Tag Archives: Book Review

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

Book Review: X-wing Mercy Kill

X-wing: Mercy Kill Review

Warning: This review may contain very minor spoilers.  Characters and locations are mentioned but no major plot points or events are revealed. 

I have a confession to make.  Until now I had never read an X-wing novel.  When I started reading the post Return of the Jedi novels back in the late 90’s I skipped right past the X-wing novels.  I read Star Wars novels to see what happened to the movie characters after they blew up two Death Stars.  I read Star Wars novels to learn more about the Jedi and the Force.  I wanted lightsabers and Luke Skywalker not space battles and Wedge Antilles.  I have since learned to appreciate Star Wars books that aren’t about Skywalker or the Jedi (although I still very much prefer those stories), but I am so far beyond the X-wing novels that I am not sure I will ever go back and read them all.

When I heard about X-wing Mercy Kill coming out I thought it might be another one to skip.  But lately I have been reading every new Star Wars novel and Mercy Kill was set after the events of Fate of the Jedi.  How could I not read the latest novel in the Expanded Universe timeline?  I had to, space battles or not.

Here is the official summary…

The intrepid spies, pilots, and sharpshooters of Wraith Squadron are back in an all-new Star Wars adventure, which transpires just after the events of the Fate of the Jedi series!

Three decades have passed since Wraith Squadron carried out its last mission. Taking on the most dangerous and daring operations, the rogues and misfits of the elite X-Wing unit became legends of the Rebellion and the Second Galactic Civil War, before breaking up and going their separate ways. Now their singular skills are back in vital demand—for a tailor-made Wraith Squadron mission.

A powerful general in the Galactic Alliance Army, once renowned for his valor, is suspected of participating in the infamous Lecersen Conspiracy, which nearly toppled the Alliance back into the merciless hands of the Empire. With orders to expose and apprehend the traitor—and license to do so by any and all means—the Wraiths will become thieves, pirates, impostors, forgers . . . and targets, as they put their guts, their guns, and their riskiest game plan to the test against the most lethal of adversaries.

The good news for new readers is that this book, although titled “X-wing”, is basically a stand-alone novel.  The story does not rely on prior knowledge of the X-wing series, but having that knowledge will most likely expand your enjoyment of the book.  I will give a bit of a warning though.  If you plan to read the initial run of the X-wing novels, you may want to do that before reading this book.  Yes it is a stand-alone story, but there are mentions of events from past novels and some of those mentions are spoilerific.

As I started reading the book I immediately got an A-Team sort of feel.  As the book went on I also got some Mission Impossible and maybe even some Ocean’s Eleven.  It is very much a special unit/team-up/caper/undercover kind of story.  I was also very happy that there weren’t a lot of space battles.  In fact there was only one time in the book where I found myself zoning out because of spaceships maneuvering and chasing each other.  Mostly it was just great characters planning missions, going on missions, and getting the bad guys.

And the characters really were great.  Initially I was turned off by the main protagonist, a genius Gammorean who goes by the name “Piggy”.  Being a big fan of the Expanded Universe I had heard of this character but had never really thought that much about him.  Now I was having to follow him as a main character.  It didn’t take long for me to warm up to him though, and his character progression was interesting to follow.  “Piggy” was also surrounded by a team full of impressive characters.  I really enjoyed most of the Wraiths in this book and I would love to see where some of this new generation end up in future books.  They even managed to slip a Force user onto the team which made this Jediphile very happy.

Aaron Allston really knows how to write humor and this book is full of it.  It maybe has a little too much.  I liked the lightheartedness of the book but it started to feel like every line was a quip or sarcastic jab.  I know many appreciate this type of humor in a Star Wars book but it got to be too much for my taste.  Not that there weren’t serious moments.  When Mercy Kill got serious, it got very serious.  Mixed in with the humor there were exciting moments of action and even some heart wrenching emotion.  Although a little heavy on the humor, It was actually a really good mix and I found myself highly entertained for most of the book.

As someone who needs lightsabers and the Force in my Star Wars I was not expecting to like this book nearly as much as I did.  It was the characters and storytelling that won me over.  Even though the book did not have some of my favorite Star Wars elements it did have things like Star Destroyers, X-wings, and familiar alien species that place it firmly into the correct universe.  Don’t expect any Luke or Han cameos or galaxy shaking events, but if you are looking for a fun stand-alone Star Wars story I would highly recommend this book to you.  Established fans of the X-wing series will utterly love this book.

Buy this book.

(More spoilery stuff below)

Random Thoughts

I loved the characters of Myri, Trey, and Jesmin and hope to see them again.
I didn’t really like the Vong character of Scut. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to.
I took the main character much more seriously when he was going by Voort instead of Piggy.
Referring to people by names, code names, AND numbers got really confusing.
A Clawdite Wraith.  Very convenient.
Using the Force to make people need to pee.  That’s a first.
Some great flashbacks fill us in on what’s been going on with the Wraiths.
Just when you thought you had heard the last of the pilot with a horse head.
Wedge cameo!
Look for me wearing my “Quad-Linked Militant Pacifists” shirt at Celebration 6 next month.

Aaron Goins


Darth Plagueis Commentary: Chapters 8-11

Darth Plagueis Commentary: Chapters 8-11

Who is still talking about the Darth Plagueis novel? We are!

Here is our discussion of chapters 8-11.  For this part of the discussion Mark Hurliman of the Star Wars Report and Star Wars Beyond the Films podcasts joins me.  We also have a special guest, Mark’s father (Mark E) who himself is an avid reader of the Star Wars novels.

