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Book Review: The Hand of Thrawn Duology by Timothy Zahn

Image result for Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Characters

Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Characters (the edition published in 2002), was my first introduction to the franchise’s original Expanded Universe. While my parents had copies of several Star Wars EU novels and encouraged me to read them, I was young enough at the time that the volumes appeared too large and adult for a child of my age to understand. So I left the books sitting on the shelf, planning to dive into them when I was older and had a better chance of appreciating them.

Then, on a trip to the library, my father found The New Essential Guide to Characters. It was in the “for sale” shelves, so he picked it up and bought it for me – even though I was not truly interested in it at the time. Not long after he purchased it, however, I cracked the tome open to at least look at the pictures.

Over the years, “looking at the pictures” became “reading the profiles.” Gradually, I began to understand the Star Wars timeline outside of the films, which were my only source of Star Wars material up to that point. (Hey, I was a child! How many rambunctious tweens and teens do you know who prefer a good, big book to watching a movie?) But even as I began to put the Expanded Universe and film timelines together, I did not necessarily realize which characters were where and did what.

That all changed when I finally read Mara Jade Skywalker’s file. A New Hope, as I have said elsewhere, was the Star Wars film I loved best when I was young. Han getting frozen in carbonite kind of turned me off of the sequels until I was in my early teens, so the rest of the trilogy was something of a mystery to me for a while.

So when I learned that Luke had actually gotten married after Return of the Jedi, and to a woman who hated him and had vowed to kill him, I was thrown for a bit of a loop. I struggled with the idea for a bit, but eventually came to accept it, reading and rereading her profile along with all the others.

After a couple of years doing this, I decided enough was enough. Mara sounded pretty cool, from what I had read. So if she was this interesting in a character summary, she had to be twice as amazing “in person” – that is, in the novels. Not long after this I picked up one of the books I had been offered as a child and started reading, learning quickly that the Guide had undersold Mara Jade completely. She didn’t live up to her reputation; she exceeded it.

What does all this have to do with the Hand of Thrawn Duology by Timothy Zahn? Well, if you remember your own days as teenager, you remember that we sometimes start at the end or the middle instead of the beginning. I did not meet Mara in the Thrawn trilogy or even in Specter of the Past. I just jumped right into Vision of the Future and started reading.

The book knocked my socks off, readers. To this day, I would say it is my favorite Expanded Universe novel, and none of the new timeline books have beaten it. I rather doubt they ever will.

Image result for star wars specter of the past

Specter of the Past is the first book in the Duology. It starts, naturally enough, with a Star Destroyer. (Zahn always follows the original films’ format by showing us the Empire ahead of the Rebellion/New Republic.) Admiral Gilad Pellaeon watches the Chimera try out a new computer said to be able to predict an enemy’s attack pattern and then destroy their opponent while the ship is cloaked. Using Preybirds instead of TIE fighters, a number of Imperial pilots “assault” the Chimera before the ship cloaks. Then it engages its fancy targeting computer and counterattacks, firing off five hundred shots.

Five hundred shots plus a handful of fighters – how do you think the test went?

Badly, that’s how. Out of a pitiful number of targets, the Chimera’s blind shooting only “destroyed” one Preybird. Yeah, that is pretty pathetic, even by our standards.

Though the captain of his ship, a man named Ardiff, thinks the display is fine, Pellaeon is not pleased. The ship fired five hundred near random shots and only one fighter was “destroyed.” Besides which, Preybirds are not military fighters – even the New Republic did not use them during the Rebellion era. The fact that the Empire, which has been reduced to eight sectors at this point, is relying on Preybirds as fighters means only one thing…

The war is over. And they’ve lost.

Meanwhile, Han and Chewie have gone on a diplomatic mission to Iphigin to try and straighten out a trade dispute between two alien species, the Ishori and the Diamala. Leia, who has stepped down as President of the New Republic, is currently on Wayland getting some well-deserved R&R with their three children. A Calibop named Ponc Gavrisom is now President of the New Republic. Nevertheless, he immediately went to whistle up Leia’s help in solving this minor problem, despite the fact that her vacation has only just begun.

Well, Han Solo is not going to stand for this. He intercepts the message before it can reach his wife and goes in Leia’s place – without telling her what he is doing, of course. Before you accuse him of being a misogynist, readers, or say he thought she couldn’t handle the job, consider this: Leia is on vacation. She is, for the time being, not active in the day-to-day politics of the New Republic. She has also been handling one crisis after another for ten years and, now that she is no longer running the New Republic, should she have her rest and relaxation disturbed over one little trade disagreement?

