Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: ‘Star Wars: Crucible’

Title: Star Wars: Crucible
Author: Troy Denning
Release Date: July 9th, 2013

Warning: This review may contain minor spoilers.

Where to even begin? I blame myself for how I feel about this book. I was so excited for it.
Too excited.
Han, Luke, and Leia together again on an adventure? This was going to be like old times. But it wasn’t. It was more of what we have gotten recently from the trio’s ongoing story.

Let’s look at the official synopsis before we get too deep.

Han Solo, Leia Organa Solo, and Luke Skywalker return in an all-new Star Wars adventure, which will challenge them in ways they never expected—and forever alter their understanding of life and the Force.

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Book Review: ‘Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void’

Title: Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void
Author: Tim Lebbon
Release Date: May 7, 2013

Into the Void is the third Star Wars novel released in 2013 and is very much different from the first two. In January we got Scoundrels, the highly anticipated novel by Star Wars writer royalty Tim Zahn. February saw the release of The Last Jedi, a novel that was basically the unofficial 4th book of the Coruscant Nights series. Scoundrels featured a large cast of characters including film characters Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, and Chewbacca. The Last Jedi didn’t have any of our film good guys but did feature Darth Vader as the main villain.

Into the Void had no film characters to rely on to attract the casual readers. It didn’t even have the familiar eras. In fact it started it’s own era, “Before the Republic” (yes the Dawn of the Jedi comics officially started this era but Into the Void is the first novel). Hopefully this unfamiliarity will not drive off readers, because I believe the strength of this book is how different it is. 

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Book Review: ‘Star Wars: Scoundrels’

I really, really wanted to love this book.  It was written by Tim Zahn, the man who defined the Star Wars Expanded Universe.  It was a Star Wars version of the movie Ocean’s Eleven, and I loved that movie.  The main character was Han Solo.  This book had to be awesome, right?

Well, before I get too deep into it, here is the official book summary.

Han Solo should be basking in his moment of glory. After all, the cocky smuggler and captain of the Millennium Falcon just played a key role in the daring raid that destroyed the Death Star and landed the first serious blow to the Empire in its war against the Rebel Alliance. But after losing the reward his heroics earned him, Han’s got nothing to celebrate. Especially since he’s deep in debt to the ruthless crime lord Jabba the Hutt. There’s a bounty on Han’s head—and if he can’t cough up the credits, he’ll surely pay with his hide. The only thing that can save him is a king’s ransom. Or maybe a gangster’s fortune? That’s what a mysterious stranger is offering in exchange for Han’s less-than-legal help with a riskier-than-usual caper. The payoff will be more than enough for Han to settle up with Jabba—and ensure he never has to haggle with the Hutts again.

All he has to do is infiltrate the ultra-fortified stronghold of a Black Sun crime syndicate underboss and crack the galaxy’s most notoriously impregnable safe. It sounds like a job for miracle workers . . . or madmen. So Han assembles a gallery of rogues who are a little of both—including his indispensable sidekick Chewbacca and the cunning Lando Calrissian. If anyone can dodge, deceive, and defeat heavily armed thugs, killer droids, and Imperial agents alike—and pull off the heist of the century—it’s Solo’s scoundrels. But will their crime really pay, or will it cost them the ultimate price?

A story about Han Solo leading a team of scoundrels to steal a lot of money is a cool idea.  The problem is we kind of already know how it’s going to end.  Ok… maybe not exactly… but we know Han can’t end up rich at the end.  So throughout the book we are left wondering what exactly is going to go wrong.  This actually isn’t so bad though.  Zahn is a masterful storyteller and he does a great job of not tipping his hand until he has to.  You literally do not get the full payoff of the story until the very last line of the book and I loved that

And the story wasn’t bad.  It was actual a great story.  The problem for me was how much of the story was unnecessary.  The meat of the book comes in the last 7 chapters.  Everything before that is set up.  Long, repetitive setup.  I kept thinking to myself, please just rob the place already!  I know a story like this needs to establish the characters and the gameplan, but I felt it just took way too long.  By the time the story started ramping up I had all but lost interest.  I really think Scoundrels would have worked better as a short story rather than a full length novel.

The characters were also lacking for me.  There were so many of them, but very few of them I found interesting.  Han, Chewie, and Lando were pretty much themselves although there were a couple of moments where I felt Han was out of character.  He seemed a little too calm and collected and not the same Han that runs headfirst into a squad of stormtroopers in A New Hope.  I wish Chewbacca was used more.  He was basically there because he had to be.  Fans of other EU stories will be happy to see Winter and Kell Tainer on the team, but neither of those characters were my favorites in the book.  The standout characters in my opinion were brand new to this book.  The imperial agent Dayja and the “ghost thief” Bink Kitik were both very interesting and I hope to see them both again in future Expanded Universe stories.

