Let’s Play – Star Wars: Republic Commando

mv5bzjnjntg4mjetytq1ms00zmfilwjlotktodhlzjqyngnjmde4xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzyyodu2ntu-_v1_Star Wars: Republic Commando is often mentioned as a game that never received the sequel it deserved. But, perhaps, it’s not played often enough for people to understand, “Oh, right, it’s not that fantastic anyway.”

For one, it’s a short game. It took me three sessions to complete it and that’s mainly due to the fact that I’m no good at games. Also, as is often the case, I thought I had less time left, and by the time I realized that wasn’t the case, I was too close to the actual end to quit.

It’s short because there isn’t a lot of variety. Enemies repeat so often that you forget in you’re in a diverse galaxy like Star Wars. There’s a total of three campaign maps, which don’t have that much to look at as you go along. The middle chapter is on a enemy ship and the corridors all start to look the same. There’s enough mechanics in the combat and travel to keep things interesting, but it’s not a deep game in terms of assets.

screenshot11I’ve been reading a lot of retroactive reviews with people commenting that this is a very Star Wars-ian video game, that benefits from having little to do with Star Wars in general. I’d disagree with them, as I found the lack of connection to films to exemplify the mediocre shooter. Combat-wise, it’s solid. But, again, the lack of variety kept me from getting fully engaged. It’s also surprisingly difficult, which is a positive or negative depending on who’s playing. For myself, I’m not great at shooters anymore, but this came across as cheap a few times. Those Geonosians with laser staffs are terrible and ruin any level.

Also, the heck is up with all the teases? How is General Grievous not the final confrontation in this game? The whole last campaign is sightings of the guy and mentions that he’s on his way and the last moments are just blasting a ship with a turret. Anti-climatic almost seems too kind. The game just ends, with a cliffhanger that comes across more as if the developers just  ran out of time. I don’t know what that story is, but there’s not much of one in the game.

106104-star-wars-republic-commando-windows-screenshot-wookies-areWhile streaming, I did meet some people that like this game or just wanted to talk about Star Wars, but not as many as I thought. It seems like this title has a decent reputation but, even with The Last Jedi out, I was the only one streaming this game. I suppose most people were sticking with Battlefront or Knights of the Old Republic. Strange, because this game always shows up on “Best Star Wars Game” lists.

I should say, on the positive side of things, this game does have likable personalities in it’s Commandos. Each of the squad members that make up the team are limited in depth, but have lines of dialog and skills that keep them interesting. Even the leader, the character you play as in the game, has enough personality to want to stick with him for awhile. Just, maybe not the whole game.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

All the Books Show: Episode 121 – Holiday Haze

Nic’s friend, Beau Hutchings, stops by after performing the Nutcracker at the David A. Howe Public Library!

We inevitably end up talking about Christmas movies, as we are wont to do this time of year. I don’t love many Christmas films, though I’ll watch them. Give me A Christmas Story for the twenty-four hours of Christmas Eve and I’m good. Or, Batman Returns.

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

 

All the Books Show: Episode 120 – Goodreads Choice Awards 2017

We talk about the Goodreads Choice Awards of 2017! The winners, the runner ups, everything! It’s, dare I say it, a Goodlisten!

I use Goodreads all the time. It’s a huge, visual timeline of my life. An obituary in the making. It shows what I’m interested in, when and why. You can see when I was in college, on summer break and when I moved to Florida and read hundreds of Batman comics.

I’m never up-to-date with the newest books so the Awards become a “add to to-read list” fest. It’s good for my future, but frustrating for my present.

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Why Revenge of the Sith is My Second Favorite Star Wars Film

wuytffbfpizc6lcyt1nonr69zmkNot the second best, mind you. I know Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is, for the most part, not a great movie. There’s bad acting, mishandled characters and weird choices throughout. I’m not here to explain why it’s a good film. I’m here to tell you why I like it so much.

First, I should mention, time heals all wounds. X-Men: The Last Stand is watchable, now that X-Men: Days of Future Past provides those original films closure. Jurassic Park III is no longer the disappointing end for that series. And Revenge of the Sith isn’t how Star Wars’ big screen legacy ends.

