Tag Archives: Star Wars Beyond the Films

Star Wars: Lost Stars – A Beyond the Films Review

With recent events leading to a backlog of recorded episodes and episodes to record very soonStar Wars Beyond the Films‘ Nathan P. Butler will be posting short, non-spoiler reviews for new releases. Spoiler-filled discussion will follow in the weeks thereafter on the podcast. (In the case of minor releases, that discussion may be kept for a Year in Review series of episodes.)


loststars

Lost Stars by Claudia Gray (hardback, 2015)

On Force Friday, amid a massive Star Wars: The Force Awakens marketing blitz, several new novels hit store shelves. Often lost in the excitement (and controversy) over that day’s adult novel, Aftermath, were four junior novels (three character-focused adventures for the “Big Three” and Lost Stars).  All of these five new stories were billed as part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Lost Stars by Claudia Gray is an oddity among these stories and, frankly, among Star Wars stories in general. It is marketed as a young adult novel yet deals with subjects in a more adult way than some of Star Wars “adult” novels in recent decades and addresses subjects such as sex (yes, that taboo S-word in Star Wars so often) in a fashion that befits a mature (but not gratuitous) presentation.

The book was touted as a sort of Romeo and Juliet in the Star Wars saga, but, speaking as someone who is a big “fan” of Shakespeare (particularly of Hamlet and Julius Caesar), I have always found Romeo and Juliet lacking. We know so little about the characters and what draws them together in Shakespeare’s classic play that, to me, their love story has always come off as impulsive teens who dive in too deep, too fast, and end up acting on extreme emotions without taking a breath to think, thereby causing their own deaths. That is not a particularly popular view, I would admit, but it caused me at first to shy away from Lost Stars, making it the last of the Force Friday novels I read, specifically because I was afraid of something as “blame it on the stars and throw away logic” as Romeo and Juliet or as trite and immature as Twilight. (See, I just angered another segment of the readership, didn’t I?)

I was wrong about Lost Stars. This novel has more depth and detail to its characters than several Romeo and Juliets and rarely made me draw comparisons to the wishy-washy, blind romances of modern works like Twilight. It is a solid read with a realistic romance.

In short, Lost Stars is, in my opinion, the best novel in the Story Group’s new Star Wars canon, hands down. Those familiar with my various podcasts and such over the years should recognize that I do not make such a declaration lightly.

The story centers on Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree, the novel’s “star-crossed lovers.” Unlike Romeo and Juliet, who meet in their teens, fall madly in love in a matter of minutes (or seconds, depending on one’s reading of a partiuclar scene), then are dead together in a matter of weeks (or days, again depending on one’s reading of certain lines), Lost Stars‘ Thane and Ciena share most of their lifetimes connected in some form or another, though not always as they would prefer.

The tale begins in 11 BBY on Jelucan, where the Empire has just taken full control. Thane comes from a well-off family in the more “urban” class on the planet, while Ciena hails from a more “rural,” poorer (and more spiritual) class. The two are drawn together by their love of flying and a chance encounter during an Imperial ceremony with Grand Moff Tarkin. Their shared dream of becoming pilots for the Empire, which they initially believe is a positive force in the galaxy, carries them through into an Imperial Academy and further Imperial service. These formative years make them both best friends and, as they slowly realize, something more.

Once in Imperial service, we see the two start to diverge in their views on the Empire, their experiences with Imperial might, etc. Eventually, we see one of the characters drawn into the Rebel Alliance, while the other remains honor-bound to the Empire. This sets the stage for a tense final 2/3 of the novel, wherein we can see the Rebellion and Empire through both Rebel and Imperial eyes, enhanced by the connection the reader has formed to these two characters, neither of whom are “good” or “bad,” per se, just the most important thing of all in such a story: human.

Along the way, we see Thane and Ciena’s relationship to the events of A New HopeThe Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, then onward into their involvement in the Battle of Jakku in 5 ABY that creates the backdrop for a setting in The Force Awakens by explaining at least one crashed Star Destroyer on the surface.

Like any good relationship drama, there are times when you want to scream at the characters or shake some sense into them, but every step of the way, their decisions feel grounded and real in a vein that makes them valid, even when they are making mistakes. When things finally come to a head near the finale of the book, this became only the third Star Wars novel in decades to bring tears to my eyes. (The first was a classic death in Iron Fist, and the second was the end of Dark Disciple.)

I would also note in passing here that the novel is one of the longest in the Star Wars library, at approximately 550 pages, yet well worth the time.

