From the beginning of the timeline, we’re now jumping all the way to the end. I wish there was some kind of cool meta reason for it, but honestly it’s just because of the anthologies remaining, this was the shortest. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting!
The lousy, beautiful town of Canto Bight takes centre stage in this short anthology that gives more life and context to the planet visited oh, so briefly in The Last Jedi. But because it’s set before Finn and Rose ever showed up and rode fathiers through the casino, there’s virtually no crossover with any existing canon. Take out the one reference to the Resistance and First Order and this could be set virtually anytime within the canon. But I digress. Let’s dive in: this is Canto Bight
The anthology is set over what feels like one long day and night in Canto Bight, and the four stories show all aspects of life there, from many points of view: the tourist, the deal brokers, the powerful, the powerless, the staff, the gamblers. As a whole it paints a very vivid picture of Canto Bight. Though I haven’t been to Las Vegas, I feel like that’s the general vibe they’re going for. I will say, it actually reminded me a lot of Dubai (which I have been to) in both the wonderful and the not so wonderful. That said, I can absolutely see why Rose wants to put her fist right through it. I kind of do as well.
My Favourite Story: The Ride by John Jackson Miller
“The Ride” tells the story of Kal, a down on his luck gambler who’s gotten so in debt with a local mob boss that he only has to the end of the night to pay him back. Things are going poorly, but they go from bad to worse when three bumbling brothers with a bizarre lucky streak enter the casino and completely clean him out. Figuring there must be a trick to their luck, he takes what little money he has left and follows them around for the rest of the night, befriending them and trying to learn their secrets.
I loved this story because it felt the most complete overall, and it also felt the most like a movie I’d like to watch. Not even a Star Wars movie, just strip all the alien details, make it Vegas rather than Canto Bight and attach some middle aged heartthrob to play the lead (FWIW I choose Nathan Fillion just because). If you’re only going to read one story in this anthology, make it this one.
The Story I Wanted To Put In The Freezer: Rules of the Game by Saladin Ahmed
You know that episode of Friends, when Joey is reading Little Women and it upsets him so much he puts it in the freezer? That’s how this story made me feel. Not because it’s a bad story, or poorly written, but because if it was physically possible I would have read it while staring out through my fingers screaming “no, no, noooo”.
The story is about a being named Kedpin, who wins a corporate prize of a two week, all-expenses paid trip to Canto Bight. This naive little fellow, in his effort to bring his salesbeing affability into his every day life, is taken advantage of by anyone and everyone from the word go. Even when he knows its a scam, he sometimes goes along with it. He is so naive, he gets targeted by an assassin named Anglang Lehet, who wants to use him to smuggle explosives into the vicinity of his real target. I spent the whole story wishing this poor idiot would grow a spine, and was relived to see by the end that he had. But man. What a stressful ride this one is.
The Story That Could Have Tied In To TLJ: Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing by Rae Carson
Though the main character of this story is a masseur at the top spa on Canto Bight, the entire plot revolves around him fighting to get his daughter back from the gangster who kidnapped her for leverage. So how could this tie into TLJ?
The daughter is a stablehand in the fathier stables.
I know it ends with her training to become a jockey instead, but how cool would it be to show her with the three little kiddos we do see in the movie? I know there’s a fatigue of having everyone in the galaxy know each other. I definitely have that fatigue too. But in a book that is thoroughly devoid of any other kind of connection (even the offhand references are few) I think we could have allowed it. Even without, the story is tight, well paced, and I really enjoyed it.
The Story That Had Potential To Go Longer: The Wine in Dreams, by Mira Grant
Let me start by saying that I’m relived they kept this to four short stories and didn’t try for some High Republic style publishing program. The book is fine the way it is, and didn’t need to be four full-length novels.
That said, if any of them were to extend that long, the one that could do it most successfully is The Wine in Dreams. While the other three stories focus on a single character, this one focuses on several: a wine broker, a club owner, a pair of mysterious sisters who are possibly from another dimension, and a hotel clerk. The story was good, but I kept finding myself wanting to know more about the people involved, and more about what their deal was. Specifically the hotel clerk, who is from Naboo but stranded on Canto Bight due to gambling debts. I could have easily spent an entire novel in this glittery, seedy, heartbreaking world.
The Wine in Dreams features two characters, the Grammus sisters. Their names are Rhomby and Parallela, and it wasn’t till I said “Parallela Grammus out loud that I let out the sigh I usually reserve for dad jokes.
Today in the weirdest “well, actually” I’ve ever read: Did you know that if you made alcohol out of blood it would be considered a mead because it’s distilled from organic sugars?
As shady and sad and stressful as these stories are, I’m pleased to report every single one ends well. It felt like a breath of fresh air each time.
New territory today! It’s time to tackle the anthologies, and hopefully be able to review From A Certain Point Of View: The Empire Strikes Back right when it comes out. Remember last time I set a goal for myself and I missed it by 4.5 months? Good times.
We’re going to have a bit of a format change too. I’ll summarize the premise of the collection, then dive into my top stories, in no particular order. I may wind up talking about all of them, but I don’t want to hold myself to it because when we get to FACPOV…40 stories is a lot.
Unlike before, we aren’t moving in a chronological order, since I want FACPOV:ESB to close off our look at anthologies. So although the order is a bit haphazard, we are still starting at the beginning with Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark.
Stories of Light and Dark is a middle-grade anthology that retells certain episodes/arcs from The CloneWars through the eyes of one character in particular.
My concern going in was that it would read like a junior novelization of the episodes in question. Not that that’s an inherently bad thing, but that’s not super interesting to me either. Fortunately, that wasn’t at all the case. The single point of view meant that all the stories I was already familiar with take on a far more personal tone, and I highly recommend this book if you’re a fan of the show.
The Story That Broke My Heart: Kenobi’s Shadow, by Greg van Eekhout
Yes, I’m sure your jaw hit the floor when you saw me list a Kenobi story first.
This one is based on the episode where Obi Wan goes to Mandalore to recuse Satine after she sends him a call for help. He winds up having to travel there covertly because the Jedi council won’t let him intervene, claiming the conflict on Mandalore is internal, and they won’t get involved anyway because they aren’t allied with the Republic (is it any wonder they fell, honestly).
Though the bulk of the story progresses the way the episode does, the best part of the whole thing is the moment when Obi Wan truly considers giving in to the Dark side. You see it a bit in the episode with the look on his face. But you know me, I love a deep dive into someone’s head. Moments after Satine is killed by Maul, Obi Wan is ready to go full Dark side and tear Maul limb from limb, before ultimately realizing that this is exactly what Maul wants. He decides not to react with anger in the end, which Maul dismisses as weakness, not realizing how much strength it actually took for him not to do anything. It wouldn’t be what Satine wanted after all.
Also shout out to the little callback we got to Obi Wan and Satine’s other big interaction in the series, where he tells her he would have left the Jedi Order if she’d asked him to. This story really came for my emotions.
The Stories That Surprised Me: The Shadow of Umbara by Yoon Ha Lee and Bane’s Story by Tom Angleberger
These two surprised me for different reasons.
With Shadow of Umbara, I knew exactly which arc of the show we were getting, and I was dreading it, because I find it frustrating and hard to watch. Which I suppose is the point. But the story focused the entire arc through Captain Rex’s point of view, which made it easier to take, though no less frustrating. Like Kenobi’s Shadow this wasn’t all that different from the episode, what elevated it and surprised me was the great, nuanced look into Rex and his feelings about Master Krell.
Bane’s Story surprised me in a whole different way. I was dreading this one because I cannot tell you how little I care about Cad Bane. I know he’s got a following, and I think that’s great. But personally, if I had to pick an over-the-top outlandish alien, I pick Hondo Onaka every time. I was totally prepared to skim this story. Then they had to go pick the one Cad Bane story I liked: the one where he competes in Dooku’s weird bounty hunter death box contest thing with an undercover Obi Wan who is disguised as a bounty hunter. The selection of this arc took the vaguely titled Bane’s Story from skippable too enjoyable.
The Story That Made Me Feel Gooey Inside: Hostage Crisis by Preeti Chhibber
Anakin Skywalker is an interesting guy.
In Episodes II and III, Hayden Christensen plays his extremes: a young Padawan on the verge of becoming a knight, and then a would-be Jedi Master about to fall to the Dark side. In The Clone Wars, Matt Lanter gets the chance to flesh him out a little, to play all the in-between and see how he gets from one extreme to the other. While I don’t fall in the camp that the prequels are made better because of the TV show (I think the movies stand up just fine on their own), I do like how the show elaborates on things the movies just don’t have time for. Things like Anakin and Padmé’s marriage.
There are plenty of stories within the series that showcase their marriage, but you know why I like this one? This isn’t one where Anakin is feeling jealous or defensive. This is one where he unabashedly just loves his wife. And Preeti Chhibber uses a LOT of that kind of language. The story is in third person, but is still so much from Anakin’s point of view, that all we see is this young staring at and marvelling at the woman he was lucky enough to marry. It’s so ooey-gooey sweet I’m pretty sure it gave me a cavity.
The Stories That Did Things Right: Pursuit of Peace by Anne Ursu and The Lost Nightsister by Zoraida Cordova
I appreciate both of these stories (the first of which focuses on Padmé, while the second focuses on Asajj) because it would have been so easy to make both of these characters one dimensional. To make Padmé perfect, and make Asajj a quippy villain and not to go any further.
In Pursuit of Peace, Padmé has reached the end of her rope and is ready to bring the Clone Wars to an end. Tired of endless votes that do nothing but deregulate the banks, bankrupt the Republic and create more clones, she decides to reach out to her friend and former mentor Mina Bonteri, who is now a Separatist. The two of them come up with a plan to try and end the fighting, which of course goes awry. One of the more tragic things about this series is that no matter what Padmé tries in government, we know it’s going to end up with democracy dying with thunderous applause. But what makes her story compelling nonetheless is how hard she is willing to try, and how much she tries to balance in the name of doing the right thing. She doesn’t always get it right, but she always dusts herself off and tries again, and that’s admirable. I hope Anne Ursu gets the chance to write Padmé again, I appreciated her nuanced take on the character.
In The Lost Nightsister, we get possibly the best Asajj Ventress story we could hope to get in an anthology like this. She is usually playing the quippy villain opposite the Jedi, which is a ton of fun, but doesn’t leave a ton of room for anything else. But in this Asajj-focused story, she takes up with a crew of bounty hunters to deliver a mysterious package to a warlord. As soon as she realizes the package is actually a young, unwilling bride, she swaps the young girl out and delivers Boba Fett to him instead. This is the best story I think we could have had that showed Asajj’s heart and complexities. We’ve had excellent Asajj stories before, in Dark Disciple and Dooku: Jedi Lost, and this is another in that grand tradition.
The Story That Thrilled Me: Dark Vengeance by Rebecca Roanhorse
Some stories in the book are told in third person. Some are told in first person, where the character is sending a message or telling a story in universe. But this one?
In this one, Maul speaks directly to the reader.
Off to a chilling start.
This story is Maul telling you all about his first encounter with Obi Wan Kenobi after being brought back to some semblance of life by Mother Talzin. The story itself is not what I love, but rather the way it’s told.
The subtitle is “The true story of Darth Maule and his revenge against the Jedi known as Obi Wan Kenobi”. But the thing is, this story isn’t really about Maul’s revenge. It can’t be, because we know they’ll see each other again. Heck, they see each other later in this very book. But what’s important here, is that Maul wants you to believe that he’s won, that he got one over on Kenobi because by the end he decides to play the long game and make his revenge all the sweeter. The reader sees him lose, sees him lament that Kenobi got away, but he still devotes the next two pages to making you think he wanted to lose.
Can I just say that Rebecca Roanhorse is fantastic and I hope she gets more opportunities to write Star Wars in the future.
The Story That Did Something Different: Bug by E. Anne Convery
Unlike the other stories, Bug isn’t directly based on an episode of the show. It’s inspired by the episode where the witches of Dathomir are wiped out, but it isn’t set on Dathomir, or anywhere near it. It isn’t from the point of view of any of the witches. None of the characters are anyone we’ve seen before. That makes it all the more beautiful to me. It’s a story about mothers and daughters. It shows the consequences of this massive conflict across the far reaches of the galaxy. But not in the usual way, with the Separatists or the Republic not caring about the regular people. It takes on a more fantastical aspect by making it about the witches of Dathomir. Honestly, remove the Star Wars specific references and you’ve got the basis for a fantasy novel I would very much like to read.
The audiobook is read by the Clone Wars cast and I want it so badly. I don’t usually get audiobooks, but I will make an exception here.
Though Dooku’s story is just OK, I do love how he has absolutely no time for Anakin and Obi Wan, and makes his distain known often, both in dialogue and narration.
It’s suuuuuper weird Ahsoka didn’t get a story of her own. She’s featured heavily in one, but it’s from the point of view of a Padawan she’s leading on an adventure. I wonder why that is? I know she’s the main character, but it would be great to get inside her head properly.
Savage Opress was, and remains, the greatest name I have ever heard in Star Wars.
I cannot believe it. I truly can’t believe it. We’ve finally made it to the end of the adult/YA canon timeline. Remember back when I thought I’d be able to get here in June? Cute…
Last time we looked at Crash of Fate, a YA romance novel that set up Black Spire Outpost from an insider’s point of view. Today, we’re venturing down to Batuu with not only an outsider’s point of view, but also in a way that much more directly speaks to the guest experience when visiting Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It’s time for Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson.
Following her capture and interrogation by Captain Cardinal aboard the First Order Destroyer, Vi Moradi returns to the rebellion and is given a new assignment: travel to the remote world of Batuu and establish some kind of outpost for the Resistance. She is all set to go, ready to give her all for the cause yet again.
Then the Hosnian system is blown up.
Suddenly a lot of things happen very quickly (like…movies VII and VIII), and Vi’s mission is put on hold for a few months. But after the Resistance survives catastrophic losses over Crait, their mission becomes more critical than ever. Vi is sent to Batuu along with a sarcastic droid named Pook and the very same Captain Cardinal who once took her hostage – now going by his birth name Archex.
Their mission is to set up camp and start recruiting. So of course everything immediately goes wrong. They are injured and their belongings are stolen. Vi works to integrate with the local society and persuade others to join their cause (while trying to reclaim their lost equipment), while Archex struggles with demons of his own that still haunt him from his previous life.
Things I Liked (and 1 I didn’t)
Wow, what a surprise, Arezou likes the villain with the redemption arc. A shocker truly, no one saw this coming.
Seriously though. Because Cardinal – now Archex – was injured at the end of Phasma and hasn’t made a full recovery, he is unable to take part in a lot of the action. Which means that all his conflict is the best kind – internal conflict.
He initially hides his former First Order status from the three new Resistance recruits, and it’s easy to see why he does. Vi knows exactly who he is, Vi is the one that saves him, Vi knows exactly how much deprogramming he’s gone through. And yet, she still has moments where she doubts him. What would someone who barely knows him think?
After wrestling with himself for the whole book, chafing at the lack of responsibility he is given in the upcoming fight, he arrives for the final fight in truly the single most “fuck yeah” moment in the whole book. Such is the power of this moment, that it was my favourite single moment in the whole thing, and yet I somehow forgot about it between my last read and this one. My brain wanted me to experience it all over I guess.
2. Batuu from an outsider’s POV
If Crash of Fate was the insider’s view of Batuu, then this one is the outsider’s view. I appreciated this because realistically this is how all of us feel when we go to Batuu (at least the first time around). Somehow the locations felt more familiar in this one than they did in Crash but that’s probably because they’re described a bit more like they’re being explained to tourists. I won’t lie, this did get a bit grating sometimes – particularly the description of Ronto Roasters – but I don’t think this is the author’s fault. This reeked of corporate requirement. Really, any excuse to visit Batuu again, even just in my imagination, is a plus in my book.
3. The Ancient Ruins
The Ancient Ruins, which Vi decides to use as a base of operations is a really cool location. It’s a massive complex rigged with lethal booby traps, which she discovers when she is sent inside on an errand from Oga Garra. If I haven’t gotten my geography all mixed up, the complex is also adjacent to the pretty cenote from Crash of Fate and I can’t help but feel like this would be the natural extension to the Galaxy’s Edge park, if Disney ever had the inclination (and the space). It could make a really cool walk-through attraction or something.
4. Theme park tie-in
So despite my saying that the descriptions of BSO were nice and made me feel like I was back there, despite my suggesting a new kind of attraction for Galaxy’s Edge, I actually found that the book’s biggest weakness were the parts where it had to “sell” the theme park to the reader, because I felt it interfered with the story the author was trying to tell, beyond the obvious hyping up of the very real fast food stands that you can frequent when you visit.
Both Dok Ondar and Oga Garra are described as scary, and Oga is even described as unfair and with a mean streak. That makes sense for a story with these kinds of stakes. But of course neither can be too unfair because then real-life tourists may not want to frequent the establishment.
Archex is one of the more compelling characters in the story, with one of the coolest character designs. But he can’t be marching around the park in bright red stormtrooper armour so of course he doesn’t make it out alive.
And then there’s Vi. Poor Vi. She is meant to be the Resistance’s top spy, something I very easily believed in Phasma. But here, I’m not entirely sure she knows what she’s doing. In the book, she walks around BSO in a very distinctive Rebel jacket. Great for the tourists who want a chance at spying a brand new character organically walking around a theme park! Not so great for a spy who is supposed to be hiding. She makes a lot of frankly rookie mistakes that don’t make sense until you consider it in the context of a theme park. If she had done things the right way, there would be no First-Order-on-Batuu experience at the Disney Parks. She is blunt when trying to recruit others to the cause, because then it makes sense when she tries to bluntly recruit you, the tourist, when you visit Batuu. So I almost wish she’d been characterized as great at intel gathering and remote work, but not as “a top spy”, because she really isn’t acting like one. It really didn’t feel like the same woman who had managed to survive the harshness of Parnassos when hunting for information about Captain Phasma.
Before you think I’m judging too harshly, I did bump into her when I visited Batuu and yes, it was awesome. It’s really cool to see a book character literally brought to life, I just wish they hadn’t had so many constraints on her.
Vi is nearly swindled by a Trandoshan named Kasif, which is literally the Persian word for “dirty”. Gonna give the benefit of the doubt and say that isn’t intentional, but I didn’t love it.
There’s one bit where the First Order captain hunting Vi down orders his troopers to march in proper formation because “what would the Supreme Leader say?”. Once I remembered that at this point in the timeline Kylo Ren is the Supreme Leader, I had a nice long laugh trying to imagine my favourite SadBoy being upset over troop formations.