I do not think Leia deserves that, and neither does Han. Rather than run and tell her about the fuss, he decided to handle it quietly on her behalf. If that isn’t gentlemanly – not to mention romantic – behavior on his part, then you can paint me as red as the Errant Venture and call me a sap.

Besides, Han has thought things through this time and come prepared. Not long after he and Chewie arrive at Iphigin to handle the trade dispute, Luke and R2 appear in the former’s New Republic X-wing. They trade some small talk before Solo explains that Chewie will handle the Ishori part of the disagreement while Luke takes care of the Diamala. He developed this plan because the Ishori think well when they are screaming in fury, while the Diamala would give Jedi and Vulcans a run for their money when it comes maintaining their calm.

Image result for star wars specter of the past

The plan is a sound one – but it hits an unexpected snag. The Diamala do not want anything to do with Luke, stating that Jedi who use as much power as he does inevitably fall to the Dark Side. Surprised – and somewhat miffed – Luke becomes Han’s advisor instead as the negotiations start…

…But at the end of the day, they have accomplished exactly nothing. The two species do not appear interested in getting along, leaving both our heroes with nothing except headaches for all their trouble.

However, it soon turns out not to be a total waste of a day. While they are trying to figure out a way to solve the mess, the men receive a message about an incoming freighter Iphigini Customs has been told is carrying contraband. Something about this gets Han excited, and after the call is terminated, he tells Luke the smuggler is just a distraction. Pirates blow the whistle to the authorities on a “smuggler” carrying contraband into the day side of a planet while they hit a night side target. Because Customs is running to take in the “smuggler,” they cannot get back to the night side of the planet to stop the pirates before they have grabbed whatever they want and run off.

But he and Luke can get there in time. They head for the Falcon and the X-wing to deal with the pirates, allowing them to burn off their frustration about the trade negotiation. But before the battle begins, Luke experiences a disturbing vision of the Emperor and another, more ancient Sith Lord he faced as a spirit, staring at him through the X-wing’s canopy. And they are laughing at him.

Meanwhile, on Wayland, Threepio tells Leia that Han ran off to handle a diplomatic matter. At first put out, Leia lets it go and decides it is better to just enjoy her time on Wayland with the Noghri and her children. Unfortunately, her vacation is interrupted by a Devaronian poking around where he should not be. The Noghri call her in to handle the matter, which she seemingly does….

…Until the guy drops a smoke bomb near Jaina and Anakin to cover his escape.

(L to R) Anakin, Jacen, and Jaina Solo

Anyone with sense knows that threatening the Solo children is a big mistake, so this Devaronian obviously lacks sense. Leia takes off with a Noghri escort to bring him in, only to get some unexpected help from Talon Karrde and Mara Jade. The two are on Wayland to hire Noghri bodyguards for some of Karrde’s informants – the ones who typically work in dangerous areas. The three learn when they capture the guy that the thief intended to sell a data card with a damaged document on it.

This soon proves to be a recipe for disaster. The document in question not only threatens the peace of the New Republic, it could start another galactic civil war. Only this time, the Republic will not be fighting the Empire for their freedom. This time, they will be fighting each other in a pointless attempt to get even with the past.

Our heroes scramble to prevent this, but things go from bad to worse when Luke has another Force vision. This one includes a picture of Mara, apparently dead in a cave somewhere. Not long after he has said vision, Mara disappears on a planet in Wild Space. Instead of sending someone else to get her, however, Luke leaves his friends and family to handle the New Republic’s problems while he goes in alone to rescue her.

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This is where Vision of the Future takes up the tale, and where I leave you, readers. I will not spoil anything else about these wonderful books, which are now old friends to me. If you do not enjoy the Hand of Thrawn Duology, I am sincerely sorry to hear that. They are truly great tales, though, and they deserve to be read at least once.

Before I go, I would like to add that at first Mara and Zahn’s constant remarks about Luke using too much power made no sense to me. As I said, my first experience of the Expanded Universe came through The New Essential Guide to Characters. There was not much there about Luke overusing the Force.

It was only when I read some novels in the Star Wars mythos besides Zahn’s that I found out what he was chastising Luke for doing – and thereby the other writers for the EU. Seriously, I enjoy the old EU more than the new timeline, but some of the writers for those books seemed to think being Force-sensitive means Jedi can get away with anything. Reading Jedi Search and the Young Jedi Knights series by Kevin J. Anderson was fun – except for the way he had Luke use the Force. Good grief, the difference between Light Siders and Dark Siders is that Dark Siders use the Force to gain power. Jedi rely on the Force as an ally, as a guide to get through life. They don’t master the Force – they serve it.

