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Force Collector: Looking at the Galaxy with a Fresh Eye

This review is almost completely spoiler-free, I mention some minor details about who the main characters are but don’t get into the plot events.

I’d been curious about Force Collector ever since it was announced. They told us that it was a middle-grade novel about a kid gathering artifacts to learn more about the Force and the Jedi specifically. Generally, Jedi stories aren’t my favorite: but stories about artifacts and the general mythical environment around Jedi and the Force? I love those. The teaser info we got from author Kevin Shinick at New York Comic-Con sealed the deal: he told us it was a story about someone trying to uncover the events of the Star Wars films who had never heard of or seen anything to do with those events. The main character, Karr, gets strange visions when he touches artifacts that have “experienced” a lot of history or momentous events (historians would envy him that ability!) and begins to uncover bits and pieces of Star Wars history through experiencing vignettes from the books, comics, and movies.

Force Collector isn’t a “clip show” kind of story, and thank goodness for that. It reminds me of the initial pitch for Lost Stars, where Claudia Gray said she was initially told to write a story that introduced the YA audience to the original Star Wars films in a new way – and she created such a compelling story with her original characters that she went well beyond that original idea and created something special. The visions we see in Force Collector are interstitial visions, showing scenes before and after key Star Wars events to show them in a different context, but it’s the framing story that’s the real star for me. I liked Karr as a character, as well as his droid RZ-7 and his friend Maize. Karr’s whole deal is what got me interested in the book in the first place, and the two kids trying to figure out who they are and what they want in life is what kept me reading. It’s a story about regular people in Star Wars, and I love that stuff.

That’s not to say that the visions and Force stuff aren’t interesting. They are, but maybe for a different reason. When Del Rey’s Resistance Reborn recently released, there was some discussion about whether the book was approachable for new readers of the Star Wars literary universe. Some people made some excellent explainers about what people needed to know before reading it (you can take Star Wars Explained as the premiere example of that) while others got lists of lore and facts from the book to add to other lists of lore and facts. And it got me thinking about how different readers grow and become familiar with the universe differently. Some people enjoy reference books with charts and diagrams, some people really appreciate explainer videos, and others better digest “facts” and lore through the form of a narrative story. That’s basically what the premise of Force Collector is: it’s a book accessible to readers completely new to Star Wars books, that presents them with information about the Star Wars galaxy in a narrative fashion. And I think maybe that’s why a successful framing story is so important for this: Karr and Maize are just as new to a lot of this Force and Jedi stuff as a brand new movies-only reader might be, and being able to identify with them as characters helps readers explore Star Wars lore all the easier.

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Resistance Reborn: A Found-Family Reunion

Spoiler Warning: This review will mention characters announced in previously-released official excerpts and briefly mention things about them. I won’t reveal any surprises or unannounced characters – but calibrate your spoiler tolerance accordingly.

Rebecca Roanhorse has accomplished a great feat with Resistance Reborn. She’s taken a book with an ensemble cast – seriously, quite a huge cast – and given each character a personal touch. Characters show up from previous Star Wars canon books, comics, and video games but in a way that doesn’t feel shoe-horned or gimmicky. That’s very hard. Star Wars doesn’t have the best record with that, though sometimes it works really well. Resistance Reborn is one of those times.

Roanhorse has described the book as “bringing the squad back together” and that’s essentially what it does. But somehow Roanhorse manages to juggle this large cast of characters while making all of them feel vital to the story, and getting them all just right. It’s one thing to get film characters like Finn, Poe, and Rey right (and honestly – they’re not even that easy to get right), it’s another thing to take characters seen only on the page or in games and channel them in a way that feels authentic to the way their original creators wrote them. But while Resistance Reborn is a love letter to characters we’ve grown fond of in other places, it’s also a great character study in how these characters handle adversity.

It’s perhaps an understatement to say that the events of The Last Jedi were traumatic for our main characters, and impactful on the galaxy as a whole. There were deep, personal struggles for Leia, Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, and for the Resistance itself. When the movie finished with the First Order in seeming victory and the Resistance reduced to a handful of people who could fit onto the Millennium Falcon, many of us wondered – what could possibly be next? Leia said that “we have everything we need”, and Resistance Reborn is the exploration of what that really means. It engages with characters on a personal level – from the main characters I just mentioned to new characters we haven’t met yet. How does the galaxy deal with the First Order’s triumph? What happens to the worlds of the Republic?

There’s some ugliness involved, and some beauty too. Above all, growth. That’s what makes Resistance Reborn a great read. It’s about people and their character. About collaboration with evil and persisting despite of it.

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Not Just a Walk in the Park: Why the Galaxy’s Edge Books are Worth Reading

Tie-ins have a bad name. The term isn’t neutral, and it frequently suggests low quality, or stories that are simple cash grabs. Discussions of the recently-released Galaxy’s Edge tie-in novels Crash of Fate and Black Spire have occasionally focused on references to locations and objects from the parks that come across almost like product placement or commercials for the Disney Star Wars theme park. To be certain, corporate synergies are at play when designing and creating products that tie into other aspects of a multimedia franchise, whether it’s a theme park or a newly-released movie. But are Star Wars tie-in novels published by Disney-Lucasfilm Press and Del Rey just commercials for other Star Wars products? I don’t think they are.