The epilogue of the book straight up just sets up the endless groundhog day scenario that is a day in Batuu at Disney Parks, because it ends with word that the Supreme Leader is coming down to the planet. No mention of when Rey and Chewie are coming though.
Story time (nothing to do with the book, I just wanted to share): The summer of 2019, my brother and I took our dad to Disneyland. One of our last plans for the day was building lightsabers at Savi’s, which we loved. We both came out of the whole thing with blue kyber crystals powering our sabers.
But because we both like options, we wanted alternate kyber crystals. Unfortunately they were all sold out. I knew I would be going back the next week during D23 weekend, so I said I would check. I heard a rumour that they did in fact have kyber crystals, but would only sell you one if you bought a holocron too. No way was I dropping $50 per person, so I slipped into Dok Ondar’s that afternoon with every intention of covertly asking the Cast Member to make an exception. I walk up to him and whisper “so I hear you have kyber crystals?” as if I’m conducting the shadiest deal in the world. He matches my tone, looks around to make sure no one is watching, then pulls one crystal of each colour out of his pocket and mumbles instructions on how to get them (at the cash register). Just wanted to shout out this CM, whose name I’ve sadly forgotten, for playing along with a game I didn’t even realize I was playing.
Welcome, welcome everyone! Today we’re travelling through the galaxy far, far away all the way down to Disneyla- I mean…Black Spire Outpost.
To celebrate the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (at both Disneyland and Disney World, book your tickets once the pandemic is over and it’s safe to do so!) Lucasfilm released two tie-in novels to expand on the lore of the world, their assumption no doubt being that most people would first read the books then go visit one of the parks. By the time I read them, I had already been to Batuu West (Disneyland) 4 times. As a result I think my overall perception of the novels was a little skewed. But we’ll get into that. Let’s dive into A Crash of Fate by Zoraida Cordova.
Izzy and Jules, two kids from Batuu, are best friends, joined at the hip until one night Izzy’s family take her off-planet with no explanation.
13 years later, Jules is a former farmhand trying to find his place on Batuu and in the galaxy at large. He does odd jobs for Dok Ondar, hangs out with his friends, and tries to stay out of trouble. The quintessential kid who never moved out of their hometown.
By contrast, Izzy has had a wild upbringing. She and her parents moved all over the galaxy, and she eventually enrolled in an Academy. But the death of her parents threw her life out of balance. She took on the life of a smuggler and has called her little ship home ever since.
Before their next big job, the crew she runs with throw her out and leave her behind at a cantina. She is approached by a stranger with a new job: to run one parcel to Dok Ondar on Batuu, after which she is free to do as she likes.
On arrival on Batuu, she reconnects with Jules, and through a series of mix-ups, he winds up embroiled in her mission. Together they try to deliver the passage to Dok, while staying clear of local gangster Oga Garra, the new First Order presence in Black Spire Outpost, and Izzy’s old crew, who have also come to Batuu.
3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Disliked)
1. Romance! A non-tragic romance!
I mean that title really says it all doesn’t it?
But in seriousness, Star Wars, it was about damn time we had a book that not only ended in a HEA for our couple, but also where romance was the central theme. Seriously, even the more “Star Wars-y” bits pf the book were there in service of the romance story. Izzy’s old gang includes her ex-boyfriend, so there’s that element of jealousy. The mix-up that keeps Izzy and Jules together is that they switch bags, and we all know two people mixing up their bags and having to find each other again is prime rom-com fodder. They even do that thing where Izzy, the one with the shady past, says something harsh about Jules to throw the gang off his scent, only for them to then play back her words to him at a crucial moment breaking his heart.
This is very helped by the fact that Zoraida Cordova writes romance novels in addition to her better known Young Adult novels. You want something done right, you give it to someone who knows what she’s doing.
2. Smaller Stakes
The stakes of this book were pretty low, but that isn’t a bad thing at all. It was actually quite refreshing. The main external plot elements are: deliver the package, avoid Izzy’s old gang and then eventually stop them from causing havoc to Batuu’s crops.
There are no galaxy-wide stakes that will make or break the Resistance movement. This story is set in and around Batuu, and that’s as far as the consequences of their actions will reach.
The book is Batuu from a local perspective, so it was smart to keep the stakes as local and insider as possible. Sure, Izzy’s old gang destroying Kat Saka’s crops won’t have an effect on the galaxy as a whole, but it will devastate the locals, including Jules, whose family makes a living working on that farm.
What’s nice about this is that them not getting caught up in the fate of the Resistance means the book has more time to devote to its two central characters, as well as to developing the world of Black Spire Outpost, which was probably the point.
3. Black Spire Outpost
Perhaps a weird thing to focus on, but I hope you’ll indulge my nostalgia for a moment.
I was lucky enough to spend the entire summer of 2019 in Los Angeles, which is just an hours drive from Disneyland. The grand opening of Galaxy’s Edge that summer meant that I went 4 times. I didn’t read either of the Batuu tie-in books until after I’d been there for myself, so any mention of the marketplace or the vendors conjured up mental images of the park.
The mentions of those retailers (the milk stand, the kettle corn, Dok Ondar’s, Oga’s) were not the only mentions of the park I caught though. I’m not sure if these easter eggs were intentional or not, but I can’t help but feel the references to Hondo’s shipping business, where he’s always looking for new pilots, was a reference to Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run and the late mention of the warring ships over Batuu is somehow related to Rise of the Resistance. I’m less sure of this second one, since the ride wasn’t open when I went.
Either way, all references to Black Spire Outpost were, in my opinion, tastefully done and brought up wonderful memories for me.
4. The pace at the start
Cordova is faced with the thankless task of both setting up the characters we are going to follow for the next 400 pages, as well as the world they inhabit.
Now, this is something that happens in every book. But the reason it drags a bit for me here is simply that the location of Black Spire Outpost probably needed a bigger introduction than most places in books do. The goal is, at the end of the day, to sell BSO as a very real place you can travel to.
What Cordova does is very smart. She gets the overt descriptions of BSO out of the way early, so that the story can more organically progress later without worrying about location-related exposition. But what this does mean is that the story was a little slow to start for me.
I didn’t realize until I thought about it, but other than some references to Hondo Onaka (who doesn’t actually appear in the book) there are no other characters from the films and TV shows. I applaud Cordova’s restraint, it wouldn’t have been that hard to have Hux marching around or something.
The layout of Black Spire Outpost in person has all the stalls, stands and dining establishments quite close together. They are, after all, confined by the space available within the theme park. Obviously in the book, all of these are meant to be more spaced out, but because I went before I ever read the book, I had the hardest time imagining everything the way it’s written. Any mention of “walking aaaall the way from the market to Dok Ondar’s” and I had to remind myself that no, it isn’t meant to be just around the corner within spitting distance.
I was given this book by my brother for Christmas. I read it for the first time in August. I literally could not bring myself to read a buildup to the Rise of Skywalker knowing how much that movie broke my heart. What made it worse was knowing that this book was supposed to be really, really good.
This book is so good it makes me angry. I love it. I love what it’s setting up for the story. I love how well it captures the characters voices and the sense of hope in the face of uncertainty and despair. And to have the potential of this story absolutely squandered in the movie it was meant to set up is unfair both to the story and to those that loved it. Let’s take a very calm, collected, not-salty-at-all-about-the-end-of-the-saga look at Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse.
Shortly after the Battle of Crait, the Resistance is struggling. Their numbers are restricted to the beings who were on board the Falcon at the end of The Last Jedi, and Black Squadron, Poe’s crew of pilots.
They need more leaders. They need somewhere to go. They need to bounce back after their horrific losses. Making matters worse is the fact that the First Order is rounding up anyone and everyone who could threaten their rule, or worse still, be allies for the Resistance. The names of those still to be rounded up are kept on a list.
A list that, fortunately for our heroes has been leaked out.
Unfortunately, as is the way of such things, the list is now being auctioned to the highest bidder at a party populated by the criminal elite. With new focus in mind, the growing Resistance crew, now including Wedge Antilles, Norra Wexley as well as Zay Versio and Shriv from Inferno Squad decides to undertake one big heist that will hopefully salvage their movement.
5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. Poe’s Character Arc
It’s not for everyone, but I really love Poe’s character arc in The Last Jedi. I think it makes sense that in a highly charged situation, things will go wrong, people won’t listen, and hard lessons need to be learned. Like in a procedural TV show where the hot shot lead actor chafes against a new authority figure and messes up a lot in a bid to prove them wrong.
But this isn’t a medical drama with a case-of-the-week, this is galaxy-wide warfare, and we didn’t have 10 episodes for Poe to get used to Holdo’s style. So he makes some bad choices that get a lot of people killed. He even makes bad choices before she shows up, because the conflict he’s in is unprecedented. And in this book, Poe is given the time and the space to process the consequences of his actions.
He wrestles internally with his guilt for a good chunk of the book. He has a hard time facing the decisions he made. He’s haunted by the lives they’ve lost and the role he played in it. It is only in coming clean to the entire company, and having others confess their shortcomings as well, that the Resistance can put their shady problematic pasts behind them and move forward.
What makes this arc so strong is it directly builds off of everything we know about Poe already, and he grows into a confident leader because of it. I almost don’t mind that Poe didn’t have much of an arc in the next movie because of how strong it is here. If “the greatest teacher of all, failure is”, The Last Jedi was where Poe saw failure, and the events of this book show how much he’s learned.
