Han Solo: The Hutt Gambit

August 18, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

gambitHan Solo: The Hutt Gambit by A.C. Crispin

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The Paradise Snare introduced the idea of Han Solo as an Imperial Navy pilot. It was an interesting idea, and one that helps explain why he’s such a good pilot in the movies (though it doesn’t explain why he never brings it up in the movies, but hey, this book was written 20 years after the movie, and I can live with such things), and one that I looked forward to reading about in The Hutt Gambit. Alas, this book picks up five years later, a month or so after Han has been kicked out of the Navy for striking an officer, so we don’t get to see that part of the story.

Instead, we see Han beginning his life as a smuggler proper. He’s being hunted by bounty hunters hired by the Ylesian Hutts he crossed in The Paradise Snare, while working for Jiliac and his nephew, Jabba. Chewbacca is now Han’s partner (Chewie is part of the reason Han got kicked out of the Navy), and the two of them start crossing the galaxy and getting into trouble.

The story flows pretty well, taking us through the characters’ lives, and giving us hints at what’s to come, and what’s come before. Bria makes an appearance here, though she’s a tertiary character, at best. We get a few fan-service moments throughout the story (Boba Fett, Cloud City, and Tatooine all make appearances, or are at least mentioned), and Crispin sets up the end of the novel to take us through to the third book in the series, which feels like it will be a culmination of the characters she’s introduced in the first two books.

Han feels more like Han in The Hutt Gambit, and Crispin avoids overusing “Honey” and “Sweetheart” in his speech like she did in The Paradise Snare (I don’t remember seeing a single instance of either, in fact). I felt more invested in Han and the characters around him, even though I didn’t have the kind of connection I’ve had with other characters in other books. The action is solid and well-paced, and the final battle in the book (which takes up about a quarter of the novel) is gripping and engaging.

The Hutt Gambit is a solid read, and is an improvement over the first book in this trilogy. I wouldn’t count it among my favorites, but it was worth the time, and is a stronger book than some of the newer Expanded Universe books. Despite some telly parts here and there, and taking a little too long to get to the heart of the story, the book satisfies.

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Han Solo: The Paradise Snare

August 16, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

snareHan Solo: The Paradise Snare by A.C. Crispin

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Reading the Star Wars Legends books in chronological order has been an interesting approach. Since the original writers of the Expanded Universe were asked not to write anything preceding Episode IV, most of what I’ve read in the EU so far has been the books that were written near the end of the Legends project. It’s only now that I’m getting back to the books that were written in the ’90s, when the EU became a lucrative license again. The Paradise Snare was written in 1997, several years after the Thrawn trilogy, but still a couple of years before Episode I. Reading a book written before the events that preceded it presents its own challenges, reminding me that it’s usually better to read a series in written chronological order. At the very least, it’s strange to shift from a series of books about the Empire slowly taking over every planet in the galaxy to one planet that has no concern over the Empire.

The Paradise Snare takes us back to when Han Solo is about nineteen, making a break from being part of a thieves’ gang, and starting on his own adventures as a pilot. During the time this story occurs, Han entertains notions of being a pilot for the Imperial Navy, but he first has to learn more about piloting in general. He applies for a job on the planet Ylesia. It pays well, but it requires not asking too many questions about the jobs.

The story is more romance than adventure, as Han meets a young Corellian woman on Ylesia. It doesn’t take much for him to fall for her (or her for him), but Bria is involved with a religious cult that pervades the workers on Ylesia. In order for their relationship to progress, they have to get off of the planet, but that means (a) breaking Bria out of the cult, (b) stealing enough valuables to give them money for a new life together, (c) getting Han’s ever-present guard, Muuurgh, a giant cat, to agree to the plan, and (d) stealing a ship and getting past the guards around the planet. It’s a hefty plan, and one that’s set up rather well.

