Themes: / Star Wars / Dark Times / rebels / Jedi / Empire /
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….
“The war is over. The Separatists have been defeated, and the Jedi rebellion has been foiled. We stand on the threshold of a new beginning.” (Emperor Palpatine)
For a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights brought peace and order to the Galactic Republic, aided by their connection to the mystical energy field known as the Force. But they were betrayed – and the entire galaxy has paid the price. It is the Age of the Empire.
Now Emperor Palpatine, once Chancellor of the Republic and secretly a Sith follower of the dark side of the Force, has brought his own peace and order to the galaxy. Peace through brutal repression, and order through increasing control of his subjects’ lives.
But even as the Emperor tightens his iron grip, others have begun to question his means and motives. And still others, whose lives were destroyed by Palpatine’s machinations, lay scattered about the galaxy like unexploded bombs, waiting to go off….
The first Star Wars novel created in collaboration with the Lucasfilm Story Group, Star Wars: A New Dawn is set during the legendary “Dark Times” between Episodes III and IV and tells the story of how two of the lead characters from the animated series Star Wars Rebels first came to cross paths. Featuring a foreword by Dave Filoni.
This is it: The beginning of the new Star Wars content after the entire expanded universe became “legends” and it is….decent. Not awesome but also not bad. It’s hard to be objective because John Jackson Miller is charged with kicking off all new characters with all new adventures, and that feels much different from previous stories with established characters. I was kind of disappointed with the characters because this was an opportunity to be unique and they chose to make recycled versions of previous Star Wars characters. That said, the book was the normal action packed Star Wars adventure you’d expect and didn’t actually end the way I assumed it would – which I liked. I’d recommend this book to Star Wars fans or those interested in the new Rebels show (since this precedes it in the timeline) but would still point to Timothy Zahn’s work as a real gateway drug into Star Wars books.
Miller does a great job getting the feel of Star Wars in this book but the story also feels a bit like the characters from Star Wars have been recycled a bit:
Kanan Jarrus: A bit of a rogue with budding jedi powers kept hidden. He comes of like 30% Luke and 70% Han. Marc Thompson didn’t use either his Luke or Han voice for this character but I noticed him slipping somewhat into a Han voice on some of the more roguish moments.
Hera: Leia meets Mara Jade. She’s all about investigating wrong doing by the Empire, runs around with a hood up, and does some spy-type stuff.
Count Vidian: Evil cyborg guy that works for the Empire. I guess you always need an evil guy that is mostly machine (Vader/Grievous) to show how much they’re lost their humanity.
Skelly: This guy’s hi-jinks just make me think of Jar Jar Binks. No weird accent at least.
The main plot of the story revolves around the Empire wanting to increase efficiency of their mining of a mineral they need for expanding the fleet. The Empire shows up with the ruthless efficiency expert Count Vidian to make the miners be more efficient or else. Action and drama ensue from there and I always find it amazing how many times an author can get all the good and bad guys together only to have people escape / not get hurt and continue on with their plans. I thought the story was pretty well thought out and there were interesting revelations about characters and their motivations throughout the story so it wasn’t just straightforward action.
One thing that kind of annoyed me was a fairly major thread that seems to serve as an allegory to all the leaks in the media lately. There are contractors that monitor citizens (a la 1984) via hidden cameras and microphones but that monitoring has gotten out of hand since the emperor came to power. There is even a “military contractor” that is a whistle blower….. All of this may not have been intentional but it sure felt like it.
As for the audio side of things, Marc Thompson did a great job as usual. If you’ve listened to a Star Wars book narrated by him before, you’ve heard his different voices and know what to expect. All the great Star Wars sound effects, atmospheric sounds, and music are there too. I may be less critical now, but I thought all of that was better done, less distracting, and contributed a bit better to this story than in some others I’ve listened to in the past.
And just a fun treat, this isn’t from this particular Star Wars novel but the same narrator:
Posted by Tom Schreck
William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return
By Ian Doescher; Narrated by Marc Thompson, Jonathan Davis, Daniel Davis, Jeff Gurner, January Lavoy, and Ian Doescher
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 1 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 35 minutes
Listen to excerpt: | MP3 |
Themes: / Shakespeare / iambic pentameter / full cast / Star Wars /
Return to the star-crossed galaxy far, far away as the brooding young hero, a power-mad emperor, and their jesting droids match wits, struggle for power, and soliloquize in elegant and impeccable iambic pentameter. Illustrated with beautiful black-and-white Elizabethan-style artwork, these two plays offer essential reading for all ages. Something Wookiee this way comes!
The jedi doth return indeed. The final book of the Shakespearean Star Wars trilogy keeps pace with the first two books with regard to author Ian Doescher’s ability to come up with interesting rules for his writing. I enjoyed this book as much as the first and highly suggest experiencing the full performance of the audio book as it works quite well in the form of a radio play.
If you really want to follow all that’s going on, listen to the author’s note after the story first. Doescher explains all of the rules he came up with in previous books and the ones he added for himself in this play. Some rules are more obvious like writing in iambic pentameter and Boba Fett’s prose but others are more interesting. For your assistance and enjoyment, here is a list of those I can remember:
- Most lines are written in iambic pentameter (including the last two lines of a scene rhyming).
- Han and Leia speak to each other in rhyming couplets when alone.
- Boba Fett speaks in prose.
- Yoda speaks in haiku.
- Ewoks speak in a mix of Ewok and broken English
Doescher adds a decent amount of literary mechanisms like foreshadowing, aside, foils, and soliloquy to really give this play the Shakespeare feeling. I could go on more about this but a cool benefit these gave is that he’s able to get into character’s heads to show what they’re thinking at times I’ve never thought about while watching the movie. For instance, what is Han thinking when he’s woken up from his carbonite sleep? What is Leia thinking when Luke breaks the news of his family tree? I really like how this was used to highlight the inner struggles that Luke and Darth Vader have during their final confrontation.
The audio book performance is great. All the character voices are done superbly, the sound effects are all there, and the music is well used. The use of a cast definitely lends well to the presentation of this as a play. There are even a few…musical surprises. The note on the audio version is that the lines are read for performance and not to emphasize the iambic pentameter…so Doescher’s efforts in keeping the pattern aren’t really noticeable (you remember from English class right? da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA). This isn’t a detractor since most would prefer this to be acted but just noting it.
Posted by Tom Schreck
William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back
By Ian Doescher; Performed by a full cast (Daniel Davis, Jonathan Davis, Ian Doescher, Jeff Gurner, January LaVoy, Marc Thompson)
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 18 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 25 minutes
Themes: / Star Wars / Shakespeare / iambic pentameter / haiku /
Hot on the heels of the New York Times bestseller William Shakespeare’s Star Wars comes the next two installments of the original trilogy: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back and William Shakespeare’s The Jed Doth Return. Return to the star-crossed galaxy far, far away as the brooding young hero, a power-mad emperor, and their jesting droids match wits, struggle for power, and soliloquize in elegant and impeccable iambic pentameter. These two plays offer essential listening for all ages. Something Wookiee this way comes!
Ian Doescher is back with more Shakespearian Star Wars as he progresses through the original trilogy. The Empire Striketh Back is very similar to Shakespeare’s Star Wars with some minor differences. As before, if you like Star Wars and Shakespeare you will probably enjoy this book…especially if you liked the first one. I think this book comes across a bit more silly than the first which is unfortunate because The Empire Strikes Back is the darkest part of the trilogy and some of that emotion is lost due to the silliness. That said, Doescher once again does a fantastic job putting everything into iambic pentameter and even mixes things up with some prose and even haiku with different characters.
