#RRSciFiMonth Mini Reviews: Journey to Star Wars The Force Awakens
Sci-Fi November is a month-long blog event hosted by Rinn Reads and Over The Effing Rainbow this year, created to celebrate everything amazing about science fiction! From TV shows to movies, books to comics, and everything else in between, it is intended to help science fiction lovers share their love and passion for this genre and its many, many fandoms.
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Publisher: Disney/LucasFilm Press (9/4/15)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
And to think, I almost gave this one a pass when I was compiling a list of books I wanted to read from the new Star Wars canon. What a mistake that would have been. Yes, this is categorized as Young Adult, but to be sure, this is not the kind of Star Wars YA from the old EU when the stories tended to lean more towards middle-grade audiences and few children’s series stood out strongly enough to make an impression. Lost Stars, in a word, was awesome. I have been reading Star Was novels for years and have read many of them during that time, but this has got to be one of the best I’ve ever read.
The book tells the tale of two childhood friends who became lovers before ending up on opposite sides of the galactic war. Ciena and Thane grew up on the same planet just after annexation by the Imperials, but one was born in the more rural valley while the other came from an affluent second-waver family. However, the two met and bonded over a shared love for piloting and a dream to one day fly for the Empire. They entered the Imperial academy together, excited to be with each other as they made that dream come true. But as the war waged on, their fates diverged as one grew disillusioned with the Empire and joined the Rebel Alliance, while the other remained in Imperial service and rose through its ranks to become a high-ranking officer.
The beauty of this book is in its simplicity. At the heart of it is a love story, so you might not enjoy it as much if YA Romance isn’t your cup of tea. At the same time though, it is surprisingly free of the tropes that usually clog up this genre, and I didn’t feel as if the plot was made more complicated by any needless drama. Instead, all the good stuff comes through, themes like: honor versus duty, love and grief, opportunities lost and things left unsaid. Ciena and Thane are the loves of each other’s lives, but they were raised in very different homes, with very different values. Because of that, there will always be a part in each of them that can and never will be reconciled.
And you know what else is great? How deeply and intimately Lost Stars is tied to the original trilogy. You get to relive the major events of each movie from a whole different perspective. No doubt about it, while reading this book I felt like I was 100% in the Star Wars universe. And yet, the story also retains its own uniqueness. You ever think to yourself, surely, the Empire can’t be one homogenous body working in unison towards the same goal? Of course there had to be different factions, as well as good people in the Imperial forces who couldn’t stand by and do nothing while their side committed all sorts of atrocities. This book does a really good job showing this, and in a way it humanizes the Empire by portraying the protagonists as average everyday people.
Like anyone, both Ciena and Thane have close family and friends. They each have their own personal hopes and dreams. They experience desire and longing. My heart ached for the two of them and I wanted so badly for things to work out for them in the end. Move over Anakin and Padme and Episode II, because this is romance done right. Heck, this is “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” done right.
“Look through my eyes…look through my eyes.” *Happy sigh*
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Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Del Rey (9/4/15)
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was it, the long-awaited novel in the new Star Wars canon that was marketed as the “bridge” between Return of the Jedi and the new upcoming movie. In retrospect, the publisher might have oversold that just a tad. Well, okay, maybe a lot more than just a tad. Call me cynical though, but I never really expected to see this book provide much detail. In truth, I was more excited to see one of my favorite authors tackle one of my favorite franchises.
I did have my misgivings though. Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds in my eyes is one of the best books ever. But it is also as far away from a general-audience thing like Star Wars as you can get. I love Wendig’s style for its gritty dark edginess and his brand of dry, sarcastic wit, and I worried that writing for a media tie-in would come with a lot of restrictions, leading him to dial it way back. In the end, I think something like this must have happened, because while I typically adore Wendig’s writing, I somehow found myself struggling with it in Aftermath. Something vital felt missing, which made his normally punchy and enjoyable style feel awkward, choppy, and grating here instead. I even had to switch to the audiobook version midway, which fortunately made getting through the book easier. Wendig is a fantastic writer, but I feel his style is more suited to urban fantasy, and feels a little out of place in the Star Wars universe, especially given his tendency to use many modern colloquialisms in his prose that jolted me out of the story.
And speaking of story, it was decent but not great. The problem was the lack of any compelling characters. Being a fan of expanded universes and tie-ins of all media, not just Star Wars, I have no problems with making the acquaintances of new faces, but in Aftermath there were JUST. SO. MANY. It was impossible to form an attachment to any one character, not even the familiar ones like good old Wedge Antilles or Rae Sloane the Imperial Admiral who was first introduced in A New Dawn. And so like many of the middling Star Wars novels I have read, I had a good enough time enjoying this ride, but never truly felt invested in the fate of the characters or the plot direction.
Furthermore, as I’d alluded to before, this isn’t exactly the “aftermath” I was expecting. It barely has anything to do with the destruction of the Death Star at end of ROTJ, nor does it give us many clues for The Force Awakens. It reads like any other new adventure with new characters; the story doesn’t feel whole, it feels a lot more like an introduction. It’s fun, but it’s fluffy. It lacks weight.
Aside from feeling sad about the loss of a couple great stories, for the most part I’m actually quite happy about the new canon. There was so much bloat in the old EU and I cringe whenever I think about how many years of my life I wasted torturing myself trying to finish series that aren’t even all that great (*cough* New Jedi Order *cough*). Good riddance, I say. I’m actually really optimistic about the wonderful possibilities going forward. So far, the majority of the new books have impressed me. Aftermath was actually a pretty decent read too, and my 3-star rating reflects that. Still, for a book I anticipated so much, it’s hard not to see that as a disappointment. For the first post-ROTJ novel, I admit I’d hoped for something more.