Tagged: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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 – “C-3PO: The Phantom Limb” (2016)

C-3PO-The-Phantom-Limb-Cover“I see flashes–for just a moment… Places. Rocks…. A factory of droids… An arena, in the middle of a battle… My body not my own… A green world with hills… Underwater cities… A single city spread far as my optical sensors could see… A temple on fire… Smoky mountains of magma and fire. Suffereing. Yes… I have memories too… And yes. Sometimes I allow myself to wonder about them.” – C-3PO


 

C-3PO: The Phantom Limb is a single standalone comic book issue that tells the story of how C-3PO got his red arm that he has in The Force Awakens. Originally intended to be released as part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” series of stories, the comic got delayed over and over again until it was finally released on April 13, 2016, four months after The Force Awakens premiered in theaters.

The comic was written by James Robinson, with artwork by Tony Harris. Upon opening the book, the first thing that stuck out to my was Harris’ art. This is a very unique art style that I almost want to say feels like the middle ground between the art in Marvel’s original Star Wars comic series from the ’70s, and Marvel’s new Star Wars series from last year. It’s hard to describe, but I really like the art style. It’s dark, with lots of heavy black shadows. It’s definitely something different, at least in my limited experience with Star Wars comic books. I’m a fan.

Since this is only a single issue, it’s hard to get too into detail about the story without giving everything away. Basically, C-3PO and a group of other droids are on board a ship that crash lands on a strange planet, and the droids have to work together to find a way to contact the Resistance for help. Along the way, Threepio loses his arm, and by the end of the story he receives his red one. Very brief summary, but I can’t say much else. That’s basically already the entire story.

Tony-Harris-C-3PO

Having C-3PO in the lead role just feels like classic Star Wars to me. Threepio and Artoo were basically main characters in the original Star Wars movie. The movie opens with them, and they’re central to the plot and story for the entire movie, while in all other Star Wars movies since the droids have been reduced to secondary roles. Having Threepio take center stage again just feels right, and I like that.

Something the movies don’t let us do is get into the heads of these droids. In Star Wars literature, we realize that C-3PO is actually very thoughtful. Too much so, to the point of overthinking everything and driving himself into a state of panic all the time. In comics like this one, and in the novels, we have the chance to get inside C-3PO’s electronic brain and learn that he’s a lot more than just the worrisome, annoying gold droid we see on screen. There’s a lot going on inside this droid’s head, and it’s always fun to see what he’s thinking.

The one little thing I found fascinating about this story was that it is revealed that although Threepio’s mind was wiped at the end of Revenge of the Sith, his mind apparently wasn’t completely wiped. He still has flashbacks of his past life during prequel-era Star Wars. He remembers bits and pieces of Geonosis, of Coruscant, of Naboo, and of Mustafar. He doesn’t remember details, but this could prove to set up for some very interesting stories in the future, if C-3PO is somehow able to either regain his memories or make sense of the little bits of information he still has in his computer head.

For what it is, I like it. You can’t expect a whole lot from one-shot comics like this. They’re quick, short stories, and you can’t go into it hoping for something huge and immersive. The comic is written well. The art is great. It’s a fun, easy read and a neat little piece of backstory that explains why C-3PO looks different in The Force Awakens. I wish there was more to it, but honestly there doesn’t need to be. It tells the story it needs to tell, and I can’t think of anything else that could have been added to it.

Now, if we can just get an explanation as to why Threepio has his gold arm back at the end of The Force Awakens, that would be great. His arm suddenly being gold again at the end of the movie feels like a completely unnecessary continuity error that bugs me every time I see it.

C-3PO-Gold-Arm

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

Review – “The Perfect Weapon” (2015)

The-Perfect-Weapon-Cover“I can disappear. I can be anyone. Even Kloda wouldn’t recognize me, and he raised me. That’s the foundation of any job–not being noticed.” – Bazine Netal


 

The Perfect Weapon is a short story released on November 24th, 2015 exclusively in eBook format as part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” series. It introduces us to the character Bazine Netal, who is to appear in The Force Awakens.

