Biweekly Book Review: First Anniversary + Obi-Wan Kenobi Comics

Today I’m marking the one-year anniversary of the Biweekly Book Review and…well…safe to say I didn’t think this would last a year.

This is partially because of my inability in the Before Times to consistently stick to writing a blog. I would post once, maybe twice, then abandon the whole thing. But then maybe that’s the key isn’t it? That was before I was stuck at home, looking for something to replace my now-vanished social life.

So the Biweekly Book Review was born. I’ve said before that my initial plan was to just start the book review with Star Wars, and then eventually move on to other stuff, only revisiting the GFFA when there was a new release. I actually remember planning to move on to the Series of Unfortunate Events books once I was done.

I also remember that the reviews started out very backwards looking, since most were rereads. But going from one to the other, in chronological order, and back to back without a large break in between, patterns and common threads started to emerge. Characters that I dismissed as a one-off were suddenly reemerging all over the place. Names, places, etc.

Well, it’s officially been 365 days and I have yet to run out of material, and the connections only keep…um…connecting. I mean, we even got an entire publishing initiative since I started! I think it’s safe to say this project will continue for a while yet.

Because I wanted to do something special for the anniversary, I took a poll on Twitter asking what I should do for today. “Comic books” came out on top, so comics it is.

My initial thought had been to take a look at trade paperbacks for my three favourite characters: Rey, Ben Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi. But because Rey doesn’t have a comic all her own…*saves bitterness for another day*…I decided to just focus on Obi-Wan. He was my first love and his show starts filming later this month, so I thought it might be fun to look at two of his comics and speculate on how the angst (because there’s always angst) might feed into the series!

With that, lets dive into Obi-Wan & Anakin by Charles Soule and From The Journals of Obi-Wan Kenobi by Jason Aaron.

Why yes, I do walk around the backyard dressed like this

The thing about Obi-Wan Kenobi is that unless you’re telling a pre-Phantom Menace story, it’s going to be tinged in some way with tragedy. Because the man just has such a sad life. Even if you tell a pre-TPM story, a la Master & Apprentice, the emotional core of it is the relationship between him and Qui-Gon, and neither of them feeling like they are the student or teacher that the other one deserves.

Basically, I like to cry, I guess. It’s part and parcel of being an Obi-Wan fan.

I think the two comics (comic series? I don’t talk about comic books usually, can you tell?) make a nice pairing, because the first, Obi-Wan & Anakin is about his life prior to Attack of the Clones, and then the Journals are about life post-Revenge of the Sith.

So, let’s take them one at a time, and look at the plot, my impressions, and whether or not I think it’ll tie in to the Obi-Wan Kenobi series at all!

Obi-Wan & Anakin

This is a five-issue run that tells the story of our two titular characters on a mission sometime during Anakin’s apprenticeship prior to Attack of the Clones. But unlike any of the other mission they’ve presumably gone on together, this one has an air of finality. Anakin has expressed to Obi-Wan a desire to leave the Jedi order and see what else the galaxy holds for him. After all, he was brought in to train without a ton of say in the matter. Obi-Wan accepts this, knowing that if Anakin does decide to go, he’ll have to leave the order as well. But he doesn’t tell Anakin this. We don’t actually find out until the end. Why he also has to leave is not entirely clear to me. It’s not like Yoda left the order once Dooku did. Is it because Obi-Wan still wants to teach Anakin? Unclear.

Anyway! I actually really liked this comic for everything but the adventure they were on. I understand why it was intstrumental in Anakin’s decision to stay, but I was far more interested in the Jedi temple dynamics, and in the scenes of Anakin and Palpatine, where we see the ways the Chancellor is already starting to interfere in the boy’s life and groom him to be his new apprentice.

Do I think we’ll get anything like this in the series though, specifically with regards to the flashbacks? Obviously not from this era, their ages are all wrong, and I for one have no desire to see 39-year-old Hayden Christiansen play a 14 year old. BUT I do wonder if we’ll get some kind of Clone Wars-era flashback where they deal with a similar conflict, duty to the order/galaxy vs. duty to their partnership? Also I know Palpatine is important, particularly at this point in the story, but no more. I don’t want to see him anymore. Society and fandom has surpassed the need for Palpatine.

Lots of good potential in this comic though, overall.

But not as much potential as…

From The Journals of Obi-Wan Kenobi

This one wasn’t conceived as a standalone series. Rather, the book is a composite of several issues from the 2015 run of main Star Wars comics, wherein Luke finds a journal that Obi-Wan kept during his years on Tatooine. The first couple of issues are about a drought on Tatooine when Luke was rather young, the middle of the book is a very strange adventure involving Yoda, a tribe of Force-sensitive children and some glowing blue rocks, and the last issue is an account of Obi-Wan as told by the Tuskens.

So putting aside that bizarre adventure in the middle, lets focus on the beginning and end. The issues concerning the drought are nominally about that, but are more about the tension between Obi-Wan and Owen Lars, as the latter is worried the old Jedi will turn Luke’s head and get him killed the way he did Anakin.

Oof.

Though Owen does get less antagonistic by the end of the arc, it’s clear Obi-Wan will still have to be content to watch from a distance. All totally fine, except we now know that both Owen and Beru will be appearing in the upcoming series, so I wonder if there will be any references to the specific incident both men find themselves in in this arc? I’m deeply opposed to anything from written canon getting a direct onscreen adaptation, since it’s all part of the same overall tapestry, but maybe something similar will unfold? Or maybe it’s just a cameo, who knows.

But my second, and perhaps larger, point of interest is the final comic in the book, an account of Obi-Wan Kenobi from the perspective of the Tuskens. We see in one of the earlier stories, that shortly after his arrival on Tatooine, when he’s protecting the Lars homestead, he is attacking and killing any Tuskens that get too close. But by this last story, he finds a young, lost Tusken who is being given a hard time by the settlers and sees them safely home.

Know what that is? That’s growth.

I’m all for the Tuskens being more than the howling savages they seem to be in early content. We’ve already started down that line with The Mandalorian and here’s hoping we’ll really go there with Obi-Wan Kenobi, especially if we’re spending so much time on Tatooine (please no off world road trips, thanks)

On that note, I think that about sums up my anniversary post. I know I don’t talk about comic books much (or ever), so thank you for humouring me.

If you’ve been here since the early days, or if you’ve just found me now, thank you for reading. You have no idea how much it means!

We’ll be kicking off year 2 with another Shakespeare Star Wars adaptation, then Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good after that, so a lot to look forward to!

Until then, MTFBWY.

Biweekly Book Review: Victory’s Price

You know what I was expecting?

I was expecting to read this book, to struggle to come up with talking points, and ultimately to write a review that was along the lines of “yeah, that was fine I guess”

What I didn’t expect was for this book to so thoroughly knock the air out of my lungs and break my heart in a way that would leave me needing several days to recover.

Here goes nothing. Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed.

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

The book picks up some time after former Imperial-turned-Alphabet Squadron leader Yrica Quell abandoned the Rebellion and returned to the familiarity of her former squadron, known as Shadow Wing.

In her absence, her former squad is fractured. Wyl Lark has assumed leadership of the team, Nath Tensent seems one bad day from running away from the whole thing, Chass Na Chadic can’t quite shake the teachings of the cult she encountered in the last book and Kairos is….well…Kairos about it.

But the team can’t afford to fall apart now, not with the Empire amassing its forces over Jakku for the battle that will determine the fate of the galaxy, at least for now. All while at the centre of the galaxy, Major Soran Keize is planning a move that will have ramifications for anyone who has ever been in Imperial service.

If it sounds like I’m being vague, it’s because I am. There is just so much going on in this book that I cannot distill it into one summary. It’s overwhelming. So let’s dive right into the breakdown.

4 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Kairos’ backstory – at last!

I’ve spent the last two Alphabet Squadron reviews wondering what Kairos’ deal was, and lo and behold we get an answer here!

I love that for all that we get an explanation of her culture, and her beliefs, we still don’t completely know what she is. She’s some kind of insect-like being (given that she uses a chrysalis to regenerate). In being rescued from the Empire and healed with a blood transfusion, she is now too impure to ever truly return to her home, and spends most of this book trying to reclaim her identity.

Even on a visit to her homeworld, it’s less of a homecoming and more another obstacle to be overcome. She has been tainted by outsiders and violence, and it is only in finding a new perspective and a way to shed her “wartime skin” that she can finally begin to heal and move forward.

Kairos was fascinating and I hope we never see her again. I don’t think she would want us to.

2. The Emperor’s Messenger

OK so as some of you know by now, I am downright OBSESSED with the Emperor’s Messengers. Like. So much.

They’re creepy, they’re mysterious, and they make a whole lot more sense than “somehow Palpatine has returned.” This is what calculating, 6D-chess-playing Palpy would do. Create an artificial life form to carry on his work after his death, with a built-in failsafe that will drag the entire Empire down if they cannot see his objective through.

This failsafe takes the form of an underground vault on Coruscant detailing the level of involvement for every single person who ever worked for the Empire in any capacity, spelling out their crimes for the New Republic, or whoever would take over, so that they cannot reasonably expect to be pardoned.

Which…we’ll get into that.

3. Chass and Yrica

A romance?? That ends with both of them alive?? Can it be??

I distinctly remember saying in my other reviews that I wanted them together, and morbidly expressed the fear that one of them would die in the other’s arms. Though Chass does in fact nearly die, she does actually make it out alive and gets the girl in the end and wow I wish this was less surprising in a franchise built on hope, love and found family (love is family too and is not a bad thing, do not @ me) but here we are.

I also just love the entire subplot of Chass fighting to get Yrica back from the Empire, because she’d mad at her and wants an explanation, because she feels left behind. This is the kind of angst and tension I live for and this book delivered on that front.

I have a lot more to say about this below in my overall thoughts!

4. Have I mentioned I hate space battles?

Literally nothing new here. This is the one thing I think that has really stopped me from loving this series fully. The character work is exquisite. They are complex, they have a range of emotions, they are grounded. If only it weren’t for the space battles.

But Freed does love him a space battle.

I expected this, going in. Especially since it was building up to the Battle of Jakku. You know, the one with all the downed star destroyers. I expected this to be my “dislike” for the book, and it was. It is what it is, at least they felt less all-consuming than the ones in Shadow Fall did.

Overall Series Thoughts – Redemption

Alright, buckle up, because I have some things to say about redemption, and redemption arcs.

I’m a big fan of redemption. Specifically *living* redemption. Doing one nice thing and then dying is, in my view, a poor redemption arc (and I’m sure you can already see where this is going, stay with me)

We get an in-universe glimpse at why this is in Victory’s Price. We already know that Leia had a hard time accepting Vader’s turn back to Anakin because of the kind of relationship he had with her – namely torturing her when she was a teenager then making her watch as he blew up her planet. This is also why you’ll see me bristle when people call Leia a Skywalker. She wanted nothing to do with that mess.

But then we have this really cute scene between Chass and Wyl, where he tells her that after the Battle of Endor, when he wandered off into the trees on the forest moon, he came across a strange sight: Luke Skywalker burning the body of Darth Vader. What Wyl cannot figure out though, is why. Was it a final “fuck you” to the man who terrorized the galaxy for two decades? Some kind of ritual? Because of course, Wyl hasn’t seen Return of the Jedi, so he has no idea. We know that by the time Bloodline happens, it isn’t as though Luke has gone around trying to rehabilitate Vader’s public image, because just a blood relation to him is enough to mess up Leia’s political career. So the galaxy will always see him as a monster, even if in his final action, he saved his son, and by extension, all the lives that Luke would go on to save.

Granted, Vader was an older man, and more machine than anything else. All his internal systems were fried by Palpy’s lightning, so his chances of survival were never great. But this does reinforce the importance of living redemption nonetheless, for those who have done wrong to live with the consequences of their actions.

Palpatine’s fallback in the event of failure was to create an entire database with the crimes of everyone who has ever worked for the Empire all spelled out. He kept them living in fear of a new government, one who would take this list of crimes perpetuated by everyone from the Admirals right down to the indirectly complicit file clerks, and condemn them all for their actions.

It is in this way that he fundamentally misunderstood the other side.

Mon Mothma and Hera Syndulla, after the Battle of Jakku are faced with the conflict of what to do with those who once served the Empire in a major capacity, and with Yrica Quell specifically. She defected to the rebellion, then went back to the Empire, intending on tearing them down from the inside. Part of her reason in doing so, in a fear that many Imperials no doubt share, is because she cannot visualize a life for herself outside of the war, nor can she picture any scenario where she is forgiven.

The two leaders come to the right conclusion, that making an example of her would make their new Republic a deeply hostile environment to every single person who had ever worked for the Empire. The Admirals and higher ups were one thing. But those stuck in a bad situation? Those who were just…working for the current government and didn’t have the luxury to stand against it on principle? Or those like Yrica, who at some point before the end of the war did try to make things better? All that would be achieved by locking them up and throwing away the key is the loss of half the galaxy’s population, and fostering an atmosphere of resentment.

And not only is Yrica freed, pardoned and allowed to go her own way – with conditions, of course – but then down the line Chass finds her, and they eventually get together. Like…romantically. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility in this galaxy for someone to do horrendous things, to pay the price (while staying alive) and to find some measure of peace after the fact.

Now for the part you all knew was coming:

I only wish that two certain writers could take the same view Freed does when it comes to what’s possible for a person seeking redemption. We’ve often said, since…oh, I don’t know, December 2019, that while a moment of redemption followed by death is a simple way to tell a story, it is far from the best way to do it. It’s not interesting in the least. I found peace, and catharsis in watching Yrica Quell come to terms with what she’s done, and I can’t help but wish that a character like Ben Solo had been given the same chance. Not through exile (which solves nothing, because then he might as well be dead) or through prison for “war crimes” (lets promise right now to never use the term “war crimes” within Star Wars discourse again), but through an actual chance to work and try to make things better. To face the mistakes made head on. There is room for that in this galaxy, clearly. As for what I think that would look like? Probably something like the epilogue of Victory’s Price.

Random Thoughts

Where, and I cannot stress this enough, the fuck is Admiral Rae Sloane? Where?? The absolute potential of this character, and somehow she disappears into the fringes of space, never to be seen again? I get that she wasn’t one of the major characters of this series, but if she’s mentioned at all here then it was so quick I missed it completely.

Every reference made to Hera and her life, every scene she was in, absolutely broke my heart. Maybe it’s because I just rewatched Rebels, but when they talk about her “putting children in the line of fire” I just had Ezra and Sabine’s faces before my eyes.

Yrica is proud of how far Wyl has come. That’s it. Nothing to add, I just got all weepy

May the Force Be With Us: Watching the Star Wars Saga in 88 Days

I like “Firsts”. Good or bad, they’re always memorable. – Ahsoka Tano

OK, maybe “first” is a bit of a stretch. This isn’t the first time I’ve marathoned Star Wars. Other than “Resistance” this wasn’t my first time watching any of this content. But it was the first time I watched the entire saga – movies and TV – in chronological order.

Also in “not-firsts”, I was joined on this marathon by my dear, dear friend Chelsea. This was not the first movie marathon we’ve done together. Not even the first Star Wars marathon, actually.

From December 4 to February 28, we slowly but surely made our way through the entire story, sometimes watching in tandem – most of the movies – sometimes setting “catch up” dates, by which we had to have a certain portion watched – most, but all the episodes of the shows. We did, of course, watch some of the bigger arcs together (the Obitine stuff comes to mind).

So why the Ahsoka quote? Because other than spending a significant chunk of time with the amazing Ahsoka Tano, it was her appearance on The Mandalorian that in part inspired us to embark on this journey, but I’ll let Chelsea explain more below.

If you’re here, you know me already. So now it’s time for you to meet Chelsea properly before we dive in:

This is Chelsea and myself at Disneyland Paris in 2017. But not just any day in 2017. This was the day – though we didn’t know it when the picture was taken – that the trailer for The Last Jedi was released. So picture us huddled over my tiny phone in a dark, loud Disneyland restaurant aaaaabsolutely losing our minds over “what does it all mean??” and frantically trying to figure out if the titular “Jedi” was singular or plural. Fun fact, the French translation pluralized it. But I’m getting off track. I’ll let Chelsea introduce herself.

Chelsea: Hello! I’m Chelsea! I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember, but I never got more involved in the fandom beyond the primary movies until now. So my starting point was: I had seen all of the movies except Clone Wars, and I had not seen any of the TV series except Mandalorian. I also still have not yet read any novels or comics.

I waited until not long before the second season of The Mandalorian came out to binge the first season for the first time. While watching both seasons, I suddenly had a lot of questions about what was going on in the Star Wars universe and I needed some answers. Cue Arezou. My dearest, beloved, gloriously nerdy Arezou is my go-to for any questions related to basically any Disney holding. While discussing implications of world-building in Mandalorian, my endless questions spiraled and we figured out that I needed a bit more. Thus I proposed the idea of doing a marathon together. The shows I had never seen would answer a lot of questions, but I still wanted to watch in tandem with her so I could continue to berate her with detailed inquiries into literally anything (including Anakin’s hair). So I asked her to put together a watch list and boy, did she come through! (I hope for your sake that she shares her Excel doc so you can do your own marathon.) We didn’t strictly follow the schedule, but we stayed pretty close! Holidays meant less time to watch, but then we made up for it other times, and we ended up only 6 days past her original estimation of 82. Sometimes we felt like we would never make it through the whole thing (mostly during Clone Wars, only because there are SEVEN seasons), but other times it felt like we were flying through and wished we had more content. (Side note, my parents ended up joining us in the marathon. Not only did they thoroughly enjoy it despite being extremely skeptical at the beginning, but my mom went back and re-watched Episodes VII-IX immediately after we were done because she wasn’t ready for the marathon to end. Seriously binged them the next day while I was working. I love her.)

I am so glad we did this marathon because I understand the Star Wars universe and its timeline so much better now. It’s important to note that what particularly helped was the fact that we watched everything in chronological order and not in airing order. Meaning that we watched a lot of Clone Wars (and some of Rebels) out of episode order because it ended up making so much more sense to watch chronologically. And now I feel ready to tentatively dip my toes into some Star Wars novels! (I’m obviously relying on Arezou’s recommendations.)

Arezou: Let’s dive into our thoughts!

Prequel Trilogy and Clone Wars

Chelsea: The prequels will always have a special place in my heart since they’re the trilogy of my generation. You can tell me Jar Jar is ridiculous all day long, and I will agree with you, but I still love Episode I so much. (Although I think he’s a little more palatable in that first movie since he’s not an actual Senator influencing critical policies…) Also, I never get tired of Padme’s outfits and of course her perfect sassiness.

I used to lose my patience with emotional Anakin in episodes II and III, but watching Clone Wars actually helped with that. I had never seen the animated movie or show before, so it was wonderful to get some fresh content in this early period. The Clone Wars show helped tremendously in Anakin’s character progression from Episode II to III, and I felt like I finally understood him better. (He can still be A LOT, but his moods seem less baseless to me now.)

And of course, I now have an undying love for Ahsoka Tano. We will always need more of her.

Arezou: First of all, yes. More Ahsoka Tano always. I really liked her before we did this marathon, I was never one of those who was annoyed by her character. But I came out of this marathon loving her more than I ever have.

This part of our marathon also got me extremely hyped for the Obi-Wan Kenobi series. Like stupid, deliriously excited. More than I was before (and if y’all remember I have been excited about this for a while). I could go on at length about the tragedy that is this man’s life, and how watching him go from a padawan on the verge of knighthood to a master at the top of his game who has just lost everything and everyone – literally everyone – he ever cared about in a very short amount of time? It broke me.

Also, though I liked him just fine before I now have a deep, abiding love for CT-7567 aka Captain Rex. Please don’t ask me to explain, I truly cannot. I just love him so, so much.

Solo, Rebels, Rogue One

Arezou: I once saw the take that Solo reads like if they made an in-universe biopic of Han Solo this is what it might look like. It’s fine. It’s fun. I have no desire for a Solo sequel, but if they wanted to continue Qi’ra and Maul’s story in some way, I wouldn’t be opposed.

Chelsea: I feel like Solo is just a fun trip rather than a necessary plot point; I had fun watching it but it didn’t leave me with a sense of gravitas.

Arezou: I tried Rebels twice. I gave up the first time, I made it through on the second go, but it didn’t really *land* with me. It was fine, it had it’s moments but it didn’t exactly take my breath away. This time around it was totally different. I was *in* it, deeply invested in the pain and the angst, particularly where the Jedi stuff was concerned, as well as taking a renewed interest in all the Madalorian/Darksaber stuff for obvious reasons. My only problem is, like Chelsea also says below, that whole season four subplot where Hera and Kanan are acting like they haven’t been married for years and it turns into a blushing budding romance. Like, hello, if Hera is pregnant y’all have clearly been together for some time and also their general dynamic is that of a married couple. Very confusing. Also tragic, but then again this is Star Wars and all romance ends in tragedy.

Chelsea: Rebels was more interesting than I thought it would be. I was wary of a show with a brand new cast of characters, but I was hooked pretty quickly. I thought this show did an excellent job of showing the wider effect of the rebellion and how small rebel cells functioned throughout the galaxy. In the primary movies, it’s all about the Big Stars and their Big Action that happen over a small period of time, but I appreciate how this show painted a larger picture for us to enjoy. (Although what was up with pretending in the last season like Hera and Kanan weren’t together the whole time? They were totally an adorable married couple taking care of some adopted orphans and you can’t tell me otherwise.) I also appreciated the adherence to the technology that we already saw in the prequel trilogy.

Arezou: Rogue One is such a weird little movie. For all that it’s extremely grim and sad, for some reason I can’t place my finger on it absolutely radiates comfort. It’s cozy. I was really looking forward to getting to this part in the marathon just so we could watch this movie again. A group of misfits banding together and doing the right thing, knowing there is very little chance they’ll make it out alive? It’s beautiful. I also actually really like that we only get a little backstory for each character (within the context of the movie at least) but it’s still enough to make us care. We don’t need a whole life story to see why they fight, and that’s beautiful. Also, worth noting that the movie where the entire main cast of characters dies is somehow more hopeful and uplifting than certain other entries in this saga…

Chelsea: And in Rogue One, finally no forced ending! I have great respect for writers that don’t create a purely happy ending just for the audience’s sake. And ok, Star Wars isn’t skipping along with rainbows and butterflies all the time, but to have a movie that is 100% plot necessary where all the main characters die in the end is somehow refreshing to me. Their deaths had a purpose and they were neither glossed over nor martyrized. In general, I find that movies that are planned to be a one-shot tend to have a tighter script and more efficient world-building since they don’t think they’re going to get another chance to do things right. 

Original Trilogy and The Mandalorian

Arezou: There are certain segments of this fandom that were really starting to make me hate the OT. The sickening worship of it, holding it up as a gold standard and calling everything else derivative (yes, they all technically derive from this, that’s not what I meant, go be pedantic somewhere else) and lesser really grinds my gears. So it was nice to revisit it as part of a whole, right in the middle of a much larger story. It put things in perspective, and the parts of it I love really got to shine through. Much like Chelsea says, I too was deeply bored by the Hoth stuff as a kid. Not much has changed but now I know that character beats I love are coming and it’s worth powering through.

