I think they’re getting the hang of this new Expanded Universe.
We’re several years into the new canon now, but it’s been curious to watch how the books (and comics) have changed from our first tentative steps with A New Dawn. It might be no less a balancing act, but it feels like everything is both settling into a rhythm and not afraid to try something new.
Last Shot is the latest example of how the novels are able to both enhance the films (in this case, Solo, mostly) and stand on their own as complete stories.
Empire’s End finishes off the Aftermath trilogy with a satisfying conclusion for some, and even more questions for others! In other words, it’s a Star Wars novel in the year 2017.
I’ve found myself cooling a bit on the trilogy as time goes on. Not enough that I won’t still recommend it, but simply as a function of the timing involved. When Aftermath was released, we were months away from The Force Awakens, and in the fever-pitch of anticipation. Anything was a possible hint! Life Debt came out months after, and we had a better idea of what to expect. And now, Empire’s End, when we’re just barely starting to ramp up to The Last Jedi. And I’m finding my old intertrilogy/original character apathy begin to creep in, a little.
Which is not to say Empire’s End is a bad read, mind.
If Rogue One makes anything clear, it’s this: The standalone movies are the new Expanded Universe. Now, I mean this from a wider perspective than just “how the Death Star plans got stolen.” (Yes, there were a number of stories about that in the old EU. I am, full disclosure, happy to not be particularly familiar with any of them.) But this is a movie that has as its basic concept a handful of lines from the opening crawl of A New Hope. And that alone feels to me like a very EU concept.
In short: Ten years ago, Rogue One would have a been a novel or a comic series. There was a big move to this exact sort of thing in the late days of the Legends EU – Heart of Darkness starring Mace Windu (Shatterpoint,) a small-town western starring Obi-Wan (Kenobi,) zombie stormtroopers (Deathtroopers, a term reused here – with a space – for black-clad but presumably not-undead troopers.) These books took big concepts and genres and rendered them as Star Wars. And that’s precisely what Rogue One does – Star Wars through the lens of a gritty war movie.
Rogue One is the evolved version of this, envisioned as a real movie for a franchise that’s only recently revived itself back onto the big screen with a $2B bang. For those that felt that The Force Awakens may have played it safe, well, here’s something entirely different. It’s recognizably the same galaxy – you don’t need Mon Mothma or Darth Vader to remind you of that – but it’s a different spin on it. (The daddy issues, though – those remain.)
It’s tough to say if any Star Wars novel is really essential these days. With the full attention of the franchise moved back to movies, and the books firmly placed back in a supporting role, does one really need to read a book like James Luceno’s Catalyst? The answer here is a firm maybe: It entirely depends on your focus within the franchise.
We’ve got a jumbo episode of Star Wars Story Talk (AKA the show formerly known as Unboxing Star Wars) as Yowie the Skunk, Baby Jawa, and I cover a whole sandcrawler-load of the latest in Star Wars stories. Baby Jawa does her first reaction video, watching the Rogue One trailer, and Yowie and I talk a bit about Star Wars Celebration Europe, San Diego Comic-Con and review Aftermath: Life Debt, the new novel by Chuck Wendig! Plus a little update on Wear Star Wars Every Day, a visit from a Loth-cat, and of course some Baby Jawa fun time!
→ Trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – I am really excited for this movie and this trailer just pushes it up another notch. But how will Baby Jawa react to her first movie trailer viewing?
→ Star Wars Celebration Europe – Big thumbs up! A whole ton of fun and a lot of work. Plus seeing old friends and making new ones while in London!
→ Star Wars at San Diego Comic-Con – Even though there wasn’t a big movie panel, Star Wars still brought a lot to San Diego, including the Rogue One costume display and the publishing panel.
→ Star Wars: Aftermath – Life Debt – Chuck Wendig increases the scale and brings in some favorite film characters into the post-ROTJ era as the heroes help track down Han Solo as he’s disappeared while trying to liberate Kashyyyk. Solid read!
→ Loth-Cat Plush from Star Wars Celebration Europe – A big hit! Mrowwwl! Help me come up with a name for this grinning feline!
