Friday, December 20, 2019

A Review of The Rise of Skywalker - First Reaction

I think we really ought to like Rise of Skywalker, even if at first glance there's part of it you didn't like.

We live in a highly partisan, fragmented society today.  I think this has had its impact upon Star Wars fandom in a variety of ways.  On the broadest level there are folks on both sides of the culture war who want their Star Wars to advance/defend their side -- and hence there's a push to view Star Wars in terms of a political agenda.  If that's your approach - you're going to be disappointed.  Nothing aimed at a mass market, lowest common denominator is ever going to reach your desired political purity.

Then there is the fact that many of us have things that we wanted to have happen.  Maybe it's a particular relationship, or perhaps how you wanted the force to be handled, or whatever.  And simply put, Rise of Skywalker isn't going to check all of our hoped for boxes.  In fact, some it specifically crushes.

And I write this as one who had a few of his particular hopes and whims dashed.  Not everything went the way that it would have if I had written it... alas for my Poe and Rey shipping (for the time, at least).  But it's not fair to judge a film simply on whether or not it's the story I wanted.

Rather this - does the story, do the decisions made by Abrams work?  And really - they do.  Fantastically so.

Writing the Rise of Skywalker was an incredibly difficult task.  You have a divided fandom, a divided trilogy so far, with Johnson going in radically different ways than Abrams, plus you have fans of two other eras (and the cartoons, if you want to add them in) to help placate and appeal to.

And Abrams did that.  He wove together the various loose ends of the Sequel trilogy into something that makes sense.  Things might not have resolved how I wanted, or even how I thought they should have - but they made sense.  And he set things up well - every big "force" thing in the last 20 minutes was set up and prepared so that they were logical extensions of what came before.

He did well.

And yes, some of the Abrams things I don't like -- bigger is not always better, nor is more and more and more.  The last battle would still have been good (and even better) if there were only a dozen bad ships and only a quarter of the good guy ships... but if you are an Avengers fan and you liked "on your left" you have absolutely no ground to complain about the ending to Rise of Skywalker.

That that's how Abrams tells the story... and he told a sensible story.  And he told it in a way that tied to the other Sequel films, the Original Trilogy, and the Prequels.  And that is a hard, hard thing to do.  And so even if it didn't go the way I might have wanted in parts - it resolved well.  Especially how he weaved Carrie Fisher into the film - the degree of difficulty in that was astonishing - and he pulled it off.

And there were parts I loved.  I loved the way it dealt with one of my issues from the Force Awakens - See an article I wrote for 1138.  I loved a last cameo in the Falcon gunner seat.  These were things I wanted.

I think, and I hope, that once we as fans get past the baggage and expectations we might bring to the film that we will enjoy it for what it is - a fun, satisfying adventure in a galaxy far far away that we all love.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Vector Prime Review

Vector Prime - by R. A. Salvatore - October 1999

So, I reread it.  The first of the Del Rey books, the first of the New Jedi Order series, an ambitious multi-author, 19 book series that ran for several years.  I hadn't reread this book in a while - it's somewhat notorious among some fans as the "Chewie Dies" book.  It set the tenor for a new direction in Star Wars fiction, both for good and for ill.  So, let's get to it, shall we?

The EU - The Solo Kids Sliding Forward - I was taken aback reading this book just how much I enjoyed reading the Solo kids parts.  And a bit heartbroken.  It was clear reading this that the central focus of the *New* Jedi order was going to be the Solo kids - Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin.  And in them you had three distinct, interesting personalities -- and even in this book they started to grow, to develop, to mature.  They provided solutions to problems... they were starting to hold their own with the big three.  It was wondrous.

It was heartbreaking simply because I know how things go 30 books down the line, when that development, that promise, that shift of focus to the new characters never happens.  When the string of books started by Vector Prime draws to a close in Crucible - none of the three Solo kids need even have anything to do with it... and that's not an odd move, it's almost...standard.  The books for the past 10 years should have all centered around one of these three characters, and they didn't.  And that is tragic.  Makes me almost glad for the reboot.

The EU - Yuuzhan Vong Introduction - I will be honest - I don't like the Yuuzhan Vong as villains. There are some really neat things about them, but I got tired of them really quick.  Partially this is because I don't like bugs (between the NJO and Dark Nest Trilogy, it's amazing I kept in the Star Wars universe).  Partially it's because they end up seeming so overpowered.  But in this book, the introduction to them was fascinatingly well written.  There's mystery - powers and abilities are slowly revealed.  And while they are a threat, they don't seem superhero-story villain yet.  Yomin Carr was a great villain of the day - one of the best one-book villains in the Star Wars fiction series.  So basically the fact that I didn't mind the Vong in this book speaks highly of it.

The Bad - Nothing really bad.  It just turned...

The Ugly - Stupid, Hotshot Jedi - The thing that annoys me most about this book, and in some ways the rest of the Jedi Order, is that the problems aren't predicated on actual difficulties that arise but upon the characters' own stupidity.  Everything in this series hinges on the idea that the Jedi running around are hotshots, egotistical, and disliked.  Everything.

Consider this scenario instead.  Luke Skywalker has established the core of a New Jedi Order, who work as diplomats and officers of the peace (like what everything before hand had pointed to).  Jedi who are respected (remember in the Thrawn Trilogy - Luke is expected to be a source of wisdom and justice).  And so, you have a few Jedi stumble across this extra-galactic invasion.  What would happen.  THE ENTIRE GALAXY WOULD RALLY.

Seriously - those weapons of the Vong would be neat, but the New Republic would have gladly followed.  With structure and diligence.  And basically you could have done a similar story arc - where you just have so many Vong coming that the galaxy is overrun - you could have individual Jedi doing different things - defending, trying to establish peace with the Vong, understanding their absence from the force... without the Jedi as a whole being viewed as... dumb?  Evil?

Because this is totally out of character for what the Luke Skywalker we know would teach or allow.  C'Baoth and his intimidation techniques are shown to be terrible in the Thrawn trilogy -- and Luke sits and shrugs while his Jedi run around and do the same thing.  The summation of the Bantam era books was that using too much power is bad -- and then, 6 years later, that's what almost all Luke's Jedi are doing.

This *wasn't* Star Wars - it was a catastrophic shift in what that universe should have been.  An editorial decision of drastic consequence... the quick and easy path to generating conflict.  The literary dark side.  And once they started down this dark path, it forever dominated the EU.

The Grade - B+ - It was an enjoyable book.  It handled emotional events well, it set the series up beautifully.  But when I read it, I see the lost potential of the Solo kids, as well as the unraveling of a sane EU where the Jedi are, you know, the good guys.  And that just leaves a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The New Jedi... Follies?

So I have finally done it.  I've started rereading "The New Jedi Order" series.  Vector Prime was pulled off the shelf, dusted off, and cracked open.

I rarely have the desire to reread any of these - I reread Stackpole's two books, simply because they were the last he wrote - but basically, the New Jedi Order is where I find I began to dislike the direction the EU took more and more (even as I acknowledge the quality of the individual books tended to increase).

It took me one chapter to remember why.

Who made the decision that when we finally get Jedi back, they should all be vigilante hot shots?  Seriously - how does that decision get made?  Remember, this is 1999 - so it can't be a reaction to Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith and the flaws of the order.  Just - oh, look, for 1000 generations the Jedi Knights were guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy - devotees of the light side of the force.

Oh, look - it's Wurth Skidder, just another one of those hotshot Jedi flying around in his X-Wing blowing stuff up.

How do you move from Knights, from Warrior Monks, to "let's make them like Billy the Kid"?

For this reason, more than anything - I'm welcoming the reboot.  And maybe we will have a story that is driven not by the Jedi being stupid.  Flawed, calcified, attacked -- that's understandable, but just flat out stupid... no.

