Books

Star Wars: On the Front Lines (Review)

Ever since it was published in 2017 I had my sights set on Star Wars: On the Front Lines. I am a sucker for Star Wars reference books, having spent countless hours of my life immersing myself in the minutiae of the Star Wars universe found in these source books. But I did not buy On the Front Lines when it first came out, instead opting to wait to purchase it. Recently, though, the book was gifted to me and needing something new to read I decided to dig in. And, I am happy to report, On the Front Lines definitely did not disappoint. 

Primarily detailing battles from The Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War, but also one from the Age of Resistance, On the Front Lines takes readers quite literally to the front lines of some of the most important engagements in Star Wars. While author Daniel Wallace limits the number of battles that are explored – a perfectly reasonable decision considering how many battles are in Star Wars – he never-the-less chose one battle to examine from every live-action and animated Star Wars story to date. In fact, the only notable exception is Star Wars: Rebels, with no engagement from that series being discussed. Here is a list of battles that the author examines:

The Battle of Naboo (The Phantom Menace)
The Battle of Geonosis (Attack of the Clones)
The Battle of Christophsis (The Clone Wars movie)
The Battle of Ryloth (The Clone Wars animated show)
The Battle of Coruscant (Revenge of the Sith)
The Battle of Scarif (Rogue One)
The Battle of Yavin (A New Hope)
The Battle of Hoth (The Empire Strikes Back)
The Battle of Endor (Return of the Jedi)
The Battle of Jakku (Various Sources)
The Battle of Starkiller Base (The Force Awakens)

That Wallace chooses well-known battles from the Star Wars saga, battles that we have actually seen in film and on television, makes it easy for both casual and die-hard fans to digest and enjoy this book. Interestingly though, the clash I found myself most interested in reading about was the Battle of Jakku. As you can see from the list above, this is the only engagement discussed in the On the Front Lines that has never been depicted on-screen. Putting his penmanship and imagination to work, Wallace pulls from multiple sources (novels such as Lost Stars and Aftermath: Empire’s End) to piece together details about this relatively unknown fight. In doing so, he presents a vivid picture of the final battle in the Galactic Civil War, a brutal slugfest between the New Republic and Imperial Remnant that leaves wreckage and bodies littering the sandy dunes of the remote world.

Jakku-Starship_Graveyard-The_Force_Awakens_(2015)
Want to know how all those derelict Star Destroyers ended up on the surface of Jakku? On the Front Lines provides some context.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

While I found myself intensely fascinated by Wallace’s presentation of the Battle of Jakku this does not mean I found the other battles any less interesting. Far from it! In every chapter, Wallace draws on the source material available – movies, television shows, books, comics, etc. – to craft a unique and fairly comprehensive picture of each engagement. Granted, there are points where Wallace does leave out information, or gives details only a cursory glance. For example, the space battle which takes place above Naboo in from The Phantom Menace is only briefly mentioned, with the focus instead being entirely on the ground battle between the Gungans and the Trade Federation’s Droid Army. As well, the space battle over Ryloth, depicted in The Clone Wars Season 1, Episode 19 (“Storm Over Ryloth”), where Ahsoka Tano uses a Marl Sabl maneuver to defeat the Separatist blockade, is entirely ignored. For some die-hard fans of Star Wars, these and other omissions may prove annoying but for this die-hard fan, I found myself enjoying what was in the book rather than brooding over what was not.

That being said, I can admit that I wish the book had even more in it. This is not a criticism, though. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that I really enjoyed the way each battle is presented, with a combination of big picture information, such as why the confrontation took place and how it unfolds, along with more focused detail on things like armor, weaponry, vehicles and tactics. Every chapter also offers little asides about individuals from each engagement, specific commanders from both sides, and a handful of soldiers and/or pilots who displayed incredible courage during the fight. And, to top it off, every chapter is loaded with captivating and wholly unique images courtesy of four superb illustrators (Adrián Rodriguez, Thomas Wievegg, Aaron Riley, and Fares Maese).

Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that On the Front Lines contains a lot of information that I never knew about, or had never even considered,, about each of these Star Wars battles. In closing, then, I thought I would pick just one bit of of insight that I learned from this book. And what comes to mind immediately is a detail about The Battle of Christophsis. Or rather, aftermath of Christophsis. As we see in The Clone Wars movie, towards the end of this fight, Jedi General Obi-Wan Kenobi tricks the Separatist General Whorm Loathsom into believing that the Jedi intends to conditionally surrender his clone forces. However, this is a ruse, done with the hope of giving Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano more time to deactivate the Separatist deflector shields. Kenobi succeeds in his plan, and actually captures Loathsom moments later, but as Wallace writes,

“General Kenobi’s false surrender at Christophsis was a boon to the Separatist-controlled media, who viewed the incident as clear evidence of the Republic’s duplicity. Almost no conditional surrenders were offered by either side for the remainder of the war” (pg. 31).

Kenobi may have been successful in that moment, but his “false surrender” was not without long-term consequence. As the Clone War intensified, it would be the clones themselves, the actual soldiers doing the fighting on the front lines, who would pay the price for Kenobi’s actions.

Haikuesday: Star Wars Aliens

Desert Scavengers
Brown-robed, yellow-eyed Jawas
Utini,” they say.


Homeworld: Kubindi.
Kubaz with snout-like trunks speak
using vibrations.


Called “Squid Heads” by some,
the Quarren of Mon Cala
are a proud species.


Key trait: cone-shaped horns.
Gotal abilities are
extrasensory.


“Hard to meet a myth.”
Sentient, shapeshifting plants.
Neti from Myrkr.


Keeping to themselves,
the Kaminoans live out
past the Rishi Maze.


Breathing ammonia,
insectoid Gand are hidden
by respirators.


Exoskeletons.
Mathematical species.
Givin from Yag’Dhul.


Force technology.
An Infinite Empire.
Ancient Rakata.


Hailing from Toola.
Tusks protruding from their jaws.
Ferocious Whipids.

Haiku Addendum:
pronounce “Whipid” like Stewie
pronounces “Cool Whip”


Thisspiasian.
Serpentine body and a
very hairy face.


Malastare’s Natives.
Vicious Dugs walk on their arms
and use feet as hands.


Colonizing Gran
take control of Malastare.
The Dugs – furious.


