Biweekly Book Review: William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh

Commentary by Arezou Amin and Dr. Nora Williams

Midway through our Shakespeare project. Midway through the Prequel Trilogy. We’ve come so far.

If you can believe it, we’re actually nice this time. Well…nicer. Are we just settling into the style? Is it a question of Ian Doescher feeling less attached to the Prequels and so taking more liberties we like? Read on to find out.

Overall Impressions

Nora: There’s some genuinely positive stuff here! Like of course a lot of it is still bad (and we’ll get to that), but there are truly some high points in this one. 

Arezou: What a treat it was to find a passage and to mark the page while nodding approvingly – and even in excitement in one case.

Nora: The main thing, I think, is that we’re getting some of the interiority that we wanted for Leia in Doescher’s approach to Padmé, which is really nice to see. She gets a fair few soliloquies, including one after her first kiss with Anakin that gives a nicely nuanced meditation on her duties as a senator and the problems that a relationship with the young Jedi could cause (2.4.24-56). In its attention to the way “this Anakin doth fully dote on me,” it also hints at the darkness that runs through their relationship and comes to a head in the next installment in the series (2.4.26). It’s truly some of Doescher’s best work across all of the plays we’ve read so far. So credit where credit’s due—I actually like his take on Padmé, overall.  

Arezou: It didn’t occur to me until after we talked, but this one is the “romance” chapter of its trilogy, much in the same way The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi are for their respective trilogies. Darker middle chapter perhaps, but also more romantic middle chapters all around. But I digress. I remember how swoony and sheltered-teenager-Juliet Leia became in The Empire Striketh Back, and I was worried about him doubling down on that here. After all, of all the “romantic middle chapters” this one is most explicitly painted like a romance. But no, Padmé is given space to reflect on her own aspirations and desires both romantic and professional. Balance.

Nora: Similarly, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, his treatment of the Shmi storyline works well. The application and adaptation of one of Ophelia’s songs as a funeral dirge is poignant, and Cliegg’s mourning speech is surprisingly touching: “Farewell my love, my hope, my joy, my all—  / My gratitude complete take thou with thee” (4.2.47-48). Less convincing is the use of Macbeth’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech as Anakin’s reaction to his mother’s death (4.1.34-40). While I can perhaps stretch to see this as a hint towards Anakin’s turn to the dark side, this speech in Macbeth is famous for being callous, and surprisingly so given Macbeth’s affection towards his wife in the first part of the play. Coming late in the play, it demonstrates just how far Macbeth has fallen to his “vaulting ambition.” Given that Anakin has abandoned a mission given to him by the Jedi Council, and put himself and Padmé at substantial risk in order to find and attempt to rescue his mother, for whom he cares very deeply, it’s a weird choice. 

Arezou: Given the strange choice to insert an Oedipal aside about the Tuskens in The Jedi Doth Return, I kind of expected the same here. The same weird sort of othering. But we didn’t get any of that! Nor do we get any sense that Anakin is justified in doing what he does to the Tusken settlement. I’m not suggesting them kidnapping a woman is a good thing, but I think we all know this could have been much, much worse in any other retelling or medium. But that instinct was avoided here. Could Ian be learning from his mistakes? It’s possible, hope springs eternal.

Dramaturgical Comments – Nora

In Doescher’s favour, I will say that—as in the previous installment—the political machinations suit this medium. The back-and-forth of senatorial strategy and Palpatine’s plotting work well in blank verse, and remind me (again) of early modern history plays. In some ways, the space that this type of play creates for longer speeches helps explicate the ins-and-outs of Galactic politics in a way that the movies, with their shorter scenes and quippier dialogue, don’t always manage. On the flip side, the battle scenes still do not really work. He hasn’t got the balance of description and action down, and I’m still left wondering who these plays are for, as I can’t see the big droid-vs-clones battle in Act 5 working on a stage at all. To be fair to Doescher, that’s an extraordinarily difficult scene in general, and one that I think doesn’t even really work in the movie. But he had an opportunity here to clarify and strengthen it, and that’s…not what happens. 

I also thought that the Chorus describing Anakin and Padmé’s wedding at the very end didn’t really work. The strength of that moment in the movie is in its gorgeous contrast to the fomenting war. The harsh, cold steel and glass of Coruscant and the austerity of the Jedi temple melt into the lush colours of rural Naboo, and the soft shapes of Padmé’s wedding dress. John Williams’ score crescendos and the audience is invited to see the tension between these two endings—the beginnings of the Clone Wars on one side, and the realization of Padmé and Anakin’s love on the other—that sets up the major conflicts of the next installment in the trilogy. Doescher’s choice to squash this into a final speech for the Chorus rather dampens the effect. It’s a classic case of telling rather than showing the audience, as the Chorus spells out the implications of the ending: “Their love doth bloom while war comes creeping in” (5.4.62). To me, it felt lacklustre against the movie’s epic closing scene. 

I also want to echo my complaint about the previous play (well, all of them, really): Doescher wants to present himself as a “Shakespeare guy,” but his knowledge of Shakespeare is actually really limited. Here, he takes cursory readings of “the comedies”—a genre classification that meant something very different to Shakespeare than it means to us—and applies this broad-brush to create a hashtag-romantic scene. And beyond that, his use of the archaic second-person pronoun is sloppy: in the lines from 3.1 quoted above, Anakin should say “thy hidden secret,” not “thine hidden secret.” “Thine” would make sense here if the next word started with a vowel sound: thine eyes, thine ears, etc. But “thy” is used (in this context) before words beginning with consonants: thy secret, thy hand, etc. This isn’t the only example of Doescher writing a line that “sounds Shakespearean” but isn’t grammatically correct (see my complaints about the title of The Phantom of Menace, e.g.).

Canon Comments – Arezou

There are a couple of notes of canonical interest that I get into further down during our Anakin and Padmé deep dive, but there are two I want to mention here: one of great story importance, and one I just liked.

Last time, we really got into it over Jar Jar, and the questionable choice to make him seem foolish to others when he is secretly hyper-intelligent. Where it just read as baffling and kind of racist then, it’s here that that choice starts to have an impact on the overall story. Because Jar Jar is extremely important to the story, and not in the ridiculous conspiracy Darth Jar Jar way.

The purpose of Jar Jar in this film, to be, is to paint him as the well meaning Naboo representative who works with Senator Amidala, making up for what he lacks in intelligence with a whole lot of heart and kindness. Jar Jar isn’t politically savvy, and that’s the whole point. That’s why Palpatine attempts to assassinate Padmé. He knows that either the attempt with succeed and problem solved, or the attempt will fail and he can convince her to leave long enough for the Republic army she opposes to be authorized, and for the Chancellor to be given unchecked authority over the Senate. In making her leave, necessitating her sweet but unintelligent associate to quickly take her place, he ensures his rise to power faces no opposition.

So when the emergency powers are decided on, Bail Organa and Ask Aak agree to vote on them right away. They have people to protect and something to lose. Meanwhile Jar Jar gets an entire aside (4.3.82) where he says he knows he’s being played, and that he won’t play their game but then…talks himself into playing along anyway because he genuinely believes it’s the right thing to do. Which begs the question of why all this was necessary. Without the addition of “Smart Jar Jar”, he already thought he was doing the right thing. So this new awareness, and this refusal to play their game, does absolutely nothing for the character. There is no payoff. It’s actually worse this way, because if he’s smarter than everyone else, and he knows he’s being played, then why go along with it at all?

But just before you think I am fully bitter and have no heart, can we talk about Boba Fett for a second?

I am, as some of you know, a new Boba Fett stan. What can I say, I walked into The Mandalorian chapter 14 a cynic and walked out a changed woman. Boba doesn’t do much in Attack of the Clones, granted. He’s mostly there so we, the audience, get some background on the bounty hunter we know later, and to give some stakes to Jango Fett’s story arc. The part of Boba’s story that really sticks with us, is this one really great, absolutely heartbreaking shot towards the end of the film:

We’ve made fun of Doescher and his love of a good monologue before, but this was one time I flagged the addition as a net positive. In among all the creature chaos, he gives us a quiet moment as little Boba reflects what the loss of his father means for him and the man he’s going to become. 10/10 on this one, Ian. I might be salty, but I can give credit where it’s due.

I Knew You Were Trouble When You Walked In

Nora: While I do like the portrayal of Padmé overall, Act 3, Scene 1 is a hot mess. In his “Afterword,” Doescher tells readers that he “wanted the strength of Shakespeare’s romantic plotlines to surround and embrace Padmé and Anakin,” which is why this scene “includes lines spoken by characters from each of Shakespeare’s comedies—and, for good measure, Romeo and Juliet” (160). Wow. Okay. There’s a lot to unpack there. 