How long exactly before the new movie this story takes place is never specifically stated; however in “The Del Rey Star Wars Timeline” page of the eBook, it is placed after Claudia Gray‘s upcoming novel New Republic: Bloodline, which takes place six years before The Force Awakens. So The Perfect Weapon takes place a few years before The Force Awakens at most, if not only a few months.

Bazine Netal is a mercenary who is exceptionally skilled at what she does. She is both a spy and an assassin, and a very good one. She has mastered the art of disguise, to the point of being able to convince those who already know her that she is someone else entirely.

Bazine-Netal-2Bazine was orphaned at a young age and grew up with a band of mercenaries led by a man named Delphi Kloda. Kloda raised Bazine and trained her to be a fighter and a spy. Bazine is a cold, no-nonsense woman who just wants to get her job done as quickly and efficiently as possible, without distractions.

In many ways Bazine reminds me a whole lot of Asajj Ventress, though Bazine has no connection to the Force and doesn’t wield a lightsaber. Instead, Bazine carries a wide variety of weapons hidden all over her person. She proves to be an interesting character that I would definitely like to see more of in the future.

Bazine is waiting on a new job and ends up getting hired by an anonymous source. She is asked to retrieve a metal case from a man named Jor Tribulus, who was an Imperial stormtrooper who fought at the Battle of Endor. She is not told what is inside the case, and she doesn’t ask. All she knows is that she is promised a large enough reward for retrieving it that she will never have to take another job again.

Being a short story, there isn’t a whole lot to it, but this is a fun glimpse into the backstory of a character who will appear in The Force Awakens. The story is very worthy of the label “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and it feels like a massive tease for some yet-unknown plot point of the upcoming movie. It leaves you with a lot of questions.

It’s hard to say exactly how long this story is, but it is pretty short. Kindle says that it is 60 pages long, but who knows if it would really be that long on paper. The audiobook of the story lasts about two hours, but reading it on your own would probably take less time. I didn’t pay attention to how long it took me to read it, but it was quick.

This is by no means “required reading,” but it is a fun little story. Though there is no way to know just yet how big of a connection this story will have with The Force Awakens I think it is safe to say that the connection will be pretty minimal. More than anything it feels like the point of this is to introduce us to a fun new character who we will get to see on the big screen when the movie comes out; much like the four recently released Tales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away short stories that were written by Landry Q. Walker that each star different aliens from the upcoming movie.

Bazine-Netal-3.jpg

For what is was, I liked it. I can’t say I really recommend it to the average fan, but if you’re like me and you like digging deep into background characters and story points that probably don’t matter very much then you will enjoy this. It did its job by fueling my excitement to see the new movie.

My one complaint is that it is only available as an eBook or audiobook. I would much rather have it in print, but maybe it will show up in some short story compilation in the future.

Score: 7.5/10

Review – “The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure” (2015)

WeaponOfAJediCover“I never knew you, Father. But I swear I will become a Jedi. And when I do, I will honor your service and your sacrifice.” – Luke Skywalker


 

I keep making this project harder and harder on myself. Initially, I was just going to read the adult novels in the Expanded Universe. Then, I decided to explore the adult novels new canon in preparation for the new movie. Now, I’ve started reading even the young adult novels and these “junior novels” (whatever that means). My plate is full and my goal of someday getting through the entire Expanded Universe is getting farther and farther away. It feels impossible. Even for a computer.

With that said, even though I was not initially planning on reading this book, ever, I have to say I am very glad that I did!

The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure is part of a trilogy of junior novels (really, what is a junior novel? I still don’t know. From what I can tell, it’s like a young adult novel, only shorter) starring Luke, Leia, and Han on their own separate adventures that take place in between the movies of the original Star Wars Trilogy. Each book stars a different one of these characters, and each book contains beautiful illustrations by Phil Noto of certain scenes from each story.

