Star Wars: The Expanded Universe Read-Through “Dark Apprentice” by Kevin J. Anderson

sw-da-kjaI 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. Here, Luke Skywalker continues his quest to found a new Jedi Academy in Dark Apprentice, the second book of the Jedi Academy trilogy. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Dark Apprentice

There are two huge problems with this book, and they are largely interlinked. The first is that major characters act extremely out of character a number of times. The most telling example of this is when Han finds out Leia has been in an accident and his first reaction is to gamble with Lando Calrissian for who owns the Millennium Falcon. What? That seriously happened!

The second problem is that there is a whole lot of filler in this book. Unlike Jedi Search, which had a tight narrative that kept the action going, Dark Apprentice has heaping helpings of scenes where the characters do little other than wander around. Case in point: Jacen and Jaina Solo get lost and wander all around Coruscant while Chewbacca and C-3PO scurry around trying to figure out what to do. Once more, this also demonstrates characters acting out of character. It is unthinkable that C-3PO would fail to follow protocol so obviously (he’s a protocol droid!) and that Chewbacca would refuse to do all he could (i.e. notify the authorities) to save the children of them an to whom he owes a life-debt. Going back to the example of gambling above, an inordinate amount of time is spent with Lando and Han going back and forth on who owns the Falcon and gambling away time. These two problems are severe, and make Dark Apprentice feel very much like an in-between book, just taking up space rather than moving the narrative forward.

On the other hand, Anderson does a better job in this book of developing more of the side characters. Notable examples are Kyp Durron and Admiral Ackbar, who each get enough development to feel more real than they did before. However, even Durron is shorted time in the spotlight due to the aforementioned filler material.

The plot of Dark Apprentice feels very much like a placeholder as well. Yes, the development of Durron and his seemingly swift fall to the Dark Side was interesting, but it happened so fast that it was difficult to get into it as much as I wanted to. Other than that, little seemed to happen. A few plot twists were thrown in, and the setting up of Ackbar to take a fall in order to try to split the New Republic was the best moment of the novel. These moments of brilliance make the amount of silliness harder to swallow. It’s one thing to have scenes that resonate with the “fun” of the Star Wars universe, but it is another to do so at the cost of the overall plot.

Dark Apprentice is a filler book. It is particularly frustrating to read this one following the excellent Jedi Search. It feels like so much more could have been done with the plot and characters. Unfortunately, there were too many tough-to-swallow moments.

The Good

+Side characters get chances to shine

The Bad

-Out-of-character behavior
-Lots of filler
-Too-swift development of major plot points

Best Droid Moment

C-3PO losing track of the twins and worrying about getting dismantled

Grade: C- “I expected more after the first entry. ‘Dark Apprentice’ has too little going on to make it a suitable follow up to ‘Jedi Search.'”

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 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.

Hopes for the next Star Wars Movies

sw-fa

We all have hopes and dreams for the rest of the new Star Wars trilogy. Here, I will be sharing mine. There will be all kinds of MAJOR SPOILERS in this post for the movie, so please avoid reading it until after you’ve seen it.

Side Characters 

The informant and her muscle man at Maz’s Castle were particularly interesting. In the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary I discovered that they are named Grummgar (the big guy) and Bazine (the woman with the black and white dress). According to that dictionary, Grummgar is a “big game hunter and gun-for-hire” who enjoys trophies of both the animal variety and the gorgeous woman variety. Having them show up as antagonists later would be pretty fun, in my opinion. I could see them working together to try to carry out an attack on Luke or Rey. Basically, I just want to see them again. I’d love to have a book like Tales from Jabba’s Palace that was instead Tales from Maz’s Castle. They need to get the books going again and expand the universe more.

I would like BB-8 to continue to be comic relief while still having a more serious personality. They did well with BB in “The Force Awakens” and I’d like that to continue.

Rey

First off, I want to say I think it’d be really dumb if she ends up being specifically related to Han/Leia or Luke. For one thing, it would be another example of a problem in the prequel trilogy: everyone knows each other/is related to each other. There is a whole galaxy of people available! Why must everyone be related to everyone else? For another, it doesn’t make sense in the plot they’ve already set up. Han and Leia had no recognition of her–and she remembered her parents well enough to wait for them–so it doesn’t make sense there. As for Luke, it stretches credulity to think that he would just abandon his daughter or that it really makes any sense for him to have fled across the galaxy over his nephew if he’d already abandoned his daughter.

Another intriguing aspect of Rey is what kind of lightsaber she might end up with. Her use of the quarterstaff opens up the possibility of her use of a double-bladed lightsaber, which would be awesome. The movie poster putting Kylo Ren’s red lightsaber along her quarterstaff also highlights this aspect. What color saber might she have? I don’t know, but I’m hoping for her to be a Jedi with the double-blade.

I’ve enjoyed how dynamic the discovery of Rey’s force powers has been, and I hope that continues. It was interesting to have her figure out how to do a mind control trick as opposed to witnessing it or being taught to do it.

Kylo Ren

Kylo Ren’s journey to the Dark Side must be explored, even if it is only through flashbacks. Moreover, they have set him up to go further down the path towards the Dark Side and so the question is whether he will have a redemptive moment or not. I think it would be better to not have a recapitulation of Vader and instead have a final battle scene in which Rey must kill Ren to end his threat. Think about it: a lightsaber scene akin to the Darth Maul vs. Qui-Gon Jinn/Obi Wan scene from Episode I (yes, I do think that scene, at least, was pretty well done) that features Rey vs. Ren. I’d love to see a huge, big scale lightsaber dual between the two as the capstone on the trilogy. Make it happen!

Finn

I’d like to learn more about how Stormtroopers are trained. It seemed like they are apparently taken at birth and trained in the system from birth, but how is this much different from a clone army (apart from not being clones)?

Finn’s development as a serious force on the battlefield is also full of possibility. He has elite Stormtrooper training. Could he end up as a major player in ground battles going forward? I think so. He needs to get a weapon all his own, though.

What about You?

What would you like to see in the movies going forward? What do you think of the scenarios I lined up? Let me know in the comments.

Links

Star Wars: The Force Awakens- A Christian perspective– I offer a worldview-level analysis of the film from a Christian perspective.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review– Here is my more traditional review of the movie.

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 Wars: The Force Awakens Review

sw-faAs a huge Star Wars fan, who’s read 100+ Star Wars books and loved the movies since I first saw them, I have to say I loved The Force Awakens. I also know I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Hence, consider yourself SPOILER WARNED. Yes, I consider just about any new information about a film a spoiler, and I don’t want to be the one to spoil it for you. So you have been warned, there are SPOILERS in this review.

Review

I, like just about everyone else I know, have been waiting breathlessly for the new Star Wars movie. Would it be good? Would Disney ruin it? Actually, I never had the thought of “Will Disney ruin it” because I figured the prequel trilogy was already not so great, so it didn’t matter much if Disney did ruin it. I could just pretend they were apocryphal imitations of the Star Wars I knew and loved.

Let’s just get it out of the way: I do not think this movie was ruined. I absolutely loved it. Is some of that the nostalgia they played upon? Absolutely. But does the film have genuine Star Wars feel? Totally.

The Force Awakens is filled with nods to the original trilogy in particular. Some might not like this, but for me it was needed and welcomed. It is like Disney was giving us one big Wookie hug, reassuring viewers that yes, this is Star Wars, and it is back. Along with these nods came some meta-jokes and references to both the Expanded Universe and concepts that were never included or changed in the original movies. I appreciated this kind of fan service, but what I appreciated more was that they never took over the film.

