Thursday, December 31, 2015

Han Solo Trilogy

I just finished reading an old book; part 1 in the Han Solo Trilogy: "The Paradise Snare" by A.C. Crispin, from 1997.

I like this novel, both as the start to a trilogy for our beloved Han's backstory, and as a development piece showing us some of the inner workings of Hutt space, Corellia, and Coruscant. A good match for the most recent Star Wars RPG book I purchased, "Lords of Nal Hutta".

A few notes on the book:

*A number of new (for the time) aliens appear: Togorians, skin changing Aar'aa, t'landa Til (tree trunk legged quadruped cousins of Hutts), Berrites (mentioned only, said to be larger than Wookiees), Zisian (Ganar Tos; loose, wrinkly green skin, orange eyes).

*Good story, nice intro to new places, good blend of old stuff as well. Good pacing, especially after the early back story is set and the action picks up. Excited to read the next two (which I have on hand).

Overall, a solid addition to me preferred canon.

On the side, I am also reading "The Force Awakens Visual Encyclopedia" and the Kindle version of the novelization for "The Force Awakens". More thoughts on those two next post. I am split on the new movie. As I think about it, I find that I like the characters and the small details but not the big ideas and overall story arc.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Before the Awakening

In my previous post, I mentioned a complaint with Episode 7: It feels cut off from the rest of the Star Wars galaxy and leaves a lot of unanswered questions. As expected, new novels are beginning to fill in some of those gaps. Take, for instance, Before the Awakening.

This book presents three new long stories, one for each of the characters pictured on the cover. Finn's tale presents a glimpse into his training as a stormtrooper, as well as into other activities of the First Order. It gives hints into the unusual qualities that cause him to make the decision in the film that draws him into the action. Rey's story shows more of what life is like for her on Jakku, but suffers from the fact that one pretty much knows how it's going to end.  Of them all, Poe's tale is my favorite. It includes details from his life growing up on Yavin IV (tying in nicely to the Shattered Empire comics), as well as how he moved from the New Republic to the Resistance--and clarifies some of those organizations' relationships with each other. It also presents a rousing adventure, and one that helps clarify the picture of what RPG scenarios in this time period might look like.

All in all, I recommend the book for a good, quick read.


Monday, December 21, 2015

The Force Awakens! (*Spoilers!*)

For the most part, I agree with Brent's review. I quite enjoyed this film. The plot moved at a steady pace; the action sequences were exciting; the acting was solid; it was great to see physical props and familiar faces. With that said, I find myself somewhat unsatisfied due to the high number of questions that the film leaves unanswered.

This impression has been reinforced as I've been reviewing the prequel trilogy. As critical as some might be of it, one thing that should be said for it is that it explains how the Old Republic was toppled by the Sith, how Anakin Skywalker fell to the dark side of the Force, and just what the Clone Wars entailed. In that way, it expanded on what we knew of the Star Wars galaxy, even if we weren't sold on the love story or fulfilled by the digital effects.

Episode VII, on the other hand, leaves a lot of wondering to do. This also, of course, brings up many *SPOILERS!*

  • How did the First Order rise from the ashes of the Empire?
  • How does the Resistance connect to the New Republic?
  • How did Kylo Ren fall to the dark side of the Force?
  • What's the deal with Rey being left on Jakku?
  • What's been going on with Luke?
  • I also find it curious that the film takes place on no planets from the previous trilogies, while earlier films have often revisited familiar worlds. 

  • I know, of course, that Episode IV left some of these same questions to be answered. They didn't detract from my enjoyment of that film, however. I also know that many of these questions will be answered in the novelization of the movie, the visual guide to the film, its sequels, etc. Even so, they leave me not quite as satisfied as I might have been had these details been included in the film. That won't stop me from seeing it a few more times, however, because it is an exciting and engaging motion picture.


    Saturday, December 19, 2015

    The Force Awakens! (spoiler free)

    Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is over! I got the chance to see Episode VII late Thursday night. Overall I was very pleased. As a straight up movie, it was action-packed and quite enjoyable. I am going to post here my initial impressions, spoiler-free, and I know Nate plans to do the same very soon. We'll wait until after the New Year (at least) before diving into details and whatnot.

    Lots of positives to be found. There were a bunch of cool tech tidbits, adding to the realism of the background. Tons of new, fresh aliens and droids. We'll be working our way through them for quite some time. Lots of humor, when appropriate. A good crop of one-liners scattered about, here and there.

    Great to see old friends. Delighted to see really strong characters emerge as new friends. I quite like BB-8, Poe, Finn, and Rey.

    Decent main bad guys in the First Order. OK good guys in the Resistance. From the movie alone (at least from one viewing), it is difficult to tell what, exactly, is going on politically. First Order and Resistance. Plus Republic? I understand there are already extensive background texts out there that have lots more details, including "Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary"). I will have to dive into those soon as I try to make sense of it all.