The Shakespeare/literary side of this book is really well done, almost to the point that I would say this book would be a great device for teaching disinterested kids about Shakespeare without them reading Shakespeare. Doescher is more varied in his use of literary tools and explains a few of the differences in this book from the first in an afterward. I really wish that was at the beginning so I could be on the lookout for Boba Fett’s use of prose (I noticed that), Yoda speaking in haiku (I didn’t notice that), and his relying less on the chorus to explain scenes (I noticed this a bit since the characters explained more of what’s happening). The fact that he was able to do the whole book in iambic pentameter (complete with rhyming couplets) and also integrated some haiku is an impressive feat of work. Doescher also makes really good use of soliloquy and aside to explain character motivation for things like the budding relationship between Han and Leia, Lando’s motives, and what R2D2 is thinking at times. This allows him to flesh out things left to physical acting in the movies or description/narration in the novels.
While the book is technically impressive, the writing is approached like Renaissance faire Shakespeare and has a bit of a silliness aspect to it. This works great normally but definitely takes away from the emotion of things happening, especially later in the story (in Cloud City). The main silly aspect that got me was the singing. Shakespeare did have songs in many of his plays but singing ugnaughts and a song from Leia and Chewbacca come across as silly (at least they definitely did in the audiobook). The ugnaughts (picture the pig faced short guys working the incinerator room and carbon freezing chamber of Cloud City) came across like Oompa Loompa’s from the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. The Leia and Chewbacca song also comes at a time of great loss and just feels out of place. There is other silliness that works well (a discussion of why places like the Death Star and Cloud City need to have large open spaces adjacent to walkways is one) so just consider me overly sensitive with my Empire Strikes Back. ;-)
I really enjoyed this as an audiobook and think it’s the preferred way to experience this telling of the story. The cast does a great job with all impressions and the music and sound effects are some of the best you’ll find in a Star Wars book. I mainly say that because all the sound effects and especially the music have a place that goes along with what’s happening in the story (I’m big into soundtracks and this was a huge factor for me). I have to admit that I was a little sad that it was over so soon because the performance was very enjoyable. I’m definitely looking forward to the conclusion of this Shakespearian trilogy.
Posted by Tom Schreck
Honor Among Thieves: Star Wars (Empire and Rebellion)
By James S.A. Corey, read by Marc Thompson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 4 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 52 minutes
Themes: / Star Wars / rebellion /
Nebula and Hugo Award nominees Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck—writing as James S. A. Corey—make their Star Wars debut in this brand-new epic adventure featuring Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia Organa. The action begins after the destruction of the Death Star in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope.
When the Empire threatens the galaxy’s new hope, will Han, Luke, and Leia become its last chance? When the mission is to extract a high-level rebel spy from the very heart of the Empire, Leia Organa knows the best man for the job is Han Solo—something the princess and the smuggler can finally agree on. After all, for a guy who broke into an Imperial cell block and helped destroy the Death Star, the assignment sounds simple enough.
But when Han locates the brash rebel agent, Scarlet Hark, she’s determined to stay behind enemy lines. A pirate plans to sell a cache of stolen secrets that the Empire would destroy entire worlds to protect—including the planet where Leia is currently meeting with rebel sympathizers. Scarlet wants to track down the thief and steal the bounty herself, and Han has no choice but to go along if he’s to keep everyone involved from getting themselves killed. From teeming city streets to a lethal jungle to a trap-filled alien temple, Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and their daring new comrade confront one ambush, double cross, and firestorm after another as they try to keep crucial intel out of Imperial hands.
But even with the crack support of Luke Skywalker’s x-wing squadron, the Alliance heroes may be hopelessly outgunned in their final battle for the highest of stakes: the power to liberate the galaxy from tyranny or ensure the Empire’s reign of darkness forever.
