Book Review: From a Certain Point of View: Star Wars by Various Authors


Author: 40 Authors
TitleFrom a Certain Point of View: Star Wars
Narrator: Multiple Narrators
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Summary/Review:

This book celebrated the 40th anniversary of Star Wars in 2017 with a collection of 40 original short stories by 43 authors. Each story is told from the perspective of a different character in the Star Wars universe, hence the title cribbing Obi-Wan’s famous line “From a certain point of view.”  The authors include a lot of well-known writers such as Rae Carson, Claudia Gray, Chuck Wendig, Wil Wheaton, Elizabeth Wein, Jeffrey Brown, Kieron Gillen, Nnedi Okorafor, Jason Fry, and Greg Rucka.  I suspect that if you are a bigger fan of science fiction/fantasy writing, you will recognize even more of the authors!

No character is too small to be a point of view character, thus there are tales told by droids, Jawas, Tusken raiders, bounty hunters, rebels of various ranks, stormtroopers, Imperial officers, a numerous other sentient beings.  A few bigger characters including Greedo, Obi-Wan, and Biggs get their stories as well as characters like Yoda, Palpatine, and Lando Calrissian who don’t even appear in the movie!  Perhaps the strangest story of all  is “Of MSE-6 and Men” by Glen Weldon, told from the perspective of a Death Star mouse droid and written in some kind of machine language, that tells the story of an ill-fated romance between a storm trooper and Grand Moff Tarkin.

Some stories are better than others, and I like it when the author takes a small character and builds a whole world around their life before and after their appearance in the film’s narrative.  Other stories are less successful because they basically just have the scenes and dialogues repeated from the movie interspersed with the thoughts of the point of view character.  The stories are arranged in sequence to the movie’s plot and things really get bogged down with five different stories about characters in the Mos Eisley cantina, and again during the Battle of Yavin.

Some of my favorite stories include:

  • “The Sith of Datawork” by Ken Liu, about an Imperial bureaucrat who is able to fix things in the records for the gunnery captain who failed to shoot at an escape pod.
  • “Laina”  by Wil Wheaton, which tells of a widowed rebel sending his young daughter away for her safety in a story which packs a lot of emotional punch.
  • “An Incident Report” by Daniel M. Lavery, in which Admiral Motti files a formal complaint against Darth Vader for force choking him.
  • “The Baptist” by Nnedi Okorafor is a life account of Omi, the creature that grabs Luke in the trash compactor.
  • “Time of Death” by Cavan Scott details Obi-Wan’s experience of joining with the Force immediately after his death.

I get why they wanted to go with 40 stories for the 40th anniversary, but this book could be improved with some judicious pruning.  Nevertheless, this is a fun book and I’m sure Star Wars fans will find something in it they like.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Penguin Audio, 2021 
Summary/Review:

Picking up from Chaos Rising, Thrawn and his crew are cleaning up from the the last great threat to the Chiss Ascendancy.  But a new threat appears in the form of the Agbui who work as kind of conmen to infiltrate Chiss society and gin up conflict among the ruling families with hopes of provoking a civil war. Caregiver Thalias, sky-walker Che’ri, Admiral Ar’alani, and of course, Thrawn return for this middle novel of the trilogy.  But we also spend a lot of time with Captain Lakinda, an ambitious young officer from a minor family hoping to gain prestige for herself and her family.  Since Thrawn is inept at dealing with family infighting and politics, a lot depends on her loyalty to her family or the Chiss.  We also spend a lot of time with Haplif, the smarmy Agbui spy and his marks.

After reading so many Thrawn novels, I finally made the connection that Thrawn is a lot like Sherlock Holmes.  He sees things that others cannot see and then explains it to the point of view characters.  I like that this novel builds the world of the Chaos with seemingly a whole galaxy of planets and alien races seperate from the rest of the Star Wars universe (who it easy to forget are engaged in the Clone Wars at the same time as this novel).  However, it does get a bit confusing keeping all the characters and the families, planets, races, et al straight, but I’m not the most attentive audiobook listener. Nevertheless, this is a fun and engaging story.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Chaos Rising by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2020)
Summary/Review:
Favorite Passages:
Recommended books:

Timothy Zahn introduced Grand Admiral Thrawn as the Imperial antagonist to the New Republic in his 1990s trilogy of Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command.  A more recent trilogy gives us a Thrawn origin story of sorts as he is found by the Empire, presumably in exile, and then rising up the ranks of the Imperial navy in Thrawn, Alliances, and Treason. Chaos Rising begins a new trilogy of books that go even further back in Thrawn’s life to his rise in the military of his own people, the Chiss Ascendancy.

The novel tells two intertwined stories.  The main narrative set in the “present day” deals with a new threat to the Chiss Ascendancy. Thrawn is tasked with rooting out the new enemy.  His tactical genius is impeccable but Thrawn is not skilled in dealing with the internal politics of the isolationist Ascendancy and the infighting among and within its Nine Ruling Families.