My main problems with the story were that I couldn’t understand what drove Han and Bria’s relationship, and that events coincided a little too easily for the plan to work out the way it did. I’ve mentioned before that there’s a lot of coincidence in the EU, which can usually be explained away by the Force, but here it didn’t quite work since the Force wasn’t a part of this novel at all. Anyone familiar with the EU knows about it, and may write off the coincidences as the Force at work, but by itself, the novel doesn’t give much to explain how everything comes together so neatly at the end of the main plot. I can accept it and move on with the story, but I have to acknowledge it as a sticking point.

Han and Bria make a nice couple, but beyond each of them finding the other attractive, there isn’t much there to explain why they get together. We get enough backstory on each of them to understand they feel a connection, but it’s not defined well enough to build their relationship. It feels superficial, and since the story is primarily about the two of them as a couple, it feels incomplete.

Crispin works hard to give us hints at the character Han will become — he’s jaded, works on his own, is fiercely loyal to his friends, and calls Bria “Honey” or “Sweetheart” almost exclusively — but I never felt like I was watching Han Solo. I get that he’s younger, and still growing into who he will become, but it was enough of a disconnect that I sometimes felt I was reading a novel set outside the world of Star Wars.

For all that being said, I was caught up in the story, and read the last half of the book over one sitting. Even if the events were too much of a coincidence, and even if the relationship felt shallow, Crispin still kept me engaged enough to feel the tension of the story. The main action ended about 100 pages from the end of the book, so there was more to tell outside of the planetbreak, but even then, I was hooked enough to want to see it through to the end.

The Paradise Snare reminds me more of Beverly Hills 90210 than Star Wars, but it’s still a decent enough read. Crispin’s style is natural and engrossing, and her action sequences are easy to follow, it just isn’t the kind of book I would expect for Star Wars. That point aside, though, this is a solid read and a nice segueway from the new EU to the classic EU.

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Dark Disciple

August 15, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

discipleDark Disciple by Christie Golden

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After The Last Jedi, I decided to jump ahead to the new canon novels and start on those. I figured it would be a good way to stay on top of the new movies as they come out, and also that, since there were fewer volumes, I could feel like I accomplished something with them this year. Dark Disciple was a bad place to start, namely because I haven’t finished watching all of The Clone Wars yet.

Dark Disciple, if you don’t know, is based on eight unproduced episodes of The Clone Wars, written by Katie Lucas, adapted by Golden. The premise of the book is the Jedi Council has decided the best thing to do regarding Count Dooku is to kill him. Obi-Wan suggests Quinlan Vos be the one to do the deed, and sends him in search of Asajj Ventress, a wanted criminal by the Jedi who has been cast out by Dooku and is likely to want revenge, to train Vos and help him get close to Dooku.

Since I wasn’t too fond of the book, it’s hard to know where to point my criticism. It makes sense to point it toward Lucas, since most of what I didn’t like have to do with the story, not with how it was written.

I had a lot of issues with the plot, but most of them stem from the fact that no one in the book acts like you would expect. We have the Jedi Council calling for assassinations, Yoda himself calling for executions, and Ventress showing her human side. None of these characters have been presented in other works as being anything like they are in this novel, and it was hard to accept the main premise of the story because of that. Vos and Ventress fall in love over the course of their story, which was at odds to both of their characters (a Jedi spurns attachment, and Ventress … well, she’s Ventress; she doesn’t trust anyone), but those are the two plots that drive the story forward. When it’s hard to accept the actions and motivations of the characters, how can we be invested in the story?

The narrative moves along at a pretty good clip, sometimes going too fast to get a sense of emotion. Early in the novel, there’s a scene where the Jedi suffer a tremendous loss, which is what spurns them to plan the assassination at all. It’s key, and it serves its purpose, but once it’s done that, Golden doesn’t come back to it at all. For as pivotal a moment as it is in the story, I expected more introspection and contemplation about it, especially from the Jedi.

I wasn’t paying close enough attention through the book to find any Easter eggs (and I still don’t know enough about the Clone Wars to catch anything from the show), but I did notice near the end of the book that one of the clones was named Threepwood. That was a nice surprise.

