Biweekly Book Review: Aftermath: Empire’s End

War is coming. It’s time for the Battle of Jakku and the fall of the Empire. Today we’re going to be wrapping up the Aftermath series.

From here on out, we will be firmly in the Sequel Trilogy timeline, and I promise I won’t let my Episode IX feelings out too much (because I’ve been so good and subtle about it thus far). So, let’s get started. Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig.

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

In the months since the Battle of Endor, the remains of the Empire have been slowly picking themselves up in the shadows and trying to maintain some kind of foothold in the galaxy they once controlled.

Following instructions from Gallius Rax, Palpatine’s would-be successor, what’s left of the Empire’s forces relocate to Jakku and prepare to make their last stand.

Word of this reaches the New Republic, where the leaders are hesitant to engage in another act of war, preferring to try and negotiate a cease fire instead, not that that’s stopping anyone from trying anyway.

Norra Wexley, accompanied by Jas Emari, heads to Jakku in search of her husband and Rae Sloane, who she holds responsible for the actions on Chandrila in the second book. Snap Wexley and Wedge Antilles remain behind, gearing up Wedge’s Phantom Squadron for their role in the big fight. Meanwhile Sinjir Rath Velus puts his old Imperial skills to use by playing the political game and trying to make sure Mon Mothma retains her seat as New Republic chancellor.

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. A Happy Ever After? In Star Wars?

You know what’s super weird about this book? There are two romantic subplots, and neither end up with one person dying in the other’s arms.

I know! In Star Wars of all places!

We see the resolution of the Norra/Wedge plot from past books with the suggestion by the end that they’re spending a LOT of time together. Granted, they’re taking things very slowly because Norra went from thinking her husband was dead, to realizing that he was actually kidnapped and brainwashed, to him dying for real in the span of a couple of months at most.

The other, more conventional romantic subplot is between Sinjir and New Republic slicer Conder Kyl. The two of them are a tale as old as time. Sinjir is the cold, damaged one who doesn’t know how to love and Conder is the sweet one who is willing to try. So then of course Conder is kidnapped, Sinjir has to rescue him and along the way realizes he loved him this whole time. What can I say? I love my tropes and it’s high time this franchise had romance that doesn’t end in tragedy.

2. Mon Mothma

For all that Mon Mothma is painted as a stick in the mud for the bulk of this series, I actually really like her character here. Leia takes a back seat in this book, and the struggles of the New Republic are all shown through Mon’s eyes.

She is faced with a downright impossible task of trying to build a functioning government out of a rag tag band of rebels all while making sure she never slips into authoritarian Palpatine mode.

I empathize with her too, because her job is a thankless one, and the balance she has to maintain is a precarious one. I’ve said it before, but this series felt like watching the New Republic fail in slow motion, because you know that in 30 years or so it’s all going to come crumbling down.

3. The Empire’s Back Up Plan

Building on the last point, this book also gives a great look into how the Empire managed to survive enough to come roaring back as the First Order in the future.

The creepy Palpatine robots we saw in this series and in the Alphabet Squadron books sends Gallius Tax and the Imperial forces to an outpost on Jakku to make their last stand. Jakku, it says, is home to one of several outposts made to house Sith artifacts (probably much like the one Yrica finds in Shadow Fall).

Though the Empire loses that particular battle, and Rax is killed, Grand Admiral Sloane is spared by Norra and heads to the edges of Wild Space to build the Empire back up. Though this is fascinating and interesting, I think it suffers by not being paid off later. Sloane is too big a figure in the Empire to simply disappear, but as of right now, I can’t remember if we ever see her again.

4. The Battle of Jakku

Good lord.

I know I’ve said before that I don’t like battle scenes. I think the interesting thing about any fight scene is how it makes a character feel. The internal conflict makes the external one worth reading.

The Battle of Jakku takes up the last third of this book, and is just so much back and forth pew pew pew, which I know is to be expected of an adult Star Wars book, but I’d be lying if I said I read the whole thing without skimming it.

Overall Series Thoughts

You know when I really enjoyed this series? Up to when the movies ended.

I know the books aren’t perfect, I know some choices made are questionable, but overall, I liked what they did for the world building, and of all the books I’d read, they informed a lot of my theories going into Episode 9.

I thought we’d find out Rey’s parents worked for the Empire on Jakku and dumped their Force-sensitive child there because they didn’t want Palpatine’s sentinels to come after them. I thought, once we found out Palpatine was coming back, that it would be in the form of one of these sentinels, and not as a clone that’s been hanging around on an arcade claw for 30 years for some reason. I thought, that for all the attention paid to Leia’s meditations with the Force, her sensing Ben and communicating with him before he was born, her sensing that band of unexpected darkness that kept invading his soul, that we would somehow see the two reunited in the end (not in death, that doesn’t count and it didn’t even happen anyway).

I know things don’t always go the way we want, and I probably spent way too much time thinking about this, but the books don’t feel the same now, in a post-TROS world. Too much of the story was left hanging. I’m curious now to see how the rest of the Sequel-era books feel in this post-saga world.

Random Thoughts

Fun fact: Niima Outpost, where we first meet our beloved heroine Rey is named after the Hutt that ran a black market on that site

Less fun fact: We find out what happened to Jar Jar in one of the interludes and things did not go well for our poor gungan friend (no he wasn’t a secret Sith Lord either, for which I’m relieved, I did not like that theory)

Gallius Rax makes a point of saying that he had once come from nothing and rose to power, and wow what a compelling narrative that would be for a scrappy child from Jakku if only we could have seen that play out on screen but I guess not right?

We get our first glimpse at little Armitage Hux, who is simultaneously terrifying and to be pitied.

Biweekly Book Review: Aftermath: Life Debt

Welcome, welcome, everyone to the darker (or, longer at any rate) middle chapter of the Aftermath series. Of all the books in the series, this is the one I remember the best, both in the interludes and in the main plot points. Can’t really say why that is but I bet it’s because it so heavily features characters I’m familiar with.

The subplots are many, the roster of characters is ever expanding, and the galaxy far away is hurtling straight into disaster while everyone pretends it’s fine. It’s time to dive into Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig.

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

The New Republic is continuing to build itself up and strive to find it’s place and purpose in a post-war galaxy. Though Chancellor Mon Mothma prefers the peaceful, negotiation approach, it is becoming rapidly clear that it’s not possible to make that dream a reality.

The Empire still holds many far off worlds in its grasp, and Imperial leadership still refuses to concede that they lost the war. While maintaining overtures of peace with the New Republic, Admiral Rae Sloane and the mysterious Gallus Rax persist in trying to build the Empire back up from the shadows.

Through it all, Norra Wexley and her team have started working for the New Republic, bringing formal Imperial officials into custody. This seems to be working well enough until Leia Organa approaches them with a secret special request: Han Solo has gone missing and she wants the team to find him and bring him home. They do find him, on the Wookie homeward of Kashyyk, where the Empire is not only still enslaving Wookies, but is also keeping prisoners of war, one of whom is Norra’s missing husband Brentin.

Half the team heads home to contend with the growing political turmoil while the other half stays behind on Kashyyk to help Han and Chewie liberate the planet.

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Leia!

Leia is a big part of this book, which was somehow totally to be expected given how big a role Han plays, but was also a delightful surprise.

She spends the bulk of her time on Chandrila as Mon Mothma gets the New Republic underway. But she finds herself increasingly left out of the proceedings, as Mon favours a negotiation approach, and Leia is more willing to take risks and go in recklessly, guns blazing to solve problems like they did in the days of the Alliance. She quite rightfully points out that by dithering over negotiations, innocent people and entire worlds are left to suffer.

Some of her urgency to see the galaxy put right and to have Han back home is because she’s pregnant with Ben. It’s actually in meditating on her pregnancy that she is able to connect with the Force on demand for the first time. It is the first time she’s able to feel it “flowing through” her, the way Luke had described it. It is in this meditation that she also connects with Ben for the first time, and also feels the pull and influence of the Dark Side. I’ve long suspected that this pull of the Dark Side that she feels is attributable to Palpatine (I initially thought Snoke, but…well…same thing I guess?), since her mind goes to such a tragic place very quickly. She feels this pain, worry, and sadness deep down, and so suddenly I’m hard pressed not to think of it as outside influence, though granted this isn’t confirmed in the book.

And finally. Even though her life has changed, she is still the Princess Leia we all know and love. So when the New Republic won’t act fast enough to bring her husband home, she hops in the Millennium Falcon and brings him home all by her damn self.

2. Chaos in the Republic

As mentioned above, the Republic is not doing well. They are so determined to separate themselves from the Empire, they overcorrected in the wrong direction.

Leia cannot get them to intervene on behalf of worlds whose people are suffering. It actually reminded me of Padmé’s speech to the Senate in The Phantom Menace, where she shames the Chancellor for allowing her people to continue to suffer and die, all in the name of an investigation and negotiation. It was exactly that kind of ineffective bureaucracy that allowed the Empire to rise. But where the old Senate had hundreds of years to reach this point, the New Republic gets there almost immediately.

It’s no wonder they lost.

3. Chaos in the Empire

While the New Republic struggles, the former Empire has struggles of their own.

Because neither Palpatine nor Vader had children that the Imperials know of, there is a power vacuum at the top of the chain of command.

