What One Has Begun…

… one must finish.

Spoilers follow!

Wedge's Gamble (Star Wars: X-Wing, #2)Wedge’s Gamble by Michael A. Stackpole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The downgrade of a rating here may seem not in keeping with my practice, especially as regards Star Wars novels and some of my favorite authors–but I assure you, I had good cause.

Wedge’s Gamble is a great second installment–but it reads like a second installment, as part of a larger whole. Much of the book is laying the groundwork for the two novels to follow. Yes, it’s true, the target of the book is to capture Coruscant, and Rogue Squadron makes that happen–but it’s anticlimactic. We know that Isard has prepared for a devastating, even crippling, set of events for the Rebels, and we know that she has captured Corran Horn, as of the epilogue.

That is the grand picture of my weakened satisfaction with the book. It has about as many typos as Rogue Squadron did, which I suppose is not surprising, although I still wonder how so many professionally edited books come through with so many typographical errors (you know, you pay somebody for a job, and you expect them to follow through, right? What else do copy editors and proofreaders even do?).

One thing that struck me as especially peculiar, for the second book in the X-Wing series, is that the characters spend almost no time whatsoever in X-Wings. Some very brief space combat takes place at the beginning, then aerial combat is relegated to speeder bikes and Z-95s. It reminds me of what Don Bellisario said about the second season of NCIS–they tried to avoid having a single ship or military uniform on the screen. Perhaps it reaches a broader audience, but don’t you think it’s a little weird?

I also find Corran’s emotional rejection of Tycho a little… contrived. Clearly, Corran is getting too wrapped up in his own head–but so wrapped up that he’s missing the obvious right in front of him? Erisi, whose incessant inquisitiveness and attempts at seduction, along with her conspicuous absence from scenes contemporaneous with the actions of Rogue Squadron’s spy, make her the obvious candidate to a man who has dedicated his life to finding out the truth. Corran’s detective chops, which are fairly well established by this point, are being called into question every time he ignores Erisi on account of her pretty… face.

All that said, I still like the book very much. Again, nostalgia may play a part, and these books played a formative role for my inner writer, but I maintain that they’re well-written. Stackpole doesn’t neglect his other characters, just because Corran is the main one (an unfortunate tendency of which I am sure to be guilty myself), and aside from a few objections (voiced verbosely above), I find the book a delightful read. On to the next!

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Nostalgia Wins

Rogue Squadron (Star Wars: X-Wing, #1)Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently had a disagreement with a few acquaintances of mine. They said that the Expanded Universe–I mean, “Legends” (thanks, Disney, for invalidating my childhood)*–was full of subpar novels and that they were glad it was all being wiped away. I responded that, considering the terms they were using to describe a library full of New York Times bestsellers, they seemed a little harsh, especially given their lack of specific objections.

A visual representation of our discussion.

A visual representation of our discussion.

After that, I wanted to go back and read some of the old favorites, since it’s been a few years. My first thought was Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, the most unfairly maligned by these acquaintances, but my copies have long since been lost to the void of many moves and family members who may or may not have been the original owners. (My brother probably has them.) Without Zahn at my disposal, my next thought was the X-Wing series, which–thanks to my wife’s work managing my holiday wish lists–I have at least through the seventh installment.

Rogue Squadron is a great introductory work for the series. It lays a lot of groundwork for future installments, establishes the characters effectively, and sets us up for emotional turmoil when certain individuals kick the proverbial bucket. The conclusion of the book does not reveal all the secrets, but it doesn’t string us along too much. In short, this is a solid book, with high-quality writing, strong characters, and a plot that seems a reasonable extrapolation of the events closing out the original trilogy of films.

Not everything was perfect. There were a surprising number of typographical errors that I didn’t recall from previous reads, but it’s mostly the sort of thing that a spell-checker program would miss (if for is or it, that sort of thing). A few of the characters received minimal development, which let us treat them with relative dispassion on their passing.

But honestly, I forgave the author and the book, because the book had a lot of work to get done, and a few of the deaths really were emotionally charged for the reader.

At the end of the day, if I were being completely objective in my ratings, I’d drop this to 4 stars. If I were trying to be some kind of magazine reviewer, and my interest was primarily informational, then I might do something like that. As it stands, I’m nostalgic about this book, and I find its shortcomings easy to forgive; its rating stands at five stars in my book.

And those acquaintances of mine can go pound sand.


*I’m not saying Disney wasn’t justified, even–to a certain degree–required to make a statement like this. I’m just saying that when I was growing up, the Expanded Universe novels and games were a much deeper Star Wars experience than even the original trilogy. After the relative disappointment of the prequels, I realized that the EU was all up for grabs, and any future films would further alter what I had come to see as “reality” for the denizens of the Star Wars galaxy. I just wasn’t quite prepared for them to come out and say, “We’re doing whatever we want. Prepare to be disappointed when your favorite characters either (1) don’t make an appearance, or (2) don’t act like themselves if they do.” But I digress.

