Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Changing Seasons

Journal Update
12-4 months BBY

The keen eye will notice I took the "weekly" out of the subtitle for this blog. That's because the "weekly journal" updates will have to go on indefinite hiatus, as my school work-load this quarter is on the crazy side. My Star Wars reading will, of course, suffer for it.

On the bright side, I feel like this gives me an opportunity taking a more creative (somewhat anthropological and political) look at how the galaxy as a whole is changing, as well as its key villains and heroes. Thus, I'll try to incorporate the smaller things into a new format for my posts. And, as usual, I'll keep up the major book/comic/game reviews as I go.

Well, on with it then!

As I get closer and closer to Episode IV, events continue to take on a very familiar taste. I've really been able to see the contrast between the blooming Empire of 19-2 years BBY, versus the cold and callous regime we all remember in the OT. Let me expand on that. Looking back at pieces of EU material like Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, The Force Unleashed, or the Last of The Jedi series, the Empire was significantly more jumpy and extreme. Not only were they struggling to establish a whole new Galactic Order, but even the dealings of the Vader and Palpatine were shrouded in uncertainty. A case in point example is Vader's questioning of his role in relation to Palpatine and to his old identity. Could he defeat him alone? Does Palpatine see him as an equal or is he just a place-marker for a "far younger and more powerful" apprentice? Finally, how can Vader, so plagued by attachment, let go of the Jedi he used to be or the woman he loved? These particular dilemmas are rife in all of the titles listed above.

But the nature of the Empire has changed in both subtle and dramatic ways. As I am mere months away from A New Hope, the Empire has really become that cold, calculating, and arrogant dictatorship that we saw in the original film. Although the Rebel threat is bigger than ever before, so seem to be the egos of the Imperial rank-and-file. While Vader and Palpatine are surely worried about the Rebellion that they have "unwittingly created" (The Force Unleashed), there is a sense that even they have fallen into a bit of complacency. One clear cause of this is that Vader has seriously scaled down on the Jedi hunting, as they are almost completely wiped out. Grand Moff Tarkin has also inched closer and closer to the center stage with his "Doctrine of Fear" ("Fear will keep the local systems in line"- ANH). His journal entries in the Death Star Technical Companion exemplify his growing confidence that once the Death Star is created, no force would seriously threaten or dare challenge the Empire.

So what do stagnant imperial leaders do while they laze around on their hover-couches? Plot against one other, of course! Recent readings have really highlighted the ruthless nature of Imperial complacency. Empire Volume One: Betrayal speaks for itself as a group of Grand Moffs try to assassinate the Emperor, but only succeed in assassinating themselves. Given this new air of treachery, Darth Vader is given a new task by the Emperor- keep an eye on Tarkin and his new toy. As revealed in Mara Jade: By The Emperor's Hand #0, Palpatine does not take an optimistic or idealistic view of Tarkin's rise to prestige.

But the Empire isn't the only one playing hard-ball. In Rebel Dawn, Jabba essentially murders his Aunt Jiliac and his infant cousin, insuring his place as leader of Desilijic. At the same time, Bria Tharen breaks the last straw with Han Solo by flat-out using the smuggler and his allies to further the causes of the Rebel Alliance- with no reward. Not to mention attempts by Bib Fortuna to wipe out his slimy master in Jabba The Hutt: The Art of the Deal.

But how will the Empire change when the Rebel Alliance achieves it first great victory? The Death Star, one could say, is a symbol of Imperial complacency. What will be the crucial differences in the political setting of the Empire or the GFFA as a whole when we finally come to Episode V?

Well, I hope you've enjoyed a change of pace! Let me know what you think of my new direction. More coming soon enough!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rebel Dawn

Rebel Dawn by A.C. Crispin

3-0 years BBY

Every once in a while you come across a book that literally blows your mind. For me, a good book keep me excited the entire way through, ties plot points (and, for Star Wars, continuity points) together seamlessly, has a diverse and engaging cast of characters, and is well-written overall. Rebel Dawn is all of this and more. Call me crazy, but this just might be my favorite BBY book.

