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

Commentary by: Arezou Amin and Dr. Nora Williams

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

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

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

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

Overall Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canonical Comments – Arezou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technical Comments – Nora

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

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

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

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

–Hath not a Sith eyes

Hath not a Sith such feelings, heart and soul,

As any Jedi Knight did e’er possess?

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

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

Assault with lightsaber, do we not die?

(1.7.32-27)

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

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

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

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

Don’t F*ck With Genius

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

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

Leia: I love you

Han: I know

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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

Arezou: I do. He ruined it with soliloquies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s some good shit right there.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Special thank you to my collaborator on this series:

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

Biweekly Book Review: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Commentary by: Arezou Amin and Dr. Nora Williams

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

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

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

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

Overall Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technical Comments – Nora

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

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

Now holdeth Luke the weapon in his hand, 

And with a switch the blade explodes in blue.

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

That instant was a Jedi born anew.

(2.2.58-61)

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

Canonical Comments – Arezou

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

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

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

Where’s Leia?!?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

Special thank you to my collaborator on this series:

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

Biweekly Book Review: The High Republic: Into The Dark

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

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

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

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

The Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spoilers begin below

5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. The Jedi and their relationship to the Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Drengir

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Nihil. Again.

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

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

4. Dez Rydan

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Affie and her cause

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

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

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

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

6. The flashbacks

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

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

Random Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

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

Then it explodes.

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

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

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. The New Characters

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

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

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

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

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

2. Smaller scale (but not smaller stakes)

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

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

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

3. Jedi and Padawans from a new point of view

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

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

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

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

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

4. The Nihil

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

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

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

Random Thoughts and Lingering Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

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

Speaking of.

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

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

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

5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. The Jedi at their peak

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

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

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

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

2. Avar Kriss + Elzar Mann 4ever

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

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

I MEAN.

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

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

It feels, in short, like a dyad.

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

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

3. The Nihil

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

I love them. No one is surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

Whether everyone likes it or not.

4. Marchion Ro

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

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

I can’t get enough.

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

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

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

5. New Era, New Possibilities

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

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

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

6. The info dump to end all info dumps

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

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

Random Thoughts and Lingering Questions

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

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

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

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

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

Fandom, Twitter and Group Chats: My 2020 Saving Graces

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

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

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

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

And this was BEFORE everything locked down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Biweekly Book Review was born!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biweekly Book Review: The Skywalker Saga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple of observations:

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

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

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

Biweekly Book Review: Before The Awakening/ Cobalt Squadron/ The Spark Of Resistance

It’s here. I can’t believe it. The final batch of reviews in the middle grade books, and the last Biweekly Book Review of 2020. Thank you so much for sticking with me, and for joining me on this adventure through this crazy year. The series will be back next year with the movie novelizations, and of course any new books that come along, starting with the HIGH REPUBLIC in January!! But for now, let’s turn our attention to the middle grade books of the Sequel Trilogy

Where the last review focused on three books meant to be read as a series before The Force Awakens had come out, this series is a little more spread out, with the events of each book preceding one of the movies of the sequel trilogy and providing a little added context (and also breaking my heart into a million pieces along the way).

Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka

The Story

Before the Awakening is a story in three parts, with each section of the story focusing on one of our new main characters in the lead up to The Force Awakens.

The first story is about FN-2187, later known as Finn, who is an exemplary stormtrooper and well on his way to a command program within the First Order. But his sense of teamwork and camaraderie, his kindness towards his unit, as well as his reluctance to kill on command becomes a concern for Captain Phasma, and for FN-2187 himself. He wants to do well, but struggles within the confines of a life he was never given control over.

The second is about Rey, and her lonely life in the Jakku desert. Rey is an experienced pilot, in theory, since she found an old flight simulator on a scavenging trip, and fixed it up well enough to use. Basically just picture WALL-E and his old iPod with Hello, Dolly! playing on a loop. But the simulated flights aren’t enough, and soon she masters even the toughest simulations. She is ready to fly for real. A storm unearths a half wrecked ship, and Rey takes it upon herself to fix it up. When two fellow scavengers offer to help her, Rey needs to decide if she can trust them or not.

