Galactic Empire

Impressed by Paploo

Allow me to paint you a picture with my imagination brush:

I had just returned home around 8:30pm – I had been at a volleyball game coaching my team to another victory (boo yeah!) – and ended up on the couch flipping through the channels trying to find something to watch. Lo and behold, I came across Return of the Jedi during the speeder bike chase and said to myself “You know, I haven’t watched ‘Jedi’ in a while so I might as well keep watching.” So, there I am, on the couch, watching Return of the Jedi as the film continues. The Rebel heroes meet their soon-to-be Ewok allies, Luke tells Leia they are siblings, Han gets jealous and Leia wants a hug, Vader and Luke end up discussing Vader’s moral compass, the Rebel fleet enters hyperspace, and the Rebels discover, thanks to the Ewoks, that there is a “back-door” to the Imperial facility on Endor. 

Paploo with Wicket

Paploo discusses his plan with Wicket. Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Okay, so, the Rebels are led to the back-door by the Ewoks. Unfortunately, as you already know, the entry is guarded by four scout troopers milling about and chatting without a care in the galaxy. As Han Solo and his Rebel pathfinders do not want to alert the Empire to their presence, he and the group discuss their options. As they do so, the highly strung C-3PO learns from an Ewok counterpart that “…our furry companion has gone and done something rather rash.” Telling this to the group, Leia expressing an audible “Oh, no” the group watches as one Ewok moves towards the scout troopers.

Or rather, Paploo, the Ewok in question, moves towards the scout bikes sitting at the end of the clearing. Getting onto one of the bikes, Paploo proceeds to turn it on and zips off into the forest pursued by three of the four scouts. “Not bad for a little furball. There is only one left,” Han professes, obviously impressed by Paploo’s ingenuity. 

Like Han, I too have always been impressed by Paploo’s quick-thinking decision to steal a speeder bike. But what truly impressed me during this particular viewing of Return of the Jedi as I sat on my couch was the fact that Paploo seems to know PRECISELY how to operate the scout bike. This realization had never dawned on me prior to this moment, the fact that this primitive creature with absolutely zero technological understanding knew the exact sequence of buttons and switches that needed to be activated for the bike to work. Impressive, Paploo, most impressive.

Granted, it is entirely possible that Paploo just gets lucky, that he randomly flips the correct switches and the bike ends up working. I’m hardly opposed to this possibility. It is, after all, the most likely way the scene is meant to be viewed. Never-the-less, as I sat on my couch watching Paploo start the bike, for the first time it dawned on me that the Ewok furball knew what to do. And, as a result, a second thought, a question, popped into my mind: how can we explain the primitive Paploo’s expertise in Imperial technology?

Honestly, I think explaining Paploo’s actions as intentional is easy, and actually works in conjunction with the thoughts I laid out about the Ewoks in my piece “Cute, Funny, and Very Deadly” way back in 2015. In that post – which was part of Ewok Week – I made the point that the Ewoks were either preparing to fight the Empire, or they had already started the fight when the Rebels show up. You can go read that post to get a deeper look at these ideas, especially since I believe Paploo’s apptitude with a scout bike can easily be tacked onto them. 

Paploo Speeder
Paploo pilots the stolen speeder.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

If the Ewoks were already fighting the Empire, or just preparing for their war, it would make logical sense that the primitive beings took the time to learn about their foreign invaders. We can assume, then, that Paploo, and perhaps a number of other Ewoks, had already stolen scout bikes in order to learn more about these curious and unfamiliar machine. When he sneaks up on the bikes to steal one in Return of the Jedi, Paploo would already have an understanding, even a basic one, about how the contraption works. Not to mention, he also seems to know how to drive the speeder once it zips off into the forest. The initial acceleration surprises Paploo, but he regains control with relative ease and pilots the bike deeper into the forest with the three Imperial scouts hot on his tail. 

Again, it could just be that Paploo gets lucky. Maybe he did. Honestly though, I find it far more likely, and way more interesting, if he and other Ewoks had taken the time to learn about the bikes as part of an attempt to better understand their enemy. But you can decide for yourself.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think about Paploo and his speeder bike excursion!

A Star Wars Celebration

My twelfth birthday party was a Star Wars celebration. Just ten days before I turned the big “one-two” (March 24, 1997) the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi was released in movie theaters. So on the Sunday before my birthday, a handful of friends and I were dropped off at the local theater to see Episode VI/

While there are plenty of gripes to be had with the Star Wars Special Edition – George Lucas’ re-mastered/edited Original Trilogy – as a kid I really had no issue with them. At the time, what got me excited was seeing Star Wars on a big screen, plain and simple. Besides, the Original Trilogy Special Edition were not just another set of films. Oh no, they were the pinnacle of cinematic brilliance in my young mind, a new way of experiencing Star Wars in a shape and form I had never imagined possible. Coupled with the knowledge that Lucas was, at the time, working on a new Star Wars trilogy, the Special Edition was, in many respects, my first step into a fundamentally different way of being a Star Wars fan.

I am unable to remember every detail about my twelfth birthday. Today, twenty-two years removed, many of the details are a blur. I can recall which friends I went with, but I do not remember what we talked about as we sat and waited for Return of the Jedi to begin. I am sure our conversation was brilliantly nerdy and immaculately adolescent. I would expect nothing less from almost 12-year-old me. Likewise, my memory of watching the film on that Sunday afternoon is spotty, and I am just not able to bring forth the emotions/feelings I had as the movie played.

