Obi-wan tells Luke more about Anakin than what he told in the movie:

You should not think of that machine as your father. When I saw what had become of him, I tried to dissuade him, to draw him back from the dark side. We fought . . . your father fell into a molten pit. When your father clawed his way out of that fiery pool, the change had been burned into him forever–he was Darth Vader, without a trace of Anakin Skywalker. Irredeemably dark. Scarred. Kept alive by machinery and his own black will . . .

Revenge-Of-The-Sith-Burning-Anakin

Sound familiar? Like how the novelization of A New Hope basically summarized the entire prequel trilogy in its prologue, this novelization of Return of the Jedi once again shows us just how much of the prequel trilogy George Lucas already had in mind when making the original trilogy. It’s pretty fascinating to me. And reading this really made the two trilogies feel more connected. Having old Ben Kenobi describe a scene to Luke from Revenge of the Sith is kind of awesome, especially since the book came out more than 20 years before Revenge of the Sith premiered in theaters.

One of my favorite things about reading these old novelizations of the original Star Wars trilogy is trying to pick out the differences between the films and the novels. Luke flew in Blue Squadron in the A New Hope novelization, Yoda was blue in The Empire Strikes Back novelization. Something had to be blue in this book that wasn’t blue in the movies, right?

Sadly, no.

But there were still a bunch of things that didn’t quite match up with what we see in the movie.

I’m gonna jump right to the biggest, most well-known difference: Obi-wan Kenobi and Owen Lars are brothers. Uncle Owen is Obi-wan’s brother, instead of Anakin’s stepbrother. There’s not much else to say about this. Obi-wan simply says “I took you to live with my brother Owen, on Tatooine.” That’s all that is said about it. Obi-wan and Owen are brothers in this version of the story.

padme-naberrieWhich leads into the next big difference that I noticed: not only does Leia remember her mother, but Luke does too. Luke and Leia both somehow remember Padmé even though she was only alive for like the first five minutes of their lives. Apparently Padmé lived for much longer in this version of the story. When Obi-wan appears to Luke on Dagobah, he tells Luke a little about his mother. He says “When your father left, he didn’t know your mother was pregnant. Your mother and I knew he would find out eventually, but we wanted to keep you both as safe as possible, for as long as possible. So I took you to live with my brother Owen, on Tatooine . . . and your mother took Leia to live as the daughter of Senator Organa, on Alderaan.” Leia has many memories of her real mother. In this book it makes more sense than it does in the movies, now that we’ve seen the prequels.

One thing I praised the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back for was how it depicted Vader’s relationship with the Emperor. In that book, Darth Vader was terrified of Emperor Palpatine. I loved that detail and hoped to see it expanded upon in this book. But, Vader doesn’t seem afraid of Palpatine in the slightest in this novelization. He respects him, but it doesn’t seem like he fears him. Though this is more true to the movies, I was hoping it would be different. I liked the idea that Darth Vader lived in constant fear of his Master.

During the confrontation between Luke and Vader on the Death Star, Luke tells Vader “You could not bring yourself to kill me before–and you won’t destroy me now.” This happens in the movie. It is a line most people would be familiar with. What is different, however, is that afterward the author goes to write “Twice before, in fact–to Luke’s recollection–Vader could have killed him, but didn’t. In the dogfight over the first Death Star, and later in the lightsaber duel on Bespin.” Seems accurate, right? Well, this one line shows that the Star Wars Expanded Universe was still not being acknowledged by official media at this point. If we take the Star Wars Expanded Universe into consideration, there was a third confrontation where Vader did not kill Luke in a duel on the planet Mimban, in the book Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.

Another thing that stuck out to me while reading was that the name “Palpatine” was used many times in this book, both in the narration, and in character dialogue. Despite the name also appearing in the novelization of A New Hope, the Emperor’s name is never once uttered in any of the three movies in the original Star Wars trilogy. For this reason, little-kid-me who was young Ani Skywalker’s age when The Phantom Menace was released had no idea that Senator Palpatine was the man who would become the Emperor. I don’t think I knew this until the trailer for Revenge of the Sith made it clear. Now it seems so obvious, but I was a kid at the time and the name “Palpatine” meant nothing to me. I find it interesting how often his name was used in this book.

I could keep going on, and mention every little thing I liked about this book, and talk about every little detail that I found interesting. I think I’ve already done that enough. But, I do want to say that my favorite part of the entire book is at the end, after Vader threw the Emperor to his death, when he asks Luke to take his mask off. This scene was written so beautifully, and was really enhanced by allowing us to get inside Anakin Skywalker’s head as he looks at his son for the first time with his own eyes.

Darth-Vader-No-Helmet

Tears fall down Luke’s face when he see’s his father’s real face for the first time. Anakin feels very self-conscious, and thinks Luke is crying in horror at the sight of his horribly scarred and sickly pale appearance. His mind starts to wander. He remembers what he used to look like: “striking, and grand, with a wry tilt to his brow that hinted of invincibility and took in all of life with a wink. Yes, that was how he looked once.” Ah, yes, just like Hayden Christensen!

These memories lead to more memories. Anakin thinks back to his time as a Jedi. He thinks about Padmé, and he thinks about Obi-wan. Then, he thinks about molten lava crawling up his back, and at that moment he stops, not allowing himself to think of such terrible things.

Anakin looks back up at Luke, and the scene is described like this:

“The boy was good, and the boy had come from him–so there must have been good in him, too. He smiled up again at his son, and for the first time, loved him. And for the first time in many long years, loved himself again, as well.”

Still believing that look is disgusted by his physical appearance, Anakin echos the words of Yoda, saying “Luminous beings are we, Luke–not this crude matter.”

The rest of the scene plays out like it does in the movie. But these extra details really made this scene so much more powerful. Knowing exactly what Anakin was thinking in these last moments of his life, knowing the memories that were coming to his mind and the emotions that he was feeling before he died made reading this small section of the novel a real treat. These are things we can’t be shown on film, and it is one of the rare moments where the novel really outshines the movie.

For whatever reason, I really enjoyed this novelization. I complained that the novelization of Empire Strikes Back didn’t really add anything new to the story, and this novel is guilty of the same thing in most instances, but there’s something about Kahn’s writing style that did a great job of pulling me in, even though I already knew the story. That, combined with the moments I’ve pointed out that let us get into the heads of the characters, which are the few moments that do provide us with extra details that the movies do not, makes for a genuinely entertaining read.

If you’re really just interested in getting “new” information, then this review is probably all you need to read, but if you’re just looking for a well-written novelization of a movie you like, then yes, definitely read this one. I certainly enjoyed it.

Score: 7.5/10

Review – “Ewoks: The Battle For Endor” (1985)

ewoks-battle-for-endor-poster“The star cruiser’s almost fixed. We’re gonna have to say goodbye.” – Cindel Towani


 

Well, I’ve been putting this one off. I had the goal of watching and reviewing all existing Star Wars spin-off movies before Rogue One opens in theaters, but turns out I really didn’t want to watch this one. I had seen it once before, and I only remembered two things about it. First, I didn’t like it. Second, there’s some weird witch lady in the movie who can turn into a crow. So, I wasn’t thrilled about sitting through the movie again, but I finally got myself to do it.

Ewoks: The Battle For Endor is the sequel to Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure that had come out a year earlier. Like the first film, this was made-for-TV. It aired on ABC on November 24th, 1985.

For not wanting to watch this as much as I did, this movie caught me off guard. This movie is actually far better than the first Ewok movie. I don’t know why I remembered hating this one specifically so much, but it is actually a much more entertaining film than the first one. Maybe I had the two movies confused in my memory. Who knows. When I watched the first movie a few weeks ago I realized that it actually wasn’t that bad, and this one is even better. Does that mean it’s a good movie? No, not really, but it was enjoyable for what it is: an ’80s fantasy movie made for children.

This movie is a direct sequel to Caravan of Courage, so let’s recap what happened in that movie a little bit. In Caravan of Courage, the Towani family star cruiser crash lands on the forest moon of Endor. The Towani family consists of two children, Mace and Cindel, and their parents. Their parents go missing shortly after the crash, and Mace and Cindel take it upon themselves to go find them. They befriend some Ewoks–including Wicket, the Ewok who befriends Leia in Return of the Jedi–who tag along to help them get their parents back. They eventually find and rescue their parents from the evil Gorax. They have a happy reunion, and the movie ends.

Ewoks: The Battle For Endor picks up right where the first movie left off. The family is back together, and the childrens’ father, Jeremitt, is doing some last-minute repairs to their ship so that they can finally leave the forest moon. Cindel is walking through the forest with Wicket, who can apparently have entire conversations speaking semi-fluent English now. Suddenly, an army of strange alien creatures (called “Sanyassans” apparently. Thanks, Wookieepedia!) raids the Ewok village and starts burning the dwellings and attacking those who live there. The Sanyassans, along with a creepy witch named Charal, find Jeremitt and insist that he gives them the “power of the stars.” Jeremitt has no idea what they are talking about. They pull apart the ship until they find a power cell, which is apparently what they were looking for.

Then, THE SANYASSANS KILL CINDEL’S ENTIRE FAMILY.

What?!?

Cindel is a five-year-old little girl, and her whole family is killed at the very beginning of this movie, including her brother, Mace, who was one of the protagonists of the last film! Whose idea was this?! The whole plot of the last movie was that Cindel and Mace were trying to reunite their family, and they finally succeed at the end of that movie, only for everyone but Cindel to get murdered at the beginning of the next movie. Are you kidding me? This is brutal! This is basically the same thing that happened in Alien 3. In Aliens, Ellen Ripley risks everything to save a little girl named Newt from the Queen Xenomorph, the biggest and baddest alien out there. They barely escape, along with Corpral Hicks, a U.S. Marine who helped fight the aliens in the movie. Ripley, Hicks, and Newt all make a safe escape off-planet, and enter hypersleep on their ship as they fly to safety. The movie ends on a happy note. Then, Alien 3 starts with their ship crash-landing and Hicks and Newt die in their sleep, off-screen. What the hell?! Who thinks immediately killing off the heroes of the previous movie is a good way to start the sequel? Cindel doesn’t seem that sad about her entire family being dead though, so I guess it’s okay.

Anyway, Cindel is now on her own, and she is captured by the Sanyassans. The Sanyassans look like a cross between the Yuuzhan Vong, the goombas from the live-action Super Mario Bros. movie, and Sarris, from Galaxy Quest. In other words, they look weird. Cindel is reunited with Wicket, who was also captured, and the two escape into the forest.

yuuzhan-vong-goomba-sarris-sanyassan

Cindel and Wicket find a strange rodent creature named Teek, who can run super fast. They follow Teek to a house in the middle of the forest. The house appears to be abandoned, so Cindel and Wicket decide to clean it up and live there themselves. They’re wrong though, and the owner of the home–an old man named Noa–returns and angrily tells them to get lost.

noa-cindel-wicketIs Noa the only person in Star Wars to wear glasses? Are glasses canon? Who knows!

Noa eventually feels bad and lets the two of them stay with him. Noa crash landed on the moon of Endor a very long time ago, and has never been able to leave because his ship’s power cell is broken.

One day, Cindel hears a strange voice calling her name. She wanders off into the forest to find whoever’s calling to her. She finds a pretty woman in a long white dress and with a white horse. This woman reminds me of Mombi from Return to Oz, the first time Dorothy meets her when she still has her nice head on (if you haven’t seen it, don’t ask…). Then the woman transforms into the witch, Charal. Now she reminds me of  Mombi when she puts her angry head on becomes super evil. Charal kidnaps Cindel and brings her to the fortress of the Sanyassans.

Oh yeah, did I mention that Charal has the ability to transform into a crow? Y’know, because she’s a witch. Wait, are crows canon?!?!

…are horses canon?!

Oh wait, the last movie had horses…

The moon of Endor is just full of Earth animals.

star-wars-crow

Charal takes Cindel to who I assume is the king of the Sanyassans. He tells Cindel to activate the “power of the stars” (the power cell they stole from Cindel’s family’s ship) for them with magic, but she’s a five-year-old and she doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about, so they lock her up. They also lock up Charal, and take her magic ring that allows her to turn into a crow.

Noa, Wicket, and Teek find their way to the fortress and are able to unlock Cindel’s cell and break her out. Wicket is about to open Charal’s cell too, but Cindel takes the keys from him and throws them down a drain, saying he can’t free her because she’s evil. Yeah! Take that!

