Han Solo: Rebel Dawn

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

rebelHan Solo: Rebel Dawn by A.C. Crispin


With Rebel Dawn, Crispin gives us a Han Solo with which we’re familiar. It makes sense (this is the closest we get to the events in Star Wars, so he ought to be by now), but in the previous books, we only see hints of him. Still, Crispin is showing us Han’s development, so seeing hints in the previous books is to be expected.

Rebel Dawn also takes us back to the plot that started this trilogy: Bria; and the drug trade on Ylesia. More to the point, we finally get closure on the relationship between Han and Bria that began in The Paradise Snare, while we see what becomes of that drug trade some ten years later. We get to see characters who have featured in the other two books, and we also get to connect this story with some of the events that are mentioned in Star Wars. Specifically, we see how Han wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando, and we see the events that led to Han dumping the spice that put him on Jabba’s bad side.

The thing is, Crispin moves so quickly through those events that if you blink, you might miss them. These are seminal moments in the world of Star Wars, and I would have liked to have seen more time devoted to them. Instead, we get a lot of backstory for other characters, enough so that Han doesn’t feature for a good third of the story, save for a few interludes to keep us posted on what’s going on with him. Near the end of the book, we do get a definitive answer about the apparent misuse of the word “parsec” regarding the Kessel Run, which is nice. If anyone tries to raise that argument with you again, just point them to this book for clarification.

I noticed in this book that Crispin tells a lot, which hurts her characterization. The characters were still drawn well, but some scenes felt emotionless, when they should have been key moments where the reader should have felt something for the characters. Instead, we get a sense of their feelings, even when we should be feeling grief or anger over what’s happening.

The trilogy is strong, but I can’t help but feel like it could have been so much more. Crispin spins a good tale, and I powered through the last half of this book in one day, but it lacked the OOMPH that would have made this a great series. Still, it ranks among the better books in the Expanded Universe, and I’d recommend it for folks wanting to delve outside the movies to see what else the EU has to offer.


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Death Star

October 4, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

Death Star by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry


starI’ll give you two guesses at this book’s subject, and that’s only if you even need the second one. On the one hand, the book has a dull title that evokes nothing other than its subject; on the other hand, at least it’s not as ridiculous as The Starcave of ThonBoka. Even the one-word titles — Kenobi, Tarkin, and Thrawn — suggest more than this book’s title does.

The book is better than its title suggests. Reaves and Perry create a wide, diverse cast of characters, all of whom are involved with the construction of the Death Star. We begin a good way into its construction, and since the book was written after the end of Revenge of the Sith, the story follows from what was established in the prequels, while also tapping into the events from Star Wars. The authors do a good job of placing the story firmly in between, bridging the gap between the two stories.

Because the story butts up against Star Wars, we have a few characters who are already familiar to us — Darth Vader and Wilhuff Tarkin being the biggest. It’s impossible to escape having them be a part of the story, and the authors do a good job of characterizing them appropriately (Tarkin comes across as even more ruthless), but there seemed to be a strong vein of fan service, too.

I was all set to give the book four stars, because the book succeeds in telling a decent story while giving us additional background into the Expanded Universe, but then the authors had to go and make the ending melodramatic and pat at the same time. There were also moments in the story where you could have put money on who wasn’t going to make it out alive. I’ve started to notice that when an author creates a character who has so much to lose, there’s a good chance they’re goners.

Death Star is a good read. If the authors had handled the ending differently, I would recommend it as one of the stronger EU novels, but as it is, it merely rises to the top of the mediocre books.

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The Force Unleashed

September 27, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

forceThe Force Unleashed by Sean Williams


I’ve only read one other novelization of a video game: The Dig by Alan Dean Foster. It made sense that it could be translated to a novel easily enough, since it was a graphic adventure game that had its own plot. The Force Unleashed is another novelization of a video game, and it’s less than impressive.

The story is about Starkiller, a powerful Force user trained by Darth Vader himself as an apprentice so the two of them can kill the Emperor and rule the galaxy together. Starkiller isn’t even his real name, either; oftentimes he’s just referred to as “the apprentice”, which was distracting and somewhat annoying. Amid missions, Starkiller is also searching for his identity, while he jets around the galaxy with his training droid and a pilot.

The main problem is that the game is a series of missions where the player has to achieve a particular goal in each one. Williams approaches the novel in the same way, giving us sections of missions, each part of a larger story, but the larger story seems inconsequential compared to the individual missions. The missions themselves are fine — they each have a distinct beginning and end — but the overall book feels lackluster because we shift focus so often.