If you missed the first two parts of our discussion here are the links.

Prologue – Chapter 3
Chapter 4 – Chapter 7


Mark: So we’re on Chapter 8, Victims of Their Own Demise

Aaron: Plagueis decides to track down some “Forceful” beings that Venamis had his eye on.  “Forceful”, still can’t get used to that word.  So the first one he tracks down is a gambler.  I guess it’s not really gambling when you are using the Force.

Mark: Breaking Muun tradition no less by being seen in places no Muun would go.  The fact that the first one was a shape-shifter of all things blew me away.  I love the idea of a Sith shape-shifter.

Mark E: A shape shifting gambler who was giving his winnings to Kerred Santhe of Santhe/Seinar.

Mark: Yeah the tie in to Santhe was cool.  Plagueis himself assassinated Kerred Santhe’s father which made a nice twist and kept things going with more details that linked the Sith to older works.

Aaron: I’ve never actually liked the idea of shape-shifters in Star Wars.  I’ve always thought it was more of a Star Trek thing.

Mark E: But shape-shifters are way cool, and pretty hard to hunt.

Aaron: Exactly why I don’t like them. Too easy of a plot device.  Now was he the same species as Zam Wesell from Attack of the Clones?

Mark: No, at first Plagueis thinks so, but turned out it was a Shi’ido like Uncle Hoole in Galaxy of Fear ;)

Aaron: Galaxy of Fear. Oh, everyone read those books…

Mark: I’m only missing #9 and #10.  I was surprised though that Plagueis left the Shi’ido alive.

Aaron: Yes, if you can call the way he left him alive

Mark E: He let him go but basically told him to get his winnings and get out, he was done!

Mark: 11-4D blasts him in the brain, but do we think this was a permanent disabling of his shifting?  Or would he heal up?

Aaron: “You can’t leave me like this” the Shi’ido begged.

Mark: It was left kind of vague there.  But still I loved it. I found myself falling to the dark side in this book.

Aaron: Let me quote the book here.  I think it implies he was permanently disfigured…

“You have one last chance to use your Force talents to win big before your horrid image becomes the centerpiece of the cheaters database on every gambling world.”

Mark E: I didn’t get permanently disfigured as Plagueis was going to allow him to continue fleecing casinos.

Mark: I guess when I was reading it I was figuring Plagueis thought Shi’idos were ugly/ hidious in general.  But it does make sense that the Shi’ido would have one shot in the form it’s in now and that would be the same as any person who can’t shift having one shot, or as many shots as they took before getting caught.

Aaron: So Plagueis moves on to Saleucami to meet somewhat of a cult leader.  It was kind of a gathering of hippies.

Mark E: Really spacey hippies!  Selected hippies.

Mark: And hasn’t The Clone Wars gone there a couple times?  Or mentioned it?

Aaron: This was the planet where Rex got shot and meets the clone deserter Cut Lawquane.  It is also one of the planets in the Order 66 montage in Revenge of the Sith.

Mark: The planet Saleucami has shown up a few times in the EU correct?  Republic comics for one.

Aaron: You can’t spell Saleucami without “eu”.  It is a very important planet in this era.  The Iktochi woman seemed like she knew what she was talking about with her professions.  “On the horizon looms a galaxy spanning war.”

Mark: Yeah she all but calls the future and Plagueis can’t have that.  You had this sense of something very bad was about to happen

Aaron: And once she realizes what he is she basically begs him to take her as an apprentice. “Let me do your bidding.”

Mark: It was a cool throw back to Vader’s “what is thy bidding my master” line.  When he touches her and fries her I thought of a well-executed assassination.

Aaron: The hand holding of death.

Mark E: He did nothing… “she fainted”.

Aaron: And then Plagueis moves on to the third unwitting victim.

Mark E: Naat Lare had broken out of the Bedlam Institution for the Criminally Insane.  Sounds like a fun place!

Mark: I couldn’t help but think of Arkham Asylum.

Aaron: And Venamis helped him escape. He must have had a lot of interest in this guy.

Mark: Plus if Naat had survived he would have made a darn good Apprentice. Venamis picked potentials well, you gotta hand him that.
Venamis might have been a very real threat- he being a Bith after all. We never saw the depths of HIS genius. And from the small bit we got in the Tenebrous Way; I fear Bith Sith!
By this point, I was starting to feel the chapter was more a filler chapter, but it did have a certain EU real feel to it. With every Sith potential even having potentials. As with the EU you can never get rid of the Sith, or Sith wannabe’s.

Aaron: Yes I agree, it did seem like filler but it was cool.  I always like to see Force users who are not affiliated with the Jedi or Sith.

Mark E: What did you think of how quickly Plagueis snapped back when he heard “Jedi”?

Aaron: I think he was excited that the Jedi were involved. Like he was hoping for a confrontation.

Mark E: I liked the fact they tracked him to Barab.

Mark: Barab- I loved it’s use- we know the Barbel have a deep respect for Jedi, and how would they even know a Sith from a Jedi at this point in time?

Aaron: This was happening on Abraxin right, not Barab?

Mark: Hmmm this bears closer inspection… Oh it looks as though it was a Barabel settlement. Which makes more sense come to think of it.

Aaron: I personally got very excited to see Jedi at this point.  I was hoping they would be more involved in the story.

Mark: I agree Aaron- I had hoped they would play a bigger part, but the part they played was diabolically clever.