EssentialGuideToWarfareCoverJason Fry is a relative newcomer to writing Star Wars novels, however he is not a newcomer to writing and working on other Star Wars projects. Before the announcement that the Expanded Universe was to become “Legends” and the new canon took over, Jason Fry was involved in the creation of many Star Wars visual guide books, and he also co-authored The Essential Atlas, and The Essential Guide to Warfare which both came out near the end of the Expanded Universe’s lifespan. Jason Fry knows the ins and outs of Star Wars better than most people on this planet.

Weapon of a Jedi takes place in between Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. However, like the other two books in this trilogy, it has a prologue and an epilogue that both take place near (or possibly during, we don’t know yet!) the time of the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. This book is part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” series, and as such it is dropping hints for what’s to come in the new movie, and introducing us to characters from the film without actually spoiling anything.

JessikaPavaIn the prologue we find C-3PO talking with a young pilot named Jessika Pava, a character who will appear in The Force Awakens. Jessika asks Threepio if he can tell her any stories about Luke Skywalker that haven’t already been told a million times before. Threepio thinks for a second, and then decides to tell Jessika the story of when Master Luke first used a lightsaber in battle.

The rest of the book is that story. After the Battle of Yavin, Luke is asked by Mon Mothma to go on a mission to retrieve some Imperial logs for the Rebel Alliance. Luke takes R2-D2 and C-3PO along with him in a Y-wing and eventually they end up on the planet Devaron, where Luke needs to get repair work done on his Y-wing before he can complete his mission.

Now, let’s remember when this takes place. This is before The Empire Strikes Back. Luke is not a Jedi yet. In fact, Luke has barely received any training at all. He has not yet met Yoda, and so all he knows about the Force and how to use a lightsaber comes from the very short amount of time he spent learning with Obi-Wan Kenobi. His lightsaber training on the Millennium Falcon is about all he’s got, and Ben’s voice hasn’t spoken to him since he was flying in the trench of the Death Star. Luke wants to become a Jedi, but he doesn’t know how to do it on his own.

Where this takes place among the other books and stories in the new canon hasn’t been officially stated by Lucasfilm yet, however the consensus among most fans is that this story best fits in between the novel Heir to the Jedi, and Marvel’s new Star Wars comic series. In other words it goes: A New Hope, Heir to the Jedi, The Weapon of a Jedi, Marvel’s Star Wars comic series, and then Empire Strikes Back. Got it? K, cool.

WoaJTimeline

On the planet Devaron, Luke feels the Force calling to him from what appears to be ruins of some sort. Luke searches the town of Tikaroo, asking the locals if any of them will be his guide and take him to the ruins. The people tell Luke that they can’t because the place is off limits. Eventually Luke finds someone who agrees to take him into the jungle, an alien known as “The Scavenger” named Sarco Plank.

SarcoPlankSarco Plank is one of the big reasons I recommend reading this book. Though he isn’t a particularly amazing character, I did find him very interesting because he is going to appear in The Force Awakens. I doubt he’ll have a large role in the film, but he will be in it, and a promotional photo of him has already been released. Want to get to know a new character from the upcoming movie? Read this book.

Points of interest are Luke trying to understand the Force, and trying to train with his lightsaber. Luke is without a mentor, and completely lost and confused when it comes to the Force and how to become a Jedi. He tries to learn more on his own. He practices using the Force, which is still very difficult for him to do. He practices training with his lightsaber, using the few techniques he was taught by Obi-Wan. Watching Luke struggle with these things and begin to progress on his own is something that I really enjoyed about this book. Luke is not a Jedi. He’s a farm boy with a laser sword who’s in way over his head. He wants to honor his father and become a Jedi, but he doesn’t know how to do it, so he just does the best he can on his own. This book does a good job of bridging the gap between the Luke we see in A New Hope who is just beginning to learn, and the Luke we see in Empire Strikes Back who already has some command of the Force and has enough basic lightsaber skills to be able to duel Darth Vader without instantly losing.

I can’t get into much more detail without spoiling the book. It is a very short book and a very fast read, talking about much more would give away most of the story.