Admiral Sloane most naturally fills the leadership role, holding the most firepower at her command. But then there is the shadowy figure of Gallus Rax, who declares himself Emperor in practice if not in name.

Beyond the power vacuum, there is also the question of building up their population. They bring Brendol Hux, head of an elite stormtrooper training academy, to sit in on the council. The refrain is always the same: The Empire needs children. In the absence of Imperials actually having them, they have to get the kids from somewhere. This is where we see hints of what we know is to come: The Empire stealing children from their families.

Where the New Republic is being overly cautious, the former Empire is fractured and reckless. And the conflict is not just between the two sides. As Maz Kanata points out in her interlude, conflict in the galaxy is always between thousands of forces each pulling their own way and flighting to win. It’s never black and white.

4. Seriously, just so many plots

Not counting the interludes, there are at least 2, maybe 3 Imperial focused plots, and at least 3 New Republic focused plots.

Where in the last book my issue was that some of the plots weren’t given the space to be fleshed out, here we have kind of an opposite issue. All the plot points are decently fleshed out, but there are SO MANY of them to bounce between, that it started to feel like a lot.

Where Alexander Freed’s books feel dense for the amount of time and detail spent on one plot point/scene, this book feels dense for the sheer number of people, places, and things we are meant to keep track of.

Points Left Hanging

  • Wedge and Norra’s relationship. I need some happy Star Wars romance, I am begging you. We had a bit of emotional drama when Norra came home with her husband, much to Wedge’s shock, and I look forward to the payoff.

Random Thoughts

Wedge is the one who gave Temmin his nickname, “Snap”, which is just so cute to me

One of the interludes is about a group of Sith Acolytes who firmly believe that Vader still lives. Though it’s possible these are the same people who become Palpatine’s cultists in TROS, that feels like a bit of a stretch. It would have been cool to see such a dark plot point appear in the movies in a significant kind of way.

The Rancor keeper from Return of the Jedi gets his own interlude! Nothing to add here, it was just a sweet moment.

Maybe it’s just because Hux is played by Domhnall Gleeson in the movies, but anytime they mention Brendol Hux (the characters father) I keep picturing Brendan Gleeson (the actors father). I can’t help but feel like the description is deliberate, too.

Biweekly Book Review: Aftermath

Well, kids. We’re here. We’ve transitioned out of the late Original Trilogy timeline and have moved into the early Sequel Trilogy timeline.

I realize the next three books take place almost concurrently with the Alphabet Squadron trilogy, so why is it that I mark this as the transition period? While the Alphabet books, in my opinion, have their characters reflect on what the Empire and the Rebellion was, the Aftermath books take a bigger picture look at the resulting chaos (or the…aftermath hehe) of the fall of the Empire.

Another reason I consider these books to be “early Sequel Trilogy” timeline is that I read all three right after The Last Jedi came out, and they helped inform every single one of my theories leading up to Episode IX.

None of which came to fruition. Not even a little.

So I admit that my enjoyment of them did diminish a little in the…aftermath (hehe) of The Rise of Skywalker, knowing that many elements that were set up don’t ever really pay off. I suspect that’s going to be a theme with the rest of the books going forward so apologies in advance.

With that…Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

*Spoilers Below

The Story

Rebel pilot Norra Wexley heads home to Akiva after the Battle of Endor, ready to find her son and leave the war behind. She enlisted less out of a sense to do what’s right, and more to find her husband, who had been taken away by stormtroopers some years earlier. Unsuccessful on that front, she just wants to get things as back to normal as possible.

Her son, Temmin, however, is less willing for things to go back to normal. In the absence of his parents, he’s refined his skills as a droid builder, and modified himself an old B1 Battle Droid into a now somewhat unhinged companion named Mister Bones. He is managing to scrape by on his own, and not particularly trusting of the mother who up and left him.

Also on Akiva are former Imperial Loyalty Officer Sinjir Rath Velus, who is looking to get away from his old life and bounty hunter Jas Emari, who is in town to capture one of the Imperials in town for a summit.

Speaking of that summit. The Empire hasn’t quite come to terms with the fact that they lost the war. They have staged an occupation of Akiva, and are holding a summit with the leader of the planet that promises to not be fair to the leader at all. Though the Empire is operating in secret, it’s not so secret that it hasn’t caught the attention of the New Republic. They send Wedge Antilles to investigate, but he winds up being captured and tortured by the former Empire instead.

Their objective is simple. Get Wedge and get out. Of course, these things never go to plan. And much like the crew of Alphabet Squadron, we have here another group of people who share one key trait: they’ve all got baggage.

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. The Interludes

When I think back to the Aftermath series, the interludes are the parts I think of the most.

Every few chapters, the plot stops and we visit a totally new part of the galaxy, ranging from the central to the far-flung. While there, we see how the events of the galaxy are affecting its citizens. Sometimes the characters or their plots wind up playing a larger part, sometimes they don’t.

But what I like so much about these, and what makes them so effective, is how they show the state of the galaxy beyond what our main characters experience. Often the problem with these large, world-changing conflicts in stories, is that no one spares a thought for the average person who has their life turned totally upside-down.

Some stand out interludes from this include: The POV of young children who unofficially (at least, I hope unofficially) fought for the rebellion on Coruscant; the Empire using a Fake Palpatine for propaganda purposes; underground lightsaber vendors who sell to cultists

2. Larger Plot Setups

Another thing this book does really well is use the main plot to set up how this nascent New Republic crumbles into the First Order by the time we meet up with the movies again in The Force Awakens.

Though this book doesn’t have a ton of time to delve into it, what with having to set up the new characters and all, it does effectively demonstrate that the Empire doesn’t consider itself out of power, that the New Republic is trying to be everything to everyone, and most importantly, that the New Republic wasn’t prepared to win.

The New Republic was only too happy to root out the Empire’s presence on as many worlds as possible, with the aim of demilitarizing as soon as possible. But what they didn’t consider was what do to with those worlds when they were gone. There was no new power structure set up, and the worlds descent into chaos. We see this in the interludes, and in the main plot as well. With this kind of attention drawn to it, it’s not hard to think that if this is what we’re seeing, imagine what we aren’t.

3. What the Characters Represent

The characters are all essentially a ragtag band with a lot of personal baggage.

But what they represent. Ah. That is far more interesting.

Norra represents the person who gave her everything to the cause while she was in it, but who also knows when she wants out. She cannot feel like the ever triumphant hero because she knows she left a life and people behind when she went off to fight and feels guilty. By contrast Wedge is the person who is in it for the long haul. the career rebel who doesn’t envision life outside of the system he helped create.

Temmin represents everyone who was left behind, who didn’t get to go off on the grand adventure to save the galaxy, yet had to make it work somehow. Essentially, he is everyone in the Star Wars universe who doesn’t get a movie made about them, or a book written about them.

Sinjir though, is the most interesting to me. He is a former Imperial, who defected after he began to see in his words “a weakness” in the system. As a Loyalty Officer, his job involved torturing people the Empire decided were threats to their rule or to the order they established. Though he originally complied with the instructions, he left when he could no longer see the point and lives with his guilt. He admits to being a bad person, but is also striving to do better. He wants redemption and I love that this story is willing to give him that chance.

4. Some of the Side Plots

Because this book needed a conventional plot alongside the interludes and larger world building, we hop back and forth between the heroes, Wedge, the Empire and the New Republic.

However, the New Republic’s part of the plot, represented by Admiral Ackbar seemed to serve only to remind us that the government is aware and involved in the situation on Akiva. It otherwise brought everything to a halt. I found myself wishing that that time had been devoted to more interludes, perhaps jumping between New Republic perspectives, because I honestly don’t find Admiral Ackbar all that interesting.

Points Left Hanging

  • Where is Norra’s husband?
  • Is Rae Slone going to pay off in a fun way? We’ve seen her pop up here and there, but this seems like her time to shine
  • Who is the New Republic “Operator” informant? Did I miss it in this book? Possible

Random Thoughts

I have a long, sick laugh every time one of these ancillary books says that Palpatine is definitely dead. We all thought that for a while, didn’t we. Are we even sure he’s dead now?

Wedge defiantly tells his Imperial captors that the New Republic will send someone to save him because “there’s more of us”, which is a sweet, though unintentional reference to his only scene in The Rise of Skywalker.

This is a longer point, but it isn’t really the fault of the book so I didn’t want to list it up top. The bulk of the action is set on Akiva, an uncomfortably hot planet. Women wear face covering veils in public. The place is run by a person called the Satrap, whose palace has blue tiles, bubbling fountains, and girls in see-through scarves who provide him with a fruit that sounds an awful lot like a date. I could be projecting (probably am), but this sounded awfully Middle-East-esque to me. A stereotype, sure, but all the same. Not white people. Hell, the title Satrap is even a Persian word denoting a military rank. Temmin “Snap” Wexley is even described as a tan youth with dark hair. I’m not sure what came first, this book, or The Force Awakens, but I do question the choice to take a character hailing from this kind of background and this physical description and then cast…Greg Grunberg to play him. Don’t get me wrong, Greg Grunberg seems like a great guy, and I can’t even blame JJ for putting him in the movie. If I were directing Star Wars, I’d probably give my best friend a bit part too. I just wonder who it was who decided to connect this particular line and have Temmin be someone we see in the movie who doesn’t really match the description given in the book…

Biweekly Book Review: Doctor Aphra

What’s this? A book review coming out the same week the book was published? Shocking.