Even a Jedi Order founded by Han Solo wouldn't be as fly-by-the-seat-of-you-pants.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Review - Kenobi

Kenobi - by John Jackson Miller

I highly enjoyed this book, and I wasn't necessarily expecting to.  Why?  Well, despite the title of this blog... I don't really enjoy Westerns all that much.

This book was a Western.  It's about Ben Kenobi wandering out into a little patch of the west.  There were Indians... um, I mean Sand People.  There was a plucky widow shopkeeper, there were powerful ranch hands... you could have changed the names and set this in 1880s Wyoming.

And it was... just lovely.

The EU - No Planets or Species Were Harmed in the Production of This Book.  The book, and its consequences were... small.  You see just a little bit of how Obi-wan becomes Ben, that old Wizard.  And it's understated.  It's not a earth shattering or galaxy spanning affair.  It was just a simple story set in the Star Wars Universe... with realistic characters acting in a realistic way.  And this is something utterly, utterly refreshing.

The EU - A Western In Space? But Nathan Fillion isn't Ben Kenobi - I will admit that I am a Firefly fan... and so, what I will say is that this ended up having very much a Firefly sort of feel... almost what you could see happening if Book decided to exile himself.  But just the gritty, on the edge, but getting on with getting on approach.  It's the best of the Western genre, really, it is.  And it was great fun.

The Bad - Intergalatic Expanded Name Dropping - Yes, I know that there is an extended universe.  Yes, I know who several of these names are, like Kiera Holt, or A'Sharad Hett.  And yes, I know they take up large sections of other times and places in the Star Wars Universe.  But... did they have to be here?  In this book?  I mean, it wasn't terrible that they were here, but here you have such a close, tight book, just about this little out of the way place -- I don't like the random "must run to wookiepedia" sort of character dropping normally, but this stood out a bit more brashly, precisely because the rest of the book was so close and... local.

The Ugly - Nothing.
Seriously, there wasn't anything ugly about this book.  I guess I could see how some people might not find a character to latch on to, but there's nothing that makes me say "ugh."

Just a solid book.  This will be in the stack that I re-read.

Grade: A

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Crucible. Yeah. By Troy Denning

I can't do it.  I just can't write up a normal review with the Good and Bad things with this book.  I mean, there are parts I liked and such, but, just, no.

Here's the problem with this book.  There's too much "inside baseball" and too much power.

The main villains are Columi.  That's not a common race - but they only get a passing description.  There's even reference to their mother.  And I went "Huh?"  Keep in mind that I have purchased every non-juvenile bit of Star Wars fiction to come out in the past 20+ years, and I actually reread them. 

And here I am, reading the book, and my reaction is "Huh?  What are they talking about?"  Because this information was not given in a "these are hints the author is including to provide motivation" but rather pointing to a backstory.  And thanks to wookiepedia, I found it.  A Choose Your Own Adventure style segment in a role playing supplement... from 1990.

Written by Troy Denning.


How in the world am I supposed to be expected to remember that?  Or why would I have been expected to have READ that, ever?

And it goes on.  I thought this was supposed to be a stand-alone novel.  Apparently "stand-alone" means "We won't call it the 10th book in the previous series, but we will just make it totally dependent on the previous, forgettable series."  This book required me to remember more things from the previous book (Apocalypse by... you guessed it) than most of the books in the series did.  When the book requires me to remember small, throwaway details from a previous series so that I can try to understand an obscure journey through an esoteric meta-plot that I think is dumb anyway... yeah, that no longer feels like the Star Wars Universe that I know and love. 

Come on Reboot!  Help us, J. J. Abrams, you're our only hope!

And of course, the other problem is, well, Denning's solution.  To everything.  MORE POWER!  To have a better fight, just give everyone more power!  The fight's going to be better if they are level 85 and not level 25... because level 85 means "more drama!"


And it's just unsatisfying.

