Saturday, 20 September 2014

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'A NEW DAWN' (NOVEL)



STAR WARS: A NEW DAWN


Written by John Jackson Miller

Foreword by Dave Filoni

UK hardback from CENTURY PUBLISHING (Available September 25th, 2014)


Reviewed by Scott Weller


Ever since its arrival into our collective consciousness in 1977, the STAR WARS saga’s immense backstory prior to the onscreen events of EPISODE IV- the so called “Dark Times”, and the Empire’s takeover of the galaxy- mentioned to a young and innocent Luke Skywalker with gloomy remembrance by Obi-Wan Kenobi, would peak the fascinations and imaginations of the worldwide fan base. It would be a nineteen-year period of mystery, violence, chaos and destruction savoured by the returned Sith, and their creation of a technological war machine industry that would conquer the stars with seemingly little opposition- at least at its start. Now, a fraction of that important part of STAR WARS folklore has become ripe for exploration and storytelling, before the arrival of Luke Skywalker- with the fan anticipated, new animated series REBELS, coming this October to Disney XD cannels worldwide. Fresh from critical success with his prior story building bridges between trilogies: Kenobi, fan favourite John Jackson Miller is back in the LUCAS BOOKS fold again, once more in the right place at the right time to helm the launcher into this new phase of its publishing history, as A New Dawn arrives in UK bookstores to give us a glimpse of just how evil’s triumphant rein is starting to show cracks in its wall of control, revealing an all-new band of heroes emerging to challenge the greed and tyranny of Emperor Palpatine and his dark minions.

Crucially, before their animated appearances in the opening episode of the series, or even their minisode Ghost in the Machine, A New Dawn outlines the important first meeting and pulling of respective talents and interests of former Jedi Padawan now adult fugitive Kanan Jarrus, formerly Caleb Dume, and Twi’lek pilot and action heroine Hera Syndula (presumably related to that famed Ryloth rebel warrior Cham, first seen in THE CLONE WARS animated series). A survivor of the dreaded day of doom that was ORDER 66- though how exactly he got away from the Jedi massacre is not fully explained- Kanan has abandoned the ways of his sect now that he’s an outcast from the Jedi hunting machinations of Palpatine and his galaxy-spanning spies. Yet his severed ties have also been a deliberate choice in many respects, believing that the mystical energy field surrounding the universe, which the Jedi had previously so rigidly served, had seemingly abandoned them, abandoned Kanan, in their darkest hour of need, ultimately a major catalyst to the order’s ultimate destruction.

Determined not to suffer the same fate as his brethren, Kanan has disappeared from the radar, going from system to system, working in a variety of jobs but making sure never to reveal his talents, or get noticed- not staying long enough at any one place to make too much of an impression. Yet in the process he’s uniquely found himself first hand witnessing the Empire’s stranglehold over everything. Recent events, though, alongside pulling nexus strands of fate, will eventually conspire against him in his current period as a cargo freighter runner between the the Thorilide mining worlds of Gorse and its sister planetoid Cynda, both rich in mineral wealth to be plundered by the Empire. Soon, despite being unwilling to use his Jedi gifts, Kanan will genuinely have no choice but to fight back against the sheer injustice around him, especially when one of his friends and associates is murdered.

Thankfully, he won’t be alone in his struggle for long, soon crossing paths with the mysterious but beautiful presence of the aforementioned top pilot and spy Hera Syndulla- whose backstory isn’t yet revealed, presumably saved for an episode of the series or a future character book?- sent by mysterious colleagues on a dual mission linked to Imperial surveillance across the two planets and observing the arrival of a dangerous and ambitious servant to the Emperor, the cyborg Count Vidian, and the building actions and atrocities he/it brings in his wake; events that will also take her out of the shadows and into conflict- wanting to even the score against the galaxy’s oppressors wherever she can.

Heartless and power insatiable, Vidian, despite parallels to previous half-man/half machines like Vader and Grievous, proves an interesting and creepy opponent within the story, what with his drive to stretch the efficiency of the subjugated galaxy to breaking point. He’s the multi-tasking manager from hell, and no stranger to committing murder to advance his own personal interests and pockets. Allied with an ambitious young female Star Destroyer commander, Vidian seemingly has all the cards stacked in his favour, with a plan so big in scale, and fallout, that its results will have catastrophic impact on the peoples of the two moons, unless it can be stopped in time. This is one baptism of fire into rebellion that Kanan and Hera will surely never forget…

Set about six years before the events of the REBELS season premiere, this first book of “the new era” in officially licensed storytelling, planned, as of 2014, to bring the STAR WARS saga into history-making cohesion- something never before attempted in the franchise’s past thirty-seven years- is more a case of starting things on a slow but sure footing rather than launching spiritedly out of the starting gate. A more adult interpretation of what will likely be a younger audience geared animated series, Miller’s book does the kind of work that Karen Traviss did when adapting THE CLONE WARS animated movie into adventurous prose back in 2008. Miller’s book, I think, will ultimately prove more popular.