There was a stunning sense of newness intermingled with the sense of nostalgia here. Rey and Finn were fascinating characters (particularly Rey, who is totally awesome) with enough details of their backstories teased to get me quite interested in them in upcoming films. Other characters were tantalizing (like the First Order informant’s at Mox’s place, and Mox herself of course) enough to make me want to come back again and see some books based on them. Could we have a new Expanded Universe, please?

The use of models and real sets (and real-looking ones) made this feel much more like the original trilogy than the prequels. The whole film was clearly Star Wars.

The plot was also quite enjoyable, with the mystery surrounding Luke and Kylo Ren driving the plot. Kylo Ren was not nearly as scary/powerful as he could have been. To be fair, part of this might be because they are clearly building him up. One scene featured him looking at the helmet of Vader and apologizing for feeling like he was tempted by the Light. His choice to kill his father was not unexpected in the flow of the movie, and could lead to him gaining more of a Vader-like persona in the rest of the trilogy. I loved the ending with Rey approaching Luke. Luke Skywalker has pretty much always been my favorite Star Wars character. My son’s name is Luke (in part because it is also my favorite Gospel).

The music was good, though at times I barely noticed it. I think part of this was because unlike watching and re-watching the previous films, I had to pay attention to the plot the whole time. Every time I noticed the music, I enjoyed it immensely.

I loved The Force Awakens and cannot wait to see where the series goes next. Sign me up for the rest of the movies immediately.

The Good

+Star Wars feel through and through
+Great action
+Good use of characters old and new
+Solid music
+Star Wars is back

The Bad

-Kylo Ren not as intimidating as he should be

The Verdict

Grade: 

Links

Star Wars: The Force Awakens- A Christian perspective– I offer a worldview-level analysis of the film from a Christian perspective.

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 Wars: EU Read-Through “Dark Force Rising” by Timothy Zahn

dfr-zahnI 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. Here, I look at Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn.

Dark Force Rising

Here we are at the midway point of the famed “Thrawn Trilogy.” Does it continue to hold up as well as the first, Heir to the Empire?

In the book, the primary thrust is Thrawn’s–and the Empire’s–search for new ships, which comes to be focused on the “Dark Force”–a mysterious, missing fleet of Dreadnoughts. As the race is on to find where these ships are, Princess Leia travels to the Noghri homeworld and discovers the great injustices that have been dealt to this alien people.

What Zahn perhaps does best of all is the introduction and fleshing out of numerous secondary characters like the Noghri, Senator Bel Iblis, Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, and more. These characters each have intriguing backgrounds and are genuinely deeply important to the story. This is something I recall not happening in all the Star Wars books as secondary characters are often little more than window dressing for the main characters’ struggles. Here, however, readers are freely introduced to a wonderful cast of characters who have motivations, insights, and their own struggles to go along with those of the main characters like Luke, Han, and Leia.

The Noghri and their planet,  Honoghr, are the other central part of the plot, and Leia’s interactions there are both interesting and true to her character. Zahn did an excellent job setting up this world and its inhabitants as a stage for current and future conflict. Like Kashyyk in Heir to the Empire, Honoghr seems like a fleshed out world rather than a mere stage for events.

Thrawn in this book continues to be an interesting character, but his tactical genius seems to be slipping. The assumptions he made related to the Noghri ended up being mistaken, which is surprising given how much Zahn had previously emphasized his cultural intuition by means of studying the artworks of various peoples. However, this may not be a bad thing as it is clear Thrawn needs to have some weakness, and the most believable one is almost certainly that he would out-think himself.

The biggest problem in the book is, like the first, the rather large number of awfully “convenient” circumstances. Here, however, it is the existence of the “Dark Force”which suddenly everyone knows about and is interested in. Lando, Karrde, Thrawn, and others all have some knowledge about this fleet. Now this isn’t absolutely extraordinary, but what is extraordinary is that after all this time, more than one person just happens to show up who knows where the fleet is, just when the Empire is looking for new ships. It’s just a little too much.