Honor Among Thieves is a great Star Wars book. This is the second book of the Empire and Rebellion trilogy but fear not, there is no overarching plot to worry about and the only thing relating the two books so far is just that they take place between Episodes 4 and 5. The plot is pretty decent but whatever it may lack is completely made up for in the characterization and interaction of the characters I didn’t realize I was missing in other Star Wars novels. The charisma feels a lot more like the character interaction from the original trilogy than any other time period in the books. The main short coming of the novel is that nothing major can happen in this book because it is essentially a side adventure that takes place between Episodes 4 and 5 of the original trilogy. I would recommend this book to any Star Wars fan whether or not they’ve read any Star Wars novels before.
As you can tell by the cover, this story mainly follows Han Solo as he goes on a mission to extract the Rebel Alliance agent Scarlet Hark from deep cover in the Empire. He struggles along the way with how far he is willing to go for the Rebel Alliance and whether he thinks they could become as controlling as the Empire they are trying to usurp. Scarlet Hark kind of takes the place of Leia as this strong, attractive female that Han can verbally parry with as they go along in their adventure. Luke and Leia are present too but in more of a limited capacity for much of the story.
Speaking of verbal parrying, James S.A. Corey does a great job with the character interaction in this story. One of the reason why I haven’t really liked the prequel trilogy is that the characters felt stiff toward each other, even those that were supposedly falling in love. As I said earlier, this novel follows much more closely in the vein of the original trilogy where the characters banter with each other and feel like they have much deeper relationships or a history that this novel builds on. Other Star Wars books are great (particularly the ones by Timothy Zahn), but they rarely have this kind of warm interaction between the characters. There is some genuine humor and even some silliness in this book asidde from the common slight comic relief normally present in Star Wars books. I would say that this part of the novel was so good that I’m actually going to go read some James S.A. Corey novels just because I enjoyed the writing style so much in this book.
As for the audio side of things, Marc Thompson does a great job with the voices as usual. The impersonations of well known characters are well done and new voices are quite entertaining. I particularly enjoyed his Hunter Maas voice because it was perfect for the swagger of that character. The novel also gave some great moments for Marc Thompson to use some great surfer dude and valley girl voices that were pretty great for the characters. His voices for Scarlet Hark and Leia were so similar though that they were hard to tell apart, especially when in the same conversation. As for Chewbacca, I think other books use canned sounds (pretty sure) but some of his parts in this book are more….unique…and all of his parts are done specifically for this book. This can be good at times but I kind of found it distracting because it didn’t sound like the Chewbacca I’m used to. The sound effects and music were just about as good as you’d expect from your typical Star Wars novel.
Posted by Tom Schreck
Lockdown: Star Wars (Maul)
By Joe Schreiber; Read by Jonathan Davis
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: January 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 24 minutes
Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |
Themes: / Star Wars/ Sith Lords / horror /
Set before the events of Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, this new novel is a thrilling follow-up to Star Wars: Darth Plagueis.
It’s kill or be killed in the space penitentiary that houses the galaxy’s worst criminals, where convicts face off in gladiatorial combat while an underworld gambling empire reaps the profits of the illicit blood sport. But the newest contender in this savage arena, as demonic to behold as he is deadly to challenge, is fighting for more than just survival. His do-or-die mission, for the dark masters he serves, is to capture the ultimate weapon: an object that will enable the Sith to conquer the galaxy.
Sith lords Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious are determined to possess the prize. And one of the power-hungry duo has his own treacherous plans for it. But first, their fearsome apprentice must take on a bloodthirsty prison warden, a cannibal gang, cutthroat crime lord Jabba the Hutt, and an unspeakable alien horror. No one else could brave such a gauntlet of death and live. But no one else is the dreaded dark-side disciple known as Darth Maul.
Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown is a Science Fiction/Horror prominently featuring Darth Maul that shows some of the darkest sides of prison life and organized crime the Star Wars universe has to offer. The story and characters are interesting but the sheer violence really seems to be the main point behind this novel. Don’t discount that “horror” part either – this book features some serious violence, gore, and other things that will make many cringe…especially with some of the sound effects that accompany the audiobook version.
