Book Review: Sword of Clontarf by Charles A. Brady

Sword of Clontarf : Charles Brady : 9780976638681

Whew! After that streak of Star Wars reviews, some of you might have been worried that I had no other books to talk about. Fear not, hardy readers! There are a couple of different novels which I have up my sleave, one of which we will discuss today. Since we are only a few weeks from December (where did the year go?!?!), however, I will have time for just one more book review this year. That slot is going to another Dean Koontz book, as promised to Mr. Bookstooge. All others will have to wait until January of 2019.

There will be more Star Wars reviews next year, though, so stay tuned for them! I have had to postpone one of my promised Spotlight! articles – the one I described as rollingly entertaining here – until January, too. This is on account not only with the focus of the upcoming Spotlight! post, but of the last article discussing Wedge Antilles. Still, he had to do a lot of rolling in his X-Wing, so maybe we can count him as the promised Spotlight! discussion. Next year’s first two Spotlight! foci will be different, however. Trust me. 😉

All right, with that out of the way, let us turn to today’s subject. This would be Sword of Clontarf, by Charles A. Brady. Sword is a children’s book, obviously, centered on a fictional character who shows us a piece of history. Originally published in 1960, the reprint I have came out in 2006, so you can buy a good copy of this story new if you desire, readers.

The book begins with Niall (pronounced like “Neil”) Arneson being shaken awake by his Irish, Christian mother. Taken to Iceland after being captured by Vikings during a raid on Ireland, Etain the Fair is known throughout Eaglewaterheath, Iceland, as the Dumb Woman. No one means disrespect to her with this title – especially since she is the second wife of the steading’s master, Arne Helgison. Etain is known as the Dumb Woman because she can’t speak.

Only, now she suddenly is speaking to Niall. And she is speaking in Irish!

Finally on his feet, Niall learns from his mother and his uncle, Hjalti, that his father has been murdered. Clearly, this is bad, but on it’s own it is not enough to warrant such an urgent wake up call. Nor is it cause for Niall to flee his home all of a sudden. By rights, Niall should be out with his three older half brothers hunting his father’s murderers.

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But you see, that is where the crunch comes. Niall is a Christian. His older half brothers are pagan, just like his father. Arne allowed Etain to keep her faith and have Niall baptized, but he retained his pagan views. His first three sons followed his example, but they have never liked Etain or their kid half brother. With Arne gone they are likely to seize the chance to murder Niall themselves before chasing down Arne’s killers.

Etain, naturally, does not want that for her son. While Hjalti would be happy to offer Niall protection and care, being fonder of him than of his other nephews, the idea of having to kill his brother’s other sons to defend the youngest does not appeal to him anymore than it does to Etain. Thus the two have come at this early hour to prepare Niall either to flee or to fight. It is his choice.

Seeing the reason behind their arguments (eventually), Niall accepts their plan and dresses quickly. As he is preparing to leave, his mother drops another bombshell on him. Through her, he is related to the former high king of Ireland, who now serves as the current High King’s chief advisor and friend.

Who is the High King – the present Ard Rhi – of Ireland in this year of 1000? The answer to your question is Brian Boru.

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Brian Boru

Unlike King Arthur, Brian Boru is confirmed to have lived. Around the year 1000, Brian united all the clans of Ireland under one banner, becoming the High King of the island. Traditionally, the position of Ard Rhi didn’t mean what we would think today. The head of every clan in Ireland had a king; becoming Ard Rhi or High King wasn’t like becoming King of England or King of France. It was a somewhat temporary position and it didn’t have a lot of power attached to it.

Biran Boru changed that. For ten years he ruled a united Ireland, keeping the peace and making it the safest it had ever been. There is a legend that, during Brian’s reign, a well dressed young lady with a solid gold ring walked the length of Ireland (35 miles) completely unmolested. That is the type of peace Brian brought to the country.

In the year 1014 the pagan Norsemen – known better to modern audiences simply as “Vikings” – tried to invade Ireland. They raided the country pretty regularly prior to Brian’s reign; I believe he might have become Ard Rhi mainly to drive them from the Emerald Isle’s shores, though it is possible that I am remembering my history incorrectly. Either way, in 1014, on Good Friday, the Norsemen tried again to take Ireland at the Battle of Clontarf.

It was a pitched battle, and if the Norsemen had won, Western civilization might never have risen as quickly or as well from Rome’s ashes. As it is, the Irish turned the assault aside when the tide went out, taking the Norsemen’s boats with it. Some might say this was coincidence, or good planning on the part of the Irish. It was neither; it was Providence, pure and plain and true.

