Tag Archives: Luke Skywalker

Star Wars Rebels’ Trailer 2 for Season Four Is OUT!!

I missed this trailer when it came out, so this post is probably coming out a day late and a dollar short. But better late than never, right?

Okay, first things first. Turns out, that wolf we saw in the first trailer is a Loth-wolf. And it is part of a pack – a big one!

Ruhk, the Noghri bodyguard for Grand Admiral Thrawn, is now a canon character, readers. Thrawn wants him to take out Hera, and despite the Noghri race’s fantastic fighting skills, it looks like Ruhk gets his fanny handed to him in this fight. Don’t mess with Hera!!!

Kanan’s fate is not looking like it will be a good one. I’m still hoping he’ll make it to the end of Star Wars Rebels, and I would be SO HAPPY if he survived to be at the party on Endor. But I am not going to hold my breath that the writers will let him survive.

Ezra I think will live to the time of The Last Jedi, at least. If Disney/Lucasfilm really is planning a sequel/new series, keeping Ezra alive for it would make a lot of sense. Just because Ezra would live to the time of Rey, Finn, and Poe does not mean he would be a Jedi. As it is, we still do not know whether or not Luke and Rey are the only Force sensitives/Jedi in The Last Jedi. They are just the two we know about.

Finally, Mandalore is in serious trouble. The Empire seems to have developed some kind of lightning-type ray gun that can fry a person to ash without destroying the armor they are wearing. I think Sabine will live through the fight, but the odds for her family, Fenn Rau, and Bo-Katan living through it have shrunk dramatically.

But what am I babbling about? You came to see the video, not to read my ramblings about it! Here’s the second trailer for Star Wars Rebels‘ fourth and final season, readers. And, as always…

“May the Force be with you.”

The Mithril Guardian

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Spotlight: Star Wars Rebels – Agent Kallus

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You may or may not have seen my post “Star Wars Rebels’ Zero Hour and Season 3 Review.” It was a long post. In that article, one of the things about Rebels’ season three which I noted was Agent Kallus’ defection to the Rebellion from the Empire. Some people were surprised by his change of heart this season, and I admit to being taken aback that he became the new Fulcrum.

However, I was not in the least bit astonished that he turned Rebel. If you are in the mood to look up my previous posts on Rebels, you will find in one or two of them that I mentioned a belief that Kallus would change sides. I knew right from the start that Kallus had “the heart of a Rebel.”

Of course, this begs the question: How did I know?

A friend asked me that a little while ago. It is a good question, one I cannot answer in a scientific manner. I knew when I saw the first advertisements for Rebels that Kallus would be an Imperial goon; that he would be an antagonist. I knew that his name comes from the word callous, which means “being hardened and thickened…feeling no emotion; feeling or showing no sympathy for others: hard-hearted.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)   But even as I watched Spark of Rebellion, I looked at Kallus and thought, “You’ll be a Rebel someday, pal. Just you wait and see!”

How did I know? There were lots of little giveaways, I think. Not many people would notice them, especially among the show’s target audience. I have been a child before. I know how they see things. I gave up on lots of characters fighting on behalf of evil as a kid, only to be blindsided with shock when they became good guys later on. It is totally understandable that kids would see Kallus as nothing but a hopeless baddy, irredeemable and undesirable. One even gave him the nickname WAFAR: Walking Advertisement for a Razor, in reference to his huge sideburns.

Despite helping to create the moniker and adopting it myself, I did not see Kallus as a hopeless villain, and below are some of the reasons why.

From the get-go, I noticed that Kallus did not mind going into battle at the head of a legion of Stormtroopers. When Vader steps on the scene, he is usually the central point of the conflict. He is neither with the Stormtoopers nor goading them on from behind. If there are Stormtroopers present when Darth Vader enters the scene, they are in the background, firing at the heroes. Vader takes center stage whenever he shows up.

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Kallus was different. He was not in front of the Stormtroopers, like Vader typically is, he was in the front line with them. This is also a departure from the aloof attitude demonstrated by most Imperial officers. They are all safely behind the Stormtroopers when they appear on screen. We have never really seen an Imperial officer, agent, or other bigwig dive into the thick of a fight against the Rebels. The obvious reason for this is that the Imperials are perfectly willing to dish out the pain, but they are not willing to experience it themselves.