I didn’t realize until I came to write this review how much I rely on having a written copy of whatever book I’m talking about to refer back to for everything from plot points to the spelling of characters names. Which is important here because this also marks my first foray into the chaotic world of Doctor Aphra.

This one was a LOT of fun. I love the Star Wars audio dramas and I absolutely hope we get more of them. I am a little nervous to write this one though. I feel in over my head because people don’t just like Aphra. They LOVE Aphra. So I’m just sitting here hoping I do her justice. Without further ado, Doctor Aphra by Sarah Kuhn.

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

Adapted from the 2015 run of the Darth Vader comics, Doctor Aphra tells the story of the titular doctor’s recruitment by the Dark Lord of the Sith, as she does his bidding and helps him piece together the mystery of just who it was that blew up the Death Star.

Doctor Chelli Lona Aphra is an archeologist who believes that technology doesn’t belong in a museum but rather in an arsenal. Ideally, her personal arsenal. She steals components to build two droids of her own, BT-1 (Beetee) and Triple-Zero. One is a mechanic, the other is a protocol droid and both have murder and torture hardwired into their systems.

Once Aphra is recruited by Vader, she is sent out on solo missions to help him meet his mysterious ends. Along the way she recruits and tricks a group of bounty hunters, winds up apprehended by none other than Princess Leia and Han Solo, and even has a run in with Emperor Palpatine.

And she manages to talk her way out of every single problem. And we love to see it.

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Aphra the Unreliable Narrator

In Dooku: Jedi Lost, the narration is partially Dooku narrating a story into a recording device, and partially Ventress narrating inside her head to an unseen and unknown audience, meaning her thoughts are unfiltered. There is no notion that anyone within her universe will ever know what she is saying and thinking.

But in Doctor Aphra, the entire story is an account she is telling to a recording device, with the intention of someone in-universe hearing it one day. And unlike Dooku, Aphra proves to be an unreliable narrator. She overtly withholds information from the listener, flags emotionally vulnerable moments within the recording so she can delete them later, and at one point directly addresses someone she expects will hear her account one day.

2. I’m a sucker for a love story

Speaking of that someone. Sana Starros.

Sana Starros was a classmate of Aphra’s at university, and is also her ex-girlfriend. They broke up when Aphra got an offer to join a dangerous expedition and left without telling Sana. Though of course the real problem is Aphra’s fear of being emotionally vulnerable and experiencing the loss that comes with love.

I have no idea what happens with these two crazy kids, since the last we hear of it in the audio drama is Aphra’s tearful confession of her feelings. But then again, she marked that section for deletion, so who knows if they worked it out? I hope they did. Come one Star Wars, don’t let me down.

3. I’m also a sucker for Darth Vader angst and family drama

I know I complain when there is an over reliance on familiar characters in these stories. And with Vader, Luke, Leia and Han in this book, there is certainly plenty of that. But the difference is that unlike some creators in our world, Aphra barely knows anything about these people.

She knows Vader and Leia obviously. They are public figures. She knows Han by reputation, but not well enough to know that Chewie would be hanging around. She doesn’t know Luke AT ALL which is kinda refreshing I must say.

She accompanies Vader on a trip back to Tatooine where the visit both the Lars homestead and Kenobi’s old house. She is then sent to Naboo to interrogate the mortician who prepared Padmé’s body for burial. All of this is leading towards Vader’s discovery that Luke is his son. There is a lot of Vader’s familial angst, and I love seeing it when it isn’t the main focus of the story, just a little side thread

Aphra actually puts together the mystery of why Vader is so interested in Luke before the end of the book. She is an archeologist after all, and is used to digging for clues. When she overhears Luke say that he can sense his father nearby in the Force, Vader is very close by and this is all the information she needs. But like the unreliable narrator she is, she withholds the information from the listener until right at the very end.

4. I’m going to have to read the comics, aren’t I?

OK this isn’t exactly a problem with the audio drama itself.

Actually I’d wager this was part of what they were going for.

The story is extremely accessible for people like me who haven’t read an Aphra comic before. But There are parts of the story that don’t get a full explanation, or aren’t explored at all, purely because Aphra wasn’t present for them.

For instance, Vader and Aphra make a couple of references to the fact that Luke bested Boba Fett in a fight on Tatooine. I don’t know for sure, but I bet this happened in one of the comics.

When Aphra is apprehended by Leia, she finds that her ex, Sana Starros is there too. Sana and Leia bring up the awkwardness of their first meeting, but don’t say any more than that. WHAT HAPPENED? I NEED TO KNOW!

Plus I need to know if Aphra and Sana ever work it out!

I’m going to have to read the comics, aren’t I?

Random Thoughts

Triple-Zero is very into droid independence, so I would love to see what he and L3-37 could do together

Someone on Twitter observed that Triple-Zero sounds like Jarvis from the MCU and I can’t unhear it.

Aphra wants to take things from museums and use them, which makes me really want to see what would happen if you sent her and Indiana Jones off on an adventure together

When Aphra is spying on Luke in the Jedi temple, he observes that some of the writings he sees were done with a lightsaber. So of course now I’m just picturing a Jedi carving into rock, glowing, humming lightsaber in hand

Aphra’s dad deals in Jedi artifacts. I’m a sucker for that, I would like that story please

Biweekly Book Review: Shadow Fall

We’ve hit a bit of a milestone today. This is the first series I’ve read for the Biweekly Book Review that is still ongoing. So when the book ended on a cliffhanger, naturally I screamed. It’ll be really interesting to revisit this chunk of the galaxy next year, when the third book comes out.

In another milestone, this is the first book I’ve read for these reviews that I had to borrow from the library (since I want to buy it in paperback). Which is fine. Unless you’re like me, and you leave the book sitting in your overdrive account for almost 3 weeks while you finish the rest of your reading, then spend the three days before it’s due back frantically racing against the clock trying to read and also take coherent notes because you know you won’t be able to refer back to it later, all the while terrified you’ll make some horrible mistake in your post because the notes weren’t good enough.

*deep breath* OK. Shadow Fall by Alexander Freed.

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

After failing to eliminate Shadow Wing in the last book, Alphabet Squadron has relocated over the ancient world of Troithe. Along with Hera Syndulla and her squadrons, they have set a trap to lure the elite TIE fighter wing out to the edges of the Outer Rim and to get rid of them once and for all.

So of course, it all goes to shit.

Kairos is injured in their initial attempt to bring down Shadow Wing over Troithe and is taken out of commission. Matters are of course complicated because no one really knows what species she is. The group then discovers that Yrica Quell, their leader, didn’t really leave the Empire after failing to prevent Operation Cinder. She left after being ordered to by her commander, Major Soran Keize. Incidentally, Soran Keize is still alive and has resumed command of Shadow Wing.

And if that wasn’t bad enough.

Immediately after discovering Yrica’s secret, the squad is pulled into battle, assuming they’ll deal with this when they get back. So naturally they’re all flung to separate corners of the system. Wyl and Nath crash land in the city. Chass runs out of fuel and is left stranded in space until she is rescued by a cult. Yrica, grounded after the groups discovery, steals a transport and tries to stop Shadow Wing on her own. Instead she ends up marooned on a random rock in the system with Caern Adan, the intelligence officer who put Alphabet Squadron together, and with IT-0, the torture droid-turned-therapist who works with Adan.

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Yrica and the Sith Tower

When Yrica is stranded with Adan and IT-0, they set out in search of some kind of structure or civilization that can get them off of the rock they crashed on.

Remembering that there were Imperial vaults targeted for destruction after the loss at Endor, Yrica sets off in search of one such vault, with IT-0 in tow. Side note: I wonder if this is like the vault that Del and Luke find in Battlefront II.

She finds it, but it isn’t just a vault. It’s a SITH TOWER *dun dun*. With no visible way in, Yrica thinks she’s hit a dead end. That is, until the system’s black hole lines up with the top of the tower. This has an effect on Yrica, where it sends her into a trance of sorts where she has to relive particularly strong, negative memories. It’s only after a conversation with IT-0, who starts out trying to help her before a malfunction causes him to instead punish her for her war crimes, that she realizes she needs to “move forward” to succeed with the tower. Rather than the metaphorical moving forward suggested by IT-0, it is only in literally moving forward while in her visions that she is able to unlock the Tower and find a ship inside.

She goes straight from opening the tower to surrendering to the Empire, the Alphabet Squadron tattoo on her arm now cut off. I’m hoping the next book goes into what exactly she went through in that tower, and how the experience combined with her bad memories caused her to make the decision she did.

2. Chass and the Cult

By far, the most interesting subplot of the entire book belongs to Chass. After her ship is damaged and she is left for dead, she is rescued by members of a cult known as the Children of the Empty Sun.

Chass is feeling angry and disillusioned by Yrica’s lie, but also has her guard up because her mother was in a cult when Chass was a child and she was made to live among them and follow their rules. So she is in absolutely no mood for this cult and runs away at the first opportunity.

However, faced with no better options to get back to the fleet, she finds where the cult is based and presents herself as a believer looking to join. All a charade of course. Her aim is just to get supplies, a weapon, a ship and then leave.

But.

