Darth Vader: Vader

June 21, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

vaderDarth Vader: Vader by Kieron Gillen, et al.

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I’ve heard a lot of good things about this title, enough so that I bought the first two volumes when I found them on sale for Kindle. I wasn’t expecting them to be Watchmen-level good, but I figured they might be entertaining. What I didn’t take into account is the main character being Darth Vader, stone-cold killer and all-around totally unlikable dude. Considering this arc takes place between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, I should have realized there wasn’t going to be much sympathy for the character here.

The first volume follows Vader shortly after the destruction of the Death Star, when he has to face Sidious and own up to his failings. He’s sent on a task to meet with Jabba the Hutt, and while there, he arranges for two bounty hunters to do some work for him: one to find out who it was who destroyed the Death Star; and the other to find the identity of the person who may serve as Vader’s replacement (and since the Star Wars universe is lousy with recurring characters, of course one of the bounty hunters is Boba Fett).

There’s not a lot of tension to the story, since it’s hard for us to care about either Vader or Sidious. We see the beginnings of Vader’s feelings toward Sidious, as he feels betrayed when a potential replacement comes into the picture, but even that isn’t enough to make us sympathetic to him. Gillen brings in a secondary character through a chatty archaeologist who pilots Vader around the galaxy, and I couldn’t understand why she hooked up with him. Vader has no love for history as it happened, so why would an archaeologist choose to help him? It might have been different if she had been forced, but she seems cool with helping him, just because he’s on the winning side. Plus, when she’s introduced, she appears to be a carbon copy of Indiana Jones, right down to her dialogue.

It might have been a better read if the artwork had supported the story, but for all the action the story has, the artwork feels static. It’s clear, and shows what happens, but it doesn’t feel like there’s any motion from panel to panel. Instead, it feels like we’re reading dialogue over snapshots of action. I’m not sure what it is about the art that makes it feel this way, but it’s the first comic I’ve read that does.

I’ll go ahead and finish volume two of the series (I already bought it, and it only took an hour to read this one), but I don’t expect much from it, and I don’t expect it will inspire me to read the other two volumes. I’m not sure what it is I’m missing, but it’s far from the story the reviews led me to believe it would be.

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Aftermath: Empire’s End

June 15, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

endAftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig

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Before starting this book, I intended to refresh myself on what came before by reading the plot summaries on the Wookieepedia. This was a mistake. I barely had the patience to get through the summary of Part One of Aftermath, because the entire summary is 4,819 words. Take that and add it to the length of the summary for Life Debt (3,954 words), and you have enough words for a novelette. It’s pretty clear: lots of stuff happens in this series.

For all that happens, though, reading the series is a tremendous chore. There’s so much happening, and there are so many characters, it’s hard to keep up with the plot. The interludes don’t help, since Wendig feels the need to cram as many characters into this story as he can. He even brings Jar Jar back into the story, and I hear that the new canon is trying to distance itself as much as possible from the prequel trilogies.

The book ends the trilogy that’s intended to bridge the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, but it only takes us a little of the way toward the latter story. It sets things in motion, but the real focus of the trilogy is to show how the Empire doesn’t just fade away when the credits roll at the end of Jedi, and how much it takes to actually eliminate the threat. Along the way, Wendig introduces us to new characters with their own trials, and those trials come to a close in the book.

The biggest event of the book is that we finally get to Jakku to see the battle between the Empire and the New Republic. We get to see why there is so much debris on the planet, and what made it important to the Empire overall. I have to give credit to Wendig for writing some engaging action scenes involving this battle. I went into this book expecting to be disappointed, and I think it helped me appreciate the story a bit more. I’m not going to seek out Wendig’s other books, mind you, but I at least was able to recognize that he could get a few things right.

Character names, however, are not one of those things. I’m used to character names in the Expanded Universe sounding like they were made by shaking a box of Alpha-Bits, but Tolwar Wartol? Come on. This smacks of just giving up on creating a new name. Near the end of the story, Wendig tries to make a joke out of it, but it’s a little too late, and if he’s trying to be sly, instead it comes across as being obnoxious.

Wendig doesn’t give us the whole picture of his story, even when it doesn’t affect the narrative for him to do so. There’s an important scene near the middle of the book where it feels like the entire plot has fallen apart, but then fifty pages later, it’s revealed that it wasn’t the end of that particular point, and it’s told to us in an “Oh, didn’t you already know that?” sort of tone. It’s like we’re learning to play a game from Wendig, but he only tells us the rules we’re supposed to know when we come across a situation where they benefit him the most.