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Han Solo Trilogy, Part 3

Rebel Dawn (Star Wars: The Han Solo Trilogy, #3)Rebel Dawn by A.C. Crispin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

NOTE: Many spoilers follow.

There were a lot of things I really liked about this book, so my rating it lower may be a direct result of the ending.

First, let me discuss what I liked. I liked the characters; Han, Lando, Chewbacca, and Boba Fett were all true to form, and I enjoyed the other characters, as well. I liked the interweaving of the other “Han Solo” trilogy. I liked how events in the first and second novels were tied into events in the third. I liked how the book led up to the events in the films (although that section seemed a bit rushed, and Lando seemed to overreact a smidgen). Overall, I liked the book.

But let me address what I did not like. As with the last two books, I don’t care for pulling quotes out of the films as if we weren’t sure this was Han Solo or Lando Calrissian talking. And, as before, I don’t like how often Han uses terms of endearment or nicknames; I just don’t think it’s natural (or necessary) to address your conversation partner every time you open your mouth, so that comes off as a little odd.

Most importantly, though, I don’t like the ending of this book. This is for two reasons. First, I don’t like how everything gets tied up in a neat little bow. The problem of Ylesia is solved forever; the problem of Bria is solved forever; the problem of Boba Fett does not affect later encounters with Boba Fett. Everything’s perfect. It would have made a lot more sense, to me, if things had ended a little more messily. Sure, the trilogy wouldn’t have been as compact and concise, but it would have fit in better with, and lent itself to, the broader Star Wars experience.

Yet this first was the minor complaint. The major complaint I have is how Han reacts to Bria’s death. Here is a woman who, claiming to love him, got his adopted brother killed, stole from him and his friends, got him ostracized by the entire smuggling community on Nar Shaddaa, and worst of all, lied to his face right up until she betrayed him. She stopped loving him the moment she put the rebellion ahead of him – and she started doing that back in the second book. And what’s more is that she kept doing it, for the rest of the trilogy! Nevermind that she never really knew him (she thought he’d forgive her for taking the money and join her in the rebellion, which was plainly ridiculous), and nevermind that it was her abandoning him that made him that way – the worst part of all is that she stopped feeling bad about it when she fell to her lowest point. Throughout the previous book and this one, she felt bad every time she neglected to talk to Han – right up until she stabbed him in the back. Then, she only felt bad because he called her out on it.

Now, I don’t dislike the book because I dislike Bria’s character. She’s excellently written, and the relationship as it unfolds is fabulous, especially because we (the audience) know it can’t last. What upsets me about the ending is that, about two weeks after the woman he loves betrays him for her rebellion – which he is still sure will fail, so she betrayed him for nothing, from his point of view – he learns she’s dead and says, “Well, gee, I regret how things ended. Guess I better tell her dad, and feel bad for myself.” It just doesn’t line up with his character at this point.

Anyway. That ending kind of puts a damper on the whole book (and, in a small way, the whole trilogy), but overall, the book is still a good read.

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Han Solo Trilogy, Part 2

The Hutt Gambit (Star Wars: The Han Solo Trilogy, #2)The Hutt Gambit by A.C. Crispin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have few to no problems with this book. It was well-written, engaging, and tied in very nicely both with the book that preceded it and the book that followed it.

My qualms are minor. While I agree that people who speak in a certain way frequently use the same mannerisms and sayings over and over, I don’t think it was necessary to rip quotes straight from the films for the characters we encounter in them – Han and Lando don’t need to quote themselves to sound like them. The design of the characters ought to do that for us. Should they speak in the same style, say similar things, etc.? Sure. But I thought I was reading about Han and Lando much more accurately when I imagined them speaking in the voices of Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams, respectively, than when I read lines they had in the films.

All-in-all, a worthy addition to the first in the trilogy. Worth a read.

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Han Solo Trilogy, Part 1

The Paradise Snare (Star Wars: The Han Solo Trilogy, #1)The Paradise Snare by A.C. Crispin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read this book before, but it was years and years ago, when I did very little analytical thinking and mostly just enjoyed reading about Han Solo shooting stuff. I had memories of the low-level Coruscant bits being longer, and the Ylesia bits being shorter, but all those aside, I still enjoyed this book.

It has romance in it, and implication, but nothing explicit, which is appropriate for the subject material. On very rare occasions, I saw what I may start calling “Emily Bronte syndrome,” in which every character was written like a female character, but for the vast majority of the time, Ms Crispin did an excellent job differentiating thought patterns among Han, Muurgh, and Bria. I appreciate that, especially given the variety of perspectives necessary to tell this story well.

I recall noting one typo, but I can’t recall where it was, now. Something minor. Other than that, it was a solid, entertaining book about a beloved character, and it explains a lot of his later personality (as exhibited in the films). I thought there were a few too many terms of endearment, and I had a few other little head-scratch moments, but nothing that broke the story or left me dissatisfied. All-in-all, recommended for fans of Star Wars.

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