Mark E: I liked how he had 11-4D watch the Jedi for reaction when he called on the Force.

Mark: Shadow Games give us some minor insight into what it must have been like to be Naat or even Kit Fisto, a Force sensitive Nautolan.

Aaron: I loved the end of this chapter. Plagueis meets Naat and tells him to prove himself by defeating the Jedi.

Mark E: But then Plagueis has the Jedi Ni-Cada do the dirty work for him.

Mark: Yeah, suckering the Jedi to do his dirty work was perfect- had Naat proved worthy, well, things would have been different to say the least.

Aaron: I feel like Naat would have been more of an enforcer and not fit well with Plagueis.  Like Maul was to Palpatine.

Mark: Maul…. Oh poor poor Maul (But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Mark E: Naat was truly criminally insane.  Plagueis had no use for him, whether he was Forceful or not.

Mark: I got the distinct impression that it was the Padawan who did the killing though.  With his Master screaming “Don’t Don’t.”

Aaron: When he said “Stand aside Padawan” I figured the Master handled it from there.

Mark E: Padawan questions “Master?”  Someone else presumeably Master, says “its done, he’s dead.”

Mark: I like how some authors assign nothing to dialog. Karen Traviss would do this and I could get so confused at times.  To me it was more the Padawan excited by the battle “Master!” The Master tries to intervene “Stand aside Padawan.”

Aaron: Based on the last two lines of the chapter it seems clear that the Master did the killing.

Mark: It’s all about point of view.  I’m not saying I’m right- just how I read it was different.

Aaron: Moving on…

Mark: Going back to Hego Damask, and more of the public side of his Sithy self.

Aaron: Chapter 9. Our intro to Palpatine in this book!

Aaron: What did you guys think about the fact that they still kept his first name a mystery?

Mark E: I thought it was explained that he was just rebelling against the norm and he chose to go only by his last name.

Mark: I found the lack of his first name interesting to be sure. I’ve seen some say his name was the same as his fathers but I felt it was way too wide open to lock down. It was some rebelling- I mean the fact that the Palpatine name is a ROYAL line on Naboo. That took me back.

Mark E: The untapped plasma of Naboo, one of the more memorable aspects of The Phantom Menace.

Mark: Oh man the plasma- that totally changed how I looked at the purple beams flowing up in The Phantom Menace during the Duel of Fates!

Aaron: And the value of the plasma made you realize just how important Naboo is in the overall plan of the Sith.

Mark: Yes- the plasma made Naboo more relevant then it was in the films IMO. Or at least it made it have more of an allure.  I liked how the Naboo and Gungans would recall Plagueis’ trip as Damask as the coldest winter they ever had.  We also learn where the Royal Fleet comes from- Hint Hint R2!

Aaron: I liked this line…
“In human hands…rested the profane future of the galaxy.”
He didn’t like humans but knew their importance.

Mark: As if Plagueis knew this and worked all his Sithly plans in that fashion.  He was ready to set Naboo up for life to get his hands on the plasma… or better- to USE the plasma to further the Sith Grand Plan.  Everything seemed to factor into this plan.

Aaron: And he uses Palpatine to help determine who will be the next king.  The Sith don’t leave anything to chance.

Mark E: The meeting between Plagueis and Palpatine was kind of drawn out, but Plagueis did a pretty thorough job of interviewing for an apprentice.  What about Palpatine being a speeder racer?

Mark: Learning Palpatine; like Anakin has a need for speed was great! I never would have taken Palpatine for a thrill junkie!

Aaron: I actually thought that bit of information was out of place.  It never really factored into the rest of the story.  Did we really need to know Palpatine had a sweet ride?

Mark: And yet it too fits with his ole EU self- the playboy.

Mark E: Need for speed plays to the rich kid persona.
And then Hedo hires palpatine as a spy for Damask holdings at the end of the interview! Then Palpatine says he will only work for Hego if he can report directly to him.

Mark: You have to wonder if the amulet Plagueis gives Palpatine was under any spells.

Aaron: Or a tracking device?

Aaron: Moving onto Chapter 10: The Cycle of Violence.  Palpatine gives Plagueis the tour of Theed and they are fast friends.

Mark E: Fast friends, but Plageis “knows he can own him”

Mark: I liked how Palpatine knew the speeder was a bribe from his father, but took it anyway.  Already showing a Sith-like way of thinking.  I’ll use you using me to my own advantage.

Aaron: We learn Palpatine has blood on his hands at an early age, being responsible for the deaths of 2 pedestrians.  He doesn’t seem to care that much about it.

Mark: He has his own moral code.  That seemed to be of great interest to Plagueis.

Mark E: He learned his lesson, wear down pops and you can drive the speeder again.  No accountability for the rich kid.

Mark: Palpatine also has his own opinions of the Jedi and the state of galactic affairs

Aaron: Palpatine is so political minded but tries to act like he isn’t interested in politics. Plagueis could see right through him.

Mark: Like he was a closet politician.

Mark E: Palpatine is certainly racist against the Gungans, “I don’t mind them as long as they keep to their submerged cities and waterways.”

Aaron: Fits with the mostly human Empire when he is in charge.

Mark: Yes I kept expecting to see Plagueis do something SO TERRIBLE that Palpatine would hate all aliens from then on out- but it would appear his prejudices were already in place.

Aaron: I kept forgetting how young he was here. He was only like 17, right?

Mark: I believe so.

Mark: You knew Palpatine didn’t have a chance in the 9 Hells when Plagueis thinks to himself, “Before long, I will own this human.” And then proceeds to manipulate the holy Sith out of him.