I powered through this book only because I committed to reading everything in the EU. After the painful experience of reading Aftermath, and then following it up with the even worse Life Debt, I would have passed on this book all together save for that commitment. I do think this is the best book in the trilogy, but this is sort of like saying The Phantom Menace is the best of the prequel trilogy movies; it may be true, but that’s not to say it’s going to win any major awards.

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Boba Fett: Pursuit

May 24, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

pursuitBoba Fett: Pursuit by Elizabeth Hand

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Major spoilers ahead. Be forewarned.

What a wreck of a novel. It picks up from the events in A New Threat and keeps going, but there doesn’t seem to be any coherence as to where the story is going. We get a little bit of Boba, a bit of Anakin, a touch of Dooku and Palpatine, and some Coruscant, tied in with the two main threads that have been woven into the series — Boba’s vendetta against Mace Windu and his knowledge of Tyranus and Dooku being the same person — are just written off without complication. Plus, the main plot of the last two books, that of capturing Wat Tambor, is also dismissed. It’s anticlimactic, and problematic in other ways.

Boba talks to himself a lot, which seems like a horrible trait for a bounty hunter to have. I get why it’s there, narratively (so the reader can know what he’s thinking), but why not have him think those things instead of speaking them aloud? I mean, sure, I mutter to myself when I’m debugging my code, but to me there’s a huge difference between that and carrying on a monologue with oneself while, say, piloting a ship during a space battle.

I mentioned in the previous books how Boba making friends seemed at odds to his character, but if Hand brings them in, she should stick with it. Pursuit concludes the entire series, and we only get a mention of Gab’borah and Ygabba, with Boba riding off into deep space without a thought of returning to Jabba’s palace to speak to them. This was after the two of them repaired Jango’s body armor to give to Boba as a gift! I guess this makes him the selfish, calculating bounty hunter that he’s supposed to become later?

For five books, Boba has talked about killing Mace Windu, and the showdown finally happens here. Disregarding the fact that Boba couldn’t possibly, under any circumstances, take down Mace Windu, and that Mace wouldn’t tolerate some young upstart trying to kill him in Palpatine’s chambers, the whole thing comes to a close thanks to Palpatine’s intervention. Nobody dies (which we already know), but Boba leaves the chambers seemingly fine with not taking his revenge. So the one big motivating factor of the entire series is dismissed without thought.

For that matter, when Boba finally tells Palpatine that Tyranus and Dooku are the same person, Palpatine just says “I know”, and then reveals that he’s working against the Republic. Boba’s cool with it, Palpatine’s cool with it (after saying “I trust you to keep this to yourself”), and the universe goes on. What the crap is that about? Why didn’t Palpatine straight up execute Boba once he knew he knew his secret? Did I miss something there?

Finally: Elan Sleazebaggano? For real?

The entire Boba Fett series was mediocre, at best, but Pursuit brings it to a terrible close. If you’ve come this far with the series, you may as well finish it out, but I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. I’m hoping some books in the adult Expanded Universe will do a better job of filling in Boba’s back story.

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Boba Fett: A New Threat

May 23, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

threatBoba Fett: A New Threat by Elizabeth Hand

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Well. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by Jude Watson’s take on the Expanded Universe, because the Boba Fett series has been pretty underwhelming. In A New Threat, she takes us to Xagobah (not her creation, but really?), where the native xamsters (again: Really?) are caught between a battle between the Republic and the Separatists. Boba is there to either capture or kill Angkor Wat Wat Tambor for Jabba, and Boba considers this his last apprenticeship assignment. Once this is complete, he’ll be a professional, so the stakes are high (for Boba, at least).

Boba continues to make friends, this time finding one through Xaran, a xamster (seriously, was Hand cringing as she wrote this stuff?). Before he leaves, we see his friends in Jabba’s palace, and the whole thing just seems sentimental and out of place, for Boba the Bounty Hunter. Even at his age (fourteen or so), he’s pushing hard to be considered cold and calculating, and the idea that he’s making friends all over the place seems at odds with that characterization.

Hand makes a big deal about how Boba knows that Darth Tyranus and Count Dooku are the same person, and he carries that knowledge around with him like it’s his trust fund. We’re reminded of this fact several times, but so far this is an unfired gun in the story, because as much as we see it, nothing is done with it. I get the feeling this is going to be relevant in the next book, but I’m not sure how much room there will be to cover it, since A New Threat is only half of the story of Xagobah and Wat Tambor. We finish this book with nothing resolved, with almost nothing having happened in the story anyway.

I may have been too excited about reading this series, but man, has it been disappointing. Luckily, there’s only one book left in the series, because if there were any more, I’d be dreading having to keep reading it. I’m in this for the long haul (170 books to go!), for better or worse, but I’m sure hoping for better than this book.

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Boba Fett: Maze of Deception

May 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

mazeBoba Fett: Maze of Deception by Elizabeth Hand

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With the help of Aurra Sing, Boba is on the way to retrieve the money Jango left to him. He doesn’t know where he’s going, and he doesn’t trust Sing well enough to believe that she’ll treat him well once they arrive, but what choice does he have? He’s eleven years old, and well on his way to being the bounty hunter he’ll become, but he still doesn’t have the clout that an adult has, as he learns once they land.

I said at the end of my review of Crossfire that I was looking forward to reading something by Hand, but it turns out that I already have: The Frenchman. It was a tie-in to the Fox show Millennium (man, remember that? With Lance Henriksen?), and, true to form, I can’t remember a thing about it. I guess it’s a good thing I’m writing this blog, so twenty years from now I’ll be able to look back on these reviews and remember something about all these books.

Anyway, Hand seems to be more adept at writing for a younger crowd than Bisson is. Yes, the narrative is simplified, but it’s not simple. The story is compelling, as Boba goes from trial to trial in his search for his inheritance, and Hand creates an intriguing setting for this adventure. She also writes convincingly toward the lessons he learns from the book that Jango left him, in regards to whom to trust and how to act.

Bisson’s strength was in his characterization, and while I didn’t see the kinds of relationships he created in Hand’s take on the story, neither were there any relationships in this book like Bisson created in his. Hand still writes convincing characters, but there wasn’t room for her to show how Boba related to someone he could trust. This could be intentional, since Boba is learning that he can trust no one, but he’s still a child, and still naive enough to have to learn that lesson.

Where Bisson’s stories felt firmly written for a younger crowd, Maze of Deception feels better suited for adult readers as well as juvenile readers. They still don’t quite reach the level of what Jude Watson did with her books, but on the bright side, Hand’s book doesn’t follow the formula that Watson’s books started to take. It’s nice to see a new writer in the Expanded Universe, and I look forward to seeing how Hand continues the series.

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Boba Fett: Crossfire

May 16, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

crossfireBoba Fett: Crossfire by Terry Bisson

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Crossfire is a step up from The Fight to Survive, namely because it’s a (mostly) complete story in itself. I may have gotten too used to Jude Watson with the thirty books of hers I read in her two series, but I’ve come to expect the stories to be self-contained, even if they’re part of an overarching story. Crossfire likely won’t make a whole lot of sense without The Fight to Survive, and I expect that the next book will rely heavily on what happens in Crossfire. (Though, I suppose that could be true of the Jedi Apprentice series. By the time you get to book seventeen, Watson’s relying on characters and events from earlier in that series, too.)

In Crossfire, Boba has made it to the toxic moon of Raxus Prime, where Dooku has his base of operations. There, the two of them try to make an uneasy agreement over Boba’s inheritance, but things go wrong quickly when the clone troops invade. From there, Boba is “rescued”, and he continues to learn how to become self-sufficient through the events in the book.

Bisson’s characterization is still the strong point of this novel, as it was in the previous one. Boba is considered an orphan by his rescuers, and he makes a friend while in transport. The thing is, Jango told Boba several times that bounty hunters don’t make friends, so Boba’s new friend is at odds with the training he receives from the book Jango left him. Ultimately, Boba has to make a choice, and while it wasn’t as emotional as I would have expected it to be, it does find the tricky balance between making Boba a sympathetic character and making him compatible with the character he will become.

Like the previous book, Bisson simplifies things a bit more than I would have liked. The emotions in the story are written with broad strokes, and he overuses exclamation marks to indicate other emotions. I forgot to mention that he uses interrobangs in the first book, but at least I didn’t see any of those in this book. Either way, the books are a good example of an author writing specifically for a younger audience, instead of writing normally and adjusting the content for younger readers.