Kallus is different. He is willing to fight. He is willing to brawl. Whether he is using a blaster, his Lasat bo-rifle, or his own fists, he enjoys the thrill of combat. He is not afraid of getting hurt, though he is not reckless and does not wish to get himself killed. Nevertheless, from the start it was obvious that he enjoyed a good scrap.

This, I think, was my first hint that Kallus had the makings of a Rebel. Another hint was that he was not prone to preening, as most Imperials in Star Wars are. I do not recall seeing Kallus boast over anything he did while with the Empire, even his successes as an ISB agent. One Star Wars encyclopedia claims that he turned down numerous offers of promotion in order to stay on the front lines. So he did not have an unhealthy, inflated opinion of himself. Hmm, not your typical Imperial reaction to success, eh, readers?

To the observant viewer, this shows that Kallus is not interested in power or advancement in the Imperial bureaucracy. He is interested in his job as an ISB agent because he enjoys it. He wants to be on the front lines, fighting what he thinks is the good fight. His scrupulous attention to his job, his lack of interest in prestige and power, his love of combat because he is at his physical peak, hinted that he had a sense of honor. Though he kicked a Stormtrooper down a Kessel mineshaft and did some other, similarly nasty things, Kallus definitely possessed an aura of real dignity which is lacking in most of Star Wars’ Imperial characters.

Hint number three about Kallus’ eventual change of heart was that he was smart. Most Imperials are so busy trying to “get ahead” in the Imperial power structure that they have lost whatever imagination they had before they became part of the Emperor’s machine. You watch them while they are working on the bridge of a Star Destroyer or some such place, and they are all vying for “their fair share” of the glory. This means that they never look beyond their own nose. Because they are so busy looking out for good ol’ Number One, they do not understand the Rebels.

The Rebels would never leave a man behind if they could find a way to save him. Kallus realized this at the start of the series and, like Grand Admiral Thrawn, he began to profile our heroes. He did not do it through studying art, as Thrawn does, but by assessing their actions in combat.

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There are benefits to both kinds of deduction, obviously. Thrawn’s fascination with art and what it shows about a particular artist’s or species’ mindset is a superpower all by itself. It is what allows him to make such great, overarching plans. If there is one thing Thrawn is proud of it is his intellect, the fact that he is the smartest man (or Chiss) in the room, and so he holds all his subordinates and enemies in contempt. Kallus’ understanding of the Rebels is based more on their performance in combat, and so he never held them in complete contempt.

Kallus is not a genius, like Thrawn, but he is intelligent. He analyzed the Ghost crew’s patterns of attack and would be ready to meet them when they came running to the bait he had set up. His hand-to-hand battles with the Ghost crew, particularly Zeb, taught him their personal strengths and weaknesses.

In a way, this knowledge gave him a more realistic and basic picture of the Rebels than the one Thrawn has drawn up. Thrawn understands how they think; Kallus knows why they think the way they do. Thrawn is detached from his knowledge of the Rebels. With very, very few exceptions, he has not engaged them in personal combat. He has studied their tactics, yes, but he has done so through secondhand reports. Though thorough, these reports do not equate to actual experience.

Kallus has not engaged the Rebels simply with his head but by fighting them physically. He knows, therefore, that they will do the totally unexpected, not because of a picture they painted on a wall or a mask they left lying around. They will do the totally unexpected because they are determined to survive long enough to get a Rebellion against the Empire up and running. If someday they have to die so that a Rebellion can be born, then they will do it. But if they can find a way to survive they will take that chance, however slim or insane it seems to be. That is all there is to it.

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Thrawn thinks he can synthesize thousands of years of art and battle tactics into an efficient metric by which to plan out the perfect battle. To an extent, he is right. But what Kallus knows and what Thrawn has not recognized is that heart beats brains every time. The Ghost crew’s determination to win, to look out for each other, trumped his every plan to bring them to face what he believed was justice. And all of his plans were remarkably neat, for an “average” Imperial. So how can someone so smart get beaten so often by people who, logically, should be easy to defeat?

The writers finally answered Kallus’ question in The Honorable Ones. After bushwhacking the crew in an Imperial factory orbiting Geonosis, Kallus follows Zeb as the Lasat tries to return to the Ghost via an Imperial escape pod. The two end up fighting while the escape pod jettisons, damaging the controls in the process and landing on an ice moon as a result. Zeb is knocked cold by the landing while Kallus breaks his leg.

The episode is actually nothing special, from the point of view of the plot. Two enemies who hate the other end up stranded together and have to work with one another if they hope to survive to rejoin their respective forces. We have seen this device used time and time again. It is not a particularly spectacular plot and, if handled badly, it leaves an awful taste in viewers’ minds.

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But The Honorable Ones pulls it off very well – and not just because of all the “freak-out noises” Kallus makes. Having watched Zeb for so long, we know how he is going to react when he realizes that Kallus cannot fight because of his busted leg. Kallus, however, believes that Zeb will take the first opportunity to kill him. He repeatedly tries to get his hands on a weapon, but Zeb disarms him and does not hurt him, in spite of pointing out how easily he could kill the ISB agent.

Zeb then makes a crack about how Geonosis is supposed to be a desert planet. He knows very well that they are on one of the planet’s moons – a frigidly cold one, at that. But in order to ease the tension of their situation, he makes a joke about it. Kallus misses the joke and takes him seriously. He lectures Zeb as though the Lasat was a child, asking how he could be bested time and again by an ignoramus like him.

Zeb’s curt reply – “Get a sense of humor, Agent!” – must have surprised him. Due to a bad experience with a Lasat mercenary some years before, Kallus held all Lasat in contempt. Because of this past encounter with a member of Zeb’s species, he probably knows more about the Lasat as a race than anyone but Zeb and Thrawn. This hatred of his for the Lasat blinded him to their better qualities.

So Zeb pointing out that he was joking and Kallus not grasping it is one of the things that makes the Imperial agent sit up and pay attention. Zeb is not a genius but neither is he stupid. He was having a bit of fun at their expense, like any soldier who still held hope of rescue would. If Zeb had been a human or a fellow Imperial, Kallus might have understood that his comment was a joke. Instead, his bias blinded him to Zeb’s sense of humor.

Throughout the episode Kallus slowly learns to take off his dark glasses and look at Zeb as he is and not how his hatred has painted him. What he finds is an intelligent, honorable Lasat who is tactically bright. He also realizes that Zeb has something he does not. Several somethings, actually…. He has friends. Friends he believes in and trusts to come for him no matter what. Friends he knows will risk their lives for him because they have done it over and over again. Friends he will in turn risk his life to protect and help.

Kallus has no friends, not because he does not want them, but because they do not want him. With the Imperials, friends are extra baggage. They can get you demoted or put you on the chopping block for their mistakes. The Galactic Empire of Star Wars reminds me a great deal of Lewis’ description of Hell in The Screwtape Letters. Almost everyone in the Empire loves nothing greater or better than himself. They all hate each other to some extent and cannot wait to show up the person sitting next to them so they can climb the ladder to the Empire’s upper echelons.

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And in The Honorable Ones, this is what Kallus finds out. He finds out that he has not been fighting for the right side at all. He has been working for an evil Empire, doing evil deeds in its name.

The way this is shown in the episode is when he apologizes to Zeb for what happened on Lasan. The initial mission statement was not to massacre the Lasat. At least, this was not the mission statement that Kallus and everyone below him saw. The Empire meant it to be a massacre from the beginning, but they knew that not all of their soldiers would gleefully agree to exterminate an entire species. So the Empire had to feed them this idea that they were fighting just one little battle but it spiraled out into an inevitable world-clearing assignment.

Kallus bought the lie hook, line, and sinker because he already hated the Lasat. Though he admired an individual Lasat’s honor and courage by accepting that warrior’s bo-rifle before the latter died, he did in general despise the species. It made him willing to listen to and obey the Empire’s lies even when part of him balked and said, “Maybe this isn’t actually the right thing to do.”

The real clincher comes at the end of the episode, when Kallus watches Zeb’s reunion with the Ghost crew from a distance. The kids rush up to Zeb, shouting with relief, while Hera offers the milder, “You had us worried,” line. Kanan’s brash, “I told you he was all right,” is the more manly way of expressing relief. It is clear that the crew is genuinely happy to see Zeb, that they love him as part of their battle family.

Kallus’ reception aboard the Imperial Star Destroyer is the exact opposite. No one rushes up to see if he is okay or even to take him to sickbay for his broken leg. The one man aboard whom he knows by name, Admiral Konstantine, has his nose in a datapad when Kallus tries to get his attention. Konstantine’s brush-off is totally at odds with the Ghost crew’s joyous discovery of Zeb, alive and well, on that Geonosian moon.

Disappointed and shocked that no one aboard cared whether he lived or died, Kallus limps to his austere quarters and sits down on his bed. The one colorful thing he has is a meteorite Zeb found and gave to him because it generated heat, which Kallus needed more than he did because he could not walk. Somehow, I think Kallus realized then that, if he and Zeb had been friends and he had been lost, the big Lasat would have welcomed him back to the ship heartily.