The thing about the Star Wars prequels was that they were always going to be depressing. They were telling a story about the rise of the Empire and it’s iron fist rule. Obviously, the movies dropped the ball on that and wasted a lot of potential, but Revenge of the Sith comes the closest to what that tone should have looked like.

itstreasonthen-rotsTake for instance, the scene where Mace Windu and some soon-to-be dead Jedi go to arrest Senator Palpatine a.k.a. Darth Sidious. There’s a tension in the lead up that the prequels didn’t have. We know the Jedi can’t succeed in that moment and we’re going to have to watch their failure play out on screen. The end result isn’t fantastic movie making, but the build before that has weight that remains even on repeat viewings.

The same tension goes for the two “seduction of the innocent” scenes between Anakin and Palpatine. “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis”, as a story, might only be interesting to people who enjoy the expanded universe, but the scene is atmospheric and a rare, quiet moment that works compared to the previous two movies botched attempts at introspection. The scene where Sidious reveals himself as a Sith Lord to Anakin is one of Hayden Christensen’s better scenes, acting-wise. There’s a real sense of conflict in Anakin at that moment, of betrayal and anger. In fact, he comes across much more conflicted here than he did killing Tusken Raiders  or will when it’s time to kill some younglings. And, of course, Ian Mcdiarmid chews the scenery like it’s his last meal.

ddamosyMcdiarmid, alongside Ewan Mcgregor, comes out of the prequels with his head held high, and that might be due to the fact that he gets to be one of the only actors who gets to have fun. While Mcgregor gives his scenes the heart that is missing most of the time, Mcdiarmid gets to cackle and hiss and go gleefully into the Dark Side. This is a character whose been waiting for decades to see his plan come to fruition, hiding and restraining himself. Finally, after all this time, he gets to be himself and Mcdiarmid plays those scenes like Sidious is making up for all that lost time. His fight with Yoda, though anti-climatic, is like watching a Golden Retriever let off the leash for the first time. That dog isn’t coming back.

Back to the beginning of the film, though. Revenge of the Sith has one of the best opening of Star Wars films, alongside Return of the Jedi. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s adventure outside and in an enemy cruiser, filled with elevator high jinx and R2-D2 misadventures, is the type of adventure the prequels didn’t have. The climax of that opening, with the ship splitting into pieces as Anakin pilots and Obi-Wan cracks wise is the type of fun we should have had back when we first landed on Naboo.

spacebattleNow, of course, after that opening, there’s a lot of dead air. Outside the for-mentioned “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis” scene, we don’t have much to latch onto for a while. Anakin finding out he’s going to be a father has some life, but the complete mishandling of Natalie Portman keeps all Anakin and Padme scenes far from enjoyable. Once Obi-Wan confronts General Grevious, the movie kicks back into gear. But, no surprise, Grevious is a letdown when it comes to his combat skills. Like most scenes, Mcgregor keeps the movie afloat by shear will.

But, then, Anakin learns the truth about Sidious and the Jedi fail. Anakin turns to the Dark Side, a lot quicker than it should be, but George Lucas was probably getting just as impatient with his script as the rest of us. So, we come to Order 66.

The Jedi should not have fallen the way they do in this movie, they should have had more fight in them. But, as time has moved forward, a theme has presented itself in these prequels, that has been later picked up and run with in later Star Wars stories, including The Last Jedi. These movies are about the Jedi at the height of their power politically, but they have become complacent and apathetic in their battle against the Dark Side. Watching Jedi Masters fall so easily due to their lack of critical thinking and weakness in the Force might not be a hundred percent satisfying, but John Williams’ score and a few visually striking shots help provide those moments with emotion.

Williams, I should mention, gave these prequels so much life and identity though his music that you could argue that he’s the reason any of these scenes work, and I would be won over to your side. As much as I liked The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I don’t think anything Williams has done in those movies has matched the music in the prequels. And he helped Revenge of the Sith with that thrilling, heartbreaking “Battle of the Heroes”. There’s more than one reason why those final battles have as much weight as they do, but that piece of music, melded with “Duel of the Fates” in the film, is a huge part of it all.

The third act of Revenge of the Sith is what the prequels were building up to over three films. The battle between Yoda and Sidious is an entertaining one, with Yoda getting to be snippy and show off his power in the Force. It’s satisfying seeing him knock the Sith Lord over a chair, it’s cool seeing how much stronger he is than Sidious at times, but it’s also frustrating, knowing that the character we’re rooting for can’t win. I don’t buy into the fact that Yoda could have won if he had climbed back up those seats and continued the fight. This was a surprise counter-attack and fighting Sidious while dealing with guards and clone troopers after falling from such heights might have proven difficult for a eight-hundred year old Jedi Master who spends most days in a bean bag chair.

downloadThe fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan is a long one, with more ups than downs. The lead-up conversation between the two characters is full of great lines, and their delivery speaks volumes. When Obi-Wan tells Anakin that his “allegiance is to the Republic…to democracy!” there’s frustration and desperation in Mcgregor’s reading. He thought he and Anakin were on the same page about all of this, what is he supposed to do? “Your new empire?” he asks Anakin, in mockery and disbelief. You idiot, “You’ve allowed this Dark Lord to twist your mind” and yet still a refusal to take the blame for failing his student. Later, near the end of the battle, he tells Anakin, “I have failed you” but there’s still an arrogance in his delivery. Obi-Wan won’t be able to take the blame due to him for a while, it’s too much for him to handle.

On the other hand, you have Christensen’s lines being read like a petulant brat, but that’s what Anakin has become. And, to be fair, there’s a precedent for that. Darth Vader, in all his stern and fear in the original series, doesn’t like things going against what he wants. The line of succession for the officers in The Empire Strikes Back is due to Vader being a bully, who’s tantrums are now controlled Force chokes. But, in the moments on Mustafar, Anakin still has twenty years of anger, regret and loneliness ahead of him. So, when he shouts, “You will not take her from me”, it’s not as a regal and terrifying villain, it’s as a brat who still needs a few lessons from the Dark Side.

image_1aa52034I can’t defend the ‘high ground” moment or the “You were my brother but have fun burning for a long time and maybe surviving to come back to haunt the whole galaxy!” However, the scene where Anakin is taken by Sidious to be repaired, to be placed in a robotic suit of wires and machinery for the rest of his life, is too moody and sad not to defend. Yeah, Vader yells “No!” but first he asks about his wife. Sidious lies to him, of course, but, from a certain point of view, Vader did kill Padme (stupid poetry and medical failures aside). There was a Darth Vader comic I read, not a very good one, that had a moment where Vader was beaten and alone and losing his mind. He’s visited by a vision of Padme, who leaves him again, despite his protesting for her to stay. Reading that, it dawned on me how lonely Darth Vader must be, how much regret he must have to fight down every single day. It’s a heartbreaking realization, and I wish the prequels could have shown us that. But, bringing that into Revenge of the Sith gives these last moments a stronger punch.

I remember reading an article about how Darth Sidious’ rise to power was an accurate representation of Hitler’s ascent. I always found that interesting and I remember reading reviews in 2005 of people comparing Revenge of the Sith to the Bush administration. But, those people had no clue that this movie was going to become of the most documentary Star Wars films ever.

palpatine_3In November 2016, I started experiencing déjà vu. Because of their lack of foresight, the Jedi allow themselves to become embroiled in politics. Soon, after the Clone Wars start, you can’t separate the Jedi from the war. Once they were the defenders of peace and the helpless, but soon the government’s cause became theirs. Their Jedi code, their mantra, stopped being as important to them as their political standing. Meanwhile, in the real world, a large population that form organized religion have decided that politics, more often than not, far-right politics, are more important than their own doctrine or that the two line up perfectly. Where’s there’s teaching of love and being an alien just passing through this world, it was drowned out by a desire to see their beliefs in the place of power. And as the Jedi were betrayed, not just because they were no longer of use, but because their mortal enemy had taken power, many of the real world religious figures should be ready to be dropped as soon as they’re no longer useful politically. And, just like the fate of the Jedi, when those that desire greed and power are the ruling party, there will be a sudden realization that these politicians don’t share those beliefs of love or peace. Being part of the Republic was more important than being a Jedi, even if they wouldn’t admit it.

It’s hard to watch Darth Sidious boast about dissolving the republic and creating the “first galactic empire”, to thunderous applause no less while the real world becomes less global and more “patriotic”. A desire for security and a removal of those we don’t trust, along with people finding ways to defend self-proclaimed Nazis, creates a government and country that rules by fear and threats of violence. Suddenly, it’s harder for me to tell if I’m writing about the movie anymore.

the_forceAgain, Revenge of this Sith isn’t a great movie. Padme is ruined as a character, going from someone who was supposed to start the rebellion to a whimpering dolt who dies of a broken heart. Instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes and helping out those who will be hurt by their actions, the last remaining Jedi go into exile, continuing to fail at their own teachings. Hayden Christensen, while better in this movie than Attack of the Clones, still fails to deliver a performance to defend. Mace Windu dies like a chump, Grevious dies like a chump, Count Dooku dies like a chump, a lot of Jedi die…you know what, I lost my train of thought.

