Solo’s Eleven

Star Wars: ScoundrelsStar Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before I say anything spoiler-y, I want to point this out for everyone who might be interested in this book: everything makes a lot more sense if you’ve read A. C. Crispin’s “Han Solo” trilogy (which itself makes more sense if you’ve read Brian Daley’s “Han Solo Adventures” trilogy, but that’s far enough removed from this that it isn’t necessary). It’s not essential, but it is helpful, especially in light of the Han-and-Lando dynamic that comes up frequently.

Now, let me get into the spoilers. This is a “heist” book, and like a “heist” movie, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to review without mentioning at least one spoiler. So consider yourself duly warned.

I really enjoyed this book. I like stories that keep me guessing a little bit, and this one certainly delivered. (Of course, Mr. Zahn has some experience with keeping me guessing, at least as long ago as I read his non-Star Wars novel The Icarus Hunt.) I also think that Mr. Zahn did a good job writing Han, Lando, Winter, and Kell Tainer (whom he borrowed from Aaron Allston’s X-Wing books). I would need to reread books featuring the latter two characters to make sure this fits in with their backstories and style, but based on Mr. Zahn’s prior good work, I have no reason to think that it did not.

Perhaps the most frustrating, in retrospect, was the identity and purpose of Eanjer, the local that hires Han for the job. I should have guessed his identity much earlier, based on my prior knowledge of his character, but I think I figured it out, at best, a few pages before Mr. Zahn wanted me to. Ah, well–more credit to the author, I suppose.

The book wasn’t perfect, but I don’t have many complaints. As with The Icarus Hunt, I thought that the book ended too quickly, without revisiting all of the characters in enough detail. And, while I appreciate Mr. Zahn’s interest in embroiling us in the world by mentioning other names that we might remember (referencing Crispin’s trilogy, for example), there were a couple anachronisms. It made no sense, for example, for one character to refer to Revan and Malak (characters from the Knights of the Old Republic video game), who existed thousands of years prior, in the middle of a galaxy in which Jedi and the Force were all but forgotten (a point made by Lando toward the end of the book). I might as well say, “Who do you think they are, Achilles and Odysseus?” It’s theoretically believable that I would mention those people, but far from normal.

At any rate, I enjoyed the book, and I hope that Lucasfilm’s new masters will not overlook Mr. Zahn as they continue to produce fiction in the “new” Star Wars universe.

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The Star Wars, but Different

The Star WarsThe Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a harder time reviewing comic books than regular books, in no small part because I feel like there’s more to review, but I don’t have enough experience in the genre to do it.

The art in this book was excellent. Certainly evocative of the look and feel of early Star Wars (i.e., McQuarrie) concept art. At times, I thought that the art could have been used for more effective pacing (the story seemed to move far too quickly, and part of that was Lucas’ original writing, but it could have been allayed by clever artwork).

Speaking of the writing, it’s lacking in a few areas. A relationship that begins abusive progresses through wishing death upon the other person and proceeds to, within a few days (at most), professions of love. (Lucas’ quality of writing in “Episode I” really shines through in the romantic subplot of the story–and, in general, in regard to relationships.) For example, when Kane Starkiller leaves his son Annikin in the care of a stranger, Annikin says, “So long, Dad!” and departs. (Recently, it had been revealed that Kane was dying.) Later, Captain Whitsun and Princess Leia have a conversation about her feelings for Annikin while their ship is exploding. This sort of thing is very unrealistic and subpar.

It’s definitely not Star Wars, but it also is–kind of. There are a lot of familiar names and places, similar imagery, and so on–but it’s not the Star Wars of the films by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s entertaining, especially for long-time fans of Star Wars that are looking for something a little different, but with the original films behind us, this is no longer revolutionary or incredible.

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A Negative Review of Star Wars: Rebels

I honestly cannot comprehend all the positive reviews for the premiere of Star Wars: Rebels. Everywhere I look, folks are saying what a great triumph it was over all those pre-release haters, and how it’s the best thing since sliced bread, and it revitalizes the Star Wars universe in a way that only Dave Filoni can, and the animation was spectacular, and the writing was brilliant, and…

And I’m baffled.

Because it was none of those things. I thought the writing was bland, the voice-acting was lackluster, the plot was rushed, and the characters were cookie-cutter representations of everyone’s favorite elements (why else would we need a Mandalorian, a hairy alien, a Jedi, and a mysterious orphan who unwittingly is Force-sensitive?), and the animation is the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a 1990’s CGI animation class at the college level. The characters are as realistic and expressive as Duplos (especially the gaunt Wookiees).

Honestly, it has potential, but they really have to rein in the nonsense. They told more than they showed. (This is probably my greatest complaint.) “We have to get to Kessel, the Empire’s prison planet, and rescue the Wookiees!” (next scene) “Here we are at Kessel, rescuing the Wookiees!” How did we get to Kessel? How did we avoid Imperial patrols? How did we dodge planetary defenses, orbiting Imperial vessels, ground-based turbolasers and ion cannons? So much could have–should have–gone wrong, but it proceeded flawlessly. There were no hitches, no hiccups, en route. There were a few minor ones, easily overcome, during the actual rescue, but… they left out so much great story just by telling us that it proceeded easily. They tried to develop Ezra’s character with a monologue from Hera about being a good person. It just comes across as lazy storytelling. “You remember that time we saved the galaxy? That was great.” “How’d you do that?” “Oh, there was this really mean bad guy, and we beat him up, and saved everybody. Now you know what a great team we are.”

There was enough material in that one episode to last half a season, but they crammed it all into one episode. Why? They could have led us on with clues about Kanan’s status as a Jedi, could have given us insight into the characters, helped us develop an attachment to the people we’re watching. They could have made discovery of Kanan’s identity and Ezra’s Force sensitivity an actual plot point, instead of a foregone conclusion. Sure, that would have given us more time with just Agent Kallus and no Inquisitor, but that would have been a good thing. Imperial Intelligence is a scary bunch of people; if the Empire is the Nazi regime and Stormtroopers are stormtroopers, then I.I. is the Gestapo. People fear Imperial Intelligence. But we don’t see that; we see a moderately clever Imperial officer chase down a bunch of rebels, then hand things off to the Big Scary, the Inquisitor. If the Inquisitor were really a Big Scary, we’d have met him halfway through the season, or later, so that we have an escalation of villains and dangers. What’s above an Inquisitor in terms of personal villains? Where will we go in Season 2… or 3… or 6? What would escalate things for our heroes? We’re not likely to get James Earl Jones as a regular, after all. So instead, we’ll end up with the clumsy villains who get trounced every episode (and every season) by the heroes, resulting in a very boring show (especially long-term).

What else did they do in this jam-packed pilot? They eliminated all intra-team conflict. Zeb could have been genuine opposition for Ezra’s continued presence on the ship (basically, Star Wars: Rebels‘ Jayne Cobb), but instead, by the end of the episode, he’s practically hugging the kid. He’s sorry for being so mean, and everyone can live happily ever after. There’s no conflict between our main characters.

What’s interesting about that, you ask? Nothing.

I have not cataloged my full list of complaints about this show, but I’d need to watch it again with a pause button, a red pen, and paper (preferably in the form of a copy of the script) to get all of my objections. Like I said, it has a lot of potential, and before its release, it had a huge amount of hype and promise, and all I see is a mediocre kids’ show set in the Star Wars universe. Maybe next episode, they’ll start breaking into song while boarding the ship, so we’ll know it’s time to board the ship.

Stay Tuned for the Stunning Conclusion!

Spoilers follow!
The Bacta War (Star Wars: X-Wing, #4)The Bacta War by Michael A. Stackpole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To be honest, I thought that, of all of the X-Wing novels, this one would survive my criticisms best. I recall it being my favorite, back in the day, and I could remember nothing against it.

