Book Review – Star Wars: Doctor Aphra

Author: Sarah Kuhn

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Length: 288 pages

Read Date(s): May 13, 2021 – May 14, 2021

⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Synopsis

Dr. Aphra teams up with Darth Vader himself in the original script to the audiobook production—an expanded adaptation of the critically acclaimed Marvel comics series.

Dr. Chelli Lona Aphra, rogue archaeologist, is in trouble again.

A pioneer in the field of criminal xenoarchaeology, Aphra recognizes no law, has no fear, and possesses no impulse control. To her, the true worth of the galactic relics she discovers isn’t found in a museum but in an arsenal. This viewpoint has led to a lot of misunderstandings. After her latest plan goes horribly wrong, her roguish ways are on the verge of catching up to her. That’s when suddenly Darth Vader, terror of the galaxy, swoops in with his lightsaber and . . . saves her life?

Don’t get her wrong—it’s not like she’s ungrateful. Sure, her new boss is a lord of the Sith. And okay, she may have just become a pawn in a deadly game being played by him and his boss, who happens to be the Galactic Emperor. And yes, the life expectancy of anyone who disappoints Vader can be measured in seconds.

But she’s back doing what she does best. She’s got a ship to fly, a heist to pull, and two unorthodox but effective metal buddies: Triple-Zero, a protocol droid specializing in etiquette, customs, translation, and torture, and BT-1, an astromech loaded with enough firepower to take down a battlecruiser. Together, they might just find a way to get the job done and avoid the deadly performance review that waits at its conclusion.

Just kidding. She’s doomed.

My Review

I’m a huge fan of all the characters in this book (Doctor Aphra might actually be my favorite character from the new canon), and I loved the story when I read it in the Darth Vader comics several years ago. It just didn’t work for me in this format. The story came off as somewhat disjointed, which isn’t surprising given it was originally from a comic book. The scenes often felt disconnected and jumpy with a frenetic pace, which is also likely a result of how short this script was. It mostly felt like a play by play retelling of the comics without much added depth. I was hoping for even more insight into the characters, but I think the surface was only just scratched. The setup of having Doctor Aphra narrate the entire adventure while also being the main character in the dialogue wasn’t good. I would often need to double back to determine if a particular line was something she said as part of the narration or in dialogue with one of the other characters. It took me out of the story many times as I was reading. That being said, though, I don’t know how else the author could have structured it since the narration is what tied all the different pieces together into a cohesive story.

I did appreciate the nuance this script added to the character of Doctor Aphra. In the comic, she is smart, sarcastic, impulsive, brash, and seemingly careless, but in a calculating way. All of her fun and quirky attributes are on display here, but I also saw some of the reasons for and origins of these attributes. I enjoyed seeing her come to terms with her viewpoint of connection as a weakness while simultaneously wanting nothing more than to be seen by others as someone who is great. I particularly enjoyed learning about the backstory to her relationship with Sana Starros. Although, I wish the author had found a way to include Sana’s “marriage” to Han that was mentioned in the comics. I would have loved to get Aphra’s reaction to their potential romantic connection given her reaction to Han in this story. I also think it was a missed opportunity to easily include some bi+ rep in the story, and the story seemed to somewhat erase the bi vibes of Sana present in the comics.

I enjoyed the other characters here, as well. Darth Vader was particularly interesting in this story because we got to see his reaction to finding out about his son. The murder bots were also a hilarious duo, as they always are.

Overall, the story and characters are good. However, the pacing and format were choppy and somewhat disjointed. The script also didn’t provide the depth I was looking for. Therefore, I rate it 3 out of 5 stars. I suggest picking up the comics instead because it has basically the same story and some really great art.

Comic Book Review – Star Wars: Darth Vader (2020) #6 – 11

I liked the first arc of this comic book and enjoyed the two previous iterations immensely. This arc was a bit hit or miss. It tries to provide context to some aspects of the sequel trilogy, but in doing so, it created even more questions and potentially created even larger plot holes. Although, I’m not sure whether the comic itself or the sequel trilogy is to blame for these problems; the comic largely just fills in part of the story that was implied by events in The Rise of Skywalker. While I didn’t hate the movie, it definitely left some holes in the larger story of the saga, which become even clearer after reading this comic.