Mark E: He’d respect the Jedi more if they’d only impose their will on the entire galaxy.  Sounds like the future!

Aaron: The funny thing is, at this point, Plagueis still can’t tell if he has the Force.

Mark: I loved this- the way it was explained made so many other EU works make sense- like Zekk- how he wasn’t noticed at first, and other Jedi who were missed at a young age.  The fact that it was a defense mechanism in Force strong beings also makes sense why Anakin didn’t just JUMP OUT WITH A NEON SIGN.  It took his blood sample to floor Qui-gon, not his mere presence.  And the way Luceno explained it made so many things work!  I love it when a book does this!

Aaron: It seems the will of the midi-chlorians can be used to explain anything about the power or lack of power of a Force user at any given moment.  Like, Obi wan couldn’t run faster at the end of Ep 1 because the midi-chlorians didn’t let him.

Mark: Which is EPIC! Because the midi-chlorians follow the Will of the Force- so in a sense the mystery is still there while they made it quantifiable at the same time.

Mark: So in this chapter the miners who were marooned in chapter 2- we discover their fate, that of being murdered and left on their employers front door.  Also the book once more jumps ahead a few months.  That’s something I really enjoy about the Sith books- they cover lifetimes, not just events.

Aaron: And then we get Palpatine’s dad basically telling Plagueis “stay away from my son”.

Mark: Yeah that was exactly what Plagueis was waiting for- grooming the moment as it were to set father against son.

Aaron: This was a war of wills that Cosigna had no chance of winning.  Moving on to Chapter 11.

Mark: Avatar of Morality

Aaron: Plagueis meets with Palpatine and tells him a story about how he orchestrated the deaths of his siblings after his father’s death so he could inherit the fortune.

Mark: Plagueis sets the bait that will later ensnare Palpatine and leave him little choice but to join Plagueis.

Aaron: And we are led to believe the story may not be completely true.

Mark: This too plays into the moment that arrived last chapter- now he paints Palpatine the picture of betrayal, and gaining the uperhand over an oppressive family.

Aaron: So Palpatine’s father makes the big mistake of trying to assert his will on Palpatine right after his head has been filled with Plagueis’s ideas

Mark: Bad timing pops.

Mark E: big mistake…

Mark: Plus he gets the whole family onto the ship together.  I mean it IS the perfect opportunity

Aaron: This was almost a little too convenient. We also learn that Palpatine’s dad always had a bad feeling about him. Knew he was trouble.
“You’re an animal at heart”
“King of the Beasts, father”

Mark: Plus…
“if the Force birthed you then I curse it”
“As I do” says Palpatine.

Aaron: He says all the wrong things and Palpatine in all his teenage, untrained Force rage brutally kills his father.

Mark E: Mom, dad and siblings too!

Aaron: I have to say although I saw the death of his dad coming, I was surprised he killed everyone else on the ship.

Mark: Very much Anakin and the Tusken Raider village all over again.  And Palpatine reaches out to his new mentor- and Plagueis goes to efforts to cover up the murders. “Congratulations on becoming an emancipated being.”  Great set up- and you could say that in a sense Palpatine starts to really share the limelight.  One other thing I loved about this book is that it could just as easily be a prequel for a Darth Sidious book to come later.

Aaron: In a way this was a Darth Sidious book.

Mark: Very much so.  This is also when Plagueis himself discovers just how POWERFUL Palpatine is in the Force.  The murders have broken down the barriers protecting him.

Aaron: So now Plagueis knows he picked the right guy, reveals himself as a Sith and tells Palpatine he has a new name.  A lot for Palpatine to take in but he goes right along with it.

Mark: This was the money chapter. The moment when things shift into a higher gear.

Aaron: Once Palpatine was introduced the book really picked up for me.

Mark E: “From this day forward, the truth of you, now and forever more, will be Sidious.”

Aaron: Seeing exactly how he became Sidious was a thing of fanboy dreams.

Mark E: I thought the book really took off from here.  I finished the rest in like a day and a half.

Mark: I loved when Palpatine mentions that he could have joined the Jedi Order and Plagueis comes back “and of what possible use do you think a person of your nature would be to the Jedi Order? You’re heartless, ambitious, arrogant, insidious, and without shame or empathy. More you’re a murderer.” (cue Gollem talking to Smeagol)
You totally had the sense that Palpatine was about to make his deal with the devil. The classic Sith christening. I had the same feeling when Anakin dons the title in the Episode 3 novelization. I love how Plagueis tells him there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“In time you will come to understand that you are one with the dark side of the Force, and that your power is beyond contradiction. But just now, and until I tell you differently, abiding submission is your only road to salvation.”

Boy these were some great chapters.  This was when the book got hard to put down.


That is all for our discussion of chapters 8-11.  Check back for chapters 12-15 next time.

Aaron Goins


Book Review: Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare

Book Review: Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare

If the hundreds of novels, comics, video games, movies, and TV episodes are the rice krispies, the Essential Guides are the melted marshmallow that holds it all together.  They fill in the spaces you wondered about and even some you never thought about.  If you are a fan of the Star Wars expanded universe then the Essential Guides are… well, essential.


Today, the next great Essential Guide is released and it does not disappoint.  Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare is a 246-page book written by Jason Fry filled with everything you could want to know about the history of military and warfare in the galaxy far, far away.  Filled with beautiful illustrations, this is a book that once you pick it up you will not want to put it down.