    Without giving anything away, I think the plot is the weakest element of this film. For Star Wars nerds like us, that may not matter too much, as we can survive and thrive on just the details alone. Thankfully there are no grating elements like Jar Jar and (as Abrams mentioned before release multiple times) no midi-chlorians talk.

    I plan to see this movie at least three more times in the theater before January is out. Perhaps more. It's fun and fast and brand new. It feels like Star Wars (which is a bit odd to say, but an important aspect for me, nonetheless).

    As for a rating, I'd say 4/5 stars. The imagery, excitement, and thrill of it all carries the day even when the actual storyline could have used some extensive help. More on my thoughts in this regard next year, when spoilers will be less damaging.

    Monday, December 14, 2015

    Short Stories, Short Time

    I found these digital short stories on my Kindle, released on December 1, 2015.

    All five are part of "Journey to: Star Wars: the Force Awakens", the top four have a sub-title of "Tales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens".

    They are mostly enjoyable sci fi stories, but they don't, in my opinion, feel much like Star Wars. They are about characters we might meet in the upcoming movie, especially "All Creatures Great and Small", which features a new alien story teller, Bobbajo (a member of the new species called Nu-Cosians). Bobbajo was the first Force Awakens character I ever saw, appearing very early on behind J. J. Abrams in a teaser video. The other story with an obvious tie-in would be "High Noon on Jakku", with Constable Zuvio (of the alien species called Kyuzo). He'll likely be in the movie, as he has an action figure for sale.

    The other stories are about various ne'er do wells across the galaxy. Small time crooks, pirates, and mad scientists. Nothing really heroic, no characters we really know (yet).

    One item I found interesting has to do with this aforementioned storyteller character of Bobbajo, a kind of Yoda-like being. He re-tells a classic tale, known to all familiar with Star Wars, inserting himself and his collection of animal companions into key roles in the very heart of the story. When asked by other incredulous characters if what he's telling them is the truth, he answers in his slow, halting way: " an interesting thing. We only know...the versions we are told. It does not mean...that there are not...other truths."

    I choose to take this wise advice to heart as we prepare to meet a new generation of Star Wars lore, setting forth on a new journey together, defining new canon but remaining open to the call of the past and the allure of the "Legends" material.

    My next post will be a review of the new movie. Don't worry, I won't include spoilers!

    Friday, December 11, 2015

    The Master's Master

    Just finished reading "Darth Plagueis", by James Luceno (2012). Another of the relatively recent books that was pitched out in the Disney buyout. I'd say it was a decent read, but definitely started slow (and started with no characters we know). The pace and my interest level really picked up mid-book when Plagueis meets Palpatine, and the action ramps steadily to a nice ending which overlaps the events of Episode I.

    I am happy to have read this one, but I need to follow it with some more good guys next. I've read too many books about Dark Lords recently.

    A few notes
    As of the writing of this book, Palpatine doesn't have a first name, which is awkward. Some roundabout reasoning is employed as to why this noble son of Naboo uses a single moniker, waving away the issue, but it is still strange. Ironically it is the same author (James Luceno) just a few years later (2012 to 2015) who gives the Emperor his first name in-canon: Sheev.

    This book really doubles down (or triples down?) on the idea of midi-chlorians, a subject only slightly more popular than Jar Jar Binks. They are mentioned consistently throughout the text, as Darth Plagueis's life work is aimed at controlling or influencing them. Luceno does well to add some quasi-science sounding back story, yet still keep the midi-chlorians, their source, and their motives (if any) vague, thereby restoring some needed mystery to the Force. I still don't like midi-chlrians, however.

    "Plasma" is mentioned as something which is "mined" on Naboo. The same material Gungans use in their low tech/high tech weapons. Uhhhhh. No thanks.

    I personally don't care for the idea that Jabba, a low-life, two-bit criminal from a backwater desert planet, is a mover and shaker on the galactic scene. I feel he's not even a very important and influential Hutt: I would guess he'd at least make his home in Hutt space if he was a powerful being. Even more powerful and he'd live on Coruscant. No, he's more of a small fry space slug on the fringes. Certainly big enough to push around moisture farmers, low level bounty hunters, desperate smugglers, and basic crooks, but not a player in shaping events across the Republic. I'd prefer him to be subservient to a larger Hutt operation, based out of Nal Hutta (and rather low on that food chain, as well).

    Nuclear weapons. Never seen one in a Star Wars book before, and not sure I like it.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2015

    Rooting Out Rebels and Other Traitors

    ISB Rank Insignia

    ISB personnel below the rank of Captain typically wear black uniforms and sometimes body armor. Distinctive white uniforms are worn by those Captain and above. The rough equivalent Imperial Naval Rank is given for the sake of comparison. In practice, all branches of the regular military give the fanatically loyal members of the ISB a wide berth

    The ISB is separate from, and was established as a deliberate rival to, the Imperial Intelligence apparatus. Staffed solely by the most trusted adherents to the New Order, the ISB usually serves more of a police function than do agents of Imperial Intelligence. ISB operatives frequently identify themselves publicly, reveling in the intimidation value provided by their parent organization's sinister reputation.