Zahn’s message must have hit home, because the novels following Vision of the Future took his stance toward the Force rather than Anderson’s haphazard treatment. Jude Watson may have been one of the authors who followed his example almost to the letter. Her The Last Jedi series for young Star Wars fans felt very similar, to me, to Zahn’s work. This was especially true in regards to the hows, wheres, and whyfores of the Force and Star Wars tech.

Well, that is it for now, readers. All I have to say before I go is that I hope you enjoy the Hand of Thrawn Duology. Remember, the Force will be with you, always.

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Book Review: The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn

One of this blogger’s worst fears about Lucasfilm’s decision to dump the now “Legends” timeline is that I was afraid they would throw author Timothy Zahn out with the bathwater. However, this is not the case. If you have kept up with the news for Disney’s TV series Star Wars Rebels, you may have heard a lot of fuss about a new character named Grand Admiral Thrawn. Well, Thrawn is not actually a new character. He is from the Expanded Universe novels and the creation of one Timothy Zahn.

With Thrawn’s reintroduction to the new Star Wars timeline, the bosses at Lucasfilm/Disney decided they needed a book explaining where this Chiss tactical genius came from. And who better to write that book than the man who created Thrawn in the first place? Timothy Zahn’s new Star Wars novel, titled Thrawn, comes out in 2017.

It is sooo good to know my favorite sci-fi writer of the current era is back in the Star Wars business! I thought he was going to be shut out completely, but happily the people running the Star Wars franchise seem to have heard Gibbs’ rule about “wasting good.” Timothy Zahn is back, people!

This brings us, rather neatly, to today’s subject. This is Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, which he wrote for Lucasbooks in the 1990s. This trilogy consists of Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command. Despite Lucasfilm’s decision to scrap the first Star Wars Expanded Universe timeline, Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels are still astounding pieces of literary work. Hopefully they will not go out of print, but I have no idea what plans Lucasbooks has for them.

Before The Force Awakens was even thought of, many Star Wars fans considered Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy to be the last three episodes of the original Star Wars saga. They were so in-depth, so well written, and they answered so many lingering questions that the fans could not help falling head-over-heels in love with them.

And now Star Wars Rebels is picking up on this esteem. While it remains to be seen how much Thrawn in the cartoon will resemble Zahn’s characterization, the fact that he will be in the series at all is exciting. For one thing, it gives us Mara Jade Skywalker fans hope that she will somehow make it into the new timeline!!! Oooh, cross your fingers and hope for the best, readers…!

Okay, fan rant over. Now we go back to the books.

In Heir to the Empire we see Grand Admiral Thrawn, one of the alien Chiss and the only alien in the entire Imperial Fleet, sending TIEs and other Imperial ships out to do reconnaissance on the “Rebels.” They are not really Rebels anymore, in our view, having re-established the Republic. But it is not like the Empire cares about that, right?

Captain Pellaeon, the commander of the Star Destroyer Chimera, is Thrawn’s second-in-command onboard the vessel. While he has his doubts about the Admiral’s ability, Pellaeon knows there is no one else in the military the Empire can turn to at the moment. The Empire’s territory has been drastically reduced and the “Rebel scum” are “taking” that territory through alliances with the local planetary governments. The only powerful leader the Galactic Empire has left is Thrawn.

And he soon proves he is as fearsome, in his own way, as were Vader or the Emperor.

Meanwhile, on the capital world of the New Republic, Luke Skywalker awakens from a dream. In the dream, Obi-Wan Kenobi tells him it is time for him to pass on. Luke feels in his waking mind that this truly makes him the last of the Jedi. But Ben’s kindly old voice remonstrates gently: “Not the last of the old Jedi, Luke. The first of the new.

Feeling melancholy, Luke goes onto the balcony attached to his room with a mug of hot chocolate and city gazes for a while. He then notices that Leia has become aware of his mood through the Force, made plain when C-3PO arrives with a message from her. Luke kindly tells the droid he is fine and sends him off with a message to Leia, reminding her that in her condition, she should be asleep.

What is Leia’s condition, some of you ask? She is expecting twins! That is her “condition”!

Leia is also missing Han, who is away trying to convince his old smuggler buddies to run legit freight for the New Republic. He even has Wedge Antilles and some Rogue Squadron guys helping him on the mission. But other than the camaraderie from the Rogues, Han has not gotten much out of the jaunt. None of the smugglers are interested in doing “respectable” runs because they figure it is bait to get them captured by the New Republic. And since they do illegal runs into Imperial territory, they do not want to be known for hauling “Rebel” freight.

It is not long after this that Thrawn’s great campaign against the New Republic begins. The Empire’s forces become even more formidable when Thrawn recruits the Dark Jedi Joruus C’baoth to his cause. Through the Force, C’baoth can keep the Imperial fleet officers and crewmen focused and on the alert. Thrawn contends that this was the secret of the Emperor’s power, back when he was alive; something Pellaeon wants to deny – and in fact does deny – but which he knows is actually the truth.

