Galactic Empire

Going Solo: Enfys Nest

Something I have always appreciated about Star Wars are those second-tier characters literally shrouded by unique helmets and armor. These characters need not be the center of action in every scene, such as Darth Vader. No, they –  Boba Fett, Captain Phasma – can command the stage through presence alone. Importance radiates from their mysterious outfits and unyielding stances, pulling us into their orbit. They demand our attention and our respect, and we gladly offer it to them.

The latest edition of Star Wars to hit theaters, Solo: A Star Wars Story, introduced movie-goers to yet another of these mysterious figures, this time in the form of Enfys Nest. Leading a loyal band of Cloud-Riders, Enfys Nest – wearing harsh but intriguing armor – makes their first appearance early in Solo on the planet Vandor-1, literally swooping in on a swoop bike to steal the goods, refined coaxium, which Tobias Beckett and Han Solo are themselves attempting to steal. A battle ensues between Beckett’s crew and Nest’s marauding band, a battle which confirms Enfys Nest as a formidable opponent, but a battle which also results in neither side leaving Vandor-1 with the valuable fuel.

That Enfys Nest is a pain in the side of Tobias Beckett and the man he is working for, Dryden Vos, becomes apparent soon after the events on Vandor-1. In turn, while we know Dryden Vos is *probably* the real bad-guy in the film, Enfys Nest is never-the-less established as the antagonist which Han and company must contend with as the film progresses. But it isn’t until much later in the film when Beckett, Solo, and the others arrive on the planet Savareen when Enfys Nest finally reemerges.

There are two moments in Solo: A Star Wars Story that literally made my hair stand up, and both moments happen back-to-back when Enfys Nest returns to the film. After the excitement on Vandor-1, the planet Kessel, and the death-defying Kessel Run, Han Solo and company finally have a moment of reprieve on Savareen, a chance to let out a sigh of relief. The scene is peaceful, Solo and his confederates resting and waiting in a small, run-down ocean-side village. Yet, the peace does not last. Out of no where, Enfys Nest and the Cloud-Riders materialize, standing in the background only yards away from Han Solo. Likewise, the musical score adds to this chilling moment, breaking the serenity on Savareen and signaling that a showdown has commenced. 

With Enfys Nest’s apparitional appearance on Savareen, an old west style stand-off ensues (the title for the musical score is appropriately titled “Savareen Stand-Off”). But guns are not drawn. Instead, only an instant after the stand-off begins, Tobias Beckett calls Enfys Nest a marauder and the reaction from Nest is rather unexpected. Moving forward as if prepared to fight, Nest instead removes the terrifying helmet masking their face. Now, the a second hair-raising revelation occurs: we can see Enfys Nest true face, the face of a young woman of color.

This revelation is a bold one, for Enfys Nest and for Star Wars in general. The power of mysterious characters like Nest resides in NOT knowing the face under the mask. Consider Boba Fett and Captain Phasma. We never see Boba Fett’s face in The Empire Strikes Back but we know the bounty hunter, who shows up in a handful of scenes, is really good at what he does. After all, he tracks the Millennium Falcon to Cloud City, leading the Empire to Cloud City, and leaves with his cargo. As well, we do not see Captain Phasma’s face but we never doubt that she is fearsome and commands the respect of the First Order’s stormtroopers. After all, she gives the command to open fire on the villagers at the beginning of The Force Awakens and chastises FN-2187 for removing his helmet. But with Enfys Nest the mystery is purposefully broken and replaced by long, curly hair blowing in the Savareen wind and the face of woman starring down the condescending Beckett and the cocksure Solo.

In my opinion, Enfys Nest is the absolute best thing about Solo: A Star Wars Story. Sure, there are a lot of cool and delightful things in the film (a film, mind you, I was not planning on seeing), but Enfys Nest, she took my breath away. In Enfys Nest, the Star Wars universe has been gifted with a powerful and commanding woman who can go toe-to-toe with the “Big Boys,” with the likes of the crime-lord Dryden Vos, Tobias Beckett, and even Han Solo. And she does so without the slightest hesitation, standing firm as a physical and principled force who is unwilling to back down, who desires to take on crime syndicates and the Empire. That, we learn, is her goal: going on the offensive and taking the fight to the oppressors in the galaxy far, far away. She and her Cloud-Riders are a force for good, a glimmer of hope, a new hope, in these dark times.

With her unmasking, Enfys Nest purposefully breaks the shroud which encases her, removing that which enables her to command fear and respect. But this profound decision only amplifies the respect for Enfys Nest. True, Tobias Beckett is unmoved, and I am sure there are viewers who did not care for Enfys Nest. But Han Solo is moved, and seeing her humanity and hearing from her, he chooses to help her! Likewise, my interest in Nest exploded, as did my admiration, when she shows us who she is, the face of a small resistance, the leader of that resistance, a young woman of color.

Let me say that again: the face and leader of the resistance is a young woman of color. How awesome is that!?!?!?! Seriously, I hope we get more of Enfys Nest in Star Wars very very soon. And in the meantime, as I impatiently wait for her next appearance – in another film, in her own Forces of Destiny short, in a novel and a comic – I will be going out of my way consuming everything else I can find about Enfys Nest. She is just too damn cool, and too damn important, to ignore. 


**Enfys Nest is portrayed British actress Erin Kellyman.**

Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor (An Imperial Talker Review)

I recently picked up a copy of Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor and, I have to say, it was a serendipitous find. While the encyclopedic book by Ryder Windham and Adam Bray had been on my radar for a while, it was not a purchase I was planning on making any time soon. That is until I stumbled upon a copy for a reduced price on recent shopping trip. Immediately scooping it up, I dove into the book the night I bought it and found myself incapable of putting it down. From the Foreword, written by Star Wars actor John Boyega who portrays First Order Stormtrooper FN-2187 (Finn), to the final pages which detail the popular fan organization known as the 501st Legion, Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor is a fascinating read that explores the history and cultural relevance of the iconic white-armored Imperial soldiers.