The edition I read included a short story by Golden, “Kindred Spirits”, about Ventriss and Lassa Rhayme, a female pirate. Together, they retrieve some goods that were stolen from Rhayme, one of which is an item Ventriss needs to collect a bounty. It was about as decent as any other Star Wars story, but that’s not saying much. I have yet to read one that feels necessary.

I’m going to shift back to the Legends books after Dark Disciple. I think I could get away with skipping some of the books that might spoil the shows I have yet to see, but it looks like some of the books in the middle are based off of Rebels, too, so I figure I should play it safe and not run the risk of spoiling either show.

Star Wars Progress
Total Read: 110
Total Legends: 104
Total Canon: 6
Total Percentage: 36.4%

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A New Hope: The Life of Luke Skywalker

August 9, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

lukeA New Hope: The Life of Luke Skywalker by Ryder Windham

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When I set out on this Star Wars reading project, I decided against including all of the novelizations of other works, save for the adult novelizations of the movies. It cut out a lot of the juvenile books, since most of them were retellings of even the adult novels, but it appears that a few of them squeezed through the cracks. Ryder Windham’s biographies of the characters are a few of those.

For the most part, the books have been entertaining, and in some ways even enlightening (it’s nice to get Obi-Wan’s viewpoint when he first talks to Luke about Anakin and Darth Vader in The Life and Legend of Obi-Wan Kenobi), but they’ve been a collection of details from other works. The Life of Luke Skywalker collects dialogue and scenes from Star Wars, the radio plays, some comics, and even a novel from the Legends Expanded Universe, so very little of the content is original. Windham borrows from these sources to build a single story of Luke, but what he chooses to include and exclude seems odd. The largest details are left out (those from Episodes IVVI), and some scenes are hastened through, as if he were trying to cram as much as possible into the story. As a result, the story doesn’t feel cohesive, or even complete.

This is the last of the biographies written by Windham, the others being about Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, and Darth Maul (no love for Leia there, I guess), but none of them have felt necessary. With the earlier books, I thought they would serve a purpose as an introduction into the larger works, but now that I’ve read one where I don’t know some of the details Windham covers, I can see that it only causes confusion. I’d skip over these if I were to do this project over again.

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The Last Jedi

July 31, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

lastThe Last Jedi by Michael Reaves and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

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It’s weird returning to an adult Star Wars book after having read so many juvenile books previously. It makes the differences between the two literature stand out, since the simplified storytelling of the juvenile books makes for such quick, easy reads. Plus, the shorter lengths of the juvenile books meant there weren’t many subplots; with The Last Jedi, they’re more prominent.

Reaves returns to his usual cast of characters with The Last Jedi, bringing back Jax Pavan, I-5YQ, and Den Dhur, all of whom featured in the Coruscant Nights series. In fact, it follows the events of Patterns of Force so much that I’m surprised it’s not a part of that series. In this book, Thi Xon Yimmon, Jedi Knight and leader of the Whiplash rebellion group, is kidnapped by Darth Vader, and Jax goes on a long journey to get him back. Jax also loses Laranth in the same confrontation where Yimmon is kidnapped, so he’s entertaining dark thoughts, and is tempted by the dark side, especially since he has a Sith holocron in his possession. Jax struggles to balance the Force within himself, and for most of the novel, he’s doing his own thing, without any input from I-5 or Den.

Part of what made Reaves’ other Expanded Universe novels interesting was his use of these central characters, building on and developing their characters from one story to the next. From I-5’s sardonic quips to Den’s pessimistic outlook, with Jax trying to manage the entire group despite all of that, the characters were engaging and served as the anchor for the stories. By dividing them in this book, Reaves removes the key to his story, and it’s a lot less interesting for it. Jax travels from place to place trying to locate and rescue Yimmon, and sometimes I-5 and Den are with him, and sometimes they aren’t. In fact, for as much as I-5 and Den actually serve a purpose in the book, they may as well not even have been featured at all.

