Friday, December 29, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast – CCAD016 – Last Jedi Predictions

Sean and Andrew get ready for THE LAST JEDI by going over their last minute expectations of the new STAR WARS movie. How will the philosophy of the Jedi and the Sith be represented? What is the fundamental Taoist philosophy of the Jedi and the Sith? Get ready to have your mind blown.

And don't forget to buy Sean's new book, THE MYTH AWAKENS, which explores the mystery and the philosophy of EPISODE VII! Now available on Amazon... just sayin'...

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast - CCAD015 - Unknown Regions

Sean and Andrew continue their pre-EPISODE VIII discussion of what the future may hold. The secrets of Snoke's orgins in the Unknown Regions, the fate of Grand Admiral Thrawn, and the Jakku operations of Gallius Rax... This one's got it all, folks.

You can follow even more theories of what might be and what might have been in Sean's new book, THE MYTH AWAKENS, available on Amazon in Kindle and print!

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast - CCAD014 - Balance of the Force

Sean and Andrew catch up on STAR WARS theories leading up to the release of the new STAR WARS movie. Gotta get this stuff out there now, since the movie’s quickly rendering these theories obsolete.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017



Here’s another example of a visual effect that initially seems like it’s just there be cool but is actually symbolic of deeper meaning in the story: Before Poe is captured, he fires at Kylo Ren. Astonishingly, Kylo is able to stop the blaster bolt in mid-air. This is so shocking to Poe, in fact, that he is too stunned to offer any further resistance. At the end of the scene we see that Kylo just as casually allows the bolt to complete its original course, striking the spot where he had previously been standing. This imagery of the bolt, which looks like a lightning bolt hanging in mid-air, likens Kylo to mythical masters of the elemental aspects of the storm. Even his lightsaber looks more like a living flame or a harnessed thunderbolt than those seen in other STAR WARS films. Palpatine evoked the same imagery in a much more powerful way in EPISODE VI, when he literally hurled lightning at Luke Skywalker. Storm Gods and their accompanying imagery play a major role in mythology, for good or ill. Later on I think we’ll see their symbolic importance in this story as we begin to understand more about Kylo’s nature and his past.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Myth Awakens, Part One!

With the first STAR WARS trilogy, George Lucas successfully translated the classic hero’s journey from ancient myth into the mainstream understanding of modern popular culture. We witness young Luke Skywalker, a humble farm boy, receiving a Heaven-sent message with a call to adventure which leads him to a kindly old wizard who gives him a magic sword and takes him beyond the limits of the world as he has always known it. From there he storms a fortress, saves a beautiful princess, travels through the belly of the beast to discover his true nature in a celestial temple, and comes into contact with a spiritual power that allows him to face off against a black knight and destroy a near-indestructible monstrosity capable of devouring entire worlds. It is a story resonant with the classic mythological motifs that Joseph Campbell identified in the first part of his book, THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. George Lucas followed up on Luke’s adventure by outlining the history of Luke’s father Anakin Skywalker, the hero fated to doom the galaxy to the evils Luke would later be tasked with undoing. In Anakin we find a more primordial archetype of the hero. His fate is not defined by moral pretext, but rather by a mandate to uncreate the world he is born into and recreate it in his own image. This too is echoed in THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, but instead of following the young hero as he assumes the role of the World Redeemer, the hero of the prequel saga is the pitiless embodiment of the Cosmogonic Cycle. He is the inevitable dissolution of one generation and its ideals as it is being succeeded by the next. So we have two trilogies of films covering the spectrum of classic hero stories and archetypes. This also represents George Lucas’ complete contribution to the STAR WARS saga in film. Is there anything left to say? When Lucas sold the franchise to Disney in 2012, it certainly seemed that the core story was over. Even when Disney announced that they were planning a third trilogy of films that would continue the story in EPISODE VII, the question remained as to whether there was anything new that could be introduced to the overall mythology of STAR WARS. In order to address that question, it’s worthwhile to analyze the latest addition to the saga as its own story, as a continuation of the original films, and as a return to the mythic themes the STAR WARS movies have always so successfully explored.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast - CCAD012 - Han Solo Dos and Don'ts

Sean, Andrew, and Lynn discuss the recent troubles with the HAN SOLO spin-off film, providing a few dos and don'ts for the project moving forward.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast - CCAD011 - The Cosmic Force

Sean and Andrew explore the physics and mythology of Force Ghosts and how they relate to the prequels, THE CLONE WARS, and the original STAR WARS trilogy. What did Qui-Gon Jinn return from the grave to teach Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi? Why do Yoda and Obi-Wan vanish when they die? Why does Anakin return as a Force Ghost? From their experiences on Mortis to Morabund, what do the Jedi learn from the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn and what will it mean for Luke Skywalker in the STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI?

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 Here's the official info on General Hux's cat:

Check out this awesome cover of The Force Theme by Scandroid!

Here are the articles being discussed in this episode:

The Living Force: The Gods of Mortis
The Living Force: The Trial of Yoda
The Living Force: The Redemption of Qui-Gon Jinn

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

STAR WARS LEGENDS 1997: Specter of the Past by Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn, the architect of the LEGENDS Expanded Universe, originally re-launched the STAR WARS saga in 1991 with the first of three novels, HEIR TO THE EMPIRE. Unfortunately, the Expanded Universe fell into other hands after Zahn had completed the third book of his THRAWN trilogy. Those follow-up efforts did not do much to advance the story from there and actually did more than a little to set it back. Like any architect seeing his design to succumb to shoddy craftsmanship, Zahn eventually stepped in to set things right. His follow-up to the THRAWN trilogy, the HAND OF THRAWN duology, was a thinly veiled effort to do just that. Trouble is, by 1997 the extent of the damage was just too broad. And I think by then the effort just wasn't sufficient to the task.

The New Republic era has a maddening number of stories that begin with our heroes getting caught up in a failed diplomatic effort. I don’t understand this as a device, because authors always have to write around it to get the book going. In SPECTER OF THE PAST, the first part of the HAND OF THRAWN story, Han wants to give Leia some much-needed time off with the kids, so he volunteers to mediate a shipping dispute between the Diamola and the Ishori, somehow also roping Luke into going with him. You start to wonder after a while if the New Republic is just five guys and a room. Nothing gets done, regardless of how insignificant, without the involvement of the core characters from the original film trilogy. The irony is that I think people felt like showing all these political troubles would give a sense of scope to the galaxy’s new government, but dividing all these problems among a handful of mainstay characters makes the world feel smaller, not bigger.

As always happens in these stories, the mission quickly becomes unimportant and ends up triggering some other arc for the characters to follow. After being met with distrust at the negotiations, Luke feels that his fears of his own Jedi powers are becoming justified. As the only real Jedi Master in the galaxy, Luke is not sure what the limits of his powers are or in fact should be. Because of this, he’s been trying to scale back the use of those abilities.