To be fair, some scenes were great. I thought there was some great Sabacc scenes.  But yeah.  No more.  No more Denning.  Please.  Because I am a sucker and I will buy it and read it, but please, no more.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"I, Jedi" construction theory

I am re-reading "I, Jedi" - I'll have a review up in a bit, as well as reviews of 3 or 4 newer books, but I have a brief little theory.

"I, Jedi" was originally conceived as a trilogy.

The first book was going to be entitled - "I Fix the Jedi Academy Trilogy"
The second book was going to be entitled - "I Show Future Star Wars Authors What an Investigation/Cop book Looks Like."
The third book was going to be entitled - "I Can Create Interesting Force Heresies"

At least this is my theory.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: Troy Denning - Apocalypse

Okay - let me just retype the first paragraph of the book and use it to discuss what was... frustrating with the whole book.

The starliner swung into orbit around the planet Coruscant, and beyond the observation bubble appeared the glittering expanse of a billion golden lights. Through a thousand centuries of strife, those lights had continued to shine. Nothing had dimmed their brilliance - not the Rakatan enslavement, not the tyranny of the Empire, not the chaos of civil war. And they continued to shine now, in this new age of creeping shadow, when enemy impostors ruled the Galactic Alliance and Sith Lords slept in the Jedi Temple itself. But all those gleaming lights made Jaina Solo wonder whether Coruscant's trillion residents actually cared who won the coming war - whether it mattered that they were living under Sith rule, so long as those billion lights continued to shine.

When I read this paragraph for the first time... I sighed. I knew what was coming. First, there would be careless continuity and needless sops thrown to the rest of the EU. Why would Jaina Solo be thinking about... the Rakatan enslavement... I mean, no one knows about it in Star Wars the Old Republic. Oh, but wait, there's stuff about it The Old Republic, better throw in a tie in line. Of course, you know... I think you didn't really have Coruscant being a world city back then. And, well, didn't it get wiped out by the Vong? Which leads to...

Second, the drama of the indifferent. Sure, I mean, I know there is this massive one-upsmanship that comes up in the EU (and yeah, if Abeloth isn't just an attempt to one up every villain ever)... and so of course there's going to be some sort of massive danger to Coruscant... but... well... who cares? I mean, story wise... oh no... you mean the planet that has been bombed and attacked again and again is going to be... sort of attacked again? Oh NOES!

Third, oh, look, Jaina's talking. Now, I like Jaina as a character... but is she the main character? Well... sort of, she takes more of the narrative. Or is Ben the main character? Or is it Luke still?

See, the thing that made the Star Wars movies such a good success is that they were hero stories - that you saw the hero's journey... Luke goes from kid to mentored student to independent to hero. And even in the later movies, there is growth. In the prequel there is a fall. And in this series -- who is the main character who grows... or falls... and what is their story?


I'm waiting.

And I still am. I mean... this could have been a wonderful Ben story... but he's just sort of a side kick. It could have been an interesting Luke story... but, pyrotechnics of Jedi awesomeness is more of Denning's approach to Luke's growth (sort of like leveling with a force user in The Old Republic... oh, hey everyone, look, Luke's got a new button to press!).

The EU - Okay... there's a lot of action, if you like action. A few nice twists... even if the situations come up in a slightly random or hackneyed way.

The Bad - I know a lot of people say that Denning writes such wonderful combat... no, he writes long, tedious slugfests that immerse the reader into the fatigue the warriors themselves feel by making them worn out themselves. I mean, we have basically a week long, hand to hand combat raid show up in here. Really? That's the fast paced, exciting approach? And half the time you don't even know what immediate goal is meant to be accomplished... really?

Hey, blogger, doesn't this bad sort of contradict the EU? Eh, I supposed, which leads to...

The Ugly I just want a good story. I want a tale that flows and makes sense and is clear. I want there to be surprises and twists and turns... but I want a narrative consistency, a flow. And this book didn't have it. Loose threads don't really get resolved... and the things that get resolved weren't pressing from what came before in the series. If you look at the events of the last two pages -- those could have been awesome completion moments... but what really in this book or in the series led up to them - made them the focus or the resolution of the series and of the book?

And so... it just falls flat.

Grade: C- It's a below average book. In terms of telling a story, of weaving a tale, it just doesn't work. I think this shows a weakness of the multi-author series that we've had -- I can see the plot points that Denning was assigned to get to, the events that he was supposed to cover... but he just came to them in a sadly less than artful way. The individual paragraphs could be well done, the sentence structure was well done... but things just didn't add up as a whole.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review - Ascension, by Christie Golden - with Alluded Spoilers

Review - Ascension, by Christie Golden

Dear Papa,

I'm so glad that you thought of me and sent me this new book by Christie Golden and that I didn't have to do something like walk 1 mile to a bookstore and shell out my own money for it. It was so thoughtful of you - and I can't express how much I enjoyed this book.

Everything in this book was so new! It's not as though this is just a rehash of old plot devices, or recycles old villains - these are things I've never, ever come across in Star Wars. I mean, who would have ever thought of a scene with Ben in a dark cave not seeing another Jedi getting killed - oh, that will have interesting ramifications. Or the politics... who would have thought that the villains would want to try to control the media... or try to take over the government. So creative!

I also liked how brief the combat scenes were, especially the ones that killed off major characters. I mean, like, who cares about art and grace in describing a scene, taking us there. Simple narrative can just tell us what happened - that's so much nicer and quicker. Why spend more than a few paragraphs on highly emotional duals... and certainly less time on a Parent-child dual than on the much more serious event of a boy reading a girl's diary (oh, but even there, she didn't show too much diary... just told us that they read, that they wrote).

I just can't believe how good this book was. I mean, nothing here was hamfisted -- there was a little too much emotional introspection, that was by far the worst part.

Oh, yeah, before I forget, Papa ... Daala is so cool. Who wouldn't want to follow her devotedly... I mean, what sexist, woman hating Moff wouldn't cower before her simply because she has a rag-tag fleet... we all know how much Imperials respect rag-tag fleets. And then how she just stands on her own with brilliant tactics, not relying on anyone else to save her - it was like reading a Spice Girls song about Girl Power.

Well, Papa, I could write more - there are so many wonderful details where she did everything perfectly... I mean, nothing was wrong with this book (except for the slightly emotional focus... ew...).

All of my love -- strangle some kittens for me,

Your loving daughter - Vessy

So. This book.


The Bad - Misplaced Emotional Tone In all seriousness, there are times I do like how Golden writes - I like the way she does show some emotional interplay... but she only gets to the emotion *after* the fact... never showing the emotional play during the dramatic events. What's a good way to put it -- it's sort of like reading a newspaper review of an event and then post-game commentary rather than watching the event and listening to good play-by-play. I enjoy good post-event commentary... but I don't buy a novel to hear about something - I buy a novel to be taken there, to be put there. And that is the main weakness (voice-wise) with this book.

The Ugly - 1. Wasted Deaths Again, I don't mind deaths in Star Wars -- I love Anime, where deaths have a point, where they bring with them weight or introspection. There can be weight from the scene itself (you can have a beautifully written death scene -- as in the previous book), or the lasting impact of the event. And the deaths here just seem... wasted. There's no awesome battles (that you see on camera) that are awesome. Just... oh, look... he's toast. Even the one that should be obviously huge... apparently only is huge for 10 days of book time.

And yeah... thinking back... name characters drop off like Officers on the Executor in this book. And that's almost how they are treated... it's rather sad.

2 - Haven't We Been Here Before? I know there are no truly new plot twists and turns - but, yeah. Haven't we been here before? Seriously - wasn't this the main plot of... oh, the politics of the prequels and the establishment of the Legacy of the Force series?