Let’s focus on the most obvious problem in Doescher’s framing: many—nay, even most—of Shakespeare’s “romantic plotlines” are deeply, deeply misogynist, if not outright abusive. Doescher’s 3.1 opens with one of the most famous, using lines from The Taming of the Shrew

ANAKIN Come, come, thou wasp: thine hidden secret shout.

PADMÉ If I be waspish, best beware my sting.

ANAKIN My remedy is then to pluck it out.  (3.1.1-3)

These lines make use of Act 2, Scene 1 of Taming, in which Petruchio first attempts to “woo” the titular “shrew”—aka, independent woman—Katherina. The scene is usually played for laughs, with plenty of physical comedy invited by the characters’ verbal sparring. However, the scene has a more sinister tone than most productions acknowledge. Petruchio ends the scene by forcing Kate into a marriage that she rejects, literally telling her that he will marry her whether she consents or not, and “tame” her in the process: 

[…] your father hath consented

That you shall be my wife, your dowry ’greed on; 

And will you, nill you, I will marry you. 

[…]

For I am he born to tame you, Kate, 

And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate

Conformable as other household Kates. 

Here comes your father. Never make denial;

I must and will have Katherine to my wife. (Taming 2.1.281-83, 288-92)

As the play continues, Petruchio demonstrates textbook abusive behaviours from gaslighting to restricting food and sleep, to controlling Kate’s ability to see her family. A delightful model for a loving relationship, no? 

Similarly, Doescher makes use of one of Angelo’s lines from Measure for Measure in the same scene, when Padmé asks: “The tempter or the tempted, who sins most?” (3.1.142). Measure for Measure is the story of Angelo attempting to coerce Isabella, a young woman about to take her vows as a nun, into having sex with him in exchange for her brother’s life. The line that Doescher chooses for this scene is from one of Angelo’s soliloquies, in which he confesses to the audience that he “desire[s] her foully for those things / That make her good” (Measure 2.2.176-77). Again, not exactly a strong relationship to “surround and embrace Padmé and Anakin” (160). 

I could have been on board with Doescher using dysfunctional and abusive relationships from Shakespeare’s plays as a hint towards the turn that Padmé and Anakin’s relationship takes in Revenge of the Sith. Anakin treats her really badly in that movie, even choking her and knocking her to the ground while she’s very pregnant—an act that arguably leads directly to her death. I went to read the “Afterword” genuinely hoping that he might express such an intention. Instead, his choice here comes across as a flex on how much Shakespeare’s he knows—ooh, he can quote from All’s Well That Ends Well! And Two Gentlemen of Verona! How clever he is! With no apologies to Doescher, I’m not interested in demonstrations of cleverness that read like simple misogyny. 

Arezou: The thing I worried about going into this is that their relationship would be painted as a terrible idea from the get-go with the type of smugness that reads of moral lessons for silly romantic girls who are too stupid to know better. Because as terribly as Anakin and Padmé’s relationship ends, it’s not a terrible idea from the beginning. These two do genuinely care about each other and love one another. In another world, if they were any two other people, they might have even been happy. But it was not to be, this was always going to be tragedy.

All this to say that Doescher doesn’t take the moralizing approach, but like Nora pointed out, he doesn’t exactly hint at darkness to come either, choosing instead a purely romantic read. I agree with every point she’s made about the language used, but I want to take a moment to explore the story implications of some of the non-Shakespeare language.

The first moment of note I want to point out is Anakin and Padmé’s conversation on Varykino before their first kiss. You know the one. It’s the “I don’t like sand” moment. This is a scene that has been meme’d half to death for the awkwardness of the phrasing and the segue, and for Hayden Christiansen’s performance (the critique of which I take a lot of issue with but I’ll come back to that in a second). In the time since, as those of us who engage in deep-dives of the text have noted, it’s not that Anakin is randomly changing the subject, or finding the thinnest excuse to be allowed to touch Padme’s arm (but maybe it is a little bit that), it’s that she just spend who knows how long telling him about school trips to the beach, swimming in the lake and lazing in the sand. Anakin cannot relate at all, because to him sand is a nuisance. It was a thing that got stuck under his clothes and probably gave him blisters. It was grit that had to be scrubbed out of machine parts, and was probably lodged in his teeth until the day he left Tatooine. There’s nothing nice about it. Is this an awkward time to bring it up? Sure. But this is also a kid who hasn’t really had much opportunity to flirt before. Who was going to show him how it was done? Obi-Wan “I’m still hung up on my teenage romance” Kenobi? Anyway, Doescher takes this reading of the scene and makes it explicit, with Anakin telling Padmé: “For me the sand hath never been a balm […] It is an ever present irritant” (2.4.13-16). We’ve criticized Doescher in the past for making the subtle too explicit, but in this case I think it was much needed to prevent the moment being played for laughs.

The second moment is something so small, but I think it undoes a lot of the intention of the scene and the way it’s meant to be played out. On Geonosis, when they’re about to be rolled out into the arena, Anakin and Padmé finally confess their feelings to one another. After a short soliloquy on the subject, Padmé concludes with “I love thee, Anakin.” Ever beholden to his iambic pentameter, Doescher cannot dive directly into Anakin’s protests that they had promised not to fall in love. Instead, he needs to finish off that one blank verse quickly, and so he has Anakin exclaim “Elation vast!” (5.1.134). But here’s my issue.

There’s no point in drawing comparisons to the film all the time. They’re two different mediums. However, this moment before they enter the arena is such a wonderful one for Anakin, and it’s because he is finally growing out of his Padawan tendencies and into the knight he is about to become. He’s spent the whole movie being brash, and direct, and acting without thinking (something he definitely learned from Obi-Wan “lemme just dive out this window real quick” Kenobi). But here, when Padmé has fully declared her love to him, rather than seizing this as the go-ahead it is, he actually takes a step back and thinks. He reminds her of their promise not to fall in love. It’s only after, when she says that she wants him and damn the consequences they can figure it out later, does he actually do anything about it. But in adding “elation vast!” at the start of Anakin’s dialogue, it takes him on a bit of a yo-yo ride. It’s too soon for him to express that unbridled joy just yet.

Now this is where I come back to Hayden Christiansen. I maintain, as I have for years, that he is actually a good actor. He was young at the time, had relatively little experience, and was working with unnatural dialogue and the direction “faster and more intense”. Not exactly helpful. But while he may not express anything akin to “elation vast!” verbally, he is most certainly saying it with his eyes. Damn, does this man have expressive eyes. No matter what the dialogue might have you saying, if your eyes can convince me, then I’m sold on the performance, and through Hayden’s performance, Anakin’s heart were vastly elated, even if his mind told him to slow his roll. So I may not like the addition of the line, but I get why Doescher did it. This is one medium where you need to express the intended emotion on the page, and you don’t have scene directions to do that for you, the way a screenplay would.

Final Thoughts

Nora: I’m interested to see how the interiority that Doescher’s begun developing for Padmé plays out in The Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge. There’s potential to make her birth/pregnancy scene much stronger (i.e., focused on her) than it is in the movie. I’ll be annoyed if that scene is all about Obi-Wan, much as I love him. Your move, Ian! 

Arezou: I wholeheartedly second this. Padmé’s arc was cut tragically off at the knees (much like Anakin was…too soon?), and it’s only in novelizations and deleted scenes that we see her role in the birth of the Rebellion. If we don’t get those scenes outright put back in, I hope we at least get some reference to them!

And now, please enjoy this meme, which was still somewhat topical at the time of this writing:

***

Next month, the Prequel Trilogy comes to an end with The Tragedy of The Sith’s Revenge. It seems like we started this project just yesterday, and now we have more behind us than we do ahead.

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: Attack of the Clones

As a whole, the Prequel Trilogy is my favourite one. I think it’s the most coherent as a trilogy because for better or worse, it’s one guy’s vision, one singular story, it was planned out start to finish and it shows. But with any story that comes out in multiple parts, we’re bound to have a least favourite and Attack of the Clones is my least favourite prequel.

That’s not to say that I don’t really like the movie. I do! I think the mystery stuff with Obi-Wan is great, I think it does a great job at showing the excitement – and yes, the tragedy – of Anakin and Padmé’s romance. But other things, I found less exciting, like the three separate chase/action scenes – one for each act! – that all drag on just a touch too long, and none of them are the kind of drawn out acrobatic lightsaber duel that came to define the prequel era.