Chelsea: The OT! Even though the original trilogy is perfectly comprehensible without all of the lead-up, it was still really nice to have everything that came before it. Watching all of the “prequels” helped me understand how the Star Wars universe got to this point and why. As a kid, I was always super bored with Episode V (I think all that wandering around in the snow at the beginning got me off on the wrong foot), but I actually really enjoyed it this time around. Doing a marathon and not watching Episode V simply in order to get from Episode IV to Episode VI meant that I could relish it in a way I hadn’t before. (I don’t actually remember the first time I ever saw the OT- my family must have watched it often enough that it was always just there while growing up.)

Arezou: I remember way back when this show was announced, thinking it sounded weird and boring and saying that I would watch it once out of obligation. HOO BOY was I off-base there. I love the slow-build of season one, and while season two can feel a little (a lot) cameo heavy, I actually love looking at it through the lens of how each of these familiar faces informs Din’s journey in some way. That said, if the end of season two were the end of the series this would be a very different, angrier conversation. Also this show made me go from Boba Fett hater to a full-on Boba fan and I did not see this for myself. Not mad about it though.

Chelsea: The Mandalorian does a great job of mimicking the technology and world-building of the original trilogy while still feeling fresh and original. I enjoyed that it mostly followed a completely new set of characters, with nods to some of the original characters and the big picture stuff we know is going on in the background between sets of trilogies. And how could you not love Baby Yoda?! An added bonus is how short the episodes and seasons are, so you have an excuse to binge the entire thing and it’s not completely unreasonable.

Resistance and Sequel Trilogy

Chelsea: Resistance was a little more difficult to take seriously since Kaz was just so silly. He and the rest of the cast eventually grew on me, but this is obviously a show directed towards children. Even though Clone Wars and Rebels were made to be family-friendly, they were still intelligent enough to appease adults who need a bit more than high-pitched screaming during various shenanigans. Although that skepticism doesn’t keep me from being willing to put my life on the line for Neeku’s happiness because he deserves it, dang it.

Arezou: I tried Resistance twice before this. I failed twice. I just couldn’t get into the race car side of things. It wasn’t much easier this time around but I think knowing I had to push through it made things easier. A very dear friend of mine pointed out the beauty in the series is the focus on every day lives, rather than the large galactic scale, and I can definitely appreciate that. The galaxy is so much bigger than the Skywalkers and their drama. That said, I think I preferred season 2 when they were on the run and the stakes were a little higher. But I’m also glad I didn’t watch this as it was airing, since the finale aired after TROS, and if that image had been the last one I had of Kylo Ren I would have been a bigger mess than I already was.

Chelsea: The final trilogy (for now)… Well, it starts off (mostly) strong and then ends with a whimper (or a slew of curse words, your choice). I think the first mistake of this trilogy was to start off with a completely different balance of power than where we left off in Episode VI and offer no explanation. Like ok, the First Order is a thing and they’re obviously bad, but what happened to the New Republic and why do we need a new rebellion? Thankfully we now have fillers like Mandalorian and Resistance to pick up the pieces, but going straight from the OT to this one is jarring.

I loved all the new characters, and of course our original crew are as badass as ever; they are built up wonderfully in episodes VII and VIII only to have their characterizations ripped to shreds in the finale. J.J., I’m not angry- I’m disappointed. You have let down every Star Wars fan. But luckily for us, we are stronger than you and we will not let you ruin the entire franchise for us. We’ll work out where to go from here together. You’re not invited to anything ever again though.

[Note from Arezou: I swear I didn’t tell her to say any of that]

Arezou: So this is the part where I confess that I didn’t actually make it all the way through the marathon. As soon as we started Resistance, I started to get a sick feeling of dread in my stomach. Then we started The Force Awakens and I almost spiralled into December 2019 levels of depression. I never want to feel the way I did then ever again. So I made the choice to watch up to The Last Jedi then stop – while of course still remaining on hand for Chelsea. It sucks that this is the way it’ll have to be for me until they decide to make a follow-up series or an Episode X, but it is what it is.

(Also pls bring back Ben Solo when you do k thx)

The characters created for this trilogy are among my favourites, and they deserved to end on a high note instead of a disappointing mess that reads like one guy’s amateur fan film written after he saw clips of episodes VII and VIII on mute while he was half-drunk. What is there to say that I haven’t said already in some way or another? The culmination of a 42 year saga went out with the stupidest wet-fart of a whimper. My only consolation is that this is not the end. It just can’t be, and I have to believe that the Powers That Be know this and will rectify all the mistakes made in the name of appeasing people who weren’t going to enjoy this movie anyway.

Final Thoughts

Arezou: All romance is tragedy. Never love anything. OK, no in seriousness, I’m so glad we did this and I can’t recommend it enough. With all the new shows on the horizon, this timeline is only going to get fuller and fuller. Hopefully at least one of these things will give us a happy romance (Book of Boba Fett? Please please please)

Chelsea: The droids saved the entire universe every time. That’s my take-away. I highly recommend doing your own marathon! May the Force be with you!

Biweekly Book Review: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back

Commentary by: Arezou Amin and Dr. Nora Williams

I ask you, Ian Doescher, who is this for?

The Empire might strike back, but I guarantee it doesn’t strike back quite as hard as two art-major Star Wars nerds who’ve spent a year in quarantine and have nothing but time.

That’s right, I am back with my friend Nora to dive into the second instalment in the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series, The Empire Striketh Back. The movie is one of the greats. This adaptation though…

The last thing you want your reader to ask as they make their way through the book is “who is this for?” and yet there we were, one Shakespeare scholar and one Star Wars scholar trying to make sense of which one of us this was made for. Short answer? We can’t say. Long answer? Let’s dive in.

Overall Impressions

Nora: I’m not angry, Ian. I’m just disappointed. 

Arezou: Ian, we just wanna talk. We have several questions for you.

Nora:I mean, where do we start? With lovesick, swooning Leia? With the racist rationale for Yoda speaking exclusively in haiku? With the anti-Semitic equation of Sith and Jews? (I’ll circle back to all of these.)

Arezou: I could – and will – elaborate at length about taking the first Star Wars movie that went beyond B-movie sci-fi to become much more tense, suspenseful and epic in tone and then robbing it of all of that.

Nora: A lot of the things that felt fun and cute in Verily, A New Hope really grated on me in this follow-up. We’re transitioning here from a one-off joke to a full-blown series, and it feels like maybe Doescher felt some growing pains in the process. For example, the minor-character soliloquies start to feel excessive, especially when every random creature seems to get one. Do we need the Wampa complaining that he didn’t get to eat Luke and the AT-ATs mourning their fallen comrades and the Exogorth complaining that it didn’t get to eat the Millennium Falcon crew? It’s too much. It’s too much! 

Arezou: Speaking of too much! One of the great things about The Empire Strikes Back is how it gets the action scene out of the way early (regular readers will know I don’t much care for action scenes, either on screen or in text), and the rest is all character development. Even the chase scene with the Falcon is character development for Han and Leia – which OH BOY do I have some feelings on. But in his determination to give every character (and in the case of the AT-ATs, object) a soliloquy, I swear the action scenes went on for far too long. Plus, deep dives into the perspective of the Wampa or Exogorth is best left to things like the FACPOV series, not to a retelling of the whole narrative.

Nora: On a similar note, what’s the end game of R2-D2’s English-language asides? There’s a hint in A New Hope that he has reasons of his own for choosing to speak in beeps and squeaks to the other characters. Is there a payoff coming down the road? Or is this a dead-end gag? 

Apart from feeling repetitive and unnecessary, the excess of soliloquies also kills a lot of the suspense. Lando tells the audience that he’s working with Vader right away (4.3.30-36), which demolishes the ambiguity and anticipation of the scenes in Bespin. Han and Leia spend a ton of time throughout talking to the audience about how much they love each other, which sort of kills the emotional journey. The result is that the payoff falls flat—and not just because Doescher messed with two of the most perfect lines ever written (we’ll come back to this, too!). 

Arezou: One thing we didn’t mention last time, and probably should have, was that everyone no matter if they’re Imperial like Tarkin or more “common” like Han, speaks in verse. Every single one. This book gives us our first prose-speaking character in the form of Boba Fett. The reasoning behind this, according to the Author’s Note is “who better to speak in base prose than the basest of bounty hunters”. Now, taking off my newly-minted Boba-Fett-stan glasses for just a second, I can see why he thought this was a good idea, but I will definitely dive into why I disagree with the choice below for canonical reasons.

Another thing I’m going to circle back to, is that utter lack of suspense. It’s not just because we know the story, but if I were to imagine this as a play being performed, I can’t imagine what on Earth the audience would stick around for when anything worth learning over the course of the story is spelled out for you in very lengthy soliloquies long before they’re supposed to become known.

Nora: I’m sorry to say almost all of Leia’s lines are about Han. This has the effect of reducing Leia to a fawning, puppy-eyed girl rather than a badass future general and current leader of the Resistance. I can only hope that Doescher redeems himself on this front later in the series. 

Arezou: Believe me, readers, we were this close to having a whole section just about Leia again. And in a way we do, as you’ll see. But we decided to leave off harping on her characterization for a second time, mostly because there really is nothing to say. It’s just not there. Her lone speech that isn’t about Han in some way is half about Lando and half about C-3P0?! Come on, Ian.

Canonical Comments – Arezou

The primary problem with this text, from a canonical point of view, is frankly the absolute lack of tension within the story, a story that when seen onscreen never loses that suspenseful quality no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

If you’re reading this book, it is safe to assume this is not your very first time experiencing the story of The Empire Strikes Back. Doescher is assuming this in any case, because significant plot points are so spelled out in advance that if this were the first attempt at telling the story it would be a poor one indeed.

One that Nora briefly touched on above is the reveal – in his very first lines, mind you – that Lando Calrissian is going to betray them to Vader. Now, we already know this going in, but it isn’t just that he hints that betrayal is inevitable. He’s basically dancing out of the building singing “don’t be suspicious”, before debating how exactly he should behave for maximum deception. That taints every single interaction the characters have with him. Though in the film Leia remains wary, we the audience are supposed to waver. Sure she’s nervous, but does she have any reason to be? Then when the deception is discovered we ask ourselves how intentional it was. Can the heroes trust his help now that it’s all over? But we never get that chance here. It’s all spelled out for us.

But the biggest problem is the removal of all the tension surrounding the character of Darth Vader, and specifically his identity as Anakin Skywalker. This is noticeable in two places. The first is when he is contemplating his pursuit of Luke Skywalker and muses to himself “This Skywalker must have some link to my life past” (1.7.50-51). Alrighty then. By this point in the story, you aren’t meant to believe there is any connection between the two other than Vader’s interest in Luke’s abilities with the Force. Until the Emperor tells him that he has reason to believe this Luke is the son of Anakin Skywalker, you never really know what Vader is thinking with regards to Luke. This exchange with the Emperor is also preserved: “–and I have no doubt this boy is kin to Anakin Skywalker” (3.2.33-34) followed by Vader saying in an aside “Yet that the boy is kin to Anakin I did not see” (3.2.38-39). Really?? You didn’t see?? Then what on Earth were you just talking about, with “my life past”. Ian, I have several questions.

Sandwiched between these two moments is a scene that I find so baffling and frustrating that poor Nora has heard me rant about it for far longer than the scene would take to read. Act II scene 6, a scene that is 35 lines long, is the moment in the movie where Admiral Piett walks in on Vader putting his helmet on and tells him they’ve found the Falcon. This is a very brief exchange and yet we have, you guessed it, another soliloquy. But not some personal reflection of Piett’s on how he needs to stay alive or anything. No, here we have him spotting the back Vader’s head and ruminating on the mask he wears both literal and figurative! So here’s the thing.