A long-lived species.
Shi’ido first appeared in
Galaxy of Fear.


Short, Green, Pointed Ears.
Vandar, Yaddle, and Yoda.
Species’ Name Unknown.


Cycloptic biped.
Hailing from the planet Byss.
Green-skinned Abyssin.


Cremlevian War –
A galaxy ruined by
war-like Yuuzhan Vong.


The “friend from afar.”
The “stranger to be trusted.”
The Caamasi.


Fur-covered, wolf like.
The Shistavanen are a
rare sight in Star Wars.


Fur-covered, wolf-like.
Is that a Shistavanen?
Nope, it’s a Defel.


Water-based mammals.
A blowhole atop their heads.
The massive Herglic.


Ben Quadinaros.
The famous Toong podracer.
His engines explode.

I have a theory:
Han named Ben after the Toong.
I’m dead serious.


Neimodians.
Related to the Duros.
The latter came first.


Rodent-like beings.
Big ears and very dark eyes.
Chadra-Fan from Chad.


Saurian species.
Invasion of Bakura.
Bipedal Ssi-Ruuk.


Devilish mammal.
Males have horns, females do not.
Devaronians.


Mud as camouflage.
Red-skinned Mimbanese soldiers
ambush Stormtroopers.


Did you know that in
The Phantom Menace you can
see E.T.’s species?

Name: Asogians.
Homeworld: Brodo Asogi.
Lucas. Spielberg. Pals.


Hailing from Tibrin.
Amphibians with eye stalks.
The green Ishi Tib.


Insect-like Yam’rii.
Look for the praying mantis
in the Cantina.


Twelve-eyed insectoid.
A Vuvrian purchases
Skywalker’s speeder.


Eyes a glowing red.
Blue-skin and glint blue-black hair.
They are called the Chiss.


From the planet Merj.
Morseerians breath methane.
And have big cone heads.


I’m absolutely
positive I could outrun
a Gamorrean.


Wookiee. Gungan. Talz.
Trandoshan. Geonosian.
Sullustan. Lasat.


Rodian. Bothan.
Abednedo. Barabel.
Lamproid. Elomin.


Ewok. Dulok. Teek.
Sanyassan. Skandit. Yuzzum.
Jinda. Gupin. Gorph.


I could spend a day
listing Star Wars aliens.
There are so many!


It’s Star Wars quiz time!
Shistavanen or Defel
in the featured pic?


Check out these other Haikuesday 2.0 posts:

Imperial Atrocities

Luke Skywalker (ANH)

Luke Skywalker (ESB)

Luke Skywalker (ROTJ)

Dark Lords of the Sith

Star Wars Planets

The Great Jedi Purge

 

Haikuesday: The Great Jedi Purge

A Fallen Order.
The Jedi succumb to the
Revenge of the Sith.

There were four who fell.
Victims of Darth Sidious.
And more would follow.

The first Jedi death:
The Zabrak Agen Kolar.
Stabbed through the belly.

Next was Master Tiin.
The Iktochi was to slow,
and the red-blade struck.

Master Kit Fisto
parried the Sith Lord’s attacks
but then he went down.

Windu held his own.
He almost finished his foe.
But he was betrayed.

Dark Lords of the Sith.
Order 66 is sent.
The Great Purge begins.

Turning on Jedi.
“Good soldiers follow orders.”
Massacres ensue.

Planet: Mygeeto.
Master Mundi is gunned down
by once loyal troops.

Aayla Secura,
surrounded by her soldiers
and shot in the back.

In his starfighter,
Plo Koon meets his demise when
Jag opens fire.

The planet Zeffo.
Master Chiata dies first,
her Padawan next.

On Saleucami,
Stass Allie’s body is thrown
from a speeder bike.

“Run,” Billaba tells
her padawan, Caleb Dume.
She does not survive.

On a Venator,
Jaro Tapal’s sacrifice.
Cal Kestis will live.

Bound for Rodia.
Huulik dies in his starship.
His wounds were to great.

Vader with his clones.
Operation: Nightfall strikes
the Jedi Temple.

“Do what must be done.”
Darth Vader leads the way by
slaughtering younglings.

Master Cin Drallig
The Jedi Battlemaster.
No match for Vader.

Malreaux and Bene
fight alongside Cin Drallig.
They go down as well.

As she meditates,
a Dark figure approaches
and butchers Shaak Ti.

Attempting to flee,
Zett Jukasa kills troopers.
But then he is hit.

“…too many of them!”
“What are we going to do?”
Bandeam’s final words.

The Great Jedi Purge
Thousands are executed
in a single day.

Jedi Survivors.
Hiding in the galaxy.
Many will be found.

The Moon Al’doleem.
Vader discards Infil’a
in a drowned city.

Chief Librarian.
A prize for Darth Sidious.
Vader takes Nu’s life.

Agents of the Sith:
Inquisitors, once Jedi,
hunt their former kin.

An execution.
The Grand Inquisitor kills
Master Unduli.

Tracked to Anoat,
Mususiel is slain by
Imperial troops.

The planet Mataou.
Zubain Ankonori takes
his last breath of life.

An Inquisitor
tracks Khandra and Nuhj to the
world of Burnin Konn.

Advising Lee-Char.
Padawan Ferren Barr’s life
ends on Mon Cala.

Victim of Vader.
Eeth Koth suffers a Dark death.
His newborn, kidnapped.

Former Padawan.
Caleb Dume – Kanan Jarrus.
Consumed by fire.

Aboard the Death Star,
Kenobi confronts Vader
and then transcends death. 


Check out these other Haikuesday 2.0 posts:

Imperial Atrocities

Luke Skywalker (ANH)

Luke Skywalker (ESB)

Luke Skywalker (ROTJ)

Dark Lords of the Sith

Star Wars Planets

Star Wars Aliens

Haikuesday: Dark Lords of the Sith

Hundred-Year Darkness:
Jedi exiles become
Jen’ari, Dark Lords

The Left-Handed God:
Dark Jedi Ajunta Pall
First Lord of the Sith

Greatest of his Age
A fierce Sith-human hybrid
Lord Marka Ragnos

Great Hyperspace War:
Naga Sadow’s Empire
invades Republic.

On a Deep Core World
Darth Andeddu rules as an
Immortal God-King.