I think some people will love this book, but it just wasn’t for me.  Like I said earlier the overall story is great, and if you are a more patient reader than I am, you may actually enjoy all the set up.  I just found myself bored through most of it.  Once the book did pick up speed it got really good… but then it was over.

That’s three Star Wars novels in a row about undercover missions and daring heists which do not focus on Jedi characters.  Can I have my Jedi and lightsabers back now?

 

Random Thoughts and Observations

It’s still weird seeing Clone Wars references in a novel set in the Original Trilogy era. (page 16)

There was also a seemingly forced reference to the Old Republic era characters Revan and Malak. (page 183)

Loved the use of the Z-95 Headhunter.

Jaxxon’s species makes an appearance. (page 243)

Zahn uses the phrase “carry the football” which I thought was an odd real-world reference.  Apparently it’s not the first time the word football has been used in Star Wars though. (page 341)

Now we know Lando has a “number-three-type mustache”. (page 376)

Oooh, I know some people who will just LOVE the very last line of this book and others who will HATE it.  Should lead to some fun discussions.

Scoundrels will be released on January 1st and will be available at Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere.

Aaron Goins

Book Review – Star Wars: The Old Republic: Annihilation

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Annihilation, released today, was the fifth and final new Star Wars novel released by Del Rey in 2012.  I would say that Annihilation is more in the vein of Mercy Kill or Scourge rather than Darth Plagueis or Apocalypse but we’ll get into that later.  First, here is the official synopsis.

The Sith Empire is in flux. The Emperor is missing, presumed dead, and an ambitious Sith Lord’s attempt to seize the throne has ended fatally. Still, Darth Karrid, commander of the fearsome Imperial battle cruiser Ascendant Spear, continues her relentless efforts to achieve total Sith domination of the galaxy.

But Karrid’s ruthless determination is more than matched in the steely resolve of Theron Shan, whose unfinished business with the Empire could change the course of the war for good. Though the son of a Jedi Master, Theron does not wield the Force—but like his renowned mother, the spirit of rebellion is in his blood. As a top covert agent for the Republic, he struck a crucial blow against the Empire by exposing and destroying a Sith superweapon arsenal—which makes him the ideal operative for a daring and dangerous mission to end Ascendant Spear’s reign of terror.

Joined by hot-headed smuggler Teff’ith, with whom he has an inexplicable bond, and wise Jedi warrior Gnost-Dural, Darth Karrid’s former master, Theron must match wits and weapons with a battle-tested crew of the most cold-blooded dark side disciples. But time is brutally short. And if they don’t seize their one chance to succeed, they will surely have countless opportunities to die..

Annihilation is the fourth novel in what is kind of a series of Old Republic novels based on the MMO with the same name.  I say “kind of a series” because the individual novels don’t really have an ongoing narrative and can essentially each stand on their own.  If anything Annihilation is a sequel to the Dark Horse Comics series The Lost Suns which tells a previous story of our main protagonist Theron Shan.  Reading this comic series before reading Annihilation is not necessary but it may help you get to know the characters better and understand some of the references they make.

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Book Review: The Essential Reader’s Companion

I knew this book was coming and I was excited, but as details of the book were revealed my excitement grew.  Every Star Wars novel was going to be summarized in chronological order, with info on planets visited, characters, and pictures!  This is an Expanded Universe fan’s dream come true!  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  I did get my hands on it a few weeks ago and I was determined to wait and review it until after I read the whole thing.  Reading it in its entirety took longer than I expected but here we go…

The Essential Reader’s Companion (ERC) is a book written by Star Wars expert and Lucasfilm employee Pablo Hidalgo.  The book was released on October 2nd and is available in both print and ebook formats.  The ERC is basically a complete guide to every Star Wars novel, ebook, and short story that has ever been officially released.  What is not included are the stories from comics, books meant for very young readers, video game stories, and stories from roleplaying guides (although stories of note from these sources are mentioned).  It makes sense to me that these were excluded, otherwise the book could have been twice the size, and it is already pushing 500 pages.

The ERC is broken down into eight chapters, each one covering a major era of Star Wars.  I like how the book went with a chronological order of the stories.  It gives the book a nice flow and makes it easier to follow.  Each chapter begins with a short introduction and then goes right into the story entries.  Each story entry includes the name of the author and cover artist and the publication history of the book, like when it was released and if there were various editions.  It also includes where the story falls on the in universe timeline as well as a list of the worlds visited and the main characters.  The galaxy map location for each planet visited is listed as well, and you can look up the location in the Essential Atlas if you want to get that nerdy with it.  This is an example of the great detail included in this book.