The Star Wars Essential Guides have really come a long way.  I have been reading them since the beginning with 1995’s Essential Guide to Characters.  The layout of the book was like an encyclopedia with individual entries for the different characters.  This same format continued with the next four guides covering things like vehicles, weapons, planets, and droids. Then in April of 2000 (Has it been 12 years?!) Star Wars: The Essential Chronology was released.  I loved this book.  This was the first one to switch up the format.  Instead of having individual entries, this one read more like an in-universe history book.  If there were a Star Wars history class at the time, this would have been the textbook.  A New Essential Chronology was released in 2005 with the same look and feel.

I think the Essential Guides work best in this format although I understand why some subjects work better in the encyclopedic format (Guide to Characters for example).  The last few guides have really embraced the textbook layout with the Essential Guide to the Force being almost all textbook and the Essential Atlas being a bit of a hybrid.  In some ways the Essential Guide to Warfare can be seen as the newest version of the Essential Chronology.  It covers the entire history of the galaxy from the Celestials and Rakata to Cade Skywalker and Darth Krayt, just with the focus being more on the military side of things.

I was much more interested in the historical side of things rather than details of weaponry and ships.  I found myself skimming over the “Armory and Sensory Profiles” where things like ship classification were covered.  I instead was engrossed in the character stories.  The book contains a number of “War Portraits” which tell war stories of specific characters.  If it was Rohlan of Khaal fighting off Sith pirates or Ahsoka Tano’s letter to her friend, I was eating it all up. Some other characters given war portraits are: Boonta the Hutt, Juno Eclipse, Wullf Yularen, Baron Fel, Admiral Trench, General Grievous, and many others.  The prologue featuring an account from the war prisoner Grand Admiral Osvald Teshik is not to be skipped.

The beauty of these guides is they can really get into the nitty gritty of the stories and tie everything together.  They are also the best vehicles for retcons.  For example the history of the Mandalorians is touched on and some of the discrepancies that exist have been “smoothed out”.  Of course a book with this much text can also create its own continuity errors.  There is one fact revealed that has me scratching my head and could possibly start some interesting discussions.

If for nothing else you should buy this book for the amazing illustrations.  Star Wars Books has already given many preview images but that just scratches the surface of what is in this book.  There are illustrations on at least every other page.  Some are simple illustrations of ships or weapons but many are full page paintings.  They have come a long way from the black and white illustrations in the original Essential Guides.  The very detailed galaxy maps that were used in the Essential Atlas can also be found in this book showing things like the placement of sector armies and the paths of specific war campaigns.

Luke vs Shimrra (from Star Wars Books Facebook page)

I cannot recommend this book enough.  If you are a die-hard Expanded Universe fan like me or just like to look at great artwork, you will enjoy this book.  If you have never picked up a Star Wars Essential Guide this would be a great one to start with.

Highlights and Random Thoughts

I’m not sure you can spoil a book like this but if you are worried about spoilers you may not want to read the random thoughts below.

Xim the Despot was no match for the Hutts. (page 6)
Arden Lynn (of Masters of Teras Kasi fame) and her lover Xendor get a cool story. (page 17)
Xendor met the Ones? Did he go to Mortis? (page 18)
Prince-Admiral Jonash e Solo. Relative of Han Solo? (page 24)
Contispex and the Pius Dea Crusades were interesting to read about. (page 25)
Valenthyne Farfalla was half Bothan?  What was the other half?  Why does he have hooves? (page 44)
We get a name for Lord Hoth, Rohlan of Kaal. (page 44)
First official image (I think) of the bounty hunter D’harhan who has a laser cannon for a head. (page 61)
The 14th Army during the Clone Wars was called Red Tails (page 101)
Letter from Ahsoka to her friend. She was kind of crushing on Anakin :/ (page 102)
A recap of Palpatine taking power and Order 66 from the perspective of Kol Skywalker (page 105)
Fighter pilot slang. (page 141)
Lumiya with her lightwhip. (page 187)
Image of Abeloth fighting Jedi and Sith. (page 234)
What? No image of Ben Skywalker? In the whole book?

Buy this book.

Aaron Goins

Darth Plagueis Commentary: Chapters 4-7

Darth Plagueis Commentary: Chapters 4 – 7

Here is part two of our ongoing commentary of the Star Wars novel Darth Plagueis.  If you missed part one, click here to check it out.  For this section of the commentary Bethany and Mark of the Star Wars Report podcast return to discuss chapters 4 through 7 with me.

Note: This commentary does not contain any major spoilers from beyond chapter 7.


Chapter 4

Aaron: At the end of chapter 3 Plagueis can’t come to terms with the captain so he has no choice but to kill her.

Bethany: Luceno is a talented writer, to be able to create a character that is given very little time to establish herself, and yet she’s competent, smart, but not unrealistically so, and makes mistakes that even an experienced captain would.  I mean, dealing with a Sith Lord isn’t something a ship’s captain would expect to deal with!  You liked her immediately, and hoped she and her crew wouldn’t die.

Aaron: And as likeable as they were, Plagueis literally slaughters the entire crew.  In the battle he absorbs a blaster bolt in his hand.  More and more Force users seem to be able to do this.

Mark: We see absorption of a great many things by the Sith.  I find that more and more point of view is key to being able to do ANYTHING with the Force.

Bethany: For me it’s scenes like these that bring you back to the fact that you’re reading about Sith. Things aren’t pretty, or fair, and just when you find yourself reluctantly liking the main characters, they do something unforgiveable, though I won’t say irredeemable.

Mark: Indeed. You knew that something bad was on the horizon.
I found myself in the sway of the Dark Side in this book. I was constantly rooting for the bad guys to win.

The whole Woebegone part seemed to drag on in a sense though. We get introduced in Chapter 3, meet them in 3, and witness their deaths in Chapter 4. In many ways this book was a series of interlinked tales set up in parts that complemented each other while giving the reader chunks of the lives of Plagueis and Sidious.
And in the end I guess the Woebegone was all a great set up to 11-4D. He would turn into a treasure for the Sith.

Bethany: So far, the book takes a very different tone with storytelling, characters, and events. It feels more like a tale being told, or a biography, a lesson in history and politics, than your average epic fantasy novel. It’s brilliant in that it accomplishes both, though!

Aaron: About 11-4D, I thought it was kind of jarring how quickly he changed allegiances.  I know he’s just a robot but I couldn’t see C3PO doing that if his master was killed.

Bethany: It was rather jarring for me. I view droids in much the same way I view Spock or Data in the Star Trek franchise. They really do have feelings, even if they’re well hidden or supposedly non-existent.

Mark: Well in that sense Bethany think of it as 11-4D looking after his own hiney.  He knew he’d be slaughtered if he didn’t welcome his new master.
I felt it was perfect.  R2 and 3PO both become Jabba’s property, while 3PO complains about the situation they do it willingly enough.  It’s in their programing.

Aaron Goins: But wasn’t them (R2 and 3PO) becoming his property all part of a ruse?

Mark: Yes, but 3PO wasn’t in on it.  R2 knew. But R2’s special ;)
I loved how Plagueis made 11-4D watch the ship burn and record it. I got the feeling like he almost treated the droid like an apprentice.  He gives him unlimited access to data he would even later withhold from Palpatine.  The fact is he’s a droid and cannot summon the Force which makes him no threat to Plagueis.

Bethany: Not necessarily an apprentice, but it was interesting to see how he would go out of his way to teach 11-4D, even when it wasn’t needed for a specific task.  Darth Plagueis seemed to have a fairly low opinion of the intelligence of sentients…. (more on that later)…. and always seemed to want beings to be smarter or more evolved than they were.

Aaron: Plagueis stops at a space station to have the ship destroyed and is revealed as “Magister Damask”.  Very interesting name and it definitely has meaning.

Mark: I love “THE Mask.”  And I loved the play up on the alter egos.  While working on the Sith Grand Plan as their Titles, they were also doing the same as their public faces.

Aaron: And “damask” is a type of fabric that has a specific style of weaving. I think his name is a direct reference to this.

Bethany: Wikipedia tells us that: “Damask (Arabic: دمسق‎) is a reversible figured fabric of silk, wool, linen, cotton, or synthetic fibers, with a pattern formed by weaving.”

I find that interesting, and certainly applicable

Mark: Well-placed word indeed, the way it has multiple patterns on it.

Bethany: Not just to the weaving and patterns, but damask is reversible, just like the two roles he has. One minute a Sith, the next a (somewhat) respectable business man.

Aaron: There is actually a reference to the weaving earlier in the book in a conversation between Plagueis and Tenebrous.
This from Wikipedia… “Damasks are woven with one warp yarn and one weft yarn, usually with the pattern in warp-faced satin”
This from a conversation between Plagueis and Tenebrous about Darth Bane… “We weave ourselves into the warp and weft of the tapestry he created”

Bethany: I must say, Luceno is a master at weaving a good story and various storylines together. The amount of research and time he spent on this book is very evident!


Chapter 5

Aaron: Chapter 5 starts out on Muunilist, the home planet of Plagueis, where he is a well-respected businessman.  Just coming off of killing an entire crew and stealing their ship and droid and then destroying their ship, this was a bit of a shift.

Bethany: It made for a good double take on the character of Plagueis.

Aaron: It was the perfect cover for a Muun.  And are these bankers that different from Sith? They all seem pretty cutthroat.

Bethany: At first, as I mentioned before, he didn’t seem all that threatening, then he seemed like a force of darkness to be reckoned with, but now there’s a cunning deceitfulness in him that’s terrifying. His threat level just shot up. Not only is he a masterful Sith warrior, but also a powerful political figure, and a master of manipulation.

Mark: Aaron, good point about cutthroat.  Whereas a Bith Sith makes perfect sense in the math and science realm, a Muun totally puts a lock down on finances as we see with Hego.  He wants for NOTHING.

Bethany: You can certainly tell where Palpatine learns his cunning and trickery, his masterful deceptions of so many.

Mark: We’re also re-introduced to Larsh Hill who later factors into the story.

Aaron: And when you hear the name Hill you automatically make the connection to San Hill.

One of the things I found interesting was the info that the Jedi were the ones who helped pass an amendment that expanded trade routes in the Outer Rim.  This is what gave the Trade Federation full voting rights in the Senate.  The Jedi were responsible for empowering the Trade Federation!  That’s quite a revelation.

Mark: Wasn’t that from one of the comics too?  Acts of War or The Stark Hyperspace War?  (That was the thing, Luceno did such a good job lacing in other EU plots and elements that you miss many of them. Or you get too caught up in searching for things and it might ruin it for you.)

Aaron: It may have been, but it was a surprise to me :)
Speaking of Acts of War the Yinchorri are mentioned which made me instantly think of that comic series.

Bethany: It’s obvious in this book, as in the later prequel movies, that the Jedi aren’t seeing clearly; their Order has problems that the Sith exploit, to the demise of many.