To do that, she has to hang around the cultists, get them to trust her. And some of that involves listening to what their leader has to say. Some of the speeches made by the leader don’t seem totally out of left field either. I started wondering if my not trusting them is because of the negative connotations of the word “cult”. Maybe they aren’t so bad after all. Then Chass pops up to remind the reader that this is how cults get you. By kind of making sense.

That said, I spent the rest of the book terrified that Chass was starting to drink the Kool-Aid so to speak. How much of their story was she buying into? By the time the book ends, she’s made it back to the New Republic fleet, but hasn’t totally rejected everything the cult says either. So who’s to say where we’re going to find Chass in book 3?

Two small things I thought were interesting about this subplot: Chass already sees herself as an opposite to Jyn Erso. When she joins the cult, she gives them the name Maya Hallik (homage to Jyn’s pseudonym Lianna Hallik).

The other thing I liked was an observation Chass made when the cult tries to recruit her near the start of the book. The cultist assures her that everything is merely up to the will of the Force, but Chass observes: “For a zealot, the Force desired whatever the believer wanted”, which speaks not only to the ideals of the cult, but arguably the Jedi and the Sith at the fall of the Republic.

3. A Sith Cult??

So we already read about the ghostly Palpatine robot in the last book. The one that ordered Operation Cinder and has remained silent since.

This thing pops up in the Aftermath series, in Battlefront II campaign mode, and it also features here. Only in this book, it’s taken to a weird, creepy new level.

Soran Keize notices that this robot (droid? machine? I don’t know) has been given a shrine in the middle of one of the ships. It stands at the centre of a ring of offerings from…worshippers, I guess you could call them. He even witnesses one supplicant pray to the Palpa-droid for victory in the upcoming skirmish, right before the supplicant then slices his hand open to make a blood offering to the droid.

We know that the droid only gave the order for Operation Cinder to commanders whose identity it verified with blood, so I wonder what the connection is here? Are these future Sith cultists, like the ones we see on Mustafar at the start of The Rise of Skywalker? If not, I’m curious to see where this line of thought goes.

Also it’s just hilarious that everywhere Keize goes, there’s always someone behind him like “Oh, this came for you” and then delivers the Palpa-droid.

4. Nath and Wyl and Whatever it is they were doing

Nath and Wyl wind up stranded in the city with their ships barely working and have to find their way back to the fleet. They also meet a group of people whose role I could not tell you, who they decide to form up into a makeshift squadron to take down the Imperials that did make it planetside.

The reason I am being so vague is, in all honesty, I kind of skimmed these parts. Of all the plot points, theirs was the least interesting to me. It could have been the focus on the ships, which I don’t find overly interesting. It could also have just been that I found the other plot points more engaging and didn’t like leaving them for this. But either way, their parts of the book, in the second half mostly, were the least interesting to me.

I’m going to have to reread this book before the third one comes out, aren’t I?

Points Left Hanging

  • Wyl is almost certainly Force Sensitive. He does way too much because he has a “feeling”
  • We see Kairos’s face! More about Kairos now please! I haven’t ruled out Tusken yet. But I also wonder if she’s possessed by the Dark Side somehow
  • Yrica and Chass have gotten closer by this book, and Chass takes the revelation about Yrica really hard. I need them to be endgame please
  • Who is “Blink”? It doesn’t matter, but I have to know (It’s probably Seedia)

Random Thoughts

You know that thing when you revisit a team in a book/movie and they get along better than they did when you left them and it’s so cute? This book does that and I’m here for it.

There was less fighting overall in this book, which is odd considering the whole book is about one battle and the resulting fallout. But mostly the narrative is concerned with how people are feeling about the fight, rather than the fight itself.

I still feel like I know next to nothing about Shadow Wing. I can’t help but wonder if reading the comic would have helped with that

Further evidence Wyl is Force Sensitive: the idea of Vader taking a lightsaber from a Jedi freaks him out very deeply. What is my theory based on? Nothing. Am I sticking with it? Yes.

Hera still misses Kanan and yes I’m still sad about it

Twilight Company shows up in this. None of them are addressed by name so I had no idea who was who (would it have made a difference? Probably not)

Hera left, I assume, to go do whatever she’s doing in the Squadrons video game, before returning at the last minute to help Alphabet Squadron out. If the game winds up having a story mode, I would love if this was one of the big battles you play.

Kairos keeps trophies from the Imperials she’s killed. WHAT IS HER DEAL I HAVE TO KNOW

Let’s Talk About Kenobi

Obi Wan Kenobi is my favourite character. Original I know, but it is what it is. When the prequels were coming out, and even now when I rewatch them, Kenobi is my main point of interest. It’s the same when I watch the Clone Wars. As I make my way through the canon Star Wars books, I find any book that includes him as a character automatically ranks higher in how much I like it. If he features in the whole book, like Master and Apprentice or Dark Disciple, excellent. If it’s only a small scene, like in the recent release Queen’s Peril, I single that scene out as one of my favourites. I am clearly starved for new stories featuring my fave.

With that in mind, it’s safe to say that few future entries into the Star Wars canon have excited me in the same way Kenobi has. The excitement went into overdrive at D23 last summer when the project was at long last confirmed. No longer a movie, the story of our self-exiled Jedi would now be coming to us in the form of a Disney+ limited series. With Prequel trilogy star Ewan McGregor reprising the role.

Excellent.

Also exciting for me were the later announcement of the creative leads. Deborah Chow signed on as director/showrunner, and British-Iranian writer Hossein Amini signed on to write the series.

Even more excellent.

I think Deborah Chow is amazing. She does great work, most recently on The Mandalorian, and the decision to bring her on as showrunner for Kenobi is a good one. It is absolutely a step in the right direction. It is long overdue to have a live action Star Wars story helmed by a woman.

But in the early days after Kenobi was confirmed to be in the works, all of my behind the scenes excitement hinged on Hossein Amini. If having a woman helm the story was long overdue, having any kind of Middle Eastern presence at the Star Wars table is even more so. I’ve written at length about my feelings on Middle Eastern representation in the Star Wars universe, or the lack thereof, so the idea of finally having a Middle Eastern voice help tell the story on screen was beyond thrilling to me.

Admittedly some of this is a little selfish. For a series that is probably mostly set on a far-off desert planet, it doesn’t seem that unreasonable to expect some explicitly Middle Eastern-coded characters. Perhaps even as prominent characters, and not just as “third villager from the back”. It’s very frustrating that in a franchise that has spanned this amount of time, that takes place in countless varied locations, there has yet to be a significant named character that looks anything like me. The exception to this is Dr. Pershing in the Mandalorian, and if you just said “who?”, thank you for proving my point.

As I said in the piece linked above, the closest thing to a Middle Eastern depiction is the Tusken Raiders, though I refuse to accept them as the be-all-end-all of our representation. Or as any kind of representation at all, because I frankly find that offensive. I know steps are being taken in canon to portray them more sympathetically, and while interesting, it’s too little too late. I refuse for this to be the only way the GFFA sees me and those who share my background. It’s true what they say. Middle Eastern people are a forgotten minority. Conversations of increased diversity rarely include us and my hope was that with a Middle Eastern writer telling the story, we wouldn’t be so easily forgotten.

Then the announcement came down a few months ago, jinxed by my anticipation, no doubt. Hossein Amini departed the project. His scripts had to be rewritten to some degree, if not entirely, and Joby Harold was hired to replace him.

I admittedly don’t know Amini’s reasons for leaving, if it was his choice or a decision from higher up. But it is extremely frustrating that at the first sign of trouble, at the slightest hint of a struggle, the instinct at Lucasfilm is to find a white guy to take the job. Under other circumstances, I might have been willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I did actually give them the benefit of the doubt, back when it was announced that JJ Abrams and Chris Terrio would be brought on to write Episode IX.

That won’t be happening again.

The Rise of Skywalker is polarizing, and I don’t really need (or want, honestly) to get into it here. But my feelings, to put it delicately, are that when they were faced with a script they didn’t like, and a time crunch for Episode IX, they hired a couple of white, middle aged fanboys to complete the project. Which they did in possibly the most “I used to play this game with my Kenner action figures all the time” kind of way. There was no fresh perspective, no new way of addressing story points, frankly not much depth beyond what the actors chose to bring to their parts (because it really doesn’t sound like it was there on the page). And frankly, with a director infamous for not being able to stick the landing and the writer of Batman vs. Superman on board, I’m not entirely sure what I expected.

Now they’ve hired a man with no television writing experience to take over Kenobi. And I cannot figure out why.

Well, I know why. These kinds of jobs never come easy to BIPOC writers. You’d only have to look at David Benioff and Dan Weiss absolutely failing upwards into their role on Game of Thrones. I’m hard pressed to imagine any BIPOC creator showing up, having no idea what they’re doing, and deciding to use the most expensive series in the history of television as their own personal film school. And these two were actually given an entire Star Wars trilogy of their own before the deal fell through!

Though I do think their trilogy deal ended in part due to their admission of inexperience and upward-failing on Game of Thrones. The optics of that are not great now that more and more attention is being paid to the fact that white men are so easily given opportunities often denied to literally everyone else. But it frustrates me that this lesson was not learned with Kenobi.