The premise of the novel is that Darth Maul goes to a prison undercover for Darth Sidious to find an arms dealer running out of that prison. The prison makes money by running a gambling racket pitting inmates against each other in fight to the death. The twist is that Sidious has forbidden Maul from using the Force so that observers don’t know he is really a sith lord in disguise.
When you were a kid, did you ever sit around with friends talking about who would win in a fight between two of your favorite comic book characters? Batman vs. Superman, Wolverine vs. Cyclops, etc? Those would sometimes devolve into arguments like, “well what if Batman didn’t have kryptonite while fighting Superman” or something like that. Well this novel is the Star Wars equivalent of that in which Darth Maul is pitted against a gamut of different creatures from the Star Wars universe that get more and more difficult. While the danger of these fights is definitely recognizable, this becomes more of a question of how Darth Maul defeats his foe than if he will survive since we all know when his character really dies.
Truth be told, I did not realize this novel was horror when I first started it. Joe Schreiber also wrote Death Troopers and Red Harvest but I didn’t realize this until I was a bit into the book. Star Wars is not a universe in which you’d expect to encounter horror but I have to say that Schreiber pulls it off well in this book with a fairly believable premise. It didn’t feel like a horror novel shoe horned into the Star Wars universe. My only gripe would just be that some things mentioned are more from our world and felt like anachronisms in a Star Wars novel. They didn’t detract much from the story but nagged me a bit at times.
Jonathan Davis did a great job as usual with his work in the Star Wars universe. There weren’t really any impersonations for him to work with here except for Maul and Sidious so voices were mainly left up to him to make up. The sound effects and music were up to par with any Star Wars novel but I have to say, they really went big on the squelching, breaking, smashing sounds that accompany many of the violent/gore filled scenes in the book…to the point that I think I may have cringed a few times.
Posted by Tom Schreck
Talked about on this episode: Original fiction from Tor.com featuring stories from Brandon Sanderson, John Scalzi, Charles Stross, and others; The Man Who Sold the Moon short story collection by Robert A. Heinlein; Jesse has fun trying to pronounce “elegiac”; the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb); “Simon pure” science fiction; The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov; Heinlein’s short fiction versus his novels; Have Spacesuit Will Travel; Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer and comparisons to The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the merits of the Catching Fire film; the politics of dresses in the Hunger Games universe; Archetype by M.D. Waters; gender in dystopia; listening to audiobooks at 2x speed; The Loon by Michaelbrent Collings; Christopher Golden’s Snowblind; Phantoms by Dean Koontz; 30 Days of Night; Marko Kloos’s Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure; The Master of the World by Jules Verne; find out where grits came from; Jules Verne’s science is awful; The Wreck of the Nebula Dream by Veronica Scott; “I’m the king of the world!”; A New Beginning by Craig Brummer; Honor Among Thieves, a Star Wars novel by James S.A. Corey; Tam gets a Star Wars geography lesson; Jenny gets a Star Wars fashion lesson (hint: the guys in white are NOT the good guys); Tam is dressed as Princess Leia; The Gods Themselves, a strange book by Isaac Asimov; Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh; Mystery Men; Atopia by Matthew Mather; Influx by Daniel Suarez; The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley; Dawn of Swords by David Dalglish and Robert J. Duperre; The Land Across by Gene Wolfe; ruritanian romance and Bangsian fantasy; don’t call if Kafka-esque; Moon over Parador starring Richard Dreyfuss and Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein; A Darkling Sea by James Cambias (not yet in audio); V-S Day by Allen Steele (Locus review); The Martian by Andy Weir; The Scorpion Game by Daniel Jeffries (no audio, Tam’s Goodreads review); Eldrich Tales: A Miscellany of the Macabre by H.P. Lovecraft on Downpour; Stories of your Life collection by Ted Chiang now available in audio.
Posted by Jesse Willis