Let's break it down by the qualities I listed above...

I was always glad to pick up this book. It just had an exciting and foreboding feel to it. This story is pretty long for a Star Wars adventure, but I never even noticed that until I finished it. I can usually only read a book for about an hour straight (covering maybe 50 pages), but Rebel Dawn was so engaging that I found myself spending half my day reading it- and loving every minute.

When I think of what attracts me the most about this story, it has to be the astonishing smoothness with which it both creates it own story yet integrates so many others. Rebel Dawn takes place over 3 years and, being the obsessive galactic historian I am, I frequently had to put it down in order to read other books. The most notable interruptions were the Han Solo Adventures: At Stars' End, Han Solo's Revenge The Lost Legacy. Now, you would think A.C. Crispin would have been hard-pressed to incorporate this huge gap (during which Han is off fortune-hunting in the Corporate Sector). Not at all. In a brilliant move, Crispin changed the entire focus of the book away from Han and towards three other key characters: Bria Tharen, Jabba The Hutt, and Durga The Hutt. This book also covers a lot of continuity ground as well. It includes infamous events such as how and why Han and Chewie had to drop their spice cargo, how the Death Star plans reach the Tantive IV, and how Jabba became the leader of the Desilijic kajidic (Hutt clan).

The characters featured in this tale are some of the most iconic in the GFFA. Where else can you find Han, Chewie, Lando, Jabba, Boba Fett, Prince Xizor, Guri, Dash Rendar, Winter, and more? The list just goes on and on. This doesn't even include the numerous references to other major characters (i.e. Obi-Wan, Luke, Mon Mothma).

Finally, A.C. Crispin is an amazing writer. She may be even be my favorite (no disrespect to the mighty Zahn). Her reading is so natural and flowing. And she really created a story that, if I had to pick, would be my personal pick for a one-shot Star Wars movie. This really felt like belonged with the OT. In fact, it seems that this is truly a heartfelt welcome for me to the ABY galaxy.

If I scored this book out of 10, it would get a thousand.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jabba The Hutt: The Art of the Deal

Jabba The Hutt: The Art of the Deal

12-4 months BBY

Calling all criminal scum! If you want to learn a thing or two about making your way on the sultry side of the galaxy, this is the lesson for you. Perhaps the goriest Star Wars comic I have ever seen, Jabba The Hutt: The Art of the Deal is a collection of four short stories starring the galaxy's most infamous crime lord. Follow Jabba as he deftly swindles fellow crime lords, foils pirate princesses, and, quite literally, smashes the opposition.

There are some definite pros and cons to this book. To be honest, the art in this comic was not in my tastes. It's done by Art Wetherell (who did some Tales of the Jedi work) and is very similar to other late-90's Star Wars comic artwork. Just looks grimy to me. But hey, it would take a truly masterful artist to make Jabba look otherwise.

The stories, by Jim Woodring, are OK, but the last story, "Betrayal", is my definite favorite. This is because, along with the rest of the comic, you get a nice view into the devious mind of Bib Fortuna. The last story, in particular, features a nearly successful plot by Bib to assasinate Jabba. The twist at the end made me chuckle, I must admit.

Also, if you didn't think anything could be more disgusting than a Hutt, check out Princess Nampi the Orooturooan. Now that's a looker- and she's hungry.

As I said at the beginning of this blog, this is the most gore I've seen come out of the Star Wars franchise (keep in mind I haven't gotten to Death Troopers). It includes Hutt body slams, severed heads, and space-vacuum fireworks (think about it)- all of which end in a pool of blood. This one is not for the kiddies.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Empire Volume One: Betrayal

Empire Volume One: Betrayal

12-4 months BBY

The title of this graphic novel is more or less self-explanatory. In the months before the Death Star becomes fully operational, a small group of overly-ambitious Grand Moffs plot to eliminate the Emperor and his dark enforcer, Darth Vader. Armed with a legion of specially-trained stormtroopers, bred especially for their invidious purposes, the conspirators see the perfect opportunity to strike. As Vader leaves to investigate reports of a rogue Jedi on an out-of-the-way planet and the Emperor prepares to board a shuttle to the Death Star, the Moffs set their plans. But their treachery runs on much deeper levels than some expected. Soon betrayal will run within and without this secret plot to destroy the Emperor.