But we’re not here to talk about the movie! No, we’re here to talk about the novelization. Which I enjoyed a lot more than I remembered and a lot more than I thought I would. Let’s dive into Attack of the Clones by R. A. Salvatore.

Parts I Enjoyed

One thing that this novel does well overall is adding more time with characters who didn’t get it in the movies. This is something a lot of people praise The Clone Wars for, and while I don’t think you need that show for the prequels to be good in retrospect, I do see the temptation to have more added context for your favourite characters. Two instances of this added context stuck out to me, and made me wish they’d made it into the movie.

The first is the extra scenes we get with Padmé and her family. These scenes were actually shot – most of them anyway – and can be seen in the special features for the movie. But there is one near the start of the book that wasn’t ever filmed, at least not to my memory. In these scenes, we see Padmé with her parents, and with her sister, while they express concern for her safety amid the assassination attempts. Her sister Sola also expresses a concern of another kind: that Padmé is so bogged down in the wants and needs of the galaxy that she isn’t considering her own wants and needs. I can’t explain why, exactly, but it makes perfect sense to me that someone who is so caught up in her responsibilities to others would fall hard and fast the second she lets herself consider the possibility. Maybe it reminds me of me? Oops.

The other “added context” scenes I really liked were the ones between Jango and Boba Fett. As a new Boba Fett fan, and as someone who really likes character focused scenes, I really latched on to any part of this book that showed the relationship between this father and son. For all that Jango’s training him to be a bounty hunter, I think this might actually be one of the healthier main character parent-child relationships we see? Like there is a genuine sense of attachment, and the sense that they actually love each other? Radical, I know. Also, as sad as the scene with little Boba finding his dad’s helmet is in the movie, I feel like it’s so much worse in the book purely because you’ve spent a bit more time with them, and you really feel what it is Boba has lost.

Part I Disliked

OK so, this is going to sound really bad but bear with me. I don’t like all the additional scenes of Shmi that we get.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I absolutely feel that we need more Shmi Skywalker in general. Kristen Baver’s wonderful Skywalker: A Family At War really gives Shmi her due, and I’ll take more if I can get it. So now let me explain.

Most of the scenes of Shmi we get are sweet. They’re all of her with the Lars family – her husband Cliegg, his son Owen and Owen’s girlfriend Beru. There’s a couple of her with the Tuskens that are horrifically violent and almost serve to justify (or at least rationalize) why Anakin does what he does? I don’t love it, but I get it.

But it’s actually the scenes with Cliegg and co. that I don’t really like. As I got older, I couldn’t help but feel a little weird about Shmi being purchased by a man then subsequently freed for matrimonial purposes. I don’t know, it’s a little bit of a weird vibe. And it’s weird in the book too. All the scenes are meant to be an idyllic family life, but they’re tinged with unease, at least for me. For all that Shmi says she loves them, I never really got that impression. And that’s fine I suppose, but it made things worse for me in retrospect. I wish it hadn’t been in there. Give me the freedom to imagine what her home life was like, in stead of confirming it was every bit as awkward and strained as that situation would indicate.

Final Thoughts

The action scenes were kept relatively short, actually. Bless.

I did kinda get into it above, but R.A. Salvatore really went that extra mile to give us Hot Dad Jango Fett. Thank you for this gift.

Going back to what I mentioned in the Phantom Menace review about novelizations coming out before the movie. There are so many additional character moments in this that aren’t in the movie. Already starting to see that trend of some members in the audience having a lot more additional context for things than other members do. Granted, I know between a movie and a novelization, the movie takes canonical precedence, but it’s interesting to note that this is an old “problem”.

Biweekly Book Review: William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace

Commentary by Arezou Amin and Dr. Nora Williams

We’re back and we’re ready to get into these Prequels! I am a big prequel fan, Nora isn’t. Buckle up kids.

It’s time to get weird and political, and make some QUESTIONABLE choices. Let’s dive into The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher.

Overall Impressions

Arezou: I was both excited and nervous to hit this point in our read-through because I cannot state often enough how much I love the prequels. I suppose having no expectations anymore helped. But I’ll admit part of my nerves stem from me getting the impression that Ian belongs to that certain generation of nerdy men who think that everyone agrees the prequels are a mess and in need of fixing when I’d argue they make the most coherent whole. If he felt at liberty to change things about his beloved Original Trilogy, what will he do when he doesn’t feel the same kind of reverence or pressure? Fortunately, he doesn’t actually change all that much, which is a huge relief.

Nora: I will confess that I had very low expectations coming into this one, after the disappointments of the first trilogy. But I have to say, there were some high points here. I appreciated that Amidala got some soliloquies—and the first one (2.1.1-43) was even pretty good, giving us some insight into the character that we wouldn’t get from dialogues with other characters. I also really liked that Shmi Skywalker got the opportunity for a soliloquy in which to grieve losing Anakin, and to sort through the complex feelings of love, hope, and loss she experiences in that moment (3.1.305-19). We’ll ignore that it’s a poorly-written speech, with unnecessary repetitions and a weirdly liturgical structure that doesn’t really make sense in the moment. Doescher’s not great at writing a mother’s interiority, but after the almost complete absence of interiority for Leia in the previous trilogy, I’m giving him points for the attempt here.

Arezou: I completely agree. I was worried that a story that arguably hinges on the decisions of two women – and really, the entire saga hinges on their decisions – would be given the Princess Leia treatment, and have them relegated to the sidelines. Fortunately that doesn’t happen, but I’d also argue they aren’t given anywhere near the nuance that characters both major and minor got in the earlier instalments. Yes, we have the soliloquy from Padmé fairly early on, but what about as her story arc progresses and things change around her? This is the movie where she is featured most prominently, but she falls back into reciting her plot without much interiority disappointingly quickly. But this seems to be a trend with Padmé across mediums so maybe this isn’t entirely on Ian. No one knows what to do with her.

Nora: I also think that some of the political machinations fit this genre better than they fit in the movie. The back-and-forth of the Trade Federation, the Galactic Senate, and the legality of the various blockades and invasions suits a verse play, and puts me in mind of Shakespeare’s histories (which, interestingly, were also written “out of order,” with all three parts of Henry VI and Richard III premiering several years before Richard II, the two parts of Henry IV, and Henry V). I’m not sure we can give Doescher credit for this, exactly, but it will be interesting to see if this holds true for the later installments of this trilogy, which have oft been criticized for being overly-technical in their approach to galactic politics. 

Canon Comments – Arezou

Let me start by saying that Jar Jar was….a CHOICE. And I’ll get into why it canonically makes no sense in more detail below.

I get it. I do. The Phantom Menace isn’t for everyone. It’s goofy and a lot of it is squarely aimed at the kids it was meant to draw into the Star Wars fold. Kids like me. But that’s not to say that the story it tells is unimportant! Ian makes some choices here, both in terms of the themes and alarmingly in terms of the actual plot that alter the motivation and intent behind key moments.

One such moment comes fairly early on, when Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Jar Jar are making their journey to the Naboo surface in the bongo. If you remember the movie, you know they bump into a few increasingly large underwater creatures, prompting Qui-Gon to quip “there’s always a bigger fish.” Ian had two choices here. Either play the moment for laughs, or dive into the overall meta-commentary of Qui-Gon’s statement arriving on the eve of the biggest fish of them all, Palpatine, making a power play for control of the galaxy by making a bunch of smaller fish fight and eat each other.

But we get neither of those, because we know how much Ian likes his creatures to have random soliloquies and more interiority than half the main cast. So instead we have the questionable choice of giving each fish several occasions to speak, wherein they reveal either their dark designs agains the occupants of the bongo, or EXTREMELY bafflingly in one case, reveal that no less a group than the JEDI ORDER sent them to this spot to protect Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. You heard right, Master Yoda has a giant fucking fish on speed dial apparently.

OK moving on from the silly and onto the serious. We need to talk about Padmé again. Or specifically, Padmé, Sabé and “Amidala”.

I had somewhat expected that prior to the reveal of the deception, that whoever was in the Queen regalia would be listed as “Amidala”, while Padmé would be called by her name when in handmaiden mode. I also understand this is complicated in a script as different actors need to know when it’s their turn to speak. Which once again begs the question of whether or not Ian intended this to be staged. If he did, then why have an Amidala at all, when no one will presumably see it? If he didn’t intend for it, then why list Sabé at all before the end. It’s also interesting to note that he only calls her Amidala when it’s Padmé in the makeup. So we know there is a decoy, but he’s trying to preserve the identity of the true queen? A strange choice.