This is a powerful story of lovers on opposite sides of the Galactic Civil War that surprasses the storytelling in not just its fellow Story Group Canon novels but the vast majority of the Legends Continuity novels that preceded this new continuity as well. It receives my highest possible recommendation.

Does the Label Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Actually Fit the Book?

Honestly, as good as Lost Stars is, I cannot really say that it fits the “journey to The Force Awakens” label. Unless we see Ciena or Thane in The Force Awakens, it feels as though the only thing the novel really does for the film is to explain how one of the crashed Star Destroyers ended up on the surface of Jakku and provide some details of that battle (29 years prior to TFA).

(Yes, I said “one of the crashed Star Destroyers.” If the Jakku “Graveyard of Giants” map for Battlefront is to be considered authentic, there appear to have been at least two Star Destroyers and one Corellian Corvette that crashed in the same general area on Jakku, if not more.)

A Chronological Note

As I noted above, the story starts in 11 ABY. It runs through shortly after the Battle of Jakku in 5 ABY. Most of the novel follows the characters in their teens and onward, rather than their childhood, which is explored to a lesser extent in the early chapters of the novel.

The Verdict

Lost Stars is an absolute must-read for Star Wars fans. It should not be written off as a “young adult” or “teen” book, nor do frequent comparisons to other love stories tend to do it justice, as those comparisons create impressions that rarely match the emotional impact of Lost Stars. If we do not ever see these characters or Claudia Gray in Star Wars again, it will be quite a shame.

Recommended for: Those looking for a strong story with strong characters with whom emotional ties can be formed, and those looking for alternate perspectives on Original Trilogy events.

Not recommended for: Those who think Star Wars should be free of relationship stories or who are bothered by seeing new characters frequently crossing paths with the films.

I purchased a copy of this book on Force Friday, though Disney Lucasfilm Press later provided a copy for review.

POST-TFA EDITORIAL ADDITION

One other connection to TFA does appear in the book, as the Resistance base planet in the film, D’Qar, is scouted by Thayne and his team as a potential Rebel base. Otherwise, seeing the film has given no new context to the story.

Star Wars: Moving Target – A Beyond the Films Review

With recent events leading to a backlog of recorded episodes and episodes to record very soonStar Wars Beyond the Films‘ Nathan P. Butler will be posting short, non-spoiler reviews for new releases. Spoiler-filled discussion will follow in the weeks thereafter on the podcast. (In the case of minor releases, that discussion may be kept for a Year in Review series of episodes.)


movingtarget

Moving Target by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry (hardback, 2015)

On Force Friday, amid a massive Star Wars: The Force Awakens marketing blitz, several new novels hit store shelves. Often lost in the excitement (and controversy) over that day’s adult novel, Aftermath, were four junior novels (three character-focused adventures for the “Big Three” and Lost Stars).  All of these five new stories were billed as part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Moving Target by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry, billed as “A Princess Leia Adventure,” features Leia Organa on a mission for the Rebel Alliance with the aid of Nien Nunb (in his Mellcrawler), communications expert Kidi Aleri, tech specialist Antrot, and commando Major Lokmarcha. The Rebel Alliance has just discovered the information about the second Death Star that will set the Battle of Endor in motion, but in order for the Rebels to gather their forces at Sullust in preparation for that fateful battle in Return of the Jedi, they need the Empire to be distrated. That is Leia’s mission. As a “moving target” that is too good for the Empire to ignore, she can draw attention away from the fleet at Sullust.

Along the way, Leia faces doubts about whether her decoy mission puts too many people in danger, as the Empire (personified in this case by Captain Khione, another strong Impeiral female in the Story Group’s new canon, of the Star Destroyer Shieldmaiden) nears their own goal of capturing Leia.

Of the three character books from Force Friday, I found Moving Target to be the most engaging (and perhaps the second strongest overall, second only to Lost Stars). The team members are fleshed out to an extent that side characters are not in the other two books in this quasi-series, and there are momemts in the story when the reader will feel heavy emotional impact in terms of the fates of certain team members and Leia’s overall mindset in this era. This is a Leia that is driven but moral, struggling with the costs of victory.

Moreover, Nien Numb’s participation is another step (along with the Princess Leia mini-series and Battlefront: Twilight Company) in making Lando Calrissian’s ROTJ co-pilot into a much more significant character in this new Canon than in the Legends Continuity.

It is a worthwhile read that ties directly into Return of the Jedi.

Does the Label Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Actually Fit the Book?

Some will argue that a story set in this era is far too early to count as part of any kind of “journey to The Force Awakens.”

For the most part, I would agree, if we are only considering the main story. The book does include a “framing” prologue and epilogue that feature a The Force Awakens era “General” Leia being sought out to write her memoirs. Those segments also feature a bit of discussion between Leia and Caluan Ematt (introduced briefly here in both the main story and epilogue, while focused on primarily in Smuggler’s Run) about Poe Dameron and the mission he is on during the opening of The Force Awakens. Thus, the connection to the film is there, albeit with less of a direct connection (as far as we can currently tell) between the main story and the film than was the case with The Weapon of a Jedi.

A Chronological Note

Unlike the other two character books from Force Friday (The Weapon of a Jedi and Smuggler’s Run), Moving Target, as previously mentioned, takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, rather than between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, alongside parts of Lost Stars and Battlefront: Twilight Company, it is currently the only story in the Story Group’s new canon to be set between ESB and ROTJ.

The Verdict

Moving Target is the best of the three character books from Force Friday and adds a significant story bridge leading into Return of the Jedi. The extent to which it will have any impact on The Force Awakens remiains somewhat unclear, but its impact on ROTJ should make this a book any Star Wars Canon reader should check out.

Recommended for: Those interested about the lead-up to Return of the Jedi, or those looking for a Leia-centric adventure.

Not recommended for: Those looking for significant page time for Original Trilogy characters other than Leia (and Nien Numb, to be fair), or those hunting a story that is set in the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens that the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens concept seems to imply.

I purchased a copy of this book on Force Friday, though Disney Lucasfilm Press later provided a copy for review.

As an additional disclaimer, I have previously worked with Jason Fry on elements of Star Wars: The Essential Atlas and consider him a friend, though not a close one. That affiliation had no impact on the content of this review.

POST-TFA EDITORIAL ADDITION

I would suggest that Leia’s TFA era segment in the prologue and epilogue are almost certainly set during TFA, rather than shortly before the film.

Star Wars: Smuggler’s Run – A Beyond the Films Review

With recent events leading to a backlog of recorded episodes and episodes to record very soonStar Wars Beyond the Films‘ Nathan P. Butler will be posting short, non-spoiler reviews for new releases. Spoiler-filled discussion will follow in the weeks thereafter on the podcast. (In the case of minor releases, that discussion may be kept for a Year in Review series of episodes.)


smugglersrun

Smuggler’s Run by Greg Rucka (hardback, 2015)

On Force Friday, amid a massive Star Wars: The Force Awakens marketing blitz, several new novels hit store shelves. Often lost in the excitement (and controversy) over that day’s adult novel, Aftermath, were four junior novels (three character-focused adventures for the “Big Three” and Lost Stars).  All of these five new stories were billed as part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Smuggler’s Run by Greg Rucka, billed as “A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure,” features Han and Chewie on a mission for the Rebel Alliance (well, a “job” for the Rebels) shortly after A New Hope to rescue Rebel agent Caluan Ematt, who holds information on all of the Rebels’ potential new bases in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin.

The adventure brings the duo into contact with Imperial Security Bureau Commander Alecia Beck (whom Rucka later also references in his comic mini-series Star Wars: Shattered Empire), an interesting starship-turned-cantina under the ownership of a woman who is an acquaintance of Han and Chewie, and the leader of the Alliance’s “Shrikes” – Ematt himself.

The story is a fairly straightforward chase and “race against the enemy” tale that shows off Han’s wit and introduces Ematt into Star Wars Canon (alongside Moving Target, also released on Force Friday). The extent to which Ematt will affect The Force Awakens, or if he even appears in the film, has yet to be seen, but his appearance as an important member of the Resistance in the era of The Force Awakens in the “framing” segments of Moving Targets suggests that it is his appearance in the story that gives the book its strongest (read: tenuous) link to the film.

Does the Label Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Actually Fit the Book?

Some will argue that a story set in this era is far too early to count as part of any kind of “journey to The Force Awakens.”

Barring further exploration of Ematt in the film, those people would be right.

The framing story for the tale, told in its prologue and epilogue, does indeed feature an older Han and Chewie in the era of The Force Awakens, but as we know so little about their circumstances leading into the film, one cannot readily see strong ties to the film in those passages. As noted above, the main connection one can expect with the film is the character of Ematt, but even that is just conjecture at this point.

This will be a question best revisited after the film’s release. (For the record, yes, I do intent to revisit and update all of my reviews of material from the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens line once the film is released and more context is given for characters and events from the film.)

A Chronological Note

With so many of the Stroy Group’s new canon stories already being set in the era immediately after A New Hope, it is perhaps important to note where this story fits chronologically.