Interestingly, Bisson touches on the issue of sex and gender, though it’s only in passing. One of the characters in the story is neither a boy nor a girl, since in their race, their bodies don’t define themselves until puberty. The character makes a remark about how gender is more than just parts, and I was surprised to find that in the book. I like that it was there, and I agree with it, but I’ve not seen such a progressive thought in the Expanded Universe. Regardless, I was pleased to see that message in a story written for a younger audience, and not made to be a big deal. It just is, and I think it’s great.

While Crossfire improves on the first book in the series, this is the last book Bisson contributes to it. Elizabeth Hand takes over for the rest of the series, so it’s hard to anticipate what will come next with a new author. I’ll be reading it either way, which is good, since I’ve been wanting to read something by Hand for a long time.

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Jedi Quest: The Final Showdown

April 14, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

finalJedi Quest: The Final Showdown by Jude Watson

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Watson brings the Jedi Quest series to a close with an aptly-titled novel. Obi-Wan, Anakin, Siri, Ferus, Soara, Darra, Ry-Gaul, and Tru travel to Korriban, the ancient home-world of the Sith, to face down Jenna Zan Arbor and Granta Omega. Granta has finally done enough against the Jedi to gain attention of the Sith, and it’s there that he and Jenna will finally meet them and hope to become a part of their order. All of the main characters that began this adventure in The Way of the Apprentice return to bring it to a close.

Watson tried to parallel the events of The Way of the Apprentice, reigniting the rivalry between Anakin and Ferus, though in truth, the bulk of that rivalry is due to Anakin provoking Ferus. It’s still hard to be sympathetic with Anakin, since his ego gets in the way of his being a Jedi. He still feels the need to be the best, to make everything a competition, and it’s that characteristic that makes things go so terribly wrong on the mission.

I get it: Anakin isn’t supposed to be a fully sympathetic character. Watson balances a fine line of making his character compassionate enough for us to like him, but self-centered enough for us to recognize how unprepared he is to be a Jedi. With The Final Showdown, Watson isn’t just referring to the Jedi versus Omega; she’s also referring to Anakin versus the rest of the Jedi Order. In the end, it’s clear that he’s not ready, and since we know the movies, we know he’ll never be ready. It’s Obi-Wan’s insistence at training him and the sudden need for more Jedi that ultimately play into how Anakin becomes a Jedi.

At different points in the series, I got frustrated with Obi-Wan for giving Anakin so many breaks in his training, but in retrospect, what was the alternative? To throw him out of the Order with all that power and let him fend for himself? I’m wondering now if Obi-Wan was always well-aware of Anakin’s limitations, but figured he could serve as a positive influence on him in the hopes that some training would be better than none at all. How much faster would Anakin have fallen to the Dark Side without that guidance?

I still feel that the Jedi Apprentice is a better series than Jedi Quest, since Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan make for a more interesting relationship than Obi-Wan and Anakin, but I’m pleased with how Watson winds up the series. She doesn’t make things easy for Anakin, and she creates a clearer picture of how Anakin changes so much between Episode I and Episode II. I still wish she would have put a bit more focus on how he became so arrogant, but she makes strong enough suggestions as to not make it a complete mystery. I just would have preferred it being more on-stage.

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Jedi Quest: The Changing of the Guard

April 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

guardJedi Quest: The Changing of the Guard by Jude Watson

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In their search for Jenna Zan Arbor, a mad scientist featured all the way back in the Jedi Apprentice series, Obi-Wan and Anakin travel to Romin, a planet where criminals can find refuge. The two of them must go undercover, since they otherwise wouldn’t be welcome on the planet, so they pretend to be a group of thieves on the run. Once on Romin, they, along with Siri and Ferus, have to infiltrate the government and make plans to remove Jenna from the planet. Of course, things won’t be easy for the four of them.

The series improves here, as Anakin appears to take on more responsibility for his actions. There’s even a tenuous peace between him and Ferus, which makes his character more likable. Once it becomes clear that there’s a resistance on the planet to replace the tyrannical ruler, of course Anakin wants to get involved, while the other Jedi feel like they shouldn’t interfere. A large part of the theme here is the idea that what the Jedi do may be right or wrong, and they won’t know until they see how what they do affects those who remain. All they can do is their best at a given moment. The problem is that what Anakin sees as their best is usually at the cost of everything else.

The Changing of the Guard does a good job of capturing Anakin’s immaturity, while also capturing his strong sense of justice. It shows how his convictions are at odds with his other Jedi, but the series has been progressing to show how Anakin is learning to work with others instead of making all of the decisions himself. We already know where his character will go, though, so any headway made in this book will be temporary. How Watson winds this up in the next two books should reveal a lot about his character.