The beat in the movie is so fast. Like SO fast. Just as you’re saying “wait, what, there’s still a guy in there?”, the helmet is on and it’s back to business. We don’t really get to see Vader’s face until Luke removes his helmet moments before he dies, as he turns to the light. That is the first time we view him as a conflicted man, rather than a mechanical monster. Contrast this to how we meet Kylo Ren in the films. This character could have been Vader-lite if he hadn’t removed his helmet so early in his first movie. But in doing so, we get a pretty clear visual representation of his figurative mask that he wears beneath the literal one, all playing out on his face. Essentially, exactly what we see Piett saying here. Only thing is, this isn’t what we’re supposed to be feeling yet. If we sympathize with him now, then how will we feel horrified when we finally hear him tell Luke he’s his father? If this had come out after The Force Awakens I might have thought Doescher was trying to Kylo Ren the whole thing, but it came out the year before, so it leaves me scratching my head.

The final canonical note I want to touch on is something I mentioned already above and that is Boba Fett and the way he speaks. If we’re going solely based on The Empire Strikes Back then yes, I can understand why you view the character as base. But Doescher published this in 2014. He has the advantage of Attack of the Clones existing for his viewing pleasure. Look at the environment in which Boba spent his childhood. Look at how his father speaks, particularly to Obi-Wan. This is not an uneducated street rat of a man. I’m not suggesting he speak with purple prose that would be out of character. All I’m saying is that by giving him the prose and keeping someone like Han in verse, Boba is being situated “below”, made somehow more base than the scoundrel he is chasing. To Nora’s point below, it also makes me wonder how the other clones as well as Jango Fett will be treated when we meet them in a few months time.

Technical Comments – Nora

I said last time that Doescher sometimes prioritizes metre over poetry, and I feel the same way here. There’s very little (if any) experimentation or variation – even when it would be warranted. There are two significant departures from blank verse, however: Boba Fett speaks in prose—the only character to do so—and Yoda speaks in haiku. The former choice is interesting mostly because of what it implies for future installments in the series: will all the clones speak in prose? 

Yoda’s haiku are another matter. Doescher is at pains to justify this choice to his readers in the “Afterword:” “Yes, I know: Shakespeare never wrote in haiku. […] And yes, I know: the five-seven-five syllable pattern I adhere to in Yoda’s haiku is a modern constraint, not part of the original Japanese poetic form. Most haiku are simpler than Yoda’s lines and do not express complete sentences as Yoda’s haiku do—I know, I know!” (166-67). None of these issues bother me, particularly; what does bother me is Doescher’s invocation of Yoda’s “eastern sensibility” and his assertion that “making all of his lines haiku” helps to “express” the ways in which “Yoda is […] almost like a sensei” (166). In case we were ever in any doubt that it was a white guy writing these things, here’s a pretty strong indicator. 

For whatever it’s worth, I appreciate the difficulty of distinguishing Yoda’s speech when allof your characters are approximating early modern poetry, and therefore just about everyone is already playing with syntax in the way that Yoda does in the movies. The haiku are twee, but I don’t think they’re necessarily problematic of themselves —it’s the reach to “eastern sensibility” and its associated “wisdom” that makes this choice an Orientalist trope rather than merely a playful bit of poetry.  

Doescher creates a similar problem for himself with Darth Vader’s soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 7, which draws upon a well-known speech by Shylock in The Merchant of Venice

–Hath not a Sith eyes

Hath not a Sith such feelings, heart and soul,

As any Jedi Knight did e’er possess?

If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you

Blast us, shall we not injur’d be? If you

Assault with lightsaber, do we not die?

(1.7.32-27)

And so on. I feel compelled to point out Mr. Doescher that being a Sith is not at all the same as being Jewish. If you want to humanize a villain using a well-known speech from Shakespeare, you actually have a lot of options. Richard III! Iago! So! Many! Options! Equating choosing the Dark Side with being Jewish is just deeply, deeply anti-Semitic. If you don’t understand why, please go do the reading and then come back. 

On a more pedantic note, there are some odd moments that stick out to me, as someone who spends an obscene amount of time reading early modern plays. Some of the stage directions are a little funky.  When Luke is in the Wampa’s cave in Act 1, Scene 3, for example, the stage direction reads: “Enter LUKE SKYWALKER, hanging upside down from balcony.” First of all, how does one “enter” while “hanging upside down”? More likely, this kind of entrance would actually be a “discovery,” where a curtain is drawn back and a tableau is revealed, already in place. Early modern theatres actually have a dedicated space for this type of setup, appropriately known to modern scholars as the “discovery space.” This is an opening at the back of the stage that leads into the tiring house (backstage area), which is normally covered by a curtain. This is, for example, the “arras” that Polonius hides behind (and gets stabbed through) in Hamlet

But even beyond that, you wouldn’t really see the word “balcony” in an early modern stage direction—mostly because there’s no evidence that they referred to the railed platform above the stage as a balcony. We mostly see it referred to as a “gallery,” instead, and stage directions that refer to it tend to use the term “above.” See, for example, the so-called “balcony scene” in Romeo and Juliet (Act 2, Scene 2), in which a balcony is never once mentioned. 

Similarly, in Act 1, Scene 5 of The Empire Striketh Back, a stage direction reads: “Enter ZEV aside, flying.” “Aside,” in the early modern theatre, is a really specific term that means a line that only certain people are supposed to hear. An aside might be only to the audience, or it might be to another character. When stage directions call for actors to enter in disparate parts of the stage, they usually use the term “apart.” This is niche, and petty, and I’m probably belabouring the point, but it bugged me.  

Don’t F*ck With Genius

Nora: No, I’m not talking about messing with Shakespeare. Who cares, he’s dead, and a lot of the plays aren’t that great anyway. Yes, that is my professional opinion. 

No, I’m talking about obliterating one of the single greatest romantic exchanges ever to grace a screen. I’m talking about the two lines that, perhaps more than any others, have inspired otherwise vanilla couples to test out a little bedroom role play. I’m talking about that pinnacle of emotional payoffs: 

Leia: I love you

Han: I know

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Doescher ruins it. How?! I hear you ask. How could he possibly destroy such an iconic, beautiful, perfectly simple and yet unbearably heavy moment? Reader, I do not know. 

Arezou: I do. He ruined it with soliloquies.

The closer we got to this scene, the more apprehensive I got. Every other dialogue exchange resulted in monologues that went on for way too long, even when it was something that should have been a quick exchange or even total silence, like with Piett’s scene mentioned above. So I went into that carbon freezing chamber on Bespin fully prepared for “I love you/I know” to transform into two very long, overwrought confessions of love that Darth Vader and Boba Fett would for some reason be very happen to stand around and listen to. Such was my relief that that didn’t happen, that I didn’t even clock how flat this line falls the first time around.

Nora: I suspect that, if we asked him, Doescher would try to make this a verse issue. I am here to tell you that “I love you. / I know.” works perfectly well as an iamb (light-strong) followed by an anapest (light-light-strong), which is a construction that Shakespeare uses pretty regularly. In addition, there are lots of verse experts who would say that—particularly in his earlier plays—Shakespeare’s characters tend to use messed-up verse when they’re experiencing strong emotions. Strong emotions like, perhaps, knowing you might never see your love again because one of you is about to be frozen in carbonite?? Yep, emotions like those. So it’s well within the realm of poetic possibilities for this to be a half-line with an anapest. That wouldn’t even be the weirdest thing Shakespeare ever did with verse. 

But apart from any of that, Doescher just makes the line bad. The beauty of “I love you. /I know.” is its simplicity, the emotional weight of their entire relationship up to this point condensed into five words. The stakes of it are so flippin’ high, and they have only seconds to get the message through. “O, I do love thee wholly, Han” sounds more like teenage Juliet on her non-existent balcony than like Leia, a commander who has lived her entire adult life in war. 

Just try to picture Carrie Fisher hurling that line to Harrison Ford in a wave of fear, anger, and sorrow, the way she does so beautifully in the movie. You can’t. You cannot do it. Because it’s a terrible line. 

Arezou: Let’s talk stakes and strong emotions for a second. Part of what makes this line so beautiful is the desperation of it. You can feel the emotion building to a boiling point, within Leia, made all the more prominent because everything about Han indicates that the man has given up. The body language is defeated, he doesn’t have a witty comeback. They just tortured him and didn’t even ask any questions. This is a man who knows its over and there is no point. Whatever he feels for Leia, there’s no point in telling her. As far as he knows he has seconds left to live, so why saddle her with that?

Then we have Leia. Her entire future is in flux, her life after this moment is so up in the air she doesn’t know if she’s going to have to live on Bespin forever or end up back in the clutches of the Empire. Everything about her fate is, as far as she knows, in the hands of others. But her feelings, her heart and who it belongs to, those are things she can still control for the time being. And so, as her emotions hit that boiling point, in a last minute move, the last she might ever get to make for herself, she simply tells Han “I love you.”

That’s some good shit right there.

Up above, I went on and on about the lack of suspense throughout the book, and unfortunately Han and Leia do not escape unscathed. They spend most of the movie together, and are snarking at each other almost the entire time. It’s that crackly banter that makes them such a memorable couple. The appeal in their banter – and in similar dynamics in other pieces of media – is that while the words themselves are indifferent or even rude, it is what they are not saying that reveals where their hearts lie. The space in between the words to so speak. The line “Captain, being held by you isn’t quite enough to get me excited”, doesn’t look like the thing a woman wrestling with her feelings would say. But the way she says it? That tells another story entirely.

Some of their banter absolutely works. Act III scene 1 in particular gives me some strong Beatrice/Benedick vibes (sorry Nora, I know you don’t like Much Ado About Nothing!). In small doses this dialogue is fine. But the problem is that ALL of their dialogue is like that. They are constantly openly flirting with one another and using the word “love” in their asides to the audience! Love!! Why do we know about the love they have before they tell the other?

If Doescher wanted to add some flavour to his ceaseless soliloquies (and hey, maybe even give Leia some character growth?) then he might have made at least some of her asides about how she’s afraid to let herself fall in love because literally everyone and everything she has ever loved blew to pieces. Can she trust her heart with another again, and let down her walls? Give her a little conflict! Take the implied and make it explicit! But then, we’d have to cut the Wampa speech and we can’t have that.

Nora: If it absolutely had to be more Shakespeare-y, he could have just done “I love thee.” That would’ve worked. That would’ve been fine. Instead, we have this overwrought nonsense. 

Arezou: Imagine for a second if he’d decided not to change a thing. Just keep it as “I love you/I know”. It doesn’t fall in at all with the meter that comes before or after. It would be jarring. And therein lies its power. The moment takes the audiences breath away every single time, and that would have been his opportunity to do it in text. But no. We can’t have nice things.

***

Next month we wrap up our look at the Original Trilogy with The Jedi Doth Return! Join us then!

Special thank you to my collaborator on this series:

Nora is a Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama and Literature at the University of Essex. She is currently working on her first book, Canonical Misogyny: Staging Sexual Violence in Early Modern Performance. You can follow her on Twitter @noraj_williams

Biweekly Book Review: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Commentary by: Arezou Amin and Dr. Nora Williams

In time so long ago begins our play; In star-crossed galaxy far, far away

We all knew this was coming. It was only a matter of time before I started covering the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series by Ian Doescher. In a new feature, once a month the Biweekly Book Review will be covering one of the books in this series, in between the newer releases!

But in an exciting turn of events, I won’t be diving into this alone! I am delighted to say I will be joined by my university friend Dr. Nora Williams, a Star Wars fan and all around amazing human with a PhD in Early Modern Drama.