In this story, the Emperor was angry with Darth Vader for the events of the previous arc and punished him by stripping away much of the machinery keeping him alive. Darth Vader had to fight for his life, and during this fight he learned some of the Emperor’s biggest secrets. The story felt somewhat like a rehash because the previous Darth Vader comics also had arcs devoted to the Emperor testing Darth Vader. At some point, repeating this story-line begins to undermine the relationship seen between the Emperor and Vader in the original trilogy. And I think this arc comes very close to crossing that line.

Despite its shortcomings, there were things to like about this story, as well. It, once again, gave an incredible look into Darth Vader’s power. I enjoyed seeing him overcome all the odds and rebuild himself from scraps. The artwork really made his struggle and his power come to life in a beautiful way. I also liked how they included some ideas from the sequel trilogy that didn’t make it into the movies.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the arc but was disappointed with how it filled in the holes left by The Rise of Skywalker. It has left me with even more questions, but I am interested to see how Darth Vader’s story moves forward from the trials he faced in these issues. Therefore, I rate this arc 3 out of 5 stars.

Have you read the Into the Fire arc? What did you think?

Book Review – Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good

Author: Timothy Zahn

Publication Date: April 27, 2021

Length: 432 pages

Read Date(s): April 28, 2021 – April 30, 2021

⭐⭐⭐⭐

HAPPY STAR WARS DAY!

I’m excited to review this book today. It feels like I waited an eternity for this next book in the Thrawn Ascendancy series to be released. I started reading it almost as soon as I picked it up on release day last Tuesday. Scroll below to see my spoiler-free thoughts on the book!

May the force be with you!

Goodreads Synopsis

Thrawn and his allies race to save the Chiss Ascendancy from an unseen enemy in the second book in the epic Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy from bestselling author Timothy Zahn.

Thrawn’s latest triumph still rests newly on his shoulders. Despite leading the Chiss to victory and bringing glory to the House of Mitth, the true threat to the Ascendancy has not yet been extinguished. Their foes do not send threats or ultimatums, or mass ships on the edge of the Chaos. Their weapons come cloaked in smiles and generosity: Gifts offered freely. Services granted unconditionally.

Across the Ascendancy, seemingly inconsequential events could herald the doom of the Chiss. As Thrawn and the Expansionary Defense Fleet rally to uncover the enemy plot, they discover a chilling truth: rather than invade Chiss capitals or pillage their resources, they strike at the very foundation of the Ascendancy, seeking to widen the rifts between The Nine Ruling Families and the Forty Great Houses below. As rivalry and suspicion sow discord among allies, each warrior must decide what matters most to them: the security of their family, or the survival of the Ascendancy itself.

My Review

Thrawn is one of my favorite Star Wars characters. So, to say I was excited for this book doesn’t even begin to explain the anticipation I had for this release. I picked it up on release day before it even got to the shelf at Barnes and Noble; I took it off the cart holding the books being stocked that day. All in all, the book met my expectations and was a really great read.

There were so many things to like about this book. The writing style was engaging and kept me glued to the page. I enjoyed the overall story and the level of mystery surrounding the villains that slowly unfolded over the book. The tying together of seemingly disparate threads is something that Thrawn, and by proxy, Zahn, did so well here. I enjoyed seeing this take on destroying the enemy from the inside because I was never quite sure exactly what the plan was until it all unfolded. Then, in hindsight, it was perfectly obvious. My only complaint about the plot is that it seemed somewhat low stakes for the second book in a trilogy, especially with how the crisis in the book was resolved. I expected the ending to be much more dramatic than it turned out to be.

The characters were well-rounded and interesting. There were many returning faces from the first book in this series, including Admiral Ar’alani, Thurfian, and Thalias. Although, only Thalias had a large role to play throughout the story. Thurfian was more in the background until the very end of the book, and Admiral Ar’alani was largely sidelined. Even Thrawn was missing from a great deal of the story, which is one of the few things I didn’t like about the book. In their absence, though, several new characters were introduced. I especially enjoyed meeting Lakinda and seeing the major conflict of the book play out from her perspective. What is more important? The pride of one’s unit/family or the overall survival and success of the entire society and way of life. It is a compelling question, especially when set within the environment of the Chiss society.

There was so much information in this book about the Chiss Ascendancy and way of life. It expanded on the lore in big ways by showing how people outside of the military live. The book also provided more detail about the structure of Chiss power and the strengths and weaknesses of their social hierarchy. Being the Star Wars nerd I am, I loved getting all this new info and am continuing to geek out over it. The ending of the book also foreshadowed some future big reveals about the history of the Chiss and potential ties to events from the last Thrawn trilogy. Needless to say, I’m already biding my time until the last book in the series comes out next year!