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Though he always respected the Rebels’ fighting abilities, Kallus finally realizes after this episode that they are in the right and he has been wrong this whole time. It must have hit him hard; finding out that you have been fighting for and doing the work of someone evil is pretty awful. But the interesting thing is that Kallus does not let his feelings overwhelm and destroy him. Instead of staying in bed, wracked with guilt, he follows Zeb’s advice: he starts asking questions, looking into what the Empire is actually doing, not what it says it is doing.

The answers he finds spur him to join the Rebels as a spy, feeding them vital information from the first episode of season three onward. Despite not being a hundred percent successful in helping the Rebellion all the time, Kallus’ information comes in handy more often than not. It is so valuable, in fact, that when the Phoenix cell gets word he might be discovered, they try to get him out of the Empire.

In this way, they recognize Kallus’ true value more than he does. They see Kallus as more than a useful tool that can get them intelligence which could mean the difference between life and death. They see him as he is: a man of inestimable worth in and of himself, a man who does not deserve to be murdered by the Empire. They are willing to sacrifice any future lifesaving intel he could gain to save his life.

But Kallus’ more practical, Imperial-tinted view of his role in the Rebellion means he is not yet ready to break away from the Empire. He stays behind to keep feeding the Rebels information, feeling he can do more good from the inside than from without. A noble idea, certainly, but in the end his decision is almost disastrous. Thrawn uses Kallus’ next transmission to find Phoenix Squadron’s base, methodically destroying the Rebel fleet assembled overhead to put a halt to the TIE Defender factories on Lothal. Kallus’ warning barely alerts the Rebels in time, allowing them to mount a defense against the attack.

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It is, however, a costly defense, with many Rebels lost in the battle, along with most of the supplies they stored in the base which they are just able to abandon. Kallus is forced to watch the people he decided to help get killed before his eyes, held as he is aboard the Chimera’s bridge, powerless to act on their behalf. Though he eventually manages to escape it is clear he is not very happy with the day’s events at the end of Zero Hour, Part 2.

It is not too hard to guess why. Kallus thought he could be of more help to the Rebels from inside the Empire, that he could be useful to them as a spy. Instead he got them discovered, which led to many of their men being killed in action and lost them a well-stocked hidden base. He is lucky that they decided to take him in despite all that, which is why he thanks Kanan for accepting him.

Kanan, through his Force-sensitivity, must sense what Kallus is feeling. He also knows the man will not accept coddling. He cannot. He is a grown, responsible adult, which means he has to deal with his feelings as an adult should.

This does not mean that Kanan cannot tell him how much the risks he took on behalf of the Rebellion, on behalf of the Ghost crew, mean to them. He thanks Kallus for risking so much for them, for doing the right thing.

Kallus’ expression after Kanan leaves is very interesting. In fact, it is comparable to Ezra’s expression after he helps Sabine and Zeb take crates of food to feed hungry Lothal refugees in Spark of Rebellion. After one of the denizens of Tarkintown thanks Ezra for the food, thinking he is part of the Ghost crew, Ezra’s face falls with shame. “But I didn’t do this,” he mutters. “I didn’t do anything.” He was looking out for himself when he got caught up in the Ghost crew’s raid, but the people in Tarkintown did not know that. To them, he is a new member of the crew of benefactors that supplied them with the necessities they could no longer acquire themselves. This leaves Ezra feeling guilty, a guilt which helps spur him to join the Rebellion because it helps bring him out of himself, showing him that there is a larger battle to fight. That he can, in fact, make a difference and help people in a way that matters.

From Kallus’ expression, it is clear he is running up against the same feelings Ezra did. He does not think that he risked much, not the way the rest of the Rebels have been for years. He is a Johnny-come-lately to the Rebellion; it has been building for years, and he never considered it anything less than evil until recently. In fact, he actively worked to destroy it. Kanan, Hera, Ezra, Sabine, Zeb, and even Chopper saw this evil for what it was from the beginning. Kanan has paid for his Rebel service with his eyes, for Pete’s sake, yet he is thanking Kallus for risking his life as a mole in the Empire! They have been fighting it, risking their lives to defeat it, far longer than he has. “But I didn’t do any of this,” he is thinking as Kanan leaves. “I didn’t do anything.”