Sadow’s apprentice:
Fallen Jedi, Freedon Nadd.
Onderon entombed.

“I was the greatest
Dark Lord of the Sith,” he states.
“I am Exar Kun.”

Haiku Addendum:
Exar Kun is a badass!
You should check him out.

Reviled, Dreaded.
A Jedi leaves, Sith returns.
He is Darth Revan.

A Sith Apprentice.
Darth Malak betrays Revan
and becomes Master.

Malak’s Shadow Hand:
Darth Bandon, former Jedi.
Vanquished by Revan.

Sith Triumvirate:
Darth Traya suffers betrayal
by Hunger and Pain

The Lord of Hunger.
Draining the Force of all Life.
Dark Lord Nihilus.

Sion, Lord of Pain.
Body fractured and rotting.
And yet, immortal.

“For three hundred years,
we prepared, we grew stronger.”
Malgus leads the charge.

Immortality:
Darth Scabrous’s dream results
in the walking dead.

“The Last Survivor”
Darth Bane, the architect of
the Sith Rule of Two.

A child named “Rain”
sent to war by the Jedi
becomes Darth Zannah.

Iktotchi Huntress
Gifted in divination
The Dark Lord Cognus

Three-eyed mutant Sith
Apprenticed to Darth Cognus –
Darth Millennial

Haiku Addendum:
Darth Millennial enjoys
avocado toast.

Starship Designer
but really, he’s Tenebrous
Dark Lord of the Sith

Darth Plagueis the Wise
Murdered by his apprentice
while he was asleep.

The first Emperor,
a galactic Empire.
Dark Lord Sidious

Devilish Sith Lord
Double-bladed lightsaber.
The Zabrak named Maul.

Elegant Evil.
Former Jedi: Count Dooku.
Dark Lord Tyrannus

Once known as “Anni”
He spirals to the Dark Side
and becomes Vader.

A Son of Solo.
Jacen Solo, Darth Caedus.
Killed by his sister.

Born A’Sharad Hett
Founder of a new Sith Cult:
Darth Krayt’s Rule of One

Anointed by Krayt.
Body covered by tattoos.
Twi’lek Darth Talon.

What about Kylo?
Well, this is awkward because
he is not a Sith.

Haiku Addendum:
Kylo Ren verses Caedus?
Darth Caedus would win.


Check out these other Haikuesday Posts!

Imperial Atrocities

Luke Skywalker (ANH)

Luke Skywalker (ESB)

Luke Skywalker (ROTJ)

Lando’s Luck (An Imperial Talker Review)

I was browsing some discounted books at Barnes & Noble one day and came across Lando’s Luck on the shelf. A middle-grade novel by Justina Ireland (with illustrations from Annie Wu) which was released in October 2018 as part of the Flight of the Falcon series of books and comics, I decided to give Lando’s Luck a chance and ended up taking it home with me. Besides, since the book was on clearance it was easier to justify the purchase, especially if, in the end, I ended up disliking it. Except, I actually really enjoyed the novel and, having finished reading Lando’s Luck, I am interested in continuing the Flight of the Falcon series.

Set before the events of Solo: A Star Wars Story – with the exception of the Prologue and Epilogue which are set around the time of The Force AwakensLando’s Luck chronicles the “flight of the Falcon” to the planet Hynestia, a frigid world best known for its prized gherlian furs. There, Lando Calrissian ends up being forced by Queen Forsythia Jin – the Assassin Queen – to deliver a valuable possession to the Galactic Empire on behalf of her world. This possession, the Solstice Globe, will be delivered to the Empire in lieu of Hynestia’s regular tribute of gherlian furs, a result of the latest shipment of furs having gone missing.  However, the Queen’s 13-year old daughter Rinetta has different plans for the Solstice Globe and, stowing away on the Millennium Falcon, sets out to recruit Lando and the droid L3-37 to her cause.

Rinetta
Princess Rinetta

Photo Credit – Lucasfilm Press Illustrator – Annie Wu

The protagonist of the novel whom young readers are meant to identify with, Princess Rinetta is a precocious girl who is determined to return the Solstice Globe to it’s rightful owners: the Lynna from the planet Livno III. The Globe, we come to learn, is one of three orbs – the other’s being the Rain Globe and Breeze Globe – which were created by “The Architects” to power a machine that provides Livno III with a stable, habitable climate. Sadly, we are given no detailed background about “The Architects,” a disappointing omission considering that the ability to control a planetary climate makes these “Architects” a pretty big deal. Regardless, long ago the orbs were lost in a war, and while the Rain and Breeze Globes were recovered, the Solstice Globe remained missing. Until, that is, it was discovered in the treasure vault on Hynestia by Rinnetta and her Lynnian mentor, Zel Gris.

With the Solstice Globe safely in the cargo hold of the Millennium Falcon, the story takes us from Hynestia, on the edge of Wild Space, to Neral’s moon in the Corellian system. There, Lando will find himself in dire straits thanks to his (surprise!) penchant for being a swindler who skips out on debts. Luckily, Rinetta’s unexpected presence on the Falcon will end up proving beneficial to Lando as she helps him escape from thugs and bounty hunters. And, after he is imprisoned back on Hynestia – the Queen and her royal guard track the Falcon to Neral’s moon – Rinnetta will free the scoundrel from the dungeon, making him promise to bring the Solstice Globe to Livno III for her help. Lando, we find out, takes promises very seriously and, once given, must see it through to the end (a good lesson for young readers).

While I dare not spoil the entire plot, I will note that Justina Ireland crafted an easy-to-follow tale for young readers. While there are certainly moments throughout where an older reader (translation: me) may question the way things unfold, this never really detracts from the overall narrative or enjoyment of the story. Moreover, for a Star Wars fan who is paying extra close attention they will discover that Lando’s Luck addresses a Star Wars concept that tends to be overlooked: the passage of time while in hyperspace. Essentially, Lando’s Luck acknowledges that hyperspace travel takes time, especially when venturing long distances. Consider the following quote towards the end of the book: “They spent a couple of days on the Millennium Falcon. The trip through hyperspace was a long one…” (pg. 147). While many Star Wars tales – books, comics, tv shows, movies, etc. – overlook or outright ignore this fact about hyperspace travel, it was nice to come across a handful of references, like the one above, acknowledging this reality.