He also seems to have a strange understanding of the subtle point that while Sabé does dress as the queen, she never actually makes decisions for her. He caught on to it a little too hard when the group is deciding whether or not to leave Naboo. Sabé defers to Padmé, and rather than leaving it at the simple and vague “we are brave, Your Highness”, he adds on her elaboration of “we shall go” (1.5.73). I want to be charitable and say this is a meter thing but part of me feels like he didn’t understand this exchange at first and assumes no one else did either.

He then later swings way to hard in the other direction in Act III scene 5 after the party arrives on Coruscant and is greeted by Palpatine. In the film, it is Sabé who steps off the transport and greets the Senator, but when they’re conversing back at his apartment, it’s Padmé who is speaking to him. There is a scene transition and an entire costume change. But because Ian keeps the order of scenes flowing exactly the way it does it the movie, he just has other characters step offstage, while those who need to remain do so. Which means he has Sabé conducting an entire political conversation with Palpatine, making decisions for the future of Naboo, and deciding how to act in the Senate. He’s clearly envisioning this as being performed since he doesn’t just change character names. But he also doesn’t give the actors time to change, meaning he has now altered the context of the scene and altered Padmé and Sabé’s working relationship. I don’t know why he couldn’t add a little nothing blurb in there that wasn’t in the movie. He had no issue adding a random scene with two Jedi that accomplished nothing. That probably would have been better served here.

Technical and Staging Comments – Nora

Technical

Let’s be honest, the title is a mess: The Phantom of Menace. What does it even mean? The ‘phantom menace’ of the movie’s title is the rising Sith threat lurking in the background, right? It’s ‘phantom’ in the sense of unseen. So what is the phantom of menace here? Doescher seems to want it to mean “menacing phantom,” echoing the movie title. But the grammar doesn’t quite work that way: instead it seems to put emphasis on the “phantom” part of the equation, rather than the “menace,” whereas my reading of the movie’s title is the opposite. The “menace” is the important part, the noun, and “phantom” modifies it; in Doescher’s construction, it’s the other way around, with “menace” modifying “phantom.” 

This is pedantic, I know, but it exemplifies something about Doescher’s work that irritates me across the board: he’s not as good at doing the Shakespeare thing as he thinks he is. Throughout all the plays we’ve read so far as these types of errors, which “sound” Shakespearean but aren’t grammatically correct, or don’t quite mean what he seems to think they mean (cf. “Jabba of the Hutt”). 

This is especially irritating given that, in an interview for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast, Doescher constructs himself as a “Shakespeare guy,” who wants to “do more justice to Shakespeare” than the type of parodies that just “put ‘—eth’ on the end of a word” to make it “sound Shakespearean.” He may not just stick “—eth” on the end of a word, but Doescher often rearranges syntax with a similar emphasis on “sounding Shakespearean” at the expense of grammatical sense. 

Similarly, Doescher sometimes makes references to Shakespeare’s plays that don’t work in the context of the Star Wars stories he’s telling. I’ve commented on this before, with his deeply antisemitic “Hath not a Sith eyes” speech in The Empire Striketh Back. The standout example here isn’t as offensive, but it is just as wrong: when Darth Maul slays Qui-Gon Jinn, Qui-Gon says: “Et tu, Sith? Then fall, Qui-Gon Jinn!” This is a reference to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, where Caesar is famously betrayed and stabbed by his Senators in Act 3. The line Doescher is referencing—“Et tu, Brute? Then fall Caesar”—communicate Caesar’s surprise at being stabbed by someone he considered loyal to him. “Et tu, Brute?” means “And you, Brutus?” As in: Even you? You, too? You, of all people? The second half of the line then becomes a surrender: if even my loyal friend Brutus wants me dead, then I will fall. Hopefully it is obvious that this line does not in any way apply—or even make sense in—the battle between Darth Maul and Qui-Gon. They are already enemies! It is obvious that Darth Maul wants to kill Qui-Gon! “Et tu” expresses surprise, but Qui-Gon cannot possibly be surprised to find a Sith attacking him. It makes no sense, Ian. It makes no sense.

Staging

I’ve said before that Doescher doesn’t seem to have a clear sense of whether these plays are written for readers, as sort of “closet dramas” that might be read aloud but would be unlikely to be staged, or written for with a full performance in mind. He mentions in his “Afterword” that he envisions “the actors running from one side of the stage to the other” during the pod race (p. 171), which would seem to imply that he imagines this as a script that could be used for an actual performance. But other aspects of the text complicate this notion. 

For example, as in the earlier trilogy, the battle scenes often consist of characters describing what they’re doing (in excruciating detail). In the lightsaber battle between Qui-Gon, Darth Maul, and Obi-Wan (5.3), we get more description than action, with long speeches from each character telling the audience exactly what is happening: 

QUI GON: The power generator cavity/Unknowingly we three have stumbl’d ‘pon./He thumps on Obi-Wan, who falls below/Onto another platform. Feel my blow!

MAUL: I fall, yet do not fear the landing, nay-/For falling is but prelude to a climb./Ere. he hath from the dais jump’d to me/I’m on my feet, for battle well prepared.

(5.3.27-34)

These lines mostly describe action that, if this play was being staged in a theatre, the audience would be able to see for themselves and would not need narrated to them

Oh, Jar Jar…

Arezou: As somebody who actually likes Jar Jar while recognizing the problematic elements, I took a lot of issue with his portrayal here.

I question the choice to have him tell the audience he speaks “high” English, but is slipping into Gungan patois to put everyone else’s minds at ease. Why? What’s the purpose beyond making him schemy? Ian, my man, Darth Jar Jar was never going to be a thing, and you making him some kind of clever manipulator here isn’t going to change that.

Beyond the questionable choice to distinguish Jar Jar’s speech from that of his fellow Gungans in some kind of class separation, code-switching thing, there are the canonical implications for the saga as a whole which I don’t think Ian considered, further fuelling my “this man doesn’t like the prequels at all” fire. Jar Jar cannot be some kind of clever manipulator who is playing a game with the humans. If he is, then his subsequent choices in Attack of the Clones make absolutely no sense.

Palpatine sends Padmé away from the Senate before a crucial vote, ostensibly for her own safety. Knowing she won’t want to be unrepresented, Palpatine banks on her choosing the easily-manipulated Jar Jar to stand as her representative, then takes advantage of this to plant the idea of granting him emergency powers over the Senate to kick off the Clone Wars. Which Jar Jar does unquestioningly. Absolutely none of this is possible if Jar Jar is so educated in human ways, and is playing them and manipulating them into believing he’s an idiot. He’s supposed to be an idiot. He’s supposed to be sweet, and naive, and well-intentioned but ultimately not up to the task of galactic politics. That’s the point, and yet for some reason this was dismissed in favour of…what, exactly?

Nora: Look, nobody had high hopes for how Doescher would handle Jar-Jar Binks, given his track record with Yoda and the Ewoks. But Ian. My man. Why—why—? 

I think we’re all agreed at this point that Jar-Jar Binks is a racist stereotype of an Afro-Caribbean man. Doescher somehow takes this to the next level by ham-fistedly attempting to portray Jar-Jar’s plight as a member of an oppressed race (the Gungans). Now I want to say that I think Doescher was attempting something commendable here, in his desire to humanize Jar-Jar and give him some agency in the story. But intention is not the same as effect, and Doescher makes a number of, frankly, racist missteps. 

It seems like Doescher is modelling this version of Jar-Jar, at least partly, on Shakespeare’s Caliban (“Your kind did teach / Me human language, and my profit on’t / Is I know how to move your human heart” (1.3.40-2)). That’s fine, as far as it goes, but Doescher doesn’t appear to have thought this analogy through to its conclusion. For one thing, despite his emphasis on Jar-Jar’s code-switching from “high” Shakespearean English to the patois we hear in the movies (“It doth befit the human prejudice  / To think we Gungans simple, low, and rude” (1.3.30-1)), none of the other Gungans appear to code-switch. There are two problems here, to my mind: one is that this still constructs the poetic English that Jar-Jar speaks in asides and soliloquies as “high” culture, implying that any other dialect is “simple, low and rude.” Secondly, it creates problems for the portrayal of the Gungans generally, given that they speak the patois that has just been identified for us as “simple, low, and rude” even when they’re speaking to each other. There are so many ways around this, but honestly I get the impression that Doescher just didn’t see a problem. I don’t know, man. I’m trying to make it make sense, but it just doesn’t. 

Final Thoughts

Arezou: It could have been worse, and also now I’m afraid for The Clone Army Attacketh.

