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Can the Ascendancy Trilogy Live Up to the Hype? Perhaps.

Mild Chaos Rising spoilers below regarding character personalities and development.

I had very high hopes for the Ascendancy trilogy of books about the Chiss – I thought they would be a way to tell a story in a new setting about an alien species that fans had been curious about for over two decades. I may have been overly optimistic in a way; despite the new setting, Chaos Rising tends to retread ground already covered in the new canon (as well as in Tim Zahn’s Expanded Universe offerings). If you’re curious what ground I think has been retread, my review of Zahn’s previous Star Wars novel covers it.

The novel is primarily about an obscure merit adoptive who causes no end of trouble for returning character Admiral Ar’alani. New POV characters Thalias and Che’ri are standouts because they’re Chiss characters who are in their own way trying to navigate the traditions and mores of the Chiss people. While Star Wars readers are used to the idea of a military officer rubbing an entrenched bureaucracy the wrong way (as in the Empire), the Chiss Ascendancy has its own quibbles and mores beyond the military matters that these three POV characters can really highlight.

Chaos Rising is our first in-depth look at the Chiss in the new canon, and they’ve got complicated family politics that will be familiar to any fan of dynastic intrigue. That’s coupled with their mindset of isolationism and sense of superiority to other species of the “Chaos” (their term for the parts of the Unknown Regions outside their territory). There’s also a touch of what one reviewer called “gender essentialism” in Chiss culture that’s fairly uncomfortable to read. It’s no wonder that the Chiss are known for associating with Sith and Imperials at different points of the Star Wars timeline. That said, at least some of these (the superiority) strike me as intentional flaws in Chiss culture and I look forward to how the trilogy might engage with those ideas.

Today, I want to talk mostly about Ar’alani, Thalias, and Che’ri – who they are, and how they relate to the aspects of Chiss culture highlighted in the book. This book sets up some fairly interesting ideas with these characters but fails to engage with them — but I think the rest of the trilogy could do better.

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War Did Not Make Them Great: Conflict’s Toll on the Characters of Shadow Fall

The introduction of this piece is spoiler-free. If you don’t want details of Shadow Fall a warning will let you know when to stop.

Anyone who’s read an Alexander Freed Star Wars novel has some idea of how Shadow Fall is going to go. We expect a gritty, realistic look at war with some hefty emotional pain for the characters (and the readers!). Underscoring that expectation, Del Rey promoted this second book in the Alphabet Squadron trilogy with the phrase “victory has a price”. It certainly does.

War changes people. Though the Empire falls relatively quickly in comparison to the Expanded Universe’s version of the story, we know from stories like Shattered Empire, Battlefront II, and the Aftermath trilogy that a lot of traumatic things can happen in the year of warfare after Return of the Jedi.

Shadow Fall continues the action from the first book in the trilogy, beginning in medias res with a campaign to take a single Deep Core star system from the remnants of the Empire in order to bait Alphabet Squadron’s nemesis, Shadow Wing. The bulk of the action takes place on the urban world of Troithe, something like Coruscant’s forgotten sibling. The conflict is narrow and intense, and allows us to focus on our core cast of characters who were introduced in the past novel: the members of Alphabet Squadron, and their antagonists in Shadow Wing.

The fighting in this book isn’t pretty. What our characters go through – and have to do in order to win – is not pretty. Victory has a price, and this applies to the heroes as much as the villains. If they want to win, they’ll have to do things that they’d scarcely imagined doing in the earlier days of the war. Don’t expect a fun pilot romp interspersed with tragedy the way an Aaron Allston X-Wing novel might make us laugh and cry. There is precious little laughter in this book – which isn’t to say that it’s all darkness and tragedy. But it is definitely intense, and our characters go through hell – and it’s partly a hell of their own making.

That’s the real strength of this book. It’s not just a deromanticized version of Star Wars action and a look at the cost of war. It’s a story about how the traumas of war – both external/military and internal/personal – change people, and what they do when confronted with those traumas. Shadow Fall isn’t an easy read – I had to take my time with it – but it’s worth the investment of time and emotional/mental energy.

Article will contain spoilers after this pointIf you have not yet finished the novel and do not wish to be spoiled, come back to the rest of the article later!

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Queen’s Peril Adds Character to an Old Story

There’s a certain type of Star Wars film-adjacent novel that I like to call a “movie explainer.” Best exemplified by the Darth Plagueis novel of the Legends era, it’s a book that has its own story but also seems to some readers to “fix” or “explain” a film in a way not seen on screen. Sometimes people want Star Wars books to do this – we’ve all seen the tendency recently to want movie novelizations in particular to “fix” something people didn’t like in the movie.