Why was Joby Harold the best person for the job? Not only does he not have television experience, but the writing experience he does have is mediocre at best. The films he has written were neither commercially nor critically successful, so what is it they see in him? It’s hard for this to feel like a meritocracy when the departed writer has far more merit than the incoming writer. Why must a writer of colour have a prolific resume with very few misses, if any, to even be considered for a project like this? Why is Lucasfilm’s default move to go for a white man, no matter how unqualified he may be? This is Star Wars we’re talking about. You can’t tell me there were absolutely no other writers interested. Hell, I’m interested. And I’ve actually got television writing experience.

They cannot be unaware of the fanfare and elation that accompanies every marginalized voice being given the opportunity to tell a story in this universe (see the announcements for Leslye Headland and Taika Waititi’s projects). The new tendency seems to be that Lucasfilm wants to play it “safe”, though that usually means erring on the side of less representation. Though The Mandalorian is a great success, it has received criticism for its largely male cast. The recent announcement of The Bad Batch animated series was met with similar hesitation, since a series focused on clones doesn’t naturally include a way to include women, or any non-clones really, in a major role.

I’m not naive. When it comes to the creatives they hire, I know what “safe” means to a large corporate entity worried about maintaining subscribers to their streaming service. It means white and it means male. Though I personally think Deborah Chow’s career as a whole was enough reason to give her the showrunner job, I’m almost positive she wouldn’t have been considered if she hadn’t already worked on the very well received Mandalorian.

But this is Obi Wan Kenobi. He is not some new, risky story. He is a fan favourite. This chapter of his life has been speculated about, written about (Kenobi by John Jackson Miller, Master and Apprentice short story in FACPOV by Claudia Gray), and imagined by fans since we learned why he was on Tatooine in the first place. I can hardly think of a safer project in which to give a BIPOC writer a shot at telling a story in the galaxy far, far away from their own certain point of view.

I am devastated at the loss of our first chance at a Middle Eastern writer being able to tell an onscreen Star Wars story. But I think I would have been less upset if the job had gone to another marginalized creator. A woman. A writer of colour. If it had gone to a woman of colour I might have passed out from joy.

As of this post, Harold is still the series writer. Production was due to start this month using his scripts, but with the ongoing pandemic, I imagine that’s been pushed back yet again. It may be too late for this, and I know I don’t have much of a platform, but I implore Lucasfilm: You have the extra time. Use it. Get writers of colour in that room. Get women in that room. The opportunities are hard enough for BIPOC writers to come by, particularly in franchises this large. It falls on Lucasfilm, as a giant in the industry to open what doors they can for marginalized voices. We have stories to tell. We have value. Help us take that first step into a larger world.

Biweekly Book Review: Alphabet Squadron

Well, would you look at that? Another book that got DNF’d (this time only once).

In fairness, I tried to read it at a point in my life where I was really preoccupied with other things, and it wound up taking me 2 months to get through the book on my second attempt. This is not the kind of book to take two months on. The ladies on the Lipstick and Lightsabers podcast said it best when they said that Alexander Freed’s writing style is dense to say the least. He is not the kind of author you can return to for a few pages a day. Guaranteed, you will wind up forgetting key plot points. Which is exactly what happened with me, because I didn’t remember ANYTHING about this book when I came back to it this time.

This time I read the whole thing in a day and a half, had a much easier time with it, and I’m actually looking forward to the sequel! It’s time to dive into Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed.

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

After the battle of Endor, what’s left of the Empire is an absolute mess (get used to it kids, this is going to be a reoccurring theme for the next 5 books)

Yrica Quell is a pilot and recent defector from the Empire. She is recruited into a “working group” tasked with eliminating Shadow Wing, an elite group of TIE pilots causing the New Republic a whole lot of trouble. But Yrica is torn, because she used to fly with Shadow Wing, and still feels the pull of loyalty.

Also in the working group, are Wyl Lark and Chass na Chadic, rebel pilots who are the sole survivors of their respective units, Nath Tensent, a formal Imperial who defected before Alderaan, and Kairos, a silent, mysterious being with an even more mysterious past.

The group officially answers to Hera Syndulla, since they use her ship as a base. But because they were recruited by an Intelligence officer, and not by Hera or the New Republic directly, there are no resources to spare for them. Fortunately, each of them comes with their own fighting ship. Unfortunately, each of these ships is different. There is the A-Wing (Wyl), the B-Wing (Chass), the U-Wing (Kairos), the X-Wing (Yrica) and the Y-Wing (Nath). Since the ship types span the High Galactic alphabet, this earns the team the nickname Alphabet Squadron.

As is always the case when a gang of damaged misfits is thrown together and told to play nice, tensions run high in the beginning. But when they finally get a shot at taking out Shadow Wing, the group finally learns how to set aside their baggage and function as a unit.

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Alphabet Squadron get proper introductions

Back in my Twilight Company review, I mentioned how I was frustrated that we never really get the chance to know the main characters, beyond the fact that they’re a ragtag band of misfits drowning in personal baggage.

Well, the cast of this book also happens to be a ragtag band of misfits with more personal baggage than an oversold flight.

The difference? There is time dedicated to getting to know each of them! And what a difference that makes!

Each of them gets several chapters from their own point of view, except for Kairos, but that’s kind of her whole deal.

Yrica is a former Imperial who one had dreams of defecting to the Alliance as a teen. She tells the team she defected during Operation Cinder, an act of desperation by the Empire where they completely obliterated several worlds following Palatine’s death. In reality, she defected right after Cinder, on the orders of her commander, Major Soran Keize. He worries that if she’s capable of something like Cinder, then there is no going back for her, and he wants her to have a chance at saving herself, rather than letting hatred destroy her from the inside.

Nath was an Imperial who defected to the Alliance before Alderaan, then following the death of his entire Imperial squad (who followed him), he turned more mercenary and became a pilot for hire while still using the New Republic name for legitimacy.

Wyl and Chass were pilots with two different New Republic squadrons. Wyl is a sweet kid who wants to leave the fight and return to his idyllic home world, Chass had a difficult life prior to joining the Alliance and has a grim outlook on her future as well. Both of their squadrons were wiped out by Shadow Wing, leaving them the only two survivors. Wyl forces Chass to flee the scene and prevented her from trying to help her friends, an act which she holds against him for most of the book.

And Kairos…well there isn’t much to say about Kairos. She is a mysterious being who is always covered up in bandages and layers. She speaks maybe two lines in the whole book and she is an aggressive warrior. As of right now, my two theories are that she used to work for the Empire, though perhaps not by choice, and that she is possibly Tusken.

2. More inner workings of the Empire

One thing I find endlessly fascinating in these books is when we are shown things from an Imperial point of view, and the hypocrisy and lack of perspective becomes staggeringly clear. No matter what, they are prepared with defences of their own actions, but it is the rebels who take things too far.

Yrica is proud of the skills she earned as an Imperial. She has to continually remind herself not to let her pride shine through when explaining Shadow Wing tactics. One such tactic is the one that Chass and Wyl’s groups fell prey to, where the TIE fighters swarm a single New Republic ship and wipe it out once they steal their data for the next rendezvous point. That is cold, and calculating, but still it is the rebels who are cruel and take it too far.

A continued refrain in books starring Imperials is that the destruction of Alderaan was necessary. It had to be done. But this is the first time we see that argument tried after Operation Cinder, where the Empire destroyed not one, but several worlds. The two are very different, according to Yrica, because Alderaan was necessary to ensure the survival of trillions, but the deaths during Cinder were pointless civilian casualties.

I don’t even know where to start on the justification that the deaths of millions on Alderaan were somehow ok purely because the senator from that planet stood in opposition to the Empire. But the argument that Alderaan and Cinder were totally different cases remind me of the “they’re the same picture” meme from The Office.

3. The Adventure at the Jedi Temple

When Hera realizes the team is not getting along, and not flying as they should, she grounds them for training exercises only. Then, in an apparent show of trust, sends them off on a non-combat mission to recover supplies from a former Alliance cache which turns out to be in an ancient Jedi temple.

Now you know me. You know how much I love the Jedi, so this was just a treat right in the middle of a book about pilots. Also shows you how much I was paying attention on my first read through because I remembered NONE of this.

While in the temple, the squad (minus Yrica) start to know each other better, and bond. They tell their stories, or a version of them anyway. They also trigger some kind of…diorama? spectacle? planetarium light show? that shows the map of galaxy as is was, as it is, and as it will be. This seems to be something Hera expected them to see, because she expresses regret that Yrica missed it while keeping watch.

What Yrica DOES see, however, is a shadowy figure that appears to be the Emperor. Is it a ghost? A Messenger Robot like the one that gave the order for Operation Cinder? Or, in this post-TROS world, is it a straight up Palpa-clone? We don’t know.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we got an answer to the Palpatine apparition thing a bit down the line, but I don’t think we need an answer to the other mystery within the Jedi temple. That would take half the fun away.

4. The Fight Scenes

The fight scenes are long and detailed. The various tactical merits of each situation is weighed both in the narration and in the dialogue.

You want stars and wars? This book has them in spades! And that isn’t an inherently bad thing. A lot of people love this book, so I assume that is part of what they love about it.

A lot of people are excited for Star Wars: Squadrons, which based on the trailer is a lot of pew pew action from the inside of a spaceship. There is clearly a market for this. This is everything a pilot-loving Star Wars fan could want.

