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Trade Paperback Review – Star Wars: Shattered Empire

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars: Shattered Empire
by Greg Rucka illustrated by Marco Checchetto & Phil Noto

Star Wars Shattered Empire cover

Collects Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Shattered Empire #1-4, Princess Leia #1, Star Wars (1977) #1.

For the first time in the new Star Wars canon, journey with us into the time after the end of Star Wars Episode VI Return of the Jedi! Writer Greg Rucka and artist Marco Checchetto take us past the destruction of the second Death Star — and into the chaos of a Shattered Empire. It’s the explosive lead-in to this winter’s blockbuster big-screen Star Wars revival, and everything you need to know is right here!

Shattered Empire opens in the final moments of the Battle of Endor, quickly orienting the reader with images of Luke dueling Vader and Han setting the charges that will disable the shield protecting the Death Star. Literally and visually bursting into the story in her A-Wing fighter comes Green Four, Shara Bey, future mother of the best pilot in the resistance. During the victory celebration on the forest moon, she seeks out her partner Kes Dameron, member of General Solo’s Pathfinders, a sort of special forces unit.

We follow their stories as they deploy again and again against remnants of the now shattered empire. Through their adventures the reader gains a sense of of the scope and breadth of the Rebellion’s remit. Their lives touch and sometimes parallel those of Luke and Leia and our other old favorites, but only enough to keep longtime fans interested.

Star Wars Shattered Empire Shara and Kes

Shattered Empire sets the stage for the next generation, the personalities that will populate The Force Awakens. Shara and Kes serve and perform admirably and are adequately rewarded. The series offers an intimate answer to the question of what the rebellion fought for beyond the politics and the drama of the Skywalker family.

It’s the kind of story that deepens your enjoyment of the parent material, carving out a niche for new characters and weaving them into the primary mythology. When it ended, I found myself wanting, needing, to know more about Shara and Kes and their gestating son. Their family became a metaphor for the revitalization of the franchise.

The art is exuberant and dynamic. The characters are distinct and expressive. And there’s action even in the relatively still panels. Whether it’s the attack on the Death Star or the queen of Naboo removing her makeup, Shattered Empire is always in motion. Just like the films.

Recommended for completists, of course, but also for fans of the N-1 Starfighter and the Lambda-class T-4a shuttle.

The collection also features the first issue of Princess Leia, which follows on the heels of the events in Shattered Empire. That series is collected in its own volume as well, but it’s a welcome addition. We see Leia set herself on the path that will describe her conflict with the fledgling Republic in the new trilogy. Featuring clever, fully clothed women, I’ll definitely be checking out the trade.

And, finally, for whatever reason, they’ve included the first issue of the old seventies Star Wars comic. Clearly based on either the shooting script or an even earlier version, it’s something of a time capsule. Highlights include two deleted Biggs Darklighter scenes and Darth Vader’s relentless search for the stolen Imperial data tapes. It was worth reading just to remind myself that whenever I think a modern comic is wordy or full of exposition bubbles, I yet live in a golden age of brevity.

May the Force be with you.

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Bounty and Betrayal in ‘Star Wars’ Little Golden Books

We had been readying our preschooler for seeing The Force Awakens in the theater. We had shown them A New Hope about a year ago and had started The Empire Strikes Back but had to put it on hold after a bad reaction to the Special Edition’s extended Wampa scenes (screw you, George). But after success watching a special theatrical showing of The Neverending Story, we thought we were good to go. As it turned out, the sound and fury of the movie in full Dolby digital was too overwhelming. We left within the first hour. 

So we’ve been stoking interest in milder mediums to build renewed readiness for the blu-ray release by bringing home Star Wars books. We got The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary, which has been fantastic. Most popular at bedtime, though, have been the Little Golden Books adaptations of the movies.

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We first got the original trilogy. The narrative is understandable even in such abridgement. So the great boon of the books is that they introduce the major characters, plots, and ideas. The more gruesome elements are cut, and even scary moments like the Wampa attack are softened. Extraneous characters disappear without losing fan favourites like Nien Nunb and our preschooler’s beloved Boba Fett. Many of the pages include a famous line. For instance, Leia’s “Would it help if I got out and pushed?” is featured in The Empire Strikes Back one. My preschooler requires me to do Yoda’s voice for his featured line: “Size not make one great.”

The art evokes character features and settings through a half-cartoon, half-water color style. In fact, they look sorta like the Playskool Galactic Heroes figures, which is one of our other ways of priming our preschooler and thus a happy coincidence.

littlegolden empire

But here’s the betrayal: The back of the books feature the covers for all six, so our child began asking about The Trilogy Which Will Not Be Named. They requested these specifically, and despite our initial desire to hide the existance of these films from our child, we allowed them in.

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I’m sure no one will be surprised to find out that the much more convoluted plots of the prequels make for a mess in the extreme abridgement. There are lots of people in disguises with false identities or double natures. In The Phantom Menace, there’s the Padme/Queen Amidala guise. In Revenge of the Sith, there’s the Palpatine/Darth Sidious long con.

But the most unforgivable aspect is the highlighted lines in Revenge of the Sith. Padme gets: “You’re breaking my heart!” Even worse, Anakin gets, “I hate you!” My preschooler likes to help read the books after they hear the story a few times. This language will certainly stand out. But I don’t think any small child needs reinforcement for saying “I hate you.” Little Golden Books was smart enough to leave out the loss of limbs from that final fight, but put front and center the most violent of emotions.

And now my child is psyched to watch The Phantom Menace. Which we’ll also have to watch. I can only hope it will be worth it in the end.

Still, I’m excited to get The Force Awakens Little Golden Book when it releases in April. I suspect the children’s version will maintain much of the charm of the film at large.


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Toys in Babeland: A Star Wars Story

We took our preschooler to see The Force Awakens, but, as everyone who’s seen it knows, it’s loud and violent and morally complicated. We honored a polite request to go home after the rathtars. I thought that was it for Star Wars.

It wasn’t. When our preschooler started talking about Finn and Rey and Phasma, I was indescribably relieved. We’re long time fans, and the next five years were going to be weird.

Last week, Entertainment Weekly reported that Rey, largely absent from the first wave of toys, was going to play a much more significant role across several brands in the next one. Her inclusion in the Playskool Heroes line caught my eye. The 2.5″ figures are designed for small hands and big imaginations.

Playskool Next Wave

Since then, I’ve been checking local stores for any of the new characters. So far, I’ve only found Kylo Ren. Our preschooler wants Finn and Rey, but nonetheless had a ball playing with the new villain.

In lieu of a review, I’ll share what a child who hasn’t seen any spoilers got up to with this apparently well designed character. The following photos are reenactments.

First, I heard a bunch of fighting sounds. I later found a Corellian down.

Playskool Kylo Solo

Shortly afterward, I heard, “Darth Vader, I like you because you’re daaarrrrk.”

Playskool Kylo Vader

And then I witnessed a renunciation. “I’m throwing you in the trash, Luke Skywalker.”

Playskool Kylo Skywalker

I take this to be a resounding endorsement for the fidelity of both the figure and the character to the story and the toy line. I can’t wait to see what hijinx Captain Phasma engenders.

 


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Understanding the Influences, Craft, and Power of the Climactic Scene of ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’

death-star-runI’m coming late to the series by Julian Palmer called “The Discarded Image.” In the video series, he deeply analyzes a scene from a great film, discussing how it creates powerful effects. The final video of the series discusses the climactic scene from Star Wars: A New Hope–the trench scene and destruction of the Death Star.

While he does do some shot, sound, and editing analysis, he also looks at George Lucas’ filmmaking history prior to Star Wars, visually showing how THX-1138 and American Grafitti combine to lead directly to Star Wars. Additionally, Lucas based Star Wars on older cinematic genres, like swashbucklers and war films, to teach himself how to make a mainstream film.

Finally, Palmer discusses the great themes of the film and how it mirrors both the zeitgeist of the era and Lucas’ own filmmaking flubs with the prequels. Star Wars restored the black and white morality to the war film. The people of the Empire are marked clearly as evil. This particularly resonates with story choices in The Force Awakens where a Stormtrooper, previously shown as disposable cannon fodder, defects and becomes fully humanized and valued.

This is a deeply insightful video that any Star Wars fan will appreciate.


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10 Easter Eggs in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

J.J. and his co-writers (including Lawrence Kasdan) figured out how to show the many diehard fans of Star Wars some true love in The Force Awakens. I’m sure a complete list will take many viewings to make, but here is a list of 10 of the fan-servicing easter eggs I noticed while watching the film this weekend. Spoilers ahead.

powerdroidUnkar Plutt’s junk shop has a power droid like the Jawas had on their Sandcrawler on Tatooine.

Finn’s experience as a sanitation trooper comes in handy when Han suggests they dump Phasma down a garbage shute into a trash compactor. You know, like Han and co. visited in A New Hope.

In the attack on the Starkiller Base, they called Red 4 and then Red 6, indicating they had retired Luke’s call Red 5 like a team jersey after a star player retires.

FRemote_btminn tosses aside the remote Luke used for lightsaber practice while trying to find the right tool on the Millenium Falcon.

He also starts up the holographic game dejarik accidentally.

Speaking of Starkiller Base, in the original plans for Star Wars, Luke’s last name was Starkiller.

Finn bemoans the absence of blasters on Jakku, much like Han would prefer a good blaster.

When Poe is being tortured for info, the platform they have him on has red lights running under his legs giving a visual nod to Han’s pants.Retro3po

In the same scene, one of the wall panels looks distinctly like an abstract version of Darth Vader’s mask and chest apparatus.

At Maz Kanata’s cantina, there’s a droid based on the original Ralph McQuarrie design for C3PO.


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Earthling Cinema Goes For Synchronicity, Analyzes ‘Star Wars: Return of the Jedi’

The premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is less than two weeks away, and it appears the anticipatory celebration of all things Star Wars has begun for reals. Like, the cool people finally showed up, and they’ve dimmed the lights for proper party conditions. For their part in the synchronicity, Earthling Cinema, still too classy to address the prequels, finishes their look at the original trilogy in their most recent episode. I’ve posted about Earthling Cinema’s take on Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. The results are pretty fantastic.

Unsurprisingly since ROTJ is considered a subpar entry into the franchise compared to the first two, EC does mock it more mercilessly than the first two, and their analysis is likewise somewhat thinner. But as a fan of the film since its theater premiere, I can attest that the mockery is both cathartically satisfying and the analysis is intriguing.

EC ROTJ

In the video you’ll learn about musical leitmotifs, the connections between Endor and the Vietnam war, and the theme of technology vs. the natural. You’ll also get to enjoy the mockery of Star Wars as a one-woman show, the send-off of Boba Fett, and the reuse of plot elements from A New Hope. Plus lots of other lovely jokes I wouldn’t dare give away.

Entertain and edify yourself simultaneously!

 


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Graphic Novel Review – Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1

Darth Vader Vol.1 “Vader” written by Kieron Gillen illustrated by Salvador Larroca

Vader Cover

The original Dark Lord of the Sith stars in his first ongoing series! Ever since Darth Vader’s first on-screen appearance, he has become one of pop culture’s most popular villains. Now, follow Vader straight from the ending of A NEW HOPE into his own solo adventures – showing the Empire’s war with the Rebel Alliance from the other side! But when a Dark Lord needs help, who can he turn to? As Vader pursues a very personal vengeance against the Rebels and investigates the Emperor’s secret machinations, he clashes with weapons scavenger Aphra and deadly Battle Droids, and returns to Geonosis to build an army. But some very powerful people don’t want him to learn the truths he seeks! Guest-starring Jabba the Hutt, Boba Fett and more!

 

I’m a hard, old, bitter curmudgeon. Sometimes, anyway. I was a Star Wars fan club member back when Bantha Tracks was still printing exclusive news about Revenge of the Jedi. There’s been so much new expanded universe stuff since then that it all sort of blurs together. And I haven’t been able to muster much enthusiasm for it.

When the new Star Wars comic was announced the only interesting thing about it was that John Cassaday was the artist. We didn’t even consider picking up Darth Vader or Princess Leia. A year’s gone by, now. Things have changed.

One thing, really. We read The Wicked + The Divine. Usually when I like something a lot I reread it over and over again. Then I enter into the broader conversation in some way. I’m okay for a little while. And then I become Galactus.

So that’s why I picked up “Vader.” I’m on a binge. The thing is, it’s great. I mean, I’d heard that. There’s a good chance you’ve heard that. Anyway, it’s true.

Darth Vader comes at the character from surprisingly varied vectors. It opens with some straightforward action. Vader is implacable and indomitable. The philosophical difference between the dark side and the light is clearly illustrated. This is the Vader you expect, that you secretly want from the broader narrative.

From there it skips back a beat, to an audience with the Emperor; a dressing down for the catastrophe of A New Hope. Vader, as the sole survivor, shoulders the singular responsibility. You can almost hear minor chords in the background as the comic begins to do the work episodes one through three were meant for and largely failed to accomplish. The first stirrings of sympathy for the Sith Lord.

Subordinated to an Imperial Grand General, suspicious of his master, and investigating the mysterious rebel youth who destroyed the Empire’s ultimate weapon, Vader negotiates a web of intrigues. Gillen ties this new interstitial story strongly to both the original trilogy and the prequels. The references are both strong and subtle. And they’re enabled largely due to Salvador Larocca’s attention to detail.

Scenes from each of the films are redrawn and juxtaposed, reframed and recast. There’s an extended sequence remixed from Raiders of the Lost Ark and rehabilitating the droideka that introduces the first of Vader’s new allies. I hesitate to spoil things, of course, but the supporting cast is a large part of the draw. Amoral Aphra is rule 63’s perfect answer to Indiana Jones. Triple Zero is Anthony Daniels’ HK-47, a sociopathic C-3PO. And BT-1 is, adorably, astromech Wolverine.

Two droids and a self possessed young woman. Narrative and structural parallels. From Tatooine to Geonosis, Darth Vader gets it. It’s of the Star Wars universe and among the fans. This is the dirge of Anakin Skywalker.

And it’s got space whales.

Recommended for fans of Farscape, Knights of the Old Republic, and “Bad Romance.”