L3-37
L3-37

Photo Credit – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Finally, what can be said about Lando and his droid – sorry, his first mate – L3-37? I genuinely enjoyed how Ireland presents them, capturing their individual voices and motives with care so they feel like the characters in Solo: A Star Wars Story. This is easily done with Lando as he is hellbent on 1) making money and 2) maintaining his own image. But it is doubly true for Elthree who, time and again, reminds us that she is an equal to Lando and other humans (and aliens). She is rightfully furious when a restraining bolt is attached to her and, given her belief in the rights of droids, chastises Princess Rinetta for the suggestion that a sentry droid could be used for her own spare parts. In short, I loved that when  L3-37 would speak I could “hear” actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge in my head.

Overall, I really enjoyed Lando’s Luck and I am glad I picked it up when I found it at Barnes & Noble. I not only recommend it for young readers who will identify with Princess Rinetta but likewise encourage older Star Wars fans to give it a read when they have time to check it out. 

The Talker Toy Challenge Strikes Back

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Episode V

The Talker Toy Challenge Strikes Back

It is a dark time for the Star Wars fandom. Although December is approaching, DISNEY will not be releasing a new Star Wars film for another year, instead assaulting fans with a new cartoon show, a legion of mediocre comic books, and toys, lots and lots of toys.

Evading the dreaded lack of a Star Wars film, a group of bloggers led by THE IMPERIAL TALKER have struck back with a new version of THE TALKER TOY CHALLENGE, encouraging fans of the franchise to buy Star Wars toys and donate them to children who are in need this holiday season.

The DISNEY CORPORATION, obsessed with selling merchandise and increasing stock value for their shareholders, has dispatched thousands of new Star Wars products into the far reaches of the globe. Little does DISNEY know that THE IMPERIAL TALKER is ridiculously good at never paying full-price for merchandise, finding troves of fantastic Star Wars toys on sale and on clearance…


Participating in The Talker Toy Challenge is easy!!!! Just follow these steps.

Step One: Purchase Star Wars toys.

Step Two: Donate said Star Wars toys to children who are in need. I bring the toys I collect (see the featured image above) to a local Toys for Tots drop-off site. 

Step Three: Encourage others to do the same by promoting The Talker Toy Challenge on your blog, podcast, social media, etc.!!! Be sure to use #TalkerToyChallenge when you do!

Step Four: Repeat Steps One, Two, and Three.

Leave a comment and let me know if you participate!

Going Solo: Contispex I

Contispex I is a character who, although minor in the scope of Star Wars lore, has a story that I find intensely fascinating. Mentioned for the first time in a solitary paragraph in Daniel Wallace’s The New Essential Chronology (2005), with his story being expanded in subsequent reference books, Contispex I was a human and an ancient Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic who, along with his descendants, launched numerous crusades against alien species and their human allies. An adherent of the zealous and extremist Pius Dea religion – a faith which, according to The Essential Guide to Warfare (2012), taught followers that  “…fallen communities should be restored to purity by purging their unredeemable elements…” (27)  – Contispex took the reigns of the Republic in the year 11,987 BBY and set about reforming the corruption of the Senate and government by placing Pius Dea faithful in positions of power.

What was, at first, a small religion dedicated to the worship of a Goddess and confined to the shadows of Coruscant where it began, Pius Dea quickly exploded into galactic prominence thanks to Contispex. Referred to as the Pius Dea Era  (ca. 12,000 – 11,000 BBY) in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the millennia of Pius Dea rule which Contispex I instituted would see galactic purges, imprisonments, forced conversions, inquisitions and executions justified under the rallying cry that “The Goddess Wills It!” But it is the 30+ crusades of Contispex I and his successors which truly stand out, crusades that were launched to rid the galaxy of the scourge of alien civilizations. In 11,965 BBY the first crusade was directed by Contispex, a “pre-emptive strike against the Hutts beyond the Rim” according to The Essential Guide to Warfare (27). Subsequent crusades would be directed against other alien species: the Bothans, Lanniks, Zabraks, Herglics, and more.

Notably, during the Pius Dea Era the Jedi Order abdicated its responsibilities as peacekeepers and protectors, instead choosing to renounce its affiliation with the Republic. While individual members of the Order chose to challenge Pius Dea rule, as a whole the Order was “unwilling to take up arms against the civilization they had safeguarded” (27). This would change after almost 1,000 years had passed when the Jedi Order allied itself with oppressed species to overthrow Contispex XIX, arresting him and installing Jedi Grand Master Biel Ductavis in the Chancellorship (27).

While Contispex I truly is a minor character in the grand scope of Expanded Universe lore, as is the era of Pius Dea rule, I never-the-less find him intensely fascinating precisely because his story opens a vast window to the imagination. As someone who studied religion/theology in college and graduate school, the idea that the Old Republic succumbed to zealous theocratic rule in the name of “The Goddess” for nearly a millennia intrigues me and leaves me wanting to know more. Of course, at this point I have soaked up everything I can about Contispex I and the Pius Dea religion, having mined the tomes of Star Wars reference books for every morsel of information.

In fact, it was one very small morsel in a Star Wars reference book which led me to write this piece, a reference to Contispex I in Solo: A Star Wars Story – The Official Guide. Contained within The Official Guide to Han Solo’s standalone film is a page that is dedicated to the vast collection of rare treasures which Dryden Vos, leader of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate, displays in the study aboard his star yacht. And, as The Official Guide notes, among this impressive collection of artifacts are “…arks that hold the ashes of Chancellor Contispex I…”

Contispex I
Image Credit:
Solo: A Star Wars Story – The Official Guide

As I said, a very small morsel indeed, but one that immediately caught my attention given my interest in Contispex I. On the one hand, what makes this nod to Contispex I important is that it re-affirms his place in the Star Wars canon. A minor character in the Expanded Universe, Contispex I is now, also, a minor character in Disney’s Alternate Universe. On the other hand, this is hardly surprising. While I was NOT expecting a reference to Contispex I in The Official Guide to Solo, that author Pablo Hidalgo – a member of the Lucasfilm Story Group – found a way to incorporate Contispex I into the book makes perfect sense. With Vos’ study populated by rare and ancient artifacts, Hidalgo could easily mine the ancient history of Star Wars confined within the Expanded Universe and provide readily available information about the artifacts without entirely having to re-create ancient Star Wars lore.