But there is a reason the aerial battles in the movies don’t last very long. And a reason they are intercut with non-aerial battles. It’s because ultimately the point of them is not for the pew pew pew fighting, it’s to drive the plot forward. It’s to liberate Naboo, to catch Jango Fett, to save the Chancellor. It’s to steal the Death Star plans, or steal a train full of coaxium. It’s to blow up the Death Star, to escape the Empire, to blow up the Death Star (again). To blow up a planet that is essentially a Death Star, to teach a hothead pilot a lesson about being a leader, to blow up a bunch of starships that are actually just a bunch of mini Death Stars (I’m starting to see a trend).

The battles here do drive the plot forward, they do enrich character. But they also just last a little too long for my taste.

Points Left Hanging

  • Who is Kairos? What is her deal because I am fascinated
  • Will Major Keize’s time living as “Devon” affect how he lives his life going forward?
  • Chass reminds Yrica of her ex, so will there be something there in future books? More importantly, will it end well??? Let’s be real, this is Star Wars, I need to prepare myself for one of them to die for no reason. I mean, Chass looks up to Jyn Erso and her martyrdom…so my money would be on Yrica not making it out. Because Star Wars likes to hurt me
  • Is Wyl Lark Force Sensitive? TBD

Random Thoughts

If I had a dollar for every time the word “silt” is used in chapter 1, I would be a wealthy woman indeed.

Hera Syndulla is here! I got nothing to add, I just like when she shows up.

Chass flies one mission with a group of random ground troopers, but much is made of describing them. Can’t help but wonder if this is supposed to be Twilight Company?

They do that thing in this book where people call them Alphabet Squadron as a joke, but then they all embrace it and use it unironically. Yrica has a crest designed and painted on the hulls of their ships. She even has the same design tattooed on her arm. I am always 100% here for this trope.

Operation Cinder was ordered by a ghostly robot version of Emperor Palpatine (also seen in the Battlefront II game). Raise your hand if you thought this was going to come back in the movies even a little bit.

Chass plays music in her cockpit while flying, which is the most relatable thing in this whole book.

The Empire see themselves as the victors of the Clone Wars, which I guess is true but also…this goes back to that lack of perspective I mentioned earlier.

The Empire is fractured and has no leader, the New Republic was not equipped to win the war. Really, is it any wonder the First Order rose to power?

IT-0, the therapy droid, suggests that once he became Emperor, Palpatine wasn’t smarter than everyone in the room, he was just cruel. It’s an interesting way to look at things, because yeah I do think the skill at 4D chess kind of went out the window once he took power.

Favourite quote from the whole book, again from IT-0, comes when Adan, the New Republic Intelligence officer who put Alphabet Squadron together, scoffs at the idea that anyone in the squad knows what real pain is, because he has suffered more. So IT-0 lets loose with the line: “their pain does not diminish yours”. Which I LOVE. Something we can all keep in mind.

Biweekly Book Review: Heir to the Jedi

When I first read this book last year, it didn’t leave much of an impression. I remembered that it was the only book featuring Luke Skywalker as more than a cameo, and I remember craving noodles while reading for some reason. But other than that I don’t remember enjoying it much. Well, I am here to tell you that after rereading it I can safely say:

This book is an ABSOLUTE DELIGHT. I love it so much. More Star Wars books for adults like this please.

Yes the minifig is the only Luke merch I own ok? Hashtag fake fan

I’ve never actively disliked Luke Skywalker. Watching the movies without any external discourse or opinion, I actually really like him. I find his arc in movies 4-8 compelling (I said what I said, don’t @ me). But the discourse and discussion around his character, the placement on a pedestal by certain fans and creators made me start to resent him in a way that was not the characters fault at all. I haven’t read the Legends books, and I’m not sure that I want to. I never got behind the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful perfect Jedi master Luke, which is why I like his arc in movies 4-8. Because that isn’t who he is there. And that isn’t who he is in this book either. And I LOVED that. So on that note: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne

*Spoilers below*

The Story

Set in between Episodes 4 and 5, Heir to the Jedi finds Luke a bit lost. With Han Solo gone trying to pay Jabba back, and Leia preoccupied with Alliance top brass, Luke isn’t sure what his place is anymore. Especially since he doesn’t have Obi Wan Kenobi around anymore to train him as a Jedi, either.

The Alliance decide to make use of his flying skills and send him out on a mission. He borrows a ship belonging to Nakari Kelen, a fellow rebel. The two find out they have a lot in common and get along like a house on fire. They are then sent out on a mission together, to recover and relocate a mathematician and slicer currently forced to work for the Empire, but who has expressed a desire to help the Alliance instead.

While on the mission, Luke tells Nakari that he is worried about learning to become a Jedi, that he is concerned that there isn’t anyone around to train him properly. That said, along the way he begins to find the power within himself to get from the farm boy he was to the budding Jedi he is when he first meets Yoda.

Unlike some of the more plot heavy books in the Star Wars canon, this one is less about what is happening and more about how the character involved is reacting to it. And to have that character be Luke of all people, who doesn’t appear in any of the other canon books in any significant way (I haven’t read the comics, to be fair) really sets this apart. I also like that this is set before The Empire Strikes Back, so he hasn’t learned anything about what it means to be a Jedi, he hasn’t struck a groove within the Alliance, he doesn’t know the truth about his father, none of it. This is where we still get to see Luke as the person he thinks he wants to be, rather than the person he thinks the Galaxy wants him to be.

5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. First Person Narration

This is, to date, the only Star Wars book I’ve read that is told in first person narration. While it means we don’t get to jump around and get multiple perspectives, this book does not suffer in the slightest for it.

It’s actually one of the things I like so much about this book. We spend a lot of time in Luke’s head and get a pretty clear picture of what his wants and fears are. We see the whole Galaxy through the eyes of a small town boy who is only just now finding his place in a larger world.

Also, the kid is just plain funny.

Some of the lines he drops mid-narration take you by surprise, because they don’t describe the scene in a way any 3rd person narration would. They are the kind of stream of consciousness, offhand commentary on a scene you would give a friend when telling a story. The kind of detail and thought you add to make the story funnier. And that is what makes this book work, and what makes it feel more intimate. I wonder why more Star Wars books don’t take the first person approach.

2. Luke Skywalker is such a sweetie

But actually. Such a sweetheart.

In this book, we get him, as I said, before he really hits his stride and becomes the character we see him as most often, the angsty, confident Jedi. A lot of what makes him so sweet in this book is helped by that first person narration. He observes the world around him in an endearing stream-of-consciousness way. He sounds like such a sweet awkward teenager. He compares the back of a ship to a half eaten cookie. He compares a planet to a scoop of ice cream. He attempts to flirt with Nakari in what he thinks is a smooth, confident way, only to mess it up and spend the next several moments mentally berating himself for how stupid that was.

We also get to see what his various relationships look like at this stage of his life, before they shift into the familiar patterns we see during and after The Empire Strikes Back. Luke still doesn’t know that Vader is his father, so he and Nakari actually bond over the fact that they both lost parents at the hands of the Sith lord. He has Anakin on a pedestal, by his own admission, and seeks to know more about him, hoping that at the very least he was a good man. And while most usually refer to Han Solo as his best friend, we see Luke at a point in his life where he barely knows Han. Where Biggs Darklighter was his best friend. A best friend he lost during the Death Star fight.

He returns to this loss a few times in the book, making offhand mentions to the fact that he lost his best friend and that he will miss him forever. And by the end, when he loses Nakari too, we finally get to see him grieve. Not just her loss, but Biggs, Ben Kenobi and even his aunt and uncle.

Luke is such an endearing, relatable, human character in this book. He has flaws and a personality, and I think that makes him vastly more interesting than a badass hero on a pedestal.

3. Romance subplot y’all

Don’t have much to say about this except that Luke and Nakari’s sweet little flirtation-turned-workplace-romance was a nice surprise. Somehow I missed ALL of it the first time I read the book. I totally forgot that it actually progressed past Luke just kinda thinking she’s pretty.

Also bonus points go to Leia, who cautions Luke not to be too trusting just because she’s pretty. Which is SUCH a sister move. As the sister to a brother, I can confirm that this advice is universal, stretching across galaxies.

Without getting too much into it (because I am extremely not qualified to get into it) I will say that in the movies and the ancillary materials I didn’t really read Luke’s sexual orientation this way. But I also know that my reading of his character, and his relationship in this book are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Plus the book keeps things vague enough that you could read it any which way you choose.

On a final note about this romance though. If I had $1 for every Star Wars romance that ended in tragedy, I would probably have enough money to finance my own Star Wars movie with a happily ever after.

4. Luke’s Jedi Path

There is a slight Jedi skill jump between movies 4 and 5. Where in the first, Luke uses the lightsaber once (poorly), and uses the Force to target the Death Star exhaust port, by the second, he can clear his mind much quicker, actually use the lightsaber, and use the Force to move objects on top of all of it.

While I’m not personally of the belief that I need to see a character practice and train in order to believe they are deserving of their skill level, I didn’t think it was interesting to see what Jedi training looks like when you have absolutely no Jedi around to help you.

He vaguely knows he has to “clear his mind”, but his early attempts at that are just him broadcasting the words “clear your mind” inside his head. Which is essentially what happens in my head when I try to do the same.

He practices moving objects with the Force, referring to it as telekinesis before Drusil, the mathematician they are extracting, points out that it is the Force he is moving rather than the object. Wanting to practice on light objects, he mostly uses cooked noodles when trying to move things with the Force. This happens a lot, and usually ends with him staining his clothing.

When Nakari is killed, he has his first taste of the Dark Side, which he doesn’t quite recognize for what it is. He feels her die, feels her disappear from the Force, and describes her void as being filled with anger, and a “cold sense of raw power and invincibility”, both of which provide him with a new sense of clarity. No wonder the Dark Side is so seductive. If it made him feel that way only briefly before he willed it away, imagine how addictive it would be to someone who didn’t push it away, who thrived in it.

On a final note, for any who decry Rey’s lack of training being incompatible with her skill level I offer you this: Luke says it was easier for him to feel the Force at first when under duress, and it became easier after that. But he had a comfortable, loving home life prior to setting out on adventure. He didn’t need the Force. Rey’s life was nothing but duress, so of course she probably tapped into it when she was young. Fight me.

5. Easter Eggs Done Right

When Easter Eggs are done right, they’re a blink and you miss them kind of thing. A reward for repeated viewers and the unusually perceptive. A movie shouldn’t beat you over the head with it, or keep coming back to it. It’s also hard to do dialogue Easter Eggs in movies, where people repeat lines from an earlier film (see: Palpatine in that one Star Wars movie I won’t stop complaining about). But done right, they are a treat for those paying attention. They also almost never appear in books, because when reading you consume every word on the page. There’s nowhere else for your eyes to go.

This book has them though. They appear in the form of lines from A New Hope either as part of Luke’s thoughts or spoken out loud by Luke. The majority are lines that were originally spoken by Ben Kenobi. You almost don’t pick up on them until you read them and wonder why that one line appeared in your head narrated by Alec Guinness.

My personal favourite (and granted the least subtle) is when Luke is trying to explain to Nakari how mundane his life back on Tatooine is. He tells her that often the only break from monotony he would get was going into Tosche Station for power converters. He then immediately remembers that he never did actually pick up the power converters he wanted, and wonders if the store kept them for him (see what I mean? Sweet boy).

To be fair, if this line had appeared in a movie written in exactly this way, I probably would have rolled my eyes, booed and thrown popcorn at the screen. But it works here. It happens and doesn’t come up again or derail the plot. I cackled out loud at this line, because who among us has not recited the power converters line in the whiniest voice possible?

6. The Skullborers

On their first mission together, Luke and Nakari head out on an errand for her father. They investigate a moon that is home to the skullborers, a nearly invisible creature that bores into its victims skull and eats its brain.

This was so gross. And so scary. It almost seemed more Star Trek than Star Wars.

It was also the kind of thing where if I had seen it in a movie, I probably wouldn’t watch that movie again.

Fortunately it doesn’t take up too much of the book.

Random Thoughts

They eat a lot of noodles in this book. Like. A lot. I want noodles now…

They even eat said noodles with “disposable eating sticks”

The Rodian weapon dealers marketplace is called Utheel Outfitters, and if you think I didn’t immediately imagine Urban Outfitters every time, you would be wrong

Drusil makes a truly truly awful (read: hilarious) algebra pun that even my Arts-degree holding self could understand. It was one of those puns that made me slam my head on the table, but then laugh for 20 minutes.

Drusil refers to the Jedi as a “fulcrum variable” within the system, and I’m not a mathematician, so I’m just wondering if that’s at all related to why Bail Organa’s spy network uses that name

There is an anti-government song entitled “Vaders Many Prosthetic Parts” and I would really like to hear it

Fun fact: Sabers emit their light in an arc rather than a straight line.

Biweekly Book Review: Battlefront: Twilight Company

Hoooooo boy. This book.

I DNF’d (Did Not Finish) this book twice last year. That’s right. Twice.

However, I said I would read all the books, so here we are.

Before we start, in honour of a certain author running her mouth again, today’s community resource is this very helpful carrd containing petitions focused on trans rights in case you, like me, would like to bring some balance to the universe and counteract she-who-must-not-be-named’s hateful and uninformed statements.

Full disclosure, I haven’t played Battlefront (the game in the picture belongs to my brother, keep your #fakegeekgirl shit to yourself). I keep meaning to, even just to try it out, especially since I liked Battlefront II so much. But as of writing this post, I haven’t had the chance, so I don’t know if the story of this book ties in to a story mode in the game. I suspect it doesn’t. I also suspect that wouldn’t help me get through the book again if I were to attempt a reread. That said, lets dive into Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed.

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

The story is set primarily among the ranks of Twilight Company, a rebel infantry who travel from world to world carrying out more covert, high risk, and for want of a better word, gritty missions.

When their mission takes them to Haidoral Prime, they meet Everi Chalis, an artist and the governor of the planet. She offers Twilight Company, and by extension the Rebel Alliance her logistical knowledge of the Empire in exchange for protection, an offer which they accept.

The story follows the company on several missions, including a stop at Echo Base on Hoth right as the Empire shows up. Chalis, with the help of Sergeant Namir concocts a plan to hit the Empire where it hurts by attacking their shipyards at Kuat. She reasons that they must first hit several other Imperial targets, to spread their resources thinner than they already are, leaving the shipyards vulnerable to attack.

On one such mission, to the planet Sullust, Twilight Company becomes stranded and must fight their way out, while alliances shift and the Empire closes in.

I mentioned in my Battlefront II review that I found the references to existing characters to be distracting. On the total other side of that coin, I feel like existing characters in a more substantial role would have benefitted here.

2 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Governor Chalis

You may have noticed that Governor Chalis dominates most of my plot summary. She is not the main character, but she is the most interesting. As I read through the book, the main thing keeping me there was to find out what her deal is.

When they flee from Haidoral Prime, Chalis becomes concerned that the Empire, and specifically Darth Vader, will track her down because of her importance to them. She insists on this point quite a bit that I believed it was true.

Where it started to fall apart for me, and where I realized Chalis probably misunderstood Vaders intentions is when they were trapped in Echo Base on Hoth, immediately after the battle we see in The Empire Strikes Back. Chalis and Namir see that Vader has entered the base, and Chalis assumes he is there for her, and says as much. But we the reader know that he is only there to find Luke. Something that totally disillusions Chalis when she learns it.

This type of internal struggle, where an Imperial learns that they were just a cog in the machine and don’t matter as much as they thought they did, this kind of realization, is something we rarely see in a Star Wars story, if ever. Or, rather, when we do see it, the character in question doesn’t live much longer after the realization. But not only does Chalis survive the war, she manages to extract herself from the whole system and retire to a backwater world where she can focus on her art, the only thing that ever truly brought her joy.

2. Prelate Verge

Prelate Verge is a young official in the Empire, and an absolute Palpatine boot-licker. He’s also not in the book very much, but I did want to draw attention to him because this type of sycophantic devotion to the Emperor is something we also don’t see much in a named character (Verge has built shrines to Palpatine, that’s the kind of devotion we’re talking) and I wish we’d seen more of him. Especially since his devotion didn’t seem to have anything to do with the Emperor’s Force abilities.

I found myself wondering if his culty behaviour would pay off in some way that led into The Rise of Skywalker, since that movie had Palpatine cultists too. But no. Would have been interesting though

3. The action scenes…oh, the action scenes

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I really. Really. REALLY. Don’t like action scenes in books. I like the kind that advance the plot or develop characters in a meaningful way (for example Master and Apprentice). But otherwise no.

This book is probably 80% action scenes. Tactical maneuvers, buildings collapsing, mud, sweat, blood, people shouting things at each other. Such that by the end of 450+ pages, I didn’t feel I knew the characters any better beyond “they’re all damaged, and they’ve created a damaged little family”.

I know that the book is based on a video game, but the fact that the thing driving the story forward was a handful of loosely associated missions made me feel like I was reading a video game. The little bits of character development that we do get honestly felt less like character development and more like cut scenes in between the various campaigns that occupy the bulk of the book.

Random Thoughts

My favourite line in the whole thing is “The Rebel Alliance believes in redemption”. This is said when Chalis offers her aid to the rebels, and its a line I wish people would keep in mind when they start going on about irredeemable characters…

Namir meets a captain on Hoth who sits and commiserates with him after Namir gets into a fist fight. The captain is never named, but he does have Correllian whiskey on hand so I’m telling myself it was Han Solo

Apparently The Empire Strikes Back takes place 3 years after A New Hope? I don’t think I ever realized that.

Namir sees Vader use the Force (specifically Force-choke), but doesn’t recognize it for what it is, calling it “nightmare logic”

On that note, after she is Force-choked by Vader, Chalis has difficulty speaking and her whole throat bruises, which I didn’t realize was possible with a Force choke, but then I guess no one ever lives long enough for us to notice that.

Biweekly Book Review: Battlefront II: Inferno Squad

Today’s review is a little different, or the content is anyway. Where in earlier reviews, I would refer back to the movies, today I will be referring primarily back to a video game. I am talking, as you may have guessed by the title, about Battlefront II (2017). This book also marks a shift for me in my rereads. Before, if I changed my opinion on a book, it went from “that was ok I guess” to “wow I loved it”.

But this time? I went from not liking the book AT ALL to it becoming one of my top Star Wars books. All from the added context of having played the video game.