For one who is interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of Star Wars, especially the endless creative decisions that have gone into the universe, this book will definitely satisfy. Beginning in Chapter One (“Creating an Army”), Windham and Bray offer an in-depth understanding of the vision George Lucas had for stormtroopers and how that vision blossomed into reality on the big screen. Laying out explanations and examples of the early stormtrooper designs created by artist Ralph McQuarrie, and describing the aesthetic choices made by the production and art departments working on the film, the authors provide a rich picture of the development of stormtroopers for A New Hope. In subsequent chapters, Windham and Bray expand on these creative choices by examining how the original design of the stormtroopers would be altered time and again, with new trooper variants being incorporated into the ever growing Star Wars galaxy.

In regards to these variants, as a big fan of the Snowtrooper – check out my piece Trooping Through the Snow – I particularly enjoyed learning about how the specialized troops in cold weather gear were created for The Empire Strikes Back. As Windham and Bray mention in this section, McQuarrie’s original design for the snowtrooper officers – which were conceptualized as super commandos from the planet Mandalore – would ultimately be used by Lucas as the armor schematic for Boba Fett. As well, the all-white super commando design would be used in the Star Wars Rebels animated show, debuting in the aptly named episode “Imperial Super Commandos.” As well, I also found the information detailing Death Troopers from the film standalone film Rogue One to be  fascinating. The design of the Death Trooper, the authors note, goes back to the original McQuarrie concepts which depict tall, sleek stormtroopers. 

While the aesthetics and production decisions which have gone into designing stormtroopers and their many variants for the films (and other mediums) are explored in Beyond the Armor, Windham and Bray also explore the variety of stormtrooper toys and collectibles which have been created over the years. Admittedly, these sections really stood out as I know very little about the way the toy industry operates, but also because the authors discuss a handful of toys which I had as a kid. And for me, no stormtrooper-related toy described in the book stood out more than the Micro Machines Stormtrooper/The Death Star transforming action set because it is one of the Star Wars toys I still own from my childhood. Plus, it is still in perfect condition, a Star Wars miracle considering all of the other Micro Machines action sets I owned did not survive the disaster area known as “Jeff’s room.”

Stormtroopers
The Micro Machines Stormtrooper/The Death Star transforming action set (center) with a few other pieces of my “Trooper Collection.”

The relationship between stormtroopers and fan culture is also explored in Beyond the Armor, with special emphasis focusing on the 501st Legion. A fan-led organization that specializes in the “bad guys” of Star Wars, the 501st Legion, founded by Albin Johnson in 1997, combines a love of costuming with community service. While the information about fan culture and the 501st Legion was not as interesting or relevant to me, it is never-the-less a critical aspect of the book which helps to highlight the cultural legacy of stormtroopers specifically, and Star Wars more generally. And, at the very least, one will undoubtedly walk away from the book knowing far more about Star Wars fan culture than when they first started reading. I certainly did. 

As I said at the outset, Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor was an unintended purchase but, in the end, one that worked out for the best. While reading an encyclopedic book with behind-the-scenes information about Star Wars is not everyone’s cup-o-tea, this book is definitely one worth getting, especially if you happen to stumble upon it for a reduced price like I did. Admittedly, there are some sections that drag on a bit more than I thought necessary but this never kept me from wanting to keep reading and learning. In all likelihood, I won’t be reading Beyond the Armor again from cover-to-cover unless I get really ambitious, but it will definitely come in handy as a reference book when I need to refresh my memory about some stormtrooper-related topic. Plus, if nothing else, it will look pretty cool on one of my Star Wars bookshelves.

If you have read Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor and would like to share your thoughts on it, leave a comment below.

White Uniform Guy with Red Eyes and a Blue Face

First introduced in Timothy Zahn’s 1991 novel Heir to the Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn has always been my favorite Star Wars character. The white uniformed Imperial officer with red eyes and blue face – an alien of the Chiss species – captivated me as a young Star Wars fan. Watching the films as a youth, I was intrigued by the Empire but did not identify with them. How could I? They were the bad guys, the evil villains dealing death and destruction who had to be stopped by the likes of Luke Skywalker and the other heroes of the Rebellion. And yet, in 1993 when I read Heir to the Empire for the first time I was mesmerized by Grand Admiral Thrawn. Here was an Imperial unique not only in appearance but in demeanor, an intriguing character, a captivating Star Wars villain. Although at the time I could not fully appreciate all of the nuances of Heir to the Empire, all of the intricacies and connections Zahn had created in the novel, I could never-the-less identify with a character who was different and new.

Thrawn Trilogy
“Heir to the Empire”, the first novel in The Thrawn Trilogy.
Photo Credit: Bantam Spectra

Admittedly, there is no easy way to articulate just how my love for Thrawn has grown since that time. While memories from my youth remain rooted in my head, those memories are scattered and sporadic. I can recall, for example, playing the 1994 TIE Fighter computer game and encountering Thrawn through that medium, a medium that offered me a visual depiction of the white uniformed officer. While Thrawn is not at the center of the game, one event in TIE Fighter never-the-less grounds my overall memory: Emperor Palpatine promoting Vice Admiral Thrawn to the elite status of Grand Admiral and ordering him to track down the traitor Demetrius Zaarin. This was, and still is, an event in Star Wars as meaningful to me as watching the climax of A New Hope or the revelation that Darth Vader is the father of Luke Skywalker. In short, my experience of Thrawn, from the very start, was as real to me as anything else in Star Wars. It did not matter that he was never in the Original Trilogy. No, all that mattered was that Grand Admiral Thrawn commanded a presence within the corner of my mind dedicated to Star Wars. He still does.

Like that moment in TIE Fighter, other “Thrawnian” moments in his story-arc stand out. But there is one moment that is light-years beyond all the rest: the way the Grand Admiral is introduced in the first chapter of Heir to the Empire. 

The Art of First Impressions

It is not just that Thrawn shows up in the first chapter of Heir to the Empire, it is how Timothy Zahn chose to introduce him that stands out – through the eyes of, and interactions with, Captain Gilad Pellaeon. Throughout the entirety of Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy (of which Heir to the Empire is the first novel), Pellaeon – commanding Thrawn’s flagship – serves not only as an independent and capable character in his own right, but also as a foil to Thrawn. While Pellaeon is established as a competent commander – reminiscing in the first few pages about leading the Imperial retreat from the Battle of Endor – once he is placed in the same room as the Grand Admiral it becomes apparent that the two exist on different plains of military acumen. How the reader discovers this is in the most obvious way possible: in the form of a battle.

