Books

Star Wars: Battlefront II – Inferno Squad by Christie Golden

No one would mistake me for a gamer. Sure, I’ve dabbled in blowing off a zombie’s head here and there; I’ve taken to the streets of Gotham and defeated the Joker three times; my portal-thinking skills have propelled me through a dystopian future; and I’ve crash landed on a strange alien creation harboring some pesky secrets. None of these has ever made me a serious gamer. They’re more of a pastime than a passion or even a hobby. Inferno_Squad

I do read, though. And I do love traveling through the depths of fandom that might lead me to other forms of it.

Earlier this month, I wrote a review for Delilah S. Dawson’s take on under-used character from The Force Awakens. And if you can get through the tangent at the beginning, you know that the it blew my socks off. Today, I sit in front of my computer trying to find the right words to describe Christie Golden’s prequel to the Battlefront II video game. And the only adjectives that pop into my head are “conflicted” and “heartbreaking.”

The story picks up during the final battle in A New Hope, as Senior Lieutenant Iden Versio maneuvers her TIE fighter, shooting down the Rebellion scum stupid enough to on the galaxy’s ultimate weapon: the Death Star. It’s by chance that Iden is clear when Luke (though not mentioned in the book) takes his shot that causes a chain reaction which destroys the Death Star and every Imperial member on board. Iden, understandably, wants revenge.

She isn’t alone. The destruction of the Death Star has injured the Empire far more than they’re willing to admit. And the knowledge that one of their own created the flaw sends a shudder through those loyal to the Empire. Under the guidance and instruction of Garrick Versio, Iden’s father, she and three others are teamed together to make the Empire’s last best chance to fight against the Rebels who’ve blindsided them.

They are the best of the best (or the best of the worst, depending on perspective) and are known as Suicide Squad Inferno Squad. The other three members are Gideon Hask, Lieutenant JG, Lieutenant Commander Del Meeko, and, my personal favorite, Lieutenant Seyn Marana.

It isn’t long, nor is it a surprise, when Iden is given the role of captain. And after, several successful missions (don’t worry, these are glossed over in the book), the team sets off to infiltrate the last of Saw Gerrera’s partisans known as Dreamers. It’s in this mission where their skills are put to the test and have their limits pushed. And the more time they spend with the members of this Rebel group, the more difficult it becomes to carry out their mission.

This book paces itself despite its slimmer length. There were moments in the story where I wondered if I’d fall in love with any of these characters as I had done while reading Phasma. (With the exception of Seyn. I fell hard for her “quirkiness” from the start!)

By the rise of the conflict, I felt torn between wanting these guys to succeed and desperately hoping they’d fail and betray the Empire. When the resolution came, it left me empty and happy. Giving me, not the ending I wanted but the one I needed.

Christie Golden’s writing talent isn’t up for questioning. She managed to craft a fantastical tale that renders the reader reaching for the tissue while cheering on the bad guys. And upon concluding the book, I’ve a strong urge to play the game upon its release.

It’s just that I really suck with controllers.

Oh well, until next time—keep on huntin’.

Books

Star Wars: Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson

Imagine being a nerd—an adult nerd—who grew up watching the epic battles of the “star wars” on VHS tapes. Movies recorded off cable TV. Or catching the edited-for-time versions networks seemed to play on heavy rotation. Imagine this adult nerd in high school, sophomore year, feeling the excitement—an excitement that he spent weeks cultivating—drain out of him as he watches the first film of a prequel trilogy. And imagine that teenage nerd being disappointed into his early twenties as he tries to wrap his head around the idea that a whiny teenager could become the galaxy’s ultimate bad guy. Imagine this nerd in his early thirties as he sits in front of his computer as he watches the first teaser to the first film of a new sequel trilogy. Star Wars: Phasma

It’s November 2014, and, in five months he’ll watch the second teaser. And in that teaser, a stormtrooper in a chrome suit will catch his attention. He’ll wonder about that character and its importance to the story. And nearly year from the first teaser, he’ll watch the trailer and fight to urge from reading fan theories and discussions about the movie. He’ll learn, in passing, the character’s name—Phasma. He’ll learn that Gwendoline Christie was cast to play the part. He’ll see the studio raise the character up on a pedestal. It will give him a new hope in the franchise.

And that December, as he watches J. J. Abrams rehash the first movie, he’ll feel the pang of disappointment when the movie under uses Phasma. Cringe at the lack of arc, screen time, and how easy it was for Finn and Han to dispatch her. A broken hearted man, this nerd became when she gave up the information they sought.

Sure, this movie excelled where the prequels failed. But what cost? Yet, he hopes that the second film will make more use of the character.

And, as if to answer the cry of several disappointed nerds across the world, writer Delilah S. Dawson takes up the mantle to give justice to the most underwhelming anticipated character The Force Awakens promised.

At the beginning of September, Star Wars: Phasma hit shelves across the world and sucked readers onto the road towards Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This much needed and welcomed book gives the reader insight to this mysterious character, providing the origin story for the First Order’s most deadly human weapon.

Dawson holds no punches when it comes to storytelling. Readers hit the ground running as Vi Moradi, a Resistance spy, is captured by Captain Cardinal of the First Order on his ship, the Absolution. Cardinal isn’t interested in learning Resistance secrets from Vi; he’s more intent on hearing what she’s learned on Parnassos, a desolate wasteland planet and home to First Order darling, Captain Phasma. He needs useful information to assist him on his mission: the take down of his most dreaded enemy within the First Order. Information that Vi promises she has.

