Sunday, 30 June 2013
His evil within the Sith fully revealed, Count Dooku watches the drama play out in the Geonosian Death Arena, flanked by his equally lethal bodyguard, Jango Fett. A dramatic, action-packed sequence from EPISODE II.
The formidable Galactic Alliance pilots Wraith Squadron are back in action, as X-WING: Mercy Kill, by fan favourite Aaron Allston, makes its way into UK paperback from ARROW BOOKS this July. Check out our original review here: STAR WARS AFICIONADO MAGAZINE: MERCY KILL
Saturday, 29 June 2013
PALITOY ADVERT ARCHIVE-THE DVD
July 2007 saw Celebration Europe come to
and with it many great guests and exhibits. London
Among the hustle and bustle of this fan gathering, sadly hidden away in a room upstairs, away from the main hall, was one of the best exhibits of the whole event, the Palitoy Archiveroom.
Palitoy were the
UK company that had the license to distribute the Kenner Star Wars toys during the classic era of 1978 - Mid 80's. The exhibit had lovingly gathered together a collection of almost every Star Wars related Palitoy item, from the carded figures to the vehicles, spaceships and playsets. What made this even better was that the room was also plastered with blow ups of the unique print advertising used by Palitoy, often featuring superb artwork and comic strip style stories, helping to draw the young (and old) fans into the Lucas universe.
Since that exhibit, Dave Tree, the man behind it, together with a little help from partner Chloe and DVD technical support from Brian Cleckner, has been working on his next project thePalitoy Advert Archive DVD.
Dave has spent the last year painstakingly trawling through hundreds of hours of videotape footage, from numerous sources to compile a collection of television commercials and slideshows featuring print adverts, toy catalogues and the best of
UK Star Wars related licensed material, plus a few "unofficial" bonuses.
At the recent JEDI CON event in
Dusseldorf Germany, Dave cheekily blagged a slot on stage to give a short preview of the DVD, of which the response was overwhelmingly positive so, alongside STAR WARS AFICIONADO Editor Scott Weller, I tracked him down and obtained the full DVD.
What you get on the DVD is an awesome collection of vintage material, put together in an innovative way, nicely packaged in an attractive box featuring Palitoy’s striking Boba Fett logo, together with a superb 24 page colour booklet produced in the style of a Kenner Star Wars toy catalogue, like the ones that came packaged with the boxed toys.
On the DVD you get 15 UK TV commercials for Palitoy Star Wars products, ranging from the first ever UK spot for the much prized cardboard Death Star playset, through the Empireera, on to the Jedi phase (were they started to use actual film footage) and ending with those dreaded Ewoks.
The quality on the whole is excellent, considering this material has been sourced from thirty year old, mostly Betamax recordings (at that time, the picture quality of that format was far superior to VHS and has lasted the test of the ages well). You have to appreciate the time and effort it took to put this together.
Along with the Palitoy commercials, you get slide shows ofPalitoy print adverts, most of which are unique in style and content, slides of
UK toy retailer material and other UK related products from this classic era, along with some DVD Easter Eggs.
The print ads are wonderful, when I was at school my brother and I, together with friends, always referred to Greedo as "Green Greedo". Decades later this always stuck in my mind but I couldn't remember why we did that. All was revealed when I found the comic ad for the second wave of Palitoy Star Wars figures in which our favourite Rodian was indeed given the moniker of Green Greedo.
The Easter Eggs vary in difficulty to find, from easy to frustrating, just remember to explore every possible area, but it adds to the fun and when you find them you won't be disappointed.
There are a few additional Star Wars TV commercials to find, one of which is the wonderful Signal toothpaste advert featuring a blonde Leia look-a-like being rescued by Luke Toothbrusher-you gotta see it to believe it. This alone bought the memories flooding back as I remember the advert from back in the day.
Other hidden gems are commercials for Star Wars yogurts and biscuits and the ATARI Jedi Arena video game.
Dave really has done a superb job here and I personally can't thank him enough, I love this sort of preservation work and people don't realize who much effort and money it takes to put something like this together. I highly recommend that if you get the chance you support Dave’s work and buy this DVD, one to help him cover the cost of production and two because you will not be disappointed.
Congratulations, Dave, on a job well done and let's hope that in a few years you will have unearthed some more televisual gems and you can release a Special Edition of the PalitoyAdvert Archive.
EDITOR'S NOTE: For more information on the DVD, contact Dave Tree at his email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, 28 June 2013
Having watched General Grievous slay their friend Shaak Ti, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, surrounded by Battle Droids (not yet CGI added to the film), use their lightsabers to cut an escape route down to the level below-a deleted scene from EPISODE III that would later be partially completed for the eventual DVD release (though frustratingly not included in the 2011 Blu-ray set!)
Clip: Star Wars E3 Cut Scene - Shaak Ti's Death and Droid Escape - YouTube
Thursday, 27 June 2013
Atop a distinguished wooden throne, the cuddly Ewoks parade their "Golden God" Threepio into the heart of their treetop village, in this intriguing angle not quite seen in the finished version of RETURN OF THE JEDI.