Given an amusing opening of the first regular chapter that finally answers the question of Chewbacca’s medal in a canonical way, one can surmise that the story takes place during the events of Marvel’s Princess Leia mini-series (with only a tiny bit of the mini-series’ first issue taking place prior to this story’s ANH era opening). Since the story seems to span just one day, it probably ends shortly into the second issue of Princess Leia. That also means that it is set prior to Marvel’s Star Wars and Darth Vader series. (Hey, this is why we have The Star Wars Timeline Gold, isn’t it?)

The Verdict

Smuggler’s Run feels like the least necessary of the three character books released on Force Friday. It is an enjoyable romp with our favorite smuggler and walking carpet, and Ematt is an intriguing new character, but until we have greater context for how the story fits the “journey to The Force Awakens” concept, it feels like a throway story (i.e. a tale with little real impact), even in its prologue and epilogue.

It is a good book, but it is not, so far, an essential story. Perhaps The Force Awakens will surprise us and make me have to revise that assessment.

Recommended for: Those interested in a fun romp with Han and Chewbacca shortly after ANH with the menance of a new, strong female adversary in the form of Alecia Beck.

Not recommended for: Those looking for significant page time for Original Trilogy characters other than Han and Chewie, or those looking for a story that is set in the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens that the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens concept seems to imply.

(Or those confusing this title with one of the first-ever Star Wars fan-made audio dramas to enter production for online release, Michael Mays’ Smuggler’s Run.)

I purchased a copy of this book on Force Friday, though Disney Lucasfilm Press later provided a copy for review.

POST-TFA EDITORIAL ADDITION

I would suggest that Han’s TFA era segment in the prologue and epilogue are almost certainly quite a few years before TFA, or he no longer has the Falcon (which does not seem to fit his dialogue in the text).

Star Wars: The Weapon of a Jedi – A Beyond the Films Review

With recent events leading to a backlog of recorded episodes and episodes to record very soonStar Wars Beyond the Films‘ Nathan P. Butler will be posting short, non-spoiler reviews for new releases. Spoiler-filled discussion will follow in the weeks thereafter on the podcast. (In the case of minor releases, that discussion may be kept for a Year in Review series of episodes.)


weaponofajedi

The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry (hardback, 2015)

On Force Friday, amid a massive Star Wars: The Force Awakens marketing blitz, several new novels hit store shelves. Often lost in the excitement (and controversy) over that day’s adult novel, Aftermath, were four junior novels (three character-focused adventures for the “Big Three” and Lost Stars).  All of these five new stories were billed as part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry, billed as “A Luke Skywalker Adventure,” features Luke on a mission with C-3PO and R2-D2 for the Rebel Alliance in the period shortly after A New Hope. That mission is quickly derailed, sending Luke on a more personal journey to an abandoned Jedi Temple on Devaron. Along the way, he meets a young Devaronian girl named Farnay and the mysterious masked scavenger known as Sarco Plank.

The story features Luke becoming a better young Jedi, as he learns a bit more about lightsaber combat and the like at the old tempe. The novel is, in fact, touoted in Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know and elsewhere as including Luke’s first true duel with a lightsaber. (The circumstances of that duel and whom he duels are spoiler material, so I will refrain from specifying his opponent.)

In general, the story does not include many shocking twists or turns, perhaps owing to its younger intented audience, but seeing Luke undergo training that is now considered Canon on par with the films is a welcome scenario, espeically given how haphazzardly Luke seemed to learn Jedi skills in the Legends Continuity due to decades of disconnected stories that tried to fill in the 0 – 3 ABY time gap (espeically pre-1991 tales never meant to fit together that were later shoehorned into continuity).

Does the Label Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Actually Fit the Book?

Some will argue that a story set in this era is far too early to count as part of any kind of “journey to The Force Awakens.” I would agree if we are considering only the main story itself. However, one should note that the tale does introduce Sarco Plank, who will appear in The Force Awakens (albeit to an unknown extent), and also features a prologue and epilogue in which C-3PO relates the primary story of the book to pilot Jessika Pava (AKA “Blue Three”), another character from The Force Awakens. (These “framing” segments would seem to take place just before or during the film itself.)

A Chronological Note

With so many of the Stroy Group’s new canon stories already being set in the era immediately after A New Hope, especially in relation to Luke, it is perhaps important to note where this story fits chronologically.

In Heir to the Jedi, Luke has not yet heard Obi-Wan’s voice through the Force since A New Hope. He does so here, putting this story after Kevin Hearne’s novel (which also makes telekinesis available to Luke in The Weapon of a Jedi).

