Tag Archives: Star Wars

X-Wing: Mercy Kill

This is I think the next to last volume in the Star Wars Extended Universe series of books, by chronology. It is also, to my knowledge, the last book written by its author before he died unexpectedly a couple of years post-publication, certainly during the timespan when the EU was being gracelessly removed from Star Wars canon. There’s probably some kind of metaphor there.

Mercy Kill is about three things. Superficially, it’s about tying up loose political ends from the Fate of the Jedi series. Externally, it’s about a “wouldn’t it be cool if?” moment, the cool thing in this case being to bring back Wraith Squadron, the special ops branch of the New Republic’s navy. Being spec ops, they never used X-Wings as much as the rest of the navy did, but they were developed in the X-Wing series, and so here we are. (Also, it hasn’t been called the New Republic for a long time, but that doesn’t matter to you I’m sure, and being spec ops spy types, it doesn’t much matter to them either.)

Third and I’m sure most importantly, it’s about the horrors of war, the beauties of friendship, and the ways we cope with these things and the loss of them, and the long road of recovery. …okay, that’s a little bit overdone, but it’s not not about those things, and seeing as the series is all but ended, I’m feeling a little maudlin, okay? Oh, and fourth, like all the X-Wing books, it’s more than a little funny in the way that all good caper stories are. I guess I didn’t say, and wouldn’t have said before since I read the rest of the X-Wing / Wraith Squadron books years before there was a site to review them, but these are wisecracking, safecracking special ops people with hearts of gold, not grim dour special ops people who never leave a man behind. So the book is fun, which you would probably intuit from the Star Wars title, but might not from the mention of a special ops force as the stars.

Also, Star Wars isn’t always fun anymore, is it?

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

This is weird. First of all, yes, I saw Rogue One over the weekend. Of course I did! And I liked it. Yet, I have been avoiding this review like the dickens, and I don’t know exactly why. My best guess is, I liked it better than it probably deserves. The first act was scattered, and the second act was solid enough[1], but the third act was 100% predictable due to its inevitability. It’s hard to drum up much care about characters whose arcs you already know when you sit down in the theater, you know?

Nevertheless, I did care about them. I cared about all of the new characters[2] and I cared about watching the journey, and I didn’t mind the CGI faces very much, and basically everything that happened was good. Hell, even the music! Not composed by John Williams, and it still felt like a Star Wars score. Which is good, 2016 being the way it has been.

Anyway, that’s my point. It was part hot mess, part incapable of surprising plot twist, and could easily be accused of leveraging nostalgia for everything left that was any good. But screw it, it felt like a Star Wars movie, and a thing that feels like a Star Wars movie is going to be unavoidably good. Hell, it was better than The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones. Also: I feel like they earned the title, and I was not confident I would feel that way.

[1] albeit with a missed plot hole that you could drive a Star Destroyer through[3]
[2] except maybe the insane terrorist guy on Jehda? I gather that maybe he’s in the Rebels cartoon that I haven’t watched any of, and maybe it would be easier to care about him if I had? But I did not, at all.
[3] Plot hole in comments, due to spoilers.

Choices of One

It’s the day after a big Star Wars release, so naturally I have a Star Wars review, about a story set in the early days surrounding the original movie, just like you’d expect me to have. Oh, wait, haha no, I haven’t actually gone to see any movie yet. Probably later this weekend? But my schedule, my wife’s schedule, and sellouts to places that have assigned seats conspired to keep me away last night. Even less likely than that, I wasn’t really thinking about this being release weekend when I picked up Choices of One to read last week.

This Zahn novel is set between A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back, and stars the big four plus also Mara Jade, Thrawn, and Pellaeon (and, oddly, no droids). The rebels are looking for a new base (which is commonly understood to be the only thing they did between those movies), Jade is looking for traitors, and Thrawn is looking for, um, I dunno. This is clearly a book introducing some long term Unknown Regions / Thrawn plot that will never reach fruition under the Star Wars Legends label, despite the foreshadowing provided here.  Anyway, they all intersect out near the edge of known space, when plot involving air battles, gun battles, laser sword battles, and familiar stormtroopers occurs.

I know I’m being glib here, as a way to avoid spoilers. So, in all seriousness: it is no surprise that Zahn still knows how to write Star Wars, and I look forward to some decades distant day when Will and Zeynep go through this book in far more depth than I have or could do.

Aftermath

51EAv3L9PGLSo, the one good thing about a new Star Wars timeline is I’m only one book behind now, right? Haha nope, there are already like six books, plus seasons upon seasons of animated television I never got around to watching. Oops.

Aftermath is set in the months after the Battle of Endor, in the midst of the rise of the New Republic. The main thrust of the story is a group of folks who find themselves on-world for a secret meeting of the remnants of the Empire, who are trying to figure out what their next step is now that the head has been removed from the snake. Some of the aforementioned folks want to get word out to the Republic fleet, of course, but for the most part, there are as many agendas as there are characters. (Which is, I reckon, as it should be.)

Then, blah blah speeder chases and dog fights and laser battles, you know how this stuff goes. What made the book interesting (besides that it kicked off a new continuity, I mean) was all the vignettes about the state of the galaxy scattered throughout the book, none of which were in any way related to the main plot. I don’t mean to imply that the 50 some odd books I’ve read in what I think they’re now calling Star Wars Legends did not end up making it feel like a lived in galaxy, with trillions of sentient beings going about their lives. But something about the concerted effort Wendig put into making his new continuity feel immediately as lived in was very successful. Not to mention appreciated.

Ultimately, I don’t think anyone is going to get anything deep and meaningful out of these books, but it was good enough that I’ll keep looking for them.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

MV5BMTkwNzAwNDA4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTA2MDcwNzE@._V1__SX1859_SY847_I’ll start off slowly, but with matters of import nevertheless. It was weird, the lack of 20th Century Fox fanfare. 38 years and six movies worth, you know? Plus, for ages upon ages, these were the only movies to play the extended fanfare. I could be in a Blockbuster any time in the ’90s and know to at worst a coin toss not only that it was in the trilogy but which specific movie was coming on, by halfway through the trumpets. So, definitely weird to feel the lack. That said, Disney had enough respect for the ceremony of the thing not to replace it with their own studio logo and jingle. I hope that carries through, but even if it’s only this once: good on you, $Disney_Exec.

For the rest… man, it’s hard to say what I want to say without spoilers. Maybe impossible. I’ll minimize the damage as much as I can until the comments, but if you want to leave now and see the movie (the 30% of America that hasn’t already by now, I mean) without reading the rest, all I’ll say is, damn. Yes. Go see it, and see it with no fear. The Force Awakens is a Star Wars movie, and if you like those, you’ll like this.

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Apocalypse

51pDeMCtI9LApocalypse? We’ve all been there. The same old trips. Why should you care?

Well. Probably you shouldn’t. There’s the timeline collapse in just over a month, but that’s not it. It’s that the galaxy, far away and long ago though it might be, has been on plenty of brinks before. Maybe the stakes have never been higher than a mad god bent on domination and accidental destruction of all she surveys, but the fact of the matter is, plenty of those lower stakes that have come before have felt more like they mattered.

And I don’t think it’s that none of this is even semi-canonical anymore, nor even that I’m feeling escalation fatigue. It’s that after eight books in a series that arguably took more time than was necessary to tell the story at hand (probably by fifty percent, at that), the final book was incredibly rushed and earned almost none of its outcomes.

But the part at the end where they started laying groundwork for the next big series due to start in a few more years? That part, yeah, annoyed me because of the timeline collapse. This does me no good, you guys. None. All it does is leave unnecessary loose ends. And it’s not like it’s your fault? But it’s hard to forgive when the rest of the book was so disappointing already.

Ascension

519RnNkaTkLThen I read the one other book that is between me and being caught up. Downside: Ascension is the next to last book in that Fate of the Jedi series I’ve been reading, and I started the final book since, which means the story bleeds together a little. Plus also, nevermind 43 years of in-universe spoilers, it’s also reaching the point where it’s hard to mention anything and not hit big-time in-series spoilers too. Once again, not a ton to say about this one, long story short.