The Battle of Clontarf was a great engagement, and the Irish distinguished themselves well there. But the fight had a cost, too. During the battle Brian Boru was slain in his tent, where he was praying for victory. His death ended Ireland’s unity, though not her civilization, nor her contributions to the West. But it was a sad loss nonetheless.

Before all of this happens in the novel, however, Niall receives something precious and deadly from his mother. Etain didn’t feign dumbness when she was captured by the Norsemen. Not on purpose, anyway. The reason she did not speak when the Norsemen captured her was because she had something in her mouth. It was a talisman they valued highly called Thor’s Ring.

Now the Thor you encounter in this novel isn’t the jovial, knightly, Christianized hero of Marvel Comics’ fame. (Yes, I said ‘Christianized,’ readers. What is more, I meant it; let the new Marvel hierarchy gnash their teeth about it if they like, but the truth is that Stan Lee Christianized the old Norse myths. That includes Thor Odinson.) The Thor in this novel is like the original Norse interpretation: fierce, bloodthirsty, and dangerous. And the Norsemen worship him and his fellow Asgardians accordingly.

Whether one believes such a talisman ever existed or that it had some kind of power does not matter. What matters is that the Norsemen believed it had power. As long as the Irish held the Ring and two other talismen of import in the novel, they could force a truce on the Norsemen. But if the heathen Northmen ever got their hands on the three talismen, it would mean all out, open war between the two factions again.

In order to protect the Ring and her people, Etain hid it in her mouth during the raid. She couldn’t speak without giving away her secret and, when the Norsemen came to the conclusion that she had been born dumb, she kept up the charade out of fear for her life. This fear extended to her husband, whom she came to love deeply. Eventually she felt guilty for keeping him in the dark about her ability to speak. She kept trying to work up the nerve to tell him the truth, but put it off every time. Now, of course, it is too late to set the record straight for him.

Anyway, that is the set up for the first chapter. After saying his good-byes, Niall sets out from Eaglewaterheath with an Irish thrall his mother and uncle have freed. After a series of adventures, he reaches Ireland and joins his mother’s kin…..

….And that is the last of the spoilers you are getting, readers! If you want to know what befalls Niall in Sword of Clontarf, pick the novel up today. A good read that is full of history, it is well worth the purchase price. Enjoy it, readers!

‘Til next time!

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He Ate and Drank the Precious Words by Emily Dickinson

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He Ate and Drank the Precious Words

by Emily Dickinson

He ate and drank the precious words,

His spirit grew robust;

He knew no more that he was poor,

Nor that his frame was dust.

He danced along the dingy days,

And this bequest of wings

Was but a book.  What liberty

A loosened spirit brings!

Remembering Stan “The Man” Lee

Stan Lee Confirms Three Upcoming Marvel Movie Cameos

As many, if not most, of you know by now, Stan Lee died on the morning of November 12, 2018. It was sad news for all the Marvelites who had enjoyed his universe and characters since childhood. We knew that someday Stan would have to go on the Great Adventure all his heroes were preparing us to face in the future, naturally, but we put all thoughts of his departure as far from our minds as possible.

This made it a blow when we got the news that he had passed through the curtain to the Other Side. I hope his wife and his second daughter were waiting for him when he got off the train. But as with my own fate, what has become of him now will remain a mystery until it is my turn to go through the curtain.

To say that Stan Lee and his friends at Marvel impacted this blogger’s life enormously would be an understatement. Without him and his compatriots, most of whom predeceased him, Thoughts on the Edge of Forever would not exist in the form you know it, readers. The first post I wrote here focused on Marvel’s The Avengers, the big box office hit of 2012 that kicked off roughly ten years of cinematic fun. And as long time readers know, most of the criticism on this site has been aimed at Marvel’s current hierarchy precisely because they were dishonoring Stan Lee’s legacy before he had even said his last, “Excelsior!”

None of this is to imply that Stan Lee was perfect. That would be ridiculous; he was a man, a fallen, flawed human being like me and everyone else in this world. I don’t think he was perfect. Perfect isn’t the point. He was a good storyteller and a good friend to all those who loved his and his company’s work, whether they met him in person or not.

Without his heroes – his flawed, human heroes – lots of people would have thrown in the towel on life and limb a long time ago. Captain America, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Wasp, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Storm, Cyclops, Rogue, Gambit, Wolverine, Mirage, Black Widow, Falcon, Sunfire, Luke Cage, Namor the Submariner, Hulk, Thor Odinson, Black Panther, Professor X, Silver Sable – they all inspired someone. They all faced evils we could relate to, or could see ourselves encountering some day. They could have turned back from fighting evil lots of times under Stan’s leadership, but they didn’t. They all thought, “I can’t hang on much longer…!” only to come to the conclusion that they had to hang on longer, even if it killed them. Without their strength, many of us would have stopped holding on and fighting years ago.

