Star Wars Chapter Sampler

As we creep closer to December 18, and after all the hoopla of Comic-Con, I wonder if all Star Wars fans feel like I do—both thrilled and really, really apprehensive. If you’re a fan, you’ve proceeded from Return of the Jedi in one of two ways: you assumed the Empire was defeated and our heroes lived happily ever after, or you’ve followed the Extended Universe (now known as Star Wars Legends) and have come to love Mara Jade, Jaina Solo, and Ben Skywalker. Either way, your picture of life after Jedi is about to change. Is that good or bad? Only time will tell.

As a super-nerd, I still own my very battered paperbacks of the original novelizations of the films: Star Wars by “George Lucas” (really Alan Dean Foster), The Empire Strikes Back by Donald F. Glut, and Return of the Jedi by James Kahn. I really need to buy those on Kindle. But I’m intrigued by all these new Star Wars books that are coming, including retelling of the original movies. So I gobbled up the chapter sampler offered by Netgalley. It included three books that are “fresh interpretations” for young readers, possibly experiencing the franchise for the first time. (Unless their parents brought them up properly and they already know why May the Fourth should be an official postal holiday.)

BOOK 1: Star Wars: A New Hope—The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken

The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farmboy Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

I think this is longest excerpt in the sampler…the beginning of Star Wars from Leia’s point of view. The dialogue is word-for-word from the film, but all Leia’s thoughts are a very nice addition. We get a little background on Leia that I had never read before, so I’m not sure if it’s new canon or just something I missed in comics. Leia has mostly been raised by her two aunts to be a proper queen when the time comes. (Her adopted mother’s sisters?) They’ve taught her to curtsy properly and give speeches. But what Leia has really wanted is to follow her father into the senate, and then the rebellion. Helping in the theft of the Death Star plans is her first lone mission, and she’s making a mess of it. Will she be able to get away from Darth Vader and get the plans to her father?

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK 2: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back—So You Want To Be A Jedi? by Adam Gidwitz

So You Want to Be a Jedi? Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

So You Want to Be a Jedi? Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

 

This one is a little strange. Some of it is told in the second person, like Luke is giving instructions on being a Jedi and escaping the Wampa. It reads a little like a “choose your own adventure” book. (Am I showing my age with that reference?) And then there are summaries of the action going on that Luke doesn’t see. This one will be the hardest sell for me since The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie of all time. I’m immediately miffed that we’re told we won’t see “the mushy stuff” of Han and Leia’s love story, but totally understandable in a YA novelization. I’m also amused by the summary of their relationship: they “kind of love each other and kind of hate each other.” Yeah, that’s about right.

So, I found this one a little weird but interesting. I’d have to read a few more chapters to know if I really like the style. It probably will attract younger readers, though.

 

 

BOOK 3: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi—Beware the Power of the Dark Side! by Tom Angleberger

Beware the Power of the Dark Side! Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

Beware the Power of the Dark Side! Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

 

This one seemed to be a fairly straightforward retelling of Return of the Jedi, starting with the droids’ journey to Jabba’s palace. There’s a bit of humor to make the boring trek across the sand seem…even more boring.  There’s also a quick intro to Jabba and his favorite prize, Han Solo frozen in carbonite.

I appreciate the humor in the sample chapters for this one, so I’d be interested in checking it out.

BOTTOM LINE: I’m most intrigued by The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy; least hooked by So You Want to Be a Jedi? but overall, I’d be interested in checking out all three.

May the Force be with us…always.

ON SALE DATE: All three will be available September 22, 2015, in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne

I’ve seen this new Star Wars book advertised a couple different ways. First, I saw it called the first book in the new approved timeline, so it’s considered canon and not part of the Expanded Universe now packaged as “Legends.” Second, I think it was originally meant to be the third book in the “Empire and Rebellion” trilogy, which would make sense since all that was missing was the Luke book. But again, if this is now approved canon and the other two books are not, then it’s NOT part of that series. (But I still think it fits perfectly well with it.)

Heir to the Jedi Front Cover (Lucas Books/Random House)

Heir to the Jedi Front Cover (LucasBooks/Random House)

THE PLOT: After the destruction of the (first) Death Star, Luke is sent on a mission to extract a cryptographer from Imperial control. He’s got the use of a ship belonging to a new Rebel sympathizer named Nakari Kelen, but first they need some upgrades. Money is scarce, so they do a job for Nakari’s father, who owns Kelen Biolabs. The cryptographer, Drusil, who speaks mostly in math, is desperate to be reunited safely with her family. In between dodging Imperials and bounty hunters, Luke makes some time for romance with Nakari and dabbling with control of the Force.