The Good

+Good development of worlds
+Intriguing character development
+The Noghri are a complex, interesting species with great background
+Continued emphasis on secondary characters gives depth to the universe

The Bad

-A bit too convenient that everyone suddenly has inside information
-Thrawn doesn’t seem quite so much a genius as he did before (perhaps this will end up being a good thing)

Best Droid Moment

It’s kind of hard to think of one because there weren’t too many, but I did enjoy R2-D2’s attempt to fight alongside Luke.

Grade: A- “Another great installment by Zahn.”

Conclusion

Dark Force Rising isn’t as flawless as Heir to the Empire, but continued focus on secondary characters, great world-building, and fast-paced action still make it among the cream of the crop for Star Wars books.

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.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through- “The Courtship of Princess Leia” by Dave Wolverton

courtship-leia-wolvertonI have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. After reading Darth Plagueis (click title for link to review), I decided to take it back to the beginning–that is, where began reading Star Wars books. That means I will now review The Courtship of Princess Leia, the book that got me started in the Star Wars Expanded Universe and a quest that has continued for 20 years (and continuing).

The Courtship of Princess Leia centers around, surprisingly enough, Princess Leia and a Hapan Prince, Isolder and the marriage proposal between them. Han Solo is less than impressed by Isolder and decides to have his own go at convincing Leia to marry him. I’ll not summarize the whole plot, as you can instead find a summary here.

The book has a number of awesome things in it, like reading about Han Solo talking to C-3PO about how to win women and watching his pursuit of Leia. Leia also shines as she continues to overthrow any notion that women have to be submissive and quiet. The introduction of  the Hapans was intriguing and leads me to want to read more about them. Having the side plot of Luke Skywalker trying to restart the Jedi Academy was also great.

There are also some flaws. First, the Force seems way more like magic than like the Force does in either the movies or later books (from my memory). In one scene, Luke goes into a Force trance instantly, falls out of his X-Wing, and then uses the Force to basically fly as he slows his fall to the ground and lands. I don’t remember the Force granting some of these abilities later. He also uses the Force to seamlessly translate what anyone is saying. I don’t know, maybe I’m forgetting something but it seems like they nerfed the Force later.

Second, the droids in the book seem to be fully realized persons rather than acting like droids! C-3PO in particular is given a whole mental life, something that I recall being largely absent later. It feels a bit forced in many places, to be honest.

The whole plot with the Witches of Dathomir has its ups and downs, but Wolverton did a great job introducing a fully realized world and society for exploration, something that is not an easy task. The book just has a great Star Wars feel despite the negatives I mentioned above.

The Courtship of Princess Leia is by no means perfect, but it remains a great entry point for those looking to read through the Expanded Universe and it remains on my list of favorites. Is some of that nostalgia talking? Of course. But isn’t nostalgia part of the reason we all love Star Wars anyway?

The Good

-Han Solo kidnapping Princess Leia to convince her she should marry him is a perfect scenario
-Han Solo’s gambling and smuggling ways
-Did I mention Han Solo?
-Dathomir a fully-developed world with a great feel of exploration
-Introduces the Hapans, who rock

The Bad

-The Force is apparently a set of superpowers (a concept nerfed later in the EU, thankfully)
-C-3PO and R2-D2 are given far more capacity for personality and thought than seems likely for droids even elsewhere in the Star Wars universe
-Chewie growling “in terror” a lot seems quite out of character

Best Droid Moment

C-3PO composing a song dedicated to how awesome Han Solo is. I can’t believe I didn’t remember that epic scene.

Grade: A- “Solid characterization with the kind of adventure we expect from Star Wars.”

Conclusion

The Courtship of Princess Leia is a solid entry and a good starting point for Star Wars fans interested in reading the EU. I would highly recommend a read-through for Star Wars fans. Please let me know if you have any ideas for categories I should include in these reviews going forward.

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!

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

SDG.