Often, I feel like reactions to more Thrawn content roughly parallel the reactions to more Clone Wars or prequel-era content. Those who are big fans say ”yes, more of what I like please!” while those who are not either express dismay, boredom, or the exact opposite sentiment of the fans: “ugh, more of what I don’t like.”
At first blush, it’s easy to see Thrawn: Alliances as an attempt to capture a bigger audience than just fans of Thrawn or fans of The Clone Wars. I think that’s a little too simple though – for one thing, there are people who are fans of both and see the whole thing as a false dichotomy. For another, cynicism doesn’t write books (at least not good ones) – interest in telling a story does. And if there was thought put into what the fans wanted, it was probably with the intent of delivering a story people would like as opposed to thinking of ways to make people open their wallets.
So why did I bring up a false fandom dichotomy and a cynical sales theory in the first place? Well, I think there’s something there – but it’s not about fanservice or personal storytelling preferences. It’s about the idea of “more of the same” and how the combination of more Thrawn and more Clone Wars produced something new. This story is strongest when the Clone Wars setting and the character of Thrawn are put together – with the result that we also get a pretty good portrayal of Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker in a storyline that wouldn’t feel out of place as a mini-arc in The Clone Wars. Maybe you bought the book for Anakin or for Thrawn, but you may end up enjoying how the rest of the book sheds insight on those characters. Personally, I went in excited about both Imperial intrigues and Padmé — but I ended up appreciating how it all came together.
I avoid major plot spoilers below — but the Padmé section (“The Senator of Naboo”) has plot details you may not want to read until you’ve finished the novel.
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Solo was a film that I never thought to ask for, but went in hoping for a fun summer popcorn movie. After the heaviness of both Rogue One and The Last Jedi, I was ready for a more lighthearted film with lower stakes that weren’t about the fate of the entire galaxy. And for the most part I got exactly that; it was fun, there was good cast chemistry, and it added to the world of the Star Wars franchise without trying to outdo the films and stories that came before it. But though I had a smile on my face for most of the movie, I cannot truly say that I loved it. Because it was also a movie that sharply reminded me that people like myself are generally not the ones making creative decisions in this franchise.
Solo, like so many Star Wars works that came before it, is one that was so clearly (painfully clearly) written by men. The treatment of two of the female characters in particular show the blindspots that come when you’ve never had to think about what representation means to you on a personal level. That doesn’t make it an irredeemably bad movie, or make them bad people, but it shows the limitations that result when you are used to seeing yourself, day in and day out, on screen and behind the scenes and don’t understand how much it means to finally have a character who looks and acts like you. And it’s for that reason that I cannot say that I love this movie. Like with many things in pop culture, it’s one that I like…with reservations.
And with Solo, that reservation is: this movie really let down its women.
Several large spoilers below, proceed at your own risk
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Like many people, I kept my expectations low going into Solo. I thought it was a movie that I wasn’t sure needed to exist, but the trailers looked pretty cool and I hoped to get a good Star Wars movie out of it. So when people asked me what I thought of the movie after watching it, I was surprised to realize that I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It wasn’t like The Last Jedi, which needed a few viewings to process what was happening. Solo was pretty straightforward – I was sure that I liked it, but I wasn’t sure how much. I told a few people that I thought it was “just fine” but even as the words came out of my mouth, I thought that I was damning the movie by faint praise and that just didn’t seem right. The movie was different from the previous episodic films and even from Rogue One, but it wasn’t a bad movie. I liked it.
After a while, I realized that Solo felt a little different to me than other Star Wars movies. I would almost say less cinematic, except Solo is clearly a movie made by moviemakers conscious of cinema tradition in general (the movie has echoes of Lucas’s oeuvre, noir, crime dramas, etc.). But despite its cinematic trappings, it felt more like a season of TV or an Expanded Universe novel condensed down into two hours. This isn’t a negative – I like Star Wars TV and I like SW books, both Legends and canon. But something about the story – more than just assorted lore namedrops – reminded me of the type of Star Wars story telling that isn’t “necessary” (you don’t have to read every book) but tells us a little more about the Star Wars universe by providing texture and character. That’s what Solo is, I think – it’s a story that’s available if you want it, but not mandatory if you just don’t have any interest in the subject matter or era.
Spoilers beneath the cut! I’m avoiding major plot points on purpose, but I always advocate being as spoiler free as possible!
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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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It is just over three months on from the detonation of the bomb that was The Last Jedi. The fires of controversy are indeed still burning and show no sign of diminishing. In the wake of all that, those flames also very recently got a hefty dose of oxygen with the release of the film novelization. Does the novel salvage the film for me? No, that’s demanding far too much of it, especially as it has to work with the plot of the film which causes so many problems in the first place. And then there was the effect it had on the wider Star Wars universe. Um, how to put it? Where’s that very appropriate GIF? Ah yes, here it is:
Yes, whatever hopes I had for how the film might improve on the success of Rogue One‘s masterpiece of coordination the year before were pretty much dashed. And so it was on the books – Phasma gave some quite interesting info on how the First Order actually operates, The Legends of Luke Skywalker remains a great set of Luke tales, but the film followed through on both in the most mundane way possible.
So then, what can Mr. Fry actually do with one book in the wake of all this cavalier destruction? Quite a bit as it happens.
His previous work has been on books like the Essential Atlas or the Essential Guide to Warfare – books that are all about trying to make it all work. Or bringing a new take to material you might consider humdrum. In this respect the books Moving Target and The Weapon of a Jedi are each based around what seems a blindingly obvious character observation. In Moving Target’s case, a consideration of how the revelation of the second Death Star had a devastating effect on Leia. How could it not? Yet no one had spun that story into being. Similarly, bereft of anyone to teach him, how does Luke even start to work out how to use the Force? He had done it on the Death Star run but he did not know how he had. Again, seems so easy, so obvious, but when I read Weapon of a Jedi, the story felt new. » Read more..