A lot of my favorite Star Wars novels published over the last few years have been tie-ins. Del Rey’s Battlefront novels are among the highest-regarded of the adult canon Star Wars novels, and they have the name of a video game plastered on the front of them. The Servants of the Empire series tied into the Star Wars Rebels television series, but they’re among the highest-quality middle-grade novels in Disney-Lucasfilm Press’s repertoire of high-quality middle-grade novels (I will always say that you should never miss out on the Star Wars young adult and/or middle-grade novels, because they are almost always superb). Heck, Rogue One was surrounded by well-regarded books from the film’s novelization to companion stories like Catalyst, Rebel Rising, and Guardians of the Whills. And I haven’t even mentioned any of the Marvel creations here because I’m focusing on the Del Rey and Disney-Lucasfilm novels.

These tie-in novels exist to do more than just promote a film or theme park, more than just making a quick buck out of people who are excited about a related product. They are genuinely good stories that flesh out and expand characters and locations from their baseline story. Think about the Canto Bight novella collection: we got a series of great stories about random characters we might see for just a moment in The Last Jedi. Those great stories are what you’re paying for.

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Cover Art of Myths & Fables

Myths & Fables & Bedtime Stories: On Reading the Tie-In for Galaxy’s Edge

“George, you can type this s[tuff], but you sure can’t say it!”

Harrison Ford

First night at Celebration Chicago, my dad and I plopped on the floor of our hotel room, pizza in hand, and cracked open Master & Apprentice, freshly purchased from the Del Rey booth. Trading off eating and reading at each double-paragraph break, my dad somehow always ended up with the sections filled with Kitonaks, Shawda Ubbs playing Growdi harmoniques, and long strings of Huttese. We finished the first chapter that evening and did not continue this activity the following nights. Partly, we were simply too exhausted by the end of each day’s events, but also – as good a novel as it is – Master & Apprentice was simply not written to be read aloud.

In contrast, when I decided to try reading aloud a single story in George Mann’s Myths & Fables, by the second page, my tone had taken quite the dramatic turn. By page three I was up out of my chair, pacing the apartment. Page five had me gesticulating with my free hand like a bard with an audience gathered about a tavern’s hearth.

Now this is a book tailor-made to be read aloud, beside a fireplace or at the foot of a bed.

Spoilers and Direct Quotes Ahead

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Saying Farewell to Thrawn (Probably) and Why it’s (Probably) for the Best

This piece avoids spoilers for Thrawn: Treason but does make vague mention of certain plot threads and new characters.

I fondly remember the day that Thrawn’s canon appearance on Star Wars Rebels was announced at Star Wars Celebration. There had been rumors and speculation that we’d be seeing Thrawn on the show, but nothing solid — and we didn’t even know if it would be the Thrawn we knew, or a new-canon Thrawn-inspired stand-in like Valen Rudor was for Soontir Fel. I asked a friend to text me if there was any official word — and we were pleased and relieved to hear that Grand Admiral Thrawn would be appearing on our TV screens. What none of us even came close to anticipating, though, would be that Thrawn’s TV appearance would be accompanied by a new Thrawn novel by the man himself, Timothy Zahn.

Years later, at the conclusion of a new Thrawn trilogy that isn’t officially a “Thrawn Trilogy”, it seems kind of strange that the Zahn Thrawn novel was the thing that blew our minds, instead of the TV appearance. We should have expected the books — that’s where he came from — and been surprised by his leap to the screen. Regardless, it was an exciting and wonderful time for old-school Expanded Universe fans and it was wonderful seeing Thrawn brought to life for new audiences young and old.

Thrawn’s fate remained unknown at the end of Star Wars Rebels, except that he was “taken off the board.” The three Thrawn novels — ending with the brand-new Thrawn: Treason — filled in the gaps before and during the third and fourth seasons of Rebels, never outpacing the TV show. It seems fair to say that Thrawn’s story is probably done — at least chronologically — until Dave Filoni sees fit to use him again. It’s not impossible that we’ll see Thrawn again in a post-Rebels story, but I wouldn’t bet any money on it. But you know, maybe that’s for the best?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against Thrawn. He was a fundamental part of my EU fandom and I was and am glad to see him transition into canon. But after two seasons of television and a novel trilogy about him, it’s possible the story possibilities with him have run their course. At least, the stories of Thrawn the Imperial Grand Admiral (what happens to him post-Empire could be another story!). But that’s not a bad thing. My favorite part of the three Thrawn novels Tim Zahn has recently penned turned out to be characters who weren’t Thrawn: Pryce in the first one, Amidala in the second one, and a whole ensemble cast in Treason.

There’s a whole galaxy of characters out there, and I’m excited to see where things go from here.

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