Thrawn’s ventures into the mysterious region of space called the Chaos bring him in touch with the old Republic during the Clone Wars.  In fact, a scene from Thrawn: Alliances is retold from a different perspective. Chiss ships navigate space with the help of force-sensitive girls who are known in the Chiss language as “sky-walkers” (a funny coincidence). This novel introduces former sky-walker, Thalias, now an adult, becomes the caregiver for the sky-walker on Thrawn’s ship.  Thrawn sees Thalias’ talent and their collaboration on the mission is a central part of the story.

Chapters entitled “memories” tell the story of the early days in the military of Thrawn and his mentor Ar’alani.  Both stories tie together in a captivating adventure and thriller, and Thrawn remains one of the most interesting characters in the Star Wars universe.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: The Last Command
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2012) [Originally published April 1, 1993]
Summary/Review:

The finale of “The Thrawn Trilogy” is an exciting culmination of the shaky New Republic’s stand against the cunning plans of Grand Admiral Thrawn to reestablish the Empire.  It’s great to have Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, Artoo, and Threepio all working together.  Then there are wild cards like Mara Jade, a tentative ally who is sworn to kill Luke for her former master Palpatine, and the mad Jedi clone C’baoth who believes that he rules the Empire instead of Thrawn.  The book could be trimmed of some of the excessively talk parts, and I could do without all the subplots involving Talon Karrde and other smugglers, but it is a satisfying conclusion.

I still think this books could be the inspiration for movies set after the destruction of the Second Death Star.  They would have to be animated movies, because of the age and deaths of the cast members.  But I think you could make a good story with elements such as Thrawn, Mara Jade,  and the Noghri.  Things would have to be adjusted to fit into the Sequel Trilogy, such as Leia giving birth to one child instead of twins.  I’d also dispense with C’baoth and anything to do with cloning since clones were already central to the Prequels and Rise of Skywalker.  But there’s a good kernel here for a fun film trilogy or maybe a Disney+ series.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Dark Force Rising
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: 2012 Random House Audio [Originally Published in 1992] 
Summary/Review:

Much like The Empire Strikes Back, this book draws upon its predecessor and takes the storytelling to new heights.  Also like The Empire Strikes Back, this story sends our heroes off on separate missions to come together again at the finale.

Luke Skywalker seeks out Jedi Master Joruus C’baoth for training, not realizing he is mad. Leia Organa Solo travels with Chewbacca to the planet of the Noghri in hopes of using diplomacy to bring them to the side of the New Republic.  Han Solo and Lando Calrissian try to solve the mystery of a spy within the New Republic’s inner echelons and a possible coup by an ambitious Bothan. And Mara Jade, who has sworn to kill Luke, now seeks him out for help.

Grand Admiral Thrawn, who was a major point-of-view character in Heir to the Empire, plays a smaller role here, but his presence lurks behind all that is happening.  Marc Thompson does a great job reading the book and the production includes music and sound effects for full immersion in the Star Wars galaxy.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Thrawn: Treason
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2019) 
Summary/Review:

In the finale of this trilogy of books, Grand Admiral Thrawn finds himself in the middle of a conflict between Governor Tarkin (of the original Star Wars fame) and Director Orson Krennic (of Rogue One fame).  Even more pressing is an incursion by the war-like Grysks from the Unknown Regions into Imperial territory.

To fight this new threat, Thrawn must work with his own people, the Chiss, with Admiral Ar’alani leading a fleet in an uneasy alliance with Thrawn and the Empire. This book also marks the return of Eli Vanto, who has defected to the Chiss, and it is great to have him back.  Commodore Karyn Faro is established as another great character who becomes a great leader under Thrawn’s tutelage.

It’s interesting that Thrawn is associated with the evil Empire, because he’s an excellent example of leadership in the way he establishes Vanto and Faro as his proteges and then trusts their experience. It’s very different than the rest of the Empire where the “leaders” either step over one another or cower in fear. Brierly Ronan, Krennic’s deputy who is sent along to watch over Thrawn, is a slippery character who is more typical of the Empire we know, although his character also develops in interesting ways.

This book is excellent at building intrigue and gamesmanship.  The only flaw in my mind is that when the story finally builds to a climactic battle, it’s not all that interesting to read about, compared with how exciting it would be depicted in film.  There is more Thrawn to read, as Zahn is now publishing an Ascendancy trilogy about Thrawn’s experiences before he joined the Empire.  And this trilogy of novels I just completed also tie in with the animated series Star Wars: Rebels, so I’m going to have to catch up on that too!

Rating: ****

Book Review: Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Thrawn: Alliances
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: New York : Random House Audio, [2018]
Summary/Review:

This second book of the new trilogy, after Star Wars: Thrawn, teams up Grand Admiral Thrawn with Darth Vader. In a parallel narrative, a younger Thrawn still with the Chiss Ascendency meets up with Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars. In both stories their mission brings them to the remote planet of Batuu, which just happens to also be the planet used for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney theme parks (if Disney’s going to Star Wars synergy like this, at least they did it very well!).

