Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Vortex Review - Troy Denning (and a Rule)

Fate of the Jedi: Vortex - by Troy Denning


I am going to propose Star Wars Rule #4.

Star Wars Should Be Fun.

Simple as that. Star Wars Should be Fun. If you are watching in the theater, when something happens, everyone should be able to cheer together - that there should be mutual joy shared together. We all cheered along when Han yells, "Great shot kid, that was one in a million!" Even in the Prequels - we all cheered when Yoda whipped out a lightsaber and was ready to go to town.

In Vortex, when we got to the main points, I didn't know whether or not to cheer.

I don't know if I can chalk this up to this book in particular, or just the whole series, but it struck me really strong here - I didn't know if I should cheer. Were there ever times to cheer, to be happy?

There are two prominent deaths in this book - neither one is a rousing moment -- but shouldn't they be? They lead the Jedi to step forth and quit political dithering and fight evil... but do we cheer? Is it a good thing? When we suddenly see Vestara's lightsaber - do we cheer? When we hear the word... love... do we cheer?

And it's not that I don't like moral quandaries - I think they can be good - they can be compelling, they can be educational. Moral quandaries are the heart of the whole conflict between the light and the dark side of the force. But even with those - there comes a point to cheer, a point to say, "No, I'll never join you" and smile.

And the thing is, the reader might think this means I think it is foolish that Luke would go evil hunting with Sith -- I don't think it's horrible (maybe poorly written and too focused on trying ot betray each other)... but should I?

What's the point? What's the lesson I'm supposed to learn? Who is the hero, who is the villain? When this person dies, should I be happy? Sad? View it as a good thing, a bad thing, just something that needs to happen?

I just don't know - I don't get the point. Of course, maybe events are just a swirling vortex of events that we can't escape...

And while that can make a fine story for a spy thriller or an episode of Law and Order -- it's not Star Wars. There's so much politics, so much media, so much courtroom, so much doubt -- and it's not dramatic irony, it's not where the characters are in doubt but we know what is right. It's just... doubt.

I don't know what I can say that is really good - I'll try.

The EU - Well written action I suppose the action scenes were written well. I suppose.

The Bad - A Reporter's fate - okay, if you don't know why this is bad, look here at my previous post

The Ugly - How Many Ex-Girlfriends Can One Man Kill? So, I imagine the planning session for the Fate of the Jedi Series went something like this:

Sue Rostini: Well, I just don't know what we can do with this series to give it zip and vigor.


SR: Yes, but who? I mean, in the New Jedi Order we killed Chewwhathisface and that Bothan leader fellow, and of course Anakin Solo. And in Legacy we killed many folks, including Mara and Jacen. Who do we have left to kill?

TD: Well, which of those deaths upset people the most?

SR: Well, I think Jacen's saddened people, but Mara's death just got people really upset.

TD: I know - we have to some how resurrect Mara and kill her again! And again!

Aaron Allston: Um, how about we just write a good story instead of kil....


AA: I was just saying that mayb...

TD: SILENCE! Or we'll do to your precious Rogue Squadron what we did to Traviss' Mandalorians.

AA: (sits appropriately cowered)

SR: Troy, this bickering is pointless. We are running out of important people to kill - and Lucas won't let us take out any of the main ones from the movie. Who can we kill to bring emotional impact?

TD: Mara. We resurrect her....

SR: No, that won't work, too hokey.

TD: Ah, what if we have a villain whom Luke thinks is Mara - and then he kills her?

SR: That's a start, I suppose - but even then, is that going to hold us for 9 books? I mean, we got a bit out of Mara's death and even his slaying of Lumiya or whatever her name was...

TD: That's it! Why don't we have Luke one by one kill off every single former love interest from the entire expanded universe? That will be heart wrenching!

SR: Brilliant! I go look up his former girlfriends on Wookiepedia!

Christie Golden: I'm game - my other gig is killing off almost its entire universe.

AA: Um, can't we just have some fun adventures?

TD: Shut it, Allston, or I swear Iella will die by Wedge's hand in book three.

AA: Shutting up, sir.

TD: Yes, yes. . . find them for me Sue, find all of Luke's former loves, and they will be slain. Bwahahahahahaha!

At least, I'm thinking that's how it must have gone - but I could be wrong.

Oh well, thus is life.

The Grade - D+ Too many quandaries, too much confusion and ignoble death. Ugh.

A few more Random Complaints about Vortex

Spoilers below:

Ah yes, Troy Denning, that master of the noble and moving Star Wars death, gives us another one.

Vortex has the noble death that will change the Universe, will be the fulcrum upon which everything hinges, which will shift the world forever.

Wait. . . it's the death of a... a reporter? Who was stupid enough to defy someone she knows is a bloodthirsty killer just so she could get a good story?

I mean, I'm sure that all of us were were just thinking, "Boy, Star Wars needs more journalists, that's what this universe is missing, a healthy press" -


That was sarcasm.

Anyway - I know that we all know that Star Wars needed more press - but seriously - things are going to pivot on the death of a Journalist.

Is Troy Denning's wife a reporter or something? Sheesh!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reaching Vortex and... well, I have to

I am an addict. I admit it. I have to read the Star Wars Stuff, even though it is horrible, even though it's a bunch of loose plot strings that I don't care about (ooo, stalemates between Daala and the Jedi! Political posturing in the media! Slavery - what a hot bed issue! And don't forget, courtroom drama to save a minor character whose only redeeming quality is that she had a crush on a decent character who died 8 years ago in real time, 15 or so in book time! Exhilarating! Oh, wait, pages upon pages of Jedi and Sith saying, "you are going to trick me" "no, you are going to trick me" "No, you are going to try to trick me" "but you are going to trick me" - that will be great).

But I have to read - I'm faithful, I'm a believer. And so I picked up Vortex today.

It's not enough to make me stop. I'm stubborn. Denning too shall pass.

But, let me demonstrate very simply and briefly why Denning just doesn't get Star Wars, why the things that he touches are off.

On page 6 Jaina says, "They're SITH - all that matters to them is power...."

At the boom of the page, Jaina then says, "Luke Skywalker is STILL the powerful Jedi in the galaxy. I think we should assume he has a plan."


Do you see? Did you catch it? Isn't it glaring? Ever since "Star by Star" came out, Troy Denning and his power-hungry view has dominated the EU. Starting with Star by Star, there have been 31 novels written advancing the time line. Denning has written 10 of them - almost a third. And the driving force behind them have been power-power and MORE POWER.


Denning ought to know why this is off - he says it right there. But everything is about power, control - nothing but trying to assert power and control. Where is the fighting against evil? Oh, wait, we have to have POWER before we can fight evil.

And the acquisition of power just isn't all that compelling. Well, unless you are writing about Darth Bane - but that's a book, maybe a trilogy. Not 10 books... not setting the tone for 2 9-book series.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review - Wedge's Gamble

Review - Wedge's Gamble - by Michael Stackpole, Book Two of the X-Wing Series (1996)

The second book of the X-Wing is again a book I enjoy. It has all the things typical of a Stackpole Star Wars novel that I like, the excitement and pacing and things like that, so I am going to point out a few things that either stand out for good or for ill in this book.

The EU - Character Creation One of the problems or difficulties of doing a unit based story where there are fatalities is that you have to replace characters who die off. This book does a good job in doing that. While still focusing mainly on Corran Horn and Wedge Antilles, you get new characters introduced who will take up spots in the Squadron. This is difficult to do, yet it is done well.

The EU - Groundwork It is really nice to see how the groundwork is done - all the stuff on the surface. It works like a fairly good almost spy thriller - those scenes are well written. In fact, they would be utterly fantastic if not for one thing. . .

The Bad - Iceheart's Pith and plans Ysanne Isard is generally a good villain. She's a good one in the Epilogue. However, very early on you learn that she plans to abandon Coruscant -- so the Rogues, while in danger, well, they sort of need to win. It lessens the danger (although giving a certain amount of dramatic irony and the senselessness of the causalities). And so, for most of the book, instead of having Isard being the master Villain, plotting destruction and chaos against our heroes. . . she's more of Loor's mean boss, making snide comments here and there. Just not as intimidating in this book.

The Ugly - The Bigotry Trial This is one of the few Uglies I will give Stackpole, but it needs to be said. Okay, we all get it - bigotry is bad. But having a bunch of aliens round up Gavin because he feels a sense of relief when a Bothan stops asking him to dance is just... dumb. Especially when Gavin is hanging out with a bunch of aliens, including his Shistaven partner. Especially when we find out that the Bothan in question is a highly trained military specialist.

I mean, you could have done the same thing, have Asyr's people drag all those Rogues off for thinking they were conspirators with the Stormtroopers, have Nawara show off his legal chops that way - have her just distrust Gavin and be shocked when he saves her life. But the bigotry trial is hockey -- especially given the fact that Nawara loses it and they would have killed Gavin anyway. That chapter or two may be the worst stuff Stackpole writes. There are just other ways you can hook this group of Rogues up with the underground and other ways you can highlight the idea of "Bigotry is BAD" that wouldn't be so. . . klunky.

Still, an enjoyable read. Tycho is a fun character who I enjoy more and more upon rereads.

The Grade - B+ There was just too much dramatic irony that undercut the book to have it be great, but still, a good, fun read.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

X-Wing: Rogue Squadron

Review - X-Wing: Rogue Squadron - by Michael Stackpole - Feb. 1996

To be completely honest up front: I like Mike Stackpole. I e-mailed him over a decade ago, and he was very gracious in his reply. I like this series - Wedge was one of my favorite characters (the only guy to show up in all three films that doesn't show up in the credits) - so I was going to want to like this anyway. And yes, while finishing this book, I had a piece of Fruitcake, which I like (the 130 year old fruitcake mentioned in this article is in my family.., Uncle Morgan is my grandpa's cousin - nice fellow, good to play cards with), and so I joined in with the pilots having their Ryshcate in celebration with them.

Wedge, X-Wings, and Star Wars Fruitcake. I have to like this book.

That being said, let's look at it with some specifics.

The EU - No 1-upsmanship Stackpole creates his hero, Corran Horn, who I like, but the very first words of the book set the stage - "You're good, Corran, but you're no Luke Skywalker." And this is perhaps the biggest strength of this book. It's the first Star Wars book we get that isn't centered on Han, Luke, and Leia - and you know what? It doesn't try to make the new characters better than them. They are legends - these characters might become legends (until Denning gets his hands on them and turns Corran into a dithering. . . wait, not there yet, not there yet, different book, 33 years down the road in book time) - but right now they aren't.

This is something that I find very appealing about this book. It's just how people, how characters could live in the Star Wars Universe. The e-mail above that I wrote to Stackpole was precisely about running a Role Playing game - this book feels like you are looking in on a really good gaming session.

The EU - Law and Order in the Rebels I like Corran Horn as a character. I like the police-style background, and the depth that gives to the character. I like the investigatory tone (the lack of which makes the Coruscant Nights series so disappointing...) and approach, which is a different angle than normal. Plus, I like the internal tension that comes up - how do you fight with the sorts of people whom you are used to putting away.

The EU - Villains Isard and Loor make good villains. Why? They can hurt the good guys. If you can't touch the good guys, what good are you as a villain? But more than that, I appreciated Loor - you got the sense that he is growing and becoming more skillful. He's not just a hurdle and then on to the next one, but an actual person. Derricote has depth as well. They can pull things off, actually bring frustrations and dangers to our heroes - and that means they are good villains -- without trying to be more "evil" than the Emperor.

The Bad - Slightly Wooden Combat I feel impelled to knock the book a bit - I want to have some semblence of impartiality. Here it goes. I played X-Wing and loved it. The Space combat makes sense to me because I have done it - I can visualize it.

Folks who didn't play X-Wing... not so much. I had a friend read it, and he couldn't stand the combat - it made no sense to him. Before X-Wing came out, people were worried that players would too easily become disoriented without a horizon. As I ended up playing the game, I ended up not caring about that (just how close the Destroyers were) - but that's me. I can see how lots would be confused. I think that happens here - given how much of the book rests upon space combat, it could have been a bit more crisp, with more visuals I guess.

Still, it made me happy to read it again =o)

The Grade - A (unless you hated the X-Wing games, in which case you might give it a B- simply because the action would be really, really distracting)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tragedy Defined

What is a Star Wars Tragedy?

You finish reading the Jedi Academy Trilogy, and then go to pick up "I, Jedi" to wash the taste out of your mouth... and you can't find it.

More over, you can picture it in your head - you can visualize all the places it has been put down around the house in past readings... but it is gone.


As part of the main thrust of the book is that Mirax goes missing, maybe this is just whetting my appetite for it? Maybe?

Review - Champions of the Force

Review - Champions of the Force - by Kevin J. Anderson (October 1994), book 3 of the Jedi Academy Trilogy.

I am going to do something slightly different with this review, lest it turn just into just me griping and have no creative merit whatsoever. So instead, I will interview the book.


EUBU: Ah, here we have our guest, Champions of the Force, the third and final book of Kevin Anderson's Jedi Academy Trilogy. Um, glad to have you be here.

CF: Oh, I'm just thrilled to be here.

EUBU: Good. Well, about yourself. You seem to be a slightly odd book, especially for a Star Wars Book - rejecting many themes and approaches that are standards in the Star Wars Universe.

CF: I'm afraid I don't know what you mean. There's action and star destroyers and light sabers and space battles and Kessel, can't forget Kessel. Everything that is part and parcel of Star Wars is right there.

EUBU: Well, let's use some of those things you mention as examples. For example, space battles. What was your approach to space battles?

CF: Oh, well here we play off of the great complexities of many Star Wars space battles - like at the end of Jedi. You have the battle against the Death Star and the Fleet. We get the same in miniature at the end of this book.

EUBU: Except that the Death Star isn't being run by a ruthless Governor like Tarkin - instead by paper pushers who want to hold committee meetings in the middle of combat.

CF: That's Right.

EUBU: Moreover, the Death Star Prototype is under manned and under tuned - as in they blow up the wrong planet.

CF: Well, it was a moon that they blew up, but yes.

EUBU: And the big action scene for our heroes against the Death Star occurs when the Falcon parks inside of the infrastructure and Mara Jade and Lando plant bombs while Han fixes the hyperdrive?

CF: Yes.

EUBU: Even though you don't need a hyperdrive to just fly around in normal space.

CF: Oh, but don't you see how this combines Empire and Return of the Jedi -both the Space Battle and blowing up the shield generator?

EUBU: Um, okay - but don't they fail in blowing it up?

CF: Sure, but that's so we can have new heroes take the fore.

EUBU: Bringing that up - in the other side of the giant space battle, we see Wedge Antilles, only pilot to survive both Death Star Battles, running around on the ground while C-3PO pilots five attack shuttles at the same time.

CF: Yes, that is right.

EUBU: Was that intentionally done on your part?

CF: Oh yes, I think we have long neglected the military potential of protocol droids.

EUBU: Ah. Well, um, continuing on. Now, it seems to me that this long Space Battle at the end ends up being highly anti-climactic because the main villains are already destroyed.

CF: What do you mean? Daala is there, and Tol Sivron is there.

EUBU: I mean villains that actually do any damage or harm to the good guys - like Exar Kun or Ambassador Furgan.

CF: Well, Daala is very dangerous - she is an highly accomplished officer.

EUBU: Who's never seen combat.

CF: But she's a highly motivated woman.

EUBU: Who thinks that spice-heads buffoons who follow an anthropomorphic toad who is a drug- addled rapist are the fullness of the rebellion.

CF: She's a tactical genius, simply lacking intelligence.

EUBU: (snicker)

CF: Accurate Military Intelligence. But you do also bring up another great villain - Moruth Doole. He has to be dealt with.

EUBU: His children, who he himself armed, turn on him, and like a fool he runs into a pit of spiders and is eaten.

CF: A fitting death. Besides, you are overlooking the great villain - Sivron.

EUBU: And how exactly is he the great villain?

CF: Because he shows the dangers and corruption of bureaucracy, which is one of the major themes of Star Wars.

EUBU: ... Okay. Moving on. Now, what I find interesting is that you seem to focus more on these "villains" who are dealt with in quite ordinary ways, yet the book is called Champions of the Force in the Jedi Academy series. Wouldn't you expect such a book to focus on these heroes?

CF: Oh, but I do. They have their epic battle against Exar Kun.

EUBU: Yes, let's talk about that. So, you have Exar Kun, who is an incredibly strong Sith Lord, who defied the combined might of all the ancient Jedi and a military fleet. How exactly is he defeated?

CF: Well, our twelve champions of the force all stand up to him, and their light banishes his darkness.

EUBU: While Luke is still lying in the force-coma Kun put him in.

CF: Yes.

EUBU: So Kun is so powerful that he can force Luke Skywalker into a vegetative state, but he is conquered when 12 new Jedi basically tell him that they will be nice.

CF: Oh yes, it shows that the true strength of Goodness is that it is in fact not Evil. By saying no to bad things, we show that we are stronger than badness.

EUBU: And then chop it in half with lightsabers?

CF: Yes.

EUBU: Again, about this - these Champions of the Force that shine forth such light, light that overcomes the darkness. . . how many of them are there?

CF: 12. These are the first of the new Jedi Knights.