The third and final story is about Poe flying with the New Republic. When his squadron uncovers something that looks like a serious First Order fleet, New Republic officials refuse to take it seriously. Not wanting a massive threat to grow right under their noses, Poe and his squadron undertake a covert evidence gathering mission and are recruited by the Resistance for their efforts.

Overall Impressions

This book is so, so sad. Not Poe’s part so much, because while he does lose a squadron member on a mission, he still has friends, a purpose, a support system. But Finn and Rey? Poor babies.

Finn is a good man with a good heart stuck in a harsh, unforgiving environment. He is extremely good at what he does, when if what he does is “being a stormtrooper”. He wants to do well by the First Order and thinks his compassion for others is a personal failing of some kind. It is rewarding then, to know that he’s moments away from breaking away from all this and making it over to the Resistance (the book ends with his squad en route to Jakku).

Rey’s story, in my opinion, is by far the saddest. Because even if Finn is stuck in a bad situation, he is stuck with people he cares about. Rey is alone on Jakku, half-starved and barely surviving. She opens herself up enough to trust two fellow scavengers who want to help her fix up a ship she found, only for them to turn back on their agreement to sell it to Unkar Plutt. They instead wait until she’s out of the ship before taking off and leaving her there, just further cementing how much trouble she has trusting people.

I think what makes me extra sad about this book is that it is currently December 2020, and with the anniversary of Episode IX on the horizon, I am extra in my feelings about it. Finn in this book has empathy for his fellow stormtroopers because he knows none of them had a choice, then jumping ahead to Episode IX is gleefully watching them die. I’m not suggesting he let himself get killed by them, but surely the story could have found some kind of middle road? And Rey comes out of this book likely feeling she can’t trust anyone, and ends Episode IX…still not trusting anyone. She undergoes two major personal upheavals and her friends never hear about either of them. Granted, the loss of a soulmate comes right at the end of the movie so there isn’t time to talk about it. But they also never hear about her supposed lineage either, and there was plenty of time for that to come up. Though she is now surrounded by people, I can’t help but feel like my poor Rey ends her story as lonely as she began it.

Random Thoughts

Major Ematt from the last series is here, and I love it when this tapestry weaves together.

Rey actually does have training for flying so…take that haters. Not that she needs it, it is a movie after all. But she has it. So there.

Cobalt Squadron by Elizabeth Wein

The Story

After fleeing their homeworld of Hays Minor, which suffered at the hands of the First Order, Rose and Paige Tico found their way to the Resistance, and now fly as part of “Cobalt Squadron”, one of the teams of bombers. They fly on the same ship, and that is just the way Rose likes it. While on a fact finding mission in the Atterra system, their bomber is boarded by two refugees, desperate to tell someone, anyone that their home is dying.

Sympathetic to their similar situations, Rose wants to help them any way she can. After consultation with Leia (and Holdo!), the Resistance agrees to limited supply runs to Atterra to help the citizens fight back. Though the mission is an eventual success, the bomber squadrons are soon called away to help with evacuation efforts over D’Qar after the First Order destroys the Hosnian system, taking us right into the opening moments of The Last Jedi.

Overall Impressions

I don’t think that books should be a replacement for character development onscreen in a franchise that is first and foremost screen based. I also don’t think that’s what this book does. I think anything you need to know about Rose Tico is presented on screen in Episode VIII.

But what this book does very nicely is it colours in details about the character. We know from the movie that Rose and her sister were close. We know this because she tells us, because they wore twin necklaces, because Paige’s death devastates Rose. But what this book does is show us just how close they are. They fly on the same ship, they hang out all the time, such to the point where Rose refuses to fly without Paige on a mission (ultimately a good call for her, since the ship on that mission was destroyed). She is adamant they remain together up until the end of the book, when the needs of the Resistance separate them. Paige insists it’s temporary, but we the readers know that that’s not true. This is the mission with the bombing run that kills Paige. This then adds an extra layer to Rose’s devastation when we first meet her in the film. Not only is she grieving, but she is likely either wishing she had gone with Paige after all, or ideally that Paige had accompanied her on board one of the flagships. The one time they were separated, and it ended in a worst-case scenario.

Random Thoughts

I love Vice Admiral Holdo. I let out an unholy shriek when she popped up.

