LIGHT OF THE JEDI by Charles Soule

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One of my reading resolutions for this year was to read more non-fiction books, and my intentions were to start off 2021 by doing exactly that. But then this dropped on my device, and I opened it meaning to read just a handful of pages in order to get the lay of the land, as it were. But a couple of pages quickly turned into a couple of chapters, and before I knew it I was halfway through the book with absolutely no plans to stop.โ €
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Then again, I began last year with a Star Wars book. Just as well I started ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ด year with yet another one. It’s like poetry, sort of. It rhymes.โ €
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And ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต a first book to start things off, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜บ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜บ.โ €
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I have been excited for this new era of Star Wars ever since details started to come out. I love the Skywalker gang of melodramatic misfits dearly, but the saga sorely needs to step away from them to feel fresh again. It needs to gain some more space to breathe. Hundred of years before their story sounds like distance enough.โ €
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๐‘ณ๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’‰๐’• ๐’๐’‡ ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฑ๐’†๐’…๐’Š met and exceeded each and every one of those expectations. Charles Soule managed to write a Star Wars story that felt both familiar and new; that feels relevant to our current climate while still also adhering to themes that are intrinsic to Star Wars; that feels intense and austere while also being just an incredibly fun thrill ride. In short, Soule has written one of my favorite entries in the entire saga. Can’t wait to see what more he brings to this universe. And I definitely can’t wait to see where this era is headed. The future (the past?) looks bright.

FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK by Various

44 from a certain pov - empireThe first volume of ๐˜๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ข ๐˜Š๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜—๐˜ฐ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ต ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ was a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ค๐˜ฆ ๐˜ˆ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ฌ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด had, well, awakened a long-dormant excitement for Star Wars, pushing me down a nostalgic-tinged rabbit hole that led me to things like ๐˜š๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ณ ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ด ๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ด (which still stands as my favorite piece of new SW media) and, eventually, inevitably, to the books. Up to that point, in the aftermath of the Disney acquisition most of the stories had to do, naturally, with the new sequel trilogy of films, broadening the narrative and developing certain key characters. Occasionally some of the books dropped dealt with characters and events from bygone eras, but for the most part the expanded universe focused on the ๐˜ค๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ต. And then ๐˜๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ข ๐˜Š๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜—๐˜ฐ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ต ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ suddenly arrived, an anthology featuring a wide array of writers telling the stories of dozens of peripheral characters from the film that started it all. Itโ€™s an idea that perfectly embodies this franchiseโ€™s most charming, playful notion: that ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ has a tale that needs to be told; that ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ has an important role to play in this far-away galaxy. โ €
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I ate it all up. The collection somehow managed to satisfy my nostalgic yen while also injecting some much needed, much welcomed fresh ideas to this familiar universe: from boasting a more diverse cast of characters (people of color! a touch of queer representation!) to playing with styles and genres. There was a lot of emphasis on lighthearted humor, of course, but a lot of the stories also packed quite the emotional punch. It was a wild ride, and definitely one of my favorite reads the year it came out. It made me hope they would continue this concept with the rest of films. And so when this volume, telling the story of ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜Œ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜š๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ฌ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด ๐˜‰๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ฌ, was announced I was nothing if not thrilled.โ €
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Which just makes it all the more the shame that ๐‘ญ๐’“๐’๐’Ž ๐’‚ ๐‘ช๐’†๐’“๐’•๐’‚๐’Š๐’ ๐‘ท๐’๐’Š๐’๐’• ๐’๐’‡ ๐‘ฝ๐’Š๐’†๐’˜: ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฌ๐’Ž๐’‘๐’Š๐’“๐’† ๐‘บ๐’•๐’“๐’Š๐’Œ๐’†๐’” ๐‘ฉ๐’‚๐’„๐’Œ mostly disappointed me. It still boasts a broad battalion of authors, many of whom have written works Iโ€™ve enjoyed in the past, who do an admirable job with the material given while also continuing to ramp up the diversity aspect established in the first volume. Really, the ingredients that made me love the previous collection are all here, itโ€™s just that, somehow, the recipe doesnโ€™t particularly work with the story ๐˜Œ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ is trying to tell. โ €
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It makes sense โ€” the first film introduced us to a vast cast of characters, giving the stories a wider area in which to play and let loose. In contrast, ๐˜Œ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฑ๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ฆโ€™s story is smaller in scale, and much more personal, concentrating less on the galaxy at large and more on the trials and tribulations of our protagonists. This leaves the authors of this collection to either focus on a scattering of minor characters or create new ones whole cloth. In any other context, this would be a freeing conceit; here, though, it just ends up making the collection feel helter-skelter. Add to that the fact that most of the stories are mostly irreverent in nature, focusing on the humorous, slightly ridiculous side of the saga, seemingly eschewing the poignancy found in much of the first volume in favor of knowing winks at the audience. And while you will never find me stating that camp has no place in the Star Wars universe (itโ€™s been there from the start, etched into its genetic makeup), I do think that, much like with the Force, there needs to be a balance. โ €
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But before I feel too bad about being a bit harsh on this volume, I want to make note of the stories that ๐˜ฅ๐˜ช๐˜ฅ end up leaving a big impression on me, of which there were a handful:โ €
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Django Wexlerโ€™s โ€œAmara Kelโ€™s Rules for TIE Pilot Survival (Probably)โ€ and Mackenzi Leeโ€™s โ€œThere Is Always Anotherโ€ feature the sort of clever cheek that ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด work for me, where humor is used to ground all these fanciful figures. The opening line in Leeโ€™s story in particular will stand as one of the funniest in all of Star Wars. โ €
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Jim Zubโ€™s โ€œThe First Lessonโ€ and Lydia Kangโ€™s โ€œRight-Hand Manโ€ in contrast, delve deep into the pathos of some of these mythical characters, and they were the stories I feel actually added some more substance to the story being told in the film. โ €
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And finally, Austin Walkerโ€™s โ€œNo Time for Poetryโ€ and Alexander Freedโ€™s โ€œThe Man Who Built Cloud Cityโ€ both tell the type of story I currently enjoy the most in this universe, narratives which โ€” much like my other two favorites, ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ข๐˜ฏ and ๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ด โ€” manage to perfectly blend that mix of earnestness and enthusiasm that made Star Wars so damn precious and exceptional in the first place.โ €
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Iโ€™ve mentioned it before but it bears repeating: disappointment is as much an integral part of being a Star Wars fan as the feeling of delight. And if there is anything to living in this post-Disney supersaturated world is that, for the foreseeable future at least, we can be certain there will soon be something else to anticipate, anyway.