3 - The More Jedi Around Him, the Dumber Luke Gets I think this may be part of the current idea in Star Wars Calculus that I hadn't gotten the memo about. While Luke was off on his own - he was brilliant, he was wise, he was perceptive. In this book, he's... not. And it seems that the more Jedi are around, the worse his decisions are (almost as though you have to have Luke botch to give the Jedi something to do... instead of Luke putting his forces where they *need* to be).

I mean, seriously -- Hmmm, do you keep the gal you are worried about falling to the dark side, whom you have said that you will train, right next to you in the dangerous situation... or do you SEND HER TO THE TUNNELS WHERE THEY TESTED SITH APPRENTICES? Hmmm... I don't know, it feels dark ahead -- you go off in those tunnels of testing there.

Really? Really?

Character Stupidity to drive to a repetitive plot point is... tiring.

Oh, did you note that there was no The EU? Well, that's because I'm a bit cranky. I mean, the book flowed well, it was nice technically. But put it this way. If the Olympic figure skater who got 8th place at the 2010 Olympics showed up in 2014 and did the exact same routine, but lacking passion and enthusiasm, would you really spend much time talking about how nice that nice double jump was?

The Grade - D+ I wanted to like this book, I really did. Seriously - I wanted to. But it just didn't give me enough -- and what it did was just too brief, or something I'd seen before.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review - Rogue Planet - Greg Bear

Review - Rogue Planet - Greg Bear - May 2, 2000

Setting: Between Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones

This is an interesting book for me - it is the forgotten book. Literally. I purchased just before I went to spend a summer living in Austin with my best friend from college - we were both in Grad School, and I figured hanging out in Austin with him would be sweet (and it was). This book came out just as that summer started -- and I left the book in Austin. I had loaned it to my bud for him to read... and then... summer happened. And whenever I'd swing by his place for the past decade, I'd see the book on his shelf (he had read some other Greg Bear stuff)... and it just sort of never ended up coming back home with me.

In fact - for this rereading - I picked it up on kindle. Ah, things we wouldn't have thought of a decade ago!

The EU - A Carefree Yet Growing Anakin and Obi-Wan - On of the things I found just totally refreshing in reading this book is how Anakin and Obi-wan were protrayed. Apparently they had spent three years on Coruscant training, but now, they have their first adventure. And it's clear that they both have grown some... but just some. They seem... young. Eager. Full of doubts. It was a very nice characterization - especially Anakin dealing with anger and loss... maybe one of the best internalized views of struggles with the darkside.

The Bad - Ah, Star Ship Design, the Greatest Adventure of them all! Okay, I understand that not every adventure that you have your characters go on needs to be some massive, huge, epic thing. But... well, Anakin and Obi-wan go to a planet and make a ship. And stuff happens around them - but they don't really do anything to change what happens... I mean, if Anakin and Obi-wan hadn't been there, would this book have turned out any different? Not really - they were incidental to the plot... and that's sort of... odd for your main characters. Especially when the ship you spend most of the book making... doesn't get to stick around.

The Ugly - Continuity botches and hits The main point of this book, really, was to flesh out the world of Zonoma Sekot. So much time is spent on examining this neat and awesome world. And why? Well, you've got to somehow tie up some loose ends in the New Jedi Order series and the big evil Yuuzhan Vong (the Far Outsiders). And while it makes for an interesting thing in the book itself... knowing how this fits into the rest of the later series seems sort of contrived -- neat, but contrived. Almost like you are retroconing yourself. And of course, it was sort of nice to see Tarkin -- but, yeah, I guess in Attack of the Clones we find out he didn't quite do some of the stuff here.

Now, is this really ugly? Eh - probably not. But as you introduce here the idea that Zonoma Sekot thinks of the force in a heretical way... not really a good idea to say, "hey, let's use that wandering heretic planet to redefine the Jedi." Given that ugliness, this gets swept up in that. Besides, especially reading it a few years after everything plays out... Zonoma Sekot got pushed way too much here.