Nora: I will give credit where credit’s due, but there’s still a lot wrong here.

***

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 Phantom Menace

New territory, new format, you know how it goes! We’ve finally made it to the novelizations! Rather than reviewing the story and what it entails (because I presume you’ve seen the movies), I am instead going to focus on what each novelization contributed to – or detracted from, as the case may be – each movie.

As a disclaimer, I am aware that the versions of the novelizations that I have for episodes 1-6 are not technically canon anymore, but since the movies have “priority” here, and that version is the “right” one, I figure it can’t hurt to just use what I’ve got.

OK now that’s out of the way…

Of the three novelizations of the Prequel Trilogy films, the Phantom Menace sticks closest to the content of the film, not adding too much beyond the odd moment here and there. Though I knew what I was getting into, it’s actually my least favourite of the Prequel Trilogy novelizations, but this might have something to do with nostalgia bias. I was young when The Phantom Menace came out, and I have vivid memories of reading (and re-reading) Patricia C. Wrede’s junior novelization. The characterizations in that stuck with me so thoroughly that these ones felt…different. Not wrong, mind. Just different.

Incidentally, today is the 22nd anniversary of The Phantom Menace, so happy birthday to the Star Wars film that set me down the path you see me on now!

Anyway, let’s dive in: The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks

Parts I Enjoyed:

While this novel plays it fairly close to the movie, there were two things added in that I absolutely adored. Both are things I’ve gone on at length about, but I love it when my favourite things pop up time and time again.

The first is the way this book builds out the relationship between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. We got some of this later on with Claudia Gray’s Master and Apprentice, but I’m a sucker for the dynamic between these two no matter where I see it. Though we would later explore the relationship between the two, this was, when the book was being written as far as anyone knew, this was the only chance we would get. And Brooks does his best to deliver on that front. It’s nothing we haven’t seen in new canon, but I’ll take it where I can get it. We see how they get frustrated with each other’s methods and attitudes, but then by the end, we see the depth of feeling they have for one another. It’s a student-teacher relationship on paper, but to both of them it’s something more akin to father and son and if you’ll excuse me I have something in my eye.

The other thing that was added in is, unlike Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon’s dynamic, something that is wholly absent from the movie – both in text and subtext.

The first time the reader meets Anakin Skywalker is not in Watto’s shop, as it is in the film, but before the arrival of the Jedi on Tatooine. We get a few scenes of him and his day to day life. One of these scenes shows him out in the desert with 3P0 on an errand, when they encounter a wounded Tusken raider. Rather than leaving, or killing him, Anakin stays and tries to help. Though his aid is refused, the attempt does not go unrecognized. When the Tusken tribe arrives to rescue their injured member, they spare Anakin and leave him unharmed, recognizing the act of compassion he attempted to perform.

And to think, this was written prior to the release of Episode II, and is not actually meant to be foreshadowing, though it certainly looks that way now.

I’m also a fan on any narrative that paints the Tuskens as the original settlers of Tatooine. The Mandalorian set me upon this hill, and I am prepared to die on it. Not much is made of that fact in the book, but it is mentioned and that did not go unnoticed by me.

Parts I Disliked:

There is one major thing this book does, that I don’t care for, and that is building out Anakin and Padmé’s friendship.

Let me explain.

Part of the intensity of their romance in Attack of the Clones is Anakin finally being in the same room with the woman he’s spent a decade building up in his head and has convinced himself he’s already in love with, while Padmé has an “oh no, he’s hot” moment. Their romance isn’t one-sided by the end of Attack of the Clones but it sure is at the start of it.

Why this works so well based just off of the movies is that while Anakin is making heart-eyes at Padmé from the word “go” (or technically, from the words “are you an angel?”), she really isn’t thinking about him all that much. Sure, she’s kind to him, thinks he’s a nice, sweet kid, but you never get the sense that she’s thinking about him all that much. And why would she? Her entire planet is suffering under occupation. So when we leave off at the end of Episode I, we have an Anakin who is very much in love with Padmé, without any reason for believing that she feels the same.

It sounds horrible, but I almost feel like the Padmé here is too nice to him. She is too friendly, and teasingly reminds him of his promise to marry her someday. While it never reads as anything other than a cute thing a young teen would say to a tween that she knows has a crush on her, it almost gives too much basis for Anakin’s crush, and takes some of the punch out of how unexpected it is later.

Unexpected for the characters, that is. We knew it was bound to happen since this is a Darth Vader origin story after all. I suspect that’s why it was done, to give their relationship more context and background, and I suspect that this ultimately boils down to preference.

Final Thoughts

I think it’s ABSOLUTELY wild that novelizations used to come out before the movie. And this happened in my lifetime.

Imagine the chaos today, if the Sequel Trilogy novels had come out before the movies? Going into The Force Awakens knowing about the Han/Kylo scene? Ok, that did actually happen to me, but we can blame internet assholes for that.

Ultimately, what I think this novel does best is provide the film with added – but not strictly necessary – context. While I don’t recommend reading it before ever seeing the movie, I do think reading it, then rewatching it could be a fun exercise in detecting character motivation.

Biweekly Book Review: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good

Thrawn is back! Well…”back”. For all that is name is on the cover of this book, he isn’t actually in it all that much. And unlike last time, people don’t even talk about him that much. He just sort of…is there. While other people are there.

That’s not to say that I’m not still enjoying the world of this story. It’s still so removed from the rest of Star Wars that it feels like conventional science fiction. Or rather Star Trek-flavoured Star Wars. That said, I wish Timothy Zahn was better at describing alien beings because we’ve never seen any of these species before, and I have no idea what they look like…

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

OK, I’d be lying if I said it was easy to explain what happens in this book. There’s so much battle math and fighting and spaceships and *sigh*.

One plot picks up where the last book left off, with Thrawn, Ar’alani, Lakinda and co. (including the sky-walker Che’ri) fighting those who would seek to destabilize and scatter the Chiss. Through it all, they must convince an alien names The Magys not to kill herself and all her people out of a false belief that their homeworld is destroyed.

The second concerns a farmer named Lakphro, who plays unwitting host to Haplif, , an alien working for Jixtus, a Grysk looking to destabilize the Ascendancy. Haplif is playing a long game, trying to drag some of the 40 high ranking families of the Chiss into a conflict among themselves using a very elaborate plot using handmade jewellery.

It takes about 300 pages for these two plots to converge properly, and for the main mystery to unfold.

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Potential Nihil Connection?

“Arezou, stop. You’re making everything about the Nihil.”

And what of it?

When the first Ascendancy book came out, I didn’t question the way the Chiss navigate. Their sky-walkers fall into trances and navigate in a way that circumvents hyperspace. There are few others who can manage it, but one such group living in the Chaos that can, are called the “Pathfinders”

The Paths? Alternatives to hyperspace? Navigational trances? This is sounding awfully Nihil to me!

I know the Chiss have been around a long time, and are an ancient society, so they didn’t exactly learn this from the Nihil. But did the Nihil learn it from them? Or did the Nihil perhaps help them refine the technology after being driven out of the Outer Rim by the Republic? They’re just too cool a concept to disappear from canon entirely, and I’m certain they do exist in “present day” canon in some form or another. It wouldn’t be unlike Lucasfilm Publishing to thread these connections in somehow.

2. Unresolved (and Unknown) Sexual Tension

My friend Hope once observed that Timothy Zahn accidentally writes very shippable characters, and then is absolutely surprise-pikachu baffled when people pick up on this energy.

Last time around it was him sending Thrawn and Ar’alani on a date without realizing it’s a date. This time, it’s the unresolved sexual tension between Caretaker Thalias and Mid-Captain Samakro.

These two do not like each other. At all. She really likes and admires Thrawn, and he hates him. They have a rivalry, he is plotting against her and suspects her of spying. They snip at each other constantly. In literally any other author’s hands, they would be hate-fucking I’m certain of it.

I would hold out hope that Zahn is going to bring this up in a future instalment, but I’d be very surprised if he even knew what he’d done, honestly.

3. Chiss Society

One of the things I liked from the last book was the structure of Chiss society. There is still some of that here, but unfortunately not nearly enough to satisfy.

I will say, it was really cool to get more into the family structure beyond the Nine Ruling Families and all the intrigue between them. I’m hoping as things come to a head next time that there will be more of this.

More political intrigue, less battle math!

4. Yomie

I’m not gonna lie…this fucked me up.

Like. If I didn’t have to podcast about this book with people I would have DNF’d.