SplinterCoverI think what I liked most about this book was that it felt like something from the old Expanded Universe. This book reminded me specifically of Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was actually the first EU book ever written (and second Star Wars book ever, after the novelization of the original movie). Both Weapon of a Jedi and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye take place in between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. Both books deal with Luke trying to progress in his Jedi training without Obi-Wan. Both books show Luke struggling to use the Force. Both books have Luke ending up on a planet and having to go to some ruins deep in the jungle (or swamp, in the case of Splinter). Other plot points of Splinter appear to be mirrored in Weapon of a Jedi as well. The whole time I was reading this book I was thinking of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. And that made me happy. In fact, in the prologue of Weapon of a Jedi, Threepio mentions how one time they went on a “diplomatic mission to Circarpous.” In Splinter of the Mind’s Eye Luke, Leia, Threepio, and Artoo were on a diplomatic mission to Circarpous VI, before they crash landed on Circarpous V, where the book takes place. Was this an intentional reference to Splinter? Knowing Jason Fry, it very well could have been.*

Like I said before, I had no intention of reading this trilogy of junior novels. However, in the end I am glad that I did. Of the three books, Weapon of a Jedi was by far my favorite one, though the other two were also pretty good, and they both dropped their fair share of hints about the new movie as well. The latter portion of this book feels like it is dropping major hints for the new movie, and it makes me excited to see which parts of this story play an important role in The Force Awakens.

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone looking for something to tie them over until The Force Awakens comes out. It is a very short and very fast read. More importantly than that though, it’s actually a good story! It will definitely whet your appetite for the new movie. The other two books in this trilogy are also good, but they weren’t quite as entertaining and it felt like they probably won’t connect as much with the new movie as this book will. That’s just my guess, however. We don’t know yet!

If you’re looking for something fun to read or if you want to start getting to know some characters from The Force Awakens before you see the new movie, this is definitely worth checking out. It is one of my favorite stories of the new canon so far. I’m glad I ended up reading it after all!

My Rating: 8/10

*UPDATE: Jason Fry recently let me know that the nods to Splinter of the Mind’s Eye are, in fact, deliberate. Very cool!

Review – “Lost Stars” (2015)

Lost Stars cover“I don’t know what comes after the Empire. I can’t say that whoever gets power next will be any better—but it can’t get any worse. That’s not possible. If there’s even a chance I can do something that helps take the Empire down, I feel like I have to do it.” – Thane Kyrell


 

Went I first heard about Lost Stars, the new book by Claudia Gray, I was not interested in it. It was being marketed as a “young adult novel” which automatically makes me want to read a book less. The brief description of the book that I read on starwars.com made it sound like a sappy story about forbidden teenage love, a la Romeo and Juliet, or even Twilight. It did not sound like something that I wanted from a Star Wars book, or any book honestly. On top of that, Aftermath was getting promoted like crazy, while Lost Stars and the three other “junior novels” that were all released the same day as Aftermath got almost no promotion whatsoever. All of the hype was for Aftermath, and of the five books that came out that “Force Friday”, Aftermath was the obvious choice for which one to read. I didn’t really give any thought to Lost Stars or the other books that came out that day. All I was really interested in were the adult novels in the new canon.

So, I got Aftermath, and I read it, and I didn’t like it. After finishing the book I looked around online to see if others disliked it like I did. Somewhat reassuringly, it looked like Aftermath had split the Star Wars fanbase in half. Many fans disliked the book as much as I did (and, many fans loved it). Reading other people’s reviews and looking through comments on TheForce.net I kept seeing people say things along the lines of “Aftermath wasn’t very good; but if you want to read a good book, check out Lost Stars!” Really? Lost Stars? The praise I kept on seeing for Lost Stars amongst all the negative comments about Aftermath was surprising. Were these people sure they didn’t just mean “Lost Stars is good in comparison to Aftermath”? Because that wasn’t very reassuring. But as I kept reading through comments and threads on different websites, I saw that Lost Stars was getting nearly universal praise.