    The ISB concerns itself chiefly with enforcing loyalty to the Empire and rooting out Rebels wherever they may be found. Below are the officer ranks found in the organization. ISB personnel in the field frequently commandeer supporting forces drawn from the Stormtrooper Legions. Sometimes additional Imperial Army or Naval personnel are also used, depending on the needs of the mission at hand.
    ISB rank
    Navy rank
    Fleet Admiral
    Deputy Director
    Rear Admiral
    Lt. Commander

    Star Wars Imperial Sourcebook, Second Edition, WEG, 1994 (Gorden, Schweighofer)
    Star Wars: Rebels, Lucasfilm Animation, 2014 (Filoni, Kinberg, et al)
    Star Wars: Lost Stars, Disney-Lucasfilm Press, 2015 (Gray)

    Saturday, November 28, 2015


    I just finished this much maligned and generally panned book, while waiting for my reserved copy of "Darth Plagueis" to become available at the library. I read a sample chapter awhile back, and thought I would skip this one entirely, based on the jarring nature of the prose contained therein. But Nate loaned it to me, and I was caught up on everything else Star Wars, had a hole in my reading schedule, and, frankly, needed to see where this tale led.

    I have to say it wasn't as bad as I feared. There are many issues I have with the style and execution, and I would still consider this work a candidate for the worst Star Wars novel ever written, but it was an action adventure tale with at least a partial, although sometimes spotty, Star Wars veneer.

    First, the good.

    A new Star Wars tale. A chance to see some old friends (Ackbar and Wedge), and to meet some new characters. As I mentioned, it was a generally fast-paced tale with some important post-Jedi implications (if you are willing to 'buy' the new Disney-fied canon. The jury is still out, with me.)

    Now, the bad.

    Those old friends seem cookie cutter and one-dimensional. I guess Ackbar seemed the most like himself. As for the new characters, I don't fully like them. They are, by design, 'complicated' individuals with lots of baggage. Ugh.

    Much about the book seems rushed. There were at least a dozen typos inside. Not sure if that's far outside the bounds of normal SW fare, but it seemed excessive. All were, as far as I could tell, correctly spelled but misused words (e.g. saying "hale" to describe frozen precipitation) and not straight up typos. I think it may be related to the general style...

    ...The choppy writing style and present tense made it difficult to read, at times. I found that the story (and the book, in general) was more agreeable in the rear view mirror. That is to say, once I had read a passage and understood the content, the method of delivery didn't matter as much. My building recollection of the tale in progress was not affected by the jarring sentences and off-putting punctuation...once I had struggled through the first pass. I don't know if that makes any sense. At times, this book read like a word salad, with extra punctuation drizzled on top.

    I fear the author did not know much about the ins and outs of writing in a shared universe setting, like Star Wars. There are a few classes of mistakes poor SW authors make, in my opinion. "Aftermath" features examples of all of them:

    1. Make your story bigger than the OT or worm your tale into the OT in a ham-fisted way.
    ("Aftermath" examples: The bounty hunter Jas Emari was about to shoot Leia on Endor? The same Endor that was a top secret Imperial facility? The same Leia that a lowly bounty hunter could not have known would travel incognito to this top secret facility? OR small-time fringer gang scum Surat Nuat "taught the Empire how to freeze someone in carbonite?") These are pitfalls of many EU novels, from basic offenders like when "Shadows of the Empire" needlessly explains the Leia Boushh costume or places Xizor just off-screen during hologram exchanges between the Emperor and Darth Vader, to the dramatically bad, like a better-than-the-Death-Stars-Death-Star called Sun Crusher, featured in the Jedi Academy trilogy or the also-a-Death-Star-weapon owned by Hutts in "Darksaber". It looks like "The Force Awakens" is primed to go down this weird road with a Starkiller Base. Oh, please. No.

    2. Poor use of in-universe slang and/or poor knowledge of universe.
    Well written in-universe slang is a treat that deepens the shared world. Poorly written attempts are either funny or just plain sad.
    ("Aftermath" examples: Admiral Ackbar would almost certainly refer not to " people across the galaxy..." but rather to " beings across the galaxy...". It sounds very strange to think of little starhoppers being "...favored by...bookies." (sounds like a problem for 1970's New York City). Dengar the bounty hunter actually mentions "space diapers". Someone else uses the 'catch-phrases' "Darth Obvious" and "Emperor Palpable". Someone else claims they're just playing "...Imperial Advocate." Like 'devil's advocate', I guess, except it was an Imperial who said it. A brand new game, called chatta-ragul, is described in detail: it is EXACTLY like chess. Finally, the geographic oddity that states that the five closest worlds to Raydonia (O-6, Belsmuth Sector) are Mustafar (L-19, Atravis Sector), Geonosis (R-16, Arkanis Sector), Dermos (new to this book), Akiva (new to this book), and Tatooine (R-16, Arkanis Sector).

