Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through – “Children of the Jedi” by Barbara Hambly

I 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, we look at Children of the Jedi, which is apparently the first in a trilogy about Callista, kind of. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Okay, I want to start with the good here. That cover is absolutely gorgeous. I can definitely see it being a kind of movie cover. It has the retro vibe down pat, and is definitely Star Wars all over it.

That’s the good. Look, I went through and purged my Star Wars collection a while back of the books I knew I didn’t really want to re-read because they weren’t great. There are some truly fantastic Star Wars novels out there–like the Darth Bane trilogy or the Thrawn Trilogy. But this is not one of them. The only reason I can think of for keeping it was because of the cover. Oh, and maybe I thought having Luke fall in love would be cool. I had vague memories.

Did I mention Luke fell in love with the recording of a woman Jedi’s consciousness on a machine and that she’d later take over the body of a traveling companion of Luke, Han, and Leia’s seemingly purely for the sake of plot? No? Oops. Well, that is what happens.

There are a lot of ways I could go in this review, but of all of them, I really want to focus on that aspect of it. First, let’s talk about how computers in Star Wars are either totally inept or completely advanced? Like, C-3PO is programmed with an AI basically, and can easily converse in many languages and even learn new ones on the fly occasionally, but they struggle to use their computers to even analyze what’s wrong with their spaceships. Someone needed to plan this better. But here, we’re supposed to believe that some Jedi magic managed to put a woman’s personality and being, apparently, into some computer system? No. Sorry, but no.

It might help if the conversations Luke and Callista had were interesting, but they’re not. They’re just… boring. And they aren’t written in any believable fashion whatsoever, either. Combine that with Luke, Han, and Leia all acting somewhat out of character and surprisingly nonchalant throughout the book and you’ve been delivered a Star Wars novel where even the favorite characters are out of sorts.

The whole book just feels uncomfortable. Not in a “good” way for fiction like being foreboding when appropriate or challenging your perspectives. No, it just reads like all the characters aren’t quite sure they should be acting how they are and as though they’ve forgotten how to have real motivations and dialogue.

I think I may just skip the rest of this trilogy. I think I got rid of Darksaber but kept the third book. Anyone have any thoughts on the rest of them?

The Good

+The cover is beautiful

The Bad

-Stilted dialogue
-Incredibly slow paced
-Suspension of disbelief is stretched beyond all bounds
-Characters are boring

Best Droid Moment

Basically any time they show up because at least they still add some comedic element occasionally.

Grade: F “It stretches suspension of disbelief beyond the limit on every level, is stilted and dry, and run through with pacing issues. I still might keep this one for the beautiful cover, though.”

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: Queen’s Shadow” by E.K. Johnston

I saw that Queen’s Shadow was announced and felt a thrill of excitement. Though I have thought the Disney Star Wars books have been uneven (as were the Expanded Universe novels before Disney, for sure), I have enjoyed my share of them. Also, I have a soft spot for The Phantom Menace. I saw it as a kid right at an age that it would appeal to. Sure, it has major issues, but it has some truly great moments. I love the over-the-top feel of Queen Amidala, as well as basically all the cool stuff on Naboo. So here we are, with a novel about the Queen and the handmaids. I feel that.

The book follows these handmaids through Padme’s move into the Senate, and shows how their careers diverge into different paths. It picks up right as Padme’s time as Queen is coming to an end. Some political intrigue is involved, and readers get insight into one of the best characters from the prequel trilogy. E.K. Johnston gives all the handmaids personalities and motivations. I didn’t think any were particularly memorable, but they made me want to keep reading.  The book has several memorable moments, especially as it reaches its climactic action and ties to the later movies.

Johnston also fills in several details about how things developed in between films, which I always think is welcome especially for the Prequel Trilogy, which, among its faults, moved too quickly for my taste. There are also some details filled in about the broader conflicts in the Galaxy, which helps make sense of some of the machinations behind Episode III.

The novel is for a Young Adult audience, but reads just about the same as most Star Wars books, in my opinion. The whole expanded universe and now these “canon” novels are generally appropriate for any readers capable of handling somewhat mature content. It honestly makes me wonder a little bit why this was categorized as YA and not simply in the general science fiction section.

Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow is quite a fun read, and one that serves fans well. It’s not going to blow readers away with the intricacy of the plot, but it gives Star Wars fans more insight into the films and some of the more interesting characters in the prequel series. Johnston’s work is a welcome addition to the Star Wars canon, and I particularly enjoyed learning more about the Queen. I’d recommend reading it.