With this being Luke’s first combat with a lightsaber, it also puts The Weapon of a Jedi prior to the events in the first Marvel Star Wars storyline, Skywalker Strikes.

In short: Heir to the Jedi then The Weapon of a Jedi then Skywalker Strikes.

The Verdict

The Weapon of a Jedi is another important step in Luke’s evolution between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. The extent to which the book will impact The Force Awakens has yet to be seen and is likely negligible, but the introduction of Sarco Plank and Jessika Pava should bring a smile to moviegoers’ faces when seeing characters they now “know” on the big screen.

Recommended for: Those curious about Luke’s evolution between ANH and ESB, or those interseted in what are likely background characters for The Force Awakens.

Not recommended for: Those looking for significant page time for Original Trilogy characters other than Luke, or those hunting a story that is set in the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens that the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens concept seems to imply.

I purchased a copy of this book on Force Friday, though Disney Lucasfilm Press later provided a copy for review.

As an additional disclaimer, I have previously worked with Jason Fry on elements of Star Wars: The Essential Atlas and consider him a friend, though not a close one. That affiliation had no impact on the content of this review.

POST-TFA EDITORIAL ADDITION

I would suggest that Jessika Pava’s TFA era segment in the prologue and epilogue are almost certainly set during TFA, rather than shortly before the film. Unfortunately, Sarco Plank is relegated to a background character in a “blink and you’ll miss him” role, making the focus on him as a link to TFA tenuous at best.

Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon – A Beyond the Films Review

With recent events leading to a backlog of recorded episodes and episodes to record very soonStar Wars Beyond the Films‘ Nathan P. Butler will be posting short, non-spoiler reviews for new releases. Spoiler-filled discussion will follow in the weeks thereafter on the podcast. (In the case of minor releases, that discussion may be kept for a Year in Review series of episodes.)


perfectweapon

The Perfect Weapon by Delilah S. Dawson (ebook, 2015)

Relased with little fanfare and no physical form, The Perfect Weapon, Delilah S. Dawson’s ebook entry into the recent Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens product line, is rather easy to miss. The question this raises is whether those who missed it should indeed seek it out.

The story features bounty hunter Bazine Netal, a character seen lounging in early EW The Force Awakens images as the woman in silver and black, complete with black lipstick and fingertips. (No, not fingernails. Fingertips.)  The extent to which she will play a significant role in The Force Awakens is currently unknown. She could be extremely significant or just another background character like so many of the denizens of Chalmun’s Cantina (yes, Chalmun owns it in Canon, thanks to The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy) that were fleshed out extensively in the Legends Continuity.

The Perfect Weapon sees Bazine take a mission from a mysterious employer (complete with Mission: Impossible style exploding mission delivery). She and a student of her former teacher (Orri Tenro and Delphi Kloda, respectively) are in a race against a competitor to recover a sealed metal case that was known to have been in the possession of former stormtrooper Jor Tribulus. The mission takes them to a bustling city, into an insectoid alien hive, and into direct confrontation with a (somewhat) unexpected rival.

The story is pretty straightforward, hitting the expected beats (including the identity of her rival), but the primary focus for most readers is in learning more about this new The Force Awakens character, In that sense, the story succeeds in giving us enough background to get a feel for the character without going into so much depth as to feel heavy-handed.

I would imagine that we will have a better sense of how important (or not) the story is in the grand scheme of the Story Group’s canon once TFA hits theaters later this month. For now, I am pretty sure I know what is in the story’s McGuffin (the case), but if I’m right, I’d prefer not to spoil it for fellow fans.

The Verdict

The Perfect Weapon is a solid introduction to a new character whose overall importance to The Force Awakens is not yet known. Unlike so many of the stories marketed as part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though, this story does indeed feel like it is part of that journey by being set closer to the film (albeit at an unspecified date) and potentially having a direct impact on the film’s story (depending on what is in the case). For $1.99, it is well worth checking out.

Recommended for: Those who are curioius about new characters appearing in The Force Awakens in the same way we had curiosity about the patrons in Mos Eisley or Jabba’s Palace.

Not recommended for: Those looking for epic conflict or numerous twists and turns. This is a short fiction piece, after all.

A NetGalley digital review copy was provided for this review, but I did also purchase a copy on my Nook.

POST-TFA EDITORIAL ADDITION

It is interesting that Bazine actually has a brief speaking role in the film, rather than being an unspeaking background character like so many others. That said, Maz’s comment in the film about having the item in the case (which was what I had thought it was) for “ages” would suggest that this story takes place quite a while before TFA, rather than shortly before the film as originally believed.