So they take the power cell and escape the fortress, and then suddenly this movie becomes The Lord of the Rings. A huge army of Sanyassans, with their swords and armor, gathers together and rides off on horseback to find the Cindel and her friends. They chase them into the forest and a battle breaks out between the Sanyassans and the Ewoks. This really does feel like a low-budget Lords of the Rings battle scene mixed with the Ewok vs Stormtrooper battle from Return of the Jedi. It’s actually kind of cool! And it’s extra fun, because in this movie, the Ewoks use guns instead of rocks! Ewoks with blasters. So good! When are we going to get Battlefront DLC of this??

sanyassan-army

Noa and Cindel run inside Noa’s crashed ship. They start shooting the Sanyassans with the ships turrets and it’s great because who wouldn’t want to see a Lord of the Rings movie where halfway through the battle a spaceship starts shooting up the battlefield?

Long story short, eventually the plug the power cell into the ship, and Noa and Cindel are finally able to leave the moon of Endor. They all say their goodbyes to their friends. Cindel and Wicket have become best friends and Cindel is way sadder about saying goodbye to him than she ever is about the deaths of her entire family. The ship flies off, and Wicket and Teek run after it, with Wicket shouting “Cindel! Bye Cindel!” It’s actually very touching and kind of sad and I hate that a movie like this can make me feel sad.

The ship flies off into the distance, and the movie ends.

There are some cool things about the movie. The special effects are pretty great for a low-budget made-for-TV movie from the ’80s. Obviously they aren’t anywhere near as good as the effects in an actual Star Wars movie, but they’re still pretty good. There are more alien species and creatures than there were in the first movie, and they all look pretty cool. I was especially impressed with Teek, the little rodent character. The costume and effects used to bring that character to life looked really good.

charal-endor-witchI still can’t get over all the Earth animals that are on Endor. We’ve now seen llamas, horses, crows (well, at least one crow who is actually a witch), chickens, and more on Endor. It’s kind of like if Noah’s ark was actually a spaceship, and that spaceship flew to a galaxy far, far away, and landed on the moon of Endor.

Wait a minute… Could the Noa in this movie actually be the Biblical Noah? Both stories take place a long time ago. Wow, it makes so much sense!

And, wait a minute! In the Bible, in the 28th chapter of Samuel, Saul goes to meet “the Witch of Endor.” Witch of Endor?… you mean like the witch on Endor who is in this movie??

Wow! Turns out Ewoks: The Battle For Endor is actually a sequel to the Holy Bible!

One interesting thing that was apparently later clarified is that Charal, the witch, is actually a Nightsister from the planet Dathomir. The Nightsisters are a group of female witches who practice dark magic using the Force. Asajj Ventress is the most well-known of the Nightsisters. The Clone Wars taught us that the Nightsisters actually raised Darth Maul. The Nightsisters were first introduced in 1994, in Dave Wolverton’s novel The Courtship of Princess Leia. Obviously, that was almost a decade after this movie was released, so calling Charal a Nightsister is just a big ol’ retcon, but it’s still kind of a cool detail.

dathomir-nightsisters.jpg

This movie has more going on than the last one did. It’s faster-paced, which for me makes it more entertaining to watch. Though I wouldn’t ever choose to watch this on my own, I could definitely see myself watching it with younger children, and I think it is something that most kids would enjoy watching if they enjoy fantasy stories or big teddy bears.

You know what really bugs me though? Why can Wicket speak English?! Why?! This movie supposedly takes place before Return of the Jedi, but Wicket can’t speak English in that movie! Why couldn’t he have a conversation with Leia? How did he forget English? Why does this bother me so much?! It’s a kid’s movie! I DON’T CARE I WANT EVERYTHING TO MAKE SENSE.

wicket-leia-english

This actually isn’t the only time this happens in Star Wars. In one episode of The Clone Wars, our favorite shooting-first-friend Greedo makes an appearance, and he speaks in fluent English the entire episode. Okay, if Greedo can speak English, they why doesn’t he speak English with Han in A New Hope, instead of having the weird two-language conversation that they have in the movie?

The easy answer to both of these questions is that this movie and that show are made for kids, and kids don’t want to read subtitles. But still, the continuity-conscious part of me really hates this stuff. Wicket and Greedo both speak English, but they don’t speak English in the regular Star Wars movies. Okay. Weird.

cindel-wicket-fireOverall, this is a pretty good movie, all things considered. It’s made for kids, and the acting is poor, and the story is weird, but it’s still pretty entertaining for what it is. This is the better of the two Ewok movies, for sure. This is a good movie to watch with your kids. If I had seen this movie as a kid I’m sure I would have loved it. Seeing it for the first time as an adult is kind of weird, but it reminds me of the kinds of movies I used to love when I was growing up.

