The Solo film is approaching fast, with our first canonical look at the Kessel Run that made the Millennium Falcon famous. We have multiple confirmations now that the Kessel Run is made hard to navigate by black holes in the vicinity, among other things, and this wouldn’t be the first time the new canon has shown this kind of environment as a navigational hazard. Indeed, the heroes of Star Wars Rebels faced such phenomena in their journey through a star cluster, in the second season episode “Legends of the Lasat”.
Black holes and their surroundings are the topic of the astrophysics research I do for a living, so I’ve wanted to talk about this since before I finished writing about Concord Dawn. Because I absolutely loved this scene. Accompanied by the marvelous music of Kevin Kiner, magnificent visuals depict a maelstrom of gas and dust that swirls around a number of bright, hotter spots where the black holes whose gravity dominates the entire region might be located, but they are left unseen. Indeed, the fun thing about these objects is how small and compact they are compared to their mass: the spherical event horizon of a black hole as heavy as our entire Sun would be a bit less than six kilometers wide. When the camera in the episode is pointed sideways, away from the accreting dust, blue streams of ionized gas can be seen coming out of the biggest hot spots. Some in-falling, disintegrating objects, probably asteroids disrupted by tidal forces, complete the picture. I liked it so much that I remarked at the time how, given its description in Legends sources, this could have been a great depiction of the Maw, the black hole cluster located near the Kessel Run.
But there was more. Despite the term “black hole” appearing in concept art, Hera says “imploded star” instead. They probably changed it to make it sound more exotic, but in doing so they actually increased its accuracy! The explanation is as follows. Natural ways to end up with a cluster of black holes involve massive stars exploding as supernovae. Stars tend to form in clusters, and the heavier they are, the faster they burn their fuel and the shorter they live, so massive stars don’t get very far from each other before dying. And if some of these had more than twenty-five times the mass of the Sun, they could leave black holes behind as their cores collapse (or implode). However, the formation of those stars will also produce many more of lower masses. The ones with more than eight times the mass of the Sun will live a few million years longer and their cores will also implode, but this time creating neutron stars. You would also expect some of these in a cluster of black holes like this, and “imploded star” includes both. » Read more..
So, The Force Awakens is no longer the top opening-weekend earner at the box office here in the United States. Lucasfilm’s sister company Marvel has taken that crown with their latest effort, by far their biggest movie to date. Avengers: Infinity War is a seminal film not only for how much money it has made but also what it represents. Ten years of steady buildup has finally exploded into an epic movie on a scale that few others in history can match, in terms of both scope and budget.
Of course, the runaway success of the Avengers’ latest film has drawn inevitable comparisons between the Marvel cinematic franchise and Star Wars. Directly comparing a movie like Avengers: Infinity War to a movie like, for instance, The Last Jedi, isn’t a useful exercise since they are very different movies coming out at very different times for each franchise. However, I do believe there are things that Star Wars as a franchise can learn from both how Marvel has gotten themselves to this point, and from Infinity War in itself.
Before we go on, please know that there will be spoilers discussed below regarding Infinity War. If you have not seen the film, go ahead and close the window now and come back when you’ve had a chance to go and see it.
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One of the biggest early distinctions between the Expanded Universe and the new canon was how quickly the Empire appeared to collapse. This was partly due to Timothy Zahn and others having a freer hand in interpreting Return of the Jedi‘s happy ending than Chuck Wendig did when writing Aftermath, but more broadly, the EU and its foundation in the worldbuilding of West End Games tended toward a “maximalist” view of the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
This means, speaking very roughly, that the million worlds or so which comprised the Empire were treated, for the most part, like a million Corellias—the Empire was a tightly-knit society with a largely cosmopolitan shared (read: imposed) culture linked by a pervasive HoloNet. A hardened state whose leader was genuinely supported by most of his people, and who had a million Corellias’ worth of capital ships floating around to do his bidding. The tactical significance of Palpatine’s death was in the blow to Imperials’ morale and cohesion, but the vast majority of them remained Imperials. Their defeat was a fifteen-year game of Risk: countless military engagements and a slow chipping away of territory and resources until surrender and extermination were the only choices left.
In the new canon, on the other hand, “galactic society” is a much looser concept, and the Empire was more akin to a house of cards. While initially popular, of course, and still performing the role of a benevolent leader when necessary, Palpatine saw the Death Star as a means of keeping everyone in line, not just a fringe of Rebel hotbeds. He strung the Imperial Senate along for twenty years on the expectation that Krennic and/or Tarkin would eventually deliver his trump card, and when he dissolved and arrested the Senate only to lose the Death Star immediately afterward, in a sense, that was the ballgame. Dissent was everywhere now, and while the fleet was indeed mighty, no canon military force could have maintained order on a million unruly worlds at once. » Read more..
Alan Dean Foster’s novelization for The Force Awakens begins with an excerpt from the Journal of the Whills, which predicts that the cycle of light and dark will be settled by:
“The resolving of grey
Through refined Jedi sight.”
The common interpretation (regardless of whether Foster had any insight into a grand sequel trilogy plan, which is doubtful, given no such plan existed) is that the trilogy is taking us into an era where the good-evil binary of the Force becomes more complicated and “grey”, and a new solution to the conflict must be found. But read the poem again. “Resolving” grey does not mean grey is the answer – it means grey is the problem which must be resolved. A closer reading of the sequel trilogy reveals that it may be the clearest portrayal of the battle between good and evil in all of Star Wars.
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Last Shot is a zany Han and Lando novel, but among all the fun there were moments that covered some pretty weighty issues. The presence alone of an Ewok slicer, Peekpa, makes us question some of the assumptions we’ve had about Star Wars aliens in and out of universe. In another scene (details below the spoiler cut), Older has an alien character discuss how their species is still stereotyped and discriminated against by humans, even though they’re all supposed to be equal. Finally, Lando’s droid, L3-37, is an advocate for droid rights and while I don’t know how much of that will show up in the Solo movie (it’s enough to warrant a mention on L3’s StarWars.com databank page), the relationship between droid and organic sentience is a major theme of the book. These are the sorts of topics that Star Wars really papers over or treats superficially, if at all.
Before I get into the topic in full, I did want to briefly give Last Shot a straightforward review. I greatly enjoyed it. The book felt like coming back home to the old-school EU with its take on the post-Endor New Republic and the adventures of Lando and Han, or the relationship between Han and Leia (my favorite part of the book aside from the scenes below). There are some great lines and hilarious scenes, especially featuring certain droids near the beginning of the book.
But as much as I quite enjoyed all of that, I want to focus on aliens and droids—populations in Star Wars that have to live by humanity’s rules, and who might defy human expectations if given a chance. This book does just that—it’s the little things, but Daniel José Older gives us things we have not seen in Star Wars before by treating aliens and droids with respect. They’re involved in jokes, but they are not the butt of jokes. Minor spoilers beneath the cut.
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