Thursday, December 15, 2016

Just Read: Star Wars: Catalyst (A Rogue One Novel); Comic #3: Rebel Jail; The Rebellion; Tales... Vol. 1: Aliens

Release date! (Photo from my daily Instagram Story)

These book reviews will also be featured on my Goodreads page soon.

For my review of the outstanding Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt, Book 2 of the Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy, click here.  Also, check out my link about why I’m reading the new canon Star Wars novels.

Star Wars: Catalyst (A Rogue One novel)

By James Luceno

With the upcoming Star Wars film Rogue One opening in theaters tomorrow (!!), I was looking forward to last month's prequel novel, Catalyst.  I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon to arrive exactly on the release date, November 15.

So, was it worth the wait?  Absolutely… With one caveat:  It’s a slow starter that doesn’t kick into high gear until over 100 pages in.  But when it’s hot, it’s hot.

Taking place between the films Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope, the novel Star Wars: Catalyst provides the tense backstory for this Friday’s Rogue One film about the Rebel Alliance’s brave efforts to steal the plans for the original Death Star.

My summary of the plot:  At this earlier point in the Star Wars saga, the original Death Star is still in the planning stages.  And it’s missing its key component:  A massive super weapon that will be capable of destroying an entire planet (And to Princess Leia’s dismay, we original film trilogy fans know how that’s gonna turn out).  Scientist Galen Erso is researching the power of the Kyber crystals which power the Jedi’s lightsabers.  Imperial mucky muck Orson Krennic wants to weaponize the Kybers’ power to produce a superlaser to mount onto the parabolic focusing dish of the yet-to-be-built Death Star.  In order to one-up Grand Moff “Governor” Tarkin on his own Death Star construction project and also become Emperor Palpatine’s right hand man, Krennic tricks Erso into believing that his research will be used for development of clean, renewable energy.

Honestly, it was initially tough to stick with this book.  Pointless subplots involving side characters like Has Orbit and Saw Gerrera feel like a waste of time.  And it’s front loaded with backstory and sci-fi technical jargon, withholding even the first minor action scene until page 61.  Fortunately, the earlier sections also feature cool bits of insight into the construction of the Death Star, the Jedi’s complex relationship with Kyber crystals, and the effect of the Force on non-Jedi who happen to be “Force sensitive” (A term not used in this book).  Cool stuff for Star Wars fans!

The story really gets cooking after this long opening stretch, as husband and wife Erso and Lyra are seemingly pitted against each other to discover the truth about Krennic’s intentions.  I won’t spoil the tension… Other than to say that this novel finally stops feeling like overstretched short story as it transitions into an effective family-in-jeopardy thriller, with fascinating political implications for the Star Wars universe.

Speculative spoiler for the upcoming Rogue One film:  Given the chronology of the Star Wars timeline, Erso and Lyra’s baby daughter Jyn should be of age when the movie takes place.  I’m avoiding most of the movie trailers, but I’m guessing Jyn will be a key member of the “Rogue” squadron who tries to steal the plans for the Death Star (Maybe even the girl on the movie poster?).  If she’s not, then why the cutesy baby/young girl subplot in this novel?  There’s gotta be a payoff.

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

Star Wars #3: Rebel Jail

 By Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen, and Angel Unzueta

Of the three stories collected in this volume, I found the closing young Ben Kenobi/ Luke Skywalker tale to be the most fun.  Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi is secretly watching after Luke Skywalker on Tatooine as Biggs and Luke’s other kid friends cheer him on as he tries to fly through Beggar’s Canyon.  Ben saves Luke behind the scenes from various scraps, and has a run in with a bitter Uncle Owen who blames Ben for his brother Anakin’s death.

Even the often lame film prequel trilogy gets some thoughtful love from Ben:  “There’s still hope, Master Qui-Gon.  You thought Anakin was the chosen one.  Perhaps in a way, he was.  If his son shows the same abilities, then just maybe…

The first two stories in this annual collection are also worthwhile.  Story #1 is about the unglamorous life of Rebel spy Eneb Ray in Coruscant, who needs to be a heartless jerk to his “subjects” for fear of blowing his cover if the Imperials discover his true identity.

Story #2, the Rebel Jail title story, is a fun female empowerment yarn set in Sunspot Prison.  Princess Leia, Doctor Aphra, and Sana open up a can of whoop on the villains… just so that Han Solo and Luke Skywalker can show up to cockily “save the day” for the women after the dust settles.  Haha, go patriarchy!

There are plenty of other funny gags.  C-3PO tries his hand at “fisticuffs.” Han plays backseat driver while Luke learns how to fly the Millennium Falcon.  And they actually get to herd some nerfs!  Hilarious stuff.

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

By John Wagner, Paul Alden, Randy Stradley, Darko Macan, Cam Kennedy, Raul Trevino, David Fabbri, and Dave Gibbons

“Epic” is an overstatement.  While this graphic novel compilation is better than much of the Legends (read: older, non canon stories) material I’ve read, it falls short of the artwork, characterization, and continuity of the new canon stuff.  That being said, I enjoyed reading these earlier conceptions about the events that went down immediately after the film Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope.  And we get more Boba Fett.  Who can argue with that?

The standout by far is In the Shadow of Yavin, an extended comic book series which offers a glimpse behind the scenes of the construction of the second Death Star, above the planet Endor.

And all the Ewoks said… “Yub nub!”

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

by Landry Q. Walker

This one gets an enthusiastic “meh” from me.  While officially canon, it's six short stories featuring side characters from the film Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  If you like aliens as main characters (I do not), this is your bag.

The main hurdle that these short stories try to overcome is that few of the protagonists are memorable characters from The Force Awakens, even for fans.  It’s also challenging to acquire much investment in these characters, due to the short length of these stories.  Some chapters are barely a single page.
For what it’s worth, the best stories are “All Creatures Great and Small” and the really good “The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku.”  Also, “A Recipe for Death” is notable for a cool fight scene in zero gravity.

As a non sci-fi fan who has loved Star Wars since my childhood, critter stories are a tough sell for me.  But fortunately, the Star Wars universe also has enough mythology and human stories to keep me hooked.

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

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