"What do you think, guys? Have I been getting a little... dark, lately? Be honest."

This is a clever response on Zahn’s part to stories in the Expanded Universe that had overblown Luke’s powers to the point where he was too difficult to write and was no longer relatable to the reader. It also addresses a legitimate concern within the story that continues to be an issue throughout the saga. The original Jedi Council brought on the downfall of the Old Republic by improperly governing their powers. In the third film trilogy we see, just as we see in the Expanded Universe, that Luke’s efforts to rebuild the Jedi Order have some disastrous consequences for the galaxy. SPECTER OF THE PAST was written well before the first and third film trilogies, so this consideration is prescient in predicting the inherent threat the existence of the Jedi can pose, regardless of their intentions.

Han and Luke quickly abandon their efforts, deciding that if mediation between two hostile groups isn’t satisfactorily resolved in a few hours, then it must be completely hopeless. On their way off the planet, they stumble onto a gang of space pirates and Luke senses that the pirates are using clones.

Remember: This book was published before the prequels. The only real references to clones in STAR WARS outside of an offhand comment in EPISODE IV were Thrawn’s reintroduction of clones in his original campaign against the New Republic and an unfortunate bit of mess where Dark Horse comics resurrected the Emperor as a clone. The clones in this story obviously call back to the original THRAWN trilogy, leaving Luke and Han to wonder if some of Thrawn’s clones have now somehow fallen into the wrong hands.

Leia is spending her vacation on Wayland with the Noghri and the kids. While there, they discover a smuggler trying to steal data chips from Mount Tantiss (Emperor Palpatine’s old super-secret storehouse). One of the files in question reveals that a group of Bothan spies was instrumental in a particularly brutal Imperial attack on the planet Caamas that took place many years ago. That massacre resulted in the destruction of the planet’s populace and most of the planet too, so it’s still a super sore point with most members of the New Republic.

"So on my right you see the Imperial fleet and on my left, well... Nothing.
Didn't Caamas used to be there? Who can say? Damnedest thing."

The uselessness of Bothans cannot be understated. Despite their brave sacrifice to get the Second Death Star plans to the Rebellion, it turns out they're actually terrible spies.

In the 20th Anniversary Edition of HEIR TO THE EMPIRE, Timothy Zahn explains that he thought the Bothans might play up their contribution to the Rebel Alliance in order to broker a favorable position in the new government. That interpretation of events would have the Bothans retroactively taking credit for their spy work even though it ultimately proved worthless. The Emperor would have made sure the Rebel Alliance got wind of his trap regardless of how many Bothans lived or died to deliver the message for him. But their effort and their sacrifice proved to be a feather in their collective caps, as Zahn wrote it, so any apocryphal interpretation of the Bothans as a race of spies was not directly his doing.

While all this has been going on, opposing forces within the Empire are struggling to assert their vision of its future. Leading the Imperial fleet is Admiral Pellaeon, who served under Grand Admiral Thrawn during Thrawn’s doomed campaign to rejuvenate the Empire’s former glory and defeat the building forces of the New Republic. The failure of that campaign and the death of Thrawn left the Empire in a state of disarray, and despite several efforts to realize Thrawn’s vision, the Empire has failed to resurrect itself and seems to be locked in a perpetual state of military defeat. Coming to this conclusion, Pellaeon believes the time has come at last for the Empire to officially and definitively offer its surrender to the New Republic.

Unbeknownst to Pellaeon, much shadier and zanier schemes are getting scummed within the Imperial ranks. Moff Disra, a political angler who has amassed a personal fortune and no small amount of power during the Empire’s reign, is not swayed by the quiet dignity of Pellaeon’s plan. Together with Grodin Tierce, an ex-Royal Guardsman who is a shrewd and savvy tactician, Disra plans to convince the remaining Imperial forces that Grand Admiral Thrawn is still alive. The plan involves a stand-in who looks and sounds like Thrawn, using strategies from Thrawn’s old play book to pick up where he left off.

When we cut back to Luke, he’s now on a self-imposed secret mission to infiltrate the space pirate gang and learn why they have clones. This is cool, but it’s really where Luke’s arc should have started instead of going with Han to negotiate a trade agreement, which neither of them are qualified to do. That story thread didn’t organically lead to this one and its only purpose besides getting Luke in the book sooner was to illustrate Luke’s misgivings about his powers. So rebooting with an unrelated arc feels a little like the book is starting over.

Regardless, Luke’s pirate adventure is the most exciting part of the book (another good reason it should have happened a little closer to the book’s beginning). Luke is rescued from the pirates in the nick of time by Mara Jade, bringing the two of them back together in their first satisfying interaction since the THRAWN trilogy. Other writers periodically used the characters that Zahn introduced to the saga, but not always to good effect. In the JEDI ACADEMY trilogy, Mara dabbled with studying the Force, but dropped out. Then she ran off with Lando Calrissian instead of Luke. I wasn’t too thrilled with that development, but I’ll chalk it up to what Zahn refers to as “out of character experiences” (mischaracterizations offered up by other authors).

The pirates are working for Moff Disra, of course, using clones provided by him to sow discord throughout the New Republic. This is a device to get Luke more involved in the story, but it doesn’t pay off right away.

The Caamas debate heats up across the New Republic, spurred on by protests orchestrated by Major Tierce. As more and more worlds demand some form of reparation or contrition from the Bothan governments, the seeds of unrest are being more successfully sown throughout the galaxy. New Republic President Gavrisom and Leia confront the Bothan Senator, Borsk Fey’lya, with a proposal for the Bothan government to pay for a new home world to be colonized for the Caamas survivors. Not sure how the survivors would feel about this, since they seem to be the only people in the galaxy not flipping their nut over this issue. It’s been many years since the destruction of Caamas. Aren’t they already settled somewhere else by now?

"No, we're good. We're fine just where we are. Never better."

It turns out to be a moot point, since Fey’lya reveals that the Bothan high clans are actually crippled with debts that they’ve been keeping a secret from the rest of the New Republic. Not only are they not in a position to help the Caamas survivors, their financial state is so poor that it jeopardizes the New Republic’s economy. Gavrisom decides the only reasonable next step is to send Leia to Bothawui to go over the Bothans’ books and see just how sorry a state they’re in. Apparently the whole rest of the New Republic’s diplomatic corps is never sent to do anything, since it always seems to fall on Leia when a job involves going to another planet.

Meanwhile, Luke has a Jedi vision that he drastically mis-prioritizes. He sees Leia being chased by an angry mob and sees Mara apparently dead, but he decides they’re fully capable of taking care of themselves so there’s not even any point in warning them. Instead he chooses to focus on the most benign element of the vision, in which he pictures himself on a mysterious planet. Seems strange for Luke to exclusively concern himself with the part of the vision that was about him and not even tell the others about the premonitions of imminent peril he’d received from the Force.

To be fair, the Luke parts of the visions tend to be pretty important.

Leia does indeed find herself confronted by an angry mob on Bothawui, when Imperial agents incite a protest into a riot. During Han and Leia’s escape, the Imperials fire on the crowd and make it look like Han did it, so yet another diplomatic mission degenerates into mayhem and failure. Why exactly does the New Republic insist on sending her on these missions?

Luke’s failure to warn Mara meets with equally predictable consequences. While investigating an unidentifiable alien ship on a remote world, Mara is overtaken by bat creatures in a cave. Her crew returns to Talon Karrde to mount a proper rescue, finding that Luke’s vision has led him to the world that Karrde is currently visiting. Finally Luke acquiesces to do what coincidence and mysticism are compelling him to do even after his own basic sense of loyalty and morality have failed: He begrudgingly agrees to go save Mara.

Tierce’s plan kicks it up a notch when he captures Lando Calrissian and the Diamalan Senator, revealing the false Thrawn to them and offering to help the New Republic discover the identities of the Bothans who betrayed Caamas.

The story is left hanging at this point, to be continued in the second book of the HAND OF THRAWN duology, VISION OF THE FUTURE.

Monday, May 15, 2017

JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS: Aftermath: Empire's End by Chuck Wendig

The final episode of Chuck Wendig's AFTERMATH saga concludes the overall story with the same basic formula used by its predecessors. We watch the New Republic's final battles with the Empire unfold through the perspective of Wendig's core characters, featuring a little peripheral interaction with legacy characters just to remind you that this is a STAR WARS story. Thankfully, this book deviates from its predecessors in that it does not begin with a legacy character about to have his own adventure, only to be captured immediately so the AFTERMATH gang can swoop in and rescue him.

This book is more interesting because Wendig has built the story up to the point where it can follow the action of the second book instead of rebooting concept. It is also a lead-in to the infamous Battle of Jakku. We saw a little of this battle in Lost Stars, but that book was so wrapped around its two main characters that the same events could have been happening anywhere for any reason. Wendig has the opportunity to actually advance the narrative of the new expanded canon, which is what this book effectively accomplishes.

Before we get into the story, there are a couple of items introduced in the book's non sequitur interludes that are pretty interesting for followers of the new canon:

Because Life Debt more or less ignored this even though the book was supposedly about the liberation of Kashyyyk, Wendig offers up a conciliatory addendum to the story of Chewbacca's fight to save his family. Almost all of that story happened between scenes in Life Debt while we spent our time reading about Norra Wexley and her ragtag bunch of bickering Breakfast Club drama queens, but Empire's End introduces us to one of the liberated wookiees, Lumpawaroo. Lumpy, who now goes by Waroo since he has grown up to be a young adult male and an actually canonical character, is on the run from Imperial forces who are still trying to maintain control of the planet. He is saved from his flight when he is miraculously reunited with his father, Chewbacca.

Slavery to the Empire was nothing compared to the real horror of the occupation:
The Imperial Public Broadcasting System. 

This is significant because Lumpy was first introduced in the STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL. While the special also introduced Boba Fett in a standalone animated segment, the rest of it was deemed unwatchable by fans and George Lucas did his best to erase it from existence. Lumpy appeared in subsequent entries in the early Expanded Universe, what you would technically call the LEGENDS canon but what is technically-technically pre-LEGENDS material. He was featured in The Wookiee Storybook, a children's book about the Chewbacca family that was released shortly after the holiday special and disappeared just as quickly. He also appeared with the rest of the family in the old Marvel STAR WARS comic, which was also deemed non-canonical when the Expanded Universe was re-launched in the 90's.

Lumpy was legitimized by the LEGENDS canon when re-introduced in the 1996 novel Tyrant's Test. After Chewie's death in the infamous 1999 novel Vector Prime, the Chewbacca family was featured quite prominently in a Chewbacca comic book, telling stories of Chewbacca's early adventures. When those stories were branded as part of the LEGENDS canon, Chewbacca was resurrected but Lumpy and the family were once again downgraded to non-canonical status. His inclusion in Empire's End has restored him once again to a state of actual existence in the overall story.

Empire's End also touches on another sore spot for the STAR WARS mythology, one that unfortunately has always existed in the core canon (and probably always will):

"Meesa baaaaaack"

Hearing that the fate of Jar Jar Binks had been revealed in this book made me a little nervous going in. I know he is reviled even more than the holiday special and he literally destroys every scene he's in, but I never wished him any ill will in the story. Like anybody who bothers me, I just wanted Jar Jar to go away and find happiness someplace else. Given the amount of raw fan hatred, I feared for how Jar Jar might fare in the context of the new canon.

But not to worry, JJ; Wendig and the story group at Lucasfilm found a fitting medium when deciding a proper punishment for the Gungan Senator who handed supreme power over to the Emperor. It's not an altogether happy ending, but it's about as good as Jar Jar deserves. It seems the rest of the galaxy (and particularly the other Gungans) did not take kindly to Jar Jar's contribution to the rise of the Empire. He'd already been exiled for being a local screw-up when introduced in EPISODE I. I guess this is why Padme thought it would be a good idea to make him part of her staff, which apparently gave him authority to speak for her whenever she was off fighting space monsters in gladiator pits. In EPISODE II, Palpatine and his Vice Chair Mas Amedda manipulated Jar Jar into putting forward the motion to give emergency executive power to Palpatine.

In Empire's End, the good people of Naboo remember this, and so Jar Jar is mostly a lonely and despised drifter who spends his days trying to entertain children with his buffoonery. He makes friends with a young boy who also feels like a misfit and that's about as good as it's going to get for him.

"Meesa thankin' yousa fa nothin', Chuck."

But, as with the other books in this series, the interludes have nothing to do with the actual story. Here's what happens in the story:

Norra Wexley and her team of misfit toys continue their search for Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, who only barely escaped them at the end of the previous book. The search leads them to Jakku, where they find an Imperial fleet already waiting for them. Even though all the in-fighting amongst the core characters is always centered around trust issues that crop up because they never work with each other to solve problems as a team, Norra takes it upon herself to jump ship and finish the mission alone. One of the reasons for this is that she doesn't want her son Snap to get hurt. If that's the goal, it seems like making him part of a New Republic commando team whose purpose is to track down the galaxy's most dangerous fugitives was probably a poor decision. Having a sudden change of heart at the site of the Imperial fleet, Norra locks in a hyperspace  jump and ejects in an escape pod. Jas Emari manages to get in the pod with her, but the others are forced to retreat. Before they do, Snap sends his delightfully psychotic battle droid Mr. Bones on a second escape pod to protect his mother.