This movie adds nothing important to the Star Wars universe as a whole, but it’s still a cute movie. If you want your Star Wars movies to “matter” in the overall story of Star Wars, then the only spin-off movie you should watch is The Clone Wars. With that said, I actually think Ewoks: The Battle For Endor is a better movie than The Clone Wars, even though The Clone Wars is actually a somewhat important chapter in the story of Star Wars as a whole, especially since it acts as an introduction to Ahsoka Tano.

This movie’s not great, but it’s not bad, especially if you’re going to be watching it with younger kids.

Score: 6/10

Four Things The Internet Keeps Getting Wrong About “Rogue One”

I don’t usually post anything on this blog that isn’t a review of some sort, but last year right before the release of The Force Awakens I wrote a short article about reasons why seeing the seventh episode of the Star Wars saga was going to be weird. Now, with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story just days from release (it already premiered in Hollywood, which means spoilers are floating around out there. Be careful!) I thought I’d clear up some very common misconceptions about what this movie is. For the hardcore Star Wars fan, this stuff is obvious, but there seems to still be some confusion out there among the more casual crowd, so let’s see if I can help them out. Let’s get started!

rogue-one-troopers

Rogue One is NOT Star Wars: Episode VIII

I think by now most people know this, but I still see YouTube comments on the trailers from people who are confused as to why we don’t see Rey, Finn, Poe, or anyone from Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens in the trailers for Rogue One. Simply put, Rogue One is NOT Star Wars Episode 8. It’s a standalone spin-off film that takes place right before A New Hope, and it doesn’t focus on the Skywalker family at all (well, except for the fact that Darth Vader is in it, I guess). It deals with the group of rebels who steal the Death Star plans that Leia has at the beginning of A New Hope, and rumor has it that this movie ends ten minutes before A New Hope starts. Episode 8 is coming out next year, and we’ll get to see the continuation of the story that was started in The Force Awakens then!

Rogue One is NOT the First Star Wars Spin-Off Movie

I keep seeing headlines and articles everywhere labeling Rogue One as “the first Star Wars spin-off” or “the first standalone Star Wars movie.” It’s not the first. It’s not even the second. Rogue One is actually the fifth Star Wars spin-off movie. The first was the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special that aired on TV a year after the original Star Wars movie played in theaters. Then, after Return of the Jedi, there were two Ewok movies that were made-for-TV. Then, in 2008, The Clone Wars movie opened in theaters and worked as a (very poor) introduction to the TV series that followed it. It hasn’t even been that long since the last Star Wars spin-off movie, and we’ve already forgotten about it!

In 2014, Lucasfilm announced that the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe (which essentially was every Star Wars book, comic, video game, and spin-off movie) was officially declared “non-canon.” Everything except for The Clone Wars movie and TV series. So, Rogue One isn’t even the first canon spin-off movie. The Clone Wars still holds that title.

Rogue One is NOT the First Star Wars Movie Without an Opening Crawl

This is basically a continuation of the last point, but the internet seems to be making a huge deal about this so I thought I’d bring it up. For some reason, when it was announced that Rogue One will not have an opening crawl, the internet blew up with people saying stuff like “you can’t have a Star Wars movie without an opening crawl!!” Well, you can actually. None of the previous Star Wars spin-off movies had opening crawls either. So Rogue One is the fifth Star Wars movies without an opening crawl.

Many Bothans Will Not Die in Rogue One

death-star-ii-bothans

Ever since it was announced that Rogue One would be about the rebels who steal the Death Star plans, there have been jokes galore about how we’re going to see many Bothans die to get that information. Hold up, you’re wrong. First of all, the joke comes from Mon Mothma in Return of the Jedi, who after briefing the Rebel Alliance before their attack on the Death Star, says “many Bothans died to bring us this information.” But this was in Return of the Jedi, and she was talking about the second Death Star. Rogue One is about the first Death Star. On top of that, she wasn’t even talking about “plans” for the Death Star. The information she’s referring to was simply the location of the second Death Star, not the “plans” for it. So, I appreciate your efforts to be clever, but the joke doesn’t make sense.

With that said, Bothans could still die in this movie I guess, but not for the reasons you were thinking of.


As with any big movie, there are always plenty of rumors and misconceptions flying around all over the place. These are four of the big ones that I just keep seeing, so I hope this clears things up for people who have been confused!