Book Review: Thrawn

He’s back! A favorite character of the old Star Wars Expanded Universe, now Legends, has been recreated in this new novel by the one and only Timothy Zahn.  I believe Thrawn was one of the greatest disappointments to numerous fans when Disney announced that the EU was no longer going to be canon.  Thrawn is amazing.  Seriously.  His tactical genius made him a beloved character, up there with Mara Jade.  Even fans who were not into the novels, had a general idea of who Thrawn was.

I can speak for a lot of fans that when Thrawn was announced as a new character in Star Wars Rebels, fans were delighted. Then they announced a new book with him as well written by Zahn and the fans went nuts.

This new novel is an origin story of Thrawn. It shows how he came to work with the Empire and evolve into one of the greatest strategist’s and commanders (or Grand Admiral) of the Empire’s fleet, overcoming obstacles along the way.  His chief obstacle was that he is an alien and as the Empire is, you know, kind of prejudiced against aliens, it’s quite a feat that he makes it as far as he does.

 

***spoilers ahead***

 

The novel starts with Thrawn being rescued by the Empire from being exiled by his native Chiss species. I use the word “rescued” loosely because Thrawn purposefully drew them to him to board their ships and let himself be seen and caught by them and we find out later, in typical Thrawn style, that it was never a rescue at all – he had planned everything. On the ship, he encounters a young man Eli Vanto, who is on the road to becoming a supply chain officer. Vanto helps translate for Thrawn at times since his Basic is rusty and also because Vanto was also brought up in the Outer Rim (therefore also slightly disliked by others because he is “backwater”). Thrawn immediately gets taken to Emperor Palpatine who puts him into the Imperial Academy on a fast track with Vanto.

Throughout the novel, Vanto remains at Thrawn’s side through the academy, to commanding posts, and missions. Thrawn sees potential in Eli though it takes a long time for Eli to also see it. Half of the novel follows Eli regretting that he ever met Thrawn as he only wants a quiet life in the supply department.

As a side story, we are introduced to Arihnda Pryce, whom we have also seen from Star Wars Rebels. Her path intersects with Thrawn’s later down the line but we get a fleshed out backstory for her (the later governor of Lothal).  She begins her story working at her parent’s mine – Pryce Mining – which gets ripped from her by the Empire. She resolves to get it back. How does she get it back? Through political scheming and working with the Empire. If you can’t fight them, join them. Her journey to that point is up and down along with lots of petty backstabbing.

As Pryce moves up the ranks in the Empire politically, Thrawn also rises as a commander. Pryce does not have too much involvement with Thrawn, but when she does she helps him and Vanto through favors with connections (the great Tarkin, who was written superbly) and Thrawn also helps her with his tactical, objective way of looking at things.

The end of the novel sees a culmination of a battle (where we know Thrawn will obviously come out ahead) where those who doubted Thrawn are now convinced of his genius, along with understanding the real reasons for…well…everything in the novel that Thrawn has done. The side twist belongs with Arihnda Pryce and how far she has gone down the path of corruption. Thrawn’s beautiful plan gets screwed up by her with unnecessary deaths, but she never admits to it and covers her tracks beautifully, though he knows but can’t prove it. Thrawn still comes out ahead, but it’s interesting to see that this is the beginning of Pryce and Thrawn’s working relationship that we see in Rebels.

 

Pros:

  • It’s Thrawn. Enough said.
  • But seriously, there is not too much changed from the character older Star Wars fans loved reading about. He is still a genius and still a masterful tactician…rivaling Palpatine in some respects.
  • How did Thrawn get in Palpatine’s good books so well that Palpatine fast tracked him through the Academy and military career? Anakin Skywalker. Yes – interesting twist. Thrawn says he heard of Palpatine through his “servant, Anakin Skywalker”. This implies a lot. It implies that 1) Thrawn met Anakin when he was a Jedi and 2) he could have caught on to Palpatine’s game of chess that he was already working on bringing Anakin to his side prior to the Empire existing. It’s not a stretch to believe that as Thrawn is able to deduce everything. The question remains though – does Thrawn know Vader is Anakin? My guess is yes though nothing is confirmed.
  • Each chapter begins with an excerpt of Thrawn’s diary which made for a fascinating read. Chapters are also interspersed with Thrawn reading people’s body language and giving insight on how he picks up on their next moves.
  • There’s a lot on Thrawn in here, obviously. But crazily, I still feel like he’s a bit of a mystery. Well done Zahn!
  • You can read this novel even if you are a Disney-hater; if you love the EU and refuse to acknowledge anything Disney related. It actually fits into both Legends and the current canon, which I admire, especially since it’s a backstory. And, amazingly, this canon backstory actually fits in perfectly with Thrawn’s original backstory in Legends.
  • This novel ties into Rebels nicely as well as the other new canon books, though it’s not hitting you over the head with it.
  • Most of the characters from the movies are spot-on with the writing. Grand Moff Tarkin was eerily written, to the point that I had no problems believing his character (which is unlike how I felt with the writing of Han in Bloodline). Palpatine was done pretty well too, not 100%, but well enough for the time he was in the novel.
  • The new characters are also well written, for the most part. Pryce ended up being one of my favorites after reading, though during the novel I kept wanting to go back to Thrawn and see what he was up to. But once I closed the book and mulled over it for a bit, she ended up being one of the most multi-faceted interesting characters to come out of it. The last scene/battle of the novel when she goes down a point of no return, and sees the look on her parents faces, you have to wonder…is it worth it? She did everything for them and their mine, but you can tell they’d rather she hadn’t if they had to sacrifice who Arihnda had become.
  • There are hints of the Rebellion littered throughout the novel, but for the most part, it’s extremely Empire-driven, which I very much appreciated. It’s hard to write about the Empire in a way that seems positive, or at least neutral, when you’re writing in the Star Wars universe. This novel did it brilliantly…and I feel a little disloyal to the Rebellion for liking it so much!
  • My favorite observation of this entire novel was that I didn’t actually feel like I was reading a Star Wars novel. I felt like I was reading a good sci-fi book. Again, a little hard to do with Star Wars, especially with characters we love in the book. But because there was no mention of the Force (I think; I don’t remember it) or mysticism, Jedi, etc., it felt like a great sci-fi, outer space novel.

Cons:

  • For me, I felt like it took a while for Thrawn to feel like Thrawn. There was a learning curve for him in the beginning of the novel as he learned the Empire, and nuances of politics. In a way, I thought he seemed very much like Spock in the beginning of this novel. It eventually leveled out and got to a point where he felt like the Thrawn I loved and remembered, so I’m not sure if that was a deliberate move on Zahn’s part or if it was him being a little rusty.
  • Some of the book was littered with little side plots that I thought could have been kept out entirely. It’s tough because some of the side plots do end up coming together at the end of the novel, but some had me thinking…oh that’s it? When they were resolved.
  • Not enough time with Thrawn and art. One of the most loved parts about Thrawn (for me) was how much information he gained from observing society’s artwork. Through their art, he was often able to bring them down. It was a final piece of the puzzle that other tactician’s didn’t have time with or feel was necessary. Unfortunately, there was only one scene in this book where art played into the success of Thrawn. It always lingered in the background and was mentioned often, but we didn’t get to see it enough in action. We get in Rebels, thankfully, but I was sad about there was not as much in Thrawn.
  • I didn’t love Eli Vanto. He was a main character but the ending of his story was a little unbelievable to me. I won’t say much, but I don’t think he has the chops for what the end of his character arc bestowed upon him. I believe he was created as a bit of a Watson foil to Thrawn’s Sherlock but I often wanted him cut from the story entirely. I think I may be in the minority here but he was blah.
  • I’m not sure I want to put this as a con but it’s a little interesting. Was there a plot? I’m not sure. It seemed more like a detailed timeline of events. There wasn’t a real antagonist, more of a mystery Thrawn wanted to solve but it didn’t seem too pressing. So if you need a plot and an arc and all that good stuff, maybe you won’t really get into this as much as you’d want to.

I’m giving Thrawn 4/5 stars. It’s hard for me to rate any book 5/5 stars, and Star Wars books usually don’t make that cut. BUT this is still the best book I’ve read from the new canon.  Read it if you have EU nostalgia, love Thrawn, or want a good Empire-driven Star Wars novel.

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Haiku Me Friday! Droid Starfighters (and ramblings about AI, losing our privacy, etc)

Not flown by people Similar to BSG This has a droid brain

Not flown by people
Similar to BSG
This has a droid brain

Okay, one of the not-so-great haikus I’ve written, but the Droid Starfighter showed up on my calendar today and I needed a topic.  And then I began to think about jets being flown completely by Artifical Intelligence…and my post formed.

Doesn’t the Droid Starfighter look similar to the BSG Cylon ships?  And the BSG ships are also robots.  Look at them side by side.  Okay, one of them is curved more, but I feel like the concept is the same:

 

This all got me thinking about our real life little Earth…I did some research and currently, the Navy and Air Force are working on their next ships to have AI installed within them.  They wouldn’t have AI completely driving and flying the ships, but instead would have them as a co-pilot.  Their argument is that having the AI as a Chewbacca frees the pilot to focus on fewer tasks, giving them an advantage over the enemy.  The jet will be called F-X (Air Force) or F/A-XX (Navy).

Concept art for the Navy's F/A-XX

Concept art for the Navy’s F/A-XX

Am I the only one blown away by this?  It also makes me slightly nervous.  I feel like there’s a lot that could go wrong.  Obviously, I’m sure they’ll have an override, but remember Hal in 2001?  Yeah, we’re inching towards that.  Further, what if the AI feature can be hacked by enemies?  Oh goodness, that would be horrible!  I feel like that’s always a risk with anything computer oriented.  Even if the AI is just a co-pilot, the enemy could hack in, turn off the override feature and the pilot would have no control.  If the AI is completely in control of the plane and it gets hacked, uh-oh.  In the words of Threepio, “We’re doomed.”

Maybe I’ve been watching too many movies.  I think AI can be a good thing, honestly.  At other times, AI pisses me off.  A lot.  Like yesterday when I was on the phone with Apple support for a client and the robot transferred me to a department that was the wrong one.  Usually not the biggest deal, but when you’re on hold for an hour with crappy music, I thought I was going to break down when I finally reached someone and they told me they were going to have to transfer me.

Do we want AI in our cars, fighter jets, or even fridges?  (Yes they make “smart” fridges now)  At what point will we want our privacy to return?

CortanaMy Surface Pro/Windows 10 has Cortana built into it.  I wanted to use it because I’ve heard great things about it…but in order to use it, I need to let Cortana access my location.  And for some reason, I really didn’t want to.  I’m not sure why I don’t mind so much with my phone – probably because it’s portable and I have a GPS on my weather and maps app so it feels okay.  But on my home tablet/laptop?  Really?  Just so you can spew more ads (“recommendations”) at me?  No, I don’t want that.  I would like to keep my Surface blissfully ignorant of where I am on this planet, thank you.

When is AI useful?  When is AI too much?  I guess I’m not sure of the answer.  I have my limits, clearly.  My fridge and TV are not “smart”.  My phone is riddled with AI and probably knows too much about me.  I refuse to connect my phone to my washing machine or thermostat though both have the options to do that.  Most of the time I don’t even think about it, though occasionally when I’m out, I wish I could turn up the heat slightly so it’s warmer when I get home.

The Trade Federation loved AI.  They were all about droids as were the Separatists.  General Grievous was practically a droid himself.

But then why did Palpatine decide to move to human intelligence?  What are the advantages?  The disadvantages are clear – as we saw with FN-2187.  But the advantages could be that there is common sense and the ability to sense when something is not right/gut feelings.  The Clone Wars did an excellent job in showing us why human clones are a better choice than droids, especially with the camaraderie they build making a better team.  Living beings can’t really be “shut down” or hacked like robots can.

 

What are your thoughts on AI?  Is our American society striving too hard to have everything become easier, but instead, we are only losing more of our privacy?  Is it something we should just accept and let it assimilate into our daily lives?

Is Redemption and Life Possible?

Hi guys!  Long time no visit here…been enjoying the sunny weather down in Florida.  But alas, I’m back up in Massachusetts and it’s cold.  My favorite (sarcasm).