MY TWO CENTS: Like the official books in the “Empire and Rebellion” series, other standard Star Wars characters are scarce. You’ve got Luke and R2D2, and a couple of cameos by Leia and Admiral Ackbar. Han is completely absent, although mentioned. The book is told entirely in first person from Luke’s point of view, which both works and doesn’t work. What works? It helps us get into Luke’s mind as he begins to try to figure out what a Jedi can and can’t do. It also helps in those awkward moments where Luke acts like a naive farm boy. When doesn’t it work? Well, for one thing, Luke overall comes across as more sophisticated and verbose in his thoughts than you’d expect him to at this point. He hasn’t been off Tatooine that long. He seems remarkably well-spoken in is own thoughts; less so when talking to Nakari.

Another thing that seemed off: the romance with Nakari. I don’t know if there was just waaaay too much “ick” factor or if Disney just doesn’t want to go there, but…shouldn’t Luke be pretty infatuated with Leia at this point, between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back? There is a scene where he explains his feelings to Nakari, stating that although he’s interested in the Princess, she’s just out of his league. I’m not sure I buy that, since they’re at least best friends by Empire. It seems odd, off, but convenient.

What I loved most about this book was the part with the Skullborers. These are the type of aliens you don’t run into too often in the Star Wars universe…kind of like Alien aliens, absolutely terrifying. Despite knowing that Luke is going to live through it, there’s a lot of tension. Kudos to the author for that! Unfortunately, the Skullborers come fairly early on in the book, so the following games of hide-and-seek with the Empire seem less fun and a little dragged out.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting read; worth it for the Skullborers scenes alone, but not my favorite Star Wars novel. I didn’t get invested in Nakari as much as I wanted to. It stayed pretty safe in not giving any additional info about Leia, Han, or even Ackbar in the new approved timeline.

TEACUP RATING: About three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Will be released March 3, 2015, in hardcover and ebook formats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller

The subtitle for this book could be “When Kanan met Hera.” It’s a more adult introduction to the Star Wars: Rebels animated TV show.

Star Wars New Dawn Front Cover (Lucasfilm)

Star Wars: A New Dawn Front Cover (Random House)

 

THE PLOT: Once upon a time, Kanan Jarrus was Caleb Dume, a Jedi in training. But then the Clones were given the order to eliminate the Jedi, and Kanan has been in hiding ever since, living a rootless life, getting into bar fights, and not using any Jedi abilities. His most recent home is the mining world of Gorse and its moon, Cynda. But then the Empire shows up in the form of Count Vidian, a cyborg with some interesting motives. Vidian receives word that the Emperor expects him to triple the quota of thorilide mined from Cynda. With the unwitting help of a conspiracy theorist named Skelly, who’s trying to prevent accidents, Vidian decides to blow up Cynda. This will get him the immediate thorilide he needs, eventually screw over his worst rival, and also kill a lot of people and destroy a world. Hera is there to gather info, but once she, Kanan, and Skelly meet and discover what Vidian is up to, they team up to stop him.

MY TWO CENTS: I was looking forward to reading this since I liked the author’s Kenobi so much, but the mining story just didn’t have the same draw for me as the “old west” feel of Kenobi. This is definitely more adult than the show. Kanan joins Hera mostly because he’s attracted to her, which I’m really not getting in the show. There are also nondetailed descriptions of Kanan’s womanizing, drinking, and fighting. Zeb, Sabine, and Ezra don’t make an appearance.

Although the reader knows that Kanan and Hera will survive this adventure, there are no guarantees for their other companions. I found that, and all the explosions, enough of a “danger hook” to keep the suspense level up.

Vidian is an interesting villain, certainly more interesting to me than General Grievous. I’m not sure if we’ll see him again, but I hope we do.

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re watching Rebels and want some background, this book will give you some. However, from the five episodes I’ve seen, reading this certainly isn’t necessary. Maybe I’ll feel differently as the show goes on. If they do more books about the Rebels cast, I would probably be interested in checking them out.