Kallus is a big boy, and sooner or later he is going to realize that this assessment is not entirely true. Yes, he was not an enemy of the Empire from the beginning. Yes, he fought and killed Rebels before he joined their fight. Yes, he will be making up for lost time now that he has become a Rebel.

But he did risk his life to give the Rebels important, lifesaving information. He did warn them in time, not just in Zero Hour but in Warhead as well. He did throw off Governor Pryce’s command capabilities by upsetting her, reminding her of the consequences of failure in the Empire. He did, at last, escape the Empire’s clutches and join the Rebellion. He is, finally, becoming more of the person he was meant to be.

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That makes him pretty darn important. It makes him worth thanking. It makes him worthy of the Rebels’ respect. And it is going to make him a heck of a Rebel, readers. I cannot wait to see him kick some Imperial backside in season four!

Journeying with Kallus has been almost as much fun as following along with the Ghost crew. I hope he gets to the party on Endor at the end of Return of the Jedi, where our Phoenix Squadron friends can slap him on the back and offer him some of the local cocktail. Maybe, in whatever series follows Rebels, we will get to see more of Kallus. He is an intriguing character I would hate to lose as a viewer. As a writer, I would have to have a pretty good reason to kill him off.

But we will have to wait and see what Dave Filoni and his crew have in store for our heroes. The final season of Star Wars Rebels is going to big and probably painful on a series of levels. As the song says, “We may lose and we may win/But we will never be here again/So open up, I’m climbin’ in.” I’ve followed the Ghost’s hyperspace vectors this far, readers. I cannot turn back now. If you have come this far with us, I know it is the same for you.

So…may the Force be with you, readers and Rebels alike!

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

Book Review: Cobra War, Book 1: Cobra Alliance by Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn is the author of many books, including Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, Star Wars: Dark Force Rising, and Star Wars: The Last Command. He is the author whom Star Wars expanded universe readers have to thank for Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn, not to mention Mara’s marriage to Luke Skywalker. He wrote Star Wars: Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future specifically to “get them together.”

This is how I became acquainted with Mr. Zahn’s writing, reading his Star Wars fiction. But I have read some of his other work. And today’s post focuses on a book from one of his own series, the Cobra serials, set on worlds humans have colonized.

Cobras are humans who have been mechanically modified to be living weapons. Becoming a Cobra is completely voluntary; no one is forced to become one. When one chooses to become a Cobra, they undergo a procedure which implants various guns and other technology in the men’s bodies. Thus they are able to infiltrate enemy lines and orchestrate guerilla attacks, then disappear again when they have wreaked some damaging sabotage or other operations. A Cobra has the perfect cover; how are you supposed to tell him apart from a normal human man? Their implants are so well placed they do not obviously stick out.

Most Cobras are male. But there is one exception. Jasmine ‘Jin’ Moreau Broom is a Cobra. She has been for several years. What is more, she is married to another Cobra and is the mother of three (now grown) children: Merrik, Lorne, and Jody. Merrick and Lorne have followed both their mother and father into the Cobra service; Jody is working on a science project to help colonize the one Cobra world that seemingly cannot be conquered by regular terraforming means. And Jody is in a real hurry to do this.

Why?

Well, you see, readers, the Cobras have a problem. “Making” Cobras and training them to do their jobs is expensive. And Cobras need something to fight. They react rather forcefully when attacked, even by low level criminals. Their implants really do not distinguish well between a punk with a knife and a Troft soldier. (Trofts are the sentient, bird-like aliens in this series. They have something of a peace treaty between themselves and the Cobra worlds, not to mention Earth and its other colonies. But there are some Trofts who would like to resume hostilities with the humans – NOW.)

Naturally, with most of the Cobra worlds tamed, there are politicians who want to stop paying for them. They want to either cut the funding for the Cobra programs or stop ‘production’ of Cobras altogether. Jin, her husband Paul, their children, and the rest of her family are all rather put out with this push to decommission the Cobra program. After all, the best defense is a good offense, something they are well aware of.

Then this problem is compounded by a second dilemma. Years ago, when Jin was a newbie Cobra, she went on a mission to another human-colonized planet – but not a member of the Cobra worlds – called Quasama. The mission was a failure. Jin’s whole team died when their craft crashed and burned; she alone survived. The locals were a bit of a pain and it was basically luck that got Jin offworld. Now, a mysterious message has arrived, asking her to return to Quasama.