Spark of Resistance by Justina Ireland

The Story

Sometime after the events of The Last Jedi, Rey, Rose and Poe are on their way back to base after a supply run when they receive a distress signal from the planet Minfar. The inhabitants call out for help because the First Order is occupying their homeworld and taking over. Deciding it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask permission, the three of them decide to fly in and see how they can help.

Meanwhile on the planet, the First Order is hunting for a device known as the Echo Horn, with the help of scientist Glenna Kip, whose goals do not totally align with those of the First Order commanders overseeing the occupation, and she wants to find the Echo Horn before they do.

Rey, Poe and Rose encounter a group known as the Zixon, who are the ones who called for help. The Empire had once used the Echo Horn on them, a device that drives the people it is turned on to mindless submission. The trauma of what that did to them still runs deep, and Rey and friends vow to destroy the device before it is able to be used on the Zixon again.

Overall Impressions

This one…made me nervous.

My relationship with The Rise of Skywalker is a difficult one, and this was released as part of the “Journey To…” publishing program. But then again I loved loved LOVED Resistance Reborn so I was hoping this would be more of the same.

All in all I didn’t think it was a bad book, necessarily. It was a cute story with a compelling adventure. I thought Poe and Rose sounded like themselves, but I thought it was bizarre that Finn isn’t in the book at all. There was space for him on the adventure I’m sure.

Then we have my two favourites from the Sequel Trilogy: Rey and Kylo Ren. Though Rey was in the entire book, something about her felt off. It’s as though she was only half there, never fully materialized. I noticed the same in Resistance Reborn, but in that one she was a minor character at best. Here she’s meant to be the lead character, and other than being filled with a lot of self-doubt, I never got the sense that I knew her any better.

My issue with the characterization of Kylo Ren is a little different because technically, he isn’t in the book at all. But any mention made of him paints him as far more of a cold, manipulative psychopath than we ever see on screen. Despite the soft spot I personally hold for Armitage Hux, the way they describe Kylo is far more in like with the Hux we see on screen.

But I’ve been ragging on this book long enough so let’s look at some things I did like: I loved the different groups of First Order officers and their various dedications to the ideals of the group they serve. I LOVED that our gang assumes the person who rescued the Zixon from the Empire was Luke Skywalker, only for us to find out it was Glenna Kip. There is a bit of a tendency to ascribe a little too much…godlike power to Luke and this book steers well clear of that so kudos.

Random Thoughts

I said it already but: I cannot think of a single good reason why Finn isn’t in this book. Not a one.

My favourite fun fact is that Poe is so canonically good looking that the entire First Order knows who he is because he has nice hair.

Biweekly Book Review: The Weapon Of A Jedi/ Smuggler’s Run/ Moving Target

As the world prepared for the arrival of The Force Awakens, and a whole new generations of Star Wars movies, three middle grade novels were dropped as part of the “Journey to…” publishing program. Though the movies were set to introduce us to a whole new generation of characters, the books are centred around the heroes of the Original Trilogy, with Luke, Han and Leia each getting a book of their own.

Interestingly, each of them is presented as a tale being told to someone else, to that new generation we were supposed to be meeting shortly. The three of them are heroes and legends in their own right, both in our world and the one they live in. Let’s dive in. *Spoilers Below*

The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

Yes I still have no Luke funko…

The Story

After the Battle of Yavin, when Luke harnessed the Force long enough to fire a torpedo down the Death Star exhaust shaft, the budding Jedi finds himself wanting to learn more about his abilities.

Visions from the Force lead him to the world of Devaronn, a planet under Imperial occupation and the home of an ancient Jedi temple. A cottage industry has sprung up on Devaronn, where tourists come to hunt in the forests, led by guides who may or may not rip them off and abandon them at any time. Luke initially accepts an offer from a young girl, Farnay, to be his guide to the Jedi temple, which is off-limits thanks to Imperial restriction. He changes his mind and takes on an adult guide to lead him there instead, one the little girl knows to be a crook.

Luke, however is successfully led to the temple where he discovers ancient secrets of the Force and more successfully learns how to harness his abilities, particularly skills with a lightsaber.

Overall Impressions

You know me. You know I like some good freaky Force stuff. And though the book wasn’t particularly freaky, there was plenty of Force stuff.