But, there’s that force push between Anakin and Obi-Wan, Sidious showing actual concern for the fate of his new apprentice, a visually impressive and exciting opening and that melancholy tone throughout. Objectively, it’s not on the level as Return of the Jedi or The Force Awakens, but it has more to say then those two movies. It’s not a crowd pleaser, but the prequels were never going to end on a cheerful note. They were about the collapse of the Jedi Order, the manipulation of the government, the creation of Darth Vader.

vader_sidiousIf this had been the first, or even the second movie of  the prequels, with more story launching from the end of Revenge of the Sith, I think we would have had a better trilogy overall. With one more film after this, about Vader hunting the last Jedi or the start of the rebellion, Revenge of the Sith might have been considered a decent start. Instead, it’s a somber, depressing, sometimes infuriating and disappointing film that does exactly what it needs to do while also failing to deliver the most obvious of moments or explanations. And while characters we like do stupid things, they also remind us why we like Star Wars. Obi-Wan is cocky, Anakin is relentless, Yoda is surprising and Sidious is bananas.

But, those are all reasons I, myself, like Revenge of the Sith. It’s my second favorite Star Wars movie, behind The Empire Strikes Back. Third is probably Return of the Jedi or A New Hope, but hopefully, time will place The Last Jedi high up there as well. I don’t need you to agree with me, I don’t need to you to say, “Hmm, I do like Revenge of the Sith now!” but I hope you understand why the movie has it’s defenders.

Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – A Review

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Relatively spoiler free but you might as well not read this if you haven’t seen the film.

To say you have problems with Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is to say you don’t like it. That’s where geek culture is, and has been for as long as geeks have had a culture in the first place. That’s on me just as much as anyone. When it comes to the big series and franchises, I love or hate them. But, hear me, I didn’t love The Force Awakens but I still liked it. It’s possible to think that J.J. Abrams’ 2015 offering was entertaining but lacking and still be a Star Wars fan.

How you felt about The Force Awakens will definitely play into how you feel about The Last Jedi. I hope people who enjoyed that first film will like this new one, but the way the internet is drawing lines in the sand (or salt), I doubt there’s going to be lots of carry over. For myself, I can say that I found the movie exciting, emotional and satisfying.

Rian Johnson has a visual eye that I don’t think Star Wars has had since The Empire Strikes Back. The planet of Crait, with white salt covering the red dirt underneath, allows for stunning shots of ships dragging along the ground and gorgeous caverns. Snoke’s chamber, awash in red like it’s out of the film Kagemusha, is a highlight in simple but effective set design. That won’t be the last time Akira Kurosawa’s films are referenced, which in it’s own way is a reference to the original Star Wars films.

star-wars-last-jedi-ep8-ff-000021But, for the most part, people don’t come for the cinematography of Star Wars (the lighting change as Luke flies off from Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back is one of my favorite shots in all of film). What people want is space battles and great characters. Luckily, The Last Jedi has them both, but you millage may vary on how satisfied you are with either.

The new characters introduced in the The Force Awakens are given more room to breathe this time around, with a longer run time and less death stars. The two that benefit the most are Rey and Poe Dameron. Rey’s journey of self-discovery and false father figures continues but she comes out being a bolder and stronger character, one that feels worthy of leading this franchise forward. Dameron gets much more to do this time around and I finally feel like I understand his character. He’s a hotshot, to a fault, but that’s because he’s relentless in the cause. He’s a true believer in the Resistance, but he has to learn that, sometimes, cooler heads prevail.

rey_wide-1ebee285de548009eb96c8a28300af7fac2a91fd-s900-c85Finn is a different case. Plot-wise, his story has little impact. It’s a side-quest that doesn’t effect the main story, though that’s because of turns taken in the third act. But, character-wise, his story brings him into the Resistance proper. In The Force Awakens, Finn was looking to get far away from the First Order and only hung around to rescue Rey. In The Last Jedi, Finn’s story brings him to an understanding of why the galaxy needs the Resistance. It seems like he has a reason to stay now, outside of Rey.

