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Tag Archive: Timothy Zahn


Review by C.J. Bunce

As you will no doubt hear as moviegoers walk out of theaters this holiday season, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a very “different” Star Wars movie.  That said, despite writer/director Rian Johnson’s assertions to the contrary, it is very much an echo of the second film of the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, with several parallel elements you’ll encounter along the way.  Picking up where director J.J. Abrams left off two years ago in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Johnson seems to take the bits and pieces of questions raised in Abrams’ film, answers a few, dismisses a few, and ignores the rest, perhaps for Abrams to pick them up again as he re-takes the reins in two years for the final film in the Skywalker family saga.  So many questions seem to have been definitively tied up by the end of The Last Jedi, moviegoers are now left to ponder for the next two years, “What could Episode IX possibly be about?”

The Last Jedi is most intriguing when it emulates some of the surprises and emotional impact of last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story–a bold, unique film that falls outside the three trilogies of franchise films, but provided a fantastically gritty, nostalgic, and heart-pounding story that put the “war” back in Star Wars.  An opening scene in The Last Jedi featuring the heroic death of a new character made me sit up thinking another gritty war movie was coming (only swap a guerilla land war for World War II-inspired bombing runs).  Heroism is the theme of The Last Jedi, and every character gets a chance to be a hero, but the damage is not as gut-wrenching as Rogue One.  Yet, depending on who your favorite character was in The Force Awakens, every fan should find something in The Last Jedi to be happy about.  Even if it might not offer up the excitement of the original trilogy, the third of the new annual holiday Star Wars adventures will be a great excuse to get together with family and friends for the event itself–annual Star Wars movies are becoming what the annual Christmas Special has become for Doctor Who fans, an event that for many will be bigger than whatever you think of the film.

The actors are top-notch in The Last Jedi, including Carrie Fisher in her final performance as General Leia Organa, although Hamill’s work stands out and could easily merit an Oscar nomination.  Alec Guinness’s genius as the similar Jedi wizard Obi-Wan Kenobi of the original Star Wars was in his reserved performance and iconic utterances of wisdom.  Here Hamill shows that Hollywood has missed the boat for 40 years by not featuring him regularly in mainstream films, bringing a powerful and emotional performance from beginning to end.  And gone are the days of Star Wars’ clunky dialogue–Johnson’s success is pulling out the stilted exchanges Star Wars had began to become known for.

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Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy–Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command–excited a generation of Star Wars fans when the original trilogy was in the past and no future movies were planned.  It’s greatest value was in its continuation of our favorite characters: Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and the droids.  But it also introduced two key players: Mara Jade aka the Emperor’s Hand who would one day become the object of Luke Skywalker’s affection, and a blue-skinned, white-garbed officer of the Imperial Navy called Grand Admiral Thrawn.  Thrawn became part of the post-Disney canon in the animated series Star Wars Rebels, which reflected the foreboding leader of Zahn’s original books.  This month Zahn brings Thrawn’s rise to power into Star Wars canon again in his new novel Star Wars: Thrawn.

Thrawn is a military overview of the Nazi Germany-inspired Imperial Navy, recounting an exiled, strategy-savvy “Chiss” (Thrawn’s alien race) who uses his unique abilities to climb the ladder and assume greater power as part of the growing Empire following the events of Revenge of the Sith.  Zahn includes first person narration by Thrawn in both introductory chapter paragraphs and observations inserted into the text as he keys in on descriptive details of every encounter.  Thrawn is Zahn’s attempt at a Holmesian genius, a calculating survivor who still must rely on a young cadet (his Watson) named Eli Vanto, used primarily for his ability to translate both words and culture.  Unlike Zahn’s original trilogy, Thrawn feels more enmeshed in Star Wars prequel storytelling than the original trilogy movies.  By showing Thrawn’s backstory as an exiled leader who finds his way out, Thrawn also reads as if Zahn was attempting to make Thrawn the Khan (a la Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) of the Star Wars universe.  Unfortunately we don’t really get to see Thrawn in any confrontation with a powerful foe as Khan saw in Star Trek II, although he is potentially as intelligent and crafty as Star Trek’s Khan.

   

It’s Thrawn’s backstory before the events in the Thrawn novel that appear to contain the action and intrigue missing here–Thrawn both before his exile and during his exile sound like the makings of a great book.  Instead here the focus on Thrawn’s own quirks, like a fascination for Clone Wars era technology, and Thrawn’s awkward attempts to navigate the lower ranks of the Imperial chain of command, make for a slow read.  This is in part due to an unnecessary but lengthy sideline story of the struggles of Ahrinda Pryce, who will become a governor of Lothal in Star Wars Rebels.  Pryce’s story takes over a fair chunk of this 448-page novel.  The time given to Pryce and Vanto pull away some much needed action, intrigue, and suspense.

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Never been to a comic book or pop culture convention before?  Always wanted to go to San Diego Comic-Con but you don’t have the vacation time available or the funds?  Planet Comicon is next weekend in Kansas City and although it isn’t as big as SDCC, it is a great way to get a complete three-day convention experience centrally located in the Midwest, ideal for a last-minute road trip for the family or a car full of friends.  It’s less than 8 hours by car from Dallas, less than 7 hours from Minneapolis, a little more than 7 hours from Indianapolis, and a little more than 8 hours from Denver.  And you don’t need to buy advance tickets–you can purchase them at the door.

So why make the trip?  How about meeting Jason Isaacs, the latest captain of a Star Trek television series and star of the Harry Potter movies (and great TV roles)?  Want to compare notes on Doctor Who companions with Catherine Tate (in her first U.S. convention appearance) and Billie Piper?   Want to talk Arrow and Torchwood with John Barrowman, or have another chance to meet Arrow star Stephen Amell?  Are you a Hellboy and Star Trek fan and haven’t yet met Ron Perlman?  It’s the Star Wars 40th anniversary–how about meeting the newest actor to portray Darth Vader, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story actor Spencer Wilding?

Are you a Browncoat? Firefly’s Summer Glau is scheduled to attend, and Supernatural’s Jim Beaver.  Do you want to talk 20 years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Emma Caulfield?  Are you a fan of Lost Girl and need to get your fae fix with Anna Silk, Rachel Skarsten, Zoie Palmer, and Emmanuelle Vaugier?

Want to buy comics, books, or sketches from some of the best creators from across the country, like one of the all-time greats, Howard Chaykin, or Timothy Zahn, creator of the new novel Thrawn?  Click here to see everyone you can meet at Artist Alley.  Do you collect busts of superheroes and are missing some key characters?  Check out thousands of square feet of dealers selling everything from action figures to T-shirts to limited edition prints and toy lightsabers.  Whatever you collect, crazy or not, if it’s related to TV, movies or comics you’ll likely find something there.  And that’s just part of your day.  There will also be panels, and cosplay is always a highlight of the show.

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Star Wars Rebels officially crossed over into the Star Wars Cinematic Universe in December with the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  The series’ plucky little astromech droid C1-10P or “Chopper” was seen at the Rebel Base on Yavin 4, and the series space vessel the Ghost was also seen docked there and in other scenes, including a scene with the Rebel Fleet making a jump to hyperspace, and fighting at the Battle of Scarif (no doubt there are some great opportunities here to replay Rogue One from the perspective of the crew of the Ghost).  At the same time, Grand Admiral Thrawn from Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy of sequels to Return of the Jedi is now firmly enmeshed into the Star Wars canon, and a new trailer teases even more events will bridge the original trilogy with the prequel trilogy.

It all begins with Obi-Wan Kenobi’s message–a warning–sent to the remaining Jedi after Anakin Skywalker massacred so many (along with Emperor Palpatine’s Order 66) in Revenge of the Sith.  Stephen Stanton, who is known for his ability to mimic Sir Alec Guinness’s voice, is the new voice of elder Kenobi.  Stanton has voiced other Star Wars roles, most recently as the Mon Calamari Admiral Raddus in Rogue One.  The second part of Season 3, continuing this week, will feature Mon Mothma on the Ghost, more Tarkin, and Forest Whitaker again taking on the role of Saw Garrera from Rogue One, albeit an earlier, less cybernetically modified incarnation.

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The trailer for Season “3.5” also shows a bipedal Darth Maul in the shadows of Kenobi’s bonfire.  It looks like it is time for a revisit of their battle in The Phantom Menace.  Watch closely for the guards surrounding Grand Admiral Thrawn, black-armored Death Troopers, which are apparently tied to the “Legends” (the old Expanded Universe) creation of a zombie trooper legion in the new Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide.  Death Troopers are also seen in Rogue One. 

Here is the preview of Star Wars Rebels 2017 episodes:

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Heir to the Jedi Star Wars cover

This week will see the release of the third novel in the new Expanded Universe of Star Wars under Disney ownership, with Kevin Hearne’s Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi.  As with the first new canon novel Star Wars: A New Dawn, (previously reviewed here at borg.com) the title carries some secondary meaning.  The first major tie-in novel years after Return of the Jedi was Timothy Zahn’s successful Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, and there is a certain subtle nostalgia element to the similar title here.  The novel recounts some solo missions by Luke Skywalker after he destroys the Death Star at the end of A New Hope, and it is all told by Hearne in the first person voice.

Telling a story from the first person viewpoint takes some real mastery, and if not done right it can result in some clunky storytelling issues.  Telling a story from the mind of a key character like Luke Skywalker brings with it its own problems.  The biggest is that everyone who grew up with Luke has their own view of what makes the character tick, and giving readers a canon view–a “this is the right and only view of Luke”–perspective makes it easy to throw off a segment of readers.  Although I think Heir to the Jedi will certainly appeal to a new generation of readers, particularly those who have not read several of the newly labeled Legends novels, Hearne gives us a Luke that is not altogether that likeable, smart, or savvy a hero as you might hope for.

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Star Wars 5 cover   Dark Empire 4

The decade after Return of the Jedi premiered in theaters in 1983 was a dark period for fans of the Force.  The only place to get a glimpse of a possible future for the Star Wars universe was in Marvel Comics, but that fizzled out in 1986.  In that same year Mike Richardson’s Dark Horse began publishing comics and five years later, in 1991, Dark Horse published the exciting Dark Empire series, its first Star Wars title under its license with Lucasfilm.  The next year Timothy Zahn launched the first book in a trilogy, Heir to the Empire, and between Zahn’s books and subsequent novels and Dark Horse’s various titles, fans could at last revisit their favorite characters and places, in the same way fans of Star Trek had been able to enjoy that franchise for decades.

With Lucas selling Star Wars to Disney, Disney has already taken over the Star Wars novels, resulting in some fun reads in the past year (see our advance reviews here and here).  Beginning in January a new Star Wars series begins, back at Marvel Comics, throwing out the continuity developed over 23 years at Dark Horse.  Fans should have no fear, as writers and artists from the Dark Horse years are already creating the architecture of the Empire and Rebellion for Marvel.  What is uncertain is the fate of the hundreds of comic books in the Dark Horse catalog, since Dark Horse may not sell any of those after this Thursday, January 1, 2015.  Marvel Comics will likely re-publish the bestsellers under its new “Legends” brand, but it’s not known whether more obscure titles will be offered for years if ever again.

Star Wars mega bundle excerpt Dark Horse

So Dark Horse is going out in style, and as always, looking out for its readers, offering 50% off single-issue digital comics on its website, plus a “Farewell Star Wars Bundle,” all of Dark Horse’s digital Star Wars issues for $300.  At first blush this appears to be 568 issues of comic books, but if you delve deeper you’ll see it also includes the full run of Marvel’s Star Wars issues #1-107, plus a few dozen issues in each of 12 other included “Omnibus” editions.  You’d pay $1,000 easily for those in single issues of Marvel’s Star Wars run today.  So basically you’re getting hundreds of comic books, many with cover prices at more than $3.50, for less than 50 cents each.  But there’s more reasons this bundle is a real deal.

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Star Wars A New Dawn cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

How did the Empire power all those Star Destroyers anyway?

The new, Disney era of Star Wars story continuity begins today with the release of the novel Star Wars: A New Dawn.  Fans of the Star Wars tie-in novels shouldn’t be disappointed with this new story and completely new characters living in that galaxy, far, far away between the events of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.  Its primary draw for those fans willing to give the new Star Wars a chance is the introduction of a trained Jedi named Kanan Jarrus and a mysterious Twi’lek named Hera.  But its best success is in author John Jackson Miller’s world building (or galaxy building)–one with more lead female characters than male.

In the galaxy that George Lucas built, the rarest creature to be found was a woman, whether a human, a rebel, an Imperial, or an alien.  Miller does not skip a beat to redefine Star Wars from chapter one.  We meet a black female captain of a Star Destroyer named Captain Rae Sloane, a character who could be on her way to be the next Mara Jade.  She’s young but smart, and exactly the kind of leader a government led by Emperor Palpatine would need to conquer so many systems.  Unlike even the original trilogy, including its often bumbling stormtroopers and officers that fail to follow their Dark Lord’s orders, the personnel building the Empire in A New Dawn don’t make the same mistakes.

Sloane works for a typical Star Wars villain, Count Demetrius Vidian, a cyborg like Darth Vader and General Grievous, which would lend us all to believe a defining piece of Star Wars is a dark cloaked bad guy who has already been blown apart a few times.  The word survivor does fit Vidian.  He is a decisive imperialist, precise, unyielding and villainous–everything you want from your Star Wars bad guy.

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Star Wars Dark Horse 1 cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s exactly the place long-time Star Wars fans always wanted to see more Star Wars adventures take place.  Not before the original trilogy.  Not during the Clone Wars.  We’re talking about the time our favorite characters were at their best–between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.

Marvel Comics originally had the license for comic book spin-off stories during the 1970s and 1980s.  In that time they visited their own strange, new worlds, but the best stories featured Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and the droids.  After 114 issues (107 regular monthly, three annuals, and a four-issue Return of the Jedi adaptation) interest in the Marvel Comics Star Wars waned.  Flash forward to December 1991.  Dark Horse Comics’ writer Tom Veitch and artist Cam Kennedy, coupled with the best Star Wars comic book poster-quality cover art to date by the stellar artist Dave Dorman, created a new comic book series, Dark Empire.  Dark Empire followed the events of Timothy Zahn’s post-Return of the Jedi trilogy and brought comic book readers some of the best Star Wars universe storytelling produced in comic book form.

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