I imagine it isn’t easy to have a Luke Skywalker adventure like this, since he spends so much time on his own learning about the Force. Fry cleverly gives him R2 and 3P0 to talk to at least, but how does one learn the Force if there is no one there to teach you?

No I am not about to go into a rant about Jedi training, don’t worry. That activates my fight or flight these days.

I do like that the book strikes a nice balance between recollections of Ben Kenobi’s lessons as well as Luke’s own intuition. Force visions play into it a bit, yes, but they aren’t the primary method by which Luke develops his skills. Given the young age of the target reader, I think it’s a great lesson for them, to rely on their own knowledge, yes, but to not discount what they were taught and to try and apply it to new problems.

Random Thoughts

C-3P0 is telling the story of the book, and is described in the prologue as having a red arm. This shows that there is zero crossover between the target reader for this book, and the people who watched the trailer back in the day and speculated that 3P0 had gone Sith or something.

Something that is almost certainly a bumble bee lands on Luke’s hand while he’s at the temple. But because this is Star Wars and we have to rename everything, the little bug is renamed “the sap drinker”. It even has a stinger! Come on, now.

The end of this book set up a sequel story of some kind, with Jessika Pava, Resistance pilot to whom C-3P0 is telling the story, asking whatever happened to Farnay, the little girl who tried to help them. 3P0 says that they met her again as an adult, but that’s a story for another time. As far as I know she hasn’t popped again since, so what gives 3P0? Is this another comic book thing?

Smuggler’s Run by Greg Rucka

The Story

After the Battle of Yavin, the Rebellion is trying to figure out their next steps. But they’ve currently got a bigger problem. Their special squad, called the Shrikes, was ambushed by the Empire, with only the leader Ematt making it out alive. He is the only one who knows the locations of potential future Rebel bases, and if the Empire catches him, they’ll be able to torture it all out of him.

In hot pursuit of Ematt is Commander Alecia Beck, from the Imperial Security Bureau. As far as bad guys go, Beck looks extremely cool, with a long scar down her face and a glowing red eye. Since she’s alive by the end of the book I can only hope she comes back later.

When Han arrives on Cyrkon, he immediately runs afoul of bounty hunters from his past, some sent by Jabba the Hutt, because of course he does. What follows is a fairly standard search and rescue mission full of adventure and betrayal.

Overall Impressions

I said in my last 3 part review that I loved Pirate’s Price because it was Han Solo through someone else’s eyes. While that premise doesn’t totally work here, I did find myself missing that extra layer to the character. Because Han Solo played straight is always kind of the same each time. Gunslinger, fast-talking, can get out of anything. Plus there’s a decided lack of tension because The Empire Strikes Back is still a couple of years away from the events of this book, so we know he’s going to stick around. That’s not to say this is a bad book. Just a…familiar one.

Also, towards the end of the book, they tie it in to the Force Awakens so explicitly I actually made a noise when it clicked for me. Han Solo is the one telling the story, at a cantina, to a table full of rougher types. Right at the end he correctly identifies them as members of the Irving Boys, the Guavians or as working for Ducain. All names I recognized from the scene aboard his freighter in The Force Awakens when a whole bunch of names are being thrown around (no Kanjiklub though).I suppose this was the “hint” in the book for Episode 7, as each book in this series promises. But because I’ve seen it so many times, seeing the names spelled out like that was pretty jarring.

Random Thoughts

Chewie has blue eyes apparently? Who knew? (Everyone but me, probably)

Also, Chewie already has a medal from the Battle of Yavin. He’s holding it at the beginning of this book. I feel weirdly vindicated.

This one, like the Luke story, ALSO ends on the ambiguous note of a potential sequel. When asked what happened to Alecia Beck, Han simply says that that’s for next time. What’s with all the next times, tell me now!!

Moving Target by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry

The Story

Jumping ahead in the timeline a bit to between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, it’s time for Princess Leia to have an adventure of her own. After suffering losses at the Battle of Hoth and barely slipping out of the Empire’s grip on Cloud City, Leia and the rest of the Rebellion are on the run. With Luke hiding from the Empire on a different vessel and occupied with his own Jedi training, Leia is left alone to consider next steps both in terms of the Rebellion and in terms of what she herself wants (remember, Han is frozen in carbonate by this point).