2. Unofficial Sequel to Bloodline
You know how I said I love Bloodline. Well, what no one told me, and what turned out to be an amazing surprise, is that this book feels almost like the unofficial Bloodline sequel.
Leia is the other major point of view character. Where in Bloodline we saw her preparing to resist the rise of the First Order, here she is working to put the Resistance back together after suffering horrific losses.
Though it’s probably not necessary to read Bloodline before reading Resistance Reborn, it’s so much better if you do. For instance, the Resistance is given shelter on Ryloth by Yendor, the same Twi’lek who came to Leia and asked for her help running out the criminal entities in the earlier book.
But then, there’s my absolute favourite part. One of the people being held by the First Order, whose name appears on the list, is none other than Centrist senator Ransolm Casterfo! The one with the awesome name! His ending in Bloodline broke my heart, with him sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit, so I love that he was rescued from an uncertain fate here.
Also, just generally, Rebecca Roanhorse really nails the character of Leia. For someone who is so omnipresent in the franchise, she isn’t always written well, but Roanhorse really gets her (as, of course, does Claudia Gray).
3. StormPilot is canon and you can’t take this from me
I’m all for showing strong male friendships in media. We need more of it without it being read as romantic.
But we need to talk about Finn and Poe.
It’s absolutely no secret that I am a Reylo. I go hard for my ship and yes I’m still upset about it 9, nearly 10 months later, thank you for asking. However. Before I ever decided that I wanted the two space wizards to fall in love, I decided that I would very much like a love story between the daring pilot captured by the First Order and the stormtrooper with a heart of gold that rescues him.
This book gives me that. And not in a over-the-top romantic way that would be hard for a corporation to sweep under the rug, it’s true. More in the angsty, pining, slow burn, friends to lovers kind of way. The kind of romance I used to see in books as a kid, where it’s all so subtle but it makes you breathless with the mere idea.
Granted this is all subtext. And I could be reading way into it: the lingering looks, the touches that last too long, the intimate conversations, Poe asking if the two women in Finn’s life are his girlfriends, then looking relieved when Finn says they’re just friends? Could all be coincidence. But I ask you: is it a coincidence that while I was taking my StormPilot notes for this post, “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston started playing on my 90’s Shuffle playlist? (Yes, probably)
4. A Star Wars book for adults that actually feels like a book
Before you get all confused about what this means, let me explain.
With some notable exceptions (Claudia Gray, for instance) the Star Wars novels written for adults feel like…not books. It feels like the author is attached to the visually familiar aspects of the movies, and is trying to bring that into their books. A noble goal, but one that rarely works out. It’s one thing to see the Death Star blow up. It’s quite another to just describe it. I never once felt here like Roanhorse is secretly trying to write a Star Wars movie but finds herself restricted to the medium of books.
I’ve often expressed my frustration with (or just skimmed past) the pew pew parts of the other books. For all that this book has the pew pew parts, they are action scenes that are appropriate for a book. It isn’t 15 pages of battle tactic, its 2-3 pages of a chase/fight, either on foot or in a ship, but rather than just going over the nitty gritty of the action, it explains how the characters are reacting or feeling in the moment. Some authors forget: you have the ability to get in a characters head. Use it.
5. Under The Sea
This isn’t a big point, but it’s also the cutest thing ever. The party that they have to infiltrate to get the list is ostensibly the birthday party of a high-ranking woman on Corellia. The theme is some kind of underwater affair, but it’s described so much like the stereotypical Under The Sea prom theme (albeit with a lot more tech and money behind it) that I found the whole thing delightful.
My only regret is that Finn and Poe didn’t have time for a slow dance before the shit hit the fan…
6. The Imperial Dude
I was tempted to make the “dislike” for this book be the fact that it’s so good, the film it’s meant to set up seriously pales in comparison. But that’s a failing of the movie and not the book. As I’ve said several times, this book is really, really good. But as with anything there’s bound to be a part I liked the least, and this is it:
One subplot in the book revolves around Winshur Bratt, a First Order officer. One of his office aides is responsible for the list of Resistance sympathizers leaking out beyond the First Order.
While I do like getting a look at the inner workings of the First Order, the entirety of this subplot only mattered in that it was a means to an end. As cool as it was to see Bratt’s depraved psychology, I would have liked to spend more time with the Resistance.
As with all the books I loved, you can see this “dislike” mostly just boils down to personal preference again…
In Bloodline, Han and Leia speculate on their future grandkids. Wedge and Norra do the same in this book. I only bring this up because that’s never happening for any of them. Their sons are dead. This is fine. I’m fine.
I’m a Bendemptionist, and I love that Leia in this book makes it explicit that no one is responsible for saving Ben except Ben himself. Which arguably is what happens in The Rise of Skywalker (even if that only lasted for 30 seconds). It’s also pretty clear she loves her son still and maybe wouldn’t find peace in him dying before his 30th birthday, but hey that’s just my interpretation *steps off soapbox*
ON THAT NOTE (sorry, last one), when Leia has to tell a co-commander that one of his children died in the line of duty, she takes no pleasure in it. She says that no matter the nobility of the intention, there’s no such thing as a “good death”. How can a book this sweet, well-meaning, and emotionally resonant be designed to precede a movie that doesn’t understand the world in which it’s set? A Leia that feels this way is not a Leia that would find peace at the death of her son.
Finn’s code name for the party is “Kade Genti”, a character from a popular children’s adventure series, which is the cutest thing ever. It also reminds me of all the times in other media where a character needs a code name and uses a name from Star Wars. It’s nice to know that the kids in Star Wars have a space adventure equivalent of their own
Y’all. Today we’re going dark. We’re diving into the heart of the First Order, into everything that makes it tick, but also into into its seedy underbelly.
Overall I found this book deeply unsettling. This may have a lot to do with the fact that the author describes the more horrific parts of the story in great detail, and some of it is outright gross, and I have a weak stomach. But that didn’t stop me from reading this one twice! Let’s dive into Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson.
*Content Warning: brief mentions of traumatic childhood and of torture*
Vi Moradi, a Resistance spy on a mission for Leia, is taken by the First Order. She is tortured and interrogated by Captain Cardinal, the trooper in charge of training young recruits, and former personal guard to the now-deceased Brendol Hux. Cardinal is looking for incriminating evidence with which to take down his rival: Captain Phasma.
Vi, having just returned from a mission to Phasma’s homeworld Parnassos, tells Cardinal all she knows. Phasma grew up in very rough circumstances on a world that was rapidly dying. Her attempts to strengthen her clan go unappreciated by the leader, her brother. When Brendol Hux’s ship crashes on Parnassos, and his shuttle separates him from the vehicle itself, she volunteers to return him to the ship in exchange for passage off.
What follows is a harrowing journey across a very dangerous desert, with Phasma and Hux in the company of three of his troopers, and a handful of her fighters, including Siv, the young woman who is Vi’s source of information. As the journey continues, Phasma and Hux form a tight bond, and her calculating ruthlessness becomes more and more apparent to those who know her best.
3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Disliked)
1. Vi Moradiand Captain Cardinal
She is the prisoner, he is the interrogator, and theirs is an interesting dynamic.
It hits the expected beats, where they are both tough at first but by the end get to know each other and understand the other a bit better. Though the dynamic in this respect is a predictable one, it’s very rare in Star Wars for two people from the warring parties to actually be in the same room long enough to explain what motivates them.
Though they’re only in half the book and are not the primary focus, they were compelling enough for me to want to return to their part of the story any time the narrative ventured to Phasma’s portion. With Phasma, we could only ever get up to where we find her in The Last Jedi, but Vi and Cardinal are the future of the movement, their roles a mystery. Both try to turn the other and I was fascinated trying to figure out who would succeed (one guess who it was)
2. The First Order
Up until now, any time we’ve gotten a look inside the First Order, it’s been from the point of view of the higher ups, those that make it run. And while Cardinal is now one of those people, he started out as a child brought into the Stormtrooper training program.
Seeing the First Order through his eyes was really grounding. Though we do (and should) dismiss them as the villains, it is interesting to see why not everybody sees them that way. It’s not that I’m trying to be a First Order apologist, I’m just always interested in seeing what it is that makes someone side with the First Order, since they rose to power far quicker than the Empire, and are arguably more brutal.
In Cardinal’s case, he came from a miserable existence on Jakku. Life was unpredictable and he was wasting away. The First Order provided him not only with stability, but with a way to thrive in the galaxy and to bring order to his chaotic existence.
Stability, then, seems to be the primary motivation for those who enlist. That is both heartbreaking and understandable, and it adds an extra layer of humanity to the faceless stormtroopers we see in the movies.
3. Hux Junior and Senior
You can blame this on twitter, you can blame this on Domhnall Gleeson’s performance, you can blame this on the fan fiction I read, you can blame this on my desire for everyone to have a redemption arc. Any reason above can be attributed to why I’ve started feeling bad for Armitage Hux.
Though the first time we see him do anything of note, he is standing in front of thousands of troopers, foaming at the mouth and shouting for all the world like a terrifying fascist, the side stories go out of their way to humanize him.
We know from other sources that he had a rough childhood and that his father really didn’t care for him and only paid attention to him when he did something that exerted power and dominance. This usually involved taking out his rage on other children. Growing up in that kind of horrible environment doesn’t make for a stable adult.