Snap and the others report back to the New Republic and tell them about Jakku, but the Senate declines to take action.More whining and in-fighting ensues over what to do next, while the story goes on without them.

But don't worry: Norra and Jas are on the case. For their part, they immediately get themselves captured by Imperial forces on Jakku and the story goes on without them.

The most frustrating consistency in all of the AFTERMATH books is that the real story, the interesting one, seems to only be told in occasional asides. Norra is a boring protagonist. She's a dummy who does and says dumb dummy things, always doing the wrong thing and crying about it later and never learning from any of her mistakes. The STAR WARS saga is currently being dominated by strong female protagonists, so Norra's fragile sensibilities and constant self-doubt stand out against the likes of Rey, Jyn Erso, or even Shara Bey, the mother of Poe Dameron who starred in Marvel's Shattered Empire comic (which showed some of the immediate consequences of the Empire's defeat at Endor, much like the AFTERMATH books are charged with doing). Norra is powerless to commit to anything, whether it's her dedication to the New Republic or her son, her feelings for her mind-controlled estranged husband or her feelings for Wedge Antilles, her role as the leader of her squad, and even for her intentions in tracking down Rae Sloane. Like her team and the books themselves, Norra seems to bounce back and forth based on what is happening right in front of her and doesn't have any focus when it comes to what she actually wants to accomplish.

The real protagonist of the story becomes Rae Sloane, who is a stronger female character even though she tends to get jerked around by her male influences almost as badly as Norra. Sloane settles on a goal, though, eventually resolving herself to stop Gallius Rax from whatever he's planning to do with her Empire.

To this end, Sloane is traveling with Brenton Wexley, who also wants to track Rax down because Rax turned him into an assassin for the Empire by putting a mind-control chip in his brain. Unfortunately, they are taken prisoner by acolytes of Niima the Hutt not long after arriving on Jakku and the story goes on without them.

Meanwhile, Jas escapes captivity by breaking off her horns and using them to cut her bonds, because one character arc has to upswing to account for another's inevitable collapse. Following this same logic, Mr. Bones catches up to Norra and rescues her around the same time, so they are able to resume their pursuit of Rae Sloane.

Sloane tries to make a deal with Niima, but the Hutt already has an arrangement with Rax to steal children for his cause. Sloane promises to take Niima to the superweapon that Rax is excavating if she’ll give her the opportunity to defeat Rax, even though she isn't actually sure if the weapon really exists at all.

Let me forego any further criticism of the characters and story construction so that I can focus on the elements of the book that I found to be truly exciting.

Its predecessors offered little hints and tidbits of what the STAR WARS saga is becoming, but Empire's End builds to events that appear to have a major impact on the new expanded canon and possibly even the story that is unfolding in the new film trilogy.

Gallius Rax's plan is actually a contingency Palpatine put in place before dying. This is another similarity to Timothy Zahn's earlier works - this was the underlying story of the HAND OF THRAWN duology. Having recruited Brendol Hux, the Commandant of the Arkanis Academy, Rax puts him to work with a continuation of his psychotic recruitment program. Hux basically gathers up children, strips them away from their families, and teaches them to be cold-blooded killers.

Remind you of anyone else we know?

Rax, of course, wants to use these recruits as the foundation of his new Super Empire (led by a Shadow Council with members "of the first and highest order", according to Rax). Now Rax and his Sith advisor Yupe Tashu are gathering the children on Jakku.

We learn a little more about Gallius Rax's background here too. Having grown up on Jakku, he drew children away from the orphanage where he lived and killed them once they had served their purpose. That purpose was and still is the preservation of a sacred site on Jakku that was of particular interest to Palpatine. While the orphanage was run by Anchorites, a local sect whose religion had been dedicated to the Light Side of the Force for a thousand years, Rax poisoned some of the other orphans' minds against that teaching and convinced them to reject it.

Remind you of anyone else we know?

Returning to Jakku as a Fleet Admiral of the Empire, Gallius Rax murders the Anchorite who ran the orphanage as a sort of sacrifice to their enterprise. Satisfied in the brutality of the act, Yupe Tashu declares their mission to now be officially blessed.

Here's something cool in the book that we also see in the Marvel STAR WARS comics. Emperor Palpatine has these sentinel droids with mirror dome projector faces who speak in Palpatine's voice. That's a neat idea, especially when he's dead. It gives the sense, as intended, that he is still controlling events.

"Can you hear me now?"

What exactly is Gallius Rax doing on Jakku? The Empire’s defeat will probably serve Rax’s goal of shedding the dead weight and strengthen the elite, but that runs afoul of the Emperor's posthumous intentions. Even though Rax wants to see the New Republic defeated and wants to clear the board of everybody but the best Imperials, he is following through on a contingency plan put in place by Palpatine before he was killed. The crux of this plan is, apparently, to lure as many warring forces as possible to Jakku, then blow up the planet and destroy everybody there. If he can’t control the galaxy and he can't take it with him, then it’s Palpatine’s intention to have it burn.

Apropos of nothing, here are the official plans for the
construction of Palpatine's tomb.

Just to point out another similarity to Timothy Zahn's earlier works: This is not unlike Palpatine's contingency in the LEGENDS canon. In the original THRAWN trilogy, Mara Jade is programmed as a not-so-subtle sleeper agent to assassinate Luke Skywalker in the event that Palpatine is killed.

Palpatine’s Contingency in the new canon is a bit more convoluted. The ancient site on Jakku isn’t just a doomsday device to ignite the living core of the planet. It’s also an ancient alien observatory from which Palpatine hoped to unlock the mysteries of the Unknown Regions of space. It was there that Palpatine meant to continue the glory of his Empire. The purpose of this is unclear now that he's gone, considering that Palpatine believed an Empire was useless without its Emperor and wanted to blow everybody up.

Yupe Tashu, who was one of Palpatine’s advisers and also served on Rae Sloane’s short-lived Imperial Future Council, believes that the purpose of the Contingency is either to literally resurrect Palpatine or to carry on his legacy. He accompanies Rax into the ancient site and performs a Sith ritual as his part, but then Rax throws him down a hole they’ve drilled to the center of the planet. Emperor Palpatine once confided to Rax that Jakku used to be a verdant world, rich with life, and the core of the planet was still rich with living energy. Tashu’s murder at the end of the ritual seems to serve as some sort of sacrifice in a much more direct way than the murder of the Anchorite, because this act is the catalyst for the destruction of the planet’s core.

