Monthly Archives: November 2015

Star Wars: Dark Disciple – A Review

23277298I just finished the Jedi Academy trilogy and instantly stared reading Star Wars: Dark Disciple by Christie GoldenMy enjoyment of the latter helped me figure out my disappointment with the former.

Now, I don’t want this to upset any fans of Jedi Academy. The reason I wasn’t won over by the trilogy, or the Thrawn trilogy is a personal preference, subjective as it gets. Both have pointed out two things I dislike in Star Wars books so far, and that’s trilogies and post-Return of the Jedi stories.

First, on trilogies, they have to have a huge cast of characters. All those characters have to have stories and side missions and everything has to lead to the big final of the series. That tends to mean a lot of filler. Characters will have quests that happen apart from the main story just so they have something to do until the end. Some stories will be important to the series but will take three books to reach the end.

And I don’t like this. With so many important (or at least note-worthy) characters, the writers need to include them for face value, even if they aren’t necessary to the grand scheme of things. I want all the characters to feel important to the story. I don’t like extra fat, even in epics. Keep in mind, it’s not trilogies I dislike, it’s trilogies in the Star Wars books.

760110My dislike of stories taking place after Return of the Jedi is also one that won’t be shared by everyone. For me, the holy trinity of Luke, Leia and Han doesn’t really click. Their stories have already been told. Luke’s most important adventure ended when he defeated the Emperor. Stories following a now-stoic Skywalker don’t do it for me, nor do stories of a married and fathering Han Solo.

What I want in stories taking place after Return of the Jedi is new characters and new adventures. It’s part of the reason I loved Star Wars: Legacy so much and part of the reason I’m hesitant about the trinity showing up in Episode VII. The future of Star Wars belongs to a new set of heroes.

That’s part of the reason stories taking place before A New Hope work for me. The Skywalker twins are nowhere to be seen and there are large gaps of history that can filled. But those gaps aren’t so large as to need trilogies. Stand alone stories work just fine.

And I like stand alone Star Wars books. Instead of a large cast, they can focus on one or two. Instead of interconnecting threads and filler, they can have a specific plot and goal, digestible in a few hours of reading.

Those traits benefit Star Wars: Dark Disciple. The book itself isn’t the best in the world and it’s based on an unproduced script for the Clone Wars cartoon. But because it’s focused and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, it’s enjoyable.

Telling the story of an undercover Jedi and Asajj Ventress, villain of the Clone Wars, Dark Disciple is about an assassination plot against Count Dooku. Now, we know nothing will happen to Dooku, as his fate lies in the films, but Ventress has been question for a while. A popular character from the Expanded Universe, her story wasn’t given a full conclusion in the show or comics. Now we get to see where she goes after the Clone Wars.

22012290It’s an interesting tale, partly because we get up close and personal with Ventress and see how her mind works. The Jedi of the tale, Quinlan Vos, is also great to read about because he has to straddle the line between the light and dark to work with Ventress. Both characters have fates that are up in the air when this book begins and I was intrigued to see where it would all lead.

The book reads quick, helping when the third act starts to drag, but it’s a satisfying end. I’m finding Star Wars can read like a popular thriller, like Clive Cussler in space, and it’s not a bad way to do things. They’re adventure stories, they don’t always have to have the fate of the galaxy at hand, but they have to matter to the characters involved. Dark Disciple matters for Ventress and Quinlan and they matter to us.

It’s an encouraging read for the quality of the new Star Wars canon. I’ll be reviewing Lords of the Sith next, since I picked it up right after I finished Dark Disciple  and it benefits in the same way for being a one shot.

If you haven’t picked up Dark Disciple, give it a try.

Stop Complaining About the Star Wars Prequels

Star Wars fans are spoiled brats.

They’ve been given one the best movie trilogies of all time, tv shows, books, games, toys and comics based on those movies and all they ever do is complain.

They complain about editions, about title changes, about prequels, about casting and Disney and canon.

Look, at this point, a lot of the people who complain about the same old things are either aging or latching on to dead concerns. Take the video above for example. They make the joke (it’s not that funny of a video) that they’re refusing to call the first Star Wars movie A New Hope. Considering that the movie came out in 1977, I have a feeling that the people making Honest Trailer weren’t even around when it came out, or at least too young to care.

