New Star Wars Favorites

One of the best parts about reading the ever-expanding new-canon Star Wars literature is encountering so many cool new characters. And there are so many cool new characters!

Many of my new favorites are from Lost Stars. Thane and Ciena are such an interesting couple, so compatible and yet torn apart by fundamentally opposed worldviews. It’s not just that they happen to choose different loyalties. It’s that loyalty is a fundamental virtue in Ciena’s valley kindred culture, while Thane comes from a wealthy and abusive family, causing him to look skeptically on authority and leaving him without that same sacred devotion to loyalty. Their conflicting worldviews often result in misunderstanding each other’s intentions, not always because of a silly breakdown in communication but because they look at the same facts and can have the same attitudes but intuitively arrive at different reactions.

But both characters are cool on their own. Watching Ciena’s rise through the ranks of the Imperial Navy, even as she grows increasingly disgusted with it, was intriguing. And Thane is a brash hotshot pilot, a redheaded former smuggler who joins the Rebel Alliance just before Hoth and helps take down an AT-AT in that battle. What I’m saying, in other words, is that he’s basically Dash Rendar, if he was better written, not video-game-overpowered, and without the ’90s comic book pad-and-strap fashion.

But I also loved the awkward, empathetic genius Jude Edivon (gone too soon!). And Alderaanian Nash Windrider’s descent into Imperial fanaticism to cope with the loss of his home planet was an interesting (and surprisingly believable) twist. And I love basically every Wookiee ever, so I have a definite fondness for Lohgarra, the maternal elderly Wookiee free-trader who hires Thane on after he defects from the Empire and who eventually joins him in the Rebellion.

But it’s not just Lost Stars. I didn’t particularly love Battlefront, but the distant, cold bounty hunter Brand was fascinating. Okay, yes, distant, cold bounty hunter is a cliche. So is ice-blood sniper. But Brand had this weird loyalty to Twilight Company. After years slowly becoming disillusioned with the bounty hunter trade under the solidifying Galactic Empire, she found something in Twilight and its leader, Captain Howl. While she seems remote and uncaring, seldom chiming in and often slipping off without a farewell, she looks out for the soldiers in her squad. She becomes something awfully close to the heart of Twilight Company as Namir tries to figure out what to do when thrust into the leadership role. She doesn’t really have an arc in Battlefront because we see she’s already completed her own journey to arrive at the point she’s in. I’d love to see more of Brand (and some of the other badass new-canon bounty hunters like Cad Bane, Sabine Wren, and Ketsu Onyo). Gadren the warrior-poet Besalisk was a fun Twilight Company character, too, if even more of an archetype (I mean, his easiest description is warrior-poet).

I even really liked the quirky Givin mathematician Drusil Bephorin from Heir to the Jedi. She had a weird sense of humor, she often seemed to have such a cold detachment because of her math-and-logic-focused perspective, and yet she was committed to her family above all else. I was also partial to the Kupohan noodle chef and spy Sakhet; the Rodian weapons seller and Jedi fan Taneetch Soonta; and the wealthy biotech heir, expert sharpshooter and scout, and Rebel sympathizer Nakari Kelen, who would become an ill-fated romantic interest of Luke Skywalker (unfortunately introducing Luke’s romantic curse into the new canon, it would seem).

And I can’t forget that A New Dawn made me really interested in Kanan and Hera (and a shipper of their relationship before I’d seen an episode of Rebels), plus introduced me to the coolest bad guy in the form of Rae Sloane (whose characterization is also excellent in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath, which I recently finished reading).

Finally, while not new characters, technically, I couldn’t be happier with the lovable losers Kabe and Muftak as portrayed in “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” story in From a Certain Point of View.

That’s all to say that more than just having fun new adventures, the new books have given me a variety of new characters that I care about, and I hope that many of them will have more stories moving forward. Rather than just applying the same old Star Wars archetypes, or only following the heroes from the films, the new canon’s already done a lot of cool new things.

I’m several books behind at this point, but I’m not tired of them yet, and I continue to look forward to future installments.