But what is Rax really up to? Yupe Tashu was a zealot who probably would have gladly sacrificed himself for the glory of his Emperor, but he seems totally surprised by Rax’s action. The Emperor had no reason to deceive Tashu, so it looks like Rax is the one who’s gone off-book. In fact, Rax’s actions from this point seem to be motivated by a defiance of the Emperor and his final plans. He’s re-writing his role in an effort to take over.

So what was the original plan? Was Rax to be the one who was sacrificed to catalyze the Contingency? Is that why he's so suddenly so petulant and why he suddenly seems so contemptuous of Palpatine’s final solution?

Rax resents Palpatine’s implication that he represents the Outcast, an obscure Chess piece that was phased out of the game long before the game found itself in a far-flung galaxy in the far-flung future to become the game as we know it. The implication that he is an outsider motivates Rax to deviate from Palpatine’s plan. When Tashu finishes his ritual, he says all the necessary sacrifices have been made, but when Palpatine prepared Rax to become the Contingency, he told him the high cost of it would fall on Rax himself to pay.

But Gallius Rax never sees the Contingency come to fruition. He is killed by Grand Admiral Rae Sloane after setting the destruction of Jakku in motion. She takes control of the ancient technology that Palpatine left behind, but she stops Jakku from exploding and escapes. She joins up with Rax’s cohorts, Commandant Hux and his squad of prepubescent psychopaths. They are now led by his son Armitage, who proves himself to be quite the accomplished little psychopath as well. They fly off in the Imperialis, one of Palpatine’s space yachts.

Interesting side note: Another of these yachts was captured and destroyed by Lando Calrissian in the days before he officially joined the Rebellion.

"No need to thank me, galaxy. Blowin' up the Emperor's stuff is just what I do."

Sloane quickly puts Brendol Hux in his place and makes a pact with his son that she will keep Brendol in check so long as Armitage keeps his gang from killing her. From there they all pick up where Gallius Rax left off, traveling into the Unknown Regions to rendezvous with the rest of Rax’s fleet.

The most interesting aspect of all of this is the implication of what will happen next. Not what will come next in the movies, necessarily, but what may likely be the next chapter in the expanded canon that will fill the gaps between Empire’s End and EPISODE VII. Earlier in the book, Rax mused that the only Imperial Commander who had any knowledge of the Unknown Regions was Grand Admiral Thrawn, a mysterious alien who actually came from that part of space. In the new expanded canon, just as in the LEGENDS canon, Thrawn is not present during the struggle between the Empire and the Rebellion because the Emperor sent him into the Unknown Regions to map out as much of it as he could.

In Empire’s End, Palpatine’s interest in the Unknown Regions is focused on a strange dark presence he sensed from it, a voice that only he could hear calling to him. He believed the birthplace of the Force itself may be somewhere in that unexplored void. The ancient observatory on Jakku was used to monitor and map out portions of the Unknown Regions, but Thrawn has supposedly spent decades out there, either exploring or conquering in the name of the Empire.

When Sloane reaches the rendezvous point, she is shocked to see that the Super Star Destroyer Eclipse is among the ships that are waiting to meet her. This ship was reported destroyed in the official record, while the Ravager, which fell in the Battle of Jakku, was thought to be the last of its kind still in operation. The book does not state this, but it’s a fair bet that the Eclipse is being commanded by Grand Admiral Thrawn himself.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here, internet.

With Thrawn entering the new canon as the main baddie in STAR WARS: REBELS and Timothy Zahn entering the new canon with an all new novel that focuses on the rise of Grand Admiral Thrawn, it's safe to say that Disney has plans to use the character in the future. It's possible that Thrawn could appear in the films, but the end of AFTERMATH suggests very strongly that Thrawn may be the big villain in the next chapter of the new Expanded Universe. If that's even a little true, this book is worth reading just to set the stage for the return of the LEGENDS' greatest legend.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast - CCAD010 - The Living Force

Sean and Andrew explore the physics and mythology of Force Ghosts and how they relate to the prequels, THE CLONE WARS, and the original STAR WARS trilogy. What did Qui-Gon Jinn return from the grave to teach Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi? Why do Yoda and Obi-Wan vanish when they die? Why does Anakin return as a Force Ghost? From their experiences on Mortis to Morabund, what do the Jedi learn from the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn and what will it mean for Luke Skywalker in the STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI?

Listen Now!

 Here's the official info on General Hux's cat:

Check out this awesome cover of The Force Theme by Scandroid!

Here are the articles being discussed in this episode:

The Living Force: The Gods of Mortis
The Living Force: The Trial of Yoda
The Living Force: The Redemption of Qui-Gon Jinn

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Body Worship in the Age of Superheroes

This isn't a new development in the world of movies, especially with the advent of superhero films, but body perfection in movie stars and heroes is becoming more and more of a troubling necessity. In an age devoted to the shaming of body-shamers, there's still no end to the amount of scrutiny that goes into the physical state of any actor with the misfortune of being cast as one of our heroes.

Including, but not limited to, armpit airbrushing scandals...

But that's too broad a topic to tackle and it's not news to anybody that it's happening. What I really want to focus on is an odd bit I noticed during my obsessive investigation of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. One of the standout items that made the movie not work for me was the fixation on portraying Batman and Superman not as men of heroic character, but as unrepentant badasses. This is comically embodied in a scene where Batman is dragging tires around the Batcave in preparation for a fist fight with Superman.

The scene goes on for a really long time during what is supposed to be an emotionally resonant sequence for Batman. So why does Zack Snyder think he's expressing Batman's mental state by showing him drag stuff around and beat a tractor tire with a sledge hammer? I just figured "so, Zack Snyder's a crossfit buff or something, I guess, right?" I don't know anything about crossfit or workout fads or, to be honest, exercise in general, but the details of Batman's training regimen were so oddly specific that they seemed like they must be part of some sort of extreme workout plan.

Then I saw this promotional picture of Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill...

"Wait a second..." I said out loud to myself for no reason. "Does that shirt say 'GYM JONES'? What the hell is a GYM JONES?!"

GYM JONES sounds like a suicide cult for fitness freaks, but I thought surely the obvious reference had to be inadvertent. So I checked out the GYM JONES web site to see what it was all about. This exploration did not make it any less weird."We call you to join our movement," their web site says, offering two levels of membership: Monk and Disciple. The site uses religious terminology throughout, encouraging prospective members to adopt a "daily ritual" to find a "path to salvation". But, more germane to my purpose here, the site boasts that it offers "TRAINING FOR SUPERHEROS [sic] AND EVERYDAY HEROS [sic]".

And that's the part that brings me to the point of this article. If you follow Zack Snyder's promotion of his films, it becomes apparent that he's a pretty big fan.