Links

Star Wars Expanded Universe Read Through– I have many posts on expanded universe novels within Star Wars. Check them out here.

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.

 

A Stunning Epic – “Empire of Silence” by Christopher Ruocchio

A friend recommended I read Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio. I’m a sucker for science fiction, and I knew this friend had great taste, so I went and got it almost immediately. I was blown away as I devoured it over the next four days. I’ll avoid SPOILERS in what follows, because I just want to encourage you, dear readers, to go grab this book ASAP and read it.

The novel is told by Hadrian Marlowe looking back on his own life. It’s a kind of memoir/autobiographical storytelling style that I personally find captivating. It goes beyond a simple first person perspective by inserting “historical” notes into the text as you’re reading, casually dropping bits of world-building and storytelling into the main narrative. In this regard it reminds me of Fitzpatrick’s War by Theodore Judson, though that overlooked masterpiece probably won’t ring many bells. Anyway, the first person style is usually offputting to me, though I have enjoyed my share of first person perspective novels. For those who enjoy their sci-fi/fantasy in epic style, the first person narrative here doesn’t take away from that in any way.

Again, I’m really hesitant to spoil anything, so to introduce the plot I’ll just tell you what Hadrian himself tells you at the beginning. Hadrian is a man that would be reviled for killing a sun, and all those around it. He is writing from a point well in the future of where this novel begins, telling we readers the “real story” of what actually happened to get him to the reviled hero he is. Along the way, we learn much of Hadrian’s life, motivations, and meet many, many characters, each with unique personalities and contributions to Hadrian’s capacities and actions.

There’s a wealth of sci-fi greats I could see as inspiring Ruocchio’s book. The world building and writing style made me think of Iain M. Banks. The epic scale of the universe could only recall Dune. There’s a splash of Star Wars there, too, though only in the sense of the rise of a hero (anti-hero?) character. I’d be remiss to mention some aspects of the film Gladiator getting mixed in, too. And, for what it’s worth, I really got strong vibes from Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series mixed in, too.

If this seems like a grab-bag of awesome things, I’d like to downplay that a bit. Ruocchio has undoubtedly created his own style and carved out his section of the sci-fi universe. If it is reminiscent of all of these other awesome novels, that’s not because it is derivative. The richness of the narrative cannot really be overstated here. There are times the scale seems incredibly huge, but the reader is never left adrift because the narrative ties us down to Hadrian’s life and perspective, giving us a way to navigate the huge universe. As even more elements pile onto the plot–notably linguistics and archaeology coming into play–Ruocchio manages to balance all these elements and weave them into a deeply personal narrative that turns Hadrian into a fascinating, real character.

Perhaps most importantly for a novel like this–a near 600 page epic–is that although it is part of a larger series (according to a Tweet from the author after I asked him, it will span 4 books along with potential side stories), it has a satisfying ending. Readers won’t feel cheated or baited by the end. Instead, they’ll be lining up to get the next book, knowing how excellent this one was. Hadrian’s concluding lines in the book help to make it feel, truly, like the first volume of an immense memoir.

Without a doubt, Christopher Ruocchio has created a fantastic universe to explore. Empire of Silence is a superb space opera on an epic scale. I recommend it very, very highly. What we are seeing with this book is, I think–as does my friend who recommend it–the rise of a new genre master.

Links

“Space Unicorn Blues” and “The Stars Now Unclaimed” – Two Recent Debut Science Fiction Novels Worth Noting– Come read about two exciting science fiction debuts that couldn’t be more different. Space unicorn wha?

“Gate Crashers” and “Space Opera” – Two wild first contact novels– Do you like first contact sci-fi? Here are a couple novels to look at if you like a helping of humor to go alongside it.

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.

The Star Wars Movies, Ranked

Everyone’s doing it, but has everyone read more than 100 Star Wars books? I have! But that doesn’t make me the biggest Star Wars fan ever or anything, I just like to say it. I mean, I love Star Wars and may have named my son after Luke Skywalker, but still, I think wars over who is a bigger fan are silly. Also at least 40 of those books weren’t very good. Anyhow, here’s the real definitive ranking of the Star Wars movies*

Episode IV: A New Hope – It’s complete on its own, it’s gorgeous, it still stands up today, and I love it
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – *inserts obligatory “it’s so dark, oh my gosh blah blah” phrases*- seriously, the reason this ranks so highly isn’t because it’s dark–any slasher movie is *dark*–it’s because it is viscerally foreboding 
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi- For a long time, this was my favorite, until I realized that A New Hope was really much better. I just like finales
Rogue One- Yes, it was truly amazing pretty much all around. The action, the acting, the plot–all were superb.
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi- perhaps the most inward-looking Star Wars movie, but it felt a little bloated, didn’t have enough aliens, and I felt it was a bit silly at times. But Luke… was awesome and they really did quite well making this feel full of enough answers while still raising issues for the next movie(s)
Episode VII: The Force Awakens- I loved it all around, but it did feel maybe a tad too fan servicey and redundant from the Expanded Universe. That said, it was well done.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace- say what you want about it, there were a lot of scenes here I actually really enjoy; Darth Maul–and let’s just throw it out there, “Duel of the Fates” is possibly the greatest movie track ever made; the underwater scene was crazy, big, and fun; I enjoyed the podracing, so deal; etc., but yeah Jar Jar and Midichlorians ruined this
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – not well acted, and the whole Anakin to Vader is super rushed at the end, but at least it kind of wraps things up
Episode II: Attack of the Clones – It’s trash

*ranking not definitive

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read Through “Revenge of the Sith” by Matthew Stover

I 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, we look at Revenge of the Sith, the adaptation of the film of the same name and book 2 in the Dark Lord Trilogy. It’s a surprise, I’ll give it that. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Matthew Stover has done something with this book that I did not believe possible. Namely, he made the film “Revenge of the Sith” seem not so terrible. Yes, it’s still full of atrocious dialogue and gaping plot holes and random jerking around of character’s emotions and reactions to events, but somehow Stover manages to make some of this not stupid.

The way Stover accomplishes this nearly miraculous feat is by taking advantage of the written format. So, for example, when Anakin Skywalker is about to deliver some horrendously awful line of dialogue that Stover is forced to use because he’s adapting the film into a book format, he can massage the text to make it somewhat reasonable for Anakin to sound like an idiot. He does this by providing reasoning behind what the characters do and say throughout the book in a great many instances. There’s constantly internal dialogue (the kind of dialogue that should have been in the movie) explaining why the characters react the way they do or speak like they’re being controlled by three-year-olds. It’s frankly remarkable, and for that alone I want to give Stover a high five.

But Stover goes beyond that Herculean task and also gives more flesh to the story and the characters more generally. I admit, I was really skeptical about reading this Star Wars novel, but I saw time and again people citing it as a great one. Stover delivered, big time. There is a much greater sense of foreboding and inevitability in the novel than the film ever had. Scenery is built up and integrated into the story. Planets feel like more than simple set pieces for fights; there’s a reason that people would go to an absolutely hellish planet. Motivations for characters are interesting. It’s all superbly done.

All of this said, I know the film is bad, but because I love Star Wars I almost can’t help but like it. Thank you, Stover, for making that not seem so foolish. I’d give this book an A+ for effort, really, but the dialogue from the movie is still there, and it can’t be avoided, so it, unfortunately, must be bumped down a bit because of that. But seriously, read this book and you may be able to sit back and think, “Maybe that movie wasn’t so bad.” And that, my friends, is a delightful thing indeed. Pick up Revenge of the Sith and read it. I bet you’ll be surprised.

The Good

+Massively approves upon the movie
+Provides background explanations for strange character actions and reactions
+Makes up for shoddy dialogue by exploring why characters sound juvenile
+Makes the film a tad bit more bearable

The Bad

-Dialogue from the movie still must be included

Best Droid Moment

I don’t know. Maybe when they weren’t delivering awful dialogue alongside everyone else. They’re forgiven, because they’re droids.

Grade: A- “The source material drags this down, but Matthew Stover does a phenomenal job working with what he’s got.”

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 “Labyrinth of Evil” by James Luceno

Broody Anakin is broody.

I 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, we look at Labyrinth of Evil , the beginning of The Dark Lord Trilogy, which tells the story of the rise of Darth Vader. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Labyrinth of Evil

Labyrinth of Evil  came to me highly recommended as part of another trilogy which, like the Darth Bane trilogy, showed the dark side of the Force in an interesting way. I had been looking forward to reading it for a while and finally picked up the book from the library.

One thing I’ll immediately say in its favor is that it presents a broader picture of how Anakin Skywalker went from a hero to a Sith Lord. There are more gaps filled in about how his reasoning behind several decisions made sense at the time, as well as his growing frustration with his position within the Jedi. It makes Episode III seem more plausible in the fall of Vader. I also quite enjoyed the development of Count Dooku, who I believe could have been a much bigger deal in the movies than he was. Plus, he has the coolest lightsaber, so there’s that. Anyway, the book makes him seem more of an interesting character than a man who was just easily duped by the Emperor.