But she doesn’t have too much time to dwell on her feelings. She has her duty to the cause. The Rebellion has received word that the empire is building a second Death Star over Endor and they need time to amass a fleet without being seen. They propose that beacons broadcasting messages the Empire can already decrypt be placed far from where they actually want to build their fleet, calling for any ships willing to help to meet nearby, to draw Imperial attention. Since Princess Leia is a high value target, she volunteers to go place the beacons herself with a team, to ensure that’s where their attention stays. She embarks on the mission with her small crew, wrestling with the knowledge of how important her job is, but also the immorality of asking people to meet up somewhere where they are likely to die.

Overall Impressions

Of the three books in this “series”, I liked this one the best. The stakes felt a lot higher, because they weren’t personal physical stakes. There’s no life-or-death tension for any of these characters, we know they’ll be in the next movie. But this one instead gives Leia personal moral stakes, because she knows she is asking people to give their lives for the cause, while also knowing she’s leading them to almost certain death. The mission is so top secret, half her crew doesn’t even know about it, meaning she doesn’t even have the benefit of a team all reassuring her that she’s doing the right thing. There was real tension for me in wondering whether she was actually going to go all the way through with the plan, and I was not disappointed in the outcome.

Random Thoughts

I loved the different environments of the worlds they visit to place beacons on. My personal favourite was the beach/touristy world of Sesid, first of all because we don’t usually see leisure environments in Star Wars, and second of all because when they need to buy disguises, Nien Nunb suggests Leia wear a brown bikini with gold trim (which sounds an awful lot like a certain gold bikini). For the record, she hates the idea.

Lokmarcha, one member of Leia’s crew, and the most military/hardline of them all, is of the opinion that all Imperials should face war criminal charges at the end of it all. Even the ones working at desks doing menial jobs. And if that isn’t the most dudebro internet troll thing I’ve ever heard in a work of fiction, I don’t know what is.

Biweekly Book Review: Guardians Of The Whills/ Lando’s Luck/Pirate’s Price

With the anthologies behind us, it’s time to move into the middle grade books! These are all going to be firsts for me too, since I hadn’t planned on reading them at all at first.

Then I got in too deep.

Anyway. With a new chunk of books comes a format change! This time, it’ll be three books at a time, and a more general overview of the story because they’re so short and to dive too deep would remove a lot of the mystique.

First up, books set prior to the Original Trilogy! *Spoilers Below*

Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka

The Story

Guardians of the Whills is set on Jedha, sometime shortly before the events of Rogue One. Baze Malbus and Chirrut Îmwe are former Guardians of the Whills, now scraping by since the arrival of the Empire and the shuttering of the Temple of the Kyber.

Recognizing the unjust system all around them, the two of them do the best they can to make life easier for those who suffer, particularly those who used to be temple disciples. They focus the bulk of their efforts on two sisters, Killi and Kaya, who run an orphanage in Jedha City.

Their good work doesn’t go unnoticed, and they are shortly approached by Saw Gerrera’s Partisans, and invited to join their cause, which they do in an effort to chase off the Empire and try to salvage life as it once was.

Overall Impressions

While I don’t feel any backstory for Baze and Chirrut is necessary to enjoy Rogue One, that didn’t make this book any less fun or enjoyable.

It was awesome to see someone engaging with the Force differently than just being a plain Force user. It was also great to dive into what makes Baze and Chirrut so different. One gives into his anger and it’s caused him to set the Force aside completely, while the other doubled down in his beliefs and uses it to drive him.

We also have the two men winding up on Saw Gerrera’s bad side, which might add a curious dimension to their motivations the next time I watch Rogue One. I’m personally a little meh on how Saw is painted as unstable and dangerous for so long, but here towards the end of his life (I assume) it makes a little more sense. When you’re in it so long, you start to lack perspective.

Random Thoughts

Chirrut can “sense” Baze clearly in the Force, even clearer than he can sense himself. Between the two of them, they also have a very close bond despite being opposites. I found myself asking “dyad lite?”

So Jyn has Rebel Rising, Baze and Chirrut have this, Cassian is getting his own show. Bohdi Rook content when?

