Star Wars Expanded Universe Read-Through: “Jedi Search” by Kevin J. Anderson

Jedi-SearchI have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Jedi Search by Kevin J. Anderson is the next up, and it is book one of The Jedi Academy Trilogy. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Jedi Search

I’ll admit it: I remembered effectively nothing of this book. It came out right as I got into reading Star Wars books (I feel lucky to have largely grown up on the Expanded Universe) and after the Thrawn Trilogy, I picked up The Courtship of Princess Leia and went on from there. It’s been over 20 years since I read this one the first time, so it felt almost entirely fresh.

I’m glad it did. Jedi Search was a fun ride. First, there are several scenes in this book that are distinctively “Star Wars” in their feel. Unlike Star Trek (which I also love, just see my ongoing series of TNG reviews), which tends to at least attempt to be serious and scientific in its approach to the world, Star Wars has always been something of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of adventure. Indeed, adventure is probably the best word for what Star Wars excels at, though the word itself is overused. In Jedi Search, the sheer fun of many of the scenes was incredible. Luke’s recruiting of various potential Jedi was noteworthy–particularly his fight against a lava dragon-worm. However, the best scene was Lando Calrissian’s own attempt to recruit a potential Jedi, which began with him watching a truly hilarious race of jelly-like blobs and ended with Lando in a shootout at the blob corral. Seriously! That was a genius scene, and it was just the kind of wild fun that makes Star Wars shine. I’m still smiling about it.

Kevin J. Anderson also makes great use of the droids. They are characters again! After reading the otherwise excellent “The Han Solo Trilogy,” I felt like droids barely had personalities any more. Here, they’re back and shining throughout (both literally and figuratively). Additionally, the main characters each have chances to shine, including a wonderful scene in which Leia chastises a politician for daring to suggest she ought to effectively abandon her children due to “more important” matters with politics. A real, genuine sense of balance between parenting and career is difficult, and having such a scene helped convey that.

The main plot of the book is well-done also. It could have simply been left to Luke looking for more potential Jedi, but throwing in an increasing Imperial threat was a good idea. The “Sun Crusher” might end up as basically a third Death Star type of thing (where have I heard that complaint before [The Force Awakens]?), but I don’t mind it very much. It does seem a little bit blown out of proportion power-to-size, but it’s not inconsistent with the effectively magical universe of Star Wars.

What is problematic here is what I’ve noticed before in the other EU books: too many things are too convenient. Luke decides he wants to train more Jedi, and look! Wedge Antilles happens to dig up a Jedi-detecting-device! Wow, what a coincidence! Oh yeah, but that might not be easy enough, so Luke discovers he can just probe minds at a certain point and that also detects Jedi! What luck! Hey–there are a bunch of angry Imperials out there with an insanely powerful super-weapon. Han, Chewbacca, and Kyp Durron (a newly discovered recruit) manage to escape from imprisonment in spice mines and run into them! How grand! This kind of thing happens a lot through the book, in case you couldn’t tell, and it takes away from the overall feel of the book. Side characters also get little by way of development and often feel merely invented for the sake of having more characters than they do full-bodied contributions to the plot.

Jedi Search is certainly a worthy entry in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and it reminded me of why I read Star Wars books to begin with. As I’m re-reading the Expanded Universe, I’m struck by how consistently good the books have been so far. Some time ago I weeded out a bunch of the books I thought weren’t that great, so part of that is selection effect, but I’m enjoying this journey immensely.

The Good

+Extremely fun scenes
+Excellent use of main characters
+Good overall plot

The Bad

-Too-convenient solutions at points
-Little development of side characters

Best Droid Moment

R2-D2 and C-3PO each have any number of great moments, but the best was probably when R2-D2 pretended to be a cleaning droid and took down a crook

Grade: A “A fun jaunt in the Star Wars universe with a solid plot. Can’t ask for much more from a Star Wars book.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

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Star Trek: TNG “Force of Nature” and “Inheritance”

Don't worry, we can ignore all of this after this episode.

Don’t worry, we can ignore all of this after this episode.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Force of Nature”

Plot

Look, this plot is pretty convoluted so you can read a really lengthy summary here. Basically, some scientists work to show that high levels of warp are causing some kind of distortions across the universe, which are bad. In the end, the solution of limiting warp speed across the board was offered and accepted, and the Federation shares its findings with other people groups.

Commentary

Subspace emissions telescoping emitter proceed along the warp flux capacitor field.

I have now summarized a large portion of the episode. Seriously. It is insanely full of technobabble to the point where it just becomes completely meaningless. Yes, it was meaningless to begin with, but at least most episodes put the technobabble to some kind of purpose. Here, it seemed clear they knew they were talking about a charged topic (climate change) and decided to layer over it with so much obfuscating nonsense talk and hand-waving that they could appeal to the silliness of it all to say they didn’t mean it.

Another poor choice was to come to the conclusion that all ships would limit themselves to Warp 5 going forward. The moment they said this, you as a viewer knew it would never stick. It was the kind of one-off writing choices that seems epic at the time but cannot be consistently applied to the universe. Indeed, as I looked up the episode in the fantastic book Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 (a book that covers every single episode with plenty of backstory about how they were made and insights from writers, etc.), I find that the writers themselves discovered that it was the ideal driving the story rather than the story leading to the conclusions.

It’s not a bad thing to have current issues imported into a science fiction show, however, and the core of the episode is actually pretty enjoyable. It was a journey of scientific discovery, however incomprehensible it was made behind the nonsense words. And, realistically, isn’t that what Star Trek is supposed to be all about? It’s weird because this is an episode that is, on its own, solid. As a one-off, it wouldn’t have been too bad. But it just doesn’t fit into the rest of the Star Trek universe. It’s a misfit, but one that was ultimately more enjoyable than it probably should have been.

Grade: B- “Technobabble. Climate change. Technobabble.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “The premise of warp destabilizing subspace seemed a bit out of left field, but the crew’s solution was good.” 

“Inheritance”

Plot

Juliana Tainer and her husband come aboard the Enterprise. Juliana claims to be Data’s “mother,” having helped Noonian Soong (there are at least 3 common spellings of this name on the internet, by the way), her husband, construct him. Data is initially skeptical, but she seems to have memories only someone with such intimate knowledge could have, and her story seems to check out generally. However, Data’s suspicions are confirmed, in part, when it turns out she’s an android. She doesn’t know this, however, as a holochip from Soong explains to Data. Data must decide whether to tell her or not, and he decides against it, allowing her to achieve a humanlike life he can never fully attain.

Commentary

Data has a mom! …and she’s been turned into an android to support a mad scientist’s desire to perpetuate his wife’s existence with artificial life.

Family issues.

Seriously, though, this was quite an enjoyable episode. It created a genuine sense of foreboding–you felt the whole time Data’s “mom” had a larger story to her–but it took it a different direction from the nefarious plots or galaxy-changing revelations that have become the norm at this point in the series. Instead, it turns out that the only thing that is amiss is that the woman is an android made by a lonely genius.

The episode also played upon the moral issues that might come up with just such a scenario. Would you tell her that she’s an android? Is it right to do so? Is commitment to truth a higher good than the mental comfort of others?

These are not easy questions to answer, and Data’s answer is, ultimately, to conceal the truth. Interestingly, this may have been the most compassionate thing he could have done–a truly human action. Data’s character growth, again, shines in this episode.

Grade: A- “Frankenmom.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was a good character-development episode for Data, but lacked a sense of urgency for the story.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

One Sentence Book Review: “The Lost World” by Michael Crichton

The Lost World by Michael Crichton

Review

The Lost World is more quotable than Jurassic Park, but isn’t as intense or foreboding as its predecessor.

Links

One Sentence Book Review: “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton– I review Jurassic Park. By having two sentences, this summary of contents is longer than the post.

One Sentence Book Reviews– Read more one sentence book reviews here. I’ve decided to do one for every book I read, which is a lot. I got started on 5/14/16 so this list will grow from there.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Star Trek: TNG Season 7 “Dark Page” and “Attached”

My face while I watched this episode.

My face while I watched this episode.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Dark Page”

Plot

Lwaxana Troi is having psychological difficulties. Initially, they appear to be linked to her attempts to communicate telepathically with a new race of telepaths–with potentially nefarious consequences–but it turns out that it is really Lwaxan’s own attempts to suppress a memory which are causing her distress. Deanna must enter into her mother’s mind to rescue her from the prison in which she has encased herself. She does so, thus revealing the truth of Lwaxana’s lost child.

Commentary

Ouch. This was a surprisingly thoughtful and emotional episode, starring Lwaxana Troi of all people.

I enjoyed it, but I also felt a little bit scared and uncertain afterwards. I wanted to run to check on my sleeping child to make sure he was okay. “Dark Page” preys upon that part of parents’ psyche: the knowledge that no matter what we do, something could always go wrong. No matter how much preparation, watching, and the like we engage in, something terrible could happen.

But then, the episode doesn’t just leave it at that. Instead, it turns to how we deal with great loss. It doesn’t offer an easy, stupid one-size-fits-all solution. Instead it just leaves the emotions raw and unchecked. With loss, we must not avoid the feelings we experience. That is what this episode tells us, and it hurts quite a bit to see it or even contemplate it.

There’s my analysis. As far as the actual details of the episode, I don’t think they matter much. This was an episode that was all about struggling with sorrow, and the plot was less important than the ideas it conveyed.

This is an episode that will hit you right in the gut, and leave you thinking for a while afterwards. Well done.

Grade: A “Right in the feels, there, Star Trek.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A “It was a remarkable and touching exploration of Deanna’s relationship with her mom.”

“Attached”

Plot

The Enterprise is dispatched to check out a planet that is petitioning for entrance into the Federation. Once there, they beam Crusher and Picard down to the surface. But wait! During transport, the two are intercepted and imprisoned by a rival faction who believe the Enterprise is at their planet to give military assistance to conquer them. They implant something into Crusher and Picard which is supposed to let their thoughts be read to see if they’re telling the truth, but when the two escape, they start to hear each other’s thoughts and experience agony if they stray too far from one another. Eventually, as Riker deals with leaders from each faction, Picard and Crusher manage to escape, ending the potential conflict… and the chances for the planet’s entrance into the Federation (for now).

