Tagged: Greg Rucka

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…

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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

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Review – “Before the Awakening” (2015)

Before-The-Awakening-Cover“You can go back to leading Rapier Squadron and having your hands tied by Command, by Major Deso, by politicians who don’t recognize what’s happening right before their eyes . . . Or you can join the Resistance and help us stop the First Order before it’s too late.” – General Leia Organa


 

Warning: This review may contain minor spoilers for The Force Awakens. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want anything spoiled, don’t read on. You should watch the movie before reading this book anyway.

Finally, we’re getting books about the main characters of The Force Awakens! Or at least one book. Before the Awakening is a book by Greg Rucka, who also wrote Shattered Empire and Smuggler’s Run. This is the first book that stars the “New Big Three” from the new movie. Though some of the books in the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” series had appearances of minor or background characters from the film, none of them have had appearances from any of the main characters.

This book is split into three parts. One part for Finn, one for Rey, and one for Poe. These sections are in place of traditional chapters. So instead of having many chapters throughout the book, we get three “parts” instead.

Each part tells a short story that takes place a short time before The Force Awakens. We get a bits of extra information about the characters that helps to flesh them out and helped me to understand and accept certain things about the characters that didn’t make sense to me the first time I saw the movie.

We get to see what life was like for Finn (he’s still just “FN-2187” in this story) training to be a First Order stormtrooper. As someone who has been doing my best to keep up with the new canon so far, this was pretty interesting to me because we’ve already had a chance to see what clone trooper training was like in The Clone Wars, and what life was like at the Imperial Academy in Star Wars Rebels and Lost Stars. We’ve also had a chance to see things from the perspective of another stormtrooper in Battlefront: Twilight Company. Being able to compare all of these scenarios is pretty interesting, both for their similarities and differences.

Commander-CodyMuch like the clone troopers in The Clone Wars and the prequel movies, First Order stormtroopers are not given names, but only numbers. (Imperial stormtroopers under the Empire were also assigned numbers, but they also had names of their own, because they were not raised to be stormtroopers their whole lives.) Clones gave each other nicknames (for example, CC-2224 was “Cody” and CT-7567 was “Rex”) and so do the First Order stormtroopers in this story. FN-2187 however, doesn’t have a nickname.

On the subject of these nicknames, one of the few things that annoyed me in this book was the choice of nicknames for a couple stormtoopers. In The Clone Wars, one of the reocurring characters was a clone trooper named CT-5555 who went by the name of “Fives,” appropriately. Well, in Before the Awakening we learn the nicknames of three stormtroopers in Finn’s squad, and two of their names are “Zeroes” and “Nines.” Really? Could we be a little more original please?

Aside from that small gripe, Finn’s story here is decently interesting. Finn is one of the best stormtroopers in his class, by far. He is a great leader, and a great soldier. Finn also really cares about his squadmates, and will go out of his way to help a fellow trooper in training missions. His compassion for others leads to his eventual disillusionment with the First Order that we see in the movie.

Rey-Jakku.jpgRey’s part in the book is also fairly interesting. After I saw the movie I had a hard time understanding how the heck Rey was such a good fighter, such a good pilot, and such a good mechanic. It reminded me so much of Anakin Skywalker, except with Anakin we got an explanation for why he was so skilled in all of those areas. With Rey we don’t have explanations, which made it hard for me to believe that she could be so skilled in all of those areas. Well, this book (and Jason Fry‘s new book, Rey’s Survival Guide) helped provide some satisfying explanations for why she is like that.

Poe Dameron really steals the show in this book. Though admittedly Poe was already my favorite of the new characters after seeing the movie, his story in this book is by far my favorite of the three stories contained within. Finn and Rey’s stories were interesting, but they didn’t hold my attention the same way that Poe’s did. Poe’s story really felt like a Star Wars story. It felt like it would work as an alternate-timeline continuation of Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston’s X-Wing series of novels.

Poe’s story starts with him flying for the New Republic–not the Resistance yet–as the leader of Rapier Squadron. Something that may be a little confusing to the first-time movie viewers and readers of this book is that the Republic and the Resistance are not the same thing. The Resistance is an offshoot group of people loyal to the Republic who recognize how serious of a threat the First Order is to their way of life. The Republic does not seem to be worried about the First Order in the least, so the Resistance was formed as it’s own separate organization to stand up to the First Order and hopefully to protect the Republic. A little confusing at first, but I suspect this will all be made even clearer as time goes on with new movies and other materials coming out.

The first bit of Poe’s story contains heavy references to the comic series Shattered Empire, which starred Poe’s parents as main characters. The comic is by no means necessary reading before picking up this book. But being able to pick out the references this book makes to the comic added to my personal enjoyment of the book.

Shara-Bey-Kes-DameronPoe’s parents were heroes who fought in the Rebellion against the Empire. Poe’s father was always worried that a situation similar to the Empire’s takeover of the galaxy would happen again in the future. Poe shares these fears, and he sees the First Order as a serious threat, while the Republic he works for dismisses the First Order as nothing significant.

Clearly, at the beginning of The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron is working for the Resistance. At the beginning of his story in Before the Awakening, Poe is mostly unaware of what the Resistance is and who they are, aside from a few rumors he has heard. This story shows how it is that he came to join the Resistance.

Poe’s section of the book was the most entertaining story by far, and it was the most action-packed, containing the kind of space battles you’d expect in a Star Wars story. While Finn and Rey’s stories provided interesting bits of background information for both individual characters, Poe’s story provides background information relevant to the main plot of The Force Awakens.

There some little things in the book that made me smile. At one point in the book Poe gets to fly a Z-95 Headhunter, which was a ship that first appeared in one of the earliest Expanded Universe novels, Han Solo at Stars’ End, by Brain Daley (though I believe the Headhunter was already canonized in James Luceno’s novel, Tarkin).

Poe also makes a reference to “the Irving Boys.” I have no idea who the Irving Boys are, but in The Force Awakens Rey tells Han that the Irving Boys were one of the groups who at one time had possession of the Millennium Falcon. Maybe someday we’ll learn more about them.

Poe-Dameron-X-Wing

Overall this was a good book. I’d recommend it for Poe Dameron’s section alone, but Finn’s and Rey’s sections were also fairly entertaining, though I think their stories drag down my score of the book a little because they aren’t quite as good. The book is short, so it is a quick read. It is by no means a full-length novel, so they story isn’t as “big” as something you’d get in a 400 page novel. More than anything I’d consider this book a collection of three short stories.

Greg Rucka has impressed me with his work in the new Star Wars canon so far. I definitely look forward to any future Star Wars stories we may get from him. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone out there who is looking for a little extra information about the new main characters in The Force Awakens.

Score: 7/10

Review – “Shattered Empire” (2015)

Shattered-Empire-Cover“Signal Intelligence just finished decryption on a batch of Imperial transmissions broadcast before what was left of their fleet turned tail and ran. The good news is that they’re in total chaos. The bad news is we’ve got an Imperial holdout on the far side of the moon… Seems no one told them they lost.” – Han Solo


 

Shattered Empire is the story I have been waiting to read ever since it was announced that the Star Wars canon was being rebooted. It is a four-issue comic book miniseries that takes place after the events of Return of the Jedi, and stars the “Big Three” (Han, Luke, and Leia). It was released as part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” series, both in order to generate hype for the new movie and to start bridging the gap between the original films and The Force Awakens.

Shattered Empire was written by Greg Rucka, who also wrote the book Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo Adventure, which is also part of the “Journey” series. With both of these projects, Rucka has proved to be somebody I can trust with doing Star Wars justice, as I have thoroughly enjoyed both of his contributions to the new canon.

The artwork is also very well done. Some of the images take up nearly the full two-page spread, and they are beautifully filled with detail. The thing I like most is that the artist really captures the look of the main characters from the movies. Their likeness is spot on, which is something that is always important to me when reading comics based on movies like this.

This story is exactly what I had hoped the novel Aftermath was going to be; a direct follow-up to Return of the Jedi that followed all of my favorite characters. It takes place immediately following the events of Return of the Jedi–and when I say “immediately,” I mean it.

After a night of celebrating on the moon of Endor, the rebels wake up the next morning and get right back to business. Just because the Emperor was killed and his second Death Star blew up, it doesn’t mean the war is over. Han Solo tells the rebel soldiers that they have picked up an Imperial broadcast and have discovered an Imperial holdout on the far side of the moon. The Imperials are planning a counterattack, so the rebels have to attack them first.

Though the main characters of the original Star Wars trilogy are all featured pretty prominently in Shattered Empire, the main character of the story is a woman named Shara Bey, an A-wing pilot who fought in the Battle of Endor. She is married to a fellow rebel solider named Kes Dameron, and the two of them are the parents of Poe Dameron, who is the guy we see flying an X-wing in the trailers for The Force Awakens. Poe doesn’t make an appearance in this comic, he is only briefly mentioned.

Shara goes with the rebels to the Imperial holdout and pilots their getaway vehicle. The rest of the story focuses on the continuing war in the aftermath of the Battle of Endor, and what it looks like from the perspective of a rebel pilot. The Emperor had some plans that he wanted carried out in the event of his death, and they are causing the rebels a lot of trouble. Han, Leia, and Luke all get their time to shine throughout the story as well, with Leia’s portion of the story being exceptionally cool. I can’t go into much detail without spoiling it, but Leia’s portion of the story made me like the princess at lot more than I already did.

Luke-Skywalker-Shattered-EmpireLuke’s portion of the story is a pretty fascinating look at how for he has come as a Jedi. This is the most powerful we’ve seen Luke in the existing canon, and it is very cool to see. It reminded me quite a bit of Matthew Stover’s depiction of Luke in his post-Return of the Jedi Legends novel Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. Any time I can compare something to Matthew Stover’s work, it is a good thing, as he is hands down my favorite Star Wars author.

Another thing I enjoyed that Rucka snuck into the story were little references to other works in the new canon. Luke has Shara disguise herself as Alicia Beck, a commander in the Imperial Security Bureau who we meet in Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo Adventure. One of the rebel pilots also asks a question about Corona Squadron, which is the squadron Thane Kyrell flies with in Lost Stars. These little references are always fun to pick out.

Shattered Empire works more as a little taste of what’s to come, rather than a fully fleshed-out story of it’s own. The conclusion of the series is not satisfying, leaving you with more questions than answers. Overall I would say that it is a good introduction into what will become the post-Return of the Jedi canon, but ultimately that’s all it isan introduction.

With that said, I really enjoyed this miniseries. It was exactly the kind of story I wanted to see before going in to the new movie, and for that I am glad. I would definitely recommend this to any Star Wars fan, and I think of all the stories in the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” series, Shattered Empire is probably the one I would recommend the most. It is not the best story of the series, but it does the best job of paving the way to the new movie, and it is the only story in the series that shows us what the Big Three are up to after the events of the original trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Score: 7.5/10