It is Pellaeon who leads the reader to Thrawn, the Captain maneuvering through the corridors of the Star Destroyer Chimaera to inform the Grand Admiral of a successful scan raid on the Obroa-skai system. Yet, as Pellaeon enters a room to meet with Thrawn, our introduction to the Grand Admiral takes a curious turn. This room, we quickly learn, is filled with the holograms of artwork. Rather than concerning himself with the inevitable New Republic attack which he is confident will now unfold following the scan raid – an attack Pellaeon is skeptical will come – the Grand Admiral instead asks the Captain a rather odd question:

“Tell me, Captain, do you know anything about art?”

This singular question, and the brief lesson in art history which unfolds, establishes the uniqueness of Thrawn. He is a student, not only of military tactics and strategy, but of every conceivable topic that will enable him to defeat an enemy. But it is the study of art that truly sets Grand Admiral Thrawn apart, an aspect of his character that is returned to again and again (even in the new version of Thrawn in the Disney canon). It is in this moment that we are not simply introduced to Thrawn the character by Captain Pellaeon, but we are introduced to Thrawn the genius, the savant, the truly grand. Cool and collected, as if his job is that of a museum curator, the Grand Admiral articulates the nuances of artistic pieces to Captain Pellaeon. 

“Thrawn gestured to a part of the inner display circle to his right. ‘Saffa paintings,’ he identified them. ‘Circa 1550 to 2200, Pre-Empire Date. See how the style changes – right here – at the first contact with the Thennqora. Over there-‘ he pointed to the left-hand wall ‘-are examples of Paonidd extrassa art. Note the similarities with the early Saffa work, and also the mid-eighteenth-century Pre-Em Vaathkree flatsculp.'” 

Immediately upon finishing his tour through Saffa and Paonidd art history, the attack comes, and with the same cool and collected demeanor, Grand Admiral Thrawn enacts his strategy to defeat the oncoming New Republic ships. His knowledge of art will play a role in the battle. 

Thrawn: In Action

Again, it is Pellaeon, acting as the foil to Thrawn, who sets up the reader to truly understand the military prowess in the mind of the Grand Admiral. Learning that the attack force consists of four Assault Frigates and three wings of X-Wings (108 Starfighters in total) it is Pellaeon, and not Thrawn, who issues a command.

“‘Run engines to full power,’ he [Pellaeon] called towards the intercom. ‘Prepare to make the jump to lightspeed.'”

Without missing a beat, Thrawn countermands that order, instead issuing an order for TIE pilots to head to their stations and for the Chimaera’s shields to be activated. In turn, the Admiral issues another order for the “three nearest sentry ships to attack.” Watching the holographic tactical display – which had replaced the holograms of art – Pellaeon and Thrawn look on as three blue dots representing the sentry ships speed towards the attackers. As one blue dot disappears, Thrawn again issues an order for the ships to pull back and for the “Sector Four line to scramble out of the invaders’ vector.” In other words, Thrawn gives the attackers a clear path to the Chimaera.

Heir to the Empire
A page from the graphic novel version of Heir to the Empire.
Photo Credit – Dark Horse Comics

Confused, Pellaeon inquires: “Shouldn’t we at least signal the rest of the Fleet?” As if he had already anticipated the question, Thrawn responds by noting that “the last thing we want to do right now is bring in more of our ships…after all, there may be survivors, and we wouldn’t want the Rebellion learning about us. Would we.”

Before I continue, I should note that at no point does one get the impression that Captain Pellaeon, or any of the other subordinates on the Chimaera, are incompetent. As I previously said, Pellaeon is established as being an effective commander by virtue of his role at the Battle of Endor. Likewise, his order to flee into hyperspace, and his question about bringing in reinforcements, serve as clear examples of standard military protocol, the way the Imperial Navy is supposed to operate when it is severely outgunned. And this is what makes Thrawn’s statement about not wanting any survivors all the more fascinating. Pellaeon, a veteran of the Imperial Navy, does not believe his ship and crew – a crew that is young and inexperienced – can take on the attackers. The Grand Admiral not only has the opposite opinion, but he is confident he will annihilate his opponent.

Immediately after saying he does not want there to be survivors, Thrawn gives the order which will ensure this happens.

“‘Bridge: I want a twenty-degree port yaw rotation – bring us flat to the invaders’ vector, superstructure pointing at them. As soon as they’re within the outer perimeter, the Sector Four sentry line is to re-form behind them and ham all transmissions.”

The Bridge, and Pellaeon, are admittedly confused, but Thrawn demands obedience. As the Star Destroyer rotates into position, the Grand Admiral orders all TIE squadrons to launch and head in the opposite direction, away from the enemy. Pellaeon, to his credit, recognizes the tactic: “a classic Marg Sabl maneuver.”  But Pellaeon also questions whether the attackers would really fall for “anything that simple.” In his confidence, Thrawn is positive the attackers will fall for it AND be destroyed in the process. Of course, he turns out to be right.

As if on cue, the attackers change their strategy, playing into Thrawn’s hands. Pellaeon is stunned, inquiring “What in the Empire are they doing?” To this, the Grand Admiral’s response is laced with the brilliant depth of his character:

“‘They’re trying the only defense they know against a Marg Sabl…Or, to be more precise, the only defense they are psychologically capable of attempting. You see Captain, there’s an Elom commanding that force…and Elomin simply cannot handle the unstructured attack profile of a properly executed Marg Sabl.'”

Still stunned, it dawns on Pellaeon precisely how Thrawn had figured out he faced an Elomin task force. “‘That sentry ship attack a few minutes ago…you were able to tell from that that those were Elomin ships,'” the Captain declares. Grand Admiral Thrawn’s response is as predictable as it is unexpected. “‘Learn about art…‘ he tells his second-in-command. ‘When you understand a species’ art, you understand that species.'”