EUBU: Well, even though it is odd for the Star Wars Universe, I can respect the seemingly Christian overtones of light over dark, 12 disciples, 12 tribes, using such a strongly religious number, things like that...

CF: Huh? What are you talking about?

EUBU: Um, I assumed that you said there were 12 students because of the religious ramifications.

CF: Oh, no, there are just twelve students there.

EUBU: And these are the great champions of the force.

CF: Yes.

EUBU: Then why do we only know the name of 5 of them?

CF: Um, well, I didn't want to dominate the universe - I wanted to leave open room for other authors to bring in their own characters.

EUBU: Couldn't they just make up their own?

CF: But then they wouldn't be Champions of the Force. This way these new Jedi can draw on how they defeated Exar Kun in their own stories.

EUBU: By basically saying that they won't use the dark side...

CF: Yes, now you get it.

EUBU: ... Moving on. Now, this big fight is finished on by page 135.

CF: Yes.

EUBU: Out of 322.

CF: Yes.

EUBU: Weren't you worried about wiping out such a strong villain, about having these champions of the Force hit their apex roughly a third of the way into the book?

CF: Well, not at the all. We need to have good resolution to stories up front, that way we don't worry about our characters too long in the book. Besides, I wanted to get onto the redemption of Kyp Durron.

EUBU: Who was bad and wicked for around 10% of the previous book and 40% of this book.

CF: Yes.

EUBU: So we actually spend more time seeing Kyp feel bad for being bad than we do seeing him being bad?

CF: Yes - but it's a heroic redemption, isn't it? I mean, he breaks all his bones in his destruction of the Death Star and the evil Sivron.

EUBU: Um, about that - why didn't Kyp just ram the exposed command center since he had done that before? He wouldn't have needed to break all his bones.

CF: But then he wouldn't have disposed of the Sun Crusher at the same time. See, if he were to use the Sun Crusher as it was intended to be used, it would have been bad. However, there is a poetic symmetry as he uses the missiles to try and destroy not a star, but a Death Star.

EUBU: You really think that is poetic?

CF: It's brilliant.

EUBU: Um, is there anything else you think is really poetic?

CF: Yes, I am thrilled with my depiction of Mara Jade. I believe I added so much to her character.

EUBU: What in particular do you think you "added" to her character?

CF: I am most proud of my description of her on page 54. "Mara Jade wore only a tight-fitting jumpsuit; her curves looked like hazardous paths through a complicated planetary system." Nothing in the Star Wars Universe encapsulates the mystery and raw physical appeal of Mara Jade like that. That's why I had to pair her with Lando, because, I mean, that's the ultimate hot couple.

EUBU: ...

CF: Why are you looking at me like that? Is that a lighter in your hand?

EUBU: When you see evil, you need to hold it up to light, a burning, bright light.

CF: No, I'm flammable, keep that away from me!

EUBU: I'm sorry, I have to, there's no other choice.

CF: But, but, this is brilliant stuff! (bursts into flames)

EUBU: Now, finally it has some brilliance. (Waits for CF to stop burning, then kicks the ashes) You won't hurt anyone any more. Never again.

(For the more literally minded among you, this is my way of giving this book a big, massive F-)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why I Dislike the Jedi Academy Trilogy

Why do I dislike the Jedi Academy Trilogy? Let me sum it with this observation.

The Jedi Academy Trilogy turns Star Wars into Keystone Cops.

You know the old movies where both the criminals and the cops are bumbling fools who run back and forth past each other? Well... behold the villains (really, the evil administrators who make the boss from Dilbert seem brilliant - I should be worried about them after you spend pages showing how stupid they are) - and behold how incompetent the heroes are. Ugh.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rwview - Dark Apprentice

Dark Apprentice - by Kevin J Anderson. 1994. Book 2 of the Jedi Academy Trilogy.

I think I will abandon my normal EU/Bad/Ugly motif, because I don't know if I can find an EU to put in here. I mean, I like Clighal, but that's a Clighal later on, not the one here.

I think I have come to a realization of what I dislike about this series - and there are two things. First, the plot is so lacking in tension, so there is nothing for our rather unheroic heroes (heroic? Luke dithers about teaching, Han plays 4 rounds of cards, Ackbar retires, and Leia whines about work. . . how heroic!) to do. But wait, I have to get the next book not because I am a self-abusive star wars fan, but because of compelling plot reasons like. . . um. . . . Well, Daala is going to attack... oh, wait, she has no more fleet. Um, well, you have Kyp, who in two chapters goes from young force using punk to ultra evil bad guy. . . well, okay, threatening to go all vigilante against the Empire doesn't really make me tremble. Oh no, a anti-Imperial war hawk with Jedi powers. . . . Really, the darkside isn't all that scary unless you are trying to take over the universe.

See, the whole thing reads like a really bad American rendition of an Anime series. I almost could hear Speed Racer's voice over Kyp's dialog "climatic" dialog with Luke. Just. . . ugh.

Of course, what makes this so, so bad is that the characterization is off. I can prove this with 4 words.

So, when Admiral Ackbar takes over the defense of Calamari from invaders, he pulls all the starfighters away from the construction facilities to lure in a hidden Star Destroyer. He is asked if this is wise, and then we hear as follows:

"No," [Ackbar] said, "It is a trap."

It is a trap? It IS a trap? There are potentially two lines that a Star Wars fan has memorized... and Anderson butchers one.

I shall borrow from Robot Chicken. To read this book would be a big mistakey.


One more book, and then I can read "I, Jedi" and be happy.

Grade Um... D-. I'll be generous.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review - Jedi Search

"Jedi Search" - by Kevin J. Anderson. Book 1 of the Jedi Academy Trilogy.

(Note: Oddity 1 - why is it called the Jedi Academy trilogy when Luke is so persistent that it should be called a praxeum in book 2)

The EU - Pacing/ It FEELS like Star Wars - To be blunt, I was dreading rereading these books. I didn't really like them (as will soon be obvious), however, in re-reading the books, I need to give Anderson credit. This book feels like a Star Wars movie would feel. The pacing is right. There is action, there is motion, there is movement. The scenes feel like a Star Wars book - and very much so. Anderson does this well - and this is probably why he is a fantastic editor.

The Setting Anderson does do a nice job describing Kessel, and the Maw, and fleshing out Yavin. Those feel like Star Wars places. Things feel like Star Wars in Anderson's book.

The EU - The Bad - It Feels Like Dumb Star Wars - While the pacing is good, the actions of the characters are just. . . off. The choices they make... are sometimes dumb. It is as though this book was some how prophetic of little Anakin from Episode 1 and 2... except everyone is just sort of off. (I'm on to book 2, so I'm thinking of stuff there too, but still).

The Ugly - The Villain..villains.. plot foils? One of the hallmarks of Star Wars is a strong villain. Think about the first movie - you have the huge, imposing Star Destroyer - you have Darth Vader. Imposing villains. And in this book... who's the villain? A coke-head, half blind frog man? Doesn't quite work. Maybe the scarecrow guy with all the Xs in his name? Nope. Um, or Jedi students - oh, they will be scary. . . no. I know, the evil Imperial Tourist who runs a Stormtrooper school... he throws a drink in Mon Mothma's face (don't worry, it will be a sinister drink. . . bwahahahaha!). Now I am intimidated and worried about the threats the characters will face. No, wait - ah, there, on Page 227 we get Admiral Daala. . . anwoman Admiral, a military genius who rose even with the sexist attitudes of the Empire, a wondrous, super, vil... um.

... Daala is the dumbest super-evil-threatening-admiral ever. Seriously - just tactical error after tactical error. She might have been intimidating if we were used to merely the Empire Strike Backs Admirals. After Thrawn, she seems like like a fool. You mean, if no one checks up on your secure, secret installation in a decade, you aren't going to send out a fact finding mission? When your lover is the person supplying you? Maybe you aren't rusty, maybe you are just dumb. Of course, maybe the true villain is the. . .

The SUPER UGLY The Sun Crusher.

Okay - this is the worst plot device ever. Why? First of all, it's an indestructible (literally) craft that can blow up solar systems. Really? Really? Come on, man! How could you hope to defeat it. . .give us at least an exhaust port or something.

Oh, wait, that's right - we don't have to worry about defeating it because at the end of the book IT IS IN THE NEW REPUBLIC'S POSSESSION! Oh, wow, instead of having a looming threat, we get to look forward to a moral quandary!

See, this is the main problem - you need conflict to drive a novel -- for a short story, it doesn't have to be big. Han and Chewie on Kessel - a neat short story. But a novel? Or a Trilogy? This needs something more than what Anderson gives us. Darth Vader is what makes Star Wars Star Wars, and not because he's actually Anakin Skywalker, former hero -- he drives it because he is SCARY and kicks all sorts. Who is going to kick anyone around in this book? No one, unless they have overwhelming force in a matter of surprise.

The Grade I'm going to have to give this one a C- It felt right... it was well written... but the story itself was just... bleech.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

EU Rule #3 - Leave the Universe a Better Place

Here is the 3rd Rule of writing in the EU - Leave the Universe a Better Place.

One of my favorite lines from Star Wars is Darth Vader saying, "The power to destroy a planet is insignificant compared to the power of the force." This, I would contend, is actually part of the Star Wars theme - that simple destruction is insignificant - that the ability to destroy is ultimately... lacking.

Indeed, the wonder of Star Wars as a whole is that it creates - that it creates wonderful new worlds and vistas to explore - new adventures to be had. That is part and parcel of the wide-eyed wonder we had seeing the films, playing with our toys -- whether the first film we saw was Episode IV or Episode I.

However, some folks dabbling in the Star Wars Universe end up focusing rather on the destructive potential in the Star Wars universe, rather than its creative elements. Your story needs to leave the universe a better place - and if you are on a destructive kick, that won't work.

This isn't to say that there isn't destruction. Take the great example - the destruction of Alderaan. It is a shocking, horrible event. . . but just that. An event. We don't know anything about Alderaan (expect that Leia claims they are peaceful) - its destruction simply serves to demonstrate danger... but in terms of our experience, nothing really is lost. The Star Wars Universe isn't lessened by Alderaan's destruction.

However, in the EU, there have been plenty of times where for whatever reason, massive destruction happens - but not of unknown places, not of new things so the destruction just illustrates power, illustrates the fact that people and places we know and love might be in danger... but true destruction.

When a known character is killed off - that does damage to the Universe - unless in their death there is some great, wondrous heroic good that can balance the loss. But it's not good. Re-reading the older books I realize how much I miss Chewie. But when a known character is killed off - all their potential, all the stories, all the things you as a reader could imagine about them, all the speculation for upcoming books - these are destroyed as well. (I don't even get to rant about how various authors butcher Mara Jade's Character anymore - I'd rather have my favorite characters poorly written rather than bumped off)

The same thing holds to planets -- this is the great flaw of the Yuhnzan Vong invasion -- too destructive, too much ruin eventually to places we know. I miss Ithor -- it was developing an interesting history and story... then BAM... gone.

Oh yes, I know, destroying established things gives us a sense of loss, it let's us know the stakes are real.

If you are writing in the Star Wars Universe, your job is not to convince us that you are a serious writer who can make things happen, it is to leave the EU a better place, a fuller place, with more stories.

Killing a character rarely does that. Obi-wan - well, sure. A villain - of course (as long as it is artfully done). Even Ganner - at least a myth grows out of it, mythical overtones for a side character - that enriches the universe.

But simply a "hey, we mean business, and things are really dangerous, and folks are going to get hurt" - that doesn't create, that doesn't make the Universe a better place. And, really, it has no place in the EU.

(Or in other words - only kill off your own characters and planets!)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Children of the Jedi - Barbara Hambly

Children of the Jedi - Barbara Hambly - May 1995

A bit of background going into this review. I graduated from High School in May of 1995. Thus, when this book came out, I was in a period of transition, looking forward to heading down to the University of Oklahoma. My love for Star Wars would go with me. However, I will admit that at the time, I really wasn't much of a Science Fiction fan. Oh, I loved Star Wars -- but not Sci Fi. If I wasn't reading Star Wars I was reading Tom Clancy, or Anne Rice. Sci Fi - not so much. I didn't read Asimov... I had done some Clarke, but that's it - and as such I wasn't used to Science Fiction tropes and the like.

At the time, I pretty much despised the book. It's part of the reason I hadn't reread it in years. But now, I see some things about it, I can appreciate it, even if I think it has some rather fatal flaws. But let's consider the book.

The EU - Hambly's writing. Simply in terms of structure, handling of the story, description, things like this, Barbara Hambly shows herself to be quite an author. Rereading this book makes me want to read some of her non-Star Wars works. This book really is skillfully put together. The only slight complaint would be some egregious use of long words. I think Star Wars should be easily read, and some of the words were. . . well, I'm a Classicist who has studied Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Japanese, plus got a 790 Verbal on his SAT, and once or twice even I went. . . um... ah, okay. However, they were just tossed in once in a while, and no repeats. I can't complain too much about a silver dollar word every 100 pages or so.

The EU - Leia's Emotions. While I don't (as it will be shown later) necessarily like the setting for it, the exploration of Leia's thoughts and emotions, playing between her past on Alderaan and in the Imperial Court with the current plot of the book, was extremely well done. It probably is some of the most... real writing that happens in the Expanded Universe - it seemed real. While I might have preferred to see it in a short story format where it would take center stage, it was really, really well done.

The Bad - Too Much Sci Fi. I think the big flaw of this book is that there was too much Science Fiction in it. What I mean is this - so few of the pages were given to action, or heroics. The main thrust and plot is Luke being trapped, while injured, on a massive ship with a thought controlling AI. A major side focus is whether or not Nichos is really alive. You have pages of computer terminal prompt dialog. While this is fantastic for Sci-Fi, for Star Wars, for Saturday Afternoon action serial, for Space Opera... it's not. Even the destruction of the Eye of Palpatine is rather. . . actionless. The only good action scene is really Leia's escape from Irek - and this isn't enough action for a Star Wars novel. Speaking of which.

The Bad - Irek. Now, as anyone named Eric can tell you, Irek is Eric with the vowels switched. As such, the prospect of having a villain named after me was pretty cool. However, he was lacking. He was just too much of. . . well. . . the same. Is he the heir of the Emperor... or is he the next Vader... or is he whiney Luke but on the dark side. It's a villain without anything to make him his own - except for the ability to mess with droids, sort of. But that doesn't make him a character - his villainy doesn't stand alone. And this is it... until the Del Rey folks just sudden resurrected him as a Plot Device... I mean as "Lord Nyax"... who is even worse than Irek. As a rule of thumb, petulant teens inspiring villains do not make.

The Ugly - Callista. Okay, to be blunt, I hate Callista with a passion. The idea of Callista had such promise - a story of sacrifice, of wisdom. If she had been simply blown up at the end, she would have been a wonderful tragic character. However, she wasn't made to be this, she was made to be a romantic interest for Luke Skywalker, and as such, she fails, hard, and on multiple levels. What are these?

1. Great Romances don't sound like the old game Zork. Seriously, Luke falls in love with a command prompt. This is creepy, especially as it is before you have the full advent of the internet and e-dating and all that. To suddenly fall for the girl in the computer is something that would have been appropriate for Irek, not for Luke.

2. Too perfect. Okay, so the gal with great wisdom of the Jedi (which Luke is always searching for in the Bantam books), who is self sacrificing, suddenly gets the perfect body (ah, the Blonde with the Legs -- who cares who she used to be, we've got a new use for those legs). Her only flaw ends up being that she loses her connection to the force. . . which wouldn't necessarily be a character flaw. In fact (shudder) she could have kept on as a perfect figure with this tragic loss in her past making her perfectly sympathetic.

3. Ethics Fail. Okay, while I suppose Callista taking over Cray's body dovetails with the whole Nichos character, still... um... yeah, this babe I'm mackin' on at the end of the book sort of possessed the body of my student... it turns it into some sort of weird "Don't Stand So Close to Me" setting, except merged with "Let's Get it On" and suddenly supposed to be happy and romantic. Seriously - this is just incredibly creepy.

4. Most Simply - She Ain't Mara Jade. Why try to make a better wheel than the perfect wheel? Just. . . no. The bitter, jaded one is the truly perfect companion to the innocent farmboy. The perfect romance is about being complimentary - and too often that is forgotten. Mara is Luke's equal and opposite. Anything else is just lacking and foolish.

So, what does this mean? Well, I suppose one might read this book without the utter dislike of Callista that I have being a Mara fan and not have this little ball of disgust that I do. And to review, I should overlook that. The book is well written, even if slightly out of place in Star Wars given its lack of action. I will give it a B-. Although it has many redeeming qualities, they tend to be more internal, introspective aspects. It doesn't work as a Star Wars novel. You can do introspection in the Star Wars Universe in short stories, but to drive a novel of 300+ pages - you need something action oriented or earth-shaking in its revelatory nature. This book didn't have that. Still, it's a better book than I remember it being, and I'm glad I reread it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

EU Writing Rules #2

Here is the EU Writing Rule #2

Remember That You are Writing for Star Wars

This is a simple concept. Star Wars is a genre of story unto itself. It is action-serial pulp set in Space. It is adventure with a bit of romance and humor tossed in. There is a certain feel that a good Star Wars story should have.

What happens is sometimes people tend to view Star Wars more as a "Universe" where a bunch of stories can take place - and you can set stories in the Star Wars Universe that don't feel like Star Wars. Some of the early Bantam novels fell into this trap - you had some very witty and engaging Science Fiction novels that explore some great themes -- but stopped feeling like Star Wars.

Now, of course, there are places where other ideas merge into Star Wars. The very first scene of Star Wars plays off of classic Sci-Fi (that Star Destroyer is jaw dropping). The Cave Scene of Empire is right out of a psychological thriller. However, these are flavors - not the main focus.

Keep your Star Wars feeling like Star Wars -- not like some other sort of Novel with a bit of Star Wars sprinkled on it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

EU Writing Rules #1

I am going to randomly work up a list of rules for people who are going to be writing for the Expanded Universe.


I'm sure all the muckity-mucks are paying close attention and I'll be getting an excellent check from Sue Rostini soon.


(Sigh - if I did, it would probably just be in Imperial Credits.)

At any rate, here it is, Rule Number 1 of Writing Star Wars.

Bigger is NOT Better - or in other words, Don't try to pull trump on George Lucas.

One of the major flaws of many Star Wars books is that instead of just providing new situations for characters to have exciting adventures in, they will try to bring out something bigger and badder. These fail. Horribly.

For example, consider the " Sun Crusher" - the worst superweapon plot device ever. So, George Lucas gives us the big, giant Death Star with the power to destroy a planet (shame it has a design flaw). In the Jedi Academy Triology, Kevin Anderson gives us the Sun Crusher, which is:

A. More powerful than the Death Star (it can make Stars go Nova)
B. Easier to use than the Death Star (only needs a single pilot)
C. Is impossible to destroy with no flaws (Quantum armor? Really? Really really?)

What this does is sort of just make the whole thing seem ridiculous. The concept of Star Wars already requires some suspension of disbelief -- when you violate the given rules of the universe beyond the established ideas, it just make things seem so much more ridiculous - sort of like an unintentional, mood shattering argument to absurdity.

Of course, this doesn't just happen with weapons - it can happen with the Villains, where you have villains that are just superized versions of their predecessors - so we'll have Lord Nyax who is supposed to be a super Vader... This just doesn't work. Really, it doesn't. Make a new villain. They are wicked and evil - go have wicked and evil fun with them.

And the worst place this happens is with the heroics of the heroes. See, this is the big problem - we see our heroes do neat things, and sadly, some authors seem to think, "Ah, they can do neat stuff, therefore they are heroes. I will make them better heroes by having them do even more teh aewsoemest stuff." Heroes in Star Wars aren't heroes because they have power, they are heroes because they use whatever talents or skills they have in helping and defending others. If you want to make them seem heroic, don't whip out a new power or feat, have them find creative ways to use their powers to help.

This is one of the reasons why I like the Timothy Zahn novels. He tries to fix the overpowering of Luke in his Hand of Thrawn Duology by forcing Luke to power down... of course, then we have just a few years later Troy Denning's Dark Nest Trilogy basically being a giant "I'm Luke Skywalker, and I can do ANYTHING" fest. And masses of bugs, to boot.

Sometimes we are slow to learn the rules -- I knew I should have written and posted these 9 years ago, but I figured we would all just learn from Zahn, the dean of Star Wars authors. Oh well.

So there it is - don't just try to build up something bigger, or meaner, or more cool and powerful. That's not the essence of Star Wars.

Oh, and as an addendum, since I'm re-reading Bantam books. Listen, Mara Jade IS the ideal romantic interest for Luke. What in the world were all these authors trying to do to make better ones? I mean, I read about them, and they are just. . . why, why would Luke settle for gals like... them when Mara is waiting for him. Thank you, thank Mr. Zahn for just putting the two together and being done with it.

Oh, what - they did WHAT to Mara? And they brought back how many old girlfriends? Really? Where did they dig up these old fossils, I mean. . . ugh.

Please, please authors - stop trying to violate Rule Number one. Don't try to top Lucas (and don't try to top Zahn either).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Have a New Trilogy

So there are the rumors going around that Lucas is working on a new trilogy, and of note, it would involve original characters. Rumors of Luke, Han, and Leia running around all grey haired and wondrous. So, is it a good idea? Sure! And here they are, the top ten reasons why we should be eager to have a New Star Wars Trilogy.

10. We'll get to see if Luke successfully moves from young and whiney to old and crotchey. That's character development.

9. More Poodoo jokes! Um, er something like that.

8. As Lucas has no problem ignoring EU canon, we might actually have Mara Jade returned to us, and everything from "Legacy of the Force" onwards can just be a bad, bad cave visit for Jacen Solo.

7. It might keep Lucas from helping Spielberg do any more damage to the Indiana Jones series.

6. We could pretend that Han simply doesn't "remember" shooting first because of the onset of dementia.

5. Maybe the plot will involve the total destruction of Mandalorian culture... oh, wait, that's already happened.

4. As Carrie Fisher has Hollywood Street-cred as a writer, she would be able to smack Lucas around when he writes just horrid lines - and he might listen.

3. It will bankroll the TV series. . . sure it will.

2. Maybe a really good looking Jaina will find her mom's old outfits? New generations of single males could be made life long fans.

1. Dude, it's Star Wars on the big screen. There would be lightsabers and Han - we'd go.

Review - The Force Unleashed II

"The Force Unleashed II" - by Sean Williams - October 2010

The most recent Star Wars Novel, The Force Unleashed II is a tie in for the new Star Wars action game for console and PC. Now, as such, some of this means there are things that are outside of the author's hands. However, we are still going to review the book as his - perhaps much to his chagrin.

