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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Stories of Light and Dark: Is There Merit in a Clone Wars Adaptation?

The merits of page-to-screen adaptations are an endless discussion, and “The Book Is Always Better” seems to be an adage that will never die. However, between my middle school years and now, it seems that people are more willing to make allowances for the differences in medium. You can’t tell a story through film the same way it was told on the page. Different tools are required to tell the same story, and usually there’s a time constraint, which causes certain elements to be cut.

Less frequently discussed is the reverse: the screen-to-page adaptations. The various novelizations of film and TV. What is the merit of books like The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark?

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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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Second Look: Memories From the Menu of Dex’s Diner

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

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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