The problem in getting C’baoth’s help is that the guy is a lunatic. A raving madman, he makes the Red Skull seem just this side of good-naturedly goofy. Insane Force-users are dangerous, of course, but this man takes the cake!

And, in his private office, smuggler Talon Karrde is waiting to spring a surprise on one of his crewmen over dinner. The door to his office opens and in walks Mara Jade, eying Karrde as he finishes cutting the main course and starts doling it out. Not long after they have begun eating, he tells her that he wants to start grooming her as his second-in-command for the organization.

Mara is surprised by the offer, seeing how it would benefit Karrde and herself. For the first time in five years, she has a purpose and a home. It is nothing compared to her old life, true… but it is better than scrounging to survive in the dregs of the galaxy, as she has for the previous four and a half years since the Empire died.

Or, more accurately, since the Emperor died.

The Thrawn trilogy is a spectacular adventure, readers. I highly recommend it! If you do not love either Star Wars or Mara Jade and maybe even Thrawn by the end of book one, then I guess nothing about Zahn’s works will satisfy you. If you are already a fan of Star Wars, this trilogy should appeal to you on one level or another. I still love it, and I have reread it many times over the years!

May the Force be with you, readers!

The Mtihril Guardian

A Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens – More or Less

Good day, Star Wars fans! Well, I got to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens some time back. This post is way overdue, huh? I know it is, but life is like that. Some things take a little extra work before they are presentable. This post is one of those things.

The Force Awakens was better than I had expected it to be. While I do not like the film nearly as much as I enjoy the original trilogy, I did like it more than the three prequels we saw ten years and more ago.

That being said, like some people, I had a few issues with The Force Awakens. Not just the fact that the previous films were a complete set already (Lucas has been promising us a much longer saga for years), once Disney bought Lucasfilm, they would have been stupid not to run with its storylines. It was not necessarily something I was looking forward to – it was more something I could understand them doing. They bought a money-making machine. Why on Earth would they not run with it?

And I have to admit, I kind of missed having Star Wars in the theaters. Marvel, Star Trek, and the other franchises can only fill so many holes in the modern cinemas, after all.

While I do not think Disney did a bad job with The Force Awakens, it is possible that they could have done better with it than they did. Below I will endeavor to get the issues I have with the film out of the way, before going on to what was enjoyable in the movie.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW! Read at your own risk!

First up, Kylo Ren. Why in the galaxy did Leia and Han name him Ben?!? Han and Leia were not that friendly with Obi-Wan Kenobi – Luke was!!! That is why his son in the books was named Ben! Now I am not saying the writers should have called the Solo heir Anakin – that is just poor imagination. Even the Expanded Universe writers waited to do that. But, come on, did they have to use Ben?!?! Jacen was a viable option, was it not?! If not, there were other alternatives, people!!! Ugh!

Second – who cast Adam Driver as Han and Leia’s son? He looks nothing like either of them!!! I can forgive the long hair, but he has the wrong face! How in the name of the Force can he play their son?!? They should have been able to find someone in Hollywood who looked like Leia or Han – and could play the part as well!!!

BB-8 was more impressive than I thought he would be, admittedly. Since he is positioned to take R2-D2’s place, I was quite prepared to hate him. However, “Billiard Ball” 8 managed himself quite well. The scene where he is rolling down the staircase in Maz Kanata’s castle is especially good. I admit that R2 could not have done that. However, I will not, under any circumstances, accept this Wookiee soccer ball with a head as a viable replacement for R2-D2. R2 is my favorite droid, and I will not be swayed to love BB-8 more than I enjoy R2. So there!!!

How can Ben Solo be a Dark Side user and not a Sith? Is he like the Dark Side Adepts – strong with the Dark Side, but unable to become a full-fledged Sith Lord? If that is the case, then no wonder he is not as powerful as Vader! The Sith were always more powerful than the Adepts. Everybody – inside and outside of the Star Wars universe – knows THAT!!!

Who – and what – is Supreme Leader Snoke? Seriously, they could have just made him a creepy old bald human in dark robes, and that would have been enough. Andy Serkis is terrifying in his role, but his character looks more like a monstrous, damaged version of Gollum than somebody new to the Star Wars mythos. Knowing our luck, he will probably be an alien who is smaller than Yoda when we get a good look at the real Snoke later on.

And that speech of General Hux’s before he blew up the New Republic Senate and the Hosnian system? LAME!!! They went too far with the Nazi nods for the First Order. Honestly, we will hate them no matter how they are dressed up, or what they say they believe! They are the heirs to the Empire – the bad guys!!! Their whole purpose in the films is to be hated!!! Do the writers not understand that?!?!?