There have been a lot of mixed reactions on Kylo Ren between Star Wars fans.  When I first saw The Force Awakens, I wasn’t sure I liked him much.  He was whiney, a tad bratty, at times had complete mastery over the Force, and then got whooped easily by Rey by the end of the movie.  I also didn’t think he was as imposing or as threatening as I would have liked a new dark character to be.

I saw the movie two more times since then and I have actually grown to enjoy his character.  He is conflicted and I think that comes out in the temper Ren and Vader helmettantrum side that he has.  Disney gave us something new and different by presenting a character that openly admits his struggles with the dark and light side of the Force.  The light side calls to him and he wants to conquer his pull toward it.  We haven’t seen that before in a character.  We certainly saw Anakin struggle in AOTC and then more openly in ROTS, but never displaying an open reference to his struggle.  Okay, Kylo Ren’s wasn’t necessarily “open” since he was talking to Darth Vader’s helmet in private, but I like that we saw that personal part of his life.  With Anakin, his turn to the dark side felt like a means to an end.  With Kylo, we still are unsure what drove him to the dark side or if there was a final tipping point like Anakin had.  If Mace Windu hadn’t said he was going to kill Palpatine (“he is too dangerous to be left alive!”), Anakin may not have turned to the dark side.  Weak argument, but could be true.

Since Kylo’s turn is still open ended, maybe there was no tipping point or means to an end.  Perhaps like Leia implied, Snoke seduced him and maybe Snoke’s methods of seduction are not as strong as the manipulation Palpatine did with Anakin.

Because of Kylo Ren’s grey area, are we now supposed to know that by killing his father he is fully entrapped in the dark side?  Are we meant to think that there is no more struggle?

If we believe that Kylo has wholly turned to the dark side, but also know how much he struggled in TFA with the complete conversion, then is there a chance he can be redeemed?  What would be most interesting to me is if he is redeemed, they choose to have his character continue to live.

Is that even possible?  From what we’ve seen, when someone turns back to the light side, usually they die right afterwards which is convenient because can you imagine if Luke brought Vader back to the Rebellion and tried to convince everyone he was good again?  But it sounds like Kylo could have grown up with the Resistance and obviously with notable parents.  Even Lor San Tekka acknowledged Kylo by his real name Ben, not a knight of Ren possibly implying he was around when he was growing up.  So would it be easier for other light side characters to accept a converted Kylo Ren?  As an audience, it would also be less complicated to understand his transition back the light side because the foundation for that has already been set in TFA.kylo ren

It could be an alternate outcome to ROTJ.  Luke was a notable Jedi who brought his father back to the light side.  Rey could be the notable Jedi who brings her (brother? Cousin?) back to the light side, but this time also brings him back home to his family.

I fully understand the chances of this happening are slim as it’s so much more dramatic and plays out better cinematically to have Kylo either stay completely in the dark side or convert to the light side, sacrificing himself for the noble cause.

But from a storytelling perspective, I like thinking about the possibilities if they decided to have his character live and join Rey to bring about the destruction of Snoke, Hux, and the First Order.  (Though, on another note, if wannabe Empires keep forming and getting destroyed, Star Wars would get stale really fast so hopefully they find an alternate storyline.)  By uniting with Rey, he could be accepted back if everyone saw his redeeming qualities.

Either way, if Kylo Ren dies unredeemed, or redeems himself and lives, or redeems himself and dies…I definitely enjoy his character and am hoping that we continue to see evolution from him.

 

Other notes:

TFA will be released digitally on April 1st and DVD on April 5th.

I found this when I was wandering the Internet thinking about Kylo Ren. It’s pretty good for a laugh.

10 Reasons I Like Attack of the Clones

attack of the clones

I had only one New Year’s resolution when it came to this blog.  In 2015, I was going to watch AOTC and find 10 things I liked about it.  I never watched it on my own, but I did watch it a few weeks ago with the friends when I worked through the saga with prior to TFA (another post on that soon!).

To find 10 things I liked about AOTC was great up until number 8.  Then I really struggled with the last two items.  I eventually came up with them, but I had to rack my brain.

Here is my top 10 list for AOTC, therefore fulfilling my New Year’s resolution a month from the end of 2015.