There are a number of problems with the book, however. For one, Obi-Wan Kenobi is portrayed as very whiny. Rather than guiding Anakin, it seems he’s always just complaining about things he does–many times without merit. Perhaps this is a stylistic way to show Anakin’s perspective on how Obi-Wan is obnoxious, but it struck me as pretty out of character. Of course, Kenobi is also portrayed in a similar fashion in the Clone Wars TV show, which is apparently canon, so maybe it’s just my feelings about what Kenobi should be played like that I’m going by. Still, it annoyed me. The dialogue is part of the problem, and that persists throughout the book for all the characters. Conversations seem stilted and forced. Another problem is that the galaxy is made, again, to be too small. When there are so many people and droids in the universe, how is it that the same 10 people keep making everything happen? It seems to stretch credulity and make Star Wars seem much smaller than it should.

Labyrinth of Evil  shows Anakin as a selfish, increasingly insular individual and makes the fall he experiences in Episode III feel more plausible than it does with just the film. However, it suffers from some of the same difficulties the entire prequel trilogy suffered from. It’s a decent read, but not a fantastic one.

The Good

+Provides background for the fall of Anakin Skywalker
+Some good development of Count Dooku

The Bad

-Obi-Wan Kenobi is incredibly obnoxious, which seems pretty out of character
-The dialogue is not great
-Many key points seem rushed
-Again makes the galaxy seem tiny

Best Droid Moment

When Anakin decides that he could have done whatever he wanted because he thinks of C-3PO and his construction of that protocol droid. Kind of a strange aside but it shows Anakin’s arrogance.

Grade: C+ “It sets the table to understand more of the fall of Anakin Skywalker, though it doesn’t do so in a particularly compelling or unexpected way.”

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 “Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil”

dynasty_of_evilI 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, we look at Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil, the conclusion of the Darth Bane trilogy, which is set a millennium before the original trilogy. It provides a background for how the Sith came to be as they appear in the films. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction

Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil starts yet another ten years after the previous entry, Rule of Two (which itself started 10 years after the first, Path of Destruction). Bane is beginning to have concerns about his apprentice, Zannah, who has yet to challenge him to combat despite his own belief that she ought to have done so by now–and his suspicion that she may even be able to best him. He is also pursuing the path to possible immortality from a lost Sith document that will give him time to find a new apprentice and destroy Zannah, if needed. Meanwhile, Zannah is making strides of her own, plotting to take on her own apprentice, a rogue Jedi named Set, while pursuing the mission Bane sent her on offworld. Bane is captured by the vengeful daughter of Caleb, the healer Bane threatened in order to be helped. He escapes with help from a former compatriot in the Sith army, and goes to confront Zannah at last. Set takes some valuable Sith artifacts and escapes, hoping to learn about immortality on his own, while Bane moves to confront Zannah. The Huntress, an assassin has pledged to become Zannah’s new apprentice if she defeats Bane. During the battle, Bane appears to have been defeated, but at the end it seems he has simply taken over Zannah’s body in his pursuit of immortality, and he takes on the Huntress as his (possibly) unwitting apprentice.

I have to say, this is a phenomenal conclusion to an excellent plot arc in the Star Wars expanded universe. Karpyshyn has written a work that can truly stand on its own without the Star Wars license, but as he did in the previous entries, he wisely uses that license to improve the work rather than as a crutch. Dynasty of Evil is fast-paced, intense, and absolutely full of twists and turns that kept me guessing–0r at least anticipating–through the last page. The action scenes remain quite strong, but more importantly, Karpyshyn’s character writing continues to exceed expectations. There is no doubt that Bane and Zannah are evil characters, but the motivations, plotting, and the like that they do is every bit as realistic as more complex “good guys.” They aren’t just evil ogres; they are characters that easily stand on their own.

Tying in the continued pursuit of ancient Sith artifacts to the story is really just icing on the cake. There’s a sense of history and depth in this book and the rest of the series that isn’t always present in the Star Wars universe.

Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil is a fantastic conclusion to a superb trilogy set within the Star Wars universe. It is highly recommended reading, and could easily stand on its own as a great work.

The Good

+Intriguing characters
+Great action scenes
+Excellent pacing
+Open-ended but satisfying conclusion

The Bad

-None

Best Droid Moment

N/A 😦

Grade: A+ “A stirring success as the conclusion to one of the better complete story arcs in the EU.”

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.