Review

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. 

Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia (An Imperial Talker Review)

Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia, co-authored by Tricia Barr, Adam Bray, and Cole Horton, is at one and the same time intensely fascinating and slightly overwhelming. This latest addition to the catalog of Star Wars reference books contains a veritable mountain of images and information broken into five distinct chapters, each chapter having a handful of subsections. The breadth and depth of Star Wars knowledge in this book will certainly keep the more “die-hard” fan occupied for long periods of time, but might also leave the more casual fan feeling somewhat dizzy by the scope of what Star Wars has to offer. Even as a self-proclaimed die-hard fan, I readily admit that I felt a bit overwhelmed at times by all The Visual Encyclopedia has to offer. Still, this was and is hardly a reason not to explore the book. In fact, I encourage Star Wars fans of all types to do so, patiently and methodically working through the book so as to savor the journey to the summit of the Star Wars mountain.

So what exactly does this particular mountain of Star Wars knowledge contain? In the book’s foreword, Dennis Muren (Senior Creative Director, Industrial Light & Magic) notes that, “In this title you’ll see firsthand the thousands of objects that are inspired by our world, but are uniquely Star Wars.” And right he is, as this reference source presents through countless images and bits of information how the galaxy far, far away is derived from concepts and ideas that we are all familiar with on some level. Identifying specific categories of inquiry, the authors, as I already mentioned, organize the the Encyclopedia into five chapters: Geography, Nature, History, Culture, and Science and Technology. In this way, the book’s organization invites readers to begin in a chapter of their own choosing, beginning an exploration based on one’s personal interests in the real-world or Star Wars universe. Of course, one can also start on page one and simply go from page-to-page, but know that this isn’t required to grasp all the Encyclopedia since it is not set-up in narrative form.

Mustafar
Southern and Northern Mustafarians.
Photo Credit – Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia

For me, going through the book page-by-page, skimming through the images and info, gave me my initial bearings before really digging into anything concrete. From there, I worked through the book in non-linear fashion, very slowly jumping to different pages based on momentary interests and personal inquiry. During one reading I found myself enamored by the chapter on Nature, discovering new things about the various creatures and alien-species in Star Wars. I never knew, for example, that two types Mustafarians existed, Southerners being stocky while their Northerner counterparts are tall and thin (see image above). In turn, as I explored the chapter on Culture, I was struck by the vast array of royal outfits that Queen Padmé Amidala of the Naboo wore in The Phantom Menace. Fashion in Star Wars has never been a personal point of interest for me (I don’t do any form of cosplay) but the images of Amidala’s outfits, and the explanation that her “elaborate gowns reflect their [Naboo’s] culture,” left me intrigued and reflecting upon other forms of royal and political attire in Star Wars.

To this point about personal interest, the majority of my time spent in The Visual Encyclopedia thus far has centered on the Science and Technology chapter. Of the five, it is the longest chapter, having the most subsections arranged into categories ranging from binoculars, equipment, and medical technology to blasters, warships, all forms of land vehicles, plus a whole lot more. For the sake of brevity I won’t go into detail about everything I found so fascinating about this chapter, but I will note that I was particularly happy to encounter two specific land vehicles that I have always desired to see more of in Star Wars: the UT-AT “Trident” tank and the AT-OT Walker. While the Encyclopedia only has a picture of these two war machines accompanied by their respective names, it is never-the-less reassuring to know that there are Star Wars writers/authors keeping the lesser known vehicles (among other things) in mind.

The Star Wars universe is exceedingly vast and The Visual Encyclopedia does a nice job of covering a great deal of the expanse, the UT-AT and AT-OT being a clear example of just that. Still, the reference book does have its limitations, hardly a shock since Star Wars is far too great to be encapsulated in only 199 pages. Since the Encyclopedia is rooted primarily to the Star Wars movies and television shows, one will be disappointed if they enter the book hoping to encounter a wealth of information and images from the array of Star Wars novels, comics, and games. Further, the book does contain a handful of notable absences. While he is quoted, and his unique shuttle Delta-class shuttle is depicted, there is no image of Director Orson Krennic, the antagonist in Rogue One. One will find Rogue One protagonist Jyn Erso in the book, but her father Galen Erso, who developed the Death Star’s planet-killing weapon, and her mother Lyra are no where to be found. And speaking of parents, perhaps the most disappointing absence is that Anakin’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, does not receive an image in the Encyclopedia, just another reminder that she continues to be an unfortunate afterthought in the Star Wars canon.

Limitations and curious absences aside, Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia is never-the-less an enjoyable reference book that will leave an interested Star Wars fan occupied for quite a while. Try to take in all it offers in a single sitting and one very well might abandon the effort with feelings of being overwhelmed. But fortified with the patience of a Jedi Master and an eager willingness to savor the journey, and one will surely end up expanding their personal knowledge and understanding of the Star Wars universe.


Thanks to DK Publishing for providing me with an advanced copy of Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia