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.
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.
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.
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?
Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath is the first canon Star Wars novel to take place after Return of the Jedi since the old EU was declared Legends more than a year ago. I’ve only formally reviewed the lackluster Heir to the Jedi since then, but it’s no secret that the canon novels so far haven’t been to my tastes. My focus has never really been on books set during the film eras, and before Aftermath all the offerings were just that.
But I am pleased (and, yes, a little surprised) to report that I found Aftermath to be rather good. You’ll hear a lot about Wendig’s unusual style of prose – and I had some hesitation there as well – but I found that once I got into the rhythm of the book it was no trouble at all. In fact, this is the first canon novel I didn’t have to force myself through at all – it read speedily and offers a satisfying story with interesting characters.
But they are, for the most part, new characters. Wedge Antilles plays an important part, but you can’t call him a lead by any means. Rebel pilot Norra Wexley, her son Temmin, former Imperial loyalty officer Sinjir Rath Velus, bounty hunter Jax Emari and Imperial Admiral Rae Sloane (who originated in A New Dawn) carry most of the plot’s weight.
Kevin Hearne’s Heir to the Jedi brings a lot of firsts, as far as Star Wars novels go. It’s the first of the new canon novels to feature one of the big three characters; the first Star Wars first-person novel* to feature an actual movie character, and the first canon novel to be set after A New Hope. It’s also the first of the new novels I actually had any interest in reading.
Now, I don’t expect a Star Wars novel to rock the very galaxy, particularly when set in a movie-limited era like this one is. I wasn’t expecting a game-changing book by any means. And generally, I don’t mind a quieter story, as long as it’s an engaging one that keeps me wanting to read.
Unfortunately, Heir to the Jedi delivers an unremarkable tale that fails to make much of an impression. From the first-person conceit to the title that seems deliberately reminiscent of Heir to the Empire, it seemed to me like the book was writing several checks that it completely failed to cash.
Chris Taylor’s How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, out today, is one of those rare nonfiction books not fully authorized by Lucasfilm. An independent biography of the franchise, it covers from George Lucas’ own upbringing and influences to just post-Disney. Curious? Read the first chapter at Mashable (as well as one on the 501st) right now.
It’s also a pretty great read. I got my copy Saturday, finished it yesterday afternoon, and it flew. Taylor talks to fans and pros alike, highlighting both sides of the (increasingly more narrow) divide. Most of the attention thus far is on the moviemaking portion, where the book’s biggest sound bites come from.
Full disclosure: I was interviewed for and appear in the book, and received a review copy from Basic Books.
Razor’s Edge is the first book of the Empire and Rebellion series but it is, as promised, very much a standalone story.
I found the book to be a bit of a throwback – in a good way. Like Kenobi, it’s a straightforward, streamlined Star Wars story, though this one wouldn’t have been out of place back in the Bantam era… If you look back at it with a warm fuzzy glow that erases most of the silly parts.
Kenobi is John Jackson Miller’s second Star Wars novel and his first featuring a movie character, and quite possibly the best one of the year thus far.
This is a Star Wars novel fitting firmly in the current trend of books that require one to know very little beyond the films themselves. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of novel whose lack we’ve been mourning for quite some time: An character-centric adventure that doesn’t have galaxy-shaking consequences and is none the less exciting or interesting for it.
I’m so glad there’s going to be a sequel trilogy, because I can only imagine how much more disappointed I’d be in Crucible if that wasn’t a factor.
It’s not that I was expected a masterpiece, mind you. I freely admit that Denning’s books have never been favorites of mine. But I was hoping for something a little bit different this time. Something at least a little fresher than what we’ve been getting in the ‘modern’ era of the Expanded Universe. Something that lets the Big 3 go off into retirement with one last fun adventure.
Crucible is not that book. It’s just more of same uninspired EU we’ve been getting far too much of in this era – very much a followup to Fate of the Jedi – trying too hard to be profound and failing.