Before we get started, today’s organization in WaterFirst, a Canadian NGO whose mission is to bring clean water and sustainable water solutions to First Nations communities in Northern Ontario. Yesterday was Canada Day, and in acknowledgement of the fact that this country (which I love very much) has to do way WAY better by our First Nations population, I made a donation to the organization. I found it a constructive way to mark the occasion!

When I read this book the first time, before I had ever played the video game, I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy it very much. I didn’t much care who these people were and that, for some reason, made the whole plot hard to keep track of. I imagine it’s much like trying to read Lords of the Sith, but you haven’t seen any Star Wars movie after A New Hope. I remembered virtually nothing about this book except the premise. But while we’ve been stuck at home I decided to give the game a try, and I absolutely loved it. I am deeply attached to this video game, and it’s not just because it’s the first game I ever beat by myself (it’s partially about that). So with that in mind: Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden.

*Spoilers Below for both the book and the game*

The Story

The book serves as an origin story for Inferno Squad, an elite Imperial special ops team made up of Iden Versio, Gideon Hask, Del Meeko, and Seyn Marana. The first three appear in the video game. Seyn does not. Make of that what you will.

They are assembled by Iden’s father, Admiral Versio, after the destruction of the Death Star. The Rebel Alliance striking such a blow has the entire Empire rattled. Inferno Squad’s larger goal is to retaliate against the Alliance. However, their first big task is tangential to their goal: eliminate the remainder of Saw Guerrera’s partisans.

The partisans, Saw Guerrera’s radical offshoot of the Rebel Alliance is a group we’ve seen before. They appeared in Rogue One, in the TV shows, and even in Rebel Rising, which I’ve reviewed as part of this series. After Saw’s death on Jedha, the remainder of his partisans are scattered to the winds. One very active cell, which calls itself The Dreamers, attracts the attention of Inferno Squad, and they are tasked with infiltrating it and taking it apart from the inside.

Seyn, an intelligence officer with an eidetic memory, poses as a slave and orchestrates her liberation by The Dreamers. Gideon, a pilot, and Del, an engineer, sneak aboard a vessel likely to be overtaken by the partisans and surrender when the time comes. Iden, however, doesn’t assume an alternate identity. Rather, she pretends to betray Imperial ideals, questioning the logic of destroying Alderaan, chalking this up to having survived the destruction of the Death Star. She lets herself be taken by the partisans to use as their mouthpiece against the Empire.

Inferno Squad’s mission seems simple: take part in any rebellious activity initiated by the partisans until they have the resources to take them out. But the deeper the squad gets with the rebels, the harder they find it to maintain that line in the sand.

4 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Getting to know Inferno Squad (this time with video game context)

The first time I read the book, I had a hard time connecting to the characters. This might have been because in the back of my head I knew their main adventure/story wasn’t going to be told in this book, but rather in the video game that shares its name. It certainly wasn’t because the book itself does a bad job communicating this to me. I just personally felt very removed from both the characters and conflict. I was nagged by the constant idea that I should know what’s going on, but I didn’t.

Then lockdown happened, and I spent one very intense weekend playing through Battlefront II story mode. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to revisit this book.

The added context of playing the game suddenly made the characters stand out all the more sharply to me. Seeing how much Iden hates Leia now is funny considering she that the two will work together later on to bring down the Empire. Iden and Del’s tentative friendship is made all the sweeter with the knowledge that they will eventually fall in love. On the other hand seeing how close both of them are with Hask hurts that much more when you remember he is the cause of much of their suffering after they defect to the Alliance, and that he is the one who eventually kills Del.

2. Propaganda and Hypocrisy

One thing we really get to see here, which also appeared in Lost Stars, though with less focus, is the extent of the propaganda fed to those who grow up within the Empire. The idea that the Empire is the saving grace in the galaxy, and those who stand against it want nothing more than to sow discord and chaos is so deeply engrained in Inferno Squad, and in Iden especially, that by the time they get to the Dreamers, they are in so deep, they eat, sleep and breathe hypocrisy.

The catalyst for them infiltrating the Dreamers is the destruction of the Death Star. Very little consideration is given to the major event directly preceding this one: the destruction of Alderaan. The Death Star was filled with people just doing their jobs, but Alderaan was home to potential Rebels. Who can say how the children there were being raised? If they are raised to be rebels, they will have been raised to be the enemy. And enemies must be destroyed. This is Admiral Versio’s justification for their actions on Alderaan, which Iden at least partially agrees with. She puts her “abduction” by the Dreamers into motion by publicly expressing regret that the Empire destroyed an entire world full of innocent beings unnecessarily, and also saying that at least the Rebels only took out a military target full of military personnel.

The deaths of millions of innocents on Alderaan is met with some regret by members of Inferno Squad, but not much considering just how many of those innocents were children. By contrast, when the Dreamers want to sneak Seyn and Sadori (another young member of their crew) onto an Imperial academy field trip to plant a bomb and take out high ranking officials, Inferno Squad are horrified. The students on the field trip are innocents! How could they consider killing them? This disturbs Seyn so much she meddles with the bomb so that the students have a chance to evacuate before it detonates.

They remain open to torturing rebels for information if necessary. They have no problem manipulating the Dreamers and playing them against each other. But when asked to kill a Stormtrooper, Iden is physically sickened by the idea. She cannot comprehend how the Dreamers can be so cruel. It’s both interesting and frustrating that Inferno Squad comes so close to getting it, but never quite makes it there. They claim to want to protect the innocent, but that desire only extends to innocents on their side of the conflict. Everyone on the other side is painted with the same brush.

3. I don’t think we’re in the Rebel Alliance anymore

The book is set primarily among the Dreamers, but the only narrative points of view we get are from Inferno Squad. However, both groups feel very strongly that their approach and point of view is the right one.

I found myself wondering why there wasn’t any respite from these polar opposite, yet almost identical approaches to getting the job done. Then I realized that unlike in other Star Wars books, neither organization is being shown in opposition to the Rebel Alliance, which is usually the case.

The Rebel Alliance approach is usually marked by caution, by gathering as much information as possible, by trying to work within the system, all of which is heavily criticized by the Dreamers as being ineffective. There is something to be said for taking bold strides, but the problem is the Dreamers stride with no sense of direction. They have the nebulous goal of “stopping” the Empire, much like the Empire aims to “squash the Rebellion” but neither are particularly strategic about it.

It’s little wonder Inferno Squad fits in with the Dreamers as well as they do. The object of scorn is different, but the tactics are virtually the same.

4. The Setting and Tone

This book, more than the others, felt deeply unsettling to me.

That the main characters, for all that they’re Imperials, spend most of the book in deep cover is unnerving. That they frequently catch themselves slipping up and revealing more than they meant to is nerve wracking.

Unlike other books with an undercover/mystery element of some kind, we never cut away from these characters. We spend about 80% of the book undercover with them and never get that break to breathe.

As a reader, I was constantly on edge wondering when they were going to slip up again, and if they did what would the consequences be? This despite knowing that most of Inferno Squad survive until the video game.

Most of them.

When Seyn slips up and reveals that she knows more than she’s supposed to, everything unravels for her right there. She is called out on all fronts and her teammates can only sit there and watch it happen. They can’t help her, or they’d get dragged into the mess too.

5. The inclusion of Lux and Staven

Normally I’m a fan of recognizable characters dipping in for a brief moment in the story to tie it back to the familiar. But this is one time I think it worked to the books detriment.

We are given backstory on Staven, and his tragic first love among Saw’s partisans. It wasn’t until I checked Wookiepedia that I realized Staven had appeared in Rebel Rising, as had Maia, the woman he loved. It may be because I read them too far apart, but nothing about this character stuck with me from the other book, so I had to actively remind myself that I “knew” him from before, and that I knew the circumstances under which he lost Maia.

And speaking of characters not sticking with me.

Much is made of The Mentor, a shadowy figure living among the Dreamers who never goes out on missions. Iden figures it’s because he is well known and cannot risk blowing his cover, and she’s right. We find out towards the end that he is actually Lux Bonteri, a character from the Clone Wars TV Series. Despite having seen this show more than once, I routinely get Lux mixed up with Duchess Satine’s nephew (whose name, I want to say, is…Korkie?) (I’m also convinced Korkie is Obi Wan’s son, but that’s a conversation for another day).

Lux plays a much bigger role in the series than Korkie does, but he still didn’t leave much of an impression on me to carry over into this book, beyond name recognition. With this in mind, I found myself wracking my brain anytime he made reference to his beloved wife and step-daughter. Are these people we know? They must be! After all, Maia, Staven’s late love, is someone we know. There is a passing reference to Jyn Erso, who we recognize. So who could this wife and daughter be? No doubt someone I’ve just forgotten.

Nope.

They don’t have names, they haven’t come up in any other story so far. Which is fine, but they are treated SO significantly, I thought I was missing something big.

The push and pull between Staven having a backstory I should already know, and Lux having a story I felt like I should know led me to wish they’d both been left out altogether.

Random Thoughts

Seriously, Hask, Del was like your BROTHER…and then you just…SHOOT HIM??

Dugs are described here as walking on their hands and using their feet to hold things, which makes me wonder why those body parts are referred to that way? Is it just because the hands and arms are closer to the head?

Seing Seyn pop us as a member of Inferno Squad and remembering that she isn’t in the video game filled me with more dread than I expected.

Poor Iden is in so deep she doesn’t realize Del isn’t pretending to have bonded with Piikow, the other mechanic.