The Grade - B- This book has quite a few redeeming qualities to it -- I enjoy the thoughts that you get to see in it. They are interesting and compelling. But interesting characterization is just one aspect of a good Star Wars book -- you need a fun adventure. This... not so heavy on the adventure.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Review - Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter

Review - Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter - by Michael Reaves - January 2001

The first Hardcover of the new Millenium, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter was a book placed prior to the events of The Phantom Menace. It seemed there were a slew of them, as there was some confusion or secrecy over what would happen in Episode 2. As such, books that worked as lead into to what would become known as "Attack of the Clones" came slowly - and instead, we got books full of background. Let's consider this one.

The EU - Lots of Maul - While I am by no means a Darth Maul fanboy, I do recognize that one of the things that makes the Star Wars Universe great (or crappy when it is missing) is the presence of a strong villain. The first time you see Darth Vader is perhaps one of the greatest villain entrances in movie history.

With Darth Maul - well, he, too, was just bad and freaky and intimidating when you saw him. (Note: Lucasarts was Stupid with a capital S to put an image of the dual bladed lightsaber in the trailer... it was awesome in the trailer - but imagine if you had no clue about it when you first saw it pop out at the end... AWESOME!) But the thing is -- he lasts, what? Half a film? He was gone very quickly, cut from the universe as it were.

This book focuses on Maul, with probably 35-40% of the narrative being from his perspective - and it is interesting. Reaves does a great job with this established character. If you are a fan of Darth Maul, seriously, pick it up.

The Bad - Foolhardy Characters - I will be honest. I really, really dislike stupid characters. I don't mind characters with flaws that lead them to their destruction - but I don't like stupid characters. Nor do I like it when characters do something that is out of character for them that leads to their demise. They should die as they are - not because of... well, it would be neat if they died.

The main character, Lorn Pavan, is presented as a hardscrabble, tough as nails character. He's gritty, fun -- and then has a complete change of face/character -- which leads to his demise. He has won, but a sudden change of heart leads to bad things. And we get to listen in on his thought processes, and even he knows that it is dumb - and yet does stuff anyways. This is not character development - this is character suicide done via artificially rapid character change.

The same thing happens, to a certain extent, with the young Jedi character early in the book - there's too much hearing in the thoughts, "I know I shouldn't, but I'm going to anyway." This doesn't make the character passionate, or reactive, or engaging, or decisive, or any other positive characteristic that can lead to trouble - no, if you know you shouldn't and it goes against your better judgment and how you've survived all your life, and you do it anyway - you are just being a fool.

The Ugly - Thesaurus Boy Strikes - I am good with words. I got a 790 on my SAT verbal, and after hitting college I studied Greek, Japanese, Hebrew, and Latin, with a cursory glance at Arabic and Italian (and the Spanish I had taken in High School). I know English vocab better than most.

Reaves gets fixated on obscure words. I don't know why - maybe he's an avid scrabble player and these are words he won a game with. Maybe he was doing some drafting while the national spelling bee was on in the background. Either way, some words just stick out like sore thumbs, for his use of vocabulary isn't "advanced" - but just peculiar. For example, he uses the word "Monad" at least three times in the first half of the book. Really? That's the word you want to use to describe a vastly tall building that stands by itself (he explains it the third time he uses it). Again, I know what a monad is -- but how many people just picking up the book do? There were 5 or 6 other words (obstreperous, some others that I can't find at the moment) that just seemed totally out of place.

And I'm not against having advance vocabulary in a book - but the whole book needs to be written at a high level, not just random 10 cent words that pop up now and then. If you want to write at a high level - write at a 10th grade reading level -- don't write at a 5th and then throw a random 14th grade word it -- they stick out like sore thumbs, and all it's going to do is confuse some poor kid who is reading the thing.

And I bring this up because it really is one of the main disappointments I have with this book (and his others in the Star Wars universe) - they distract and jolt the reader out of the flow of the book and story - making you more focused on the writing rather than the story. Like a giant piece of road kill, you have to swerve around it -- and then you are no longer focused on your nice, scenic drive.

The Grade - B+/C+ A split grade here - if you are a Darth Maul fan, B+. You will highly, highly enjoy this book. If you aren't -- well, it wasn't by any means bad, but there are some flaws, some things that made me highly annoyed with the characters and the writing. It's not a bad story - but if I pull it out and read it again, it will be because I'm in the mood for some Maul, not because I'm in the mood for this book.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why Does Everyone Hate the Jedi?

In the newer Star Wars books, some fans are left to wonder, "Why does everyone hate the Jedi?"

The answer? Given how things have gone since the New Jedi Order books came out, they deserve it.

This has been the great weakness of the past decade or so of Star Wars fiction. We have had too many authors who have written Jedi that are cruel, caustic, and just jerks. Now, this isn't to say that I don't think you should write flawless Jedi, but let's consider a few things.

1. Jedi are supposed to be guardians of peace and justice. They should be good and selfless. Their flaws should flow out of this - where they do too much, or things like that. Not petulance.

2. Flaws should fit what a group is. The Jedi of the Prequel Trilogy had fossilized. They had developed sort of a white-tower approach that detached them from others. This is a believable flaw. The Jedi had fostered too much of an "otherness" -- and this makes sense because they had discipline that was no common. Likewise, their flaws shouldn't be the same flaws we'd expect in a den of scum and villainy. If they are, then they are rightly to be despised.

3. The main characterist of a Jedi is not power or skills, but philosophy. When you undercut all philosophy, you just get bullies.

I hope they work on this, I hope they try to fix this. The Jedi are supposed to be more than just Bullies that we put up with because they protect us from other, big bad bullies.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review - Cloak of Deception

Review - Cloak of Deception - by James Luceno

Cloak of Deception was one of the long line of Star Wars books that I purchased, enjoyed, but don't often think of. Basically, there are two types of Star Wars novels - there are the novels that are the further adventures of our heroes in the Star Wars Universe, full of tension and new ideas... and then there are books like this. There were a lot of novels that were published to be tie-ins to the Prequel trilogy.

I tend not to think of the tie-in novels that often... they are the novels of Dramatic Irony - they pull back the curtain of what we end up seeing in the films, or expand characters. While that's not what I generally want -- rereading this book reminded me that some of these actually can be really, really good books. So, let's review.

The EU - Qui Gon and the Masters I found that I really enjoyed getting to have Qui-Gon be the, if not main, one of the leading characters in the Novel. I especially enjoyed the interaction between Qui-Gon and the various Jedi Masters. Luceno did a very good job showing their respect for Qui-Gon, but their worry about his slightly rebellious, indifferent-to-the-future approach. Very well done.

The EU - Captain Cohl - Cohl was the... villain? At least the hard scrabble foil - and he was well written. You disagree with what he does - but you almost feel sympathetic for him. He was an interesting character - and one of the better 1 book characters that comes up in the Star Wars World.

The Bad - A Touch Plodding - There are times when the book comes across as a touch plodding, and this is in part because tries to build suspense when we already know what is going to happen. Is Valorum going to be killed? Well, as he shows up in the Phantom Menace -- well, no, he's not going to be killed. Because the audidience knows the Film that follows this, we are automatically in a position of dramatic irony. Luceno tries to build suspense and moves with a slightly slower pacing. If we were worried about the characters, this could be really good. As we know they live and do fine... it just plods. If I handed this to a person before they had seen the Phantom Menace, it might have played better -- or if it was released before hand. The problem -- it was released in 2001.

The Ugly - nothing really There wasn't anything really ugly with the book. That's nice.

The Grade - B I'm going to give this book a solid B. I like Luceno's writing style, and he would have built good suspense if we hadn't already known what was going to happen. It does give us an interesting view of characters, it's a solid story, some nice twists. A surprisingly solid book.