For as lengthy as this book is (460 pages), not much happens. There’s a lot of traveling, a lot of backtracking, and a lot of angst-ridden introspection that carries the story, and frankly it’s pretty boring. Under different circumstances, it might not have bothered me much, but after reading the cleaner, more direct juvenile books, The Last Jedi wasn’t the right book to ease me back in to reading the adult books. I’ve been toying with shifting my attention to the new canon books and reading those to stay on top of the new movies, and this might be a good time to make that shift. I’ve made my way through and beyond the prequel trilogies, and the next book I have to read is from the older wave of EU novels. I believe my next read in this project will be Catalyst.

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The Last of the Jedi: Reckoning

July 26, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

reckoningThe Last of the Jedi: Reckoning by Jude Watson

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Ferus, one of the last of the Jedi, finally confronts Vader. At the same time, the truth regarding Flame, the mysterious benefactor of the rebellion, is revealed. Ferus also confronts Obi-Wan over his long-term mission, and gets to ask him all the questions we’ve been asking for the entire series. In short, the main plot points of the entire series come to the front here, and the main characters all get a chance to have their reckoning.

I’ve said in other reviews that this series feels more like one long novel instead of a series of novels featuring the same character, and now that I’ve finished the series, I feel that even more strongly. The characters have time to develop from book to book, and even when Watson borrows characters from her other books, or introduces a character we already know enough about without giving us much background (e.g., Bail Organa), they feel real and developed. The later novels are much better than the ones at the beginning of the series, but given how the plot develops, this is no surprise.

With Reckoning, Watson brings The Last of the Jedi — and her foray into the Expanded Universe — to a close, and she does it well. She gives real emotion to her characters, and gets the reader to feel for how things end. Over the ten books, the real connection has been Ferus and Trever’s relationship, and here she brings it to a bittersweet end. For me, that makes the book stronger, and the series one of the best of the juvenile books I’ve read thus far.

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The Last of the Jedi: Master of Deception

July 25, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

deceptionThe Last of the Jedi: Master of Deception by Jude Watson

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Master of Deception takes us to Alderaan, and brings Bail Organa to the front of the story. Ferus, still working for the Empire, is sent to investigate reports of a Force-sensitive child. We already know the reports are accurate, since we know Leia is on Alderaan, but Ferus, still working as a double-agent, works against the reports, trying to downplay the findings.

I find Bail’s character to be one of the more interesting in the Expanded Universe. I feel like he received short shrift in the movies, but he’s been developed into a real character in the EU. His honor and nobility, and his working behind the scenes to try to undermine the Empire, strikes a chord with me. The story continues to show Ferus as he struggles with succumbing to the Dark Side of the Force, but the individual story here shines through the larger story for a change. It’s win-win for me, since I find the larger story to be more compelling, but I also found the main plot of this book to be as interesting.

I have one more book to go in the series, and I’m certainly not going to stop, even if I weren’t already committed to reading all of the EU novels. I get the feeling the overarching plot will be the primary focus of the last novel, and I’m eager to see how Watson pulls it off. She’s been able to portray real emotion with her characters, and with all that could happen in the last novel, I expect it will be a strong conclusion.

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The Last of the Jedi: Against the Empire

July 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

againstThe Last of the Jedi: Against the Empire by Jude Watson

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Against the Empire makes a shift in the focus of the series, as Trever becomes the main character for a bit. Once Lune has been enrolled in the Imperial Navy Academy, Trever infiltrates the Academy himself in the hopes to break him out. Of course, it’s not that easy (when is it ever?), and to make it even more difficult, Watson brings back one her most despicable characters — Jenna Zan Arbor.

At the same time, Ferus is struggling with the power of the Dark Side. He’s given over to hate after Vader kills Roan, and now that Palpatine has shown him the power of the Dark Side, he finds himself wanting to kill Vader. He knows what that means, but he struggles to find his balance between the rebellion, playing the Empire, and exacting revenge. It’s some good development, and makes for good storytelling.