Overall, this book was a fun read that provided an interesting mystery, new villains, and a ton of information about the Chiss society. I was somewhat annoyed that it sidelined some of my favorite characters and didn’t have the dramatic impact I expected from the second part of a trilogy. However, I also greatly enjoyed the new characters and information along with the teases for future stories. Therefore, I rate the book 4 out of 5 stars. If you are a fan of Star Wars or Thrawn, I definitely recommend it.

Have you read Greater Good yet? What did you think?

Book Review – Star Wars: Shadow Fall

I move forward, because dwelling on my shame doesn’t help anyone.

Shadow Fall, page 333

Summary

Shadow Fall is the second book of the Alphabet Squadron trilogy by Alexander Freed. This story sets off in the aftermath of the destruction and revelations that occurred in the first book. Yrica Quell and the rest of Alphabet Squadron are attempting to defeat Imperial remnants on a planet of strategic value to the New Republic. They decide to lay a trap to lure the elusive and dangerous Shadow Squadron to them. The goal is to minimize losses and defeat them without ship to ship combat. Against this backdrop, the crew of Alphabet Squadron struggle to overcome their own demons and the impacts of war on their psyche.

What I Liked

I enjoyed this book more than the first book in this series. This was largely because I liked the characters more in this book than the last. They faced interesting dilemmas and almost all of them experienced some character growth. Each character seemed to portray a different struggle commonly faced by those involved in war. I particularly enjoyed Yrica’s journey of dealing with her shame and guilt…even though the outcome made me angry at the character. I also liked seeing Wyl come into his own as a leader while struggling to deal with how best to use his empathy for others in a war-time setting. Chas’s journey to figure out where she belongs after the war was also compelling. Overall, the characters were one of the greatest parts of the novel.

I also loved the way this author depicted the battles and flight sequences. He does a fantastic job of making you feel like you are in the trenches or cockpit with the characters. These descriptions and the peeks into the character’s mindsets during the battles made the last half of the book hard to put down. The ending of the book left me wanting more, and I am looking forward to reading the last book in the series.

Another random tidbit…I enjoyed the torture robot turned therapist droid, IT-O. His backstory was expanded upon in this book and was well-done. His interactions with Yrica were one of my favorite things about the book.

What I Didn’t Like

This book was difficult to get through in the beginning. The first third of this book was mind-numbingly boring to me. There was some characterization and a small amount of flight battles in that bit, but it wasn’t very interesting. I almost gave up on it, and I do not DNF books very often, especially Star Wars books. The plot also seemed very forced at different points in the story and felt as though certain things happened only because they had to in order to move the story along. I was a bit disappointed that Kairos got sidelined for most of the book, especially since most of the other characters grew throughout the story. I’m hoping she will be more of a major player in the next book because I want to learn more about her.

Wrap-Up

In summary, this book was a mix of beautiful battle descriptions, interesting character growth, boring swaths of writing, and a somewhat shaky plot. It did a pretty good job of tackling the mindset of those experiencing brutal warfare and processing the impact of shame and guilt on the psyche of soldiers. However, it was a very boring read for most of the first half of the book and sidelined one of the most interesting characters. So, I rate it 3 out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Star Wars The High Republic: Into the Dark

Goodreads Synopsis

Not everyone who hears the call to adventure wants to answer it….

Jedi Padawan Reath Silas loves adventure—reading about it, that is, not living it. Content to spend hours browsing the Jedi Archives on Coruscant, Reath dreams of being one of the great scholars of the Jedi Order. But Reath’s master, the well-respected and virtuous Jora Malli, has other plans: she’s taken a post at Starlight Beacon, the Republic’s shining new outpost on the edge of known space. As her Padawan, Reath must join her, whether he likes the idea or not. (And he most definitely does not.)

So Reath reluctantly boards the ship that will take him and a few other Jedi to the dedication of Starlight Beacon, where Master Jora waits for him to start their new adventurous life on the frontier. But trouble in hyperspace leaves the ship and other nearby vessels stranded, with only an eerie abandoned space station reachable for shelter. And the secrets hidden there will not only bring Reath to a crossroads but, if left unchecked, could plunge the entire galaxy into darkness….