Podcasts: Thanks to Coffee with Kenobi for having me on the podcast as a featured guest to talk Bloodline, Life Debt, and Wear Star Wars Every Day, and thanks to Skywalking through Neverland for bringing me on the show to discuss Wear Star Wars Every Day.
Salt Lake Comic Con: Check out my schedule at Salt Lake Comic Con (Sept 1 to Sept 3) or just view the general Star Wars-related programming, featuring Mark Hamill, Jeremy Bulloch, Lucasfilm Story Group members: Pablo Hidalgo, Leland Chee, and Matt Martin; also including Star Wars authors, artists, and voice actors, and the Full of Sith podcast crew: Bryan Young, Amy Ratcliffe, and Mike Pilot.
Good news for folks who had trouble with Chuck Wendig’s first Aftermath novel – the sequel, Life Debt is far more accessible. No, Wendig doesn’t change things up too much, but plotwise, the book is slightly more traditional. (Those who can’t move beyond his writing style, well… Good luck.)
It also helps that we’re well past The Force Awakens. The first Aftermath found itself targeted for a lot of things, but I think the most notable (and least discussed) was the burden of expectation. As the first important canon novel to tread into the newly-cleared territory after Return of the Jedi, it was bound to disappoint readers who thought they’d be getting Heir to the Empire 2.0 – or at least Truce at Bakura 2.0. The reality turned out to be something more off the beaten track and with Life Debt, we have a far better idea of what we’re getting.
With the ground laid in the first book, Life Debt gets off the ground quickly. Wendig is free to use (sparingly) characters like Han and Leia in the A-plot, which gives readers an anchor. But the majority of the action is still with the newer characters.
Star Wars Story Talk (AKA the show formerly known as Unboxing Star Wars) gets in one more episode before Star Wars Celebration Europe! This time, Baby Jawa, Yowie the Skunk, and I try some snacks and review two books: LEGO Star Wars: The Chronicles of the Force, by Adam Bray, David Fentiman, and Cole Horton; and the junior novelization of The Force Awakens by Michael Kogge. Plus a little update on where I’ll be in the coming weeks —Star Wars Celebration Europe and San Diego Comic-Con. Hamburger Helper, Cheez-It crackers, and of course some Baby Jawa fun time!
→ LEGO Star Wars: Chronicles of the Force – A fun and fact-filled guide to both Star Wars and LEGO Star Wars in particular. Lots of focus on LEGO minifigures and sets with plenty of call outs about the story of Star Wars. Plus the exclusive Unkar Plutt’s thug minifigure.
→ Star Wars: The Force Awakens junior novel – Thumbs up! Michael Kogge pens the adaptation of the film for the younger audiences. Quite a few scenes in it that weren’t in the film, and we see a few scenes a bit differently as well. Plus an insert of color photos from the movie.
→ Cheez-It Star Wars crackers – The cheesy square crackers have Star Wars shapes stamped into them! A Star Wars food tie-in done right.
→ Ultimate Hamburger Helper – Star Wars – Barely a tie-in. The food’s the same. Just an offer for $5 of movie concessions if you submit a photo of a receipt showing the purchase of 3 or more boxes. A Star Wars food tie-in done pretty sad.
Where to see jawajames at Star Wars Celebration Europe:
→ Friday: STEM Heroes and Heroines of Star Wars, 12:00p to 1:00p, Star Wars Fan & Collector’s Stage, with Tricia Barr, Cole Horton, Kevin Beentjes, and Hannah Gillis.
→ Saturday: International Star Wars Fandom, 10:30a to 11:30a, Star Wars Fan & Collector’s Stage, with Mark Newbold (UK), Tim Veekhoven (Belgium), Johanna Nybelius (Sweden), and Kevin Beentjes (Netherlands).