After all of that info, you will find a concise story summary.  Be aware that the story summaries do contain major spoilers.  So if you haven’t read a particular book, and you plan to, you might want to skip that story summary.  After most of the story summaries you will find additional information.  For me this was the best part of the book.  This is where you will find behind the scenes info on the story.  Anything from original story pitches to continuity errors to info on Lucas’s involvement can be found here.  I only wish there was more of this in the ERC.  I for one would buy a book that dives a little deeper into some of this behind the scenes info about Star Wars publishing.

One of my favorite things about the ERC is how the author handles discussing continuity errors.  This can be a sore subject for many fans and the author could easily have not mentioned the numerous errors that have occurred in Star Wars fiction over the years.  Instead he readily points out continuity errors with an attitude of “it happens”.  It’s a big universe and it would be impossible to keep every little detail straight.  It was refreshing to see this subject taken on in a very matter of fact way.

Although comics and other stories are not the main focus of this book, there are info boxes scattered throughout the book highlighting these stories that have had a major impact or deserve mentioning.  Also found in the book is some amazing artwork by Jeff Carlisle, Joe Corroney, Brian Rood, Chris Scalf, Darren Tan, and Chris Trevas.  This is one of the major draws of the book for me personally.  There are numerous brand new character portraits and full page illustrations depicting major scenes from our favorite stories.  I specifically really enjoyed the character portraits at the beginning of each chapter and would have liked to see more.

This is an amazing book.  It may be my favorite Star Wars publication yet.  I can see myself coming back to this book time after time to reference things as I am reading through new novels.  Wookieepedia is nice but the summaries in this book are official and uncluttered and, since everything is in chronological order, easy to find.  Having the digital version of the ERC with me on a mobile device at all times will be fantastic.  The ERC isn’t just for diehard EU fans like me though.  This is also the perfect book for someone who is interested in the Star Wars Expanded Universe but just doesn’t have time to catch up.  With the ERC you can read though the summaries of the books and eras you are interested in and quickly get caught up to where you want to start reading in the Expanded Universe.

Highlights, Curiosities, and Random Thoughts

If you’re wanting to be completely surprised by everything in this book and don’t want to see detailed spoilers you may not want to read any further.

Timothy Zahn originally wanted to establish the Sith as a species that at one time was subservient to Darth Vader which would have made the title “Dark Lord of the Sith” make sense.  Lucasfilm rejected the idea because they weren’t quite ready to set what the Sith were in stone.  Zahn’s idea eventually became the Nohgri. (page 26)

There is a lot of great info on the merging of the EU Sith into George Lucas’s vision of them. (page 27)

The Jedi Quest young readers novels were originally meant to be part of a multimedia event including action figures and comic book tie ins. (page 59)

Really cool image of C’baoth Force choking Thrawn from Outbound Flight.  The most memorable scene for me from that book. (page 62)

If you are interested in Clone Wars continuity check out page 75.

Author Sean Stewart made his participation in writing Star Wars novels contingent on Lucasfilm giving him permission to write a Yoda novel. (page 118)

Asajj Ventress was originally slated to die in the novel Labyrinth of Evil. (page 121) The ERC says, “…though that story would ultimately be told elsewhere.”  Curious comment since her death has yet to be depicted in any media.  Is this comment a clue that her death has already been determined but we are just yet to see it?  I’m probably thinking way too much into this.

The ERC claims that events in Season 5 of The Clone Wars will show Lucas’s true vision for the roots of the Rebel Alliance and will take precedence over Starkiller’s involvement. (page 161) I wonder how definitive this will be and will future writers be able to retcon a way that both stories can still fit.

A Squib character named Mace Windu debuted in 1996 in a short story that was not written by Troy Denning.

George Lucas had something to say about Mara Jade having a telepathic link as a means of communication with the Emperor.  In a July 1994 memo he said that this power should be unique to Mara and not a common Force power. (page 253)  There are actually multiple instances in the ERC where Lucas put in his two cents about a project.  He even had involvement in shaping the direction of the New Jedi Order books. (page 369)  So there you go people who say GL doesn’t care about the books.

Great picture of Luke facing off against Luuke from The Last Command on page 307.

I love that there is now a really nice portrait of Allana Solo. (page 416)

I was really hoping for a Ben Skywalker portrait and how is it after 18 years we still don’t have a good image of Gantoris?  I need to start a petition or something.

This book is awesome.  Go buy it.

Aaron Goins