While I managed to make the story sound interesting in my little introduction, it really isn't. Honestly, not much happens. Yes, there are some pretty sketchy Grand Moffs running around trying to overthrow the Emperor, but they just end up destroying themselves. Also, the "Jedi" Vader finds is just an idiotic force-user, eager to learn the ways of the Dark Side. Suffice to say she is quickly dispatched. The most exciting part of this story? The Royal Guards, bar-none. It feels like a nice little sample of what's in store for me with Crimson Empire.

Art-wise, there are pros and cons. The cover art, in my opinion, is horrible, as is the pencil work on the Emperor. The stormtroopers are also quite unsightly. However, there are a lot of cool character designs. One that particularly comes to mind is Grand Moff Trachta. For me, he looks like a mix between Wat Tambor and Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe.

Overall, I would would recommend skipping it. The graphic novel version was a bit elusive and I definitely paid more for that. Of course, I like to hear your opinions so feel free to comment if you think I didn't do this comic series justice!

Empire Volume Two: Darklighter, on the other hand, has already proven itself to be much more exciting.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Enter The Scarlett Assassin

Weekly Journal
September 15, 2009
12-4 months BBY

As if the title doesn't give enough away, last week saw the introduction of Mara Jade into my journey across the GFFA. But that's not all. Her future master, Kyle Katarn, also made his first appearance, as did the Ssi-Ruuk.

After finishing up Han Solo and the Hollow Moon of Khorya (see my review here), and getting a brief update on the construction of the "ultimate power in the universe" via the Death Star Technical Companion, I dived into the first half of Soldier For The Empire, the story of Kyle Katarn during his Imperial cadet training on Carida. I was very impressed by this story because it adds a whole new dimension to Kyle that I never got from the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight video games I played as a kid. You never quite get the full story on Kyle's roots or his Imperial training by playing the games. It was also kool to get reacquainted with characters like Morgan Katarn and Jerec. Thrawn also made an appearance as Jerec's second in command- that's always nice. =)

I then picked up The Truce At Bakura Sourcebook, which introduces our favorite life-energy-sucking, extra-galactic conquerors, the Ssi-Ruuk, as they begin to conquer the planet Bakura. We also meet Dev Sibwarra for the first time, the force-sensitive son of Jedi padawan Ydra, who fled the Jedi Order prior to Order 66. Dev, of course, is quickly captured because he thought, in his naivety, the Ssi-Ruk didn't want to conquer Bakura (wow?).

After that, I read a segment of Empire Volume 2: Darklighter, during which Biggs Darklighter graduates from the Imperial Academy and the first whispers of "a weapon capable of destroying planets" begins to spread amongst the ranks. Also read a small expert from the Movie Trilogy Sourcebook, which features a letter from Biggs to Luke, and hinting at Bigg's thoughts of joining the Rebellion (though very,very tactfully).

Finally, to the reason behind the title. Logged onto Star Wars Hyperspace and checked out the partially animated e-comic of Mara Jade: By The Emperor's Hand #0. The galaxy's most dangerous red-head is observed by Palpatine and Vader in this issue as she performs flawlessly in a simulated infiltration mission. Need I say much else? Go check it out if you have hyperspace!

And by the way, if you ever wondered why Darth Vader is really sent to the Death Star, Mara Jade's opening act explains it all...

Mara: "Are you really suspicious of Tarkin?"
Palpatine: "I suspect him of ambition."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Star Wars Adventures Vol. 1: Han Solo and the Hollow Moon Of Khorya

1 Year BBY

If anyone out there still doubts the utter awesomeness of Chewbacca, drop what you're doing and go pick up this mini graphic novel now.

Han Solo and Chewbacca have made many friends along the way, but just as many enemies. Cornered on the planet Simbarc by the diminutive criminal casino mogul, Sollima, Han Solo is forced to infiltrate a heavily guarded Imperial base. What force in the galaxy could convince Solo to do something so foolish? Only a threat on the life of his best friend and first mate, Chewie (and a little debt forgiveness thrown in on the side). Joining in on the mission is a questionable character from Solo's past: the con artist extraordinaire, Billal Batross.