In addition, the characters don’t make a lot of sense. Starkiller is a powerful Force user, clearly serving the dark side, but the story wants to show some redemption. I might be misremembering parts of the story, but it seems like his saving grace is that he hasn’t killed anyone yet, and it’s that act that will truly take him to the dark side. For him to have been trained by Vader, though (and for how long? In this point in the chronology, it seems like Vader has only been ruling for a few years, but this is our first time seeing Starkiller, who’s been apprenticed to him since he was an infant), it’s hard to believe that the opportunity hasn’t come up yet.

The ending of the story also contradicts the canon (even outside of Legends versus Canon), in that the entire story has been a plot for Starkiller to find and reveal the key players in the Rebellion, Bail Organa among them. By comparison, it seems odd that Vader plays a cat-and-mouse game with Leia in Star Wars when he already knows her role in the Rebellion, according to this book. I get that the movie came first, but I wonder why the story tried to shoehorn such a major character into the canon, especially when it didn’t jive with what already existed. None of this is Williams’ fault, either, since he was writing a novel using someone else’s story.

Maybe the game is interesting, but as a novel, The Force Unleashed is disappointing. There’s another book down the line, which is the novelization of the sequel to this game, and I’m hoping it will improve, but if the author is going to have to follow the game script, I imagine it will be more of the same. We’ll see.

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Darth Vader: End of Games

September 22, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

endDarth Vader: End of Games by Kieron Gillen, et al.


End of Games brings the saga of Darth Vader between the events of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back to a close. Throughout the series, Vader has been pursuing his own agenda while following the Emperor’s orders, and in this final volume, it all comes together with his final showdown with Cylo, his rival against the Emperor. Everything — Vader’s apprenticeship to the Emperor, Doctor Aphra’s role in Vader’s plans, even the fate of the two murderous droids — comes to a conclusion here, so I’m sure anticipation is high.

The thing is, I could barely get interested in any of it. I’m in the minority in that I didn’t find this series to be interesting at all, but so much of what happens here is forgettable. What makes it even more regrettable is that there’s a decent attempt at bridging the gap between the first two movies in the saga, but the characters feel too wooden, too unrealized to draw the reader in. Plus, I feel like I’m the only one who finds Triple Zero and BeeTee to be more annoying than anything else, so that’s not helping, either.

I know a lot of people like the Darth Vader comic, but I’m not in that group. I haven’t given up on the new Marvel titles all together (for one, I bought a bunch of the ebooks when they were on sale; for another, one of the titles is written by Marjorie Liu, and Cullen Bunn helms another one), but as a starting point, Darth Vader isn’t recommended. Even when my expectations has been lowered, I was still disappointed in them.

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Darth Vader: The Shu-Torun War

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

shuDarth Vader: The Shu-Torun War by Kieron Gillen, et al.


The Darth Vader comic series hasn’t impressed me much so far. The stories don’t feel memorable, the art feels too static, and the backstory it’s supposed to fill doesn’t feel significant. It’s supposed to bridge the time between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, showing us how Vader comes to find Luke is his son, but it focuses a lot on other things, including two murderous versions of C-3PO and R2-D2. People seem to love those two droids, but they get on my nerves. They’re trying too hard to be the complete opposite of those two characters, and still maintain that same sort of charm. It’s terrible.

The Shu-Torun War, though, is a different sort of story. It avoids the whole Luke subplot all together, instead telling us of a civil war on Shu-Torun, a mining planet that’s crucial for the Empire to control to build its ships and Death Stars. Vader steps in to control that civil war, only to find himself immersed in the culture and politics of the planet. Once he’s in control of the planet, he still has to control the situation, and that’s where the heart of the story lies.

Aside from the story showing how the civil war develops (and ends), this collection also shows how dangerous Vader is. Gillen captures the character well, showing him as ruthless, unsentimental, cool, and in control, without showing him as emotionless. The Shu-Torun War gives the character a focus outside of trying to find Luke or rule the galaxy; it’s a microcosmic story that has its own arc within the world of Star Wars without the baggage of being a part of the larger story.

I’m still not wild about the art in the series, though it’s detailed and fine. I just wish it managed to convey a sense of action better. There’s a scene near the start of the book where a shuttle crashes into a building, right above Vader’s head, and it looks like a movie still instead of showing any real sense of danger or action. It just is, and it’s disappointing. I don’t know enough about the art of writing comics to know how other writers and artists do it, but this series is the first time I’ve noticed it.