I’ve seen a previous review noting that Ferus and Roan’s close relationship suggests they were more than friends, and while I can see where that reviewer is coming from, I find it troubling that two male friends can be that close without having readers think they’re gay. I don’t have a problem with a gay relationship in Star Wars (I feel the need to point that out, since several readers were offended by it in the Aftermath trilogy), but I also feel like it shouldn’t be assumed unless explicitly stated.

I’m still enjoying this series a lot more than I expected. It gets better as it goes, which reinforces my feeling that this series is really just one long novel, broken into parts. I think it works better that way, since the characters are given more space to develop, and I’m excited to see how this is going to end. It’s only been with the last five or six books where I’ve been that caught up in the story.

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The Last of the Jedi: Secret Weapon

July 21, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

secretThe Last of the Jedi: Secret Weapon by Jude Watson

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The Last of the Jedi keeps playing with issues of trust. Watson’s other series have done this, too, since most of the books feature a traitor, but here she’s showing us how that trust affects an internal group. At issue is Ferus’ allegiance: Is it with the rebellion, or the Empire? Playing a double-agent, his conspirators in the rebellion aren’t sure what to think, especially as he becomes more and more the public enforcer for Palpatine’s rule.

The good news is this theme of trust and friendship and loyalty makes for an engaging read. I’ve bumped up my rating of the series with this book, as it starts to take on heavier meaning. I’ve mentioned already that the books feel more like chapters of a larger novel, making the entire series one long story instead of having it be several novels concerning the same characters. While each book has its own conflict, the real plot of the series is that of Ferus and his friends working to build the rebellion. I’m glad I’ve been able to read these books back-to-back, as the singular nature of the entire series is more apparent that way.

The “Secret Weapon” mentioned in the title is pretty obvious to everyone reading the book — it’s the Death Star. It’s odd how Watson (and, admittedly, other writers in the Expanded Universe) dances around this and other plot points that we already know about. Why not work with that knowledge and make it more obvious? There’s no sense in being coy, especially when we get a few chapters from Vader’s perspective.

I have a renewed interest in this series. When I first started reading it, I was looking at it as more books to finish before I could get back to the adult Expanded Universe books, but Watson has surprised me. I’m finding myself reading them because I’m engaged in the characters, and why else should someone read a novel?

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The Last of the Jedi: Return of the Dark Side

July 20, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

darkThe Last of the Jedi: Return of the Dark Side by Jude Watson

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Return of the Dark Side continues with the story begun in A Tangled Web, where Ferus has become a double-agent for the Empire, serving the Emperor as he hopes to assist the rebellion. Palpatine continues to have Ferus work for him, but given his methods of coercion — threatening to execute his captrured friends — it’s hard for Ferus to say no. The difficulty is in Palpatine offering him training in how to command the Dark Side of the Force. At the same time, a new character joins the rebellion, promising funding for combining all of the small rebellion groups on different planets. The only problem is Ferus doesn’t know if he can trust her.

The series is definitely improving as it moves forward. With Obi-Wan no longer being a central part of the story, and with Ferus working both sides of the war, the focus shifts, and the characters become more interesting. Like most of Watson’s other Expanded Universe books, one of the main themes is in knowing who to trust and anticipating who the traitor will be, but since it’s not a pervasive theme from book to book, it’s less formulaic than it was in her other novels. The way she develops her characters from book to book, though, is where she shines, specifically in the relationship between Trever and Ferus. Now that they’re separated more, and now that Ferus is working for the Empire, their relationship becomes more conflicted, creating more drama. It works well.

I’m beginning to enjoy this series more than Watson’s other EU series. They’re all good, and worthy of reading even if you’re not the intended audience’s age, but The Last of the Jedi feels more serious. She’s playing with heavier themes, and defining what it means to be a Jedi by showing the conflicts Ferus feels by being a double agent. It makes for a good story, and keeps me wanting to read the entire series at once.

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