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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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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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What If the New ‘Star Wars’ Sucks Too? Enjoy the Anticipation

What is making me happy? This blog from Deadspin writer Albert Burneko. In it he expresses the excitement upon seeing the new trailer that we all experienced, but with an underlying dread, a sneaking, indelible memory of the travesty that was the prequels. He goes on to suggest that Return of the Jedi had the seeds of the prequels’ decline into trash.

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I agree with much but not all of what he says. Hate on the Ewoks all you want–I loved them. LOVED THEM.

But that’s not why you should read this. You should read it because Burneko’s voice is utterly hilarious. Full of profane, specific, insightful diction, he names what most fans cannot. I wore a grin during the entire reading, laughed audibly multiple times. If you are a fan of the Star Wars franchise, it’s worth your time.

The Concourse: What if the New ‘Star Wars’ Sucks, Too?

However, I do want to add an insight Michael had. It doesn’t really matter if the new film sucks. The joy is in the anticipation. And with that said, here’s a gif–it comes with no price.

ForceAwakens6

 


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Toddlers, Depression, and ‘Inside Out’

IOposterMichael and I have put our toddler on a training regimen. The goal: being able to sit through and enjoy Star Wars: The Force Awakens when it hits theaters in December. One of the subgoals was to get the kid to sit through any film without unnecessary potty trips and unbearable antsyness. That subgoal was reached a week ago when we went to Inside Out. After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged that toddlers are engaged more by animation than live action.

I had heard the critical and popular praise for Inside Out, and due to recently binge-diving into Parks and Recreation, my appreciation for Amy Poehler had grown. I was excited to see this film. It did not disappoint. Of course, our toddler didn’t quite get the intricacies of the story. This wasn’t Cars, exactly. Much of the action was abstract. But there were zero trips to the potty, and after the truly lackluster short, “Lava,” the kid was engaged.

What really got my appreciation, however, was the depiction of beginning depression. As a person who has personally dealt with depression, I recognized the presentation of it as visually on point. Spoilers ahead.

Riley, the little girl who is the protagonist/setting, has been forced to relocate to San Francisco for her father’s job. She is initially as positive as possible, attempting to alleviate her parents’ stress when the moving van is delayed. She is, as they repeatedly remind her, their happy child. This normally happy disposition is represented by the character Joy (Poehler) being in charge of the emotion control panel in the girl’s brain. But as she encounters difference after difference from her Midwestern home, the stress of change creates havoc in the emotional control center. Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith, begins to uncontrollably touch her memories, turning previously happy ones into sad ones. Joy desperately tries to stop this, causing all kinds of problems–the rising action of the film.

Inside-Out-Joy-Sadness

As Joy attempts to block sadness from touching Riley’s memories again and again, Riley fails to deal because she’s not allowed the required core emotion to process her move. She has just lost the only life she’s known, and while there is re-making and happiness to be had in the future, that seems difficult and distant in the moment. Ultimately, she needs to grieve, but her self-imposed requirement to be happy is blocking that sadness from being felt.

In the climax of the film, Riley decides to run away, go back to her former home where she can be happy again. As she gets on the bus, the emotional control panel inside of her starts to gray out. The emotions who are trying to spark reactions in her can’t get through. The communication panel between her emotions and her physical body is breaking down. Only when Joy tells Sadness to take over, and Sadness removes the idea of running away from the control panel, does Riley feel her emotions again and begin to deal with her sense of loss.

Inside-Out-RileyParents

That graying panel signaling the loss of emotional connection is brilliant–a perfect visual analogy for depression.

I began my current teaching job 12 years ago. That first year was the most stressful I’d ever had. My anxiety was off the charts. That also meant my body was pumping out as much cortisol as it could. Cortisol is the hormone that controls that survivalist fight or flight response, and its how the body deals with physical and emotional stress. But coritsol isn’t meant to be produced by the body in high amounts over the long term. Over time, the body simply runs out of it. The prolonged stress actually caused my body to burn out its ability to respond to my anxiety. My anxiety turned to into depression as my body couldn’t do anything but disconnect from the emotional control center that kept signalling Fear.

Few people understand the differences between sadness and depression, but the film makes it clear. Sadness is a healthy, cleansing emotional response to loss. Depression is actually the inability to feel–disconnect is at the heart of it. Disconnect from life, from consequences, from friends, from family. Disconnect from self. And connection, often, is what will turn it around, just as Riley had to turn around and connect with her parents through their sadness, to feel it, to accept the loss, before being able to make a new life.

My toddler may not understand this now, but in a few years of life experience and emotional understanding, I hope the analogy will still be there, making more and more sense.


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Star Wars Saturday: ‘Aftermath’ Excerpt Begins to Bridge from ‘ROTJ’ to ‘TFA’

On September 4, a new novel titled Star Wars: Aftermath will be the first of a trilogy published to bridge the events of Return of the Jedi with the upcoming events of The Force Awakens. Chuck Wendig has written the new post-Return of the Jedi canon for fans to devour.

Part of the novel was “accidentally” released on the web, and rather than attempt to shut the spread down, marketers decided to release even more of the excerpt via Entertainment Weekly. So now the first few chapters are available to preview. Go read them here.

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The opening of Aftermath shows the victory of the Battle of Endor, the destruction of the Death Star, the Emperor, and his henchman Darth Vader are not the definitive win the film, especially the Special Edition, might make us think. Though Ackbar gives a victory speech in the prelude, the first scene is on Coruscant, where civilians are toppling the statue of the Emperor but stormtroopers are quick to use violence to subdue the mob. It is a sensible turn of events considering how rebellions work in the real world. It dampens the joy we’ve come to know at the end of Return of the Jedi, but it is a sensible start to the journey to The Force Awakens.

Is a Star Wars novel meant to be of literary complexity and composition or is it merely plot-based fiction to be quickly absorbed by the brain? This excerpt certainly seems to point to the latter. The use of present tense brings an odd urgency to the narrative but makes for somewhat odd reading–usually a novel like this would be written in past tense. But that’s where I’ll leave the nitpicking. Decide for yourself if the writing is stomachable or not–after all, they’ve been thoughtful enough to give you a taste-test.