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.