This time around the “memories” in the book are given over to Haplif. In order to gain access to the inner workings of their society, he tricks two young Chiss into being his “guides”, on his dime, hoping to befriend them. While the man has no problems and tries to go along with it, his fiancee is less accommodating.

Once she catches on to Haplif and his bullshit, you know what he does? He kills Yomie and throws her lifeless body out into space.

I hate it so much. Just typing this out, I feel nauseous and have tears in my eyes. I get that death and violence happen but this was so cold and unnecessary.

Points Left Hanging

I mean…I suppose there isn’t much I can speculate about. I imagine the Chiss will dissolve into the civil war that sent Thrawn to the Empire.

I’m more interested to see if my Nihil speculation pays off or if it’s just me seeing my new faves where they don’t exist.

Random Thoughts

The random “space words” that Zahn uses for certain things crack me up. Especially because he doesn’t use them for everything, and sometimes certain things are painfully “of Earth”. For instance, zippers are “sealer teeth”, but then Thrawn encounters beings who say things like “Prince Militaire”, which is French, and generalissimo which is straight up Italian.

I will give kudos where it’s due, it would be very easy for Zahn to write this book and make all the characters men. So the fact that so many of the characters are women is remarkable in itself. NOW THAT SAID…

The Magys and her people are said to operate in a matriarchy. But I can’t help but feel like he just said that, and didn’t stop to consider how many facets of our society are informed by its patriarchal nature. When they first meet the Chiss, the Magys’ people are gathered around her in a way that is most efficient to protect her. So the outer ring is young men, then older men, then older women, younger women and then children. But I cannot help but question why a matriarchy still takes such a patriarchal stance on warfare.

Biweekly Book Review: Skywalker: A Family At War

My heart is so full, y’all. I don’t even know where to start with this one. Perhaps along the lines of “Kristin Baver knocked this out of the damn park” because that is absolutely what happened here. I’m a fast reader but I usually like to take a couple of days to go through a book. I read this in a day.

When this book was first announced, I assumed it would be a coffee table, behind-the-scenes type deal. This may be on me for not reading the description. OK, fine, it’s totally on me.

When reviews and more information about Skywalker: A Family At War started coming out, I was less surprised to find out what it wasn’t – a behind-the-scenes coffee table book – and more surprised to find out what it was: an account of the Skywalker family written like a biography. Like an honest-to-goodness real life biography. There is nothing in the book that presents the information as fictional. As far as you, the reader, are concerned, everything here actually happened. The book even had two little clusters of glossy picture pages, captioned the way you’d see in a non-fiction book.

What Kristin Baver does in this book is take the story of the Skywalkers, both on screen and in all the canon ancillary material, and compile it in one place. She draws parallels across generations and provides context and motivation for every decision they make. As someone who has read a lot of the ancillary material, I never felt like she was retreading something I already knew. None of it was new information per se, but it was all presented in such a lovely, coherent well-woven family tapestry.

My heart is so damn full right now. Let’s get into it. I’m going to break it down the way the book does, into three sections.

Before we get into it, a note: this book was brilliantly executed and beautifully written. Any criticism I have (especially in part three) is aimed at the story and certain storytellers, and not in any way at the author, as I am aware she is retelling and contextualizing a story that has already been told.

The Father

This section is the longest in the book, and it’s also by far my favourite. No surprise there, since the prequels are my favourite trilogy. Best to go through this point-by-point:

Shmi Gets Her Due: Do you know how rare it is for Shmi Skywalker to get a mention, never mind actually be the topic of conversation? But this book begins – as it should – with her, and how she came to be on Tatooine. Now it’s true, most of her narrative is centred around her son, but I don’t think that’s inherently a bad thing. The book is all about drawing connections after all. She is also given space in the book expressly for her wants and feelings and that’s a hell of a lot more than she’s gotten anywhere else.

The Clone Wars: I don’t know why I thought the Clone Wars would be skipped over? Or at least rushed? They’re such a huge part of who Anakin is. But no, we get into this in detail. We’ve got Mortis, we’ve got Captain Rex (I squeed and then texted a friend about it. It’s fine), we’ve got the Rako Hardeen arc, we have AHSOKA FREAKING TANO. We’ve even got a mention of The Bad Batch. It was wonderful. Fabulous. 10/10. No notes.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan: OK, so I have an Obi-Wan bias. You all know this. But I find that people who love Qui-Gon tend to have some kind of weird disdain for Obi-Wan? Not the case here, thank the Force. Obi-Wan is actually given the kind of grace we don’t usually see in origin stories like this. Yes, the book doesn’t gloss over the ways in which he and Anakin struggled but it does also show him as a young man who is struggling immensely in his own right. He had to watch his Master, his mentor, his father figure die in his arms, and obviously that would mess a person up. He also assumed responsibility for a very emotionally vulnerable child before he was ready for that kind of role. And he was very hard on himself over it. He is given the space to be messy, yet sympathetic is what I’m trying to say. I do also think it’s funny that Anakin clings to Qui-Gon as the ideal Master even though he knew him for…um…3 days? And then Luke would later do the same with Obi-Wan under similar circumstances? Like father, like son.

Padmé: Needless to say, Padmé is given a lot of time in this section. But it isn’t just how she relates to Anakin’s story. She is, after all, a Skywalker in her own right by marriage. What does this mean? It means we get a look at her role during the Clone Wars in the Senate, her attempts to keep things under control, and yes, we ever get into her attempts to help Bail Organa and Mon Mothma get the origins of the Rebellion off the ground. If parallels are being drawn between Luke and his biological father, then they are also being drawn very clearly between Padmé and Leia. Though this is mentioned in the next section, and not in this, I find it very sweet that Bail and Breha Organa put up a statue to Padmé and tell Leia all about her, figuring that even though she can’t know that was her birth mother, she should still look up to her as a role model. Excuse me, there’s something in my eye.

If I haven’t mentioned Anakin explicitly, it’s because he’s the focal point of the whole section. Everything ties back to him in one way or another. He is the titular “Father” after all. But what I will say is that a wonderful parallel is drawn here between the grooming he suffers at Palpatine’s hands, and the same grooming that his grandson Ben would later face.

In this section, more than the other two, the structure is interesting to note. While the book does move in a vaguely linear fashion, each chapter is centred on one theme, meaning we jump back and forth along the same 3-4 year period quite a few times, so that each thematically linked sequence of events can proceed in order. It took me a minute to catch on to this, to the point where I spent an entire chapter and a half thinking Baver just…omitted Anakin and Padmé’s wedding. She didn’t, don’t worry.

The Twins

Of the sections in the book this one was the slowest to get through (which still isn’t saying much, I read the whole book in a day). It’s no knock on this part of the book, or the characters, or anything like that.

But because the Original Trilogy is…well…the originals, I feel like this territory is the most familiar. We’ve been over all this already.

My favourite parts were actually where Baver draws from the Marvel Comics runs and puts in reference to some of the more interesting arcs. Of particular interest was the reference to Greg Pak’s 2020 Darth Vader comics run because that includes Padmé’s handmaidens.

One thing this book did make me thinks is that we’re long overdue for a Leia: Princess of Alderaan style book about Luke’s teenage years, but who knows? Maybe we’ll get some of that in the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series.

The Dyad

This was the part I was most afraid of reading. If you’re a regular reader/know me from Twitter, you know how much I love Ben Solo, and what a hard time I’ve had with Rey since TROS made me feel like I don’t know her anymore. I still love her so much it hurts, but the nerve is very, very raw.

Knowing that this book was going to “canonize” storytelling choices that upset me so much I spent far too long crying myself to sleep (oh hush, as if you don’t have things that make you feel like that) was a hard pill to swallow. Even though others who felt much like I did told me that the book handled it well, it still took me some time to come around to the idea of reading it.

Holy shit, though. I’m so glad I did.

It’s so easy to dismiss Ben Solo out of hand as an irrational, angry, fascist boy, and in another author’s hands that might have happened. But Kristin Baver treats the character with such care, presenting a tragic backstory for exactly what it is: a tragedy. Also worth noting that while she does occasionally refer to him as Kylo Ren after his downfall, she does switch back to “Ben” in moments where his light shines through, clearly illustrating moments where he is fully in the throes of the Dark side’s influence and when his true character is breaking through.

With Rey, mention is made of her ancestry (which I still cannot stand), but it’s discrete enough that I can forget it’s there. It seriously lifts out so easily it’s almost comical. Baver does try to make more sense of who Rey’s father was (apparently he’s not a biological son, and not a clone, but somewhere in the middle?) but the term “grandfather” when referring to Papa Palpy still feels like too strong a word.