Kylo Ren is still entertaining, but he has the least amount of growth as a character, staying more or less the same as when we first met him. His story is still interesting and I’m excited to see where his character goes from here, but it’s less of a revaluation as Rey or Poe.

Leia gets more screen time than the previous film, but, unfortunately, it’s easy to tell Lucasfilm had more plans for the character in the next movie. Her scenes here are great, but there’s a reservation with her character that most likely would have been released in the next film. There are some great moments with her, made bittersweet by Carrie Fisher’s passing.

star-wars-the-last-jedi-luke-skywalker-journal-of-the-whills-1040412Luke Skywalker is there as well. And luckily, the direction his character goes in isn’t proving to be controversial at all! I mean, outside of the internet and all of fandom, I guess. I can’t say how you’re going to feel about Luke in this film, as it seems like it will be one of the most subjective elements of all the Star Wars films. In my certain point of view, Mark Hamill is fantastic this time around, delivering some of my new favorite lines and carrying the emotions for the two of us.

There’s a cameo later on in the movie that I didn’t think I wanted, but proved to be a gut-punch nonetheless. Watching that scene, with music from The Empire Strikes Back, brought up emotions I didn’t know I had and I was happy to find them. And Luke’s “Everything you just said is wrong” tag later on was one hell of a delivery.

Another area where you might end up disagreeing with me is the resolutions of Rey’s parentage and Snoke’s identity. I didn’t realize how little I actually cared about Snoke until this movie, so I didn’t mind his reveal at all. And for Rey’s origins, all I can say is that I was relieved by it all. I didn’t realize how exhausting lore can be until this movie. While I don’t want the same tactics in every movie, Star Wars or otherwise, this time around, it was a welcomed change of pace.

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Outside of the characters, The Last Jedi is an exciting ride. It’s a slow build, but when the film reaches the tipping point, it doesn’t stop. There’s the stressful ticking clock that reminded me of a certain Battlestar Galactica episode, some stressful lightsaber duels and a stressful last stand…you know, actually, this movie might be stressful! I found myself never knowing what was going to happen next, even if I was certain I knew how it would all play out. And what an opening.

I will say, since I made such a fuss when The Force Awakens went to the remake-side of the Force, that The Empire Strikes Back is all over this film as well. A perusing enemy fleet, a young hero looking for training from a reluctant teacher, trench warfare against giant, walking tanks on a white planet (salt, not snow, as the movie makes sure to point out). Star Wars, since the first movie, has been nothing if not referential. But, I found that tendency to be less annoying this time around. Maybe that’s because it subverted a lot of those references, or maybe I just think The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film. Whatever the reason, seeing an X-Wing submerged in water made me laugh instead of rolling my eyes.

methode2fsundaytimes2fprod2fweb2fbin2fda8a222c-d434-11e7-945f-b625fa742a9eI don’t know where the series is heading or how this trilogy will conclude. I’m not thrilled with homage master J.J. Abrams back in the helm, as I’m worried he’ll undo a lot of the good done by this film. And where Rian Johnson is influenced by Rashomon and Casablanca, Abrams seems influenced by Star Wars alone. Maybe he’ll surprise me, but I don’t think surprise is in Abrams wheelhouse, no matter how fun or talented he is as a filmmaker.

For now and the next two years, I’ll take joy in the fact that The Last Jedi is an exciting, dark, interesting film that plays around with presumptions about Star Wars movies. I won’t rank it anytime soon, as it took Revenge of the Sith ten years to become my second favorite of the films and I spent most of my childhood preferring Return of the Jedi over The Empire Strikes Back. I’ll have to rewatch this movie a few times to see if it stands up with all it’s secrets laid bare but I’m confident it can handle the pressure. If the next movie can be as surprising and thrilling as this one, this new trilogy will be just as good, if not better, than the original films.

Let’s Play – Dragon Age: Origins

dnuk-ryvqae_y_fIt’s been a while since the last Let’s Play post. You know why? Because Dragon Age: Origins is a freaking long game, without any DLC or Awakening expansions. I can’t remember the man I was before I started playing this game.

This game is up there with The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky as one of the longest games I’ve streamed. And I didn’t even love it! I liked it, for sure. I wouldn’t have kept coming back to it if I didn’t like it. Well, maybe I would have. That’s what streaming games does to me! I have to finish games, even if I don’t love them. I can’t let people think I’m a quitter!

