Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Just read: Star Wars: Before the Awakening, PLUS... Star Wars canon comics roundup!

Breaking news:  The all-new Star Wars novel Aftermath: Life Debt was finally released today, and it arrived in my mailbox this afternoon!  But this week’s mini-reviews are all either of Star Wars graphic novels or two of the “junior” literature that I’ve read to my kids Lena and Levi.  I’m taking a short break from my usual theology and outdoor skills books.


See February’s post about why I’m reading the new canon Star Wars novels (link), in which I also explain the difference between new Star Wars canon and non-canon (now called "Legends") material from the old Extended Universe.  All titles below are officially classified as new Star Wars canon, unless specified otherwise as non-canon, or "Legends."

The mini-reviews below will also be featured on my Goodreads page soon.

By Elizabeth Schaefer

Although slightly over my 4 year-old’s head, this sanitized junior novelization of Star Wars- Episode VII: The Force Awakens is told entirely from Rey’s point of view.  It tells less, not more, than what is shown in the film.  I suppose this could be a useful entry point into the Star Wars universe for young readers, or for ADHD people who struggled to follow along with the actual film.

Verdict: *** ½ (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, *** for non-fans

Much more useful than “Rey’s Story,” this still wouldn’t qualify as necessary Star Wars reading, either.  But it's a worthwhile prequel anthology to The Force Awakens film, featuring the three backstories of Finn (FN-2187), Rey, and Poe Dameron.

  1. Finn’s backstory was the most interesting, revealing not only the Stormtroopers’ elimination-style tactical training, but also the compassion and selflessness in Finn that would continue to arouse the suspicion of Captain Phasma in Episode VII.  His loyalty to the Empire as a Stormtrooper would ultimately be tested as Phasma gives him “one last chance…to decide his fate.”  The events in this story provide the precedent for Finn refraining from murdering the villagers in the opening scene of The Force Awakens film.
  2. Rey’s backstory provides little information that isn’t already implied by the film.  It’s just one of her scavenger missions on Jakku, with a double-cross thrown in for good measure.  Some surface level religious info on the Teedo’s belief in their god R’iia is briefly mentioned.
  3. Poe Dameron’s backstory is notable for both introducing BB-8 as his X-wing’s astromech, as well as establishing his legacy as being the child of two Rebel Alliance fighters who fought against the second Death Star in the Battle of Endor before settling in a colony on Yavin 4 (Poe’s parents’ story is reportedly told in a canon book that isn’t yet available at my public library).

At the risk of sounding ignorant, I’ll just throw this out there:  There’s a line when Poe replies to General Leia Organa’s comment about flyboys being all the same with, “Some of us are fly girls.”  Although he’s probably referencing Captain Kun or Arana, my mind kept bouncing back to those internet rumors about Poe’s sexual orientation.  Moving on…

The ending of Before the Awakening perfectly sets up the opening of The Force Awakens film with a mission to find Lor San Tekka and/or Luke Skywalker:  Our only hope.  Nice touch.

Verdict: **** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, *** for non-fans

And now, for the comic books...  In my April blog post which reviewed Star Wars novels Aftermath, Darth Plagueis, and Dark Disciple, I also reviewed the Star Wars Omnibus: Quinlan Vos comics collection (It’s now classified as “Legends,” the official term for non-canon, old Extended Universe literature).  Here are a few other Star Wars graphic novels that I’ve checked out from the Beaverton library recently, sorted by descending order of interest (Best to worst):

by Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, and Laura Martin

Pure gold.  THIS is the comic book to read for fans of the original Star Wars film trilogy.  The fun tone, the action, the humor, the artwork, the storyline (set immediately after the destruction of the Death Star in Episode IV: A New Hope), and, most importantly… the beloved classic characters all come alive in this premiere issue.  Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C3PO, and even Darth Vader are on hand to kick off this series the right way.  The old gang is back together, and this feels almost EXACTLY like an unreleased classic Star Wars movie that we never saw.

Buy this immediately!

Verdict: ***** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, **** (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

By Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca

Chronologically, this tale runs somewhat parallel to Star Wars: Volume 1, told from Darth Vader’s perspective.   The actual crossover moment riffs on the brilliant climactic image (which I won’t spoil here) from that other comic that I reviewed above.  Chilling, and effective.