The unfortunate thing is that while Rey’s backstory starts off strong, it unfortunately falls into the same rut her onscreen presence does by the end, where her existence and motivation are informed entirely by everyone around her, with the exception of the Force Bond and her connection to her dyad. This part ties in very well with her growing strength within the Force and works very well. This isn’t an issue with how it’s written. There isn’t much there to work with. The stronger parts of her story, drawn from everything pre-Episode IX, are unfortunately tainted by association with where she ends up. But kudos to Kristin Baver for trying to salvage as much as humanly possible from that particular trash fire.

The more nonsensical parts of certain movies are glossed over or omitted entirely. For instance, no mention is made of Luke and Leia knowing she was a Palpatine all along. And this is a book that makes meticulous mention of small interactions and moments. But it’s left out here, because for it to come on the heels of Leia realizing that hiding dark ancestry from a vulnerable young person is a mistake would be ridiculous and hypocritical and hey, I’m glad at least someone is thinking of these things.

I still don’t like where Rey’s story ended up – neither the fact that she is a vessel for the expectations of others, nor her family history, nor her name – and the attempt to make it work here doesn’t really do it for me, even though it was done better than any other attempt I’ve seen. I’m also never going to be ok with a 30-year old with a tragic life dying right as things started to go right and he started on the path to healing. Until their story continues, the final film in the Skywalker Saga will remain unwatchable for me. Though it’s a bitter pill to swallow, this book actually makes it swallowable. This is unlike December 20, 2019, where the memory of the movie I had seen the night before was so nasty, I was violently ill at work and sent home early. Was that TMI?

We’re getting off topic.

Because this part is called “The Dyad”, a lot of time is spent on exactly that, on the connection the two of them have. This is by far the most sympathetic approach to their connection and interactions in movies 7-9 that I have seen from an official source (read: outside of fan fiction/twitter threads). I didn’t know I needed to have it confirmed that neither of them take a black and white view to their relationship/connection until I saw it here. It felt nice to know I wasn’t just seeing things.

Final Thoughts

Buy it. Buy it now. Or borrow it from the library. Either way. Do yourself a favour and read this book. There are so many extraneous details in various books that I’ve been screaming about for years, and people tell me it’s too much to keep track of? Well, no excuses, it’s all in one place now and it’s less than 300 pages long.

Biweekly Book Review: William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

Commentary by Arezou Amin and Dr. Nora Williams

We’re Not Mad, Just Disappointed: A Star Wars Story

It’s that time again.

Time for Nora and I to read a for-fun adaptation of a well-loved classic, and take it far too seriously. But you know what? Something being for fun is absolutely no excuse to not put any thought into it. Or to put really weird thought into it.

In any case. Star Wars: The Jedi Doth Return.

Overall Impressions

Arezou: I should probably start by saying that my expectations were simultaneously too high and also at rock bottom because Return of the Jedi is my favourite of the Original Trilogy movies.

Nora: I want to be mad, Ian, but really I know this is my own fault for getting my hopes up. There’s just…there’s just so much wrong. 

It’s not like Star Wars movies are especially notable for their scintillating dialogue, but there are a few really great lines, and Doescher botches almost every single one (including the reprise of I love you / I know). I will give him credit for handling the first part of Yoda’s death scene well (2.2)—but it works mostly because Doescher doesn’t stray too far from the movie version of the scene—that is, until Yoda actually dies. At that point, the scene sort of falls apart, a victim to over-long speeches and poor pacing. Immediately after Yoda’s death, for example, Luke gives a despairing monologue: ‘O Fate, what hast thou brought into my life– / How shall I live, when all I love have died?’ (2.2.137-38). First of all, slow down drama queen. ‘All I love have died’? What about Leia (who, by the way, still hasn’t had any space to mourn the loss of her entire fucking planet)? What about Han and Chewie? Or R2-D2, who’s standing right there next to you?? Later in the same scene, he literally says to R2: ‘I cannot face the future by myself. / What shall I do, R2?’ (2.2.165-66). YOU ARE NOT ALONE BECAUSE R2 IS RIGHT THERE AND YOU ARE TALKING TO HIM RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE ASKING HIM THIS QUESTION ABOUT BEING ALONE THUS PROVING THAT YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY ALONE. 

Ahem. 

Arezou: OK. I cannot stress this enough: words mean things.

Part of the reason I love this movie so much, is that woven in the middle of all the sci-fi weirdness, there are some truly wonderful bits of dialogue that land like an emotional gut punch (in a nice way). We went on and on last time about how “I love you/I know” was over-embellished to the point where it lost all its punch. But fine, whatever, it’s in the past. So why on earth, when it came time to repeat the exchange, did you ALTER it? Why did it go from “O, I do love thee wholly, Han” to “O, I do love thee, Leia dear” (5.1.105)? Now granted, some cynical part of me knows that the second “I love you, I know” exchange was probably included in ROTJ to balance things out, to have Han tell Leia he loves her before the (at the time) whole series ended. But to have them repeat the exact lines to each other, roles reversed is a wonderful and deliberate choice. It’s a callback that advances both characters, where Han is now *in this* enough that he’s ready to actually tell Leia he loves her, and Leia is now secure enough in that affection to be just a liiiiittle cocky about it. Love to see it. But we don’t get it here. What, was Leia’s phrasing too flowery for a guy to say?

Then we have the whimper of a delivery of my favourite line in this entire trilogy: “I am a Jedi, like my father before me”. There is nothing wrong in theory with how the line is written, as the sentiment is still technically there. But there’s something off about “I am Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, just like my brave and noble father” (5.2.184-186). Putting aside the fact that there are simply too many words here, the line as written is doing way more than the line of dialogue in the movie is meant to do. First he declares “I am Luke Skywalker” (ok, that wasn’t really in question?) “Jedi Knight” (k, sure, use the title Ben Kenobi mentioned to you literally once) “just like my brave and noble father” (looks like we’re projecting some feelings onto daddy dearest, aren’t we?). The line in the movie is beautiful for both it’s simplicity and for the strangeness of its construction. Luke speaks in a fairly straightforward, every day sort of way, but the declaration he makes, the speech is almost elevated. I’d argue it sounds more like what a normal person like me thinks of as “Shakespearian” than the line meant to sound like a Shakespeare delivery. No, the meter wouldn’t work, but like “I love you/I know” last time, maybe that would have been for the best. Makes it stand out all the more.

Nora: Also: he really went with “Jabba of the Hutt”? That construction of Jabba’s name doesn’t make any sense—“the Hutt” would have to be a place for this to work, which it isn’t, unless we’re talking about Pizza Hut referring to itself that way in ads from a long time ago? And that just makes me think of Pizza the Hutt from SpaceBalls. 

Arezou: On that note, the use of “Lando of Calrissian” followed immediately by “General Calrissian” was so jarring I had to ask Nora about the technicalities of naming during that era. Shouldn’t it have been “Lando Calrissian of Bespin?” Yes. Yes, it should have. But hey, as long as it “sounds” Shakespeare, I suppose it’s alright. Is this nitpicking? Buckle up, because there’s gonna be a whole lot of that.

Dramaturgy and Stagecraft – Nora

Dramaturgy, broadly speaking, is about the structure of a play: the stuff that holds it up and keeps it together. It’s both something a play has and something you can do in relation to a play. Sometimes, a theatre will hire a dramaturg to work on this aspect of a particular production, or to advise generally about this side of the rehearsal and development process. But whether or not a dramaturg is working on a play, dramaturgy is still important. (Aside: hire dramaturgs! And pay them! They do amazing work!) 

Someone who’s thinking dramaturgically can tell you about what’s happening under the surface of your play: what assumptions the text makes, what information is being communicated about the world of the play, and what structures of power and influence are at work, for example. 

I have this theory about soliloquies in Shakespeare and early modern plays: I call them “dramaturgical frames”. What I mean by this is that they set up the action that see after them, and they provide the audience with commentary on what comes before them. And they make particular invitations to the audience about how they should understand the world of the play. Of course, not all audiences are going to take up that invitation; but it’s interesting to think about how a script prompts its audience to view the action of the play through a particular lens. 

It’s not particularly groundbreaking to say that male characters tend to have more soliloquies in Shakespeare, and it’s not that surprising that Doescher holds to this trend, especially given that the Star Wars franchise, overall, gives far more lines to male characters. (In fact, this is true across film and television in general.) What’s more interesting, to my mind, is the framing of the play around the language and perspectives of these men. 