To quote Charlie Brown and the Peanuts Gang: “AUGGHHH!!!!”

And we have another super weapon capable of causing galactic destruction in this trilogy…? It was not that bad, as super weapons go, but really? I mean REALLY?!? *Smacks forehead and whimpers in exasperation.* I never liked this trope, even when they did it in the books. Do Star Wars writers really need to revisit this story gimmick over and over again? Bad enough we had the Sun Crusher device in the novels, now we have Starkiller Base! *Slaps forehead on the desk several times, moaning in aggravation.*

(Okay, yeah, I am not going to damage my desk. But you get the idea!)

Now we come to Rey. I have mixed feelings about her Force usage in this film. I can buy her having a Force vision in Maz Kanata’s cantina castle after touching Luke’s lightsaber – you do not need training to have Force visions. And I can buy her having Force-dreams about the island where Luke is hiding, since you do not need training for those, either.

I can even buy her resisting Kylo Ren’s mind probe. The novelizations for the original trilogy hint that Leia’s ability to resist Darth Vader’s interrogation was possible in part because she instinctively used the Force in a small way. This hint is not exclusive to new novelizations of the old films; the original novelizations included this speculation as well. So, thinking about it, I can actually acquiesce to Rey’s ability to tell Kylo to butt out of her brain and her ability to keep him out. Her getting a glimpse into his mind in the process is also something I can buy, after a little thought on the matter. When she pushed him out of her head, she probably pushed into his mind in the process.

Rey pulling off a Jedi mind trick on the trooper guarding her – that takes a little too much suspension of disbelief. One could say that, as a scavenger, Rey has trained herself to pick up and learn skills fast in order to survive. And at least they had her fail to trick the trooper twice before she managed to pull it off properly. Still, this incident seems to have been added to the film solely to make her the Amazon warrior who can save herself. She does not have to wait to be rescued, like the damsel in distress, but can rescue herself. All well and good… but she could just as effectively have gotten out of her situation with a feigned medical emergency. This would get the trooper to open her restraints, allowing her to grab his blaster and bludgeon him with it.

Problem solved. 😉

Instead the writers had her use a Jedi mind trick to get out, something an untrained Force-user should not be able to do. Ezra Bridger, the fifteen year old hero of Star Wars Rebels, who is still training, took a long time to learn how to pull off a mind trick!

The writers really should have done this scene differently. It was cute to see the trooper drop his gun on the floor at her command, but continuity wise, her ability to pull off a Jedi mind trick after accepting her Force-sensitivity is rather suspicious. Did they actually confirm that Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One in the prequels? ‘Cause if they did not, then that prophesied position might just belong to Rey at this rate!

As for Rey Force-grabbing the lightsaber and her skill with the weapon later on, that is easily explained, even if it is not a satisfactory explanation. One can do many things when she makes a concentrated effort at it, which explains how Rey called the lightsaber to her. (And it was “calling” to her, so that might have had something to do with it, too.)

As for her “skill” with the lightsaber, we see early in the movie that Rey is good with a quarterstaff. Staff fighting and sword fighting actually have a lot in common, according to a friend of mine who saw the movie with me. This means that, after a while, Rey can figure out the rudiments of lightsaber fighting. Her switch from defense to offense after she “opens herself to the Light” side of the Force, while not extremely satisfying or believable, is meant to be reminiscent of Luke’s letting go and trusting his feelings when he fired the torpedoes that destroyed the Death Star in A New Hope.

This explains Rey’s switch from defense to offense; her skill with a quarterstaff explains her ability to defend herself with the lightsaber in the first place. Not a perfect answer, but… *Shrug.* As a final note on this subject, Daisy Ridley’s stunt trainers need to work on her choreography – or they should get her a new outfit without tassels that can get in the way and trip her up. Some of her footwork in that duel with ‘Kilo’ looked too slow to match his attacks. It was obvious he was waiting for her to get back up and turn to fight him a couple of times. Not something you want in a film like this.

One last issue I have with Rey is this: the way her name is spelled is wrong. Rey is Spanish for king; the way it is spelled, her name should be a boy’s name (tell me that does not seem suspicious and silly to you). Rae, the feminine form of the name, would have been a better and more proper spelling for the writers to use. But they did not do this.

I found Kylo Ren’s temper tantrums completely scoff-worthy. The kid loses his temper far too easily. He is right to be afraid of not living up to Vader’s legacy. Darth Vader, even when we saw him as an apprentice in The Clone Wars, was more intimidating and deadly than ‘Kilo’ Ren. Ren’s just a whiney crybaby who breaks stuff when he cannot get what he wants. Yeah. I have seen four year olds do that, too. Totally scary. *Insert eye roll here.*

Of course, the point of these tantrums is in part to show that Ren is simply a Vader wannabe. He is not Darth Vader – he is not even a Sith! His heart’s not really in it, not the way Anakin’s was. Ren is an open and shut case of the quintessential copycat. He is fascinated with the power of the Force and his grandfather’s use of it. He wants that power and to be feared like his grandfather, and he wants it yesterday.

Whoop-dee-doo, I am so scared. (NOT!!!) Can I please haul off and slap this kid? He needs some sense knocked into him.

And did anyone get a look at that dress Leia was wearing at the end of the film? Ow, it resembled one of Padmé Amidala’s dresses!!! For some reason, seeing Leia wearing that dress just hurt. I do not know why, but I hated it. It seemed so wrong on her. That was not the type of dress she would wear. Why not put her in something more her style than her mother’s? Ouch….

Poe Dameron did not come out so well in the later scenes in the movie. In contrast, Finn actually did pretty well. He seems to have been handed Han’s role from the original films. In the original trilogy, Han was the one who wanted to run out on the Rebellion. In this film, Finn is terrified of the First Order and wants to disappear into the galaxy’s dregs to escape it. The interplay between him, Han, and Chewie was some of the funniest and best in the movie.

Speaking of our “scruffy-looking,” nerf-herding rogue, Han had some great time in this film. It was wonderful to have him, Chewie, the Millennium Falcon, Leia, and Luke back. And it was awful when ‘Kilo’ Ren killed him.

Something about that scene makes me think it did not need to happen. I suspected the writers would begin killing off the original characters in this new trilogy, but I thought for sure Luke would be the one to die in The Force Awakens. I was probably not the only one who thought this, which means that, to be unpredictable, the writers decided Han should be killed first.

All I have to say about this is – ow, Ow, OW, OW!!! I read spoilers on the film for a friend not long after the movie came out, expecting to find that Luke had died. So when I learned it was Han who was killed, the news was something of a shock. I never realized how much affection I had for our cocky smuggler until the news that he had died came out. I almost broke down and cried on the spot.

This part of the film – pardon my uncouth language, readers – really sucked. I am glad that Chewie shot ‘Kilo’ in the side and that Rey slashed him across the face, not to mention put a hole in his shoulder. Let him bear the wounds for the shameful atrocity he committed!

And I have a warning for the writers of the film: they had better watch their shins. There is someone I know who wants to “put a foot to J.J. Abrams’ shin” for Han’s death. Myself, knocking Ben Solo down and beating him up very badly is a more appealing option. Failing that, I hereby challenge J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Simon Kinberg to each dump a BIG bucket of icy water over their heads. It is the least they can do in penance for killing Han!

Ranting and personal feelings aside, the scene was a poignant one for Han, who showed Ben he loved him no matter what he did. Ben came out the loser in that conflict – as he did in his fight with Rey, and the destruction of Starkiller Base. Some Vader he is turning out to be!! *Add derogatory snort here.*

Now we come to the parts of the film I enjoyed and promised to talk about above. Rey is a very interesting character. We do not know her last name as yet, and her history is barely given the light of day in the movie. We know she was left on Jakku and grew up there on her own, scavenging parts from downed Imperial and Republic ships in order to survive.

But who would leave their child on such a world? This is not something we have seen in the Star Wars mythos before. Luke and Leia were hidden on Tatooine and Alderaan, as Rey was apparently hidden on Jakku. But they each had guardians to love and care for them. Rey, in contrast, was left to fend for herself.

That does not sit well with the previous stories in the Star Wars’ saga. From what we can see, Rey’s heritage is related to the original trilogy somehow. She is Force-sensitive, and that is not an accident. Hints are scattered throughout the movie that she is somehow related to Han, Leia, and Luke. But the clues are proposed in such a way that we cannot be sure just how she is related to them.

‘Kilo’ mentions while interrogating Rey that she considers Han to be the father she never had. Rey learned to be a pilot by using a simulator she scavenged from a downed Y-wing; she learned the droid language (binary), and Wookiee tongue from a translator device she repaired. Besides these languages, Jakku’s populace uses many different languages, which Rey is well versed in, too. Wookiees sometimes dropped by Niima Outpost while she was growing up, and she had experience talking to them. That was where she heard stories about the Rebellion, Han and Chewie, Luke, Leia, and Darth Vader.

The point here is that her skill flying the Falcon and her knowledge of machinery seem to point to her being Han and Leia’s daughter. At the same time, though, she is drawn to and makes use of Anakin and Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber. Not to mention she refers to the Falcon as garbage, a notable homage to Luke’s description of it as a “piece of junk” in A New Hope. She also grew up on a desert world, and she puts on an X-Wing pilot’s helmet near the beginning of the movie. We all know that neither Leia nor Han flew an X-Wing!! Plus, Rey “opens herself” to the Force to beat ‘Kilo’ Ren, the way Luke made use of the Force to destroy the first Death Star in A New Hope.

Also, Rey has green (others say hazel) eyes. Han and Leia both have brown eyes, as did Padmé Amidala. Shmi Skywalker’s eyes were brown, but Anakin and Luke both had/have blue eyes…

Mara Jade, notably, had green eyes. If they bring her into the new Star Wars timeline (and since Mara was the only Expanded Universe character who ever made it into the top twenty favorite Star Wars characters’ list, I think they would be nuts not to bring her back), then she might have married, or at least fallen in love with Luke in this new timeline as well.

In which case, Rey’s mother may be/may have been Mara Jade, and she left their daughter on Jakku to keep her safe. Add to this the fact that when Maz says the belonging Rey desires is not behind her but before her, Rey responds by saying Luke’s name. All at once you have a very convincing case that argues the heroine of The Force Awakens could be the new Skywalker in this trilogy.

This suspicion is only compounded by her meeting with Luke on the island on Ahch-To. Luke was not at all surprised to see Rey. He looked like he was seeing someone he had expected to see for a long time. And he looked like it made him happy while at the same time it caused him enormous pain. (And did anybody else notice the headstone-like rock at his feet? Oooh! Is it Han’s or Mara’s, I wonder?)

Now, all of this is pure conjecture, readers. We have no idea how Rey is related to the Solo-Skywalker clan. We only know that she is related to them, somehow, some way. Her use of Luke’s old lightsaber is the proof of the pudding. Whether she is a stolen or hidden daughter/niece, she is related to Luke Skywalker and Anakin before him. That much we can be absolutely certain of. The rest will be revealed as Luke’s and Leia’s heritage was in the first trilogy: bit by aggravating bit.

Let’s try not to grind our teeth while we wait, shall we?

On the subject of pluses for The Force Awakens, as I stated before, Finn was a winning character. Though the scenes which suggest he is falling in love with Rey – and she with him – occasionally seemed forced and flat (to me), their friendship was definitely genuine. And Finn got some of the best lines in the movie, such as when he mentions that Chewie has nearly killed him six times. Chewie’s response is to grab him and roar in his face, making Finn say, “Which is fine!” John Boyega has a real sense of fun, and he obviously made the most of the part given to him in The Force Awakens.

Speaking of great lines, Han was the other character who got grand zingers and dialogue in this film. This is no surprise – in the original trilogy, he was always shooting his mouth off in an endearing, funny way. It was a real pleasure to see him and the Falcon again. It only got better when he reunited with his wife. He and Leia had some great moments together, such as when Han says, “I’m only trying to help…”

“When has that ever helped?” Leia retorts tartly, adding, “And don’t say the Death Star!”

Oh, it is so good to have them back, if only for a little while!!! I missed the original heroes sooo much over the years – I never realized just how much I actually wanted to see them onscreen again!

Leia herself seemed more tired than anything in The Force Awakens. But the nice thing is how readily she and Han got back together. Even after all the pain they have been through, those two still love each other. The way they forgave each other for splitting up was good, considering how badly things ended up for them.

Maz Kanata was also a real winner. She is not only a Force-sensitive voice of wisdom; she has a sense of humor! After a thousand years of living, watching evil come and go, that is no mean feat!! I liked her a lot more than I thought I would.

And of course, we have X-Wings and the Millennium Falcon back!! YEAH-HOO!!! I have ached to see those ships again!!!

Oh, and we cannot forget Chewie! That “walking carpet” is a great big teddy bear (with a temper) and almost all Star Wars fans love him to bits! It is so nice that he is not dead in this timeline!!!

There are just a few more things I have to mention before I sign off here. One, though Rey never changes her desert garb until the end of the movie (at which point she simply exchanges it for a grey getup of the exact same style), she really was not given a chance to get changed until then. Even Han barely had time to get a jacket before heading out to Starkiller Base.

However, Finn came through in the pinch. He gave Rey the jacket Poe let him keep. It was a nice touch – maybe chivalry is not dead after all. It is hardly Finn’s fault that Rey took the jacket off at some point and gave it back to him. (Can a few more guys in the movies be that thoughtful of the girls? It would be great to see more scenes where the guy treats the girl like she is worth a million dollars!) Admittedly, seeing her breath steaming up or a few shivers would have at least let us know she was dealing with the cold.

As for Ren’s ability to read the minds of others against their will, that is a tactic straight out of the now non-canon Expanded Star Wars Universe. However, the whole problem with making the Expanded Universe non-canon is that it took around thirty years to build it up in the first place. Scrapping all that work and building from the ground up again will take way too much time.

Plus, the Expanded Universe stories are extremely popular. Mara Jade’s solid fan base (which includes me), is confirmation of this. The stories may now be non-canon, but Disney knows that making a whole new universe from scratch will cost them a lot of time and money… and they know that Star Wars fans are heavily invested in what has come before. Why waste precious time and money making “a new universe” (to quote Erik Selvig), when they can simply pilfer from the treasure hoard of the Expanded Universe, tweaking it to fit the new timeline they are making?

Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series already did this – though they were operating off of canon novels at the time. They brought Force-sensitive bounty hunter Aurra Sing into the series from the novels. The TV show also featured the Force-sensitive witches of Dathomir, specifically the Dark Side sect of Adepts known as the Nightsisters. These were mentioned extensively in the original Expanded Universe. Dathomirian witch Teneniel Djo married Prince Isolder of the Hapes Consortium and had a daughter with him, Tenel Ka. Tenel Ka became a Jedi Knight and Jacen Solo’s girlfriend, eventually giving birth to their daughter, Allana.

Rebels (which serves a similar purpose to The Clone Wars), is following the same pattern, albeit they are pulling things from stories that are now non-canon. There are creatures and weapons that come directly from the Expanded Universe in the show. Characters may follow as well – Agent Kallus, the ISB agent hunting the Ghost crew in the series, was almost a Chiss warrior before the writers decided he should be a Human. And there were rumors running around for a while that the writers might bring Grand Admiral Thrawn in during Rebels’ third season. (That would be interesting, to say the least!)

The writers had already set a precedent for this by adding Inquisitors to the Rebels series. The Inquisitors were also part of the pre-original Star Wars trilogy Expanded Universe novels. Dark Side Adepts working for the Emperor, their purpose was to hunt down stragglers from the Jedi Purge and Force-sensitive youths or infants. They would destroy the stragglers and the children who refused to turn in the books, while taking the infants to mold as future Inquisitors – something the Dark Side users in Rebels are doing as well.

Is this cheating? Yes, in a way. Is this contemptible, underhanded treatment of the fans? Some will find it so. But it makes money, as well as keeps a full-blown riot from hitting the fan and ruining Disney and Lucasfilm’s bottom lines. And the writers for Rebels and the new trilogy love Star Wars as much as the fans. They will want to salvage as much from the “Legends” novels as they can, because they like it as much as the fans do.

It is also, basically, the only thing they, Lucasfilm, and Disney can do. They cannot make films from the novels. Even the Legacy novels and comics, which were opening up new territory for the Expanded Universe (some of it rather bizarre for Star Wars), are things they could not film. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill are not able to run around and do that kind of legwork anymore. It is too hard for them.

Hamill has been voice acting since at least the 1990s. This is the first time he has been in front of a camera in years. (As far as this writer is aware, anyway.) Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford have kept in front of the camera, but Ford is the only one now who is still capable of running around and shooting people up. How much longer that will last, we do not know. Disney does not know, either; and they cannot take chances with an acquisition as big and lucrative as Star Wars is. This meant that they had to make the books non-canon. But they still own the rights to these novels – and that means they can filch from them any time they want.

This handicap also means that they had no choice but to remake Star Wars IV: A New Hope when they wrote the script for The Force Awakens. There was no other way to get kids who never saw the prequels and who may never have seen the original trilogy interested in the franchise.

Could they have made The Force Awakens a less politically correct remake of A New Hope? Absolutely. This is nothing against Finn or Rey, but the fact is this political correctness was not needed to revitalize the story. The writers could have made as good a film – or a better one – without all the political posturing. The first three films did it, the prequels avoided it (more or less?), and The Force Awakens could have done it.

However, Disney has done what it has done. J.J. Abrams has reinvigorated the series as best he could, the way he did with the Star Trek film franchise. (Don’t worry, I am not rescinding my ice bucket challenge to him! I am simply according him the credit that is his due – little as it may be in the eyes of some.)

Does that make The Force Awakens and the new saga perfect?

Nope.

Is it still enjoyable?

Yes… more or less.

However, until episodes VIII and IX somehow manage to blow The Force Awakens out of the water, I will stick with the original trilogy, Star Wars Rebels, and the non-canon novels. I enjoy them more than The Force Awakens – so far. I am not averse to going to the theaters to see the new Star Wars films, but I do not yet like them as much as these older stories. And the fact is that this attitude may not change.

Well, readers, this is my long-winded opinion of the opening salvo for the new Star Wars saga. Take it or leave it, as you like. Until next time –

The Force will be with you, always!

The Mithril Guardian