You can find pictures of Snyder in his GYM JONES T shirt on so many occasions that it's practically his superhero uniform. From a promotional panel at Comic Con (so you know he's not wearing it for the purpose of product placement), to a promotional picture for BvS, and even on the set of BvS. This last time he's even completing the outfit with some kind of Under Armor arm brace. My vision of Zack Snyder is that, at any given moment, he could cast off whatever clothes he's wearing and be prepared to engage in an impromptu workout. You know, just in case someone randomly accuses him of not being able to do a thousand one-handed push-ups.

Zack Snyder's not just a fan of GYM JONES. He's also a client. A pretty big client, it would seem, because he has brought GYM JONES co-founder Mark Twight in as the personal trainer for the stars of Batman v Superman, Man of Steel, and 300. Twight is renowned for whipping stars into shape to become literal supermen for their roles. And he does an amazing job of it.

So what's wrong with that? Don't we expect to see superheroes bursting with muscles in these movies?

Yes, but we also accepted Michael Keaton as Batman because of his performance. He didn't actually have to physically become the paragon of physical stature that Batman is in order to convincingly play the role. His preparation was more mental than physical.

In "The Cult of Physicality" a 2011 NY Times article by Brooks Barnes, Mark Twight admits that the GYM JONES name is an overt reference to the infamous Jonestown cult leader who orchestrated the deaths of over 900 of his followers. Since they knew they were going to be likened to a cult, he and his wife decided to "own the joke". That's a hell of a joke to stick your flag in, if you ask me. No matter how zealous your program is, a tongue-in-cheek homage to a mass murderer is, to say the least, in poor taste. But I guess the measure of good taste depends on who's pouring the Kool-Aid and who's drinking it.

If it were me, I probably would have gone with Scientologym. But that's just me.

GYM JONES' entire mission seems to be to forge humans into superhumans. Even their logo depicts the same graduation to physical perfection that Bruce Wayne originally attained to become Batman:

Of course, the one-handed lift isn't good enough for GYM JONES. 
If you really want that defined muscle tone, you've got to counter-ball it too.

"Meet the Trainer Building Hollywood’s Most Fit Superheroes", a 2016 Vanity Fair article by Michael Joseph Gross, outlines the arduous training of Zack Snyder's superheroes, but more importantly it explores the history of his relationship with Mark Twight. Before either of them had risen to their current stature in their respective careers, they worked together on commercial shoots that Snyder was directing. They found such a kinship in their mutual devotion to physical fitness that they have worked on numerous projects (most significantly, Snyder's films) since 2001. According to Twight, Snyder even inspired the GYM JONES name by joking that Twight could get people to "drink poison in the jungle".

This over-emphasis on body-building gives us some insight into how BvS was such a festival of greased-up man-wrestling that it could have been directed by Mac from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. You think I'm overreacting? Look at Ray Fisher preparing for the role of Cyborg in the upcoming Justice League film:

For more details on Fisher's workout regimen, you can check out an article from Men's Fitness called, and I'm not at all kidding: "Damn, Ray Fisher Is Getting Unbelievably Jacked to Play Cyborg in ‘Justice League’" (written by Matthew Jussim).

This isn't so weird, since Fisher is preparing to play a member of the Justice League, until you think about who he's playing. In the movie, Cyborg looks like this:

"I was just nuts and bolts before I started hitting the weights."

Notice anything different about Cyborg? Yeah, he's 90 % CGI in the movie. Fisher's whole face isn't even showing, but he has to get so jacked up that even Men's Fitness is taken aback by it? Seriously, for the amount of the actor that is actually used on screen, Peter Dinklage could play Cyborg, so what makes this physical transformation necessary?

You may be thinking (hypothetical devil's advocate that you are): So what's the big deal? Zack Snyder is a fitness buff who believes in literally transforming actors into their comic book counterparts. If that means making everybody look like they just got back from a sabbatical in Eternia, that's just the price of making a movie that is a real life comic book, right?

That's where I think it's interesting to note the character who didn't have to go to He-Man boot camp: Lex Luthor. Like most comic book characters, regardless of their origin or purpose, Lex spent a lot of time parading through the comics in a spandex jumpsuit that required a certain amount of muscle (and self confidence) to wear.

Both of which apparently allowed him to survive getting punched in the face by Superman.
There have been a lot of versions of Lex throughout the years, but he's usually portrayed as being physically fit for a human being.

Even in the old Super Friends cartoon, Lex is a muscleman in purple spandex who just happens to be the evil genius inventor of... whatever the hell this thing is:

"Pay no attention to that thing back in the corner. In fact, let's just forget you ever saw that, okay?"

But not Zack Snyder's Luthor. His Luthor is the least muscular incarnation of the character ever. Jesse Eisenberg is a great pick to play Lex Luthor, if you're not trying to literally transcribe the look of the characters from the comics to the screen. But isn't that exactly what Snyder is trying to accomplish? Isn't that why he saw Henry Cavill as shown below and thought he needed a lot more work if he were going to be believable as Superman?

Sure, he's handsome and all, but he could stand to work out a little...
In a production where Snyder felt we needed an Aquaman who could beat up the Hulk and a Batman trained by a guy who trains actual Navy SEALs, he clearly went the other way when it came to the main villain. Suddenly it's ridiculous to transfer the comic book character physique to the screen, but what's the difference? Why is it necessary that everyone on the right side of the argument has to look like this...

... while the only villain in the movie who isn't a henchman or a cartoon cave troll should look like this?

In his defense, he's more of a cardio guy than a weightlifter

The difference is where it all breaks down, I think, based on a few basic assumptions I'm making that aren't overtly stated by anybody. Luthor is the bad guy. Eisenberg doesn't need the spiritual awakening of excruciating exercise that Snyder thinks is a necessary rite of passage for his heroes. Luthor can't be a model of physical perfection because that model is held as sacrosanct in its embodiment of everything heroic. So instead of GYM JONESing into a transliteration of his comic book counterpart, Jesse Eisenberg's Luthor is a whiny little nerd whose main mission is to make life miserable for the world's finest superjocks.

You might argue that Luthor has had many incarnations, not all of which were classic muscle men, just as you may argue that Luthor doesn't have to be physically strong because he is defined not by his strength but by his intellect.

To that I offer two points for your consideration. First, is the conflict between heroes and villains simply a contest of brains versus brawn? It may appear that way in Superman's case, but is that really the interpretation we want to land on in how we portray them? Superman is good and dumb while Luthor is smart and mean? Doesn't that decompose the concept into a presumption that intelligence is tantamount to wickedness? And in the case of Snyder's films, where the emphasis leans so heavily toward the physical aspect of the heroes, doesn't that suggest that those who are physically fit are also somehow morally superior? That's the ultimate expression of "might makes right".