Lando’s Luck by Justina Ireland

The Story

Sometime before the events of Solo, Lando is living the life as a not-entirely-above-board smuggler. A trip to Hynestia and an inability to walk away from the sabacc table puts Lando directly in the crosshairs of Queen Forsythia, who is prepared to have him killed for transporting a banned substance onto the planet. Her daughter, Rinetta, strikes a bargain: if Lando agrees to transport the planet’s imperial tribute directly to the Empire, then he be allowed to walk away with his life.

But Rinetta’s motivations are not so cut and dry. The so-called tribute is actually a sacred artifact from Livno III, and it’s absence means the world has fallen into chaos and disrepair. Her mentor, Zel Gris, hails from that world, and it is out of respect for her that Rinetta wants to see the artifact, the Solstice Globe, returned where it belongs.

But because this is Lando, nothing goes as planned. They take a detour to another planet for him to pay off one debt, only to be caught and apprehended by Forsythia and dragged back to Hynestia, leading Rinetta to have to orchestrate a breakout and beat her mother at her own game in order to see justice carried out.

Overall Impressions

I like Lando Calrissian. I think he’s at his most interesting when he’s wrestling with everything he thought he knew about life, the universe, and himself, all covered up with a flashy cape and an abundance of self confidence. But at this point in his journey, he isn’t quite there yet.

That’s why my favourite parts of the book were ones that were told from Rinetta or L3’s points of view. I love L3 because of how delightfully independent and over the top she is, and her chapters are just more of that.

Rinetta’s chapters are what really shine through in this book for me. As much as I love our legacy characters, I love seeing how new characters we’ve never met before interact with and face conflicts set out by our legacy characters, or just how they exist in the world at all. I understand why the book was focused on Lando: it was to coincide with the release of Solo. While I did enjoy it, I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had been more focused on Rinetta.

Random Thoughts

The story is framed as a tale being told to Bazine Netal, who is seeking the whereabouts of the Millennium Falcon. I know she appears in some short stories and The Force Awakens briefly, but for me, I’ve actually seen her more in fan fiction than anything else, so yes, this was jarring.

L3 makes an offhand reference to the fact that fights on Mustafar usually end up with one of the parties dead, then tells Lando and Rinetta to “study history” when they’re confused about what she means. Does L3 know about Anakin and Obi Wan, or are duels to the death just a thing that happens on Mustafar?

Pirate’s Price by Lou Anders

The Story

Though I suspect this is the Han Solo counterpart to Lando’s Luck, this book makes the interesting choice of telling the whole story through the eyes of everyone’s favourite Weequay space pirate Hondo Onaka.

Following on her investigation from Lando’s Luck, Bazine Netal tracks Hondo to Batuu, as she’s heard he is now in possession of the famous Millennium Falcon. He promises to tell her how he came to have it. But because this is Hondo and he can’t do anything straightforward, he tells Bazine two whole other stories before he gets to explaining how he acquired the Falcon.

The first – and longest – of these stories details how he attempted to sneak on board the Falcon and steal it from Han and Chewie, but found himself stuck when they suddenly take off in order to grant someone passage on a distant world. He makes himself known to them and offers his services on the journey. What follows is an Oceans 11 style adventure involving clones, hidden explosives, and a planet covered in a red organism and populated by giant snails.

The second story is set on Takodana, home of Maz Kanata and her famous castle. Hondo flies there to purchase some less-than-legal ships and parts, and is dragged along by Maz on an adventure to rescue Han and Chewie from the very same smugglers Hondo planned on meeting with.

The third and final story also serves to resolve the mystery of how Hondo came to possess the Millennium Falcon in the first place. Chewie lends it to him for repairs and for his use sometime after the events of The Last Jedi. Though a nemesis from an earlier story tries to take the ship from him, Hondo manages to prevent it, with the assistance of the porgs that now live on board.

Overall Impressions

I think making the decision to have Hondo narrate the story was a wise one. If this had been another Han Solo story played straight, I don’t know how interesting that would have been. But like this, with Hondo’s over-the-top narration style and with us seeing Han and Chewie through the eyes of someone who doesn’t usually get to tell the story, the book as a whole was really refreshing.

Random Thoughts

I’m so glad the solved the mystery of how Hondo came to possess the Falcon, and how it is that you can pilot it when you visit Galaxy’s Edge. Though I do wonder how long he had it for, since in The Rise of Skywalker it’s back in their possession long enough for them to break parts of it again after Hondo repairs it.