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The Homesman [Blu-ray + Digital HD]
The Homesman [Blu-ray + Digital HD]
DVD ~ Tommy Lee Jones
Price: $7.88
56 used & new from $3.88

5.0 out of 5 stars "You are not socially acceptable.", June 28, 2016
THE HOMESMAN opens with a very awkward marriage proposal on the part of a woman living alone in Nebraska Territory to a man who can barely stay awake during their dinner. Mary Bee Cuddy (Hillary Swank) is a farmer in an unforgiving part of the country, eking out a fair living but unable to find anyone willing to marry her, which is beginning to cause her great distress. Meanwhile, as winter picks up, three wives of nearby homesteaders have all gone insane. Unable to cure the women, the church of the nearest town elect Mary Bee to take the three back east across the Mississippi, where they'll be sent back to their families. Before the journey can even begin, Mary Bee runs across a man calling himself George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), left to die with a noose around his neck and an unsteady horse beneath him. Agreeing to help Mary Bee transport the three women back east in exchange for his life, the five of them set out into wilderness unsure of what they'll come up against.

THE HOMESMAN, which marks Tommy Lee Jones' third film in the director's chair, is (for my money) one of the best Westerns to be made in recent years. Though Jones himself has made the claim that the film has little in common with a traditional Western aside from time and location -- and he's right -- it still fits neatly within the boundaries of a revisionist Western, with its goal of treating familiar imagery with a healthy dose of realism.

The film shines a light on the treatment and overbearing expectations of women on the frontier, and does not shy away from depicting the conditions which first impelled these three women towards insanity. Even Mary Bee, who is the overseer of the journey, finds it difficult escape the pressures of being a single woman. Though only thirty-one years old, she perceives herself as someone who is missing the train, so to speak, to becoming the wife she believes she *must* be and achieving her womanhood in the process. Although she is the one driving the wagon, she and the other three women are all on the same journey, suffering the same affliction at varying intensities. (This also makes the title of the film tragically ironic in context.)

THE HOMESMAN is a very cynical film, and very aware that the conditions that plague its main cast are not going to go away for decades. Its very premise illustrates this, kicked off by a group of men who would rather send their wives away forever than to deal with their suffering. However, it still focuses on a facet of the frontier that very rarely takes center stage in the genre. It's beautifully shot, well-written, and the cast is all around solid. Tommy Lee Jones has created a Western that meshes the aesthetics of the classics with the themes of modern cinema. It's not very optimistic, but then again the West rarely was.


The Man In the High Castle - Season 1
The Man In the High Castle - Season 1
DVD

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Sorry.", November 29, 2015
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(Very light spoilers ahead.)

I want to state ahead of time that I haven't read the novel that THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is based upon, so I went into the series completely blind. As it stands, the entire series has a kind of quality as far as the production design that I just don't see in very many shows. Everything from the pictures on the wall, to the telephones, to the currency, to street signs: all of it helps to tell the story of a world where the Allies lost WW2, and America was subsequently parceled out between Germany and Japan. There's hardly a single shot in the ten episodes that does not have some kind of prop to draw attention to this alternate reality.

In that sense, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is visually astounding, to not only realize this alternate version of America, but do realize it within the lens of 1960s society. If nothing else, that's a huge accomplishment.

Outside of that, the series stumbles quite a bit, with the writing swaying back and forth between "brilliant" and "downright terrible." In the end, it's shortcomings can be easily overlooked, but in the midst of it, it's fumbles are something to behold. It's telling that by the end of the season, I cared very little for the main characters. Between Juliana Crain and her blind allegiance to a cause that she (and, by extension, the audience) has to take on faith is actually important, and Joe Blake with his prolonged, soporific struggle with his own allegiances, I found it very difficult to be excited any time they were on screen.

After the billionth time Juliana comes home and has to say "Sorry" to her boyfriend for dragging their lives even further into chaos, without any hint of a vague sign that her efforts are amounting to anything at all, I started to roll my eyes. There's even a line in the show that draws attention to this, which was odd.

The real magic of the show actually lies with the secondary cast. With John Smith (played by Rufus Sewell), a high ranking member of the Nazi military, we get a very dark depiction of what life in the Greater Nazi Reich is like with its disturbing emphasis on a specific kind of perfection. Then we have Trade Minister Tagomi (played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a man working in the Japanese Pacific States who is struggling with duty to his country, and the form that duty is beginning to take as tensions between Japan and Germany increase. Sewell and Tagawa should be the center of the show, because they absolutely knock it out of the park with every scene.

As is, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is still fantastic: visually outstanding with a great secondary cast who often tend to overshadow the main plot. It's a great start to a series that could've been exponentially greater with a bit more attention paid to the writing. Stories that took the entire season to resolve themselves could've been completed in a few episodes, or just not happened at all. A section with a character called "the Marshall" comes to mind. While brilliantly acted, the character does little but add to the running time. There are a lot of moments like this that will make you wonder, "Why is this here?" and "Why are we still following this?" and, most importantly, "Juliana is going to stop ruining other people's lives now, right?" Your answer will come in the form of a shrug and a mournful, "Sorry."


Aftermath: Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Aftermath: Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Chuck Wendig
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.66
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44 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite the Aftermath we expected, September 11, 2015
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I feel like AFTERMATH is a genuine case of a novel not meeting expectations, full stop. Much has been made about the writing style, the inclusion of LGBT characters, and loss of the Legends EU until the stars die out (even though this not the first new canon novel, nor it is the first one to feature LGBT characters). But the reason I'm giving this book three stars is because this was pitched as "something," and we got "something else entirely." This is not the first time we've seen this, and I would wager the author had absolutely no part in how the novel was hyped and marketed. (James Luceno experienced something similar, when his novel about a few Jedi surviving Order 66 was rebranded as Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, despite barely featuring the eponymous character.)

With AFTERMATH, we were promised the first post-Episode VI story that would help bridge the gap between RETURN OF THE JEDI and THE FORCE AWAKENS. (Thus the name of the series, "Journey to The Force Awakens.") But what we got was a series of nods to what *might* be happening, what *might* eventually happen, all of it wrapped around a story that is not overly enjoyable now, but could be awesome in Book 2.

Let me explain:

AFTERMATH picks up very shortly after the events of EPISODE VI. The Emperor and Darth Vader are dead, the Empire is waning but not yet gone, and the "New Republic" as it is being called is struggling to assert itself into a very unforgiving power vacuum. In an attempt to consolidate leadership, Admiral Rae Sloane (previously seen in A New Dawn), holds a meeting with other Imperial figureheads on the outer rim world of Akiva to decide the fate of the Empire. But when word about the meeting gets out, a conflict begins to brew that might decide the fate of the Empire.

With the exception of A NEW DAWN, I've thoroughly enjoyed all of the new canon novels, and AFTERMATH is no real exception. It stumbles to find its footing in the first half, but does so while giving us the scoop on what might be building on other Imperial/Republic worlds in the wake of Palpatine's defeat. These brief interludes are there to give us a taste of how different folks (familiar characters and average citizens) are dealing with the shift in leadership. For some, the fall of the Empire is cause to celebrate, for others it represents a loss of stability and order. And for others still, the Republic victory has come too late to mend their war-ravaged homes.

This is really the novel's greatest strength, giving us the flavor of what's going on in the galaxy far, far away. It also does this by reeling in lots and lots of references to not just the films, but to other new canon stories. (There's even a nod to the new game, Star Wars: Uprising.) This is something the other novels always dabbled in, but never quite committed to. In this way, AFTERMATH goes all in, and I'd wager whether your a fan of the other novels, TV series, or comics, you'll find some love being sent your way. I hope this becomes the standard for other novels going forward.

But the main reason this novel absolutely did not meet the admittedly lofty expectations is that regardless of the near 400 pages that it takes to tell its story, not much happens. It brings to mind THE PHANTOM MENACE, and the criticism that the film had too many characters for the first hour of the story. AFTERMATH's narrative feels similarly scattershot, introducing *numerous* character perspectives at breakneck pace, only for most of them to either be pared off, become irrelevant, or just disappear altogether. I absolutely could not figure out which characters were the main ones. For me personally, it wasn't until the mid point of the novel, nearly 200 pages in, that things started to click, and it wasn't until the last third that the story began to progress. Factor in the interludes, with each sporting their own cast of characters, and you can see how the story becomes outrageously muddled.

In that sense, AFTERMATH has all the hallmarks of a novel that isn't really trying to tell you a story, but rather setting up a series. This is the first novel of "The Aftermath Trilogy," after all. We're given a dense stack of snapshots, some of which progress the story by baby steps, most of which go nowhere. For instance, although Captain Wedge Antilles is introduced early on, the reader might think he's going to be the star of the show. Turns out he's not, and we don't really see him again until the climax. This made for a very frustrating, bewildering read.

Mr. Wendig simply cast his net too wide, attempting to cover too many different angles for a book of this length. Enough that the folks who *eventually* become our main characters aren't given near the amount of attention they need for the reader to relate to them. By the time the book succeeded in getting me to A) Figure out who the main characters were, B) Figure out what their goal was, and C) Start rooting for them, there were 30 pages left.

And to comment briefly on the writing style: For the first half of the book, I definitely struggled with Mr. Wendig's "voice." His stop-and-go style compounded the frustrations I mentioned earlier, where I was just trying to figure out who the main characters/plotlines were, but the narrative wouldn't sit still long enough for me to figure it out. His usage of brief sentences, short chapter sections, dense punctuation, mid-paragraph flashbacks, present-tense, and a narrative I can only describe as "excitable" did not click with me until that halfway point, when both his style and the narrative basically relax. Unlike others, I don't think the novel is unreadable by any means, but it's definitely unusual for a space opera and Star Wars in general. Even Mr. Wendig has to admit that.

In the end, we do get that taste of what's going on in the Star Wars universe, but we see the same kind of non-committal story that has been a constant through the other new canon novels. This is still a very isolated story, intentionally shying away from the stories and characters the fans want to hear more about in favor of giving us an "out of the way" story. We get glimpses, just as the other novels gave us glimpses, but with AFTERMATH and "The Journey to The Force Awakens" series, we were promised more than glimpses and nods. Removed of those expectations, AFTERMATH is an ambitious novel with a lot of satisfying tie-ins to the new canon stories, but its ambitiousness gets it into trouble by forgetting to give us a story and characters we'd be eager to follow through two more books.

At this point, if the Force has indeed awakened, we've only heard it secondhandedly.


Heir to the Jedi: Star Wars
Heir to the Jedi: Star Wars
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $9.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A student without a teacher, September 5, 2015
Here's the thing. I remember when HEIR TO THE JEDI was due to be the third book in the Empire & Rebellion trilogy, and with that in mind this would've made a fantastic bookend to the last series of the old Legends EU. Presumably, Mr. Hearne's timing was great enough that instead of scrapping the novel (like others were), LucasFilm/Del Rey allowed it to be reworked it into a novel of the new canon. Initially, that alone was enough to keep me away. I didn't like the idea of reading a novel that had been deemed canon only after it was rounded off to fit a circular hole. It gave the impression that it was being wedged into canon instead of being written for it specifically. That, in addition to the middling reviews, was enough to ensure that I didn't pick it up on the first day.

As chance would have it, I happened to make up my mind that I'd be a completionist when it came to the new canon, and a hardcover copy of HEIR TO THE JEDI happened to cross my path. I breezed through it in a few sittings, and while I have to say that some of the major criticisms of the novel are not without merit, Mr. Hearne's contribution here, of all the new canon novels, feels the most like a classic Star Wars adventure.

Taking place soon after the events of EPISODE IV, we find Luke Skywalker is still with the Rebellion, helping them find an appropriate staging area for their operations while dealing with his new-found hero status after the Death Star's destruction at the Battle of Yavin IV. After receiving orders from Admiral Ackbar and Princess Leia to assist with the exfiltration of a master cryptographer from Imperial custody, Luke teams up with rebel soldier Nakari Kelen to ensure the mission goes off without a hitch.

When you take a look at the first five novels of the new canon, HEIR TO THE JEDI is the only one out of the bunch to opt for a more light-hearted tone. Though it doesn't shy away from violence at times, it's very clear Hearne was aiming for something closer to A NEW HOPE or THE PHANTOM MENACE. This, I think, is enormously refreshing in the face of other novels like TARKIN, which aims for bleak and succeeds. In HEIR, we get Luke and Nakari, who do have great chemistry together. Luke, still under the impression that Vader killed his father, finds common ground with Nakari, whose life likewise was affected directly by Vader and the Empire. Their singular mission soon turns into many, with the Empire steadily closing in and complicating what should've been a simple extraction.

The main characters are enjoyable to read and Hearne doesn't let us forget that Luke Skywalker was a teenager when he left Tatooine. Skywalker is the student of a dead discipline and a young boy without parental guidance. Much of the story deals with Luke attempting to find his own way in this "larger world" that Obi-Wan unveiled to him. How did he learn to use the Force to retrieve his lightsaber in the wampa cave? How did he learn to build a new lightsaber after Cloud City? We get glimpses here of how he managed and struggled without Obi-Wan to guide him.

To answer the main criticism: Yes, I think Mr. Hearne should've reconsidered writing HEIR in the first-person. Although he spins a fantastic Star Wars story, replete with tense action and fantastic space battles... I don't think I *ever* reached a point where I was saying to myself, "Yes, this definitely sounds like the Luke Skywalker I know." More often than not, it acted as a distraction when the narrative and the character didn't neatly mesh. There's a reason why there is only *one* Star Wars novel written in the first-person (I, JEDI by Michael Stackpole). By and large, it robs the narrative of that "cinematic" feel that Star Wars is known for, and certain moments (especially during the ending) definitely lack impact when we're waiting for Luke to catch up.

There are other little hangups I had with the story, such as the cryptographer being the best at what she does until it's inconvenient to the plot. Hearne also probably should've dug a little deeper when he was coming up with food ideas; most times, I could tell he was having fun, other times I was distracted enough by their absurdity (bantha sauce) to roll my eyes. I also think that the novel missed the mark as far as tying into the new canon effectively. Luke mentions Han and Chewie lost the reward they received for rescuing Princess Leia from the Death Star, but never explains why. No mention of any REBELS, THE CLONE WARS, EPISODE V, or comic book characters. (This might have been more a restriction on Lucasfilm's part than Hearne's.)

Also, the ending. It felt a little too rushed and a little too unbelievable. I get the ultimate purpose, but I feel like it could've been handled differently.

HEIR TO THE JEDI is definitely a love it or hate it kind of novel. I happened to love it. The characters have chemistry and I actually cared about them, the action was great, and the story takes us to several unique worlds sporting their own cultures and practices (HEIR might be the least restricted novel in that sense). And it does all of this at an acceptable pace, ending at around 250 pages. There was no part of the novel that I thought to be filler, and I could definitely sense that Mr. Hearne had fun writing this and the feeling was definitely contagious.

I do hope Mr. Hearne decides to take another pass at Star Wars in the future. HEIR TO THE JEDI has all the ingredients of a classic Star Wars adventure, but the choice of perspective and an unsteady ending keeps it from absolute greatness. As is, it's still a fun romp across the galaxy far, far away that does a fantastic job of channeling the best parts of A NEW HOPE.


Star Wars: Lords of the Sith
Star Wars: Lords of the Sith
by Paul S. Kemp
Edition: Hardcover
24 used & new from $24.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Insignificant next to the power of the Force..., September 5, 2015
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Paul S. Kemp's first contribution to Star Wars was one of my favorites. The Old Republic: Deceived had all the feel of a classic Star Wars adventure with plenty of refreshing twists. A villain with believable motivations (rather than being evil for the sake of being evil), a memorable cast of characters, great pacing, and well-written action. So I was very excited to learn that Kemp was making a return trip through the Star Wars universe and making his mark on the new canon. Though the story does stumble, I count it among the best the new canon has to offer, with many of the elements that made DECEIVED such a fun read.

Set five years after EPISODE III and fourteen years before EPISODE IV, LORDS OF THE SITH revolves around three groups of characters in the midst of a crippling attack against the Empire's figureheads. An attack which leaves Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine stranded in the wilds of Ryloth, the Twi'lek homeworld. Hunted by Cham Syndulla and the anti-Imperial "Free Ryloth Movement," Vader and the Emperor must play a game of cat and mouse in a very unforgiving environment, all the while attempting the root out traitors in the ranks of the Empire.

As far as the story goes, it's nothing overly complex, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. While the first half of the book follows the build-up and execution of the Free Ryloth Movement's plot against the Emperor and Vader, the second half is an out and out survival story involving two most powerful Sith Lords to ever roam the galaxy. Kemp does a fantastic job with action, and makes good use of the downtime in between to really flesh out the precarious teacher/student relationship between the Emperor and Vader. In this story, only five years removed from the events of REVENGE OF THE SITH, we can still see glimpses of the Anakin Skywalker we came to know through the films and TV series, and how that last vestige of humanity is tested amid all the carnage a Sith Lord is expected to dispense.

Another great thing about the novel is how well it ties into the new canon. While the other novels were more selective in some ways, fans of the two TV series, THE CLONE WARS and REBELS, will definitely find something to like here. Kemp ensures that LORDS OF THE SITH has plenty of nods to the Prequels as well.

Overall, I would say this novel is the most well-rounded of the bunch; while the others had a weakness in one area or another, LORDS OF THE SITH does everything quite well.

Unfortunately, the novel still stumbles a bit. Having just come off of Dark Disciple, I was not very excited about jumping into *another* Star Wars novel that follows an assassination plot against characters that we know will absolutely survive. This robs the story of some much needed tension in places, and paints the Free Ryloth Movement as a less-than-competent force to be reckoned with when they frequently attempt to bring down the Emperor and Vader outgunned and understaffed. And although Cham Syndulla wrestles with the thin line dividing freedom fighters from terrorists, it never really informs his leadership methods as he sends wave after wave of his soldiers against an unstoppable pair of Sith Lords.

Maybe a little less focus on the Free Ryloth Movement (specifically Istval, whose homicidal tendencies are not a great counterpoint to homicidal Sith Lords) and more exploratory dialogues with the Emperor and Vader, and this would've been at the very top of my list of favorite new canon material. But as it stands, LORDS OF THE SITH is a fantastic Star Wars novel, with plenty of good action, character development, and a story that hooks into the greater arc of the new canon to great effect.


Star Wars: Dark Disciple
Star Wars: Dark Disciple
by Christie Golden
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.83
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4.0 out of 5 stars Love and the dark around it, July 18, 2015
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For full disclosure, I wouldn't call myself a fan of THE CLONE WARS TV series. I've only seen a handful of episodes, and most of what I know of Asajj Ventress came from the old EU novels. So I went into this mostly blind, not even really knowing who Master Quinlan Vos was. Thankfully, it seems that while knowledge of the TV series would only enhance the experience, there were only a few times throughout when I felt like there was something I wasn't in on, and those moments are small enough to be unimportant. This is a good thing, because Christie Golden has delivered a fantastic entry to the new Star Wars canon and must surely serve as a satisfying bookend to the TV series.

Taking place not too long after the events of THE CLONE WARS TV series, DARK DISCIPLE shows us that the Separatists, led by Count Dooku, are becoming much more aggressive in their grand strategy to defeat the Republic, which has included the destruction of innocent populations among other things. Eager to see an end to the war, the Jedi Council devise a rather desperate plan: send one of their own to assassinate Count Dooku, thereby ending the war and saving billions. The Jedi chosen for the mission, Master Quinlan Vos, is ordered to strike up an allegiance with Dooku's former apprentice, Asajj Ventress, gain her trust, and use her knowledge of the Count against him. But the relationship between Vos and Ventress goes from an act of subterfuge, to professional, to something much more, bringing unforeseen complications to an already deadly mission.

This is the first Star Wars novel I've read from Christie Golden, and by all accounts it seems like she definitely has a grasp of the universe. Coming off of James Luceno's TARKIN, there were definitely moments where I felt like there could've been a bit more exploration off the beaten path. Worldbuilding is nudged to the background in favor of character development, and the plot moves along at such a steady clip that some story/character developments seem to present themselves without preamble. There are definitely moments where DARK DISCIPLE reads more like a novelization and less like a novel, and shares in the same "as-you-need-it" development that a 30 minute TV episode typically employs. There are even moments where the characters themselves will admit, "We need more time for this, but..." and the story continues.

While this kept the novel from really transcending its source material, since it was based on a set of unproduced scripts from the TV series, Golden brings the main characters to life in a way none of the other novels in the new canon (that I've read so far) have come close to achieving. I most definitely found myself caring for Vos and Ventress, and loved seeing their relationship take its steady steps into something neither of them had been willing/able to experience. The dialogue feels natural, characters both familiar and new are translated very well, and the sense of adventure is definitely there. The story does suffer a bit from "Valkyrie Syndrome" in that the main plot to assassinate Count Dooku is undermined by the fact that we *know* he lives long enough to appear in Episode III, which robs the novel of some much needed tension during the build-up.

Still, Golden's writing and the story's few twists and turns keep the whole experience engaging. This is the kind of story that I wish the new canon had led with, and I hope this is the first of many Star Wars we see from Golden as the story continues to expand.


Tarkin: Star Wars
Tarkin: Star Wars
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars For the glory of the Emperor, July 10, 2015
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This review is from: Tarkin: Star Wars (Kindle Edition)
This will be my second dive into LucasArts' new Star Wars canon, following A NEW DAWN by John Jackson Miller. Much like JJM's KENOBI, James Luceno's DARTH PLAGUEIS was one of the last novels of the old canon, and I would personally consider it to be one of the best in the entire Expanded Universe. Thanks to Luceno, the old stories went out with a bang, so I was excited to see that he was making another return trip to Star Wars, this time with TARKIN.

Between the two, TARKIN is most definitely a stronger novel than A NEW DAWN, but a few narrative hiccups keep it from reaching the thematic heights of DARTH PLAGUEIS, and likewise keep its eponymous villain/protagonist from Thrawn-levels of genius.

TARKIN takes place 5 years after Episode III and 14 years before Episode IV: the construction of the Death Star is in full swing and the Emperor has committed himself toward expanding Imperial influence throughout the galaxy. Governor Wilhuff Tarkin has been entrusted with overseeing the flow of materials and information to and from where the Death Star is being constructed, but an attack upon his station by unknown assailants forces him to place his duties aside. At the Emperor's command, Tarkin is forced to take joint command over the investigation into the attack with Darth Vader, and the two quickly find that the attack wasn't as random as it seemed.

At its core, TARKIN is a very basic story. Unlike DARTH PLAGUEIS, Luceno shows much restraint here, crafting a narrative that is both isolated (possibly to keep from infringing on the new canon *too* much before the release of Episode VII) and brief. Not a lot happens, and the cat-and-mouse maneuverings between Tarkin, Vader, and their attackers account for a good portion of the novel. Brevity is not a bad thing in and of itself, but considering that the story also spends time expounding on Tarkin's childhood on Eriadu, the novel frequently felt uneven. Gone is the steady, deliberate pace from DARTH PLAGUEIS, and instead the narrative frequently halts mid-chapter and in the middle of action sequences to treat us to a flashback to Tarkin's youth, told almost completely in exposition.

Part of me suspects chunks of the novel were excised after the buyout. Regardless, it was surprising to read such sporadic stop-and-go storytelling here.

But the real strength of TARKIN is really what held my attention in DARTH PLAGUEIS. Luceno has a ridiculous grasp of the setting of Star Wars, as well as the characters within it. Interactions between Tarkin, Vader, and the Emperor felt true to their characters and how they were portrayed in the films, and most (if not all) of the dialogue read naturally. We see political maneuverings, backalley deals, economic upheaval, cultural/regional/interplanetary conflicts, and the state of an Empire still reeling from a very recent war that consumed the galaxy. Luceno puts a very believable spin on everything his story touches. While books like A NEW DAWN give us a surface-level adventure, TARKIN is concerned with the nuts and bolts, bringing a touch of realism to this space opera.

This might not be Luceno's best contribution to Star Wars, but as one of the opening novels of the new canon, it sets the stage and solidifies a healthy portion of the lore that future novels will no doubt have to build upon, in addition to giving us a very engaging look at Tarkin and Darth Vader, and the beginnings of a very dangerous partnership.


A New Dawn: Star Wars
A New Dawn: Star Wars
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $9.99

3.0 out of 5 stars The dawn lingers..., July 6, 2015
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A couple years back, John Jackson Miller brought us one of the last novels of the old Star Wars canon, KENOBI, which also happened to be (in my opinion) one of the best in the Expanded Universe. Because of this, I was actually very excited to see that Miller had been picked to write what is now the first novel of the new Star Wars canon. A NEW DAWN sets out to accomplish two things: provide a bit of backstory for Disney's ongoing TV series, STAR WARS: REBELS, and to give us our first look into the galaxy that the old canon was removed to make room for.

This was going to be a new dawn for Star Wars. The fact that the majority of this novel takes place on a tidally locked world is a decent metaphor for what follows. We're expecting the dawn, but it never quite arrives.

A NEW DAWN takes place 8 years after EPISODE III, 6 years before REBELS, and 11 years before EPISODE IV. For all accounts, the novel acts as a backstory for two of the TV series' main characters, Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla -- with Kanan Jarrus being a Jedi on the run after Order 66, and Hera being a Twi'lek pilot/activist who is looking to disrupt some of the Empire's more questionable practices. The setting is the aforementioned tidally locked world of Gorse and its moon, Cynda. Both the world and the moon have caught the Empire's attention; in its race to scale up its presence across the galaxy, entire planets' worth of precious resources must be gathered to fuel the Imperial war machine. And Cynda in particular is practically brimming with those resources.

Count Vidian, an efficiency expert, is sent in to oversee the Imperial operation on Cynda and, in general, ensure things run smoothly. But his mandate steadily evolves into a case of bureaucratic overreach, which places Kanan and Hera in an awkward position between the Empire and the civilian population on Gorse.

My main issue with A NEW DAWN is that it, at once, spreads itself too thin and digs too deep. In its overzealousness, it tries to both give us a sweeping story that we've come to expect from Star Wars, and give us a cast of characters that we can connect with. Unfortunately, not enough time is spent on either. We're given a setting where too much time is spent on the finer points of mining a moon, leaving any interesting worldbuilding completely overshadowed by relentless exposition that affects the plot not at all. And the characters, while many, are never quite given a chance to rise above our initial impressions. Aside from Kanan and Hera, who are thankfully handled very well, we get a whole cast of side characters who are there and gone, important and then removed of that importance.

Because of this, a good chunk of the novel feels like filler. We see all of these plot lines leading off in all kinds of directions when just one would've been fine enough to carry the story. I feel that if we had followed Hera and Kanan exclusively, instead of breaking to follow all the other characters that pop up, this would've been a more taut and engaging story. Instead, too much time is divided up between characters who are never fully fleshed out. Including our main villain, Count Vidian, who seems to revel in being evil for the sake of being evil. Although this is a fresh start for Star Wars, even the old EU was beginning to slog under the weight of villains who couldn't be bothered to be more than just eloquent murderers.

SPOILERS

It also doesn't help that the story has a walking, talking plot device in the form of a character named Skelly, whose incompetence and mind-boggling lapses in judgement are the reason for several characters' deaths and the main threat behind the entire third act. Yet, no one seems to want to acknowledge this in the story! The main characters just ignore this and the story continues.

END OF SPOILERS

A NEW DAWN is definitely not what I imagined the first book of the new canon would amount to. It has all the ingredients of a fine Star Wars story, but the story derived from them is nothing we haven't seen a dozen times before. Cut some of the excess (this story could've been 100 pages shorter), trim down the number of PoVs by more than half, and give greater focus to the starring characters and this would've been a fun way to kick off the new canon. Like JJM's KENOBI, it would've been laser-focused. As is: it's a very familiar kind of fun in slow motion.


Star Wars: Maul - Lockdown (Star Wars - Legends)
Star Wars: Maul - Lockdown (Star Wars - Legends)
by Joe Schreiber
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.41
61 used & new from $8.06

4.0 out of 5 stars Maul: Lockdown, June 30, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Joe Schreiber's had an interesting run in the Star Wars universe, writing some of the darker entries in the Star Wars (Legends) Expanded Universe, and giving us zombie stormtroopers and Sith in his first two entries. MAUL: LOCKDOWN presents the same brand of visceral action that we saw in his previous two entries, DEATH TROOPERS and RED HARVEST, but in a much more structured story. This is definitely the strongest of his three novels, and he characterizes Darth Maul with all the rage we've come to expect from him. I hope that Mr. Schreiber gets another chance at writing Star Wars in the future, because even the Legends Expanded Universe was in dire need of novels with a darker slant.


Shadowrun: Neat
Shadowrun: Neat
Price: $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hardboiled Cyberpunk, July 20, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Shadowrun: Neat (Kindle Edition)
I'm new to Shadowrun, only recently coming off the exceptional RPG SHADOWRUN RETURNS with a kind of excitement for a pen and paper setting I haven't felt in years. Take NEUROMANCER, BLADE RUNNER, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and FORGOTTEN REALMS, mix vigorously, and you get Shadowrun, a kind of sci-fi/fantasy blend I never knew I wanted until now. Naturally, I went to see what kind of fiction was available, and was disappointed to see the series had hit a bit of a dry spell until recently, only releasing the newest stories in the form of short stories or ebook novellas. So, while I'm waiting for the old, out-of-print ROC novels to arrive, I downloaded NEAT, which seems to come just as recommended as Nigel Findley's novels these days -- and even for being a novella, I can see why.

Zimmerman has done a fantastic job of channeling the world of Shadowrun while creating a grittier, edgier tone for the series going forward. The story makes good use of its short page count, providing a hardboiled detective narrative, but never losing sight of the fact that it has to be a Shadowrun story first, a detective story second. Zimmerman is obviously someone who knows the setting very well, and I don't think a single page went by that didn't evoke the setting in some way.

But if I had some criticisms, I would have to agree with a few other reviewers who state that everything wraps up a little too nicely. It's a more-than-common occurrence in detective stories, and NEAT is not the exception. Additionally, none of the characters really speak with the vernacular that seems to be common throughout Shadowrun stories; whether this was intentional or not, the little colloquialisms were always a charming part of the setting for me, and they were sorely missed.

All in all, NEAT is a fun, albeit brief, Shadowrun story that's surely worthy of being counted among the best. Most of the stories I've read so far either get the setting right or make the plot interesting, but never really accomplish both. Shadowrun seems to be making a bit of a comeback in recent years, and I really hope Zimmerman sticks around to help bring the setting back to fighting strength.


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