Unfortunately, upon reading it, I did find a few things to take issue with. For one thing, all of the innuendo and nudge, nudge, wink, wink that went on in the preceding three books was consummated in this one. There was nothing explicit, of course, but innuendo was dropped in favor of stating things outright, and seduction gave way to indulgence. I get the impression that we’re supposed to celebrate these events, because most (or all? I don’t quite recall) of them are between Corran and Mirax, but it ends up seeming hollow. Perhaps the most damning of all, from my perspective, was when Mirax insisted on the “practice makes perfect” argument for sex prior to marriage, which is ridiculous on the face of it. I could wax confrontational, but suffice it to say, I got the impression that I should be cheering at this moment, and all I could muster was a dissatisfied ugh.

Speaking of marriage, the proposal in the book seems sudden and unromantic. I’m not one to judge short dating cycles; my wife and I decided to marry after only a few months. On the other hand, I saw no justifiable reason for Corran and Mirax to get engaged. If all the features and benefits of marriage are in place without the marriage, why get married? It can confer no sacrament, no covenant, under such conditions. Is it simply a contractual declaration that both parties appreciate the current arrangement, and wish for it to continue? Corran’s proposal, at the end of the day, seemed to have exactly that much romance, as well. “I can’t think of anyone I would rather flirt with and be seduced by than you,” he says, “In fact, I think we should make it permanent.”

Be still, my beating heart.

That wasn’t the only relational contrivance I found difficult to swallow. The sudden reparations between Corran and Booster, Mirax’s father, were startling. At least we are able to see Corran’s side of it, even if the conclusion seems a little too easy–but why Booster would suddenly come around is neither clarified nor elucidated. It seems that Corran’s response is so irrevocably honorable that Booster has no choice but to accept him.

I have begun with the negative points, but let me not end with them. The relationships seem rushed and contrived; several of the characters fall by the wayside (notably Riv Shiel, whose early death is not startling so much as nonplussing, and Inyri Forge, who had a pivotal role in Wedge’s Gamble, but has barely registered since then). On the other hand, we’re back in X-Wings all the time; we have grand space battles, devious strategy, clever tactics, and deft political maneuvering that doesn’t distract too much from the entertainment. Borsk Fey’lya and his committees are out of the picture, so we’re able to press on without endless debates. This is still a very good book, and very nostalgic; it just doesn’t quite live up to its “favorite” moniker from ages past.

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Third Time’s the Charm?

Spoilers follow!

The Krytos Trap (Star Wars: X-Wing, #3)The Krytos Trap by Michael A. Stackpole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book in the X-Wing series continues the story right where Wedge’s Gamble left off: Corran is in prison, presumed dead, and Tycho is on trial for his murder. Meanwhile, a virus deadly only to non-humans (and non-Bothans, apparently) is ravaging Coruscant, and Rogue Squadron may be the only hope to save it.

On the one hand, I’m greatly entertained by this book. Rogue Squadron gets back to its roots–running missions in X-Wings. The New Republic is here to stay, so we must send our best and brightest out to fight the enemy on their turf once more–or escort missions, those are good, too. At any rate, Wedge and the gang are back in their cockpits and ready to go. This is good.

On the other hand, Corran’s story takes a bit of an odd turn. His time in Lusankya is a smattering of wild delusions under the influence of hallucinogenics, followed by a self-sacrificial dedication to escape, against all logical expectations about their prison. His perseverance and success here can be chalked up to the revelation we’ve all been waiting for: he’s Force-sensitive, and descended from a Jedi! (It’s hard to say, because I’ve read the books before, but I occasionally felt bludgeoned with the hints about this, over the preceding books. Lots of talk about trusting feelings and so on.)

At the same time, Corran has been trusting his feelings and assumptions about Tycho all along–only to be presented with a logical explanation to the contrary, which he immediately accepts. A quick turn of thought later, and he has identified the true spy in Rogue Squadron! This almost seems contrived; how could it be so easy, when it has been so challenging up until this point?

In rating this book, I am torn between, on the one hand, my love of the characters (one part nostalgia, two parts great writing) and my earnest and compelling desire to see what happens next at every turn, and on the other hand, a nearly predictable outcome, reached by a couple of convenient shortcuts. At the end of the day, I am forced to drop this book to 4 stars as well–perhaps The Bacta War will maintain its hold over me in the end.

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