10. Kamino. Out of all the new planets introduced in the Prequel Trilogy, Kamino is one of my favorites.  The weirdest thing is, I’m not a big fan of rain, but I love the visual element of it.  Plus, we’ve all had Kamino days before where you kind of feel bad for Kaminoans and the constant battering of rain…though with their skin, I’m not sure they’d last long in the sun.  Regardless, Kamino is one of the coolest planets in AOTC with the city on stilts, their transportation on the Aiwha’s, and their impressive cloning facility.  Super modern for a place that must experience a lot of power outages.

9. Puns. No Star Wars film is as rife with puns as Episode II is.  Part of me groans and hates how corny they are, but the pun-loving side of me rejoices in seeing so many in one movie.

2 Examples:

-Threepio’s head being dragged by Artoo to be put on his proper body: “Oh, this is such a drag!”

-Anakin worrying about Padmé and Obi-Wan says: “She seems to be on top of things,” as she climbs up the pole.

8. “This party’s over.” This is an example of a corny line in Star Wars this party's overthat is done so, so well.  Every time Windu utters that line I just want to woop.  Then all the Jedi start igniting their lightsabers across the Geonosian arena and it looks amazing.  It’s classic good versus evil.  The Jedi show up to save the day and you can’t help but think, “This is how it should be.”

7. The Geonosian language. I had some big debates on this when I was reading my list out loud after watching the movie but I have always loved the language of these critters.  All the weird sounds they make with clucks, clicks, whirring noises, and slightly human sounds in it is super interesting.  It’s my favorite language of species out of the entire Star Wars saga.  In case you ever want to listen to 10 hours of it, someone has granted your wish:

6. Seismic charge. The asteroid chase scene, while an homage to ESB, did not come close to matching the magnificence of the Empire chasing the Falcon.  What it did do was give us two well-equipped adversaries battling it out with lots of obstacles.  So in a sense, it was very different from the chase in ESB as this was not so much of a “chase” but a seek-and-find.  Out of this, resulted the seismic charge, a cool new addition to the Star Wars universe.  My favorite part is the silence when it’s released, followed by the explosive electric sound and the flat horizontal destruction it creates.  According to the Wookiepedia page, the reason I love this so much is actually because it defies science:

The sound from an explosion of this weapon is an interesting take on the Star Wars “ignorance” of the fact that there is no sound in a vacuum. There is no sound at the start of a blast, but there is still the impossible phenomenon of sound in space afterward. The idea during the production of Episode II was that the charge would suck in and absorb all the sound around it (such as the sounds of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett’s ships during their fight in the Geonosis asteroid belt), and then release them in a sonic explosion, resulting in the shockwave effect heard in the explosion sound.

Maybe that’s why I love Star Wars so much…it’s always defying science and reality.

5. The 2nd to last scene. When the Imperial March starts playing and you all the ships are starting to look like Imperial Star Destroyers…I get chills.  Then you see some of the senate members staring out and Palpatine is looking out at everything and you know he’s just maniacally laughing in his head.  Then you see Organa’s head bow down with one hand in a fist.  His misgiving is clear.  And those rows upon rows of clone troopers – amazing.  Begun the Clone Wars has.

AOTC 2nd to last scene

4. Imaginative planets. There’s no denying that the locations and scenery on Naboo are stunning.  Geonosis had the interesting hive of swarming bugs as a planet, and most of the scenes took place within the hive of the Geonosians, with the exception of final battle.    I felt like we really got to dive into Coruscant with the Zam Wesell chase scene that culminated in the underground nightclub.  We got to see the life of an average civilian with the Dexter Jettster diner scene.  As a whole, the film brought us to new planets that were multi-layered and showed us more depth than we had seen before.

3. Sound effects. This plays into my #6 reason, but at a larger level.  You could argue that the sound effects in every Star Wars movie are amazing, and they are, but I’m not a big sound gal.  Yet every time I watch AOTC, I notice the details of sounds and the minute way the play into the scene at a brilliant level.  Some of my favorites include when Padmé’s ship first flies into the scene (I feel like it sounds different than the other ships), the seismic charge, the sounds of Coruscant in the Zam Wesell chase scene, the Obi-wan/Jango fight, and the final battle.  In this movie, I think the sounds play as an important a role as the visual element. 