So I will be forever grateful to Stan Lee for bringing these characters to the world, and for each story he wrote, approved, or spearheaded. Quaint or odd as it may seem, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without his help, distant though it was. Keep on going “ever higher,” Stan. We’ll be rooting for you until it’s our turn to finally glance over our shoulders, give everyone behind us a thumbs up, and say: “’Nuff said.”

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More Oldies But Goodies

Here are some more “oldies but goodies” for you to enjoy, readers! Is it just me, or is this stuff better than a lot of the newer music being produced by a lot of companies today?

Don’t get me wrong – I like several new artists very, very much. But they’re few and far between; music like this just strikes a better chord with me. (Pun intended, more or less.) There’s just something about these songs that makes them superior to a lot of the new noise being created now, in my opinion.

Anyway, here are some “retro” tunes to brighten your day, readers. Enjoy!

The Mithril Guardian

 

All Out of Love – Air Supply

 

Making Love Out of Nothing at All – Air Supply

 

It’s All Been Done – Barenaked Ladies

 

Better Not Look Down – BB King

 

The Tide Is High – Blondie

 

One Way or Another – Blondie

 

You’ve Made Me So Very Happy – Blood, Sweat, & Tears

 

Three Is a Magic Number – Bob Dorough

 

Right On My Way Home – Bob Dorough

 

You’re So Vain – Carly Simon

 

Peggy Sue – Buddy Holly

 

You Might Think – The Cars

 

I Want Candy – Bow Wow Wow

Spotlight: Star Wars – Wedge Antilles

Haiku 04.17.14 – Star Wars Anonymous

Forgive the numerous Star Wars posts, readers, but the franchise has been on my mind quite a bit lately. My posts about the forgotten heroines from a galaxy far, far away and subsequent interactions with the young ladies who run The Elven Padawan have re-ignited my hibernating interest in these stories. And once my interest in a story has been reawakened, it is hard for me to get it under control.

This is why I began thinking quite a bit about Wedge Antilles, the focus of today’s Spotlight! article. In my early days as a Star Wars fan I was always impressed when, after Wedge’s X-Wing is damaged during the trench run on the first Death Star, Luke told him to break off before he got killed. In marked contrast to his relationship with Biggs Darklighter, Luke barely knew Wedge before going out to attack the giant battle station. They hardly met before being thrust into combat together.

Still, despite their short acquaintance, a viewer can hear the genuine concern in Luke’s voice when he tells Red Two to bail out of the trench run. That scene always stuck with me; in spite of the fact that they didn’t really know one another, Luke Skywalker truly cared about protecting Wedge Antilles. Considering he lost his childhood friend not long afterward, that says a lot about the budding Jedi Knight’s character.

My regard for Wedge in the films at the time was, clearly, less about him and more about Luke. Thinking back, this blogger really only “met” and came to like Wedge Antilles during her first read through of Timothy Zahn’s novel Vision of the Future, from the Hand of Thrawn duology. During Vision, Antilles’ character was on full display. His dry humor, his dislike of politics mixing with military matters, and his leadership and tactical abilities caught my attention at once. Through Zahn’s writing this blogger also came to admire Wedge for his loyalty, his strong sense of right and wrong, and his genuine concern for those under his command.

I also appreciated the fact that Wedge hadn’t lost his optimism. Despite everything he had been through, in the old EU Antilles still believed in and hoped for happy endings. He had far more depth and personality in the books than the films had suggested. Subsequently, he stopped being just a face in a cockpit when I watched the movies. In that strange way all good fictional characters have of endearing themselves to audiences, he became something close to a real person for me.

Wedge Returns in New Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Clip

Obviously, this blogger has not lost any respect for his character over the years. Hearing that he would appear in Star Wars Rebels, I was glad to know that at least this old favorite, unlike several others, wasn’t going to be completely forgotten in the new timeline. However, my enthusiasm for his presence in the new stories was tempered by the fact that so much from the first EU had been discarded. I sensed that the people running Disney/Lucasfilm weren’t going to let Filoni and crew bring the Wedge I knew into the new Star Wars timeline.