If I were to recommend any single story arc out of the Darth Vader series, this would be it. I think readers could get by with reading just this collection and not lose too much (Doctor Aphra goes missing during the events of Vader Down, so she doesn’t need to be explained, and the two murderous droids aren’t as present in the story), though they may be tempted to read the rest just to get the rest of the story. I don’t recommend it, but I can see readers wanting to do it.

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Vader Down

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

downVader Down by Jason Aaron, et al.


Vader Down is one of those most dreaded comic book events: The Crossover. It’s a story that begins with a one-shot comic and then takes us over multiple titles (in this case the Star Wars and Darth Vader Marvel comics) to tell a complete story. Normally, these kinds of events drive me crazy, but Marvel at least had the sense to collect all the different parts together into a single graphic novel.

I hadn’t planned on reading any more of the Vader comics after reading the first two collections, but Amazon had a sale on a lot of Star Wars comic ebooks on May 4th, and my weakness got the better of me. Luckily, Vader Down takes place between the second and third volumes in that series, so I at least read it in the right place.

Vader Down is about Vader finally encountering Luke after the Battle at Yavin at the end of the first movie. They engage in battle over a planet, and then both crash-land onto said planet, though far enough away from each other that they don’t meet face-to-face. The story becomes about their rescue, Luke by Leia and Han, Vader by Doctor Aphra and the two killer droids. It’s not the greatest story, but it gives us more insight into their encounter in The Empire Strikes Back.

This collection is largely forgettable, but it’s intended for people who are current in both the Darth Vader and Star Wars titles. I wasn’t lost, as far as the plot was concerned, but I did feel like I was missing something in the sections of the story that featured in Star Wars. This is another reason I’m not wild about crossover events.

Like the first two Darth Vader collections, the artwork in Vader Down struck me as static, especially in the action sequences. I didn’t get a sense of activity from one panel to the next; instead, it was like I was viewing stills from a movie than an actual movie, which isn’t something I usually get from graphic novels. The artwork is great, and detailed, but it didn’t suggest movement as much as I would have expected. In that sense, it didn’t help the story much at all.

So far, I’ve not been impressed with the new Star Wars comics, but I’ve only read one of them. I look forward to reading the Han Solo title by Marjorie Liu and the Darth Maul title by Cullen Bunn, namely because I like what the writers have done outside of Star Wars. I still have two more volumes to go with the Darth Vader series, but I’ll be reading them more out of obligation than I will anticipation.

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Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka

September 4, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

lando3Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka by L. Neil Smith


I wasn’t holding out hope that the series would improve with its final book, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s just as boring and inconsequential as the previous books, and about as much a part of the Star Wars universe as a Clint Eastwood movie.

The antagonist from the previous two books, Rokur Gepta (no, I didn’t remember his name; I had to write it down so I’d remember to mention him by name) appears again, confirming that he was going to be the antagonist for the series. Lando defeats him in a battle that spans three pages. The next time someone asks me for an example of “anticlimactic”, this will be the one I use.

Absent from this book: characterization; showing; anything else related to the Star Wars universe. He also makes another reference to “Another time and place”, referring to Earth, thus breaking the illusion of the story (such as it is).

None of these books have been well written. I glossed over so much of the narrative, realizing that I had read a couple of pages without getting any of it. I didn’t care enough to go back to re-read it. It wasn’t worth it.

My favorite quote from the book was “CEASE FIRE OR BE DESTROYED! THERE WILL BE NO SECOND WARNING!” because it was, in fact, a second warning. The first one had come on the previous page.

Don’t read these books. Before this trilogy, I was convinced that Aftermath was the worst of the books, but Smith raised the bar a bit further. Short they may be, but it will still take a few days to finish them, and you’ll hate every minute of it.

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Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon

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

lando2Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon by L. Neil Smith


When I started my Star Wars reading project, I was determined to read all the books, good or bad. Well, I’ve certainly stumbled right into the “bad” spectrum with these Lando Calrissian books. It’s no surprise that the Exanded Universe books took until the early ’90s to get going, because if these books represented the non-movie stories of the Star Wars universe, it deserved a quick death.

Aside from the titles of these books, which seem to have been created with combining random words from the dictionary and a box of Alpha-Bits, the stories are as dull as a fake sword. There are hints that Smith understands the character of Lando as he’s presented in the movies, but then he has him be mostly passive about the events and let outside influences move him forward. Vuffi Raa, his sidekick, is the one who keeps Lando moving forward (and alive), since Lando is mostly interested in playing Sabacc and smoking cigars.