We’ll be going in release order rather than story order, so let’s kick things off with the first volume: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars; Verily, A New Hope

Overall Impressions

Arezou: I laughed out loud when I first saw these books at the store, because really, on at first glance it’s quite funny to imagine campy sci-fi served on an English Lit 101 plate. But the longer I sat with it, the more natural it seemed. Both Star Wars and Shakespeare are such widely known cultural touchstones in the English speaking world. How many of us have referred to one or the other – or possibly both – when trying to make a larger point about storytelling, because that’s what our listener would recognize most readily?

Nora: I love the idea of this series and of combining two such recognizable and beloved entities. Star Wars tolerates a high level of camp and silliness, as does Shakespeare, so overall it’s a good marriage. The illustrations are great fun—kudos to Nicholas Delort for hitting the right balance between recognizable Star Wars characters and vaguely ‘Renaissance’ costume elements.

I particularly liked the idea of adding soliloquies for characters like Darth Vader and R2-D2 (although, as I’ll mention again later, I was disappointed that Leia didn’t get much solo time with the audience. (Get it? “Solo.”)). These added a great bit of originality to a text that otherwise replicates the film almost shot-for-shot. I also loved the idea of R2 as a deep intellectual who chooses only to communicate in beeps and squeaks for his own ends. 

Arezou: Although I strongly dislike the way Leia gets overlooked, I will say, that I’m glad he took advantage of the way the medium allows for multiple soliloquies to expand on characters that otherwise don’t get a lot of time and probably should. The one I’m thinking of in particular is Uncle Owen’s soliloquy (1.4), which I’ll talk about a bit more below.

I know for many the appeal of Star Wars lies in the pew-pew and the space battles and the action, but what always strikes a chord with me is the characters, their personal journey and their interactions with others. Shakespeare’s style doesn’t really lend itself to extended fight scenes – not that Doescher doesn’t try, which we’ll see – so I really went in expecting a lot of characters self-reflection, which we definitely got.

Nora: There are some really fun callbacks to Shakespeare’s plays, including the opening sonnet-chorus from Romeo and Juliet, and a mash-up of ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen’ from Julius Caesar with the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V in 5.4. That latter speech, in particular, positions Luke as a “leader of men” in a way that the film doesn’t quite, I think—interesting to see that development through the use of speeches and soliloquies. It does make me wonder if Doescher intended to stop after this first book, because he does kind of go for broke on the Shakespeare references here—pretty much every famous speech gets a nod somewhere. 

Arezou: Since my first year of university, I haven’t really had to read or engage with Shakespeare on a critical level. The most I’ve done is passively watch adaptations of some of his work. So when we say that he’s really going for it with the references, we mean it. And they are obvious. I haven’t even read Henry V and I recognized the St. Crispin’s Day speech. For crying out loud, after the Chorus does their title crawl prologue, the first line is “Now is the summer of our happiness/Made winter by this sudden fierce attack”. This parallel to the opening lines of Richard III is so clear, that as soon as I read it I thought “Oh it’s that kind of adaptation.” I’m curious to see if he maintains this degree of well-known callback or scales it back once it becomes clear he’s going to write more of these.

Nora: It was also really interesting to see how Doescher developed a story that is a textbook example of the three-act structure into a five-act play. I did think that the ‘second act’ of A New Hope took a while to get going—we didn’t even get Luke and the gang onto Vader’s starship until Act 4—but otherwise I think it mapped surprisingly well.

Arezou: Whenever I had to teach three-act structure to high school students, I would use A New Hope as my frame of reference (whenever the kids had actually seen it, that is). That said the translation to five-act went over pretty smoothly thanks to the changing set pieces within the story, even if some of them turned out pretty short, and others felt longer than they should have.

Nora: I also note that Doescher takes absolutely no stance on the “who shot first” debate in the Han/Greedo cantina shootout (3.2). The stage direction just reads “They shoot. Greedo dies.” That’s an appropriately brief direction for a Shakespeare-style play, so I guess the debate will rage on! 

Technical Comments – Nora

While it’s impressive that Doescher was able to sustain iambic pentameter over 3,076 lines (172), I did feel that sometimes he prioritized metre over poetry. By that I mean: even Shakespeare doesn’t marry himself to that steady, repetitive metre for the length of an entire play! There are certain lines that feel stilted or awkward because they’re crammed into the iambic pentameter, and the metre sometimes suggests alternate pronunciations that don’t exist elsewhere in the universe (see “Coruscant” scanned as “Cor-oo-scant” rather than the more usual “Cor-oo-scant” in 1.6.3). It also could’ve done with a scene or two in prose. In fact, I would’ve been really excited by an approach that thought about which characters might speak in verse versus prose, and under what circumstances. What if the Imperial register felt more stately and restricted, while the Rebellion’s verse felt freer? Or perhaps Leia—princess, diplomat, future general, overall badass—might speak in verse in her official capacity but in prose with Han and Luke? It will be interesting to see how Doescher’s verse style develops as the series goes on; he may, like Shakespeare, start experimenting more in his later works.  

We typically say that Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed, not to be read. I think we could complicate that idea a little bit (after all, the plays usually survive to the present day in the form of texts designed for readers!), but: this strikes me as a text written with readers rather than actors in mind. One reason for this is that the Chorus seems to take on an explanatory role much more often than we see that in early modern plays. While Shakespeare’s most famous Choruses (Henry V and Romeo and Juliet) do provide summaries of the action, they don’t typically describe action that we would be able to see with our own eyes, or gloss the characters’ emotions. Doescher’s Chorus does just that, however; see, for example, his comment on Luke’s first encounter with his father’s lightsaber: 

Now holdeth Luke the weapon in his hand, 

And with a switch the blade explodes in blue.

The noble light Luke’s rev’rence doth command: 

That instant was a Jedi born anew.

(2.2.58-61)

Particularly the line about the “Luke’s rev’rence” strikes me as explaining an emotional state that a theatre or film audience would be able to see through the actor’s performance. This isn’t necessarily a critique; it’s just interesting to note. 

Canonical Comments – Arezou

The text doesn’t mess too much with Star Wars canon, it’s a fairly straightforward retelling of the story. There are however, little moments that jumped out at me.

This book decides to include Han’s confrontations with both Greedo (3.1) and Jabba (3.3), the latter of which is something added in the special editions. As someone who doesn’t mind the special edition DVD’s (I especially like the inclusion of Hayden Christiansen as Anakin’s ghost) the one scene I could’t wrap my mind around was the inclusion of the Jabba scene. First of all, it removes some of the mystique surrounding him, it lessens the stakes of Han’s conversation with Greedo and on that note, it’s also the exact same conversation a second time. Han’s line in the film, “even I get boarded sometimes. Do you think I had a choice?” is repeated twice, as is his line in the play: “even I from time to time have boarded been. Dost though believe that e’er I had the choice”. Doescher makes the meta-textual joke here, by having Han say that he’s already said this once before, but it’s so blink-and-you-miss it. Also interesting that he takes the approach of definitively going with the special editions as far as these scenes are concerned, but as Nora said, doesn’t take a stance on who shot first!

Though neither of us cared for the exclusion of Leia when it came to who got a soliloquy (more below) I will say I love that Uncle Owen got one. Leia’s identity onscreen is wholly separate from her biological parents. She has Bail and Breha’s last name, she is fully a part of Alderaanian society. She is, without question, their daughter. Luke, on the other hand, has retained his father’s last name rather than taking on the one of the family that actually raised him. Therefore it becomes a lot easier for the audience to forget that Owen and Beru are the ones that raised him, that made him the man he is. They’re the ones who loved him, bandaged his scraped knees and took him to Tosche station before he was old enough to drive himself. All this to say that I loved Owen’s monologue reflecting on giving up his own dreams to raise Luke and create a stable home for him (1.4). Darth Vader might be your father, Luke, but Owen is 100% your dad.

Where’s Leia?!?!

Nora: When I saw Vader’s first little soliloquy in 1.2, I immediately started fantasizing about a Leia soliloquy (or several). What an opportunity to build up a character who is beloved of so many but doesn’t get as many lines as the dudes in the movies!! Alas, my hopes were dashed. While Vader, R2-D2, C-3PO, Luke Skywalker, Uncle Owen, Obi-Wan, random Stormtroopers, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Han Solo all have soliloquies and asides—that is, moments when they speak directly to the audience—Leia has not a single line alone on stage or in confidence with the audience until 5.1. Even in that scene—her first opportunity for direct address in the entire play—she shares the stage with Luke, and Doescher draws a equivalency between Luke’s loss of Owen, Beru, and Obi-Wan with Leia loss of *checks notes* her entire planet including her father and the leadership of the Rebellion. 

Arezou: A never-ending source of annoyance to me is the way Luke’s loss of 3 people – two of whom were his parents in practice if not in name, sure, but the third of whom was a guy he knew for…hours at most? – is given more weight that Leia’s loss of her home, her family, everything and everyone she’s ever known. At least she has some opportunity to lament her loss in this when she does not in the film, but I really resent the way it’s sandwiched between Luke’s similar laments, and the conclusion drawn is that both are bad, but Leia is resolved to pour her grief into helping Luke through his?? I understand that Luke is the protagonist of the story, he is the audience’s guide and he is the one whose origins we got a glimpse of. In 1977, we had seen Owen, Beru and Obi-Wan, but had no context for Alderaan, Queen Breha, Bail Organa or their role in building the rebellion, so I can reluctantly admit that from an audience standpoint, it might feel more natural to sympathize with Luke because we have experienced his loss as well to an extent.

But Doescher is at an advantage – he’s writing this in 2013. The Disney acquisition is on the horizon, the prequels are not only out, but are currently being rewatched and appreciated by an entire generation that either dismissed them or grew up feeling ashamed of loving them. By this point, most are familiar with Bail Organa and his role in the rebellion at the very least. Arguably, we are more familiar with Bail than we are with Owen and Beru (is my “Bail Organa is the best – and hottest – dad in the galaxy” bias showing? It might be), so why not grant a little more time to Leia allowing her to feel her loss. You can tie it back in to Luke and his struggle at the end if you absolutely must. That might actually be really in character for Leia, who we know canonically tends to put literally everyone else’s problems ahead of her own.

Nora: I’m salty about this partly because I’m writing a book at the moment about the misogynist dramaturgies of Shakespeare’s plays. My basic argument is that early modern plays tend to support patriarchy through their very structures—their “bones,” as it were—and as much as I like a lot of elements of Verily, A New Hope, I do have to note that it falls right into that very same trap. Moments of direct address like soliloquies and asides create opportunities for the audience to peer inside a character’s mind, and to access their inner thoughts and feelings. When certain characters get those opportunities and others don’t, that’s a choice that the playwright makes, and it has consequences for how we are invited to see and understand the characters. I mentioned before that the play positions Luke as a “leader of men” by giving him its equivalents of Shakespeare’s infamous battle cry speeches, like the St Crispin’s Day speech (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” etc.). He also gets the most introspective speeches, like Doescher’s equivalent of “Alas, poor Yorkic” from Hamlet. Why not give that speech to Leia, who has been with the Rebellion for more than a hot second and has lost on a scale that Luke, at this point in his hero’s journey, would struggle to comprehend? Why do droids get more opportunity to develop their subjectivities through direct address than Leia? 

While we’re here, I was actually a little annoyed that the big St Crispin’s Day, rallying the troops speech didn’t go to Leia, who has actually taken up a leadership position as a result of her father’s death on Alderaan. It felt jarring to me that Luke had suddenly stepped into that role just by virtue of what? being sort of a Jedi? as of five minutes ago? I don’t know. I would’ve liked Doescher to take the opportunity to give Leia more of a role, especially given all the development she’s had in the universe since the original trilogy’s release. 