    3. Wrong tone.
    This is partially due to the direction of Disney canon as of late. Star Wars is not supposed to be a gritty, realistic war movie, in my opinion. It is also not meant to be unfriendly to young readers. ("Aftermath" examples: the quote "Even if your crooked human nose is dark with excrement." and everything about a psychotic battle droid. Excessive and graphic violence: more head shots, broken bones, internal injuries, leaking blood, blood-spattered corpses, etc. Star Wars isn't about moral ambiguity or realistic anything: including depictions of war, emotional struggle, or physical injuries. You are not supposed to sympathize with the Empire. Don't dwell on the "they're good people, too, just trying to do their jobs" line of reasoning. This is fast and loose Space Opera. The good guys only shoot bad guys who fully deserve it.

    I am a bit surprised that this book is the first in a trilogy. I guess I will read them, if Nate lends them to me. We'll see how the "Force Awakens" goes, first.

    Admiral Ackbar says in the Prelude: "Our rebellion is over. But the war...the war is just beginning." This is the fundamental flaw in the entire Journey to the Force Awakens idea, to my thinking. It is the hallmark of the new Disney canon and a method, I guess, to enact a new state of eternal conflict (as I have mentioned elsewhere). The good guys not winning, and indeed winning not even being a possibility, is definitely NOT Star Wars.

    Now on to a happier book, I suspect: "Darth Plagueis". The heart warming tale of how Palpatine was trained in the dark arts. I doubt I'll see any moral ambiguity about how Dath Sidious is just misunderstood.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2015

    Eternal Conflict

    This Wired article discusses the very thing I have come to uneasily suspect: Star Wars is going into overdrive. Meltdown. Super-hypetrain, off the rails. We are going to see a new Star Wars movie ever year until "...people stop buying tickets." We literally may not live long enough to see the last Star Wars movie. Add in all the toys and merchandising and whatnot, and it feels like a truly massive marketing juggernaut is poised for the attack.

    Part of me loves the idea. Another part of me cringes.

    Not to say that Star Wars hasn't always been about marketing toys, etc. It has, since the very beginning. But this is a different thing entirely, without historical precedent. I guess the closest thing in terms of quantities of movies would be the Bond franchise; perhaps the closest thing in recent times to the cross-platform movie tie-in bonanza is that other very successful Disney property: the Marvel movies.

    What does this mean for Star Wars, the story? The canon? The saga? I fear it means a cheapening of the central tale of fall and redemption. For one, the new canon requires a state of perpetual war, against which movie after movie after movie can be set. The First Order and the Resistance. I suspect both are of approximate equal size and strength, ensuring a bitter and contested future: forever.

    Another pitfall is the re-use of known tropes and themes. Please don't tell me that Episode VII's movie poster has a third Death Star on it.

    In this new Disney era, there will never be a post-RotJ happy ending. The Republic, and a new era of peace, is not coming back.

    The Star Wars saga is the tale of Palpatine/Sidious, working in secret to come to power, coupled with Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side and eventual redemption.

    To my mind, the Empire, which was formed and maintained through the active effort and arm twisting and conniving of a Sith Lord, would crumble within a decade of his absence. He cultivated aggressive top advisers and high ranking military personnel who hated each other and, powered by naked ambition, worked to back-stab each other in a constant jockeying for position and the Emperor's favor. The big bad guy dies...and all that infighting would descend into chaos. The Emperor isn't there to forsee and plan. Vader isn't there to enforce the Emperor's will. Tarkin and the superweapons aren't there to help instill fear. I'd give it about a decade of decay before the last remnants of Imperial controlled space are isolated and dealt with, either militarily or via political agreements. Much like how Zahn et al. version of the Expanded Universe played out.

    A Star Wars where, as the book "Aftermath" claims, the fall of the Emperor is "...just the beginning of the war"?

    Uhhhhhh....I don't like it.

    I hope "The Force Awakens" proves me wrong. I hope it brings back that awesome Star Wars feeling, and that the new story is fresh and exciting, but with ties to the past. We don't have long to wait before the new era dawns.

    Sunday, November 15, 2015

    Strongholds of Resistance (P)Review

    I've been waiting for this book since back during the summer; its inclusion of Tierfon Outpost makes it naturally of interest to me. Here's a preview of the contents, and I'll post a more thorough review once I've had some time to read it.


    Strongholds of Resistance (P)Review
    Presented here is an overview of what one can expect from the new Strongholds of Resistance supplement.

    Page 1: Opening crawl

    Page 2: Inside title page

    Page 3: Table of contents

    Page 4: Fiction

    Pages 5-7: Overview and summary

    Chapter 1 (pages 8-65): Worlds in Revolt
    This chapter presents overviews of different worlds, much as was done by Suns of Fortune and Lords of Hutt Space. They include Chandrila, Kinyen, Mon Cala (Dac), Sullust, Ord Gimmel, the Roche Asteroid Field, Thyferra and Yavin IV. There are also shorter blurbs for Barkhesh, Chardaan, Contruum, Hoth, Kolaador, Mygeeto, New Alderaan, Sanctuary, Talay and Vergesso Base.