2. Padmé’s costumes. Beautiful, so beautiful. I would like to put in a caveat that I am not referring to her stupid white costume during the latter part of the movie that was strategically ripped right at her abs.  The rest of them are stunning though.  Not just the lakeside dress, but her sexy leather dress, her picnic dress, even the ones she wears on Coruscant when Anakin is pouting.  I love her nightgown and scoured the internet until I found one somewhat similar and bought it (note: it’s not very comfortable to sleep in, but I don’t care).  I even like the one on Tatooine that we see so little of that also strategically shows her abs…it has a nice feminine flow to it.  Trisha Beggar should have gotten an Oscar instead of Colleen Atwood for Chicago.  Unfortunately, she didn’t even get nominated for this film which I see as a real shame because it wasn’t just Padmé who had beautiful costumes, the others had a lot of detail in them as well.

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1. Across the Stars. Oh man, oh man, this was really close with #2 but I just couldn’t deny putting it at number one. This is one of the greatest tracks John Williams has ever created and it kills me that it’s not more recognized.  It’s beautiful but tragic all at once – which sums up Padmé and Anakin’s relationship.  Even though logically, if you don’t know the story of Star Wars, the ending of AOTC should be happy (a wedding! True love! Yay!)…from the music you can tell it’s doomed.  There are notes of triumph but it’s so overshadowed by the lower notes of heartbreak.  The harp at the end is just a cherry on top.  The music is poignant, it’s crucial, and it evokes so much emotion from me even when I listen to it 13 years later.  Sometimes I feel like this track makes the whole movie worth it. Bravo, John Williams, bravo.

 

What are your top moments from Attack of the Clones?

Haiku Me Friday! Luke and His Grief

 

 

Star-Wars-Luke-Skywalker-Tatooine

The Empire killed them
For what? To find my two droids?
There is change coming

I love this photo…mostly because it’s not in the movie.  I feel like it’s this moment on Luke’s face where we’ve all been before.  The way he’s wrapped up in his poncho, even though it’s so warm out, shows that he has been hit badly by something strongly devastating.

You can see the tears in one of his eyes and there’s a haunted look in them.  Even if you don’t know the story, you know this boy is about to have his life changed.  You know something has happened, even if it’s all in his head or it was something external that forced him to get to this point.

For Luke, I always wonder if he’s wondering how the Empire could be so cruel over two droids?  Is he wondering if they asked Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen any questions before brutally murdering them?  Is his future even on his mind at this point or is he still in too much shock?  Does he blame the two new droids that he has for this turn of events?

In some ways, it’s interesting that he deals with this so easily.  When you compare Luke to Anakin, Anakin would have burned with rage for days.  He would have sought anyone working for the Empire on Tatooine for revenge.  Luke comes to acceptance faster than Anakin would and knows that, if anything, this is a sign for him to go to Alderaan with Obi-Wan.  As he says, “There’s nothing here for me now,” and it couldn’t be more true.

Anakin could never accept death.  It was an inexcusable part of life for him.  Instead of just trying to get his mother out of the Tusken Raiders camp and to a place where she could be buried properly, he instead takes his power, channels his anger, and kills all the Sandpeople.  When Palpatine tells him about the ability to stop death that Plagueis learned, it’s all he wants.  I believe he not only wants to it save Padmé, though that is his primary reason, but he also wants to have that power himself.  To never die and never have that weakness.

Luke, on the other hand, accepts it as part of life.  He accepts it as a normal person would and continues that even as his powers grow..  Through all the deaths we see him go through (Uncle/Aunt, Ben, Yoda, Vader), he tends to fight it a bit, but then realizes it’s part of life.

In this moment, I wonder if the feelings he’s going through gets him to acceptance faster.  Whereas Anakin stops in the anger stage and lets it build, Luke works through everything logically and emotionally to get to a point where he can see what he has to do next and why.

[I’m so mad at this new WP posting system…I can’t figure out how to make my haiku be a caption of the photo.  I can only get one line in before it stops me from doing two lines.  I also don’t know how to make my photo larger than this.  Grrrrr.  Anyone know how to make photos larger and add more than one line to a caption?  It won’t let me hit the plus sign on the photo and is telling me it’s as large as it gets. Lie.]