1. The EU - The Writing. This book is actually well written. William's verbal pacing, his grammar, his structure, these are all very well done, some of the most adept in the Expanded Universe. The individual pages were easy to read. (Please note: this is intended to be high praise, because it is going to get ugly, through no fault of William's own).

2. The Bad - This is a setting issue - but the idea of having Kota be this main general in the Rebellion is... well, dumb. Leia et al have no business having any Jedi Generals - and especially rogue Jedi Generals. This is just bad form. It would be acceptable except. . .

3. The Ugly - What's the Plot for an entire Novel, again? Seriously, the plot is. . . lacking. There is only one stream (which is understandable for a video game adaptation), but there are no... twists. And it's a shame - there could have been stages - Who am I, why am I here, ah, let me go rescue the girl. It's nothing but "I should rescue the girl" with no surprises, no jumps, no questions answered. In fact, the best question is one that is unanswered. . .

4. The Ugly - The ending fits cannon how? Seriously. The "happy ending" for the game gives something that would have rocked the entirety of the Universe. Okay - so how does this get fixed. . . how do we get from this ending point to where we know things are in just a year or so of story time? Now, that could be an interesting story (in fact, it almost might be something fun to write for that National Write a Novel Month thing in November - if you are so inclined or have good ideas how to apply an "I, Jedi" fix to this, I highly encourage you to do so).

I feel bad for these complaints because they are completely out of William's hands. It's almost as though we should just lambaste Lucas Arts for following up a game with such a wondrous story with such a... pre-Christmas money grab?

Grade - C-. It should be split - Wililams gets a B+ and Lucas Arts gets a D-. But I can't. Thus, I don't. Oh well.

Review - The Courtship of Princess Leia

"The Courtship of Princess Leia" - Dave Wolverton - May 1994

So I decided to reread for the first time in at least 4 years "The Courtship of Princess Leia" by Dave Wolverton (note: a great way to keep track of the last time you read your Star Wars novels - go to the coffee shop and use the receipt as the bookmark).

Here are the thoughts.

1. EU - It's fun. Generally. You have a bit of action and adventure, some romance (actually, the development of the relationship between Isolder and Teneniel Djo is one of the better ones in the entire EU - probably because it wasn't an author trying to create the "perfect" companion for a known character. That happens once and only once - all hail Mara Jade!), some action. I enjoyed reading it. It moved well.

2. EU - It has a good impact upon the EU. The Hapans are an interesting and beneficial culture. In fact, I don't think there has been another culture created in the EU that has has as much impact - and it works. The basis for why the culture is the way it is is presented here in a simple, understandable way. A bit of change is introduced to the culture as well - so future authors can easily grasp what should have been, but also have a ready reason to present changes, nuances, or details that they uniquely can bring in.

3. Bad - Now, as you may note, I am a Lutheran Pastor. I love theology. I have no problem with people bringing in some theological overtones into the Star Wars Universe. The Jedi are warrior monks, mystics - there will be some. The light and dark side and redemption are major themes - in fact when there is no religious/spiritual aspect something is lacking. However, while I appreciate the fact that Wolverton treats Luke like a literary Christ-figure, it does get laid on a touch thick, especially with an almost death and resurrection scene (I half expected Luke to tell Isolder to pick up his cross and follow him when they start out across Dathomir). However, what makes this egregious is the utter hippie bend that Luke goes on - we have to save the worms.... the worms. Maybe it's more Buddhist than hippie, but it seemed out of place (or maybe it just sits worse now that I've had the misfortune of seeing "Seven Years in a Movie Theater" - I mean "Seven Years in Tibet" and that part gave me flash backs) and not quite appropriate. Besides - the basic teaching of Yoda is that the force is all around...even in the inanimate. Hence, the "striking" realization that all life is part of the force... shouldn't be all that striking to Luke.

4. Bad The scale of wealth. I'm not a fan of bling. We know the Main Characters of Star Wars are awesome and cool - let Leia get a few rainbow jewels, not buckets and buckets of them. Sheesh. Too over the Top.

5. Ugly Nothing. Really - nothing ugly here. That's a good thing.

I give this book a B. I was tempted to give is a B- (which isn't bad - it's good, I'm going to be a tough grader), but the positive impact of Hapan culture upon the EU brings it up higher. Our first introduction to them brings with it some nostalgia. If you haven't read this one in a while, I recommend it. It's worth pulling off the shelf again.

Oh Great, another one

Yes, yes, yes, this is another Star Wars Blog. However, what this blog will exist for will be primarily for the continuing review the Exapnded Universe of Star Wars, random Star Wars Humor, and perhaps the occassional snarky comment.

So, what should the potential reader know about me and my approach?

1. The Top Authors are Zahn, Stackpole, and Aliston. Why are these the top authors -- because their books are structurally sound, contain interesting characters that can lead scenes (yet the book doesn't become a "hey, look at my new awesome character") yet also blend with original characters (or ones crafted by the other authors), and most importantly - their books feel like Star Wars. They are pulp action in Space with humor and adventure. These are the best authors.

2. Troy Denning is not generally thought of positively. Why? He has little concept of a heroic death, yet people seem to die around him all the time. For exampe, his entry into the EU gets the dramatic death of a character... and he turns it into a depression/despair induced suicide attempt that doesn't in fact rescue anyone because the rest of the group ends up fighting over his body. Worst heroic death ever.

3. Kevin Anderson the author is mocked mercilessly, although Keven Anderson the editor is highly praised.

4. While the Bataam era books tend to have some very stupid events/characters in them, they are at least well written, even if not always up to the way the Universe should feel. But then, the odd things don't tend to have lasting impact or are fixed (think "I, Jedi" fixing the Jedi Academy Trilogy). The Del Rey era books tend to feel more consistently like Star Wars, but when they do something stupid, it lasts for books, and books, and books (Daala running the galaxy... as a good thing? Really? Oh, and this becomes the basis for the next 9 book series? Really?)

5. Above all things, Star Wars should be fun.