What do I mean by that? Well, soliloquies are moments where the characters share truth with the audience—think about R2-D2’s confessions to us in English, where he tells us that he’s choosing to speak only in beeps and squeaks to the other characters. We’re privy to a part of his character that the rest of the play-world is not. This kind of intimacy can create a feeling of affinity and confederacy with the character: we’re part of an “in-group” that gets to know his inner thoughts and feelings, even when he keeps them from other characters. 

When it comes to R2-D2, this is pretty benign; he is one of the good guys, after all. But let’s think for a moment about what happens when Doescher starts to give extensive and frequent soliloquies to characters like Darth Vader (1.1.42-58, 2.4.1-28, 3.4.1-12, 3.4.79-102, and 5.2.211-231) and the Emperor (2.1.5-54 and 5.2.82-120). Now yes, on the one hand, this is a thing that Shakespeare does, too: some of his most famous soliloquizers are characters like Richard III and Iago, who self-consciously establish themselves as baddies from the beginning. But when given the opportunity to play around within a Shakespearean dramaturgy, why not examine what it means to give so much alone time with the audience to such odious figures? If soliloquies are partly about building empathy for a character, and creating that confederacy between audience and character, what does it mean that we’re being invited here to associate ourselves with the leaders of the Empire, repeatedly, and at length? And even if we could claim that there’s value in creating an affinity with Vader, who eventually repents and finds “Anakin” again, why spend so much time with the Emperor? 

Now, yes, proportionally speaking, we get more time with Luke overall in soliloquies than we do with either Vader or the Emperor. But I still think it’s interesting to note which characters Doescher chooses to beef up through these moments of direct address, and which he doesn’t. 

Going to bat for the Tuskens – Arezou

I can’t even begin to explain where the Tusken thing. came from. It might have been the bitter realization last year that the “Sand People” were the closest thing to Middle Eastern representation I’d ever seen in Star Wars prior to the introduction of Dr. Pershing in season 1 of The Mandalorian. Partner that with Din Djarin’s comments in that same show about how the Tuskens were the indigenous species of Tatooine and the humans were the settlers, and suddenly I’m rooting for the Tuskens.

Essentially, I feel very protective of them.

Modern canon, currently including both seasons of The Mandalorian, and Sabaa Tahir’s short story from the first From A Certain Point of View has gone a long way to humanizing the Tuskens and I am HERE. FOR. IT. I have high hopes that this trend will continue in both Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Book of Boba Fett, both of which are presumably at least partially set on Tatooine.

So imagine my rage when I get to Act II, scene 2 of this and find what can only be described as a staggeringly racist take on the Tusken Raiders, made all the worse by the fact that it’s Luke who is speaking. Luke. One of the colonists on their homeland.

In the scene in question, Luke has just realized that Leia is his sister, and he processes it with – what else – a soliloquy. He kicks things off reflecting on the fact that he and Leia have definitely made out before, and how odd that is, but rather than moving on, a full 20 lines (2.2.266-286) are devoted to an “ancient tale of Tatooine” warning of the…um…dangers of incest. Now to anyone reading it who is somewhat familiar with the Western literary canon, it’s quite clear that the tale he is telling is loosely based on the story of Oedipus. In it the central character, a Tusken Raider, “join’d with his mother in a bond most strange and quite unnatural”. When they find out, the mother hangs herself and the son blinds himself. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

So, Ian wants us to know he’s read the classics. Great. But I have two questions: why have we given 20 full lines for a very rushed retelling of Oedipus Rex when we won’t give Leia half that time to develop in any way, shape or form? We have theories on that front (see below). But my second question is perhaps harder to answer and that is: why was this necessary?

I get that Ian probably picked Tuskens because they are the “other”, the non-humans, on the planet where Luke grew up, so it makes sense that those are the legends he might have heard. BUT. I question this decision: “At night upon the sands of Tatooine, his howl may still be heard, a warning to those who would break the sacred fam’ly bond through passions of the body” (2.2.283-286). That’s right. The Tuskens are now mythical beings who do unnatural things and now as a result, literally howl at the moon in warning. Not to make this crass, but Tuskens are near enough to human that the two species can reproduce. I’m not 100% convinced they aren’t actually some form of human themselves. And even then, in the Star Wars universe, there is such a wide variety of sentient species that I shouldn’t be classifying them as “human” and “non-human” with any kind of hierarchy. That’s something the Empire does, in only employing humans in their ranks.

What I am trying to get at, is going out of your way to get in a dig at the Tuskens, to other them further than the text EVER does, just doesn’t sit right with me.

And don’t give me the excuse of this is “modern canon”. The first hint of this that I’ve seen is in Terry Brooks’ novelization of The Phantom Menace, which was published in 1999. The information was available. Also, maybe we don’t punch down at the non-humans never given a chance to advocate for themselves?

Hashtag Huttslayer Forever

Nora: We’ve complained before on this blog that Doescher allows more character development for random space creatures than he does for Leia, and that trend continues here. The rancor keeper gets more opportunity to lament the death of his charge than Leia gets to say anything at all—35 lines in Act 1, Scene 4 go to the rancor keeper. Leia’s longest speech in this play is only 24 lines (4.1.26-50) and is focused not on any aspect of her characterization but rather on the role that the Ewoks will play in the rebellion’s success on Endor. This is also the very first opportunity Leia gets—two and two-thirds of a play later—to process any aspect of the loss of Alderaan. And it’s honestly blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quick: 

There is a saying back on Alderaan-

Or rather, should I say, there us’d to be

For now no sayings there are heard at all-

(4.1.34-36)

Arezou: ROTJ is that weird sci-fi entry in Star Wars where there are just SO many creatures running around. Not inherently a bad thing, of course. But I do question the decision to give ALL of them more time than Leia is given. Like Nora said, the rancor keeper gets his chance to lament the loss of his pet. OK fine. Whatever. But the rancor itself also has time to sing a death song. Salacious B. Crumb, the monkey-lizard is turned from giggling rodent to a character with actual lines? Entire exchanges are held in Huttese and in Ewokese. And still, Leia seems to only exist to serve the (mostly male) characters around her.

Nora: Backing up a bit, Leia also gets precious little chance to have feelings about being enslaved by Jabba. In 1.4, Doescher lets her elaborate in response to Han’s question (“And where is Leia?” 1.4.147) compared to the movie, but her lines only serve to minimize and trivialize the harm that Jabba has done to her: ‘I am quite safe and, as of yet, unharm’d, / But bound unto this wormlike lump of hate’ (1.4.148-49). Now as much as I appreciate that Doescher doesn’t give us an implied or literal rape in this scene, there’s also a huge spectrum of possible violence between rape and “unharmed.” She is literally chained to Jabba the Hutt. There are ways to let her reassure Han and also communicate that this experience is harmful (like, I don’t know…a soliloquy?? Oh wait, I forgot, those are just for the men and the random space creatures. Silly me.). 

Arezou: She f*cking STRANGLES Jabba the Hutt and…nothing. No moment to reflect on what all that means to her. I know this was published before Bloodline made Huttslayer a thing but come on. All the men are given the space to process the slightest thing that happens to or around them. Leia declares her intention of killing him, then is given 10 lines (1.5.97-106) in which to do it. Half those lines just…explain to the audience what she’s doing (again making me wonder if this was ever intended to be performed), then the rest are him cursing and condemning him for the general wrongs to others. At least let some of this be about what he did to you and your loved ones?

Nora: Part of me wonders if Doescher’s insistence on avoiding any meaningfulinteriority for Leia is a misguided attempt to present her as a “strong female lead”? Because we all know that in order to be “strong” you’re never allowed to have any emotions or character development, ever. But then again, her once moment of contemplation—when she learns that Luke is her brother—minimizes her own strength in the force and positions her as inferior to Luke (3.3.316-333). I don’t know. I’m trying to make it make sense, but I suspect it’s just a whole lot of garden-variety misogyny. 

Arezou: I have nothing to add to this except “stoic and expressionless and without feeling” does not equal “strong” by any stretch of the imagination, and writers would do well to remember this. Though it is a little weird that both she and Luke reflect back on their relationship and while he questions their kiss in ESB, she doesn’t so much.

Final Thoughts

Nora: It’s honestly all becoming so predictable at this point, and I can only pray that with a new trilogy starting in the next installment, we’ll also get some life injected into this series. 

Arezou: The prequels are my favourite trilogy overall, partially due to nostalgia, but also partially due to how well I feel they work as one coherent story. No excuses, Ian. But lots of pressure.

***

Next month we’re jumping into Prequel-land with The Phantom of Menace! I’m a prequel stan, Nora less so. Let’s see how this goes (fingers crossed Padmé gets her due!

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: 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!