The frame story, as told by Vi, follows Siv and members of her tribe known as the Scyre, who are led by siblings Keldo and Phasma. Where Keldo excels in working with their enemy for a better future, Phasma understands that in order to survive on a dying planet one must take drastic measures. And things do take a drastic turn when a “star” falls from the sky and brings with it the promise off the planet. Against the will of her brother, Phasma and her most trusted warriors assist Brendol Hux and his three stormtrooper escorts journey across the wastelands of the Parnassos in order to reach his ship. It is on this journey Siv truly begins to understand her leader’s motives and what she’s willing to do to reach her goal.

This book answers questions some fans may have had about Phasma. We learn that her planet of origin was rendered barren by the Con Star Mining Corporation. We learn that unlike other stormtroopers, Phasma entered in as an adult. We learn where her chrome suit comes from. Not to mention how ruthless she’ll become in order to ensure her survival. And we learn that she’s hiding a dark secret from the First Order, which Captain Cardinal hopes to be her undoing.

As most science fiction, Dawson seems to incorporate a political stance within the book. While it’s a subtle commentary on our species’ bad habit of polluting our planet to the brink of death, it doesn’t take front and center stage of the story. Just adds an unignorable, inconvenient truth about what we’re doing to out planet as we continue to depend on fossil fuels and nuclear power to sustain us. There is scene that echoes the Chernobyl incident with a dash of Hiroshima*.

In a rare occasion, I give this book five stars. Because not only does the book deliver what The Force Awakens failed to, it also keeps you guessing while entertaining you. Until next time, keep on huntin’.

*Yes, I know Hiroshima was a war atrocity. Read the book and you’ll understand.
Books

Bloodline by Claudia Gray

When Carrie Fisher passed away at the tail end of 2016, there was a great loss in Hollywood and mental illness awareness. Like many Star Wars fanboys and fangirls, I struggled with the loss of a princess, a general. Of a freedom fighting rebel. With the second installment of the sequel trilogy on its way later this year, many fans worried what would become of General Organa. Will they call for reshoots? Gracefully retire the character as they did with Paul Walker’s in The Fast and The Furious franchise? Or will Leia and Han be reunited in the afterlife? These thoughts surfaced my mind one night, a few weeks ago, at Barnes and Noble. There’s no denying it—the only reason I even fathomed picking up th15781789_10100276356518147_1987712409066616206_ne Claudia Gray novel, Bloodlines, was because I stilled mourned the loss of a great actor.

And I don’t regret it for one second.

Before Bloodlines, the only Star Wars novels I read were Joe Schreiber‘s expanded universe novels (now known as Legends because why not?) Death Troopers and Red Harvest. And while those were fun to read, they didn’t exactly add to my fandom. (Though zombie Siths with lightsabers, I mean, what’s not to love?) But Claudia Gray (and the other writers of the new canon) have some serious shoes to fill. After reading this novel, it’s safe to say that the story can only get better.

Set decades after the destruction of the second Death Star, Senator Leia Organa sees the New Republic tearing at the seams as the two factions that make it up are at a civil unrest. Populists, like Leia, “believe individual planets should retain almost all authority,” while Centrists “favor a stronger galactic government and a more powerful military.” Leia knows exactly what happens when one person is given too much power. How could she forget when her biological father was the same man who took pleasure in aiding the destruction of her home planet of Alderaan? When suspicious activities are called into question on the subject of Nikto cartels, Leia volunteers to lead a senatorial investigation. Much to her displeasure, she is joined by Ransolm Casterfo, an up-and-coming Centrist with a collection of Empire paraphernalia (think Nazi memorabilia collector).

As the investigation takes them into new territories, both senators began to realize just how fragile the New Republic is. And as they get closer to uncovering a galactic terrorist group, Leia is faced with another problem as her greatest secret comes to light.

This novel answered some of the questions I had when watching The Force Awakens. Such as where did the First Order come from? Why is Leia general of the Resistance? Why is there even a Resistance in the first place? Wouldn’t the New Republic have an army? Where is the First Order getting its money to fund the behemoth Death Star 2.0 they have? What happened to Han and Leia? Why did I pay money for just seeing a brief moment of Luke Skywalker? (OK that question goes unanswered.)

Like the recent Star Wars films, Bloodlines gives women the pilot seat (if you listen closely, you can still hear the groans and moans from nerd-boys like Max Landis). While men like Casterfo, Han Solo, and Joph Seastriker play pivotal roles as rescuers, they’re basically just the Mad Max character in a movie about Imperator Furiosa. In short, Leia Organa has always been a bad ass and newcomers Greer Sonnel and Korr Sella can hold their own, even in the face of danger and uncertainty.

The book is political driven (and, nightmarishly, mirrors our own politics) so there are moments in the prose where pitfalls happen. But pay them no attention as Claudia Gray packs action and suspense around every corner. The book ends with some uncertainty about certain characters and plot devices, leaving you yearning for more. I only hope that Claudia Gray (or any writer of the new canon) plans on revisiting them in the future.

Bloodlines is the perfect supplemental material needed to fill in the Star Wars shaped—nay! The Carrie Fisher shaped—hole in your heart.