    Chapter 2 (pages 66-95): Hidden Bases
    In this chapter one can find an overview of using Rebel bases in adventures, along with descriptions of, and maps for, Echo Base on Hoth, Polis Massa Base, Tierfon Outpost and Defiant Core Base.

    Chapter 3 (pages 96-119): Player Options
    This chapter presents new species (the Polis Massan, Quarren and Verpine); almost two dozen weapons and explosives; three suits of armor; three weapon attachments; more than a dozen other equipment items; some cybernetics; six new droids; and six new vehicles.

    Chapter 4 (pages 120-143): Modular Encounters
    The last part of the book is four modular encounters, again in the style of Suns of Fortune and Lords of Nal Hutta.

    Saturday, November 14, 2015

    Rise, Lord Vader

    Just finished this book from 2005, which has been re-branded "Legends" in the new canon. A very entertaining read, this one is like "Kenobi" in that I'm not sure why it wouldn't be fully consistent with the Disney canon.

    The story begins just before Order 66 is issued. A small group of Jedi fighting on the Separatist world of Murkhana manage to avoid being killed by the clones they lead. The group eventually gets off world, but not before a run in with the brand new (and not-yet fully solidified) Darth Vader. The Clone Wars ends almost immediately after Order 66, as droid armies are shut down and the conflict comes to an abrupt (and confusing, for observers) conclusion. The Jedi survivors from Murkhana meet up with some other straggler Jedi, journey to Alderaan, then things come to a head on the forested world of Kashyyk, where Darth Vader leads an invasion with dual aims: wipe out the Jedi and secure thousands and thousands of Wookiee slaves for Tarkin's still-secret superweapon project.

    Old friends make appearances: Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, Obi-wan Kenobi, Chewbacca. By the end of the story, Vader is much more sure of himself, settling more comfortably into the role of Sith Lord.

    Next up: I am going to try to track down "Darth Plagieus" to see how all of this Palpatine situation got started in the first place.

    Monday, November 2, 2015

    The Dynamic Duo

    Just finished "Lords of the Sith", and I must say it ties with "Lost Stars" as my favorite (thus far) of the new Disney Star Wars canon. It definitely continues in a trend of more brutal and "realistic" war stories, shoved into the Star Wars universe. In my view, that is both a good and bad thing. On the good side, the stories seem to be more serious and visceral. On the bad side, there are lots of mentions of head shots, entry wounds, gore splatter, and various other graphic and extraneous episodes of violence.

    I won't give a lot away, plot-wise, but this book takes place almost entirely on Ryloth, and includes Cham Syndulla (Rebels Hera's father, himself a Clone Wars character). The action is very fast paced and exciting, the scope is perfect for an early Empire work (i.e. don't overshadow the Death Star or anything). Just seeing Vader and Palpatine in action, side by side, is worth the price of admission.

    As a side note, I recall some chatter regarding a gay character in Aftermath (which I have yet to read). In this book, the female Moff in charge of Ryloth is said to have had a wife who died some time ago in an accident. Another nod to the Disney Star Wars being much more inclusive, overall. I thoroughly approve.

    All told, "Lords of the Sith" is a very nice addition to the Star Wars canon.

    Monday, October 26, 2015

    Ranks of the ISB

    ISB "Agent" rank
    I have been working on a rank and insignia structure for ISB agents and officers. The plaque above is like that worn by Agent Kallus. I have previously guesstimated that an ISB "Agent" such as him would be about the same rank as a Imperial Navy Lieutenant Commander. No doubt ISB Agents would be given a wider berth in their dealings with the Imperial Military than what their mere rank would afford them, but it seems a decent sort of place for an Agent to fit in.

    We also have to, within this proposed rank structure, take into account ISB Colonel Wulff Yularen (plaque = 3 red squares at left, 3 blue squares at right) and another (unnamed, I think) white uniformed ISB agent also seen on the Death Star (plaque = reverse of Yularen).

    Finally, as an upper bound, we need to account for the plaque worn by Armand Isard (and later by his daughter, Ysanne). It is the equivalent of the Imperial Navy's Fleet Admiral. Seems about right. The Tarkin book held some hints as to the ranks of various top level "cabinet" positions within the Military Intelligence, etc, so I will have to do some cross-checking.

    Curious about the other rank structures and insignia I've cobbled together? Here are links to the Imperials and the Rebels.

    Major Bad Guy

    Just finished reading Tarkin. A nice, lower-key tale meant to fill some gaps in the early life of Tarkin and the early history of the Empire. Backstory for the eventual Grand Moff and another look (from the bad guy's view, this time) of the early days of a brewing Rebellion.

    Nate mentioned he couldn't really get into this one, as the opening pages discuss fashion. Tarkin is busy designing a new uniform with his seamstress droid. The story does get more dramatic, eventually, but it essentially revolves around a ship jacking caper, interlaced with flashbacks to Tarkin's youth. [Closed Circuit to Nate: later in the book you get to see Tarkin design a second (or was that third?) military uniform for himself. You don't get to be that dapper without putting in the effort, my man.] This novel was a bit of a buddy story, too, as Vader and Tarkin learn to get along, under the watchful gaze of the Emperor.