My second point is that Luthor is not particularly smart in the film. He has a lot of convoluted plans that are supposedly smart but only work because Superman and Batman are too dumbfoundedly obsessed with each other to notice them. He doesn't really do or say anything smart in the movie; he's just a sniggering little sociopath with daddy issues so profound that they stand out even in a movie where everybody is twisted up in a state of emotional paralysis over parental loss.

It would be a fair argument to note that Lex Luthor has never been portrayed in the films as a muscled-up strongman. But that doesn't carry much weight considering the fact that Zack Snyder doesn't exhibit any desire to make his Superman movies anything like their predecessors. In fact, he seems baffled at the public's nostalgia for them. In a 2014 interview with Mark Hughes for Forbes, Snyder expressed how confusing it was to him that fans still clung to the Christopher Reeve interpretation of the character. He defended his portrayal of the character as being in a real world and illustrating real-world consequences to violence.

Such as, when you punch somebody through a building, the building explodes - that's just good science.

"If you really analyze the comic book version of Superman," Snyder said, "he's killed, he's done all the things...that we've shown him doing..." Snyder fully believed that audiences were offended because he made the character real and not because he chose to focus on all the darkest aspects of the comic books and call that real. In the end, Snyder's vision isn't any more realistic, it's just a lot more depressing.

But again, Snyder's concept of reality is largely based on how realistic the actors' muscles are in the film.

"How can you be depressed looking at these sick pecs, bro?"

In defense of Zack Snyder, I was and am a fan of Man of Steel. I didn't have a problem with the story, the portrayal of the character, or the violence of that film. But in BvS he cranked the "real" violence to 11 and broke off the knob when he had Superman getting nuked by the government while trying to punch Doomsday to the moon. So the argument that Snyder was shooting for realism in the action of that film is as valid as the belief that his portrayal of Lex Luthor was in any way rooted in reality either.

Snyder's cavalier attitude towards Lex is even more dramatically represented in his regard for the character he originally approached Jesse Eisenberg to play:

Bet I can guess what movie Superman is watching.

In "Batman v Superman: Jimmy Olsen appearance revealed", a 2016 article on, Anthony Breznica discusses Jimmy Olsen and Jesse Eisenberg with Zack Snyder. Snyder explains that originally he wanted to bring Jesse Eisenberg in to do a bait and switch cameo where he would come on, introduce himself as Jimmy Olsen, then get shot in the head. As Snyder put it: "...we don’t have room for Jimmy Olsen in our big pantheon of characters, but we can have fun with him, right?”

And what's more hilarious than shooting someone in the face? It really puts this comment in perspective when you realize it comes from someone who thought naming a gym after a mass murderer was a funny idea too.

After meeting with Eisenberg, Snyder was impressed with how crazy he was and decided to cast him as Lex instead. Inexplicably, he left the Jimmy Olsen sudden-death scene in the film, but cast Michael Cassidy, a talented but less prominent actor, in the role and shot him in the head instead. I guess they realized that having an actor who hadn't been part of the marketing push get killed in the first five minutes wouldn't have as much impact, except to confuse the audience, so while Cassidy still gets to get shot in the face, the introductory scene that establishes him as Jimmy Olsen was cut from the film. Even more inexplicably, it's restored in the hardcore R-rated Ultimate Cut, because failing to provide any other narrative purpose for the scene, Snyder was still bound and determined to murder Jimmy Olsen.

Seems there's no room in the "big pantheon" of heroes for anybody's sidekicks.

I'm not trying to tear the man down, really I'm not. There's nothing wrong with being a fitness buff, even if your devotion to it borders on maniacal. A person as obsessed with Superman as I am doesn't have any business casting stones at people who have a much more useful outlet for their obsession. And it's admirable that Snyder and his actors have this level of dedication to their craft. So I'm not in any way saying that being fanatical about working out is a bad thing or speaks in any way toward your character.

You have to separate the artist from the work, but I believe these attitudes speak to Snyder's state of mind as a storyteller. There's no place in the world for Jimmy Olsen in Snyder's "big pantheon of characters" because there's no place in his story for mere mortals who lack the commitment to develop a god-like physique. Every heroic aspect that Superman and Batman display in BvS is expressed through a feat of athleticism. Neither of them seem to have an ounce of emotional maturity or a clearly defined ethic. Even when they confront each other ideologically, the only thing they can think to do is have a fist fight.

And that's where I wonder if body image in general is the problem. Superman doesn't have to have muscles. He doesn't work out, his powers come from the solar radiation emanating from our yellow sun. He'd be exactly the same hero if he looked like this...

Although his power to get through doorways might be a bit compromised.

The superhero aesthetic is athletic perfection for men and sexual contortion for women. Some of the same fans who balked at Zack Snyder's approach to Superman were questioning if Gal Godot were voluptuous enough to play Wonder Woman. I have to admit that when I first heard that Zack Snyder wanted to give Superman a villain he could go toe-to-toe with in Man of Steel I was on board, because I was sick of seeing Superman get outwitted by Lex Luthor in real estate scams that required a horrific amount of mass destruction. I loved Watchmen and I think Zack Snyder is a great director, so maybe this GYM JONES business has just been building to a head until it just reached a critical mass in Batman v Superman. Maybe giving Snyder free rein to craft an entire superhero cinematic universe was overestimating his creative vision. Cinematic Universes are a relatively new idea and so far the only people getting them right are the folks at Disney. And believe me, there is no single creative force driving the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the ever-expanding STAR WARS franchise. It takes a lot of planning and collaboration to create something of that magnitude, and DC's just gotten off to a bad start.

I can't even blame Zack Snyder exclusively for BvS or the DCEU, because Warner Brothers isn't exactly giving its directors free rein. They've wanted to do a Batman vs. Superman movie since 2001, so if that's a terrible idea for a movie (which I think it is), it's not Zack Snyder's terrible idea. Warner Brothers doesn't have a creative mechanism in place to drive the effort required to build a cinematic universe, but they have no problem stepping in and re-imagining a director's work halfway through the production. In that environment, you can see how easy it would be for otherwise good ideas to get lost in translation.

Even so, a lot of the ideas that are constraining the DCEU into being a showcase for strongman competitions instead of the modern mythology that Zack Snyder thinks he's creating are coming directly from him.

This may sound harsh, especially because I think all the actors he's brought together for these movies are amazing, but Zack Snyder is becoming more concerned with how they fit into their costumes than how they fit into their roles. He's got a great eye for talent. Henry Cavill is a perfect Superman and you couldn't ask for a better Batman than Ben Affleck. Gal Gadot is awesome and Wonder Woman looks like it's going to be a much-needed breakthrough for the DCEU. From what I've seen of Ezra Miller's Flash, he's on point in that role. And as much as I cringe at the new Justice League teaser because it looks like a drab video game, I'm super excited to see Jason Mamoa as Aquaman.