I became interested.

I didn’t rush out to buy it. I still wasn’t convinced that this was a book I needed to read. But I eventually picked it up and started reading the book. I didn’t really know what to expect, because my preconceptions about the book conflicted with the glowing reviews it was getting online.

Grand Moff TarkinLost Stars takes place over the span of many years. The book starts off eight years after Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. The Empire is still fairly young, and through various propaganda efforts a large portion of the galaxy sees the Empire as a good thing, and as something they want to be a part of. We are taken to a mountainous planet called Jelucan, which sits on the Outer Rim. Jelucan is about to fall under Imperial control, and the people of Jelucan are excited and honored to swear allegiance to the Empire. This is the home world of our two protagonists, Thane Kyrell, and Ciena Ree. Thane and Ciena are eight years old, and they already aspire to serve the Empire as pilots one day. On the day that Jelucan officially comes under the Empire’s control, Thane and Ciena are admiring an Imperial shuttle and are approached by Grand Moff Tarkin. In a surprising move, Tarkin is incredibly kind to the children, and invites them aboard the shuttle to see the inside of it, which is a dream come true for them. Tarkin gets the children excited to serve the Empire one day through his kindness, insincere as it is. It is a side of Tarkin I hadn’t seen before, and it was a great touch. Thane and Ciena leave seeing Tarkin as a kind man and a hero, and they can’t wait to become a part of the Imperial Fleet one day.

Then the book starts jumping ahead a few years at a time. Thane and Ciena become best friends and we get to see them practice flying together, in hopes that they will one day be accepted into the Imperial Academy. They are accepted, eventually, and head to Coruscant, where we get a fascinating look at what life is like at the Imperial Academy. We get to see Thane and Ciena after they graduate from the academy and start serving in the Imperial fleet, and this gives us some great new perspectives on pivotal battle scenes from the original Star Wars trilogy. In the final chapters of the book we get to see Thane and Ciena after the events of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and we get to see how the Empire is doing a year after the Battle of Endor, in scenes that start preparing us for what is to come in the The Force Awakens.

As this book is a “young adult novel”, you can plow through it pretty quickly. Though it is about 550 pages long, the pages are small and the text is large and spaced out, so you’re turning pages quite fast. I read the first 100 pages very quickly the first night I was reading this book. And after 100 pages, I thought the book was pretty good. Not amazing, but interesting enough for me to want to keep reading the next day.

At around the 150 page mark the book really started to hold my attention, because at that point the book starts to tie in to the events of A New Hope. From that moment until the end, I could barely put the book down. My favorite moments of the book were all the times that we get to explore what it is like being a loyal Imperial, and what life is like for them while serving the Empire. Most of the Imperial characters in the story aren’t your stereotypical bad guys; they’re mostly just regular people. Good people. We get to see how there are heroes and good people on both sides of the war. We get to watch as Thane Kyrell starts to realize that the Empire he’s been serving so loyally for so long isn’t what he once thought it was. He witnesses evils and injustices and he decides to leave. Thane deserts the Empire and joins the Rebel Alliance.

Battle of Yavin

My other favorite thing about this book is that we get to see big events from the original Star Wars Trilogy from new perspectives. Like I mentioned earlier, this book takes place over the course of many years. It starts eight years after Revenge of the Sith, it takes us through the Original Trilogy, and finishes about a year after Return of the Jedi. The scenes that show us important battles from the movies from the perspectives of Thane and Ciena as they Forest Gump their way through the Original Trilogy are really fun to read. I don’t want to go into detail, because part of the reason I loved it was because I didn’t know exactly which scenes from the movies we were going to get to see. But they were very enjoyable to me.