 

Forces of Destiny, Round 3

Well, there’s been another round of four episodes of Forces of Destiny. “Accidental Allies” sees Sabine fleeing from stormtroopers with a MacGuffin, then losing the MacGuffin, which is recovered by Jyn Erso; Sabine helps Jyn out and convinces her to give the thing back. In “An Imperial Feast,” Leia convinces Han to go to General Syndulla to get rations to trade with the Ewoks so that the Ewoks won’t roast captured Imperial prisoners of war. “The Happabore Hazard” has Rey deal with a lethargic beast blocking some salvage. And “Crash Course” follows what happens when Sabine lends her bike to her friend Ketsu.

As is usual and now expected with this show, the episodes are a mixed bag. I was disappointed with the Sabine episodes–both are boring, and for different reasons (in “Allies,” the stakes are low, the “map” MacGuffin is uninteresting, and the galaxy feels smaller by unnecessarily mashing Sabine and Jyn together; in “Crash Course,” Sabine just reluctantly loans a bike to a friend and gets it back in…less than mint condition). The episode with Rey was fun and cute, and since the stakes were fairly low and it was set in a time before Rey met BB-8, it was easy to just enjoy the silly little side adventure.

But my favorite episode, an episode I really enjoyed, was “An Imperial Feast.” Leia is sassy; Han and Chewie are lovable goofballs; Hera and Chopper have amusing yet brief appearances. And it addresses a weirdo fan theory: that the Ewoks, who have been shown to be willing to eat humans, cooked and ate stormtrooper prisoners of war after the battle of Endor. The episode rather humorously shows that the Ewoks would be quite happy to eat the stormtroopers, but Leia won’t be allowing any war crimes today, thank you very much, so to pacify them she sends Han to pick up ration bars from “General Syndulla” to trade with the Ewoks. Hera won’t trade until Han “admits” that the Ghost is superior to the Millennium Falcon; at the end, Leia, seemingly aware of Hera’s request, reassures Han that no one seriously thinks that. It’s a cute episode. It actually filled in a tiny little gap with a fun side story. And it very directly offers up the fantasy of Ghost versus Falcon, even if it doesn’t show it.

Just how “canon” is Forces of Destiny, anyway? Hera, Chopper, and the Ghost appeared in Rogue One, so we knew they at least made it to Yavin. Does this mean that Hera, her droid, and her ship made it all the way through the Galactic Civil War to celebrate post-Endor? What role did she have in the years after Endor? Did anyone else make it? Lots of intriguing questions prompted by “An Imperial Feast,” that’s for sure. Maybe we’ll get more glimpses in future seasons.

Forces of Destiny, Round 2

I watched the new set of Forces of Destiny episodes. I was more receptive to them this time. Maybe my expectations were reset after my initial disappointment; maybe they were better; maybe the included episodes resonated with me a little more. Or in other words, is it me, is it the show, or is it my relationship with the show that has changed?

I’m still not overly excited by it. I also recognize that this isn’t really a project for me, and I’m entirely okay with that. Not everyone will like everything.

I will say that one improvement (in my mind) is that the stories actually served more of a purpose than just pew-pew. Of the four new episodes, my two favorites were “The Starfighter Stunt,” which showed Padme and Ahsoka bonding (and Padme demonstrating her relatively unestablished piloting skills), and “Newest Recruit,” which saw Sabine’s old pal Ketsu finally make the decision to join the Rebellion. While I thought that “Teach You, I Will” veered towards a cheesy lesson because of the reduction of what probably should have been a considerable bit of development (martially and psychologically) into the short format of a single-scene micro-episode, it was still telling a story. It had a point. “Tracker Trouble,” though, appeared to exist only to insert yet more action into The Force Awakens.

Last time I talked about Forces of Destiny, I gave a specific call-out to IG-88. This time, let’s cheer this cute lil’ Chadra-Fan:

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Maybe it’s just because I’ve got “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” on my mind, but doesn’t that baby Chadra-Fan look like it could be a young Kabe? For reference:

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Not that every single Chadra-Fan in the galaxy has to be the same one. But a little Chadra-Fan, apparently parent-less, stowing away in a crate and stealing food? Sounds like that could be Kabe. How long does it take a Chadra-Fan to reach adulthood? Maybe a few years is long enough. I don’t know. Aimless speculation here. And I call the youngling a “baby,” but she can talk.