Arezou: This is another of those things I’m interested in watching develop through the books. Will Leia stay in the background or take a more prominent role as she does in the films? Another huge missed opportunity, which granted would have taken liberties with the text of the film – but then again R2-D2 talks so I guess we aren’t worried about that – would be to give Leia her big introspective monologue right after the Empire tortures her. Though she gets absolutely no time on screen to process her torture, or the fact that the man who ordered it done was her biological father, I’d argue the moment is hugely important for who she is as a character down the line. This is one of the reasons she cannot ever bring herself to truly forgive Vader and accept his redemption (oh look, I brought up Bloodline again), and I’d also argue that seeing a man so far fallen to the dark that he cannot recognize his family in the Force is part of what terrifies her about her son’s fall to the dark later (oh and I brought up Ben Solo. You’re all shocked I’m sure). I know Doescher didn’t know any of this at the time, the Bloodline or the Ben stuff, but it is an indication of how little the text of the film considers Leia’s struggles important, that it is so easy to bypass the torture and resulting internal struggle of one of your main characters.

****

Join us next month for our next instalment: The Empire Striketh Back.

Special thank you to my collaborator on this series:

Nora is a Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama and Literature at the University of Essex. She is currently working on her first book, Canonical Misogyny: Staging Sexual Violence in Early Modern Performance. You can follow her on Twitter @noraj_williams

Biweekly Book Review: The High Republic: Into The Dark

New year, new Star Wars era, and now…a new book by Claudia Gray *squeals*.

Of all the High Republic books, this is the one I was most looking forward to. I was not disappointed in my anticipation. Looking to the future though, Claudia is the only High Republic author who hasn’t been confirmed for any future books yet, though she is working on something Star Wars (Obitine please please please yes I know that isn’t High Republic shhh). But that’s the future. Let’s turn our focus to the here and now, and take a look at Into the Dark by Claudia Gray.

Because this is a very new release, I’m going to change things slightly:

*The “story” section will not contain spoilers, only plot and my opinion. The rest of the review will have spoilers. Proceed with caution.*

The Story

Jedi Padawan Reath Silas is being sent to the frontier to meet up with his Master, Jora Malli. He is going thoroughly against his will because he would rather stay in the Core than venture out into the unknown of the Outer Rim. But go he must. He is accompanied on his trip by three fellow Jedi – Master Cohmac, Wayseeker Orla, and Jedi Knight Dez Rydan – as well as the crew of the Vessel, the, well, vessel charged with taking them to the Starlight Beacon, crewed by Captain Leox Gyasi, teenager Affie Hollow and a giant rock named Geode.

A lot of characters, yes. But all are given their due here.

The “Great Disaster” that informs the entire High Republic era does not spare those onboard the Vessel, and they are knocked out of hyperspace in the middle of nowhere. Well, almost nowhere. There is an old abandoned waystation floating out there. What could possibly go wrong?

They rally the rest of the ships stranded in the area and coordinate shelter on the station until they can contact the Republic for assistance. While there, the crew faces strange, unseen threats from the station itself, as well as individual crises about what it means to be them, their relationships with the people in their lives and what it is they really want.

Did that sound corny? Yes. Does it sound corny in the book? Absolutely not, because as usual Claudia Gray masterfully weaves beautiful character development and internal growth and struggle with the more action-driven scenes that are a hallmark of Star Wars books.

OK on to the deep dive stuff (I had a very hard time narrowing this list down):

Spoilers begin below

5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. The Jedi and their relationship to the Order

Yes I realize this takes up the bulk of the novel, what of it?

There are four prominently featured Jedi in this book, and we get to know all of them really well. It occurred to me, however, that unlike in Light of the Jedi, as we get to know them, we don’t really get a sense of how they perceive the Force (like the way Avar sees it as music, or Elzar the sea). Instead, we get a look at how they perceive the Jedi.

Reath is still a Padawan, and still learning how to walk the line between what he wants and what is expected of him. In this way, he is a lot like Imri and Vernestra from A Test of Courage, which makes sense because they’re all the same age.

Dez loves being a Jedi and longs for action and adventure, until those desires are the catalyst for the profound struggle he undergoes later, at which point he decides to take a step back from public life to heal his connection to the Force.

Then there are Orla and Cohmac. As Padawans, both were present during a hostage crisis where Cohmac’s master was killed, as was one of the hostages they were meant to protect. Cohmac, in his grief doubles down on the teachings of the Jedi, chastising himself for grieving for his master at all, even while he envies others the ability to mourn openly. Meanwhile, Orla holds herself responsible for the death of the hostage. She listened to the instructions of the Jedi Council, at the expense of not listening to what the Force was telling her. Both leave the experience disillusioned, but while Cohmac doubles down on his commitment to the order, even taking on Reath as a Padawan by the end, Orla remains determined to leave the order without actually leaving, becoming a Wayseeker (essentially a gap-year Jedi) to live out in the world and reconnect with the Force in that way – though not as harshly as Dez intends to.

Most of the time when we’ve seen the Jedi in a temple setting prior to the High Republic, it has been during the Prequel era. It is the final days of the order, it is wartime and nothing operates as it should. The exception is Dooku: Jedi Lost, and I think this expertly builds on that foundation: the Jedi do not view their place in the galaxy, or their relationship with the Force or the Jedi Order as a monolith. I am eager to see if we come across these characters again to expand even more on their arcs in this book.

2. The Drengir

When they first announced the High Republic, when all the synopses and character cards were coming out, we also got the names of our two groups of villains. One was the Nihil, the other was the Drengir, who are sentient plant monsters.

After two books centring the Nihil as the villains, I just assumed they would be the “book” villains and the Drengir would be comic book villains. I was extremely wrong.

While the Nihil are in this book a little, the primary antagonists are the Drengir, who are sentient plant life as I mentioned. But this is less “Little Shop of Horrors” than it sounds.

The Drengir are mysteriously strong with the Dark side. So strong that the Sith that discovered them on the way station felt the need to bind them in place and isolate them there so they wouldn’t get out.

If the Sith are scared of them, just how scary are they? We don’t see a lot of them in this book, but what we do see – particularly with Dez Rydan – is chilling. Honestly, they scare me more than the Nihil do. I kind of understand where the Nihil are coming from. But how do you reason with murderous plants?

3. The Nihil. Again.

OK I said they weren’t in this much, and they aren’t. But shout out to this book for sneaking them in there just a little. Two of the refugees they meet at the way station are Nihil in disguise (something that took me an embarrassingly long time to notice considering how much I like them).

While this pays off later, the real highlight is the last half page of the book, when the same Nihil refugee goes to Marchion Ro to seek his help. I have nothing intelligent to add here, I just love Marchion so much that I’ll take any scraps I can get until the next book comes out.

4. Dez Rydan

You ever meet a character and you just love them right away and would possibly risk it all for them? That is Dez Rydan, for me.

Dez is Jora Malli’s former Padawan, and is a big brother type for Reath. The kind of confident action-loving Jedi who makes a nice counterpart for his bookish “little brother”.

So when I thought he just died in a vaporizing poof halfway through the book, I was…upset to say the least. I should have known better. Claudia would never.

Instead, Reath accidentally ends up on a world overrun with Drengir, after stepping into the same room Dez “died” in and realizing it’s actually an escape pod. He (and we) logically assume that Dez might not be dead. And we’re right. Except Dez has been so tortured by the Drengir – who again, are so Dark Side it scared the Sith – and his connection with the Force is fractured. On return to Coruscant he vows to go into isolation to repair that connection.

What he’s going through, being so close to losing himself to the Dark only to get pulled back is fascinating, and not really something we’ve seen before. We haven’t seen a Jedi get that close and not actually fall. I hope he comes back, I would love to explore that more, maybe give him more of a POV?

But for now, he’s off to exile himself and heal. My poor baby boy. Is it even a Claudia Gray book if your heart doesn’t get curb stomped? I think not.

5. Affie and her cause

Affie is a teenager, yes, a teenager with aspirations. As the foster daughter of the leader of the Byne Guild. On the station, she discovers symbols that the Guild pilots have left behind, including her own parents. This leads her to investigate the practices of the guild as a whole, convinced the pilots are cheating her foster mother.

What she discovers instead is the Guild’s extreme indentured servitude practices.

So Star Wars has a slavery problem. It comes up…a lot. It’s outlawed in the Republic, even this far back in the timeline but exists in the form of indentured servitude. Books are usually stuck in that they can’t solve the problem if the universe at large hasn’t done it yet. But this book brings it up, and then takes active steps to address the injustice.

Granted it’s a small scale thing. Affie finds out that the Guild operated on indentured servitude and turns her foster mother in to the Republic. Does it solve the widespread problem? No. But it was a great surprise considering I thought this subplot would just end with a resolution to do something about it at some undetermined time in the future, and then never talk about it again.

6. The flashbacks

Here we are at my “thing I didn’t” like in a Claudia Gray book which, as usual, is the nitpickiest of nitpicks. On a few occasions the book cuts away to a mission “twenty-five years ago”, when Orla and Cohmac were Padawans. The mission is crucial to the story, both in the feeling of helplessness it instills in them that is eerily similar to their current mission, but also in the way it informs their individual views of the Jedi Order.

It’s a very engaging subplot, but at times felt so spread out that it would take me a minute to get back into the flow of it. I don’t know what my recommended fix would be, and honestly it wasn’t that jarring. Maybe make each flashback section a little longer?

Random Thoughts

Geode, a member of the crew of the Vessel is literally a giant rock. No features, no voice, no nothing. But apparently he is something of a party animal. And can move around on his own. I have no idea how any of this works, but the mental image of a giant rock just kinda showing up and scaring the shit out of whoever happens to be around is hysterical. If we ever get a movie or show set in the High Republic, I want Geode in it for this reason alone.

A great detail from new canon that I absolutely love is that the Jedi Temple on Coruscant is built on the remains of a Sith Temple. It’s also, in my opinion, a greatly under-utilized, so any time it comes up I am a happy camper. More interconnections in my stories, please.

Reath doesn’t want to go to the Outer Rim because there might be bugs there. If this isn’t the biggest mood…

The people of Zeitooine are called the “Zeit”, which now makes me wonder if the people of Tatooine are called the “Tat”.

AMAXINE WARRIOR CALLBACK. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I absolutely love Bloodline (I have? Several times? That tracks). The Amaxine Warriors were first brought up in that book as the paramilitary force that everyone thought long extinct. In actuality, they were biding their time and would go on to play a part in the rise of the First Order. Why are they mentioned here? Because they are the ones who built the way station that most of the book is set on. Who knows if they’ll come back, but it was cool to see them while we did.

Biweekly Book Review: The High Republic: A Test of Courage

The adventure into the High Republic continues, and with it comes something novel: an adventure centred entirely around kids!

If you go back, you can see that I generally don’t take to the Star Wars middle grade books. However, I also acknowledge that I’m not exactly the target audience for these books. But if this is any indication of where the MG books are headed going forward, I cannot wait. I absolutely loved it. Let’s take a closer look at why, and dive into A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland.

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

Vernestra (a 16 year old Jedi knight), Imri (a 14 year old padawan), Honesty (a 12 year old ambassador’s son) and Avon (an 11 year old senator’s daughter) are all on board a ship bound for the dedication ceremony of the Starlight Beacon station.

Then it explodes.

Not quite all at once though. The adults have just enough time to spare the kids from immediate death, allowing them to hop on a service shuttle and escape. The circumstances surrounding the explosion are suspicious, made even more so by the fact that the service shuttle has clearly been sabotaged. Through a combination of their skills, they wind up on an uninhabited moon too far out of the way for anyone to pass by accidentally, and plagued with acidic rain making long term survival difficult.

They are followed by the two Nihil responsible for the destruction of their ship, who have been tasked with hunting them down and finishing them off. In delightful fashion, the four of them must band together and each use their individual strengths to try and get a rescue signal out while trying not to get killed by the environment or their pursuers.

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. The New Characters

As I mentioned in my summary, A Test of Courage centres around 4 kids: Vernestra, Imri, Honesty and Avon. Because the whole book is just about the four of them on one mission, and they are together for most of it, we get to know them all really well. When the cast is too large, there’s always a bit of an imbalance, but each of them was given equal time and weight.

Vernestra is a prodigy. She passed her Jedi trials and became a knight at 15 (for reference, Obi Wan is about 25 in The Phantom Menace and still a padawan). We see her struggling with responsibilities and roles that would still usually be left to older, more experienced Jedi, and their situation means she has to rise to the challenge of taking care of a bunch of children, who in a lot of ways are still her peers.

Imri, a padawan, is keen to move on and take the trials. He sees what Vernestra has accomplished and wants the same for himself. He is very attached to his Master, who dies in the explosion, and is overcome with grief and anger, which allows the Dark side to creep in and influence him. In this way, he reminds me a lot of Anakin Skywalker. But where the two differ is in two key areas: Imri is not confident in his skills. He had no confidence at all until his Master picked him to train. The other way they differ is that Imri is an empath (though he hasn’t officially been identified as such). He can feel the emotions of others around him with ease, and is so overwhelmed by the grief of one of their party members that it influences and fuels his own, and drives his actions.

Honesty is the other child experiencing crushing grief. His father was one of the adults killed in the explosion, and he has a lot of regrets about their relationship and about how he spoke to, and treated his father in their last conversation together. He has goals and dreams of his own, but isn’t allowed to pursue them in the way that is customary for his people. By the end he has to find a way to make his skill set work for the team, and learn to let go, Of all of them, I feel like he got the most ambiguous closure, but I feel like he’s going to play a big role in the next stories we get with these characters, if the epilogue is any indication.

And last – but certainly not least – we have Avon. She is the daughter of a Senator who has been raised for the most part by relatives, and then later by a series of droids. As a result, she has a highly logical, scientific way of looking at things but has a much harder time connecting with people on a human level. Despite this, she and Honesty form a friendship that I found to be really really sweet. She also has a difficult time processing unspoken motivations, particularly when it comes to her mother, spending most of her time thinking she is unloved until everyone else points out that everything her mother does, she does out of love for her daughter.

2. Smaller scale (but not smaller stakes)

Unlike Light of the Jedi, this book does not try to set up the galaxy-wide Great Disaster. Nor should it. For one, we already have a book covering that, and for another, if it shifted through all those perspectives, a younger reader might get very lost very quickly. Instead, we get a quick recap of events via the characters merely discussing them over dinner.

But just because this book is smaller in scale and focused only on the four main characters one one singular adventure in one location, does NOT mean that the stakes feel any lower. They’re certainly different stakes – their own lives are at risk, not the lives of people they’ve been tasked to save – but they’re no less important.

This was a positive both for this book – we got a lot of time to get to know the characters better – and for the High Republic books in general. It’s reassuring to see that not every book is going to try and tell the same grand widespread story, and that there is plenty of space to slow down and let the characters have room to grow and drive the story.

3. Jedi and Padawans from a new point of view

One thing I really really wanted out of the High Republic was a look at life among the Jedi. Their systems within the temple, the dynamics between a master and apprentice in a conventional non-war setting. Most importantly I wanted to see this from a padawan’s perspective, which up until now has been sorely lacking. But this book delivered.

Also, not to get too much off topic, but it also confirmed/developed a lot of things I liked to assume about the Jedi.

Imri’s grief over his Master’s death makes him spiral. And why wouldn’t it. As Honesty points out, Master Douglas loved and believed in Imri the way a parent is supposed to, so in a way Imri is mourning the loss of his father (*quick pause while I wallow in my Qui Gon and Obi Wan feels*). But added to that is the fact that I still don’t think the Jedi teach their padawans how to manage their emotions in a healthy way. Or, at least, they don’t do it early enough. Imri is completely left adrift and goes right for the Dark at his lowest point.

Then we have Vernestra. This is her first big test as the senior most Jedi, so most of her story is taken up with her becoming a leader and learning what that means. I’m curious about her potential. I’d love the chance to dive deeper into what she was like as a padawan, while also seeing how she continues to grow and develop.

The Jedi are far and away my favourite part of The High Republic so far, and this book is a big reason why.

4. The Nihil

What a strange thing for me to list as my “dislike” considering the Nihil are one of my favourite parts of the whole High Republic. But hear me out.

I already said in my Light of the Jedi review that the Nihil read, to me, like people who are having their space colonized by the Republic. Marchion Ro all but says as much. But this book puts a huge focus on the works of the Jedi, and the Republic, and their benevolence in creating the Starlight Beacon so far out in the Outer Rim. On the other hand, the Nihil are painted as violent and murderous – which they are – but are not given any motivation.

I understand this might be a feature of Middle Grade books. You really hammer in that one assumption, and then have it slowly deconstructed in subsequent books. There is a line in the book about how awful colonization is to the people that are already living somewhere. So I have no doubt this will be addressed down the line. I just wish we had a bit more of a hint of it here.

Random Thoughts and Lingering Questions

In their talk about the kinds of luxury starliners people can take across the galaxy, they mention “Chandrila Star Lines”, which if I’m not mistaken is the in-universe fleet that the new Star Wars hotel is supposed to be in. With that park-related tie-in, I’m also choosing to believe the “Galaxy Tours” line is supposed to be a reference to “Star Tours”

Glenna Kip is mentioned in this book. You might remember Glenna Kip as the artifact hunter from Spark of Resistance. Which is set 250 years after this. Which now begs the question – how old is Glenna Kip?? (Was it mentioned and I just missed it? Possible)

Vernestra’s lightsaber can turn into a whip. A WHIP. This is apparently Nightsister tech, which makes me wonder if down the line Vernestra is going to have her struggles with the Dark side the way Imri did.

Biweekly Book Review: The High Republic: Light of the Jedi

Welcome back to the Biweekly Book Review, and more importantly, welcome to the High Republic, brand-new era of storytelling set some 200 years before The Phantom Menace!

If I was excited for this new publishing program before, purely because it meant more books to read, it’s nothing compared to how pumped I am now that I’ve actually started reading it. So let’s dive right in with the first story: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule.

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

Light of the Jedi has the thankless task of not only setting up and executing the story of this book specifically, but also for the High Republic era as a whole. Yes, technically the first book in each series can be read in any order, but for those looking to read all of them, this is the one that sets up the world. Not to mention the catalyst for the events of the entire High Republic series of stories happens here.

Speaking of.

A ship called the Legacy Run is destroyed by an unknown entity somewhere in hyperspace, an event which becomes known as “The Great Disaster”. An odd enough occurrence on its own. But the ensuing destruction is also causing untold chaos in the Outer Rim as chunks of the ship fall out of hyperspace at random intervals and at such high velocity that they destroy anything and everything they come into contact with.

The Outer Rim system of Hetzal receives the first several pieces of debris and is faced with total destruction. Fortunately a group of Jedi are close enough to aid them. Led by Master Avar Kriss, they manage to avert disaster for the most part, but then find themselves wrapped up in the Republic investigation into what exactly happened.

Meanwhile, in an obscure corner of the Outer Rim, a threat is emerging, in the form of ruthless marauders known as the Nihil. They don’t fight for the Republic, or the Sith, or any larger entity. They are only out for themselves, and they resent the encroachment of the Republic on their territory. They seek to use the chaos caused by the Great Disaster to their own advantage. However their leader Marchion Ro has reasons of his own for getting involved.

5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. The Jedi at their peak

The Jedi are a strange bunch. But I love them so much. Some people in this fandom are pilot people, or Empire people, or smuggler people. I am a Jedi person.

The tragedy of the prequel trilogy is that you get shades of who the Jedi are, and who they used to be, particularly in The Phantom Menace. Though they never dive into it, you get a sense of the long history, of the dynamics of the Jedi order. You get the sense that they used to be great, all while you watch their world crumble around them.

This is them pre-crumble. When the whole galaxy knows who they are. When they are operating at their very peak, not stretched thin and exhausted by war. The High Republic is going to feature them prominently and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t plant seeds for their inevitable fall. We already see shades of it, in the way the Republic relies on them so heavily for their investigation.

The new era of Jedi stories also means a lot of new (well, “new”) tech we haven’t experienced before. My personal favourite is the Jedi star fighters. Not because I’ve suddenly started caring about starships, but because they’re actually powered, at least in part, by the lightsaber of the Jedi piloting it.

2. Avar Kriss + Elzar Mann 4ever

My poor, romantic shipper heart never stood a chance with these two.

They’re old friends, they apparently used to be a thing when they were Padawans, and they both secretly want to retire with the other one to a quiet retreat on Naboo.

I MEAN.

You know what really gets me here? The pining. The fact that they clearly clearly still want to be together but can’t because of their Jedi vows.

Beyond that personal connection, they also have a special connection within the Force. Though Avar is already hyperaware of others in the Force, more than we’ve seen in a character before, the connection she shares with Elzar feels different. They are very connected to each other, it doesn’t feel as one sided as it does between Avar and the other Jedi.

It feels, in short, like a dyad.

Which got me thinking, if Rey and Ben are the dyad “unseen for generations”, are Avar and Elzar the last dyad people are aware of? I’d say 250 years qualifies as a few generations.

It also has me wondering if the key to a dyad is a strong connection between the individuals in question. Not just a bond, but actual love. Though it’s romantic in these instances (fight me, I don’t care, it’s romantic for both pairs), I don’t think that always needs to be the case. The love between friends, between Master and Apprentice could probably also foster this kind of bond…if they weren’t so determined to nip any and all attachment in the bud.

3. The Nihil

According to every High Republic author: “The Nihil are bad. Really bad. The literal worst. Absolute bad guys.”

I love them. No one is surprised.

They have a cool, pseudo-punk aesthetic, their meeting place is a platform in the middle of space with invisible walls, they look out only for themselves. They are, in short, as chaotic and unpredictable as the storms they name their hierarchy system after.

While a large chunk of the book painted them as unpredictable and without morals, this takes a turn towards the end when we finally get a chance to hear about the larger state of the galaxy from their point of view.

The settlers in the Outer Rim are infringing on their territory, because their very presence necessitates a larger Republic presence as well. In the eyes of the Nihil, they aren’t settlers, they’re colonizers.

We get some more – but not much – detail on this from Marchion Ro, the Eye of the Nihil who has a particular issue with the Republic. But regardless, once it’s phrased this way, it’s hard not to see where they’re coming from.

They existed in their own corner of space, and in comes the Republic with their aggressive colonization masked as expansion and their space station and their Jedi and their “Great Works” trying to unite everyone.

Whether everyone likes it or not.

4. Marchion Ro

Really. A dark, broody boy in a mask. And y’all thought I wouldn’t instantly fall in love.

Better yet, a broody boy with a past. His true name is a mystery. His motivations are a mystery. Everything about his history is totally unknown.

I can’t get enough.

Marchion is the “Eye” of the Nihil. The Eye of the storm, so to speak, which is appropriate considering how calm he remains through everything he commands the Nihil to do.

He is the one who guides them through the Paths in space that allow for fast travel. He has no real love for those under his authority. He plays them against each other and uses them to achieve his own ends.