Mark: See I recall reading the Jedi Apprentice books followed by the Jedi Quest ones, and the sense that the Jedi were failing grew throughout those series, politically as well as physically.  Seeing this illustrated in Plagueis’s point of view was fitting indeed.

Bethany: We’re looking at the Jedi from a Sith’s point of view, and frankly they appear to be rather inept sometimes, a threat, yes, but there’s a level of complacency in the Jedi that shows they still don’t know of the Sith, or the dangers that face their Order.

Aaron: Gardulla the Hutt and Jabba’s clan are also mentioned.  So many connections to familiar characters in the Star Wars universe.

Bethany: Again with so many connections to other in universe material, the book gave us such an astoundingly in depth look at the history and machinations behind so many things, which had me immersed in the complex picture it painted. I know some I’ve spoken with some who didn’t enjoy the many references, but I did.

Mark: We also see that Hego Damask’s estate is awarded Rugness Nome’s estate publicly.  I found the relationship of the Sith, both as Sith and as their alter egos, interesting. They find ways to be intertwined in both.  As with Tenebrous’s death, Hego benifits from it as does Plagueis. You start to get a sense of the Dark Side personified in these beings through their Sith mantles.

Aaron: We are also introduced to Plagueis’ giant library.  He wants 11-4D to assimilate all the info in the library.  Plagueis was very interested in things like the Ysalimiri and Vornskrs.

Mark: Yes, in fact his library was the finest to be found anywhere outside Obroa-skai.  This is where 11-4D plays a vital role in my opinion to the Sith plan.  He in a sense BECOMES Plagueis’s library.

Aaron: The Dai Bendu are also a point of interest to him.  I believe they will be playing a major part in the upcoming Dawn of the Jedi comic series.

Mark: Yes, a lot of old RPG materials came to life as off the cuff references by Plagueis.  I loved it. Rakata, Vjun (which some may recall had issues with midi-chlorians), the Choas Academy, Sorcerers of Tund (Lando Clarission books) as well as Myrkr.

Bethany: When 11-4D told his new master that “I have experience in organ replacement surgery, telomere genotherapy, and carbonite suspension. But nothing beyond that.”  Plagueis with upper lip curled said, “Then you’ve merely scratched the surface.” The implications of this, and Plagueis’ vast library and knowledge is rather intimidating, to say the least.

Aaron: We get a bit of a Sith history lesson here as well.  Naga Sadow, Exar Kun, Bane, Zannah…  I want to know more about the Sith Darth Gravid who apparently tried to go good and really set the Sith plan back.

Mark: I was glad they covered that one.  So much of the early references I was worried were ‘one and dones’.  Which a lot were, but then a lot of the rest would come back and be rehashed with greater detail.  Darth Gravid being one of these.

Also the fact Plagueis gives 11-4D a Sith data crystal with the History of the Sith on it was impressive. The Sith are better scholars than the JEDI!  The Jedi only study their own dogma. The Sith, the Galaxy.  Best of all, Plagueis tells the droid his goal of extending life.

Bethany: It is always interesting to see the Sith react to their environment, and to see their inner workings. We don’t get to see that very much in the movies, beyond Vader’s and Sidious’ relationship.

Aaron: And then the big info at the end of Chapter 5…. “One hundred years earlier, Tenebrous’s Twilek Master (Darth Ramage?) had opened a small rend in the fabric of the Force, allowing the Dark Side of the Force to be felt by the Jedi Order for the first time in more than eight hundred years.”

Mark: Funny you say that Aaron.  I, too, thought Ramage was Tenebrous’s master’s name. Yet I couldn’t find it ever actually said.
The whole rend into the Force plays hard core into Plagueis’s point of view on the Force and the dual nature of the Force.  You get a sense that the Jedi created a bubble like the ysalamiri in a sense that kept the Dark Side out. Tenebrous’s Master burst the bubble.

Mark: Anyone catch Vectivus mentioned?!  HE REALLY DID EXIST AND WAS A BANITE SITH! Wow!

Aaron: Yes I noticed him and Cognus mentioned as Sith that came after Bane.  I would love to know the entire line of Sith from Bane to Sidious.

Mark: The chapter titles were fitting. I always enjoyed that about Karen Traviss’s books and Luceno did a great job telling the story through chapter titles as well as the chapters themselves.

Aaron: Yes, all Star Wars authors should do chapter titles like this.


Chapter 6

Aaron: Let’s move on to Sojourn, a retreat for the elite.  It was like an intergalactic hunter’s lodge.

Bethany: Yes, that’s exactly what it reminded me of!  And it creeped me out.

Mark: Those poor crime lords and influential beings who don’t even know they are Dejarrik pieces.

Aaron: And all of his meetings on Sojourn are about gaining power.  Plagueis is constantly making deals.

Mark: And these deals would play key parts later too.  The Sith monitor the future in a sense.
It was interesting to learn Hego played a pivital role in Gardulla’s rise to power over Jabba on Tatooine.  By making the deal to empower Gardulla on Tatooine and setting up podracing, we learn that this will later anger the Gran of Malastare whose own podracing will be hurt a little.  All part of the plan.

Bethany: I like how Plagueis can be ruthless and brutal in the name of political and monetary power, and those around him expect it, but don’t realize the true menace beneath.

Aaron: In the process of him trying to find out who sabotaged the mining drill that he and Tenebrous were almost killed by, Plagueis comes across the info that there is an abundance of plasma on Naboo.  This plays a major role in the rest of the book.