There are so many never-before-seen things in here for Darth Vader fans:  Vader is consumed in his quest to find out who is son is (And we find out exactly how it happens…Not revealed in a movie, but right here in a canon comic book!).  Vader restrains himself while being constantly belittled by Emperor Palpatine, his superior (ha!) Tagge, and the middle man clerk who was sent to replace him (Things can’t end well for that guy).  Vader is forced to negotiate with a Hutt.  Vader is made to look incompetent for letting Luke Skywalker destroy the Death Star.  Vader fights Luke in person.  And most touchingly, we get to see rare flashbacks of Anakin's life before and after becoming Vader:  Kissing Padme on Geonosis and other moments, his personal tragedy on Tatooine, Palpatine’s deception, and a general sense of longing for those memories of being Anakin Skywalker.

Boba Fett and a wookie bounty hunter are the standout supporting players.  But Doctor Aphra, ludicrously sadistic C-3PO lookalike Triple Zero, and BT the assassin astromech are a bit too strange to fully appreciate, though they don’t detract from this powerful story.

The rich artwork, strong opening, flashbacks from both film trilogies, and continuity with Star Wars: Volume 1 make this essential reading for any Star Wars fan.

Freaking buy this book.

Verdict: ***** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, **** (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

By Jason Aaron, Stuart Immonen, and Simone Bianchi

While watching the old and new film trilogies, have you ever wondered how Obi Wan Kenobi stopped being a Jedi Knight and General Kenobi to simply become “Ben”?  The Book I portion of this graphic novel fills in the gaps between Episode III and Episode IV using Obi Wan’s newly discovered journal as a plot device.  In his journal, we discover why he has hung up his lightsaber, even to the point of neglecting to help a poor moisture farmer who is being shaken down by Jabba the Hutt’s cronies.  The first book of this collection has it all:  A pint sized Luke Skywalker, Jedi mind tricks, and dreamily gazing up at Tatooine’s twin suns with a glimmer of hope.

Book II and the rest of this graphic novel continues the story from Star Wars: Volume I.  Sana Solo claims to be Han Solo’s wife and tries to bring him home, and Luke’s blue lightsaber is stolen by Grakkus the Hutt’s henchmen.  Highlights include Grakkus the Hutt’s efforts to open a Jedi holocron containing the teachings of Master Phin-Law Wo of the Jedi temple on Vrogas, an aerial dogfight between Sana, Han, and Leia vs. an imperial destroyer and X Wing fighters, and Luke Skywalker fighting Kongo the Disemboweler in the staged “Last Stand of the Jedi.”

Fun, and worth reading.

Verdict: **** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, *** (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

By Kieron Gillen

In this decent follow-up to Vol. 1: Vader, Darth Vader returns to his home planet Tatooine to visit Luke’s homestead.  Vader then gets mixed up in a plot to recover a shipment of the Son-Tuul Pride’s fortunes that was highjacked by the Plasma Devils en route to an Imperial vault in Anthan Prime.

There are some interesting relationship dynamics involving Vader and his uneasy alliance with boldly defiant Imperial traitor Aphra, as well as the tension between Vader and his hyper-critical superiors: Grand General Tagge, Tulon, and even Vader’s replacement, Inspector Thanoth.  There are also some introspective moments when Vader realizes that he was duped by Obi Wan, who hid Luke on Tatooine because it was the one place he would never return to.  The ending sets up Vader Down, which will apparently feature Vader pursuing Luke to Vrogas Vas.

Verdict: **** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, *** (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

By Charles Soule and Alex Maleev

Suave ladies’ man Lando Calrissian was a memorable supporting character in the films Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and I was happy to read this admittedly inconsequential Star Wars spin-off story.  Lando teams up with his buddy Lobot (Lando’s silent, bald cyclops partner from the films) to clear his debt with gangster Papa Toren by stealing a yacht from an Imperial shipyard.  Improbably, the yacht turns out to be Emperor Palpatine’s pleasure craft, containing a priceless collection of Sith artifacts.

Nothing is essential to Star Wars canon here, but I enjoyed this book more than most readers I've talked to.  The highlights are not only Lando revealing his life-long “bluff” (I won’t spoil it), but also seeing the Emperor’s red-robed guards in action, fighting Aleskin and Paval, a.k.a. the Twins.  The relationship between Lando and Lobot also features some nice elements of friendship and sacrifice... Setting the stage for a redemptive character arc for Lando that foreshadows a use of his charisma for good, rather than living for himself.

A note about homosexual characters: To contradict myself in a previous blog post, I'll point out that Star Wars: Lando is also notable for having the first same sex relationship (that I know of) in the new official canon Star Wars universe.  Not 100% sure, though.  In my review of Star Wars: Afermath earlier this year, I incorrectly asserted that distinction to the first Aftermath novel.

Oh, and did I mention that my opening day copy of Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt arrived in the mail today?