My Review

Into the Dark begins with padawan Reath Silas lamenting over his new assignment of going to the outer rim. He would much rather stay in the archives of Coruscant’s Jedi Temple than have adventures on the frontier, but his master has taken an assignment at Starlight Beacon in the Outer Rim where Reath must go meet her to continue his training. As he makes his way to Starlight Beacon accompanied by his master’s former apprentice, two Jedi masters, and the crew of the transport, disaster strikes the galaxy when a tragedy occurs in hyperspace causing Reath and his companions to get stranded at an ancient, abandoned space station. However, they are not the only ship stranded in this sector of space and must share their refuge with a wide variety of alien species that are not very friendly. Warring between the factions breaks out and it takes force from the Jedi to keep things under control. As they wait for the mess in hyperspace to be cleaned up, the Jedi encounter an old presence on the station that is deeply rooted in the dark side of the force and attempt to keep it from spreading to consume the galaxy.

Overall, I really like this book, and I found the characters to be incredibly relatable. I absolutely adore Reath Silas. I saw a lot of myself in him and enjoyed getting to see his growth throughout the book from someone who only goes on adventures through reading to becoming more capable of using his Jedi skills to navigate complicated situations in unknown territory. Although, I love that he is still a bookworm at heart even if he is a little more comfortable with adventures now. I look forward to seeing what comes next for the character. If Reath started as a bookworm, his master’s old apprentice Dez Rydan began as the exact opposite, someone who loves and craves excitement and adventure too much. He also experienced an interesting story arc that mirrored Reath’s in many ways. The Jedi masters Cohmac and Orla were both haunted by past mistakes that we get to see through flashbacks throughout the book. I liked the flashbacks, but I think there could have been less of them as their presence sometimes distracted from the story. They both had to work to overcome their fears of repeating their mistakes, and I enjoyed this very human take on the inner workings of a Jedi Master.

The breakout star of this book was Geode! I was thrown off a bit by his introduction, but as the book progressed, I became obsessed with him. I would have never guessed a rock could be such a great character, and it is really a credit to Claudia Gray’s writing that she was able to make him such a memorable character. The rest of the Vessel crew was also interesting and provided a lot of great humor and dialogue to the book. I enjoyed the subplot with Affie discovering information about the guild the pilots worked for and its ties to the abandoned space station. However, that particular subplot seemed to be expendable.

In addition to many of the characters, I also enjoyed the themes presented in the book. As mentioned previously, Orla and Cohmac had to face their fears of repeating past mistakes and work through them to successfully navigate the challenges they faced during the book. There was also a deep emphasis on grief throughout this novel. It explored how to process and cope with loss by showing how the different characters successfully, and unsuccessfully, accomplish that for themselves. Most powerfully, this story demonstrated the difference between accepting your emotions and being ruled by them. I thought the story of Cohmac, especially, showed this particular distinction quite well.

Of course, there were many cool things related to the Star Wars universe and the Jedi in the novel. I enjoyed the re-canonization of one particular fact about the Jedi temple. The philosophical debates about what it means to be a Jedi and the role of the dark side were also very interesting to ponder. The concept of the Wayseeker is an interesting one, as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing what is done with it in future works.

Even though there were many things I enjoyed about the book, there were some things lacking. For example, the new villains, the Drengir, were laughably bad. It was weird that they spoke Basic and were portrayed in a goofy ‘I must feed’ manner. I think there was a lot of potential for them that was squandered, and I hope another author gets the chance to do more with them. The Nihil were in the book, as well, but they felt almost like an afterthought. It seemed like they were included only because they are the big villain of this multimedia project. Finally, the amount of characters was problematic at times. The narrative shifted through so many different perspectives and flashbacks it was jarring at times. I think this book handled this more successfully than some other High Republic books (here’s looking at you Light of the Jedi), but it was still a problem that made reading the book a little less enjoyable. In my opinion, a greater focus on fewer characters would have improved the book and deepened the good things about the characterizations even more.

All in all, Into the Dark is a good read. It has relatable characters who grapple with some incredibly powerful issues, including grief, acceptance of emotions without being ruled by them, and overcoming guilt about past mistakes. It also provides some interesting new insights into the Jedi order and philosophy. Therefore, despite its flaws and underwhelming villains, I believe there is enough good here to rate the book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend anyone interested in this era of Star Wars to give it a read.