But doing so is an act of treason. After her mission, all contact with Quasama was forbidden. Jin, however, has to know what is going on. With only Merrick to accompany her, Jin sneaks back to Quasama –

And finds that war has come to that planet – from the Trofts! And the aliens’ next targets are the Cobra worlds!

Cobra Alliance is a GREAT book. Like all of the work I have seen Zahn do, he does not skimp on detail. He is the one sci-fi writer I have read who is extremely exact in his science. I do not know how feasible any of the technology in his stories is, but he describes it very well. I guess it comes from his majoring in the technological sciences. Research probably helps him, too.

Another plus for this book is that Jin is an amazing, wonderful character. I cannot help but compare her to Princess Leia Organa Solo. She reminds me very strongly of our favorite Princess – with lots of guns and tricks hidden in her body instead of Force-sensitivity and a lightsaber! Jin is a marvelous character. I think she is one of Zahn’s best characters ever!

            Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

One More Point in Saving Mr. Banks

You may or may not have seen a post I did a little while ago about the film Saving Mr. Banks, readers. In it, I spoke about a line Walt Disney uttered in the film: “See, that’s what we storytellers do. We bring order to the world. We give people hope, over and over again.”

I wrote then about the way this statement affected me personally. (Among other things, it made me cry quite a bit.) Thinking more about this scene, and the movie in general, another line in the film struck me.

Throughout the movie, which shows Walt Disney doing his utmost to convince Mrs. Travers to allow him to make a film out of her Mary Poppins book, Disney again and again says that he wants to “make something beautiful” out of her story.   And he does not just want her permission to do this. He wants her help to do it.

How many of us use the word “beautiful” in conjunction with a film? Really, how many of us do that? I know I do not use the word “beautiful” to describe a movie. In fact, listening to Disney say it, I was inclined to squirm a little. How can a movie be “beautiful”?

I guess the better question is, “How could it not be beautiful?”

We do not use “beautiful” very much these days, readers, with regard to stories. Whether they are in print, song, or on film, “beautiful” is an adjective rarely attached to a story. Or, if it is applied, it can sometimes be applied to a film for the wrong reason.

A viewer might say that he thinks films such as Pacific Rim, Star Trek (the latest reboot), or Noah are beautiful. By this he could mean that he believes the CGI effects are beautiful. I will not disagree that CGI effects are impressive. I like Avatar simply for the CGI effects, and I would indeed call them “beautiful.”

I cannot say that about the story in Avatar, which is simply cowboys and Indians on another world. And the Indians win. I believe that I have watched Avatar a total of two or three times since a friend sat me down to see it first.

In contrast, I have watched Mary Poppins too many times to count since I was introduced to it as a child. Of late I have not watched it as much, but compared to Avatar, I would say that the story of Mary Poppins is a “beautiful” story. The story in Avatar I would call, politely, “mediocre” – at best.

So why would Disney call a prospective Mary Poppins film “something beautiful”? He would say that because a good story, just like a good photograph, painting, or song, is an expression of beauty. Beauty lifts us up. It reminds us of what is good, true, and permanent. That there is more to life than what we see, and that we rarely experience the “permanence” we can often feel but are rarely allowed to see with our eyes.

Parents often complain – laughingly – that their children almost endlessly watch a particular movie or movies over and over again, until they (the parents) are well and truly fed up with it. Why do children do this? Why do they watch the same film(s) time after time, when they know every line by heart?

I would guess it is probably because children have a sense that attracts them to beauty, which is crushed – or tamed – out of them as they grow up. I remember watching lots of films several times in the same week as a child. I never got tired of them. I enjoyed new stories, but the older stories were my close friends, and I did not want to leave them out of my fun.

Today, however, many storytellers – whether they work in the medium of print or film – are running away from beauty. There are others who embrace it, such as those at Disney, if only because it is their bread and butter. Others continually try to tear it down and destroy it.

Do you want proof of this? Check out the films that have come out recently. Along with the latest Marvel films, Disney’s Maleficent, Cinderella, and Frozen, we have such movies as The Purge, The Purge 2, The Hive, Gallows, and other trash. Yes, I called those films trash, and I will do so again. They are garbage, the vile refuse of small minds that take pleasure in “tearing the old world down,” to quote Alexander Pierce of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

These “storytellers” are not telling stories. They are not making films. They are propagating nihilism. They are worshipping destruction, death, and horror. And they have the temerity, the unmitigated gall, to call it “art.” “Art doesn’t have to mean anything except to its maker,” they howl hoarsely. “We’re giving people what they want. We’re giving them reality!”