    One unsettling thing, to my mind, was the opposition was not depicted as clear-cut good. I fear this will be a running theme in the Disney canon; shades of gray. Gritty. Realistic. And totally out of place in Star Wars. I don't think this book made Vader, Tarkin, or Palpatine into friendly characters (thank goodness), but it certainly did not play up the "goodness" of those working against the Empire. Clearly not all opponents of the Empire are good guys, but in this case, we see proto-Rebels who are just not very embraceable as heroes. A bit like my feelings for Kanan in A New Dawn. Hera was great, but Kanan was too mean. And brutal.

    Overall, I like the tale, and appreciate the look into the early days of a moon-sized battle station and one of its chief architects.

    Sunday, October 25, 2015

    Preferred Canon

    This is my personal list of "accepted" Star Wars canon. I have a few more candidates waiting in the wings, which I may include when I get around to reading them. This is a conservative list. I left out some tales that weren't exactly bad, but just didn't quite fit with the rest, in my opinion. I included a few here that I have not read, but I assume will be OK. I may strike them from the record later. 

    I have also left out a few I may add back in. Heir to the Jedi and Aftermath fall into that category for me. I've heard bad things about Heir to the Jedi and have only tried reading a few sample chapters from Aftermath; I might be able to finish those books eventually, but I am not sure. Perhaps the content will be acceptable, even though the "delivery mechanism" leaves something to be desired. More on that later, after I attempt those novels in earnest.

    My favorite book on this list is probably Kenobi, certainly the best Star Wars novel I've read recently. If the whole Force Awakens thing doesn't turn out, I'd be fine wrapping up my canon with the Zahn Hand of Thrawn duology. More than enough material here to live amidst the Galactic Civil War forever!

    Legends, Canon
    Adult fiction mostly, with some Young Adult and no Comic Books

    Darth Plagueis, James Luceno (2012) (67 to 32 BBY)
    Cloak of Deception, James Luceno (2001) (32.5 BBY)
    Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, Michael Reaves (2001) (32.5 BBY)
    Ep. I: The Phantom Menace, Terry Brooks (1999) (32 BBY)
    Outbound Flight, Timothy Zahn (2006) (27 BBY)
    Ep. II: Attack of the Clones, R.A. Salvatore (2002) (22 BBY)
    Republic Commando: Hard Contact, Karen Traviss (2004) (22 BBY)
    The Cestus Deception, Steven Barnes (2004) (21 BBY)
    MedStar I: Battle Surgeons, Michael Reaves & Steve Perry (2004) (20 BBY)
    MedStar II: Jedi Healer, Michael Reaves & Steve Perry (2004) (20 BBY)
    Labyrinth of Evil, James Luceno (2005) (19 BBY)
    Ep. III: Revenge of the Sith, Matthew Stover (2005) (19 BBY)
    Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, James Luceno (2005) (19 BBY)
    Kenobi, John Jackson Miller (2013) (19 BBY)
    Lords of the Sith, Paul S. Kemp (2015) (14 BBY)
    Tarkin, James Luceno (2014) (14 BBY)
    A New Dawn, John Jackson Miller (2014) (11 BBY)
    Han Solo Trilogy 1: The Paradise Snare, A.C. Crispin (1997) (10 BBY)
    Han Solo Trilogy 2: The Hutt Gambit, A.C. Crispin (1997) (5 to 4 BBY)
    Han Solo Trilogy 3: Rebel Dawn, A.C. Crispin (1997) (3 to 0 BBY)
    The Han Solo Adventures, Brian Daley (1979) (2 BBY)
    Lost Stars, Claudia Gray (2015) (11 to 5 ABY)
    Death Star, Michael Reaves & Steve Perry (2007) (1 BBY to 0 BBY)
    Ep. IV: A New Hope, Alan Dean Foster (1976) (0 BBY)
    The Weapon of a Jedi, Jason Fry (2015) (0 ABY)
    Allegiance, Timothy Zahn (2007) (0.5 ABY)
    Choices of One, Timothy Zahn (2011) (0.8 ABY)
    Smuggler’s Run, Greg Rucka (2015) (0 ABY to 3 ABY)
    Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, various (1995) (0 ABY to 3 ABY)
    Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company, Alexander Freed (2015) (1 ABY)
    Ep. V: The Empire Strikes Back, Donald F. Glut (1980) (3 ABY)
    Tales of the Bounty Hunters, various (1996) (3 ABY)
    Moving Target, Cecil Castellucci & Jason Fry (2015) (3 ABY to 4 ABY)
    Ep. VI: Return of the Jedi, James Kahn (1983) (4 ABY)
    Tales from Jabba’s Palace, various (1996) (4 ABY)
    Tales from the Empire, various (1997) (4 ABY)
    Tales from the New Republic, various (1999) (4 ABY)
    Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, Matthew Stover (2008) (5.5 ABY)
    X-Wing 1: Rogue Squadron, Michael Stackpole (1996) (6.5 ABY)
    X-Wing 2: Wedge’s Gamble, Michael Stackpole (1996) (6.5 ABY)
    X-Wing 3: The Krytos Trap, Michael Stackpole (1996) (7 ABY)
    X-Wing 4: The Bacta War, Michael Stackpole (1997) (7 ABY)
    Tatooine Ghost, Troy Denning (2003) (8 ABY)
    Thrawn Trilogy 1: Heir to the Empire, Timothy Zahn (1991) (9 ABY)
    Thrawn Trilogy 2: Dark Force Rising, Timothy Zahn (1992) (9 ABY)
    Thrawn Trilogy 3: The Last Command, Timothy Zahn (1993) (9 ABY)
    Specter of the Past, Timothy Zahn (1997) (19 ABY)
    Vision of the Future, Timothy Zahn (1998) (19 ABY)
    Before the Awakening, Greg Rucka (2015) (~34 ABY)
    Ep. VII: The Force Awakens, Alan Dean Foster (2015) (~34 ABY)