Mark: I won’t look at the Duel of Fates the same- those plasma beams. Who knew?!

Aaron: And then my favorite part of chapter 6.  Tenebrous was training another apprentice!  This completely caught me off guard.  So much for the Rule of Two.  The Sith seem to bend the rules by training multiple potential apprentices, and we see this in Clone Wars as well with Ventress and Opress.

Mark: I found the breaking of the Rule fitting.  As most would see this breaking as insurance, in fact Venimis’s attack is what would have MADE him the apprentice with a Darth title.  And he failed.

Bethany: It’s interesting to see that Sith seem to be tempted even to break their own rules, and they always tend to fall for some temptation or weekness. So many Sith have been killed by consequences, reactions if you will, to their own ambition or arrogance.

Aaron: And when Plagueis defeats Venamis (such creative Sith names) in battle, instead of killing him he keeps him alive for experimentation.  Pure evil and kind of creepy.

Bethany: Um, how about VERY creepy.  Like I said earlier, Plagueis becomes far more terrifying as one becomes more familiar with him.

Mark: Yes, using Venamis to perfect his exploitations of midi-Chlorians was a genius move by Luceno.

“The future of the Sith no longer hinges on physical prowess but on political cunning. The new Sith will rule less by brute force than by means of instilling fear.”

We learn the important differences in philosophy between Tenebrous and Plagueis in Plagueis’s eyes. Which is a good chapter to read before reading the Tenebrous Way.


Chapter 7

Aaron: Chapter 7 fleshes out Plagueis’s origin story.  He was the child of force sensitive parents who were keeping their powers a secret.  Even as a child Hego was ruthless. He used force persuasion to have a classmate jump out a window!

Mark: The parent arc was creepy of Tenebrous.

Aaron: His birth was basically orchestrated by Tenebrous.

Mark: We learn that his parents were manipulated into having Plagueis born. His mother was all but teaching the young Hego for Tenebrous.

Bethany: It’s interesting to me how Plagueis’ background and childhood (if you could call it that) heavily influenced him, if not entirely dominated him and his personality. To grow up the way he did, and to almost naturally and without prodding fall do the Dark Side is horribly twisted, especially for a child.

Mark: I don’t know if we can say without prodding though.  His mother was totally schooling him and grooming him in a sense.

Bethany: True, but was his mother schooling him specifically towards the dark side, or towards using the Force in general?  Although she certainly never goes out of her way to control or teach him otherwise. She let him use the Force to make a playmate jump out of a window and die, and didn’t say anything negative about it, only commented on his “gift”.

Mark: Well young Hego noticed a power closer to his own in Rugess that he didn’t feel around Jedi. I found this interesting too.

Bethany: Yes, it was as if the Dark Side somehow touched him, as if his existence was of the Dark Side specifically.

Mark: I loved the flash backs to Plagueis’s training. And Tenebrous’s line about the Phantom Menace – “We Sith are an unseen opposition. A phantom menace. But the Force works through us all the more powerfully in our invisibility. For the present, the more covert we remain, the more influence we can have. Our revenge will be achieved not through subjugation but by contagion.”

Bethany: That was an incredible thought, very chilling and true. You can almost see it coming inevitably true.

Aaron: This book really implies that there is clear dark and light side.

Bethany: It does, and as if they both have clear wishes. It’s almost a creepy version of the Force, or way of viewing the Force perhaps. Instead of falling to the Dark Side being some sort of perverted way of using the Force, falling to the Dark Side seems more like choosing one path over another.

Mark: Yes, and Plagueis sees it almost as a sentient thing, especially in the way he approaches it.  I liked though how the Sith see things like “the Force works through us all the more powerfully.”

Aaron: And who’s to say that Plagueis’s view on the Force is the correct one.  His philosophy may differ from other Sith and Jedi.

Bethany: Indeed.

Mark: Yes. That was a point in my opinion of the Sith stories. That there are more roads than one to the Force and it’s mastery.  And ANYTHING is possible with the right knowledge, and will power. POOOOOOWWWER!!!
But even the Sith have the Force work through them, just like the Jedi.  I mean if both sides see the Force at work through them, how does that work?

Bethany: I don’t think we really know the answer to that question. There’s always a bit of mystery surrounding the Force, even with the knowledge of midi-chlorians.

Mark: Would it be ONE sentience at work? Or two sentiences fighting each other? I mean I see the Force as one with dual sides. The sentience works on the whole Will of the Force, but it does make you stop and think.

Aaron: I think the way it has been presented to us lately is that it is two sides fighting against each other.  I mean think of Mortis.

Mark: Indeed. Mortis is a good point. I had always thought that the two sides being separate was something Lucas didn’t want, but it’s starting to seem that this is ok as long as it’s hinted at or eluded to but never flat out spoken as fact.
One last thing on chapter 7- “With the wretched of the galaxy being converted to the cause, the powerful would now need to be brought together, with Darth Plagueis as their leader, manipulating the actions of an important few to control the behavior of countless trillions”
This paragraph captures many elements of the book. From the Sith’s strategy, to Hego Demask’s Gatherings of Sojorn, to how every interaction he (and later Sidious) has all work to the BENIFIT of the Sith.

Aaron: Yes that last sentence pretty much lays out the entire Sith Plan.

That concludes our discussion of chapters 4 through 7.  Check back for our next commentary covering chapters 8 through 11.

And don’t be shy, leave your own thoughts on the book in the comments below!

-Aaron Goins