RESISTANCE REBORN by Rebecca Roanhorse

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Well I certainly didnโ€™t expect my first read of 2020 to be a Star Wars book. To be perfectly honest, after the underwhelming disappointment ofย The Rise of Skywalkerย and the emotional exertion ofย The Mandalorianย finale, I was beginning to feel a little burned out on Star Wars. That feeling was still present when I started reading the first few chapters of this novel, and I began to get the notion that maybe this story, like the final Skywalker film, just wasnโ€™t for me.โ €
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But I kept up with the book, and was quickly proven wrong, as once the story well and truly kicks in it hits you like a jump to hyperspace.โ €
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Resistance Rebornย takes places just afterย The Last Jedi, and beforeย The Rise of Skywalker, and tells the story of how the Resistance begins to rebuild their greatly diminished, and overwhelmed fleet. In the climax ofย The Last Jedi, the Resistanceโ€™s call for help goes unanswered, despite them knowing they have allies out there. The main narrative follows their investigations into what happened to these, and their efforts to seek out and recruit further sympathizers.โ €
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Much has been said about this book being an Avengers-scale crossover, bringing in characters from different stories, across different media from the expanded universe โ€” from the films, to comics, to even the video games โ€” all coming together for a final stand. In the hands of any other writer this would have been an unwieldy task, but Roanhorse proves skillful enough to handle it with poise and panache. Inย Resistance Reborn, she has written a heist story, a thriller, and a political drama that never fails to be fun, and never, ever loses sight of the most important aspect of the whole Star Wars galaxy: its characters.โ €
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Resistance Rebornย boasts a huge cast of characters, but it is also mostly Poeโ€™s tale, and I love Roanhorseโ€™s characterization of him here. Outside ofย The Force Awakensย and his comic book series, Poe is a character that Star Wars doesnโ€™t really know what do with. Inย The Last Jediย andย Rise of Skywalker, heโ€™s reduced to an arrogant pilot who is constantly screwing things up in a spectacular fashion, redeems himself, but then fails to learn his lesson as he repeats the same mistakes further down the line. In TFA we were introduced to a character that was hotheaded yes, but also ceaselessly charming, loyal, and optimistic. This portrayal carried on in the books and the comics, but got cast aside as the final two films decided to have him be little more than a Han Solo stand-in. Which is boring and disappointing. Roanhorse also further develops his relationship with Finn, including a handful of scenes that are not only touching and thematically relevant, but also add fuel to the FinnPoe fire. (Literally the only ship Iโ€™ve wanted to see set sail. Alas.) โ €

