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Poe Dameron: Free Fall and Star Wars’ Evolving Relationship With Criminality

The final third of this piece contains spoilers for Poe Dameron: Free Fall. If you’d like to avoid them, stop when you see Babu Frik.

Governing an entire galaxy isn’t easy. As initially conceived, government in Star Wars was despotic and militaristic and led by people with magical powers—and even then, with no civil liberties or red tape to hold the Empire back, small pockets of rebellion were still able to slip through their fingers over and over, to say nothing of run-of-the-mill criminals like Han Solo.

As conceived, though, that was a good thing. The Empire was bad, so breaking its rules was justified, or at least a lesser concern to the good guys than what the Empire itself was up to. Even in the prequel era, the Old Republic is already riddled with corruption, and morality is often in conflict with the law our heroes are still desperately clinging to.

The sequels, then, were our first opportunity to experience a fundamentally righteous, if imperfect, galactic government—for about seventy minutes, anyway. Then it explodes.

But there’s a generation or so prior to that where even Luke Skywalker at his most cynical concedes that the galaxy was in balance, and a whole crop of younger characters managed to grow up with little to no awareness of how hard-fought that balance had been. For now, at least, that peacetime generation is unique in the canon, and crafting good, old-fashioned Star Wars adventures with them isn’t quite as easy as it used to be.

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The Binary Sunset – Looking Forward, Looking Back

The binary sunset scene in A New Hope is perhaps the iconic image of the film – so iconic that the saga has gone back to it time and again. For me as a child, it was the wonder of seeing something that felt real but also fantastical: a boy dreaming of adventures to come, but also a realistic-looking leap of the imagination, of what the alien spectacle of a binary star system would really look like from one of its planets. That combined with John Williams’s greatest ever theme, what became the Force Theme (though at the time was known as Ben Kenobi’s Theme).

When George Lucas returns to this moment, it is done very deliberately, during moments which encourage the audience to look simultaneously backwards and forwards across the span of the saga. The sequel trilogy films, too, have returned to this image twice, and those moments tell us much about the films themselves, their directors’ priorities and sensibilities, and speak to a wider conversation about the role of nostalgia in Star Wars going forward.

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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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Memories From the Menu of Dex’s Diner

Cooking is supposed to help your mental health in these quarantined times. Unfortunately, peeling out laughter because a splatter of chicken gore hit your face is the opposite of helping. In fact, every step of making Aunt Lilja’s Liver Pancakes was tinged with horrified regret. Though the end result was an anticlimactic set of normal(ish) sausage(esque) patties, this is a journey I don’t aim to repeat. At least not with the liver pancakes.

See, my regret was premeditated. After all, one simply doesn’t purchase chicken livers on a whim (chicken gizzards, on the other hand, is a different story). This deliberate decision was driven by an unearned confidence from The Galaxy’s Edge Cookbook, a perfectly healthy fascination with Dexter Jettster, and a Finnish family tree.

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Queen’s Peril – An Interview with E. K. Johnston

How does a fourteen-year-old girl become queen of an entire planet?

This is a question many of us have had since being introduced to Queen Padmé Amidala in The Phantom Menace. For years, Padmé has enjoyed a celebrated position among fans, especially women who grew up with the prequel trilogy. She was a fiery character, equally at home making passionate arguments in the Senate as she was shooting a blaster at bad guys, she wasn’t afraid to stand up for what was right, and she had an absolutely killer wardrobe. But despite her dedicated fanbase, it took twenty years for Padmé to star in her own novel.

Last year, I talked about how much of a revelation Queen’s Shadow was, and how incredible it was to finally get to read a story that not only gives one of my favorite characters her long-overdue chance in the spotlight, but was the rare story that focused entirely on women and their relationships with one another. It’s not a surprise to learn that author E.K. Johnston has been a fan of Padmé since the character’s debut, because her love for Padmé and the handmaidens came through in every word and detail.

While Queen’s Shadow focused on Padmé transitioning from Queen of Naboo to galactic senator and dealing with the fallout of her actions in TPM, Queen’s Peril goes back farther to focus on her coming of age on the political stage as she becomes queen, builds her inner circle of handmaidens and learns to navigate her personal life amidst the major galactic events beginning to take shape around her. E.K. Johnston was kind enough to sit down with us via email to discuss Queen’s Peril, writing prequels, how her fanfiction background aids her as a writer, and the importance of the teenage-girl experience.

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