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You know what I’m gonna call this? A New Hope.

I’m on board with the special editions of the first three films having problems. Trying to watch A New Hope and having dated CGI get in the way of shots is annoying, because so much of that first film based in the grandeur of 70s film making. But there is plenty to like about them as well. Considering how much continuity matters to geek culture, the changes to make them consistent with each other seems like it should win people over. Lightsabers are the right color, voices are the right voices and actors are the same characters throughout. George Lucas ignored the Expanded Universe and fans found it annoying but if he made sure the films made sense with each other, they got angry.

And the prequels. They won’t shut up about the prequels.

I want to meet any child of 1999-2005 who had their life ruined by these films. I was thirteen when Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace hit theaters and I lived a pretty good life my teenage years, with Star Wars being an enjoyable part of them. When the Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones came out, I had a great time at the theaters and when it was over, I was more pumped for the franchise then ever before. I had seen the original trilogy and thought they were great, but they didn’t push me to be a huge fan of the series. When I saw Episode II, I just got excited about it. I started playing the games, reading the comics, watching the cartoons. I was hooked.

Ended my teen years and I was fine.

I understand the film is not great and as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized the last forty minutes are the best parts that don’t include Obiwan Kenobi, but it still got me (and plenty of people) jazzed for Star Wars. By the time Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was out, I was all in. I saw the film three times, even knowing what was wrong with the movie. The flaws are aggravating, especially when the good is so good, but it holds up. Maybe not to the hardcore Star Wars fan base who wants to relive their childhood over and over again, everyday of the year, but to someone who was a kid when the movie was happening, it was great.

So the Star Wars prequels didn’t ruin my childhood and they didn’t ruin the original trilogy for me either, and I have a hard time see how that would happen. They’re not great, and the first prequel is agreeably bad, but it’s not a scar I or any reasonable person carries around with them. My younger brother was ten when the last prequel came out, and he enjoyed the Lego Star Wars games based on the that trilogy, had a poster that has a lot of prequel characters on his wall and enjoyed the Clone Wars cartoon. Childhood saved.

Here’s the part that is driving me crazy lately. This hate for the prequels, and the changes of the original trilogy, is being transferred to a generation that could have been just fine. People who grew up when the prequels were out, who enjoyed them as kids and teens are now forced to say how much they hate the movies to not anger the real fans.

When I was in college, I had heard two people talking about the movies. One of them asked, “What’s a Midi-chlorian?” The other answered, “Something George Lucas made up to ruin Star Wars.” This kid was younger than me(!), probably didn’t see the films until the early 90s and was acting like he was there opening night of the first Star Wars and had to carry on the defense of changes and mistakes.

I tend to be a fan to the max degree. If I love something, I love it. But I try not to blind to the problems of what I love. I love the X-Men movies, but boy, do they have flaws. But my love for them lets me forgive those flaws, laugh about them, and enjoy the rest.

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Even if this is great, the fans will always complain about the prequels.

Star Wars fans haven’t been able to laugh since the 80s and it’s their fault. They can blame George Lucas, they can blame CGI and Hayden Christensen but they’re the one’s stopping them from enjoying the prequels and anything else that bothers them. If they could just roll their eyes and laugh when Anakin talks about sand instead of burning with hate, they could have a good time. Don’t they realize that hate leads to suffering?

You know what, I enjoy the prequels. They’re not amazing, not always well written or acted, but who cares. They’re still Star Wars, they have some great moments and characters, they gave us the Clone Wars and Ewan McGregor as Obiwan. The gave us John Willaim’s score for those films, each one with a standout piece (Duel of the Fates, Across the Stars and Battle of the Heroes). I don’t give into hating on them, because they didn’t ruin my (or anyone’s) childhood, they didn’t ruin the original trilogy and they won’t bother anybody as we move into the future.

As we prepare for J.J. Abrams entry into the series, the fans will come down on the prequels again, to hold Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens above them, even if that movie is just a greatest hits collections of A New Hope. But I’d prefer they just stop talking about, stop pushing your hate on the rest of us and grow up. Find something else to start talking about or just stop talking because ten years after Revenge of the Sith, you’re starting to need a new edition.