In fact, Hidalgo not only identifies the ashes of Contispex I in The Official Guide but he also attaches other elements of Expanded Universe lore to items in Dryden Vos’ study. A “crystal masthead” is identified as that of Xim the Despot while a dataplaque is noted as containing the location of the Xim’s long-lost treasure ship, the Queen of Ranroon. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Xim the Despot, he was first mentioned in the novel Han Solo and the Lost Legacy while the Queen of Ranroon received it’s first mention in Han Solo’s Revenge. As well, a carver set is noted to be that of Noghri origin, the species first appearing in Timothy Zahn’s popular novel Heir to the Empire, while a set of wraith boxes come from the long-extinct Rakata, a technologically superior civilization which was originally created for the Knights of the Old Republic video game.

While I highly doubt that Contispex I, the Pius Dea era, or other elements of the Expanded Universe which have crept into the Disney Canon will be teased out in greater detail, I am never-the-less pleased by the fact that these legendary aspects of Star Wars continue to have relevance. More importantly, these elements bring with them pre-crafted stories which need-not be reconstructed. Rather, they unify the Expanded Universe and Disney’s Alternate Universe in small, subtle ways. Contispex I may only ever have this one, small reference in The Official Guide to Solo: A Star Wars Story, but that reference is packed with the already rich story about Contispex and the tumultuous era of Pius Dea rule. As far as I am concerned, unless Contispex I receives a brand new tale which changes his narrative – a highly unlikely prospect – I will move forward with my enjoyment of Star Wars knowing that he, and the Expanded Universe I love, continue to add depth and meaning to the galaxy far, far away.

The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear! (An Imperial Talker Review)

Absolutely delightful. That is the easiest way I can describe my feelings about author Tom Angleberger’s junior novel The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear! From start to finish, I could not help but enjoy myself as I read about Chewbacca’s mission to the planet Ushruu. Accompanied by a young woman named Mayv, the rebel droid K-2SO (masquerading as a cargo droid), and a cadre of adorable tooka cats, Chewbacca and his companions set out on a perilous adventure to retrieve a Dark Side artifact from the depths of Ushruu’s terrifying forest.

At first believing his job is to deliver the mischievous tooka cats to one of Coruscant’s moons, Chewbacca quickly discovers that he has been set up by Alinka Aloo, the daughter of Sim Aloo, a high ranking Imperial official – an official who hopes to gift the artifact in question to the Emperor. With his friend Han Solo held captive by Alinka, our favorite Wookiee must face the deadly forest on Ushruu and find the artifact in order to save Han’s life. But he is not the only one who has been forced into this mission. Young Mayvlin Trillick must also confront the danger’s lurking on Ushruu so that, upon her return, Alinka will return to her a book containing the cultural history of the planet Oktaro, May’s home world. Quickly becoming friends, Chewbacca and Mayv find ways to work together – along with the help of K-2 and one very friendly tooka named “Goldie” – so that they will achieve success.

While I dare not spoil the book, and will keep some of the major moments for you to discover if you choose to read it, I will note that I particularly enjoyed the way the book is narrated. It is rare, in Star Wars books, to find a narrator who speaks so directly, and at times informally, to the audience. In a book with an older target audience this narrative style would probably be hard to stomach. But in The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear! the playful narration helps create a more vivid and humorous story, a story which young Star Wars fans will undoubtedly enjoy thanks to this more casual narrative style.

Offering a number of asides and tangential statements throughout the novel, the narrator clarifies aspects of Star Wars lore, ensuring they and the reader are literally on the same page. Likewise, the narrator swings back-and-forth between telling the story and offering their own thoughts about situations and moments. For example, the entirety of Chapter 5 is an aside in which the narrator lets the reader in on a secret they just HAVE to get off their chest right then (lest we find out later and are upset). More often though, the narrator injects him/herself into the story with a line or two here and there, offering a little quip or thought about something in the moment.

This is especially the case whenever Chewbacca speaks since the narrator must provide the reader with some insight into what Chewie is saying. Given that none of us know what Chewbacca is saying anyway when we watch Star Wars, the narrator does their best to ensure we have some basic understanding of what Chewbacca is talking about. The thing is, the narrator doesn’t offer a word-for-word translation. Instead s/he primarily offers the basics, a general sense of what Chewie is getting at and even presumes a handful of times that no translation is required. 

Actually, there are quite a few times throughout the novel when the narrator just skips any translation at all, especially when Mayv, who begins to “understand” Chewie as the book progresses, is speaking with the Wookiee. That the narrator chooses not to translate every garbled statement Chewbacca makes in his native Shyriiwook is important. Just as Mayv begins to “understand” the basics of Chewbacca’s thoughts, we start doing the same (well, I did at least). While the reader cannot hear the inflection in the Wookiee’s voice, nor perfectly translate the difficult Shyriiwook language, like Mayv we are – thanks to context – capable of gleaning what Chewbacca is trying to get across. Plus, it helps that we can understand Mayv when she is talking to Chewie.

Speaking of Mayv, she is another big reason I found this novel so delightful. Resourceful, capable and funny, Mayvillin Trillick provides young readers with a role-model choosing to put herself in harm’s way as she seeks to return the Mola Oktaro – the aforementioned book containing the cultural history of her planet – to her people. Forced to make the deadly journey to Ushruu by Alinka Aloo (who is in possession of the Mola Oktaro), young Trillick quickly befriends the Mighty Chewbacca early in the journey, the two sharing in the pain of losing their worlds to the Imperial war machine. Further, Mayv’s pursuit of the Mola Oktaro is amplified by a curious cultural habit she engages in: painting symbols on her forehead which have different meanings. In one instance, for example, as Mayv and company are about to climb higher into the trees on Ushruu, Mayv paints the symbol for “gracefulness” on her forehead figuring that “it couldn’t hurt when I’m this far off the ground!” In response, the narrator offers younger readers an important lesson: “Whether this symbol – or any of them – worked, I can’t say. But Mayv believed, and maybe that was all that mattered.” Then again, that is a pretty good lesson for adults, too. 