Also, somewhat relatedly, the outfit on the baby Chadra-Fan looks familiar, but I can’t quite place it. It’s sort of like Leia’s Cloud City attire, I guess. No, I’m pretty sure Leia has nothing to do with this.

Okay, so, if I have a bottom line to all the above, it’s that I enjoy the episodes enough, and they’re such a small time commitment, that I’ll probably keep watching. But I’m not really excited about them, they don’t do a lot for me, and they’re fairly easy to forget about.

My new favorite television family: the Ghost crew

A New Dawn did, in fact, give me the final push needed to start watching Rebels. Last night, I intended to watch the first episode, but that transformed into watching the first four. And I watched just about as many today, too. The show’s wonderful! The visuals, sound effects, music, dialogue–it all feels so perfectly Star Wars. The Ralph McQuarrie-inspired character, vehicle, and setting designs are just lovely. And the backgrounds look sort of painted in, like the lush matte paintings in films that I’ve always had a soft spot for.

The subject matter is just fascinating, too. We get to see the early days of the Rebellion against the Empire, before it was even an organized effort. And with the focus on original characters, instead of the mostly known properties of The Clone Wars, the stakes are higher and there is a greater sense of risk and mystery. Anything could happen (within the scope of a show that is, after all, aimed at kids or families).

I liked a lot about The Clone Wars, but it didn’t click for me as quickly or as strongly as Rebels already has. In many ways, the earlier show feels like Dave Filoni’s warm-up for this later attempt. I admit that I might just have more nostalgia rooted in the sights and sounds of the era of the original films, and in the setting and tone of many of the spin-off stories and books from the ’90s. But if that’s a factor, that’s okay–it’s certainly not the only element at work.

Anyway, this post is here in part for me to specifically point out just how much I love the family dynamic of the show. I know I’m not the first to comment on it–that theme is pretty explicit within the text itself, after all. And I won’t be the last. But I need it to be known that I think it’s great! Orphan Ezra finds a family in the crew of the Ghost–Hera and Kanan are mom and dad, Zeb is a grumpy older brother, Chopper’s the family pet (Filoni famously remarked, “If Artoo is the family dog, Chopper is the cat“), and Sabine is…maybe a sister, but maybe a childhood crush?

Whole episodes are about exploring this developing family identity. But my favorite to deal directly with the subject so far, even if in a secondary plot line, is “Rise of the Old Masters” (if you haven’t seen it, there will be some spoilers in the discussion to follow, although this show’s on Season Four now, so at this point maybe some early-series spoilers just have to be accepted). In it, we see that Kanan has finally begun to devote efforts to training Ezra in the ways of the Jedi, although since Kanan never completed his own training and Ezra has his own hiccups, the training is off to a rough start. When the Ghost crew learn that Jedi Master Luminara Unduli appears to have survived the Clone Wars only to have since been held in Imperial captivity, they launch a mission to rescue her. Kanan hopes that Luminara will be able to properly train Ezra, while Ezra worries that Kanan wants to pass him off to someone else just as soon as he has started to feel a connection to the crew.

By the episode’s end, Kanan recognizes that he alone can train Ezra. He also gains a better understanding of an old Jedi proverb, coming away with the determination and confidence to train Ezra properly. Ezra, meanwhile, confesses that he really does want to train under Kanan, even if the older man can’t be the best teacher that Ezra might need, and he is placated when Kanan reaffirms his commitment. The episode ends mirroring its beginning: Kanan has Ezra practice swatting away thrown objects with his lightsaber. While it was high-stakes and dramatic in the beginning, and Ezra failed, the scene now is low-key, simple, and relaxed, and Ezra successfully hits target after target.

But what’s wonderful about this final scene is that we are watching it from a wide view, at a distance; the characters stand among waves of grain, outside their ship, for all the world looking like a father tossing balls to his son to practice at bat. It might be Jedi training, but it’s also a familial game of catch.

What needed to be said between them was said, but even more powerful to the audience, I think, is that closing image, which communicates still more about the sort of relationship held between Kanan and Ezra.