Thrawn and Vader make an interesting pair because they seem to be the only individuals who can trip one another up. There’s a lot of tension due to their mutual mistrust and competing goals.  While I didn’t think it was a good as the first book as it gets bogged down in plot details, it’s still a compelling novel.  I also felt Eli Vanto’s presence was missing from this book.  Still, I’m looking forward to book 3.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Star Wars: Thrawn
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Del Rey Books, 2017
Summary/Review:

Grand Admiral Thrawn, the antagonist introduced into Star Wars literature in the now non-canonical Heir to the Empire, is reintroduced in this Disney canon novel. This story serves as something of an origin story, beginning with Thrawn being found by the Imperial Navy after apparently having been exiled his mysterious species of people, the Chiss Ascendancy.  The novel depicts his rapid rise through the ranks in the years after the end of the Clone Wars. Thrawn is known for his brilliant observational and strategic skills, and throughout the novel the reader gets  to see his internal monologue on how he unravels the words and mannerisms of others.

The novel is also told from the perspective of Eli Vanto, a young cadet from Wild Space who inadvertently becomes Thrawn’s translator and assistant. At first resentful of the interference in his own career path, Vanto grows to respect Thrawn and also rises in the hierarchy of the Imperial Navy.  They have Holmes and Watson kind of relationship.  In a parallel story, Arihnda Pryce rises to become governor of her homeworld Lothal through similar skills of cunning.

This novel is less war story or space opera and more a work of political intrigue.  Zahn does a great job at taking these putative villains – Thrawn, Vanto, and Pryce – and making them captivating and even sympathetic characters.  The audiobook has great production values and Thompson does great voicework, giving Thrawn the reserve of Anthony Hopkins and Vanto a Appalachian accent befitting his background in Wild Space. This is an excellent novel and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Rating: ****

TV Review: The Mandalorian (2020)


Title: The Mandalorian
Release Date: 2020
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner: Jon Favreau
Episodes: 8
Production Company:  Lucasfilm | Golem Productions
Summary/Review:

WARNING: LOTS OF SPOILERS HERE! DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THIS SEASON AND WANT TO BE SURPRISED.

The Mandalorian returns with Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) on a quest to reunite The Child (a.k.a. Baby Yoda) with the Jedi, assuming he can even find Jedi in the galaxy. Familiar faces from season 1 return to support The Mandalorian on his quest, including Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris), Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), and Migs Mayfield (Bill Burr).  But this season is also about tying in The Mandalorian with wider Star Wars lore, featuring the live action debut of the characters Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), as well as the return of Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), now teamed with Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen).  The biggest character reveal, though, is reserved for the final moments of the season finale.

Each episode is still largely self-contained with the Manadalorian typically involved in carrying out a favor for someone in return for information that will help him on the quest.  Tantalizing details of the larger story trickle out but also there are some huge revelations through the season.  For example, we learn that “Baby Yoda” is actually named Grogu, and that he was a youngling who survived the Jedi Purge.

Pedro Pascal continues to provide some wonderful, nuanced acting in the lead role. His character learns a lot about his people and his beliefs this season and makes some dramatic choices out of his love for Grogu. The rest of the cast also remains uniformly brilliant, and I particularly like Bill Burr bringing a bit of morally ambiguous wisdom to his Space Boston character. The Mandalorian is a great mix of action, drama, mystery, and humor and remains the only show my whole family eagerly watches together.

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Book Review: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Heir to the Empire
Publication Info: Spectra (1992)  Summary/Review:

In 1991, I was a freshman in college when news that the Star Wars saga would be continued in books caused a flurry of excitement. In 2020, when an avalanche of new Star Wars content was just announced it may be hard to understand how excited we were to see the continuing adventures of Luke, Leia, Han and company. As the generation who grew up on Star Wars, we were promised a nine movie saga, but after Return of the Jedi there was eight long years of nothing.  And so if the story was going to continue in books, we would read books.

The novel picks up five years after the destruction of the Second Death Star and defeat of the Emperor with the New Republic government now attempting to win the peace.  But there are still parts of the galaxy under Imperial control and they are coalescing under a new leader, Grand Admiral Thrawn.  In many ways, Thrawn is a more compelling villain than Palpatine as he has no sensitivity to the Force and instead uses his intelligence and studies his enemies’ culture to predict they’re behavior.  Even with this book being de-canonized to the Star Wars Legends, the character of Thrawn has reemerged in other media, because he’s just that interesting.

I enjoyed this book on several readings and found it a good adventure, although it is very bookish and probably would’ve never translated to the screen.  On the other hand, my wife and I read this to our Star Wars-obsessed daughter and my wife found it boring, while my daughter lost interest with only a few chapters to go.  So, your results may vary.

Rating: ***