Enjoying bringing back the wild frontier/western flavour of STAR WARS seen with A New Hope (as viewed with his Kenobi novel), and building up the harshnesss of life within the all-controlling Empire, Miller ultimately chooses to stage this book’s action, especially in its sluggish first half, within too small a section of the Outer Rim than I’d personally expected and hoped for, and pretty much avoiding any of the Classic/Prequel films and characters apart from specific important references to The Emperor and his overall presence/influence. Though I understand Miller and LUCAS BOOKS creative decisions to start afresh in many respects, it nonetheless sees a reduction in storytelling ambition that hampers certain areas of this all-important first book.

Happily, A New Dawn improves by its mid-point- the villains motivations are sharpened, the action set-pieces get bigger, and the show’s important two characters start to gel and win the reader over, ultimately succeeding in making us want to find out more about them.  Miller, working from what will be established in the animated series, gives Kanan and Hera the same kind of relatable tone that our icons from the Original Trilogy had, though they have a long way to go yet before they become anywhere near as deservedly striking and popular. The same overall positive vibes can’t quite be said about the books supporting characters, though- an explosives expert with a grudge, a crotchety but likable cantina owner, a Sullustan former intelligence officer and a Besalisk overseer- all of whom prove far less interesting than the main pair.

A precursor not only to REBELS but also subtly to the upcoming EPISODE VII (what with its preview of male and female stormtroopers in battle), its up to the new custodians of the LUCASFILM torch to make their mark (of which producers Simon Kinberg and Dave Filoni provide creative contributions to this first book to make it as an effective a lead-in as possible to the DISNEY XD series), with endeavours they hope will prove as successful and commercially lucrative as those originally conceived by the sadly retired George Lucas. A New Dawn leaves me cautiously optimistic for the future, but, in all honesty, it’s not the groundbreaker I expected and wanted it to be- ultimately feeling more like same old, same old Expanded Universe storytelling, albeit with a few new bells and whistles attached.

AFICIONADO RATING: John Jackson Miller’s fan-favourite abilities are once more effectively showcased. A respectable, if mildly underwhelming, start to the new franchise spin-off, and the overall STAR WARS PHASE THREE plan by LUCASFILM/DISNEY. 3 out of 5


Friday, 19 September 2014

EPISODE I AT FIFTEEN: A DROID IS BORN!


For several months in the Summer of 1997 he'd been quiet about his involvement, but fans were nostalgically thrilled and delighted when the official news eventually, ultimately came through confirming that Anthony Daniels would return to the STAR WARS universe to play fussy but lovable droid C-3PO, if only at first in a vocal role, and additionally in all-new and surprising origins, for the upcoming EPISODE I.

Anthony Daniels talks Threepio past, present and future in a new interview: Anthony Daniels definitive 'Star Wars' interview | Inside TV | EW.com

Thursday, 18 September 2014

BEHIND THE SCENES: A VIEW TO A KILL!


Peter Cushing's Governor Tarkin stands in front of one of several pre-filmed graphics images projected onto the Death Star War Room screen, only a few of which made it into the finished film. Below are a few examples...

"And you call yourselves human!" A devastated Princess Leia is led away after having seen Alderaan destroyed in this deleted scene.
Following Vader's plan, Tarkin, Motti and Tagge track the movements of our Rebel heroes within the Death Star, during this deleted scene.
Preparing to fire on Yavin IV.
With Chief Bast as countdown firing procedures continue.

With thanks to Chris Baker for selected images.



Wednesday, 17 September 2014

CLASSIC IMAGE: BLAST DOOR SHOWDOWN!


Han Solo doesn't really know the meaning of the words "run away", briefly standing fast to shoot at rapidly approaching Stormtroopers, in this tense Death Star interior scene from the original STAR WARS.

With thanks to Chris Baker for the image.

Monday, 15 September 2014

EPISODE VII NEWS: "ALL PILOTS, MAN YOUR STATIONS!"

Greenham Common joins the elite list of UK locations for EPISODE VII.

X-wing fighters- they looked great in red, and now they're available in blue, black and orange! But which to choose...?

Star Wars Episode 7 News | UPDATE 8: New Footage With John Boyega and Extras from the Episode VII Set at Greenham Common. Harrison Ford Expected on Set on Monday.
STAR WARS: Exclusive First Look, New X-Cellent X-Wing — Latino-Review.com
Jedi News - Latest: New Episode VII Costumes, Vehicle & Footage From Greenham Common Set
Another Photo from Greenham Common Episode VII Set | The Star Wars Underworld
New Photo of Millennium Falcon and X-Wing Outside at Greenham Common | The Star Wars Underworld

Other EPISODE VII and SPIN-OFFs news:

BBC News - Game of Thrones swordsman joins Star Wars film
These are not the 'Star Wars' details you're looking for ... | Inside Movies | EW.com
'Star Wars': First look at 'Episode VII' elements might be in 'Rebels' | Inside TV | EW.com
Jedi News - Latest: Star Wars Episode VII: Rumour Alert: Greg Grunberg in Episode VII?
Star Wars Episode 7: Daniel Craig begged JJ Abrams for part, got mystery role | Metro News
Star Wars Episode 7: Is an Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off film on the cards? | Metro News

Saturday, 13 September 2014

THE NEW HOPES! THE 'JEDI ACADEMY' TRILOGY CONCLUDES WITH 'CHAMPIONS OF THE FORCE'


Moving at lightspeed pace, the concluding part of Kevin J. Anderson's STAR WARS adventure-fest, now celebrating a landmark twentieth anniversary, gets off to a memorable and fiery start. One week on from Book Two's cliffhanger, the Sith-influenced, revenge-fuelled Kyp Durron uses his fearsomely powerful Sun Crusher weapon to destroy the Imperial Training facility world of Carida, though his rescue attempt of his brother, now a Stormtrooper, proves tragically doomed to failure, sending him into a firestorm of pain and anguish. As Kyp threatens further intergalactic annihilation, can his friends Han Solo and Lando Calrissian win him back from evildom's grip?

Meanwhile, back on Yavin Four, our Jedi icon Luke Skywalker's body is now in a cadaverous state- his mind and spirit trapped in a Force limbo controlled by the feared Exar Kun, determined to extinguish his heart of good forever by using Luke's now dispirited and unsure what to do trainees against him. Arriving at the Academy, its here that Princess Leia, despite her pain at Luke's condition, gives one of her finest moral-boosting speeches, ending his disciples continued state of quiet disarray, pulling them together in this difficult time, in a way that will see them ultimately taking the fight, with a little help from the Jedi-sensitive babies Jacen and Jaina Solo (finally getting some good moments in the trilogy), to the Dark Spectre plaguing the Massassi temples. Unfortunately, Leia's inner strength isn't available to them for long, soon making a desperate journey to Anoth, the secret location of her third baby-Anakin, in order to stop him from being kidnapped by the remaining Imperial fractions of Carida, intent on grooming him as their new Dark Side leader- a memorable sequence for Timothy Zahn's created character of minder/nursemaid Winter, gamely holding off the advancing firepower of Anderson's new Imperial creations, the Spider Walkers, thanks to a little technological help, nicknamed FIDO, created by Admiral Ackbar...

Finally, lovable Falcon first-mate Chewbacca, intent on freeing his Wookiee slave brethren at Kessel, brings Threepio, and assists General Antilles and his assault team, as they make their bid to capture the no longer Imperial protected Maw installation. But time and courage ultimately prove not on their side, as the Maw's protective Death Star prototype soon escapes the conflict, now fully armed and operational, ready to cause destructive turmoil to the New Republic, of which Imperial Admiral Daala, having previously cheated death from Kyp Durron's attack in book two, additionally brings further chaos. How can they be stopped?

Ending on a huge space battle, and a lone act of almost self-sacrifice, the ending of the Jedi Academy trilogy reminds us of those nostalgic days when the Expanded Universe had lots of future potential, not yet a bloated, continuity trapped beast. Champions of the Force wraps things up with fast paced enthusiasm and efficiency, of which all prior plot/character strands are generally, satisfyingly tied up. Only the lack of really memorable material for Luke and Leia in the drama stakes proves disappointing.

AFICIONADO RATING: Genuinely keeping the spirit of the post ROTJ era alive and well,  forging new characters and new scenarios for future books to exploit, Champions of the Force may not boast the sophisticated writing style of Timothy Zahn,  but Kevin J. Anderson's enthusiasm for telling a good yarn shines through. IMHO, it's certainly worthy of reprinting within the new LEGENDS branding of the STAR WARS book publishing program. 3.5 out of 5




'TEMPLE OF DOOM' AT 30: THE INDY ELEMENTS!


Another intriguing marketing piece for TEMPLE OF DOOM- the Japanese potpourri poster for the film's 1984 release, primarily focusing on the scary elements of the Thuggee cult's underground lair at the top, with Indy (whom they like to see without his famous hat!) and Willie underneath, and the classic finale rope bridge scene also included.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

STAR WARS REBELS: PASSING THE TORCH...


Fighting the Empire is a 24/7 thing for the unique band comprising DISNEY XD's upcoming STAR WARS REBELS, posing for a lovely piece of premiere celebratory artwork by Brian Snook- a wonderful tribute to the original supreme poster concept by Ralph McQuarrie, for The Star Wars, from 1975.

The next REBELS short before the October arrival of the weekly series, Property of Ezra Bridger (also known as Not What You Think), makes its TV debut, across varying am and pm times, on DISNEY XD UK this September 18th.


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

BEHIND THE SCENES: A FEW SCREWS LOOSE...


At the make-up/effects workshops at FOX STUDIOS, Australia, a trio of control assisted, lobotomised Neimoidian heads await their call to eventual filming, and demise via Anakin Skywalker, in this behind the scenes image from EPISODE III.
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