There’s another kind of Star Wars film-adjacent novel: the backstory novel. These novels either introduce us to the new characters from the film or they provide more story for characters we’ve just met on screen. The novels around Rogue One are a great example of these – Del Rey’s Catalyst and Disney’s Rebel Rising and Guardians of the Whills were brilliantly well-received introductions and expansions to Rogue One.

Queen’s Peril, by E.K. Johnston, is definitely a movie-adjacent novel – but it’s neither a “movie explainer” nor a backstory novel. It runs partially concurrent to the events of The Phantom Menace and sheds new light on the film, but not out of a desire to “fix” the movie or to add lore for the sake of lore. If you’ve read Johnston’s first Padmé book, Queen’s Shadow, you know what to expect: it’s a novel about Padmé and her handmaidens and their relationship to each other as they navigate the strangeness of Naboo politics. Queen’s Peril adds context and backstory to The Phantom Menace and reinforces how we should’ve seen the film all along. How? By reminding us of one thing: Queen Amidala is the main hero of The Phantom Menace.

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The Pitch: Rey’s To-Do List

The Rise of Skywalker happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It is already over. Nothing can be done to change it.

So, what now? Rumors abound, but outside of season two of The Mandalorian and a slate of books and comics that looks pretty similar to last year’s (at least until they spill the details on Project Luminous), exactly what form mainline Star Wars content will take remains an open question. The Old Republic, or maybe the Even Older Republic, seems to be the most likely next step, if only to give the sequel cast some time to breathe and perhaps age up a little.

But the galaxy didn’t end just because the Skywalker saga did; the story of those characters will go on, first in fanfic and almost certainly in officially-licensed material of some sort, someday. Let’s dwell for a moment on what that day might look like.

Rey may be the last Jedi, but even the relatively tight confines of the sequel films have established at least two other Force-sensitives in Finn and Temiri Blagg, better known as Broom Boy. Potentially even Jannah’s entire company of former stormtroopers depending on how strictly you want to interpret ROS’s nudges–imagine for a moment a new Jedi Order whose first class is composed almost entirely of First Order stormtroopers! It’s a hell of a thing. Between that and Rey’s own training seeming to have come at least as much from the original Jedi texts as from the Skywalker twins, you’ve got a recipe for a very different Jedi Order.

And they’ll have their work cut out for them. Another side effect of the saga’s tight-focus ending is a lot of lingering threads and unanswered injustices in the galaxy: slavery, both biological and mechanical; a newly-familiarized Unknown Regions with untold mysteries and threats, the ignorance of which allowed the First Order to rise in the first place; and even within the quote-unquote civilized galaxy, political divisions have been exposed that make the Empire look positively centrist. Not only are the possibilities endless, but it strikes me that they’re uniquely interesting in their potential to underline the ways in which the old Jedi let the galaxy down in the name of holding it together, and the lessons Rey might have learned from them.

So with that in mind, what’s an established, persisting injustice in the GFFA that you think an ideal NJO should take on? If you’re Grand Master Rey, what would you do in your first hundred days?

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What should we call Rey?

(Editor’s note: normally, rather than compete with the holidays this week would be dedicated to our biannual Second Look feature—and that will indeed begin tomorrow and run through Friday. But first, with The Rise of Skywalker being so fresh in everybody’s minds and reactions being, ah, also very fresh, I thought today would be a good opportunity for this short, lighthearted piece from Jay Shah, which let’s be honest, I couldn’t have stopped him from writing if I’d tried. – Mike)

Warning: heavy spoilers follow for The Rise of Skywalker.

So, there are many questions that The Rise of Skywalker raises, even as it purports to answer others. There will be many articles over the coming weeks asking or answering them, serious think-pieces and silly parodies. 

I plan to be serious in my silliness. 

We learn a few things about Rey in this movie. I want to discuss what they mean. Not specifically for her, or the saga, or the mythology. I’ll leave those discussions for someone else. I want to discuss what the appropriate form of address for her should be. 

But wait, you ask! Didn’t she say at the end of the film that her name was Rey Skywalker? She sure did. And she has a right to decide who she is and how she defines herself, regardless of what anybody else says — her bloodline, her family, the galaxy, etc. If she says she’s Rey Skywalker, then she is. 

But since I didn’t see her sign a legal change of name document, I’ve decided she’s still legally Rey Palpatine. This is an assumption on my part: we don’t know if her father was legitimate or if he or she was a product of a morganatic marriage.1 But this is a silly piece, so I don’t care. I’m operating under the assumption that her father is legitimate and so is she. The Emperor wanted her to succeed him, so that is enough to establish legitimacy for me, regardless of anything else. Princeps legibus solutus est,2 after all. 

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  1. marriage between people of unequal social rank []
  2. “the prince is not bound by laws” []