Verdict: *** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, ** (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

By Gerry Duggan

Though I’m a sucker for reading about any of the main characters from the original Star Wars film trilogy, this book is silly.  Chewbacca doesn’t talk, Zarro the sidekick tomboy character is annoying, and the plot is very minor.  In spite of Chewbacca trying to save Zarro’s planet from being subjugated to the Empire by Imperial henchman Jaum…the stakes are still pretty low in this story.

Fun moments include Chewbacca playing Sabacc and various characters riffing on “There is a saying about wookies…” jokes.  And it’s irresistably goofy to read Chewbacca’s gutteral screams spelled out as “HRAARAH!”  and “WHRAARAAAH WRAHAAAHG.”  It doesn’t help, though, that “WHAAARA WHRA!” is uncannily reminiscent of “Wah Wuh.”

Hey Chewie, use your words!

Verdict: *** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, ** (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

Star Wars Ewoks: Shadows of Endor  (Lengends/ non-canon)
By Zack Giallongo

This non-canon Ewok tale was a surprise find, and fun to read to my kids.  Set before the film Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, the stormtrooper occupation of Endor has begun.  The Ewoks are trying to save the Dulok tribe from the toothy monster Griagh, and energy from the mystical “Sunstar” may be the key to victory.

Though a bit too scary and dark for my kids, they enjoyed seeing their beloved furry Ewoks from ROTJ and the “Ewok Adventures” 80s TV movies come to life in this short story. And fans of the Return of the Jedi film will have HUGE grins (at least I did) when they read the final panels of this book.  That epilogue alone makes this worth a library lend, for us original film trilogy junkies.

Verdict: *** 1/2 (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, * (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

(Legends/ non-canon)
By John Jackson Miller

For fans of the video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (I briefly dabbled in the Playstation 2 port for Android, on my Note 4 phone), this story takes place in the vastly popular Old Republic era.  Jedi Padawan Zayne Carrick is framed by his Jedi masters for the brutal slaughter of his Jedi-in-training peers.  Zayne goes on the lam on the planet Taris to find out why, in this non-canon action/mystery.  Zayne is a cool character, and the plot was definitely intriguing enough to make me want to continue reading what he discovers in Volume 2.

But eh, it’s not canon anyway.  So I'll pass on Vol. 2.

Verdict: *** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, ** (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

By Alessandro Ferrari

It feels like a money grab to release a straightforward retelling of the original Star Wars film trilogy, with so-so artwork.  George Lucas’ special editions of the films are represented here:   For example, the Wampa gets his close-up, and Greedo shoots first.

The worst offense is that the events of the films are intact, but the humor and charm of these films are mostly either missing or lost in translation.  Also, not to belabor the artwork, but the characters look like lame Mad Magazine versions of the real life actors.  This is particularly disappointing in light of the top notch artwork and humor of the Star Wars and Darth Vader comic series reviewed above.  On that note, the cartoonish rendering of Darth Vader couldn’t be less menacing.  It’s less reminiscent of Darth Vader and more like Dark Helmet.

I never thought I'd never utter the following words in ANY context, but… Skip the book, and watch the films instead.

Verdict: ** 1/2 (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, * (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

(Legends/ non-canon)
By Kevin J. Anderson, Dario Carrasco

Apart from the distinction of being the most chronologically ancient story in Star Wars’ old Extended Universe (read: non-canon “Legends”), there’s not much reason to read this.  It takes place 5,000 years before Luke Skywalker fought in the Battle of Yavin, against the first Death Star.  Yes, it’s mildly interesting to see how the Sign of the Sith is received.  And more intriguing is a non-canon flashback to an even earlier era, when the Sith and the Jedi were both “mighty Jedi of the Republic, brothers of the Force.”

Oh, and I got a kick out of the line, “I’ve got a good feeling about this one!”  Just don’t apply that sentiment to your expectations for this book.

Verdict: ** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, * (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

(Legends/ non-canon)
By Tom Veitch

Dark Horse Comics made some great stuff, but this silly rubbish is an embarrassment to Star Wars fans everywhere.  It may have been passable in the era before Disney took over and insisted on quality control, but it’s an atrocity by today’s standards of Star Wars canon.  Why did I even bother finishing this nonsense before returning it to the library?  Sadomasochism.

Verdict:  Lamer than the notorious Star Wars Christmas TV special

* (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, * (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

So sad.  But let’s end on a happy note.  Here’s a list of Lena and Levi’s top three Star Wars children’s books I've read to them over the past few months:

3.  Star Wars Rebels: Ezra’s Wookie Storybook
2.  Star Wars Clone Wars: Meet Ahsoka Tano
1.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens read-along-storybook

Now, if you'll excuse me... I need to get some rest before I binge-read Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt tomorrow.  But I don't have a problem.  I swear.  I can quit Star Wars any time.

No comments: