“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Thomas Paine wrote that during the difficult early years of the American Revolution. But he could just as well have been talking about my life in the months leading up to a new Star Wars film. The second full trailer for The Last Jedi was released this week and my excitement level is higher than Anakin’s midichlorian count. This. Movie. Looks. Amazing. While there are still two excruciating months until Episode VIII hits theaters, the past few years have seen the release of some phenomenal Star Wars content to help us all survive the wait. I want to tell you about a few of my favorites in our collection, but first a warning: if you’re new to Star Wars, there may be some spoilers below.
Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars opens in the early years of the Empire, on the Outer Rim planet of Jelucan. Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell are two natives of this world leading very different lives. Thane comes from noble stock. His affluent family has plentiful Imperial connections. Ciena has far more humble beginnings. Belonging to a lower social caste, her family is proud and loyal, but also poor and marginalized. Thane and Ciena are brought together, however, by their love of flying and dreams of attending the Imperial Academy.
Through hard work and determination, they both make it to the Academy where they seem destined to rise through the ranks together. Despite their strong bond their relationship soon grows complicated. Ciena continues to take pride in the order and righteousness of the Empire while Thane begins to wake to the cruelty and oppression around him. As Ciena quickly rises through the ranks, Thane chooses to defect and join the fledgling Rebellion. Their linked paths thread through many famous battles and close escapes as the Rebellion grows and begins to find success. With the battle for the galaxy heading towards an ultimate confrontation, both Ciena and Thane are forced to decide between their convictions and their ties to one another.
Despite glowing reviews, I had low expectations for Lost Stars. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good YA romance, but that isn’t what I look for in a Star Wars novel. I was delighted and surprised to find that the romance in this book takes a distant backseat to Gray’s masterful retelling of many well-known Star Wars events from fresh perspectives. As such, this sprawling novel serves as a perfect companion to the films that are indelibly ingrained in my mind.
Zahn and Thrawn are two names that are inseparable and unforgettable for many Star Wars fans. Timothy Zahn is a legendary author, while the cunning Admiral Thrawn is his greatest character. Like many fans, I was crushed when Disney excluded these novels from the new canon. But Zahn is back! He has written a novel, aptly named Thrawn, that tells the story of this captivating alien’s rise through Imperial ranks and his struggles against the bigotry and other roadblocks he faces.
Alternating between Thrawn’s perspective and those of two young Imperials who become key figures in his career, Thrawn reminded me of an interstellar Sherlock Holmes mystery. Thrawn is a brilliant tactician always several steps ahead of his rivals and enemies. He is often impeded, however, by his total lack of social graces and ignorance of Imperial politics. His assistant and companion, Eli Vanto, is a perfect Watson helping smooth the way when Thrawn’s unrefined manner is problematic, but also serving as an audience surrogate who allows Thrawn to flash his superior intellect. Finally, this book gives Thrawn his own Moriarty, a mysterious and brilliant smuggler turned Rebel, who will either bring Thrawn great glory or prove to be his undoing.
As someone who has read an awful lot of Star Wars books, Thrawn simply feels fresh. While helping build backstory from years before the Original Trilogy and providing clues for events yet to come, Zahn has shown that he is still among the giants of the Star Wars world.
The inundation of new Star Wars books has also spilled over into the world of comics. Marvel has put out a string of wonderful volumes covering the Clone Wars, Lando Calrission’s early years, and everything in between. My favorite series is the Darth Vader run which takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Faced with the failure of the Death Star, Vader has fallen out of the Emperor’s favor. In order to re-secure his place as Palpatine’s right-hand cyborg, Vader must face down many daunting challenges including angry Hutts, newly rebellious planets, and force-sensitive rivals. And then, of course, there is a certain lightsaber-wielding Death Star destroying young pilot. He is especially pesky.
While all of these aspects of Darth Vader are superb, it is Dr. Aphra who steals the show. With apologies to Han Solo, Aphra is the closest thing the Star Wars universe has to an Indiana Jones: a pithy and sardonic young archaeologist who comes into the employ of Darth Vader. Throughout the series she is constantly skirting the line between rescuing the Sith Master and meeting the wrong end of his lightsaber. Oh yeah, she also has two droids, Triple-Zero and BT-1, who aren’t that different from R2-D2 and C-3PO except that they are sociopathic killers.
I’m trying to keep this post shorter than an opening scrawl, but there are many more new Star Wars stories worth your time. Quicker than the Millenium Falcon on the Kessel Run here are a few more quick hits:
The Aftermath Trilogy, by Chuck Wendig: These books meander at times but do a nice job traversing the years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. They introduce some key characters, revisit some old favorites, and contextualize the rise of The First Order. Perhaps most importantly, however, the third book has a brief aside revealing the sad fate of everyone’s favorite mistake, Jar-Jar Binks:
The clown, they called him “Bring the clown. We want to see the clown. We like it how he juggles glombo shells, or spits fish up in the air and catches them, or how he dances around and falls on his butt.”
The adults, though. They don’t say much about him. Or to him. And no other Gungans come to see him, either. Nobody even says his name.
Star Wars Rebels: This cartoon, about to enter its final season, is a thrilling look at the years leading up to the Original Trilogy. Focusing on a rag-tag group of outcasts who are fiercely opposed to the Empire, Rebels has all the droids, lightsabers, hapless stormtroopers and goofy jokes you could want. It’s the rare kid-friendly show that can hold its own with an adult audience.
We also have tons of Star Wars non-fiction, including character guides, Lego books, origami how-to’s, vintage action figure valuations, and even a Haynes manual for the Death Star. If you’re need something to tide you over until 12/15, stop in and we will find you a book or seven.
Just two months to go, so I feel pretty safe saying it: Alllllmost there…