Pardon me a moment, readers, but this is nonsense. No, actually, it is worse than nonsense. It is lies.

Art is not a collection of carpet fluff glued together to resemble a poodle. Art is not a bed covered in empty vodka bottles or a canvas someone spilled thirty cans of paint onto, and art is NOT anything like The Purge or The Hive.

Art is a manifestation of beauty. Everyone can see and recognize beauty, and they can either love it or hate it. Everyone who loves beauty is gifted with expressing it in some way, from a waitress smiling at a customer to a director doing his utmost to turn a great book into a remarkable film.

And everyone who hates beauty will try to destroy it. They will try to destroy those who use their talents to express beauty. One of the first targets, therefore, will be the painters, songwriters, storytellers, and others who make beauty visible for all to see.

These haters of beauty try first to shout and beat these great artists into submission. Finding that shouting does not work on all, they instead whisper and sneer, making themselves look reasonable and more real than the beauty these artists portray.

Everyone says they can make art. And someone who makes a good movie, writes a good book or a song, or paints a beautiful picture, has proved their worth. But those who paint death, horror, destruction, and malfeasance of every kind yet call it “art” are liars, cads. They are the Wormtongues of our age, the useful puppets of the Sarumans that feed them the falsehoods and monstrosities they then display for all to see.

No longer is a storyteller believed to bring order to a chaotic, brutal world and give people a taste of what true reality looks like. No longer is a storyteller expected to bring hope to the people again and again, to give them characters that will live forever, safely cherished in the viewers/readers hearts.

No. Instead, the Sarumans say storytellers are supposed to revel in the transient. They are expected to give form to passing feelings, fleeting fads, and to lift up the slime at the bottom of the gutter and proclaim it art. This is now the anticipated path of an artist.

G. K. Chesterton said on his deathbed that there was only the light and the dark, and every man had to choose which he would serve, for which he would live and die.

What do these sides, the light and the dark, look like? Look to your heart, readers. Who rides there? Captain America? Aragorn? Luke Skywalker? They are the emblems of the light, the ideals of those who choose goodness, right, and truth. They are what these people truly strive to be. All who live according to the light, who love the day and the stars at night, they fight for the light. They are the true Avengers, the real Fellowship of the Ring, and the living Jedi Knights. To believe in beauty, to fight to keep it present in the world – that, readers, is choosing and fighting for the light.

What do those who serve the darkness look like? Whom do they carry in their hearts? Loki, Saruman, Hannibal Lecter, Thanos – these are examples of the outriders of evil. It is these who are carried in the hearts of those who serve the darkness. They, like these characters, have rejected the light. For them it is better to rule in the dark than to serve in the light. Non serviam, they say. Those who are minions of evil resemble these wicked characters in some manner.

It may not be an obvious resemblance, of course. Does not Crossbones wear a mask? Do not Saruman and Thanos hide behind useful puppets like Gríma Wormtongue, Loki, and Nebula? Does not Hannibal Lecter do his work where none can see and stop him? And was it not Loki who was told by Coulson, “You’re going to lose.”

“Am I?”

“It’s in your nature.”

“Your heroes are scattered,” Loki answered, “Your floating fortress falls from the sky… Where is my disadvantage?”

“You lack conviction,” was Coulson’s prompt, true answer.

Why would evil wear a mask if it were so utterly convinced that it had nothing to fear? Evil wears a mask because it does have something to fear, something far greater than itself. The Light is what it fears, and for that reason true storytellers serve the Light.

This is why I blog about stories which I know are beautiful. This is why I blog about characters and songs I know to be beautiful. This is why I write. There is no other reason for this blog. If there ever was another reason, it has long since passed away. Writing about beauty is one way of making beauty visible to the world again and again. Of bringing order, if only for a few paragraphs, to a chaotic society. Of giving hope, however small, where it is needed most.

Excelsior, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Teaching

The Last Command

Mara looked at the double leaf-canopy overhead. “Could we have picked up an Imperial patrol?”

“No.” Skywalker was positive. “I’d know if there were any other humans nearby.”

“Bet that comes in handy,” Mara muttered.

“It’s just a matter of training.”

She threw him a sideways look. There’d been something odd in his voice. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

He grimaced, a quick tightening of his mouth. “Nothing. Just…I was thinking about Leia’s twins. Thinking about how I’m going to have to train them some day.”

“You worried about when to start?”

He shook his head. “I’m worried about being able to do it at all.”