An hour later, we are told, the battle was over.

Conclusion to an Introduction

I must admit that, as I look back over what I have just written above, my retelling of Thrawn’s introduction is only able to partially capture the gravitas of his character. Then again, my intention was not to perfectly recreate the first chapter of Heir to the Empire. Rather, my description serves to acknowledge that there is a profound and impressive literary depth to the first few pages of the novel, a depth that is woven into the rest of the novel and the entire trilogy. Or, to put it differently: Timothy Zahn is one hell of a writer and this is apparent right from the beginning.

Most importantly, the depth in the opening chapter of the novel penetrates to the very core of Grand Admiral Thrawn. It offers the reader insight into this brand new character, identifying him as a formidable and terrifying villain who truly is the “Heir” to the Galactic Empire. At the end of chapter one, the Chiss tells Pellaeon that his plan is to the solve the only puzzle worth solving: “The complete, total, and utter destruction of the Rebellion.” Following his art lesson and his masterful annihilation of an enemy attack, this is clearly no idle threat. Grand Admiral Thrawn really is capable of bringing the New Republic – the Rebellion – to its knees. But if you want to know more about how the white uniform guy with red eyes and a blue face does about doing that, you will just have to reread the trilogy or pick it up for the first time. 


All quotations in this piece are from the 1992 mass market paperback edition of Heir to the Empire.

Haikuesday: Coruscant

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Sorry for the wait,
I’ve been sitting in traffic
for-flippin-ever!

Was gonna write these
at home but I have time now
since we aren’t moving


Rakata Owners.
30,000 BBY.
Legends are the best.


Planet: Coruscant.
From: Heir to the Empire.
Lucas liked the name.


Entire planet,
an Ecumenopolis,
“just one big city.”


Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic


An onscreen debut
in Return of the Jedi
Special Edition.


A distant Temple.
Crowds pack streets celebrating
an Emperor’s death.


The Phantom Menace.
The Republic Capital.
Corruption Galore!


Corellian Run
and Perlemian Trade Route.
Region: the Core Worlds.


Places you should see:
The Senate building of course!
Jedi Temple, too.


Manarai Mountains.
NOT an urbanized landscape.
Still canon to me.


Need something to eat?
You should try Dex’s Diner.
Tasty Jawa Juice.


Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic


I wonder what the
planetary accident
rate happens to be.


Zillo Beast Terror!
Malastare to Coruscant.
Palpatine’s problem.


Honor Salima,
Coruscant Home Defense Fleet.
She is in command.


Coruscant below,
a Venator on patrol
as fire rages.

Seppie Invasion!
The Battle of Coruscant.
Massive engagement.

Invisible Hand:
Grievous’ dreadnaught, flagship.
Anakin “lands” it.


Republic dissolved.
Galactic Empire born.
Capital remains.

Official name change.
 Now: Imperial Center.
Thanks to Palpatine.


Super construction.
Buried beneath big buildings.
Dreadful Lusankya.


Deadly Krytos trap!
Isard unleashes virus
after the Rogues win.


Great Hyperspace War!
Sadow attacks Coruscant.
The Jedi rally.


Yuuzhan Vong control,
27 ABY.
Time to terraform!


The Jedi Temple,
sitting on a “Sithy” spot,
says James Luceno.


Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic


Hold up for a sec:
Do we ever see the dark
side of Coruscant?


The Koros Trunk Line,
from Koros to Coruscant.
Grievous and Sadow.


Grand plan: Asteroids.
Thrawn lays siege to Coruscant
using some space rocks.

Haiku Addendum:
The rocks are invisible.
Damn, Thrawn is brilliant!


Coruscant terror!
Grievous sends cleaning droids armed
with bombs to the world.


Sheev and Anakin.
Galaxies Opera House.
Performance: Squid Lake.


Clone Commander Fox
leading the Coruscant Guard
during the Clone Wars.


Darth Krayt’s Empire.
Capital for the One Sith.
Hardly a surprise.


Rising First Order.
Hosnian Cataclysm.
Lucky Coruscant.


Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic


The Outlander Club.
Kenobi and Skywalker
track an assassin.


Thrawn, Ciena,  Eli,
Nash, Thane, Kendy. Jude, Kallus.
Academy grads.


Coruscant rebels.
The Anklebiter Brigade.
CoCo born youngsters.


Ahsoka and Plo,
descent to the underworld.
Mythic adventure.


Coruscant haiku.
Dizzying, overwhelming.
Just like the city.


Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Traffic and Traffic
and Traffic and Traffic and
Traffic and Traffic

Ugh, seriously!!!!!!!!
They should rename Coruscant
“Stuck in Traffic World”

Why did I move here!?!?!
I spend my time sitting in
these jam packed sky lanes.

Screw it, I’m moving.
I’ll find some backwater world
and settle down there.

Coruscant is the
bright center but I’ll find the
planet farthest from.

Traffic and Traffic
…if I can get home and pack…
Traffic and Traffic


Haikuesday is a monthly series on The Imperial Talker, a new post with poetic creations coming on the first Tuesday of each month. The haiku topic is chosen by voters on Twitter so be sure to follow @ImperialTalker so you can participate in the voting. Now, check out these past Haikuesday posts:

Droids (February 2017)

Ahsoka Tano (March 2017)

Darth Vader (April 2017)

The Battle of Scarif (May 2017)

The Truce at Bakura (June 2017)

Queen Amidala (July 2017)

Ryloth (August 2017)

Cloud City (September 2017)

General Grievous (October 2017)

Millennium Falcon (November 2017)

Poe Dameron (December 2017)

The Battle of Umbara (January 2018)

Hondo Ohnaka (February 2018)

Jyn Erso (March 2018)

The Imperial March

When the new Star Wars ComLINKS topic for October 2017 – Favorite Musical Score –  was announced over at Anakin and His Angel I knew I had to jump in and participate. For a while now, I have been thinking about writing a bit more about the music that accompanies Star Wars, the iconic compositions of John Williams that give the original trilogy gravitas and have also influenced other Star Wars composers. It is safe to say – and really a no-brainer – that without the music of Williams, Star Wars would be much different. But I will leave a larger conversation of the music of Star Wars to another person, or at least save it for another occasion. For now, with the ComLINKS topic in mind, I am excited to share my thoughts/feelings on Favorite Musical Score in Star Wars. And, of course, it’s “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme).”

