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)