Friday, September 2, 2016
Star Wars off my chest
As I mentioned in my previous post, much of this summer was spent in a galaxy far, far away. I like being in that galaxy, despite hating the prequel trilogy and not caring much about all the stuff going on in novels and cartoons. The Force Awakens kind of re-ignited the passion, though, so I have found myself watching the Rebels cartoon, and buying and reading some of the new novels coming out. Before The Force Awakens, Disney and Lucasfilm discontinued the ongoing, extremely large "Expanded Universe", and started a new era with a new canon (though so far, they are basically just re-jigging the old expanded universe a bit and adding the new stuff), so here was my chance to jump back in and follow the stories that are meant to support and enhance the new trilogy of movies. Despite some silliness, The Force Awakens did revitalize my love for the series and now I'm all aboard for the further adventures of Rey and Kylo. I guess I'll never get rid of this hangup.
Tarkin is a novel that, as you probably guesed, delves into the character known as Grand Moff Tarkin (portrayed by Peter Cushing in the very first Star Wars). It takes place somewhere between the prequels and the original trilogy and was one of the first new canon books that would begin bridge the old films with the new Disney-funded trilogy. I admit I haven't finished it, because it's fucking terrible. The prose is completely uninteresting. I never saw a published novel, one that probably sells millions, have so many run-on sentences. It rivals even my own blog. And they aren't even interesting. Add to this the fact that the story feels lazy and uninspired, and slow and totally not evoking any sense of the stuff that makes Star Wars so appealing: larger-than-life characters, fun adventure, exciting twists and turns...instead, there are echoes of other popular franchises ("The Hunger Games" came to mind) given a Star Wars-twist but it just doesn't work at all. I suspect I'll never get through this one.
On the opposite side of the scale sits Chuck Wendig's first foray into Star Wars, with a story that chronologically is much closer to The Force Awakens (which also makes it more interesting as I'm curious about all the unanswered questions that pop up related to this film) and which has an incredibly snappy, breezy prose...that most fans seem to hate. It has more than 2,000 reviews on Amazon, and currently has a whopping 2.5/5 rating. I just can't wrap my head around that. After decades of boring and uninspired drivel Wendig presents a Star Wars story with a solid pace, action and adventure, and, perhaps best of all, he writes a story mostly featuring new characters instead of filling his story with countless cameos and nods and winks to the movies. It is, compared to most other Star Wars novels, a really fresh reading experience, with great characterization (Admiral Sloane and Norra Wexley being the main stars), a somewhat unusual prose that I personally find totally fitting what Star Wars is about (that is, it never gets long-winded and dreary like, say, the prequels): it's snappy, it's fun, epic and personal all at the same time.
There was a huge backlash to this novel, to the point that Wendig reined in his style for the sequel (see below) and I just can't fathom that so many people rather prefer the dull prose of other Star Wars authors, like Claudia Gray or James Luceno.
Lost Stars is really a Young Adult novel, so I guess I have to be a little lenient. This novel got rave reviews all over and the Star Wars fandom really embraced it. It's a novel of indistinct prose, with two predictable main characters - star-crossed lovers - and describes their lives and adventures during the original trilogy, allowing Gray to continously pull in scenes and characters from the original trilogy to the point of total overkill. It's, obviously, an easy and fast read, but it doesn't resonate or capture any of the screen magic. If they want me to accept this as "canon", they should probably cut down a bit on the chance encounters with "famous" Star Wars characters. But fans love it, what do I know.
Gray redeems herself somewhat with Bloodline, the novel that is the closest to The Force Awakens chronologically (so far). The main character of the novel is Leia herself, but there is space for new novel-only characters, and within its pages there are a few hints as to what exactly transpired between 1983's Return of the Jedi and last year's return of the saga. For all that, the prose is still very bland, but easy to read. I didn't really notice much difference between this one and the YA novel mentioned above in terms of style or complexity. There's a lot more politics in this one, but they are as well-rendered as the politics on display in the prequel trilogy, and not very interesting. Gray also opens the story at a point where it's not gotten very interesting yet; the inciting incident (Senate comes under attack by terrorists) should have been at the very beginning. I'm also not comfortable with the timeline as it seems to clash with The Force Awakens (I never get the feeling Han and Leia saw each other only a couple of years before the movie - they seem to have been estranged for at least a decade) but this is not Gray's fault, of course. Anyway, yeah, it's a step up from Lost Stars with more action and more interesting secondary characters, but the pacing is off and the tale told isn't very interesting. Some of the dialogue is way off, some of it is pretty spot-on.
Following the backlash against Aftermath, Life Debt tones down the very distinct style Wendig employed in the first book of this trilogy-to-be, and it seems he also heard the complaints that there were too few scenes involving pre-existing saga characters. Like in The Force Awakens, Han Solo takes on a larger role (in the last half of the novel), and we also get more Leia and Chewbacca. The non-movie characters remain the most interesting, though, with Sloane and Wexley, two female characters, on either side of the Imperial-Rebellion divide. Once again, Wendig manages to capture something of the pace and adventure of the original trilogy, but there's a taint of prequelitis here as well, as politics come more into play (yet it's the action-stuff, like the liberation of Kashyyyk, that comes out head and shoulders as the most entertaining). Wendig's cast of characters become more nuanced and interesting, and he mostly manages to write dialogue that feels true and fitting the saga. It's kind of remarkable how such an unlimited playing field - a whole galaxy where basically anything goes, even against science - still seems to produce stories that don't really take Star Wars to truly new places, but there are some neat ideas in here that I haven't encountered before and yet feel like they could have always belonged. Life Debt, then, is the most engaging Star Wars novel I've read, and I am excited to reach the conclusion sometime next year with the third book.
My favorite book, however, isn't a novel, but a coffee table tome, The Art of The Force Awakens. I've always loved concept art and design, seeing ideas being born into concepts that are either discarded, changed or finalized for a movie. I was very curious about how The Force Awakens came to life, what thoughts the producers and writers and directors had, how it all became shaped into this return of a saga thought finished for good. There's a lot of art in this book, and a lot of it was kinda surprising, in a "Wow did they actually consider that?" way, and a lot of it makes me sad we didn't see it realized. I have a strong suspicion some of the concept art presented here will show itself on the screen come Episode VIII, though, in particular some city concept art that seems to fit the scenes that were shot in Dubrovnik for the upcoming Rian Johnson-directed sequel. This is a book I'll probably flip through a lot, I love seeing all this stuff so much. Costumes, creatures, vehicles, landscapes, all the creativity in one place. Sometimes (daily) I wish I had become a concept designer at Lucasfilm. I would love it so hard. Going to work to draw Star Wars stuff, dammit. Highly recommended tome for any fan of Star Wars, of course.
I'm not going to post reviews of all the Star Wars merchandise I've wasted money on this year, especially at Star Wars Celebration, but I admit I feel like I've been suckered in when all I really want to do is read The Winds of Winter.
Posted by R.J. at 2:25 AM