She shrugged. “What’s to do? You teach them how to hear minds and move objects around and use lightsabers. You did that with your sister, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” he agreed. “But that was when I thought that was all there was to it. It’s really just the beginning. They’re going to be strong in the Force, and with that strength comes responsibility. How do I teach them that? How do I teach them wisdom and compassion and how not to abuse their power?”

Mara studied his profile as he gazed out into the forest. This wasn’t just word games; he was really serious about it. Definitely a side of the heroic, noble, infallible Jedi she hadn’t seen before. “How does anyone teach anyone else that stuff?” she said. “Mostly by example, I suppose.”

He thought about it, nodded reluctantly. “I suppose so.” – Exchange between Mara Jade and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars: A Family Torn Apart

Han and Leia

Hello, Star Wars Writers!

I can hear the groans now.  I know.  First the Marvel Comics writers, then the Transformers writers, now you guys.  My interests are rather wide.  So it’s not hard for somebody, somewhere, to irritate me.

Reading my notes to the Marvel Comics writers, I’m sure you have some idea of what it’s like to tick me off.

You have landed on that list.  I am very upset by what you have been doing of late.

So.  Let’s get started, shall we?

A family torn apart.  What do I mean by that?  I mean the Solo clan, which has been all but shattered through the events of various novels.  We’ll start with Chewie’s death.  Yeah, I can see why the original characters would begin to die off; time passing and all that.  That doesn’t mean I have to like it, though.

So in this R. A. Salvatore and I agree: killing Chewbacca was wrong.

Killing young Anakin Solo, who was not yet out of his teens, was even worse.

What was the purpose of that?  I don’t think Han and Leia ever earned that stab in the gut.  Anakin certainly hadn’t had time to earn it.  He was a very interesting character.  It would have been fun to watch him go gallivanting across the galaxy (preferably with Tahiri) being the Jedi his grandfather could have been.  The galaxy would not have been the only group of people cheering him throughout.

But that’s not going to happen now.

Next we come to Jacen Solo.  Jacen was supposed to be the gentlest of the three Solo children, the one most attuned to living things.  Well, that got turned on its head after Anakin died, didn’t it?  That must be why the youngest Solo child got the axe.  One, or more, of you wanted to see a descendant of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader “come full circle” and repeat his grandfather’s mistakes.

There was no way that fans were going to let you do that to Luke.  Even Lucas wouldn’t let you do that.  Anakin Solo was too obvious a choice; he had been named for his grandfather.  If you used him, it would be expected.  Yet another reason to “strike” him out of the expanded universe.  Any children Luke had would have to continue his legacy, not Vader’s.  That left Jacen.

To complete the “full circle” angle, a member of his family had to face off with Jacen and either turn him back to the light or kill him.  You opted for the latter.  Seriously?  But I guess you thought that your “circle” had to end differently than it began, didn’t you?  Luke turned his father.  It would be too cliché to have Jacen turned to the light the way Vader had been.

So you sent his older twin Jaina to take him out.  When she does Jacen “makes amends” by warning his girlfriend Tenel-Ka that she and their daughter, Alanna, are in danger from poison gas.  We’re never even told for sure which side of the Force Jacen joined in death.  You made it pretty clear which side he was on in life.

You never read any of the other writers’ stories before starting your own, do you?  Did Jaina even cry, at least in private, after killing her brother?  More to the point, the whole incident seems to put her in the territory of the Dark Side, but she doesn’t act like she’s turned away from the Jedi order.  Yet.  I’m sure that someone has a plan to change that soon; what with her starting a resistance movement against Galactic Alliance ruler Daala (did the galaxy get amnesia?  I don’t see them exactly jumping to elect her in a landslide considering how she nearly wrecked the New Republic).  Is Jaina even going to live long enough to have children of her own?  Aside from Alanna, it appears that the Solo line is pretty well sunk.

This is preposterous to me.  Killing Jacen and Anakin robs readers and fans of a lineage of heroes continued from their original favorites.  The Solo family had a great chance to grow and expand.  As for the stories that could have followed the extended family – talk about endless possibilities!!

But now that’s practically gone.

Han, Leia, and most importantly Luke (since he’s the one who taught all three Solo children how to be Jedi and Jacen repaid him by killing his wife) didn’t deserve this.  We, the readers and fans of the expanded universe, didn’t need this.

This was unnecessary, fellow writers.  Totally and completely unnecessary.

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Deeply Disappointed Fan)

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

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