Actually, unrelated to the game, but I’m not sure how much gaming I’d do these days if I wasn’t streaming them on Twitch. I played plenty of games offline but it was less consistent and I would be off and on with it. Now, I stream because it helps me sleep better at night afterwards and because I get to be “on” and scratch some creative itches.

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It definitely helps with a game like Dragon Age: Origins. Games this long can get monotonous if not for the regular AND random visitors who stop by and liven up the room. When I was making my through the Deep Roads in Orzammar, their length and repetitiveness were starting to melt my brain but then someone would start talking to me just at the right time. They saved my life!

And, as Murphy’s Law would have it, I received my first raid! While turning in quests! And leveling up! Nothing like reading over skills and checking my journal as the viewers come pouring in from another streamer!

Back to game.

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I wasn’t absorbed into the world of Dragon Age: Origins like I had been in other Bioware games. This wasn’t like Baldur’s Gate, which I was obsessed with  while at and away from the computer. I found the art design to be rather ugly and not in a purposeful way. Sure, it’s a beat up world, but I was never interested in the aesthetics. It was nice to get to the forest with the elves and werewolves, because it added some much needed color to the experience, but even the designs in that area left me wanting.

The story didn’t do it for me either, not like Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect. I liked the characters and they ended up being my favorite part of the game. I liked just spending time in camp and talking to them, trying to get Sten to like me or woo the witchy Morrigan. I don’t know if that makes for exciting streaming, but it was when I was having a more pleasant time. I didn’t find myself attached to my character the way I have before in these types of games. I chose to play as a Noble Dwarf Warrior and my origin was entertaining for a while. But, outside in the wild, I never connected with him. I don’t know if it was the choices presented, or how much of the story was focused on the NPCS, but it never felt like my story.

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I need to do a separate Bioware post sometime, because their older games really have affect me as a gamer. That might be why I was disappointed with Dragon Age: Origins. I had originally thought it looked like a bland version of Baldur’s Gate and, after playing I felt justified in that fear. A lack of loot, a world that felt small and art style I found unappealing kept me mostly liking the game but never falling in love with it.

I doubt I’ll check out the Awakening expansion or the sequels. Once again, Bioware had strong world building on display, but I didn’t care much for the world itself. The history and ways of the Grey Wardens were intriguing, but, of course, the main character ends up being the last of them, so that doesn’t go very far. I enjoyed streaming this game, but I don’t know how much fun I had playing the game.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Book Review – Maul: Lockdown

swmaulMaul: Lockdown, by Joe Schreiber, had me excited for a long time. I thought, originally, the concept was great. However, while reading the book, I realized I had misunderstood the summaries and dust jackets. I had thought the book was about Darth Maul trying to escape from the most dangerous prison in the galaxy. A Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, if you will. It’s not that at all.

Darth Maul is sent, by Darth Sidious, to Cog Hive Seven to find an elusive arms dealer. Maul must remain undercover, so he’s forbidden to use his lightsaber or force powers. The book follows Maul exploring the layout of the prison, participating in televised death matches and surviving gang politics.

Maul: Lockdown is entertaining…to a point. The death matches are well done with visceral action, some of the new characters are interesting and there’s general mystery to the identity of the arms dealer. It also helps that, like some of favorite Star Wars books, this is a standalone one-shot. However, the book has a few faults that kept it from being the thrilling and dark adventure it could have been.

For one, taking away Maul’s force powers and lightsaber, while an interesting challenge, means the book denies the reader what they might have come for in the first place. Taking away his weapons for a few chapters might have been exciting, but when it’s the whole book there’s a certain element of false advertisement. Maul, the character, still has that tiger-like cool, but is less interesting than your classic Darth Vader. Maul is all rage and hate and, after a while, that stops being interesting. He comes across as one note in this book and it doesn’t help that we learn nothing new about the character.

The book is dense, which isn’t always a problem, but I was coming in for something more akin to a thriller. The chapters are short and you can clear through pages easily, but it goes on for longer than necessary, reaching a climax weighed down by cameos and dull exposition. Near the end, I was trying to get to the finish line quickly not because I was interested, but because I was ready to be done. There’s not enough story, character or intrigue to carry this book.

I’m surprised by how critical I am of this book, because the concept seemed like a slam dunk. But, when compared to other Star Wars villain books, such as Darth Plagueis, Darth Bane, Dark Disciple and Lords of the Sith, it falls short. Maybe Darth Maul isn’t that intriguing of a character, or at least, not during this part of life. I still haven’t finished the Clone Wars show, so I haven’t seen the character resurrected and given robotic legs. Maybe then he has more depth, but here, there’s not enough.