He just felt at a disadvantage around Rey. He still didnโ€™t know her well and she clearly meant a lot to Finn, and Finn meant a lot to him, so Rey mattered.

(Iย mean.)

Unfortunately, Roanhorse doesnโ€™t get to do a lot with Rey here, however. Her portrayal is fine and serviceable, but itโ€™s also very minor. I assume this was because her story was being reserved for TRoS.โ €
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The other characters are great and a lot of fun, with a decent amount of familiar faces returning (including a character that literally made me go โ€œoh daaamn,โ€ out loud). I want to make special mention of Shriv Suurgav, though, a character pulled in from the Battlefront II video game. He was new to me, as Iโ€™ve never played the game, but he quickly became a favorite. He serves mostly as comic relief here, but brought some pathos as well. I really loved his inclusion here.
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Rebecca Roanhorse has, with a single book, become one of my favorite Star Wars author. For my credits I think she and Claudia Gray could easily carry this entire expanded universe by themselves, and what rich stories we would get.

THRAWN: TREASON by Timothy Zahn

2December is for Star Wars.โ €
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I really enjoyed Zahn’s return to his iconic character in the first book of this series. Getting a story from the point of view of a character that essentially boils down to “Sherlock Holmes but uh even more alien” makes for some fun reading.โ €
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I enjoyed the second entry, Alliances, a fair deal more. Telling that story in alternating chapters first with Thrawn and Vader and then with Thrawn and Anakin made for a really dynamic story, and I enjoyed how their interactions were written. We all know Vader’s story. But we also know that Vader and Anakin are two distinct personalities, and Zahn did a great job highlighting that. We also got a fun romp of a storyline with Padmรฉ who is still to this day in the canon, severely underutilized. โ €
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Which all makes Treason feels slightly disappointing. It’s still an interesting and fun read. It just feels inconsequential to the story at large. (Some spoilers ahead here.) It takes place in a single week, before he and Ezra and a bunch of space whales take a hyperspace jaunt to who knows where, and knowing that robs this story of any dramatic tension. It was also a little too military SF for me, which is a genre I don’t particularly enjoy. That military aspect has always been there (Thrawn is a Grand Admiral in an Empire, after all), but, at least with the two previous stories, I felt like it was more of a background element, a method Thrawn embraced in order to get what he wants. Here, that facet is brought to the foreground, and Thrawn himself is the one drawn back to the shadows.โ €
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There were still some things I really liked. Eli Vanto was a character I particularly enjoyed, and it was nice to catch up with him. Admiral Ar’alani and Commodore Faro are just badasses, and I hope we get more of them in the future. And I liked the bureaucratic and whiny Ronan, this story’s miniature version of Director Krennic. He has one of the most prevalent roles in the story, so it’s a good thing that his arc is also one of the more interesting. โ €
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Not as good as the last two books. Still fun. That feels as much a part of Star Wars as anything else. โ €

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December is for Star Wars. Between this and The Mandalorian (which I’ve been really loving), it’s been nice to wade back into the waters of a galaxy far, far away, before taking the full plunge next week with The Rise of Skywalker. I already have my tickets. I hope you do, as well.