    Wednesday, October 14, 2015

    Mud, Blood, & a Glimmer of Hope

    Just finished "A New Dawn", the origin story for the Kanan/Hera duo from Star Wars: Rebels. Not Miller's best work (I definitely liked "Kenobi" better), but the story is nonetheless worth reading. It fits into a time when the Empire is new and the Galactic Civil War has not begun in earnest. Hera is already involved, out and about in the galaxy, collecting info and making contacts. Somehow she already has Ghost and Phantom...I guess I missed that backstory somewhere along the line.

    The very nature of this tale, set early in the saga, means there are no starfighter battles or Imperial superweapons. There is no shortage of stormtroopers and TIE fighters, however.

    I think there is a trend in the new Star Wars fare toward "gritty" and "realistic" works. This book feels dirty: mud and darkness everywhere, mostly owing to the planetary dynamics of Gorse, the main setting for the action. Blood and bruising certainly weighs in as well; one character in particular gets mercilessly pummeled repeatedly. Missing teeth, broken bones, internal bleeding. A bit much for the regularly fast and loose space opera that is Star Wars. This is likely to be my biggest gripe with the rebooted canon: 'realistic, endless war and suffering'. Ugh. Give me a break.

    As it is, this book works well to set up the Rebels TV series and has a place in my preferred Star Wars canon (more on that later). 

    Next Up: I've already started reading Tarkin; then I'm heading for Lords of the Sith and The Rise of Darth Vader

    In between, I've read the most of the following comics series: Princess Leia, Kanan the Last Padawan, Shattered Empire, Star Wars, and I plan to read the first few issues of Lando. Thanks for the loan, Nate!

    I am also looking forward to getting the new Rebels season via Amazon video.

    Thursday, October 1, 2015

    Journey to The Force Awakens

    I just finished reading a great quartet of books, nominally geared toward Young Adults, that aim to set up the events of "The Force Awakens". All were well worth reading, in my opinion. All have been seeded with hints for the upcoming movie, but all take place in the era of the Galactic Civil War.

    First up for discussion, the longest of the four: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray. This is a rather long book, but a very quick and engaging read. It follows two main characters, friends from a young age, Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree. They hail from a back water planet and manage to make it into the Coruscant Imperial Academy before the events of Yavin. They both initially train as TIE pilots, but then start separate paths: Thane sticks with starfighters, Ciena moves to the capital ship command track. They develop a love interest, and eventually wind up on opposite sides of the Rebellion.

    I won't give any more of the plot away, but I will mention that one of the "seeds" in this book, as pertains to "The Force Awakens", is the story behind the cover art (and the wonderful special effects shot of a crashed Star Destroyer, as seen in the TFA trailer).

    Can't really complain about this solid entry into Star Wars lore. The only thing that comes to mind is the references throughout to something called "Imperial Starfleet". Sounds like a J.J.-ism, perhaps.

    Next up for mini-review is a trio of much shorter books, all done in the same format: namely a short beginning portion, set in the time of "The Force Awakens", wherein the main character is asked to recall a story from the past (i.e. the Galactic Civil War era). The bulk of the book is this story, then the very end few pages are a wrap-up set, once again, in the "future". We get small hints of new characters and other "seeded" hints thrown in, here and there. All three are fun short stories that fit well in the spirit of the Star Wars universe. They remind me a bit of the wonderful "Tales From..." series, as the three plots can all be considered side treks within the main Galactic Civil War story line. 

    I read all four books in less than two weeks. Really nice stories that add some good flavor to the Star Wars canon. I have to admit, after reading these, my unease with the whole concept of "The Force Awakens" has grown. I love the Galactic Civil War era too much, and appreciate the now-Legends stuff that filled in after ROTJ too much to see it all swept away by a (possibly) simplistic, eternal war type scenario. Why can't the end of the Emperor spell the (eventual) end of the Empire? A subject for another time, perhaps.

    Side Note: I am not going to review "Aftermath", as I could not stand to read even the sample chapter found online. I will have to ask Nate what happened (unless my fear proves true, and I don't care that much about "The Force Awakens"). I have had fun reading some of the 40% one-star reviews on Not a good sign, in my opinion.

    I still have a plethora of GCW era stuff to read, and I am in no hurry to despoil the Expanded Universe, personally.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2015

    Oolex Flotilla

    Officially called the Alliance to Restore the Republic Sumitra Sector Fleet, the small group of vessels assigned to the region including Tierfon is more commonly known as the Oolex Flotilla. Taking their name from an early rendezvous location in the sector, the Oolex Pulsar, this collection of ships is under the same standing orders as other Alliance Fleets: avoid direct confrontation with the Empire.

    The head of the Oolex Flotilla is Rear-Admiral Iluna Tanik, a human female originally from Alk’Lellish. Her flagship is a brand new Mon Calamari MC40a light cruiser called Insurgence.

    The rest of the Oolex Flotilla includes ten former Corporate Sector Marauder-class corvettes, eight aging CR90 corvettes, and a dozen DP20 frigates. These capital ships are supported by many smaller craft, including dozens of civilian freighters and over one hundred starfighters.

    The major vessels most commonly seen in and around the Tierfon system include:
    DP20 frigate Tocan Sun, Commander Adira Serth (Human female)
    DP20 frigate Geedon, Commander Ren Xergo (Nautolan female)
    CR90 corvette Abundance, Commander Var Ferran (Zabrak male)
    Marauder-class corvette Starflare, Captain Kylath Landala (Human male)
    Gray Squadron (Y-wings embarked on the Starflare)
    Marauder-class corvette Triumph, Captain Boz Zarkot (Duros male)
    White Squadron (Y-wings embarked on the Triumph)

    8th Starfighter Group [Sumitra Sector]:
    1 Wing (3 X-wing squadrons)
    Hawk-bat Squadron: X-wing, based on MC40a Insurgence
    Gundark Squadron: X-wing, Ptera system asteroid field base
    Nexu Squadron: X-wing, based on Marauder-class corvette Destiny

    2 Wing (1 A-wing squadron, 2 B-wing squadrons)
    Green Squadron: A-wing, based on Marauder-class corvette Hammer of Reegian
    Blue Squadron: B-wing, based on Marauder-class corvette Nova
    Gold Squadron: B-wing, based on Marauder-class corvette Rebellion

    3 Wing (1 X-wing squadron, 2 Y-wing squadrons)
    Black Squadron: X-wing, Tierfon Rebel Base
    Gray Squadron: Y-wing, Marauder-class corvette Starflare
    White Squadron: Y-wing, Marauder-class corvette Triumph

    3 Wing, 8th Starfighter Group originally consisted of 3 loosely affiliated training squadrons all flying BTL-S3 Y-wing starfighters. After the Tierfon Yellow Aces were decimated at the Battle of Tocan, the Wing was rebuilt as Black, White, and Gray Squadrons. The former Yellow Aces pilots were given X-wing starfighters to replace their lost Y-wings, while the renamed White and Gray squadrons kept their original BTL-S3 craft. Around this same time, the duty status of 3 Wing was boosted to full active and White and Gray Squadrons were assigned to their current capital ships. No longer just a remote low risk training outpost, the pilots of Tierfon joined the fight against the Empire in earnest.

    The 8th Starfighter Group is commanded by Group Captain Beka Donos (Human female).
    3 Wing is commanded by Wing Commander Koskit Ursi’tvo (Bothan female).

    Past Blast

    Still in my Star Wars reading mood, I picked up this major story for the first time last week (only 19 years late on this one). At the time this was considered a major event. I recall a Lucas comment saying this multimedia release would be "everything but the film": toys, novel, video games, etc.

    I must say I was pleasantly surprised with Shadows of the Empire. A good story, a bit over the top, but not too far gone I'd say. The characters we know and love seemed to speak and act as we'd expect.

    A few quibbles, minor as they may be:

    1. This book features the most sexuality of any Star Wars novel I've read. A bit out of place, in my opinion.

    2. For some reason, it irked me to use the term "castle" for the Coruscant residences of the Emperor, Darth Vader, and Prince Xizor.

    3. I didn't mind the idea of Black Sun, or Xizor, or the notion that Xizor would be influential enough to occassionally bend Palpatine's ear. I didn't quite care for the implied idea that Xizor was an equal for the Emperor's affections alongside Vader.

    4. At least one vast network of criminal informants could spot Luke in hiding at Ben's hut (and note when he left planet in his X-wing), but Imperial Intelligence could not. What?

    5. A huge bounty (unspecified) offered for Luke, Black Sun knows where he is, but they decide to just send a dozen local swoop gangers.

    6. Leebo had only one line in the book. Outrider disappeared in a cliffhanger-like flash. I thought both would be around more.

    An enjoyable read, overall. I'm glad to have finally gotten around to this one. Next in the reading cue: 4 books in the "Journey to the Force Awakens" timeline.