The Flamewind of the title is (I think) a solar-system-wide aurora that can have detrimental effects on beings who travel through it, so the main plot is that Lando has to fly through it to accomplish a mission he’s been forced into. The antagonist from the previous novel appears again, suggesting that the entire trilogy will have him as a recurring plot, and he’s a central part of this book’s plot. It doesn’t help that he’s a Snidely Whiplash sort of character, all but twisting his mustache as he laughs maniacally. It’s a bit heavy handed; give me a character with nuance and substance, not cliched traits.

As before, there’s almost no characterization to the book, and there’s far too much telling going on. Smith continues to reference too many real-world things, though that may be due to it being written so early in the Expanded Universe, before terms like “transparisteel” replaced “glass” and “death sticks” replaced “cigarettes”. Still, it’s odd, and breaks the illusion of the story, when he has a spacecraft complete what he calls, “in another time and place”, the Immelman turn. I feel like the author is either showing off how much he knows about aerial maneuvers, or bring lazy and telling us what happens instead of describing the move.

The books don’t even feel much like Star Wars, since there’s no mention of much to connect us to the movies. Lando’s name, as well as a few references to the Empire and the Emperor, are it. There’s no Force, no rebel alliance, nothing to remind us that this is the Star Wars universe. On the one hand, it’s refreshing, since we rarely see non-Jedi characters as the focus of the EU; on the other hand, these books are so boring and tedious that it’s not worth reading them.

About the only think I like about these stories is Vuffi Raa, who feels more like a human character than Lando does. There’s a part of me that’s hoping Vuffi will become Lobot in the third book, tying the two trusted sidekicks together, but I get the feeling Smith isn’t concerned with that kind of thing. Instead, we’ll get paragraphs of pointless description and plots as thin as an after-dinner mint.

Seriously, these books aren’t worth reading. They might have been more interesting had I read them during their time, but in retrospect, they represent the worst of science fiction. Even people who feel the need to read all of the EU books should skip these.

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The Adventures of Lando Calrissian: Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu

August 23, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

sharuThe Adventures of Lando Calrissian: Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu by L. Neil Smith


I originally had this book as part of the most recent omnibus printing, but while browsing a used bookstore, I found all three of these (and the Han Solo Adventures!) in their original edition, and I had to have them. Not only did I remember seeing these books when I was a kid, but I’m also knocked out by that artwork. I mean, check it out! How can you not like that style?

Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the book itself. On the bright side, Aftermath is no longer the worst book I’ve read in the Expanded Universe, but reading this book was a bit of a chore. It’s overwrought, it meanders, and it makes little sense. Plus, for a book that’s supposed to be about Lando Calrissian, it does a terrible job capturing his character. The book opens with him playing a game of Sabacc (which, I should note, was introduced in this book), but then it develops into him being roped into an adventure where he has to find the Mindharp of Sharu, but even now, having just finished the book, I’m not sure I can tell you exactly what that is. Let’s just call it what it is: a McGuffin.

I’m willing to give the book some leeway in how it approaches the EU (it was, after all, only the fifth novel written outside of the movies themselves), but there were parts of it that just didn’t work in the universe. Namely, Smith refers to a lot of things in the universe with our names for them: trombones, air-conditioning, and needlepoint, to name just a few. He does make an effort to come up with new names for a few things (“coffeine” is one I recall), but for the most part, the book feels like it was written outside of Star Wars and then retconned back into place to make it fit his purposes.

Smith also has a penchant for alliteration. Take this example, from page two: “Oseon 2795 was a pocket of purity in a plutocrat’s paradise.” Upon reading it, my first thought was, “Really?”, but later I had to tell myself, “Really.”, because there was a sentence like that in at least every chapter. At one point, he has a character speak the line, with Lando commenting on it, but by then it was just annoying. It felt like Smith was trying too hard.

The plot is just barely there, as are the characters. Lando has a droid sidekick for most of the story, Vuffi Raa, who is actually the most realized character of the entire book. Lando’s a bit puffed up, a bit too self-important, but not in the same way he was in the movies. Smith forgets to include the charm that Billy Dee Williams brought to the character, and like I said above, for a story that’s supposed to tell Lando’s backstory, it sure doesn’t feel like the author captured the character well at all.

I said in the beginning that I was going to read all the EU books, and I still plan on doing so, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series. At the very least, I’ll be prepared for them. I guess they can’t get any worse, right?

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Han Solo: The Hutt Gambit

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

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


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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