Truthfully, I would really like it if Mayv Trillick was to pop-up again in another Star Wars story. While I won’t be holding my breath, knowing that the likelihood of her re-emergence is small, I’ll never-the-less be holding out hope because she really is a fascinating character. Besides, given her fearless determination and dislike of the Empire, Mayv would make a great Rebel were she to join the Alliance. Who knows, maybe Chewbacca will recruit her into the cause at some point. Fingers crossed.

Finally, I will acknowledge that I was slightly skeptical about K-2SO being in the book, primarily because I thought the irreverent droid from Rogue One would be out of place. I was wrong. Dead wrong. Without K-2SO this book would have been wonderful. With K-2SO, it is absolutely fantastic. Angleberger brilliantly captures the voice of K-2SO, the droids sarcasm and dry-humor bleeding off the page whenever he speaks (especially in those moments when he forgets that he is pretending to be a cargo droid). And why is K-2 present you might ask? Well, he is on a mission for the Rebellion of course! But if you want to know more about that – and if you want to discover who makes a special, surprise appearance late in the story – you’ll just have to pick up The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear! Trust me, you won’t be sorry. In fact, I guarantee you will be delighted. 

Going Solo: Darth Maul

Before writing my previous post – Talkerverse: Vader Kills Maul – my intention had been to write this post. Wanting to discuss (spoiler!) Darth Maul’s incredibly brief cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story, I sat down to write but my brain had other intentions. Acquiescing to my train of thought, I ran with my imagination and wrote about how I think Vader should have killed Darth Maul in Revenge of the Sith. You can go read all about that (click HERE) but for now let’s chat about that surprising Solo cameo…

Soooooo, yeah, Darth Maul makes an appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story. How about that? I dunno about you, but I DID NOT see that coming. As I watched the film, and it started to become clear that the film’s antagonist, Dryden Vos, was working on behalf of some shadowy figure, I was thinking it would end up being Snoke. Even up to the moment of Maul’s reveal, when he is contacted by Han Solo’s childhood friend Qi’ra, I believed we would be met by the face of the one-day First Order Supreme Leader. Never-the-less, seeing Darth Maul – and actor Ray Park reprising the character he brought to life in The Phantom Menace – definitely caught me off-guard.

As a die-hard Star Wars fan who has kept up with Star Wars stories across all mediums, it made complete sense that Darth Maul was the shadowy figure who instilled fear in the criminal Dryden Vos. After all, The Clone Wars animated show resurrected Maul from his bifurcated death and elevated him to the status of underworld crime lord. In The Clone Wars, as many of you may know (but some may not), Darth Maul unified a coalition of terrorists and criminal organizations under his authority, in turn using his nefarious organization to take control of the planet Mandalore. Maul’s actions – with the assistance of his brother Savage Oppress – launched him into galactic relevance, making it necessary for the Jedi, and his former Sith Master (Darth Sidious), to take him seriously as a threat. Following The Clone Wars, the four-part Son of Dathomir comic continued his Clone Wars era story-arc, while E.K. Johnston’s Ahsoka novel showed that Maul’s grip on the planet Mandalore was strong even at the wars end. As well, Maul once again re-emerged in Star Wars Rebels, a menace to the Lothal rebels with his life finally coming to end on Tatooine when he confronts, and is killed by, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

maul
A very broken Darth Maul in The Clone Wars. I discuss how he survived his death in my post Cheating Death: The Dark.

Photo Credit – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 4 Episode 21, “Brothers”

While I was surprised to actually see Maul onscreen, I was otherwise unsurprised he was the “phantom menace” directing the actions of Dryden Vos. Having kept up-to-date with Maul’s story-arc, and knowing his criminal dealings, it really made complete sense. That being said, following my first viewing of Solo, I could not help but ask myself: for someone who is more of a casual Star Wars fan, who is only interested in the movies, were they surprised, or perhaps even confused, to see Maul? After all, for those individuals, their experience of Darth Maul would have begun and ended with his introduction and death in The Phantom Menace.

Luckily, I was able to ask two of those “movie-only” Star Wars fans, my neighbors, when I got home from my first viewing of Solo. As I stood outside chatting with them, I asked for their thoughts and they acknowledged that they left the movie theater feeling confused by Maul’s appearance. As I explained that the Sith Lord was resurrected in The Clone Wars, and noted that his story has continued beyond that, one of my neighbors (Sara) said something which caught me off-guard: that she is less likely to watch Star Wars movies in the future if the story is just going to be changed in tv shows, books, and comics. 

While her feelings are specific to her experience, I could certainly, sympathize and understand what she was saying. While I really like Darth Maul’s post-resurrection storyline (…with the exception of his demise in Star Wars Rebels…) I can also admit that I was incredibly annoyed by his resurrection in The Clone Wars. Even though Darth Maul is only in a small amount of The Phantom Menace he was never-the-less an exceedingly important part of the story. We knew, in the film, that Maul was serving Darth Sidious, executing the machinations of his Master. While Sidious had to stay behind the scenes – he is “the phantom menace” – Darth Maul revealed himself to the Jedi as a threat they were clearly unprepared to face. And, when he is sliced-in-half by a young Obi-Wan Kenobi – making it pretty damn obvious that Maul was killed – the Jedi are left to wonder: which Sith Lord died, the Master or the Apprentice?

Maul's Death in TPM
The face of a Sith Lord who was just bisected. It’s reasonable to think he just died.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

As it turns out, neither died.

While I have since grown to appreciate Darth Maul’s post-resurrection arc, and definitely understand his cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story – knowing as I do all the nuances and baggage that goes with it – I can also understand and appreciate why my neighbor felt confused and unhappy. For her, and certainly for many others, the Star Wars films represent the pinnacle of Star Wars. For them, the movies, and only the movies, are what matter. Period. Full stop. They are uninterested in TV shows, comic books, novels, video games, precisely because Star Wars is a series of films. And, as a result, suddenly seeing a character you thought was dead – without any explanation what-so-ever regarding how he survived being cut in half – is undoubtedly annoying and off-putting. Which leads me to this:

I really believe that cameo should have been Snoke, not Darth Maul. The connections that could have been made between Solo and the Sequel Trilogy with a small cameo by Snoke would have been incredibly profound and forward-thinking, while simultaneously ensuring that movie-only fans like my neighbors were not left scratching their heads. But I will hold off on offering my “Snokey” thoughts in any greater detail for now, and you can just wait for my future post on the topic – Talkerverse: Snoke Goes Solo

Leave a comment and tell me what you think about Darth Maul, his story-arc, and his cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story. AND, be sure to check out all of my other Darth Maul posts (just put his name into the search bar). 

Star Wars: Last Shot (An Imperial Talker Review)

There are few things I like and a lot of things I dislike about Star Wars: Last Shot by first time Star Wars author Daniel José Older. In fact, the bad so significantly outweigh the good that it is a little overwhelming to figure out where to begin. Perhaps the most obvious place is to just say that this story is entirely inconsequential to the Star Wars universe. While the book centers on Han and Lando coming together three years after the events of Return of the Jedi to stop a maniacal Pau’an who has plans to cause a violent, galaxy-wide droid uprising, the story never truly convinced me of its necessity, or that it was providing the Star Wars universe with any greater meaning. There are certainly a number of Star Wars elements in Last Shot. There are Star Wars places – Takodana, Utapau, Bespin, Kashyyyk – and Star Wars species – Twi’leks, Ewoks, Gungans, Ugnaughts – and a cast of familiar Star Wars characters – Han, Lando, Leia, Chewbacca, Maz Kanata – but as a whole these elements never truly coalesce into a Star Wars story with gravitas.

To save you time, I will just come right out and tell you what happens: Han and Lando survive, the bad guy (Fyzen Gor) dies, and the galaxy is once again saved by everyone’s favorite scoundrels. Thus, we are left with an altogether generic, run-of-the-mill Star Wars novel that is easily forgettable. But what is truly disappointing is that the opportunity for some memorable moments with incredibly profound consequence do exist within Last Shot. When, at the end of the novel, Lando must choose between saving himself or the galaxy at large, he chooses the latter. This IS a profound move, a “holy crap” moment in a book that really REALLY needed one. Yet, Lando’s moment of altruistic sacrifice is undercut when he is saved by a laughable plot device: the offspring? of his former droid L3-37 (who shows up in the novel in flashbacks) known as the “Elthree Assault Team.”

L3-37
L3-37
Photo Credit – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Had Lando died, the Star Wars galaxy would have been shaken to its core. Why isn’t Lando in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi? Answer: because he was atomized in an explosion in the Mesulan Remnant. Instead, he is saved by a contrived group of vigilante droids made in the image of L3-37 and goes on to live happily ever after with the Twi’lek woman known as Kaasha, wanting to finally (sort of) settle down after years of galactic promiscuity. And who is this Kaasha you ask? I can’t tell you because she is given little development. She is ultimately in the novel because the author needed a sexual/romantic foil for Lando. Their backstory together goes to the Galactic Civil War when they found comfort in each others arms during the battle of…who knows, I can’t remember. She was smitten by the General, has sought him out, and joins him (and Han) on their adventure. While she is given glimpses of agency – she can communicate with their Ewok companion and she aids Han as he attempts to retake a ship during the novels climax – Kaasha is a Twi’lek woman otherwise beholden to the whims and feelings of a man. Shocking!

Kaasha is not the only new character appearing in the book. A human from Alderaan, and the pilot whom Han and Lando hire to assist them, Taka is a gender-neutral character and is referred to as “they” throughout the book. If there is one truly good thing about Last Shot, Taka is it. I appreciate and applaud that Older chose to include such a character in the Star Wars universe, especially since Taka’s gender-neutral status is so banal. I certainly hope more characters like Taka emerge in Star Wars as their inclusion paves the way for more gender-boundaries to be broken. And, I hope Taka shows up again in Star Wars because they are an interesting and fun. Plus, Taka goes out of their way to annoy Han with heavy metal music which is a pretty funny moment in the book.

Taka is one of the few bright spots in Last Shot, and if I were to chose another it would be the inclusion of 2-year-old Ben Solo. Now, I should note that Ben’s appearance(s) in Last Shot primarily serve Han’s story, specifically the smuggler’s inner turmoil about whether he is a good father (I’ll get back to Ben in a moment). Han’s fatherhood questions are dragged out to the very end when, finally, Han talks to Leia and she reassures him that “no one knows how to be a parent before they are one…” (pg. 340). That it takes the entire book for Han and Leia to have the “parenting is hard” conversation is pretty ridiculous (it is a convo he could have had with Leia without going on a galactic mission) but given that this is the core of Han’s character development it is hardly surprising. I don’t begrudge this particular angle on Han, though. We know from The Force Awakens that he and his son had a rocky relationship, so incorporating little bits of that relationship – in this case whether Han feels like he can do the parenting thing – is a fine angle to take. What is truly disappointing, though, is that there was a massive missed opportunity for Han to learn the importance of the parent-child relationship from Taka.

At one point in Last Shot, Han happens upon a recording of Taka’s parents. From the recording we learn two things: Taka’s parent loved them unconditionally and Taka’s parents were Alderaanian which means their parents are dead. Later, Han will mention to Taka that he watched the recording and they will tell Han that it is the last little piece of his parents they own. Han clearly sympathizes with Taka, particularly since he reflects on comforting Leia when she feels down abpout the destruction of her homeworld. But what was missed was the chance to unite Han’s parenting woes with the fact that Taka is holding onto a small remnant of their deceased parents. I cannot help but imagine a different version of Last Shot where Han comes to a fuller appreciation of his role as a parent, as a father, as he listens to someone who lost their parents. In turn, the conversation he had with Taka, and the lessons he learned/chose to reflect on, could have easily tied in with the remained of the novel (particularly the conversation with Leia at the end). Instead, Han’s parenting woes culminate in the final moments of the book when he receives cookie cutter wisdom from his wife. Ugh. Let’s just go back to Ben Solo…

Moments that Left Me Speechless

That Ben Solo makes a handful of appearances in Last Shot was certainly a positive aspect of the novel, enabling the reader to experience the sequel trilogy villain as an innocent toddler. In fact, it is two lines about Ben Solo – coming through the inner thoughts of Han – that left me completely stunned early in the book. The child looking up at his father, Older writers:

“Han had no idea how a two-year-old could have such ancient eyes. It was as if Ben had been waiting around for a millennium to show up at just this moment in history.”