That isn’t to say that Wedge’s appearances in Rebels weren’t enjoyableHe sometimes came across as a bit foolish in certain scenes, but there were other times when some of the Antilles I knew shone through the changes. It was still Wedge being Wedge (for the most part), and this blogger could like his animated representation for that. The only thing I would have tweaked in Rebels was his brief career as an Imperial pilot. If the Rebels writers could have written Wedge as an undercover agent and recruiter who needed extraction, the episode would have made more sense to me.

The reason I say this is that, in the original stories, Wedge casually hated the Empire and wanted to keep off its radar. Due to the insurance payout he received after his parents’ deaths aboard the family refueling station, he was able to do this by buying his own ship. For a couple of years following the loss of his parents, Wedge ran legal freight around the galaxy. But because of the Empire’s economic stranglehold, finding legitimate, good paying jobs was hard work for independent freighters – especially young ones like him.

Wedge Antilles - Wookieepedia, the Star Wars Wiki

In the old timeline, Wedge would cite this economic hardship as his reason for joining the Rebel Alliance. The truth, however, was far different. While working as a cargo pilot Wedge fell in love with a girl named Mala Tinero. She supported the Alliance along with her father and, though Wedge agreed with their ideals, he wasn’t inclined to join the fight against the Empire just yet. That only happened after Mala, her father, and the village where they lived were bombed to atoms when their link to the Rebellion was discovered.

Due to the fact that he was making his first delivery in months that week, Wedge wasn’t with Mala and the others when this occurred. He got back in time to find the Imperials still swarming over what remained of the village. Infuriated and heartbroken, he shot down several TIEs before spending the next few days dodging patrols while trying to find Mala. But it soon became clear that his sweetheart was dead. Devastated, Wedge finally joined the Rebels on Yavin IV, becoming roommates and good friends with Jek Porkins and (drumroll, please) Biggs Darklighter.

From there, Wedge proved his capabilities as a pilot. Han Solo, Tycho Celchu, and Baron Soontir Fel, all legendary pilots in their own rights, recognized Wedge as a skilled flyer. One of his commanders even went so far as to say that Wedge flew “as crazy as Solo,” a high compliment indeed. These combined skills earned him more and more responsibility, meaning that Wedge unintentionally climbed through the Rebellion’s ranks faster than a man his age would have. This put him in position to found Rogue Squadron – a starfighter group that became the troubleshooters for the Rebellion and New Republic – later on with his new friend, Luke Skywalker. It also sharpened his skills as a leader and tactician.

After Luke left the military to restart the Jedi Order, Wedge remained a fighter pilot, refusing promotions in order to stay on the front lines so he could command the Rogues. This meant that most of his subordinates also refused to move up the ranks, since they wanted to stay with their commander. On one occasion, in order to avoid being promoted, Wedge actually engineered his own demotion so he could keep leading his squadron. That can’t have been easy – or particularly safe. But he did it and got away with it. 😉

Star Wars 101: Rogue Squadron & Rogue One - Everygeek

L to R: Wedge Antilles, two unidentified (to this blogger) Rogues, Corran Horn, and Tycho Celchu.

While the original Wedge Antilles was generally willing to obey orders, he wasn’t afraid to break with the New Republic when he thought the leadership was being stupid. After Ysanne “Iceheart” Isard took over the bacta-producing world Thyferra, the New Republic hierarchy refused to move against her. Corran Horn, who flew under Wedge’s command as Rogue Nine and had been a captive of Isard’s, quit the military to go after her. This wasn’t because he wanted revenge on her but because he had promised the other captives she was holding – one of whom was General Jan Dodonna – that he would come back to rescue them.

Seconds after Corran quit, Wedge resigned his commission as well. It’s a mark of his character that all but one of the Rogues immediately followed him out of the military and into the fight for Thyferra. (The lone hold out wanted to join them but couldn’t due to politics and family ties.) Appointing Wedge as their leader, the Rogues hooked up with the anti-Isard resistance on the planet and recruited other rebels to help them oust her from power. The campaign took some time – I’m not really sure whether it was an intense few months or a couple of years. In the end, though, the Rogues successfully freed Thyferra. Upon winning the “Bacta War,” as Wedge had dubbed it, Antilles and the rest of the Squadron were allowed back into the New Republic military.

Image - Wedge Antilles by Brian Rood.jpg | Wookieepedia ...

A couple of original Expanded Universe writers mentioned that Wedge’s morality was something they liked about him, and I have to say that it impressed me, too. Though prone to explosive bursts of anger and inclined to take revenge on those who harmed him or his friends/family, Wedge didn’t let pain, grief, and anger rule him completely. Yes, he chased down and killed the pirates who murdered his parents by disengaging prematurely from their fueling station. And, yes, he did kill the TIE pilots who murdered Mala in anger. There were other instances where he took similar actions against different villains, too. But in each case, Wedge didn’t let his desire for vengeance completely control him, showing honor and mercy in his dealings with the enemy even when he didn’t necessarily feel like offering either to them.

In many ways, Wedge had a sense of honor and morality that was in line with the Jedi code. As Wedge once explained it, he killed not because he enjoyed it, but because by “burn[ing] down” the Empire and other enemies, he ensured that innocent people got to “stay happy.” This attitude made it very hard for him to accept unavoidable collateral damage caused during big battles. It also left him feeling guilty when he had to watch members of both Rogue and Wraith Squadrons fly to their deaths.

Looking at him now, I think that one of the reasons why I like the original Wedge Antilles so much is that he was a Jedi Knight at heart. The fact that he stood out to Force-sensitives like a torch only cements this idea for me; Wedge is said to have “projected a strong presence in the Force” which was indicative of “vitality and a focused mind.” For a non-Force user to “glow” so brightly that even a Jedi has to reach for a set of sunglasses to look at him shows that Wedge was no pansy or push over.

This is why I have trouble reconciling “original Wedge” with the new timeline’s treatment of the character. According to this video here, the broad strokes of Wedge’s new history match up with the original – but that’s in the broad strokes. In the new books, Antilles apparently tells someone that he joined the Rebellion because the Empire hurt his family and the girl he loved. This has led some to think that the crew of the Ghost is the family Wedge is talking about, and that the girl he loved is Sabine Wren.

How Disney Changed Wedge Antilles: Canon vs Legends - Star ...

There are several reasons why I am not comfortable with this idea. Although Wedge worked with the Ghost crew a fair bit in Rebels, there was no obvious indication during his appearances there that signaled he was specifically a member of “their” family. If there was, I either missed it or forgot it. And while one could argue that he and Sabine had chemistry, I can’t see them actually clicking. They have incompatible personalities; she’s too fierce and he’s too steady. It’s like expecting a firecracker and a hearth fire to get along well together. If this is what the new timeline actually did to these two characters…. I have to say that it is not going to work for me.

In the new timeline Wedge is also supposed to have founded Phantom Squadron, which is probably a callback to the original EU’s Wraith Squadron and the new timeline’s Ghost crew. Other than that, I think Wedge just sort of disappears in the new stories. Whether he vanishes quietly or in a blaze of glory (my money is on the latter), really doesn’t matter; what matters is that this isn’t the Wedge I know and like. This means that I have zero interest in “new Wedge” going forward.

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While some might say that it is unfair for me to do this based on comparisons between the new and old Star Wars histories, the fact is that in my case, it was inevitable. Besides, when a franchise as popular and universal as Star Wars disowns forty odd years of canon stories to rebuild the franchise from scratch, they can’t expect people not to weigh the two timelines against each other. Having done this, I must agree with the assessments made by many other fans; from my perspective, Disney/Lucasfilm is turning the vibrant, colorful worlds of Star Wars into a relatively bland and shallow universe. With the exception of Rebels and Rogue One, none of the new Star Wars material I’ve read or seen comes close to matching the original EU’s depth and energy.

This isn’t a spur of the moment decision. I have read some new timeline books, and I can point to certain problems I had with them. As detailed here, I ran into things in a couple of these novels which irked and disgusted me. While others might consider these to be minor problems or to be small, isolated changes in a bigger picture, they are nothing of the sort to me.

The reason these alterations are not insignificant to this blogger is that they illustrate a wider, bigger, and very disconcerting (to me and others) disparity between the two timelines. Up until the Yuuzhan Vong War, there was an animating spirit which enlivened the old EU – one that is missing from the New Timeline. The fact that it’s missing isn’t obvious at first; I got hooked by the writing in Lost Stars until the second sex scene occurred. Having found Star Wars books to be free of such things in the past, Claudia Gray’s second “romantic interlude” in Lost Stars threw me out of the story fast and hard. I only finished the story because I was half-hoping it would get better.

All it did was get worse.

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Now I will not say that the old EU was perfect. My dislike of and outright hatred for the original EU’s Yuuzhan Vong War and following stories is well-documented. The only thing I find acceptable about the original timeline’s Yuuzhan Vong War books and following media was the addition of Ben Skywalker, Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker’s son, to the storyline. The rest of stories which followed the Yuuzhan Vong War are detestable trash. It is true, too, that I still like Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels (up to season four, anyway). The New Timeline didn’t completely disappoint me in these areas; these stories were what gave me hope Disney/Lucasfilm could do honor to the franchise.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Disney/Lucasfilm’s New Timeline has dashed that hope, and not simply through its lamentable handling of the Skywalker saga. I not only agree with others who believe that Luke, Leia, and Han have all been terribly abused by the new writers, I believe this disrespect has trickled down to their treatment of great secondary characters like Admiral Ackbar and Wedge Antilles. The excuse some Disney/Lucasfilm execs have probably used on fans like me who complain about these disheartening changes to the Star Wars brand is that the franchise is called “Star Wars.” It’s about a galaxy where war is a constant. “Of course people are going to die in Star Wars!” these execs shout at me and other fans, “You’re all idiots for expecting your heroes to live forever. Everyone dies, especially in wars. That’s real life!”

My answer to that multi-layered insult is yes and no. Yes, people die in wars. Yes, heroes cannot live forever – not here, anyway. They have to pass beyond the curtain of death to reach eternal peace, life, and happiness, the rewards for their long years of service to the Greater Good in the physical world. I recognize and understand this. In point of fact, I embrace it.

But since Disney/Lucasfilm wants to play the “perpetual war” card, allow me to lay out an Idiot’s Array in answer: all of human life is a war. Every human being born into this world is engaged in a private war with himself or herself, with the world, and with the devil. To live is to go to war. And in order to get through these personal wars, which end only at our deaths, we need heroes to inspire us to keep fighting when everything seems hopeless and pointless. Fictional “people” who succeed despite the challenges facing them, who “could have turned back lots of times, only they didn’t,”  to paraphrase Master Samwise Gamgee. Without the help of such fictional reminders, most of us would have cracked under the pressure to “take the quick and easy” path a long time ago.

The original EU writers recognized and understood this, at least prior to the Yuuzhan Vong War storyline (though some knew it even then, but were prevented by Lucasfilm’s editors from doing what they knew was right). Human life, human history, is a battle – a continuous war – against the physical and interior manifestations of evil. While I am inclined to believe that Filoni and Zahn still understand this truth, I am convinced that the majority of the new writers have forsaken the truth and The Truth for another agenda entirely.

Wedge and Iella, Starfighters of Adumar, by Chris Trevas ...

Wedge and Iella Antilles

I’m sorry if my opinion hurts your feelings, readers. But this is what my various encounters with both SW timelines has led me to believe. Reminiscing about and studying Wedge’s original depiction in comparison to that of his new timeline counterpart is what put this difference between both universes into perspective for me. I know that plenty of people aren’t going to agree with the opinion I have voiced here, but this is what I think. With a few notable exceptions the new Star Wars timeline is, to me, a weak imitation of the original.

That’s not a fun thing for this writer to admit. However, as Kyle Katarn said, “The truth hurts, but lies are worse.” It’s time I stopped dancing around the point and stated my position clearly: I am officially done with the New Timeline. Disney/Lucasfilm is not supporting the truth; therefore, I cannot and will not support them.

This means that the new timeline’s Wedge Antillies is not the one I am – or will ever be – looking for. The Wedge I am looking for is ensconced in an X-Wing cockpit, frying TIEs and leading the Rogues. He’s happily married to Iella Wessiri, whom he finds more attractive as time passes. He is planning to tell his daughters to wear blasters when they reach dating age, just in case they run into a problem. He is also waiting to hear his friends Luke, Han, and/or Leia say, “Hey, I need a favor…” because whenever they call on him, things get interesting real fast.

If you want to “meet” the Wedge I like so much “in person,” readers, you can start with his “Legends” Wookieepedia article here. If you would prefer to skip that, try Timothy Zahn’sThrawn trilogy and Hand of Thrawn duology. (Neither set of books requires any kind of Warning for Younger Readers. Although he has his faults, Zahn writes squeaky clean stories.) Wedge’s parts in the trilogy are brief but well rendered, and he shines very brightly in the Hand books. Jedi Search is another good place to “meet” Wedge, too.

Until I can read and review more books starring my favorite EU Rebel/New Republic pilot, these are my only reccommedations for you, readers. So, ‘til next time –

May the Force be with you!

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Best Friends Forever.

Star Wars: Dark Forces – Soldier for the Empire by William C. Dietz

Star Wars Dark Forces Soldier for the Empire HC (1997 Dark ...

Whoo, all right! We are bookin’ it, readers!  (Haha – pun. 😉 ) Here’s the next Star Wars book on my promised review list: Star Wars: Dark Forces – Soldier for the Empire. This is the first of three short novelizations based on video games where the fan-favorite original EU character Kyle Katarn made his debut. Originally, the hero of the Dark Forces video games was supposed to be Luke Skywalker. However, the game makers realized that putting Luke in the games would mess up the franchise’s continuity. So they decided to come up with a completely new character for the game instead.

This proved to be a really good idea. Due in large part to Kyle’s character, Dark Forces skyrocketed to fame with fans, so much so that several subsequent games were designed for the new Jedi. To make one of these sequel games – Dark Forces II – more interesting, the designers hired actors and actresses to play the characters in “live action” cut scenes during the game. If you want to see what those look like, readers, then check out this post of mine here.

Based on the videos alone, I can see why Kyle became such a hit with fans. Dark Forces II was state of the art when it was created and, while it may not have held up perfectly in everyone’s opinion, the craftsmanship that went into it still shows. Looking at those videos, I wish more modern games had scenes where real actors portrayed characters in the game(s) story/stories. Dark Forces II is a real gem!

All right, drooling done. Time to describe the book. Soldier for the Empire starts out long before Dark Forces II, taking place a few months before the Battle of Yavin. The book begins on the moon world of Sulon, a farming colony with a population mostly made up of humans and droids. Morgan Katarn, father of the hero of the story, sets out from his farm to replace a water pump some distance from his house. While he walks off, thinking about the state of the galaxy, he begins to get a funny feeling that something’s coming…

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Something dangerous.

His instincts are correct. Above Sulon, a Star Destroyer under the command of the Dark Jedi Jerec looks down on the moon. Despite what the crew thinks, Jerec hasn’t come here just to destroy the Rebel cell on Sulon. He wants Morgan Katarn – alive. Morgan was friends with a Jedi Knight named Qu Rahn, a straggler from the Jedi Purge. Rahn entrusted a valuable secret to the farmer before going into hiding, and Jerec wants the power of this secret.

Since Qu Rahn’s whereabouts are currently unknown, the Dark Jedi’s come to Sulon to take what he wants from Morgan. To that end he deploys Imperial troops disguised as Rebels to lay waste to the farming community. He has them hit one farm and kill the family living there to make the assault look “realistic.” Then he sends them on to Morgan’s place.

But Morgan is Force-sensitve, just like his son. His going out to repair the pump isn’t entirely his own idea, as he discovers when his position allows him to watch the Imperials attack and wreck his farmhouse. Recording the attack, Morgan goes to join the other Rebels, who decide to make a stand against the Empire. They believe the Empire has come to destroy the thermal generator they have been working on for some time now. Once completed and fully operational, the “G-tap,” as the colonists call the generator, will provide the Sulon colony with energy independence.

While Morgan knows the G-tap is in danger of being destroyed, he counsels that Rebel lives are worth more than the generator. He reminds his fellow Rebs that they can always build another generator. They can’t serve their cause or replace their people if they are all dead.

No one listens to Morgan’s sound advice, though, and a few hours later the battle begins. As Katarn predicted, the Rebels on Sulon are completely wiped out. Among the few survivors left for interrogation, Morgan alone is hauled aboard the Star Destroyer to face Jerec. Rather than give the Dark Jedi what he wants, Morgan spits at him and makes a snappy, somewhat rude evasion.

Jerec’s response is to behead him with a vibro-blade. The Dark Jedi then has Morgan’s head put on a pike outside the space port for visitors to see. He has the rest of the Rebels’ corpses beheaded and their heads lined up along the spaceport walls as well, to further emphasize the lengths the Imperials are willing to go to maintain control of the galaxy. (*Author whistles lightly.* They really didn’t play around in the original Star Wars Expanded Universe, readers.)

Star Wars Dark Forces Soldier for The Empire HC HB New | eBay

Completely unaware of what is going on back home Morgan’s son, Kyle Katarn, is undergoing his Omega Exercise. The last test Stormtroopers have to face before they enter service, the Omega Exercise consists of attacking Rebel bases. Those cadets who survive the battle to capture the base and kill the enemy become full-fledged Stormtroopers. The Rebel base Kyle and his men have been assigned to take is in an asteroid belt, but the base itself is called Asteroid-456.

Kyle’s Exercise proves to be a brutal one, with most of his men killed during their forward march through the base. Halfway into the compound, Kyle and his unit reach the communications center of Asteroid-456. This base, as he learns later, is a communications’ hub. Rebel journalists risk their lives to film Imperial attacks and atrocities before taking those films to bases such as Asteroid-456. From there, the Rebels broadcast the footage around the galaxy, allowing thousands of beings to see it. When they do, many flock to the nascent Rebellion to join up and put an end to the Empire’s evil.

Having lost so many men in the fighting, Kyle’s sergeant wants to kill the unarmed Rebels in the comm center immediately. But Kyle, who took his Stormtrooper helmet off sometime earlier, meets the eyes of one of the Rebels; a woman his own age he will later learn is named Jan Ors. He feels an instant connection with Jan, whose startled gaze shows she has felt the “spark” between them, too. Because of that – and the fact that she and the others are unarmed – Kyle orders his unit to spare them.

The Rebels don’t wait around when he makes it clear they should go. They split, and Katarn takes his men back to the mess hall to wait for the Rebels’ reinforcements to attack. Only six men, including Kyle, survive the resultant onslaught. With the sergeant among the dead, no one’s available – or willing – to tell the Empire about the commanding cadet’s merciful actions. Kyle is commended for his bravery in the battle at his graduation, being awarded one of the Empire’s most prestigious medals. His friend Meck Odom invites him to dinner with his family after the ceremony, and Kyle has a grand time with them…

…Only to receive a devastating shock later that night, when he learns that his father is dead. And apparently, the Rebels murdered him.

Soldier for the Empire is a really, REALLY good book. Dietz handles the descriptions of Kyle’s Force-sensitivity impressions well for the most part, and he absolutely nails the atmosphere for Star Wars. The book is a little short on detail in some places for my tastes, but it is based on a video game. Having read novels based on film scripts, I kind of expected that going in. There is always some missed detail in a novel based on a visual medium. I don’t know why that is; I just know it’s there.

Among the many things to praise this book for is the artwork. Lucas Arts/Film hired Dean Williams to paint the pictures, and he did a phenominal job. To quote Sabine Wren, “Now that is art.” A couple of the paintings in the book are so well done that, at first glance, they look like photographs. When I saw the painting of Jan first meeting with Kyle, I half expected her to blink, move, or breathe. Williams is that good of an artist he made his subjects appear to be realI hope he’s still painting!

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All right, now it’s time for a Warning for Younger Readers. There are no sex warnings for Soldier for the Empire. Kyle doesn’t have any sexual fantasies, no women are attacked or abused, and his relationship with Jan is completely above board. But there is a gore warning, which we have already sort of covered. About midway through the book, there’s a lifelike painting of Kyle turning away from an image of his father’s head on a spear. It’s not a particularly gross painting, in my opinion, but it is unnerving.

Because the head is in the top left corner of the picture and Kyle takes up the majority of the bottom right half of the print, a reader’s eye is naturally drawn to him when the page is opened. You notice the heads on the wall behind Kyle’s back, but they’re not rendered in a truly disgusting way. And, since he’s surrounded by light, Kyle tends to make those images look kind of curious rather than scary or disgusting. The only way to notice Morgan’s head is to study the picture or start reading the page opposite the painting. And due to this warning, avoiding looking hard in that direction shouldn’t be too much trouble.

The only other warning I have is for another picture earlier in the book that shows a pair of hands raised above fallen girders in the Rebel base. The hands are not armored, nor are they gloved; they are twisted with the final spasms of agony the dead person experienced. Again, though, the picture draws a reader’s attention more to Kyle and his fellow Stormtroopers than to the hands. You have to look hard to notice the hands and, even then, they are not painted in such a way as to truly frighten or disgust a reader. Dietz and Williams knew the requirements for the story, but they also knew that their target audience included children in the 10-17 age group. Thus I think they did a good job of making sure the story kept its impact without being too bloody and gorey.

These are really the biggest things a smart 10-15 reader should watch out for whenever they pick up Soldier for the Empire.I know someone in this age group who loves this book despite these pictures, so that gives me confidence to recommend it to others who are the same age. Though now that I think about it, my young friend can put up with an awful lot of gorey stuff…. (Author makes a slightly worried face.)

The decision to read or not read this book is entirely up to the young reade, of course. If you don’t think you can handle Soldier for the Empire, wait a little while before you read it. It is a good book, one I wholeheartedly recommend, in part because it carries strong echoes from the original films. Kyle is a great character, as is Jan, and Jerec is a close runner up. The guy is scary, no two ways about it. Bonus points, Mon Mothma, Lando Calrissian, and Thrawn each get guest appearances in this story. We never really see them (except for Lando) in a painting, but they do “appear” in the book. 😀

And if that wasn’t enough, I could literally vouch for this being a good book based on the artwork alone. It is absolutely fantastic! Before you head out to get the novel, readers, here are some prints of Dean Williams’ paintings. Man, I hope this guy is still creating. His work is AMAZING…!

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Jan Ors - Wookieepedia, the Star Wars Wiki

“Remember, the Force will be with you. Always.”