The characters in this book are great. You end up really caring about both Thane and Ciena, and you end up sympathizing with so many Imperial characters who truly believe that they are doing the right thing. Even the secondary characters are interesting, including Thane and Ciena’s families, and also their roommates at the Imperial Academy. You admire Thane for his courage to abandon the only life he ever knew in order to try to make a positive difference in the galaxy, and you feel for Ciena, who is trying her hardest to be the best Imperial she can be and to keep her oath of loyalty to the Empire. They both believe that they’re doing the right thing, and though they disagree with each other they still care for each other deeply, and they are terrified at the thought of accidentally killing each other in battle from opposite sides of the war. Their love story isn’t as sappy and annoying as I thought it was going to be. I actually didn’t mind it at all, and it drove the story forward in a way that worked without making the whole book a mushy love story. This book is kind of more of a war story. I was expecting a love story, but I got a war story, and I was very happy about that. Lots of training, lots of battles, many explosions. Characters from the movies make cameos throughout the book, and for the most part Gray does a great job of making these cameos feel natural, rather than being shoehorned in.

There aren’t a lot of negative things I can say about Lost Stars. The fact that it’s a Young Adult Novel rather than a regular novel is sort of bothersome. It did feel a little bit like I was reading something meant for younger readers, but for the most part I didn’t mind, or even notice it.

I did start to feel like I was being bombarded with references to new never-before-seen planets in this book. Claudia Gray made up new planets all over the place. From what I can remember there are about 15 new planets introduced in this book, though most of them are mentioned only briefly, or in passing. I felt the same about new alien species. I understand that Star Wars takes place in a gigantic galaxy, but I already have a hard enough time keeping track of the other thousand planets and species that already existed in this universe.

Star Wars Rebels logoI have another complaint that isn’t so much about Lost Stars specifically as it is about the new canon as a whole: the planet Lothal, from Star Wars Rebels, is mentioned everywhere. Every piece of new canon literature seems to have at least one (usually more than one) reference to Lothal in it, even though Lothal is supposed to be an insignificant planet that is far out of the way of everything. Look, I get it, these stories take place in the same universe as Star Wars Rebels. I don’t need constant reminders of that. Lothal shouldn’t be mentioned in every new story.

Unlike Aftermath, I feel that Lost Stars is truly deserving of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” label. Though the majority of this book takes place before and during the Original Trilogy, the last section of the book takes us to Jakku, the desert planet we keep seeing in the trailers for The Force Awakens. As you might have guessed from the cover art, we get to see how a Star Destroyer ended up crashing into that desert. It doesn’t give away many details, but it whet my appetite just enough, and made me even more excited (as if that’s even possible) to see the new movie.

Jakku Star Destroyer

Is this book “required reading” before going to see the new movie? No. Neither Lost Stars, nor Aftermath is really that important in the grand scheme of things. None of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” books are that important. The one I’d recommend most to get you ready for The Force Awakens is Jason Fry’s junior novel, The Weapon of a Jedi. While I clearly haven’t seen The Force Awakens yetand because the trailers aren’t giving anything important awayI can’t guess what will or will not be mentioned or referenced in the movie; but I get the feeling that Weapon of a Jedi will prove to have the most tie-ins to the film, despite the story taking place immediately after A New Hope.

Important or not, Lost Stars is a great read. In fact, I’m going so far as to say that it is the best book in the new canon so far. I loved this book, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the new canon novels, or anyone who’s just looking for something to hold them over until The Force Awakens comes out next month. If you read only one Star Wars book before seeing the new movie, this is the one to read.

My rating: 8.5/10

Review – “Aftermath” (2015)

Aftermath Cover“The tyrant Palpatine is dead. But the fight isn’t over. The war goes on even as the Empire’s power diminishes. But we are here for you. Know that wherever you are, no matter how far out into the Outer Rim you dwell, the New Republic is coming to help.” — Leia Organa


 

Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig is a milestone in the new Star Wars canon, as it is now officially the first novel in the canon that takes place after Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, and is part of a series that is meant to bridge the gap between that movie and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. It is the first book of a new trilogy. This novel has been heavily promoted (at the expense of other Star Wars books that were released on the same day) and has generated a huge amount of excitement in a way that no other book of the new canon has until now. This book is a big deal, and I could not wait to get my hands on it and start reading it as soon as I could.