Wow! Like, wow! With clarity and brevity, Daniel José Older captures the entire trajectory of the Sith Order which Darth Bane instituted, an Order based on the Rule of Two, an Order which survived for a millennium, an Order which was finally destroyed with the death of Darth Sidious at the hands. Now, as if he had been waiting for the Sith to die out, Ben Solo’s time has finally come, his conception coinciding with the death of Darth Sidious. Ben Solo’s conception and birth are the prophetic sign of a new era of Darkness, a Darkness which has been waiting to emerge for a millennia, a Darkness the boy will one day help to bring about as Kylo Ren. And the “ancient eyes”? Those are the eyes which Han  will sees when his son pushes a red lightsaber through him on Starkiller Base. They will be the very last thing Han ever sees, and perhaps in that moment he will think back to that moment he saw the “ancient eyes” in his two-year-old son.

Han and Ben
Kylo Ren (Ben Solo) looks at his father with “ancient eyes.”
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

That Han’s small reflection on Ben came early in the novel left me hoping more moments would pop up that packed a punch. But there are really no other Star Wars gems in the book on par with Han’s reflection on Ben. Instead, the opposite is true, with two other lines showing up which left me dumbfounded and at a loss. They are (and I can’t believe I am about to type this):

“Tight enough for a bulge and the insinuation of an ass…” (pg. 41).
“Like a droid orgy of some kind, but with astromechs and those old battle droids from the Clone Wars?” (pg. 335) 

My problem with references to “a bulge” and “an ass” and a “droid orgy” is pretty straight forward: they don’t add anything of value to the novel. Unless, that is, one counts shock value, which, in this case, I don’t. There is a time and place in a story to really shock the audience, to authentically catch the reader off-guard with something that comes out of left field. Lando choosing to sacrifice himself for the greater good is shocking, and if he actually died in the process would have been even more shocking. But “a bulge” and “an ass” and a “droid orgy”, these sexually-charged references caught me off-guard and shocked me in a way that left me thinking only one thing: this book is really bad.

The Bad Outweighs the Good

To be fair, I would say this book is really bad even if it didn’t reference “a bulge” and “an ass” and a “droid orgy.” Here, I will list a handful of other things that are problematic about the book (to go along with things I have already mentioned):

  • The flow of the book is choppy and confusing, the narrative jumping back and forth as it follows four storylines through flashbacks. I am not opposed to flashbacks in general, but the book jumps across timelines far too many times without giving the reader a chance to catch their breath.
  • Speaking of flashbacks, Lando’s storyline (“about 15 years ago”) does not line up with the events of Solo: A Star Wars Story. How do I know this? Because I was paying attention in the 1st Grade and learned addition and subtraction.  But there is a bit more to it: L3-37 was destroyed, and uploaded into the Millennium Falcon, in the Solo movie (which takes place around 10 BBY). However, Lando’s flashbacks in Last Shot take place in 8 BBY and L3-37 is still intact and NOT uploaded into the Falcon. Oh, and let’s not forget that at the very end of Solo, the Millennium Falcon no longer belongs to Lando…
  • The villain, Fyzen Gor, gets his own flashbacks but is completely unconvincing as a bad guy and, even worse, uninteresting. What makes his story all the more confusing is that he is from Utapau, his evil plan involves melding organic body parts with droids, and his evil conversion takes place sometime around 13 BBY, but there is not a single reference to General Grievous!!! At the very least, Gor could have been doing his initial evil organic- droid stuff and reflecting on the droid General who died on Utapau in 19 BBY.
  • The droids Gor activate to kill people literally say “Killlllll.” #facepalm
  • Speaking of those killlllllller droids, when Han and Leia’s kitchen droid is activated and moves to killlllll little Ben, a brilliant opportunity existed for the toddler to destroy the droid with his adolescent connection to the Force. This would have been awesome and a perfect connection the “ancient eyes” moment early in the book. Instead, the droid is activated and then immediately deactivated. Ugh!!!!!!
  • Oh, and what about all of the other droids galaxy-wide that were activated? Even though it was brief, a lot of droids probably killllllllled quite a few organic beings in those moments. And by “quite a few” I mean millions, and by millions I mean tens of millions.
  • Where are R2-D2 and C-3PO? This book is about killllllller droids but the two most famous droids in Star Wars never show up. Were they activated?
    Boss Nass
    “Meeeeeesa don’t lika Aro for being preachy.” – Boss Nass

    Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

  • Aro, a Gungan working on Substation Grimdock, gets upset with Han for saying “meesa” and chastises him for assuming all Gungans talk like…like Gungans. I understand what Daniel José Older is TRYING to accomplish here, giving the reader an object lesson in not assuming how individuals speak based on stereotypes. But it comes off as preachy and makes Aro even more annoying than the average Gungan. And besides, there are plenty of Gungans that say “meesa” who do some pretty great things in Star Wars (check out this piece:  The Sacrifice of General Tarpals).
  • Chewbacca doesn’t need to be in the main storyline. Like, at all. He is there…and I know this sounds crazy…just because this novel is partially about Han. Now, to be fair, Older does drum up a reason for Chewie to go on the adventure: young Wookiees being kidnapped by Fyzen Gor for his experiments. However, there is no definitive resolution to this other than Chewie fighting the half droid-half Wookiee abominations. In turn because Chewbacca is “lugging a sack” (pg. 337) following his battle, Han presumes it is full of Wookiee body parts but this is never confirmed. Nor does anyone, at the end, question whether some Wookiees are still being held in some secret laboratory. Oh welllllllllllll….

Here is the deal – if you want to read Star Wars: Last Shot, go for it. It you end up liking it, more power to you. And, if you would like to convince me this book is far better than I have suggested, by all means, leave a comment below. I will gladly give your thought(s) careful consideration. But as of right now, beyond the few things in this book that I actually liked (Taka, Ben Solo, “ancient eyes”) there is just too much stacked against Last Shot for me to give it anymore significant thought. In turn, Last Shot has given rise to an unintended consequence: it has made me less likely to purchase/read Star Wars novels in the future, especially novels by new Star Wars authors. If nothing else, this will (I hope) save me from having Lando’s “bulge” and “ass” shoved in my face again. 


***Page numbers are from the first edition of Star Wars: Last Shot.***