 

Empire of Imagination – A Review

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A reference to Unearthed Arcana, for those unaware.

Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons by Michael Witwer is one of those biographies/histories where the author dramatizes it. Meaning there’s dialog and inner monologues that the author is taking a few liberties with, similar to Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation. That may bother some people, including me, but for once I actually found it helpful in relating to the subject matter.

The book is a history of Dungeons & Dragons but it’s a history we see as we follow one man, D&D’s creator, Gary Gygax. There’s very little jumping around and visiting other people involved, this story is firmly about Gygax and his how is life affected and was affected by D&D.

Having read a few books on the subject, my favorite so far being Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt, there wasn’t a whole lot of new information to gain about the game itself. But I didn’t realize how little I knew about Gygax himself. A self-made high school dropout, creative and self-destructive and gamer to a fault. It’s strangely fascinating to read about Gygax’s personality and how it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, including his wife and kids. It’s also shows how much of the company and game relied on friends, family and the gaming community.

And yet, with all of his flaws, the man created one of the greatest games of all time and then kept creating, kept the community of tabletop players alive through a home-town convention and never stopped playing games during his free time. While nothing after D&D ever gained the same popularity, there’s something to be said for the amount of material Gygax created in his life. He reminded me a bit of Stan Lee in that regard, having created an amazing and loved universe at the early stages of his career and then never being able to top after. Life Stan Lee, it wasn’t the material he created after that made him a star, it was him just being who he was. Gygax lived a rock star life for a while and the geek community helped make him feel like one.

Another great read on the subject.

A lot of the book talks about how much Gygax influenced the world and it’s hard to argue. The path of D&D to computers, to MMORPGs, to LARP to Stephen Colbert and Vin Diesel, it’s all easy to see. Near the end of the book, Witwer talks about how Gygax is geek royalty, maybe even King of the Geeks. Considering that D&D has been going since the 70s, he might be right.

As someone who’s life has been heavily affected by Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop games in general, the history of the medium feels strangely personal (there’s a reason this blog is called Natural 20). I wasn’t playing in the 80s, but reading about the groups that formed, I felt like I could have been. There’s always something geek-romantic about friends around a table in a basement roleplaying. Well, maybe it’s only that way for me, but I love reading about that stuff.

If you’re remotely interested about the history of D&D, Gary Gygax or the hobby of roleplaying, this is a great read. Combined with Of Dice and Men, digging through the past has never been easier or more entertaining. I will say both books share a flaw in that neither really dig into the history of TSR after it’s removed from Gygax’s control. Empire of Imagination does a better job, but seems like the company was so destructive that you could get another book out of it’s time in the 90s, before it was bought by Wizards of the Coast.

I guess I’ll have to start reading Designers & Dragons next.

 

Star Wars: Lost Stars – A Review

Or Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray. But that title is too long, too stupid and come December 19th, 2015, too dated.

I’m not using that Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens tag ever.

Lost Stars is, as far as I know, the first Young Adult Star Wars book in this new line. The new line being since Disney bought it, threw away the Expanded Universe and started fresh. So while there have been YA Star Wars books before, Lost Stars does feel like an event because of its timing and it’s quality.

I’m not incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to the Expanded Universe. A lot of my time in that part has come from video games and comics, not so much the books. What I’ve read has been decent but not mind blowing. I know people will stand by how great The Thrawn or the Jedi Acedemy, trilogies are but neither of those series have clicked for me. Kenobi by John Jackson Miller has been my favorite novel so far, being a one-shot and simple story, but also absorbing. Nothing I’ve read has topped Star Wars: Legacy by John Ostrander, but that’s a different blog (but go read it).

What I’m trying to get at is, though there are aspects of the EU that I like and have affection for, if a book like Lost Stars makes any changes, I’m not aware of them. So there won’t be many complaints about that here.

Still my favorite EU tale… That and Knights of the Old Republic.