TEACUP RATING: About three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book is available now in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves (Empire and Rebellion #2) by James S.A. Corey

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Honor Among Thieves Front Cover (Random House)

Honor Among Thieves is the second book in the “Empire and Rebellion” series that started with Leia’s book, Razor’s Edge. I liked this one, the Han-centered book of the series, much better. These books take place between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.

THE PLOT: Han and Chewie are sent to pick up a rebel agent. Sounds simple, but of course it devolves into a complete life-risking debacle. Han is being pursued by an old-smuggler-friend-turned-bounty-hunter who was stupid enough to already spend some of Jabba’s money. No matter what else happens, he HAS to bring Han to Jabba or end up being hunted as well.

So of course, picking up the agent, Scarlet, isn’t the easy job it was supposed to be. And obviously, there’s going to be more to it than just bringing her to the Rebellion’s rendezvous point. Turns out the Empire is on the verge of controlling Hyperspace; obviously, that can’t happen.

As in Leia’s book, Luke plays an extremely minor role. (But Han and Leia are always thrown together to help show their blossoming relationship. I’m okay with that.)

MY TWO CENTS: I was surprised at how short this book was; about 250 printed pages. (I know it lists as 288 pages, but some of that is sample chapters of other books.) Despite that, I didn’t feel like it was too short. Some Star Wars books are just bloated with filler, so this one is pretty much all pertinent to the adventure. I loved how Han questions what the Rebellion’s intentions are…obviously, there will be some sort of government no matter who wins. Does Leia intend for her government to be a better alternative to the Empire, and how, exactly?

Again, if you’ve read any of the Expanded Universe books…well, heck, if you’ve seen the rest of the original trilogy…you know our main characters are never in any real danger here, but the authors make it seem suspenseful anyway. That helps make for a good read.  I enjoyed the main two “new” characters, Scarlet Hark and Baasen Ray, add good entertainment without messing up continuity.

BOTTOM LINE: I’m not sure if we’ll see Luke’s book in this series…apparently it and the “Sword of the Jedi” series are on hold because of the new movies. If this is the last Star Wars book with the original characters we see for a while, at least it’s a pretty good one. (Note of interest: the original cover for this book was much closer to the Razor’s Edge cover. Did they replace it because there may not be a third book, or at least not for a while?)

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five cups of tea. I applaud the authors for writing the story and not padding it unnecessarily.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Star Wars Legacy II: Prisoner of the Floating World

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Prisoner of the Floating World Volume I Cover (Dark Horse Comics)

I don’t read many comics or graphic novels (manga excepted), but I did read most of the first “Star Wars Legacy” series. I was excited to hear that Dark Horse was doing “Star Wars: Legacy II” featuring a female protagonist. I believe this bind-up is volumes 1 through 3 of a planned 18-volume arc; as many have probably heard by now, by 2015 Star Wars comics will be moving from Dark Horse back to Marvel.

THE PLOT: I think this picks up not long after Legacy I ended, with some of the same characters. For example, Marisiah Fel is empress in the triumvirate government. However, most of the action takes place in a junkyard with Ania Solo and her sidekick, the Mon Calamari Sauk. They find a lightsaber, which is actually symptom of a bigger problem with imperial knights, a communications array, and (surprise!) Sith.

MY TWO CENTS: My problem with Legacy I is that I never really liked Cade Skywalker. His character just didn’t appeal to me, and I felt like he was drawn as a cruel distortion of Luke (which, I suppose, was partially the point). In any case, I do feel more sympathetic to Ania. She seems like a tough, spunky girl who is worthy to be a descendent of Han Solo and Princess Leia. The question is: where does she fit in the family tree? She’s supposed to be a great-great-granddaughter, which means either a granddaughter of Allana or of Jaina’s child(ren). Ania does, apparently, realize that she’s part of the Fel family, but doesn’t associate with them. Her question of “Do I look like royalty?” is met with the response, “Han Solo wasn’t royalty. He was a smuggler.” But it seems that the ruling Fels aren’t aware of Ania’s existence, based on Sia’s exclamation at the end: “Who the HELL is Ania Solo???” Indeed.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The art is interesting and colorful, Ania is engaging, and I’m willing to go along for a while to find out more about future Solos…especially outcast ones.