Alternatively, for those that watched Avatar: The Last Airbender: if Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is Zuko, then Armitage Hux is 100% Azula.
4. The two timelines
I had initially planned to put the one Big Gross Thing that happens in the book as my “dislike”, but it really is just one thing that happens one time, so I’m putting it down in Random Thoughts if anyone wants to know what it is. Please just know I hate it with every fibre of my being.
I know that Vi and Cardinal are two of the things I like best about the book. BUT. As Vi was telling Cardinal the story, I couldn’t help but feel how much I would have liked to hear the story from Phasma’s point of view.
In the story Vi tells, Phasma is only a teenager, about 16 or so. She somehow manages to get the entire party halfway across the planet on foot, and best a First Order general twice her age and with more experience. I’m not wondering at “how”. Star Wars teenagers are capable of so much more than us average teens could hope for.
The premise of the book interested me because I wanted to know more about the mysterious Phasma. But it almost feels like she’s as much a mystery as ever, even though I heard her entire backstory. I realize getting the story from Phasma’s point of view, and having Phasma as the narrator means it is impossible for Vi and Cardinal to exist in the story. And again, they are the future of the story. But in an entire book called “Phasma”, I never felt like I got any closer to the character. But hey, maybe that was the idea.
The Big Gross Thing is the part of the novel where one of Phasma’s fighters is bitten by a beetle. The beetle causes a person’s insides to liquefy. They swell up then explode into water, their organs shrivelled, their bones and muscles gone. Even just typing this out is giving me a headache and activating my fight-or-flight. I hated this so much, it’s just so gross.
Cardinal mentions Rae Slone to Armitage Hux, saying “if she were here”, to which Hux replies that she isn’t. But also…where the hell is she?? She isn’t in Resistance Reborn, and as far as I can tell she doesn’t come up again. Makes me wonder if I missed something somewhere.
Arratu was such a weird, interesting environment that I would have been perfectly happy if the whole novel was set there. It was so strange and dystopian.
The chrome on Phasma’s armour comes from an old ship of Palpatine’s. Just thought that was cool.
Is there a connection between Cardinal’s red armour and the red armour on the Sith Troopers, or is it just that red is cool and we can sell more toys this way?
If you remember back to my original Thrawn Trilogy reviews, at the end of the day my conclusion was that they were OK. Not my favourites, but they didn’t make me want to pound my head against the wall, and frankly that’s a win in my book. As I wrapped my review up, I also mentioned the upcoming prequel book with a decided lack of excitement. How wrong I was.
Of all of them, this one was my favourite. It was a different vibe, and so removed from the rest of the GFFA that other than certain key moments, I forgot what universe this book was supposed to be set in, and I mean that in the best way. It actually reminded me a little of Star Trek. Not in any direct 1:1 way. More like it was Star Trek flavoured Star Wars. Anyway, enough of my vague nonsense, let’s dive into Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising by Timothy Zahn.
Note: for clarity’s sake, the newer, completed Thrawn trilogy written after the Disney acquisition will be referred to as the “older Thrawn trilogy” since I’m really only differentiating it from this current trilogy.
Far, far away, past the known galaxy, lies a region known as The Chaos. This is home to the Chiss, a race of beings who rarely interact with outsiders and are governed by a system known as the Ascendency, wherein 9 big-name families fight and outmaneuver each other to gain political advantage.
One product of this system is Mitth’raw’nuruodo, not yet the notorious Grand Admiral and Imperial prodigy he would become. Instead, he’s a Senior Captain in the Chiss Expansionary Fleet, trying to do the best he can and learn as much as possible about the other beings who dwell in the Chaos. He believes his home is under threat from these outside forces and must try and finesse his way into investigating them while the Powers That Be try to stop him at every turn.
Along on this investigation are Admiral Ar’alani, his friend and accomplice since their early days with the Chiss military, Che’ri, the Force-sensitive navigator child known as a sky-walker, and Thalias, a former sky-walker and now Che’ri’s caretaker.
While Che’ri and Thalias navigate (hehe) the ins and outs of what being a sky-walker means, Ar’alani helps Thrawn navigate the political mess that is the Ascendency, because for all he is a strategic genius, he remains politically clueless. The two use half-truths and technicalities to launch a private investigation into a group seeking to control every race in the Chaos under one autocratic umbrella.
5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. New Environment and New Plot Points
Because 99.9% of this book takes place removed from the worlds and conflicts of the current Star Wars timeline, this book almost feels like it isn’t part of the GFFA at all, and that’s actually a great thing. Because it’s removed from the main conflict, it isn’t burdened by the Clone Wars at all. Because it’s geographically removed, the Chiss are not members of the Republic. The result is one of the freshest settings for a Star Wars books I’ve seen in a while.
Fortunately, the story lets us dive deeper into these story elements. The concept of the 9 ruling families feels like something out of a fantasy novel. It is an ancient system, and unlike the Republic, the Ascendency does not seem like it’s on the verge of collapsing. So what we have are protagonists firmly rooted in a system they don’t feel they can (or should) change, so they operate within it.
The way the families operate, by adopting members into their families and having them “achieve” higher levels of family membership, is a new concept in the Star Wars canon (at least to my knowledge). They have various levels of family membership: some are biological, some are adoptive. There are trials to be faced in order for the adoptive members to move up in rank. The family homesteads are in massive underground caverns. And when I say massive, I mean an entire compound with multiple buildings and extensive “outdoor space” entered around 8-storey mansions.
The other beings, “aliens” as they’re called here, are new to me. Because the world and the being occupying it are not familiar Star Wars entities, this is what makes the whole book feel like it’s taking place in a totally different space franchise.
Really, making this this different is probably the best thing Zahn could have done. The era in which the book is set – the late Clone Wars – is so extensively covered in other books and media, it has to be hard to come up with a new story that doesn’t tread over too much familiar ground. This gets around that problem by setting it somewhere in the galaxy that is rich, extensive, and unexplored (by the reader anyway).
When I say that the book is Star Trek flavoured Star Wars, this is what I mean. While I have seen some of Star Trek, I’m not nearly as immersed in it as I am the GFFA. So to me, this book has shades of something familiar, without too many obvious Star Wars tones. There is a large conflict, yes, but it isn’t a conflict we’ve seen 100 times. There are several groups of beings fighting for power, but we are only familiar with one group, our point-of-view group. The politics seem like they’re hinting at something real world, but it isn’t the same ones we’re used to seeing.
This metaphor is getting all mixed up, so just trust me when I say the new setting works to the books advantage.
2. Thrawn: Not Such A Bad Guy
Wow, me saying that the ambiguous “villain” is complex and deserves empathy maybe? Revolutionary.
Ok but hear me out.
When we meet him in the Thrawn books, he joins and then quickly rises in the ranks of the Empire. Empire = the bad guys, therefore Thrawn = bad guy.
But here’s the thing.
Thrawn is a strategist, first and foremost. The Empire had numbers, and resources with which Thrawn could carry out his own agenda. I never got the impression that he was in it for the love of Palpatine or something.
That is even more apparent here. Unlike those other books, he isn’t a Grand Admiral at the top of his game, he is a Senior Captain trying to rise in the ranks while his superiors try to smack him back down. He is the underdog. And, most importantly, when it comes to the impending threat to the Ascendancy, he is right. He sees things his superiors are unwilling to recognize and he actually tries to do something about it.
Also unlike the other books, NONE of this book is told from his point of view. It’s how the other Chiss see him, for better or worse, which allows us to form an opinion about the type of person he is.
He is straightforward, has no pretence, is considerate of everyone on his team, and generally seems to have the greater good in mind, even if he is extremely blunt about it and sometimes doesn’t care to explain his point of view. The worst thing that can be said about him, from the point of view of the other characters, is that is ambitious but refuses to “play the game”.
3. The “Supporting Cast”
I say “supporting cast” only because the book is not names after them. But they are frankly anything but. Ar’alani, Thalias and Che’ri are all important point of view characters. Though it is through them that we see what Thrawn is doing, and through them we speculate how he is feeling, each of them gets their own motivation and drive so that they aren’t just accessories to Thrawn’s narrative.
Ar’alani and Thrawn are close friends (how close? You tell me, AO3) and her constant struggle is maintaining the balance between her career’s upward trajectory while also trying to support and sanction the work Thrawn does because she sees the benefit in it. We learn in one of the “memory” flashbacks that she was removed from her family, though the circumstances remain a mystery. I expect this will play into her motivations later.
Che’ri is a 9-year old sky-walker who has been passed from caretaker to caretaker, none of whom seem to care much about her as a person. She is also plagued with anxieties over her current role as navigator and over what will happen to her once she loses her force sensitivity (called Third Sight here).
Thalias is Che’ri’s new caretaker, but is also a former sky-walker herself. Though her initial motivation is just finding a chance to see and speak to Thrawn again, after a chance encounter when she was a child, she eventually becomes embroiled in the brewing conflict, and becomes interested in getting involved. She is also quite ingenious, asking to face the Mitth family trials in order to be elevated in family rank just to prove a point and to continue as part of Thrawn and Ar’alani’s mission.
Though the book is nominally about a male character, and we do focus mostly on him, it is interesting how much of the narrative is told from the point of view of female characters, which was absolutely not what I was expecting.
4. That Crossover
About two-thirds of the way into the book, Thrawn and Che’ri explore the edges of “Lesser Space” in search of allies. They find a likely candidate in a woman named Duja on the planet Batuu. It is at this point the book crosses over with Thrawn: Alliances.
Reader, I screamed.
For a few, brief glorious pages we got to see Anakin Skywalker again. And though I didn’t listen to the audiobook, just knowing that limbo Anakin was back out in the world made me inexplicably happy.
You know what this is like? It’s like moving to a new country, going to a new school and then suddenly seeing one of your old classmates from back home in the hallway between third and fourth period.
Though we know from the older Thrawn trilogy that Chiss ships are navigated by Force-sensitive children known as sky-walkers, in this book we actually get to spend time with one: Che’ri.
She is one of the point of view characters, and the unique, difficult lives of the sky-walkers are interesting enough to me that I could easily read a whole book about them. We see how, while Thalias, Ar’alani and Thrawn all treat her like an individual, most other people (including the ones who are supposed to take care of her) treat Che’ri like an object, or a tool. This is especially interesting coming from Thrawn, since he is usually the kind to treat people as assets rather than individuals.
The unexplored parallel between the role of sky-walker, and Anakin’s last name “Skywalker” is also a continued source of fascination. Thrawn mentions the name is common enough in that part of Lesser space but if that’s the case then I have 2 questions:
Is it? Is it actually or is he just saying that?
Where did Shmi get her last name from?
There are the questions, Star Wars.
6. Wait, who are you people again?
I know I said one of the features of the book was an entirely new cast of beings with an entirely new conflict, but it wound up being one of my problems with the book as well.
There are at least 3 (and possibly as many as 5) races of aliens in this book, excluding the Chiss, none of whom we’ve met before. I just finished reading this book two days ago and I could not tell you who was who without taking notes.
In a standalone book that didn’t exist as part of a larger franchise, I wouldn’t have worried. But in something like Star Wars, I just know all these groups are going to matter later on, as are the nuances that separate them, and I couldn’t keep any of them straight.
Points Left Hanging
Ar’alani, formerly known as Ziara, was kicked out of her family. Seems like something that happens among the Chiss, but what I want to know is why
Similarly, Thrawn’s full name here changes between the memory segments (Mitth’raw’nuru) and the main plot line (Mitth’raw’nuruodo). What changed? Am I caring too much about the tiny stuff
With the introduction of Che’ri, I now have a whole other character to care about in this universe, up there with Vah’nya and Eli Vanto. I just want to know that all these sweethearts are ok, honestly.
We’ve got students at academies, sneaking into parties in disguise, snooty family compounds. All excellent trope-y settings and I would like more please.
Thrawn takes Ar’alani on a date to an art gallery and it’s the nerdiest thing ever.
This book is so Star Trek the Chiss have their own version of the Prime Directive. Though this has less to do with interfering with a world’s development and more to do with apathy, honestly.
Seriously, drop those Thrawn/Ar’alani AO3 links please and thank you. *ahem*
We’re in the homestretch now. Only 3 books left in the main YA/adult timeline (not counting the two Black Spire books which we’ll also cover). Though this project isn’t quite over yet, the biggest chunk is behind me now, and I’m getting a little misty-eyed and nostalgic. Nostalgic for the history of the GFFA, even. Appropriate for this book, I think.
I hadn’t read this book before, even though it came out almost a year ago. It was part of the Rise of Skywalker publishing campaign, but I remember it getting swallowed up by the buzz around Resistance Reborn. Which I think is a shame, because this book is so much fun. It’s got all the Jedi and Freaky Force Stuff that I absolutely live for. Let’s dive into this sweet surprise of a novel: Force Collector by Kevin Shinick.
Outer Rim teenager Karr Nuq Sin has the Force. Kinda. What he has is an ability called psychometry, or the ability to see the memories of physical objects when he touches them. This ability isn’t unknown to the Jedi (Quinlan Vos had it, after all): anytime Karr touches an item, he gets a splitting headache, and occasionally passes out. But at the same time, he is able to see visions of events that took place around the item he is holding.
The only problem is Karr lives in the late days of the New Republic. The Jedi have all but faded from memory. Anytime they ARE brought up, it’s usually for people to say they don’t exist. People like Maize, the new kid at Karr’s school.
But Karr knows they existed. His grandmother told him so before she died, while she was training him to use his ability. But now, with his grandmother gone and no one to train him, his headaches persist, and his parents want to send him away to a less stressful environment to train as a tailor and carry on the family business.
Not ready to settle down into a life of monotony, Karr, with the help of Maize and his droid RZ-7, runs away from home and heads on a planet-hopping adventure to uncover the truth about the Jedi and see if he can learn enough from the items he finds to somehow continue his training.
4 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. The use of nostalgia
Star Wars walks a fine line. For a story that means so much to so many, memories of first experiences with it are often firmly rooted in childhood or adolescence. Because of that, it is the inclination of many story tellers in this Galaxy to cash in on nostalgia. Most recently, the conversation has turned to the use of nostalgia in the Sequel Trilogy films, and whether or not this is an effective use of nostalgia. But I’m not here for that conversation today.
What I am here to say is that I love the way this book approaches the nostalgia of the series as a whole. The entire plot once they get off their home planet is essentially two kids who know nothing about Star Wars learning the plot from primary sources.
You see Karr piece together the story of the Skywalkers through objects he comes in contact with, but without added context, his interpretation of them is fairly removed from the truth. It isn’t until his third Skywalker related vision that he realizes Luke and Anakin are two different people, or that Luke wasn’t alive during the Clone Wars.
I can’t quite describe the effect it had on me, seeing the first 6 movies shown in highlight reel form. As someone who knows the full story, watching someone else discover it piece by piece filled me with such an eager anticipation. Like oh honey,you have no idea what’s coming next.
2. A new kind of Star Wars teenager
We have a lot of teenagers in Star Wars. So far we’ve had: teenage royalty, teenage rebel pilots, teenage Jedi, teenage spice runners, teenage runaways, teenage gang members, teenage guerrilla fighters, teenage Imperial officers.
But in this book we get…teenage high school students.
I didn’t notice until I read it how rare these kinds of teenagers are in Star Wars. Kids who live in what is essentially suburbia, with their parents, who get in trouble when they leave home to go on some kind of life changing adventure. Kids who have a home to come back to, that they actually want to come back to. And sure Karr has a special ability, it wouldn’t be a sci-fi young adult novel if he didn’t, but this was still so new for this universe that it kind of left me reeling.
I think this aspect is what also helps root the story in a very familiar kind of nostalgia. I’m not sure many people who grew up with this story were actually teenage royalty, or pilots, or officers, or Jedi.
But teenagers who break the rules in the name of the Skywalkers and their story? Far more relatable. High schoolers who cut class to see Star Wars or get their hands on some part of the story? People who discussed the saga with their friends in person and online? Teenagers who cosplayed their favourites? Kids who read their copy of the novelizations so much the books are falling apart (not that I’m speaking from experience)? Ninth graders who carried the May 2005 copy of Premiere magazine with Hayden Christiansen as Anakin Skywalker on the cover everywhere with them and read it under their desk in history class (still not speaking from experience)? We were Karr. We were Maize.
3. The History of the Galaxy feat. Freaky Force Stuff
As I’ve said countless times before, both in the blog and in person, the part of these stories I absolutely live for is the Jedi related plot. All the Freaky Force Stuff is very much my jam.
I didn’t expect a story about the Jedi in any way going into this (despite the title). Frankly I don’t know what I expected. But I absolutely loved what I got.
Each of Karr’s visions was a thrill. I would go into each one waiting to see if it was a moment I recognized, and of course they all were. In a book this short, we need to hit the big moments and don’t have time for the smaller/new ones.
That said, one moment that stuck out to me was Karr’s discovery of a message from Sifo Dyas explaining his motivation for creating the Clone Army. I know this was touched on in Dooku: Jedi Lost (and possibly in the Clone Wars?) but I always found it a little vague, so it was nice to have it spelled out here.
We also get a better look at the effects of Palpatine’s long-term propaganda about the Jedi and about how evil they were, illustrating how it is that such a presence in the Galaxy could be so forgotten a couple of generations later. This had been something I’d always assumed, but it’s nice to see it spelled out here.
I don’t think every little detail of a story needs to be explained necessarily. But if it fits the story and it’s going to happen anyway, then a book is the place to do it.
4. Relics from the past
So because this whole thing is about significant items from the past, items that bore witness to the story of the Skywalkers and the Galaxy at large, of course they’re going to be things that we the readers recognize too. My two favourites are:
Chirrut’s staff. Though Karr doesn’t know who it belonged to, he does know that it’s Force-adjacent and was in a great battle. This is one item Karr acquires before the book starts, and he never learns the full history behind it. But we know what it is, which makes this all the more fun.
C-3P0’s arm. Yes, the very reason he has a red arm in The Force Awakens. Now we don’t know how exactly he lost it, but it somehow ended up in the possession of Dok Ondar, who gives it to Maz Kanata, who lets Karr touch it to see what he can learn about the Skywalkers. This is the item that ultimately gives him the most insight into who they were and what happened to the Jedi.
5. You don’t have power, you have his power
UGGGGGH ok fine. Let’s talk about this.
Really, given that this was in the lead up to the Rise of Skywalker maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.
But it turns out Karr isn’t just naturally gifted with the Force. No no. His great grandfather was a Jedi! He left the order to have a family, but yeah. A Jedi.