Commentary

Can we just agree that Crusher and Picard need to just get married already. They love each other. They effectively admitted that to each other in this episode. There is so much sexual tension happening that it is ridiculous. And why not? Huh? Well, probably because they both love the position they’re currently in and neither wants to transfer or move for the sake of a relationship. At some point though, they have to realize they’re basically letting their chances for happiness over a longer period of time slip away! It’s driving me crazy.

As far as the rest of the episode goes, I think it was pretty entertaining. It’s a pretty fun concept: show what happens when someone is petitioning to enter the Federation who is actually insane. Yep. This is a planet full of madness, and they manage to put just enough of a facade of normalcy forward to lure the Enterprise into having to come see if they might be considered for entry. This does not go well for them.

I particularly enjoyed Riker’s bemused expression as representatives of the two factions were countering each other with ever-increasing levels of paranoia. You could just tell the thought that was going through his head: “Yeah… not recommending these crazies for entrance into the Federation.” Of course, he gave voice to that very thought shortly thereafter, which was just as enjoyable.

“Attached” is full of characterization as well. We learn more about Picard and Crusher’s backgrounds in ways that are touching and revealing.

The complaint I have is that we keep getting more and more relationships that seem like they should just be a thing, but instead are put off for whatever reason (see also Troi/Riker). Look, we’re in the 7th season of this series. Can we just have the people who are obviously made for each other get together? I like resolution, so it is starting to drive me bonkers.

Another complaint: how is it so easy to just intercept a transport in progress? Basically every time that’s happened before this, people end up dead. Here’s another of the endless examples where technology is used in a very inconsistent fashion throughout the series.

Grade: A- “Just get married already!”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “Yet again, Picard demonstrates his extraordinary ability to stay out of a relationship with Beverly Crusher.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

80s Fantasy Movie Review: “The Beastmaster”

the-beastmaster

Yet another epic movie poster. This one looks an awful lot like a Star Wars poster.

I embarked on a quest to watch through Tor’s list of 80s Fantasy. I have only seen an embarassingly small number of the movies on that list, and have decided to rectify that! Next up is “The Beastmaster,” a highly controversial and still well-loved flick. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Master of the Beasts

“The Beastmaster” is a movie I have heard people rant and/or rave about for some time. In my viewing of it it was… uneven.

The plot was, in a word, microscopic. The Beastmaster has some special skill thing of communicating with animals and so he goes on a quest to be a voyeur over some women and get revenge kind of. Also he has a sword that looks cool but that he doesn’t use very much. Oh, and ferrets are his secret (and best) weapon. It’s not entirely clear–ever–how the different plot details interweave (or if they do) and why various things happen. There is also no real sense of a wider world beyond what you see in the movie. No lore seems to be in the background. What you see is what you get.

There was one scene that had a hint of mystery, and that was the place of the birdmen or whatever they are supposed to be called. They looked more like weird bats to me, but I don’t think the movie’s lore will be very picky either way. There was something there that could have made an interesting tidbit of story but instead we have pretty much no words spoken and they just happen to show up to help save the day at the final battle. Why? I don’t know, because the Beastmaster has an eagle animal companion or something.

The scenes with the animals were interesting and at times pretty cool. But I couldn’t get over it: I think there has to be something said about the treatment of animals in this movie. Honestly, it was tough to watch a few of the scenes with the ferrets. I mean this wasn’t computer generated stuff–they just almost let some poor ferret drown. It turns out the eagle was also dropped out of a hot air balloon because it wouldn’t fly how they wanted it to, and the tiger they painted black for some reason died due to the paint they used on it. Not a very solid track record.

There was also some unnecessary nudity again. I might come off prudish for pointing this out so much, but 80s fantasy flicks sure liked to have nudity, apparently. I just think that it doesn’t add anything to the film and is a bit vulgar. It didn’t help that the Beastmaster was highly exploitative in his own treatment of women. Oh well, it would be hard to expect more from a guy who abuses animals for a kick.

“The Beastmaster” was okay. It had some entertaining moments, but it didn’t have the feeling of a larger world that other, better films on this list have had.

The Good

+Cool concept
+Neat-looking sword featuring lots of sword waving

The Bad

-Animal abuse
-Unnecessary nudity
-Drawn out for too long
-Microscopic plot

The Verdict

Grade: C-  “Some good ideas and a cool sword waving around aren’t enough to overcome the weirdness, lack of plot, and animal cruelty found herein.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Time to Watch some 80s Fantasy Flicks– I describe my quest to watch a bunch of 80s fantasy movies. This post also features links to all the reviews done so far.

A Ranking of 1980s Fantasy that would please Crom Himself– The original list of movies that made me embark on this quest.

SDG.

One Sentence Book Review: “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Review

Crichton wrote a suspenseful, deep novel explaining why dinosaurs and humans don’t mix.

Links

One Sentence Book Reviews– Read more one sentence book reviews here. I’ve decided to do one for every book I read, which is a lot. I got started on 5/14/16 so this list will grow from there.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.