Lost Stars is about two kids from different worlds who become friends and stay friends their whole lives. Thane and Ciena help each other train and prepare for the imperial academy and become ace star pilots. Now, this books starts close after Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, so as far as our characters are concerned, the empire is alright, the jedi were no good and the rebellion is non-existent. As the characters grow up, the make it through school, get jobs aboard ships and start finding themselves in the middle of important events.

The book was doing a great job standing on it’s own for the first part, focusing on what the empire’s training would look like with little opposition. When we start getting to the movies, it loses some uniqueness but doesn’t drop off in quality. From here it becomes a greatest hits of Star Wars moments, with Thane and Ciena being involved with the Death Star, the Battle of Hoth, Cloud City, the Battle for Endor and the second Death Star.

But the twist is in the love story. Of course we know these characters are going to start feeling for each other, but when one of them leaves the empire and joins the rebellion, that’s when the friction hits. I don’t want to go into extreme details, but I will say that the reason for the one leaving and the other staying is pretty solid, at least for a Star Wars book.

I have this and A New Dawn on my Kindle to read…

The ending is where the book drops the ball. Set up for a sequel (or soon-to-be-released movie), it’s not nearly the satisfying conclusion the story deserves. There’s no real resolution between the two characters, there’s lots of hints about other stories waiting to be told, and for a book that focused so intently on two characters despite franchise-building, it feels like a cheat. A don’t want a happy ending, just an ending. Now, if the movies eventually deal with this, it might not be so bad, but the book won’t get to be complete stand-alone tale like Kenobi.

Would I recommend Lost Stars? Yes. To those who like YA fiction but not Star Wars and to those who like Star War but not YA fiction. Sure, it has the same fan-fictiony feel that a lot of the EU has, but it works. Plus, with Disney making the books official cannon, it’s a little easier to get invested with new characters and that’s something the previous EU didn’t have.

Claudia Gray, who also wrote A Thousand Pieces of You, has done a great job of transferring Star Wars into a YA book and while I haven’t read the rest of the new Star Wars books (I plan on it), from what I’ve heard this might be one of the best books to come out the new change. It got me pumped for the new movies and the characters of the book.

Check it out.

 

All the Books – Blake’s Therapy

https://www.blubrry.com/dahlibrary/2941130/episode-12-blakes-therapy/

dahlibraryEpisode 12 of All the Books is live.

What I love about our segment “Lonely Hearts Book Club”, beside giving the spotlight to books that have never checked out before, is how weird some of the books have been. Be it crazy first lines, weird main characters or strange presidential fan fiction (seriously, this episode about this book is nuts). So talking about Blake’s Therapy by Ariel Dorfman seems like it should be a natural fit.

Except this books sounds insane!

Blake’s Therapy is a whirlwind ride through the desires of one man to find something real in a virtual world.” Okay.

“Dr. Carl Tolgate has prepared a strange, shocking, and erotic treatment.” Well, now it’s getting weirder.

“Blake must find out, before it is too late, who is controlling his life, his company’s future, and his own heart.” Why is his company at stake? How is his life separate from his heart? Is Blake going to be okay?!

Dorfman_BlakesTherapy_largeThe thing is, this darn book sounds entertaining. Like a bad Michael Crichton book (which he himself didn’t write).

The rest of the episode is par for course, with the return of my new favorite character, Clint McGavin, Cowboy Lawyer. Also, I realize how little I know about deckle edge printing, we talk about the new Supergirl show, book awards coming up and Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray, I think I’m going to have to give that book a full write-up review, since I have a lot of things I want to talk about in regards to Star Wars books and endings.

This episode was much more relaxing after last weeks big Bond episode, since we went long on that one, but that’s because we could talk 007 forever.

All the Books – My New Podcast!

dahlibraryI haven’t mentioned this yet but my friend/co-worker/DC-counterpart and I host a weekly podcast!

It’s called All the Books, it’s the official podcast of the David A. Howe Public Library. We talk about books, authors and literary news, all with some hefty segments I think you’ll love.

You can find the podcast at https://www.blubrry.com/dahlibrary/ and iTunes!

This week, we did a spotlight on James Bond in books, tv and movies. It was a lot of fun but Nic and I could have talked about 007 forever.

If you check it out, let me know what you think and feel free to leave comments, questions and all the sort of fun stuff here!