They really almost had me. They tried to convince me this guy was no good. Then they had to go give him a mysterious vendetta against the Republic in the last few pages. They gave him angst, and I gave him my heart.

5. New Era, New Possibilities

I touch on this elsewhere, so I won’t spend too much time on it now. But I love that this is an entirely new era where we don’t have any preexisting thoughts or feelings about anything in particular. Though the concepts of the world as a whole are familiar, the details and the reality of how the world works is all new. Though we have some idea of how things will turn out down the line, by going back 200 years, we know that whatever it is Palpatine schemes will have no bearing on any of the characters in this book (except Yoda, I guess. He makes a cameo).

Of most interest to me is the Republic and its influence on the galaxy as a whole. the Chancellor is very concerned with the Great Works that will form a part of her legacy. So much so that she builds the Starlight Beacon station in the Outer Rim to act as a relay point for settlers going out to colonize the area, completely disregarding groups like the Nihil that live there already. I almost wonder if the chancellor will turn out to be a “villain” in the end. I just don’t trust her. She’s the human embodiment of a red flag, and I can’t explain it.

I also love that there’s no existing story telling me if I’m right or not. They can make Palpatine all nice and stuff in The Phantom Menace, but the audience already knows they can’t trust him. Are they preparing to pull the rug out from under us here too?

6. The info dump to end all info dumps

So if you think my story summary was vague, that’s because it absolutely is. Like I said off the top, this book had the thankless task of setting up the entire world. It’s not like with any other Star Wars book, where we drop in with some vague idea of who the characters are, or what the world looks like at that time. We are starting totally fresh. With absolutely no familiar frame of reference beyond broad concepts, Charles Soule has to introduce us to an entirely new cast, to the world they live in, and to the plot of the book all in one go.

With that in mind, the first part of this book is such a rapid-fire info dump that I found myself wishing I had flashcards on each page so I could keep track of the new characters. Fortunately, the locations remain fairly fixed so I didn’t have to keep track of those too. This isn’t really a fault of this book in particular, and I think it was handled better than I expected. It was just…a lot.

Random Thoughts and Lingering Questions

There are romance novels in canon. Like actual Jedi-centric romances with lightsaber duels “meant to represent something else the characters would rather be doing” and I have never needed anything more.

A standout in this book is how each Jedi perceives the Force differently. Avar Kriss hears it as music, Elzar Mann experiences it as a sea. It’s not the same thing to every single person, which makes sense and now I’ll be retroactively trying to assign “Force perceptions” to every Jedi we’ve ever met.

Avar Kriss’ kyber crystal is a white one that she took from a Sith staff and healed. Where is that story, I would like to see it. Or at least, I would like to know if this is going to come into play later. I love the notion of healing kyber crystals.

Based on concept art, I’d kind of expected Stellan Gios to play a larger role in this book. I understand now that there just wasn’t the space, and he’ll instead take a central role in the next Del Rey (adult) novel. He’s got such Obi Wan crossed with knight-in-shining-armour vibes based on the concept art and I love him already.

What is this purple rod Marchion has? Elzar has a vision right at the end of the book that seems to indicate it’ll play a larger part in the conflict down the road so I’m curious to see.

Fandom, Twitter and Group Chats: My 2020 Saving Graces

I rang in New Years 2020 sitting on the floor of my bedroom, by myself, a drink in hand. I was ostensibly trying to clean out my closet, and I wasn’t super inclined to make plans that night because my parents were hosting a huge party 4 days later anyway. My social battery needed to charge.

I was also crying. Not a great moment for me all things considered.

My emotional battery also needed to charge that night because I’d just spent the last 12 days sobbing my eyes out over The Rise of Skywalker. And I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic way. I mean eyes-swollen, cried-self-to-sleep, people-couldn’t-talk-to-me kind of crying. I sobbed in the managers office of the store I used to work at, where I picked up some Christmas shifts, as well as in the stock aisles. I was so upset I was physically sick at work and had to be sent home (this was probably due to the flu but it’s funnier if we blame TROS). 

Was this reaction extreme? Perhaps. I think it would have calmed down a lot sooner if I’d had someone to commiserate with about what a disappointing (heartbreaking, insert expletive of choice here) experience the finale to the Skywalker Saga had been. I scrolled Twitter endlessly, looking for something or someone to validate how I was feeling . I was heartbroken, and felt stupid for ever caring about Star Wars in the first place. As I found validation online and saw I wasn’t alone in my feelings, I felt a little better, but I was still so overwhelmingly lonely in my grief.

And this was BEFORE everything locked down.

A chance sighting of an open call for Star Wars articles caught my attention. The topic was representation, and I’ll admit part of what interested me there was my topic of choice was so wholly removed from the Sequel Trilogy that I could tentatively dip back into Star Wars and remember why I loved it. Though that article isn’t on the website anymore (but you can find a copy here if you’re interested) the experience was still a net positive. I had taken my first step into this larger community, where I had existed on the outside (and mostly offline) for so long. I even gained my first “fandom friend”!

A month later, while scrolling on Twitter some more, I saw a podcast, Postcards From The Galaxy’s Edge looking for female content creators to share a Star Wars moment that spoke to them as women. I was hardly a content creator. A couple of cosplay blog posts and a single article on a website do not a content creator make, I thought. But what the hell. I sent her a message, and a couple of weeks later sent in a video gushing about my love for Amilyn Holdo. I didn’t know how this would all go (spoiler: it went fine), but I took the shot. 

As the video went into editing, I became friendly with the podcaster behind it all, and I feel confident in saying now that she is one of my favourite people and closest friends in this whole fandom. 

Also as the video went into editing, the world shut down. 

Those first two weeks were weird. No one had any idea how long it would last, how committed we should become to the idea of staying at home all the time, working from home and all that. While I did have a contract for some writing work, my regular, part-time job closed for a few weeks while they transitioned us online. Left with nothing else to occupy my time, I decided to call the content creation shots myself.

I was embarrassed, I’ll admit, to present myself as a content creator when submitting that video. In need of something to do, and wanting a body of fandom-related work to my name, I decided to revisit the books I already owned, aiming to post mini-reviews of two of them per week. In keeping with what was slowly becoming my “brand” online, I decided to start with my Star Wars books. They should, all told, take until June or so to get through, and then I can move on to a different set of books. 

The Biweekly Book Review was born!

The first review, Dooku: Jedi Lost, went up on April 8th. 50 books later, the last review, a short look at The Skywalker Saga went up December 22nd. Oops. Well done, I managed to way overestimate my own ability. But in the process my focus changed. It is not longer a book review, it’s specifically a Star Wars book review. As this year came to an end, I found myself planning out my review posts for 2021 (fun stuff planned, stay tuned).

In the late Spring, one female Star Wars podcaster decided to create a thread to connect other female content creators with one another. No doubt this was in response to some sort of dudebro drama on Twitter, though I honestly can’t remember now. Feeling a bit more confident, with a few book reviews under my belt, I threw my hat into the ring and was shortly after contacted by The Geeky Waffle, a podcast/blog looking for writers for their website. They asked if I would be want to do a write up for them similar to the one on my own site about Amilyn Holdo (one day I’m going to gush about how much Holdo changed my life in fandom, mark my words). One write-up and a guest appearance on their spin-off podcast “Straight Out Of Home Video” later, I became proper friends with the hosts. We appeared on panels together at ForceFest over the summer, and I popped up on their Mandalorian live streams in the Fall, where I met even more amazing people I am proud to call good friends. By early September I was an unofficial cohost of The Geeky Waffle in my own right, and by November it was official.

I joined a discord community I love, I started participating in challenges on Instagram, I have a crew to play Among us with, I started writing fan fiction again (no it’s not getting linked here, nice try). This past fall, I was invited to join another network, Beyond The Blast Doors, and offered a cohost spot on their Wednesday night flagship show, as well as a standing invitation to write for the website. 

For someone who felt so alone in her fandom at the beginning of the year, who had never engaged online in fandom before, 2020 changed a lot for me. It gave me a sense of place and belonging among the fans of this Galaxy I love so much. I now have people to share my highs and lows with, and as I prepare to celebrate New Year’s 2021 (safely, at home) I know it’s going to be different. 

I won’t be sitting on my bedroom floor alone and in tears over the idea of Ben Solo’s death. Firstly because The Geeky Waffle let me write this super cathartic piece. But mostly because even though I doubt I will ever come around on TROS, through the friendships I’ve made in fandom this year, I have rediscovered how much there is to love about Star Wars. It doesn’t have to begin and end with the single most upsetting part of the entire saga. It’s gushing over new books together, and getting hyped for new episodes of whatever show is on. It’s texting constantly over things that are tangentially related to fandom, but are no less exciting. It’s wallowing in our feels, good or bad, with all the hyperbolic language you could want. It’s discovering that you actually like Boba Fett now and not being able to shut up about it (#Bonnec forever). 

Happy New Year, everyone. Stay safe, and stay home. To the friends I mentioned above, I didn’t mention you by name because I just know I’ll leave someone out and feel anxious and sad about it for weeks, but just know that whenever I do get to meet you in person, there is a massive hug waiting for you. I hope you realize how much you saved this hellish year for me. 

Biweekly Book Review: The Skywalker Saga

Surprise! One last book review for the year! In the grand tradition of this time of year, consider this a “Biweekly Book Review Holiday Special” rather than a full-on book review.

This is just going to be a mini review, as there isn’t a ton to really dive into. The entire book is a fairly straight adaptation of the first 8 Skywalker Saga movies. I figured I’d done 49 Star Wars books this year, and I wanted to make it a nice round 50. Plus this one doesn’t really fit in with the others. So, with that said, let’s dive into The Skywalker Saga by Delilah S. Dawson.

I was hesitant to get this book when it was first announced. “How,” I wondered back in October 2019, “are you going to do a book called the Skywalker Saga, and leave out the conclusion to the whole thing?”

Then I saw The Rise of Skywalker and decided its exclusion was a feature of this book, rather than a drawback.

The Skywalker Saga is clearly designed to be read aloud at story time, it doesn’t include absolutely everything about each movie that it covers. But I think that actually works here. By not trying to cover every aspect of the plot, it manages to hone in on the heart of the whole thing: Anakin, then Luke, then Rey. Once the story gets going, it does check in with other characters, but not nearly as extensively as our three Jedi protagonists. As someone whose favourite parts of the story are always the Jedi parts, there were no complaints here.

Though the prose reads like a summary of events (as it should) all the dialogue is actually pulled directly from the films. Though this may not be the case with a younger reader reading this on their own, I couldn’t help but hear the characters voices in my head as I went through it.

The illustrations, by Brian Rood, are also absolutely beautiful. They are in this style that looks half like a photo, half like a painting (like a photorealistic sketch? Can you tell I don’t art?). Some of them even take up a full two pages.

A couple of observations:

  • Though the stories mostly stand on their own, there are a couple of thematic connections that are made more explicit. Like how Luke standing in front of Anakin’s funeral pyre, with an uncertain future ahead of him mirrors Anakin standing in front of Qui Gon’s pyre with a similar dilemma. I love when things weave together.
  • In the Last Jedi portion, we have the conversation between Rey and Kylo where the Force accidentally connects them before he’s fully dressed. Though the dialogue – “I’d rather not do this right now”, “yeah, me too” – stays intact, the context for Kylo’s hesitation is removed. I mean, I understand. This is a book for kids, and the detail isn’t necessary. But it was funny to me all the same, since that scene lives in my head rent-free for many reasons.

That’s all I have to say on that, I told you it was short! I want to wish you all a happy holiday season, thank you for coming along with me on this book adventure this year!

I will see you all in 2021 for The High Republic, the movie novelizations, and maybe some other fun stuff!