I can't think of anything I particularly disliked about this comic, but I can point out quite a few things I definitely enjoyed. The storyline, done by Jeremy Barlow, I admit was very simple. But I think that's how it should be. This graphic novel is meant to be just what it is- a one-shot story. What I liked most about the story is that it paid homage to a rarely glimpsed part of Han Solo's past- his time spent under the care and service of the criminal Garris Shrike, which is where Han originally met Billal. I've only really encountered a reference to Shrike in the Han Solo Trilogy, especially in The Paradise Snare. According to Wookieepedia, he is mentioned in a few other books, but most likely only tersely. Either way, quite a nice touch.

For some reason, I'm also really attracted to the art style of this comic. In this case, I think the most kudos go to the colorist, Michael Atiyeh. He really brought vivid and exciting dimension to the GFFA with his work. I'm also a fan of how the penciler, Rick Lacey, styled our favorite outlaw duo. Chewbacca, in particular, had an impressive, savage look in this book.

Which brings me to the number one selling point of this story- Chewbacca the gladiator. What does Chewie do while Han's away infiltrating Imperial bases? Fighting in the ring of course. You won't be disappointed.

Overall, I'm quite satisfied by the first installation of the Star Wars Adventures series. I'll be sure to read the one featuring Princess Leia and the yet-to-be released adventure featuring Luke on Dagobah. Apparently he battles the dragon snake (sweet!).

Monday, September 7, 2009

Old Corellian and Socorran Raava

Weekly Journal
September 07, 2009
12-4 months BBY

You never know how much you miss something until it's gone. I was glad to get out of the realm of Han Solo and smuggling for a while. Taking a trip with Boba Fett and Darth Vader definitely widened the scope of this time period a bit more. But my adventures last week brought me back to the criminal roots of this time in GFFA history.

I started out with two really amazing short stories written in 1994 by Patricia A. Jackson. "Out of the Cradle" and "When the Domino Falls" follow the adventures of a young and budding Socorran smuggler named Drake Paulsen. The two stories themselves aren't much in terms of importance for the GFFA but there is something just plain interesting about them. For me, being an anthropology major in college, it's the language/culture theme of the stories. I did a bit of research on Patricia A. Jackson, and apparently she is the key developer of the "Old Corellian" language. She also includes some of the Coyn language. Whenever I see an author take this extra step, making the story that much more vivid and real, it touches a special part in my heart. To top it all off, she gets in depth with the cultural traditions and beliefs of the people of Socorro (Lando is a notable Socorran). For instance, Socorrans do not refer to those who have passed as "dead". Instead, they refer to them as "doing business offworld". There is also a heavy distinction between Socorrans and Corellians in terms of the value of honor and pride. If you have Star Wars Hyperspace (most of us obviously do), they're in the archive- check 'em out.

I also read one of the new Star Wars Adventures one-shot graphic novels, Han Solo and the Hollow Moon of Khorya". I'll be writing a review of this shortly, so stay tuned!

On a final note, I've been reading the Essential Atlas and The Art of The Clone Wars. Many of you are aware that The Art of The Clone Wars is the source of the recent "continuity crisis" surrounding Karen Traviss' departure from the GFFA. Apparently, people are mad because they changed Mandalore's capital (as stated in the Art book). There's also rumor that Mandalore is now desolate except for this giant cube city. First of all, though the city's concept art is definitely cubical in nature, it's not just a giant cube. Plus, it's only concept art. Second of all, where are people getting the idea that the rest of Mandalore is desolate/barren? It says nothing of the sort in the Art book, merely that Mandalore was ravaged by war, leading to the rise of the New Mandalorians. This does not have to equate with desolate/barren.

In lieu of this, it is my opinion that everything is rumor until I see it in Star Wars: Clone Wars Season 2. It can't be that bad. Feel free to discuss and share your opinion on this blog!