The word “theme” is appropriate here because, let’s face it, I consistently return to The Empire Strikes Back to discuss my favorite aspects of Star Wars. It should really come as no surprise, then, that my favorite score would also come from my favorite Star Wars film. Naturally I love Star Wars across the board, but my deep affection for The Empire Strikes Back – embedded within me as a child – is the true grounding of my Star Wars adoration. That being the case, the issue at hand is not that my favorite musical score comes from The Empire Strikes Back, but rather, why is this particular score from the film’s soundtrack my favorite and not another?

To be entirely blunt, “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” is my favorite score because it is established as the de facto anthem of the Galactic Empire. As a child, I was fascinated by the Empire, having a “Casterfoian” (google “Casterfo”) interest in the baddies of the Star Wars universe. While I knew the Empire was evil, and I celebrated the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope with the Rebels, The Empire Strikes Back introduced me to a different way of viewing/experiencing the Empire. No longer were they simply the bad guys with a massive moon-sized space station but, instead, they were the bad guys who had Probe Droids, Super Star Destroyers, Imperial Walkers, Snowtroopers, TIE Bombers, and more. Even though they took a big hit in A New Hope, these baddies were anything but knocked out, and still had the means to level a crushing blow to the Rebel Alliance on the planet Hoth. And, to top it off, the Empire now had distinct piece of music – doubling as the theme for the villainous Darth Vader – to capture their harsh, galactic reach.

To this day, the raw power of “The Imperial March” continues to captivate and hold me not only because it originates in The Empire Strikes Back, but because I have come to appreciate it on a deeper level. As a child, I was unaware that the piece was influenced by Chopin’s “Funeral March” and Gustav Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War.” And yet, today, I am equally captivated by these pieces, all thanks to my childhood enjoyment of the Empire/Vader’s powerful anthem. Plus, this is also the case with a number of others scores from Star Wars, my enjoyment of these leading me to a more profound appreciation of other classical pieces.

At the same time, while “The Imperial March” is laced with childhood meaning and has led me to its musical influences, it also continues to be a piece that, quite frankly, captures me and takes hold each time I hear it. The repetition of the strings in the opening riff, crisp and dark (thanks to it being in a minor key), captures my attention until the brass presents the iconic melody in the fifth bar, gripping me with its clear-cut strength and power. Having washed over me like a wave in a storm, there is no escape. The moment I hear the opening to “The Imperial March,” and the iconic brass melody which serves as a leitmotif for Empire and Vader has begun, I must continue to listen. It would be wrong to turn around, to stop the March from moving forward. And so, no matter the situation, I will always let “The Imperial March” continue…

…which is, in a very real sense, the point of the piece. “The Imperial March” is aptly named because it perfectly encompasses the forward progress of the Galactic Empire, a progression which is difficult to stop. The Empire, wounded as it was at Yavin IV, continues its march of terror, death, and destruction. And, of course, Darth Vader spearheads the Imperial march across the galaxy, hunting down those who wish to stop the Empire. But it cannot be stopped, it will not be stopped, and it is futile to even try.


This post is part of the Star Wars ComLINKS series. Check out more Star Wars ComLINKS over at Anakin and His Angelswcomlinksbanner1

Feeding Tarkintown

A world in the far reaches of the galaxy’s Outer Rim, the planet Lothal and the streets of the Imperial-occupied world’s Capital City serve as the action-packed arena for Star Wars Rebels very first Act. Introduced first to the “loth-rat” Ezra Bridger, a teenage orphan, “Spark of Rebellion” – the title for the very first two episodes of the animated series – gives viewers immediate action when Bridger observes three individuals attack an Imperial detachment seeking to commandeer the storage containers the Empire is transporting. Jumping into the action, Bridger  steals a speeder bike with two of the containers and the Rebels, having captured the other cargo, must pursue the teen to re-acquire the goods. Eventually escaping with one of the containers by fleeing the city and losing his pursuers, Bridger never-the-less finds himself saved by the Rebels moments later. Fleeing on board their ship, The Ghost, it is only then that Bridger learns that the container he stole contains Imperial blasters. However, as we and Bridger soon learn, weapons are not the only goods the Rebels were stealing from the Empire.

As The Ghost flees Imperial pursuit by heading into hyperspace, Bridger demands to be returned to Lothal. He is surprised to learn that this is exactly the plan, the captain of the vessel, Hera Syndulla, explaining to him that the job on Lothal is not yet finished. Landing on a small hill in a remote location on Lothal,  Bridger is told to “pull his weight” by grabbing one of the stolen crates and joining two members of the crew as they descend the hill and enter the ram-shack village at its base. Known as Tarkintown, Bridger soon learns that it is home to displaced citizens of Lothal, citizens who had been kicked off their farms by the Empire. Arriving in the town center, it is only now that Ezra learns that the contents of the other crates the Rebels had stolen, the crates he and his companions have brought into Tarkintown, are filled with food. And, as the Rebel Zeb Orrelios announces there is “free grub” for the citizens, Bridger is taken-aback by the thanks he receives from citizens who are grateful for the generosity of the Rebels.

Tarkintown
Ezra Bridger (left), Sabine Wren (center), and Zeb Orrelios (right) transport crates through Tarkintown.
Photo Credit -Star Wars Rebels Season 1, Episodes 1-2: “Spark of Rebellion”

While the entire scene lasts but a moment, and Bridger and company move on from Tarkintown shortly afterwards, I have never-the-less always felt that the act of feeding those in need was a profound way to establish the moral and ethical compass of this band of Rebels. It is conceivable, given the way the opening Act in “Spark of Rebellion” unfolds – the attack on the Empire, Bridger stealing a crate, the Rebels saving the teen – that the show-runners could have moved the plot along without a trip to feed the hungry. However, showing that they were not just stealing weapons but also food, food that they were willing to share freely with the less fortunate, was a simple and effective way of showing that these Rebels are driven not only by a sense of justice, but also by compassion and humanitarianism.

On this point, it is worth noting that this act of humanitarianism stuns Bridger. Caught unaware by the fact that he is delivering food to Tarkintown’s inhabitants, and even more surprised when he is thanked by a hungry towns-person for the assistance, Bridger will retreat back to the hillside where he will sit and look down upon the village in silence. I cannot help but wonder if Bridger’s thoughts carried him back to the events from earlier in the day when we first met him on the streets of Capital City in the shows first few moments. Then, before his encounter with the Rebels, he had helped a food vendor who had been accosted by the Empire and then, taking advantage of the situation, cheekily stole some of the merchant’s jogan fruit. “A kids gotta eat” Bridger declares to justify his blatant robbery, a true statement but hardly grounds for the action, especially after the vendor freely offered him a jogan fruit as thanks for the teens assistance. Having just helped to deliver food to the hungry inhabitants of Tarkintown, it is worth asking: does Bridger now feel sorrow for selfishly stealing the food from vendor, especially since there are others who are worse off than he?

Granted, this is merely speculation. We do not know, nor can we know, what Bridger is thinking in his moment of silence, and one can certainly imagine that many separate thoughts were running through his mind. But putting Ezra’s hypothetical musings aside, it is equally worth noting that the entire opening Act of “Spark of Rebellion” is bookended by 1) Bridger’s relationship to others and; 2) food/hunger. At the beginning of the Act, Ezra purposefully helps another (the vendor) but takes food for himself because he “needs to eat.” At the end of the Act, he shares food with others who are themselves hungry even though, to his own admission, he “didn’t do anything” purposeful to help them. And nestled within those two bookends are the selfless actions of a Rebel cell that attacks the Empire so they can help others. In fact, it is worth noting that while the food is delivered to Tarkintown’s residents, the stolen weapons will be sold for money and, more importantly, information about a group of Wookiee slaves the Rebels desire to free from bondage. Once again, these Rebels – Bridger included – will embark on a humanitarian mission, risking their own lives by challenging the Empire so as to help those in need.

There are certainly other ways one could analyze the opening Act in “Spark of Rebellion” specifically and the episode as a whole more generally. However, I think it necessary and appropriate to end by noting that while the hungry citizens of Tarkintown are fictional, there are nearly 800 million people around the world dealing with undernourishment. That is 1 out of 9 people in the world! While Spark of Rebellion, and Star Wars Rebels, are a form of entertainment we can all enjoy, I hope that individuals who watch it – children and adults alike – are motivated to act selflessly (like the crew of The Ghost) and help our sisters and brothers who are struggling to find a meal.

For more information on world hunger and related issues, check out the links below. Oh, and I know you have time to check them out because you just spent like two minutes reading this Star Wars post. Seriously, if you could take the time to read this piece about make-believe Rebels who help make-believe citizens in Tarkintown, then you can take a few minutes to read about world hunger and discover ways that you can help alleviate the suffering of those who are undernourished or experiencing food insecurity. Here are the links, get to it…

The Hunger Site – There is a button on this page that says “Click Here to Give – it’s FREE” and every click is a donation to help those in need of a meal! GO CLICK THE BUTTON!

Feeding America – In the United States, 1 out of every 8 people struggle with food insecurity. Feeding America operates food banks nationwide to help tackle this problem. Check out the site for ways YOU can volunteer at a local food bank.

Hunger Notes Be sure to “Take a Hunger Quiz” so you can learn more about issues related to hunger. Oh, and for every quiz that is taken,  Hunger Notes makes a small donation to assist hungry people!

Meals on Wheels – Operating in nearly every American community, Meals on Wheels seeks to address senior hunger and isolation. Did you know that 1 out of every 6 seniors in the United States struggles with hunger? Or that 1 out of every 4 lives alone and in isolation? Explore the site to discover volunteer opportunities!

Haikuesday: Darth Vader

Prophecy. Chosen.
Slave to Fate. Destined to Hate.
Dark Lord. Sith. Vader.

The Temple attacked.
Younglings hide. Vader enters.
Do what must be done.

Descent into Hell,
Mustafar, where He will be
baptized by fire.

Body burned, broken.
Pain fuels His rage, His hatred.
He is still alive.

The crash of thunder.
A dead man Reborn, entombed
in armor of black.

More machine than man.
Is there good in this monster?
Pain. Rage. Darkness. Shame.

“Shame is worse than death” 
Shame embodies, inhabits Him.
Shame is Pain, is Hate.

Kooyanisqatsi.
Under a Dark facade lives
an unbalanced soul.

To balance the Force.
No, to defeat His Master.
He must be balanced.

Submerged in hatred,
swallowed by the Dark abyss,
chains will be broken.

Darth Vader, like Fate –
immanis et inanis,
monstrous and empty.

A desolate world,
Malachor, there He will break
a chain: Ahsoka.

Out of the Darkness
a red blade ignites, the Lord
of Death is revealed.

A man screams for help.
From Death, from Dark Lord Vader,
there is no escape.

With graceful malice
the Dark Lord grants death to all
who might oppose Him.

A black clad figure
emerges from the smoke and
walks among the dead.

Lacking faith in Him
irritates Him, disturbs Him.
Lack faith, invite death.

Padmé, she lacked faith.
She brought Obi-Wan to Him.
She invited death.

Entering a cell.
Within, a young woman waits…
…waits for His torture.

Red blade ignited.
Vader stands ready to break
a chain: Kenobi.

The Death Star destroyed.
Failure, another failure.
His Master, displeased.

Searching for the truth,
the truth about the pilot.
The truth: it’s His son.

Clumsy and stupid
Admiral Ozzel receives the
Dark Lord’s gift of death.

“What is thy bidding?”
Kneeling before his Master…
…when will Vader strike?

Apologizing
to Lord Vader, Needa is
forgiven with death.

Battle in the clouds.
Over a chasm, Vader
maims His foe: His son.

“I am your Father.”
“Search your feelings, you know it
to be true.” “Join Me.”

Vader’s forgiveness,
more gracious than His Master.
Jerjerrod takes note.

Twisted and evil.
Is there good in this monster?
His Son believes so.

In a Star of Death
the Father and Son battle.
A clash of titans.

Thoughts betray His Son,
He can sense the boy’s Fear for
a twin, a Sister.

A thought arises:
If the boy will not join Him
then perhaps SHE will…

A wave of hatred.
A swift and violent attack.
Son maims the Father.

His Master joyful,
tells His Son to strike Him down.
But His Son resists.

His Son, a Jedi.
His Master strikes, His Son screams.
Vader knows that sound.

Rise. Stand. Watch. Hear. Feel.
His Son in pain, pleads for help.
He knows pain, lives pain.

Pain. Rage. Hate. Shame. Love.
Emotions invade His mind.
The moment has come.

His Master is strong,
but He has become stronger.
Apprentice no more.

Last Rites in Lightning,
Darth Vader, Lord of Death, dies.
A Jedi Returns.

Worshiped, revered by
Raiders, Dark Acolytes, Knights.
Vader, a Dark God.

The pull to the Light
threatens to overwhelm Ben,
Darth Vader’s grandson.

Knight of Ren: Kylo.
Another life unbalanced.
Kooyanisqatsi.


Haikuesday is a monthly series on The Imperial Talker, a new post with poetic creations coming on the first Tuesday of each month. The haiku topic is chosen by voters on Twitter so be sure to follow @ImperialTalker so you can participate in the voting. Now, check out these past Haikuesday posts:

Droids (February 2017)

Ahsoka Tano (March 2017)

The Battle of Scarif (May 2017)

The Truce at Bakura (June 2017)

Queen Amidala (July 2017)

Ryloth (August 2017)

Imperial Profile: Admiral Tenant

“Nils Tenant is very competent.” – Moff Tarkin to Emperor Palpatine (from the novel Tarkin)

Admittedly, it is a bit odd that I decided to write a post about Rear Admiral Nils Tenant. On the one hand, with the recent revelation that my all-time favorite Star Wars character,  Grand Admiral Thrawn, will be making his glorious return to the universe, one would think I would be doing a post on him instead. It is certainly true that I am beyond excited to encounter Thrawn in a new novel and Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels, but at the moment, I am just not prepared to post anything about him.

On the other hand, doing a post on Tenant is odd because he is a rather minor Star Wars character. Actually, saying he is a minor character is being generous. The fact is, Nils Tenant has received only two canonical appearances in the Star Wars universe. His first comes in The Clone Wars episode “Overlords,” appearing rather briefly in the newsreel which serves as a prelude to the show. While he goes unnamed in the show, the episode guide for “Overlords” on StarWars.com at least puts a rank/name to his face, identifying him as Admiral Tenant.

In turn, James Luceno incorporated Tenant into his novel Tarkin. Given the first name Nils and the Imperial rank of Rear Admiral, Tenant’s story is slightly expanded in the book. Most notably, we discover that Rear Admiral Tenant and Moff Wilhuff Tarkin – the novels main protagonist – have a fond relationship dating back to their time in the Sullust Sector Spacefarers Academy. Crossing paths early in the novel when Tarkin travels to Coruscant, the two men have a short but cordial conversation as two friends. While I won’t spoil the dialogue for those who have not read Luceno’s book, I will note that the most revealing moment in the conversation comes when Tenant asks his friend to “put in a word for me” with the Emperor (whom Tarkin is heading to meet when the two cross paths).

TarkinCover
The cover of the novel Tarkin.
Photo Credit – Del Rey

Now, on the surface of things, this scene could just be interpreted as one officer trying to use his personal connections to gain more status. In fact, Tarkin even recognizes that this is precisely what Tenant is doing, thinking to himself that “he could understand wanting to be in the Emperor’s good graces…” However, Tarkin does not chastise Tenant for the request. While the Governor is slighty caught-off guard by it, he never-the-less validates his friend by clasping Tenant on the shoulder and stating “If the occasion arises, Nils.” In turn, Tenant smiles and states that Tarkin is “a good man.” And that, right there, is the point of the entire conversation – the exchange helps to establish Wilhuff Tarkin, a man we know will order the destruction of Alderaan thirteen years later, as a man who is also viewed by some as a decent individual. In other words, Rear Admiral Tenant’s brief appearance aids in the humanization of Moff Tarkin!!!

But that is the most I will say about Tarkin and his fascinating character development in the novel that bears his name. I encourage you all to read Tarkin if you haven’t – it is, in fact, my favorite novel in the Star Wars canon to date – but otherwise I wish to turn back to Nils Tenant. Of course, there is little more to say about him other than filling in small details from the novel. After serving in the Clone Wars as the commander of a Venator-class Star Destroyer (his ship is also in  “Overlords”), we learn that he was assigned to “pacification” once the Empire was formed. Unfortunately, what this means is never clarified in Tarkin, although I presume it refers to the pacification of worlds/species/groups rebelling against Imperial rule. Furthermore, we also learn through his conversation with the Governor that Admiral Tenant had returned to Coruscant for a meeting of the Joint Chiefs, a body made up of the top brass in the Empire’s Army and Navy. As if a moment of foreshadowing, at novels end, the narrator tells us that Rear Admiral Tenant has also become a member of the Joint Chiefs, a promotion perhaps resulting from Tarkin’s conversation with the Emperor. 

Beyond these basics, though, Nils Tenant receives no more major character development in the novel Tarkin. None-the-less, his brief conversation with Governor Tarkin was enough to capture my attention and write this post on him, and because of this I also hope that Rear Admiral Tenant makes some more appearances at various points throughout the canon. Personally, I have always had an intense fascination with the Imperial officers corps, a fascination responsible for posts on other officers in the past – Wullf Yularen and Maximilian Veers – and posts to come. While Nils Tenant and other peripheral characters do not necessarily drive the stories in the Star Wars canon, their presence/existence never-the-less deepens our understanding of the Empire and it’s powerful military. Plus, those officers who are major characters, such as Wilhuff Tarkin and Rae Sloane, benefit from a strong supporting cast which interacts with them, even if that interaction is a short conversation in a bustling hallway.

As for Nils Tenant, I don’t anticipate he will ever become a major actor in the Star Wars saga, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him again especially since James Luceno is the author of the upcoming novel Star Wars: Catalyst, a novel serving as a prelude to the film Rogue One. I just have a small feeling that we’ll encounter Rear Admiral Nils Tenant when the book is released. But hey, even if we don’t, I still think he’ll pop up again somewhere in the canon. 

Trooping Through the Snow

This month’s Star Wars ComLINKS topic is Favorite Trooper and I have to say, when it was announced I got really excited but also knew that it was gonna end up being hard to narrow down which type of trooper I love. In fact, right after I read the topic on Anakin and His Angel, I jokingly told Jenmarie (who runs the site) that my choice was “all of them.” For a hot minute, I actually thought about writing about all of the troopers in Star Wars, explaining my love for each one, but I decided to nix that idea because 1) I don’t have the time and 2) the topic is singular, not plural. So, I buckled down and spent some time doing reflecting and it hit me:

My Favorite Trooper in Star Wars is the Cold Weather Assault Stormtrooper, otherwise known as the Imperial Snowtrooper.

I feel like I have said this about a hundred thousand times in other posts, but my favorite Star Wars movie has always been The Empire Strikes Back. A while ago, I wrote about how my favorite creature, the Wampa, is introduced in the film, and I have also written posts on my love of the Imperial Walkers and another on my fascination with General Veers. It should really come as no surprise, then, that my favorite type of trooper in Star Wars are the unique-looking soldiers who storm into the Rebel base on the ice planet Hoth. That said, I should note that my fascination with the Snowtrooper is not superficial, a mere by-product of my enduring love of The Empire Strikes Back. Rather, it is really the other way around – the various facets that make up the film provide all of the reasons I love it, especially those facets dealing with the Empire. 

Snowtrooper4
A Snowtrooper fires at the Millenium Falcon.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

You see, like Senator Ransolm Casterfo in Claudia Gray’s novel Bloodline, I too have always had a fascination with the Empire. This is not to suggest I support or admire the unjust, dictatorial and genocidal tendencies of Imperial rule, but rather that I have always found myself wanting to know more about the “bad guys” in Star Wars in hopes of coming to a deeper understanding of how it operates on every level. In this regard, I have always felt that of all three films in the Original Trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back provides the most fascinating look at the Empire, although this hardly means I dislike what we learn in the other two films. Rather, The Empire Strikes Back takes the monolithic Empire from A New Hope and adds a dynamic new way of thinking about it while also maintaining its terrifying essence.

The most obvious way the film does this (though not the only way) is by utilizing elements of the Imperial military first introduced in A New Hope – Star Destroyers, TIE Fighters, and Stormtroopers – while also adding to the Empire’s arsenal of soldiers and weapons. Thus, we are introduced to a handful of new military assets in the film: Probe Droids, a Super Star Destroyer, TIE Bombers, All-Terrain Armored Transports (AT-AT), All-Terrain Scout Transport (AT-ST), and of course, the Snowtrooper. On the surface, these new elements visually represent the breadth of the Imperial military, showing that the Empire has far more at its disposal than previously thought. However, these assets also add incredible depth to Imperial power, depth that I continue to uncover in new ways each time I watch The Empire Strikes Back.

At this point, I could very well go into detail about the depth I am speaking of as it relates to each military asset introduced in the film. However, since the focus of this piece is my favorite trooper in Star Wars, I will end with some thoughts on the introduction of the Snowtrooper in The Empire Strikes Back and how, as a kid, their appearance added a dynamic dimension to my understanding of the Empire.

Into the Cold

The first thing that should be said about the Snowtroopers is perhaps the most obvious: their appearance in The Empire Strikes Back is very brief. The first Snowtrooper we meet is in a short scene with General Veers, the Imperial officer leading the assault on Hoth in an AT-AT. Speaking to the soldier – presumably a commander of some type – Veers states that “All troops will debark for ground assault.” Otherwise, the bulk of scenes involving the Snowtroopers take place inside the Rebel Base, the men and women racing through the halls along with Darth Vader. In turn, as the Millenium Falcon attempts to escape, we see the troopers set up their weapons and begin firing at the ship, with return fire from the Falcon killing a handful of the white clad soldiers.

Snowtrooper3
A screenshot of a Snowtrooper in Star Wars Battlefront.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Battlefront (EA Dice)

Like I said, their appearance in the film is very brief. And yet, even in their brevity, the Snowtroopers left an indelible mark on me, an enduring fascination that I have never been able to shake (not that I want to). On the surface, this mark is purely aesthetic, an interest in the outfit these soldiers wear into battle. In all honesty, I have always felt that the Snowtrooper uniform is quite beautiful, an admittedly odd sentiment but one I can no more explain than the beauty I see in a flower.

But passing beyond the aesthetic, what the Snowtrooper taught me about the Empire is something far more pointed. It showed me that the Empire utilizes Stormtrooper units that are trained and equipped for certain contingencies, in this case warfare on a icy planets. Granted, we do see different types of Stormtroopers in A New Hope – Sandtroopers and Spacetroopers – but these are all variations on the standard armor that most of these soldiers wear. The Snowtrooper, on the other hand, stands out because its armor is fundamentally different from these other Stormtrooper units. And it is this very reason, this difference in armor, that helped pry open the door to the my Imperial imagination and made me realize these were not just ordinary Stormtroopers with different armor, but an elite type of Stormtrooper with a singular military purpose.

And with that said, I leave you with a thought that has rattled around in my brain for as long as I can remember: while I absolutely love the Imperial Walkers introduced in The Empire Strikes Back, a small part of me wishes, instead, that we could have witnessed the specially trained Snowtroopers methodically capturing the Rebel trenches on Hoth as a blizzard rages around them…that would have been a hell of a sight.


This post is part of the Star Wars ComLINKS series. Check out more Star Wars ComLINKS over at Anakin and His Angel.

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