Happy 39th birthday, Star Wars! To celebrate, we’ve got a new episode of Unboxing Star Wars! Yowie the skunk, Baby Jawa, and I review some of the latest crop of Star Wars Little Golden Books: I Am a Droid, I Am a Pilot, and I Am a Jedi, as well as I give my recap on the James Clyne and Iain McCaig presentation and The Force Awakens concept art exhibition at Gnomon in Hollywood. For more info on the presentations by Art Director James Clyne and Concept Artist Iain McCaig, check out my article on starwars.com: Designing The Force Awakens. Also, check out photos from the concept art exhibition and the artists’ presentation. Plus random fun with Ponda Baba, and then some Baby Jawa fun time!
→ I Am a Droid – Thumbs up! Written by Christopher Nicholas and illustrated by Chris Kennett, this Little Golden Book focuses on different aspects and roles of droids in Star Wars. My favorite of the bunch, though possibly could have done without a page showing a droid being tortured.
→ I Am a Jedi – Just OK. This Little Golden Book by Christopher Nicholas and illustrated by Ron Cohee talks about the basics of what a Jedi is and what a Jedi can do, and a little about the Force and the Sith. Nothing from The Force Awakens, but it does reveal the identity of Darth Vader, just in case you want to save that revelation for later in your child’s life.
→ I Am a Pilot – Just OK. By Christopher Nicholas and illustrated by Alan Batson, this Little Golden Book showcases a bunch of different pilot characteristics in Star Wars and some of the more famous pilots. Sadly, none of the pilots in the book are women.
→ Episode VII: The Art of James Clyne & Iain McCaig at Gnomon Gallery, Hollywood – Go see it if you’re in the area! There’s almost fifty pieces on display, pretty evenly split between Clyne and McCaig. I *think* all of the displayed artwork can be found in The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but here’s a chance to see it in a larger format. The exhibition runs until July 20, 2016.
Happy Star Wars Day! We’ve got a special episode of Unboxing Star Wars for May the 4th! First, Baby Jawa, Yowie and I check out the fun at “The Dome Awakens”, the Star Wars Day celebration at the downtown San Diego Public Library held on May 1, 2016. Then it’s time to review the recent C-3PO one shot comic by James Robinson and Tony Harris, and get excited for the new Star Wars novel, Bloodline, by Claudia Gray. We finish up with the results of our first try at making Star Wars Jell-o Jigglers, and then some Baby Jawa fun time!
→ C-3PO #1 – A fun (and long-awaited) tale that does indeed explain the origins of Threepio’s red arm. Read this comic then watch the LEGO Star Wars short “The Resistance Rises: Poe to the Rescue” for an interesting crossover of canon and LEGO Star Wars.
→ Bloodline – Strongly recommend! I had high expectations for this novel because of Gray’s first Star Wars novel, Lost Stars, and she surpassed them. I really enjoyed this tale – it’s a top-notch story with some great characters, and Gray nails Leia’s character.
→ Star Wars JELL-O Jigglers Mold Set – Comes with two 6-character mold trays and 4 boxes of Jello! All the characters look great, except Yoda, who is in some sort of action pose which doesn’t quite work right. Be sure to use the special mold instructions on the big box instead of the regular Jiggler instructions on the inside boxes of gelatin.
It’s rather refreshing to finally be getting some of the gaps filled in.
Claudia Gray’s Star Wars: Bloodline, out today, isn’t the first to give us a look at the galaxy beyond Return of the Jedi in the new canon. (It isn’t even Gray’s first, technically.) But it the closest to The Force Awakens so far, set less than a decade before the film. It’s also the first to feature a major character in anything beyond a glorified cameo. This is, by far, the canon novel with the most mass appeal to Expanded Universe fans new and old.
And yes, it’s good. I admit, I am worried that those of us who got and talked (vaguely) about the book early may be overselling the novel. After all, that’s what happened to me with Gray’s previous Star Wars book, Lost Stars. There was no early copy for me there, and it was the last of the Journey to The Force Awakens books I read. And it was fine! But I suspect the unrelenting hype damaged it a bit for me. (I may also be extremely a tiny bit burnt out on YA-style romance.)
Bloodline, on the other hand, was a blistering fast read for me. The minute I got it, I couldn’t put it down. As anyone who was following me on Twitter may have noticed, I read it in three hours. I honestly can’t recall the last time I read a Star Wars novel at that speed. It might have been back in the ’90s?