Except, that is not entirely true. While memories fade as time moves on, I CAN recall precisely how I felt at the end of the film. Etched into my mind is the sheer joy, hope, and wonder of seeing the various celebrations which took place across the Star Wars galaxy following the Battle of Endor. While the original cut of Return of the Jedi ONLY included the Rebels celebrating with the Ewoks after the battle, in this new Special Edition of the film George Lucas inserted brief shots of galactic citizens flooding streets and celebrating together. As I sat there watching these Star Wars celebrations unfolding on Bespin, Tatooine, Naboo, and Coruscant, I was left feeling dizzy with excitement. Even now, as I think of that moment in the theater, the memory is visceral, I am still dizzy and overwhelmed.

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But why? Why, after watching two hours of Return of the Jedi, would the end, and the inclusion of these celebrations, resonate with me so deeply? Honestly, the answer is so dang obvious that it is almost underwhelming: it’s because humans and aliens across the galaxy were coming together to celebrate the downfall of the Galactic Empire.

I always enjoyed the original celebration at the end of Return of the Jedi, where the Ewoks and Rebels are dancing/singing together (and Lando is awkwardly clapping along to the “Ewok beat”) following their victory at Endor. But this Star Wars celebration was always small scale and localized, it was JUST the participants from the battle who were rejoicing. In the Special Edition, what we end up seeing is the news of the Endor victory cascading across the galaxy: another Death Star destroyed, the Imperial fleet in tatters, and most importantly, the Emperor dead. On Coruscant, in the heart of the Imperial capital, fireworks were launched and statues torn down. On Naboo, Gungans danced and shouted “Wesa free!” Seeing these celebrations taking place on different planets expanded the impact of what the Rebellion had accomplished not for themselves, but for the galaxy writ-large. In that moment, as I sat transfixed by the sights and sounds of these Star Wars celebrations, I was transported across the vast expanse of the Star Wars galaxy and was given the chance to truly experience just how important the Rebel cause, and victory, was for average people. 

George Lucas gets a lot of flak for choices he made with the Special Edition but to this day I am incredibly grateful – as a Star Wars fan and a person – for the addition of these celebrations at the end of Return of the Jedi. On a day I was having a Star Wars celebration of my own, getting to witness the joy of individuals within Star Wars celebrating the defeat of the Empire was truly special. 

Luke Skywalker: The Loss of Innocence

Frantic to return to his homestead to warn his family about an impending Imperial raid, Luke arrives too late. Slowing down in his landspeeder, the young man leaps out and calls to his uncle Owen and aunt Beru as black smoke billows from his burning home. Scanning the destruction, Luke locks eyes on the smoldering carcasses of his guardians. Not only was he too late, but the extermination was absolute. Luke may have expected, as he sped closer to home and could see the smoke on the distant horizon, that he would find the limp bodies of Owen and Beru. But he surely did not expect such an abhorrent scene – the grotesque, distorted skeletons of his loving uncle and aunt. One cannot help but wonder -and certainly the thought must go through Luke’s mind – if his uncle and aunt suffered in their final moments of life, tortured by the pain of being burned alive.

Grotesque
The grotesque corpses of Owen and Beru.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

This short but disturbing moment in A New Hope is one that never fails to move and pain me. Admittedly, the event is a narrative necessity, albeit a disturbing one, a way of jettisoning Luke from the confines of his childhood connections into a larger world. Seeking adventure and desiring to leave home, even petitioning his defiant Uncle at dinner the night before to allow him to leave, Luke’s adolescent dreams can not be fulfilled. There is no longer any resistance standing in his way and he can join Obi-Wan Kenobi on his valiant quest to defeat the Empire.

And yet, as the scene concludes with Luke standing there in the quiet desolation of his childhood as the smoke billows and the carcasses continue to smolder, I have always wondered: what did Luke do next?

Skywalker Alone
What did Luke do after this moment?

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

This is not a question that demands a definitive answer. In fact, I would be furious if the Lucasfilm Story Group was to provide an “official” or “canonical” account regarding Luke’s actions (or his thoughts/feelings) when the scene concludes. On one level, this is because this scene in A New Hope, which we can link with Luke’s sad return to Obi-Wan and his admission that he can now join the Jedi Master’s journey, work with seamless fluidity even though they are separated. We do not need to be told what Luke did in the interval because the narrative intention in A New Hope is to move Luke from one stage of life to the next. The innocence of his childhood is literally destroyed and he will now venture forth into the responsibilities of adulthood.

On another level, any “official” explanation would usurp the imaginative faculties of fans, taking away the opportunity for one to insert their own thoughts and feelings into the heart-wrenching moments before, during, and after Luke arrives. Not knowing what Luke does, or the emotional turmoil he experiences, is in many respects what makes the death of Owen and Beru so powerful. Without explanation, other than the pained look on young Skywalker’s face as he views the carnage of his familiar surroundings, we are left to fill in the gaps, all of which enables our own, individualized connections with Luke, and the film, to flourish.

And so, the question – what did Luke do next? – percolates in my mind precisely because my imaginative faculties, aided by the emotion which the scene evokes inside of me, consistently arrives at a number of possible explanations. Just as I can believe Luke simply turned around, walked back to his speeder and left his home, I can just as easily imagine that Luke feel to the ground and broke down in tears. Or maybe Luke dropped to his knees and screamed, bellowing out the agony and guilt of not being there to protect his loving family.

Perhaps Luke sprung into stoic action, choosing to carefully bury the bodies as he internally contemplated the loss of his innocent and simple life. Digging graves next to those of his great uncle Cliegg and great aunt Shmi, Luke placed the wrapped bodies of uncle Owen and aunt Beru in graves he methodically dug. The burial complete, Luke returned to his land speeder and drove off into the Tatooine desert, taking nothing but the memories of his family, his home, and his youth with him.

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: 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