But you have to give these guys something more to do. We see the posters, we get it, these guys are more shredded than Steve Buscemi going through a wood chipper. But what is their purpose? What are they trying to do? Extreme workouts may be a spiritual experience for Zack Snyder, but that doesn't mean all Ben Affleck needs to do is 9000 power-squats to wrap his head around the complexities of Batman's pathology. And just because everybody looks the part, that doesn't mean the movie's going to write itself.

Sculpting the cast into supermen without giving them a decent script or motivation is wasted energy. That's not a matter of the creative vision getting lost in translation. That's a failure to properly articulate it in the first place.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


If you've ever wondered what the STAR WARS universe would be like if it got translated into a teeny genre romance novel along the lines of the Divergent or Twilight series, then Lost Stars by Claudia Gray may just be the book for you. If you are not one of those people, then you may be in for a hard read on this one.

The basic premise is interesting enough: On the remote planet of Jellucan, two local children become friends on the eve of the planets induction into the Galactic Empire: Thane Kyrell, a member of the affluent Second Wave of the planet's settlers, and Ciena Ree, a simple girl from the valley. Thane is a boy and Ciena is a girl. It will be necessary for you to know this (but impossible for you not to) because this dynamic dominates every aspect of their friendship and their lives. People divided by their social classes on Jellucan do not typically get along, but Thane and Ciena instantly bond over their mutual love of flying. An inspirational encounter with Grand Moff Tarkin leaves them both anxious to attend the Imperial Academy and train to become pilots in the service of the Empire.

Though Thane is cynical and rebellious toward authority and Ciena is idealistc and strictly adheres to her family's code of honor, the two spend their childhoods together, studying and training in flight simulators until they are both accepted into the Academy. The book promises to span the early period of the rebellion all the way to the era that leads up to EPISODE VII, but most of the book's story centers on their experiences in the Academy. While Thane and Ciena compete for the top spot in their class and work to master their increasing hormonal feelings towards one another, the subtle differences in their ideologies begin to manifest. Ciena believes that the Empire brings order to the galaxy and can therefore do no wrong, while Thane is more realistically inclined to believe that all governments become corrupted and eventually fall.

Everything's great for both of them, hanging out with their friends at school and being utterly oblivious to the Empire's more sinister underpinnings. Until one day, one thing happens that makes them disagree and they don't talk for years for very little reason. During a standard assignment where the students are tasked with building a fully functioning laser cannon and demonstrating it in the classroom (seems the Imperial Academy has the same safety protocols as the Jedi Temple when it comes to what they will allow kids to do in the classroom), disaster strikes when Thane's cannon will not power up and his chance at finishing first in his class is jeopardized by what appears to be an overt act of sabotage. Ciena is immediately implicated, until her super-smart nerdy friend (every girl in this type of story should have one), uncovers the subterfuge and reveals evidence that Thane deliberately sabotaged his own laser in order to implicate Ciena - his top rival - and therefore discredit and disqualify her. Using typical Imperial logic, their instructors decide the fair thing is to punish them both. This leads them to work together, digging even deeper to discover that someone in the Academy's administration is to blame for the whole hoohah. Thane wants to pursue this and reveal the exact identity and intent of the saboteur, but Ciena believes that taking action against the Academy's administration - especially making accusations without any solid proof - will get them both expelled. This disagreement leads to a very heated argument that causes the two to stop speaking to each other.

Years later, at the space prom, Thane and Ciena learn that it is a common practice for the Academy to create rifts between friends, especially those from the same world, because the Empire discourages such attachments and requires unconditional devotion from its soldiers. This makes them friends again, and all is presumably good between them.

After graduation, Thane and Ciena begin to drift apart. Thane is stationed on the Death Star and Ciena is assigned to the Star Destroyer Devastator. Tensions rise when the Death Star destroys Alderaan, and this is the beginning of an irreparable rift between them. Thane deserts and becomes a rebel pilot while Ciena retains her belief that the Empire is the only hope for order in the galaxy. She rises through the ranks, vindicated in her loyalty by the rebels' destruction of the Death Star. Remember, the dark truth about that glorious victory for the rebels is that it resulted in over a million Imperial casualties. That makes for a pretty powerful propaganda tool for the families and friends they left behind.

Ciena tracks Thane down and tries to convince him to return. They argue and, failing to convince each other to come around to their way of thinking, they decide to have sex instead. This is a teen romance novel, so this was bound to happen. They go their separate ways and have separate adventures interwoven into the events of EPISODE V.

Ciena's loyalty is later challenged when her mother is wrongly accused of a crime by a corrupt Imperial official on her home world. No one is willing to defend her, but Thane actually comes to show his support. This doesn't help out at all since Thane is a deserter and a rebel, but it gives him and Ciena another chance to argue and have sex.

This goes on through the course of the events of EPISODE VI, following them in their respective positions in the Empire and the Rebellion. Ciena takes command of the Star Destroyer Inflictor. This eventually puts her in the Battle of Jakku. The Inflictor is brought down during the battle and Thane boards the ship in an effort to rescue Ciena.

As a point of trivia, this is the Star Destroyer wreck we see Rey pass by as she crosses the Starship Graveyard in EPISODE VII.

The story ends with Ciena as a prisoner of the New Republic. Thane tries to convince her to testify about what she knows, because there are still Imperial remnants building a power base in the Unknown Regions, but nobody seems to care about this any more than I do and the book comes to an end.

I don't want to say this book is terrible, because it is exactly what it says it is, but I had a hard time getting through this one. The premise was interesting, offering the opportunity to see the history of the Rebellion and the moments leading up to the Battle of Jakku, but these concepts are so peripheral to the pouting and bickering of the characters who take us through the narrative that it only amounts to name-dropping. The final battle could be anywhere, but it's on Jakku because it's a tie-in to EPISODE VII, and Ciena's Star Destroyer is the one we see in EPISODE VII for the same reason.

Like I said, this is what it is. It doesn't much feel like STAR WARS to me and the central story is tedious. I don't like any of the characters and I don't really relate to them, but I'm not the audience this book is courting. I'm apparently not in the majority on this either, since this book has been very well embraced while the Aftermath trilogy, which I find to be much more interesting and entertaining, has gotten a lot of negative feedback from fans. Oh well.

This is an interesting insight into Disney's STAR WARS, though. While they're opening moves have all been to introduce new characters and stories by inter-weaving them with legacy characters and events (almost exclusively from the original film trilogy), this approach has been very successful for them. They're opening up the STAR WARS universe, which means playing with new genres and reaching out to new audiences.  That guarantees that if you're a STAR WARS fan, no matter how die-hard you are, there are bound to be a few stories that you just aren't going to like. With the amount of content Disney is producing, I'd say there's room in the world for that.