TEACUP RATING: I’m giving this about three-and-a-half to three-and-three-quarters cups. It seems to be a promising beginning.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. However, I was interested enough that I bought a copy for my Kindle Fire. Did you know that in Kindle Fire you can isolate and zoom individual comic panes? It’s kind of awesome!

Star Wars: Crucible By Troy Denning

I spent the last couple of weeks dealing with a nasty ear infection, but hopefully now I’m on the mend. Here’s a book I’ve been meaning to review for a while now: Star Wars: Crucible by Troy Denning.

Crucible Cover

Crucible Cover (LucasBooks/Random House)

When the world rocked with word of the sale to Disney and release of future movies, I (and undoubtedly many other Expanded Universe fans) thought: “Where will this fall in the timeline? Are they stopping production of the ‘future’ books so they won’t interfere with the movie storyline?” Maybe this book provides some answers.

THE PLOT: This book is mostly about “the big three” (i.e., Luke, Han, and Leia) on an adventure initially to help Lando with some pirating problems, but it’s actually a much bigger issue. They take lots of damage and struggle a lot with age issues (which seems very realistic at this point in the timeline), yet still remain the heroes we know and love. For those of you who read the last series Fate of the Jedi, Vestara is also integral to the plot, only with a new name.

MY TWO CENTS: I LOVED this book. It was a really easy read, and I just wanted to keep going with it until I was finished. It went down MUCH easier than the Fate of the Jedi series; I’m still only through 6 of 9 of those books. Forgive me, but I also liked that Jaina Solo and Ben Skywalker were basically sidelined for this entry. We NEEDED a book that was mostly the big three, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Is this the setup to “The big three are retired now until the movie?” Maybe; it would be a good move. And we still don’t know where in the timeline the new movies will be set. Will Jaina, Ben, and Allana be featured? If so, it’s a good idea to sideline them and their adventures for the time being, too. If this book was meant to be a temporary wrap-up, mission accomplished.

BOTTOM LINE: Read it, enjoy it. If you haven’t been following the Expanded Universe, I’d read this as a crash-course in what everyone is up to and some background on the newer characters.  (Vestara, PLEASE don’t get rehabed like Mara. You need to stay a villain, only worse.)

TEACUP RATING: Five teacups full to the brim of nice, spicy holiday tea. Lots of good but relatable action in this book.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Razor’s Edge (Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion #1) By Martha Wells

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Razor’s Edge Front Cover (Random House Publishing Group)

I tend to find Star Wars books somewhat hit-or-miss, but this first book in a new series was kind of in the middle for me.

THE PLOT: The book takes place after A New Hope, but before The Empire Strikes Back.  Leia and Han are on an Alliance mission, but get caught up with some half-hearted pirates…native Alderaanians who have survivor’s guilt. Then there are the deadly serious pirates, who capture everyone; and finally, the Imperials swoop in along with a spy set close to our heroes. Most of the book is from Leia’s point of view, with some from Han when they’re separated, and a teeny bit from Luke. (He’s not in it very much.) No Vader, no Emperor, not much Chewie.

MY TWO CENTS: First, the good: this is really good time setting for Star Wars novels. Luke and Leia don’t know about their relationship to each other or Vader; Leia and Han are flirty but not yet serious. And what did they accomplish after the Death Star blew up, before Hoth? Also, this book allows Leia to shine on her own, both as a diplomat (her verbal battle with pirate leader Viest while trying to hide her body language, which Viest can read, is a high point) and physically (the arena battle she’s forced to fight). We’re reminded that this is the princess who blows holes in garbage chutes when her rescuers don’t have a plan.

Then, the bad: Unfortunately, you know going in that everyone in the core group will come out okay, so there’s not as much tension. Also, if you’ve read far into the Expanded Universe future, you know the newly introduced characters aren’t important to any other story (unless there’s something I missed, which is always possible). You know they either end up dead or are just disposable. So this book is kind of just filler. It was a pretty slow read for me. It started out well, but I just kept falling out of the story. I wasn’t consistently into it.

BOTTOM LINE: I would really only recommend this one if you’re a completist or a serious Leia fan. However, I will still check out the next book in the series, the Han book Honor Among Thieves by James S.A. Corey, which releases in March 2014.

TEACUP RATING: Three teacups, but a bonus for this great line from Threepio, translating for Chewie, to Luke: “He says it can’t be the Death Star, as you might recall the memorable occasion when it blew up.”

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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