I’m genuinely starting to wonder how the Jedi lasted 1000 generations, and numbered in the hundreds if not thousands while not being able to have kids if genetics are apparently a prerequisite?
It was compelling enough that Karr’s grandmother believed in the Force despite not being able to wield it. That she remembered the good they had done and had somehow learned some of their principles and lessons. But no. A great-grandfather gave Karr his power.
Also, something that made me scratch my head was the way Karr’s great-grandfather, Naq Med, died. He didn’t disappear into the Force, his body remained, but the text goes to the trouble of telling us that he’s at peace. So….which is it? Confusing.
All the planets they travel to are worlds that we see in the movies. They even go to Kijimi at one point. They also go to Batuu! One notable place they don’t go? Tatooine.
Maz has Luke’s Yavin medal, which she got from Han Solo. Either the mystery of how this changed hands is going to stay a mystery, or this is yet another reason for me to read the comics.
Obi Wan Kenobi makes a couple of appearances here via flashback. Please just note that if you ever see him pop up on the page, that my brain made a noise like this. But like, in a happy way.
Karr’s droid, RZ-7, often has his name spelled out Arzee. Which is so close to my own name it was a tiny bit jarring every time I saw it.
At the end of the story, Karr decides to record his adventures, and the history of the Jedi. So he sits down and begins to type “A long time ago…” and if you think I didn’t scream WHAT DOES IT MEAN??? then you are mistaken
Today’s book is a milestone for a couple of reasons. It’s the first in this read through to star a Sequel Trilogy character (no Snap Wexley doesn’t count). It’s also the first of the canon books to be published post-TROS (and likely owes it’s existence to that movie, but I’ll get to that later).
Teeeeeechnically, I think this one actually falls between Last Shot and Bloodline chronologically, but I’m certainly not going to be the one separating Han and Leia. Poe can wait his turn. But we won’t wait anymore. Let’s dive (or perhaps….free fall? *badum tss*) into Poe Dameron: Free Fall by Alex Segura.
16-year-old Poe Dameron, growing up on Yavin IV, dreams of living the kind of adventurous life his parents did during the days of the Rebellion. He wants to be out exploring the galaxy, preferably while sitting in the pilot seat of a star ship. His father, Kes, is having none of it, and would prefer Poe stay at home. This is made worse by the fact that Poe’s mother died in a flying accident 8 years prior.
But like every teenager ever, Poe feels like his dad just doesn’t understand him. When presented with the opportunity, he takes up with a shady group who are in town on business and need a pilot to fly them out. They are the Spice Runners of Kijimi, led by none other than Zorii Bliss, she of helmet-wearing, smokey-eye-having fame.
Over the course of a year, Poe tags along with the Spice Runners, eventually being accepted as one of their number, only to realize he is in way over his head and wants no part of this life. Meanwhile back on Yavin IV, his father is worried sick about him, and a New Republic agent longing for vengeance finds herself on the trail of Poe and the Spice Runners.
3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Disliked)
1. This book proooobably should have been about Zorii
OK, so I am very deeply, cynically aware that this book was probably deemed necessary to explain Poe Dameron, ace pilot for the Resistance, suddenly having a past as a spice runner.
That said, this book absolutely should have been about Zorii.
Poe stars in an entire series of comics (which, full disclosure, I haven’t read yet). So we have plenty of time to dive into who he is as a person. What we do not have, however, is anywhere near enough time spent with Zorii Bliss.
Her mother is the leader of the Spice Runners of Kijimi, and she spends the whole book, along with Poe, “training” to become full members of the gang. She is tough, has a lot of emotional angst where her mother is concerned, and also seems to have very little qualms killing people. Having an entire book about who she is as a person would have been so interesting. What little we got of her here WAS very interesting.
We could have also had Poe be in this book. but it would have been Poe through Zorii’s eyes. How this Yavin IV farm boy showed up and threw a wrench in her plans to take her place as her mother’s right hand. That would have satisfied the need to give Poe a backstory without needing to constantly return to the same character over and over.
2.Oh, Poe, you sweet, sweet boy
People really need to stop trying to shove Poe Dameron into a Han Solo shaped hole. The number of times “scoundrel” was used to refer to Poe in this book was something to behold. Yeah he’s a little cocky, of course he is when he’s that good a pilot and fighting on the side of right.
Really, if anything, he reminds me a lot of Luke Skywalker at the beginning of A New Hope. A sweet, sheltered farm boy, a kid who’s not such a bad pilot, seeking adventure in the great, wide, somewhere.
But even then, he’s really his own character more than anything else, and what I like about this is the moments where that shines through. He’s silly, flirty, loyal to a fault and determined to do the best he can at all times. All things I love about him in the movies.
But, another way I think he could have benefited from being a secondary character in Zorii’s story is that there wouldn’t have been the need to give him such a lengthy moral dilemma in the book. He realized about halfway through that he doesn’t like the way the spice runners operate, but has to stick with them for the rest of the book for character arc reasons, and this weakens his arc for me a little.
3. Kes Dameron book when?
Though up till this point I’d only seen a little of Kes Dameron in the Shattered Empire comic, I still really liked his character. Unlike Luke’s guardians, he’d seen the horrors of war up close and personal, and has different reasons for not wanting his son to be a part of that. He was such a sweet, devoted dad who only wanted to do right by his kid. (headcanon mode: imagine him and Han Solo having discussions about fatherhood, and wanting to be good dads to their boys, I may cry).
Also, according to Poe, his dad told him that he encountered a Zabrak who fancied himself a Jedi during the war and if that doesn’t sound like Darth Maul, nothing will. I want this one story so badly.
4. Spice Runners of Kijimi: All run, no spice
For supposedly the biggest, baddest gang out there, who takes the spice running game extremely seriously…
The Spice Runners of Kijimi never actually run any spice in this book (or if they do it’s blink-and-you-miss-it).
They sure do run a whole lot though. They run away from other criminals, they run from the law, they run to keep Zorii safe from her mothers enemies, they run around looking for her mothers helmet.
But they never run any spice.
You hear a lot about people making 1:1 parallels with Star Wars story points, and how that’s not how the media should be consumed. On that point, I agree.
But this particular plot element, that Poe was a spice runner, was met with a lot of criticism because of the Latinx drug dealer stereotype. It’s not my place to comment on this beyond that, I can’t speak with any kind of authority. But if you have a book where you have the opportunity to explicitly differentiate spice running from real world drug running, why would you not take that opportunity? Especially since the book’s whole existence is really to just explain that one plot point anyway?
The book got demonstrably better when Babu Frik showed up.
This book is also where Poe learns to light speed skip. Honestly though, parts of this book feel like the footnotes to TROS. The spice running stuff especially.
I actually think that Poe and Zorii’s dynamic in this book strengthens their dynamic in the movie. It definitely feels like the same relationship. I just reeeeeally wish they hadn’t made it romantic. I think the partnership side of it was better and far stronger.
For some inexplicable reason. Not one. Not two. But SIX (6) characters are incapacitated in some way in this book (and on a couple of occasions, killed) by getting stabbed in the “midsection”. It got to the point that by the 4th time, I laughed out loud, which I’m willing to bet was not the intention.
It’s a bit bittersweet today. On the one hand, I get to dive into one of my absolute favourite canon Star Wars novels. But on the other hand, this is the last Claudia Gray book until the High Republic comes out in the new year.
Of all the Star Wars books I’m covering here, this is the only print book that I’ve actually listened to fully in audiobook format. The first two Thrawn books, I half-listened, half-read depending on my work schedule. But this one was worth taking the time for.
I used to commute to work with my dad, and needing something to listen to in the car we first listened to Dooku: Jedi Lost, and once that proved a success, I suggested this one. He loves both sci-fi and Star Wars, but hasn’t ever read any of the old or new EU books. And even he LOVED this one. Still talks about it sometimes. So what is there to love about it? Honestly? Everything. Here is Bloodline, by Claudia Gray.
*Also Content Warning for brief mentions of torture/Slave Leia if either of those make you uncomfortable (found in list items 1 and 5)*
Worth noting that my absolute favourite thing about this book is Leia herself. But I won’t list it, because she’s the main character and that’s cheating.
Set shortly before the events of The Force Awakens, the New Republic is in chaos (shocking, who even saw that coming?). The Senate has turned extremely partisan, and is virtually incapable of doing anything but argue.
Needless to say, Leia is extremely over it, and decides to retire to spend more time with Han, who is off coaching starship race teams. An emissary from Ryloth arrives in the Senate, asking for an investigation into criminal activity in the planet’s region, as it’s effecting their day to day operations.
Leia decides an on-the-ground mission is just the note to go out on and volunteers to investigate. In an effort to keep things bipartisan (and not allow one party to have all the glory), Ransolm Casterfo, a Senator from the opposition volunteers to accompany her.
Because this is Star Wars, things are never as simple as they seem. Leia and Casterfo not only uncover a huge, well-connected criminal enterprise, but they also find themselves tossed around in the turmoil of election campaigns, as the Senate decides to elect a First Senator to lead the government, with Leia’s party choosing her as their candidate.
Through it all, Leia also continually finds herself haunted by shadows from her past, particularly the looming shadow of Darth Vader.
5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. The OT through Leia’s eyes
Though Leia is present for the bulk of the Original Trilogy movies, we never really get to see how she feels about the things that happen to and around her.
It’s always “Who’s Leia?” “Where’s Leia?” and never “How’s Leia?”
I have never not been annoyed that a few hours after watching her home, her family, her whole planet blow up before her eyes, Leia has to sit and comfort a boy moping because the old guy he’s known for all of 10 minutes just died.
And you know what, Luke, I like Obi Wan too. But a little perspective please.
The book shows us that Leia did take time to mourn the loss of her home, that the grief still comes on really strongly even years later, and that Han is always there for her when it does.
This book also sees one of the best rebrandings in the Star Wars universe, and that is the rebranding of “Slave Leia” into “Huttslayer Leia”. When Leia and her team are investigating the new swell of criminal activity, their investigation brings them face to face with Rinrivin Di, the crime lord that they suspect is behind it all. He manages to get Leia alone and shows her his most prized possession: a recording of a young Leia strangling Jabba the Hutt to death. Because Rinrivin Di’s people suffered greatly at the hands of the Hutts, they were delighted to see Jabba taken out, and hold Leia in great esteem for being the one to do it.
There are a lot of reasons I love this so much. I love it because this idea of Leia killing the being who dared hold her captive is how Carrie Fisher framed that plot point. I love it because it injects agency into a thing that has long been fetishized for the wrong reasons. I love that it has taken on a life of its own outside of the book. Costuming groups refer to this outfit as “Huttslayer Leia”. I’ve got this badass sticker on my laptop, created as part of the promotional campaign for the “Looking for Leia” docuseries (art by @miss.lys on Instagram):
Leia was such an instrumental part of those first movies, and it’s great to read a book that puts the focus on her and that shows how instrumental those stories were to her too.
2. The politics of the New Republic
All through the Aftermath books, I talked about how the New Republic is setting itself up for failure, and that the whole thing is definitely going to implode?
So guess what happens here?
In the years since the government was established, two political parties popped up in the Senate, and become more divided by the day.
On one side, there are the Populists, of which Leia is one. The Populists are opposed to central government, wanting each world to govern themselves, their reasoning being that one central leader is a slippery slope to a Palpatine-like dictatorship. The problem here is that with no central guidance, no world or system gets adequate enough assistance for their problems.
On the other side, there are the the Centrists, who are in favour of all systems being governed by a central body. Though this approach does allow for a more decisive approach to dealing with the problems of the galaxy, this party is also the one that attracts people who think the Empire wasn’t so bad after all, and overall has a more elitist membership.
You can see why this is a problem.
Though Leia and Casterfo do manage a civil, even friendly working relationship for a time. This all comes crumbling down when Lady Carise Sindian, a noblewoman obsessed with titles in a galaxy that couldn’t care less, who has a huge chip on her shoulder where Leia is concerned, reveals to Casterfo that Leia is the daughter of Darth Vader.
It also turns out that Carise is financially backing the criminal element Leia and Casterfo were looking for, this criminal element being a group of warriors who will eventually become the First Order.
Leia ends the book by walking away from the Senate and forming a Resistance group for the inevitable conflict on the horizon. This plot point was the single more informative thing about the whole book. When I first saw The Force Awakens, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why a resistance was necessary when it seemed the New Republic was still in power. More importantly, it seemed like the First Order only seized power after the destruction of the Hosnian System. So if they weren’t in charge, who are the Resistance resisting?
Now I know.
3. Han and Leia
No author writing for the current canon writes Leia the way Claudia Gray does.
Gray hits on every facet there is. Her Leia is always at once a sage diplomat, a person who takes absolutely no bullshit and won’t waste time telling you as much, and someone who is often overwhelmed with a lot of personal and professional difficulty and feels it all keenly.
This knack for writing Leia extends to how she writes Leia and Han as a couple. So far we’ve also seen them together in the Aftermath books and in Last Shot.
In Last Shot we don’t see a whole lot of them together, but it is an effective set up for what we see here. It’s the two of them trying to make their marriage work while pursuing their individual interests and also trying to raise their son in the new world they’re creating.
Not much to say about the Aftermath books here except that even though I liked seeing them both in the book, I never got the feeling that they were married because they wanted be.
Here, they actually seem to love each other, and want to spend time together, and realizing that their various responsibilities keep them apart for lengthy periods of time is a point of sadness for them.
The way Leia describes Han is also really sweet. She says that he thrives when mentoring others, and that this is how he shows affection. It was what he did for Luke when they first met, and it’s what he does for the young racing pilots he coaches now. Through Leia’s eyes, he is also a rock-solid emotional support for when the grief of all she’s lost becomes too much to bear.
Han and Leia were never a couple I “shipped”, they just always were. I’ve never not liked them together, and with the added depth to their relationship here, I see that that like was justified.
4. Napkin Bombing
There’s nothing I love more than a good Star Wars conspiracy theory.
Before we get there, the Napkin Bombing is an incident that occurs halfway through this book and really ramps up the drama and conflict. Someone sets off a bomb that blows up half the Senate building, but miraculously doesn’t kill anyone.
The reason no one dies is because of a napkin, which provides the incident with its namesake.
Leia heads to a breakfast meeting in the Senate building, and on her plate is a napkin with the word “Run” written on it. This is just odd enough, because no one in this universe actually physically writes, that it catches Leia’s attention and she calls for a total evacuation of the building. In the aftermath, both parties suspect the other of foul play, and the conspiracy theories run wild. The bombing, it turns out, was planned by Carise Sindian and the Amaxine warriors, the milita group she is funding.
What we never find out though, is who wrote the note.
And this is where the conspiracy comes in, because the Napkin Bombing is a plot point suggested to Claudia Grey by none other than Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi. Apparently he also floated some ideas for how the political system works, but this is far more interesting to me because the whole thing hinges on a handwritten note, and The Last Jedi is the movie where we learn that Ben Solo is the rare person in the galaxy who actually writes by hand (it’s a blink-and-you-miss-it thing). I have nothing constructive to add here beyond “what does it meeeeeean?”
(Probably nothing honestly)
5. Leia and Vader
I’m going to make one thing very clear. As far as I’m concerned, while Luke is definitely the son of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, Leia Organa’s father is 100% Bail Organa.
That’s how she sees it. That’s the man who raised her. That’s all there is to it.
BUT. Because Anakin/Darth Vader is her biological father, the implications of that come into play in this book in a way that is both fascinating and heartbreaking.
A couple of times, Leia mentions that Luke told her how in his final moments, Vader had redeemed himself and become Anakin once more. She says that this gave Luke peace and closure, and while she’s happy for him, she can’t bring herself to feel the same way.
Yeah, no kidding.
Because while Luke can go forth, confident in the knowledge that his father saved him from death, sacrificing himself in the process, Leia’s one and only encounter with the man was when he spent countless hours torturing her, listening to her beg for mercy, before forcing her to watch the destruction of her planet. So no, she isn’t going to forgive him just like that, nor should she.
Not only that, but other than telling Han, Leia never revealed this bit on information to anyone. Again, she was right to do that, it doesn’t matter to them anyway. She doesn’t even tell Ben (which, hoo boy, I would love to see how that conversation played out when he found out). The revelation that she is related to Darth Vader absolutely dominates the last third or so of the book, and I loved seeing the emotional weight the plot was given.
Like in the above, where we get to reevaluate some events and relationships from the Original Trilogy through her eyes, this is a key connection that looms over her life, and I’m glad we get to see her deal with her feelings about it head on. While she does eventually have some empathy for why Anakin may have turned in the first place, she is definitely more hesitant about embracing his redemption.
6. Greer and Joph’s Side Quests
This is not to say that these parts of the book, where Joph and Greer head out on their own to gather information for Leia aren’t important to the story, or important in developing their relationship as characters.
My only issue with them is that the political conflict and overall mystery were so engaging, and I was enjoying seeing Leia thrive in her environment so much, that any time spent away from that part of the story was bound to have me wishing we could hurry back.
But let’s be honest, my least favourite part of a Claudia Gray book is still miles ahead of my “favourite” part of a book I disliked.
In a flashback, Han and Leia talk about having grandchildren one day, and how Leia is looking forward to it, but Han jokes and says he’s “never getting that old”, and this is fine, I totally wanted to cry today.
I know it’s just for a prerecorded message but Bail Organa is back y’all *happy tears*
Bail’s message is preceded by an Alderaanian lullaby called “Mirrorbright”. I can’t remember if there was a tune in the book or not, so I decided to hum it to the tune of “Once Upon a December” from Anastasia, and it actually works (mostly).
Ransolm Casterfo has the best name.
In another little nod to seeing the OT through Leia’s eyes, she mentions that Ransolm has the same accent Tarkin had, the one she mocked when she was brought on board the Death Star. I’m pretty sure Carrie Fisher said her line delivery came out like that because she was nervous, and it’s really cute that it was given similar reasoning in-universe.
OK, I’m just going to say it, then I’ll drop it. I know a lot of people liked Jedi Leia in The Rise of Skywalker. It didn’t even bother me much because I figured Leia’s a smart lady, and she knows if she has the capability to do something, then why not learn it and have that tool in her arsenal. Case in point: using the Force to pull herself back onboard the ship in The Last Jedi. But in this book she explicitly tells someone, when asked if she ever trained as a Jedi, that she hadn’t. I know the movies come first, and the books contradict each other in little ways sometimes, but this is a HUGE part of her character and I can’t help but feel that writers trying to wrap up a saga this massive would have been well-served by reading the current crop of stories first.