So, that’s what I did. Friday, September 4th was dubbed “Force Friday”, as it was the day that the first slew of merchandise for The Force Awakens went on sale, along with five other books that really didn’t have much to do with each other at all, apart from having “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” slapped across their covers. One of those books is Aftermath. I was actually completely unaware of this “Force Friday” stuff, but I did know that Aftermath was released that day, so I ran to the bookstore and grabbed myself a copy. It was the first time I had ever gone to the store to pick up a new Star Wars book on the day of its release. I was so excited to read this book. I was actually with my family when I bought it, and left them to go back to our car so I could start reading it immediately, while I was on vacation in California with them. Screw vacations, right? I had a new Star Wars book to read, and it was far more important!

So I opened it up, started reading the prologue, and it was awesome. The prologue sucked me right in. It literally started right where Return of the Jedi left off. Remember how in the new ending to the movie, it shows shots of celebrations happening on Bespin, Tatooine, Naboo, and Coruscant? Aftermath starts in the middle of that celebration on Coruscant. The weird thing is, you find out that the movie cut away from that shot right before it abruptly went from being a celebration of freedom to a battle between civilians and police, who were still loyal to the Empire. Just like that the celebration is over, and a riot breaks out. The Empire is not going to disappear as easily as we would like.

Celebration on Coruscant

The prologue and various interludes scattered randomly throughout the entire novel take us away from the main story and bring us to different locations across the galaxy to show us little snapshots of what life is like in the aftermath of the destruction of the second Death Star and death of the Emperor. This is something I haven’t seen in any other Star Wars book to date, and it was an interesting idea. One of these interludes takes us to Jakku, a planet that has significance to the story of The Force Awakens. The interludes were honestly some of the most fascinating parts of the novel, but they all felt so out of place. They abruptly pull you out of the main story for a few pages, and then shove you right back in to the middle of the main plot. Although the events in the interludes were interesting, they were mostly irrelevant to the main plot, and they just felt like they were there to set up a whole bunch of other stories without developing any of them in this book. I found the interludes annoying in that respect. Honestly I’d rather read full novels about the contents of some of these interludes than read the main story we get in Aftermath.

Wedge AntillesBy the way, this book is not about Luke, Leia, or Han. If you want a story about them, then this is not the book you’re looking for. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s continue…

In the actual first chapter, we’re now out in the middle of space, and Wedge Antilles is our new main character! This is not something I expected, and I was excited to get to follow a character I already like so much in a book that I was already so excited about! This is a Wedge Antilles story… or so I thought.

Things started going downhill pretty fast. Wedge disappears from the story after the first chapter, and only appears a few more times throughout the next 360 pages. Instead, we are introduced to a cast full of all new characters. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have read Star Wars books starring completely unknown characters before, and I loved those stories. But for me it just didn’t work in this book. The first third of this book is a mess, introducing us to new character after new character, and jumping between characters every time we got to a new chapter, until eventually, finally, all the characters come together and the book stops having to jump around like that. It is hard to keep track of what is going on and who is who for the first third of the book, and it’s hard to tell which characters are going to be important or reoccurring, after already being tricked into thinking you were reading a book about Wedge in the first chapter. The interludes that happen every few chapters made it even worse by introducing us to even more new characters, and then never referencing them again.

The worst part is, I don’t even like the main characters we end up getting stuck with. Some of them seemed so promising too.

Take Norra Wexley for example. Norra was a Y-Wing pilot who flew through the Death Star with Lando Calrissian at the Battle of Endor. Taking a random character with a backstory like that has the potential to be amazingly interesting. But I think it fell flat. Norra is honestly quite boring.