A thing that is noteworthy, though, is the tone of the series. It’s never been exactly grimdark; I mean, it’s Star Wars, for crying out loud! But the first two thirds of the series were all very serious, with an Imperial ex-admiral as chief of state for the current governing body (Galactic Alliance), and the Jedi in disgrace, and all the slavery talk I’ve mentioned previously, and a new incursion of a planetful of Sith, and a weird dark god trying to take over everything. Not that the final third hasn’t been like that, but there was a note of hopefulness throughout that has been firmly quashed. Not to the extent that I have any serious concern for the wellbeing of the galaxy or really even of any of the main characters (well, maybe a little bit), but to the extent that it doesn’t really feel like a Star Wars movie.

Upshot: I’m still glad this timeline is due to collapse in a month and a half.

Conviction

51PsKh7O1yLYep, still on pace to clear out my current pile of books, or at least most of the series I’ve already started but which are possible to finish. Conviction is the seventh in a nine book series, which means things should start coming towards a head. And I cannot dispute that exactly this has happened. The Jedi have meddled in politics to the extent that they seem poised for the same downfall orchestrated by Palpatine decades ago, Luke Skywalker seems poised to pull a Whiskeyjack at any moment, the fragile truce with the Sith has ended in a spectacularly bad way, and the slave thing from the last couple of books is… well, okay, that’s about the only thing that is going well. Long story short: while it’s hard to credit a Lucasbooks storyline ending in disaster, this one feels a lot more likely than the time extra-galactic entities invaded or the time yet another Jedi-turned-Sith started yet another galactic civil war.

Anyway, though, none of that is particularly important. I’m focused on the title of the book, instead. See, conviction has a couple of meanings right off the top of my head. There’s the one about a guilty judgment being rendered in court, and there’s the one about having a strong principled reaction to a topic. Both of these could plausibly apply to the book. On the one hand, a leftover plotline from the previous Sith civil war series is the trial of the Sithlord’s apprentice, who was manipulated into murdering a very old, very popular Imperial admiral. As you might imagine, this is the book wherein the trial wraps up and a verdict is handed down. But then also, you’ve got the slavery thing and the foolish Jedi political gambits thing and also you’ve got Vestara Khai, who I’ve previously mentioned is a present day Sith apprentice who is gradually being turned toward the Light, or at least it seems so. Plenty of space for the principled stand kind of conviction in any or all of these situations.

And seek it though I tried, I could not really find any obvious example of the latter in any of those slots. Which means that the entire book is named after an event that was maybe 5% of the current book and which has been maybe 10% of the series as a whole, and seems to have no real bearing whatsoever on anything that’s actually going on out in the galaxy meanwhile. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised to report that what I’ve considered a dangling thread from a previous series is actually pivotal to this one instead? But man, there’s no clue that it will be, except for the literary one that it’s in the books at all. It may be a bad sign, that not being enough to satisfy me.

Vortex

51OaY2ueMYLOkay, I got fed up. It’s time to actually catch up with all my old partial serieses. At least this time I’m only a little over a year between books, instead of three? Anyway, right. Star Wars. Luke and his son Ben versus ancient evil older than 25,000 years of civilization, plus also uneasy Sith alliance, plus also Jedi Order in political quagmire, plus also slavery.

Vortex is totally a middle of the series book. Plots advance in retrospectively inevitable ways (at least, if you want the series to ever end, and at the two-thirds mark, turning a corner was something that had to happen), Sith apprentice Vestara Khai continues to be the best thing about the book, and… you know what, something just occurred to me. I think the series may be trying to finally take a hard look at the difference between the light and dark sides of the Force.

Because, look. It’s easy to say Sith are evil and Jedi are good, and that’s the Lucasian end of the debate. And that kind of works if you also say that there are only ever two Sith, because of how they hoard their power and their trust. What would be the point of a non-evil apprentice if you yourself are evil? But when you expand it to a society (the Sith used to be a species, even if that is no longer particularly the case), well, everyone isn’t evil. Not possible. That doesn’t mean that you can’t fuel your power with anger instead of peace, and of course not all anger is evil. Righteous anger is a concept that exists for a reason. So on the one hand the series is showing multiple Sith, all of whom are shaped by their society, some of whom are evil, but some of whom are looking for revenge for probably real slights at most, understandably mistrustful of their longtime enemies at least. And on the other hand, the series is also showing Jedi who have reached different but clearly ethical conclusions about an intractable debate, and then being forced to proceed.

If Jedi can disagree unto death without either of them going “dark side” and Sith can assist in preventing the ascension of an insane god out of enlightened self-interest instead of going “light side”, then the Force is as complex as it ought to be. I’m amused that a fundamental change in how the Force is understood by Jedi and Sith alike might be on the verge of occurring in a timeline that will collapse this December.

Allies

On the one hand, I knew intellectually that the second half of the Fate of the Jedi series had been sitting on a shelf collecting dust[1] for a while. But it’s quite another hand indeed to go back through my previous four reviews in preparation for this one to discover that I read them between 2009-2011. And yet, I want to reread the Malazan series before tackling the last two books, or Sanderson’s series before opening its book 2, or Rothfuss before the finale comes out. I wouldn’t have time for this if I wasn’t working 50 hours a week! (Although, to be fair, a good portion of my reading does occur within those hours, so I don’t have it as hard as it sounds.)

Another uncomfortable realization I had while scanning these reviews to catch myself up is that the series is deeply flawed. Or possibly the Extended Universe itself is deeply flawed? Well, at least the future half of it, by which I mean the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker and his Extended Family. Which, when you get right down to it, is the flaw. But I said plenty enough about that last time; all I mean to convey here is that 2011 me was pretty persuasive and is still right.[2]

The funny thing is, even though I was aware of flaws in Allies just as I had been in the previous members of the series, that did not stop me from enjoying myself. This time, the weird outlying thing was slavery. Don’t get me wrong, the various people in the various far-flung reaches of the galaxy should ought to be free. And maybe the fact that it hasn’t come up until now, right in the middle of a story that is very much about other things is exactly the point? It’s not like you’re going to catch me saying “too soon”; if anything, it’s millennia overdue and I can’t help wondering why the Jedi have never done anything about it before, even though I know the answer.[3] But structurally, even if it is the point from a “the world/galaxy/whatever sure is messy about its timing” perspective, it’s weird to bring it up as a third of a book’s topic at the midpoint of a nine book series, when other than acknowledging its existence in the galaxy, Star Wars has literally never[4] talked about this topic before.

So, okay. Structurally odd, like I said. But the treatment was handled well and clearly tied into the future of the series even if not its past. And everything else? I’ve probably mentioned that the Jedi are under a dark cloud because of their failure to prevent the latest previous Sith incursion, right? Well, not only is that political stew getting worse all the time, but in the meantime Luke has allied[6] himself with a whole armada of newly discovered Sith, because of… well, it’s honestly not that important why, in the scheme of things. Jedi going insane, massively overwhelming evil in the middle of a nest of black holes, you know the drill. “Dawn’s in trouble? Must be Tuesday.” Like that.

But it’s Star Wars, and even bad Star Wars…. no, you know what? There’s some craptacular Star Wars out there. But even structurally unsound, problematically repetitive Star Wars is still fun. That’s all I’m really trying to say.

[1] Oh, how I wish I meant this less literally than I do.
[2] On the bright side, the announcement of an Episode 7 has halted all production in that direction, such that three years later, I’m only the rest of this series plus one more book behind. Probably because they can see all their carefully crafted continuity about to come crashing down around their ears. ….which is probably the best news the Extended Universe has had in a long time. Or maybe I’m just cynical. But seriously, 2011 me was pretty smart about this.
[3] Wildly insufficient numbers is the answer. I mean, spectacularly insufficient. Though probably not insufficient to have been the shining beacon leading the way for everyone else.
[4] Well, that I’ve seen. And okay, I have not consumed all the Star Wars out there that is to be consumed. But I’m way over half, which is more than probably anyone else you know.[5]
[5] For values of “you” whose initials are not ZD.
[6] Oh, hey, maybe that’s where they got the title! Nah, I kid, there were a number of unlikely alliances throughout the story.