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Jedi Quest: The Moment of Truth

April 10, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

truthJedi Quest: The Moment of Truth by Jude Watson

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Vanqor and Typha-Dor may be going to war, and the Jedi have been asked to step in to determine why Typha-Dor’s outpost station has gone silent. Of course, it’s Obi-Wan and Anakin who are sent there, when they’re already suffering a strained relationship due to Anakin’s choices from The School of Fear. Like the other books in the series, this one focuses on that relationship, and tries to provide answers to where it’s headed.

The Moment of Truth is about war and espionage and spies, which is a common theme in Watson’s books, and there’s always the one character who’s undercover. I’ve been able to identify the moles in other books, so I’ll admit I was surprised when she fooled me here. It just gets a little tiresome to see this same device used in all of her books. I’m not sure if it would be as big a concern to me if I hadn’t read all of these back-to-back like I’ve done, but it’s definitely common, even if the stories aren’t formulaic.

Watson also resurrects a character from her Jedi Apprentice series, which was fun, as was her filling in the reference to Obi-Wan falling into a nest of gundarks made in Attack of the Clones. So those bits were cool, but the story wasn’t as engaging or interesting as her other books, largely because of Anakin and his arrogance. I’ve written about it enough already in my other reviews of this series, but it’s hard to identify with either Anakin or Obi-Wan, since Anakin is insufferable, and Obi-Wan lets him get away with it. I wish Watson would put more scenes in the series like the one where Soara reveals her concern regarding Anakin, or where Obi-Wan shouts Anakin down for abandoning Ferus. I feel like if there were more of these kinds of scenes in the Expanded Universe, we wouldn’t have wound up with the Anakin in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. I know, I know; this isn’t Watson’s fault. I see it as a failing of the larger story.

I’ve come this far with the series, so I’m not going to quit it, but I can definitely say this series doesn’t have the same kind of charm as Jedi Apprentice. It helps that both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are likable, sympathetic characters in that series.

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Jedi Quest: The Shadow Trap

April 7, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

shadowJedi Quest: The Shadow Trap by Jude Watson

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Mawan’s economy has collapsed, leading a few criminal organizations to move in and profit from the chaos that ensues. The Jedi have been sent to monitor the events and return the planet to the peace it experienced before. Before the mission, though, Anakin has a vision regarding an old, revered Jedi Master who is also going on the mission. What they don’t expect is to find an old enemy also on the planet, taking advantage of the chaos on Mawan.

Like the previous books, this one focuses on Anakin and his ego. Ferus is among the Jedi sent to Mawan, so of course the rivalry between him and Anakin continues. It’s a tricky relationship to balance here, since Anakin is our main character, but Ferus winds up being more sympathetic due to him not being driven by the need to be the best, to be number one, to be first in everything. Anakin is, honestly, pretty insufferable not just in this book but throughout the series. I can’t fault Watson for his personality — I think this is the point she tries to make throughout the series — but it doesn’t make for interesting reading.

In this book, Watson attempts to garner some sympathy for Anakin by giving him guilt over events that happen in the book. Obi-Wan has said before and since that Anakin’s strength is his compassion, so when he sees something that believes to be his fault, it preys on him. The thing is, Jedi are supposed to feel an emotion and then shrug it off so it doesn’t interfere; Anakin holds on to this guilt for much of the book, to the point where he’s holding on to it just to make him more emo.

Also, Obi-Wan has several internal monologues throughout the series where he questions Anakin’s emotions and stability as a Jedi, while also recognizing how powerful he is with the Force. For all his instability, Anakin clearly isn’t the right material to be a Jedi, so why does Obi-Wan keep insisting that he just needs training? Obi-Wan’s mission as a trainer is myopic, and is a direct threat to the Jedi Order. Book after book shows us this; why is Obi-Wan so blind to it?

The story is decent enough, and continues the overarching story that bridges the entire series by bringing Granta Omega back into the story, but it starts to show some cracks due to Anakin. Again, I can’t fault Watson for this issue — she’s working with an established character, trying to show how he fell to the Dark Side — but it’s frustrating. What makes it even worse is that we already know there’s not going to be any redemption for him by the end of this series. If nothing else, it will be even worse, since Watson will have to show how isolated and angry he is.

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