Now, someone, please go write that Star Wars prison break I wanted.

Book Review – The Last Wish

51ehtkvll5l-_sx336_bo1204203200_I had planned on playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt without going through the first two games. That proved to be too much for my completist heart, so I grabbed those games cheap on Steam. But, then, surprising myself, I found I couldn’t even start the games until I read the books. I don’t know why, this would have never happened when I was younger.

Here I am, then, reviewing The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski. A collection of short stories that was originally published in 1993, the book tells of the many adventures of Geralt, a Witcher. Witchers are hired to deal with monsters, though the public doesn’t love them. They’re a necessary evil and that makes someone like Geralt an outsider.

Each story tells of a different experience Geralt has dealing with either monster or man. Some of the stories are dark twists on classic fairy tales, such as The Beauty and the Beast. While that might cause eye rolling normally, as the “fairy tale but…” genre is running on fumes, it actually comes across fresh in this collection, even while being twenty years old.

What makes this book so readable is that Geralt is a fascinating character. Yes, there’s that classic lone wolf element about him, but he has more depth than just being gruff. In the few stories that make up The Last Wish, we see the Witcher as pragmatic, selfish, angry, compassionate, melancholy and vicious. He’s not a closed off tough guy, even though he has a thick skin. His friendship with Dandelion is actually rather touching, as it doesn’t appear Geralt gets anything out of it other than companionship.

The style of short story works well for The Witcher, as he goes from job to job. In a collection, we get to see the different types of monsters Geralt deals with, as well as the different lands he travels across. I’m interested to see how the style changes when I get to the full novels. It also makes sense that the Witcher was turned into a video game, as it seems ripe for side-quests.

The translation of these stories does a great job. The writing comes across relatively modern and I’m not sure how much of that is the original text. I never found the book to be dense, though sometimes the action could go on for a little too long. Maybe that’s why some people like reading these books, but I tend to find sword and magic combat to be a dull read. I was much more interested in the stories surrounding the world or the lives of the monsters Geralt is sent to hunt. Even the politics are interesting, mainly because each region and member of royalty acts different and unique.

I think, even if you had no interest in reading a new series, or playing the video games, that The Last Wish is easily recommendable. The frame story is self-contained, the tales throughout are quick reads and entertaining. On my own end, I’ve already bought the second anthology and plan on reading the main series. After reading this book, I think you might follow suit.

Book Review – Lovecraft Country

61gn-jq7-ql-_sx328_bo1204203200_Lovecraft Country, by Matt Ruff, is an interesting book, both in concept and execution. Taking place in America, 1954, we follow the Turner family as they deal with racism and the supernatural threats that plague them. Throughout the book, we start realizing that one of those is much easier to deal with than the other.

We start with Atticus Turner, a young, black man simply trying to drive up North. Along the way, he’s pulled over for driving while black and there’s always the looming sense of dread just from the embedded racism that he’s trying to avoid. Eventually, he heads to Massachusetts to find his missing father and things start getting more eerie.

Now, I thought about saying, “Things start getting more Lovecraftian” but that wouldn’t be acute. See, all the racism that Atticus deals with while driving is already Lovecraftian, as the influential author was quite a bigot. When a white police officer threatens to shoot a black man if he doesn’t get out of town by sundown, that’s Lovecraft, even if he never wrote such scenes. When monsters and ghosts start showing up, they seem rather mundane to all the racial tension and, sometimes, almost act as a relief.

It’s relieving to deal with the supernatural because it’s not real. I know, for the most part, that I don’t have to worry about ghosts and inter-dimensional beings. I know that. But, in the real world, racism and bigotry are very much alive. As a country, we used to worry about witches and now’s it’s part of our history, but the hate and ignorance that permeates Lovecraft Country is part of our present. Ruff uses the supernatural as a hook to get readers who might not want to confront these issues.

In the book, ghosts can be reasoned with, monsters are indifferent. These scary, immortal threats might not be rational, as Lovecraft often had characters go insane when confronted with them, but in way, they act rational. Some feed, some kill, some of them are just lonely. But, they’re beyond petty things like hatred for different races. Racism, when compared to the threats beyond our own world, becomes the irrational.