Her son, Temmin, is equally boring. He is upset at his mother for leaving him to go fight with the rebels, after he had already lost his father, and he clashes with his mother for most of the book. Temmin owns an old battle droid (ugh, why?) named Mr. Bones who drives me crazy. One thing I always hated about The Clone Wars TV series was the idiocy of the battle droids. They drove me up the wall. I couldn’t handle how infuriatingly annoying and stupid they were all the time, and how they were used as cringe-worthy comic relief. Well, Mr. Bones is just like those droids, but takes it to another level. He makes stupid comments all the time, and sings and hums to himself, while dancing around. A dancing, singing battle droid. Why? Why?! He is an excellent fighter however, and has some pretty awesome fight scenes (some of the better scenes of the book, honestly) but when he wasn’t protecting his master he was essentially the Jar Jar Binks of battle droids.

There is a Bounty Hunter named Jas Emari, a blue-skinned Zabrak who was on Endor when the Death Star exploded. There isn’t much to her either, except that she is a bounty hunter, and she takes jobs that pay her well. She’s not necessarily a “good guy.” She just works for whoever’s willing to pay her better.

Then there’s Sinjir Velus, the one character I actually really liked in this story. Sinjir was an Imperial who deserted after the destruction of the second Death Star. The Empire assumed he died in the battle, but really he just decided to lay low and spend his time getting drunk at bars. It’s hard to tell exactly where his loyalties lie for a good chunk of this story. He seems content being away from the Empire, but at the same time you don’t know if he’s still loyal to it or not. Even towards the end of the book, you’re still doubting where his allegiance lies. To me, this made him by far the most interesting character in the story. If I end up reading any more canon Star War novels after this one, I would like to see more of him.

Admiral Rae SloaneAlong with all those protagonists, we’re also introduced to an equally annoyingly-large cast of new bad guys. The only one worth mentioning is Admiral Rae Sloane, who actually isn’t a new character, as she was first introduced in the canon novel A New Dawn. She’s desperately trying to bring order back to an Empire that has fallen into chaos since the death of the Emperor. The Empire is shriveling, while the “New Republic” is gaining power throughout the galaxy.

The main plot of the story revolves around Rae Sloane trying to hold a secret meeting with some of the higher-ups from the old Empire on the planet Akiva, so that they can discuss the future of the Empire and start getting reorganized and taking back the power they have lost. Wedge Antilles accidentally comes across their Star Destroyers and is abducted. The good guys find out about the meeting and decide that they have to put an end to it and save Wedge, which is much easier said than done (by the way, this is the extremely abbreviated version of the story).

Sadly, I just found this book boring. It wasn’t until the last 100 pages or so that things started to get interesting, and that’s a problem, because I had to read through 250 pages of boring to get to that point. Even when it did start getting more interesting, it still wasn’t that interesting. The story is overall insignificant, and clearly this book is just trying to set up for future books. Another minor complaint is that I fail to see how this book is preparing me for The Force Awakens. Isn’t that the point of this “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” series? It was a pretty self-contained story that really doesn’t seem like it will affect anything else in the long run. Hopefully the sequels will, but those aren’t part of the “Journey” series. This one is, so this one should have had more to do with Episode 7.

Cut LawquaneThis book is not all bad, but it’s just not good. There were a few subtle nods and references to The Clone Wars and Rebels TV series that made me smile. One was a very brief reference to Cut, a clone trooper deserter from one of my favorite episodes of The Clone Wars. Another was the revelation that Wedge Antilles was recruited to join the Rebel Alliance by “Fulcrum”. There were a few fun cameo appearances from characters I love during some of the interludes. One of the characters in this book mentions that Palpatine used to send people “beyond known space” in an attempt to learn about or gain more power. I couldn’t help but think of the Timothy Zahn’s old Expanded Universe stories, as some of them explore this idea further.

I really, really wanted to like this book. I wanted to like it so badly. But I just didn’t. I would not recommend this book to others, unless somehow the second book in the trilogy ends up being amazing, and it is important to understand what happened in the first book to appreciate that one. Honestly though, I’m not sure I would even want to read the next book, whenever it comes out.

Aftermath was a huge letdown for me. Enough of a letdown to leave me questioning whether or not I even want to continue reading the new canon novels after Episode 7 comes out. I might just stick to the old Expanded Universe instead.

My rating: 4.5/10