Now, I had trouble getting into this book for two reasons. First, the stress of reading about a black family in the 50s was enough to make for slow, uneasy reading. Second, the book is told in parts. I couldn’t find a pace while reading because the first chapter is actually the first short story. Eventually, when I started realizing how the book was laid out, I found my rhythm and was able to cruise through the novel. Considering that Lovecraft mostly wrote short stories himself, you’d think I would have figured that out sooner.

In the process, the book became less creepy and more of an interesting cross between Lovecraft and The Twilight Zone. I didn’t find the overarching plot that connected the chapters to be that compelling, though the resolution is fun and brings all the different elements together. The individual stories, however, are memorable. Each follows a different member of the Turner family and shows a different aspect of 50s America and the supernatural elements of Ruff’s world. There’s talk of Lovecraft Country becoming a movie, but it  could make for a great HBO or Netflix anthology series.

I had started this for Halloween and it wasn’t a bad choice for the holiday, but it might let some people down if they’re looking for straight horror. Really, it’s more acute to call it urban fantasy, as nothing in it is much scarier than what you would find in a Jim Butcher book.  But, for a great example of how fantasy and science fiction can be a mirror into our world, how it can be a commentary on prejudices and our own faults, Lovecraft Country is easily recommendable.

Book Review – Killers of the Flower Moon

nonfict_grann_killers_seal-600The concept of Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann, was almost too depressing for me to start. Telling the history of the systematic murders of the Osage Indian Nation, a story that is promised to have little closure or justice, I had to force myself through the first twenty pages.

I’m glad I continued on, however, as the book became a compelling read, spanning multiple subjects while never losing focus on it’s depressing main topic. The Osage Indian Nation, through the government’s orders, are moved to a desolated land in Oklahoma. To everyone’s surprise, their new home is one of the richest deposits of oil and the Osage become wealthier than White America is comfortable with. In fact, the government tries to control the flow of money that each Osage receives, appointing them “guardians” who give them their allowances, fractions of their millions. It should be no surprise, that when the murders begin, little is done about them.

At first, it seems like every Osage murder is going unsolved and unpunished. Local authorities are either incompetent or apathetic to what’s happening around them. But, eventually, the news of what is happening starts to spread across the country. White men start getting murdered from trying to help. The Osage murders get more brutal and public, as well as obvious in their intent. Once the young FBI gets involved, it becomes obvious that someone is trying to steal the Osage wealth.

Killers of the Flower Moon is half the history of Osage and half the story of the FBI. Reading this after watching Netflix’s Mindhunter had me amazed by how we take for granted simple terms and methods in law enforcement. While Mindhunter showed us how new the understanding of criminal profiling was, this book goes even further back and shows us simple detective skills still being born. Mug shots, fingerprints and keeping the crime scene from becoming contaminated were either just starting to be used or unheard of altogether.

It doesn’t help that the FBI and many branches of law are filled with corrupt employees. Crimes are being covered up or ignored by bribes and threats. Judges are on the take and prisons are a mess. J. Edgar Hoover is out to make a name for himself by cleaning up the FBI and solving the cases of the Osage murders. He sets Tom White out to form a team and take care of business and from there we learn the twists and turns of this dark history.

It was fascinating to me how well Grann kept this moving and held my attention. The subject matter is morbid and new to many readers but it’s still non-fiction and could have come across as a text book. Yet, Grann writes it like a thriller and even had my jaw drop after a revelation midway through the book. We get looks into everyone’s past, from the Osage whose grim fates are only the newest forms of abuse to White’s childhood and sense of honor. Every topic gets explored and explained in a digestible manner.

After reading this, I definitely want to pick up Grann’s other book, The Lost City of Z. I tend not to read many history books, but Grann does a great job at holding interest and moving the story forward. With Killers of the Flower Moon, you know things won’t be solved in a satisfying manner and that people will go unpunished. That’s not to mention how hindsight kept me from feeling any sense of victory even when things start to turn around for the Osage. You don’t have to be well-versed in history to know this will only be another stepping stone in the injustice Native Americans will go through, even in the 1900s.

Killers of the Flower Moon isn’t for everyone, some might not have the stomach for the hopelessness of it all. But, it’s a story every American should be familiar with, despite how little has been told about the subject. With talks of a movie being made, hopefully more will have to reckon with this dark past. If you can handle the darkness, pick up the book beforehand.