STAR WARS: THE RISE AND FALL OF DARTH VADER
Published by SCHOLASTIC BOOKS INC-
Reviewed by Scott Weller
Born a slave. Raised a Jedi. Feared by a galaxy.
The greatest heroes and villains of the STAR WARS SAGA come under their own unique individual spotlights in this new series of intriguing “biographies” for younger readers from popular and established novelist Ryder Windham.
First out of the gate is an obvious selling choice- the ultimate icon and nemesis for the powers of evil-not just of STAR WARS but also the ultimate black heart of all screen villainy, too…and the character that everyone thinks of when they hear anything connected to these films and it’s vast media dominance. The monster we love to hate, and the monster we hate to love- Darth Vader.
From his first memories as the cherubic three year old Anakin Skywalker onboard Gardulla the Hutt’s slave ship as it touches down on the remote outer rim desert planet of Tatooine, his mother Shmi cradling him in her arms, to the bowels of the second DEATH STAR- showing his noble redemption and fulfilling of the prophecy of the Chosen One, killing Emperor Palpatine, his recent enslaver, whilst locked away in the black iron lung embodiment of Darth Vader, as well as saving his son, Luke, from a terrible death. Despite his terrible deeds of past and present, Luke’s instincts and faith in his corrupted father to help him see in the return of the Jedi has finally, against all odds, become a reality.
Presented in a straightforward, basic style that will appeal to younger readers,
constructs the book’s tapestry around a framework design leading into the climactic events starting the RETURN OF THE JEDI, and then carries on from that to his demise as Darth Vader and his re-emergence as Anakin Skywalker. Windham
The novel expertly pulls all the vast strands of the story together into a cohesive whole for the reader, incorporating elements not only from the films themselves but a pretty vast array of other material, too - including certain unseen moments that have been explored in many outside stories and novels over the years that Windham must have enjoyed re-visiting and adding to his work (the author, working closely with LUCAS BOOKS, also provides convenient answers, or patches up glaring inconsistencies or plot holes, between said films and the various spin-offs, over the last 32 years), including the acclaimed Brian Daley radio adaptations of the Original Trilogy, the film novelizations, Steve Perry’s SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE multimedia adventure, the recent DEATH STAR novel, again by Perry with Michael Reaves, and some of the revelations about Darth Vader’s evil past from the always popular Thrawn Trilogy from Timothy Zahn- truly, a past, present and future history that all readers will enjoy reading about. Additional high kudos to Windham for being able to incorporate the first non EU original STAR WARS novel adventure into the now set in stone established story and character timeline established by LUCAS BOOKS- Alan Dean Foster’s terrific 1978 novel SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE-even explaining how and why Vader was able to send out force bolts at one point in his first battle against his yet to be revealed son. There’s even a nice reference to the unseen castle of Vader that was, at one point, before being eventually discarded, to have appeared in either THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK or RETURN OF THE JEDI, created by Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston (in fact, the book is dedicated to McQuarrie, the man who brought the physical indomitability and striking scariness of Vader to chilling visual reality- such a dedication is more than appropriate).
Windham also manages to include scenes cut from the films into the timeline (though these vary, ranging from dialogue to the briefest of descriptive detail) and even gets a chance to create moments from art pieces, like the classic Chris Trevas painting, for the VADER magazine from 2005, of Vader on the DEATH STAR watching the interrogation and death of the Lars family on Tatooine. And for fans of the previous heroic Anakin Skywalker, material includes the three YOUNG JEDI series from Jude Watson, and a sadly all too brief descriptive foray the first two CLONE WARS animated adventures from Genndy Tartakovsky from 2003 and 2005.
At carefully strategized points, Windham tries to believably build up Anakin’s anger, and the perceived injustices that he feels, making him more emotional with regards to his feelings of devotion and love mixing dangerously with his states of anxiety, uncertainty, and the fear of losing his loved ones, as the first half of the story progresses towards his ultimate destiny within a certain heavy breathing mask. Being a book primarily aimed at the younger 9-12 year old end of the reading market, Windham tries to get as much on the character’s immolation to evil as he can, additionally exploring the thoughts and rationale on Vader, detailing the bad and the ugly things that he/Anakin has done over his nearly sixty years of life in a child reader friendly way, but this aspect ultimately loses some of it’s impact in the translation-Windham can only go so far in the telling of the downfall of the brave young hero into Darth Vader-as it was, his story and character complexity was not given enough depth and screen time in REVENGE OF THE SITH anyway, and, despite the author’s obvious hard work, it feels slightly watered down in this biography too-Windham could have pushed the envelope a little bit more, I feel, without going into overload mode (as Matthew Stover unfortunately did in his overlong in the wrong places adult adaptation of EPISODE III).
Equally, not every part of the Anakin storyline can be described, and some sequences are necessarily compacted into a few descriptive chunks. Sadly, some scenes that I felt were important fail to be given further depth-the moment where Anakin first meets the Jedi Council, undergoes a test and has Master Yoda talk to him was certainly something that I thought should have been left intact, especially as it talked about the fear within Anakin that will linger right towards the end of his life and in certain parts of his actions and decisions in REVENGE OF THE SITH. This quibble on my part, however, is a minor one compared to the overall consistency and strong work of this excellent first entry in the series by
AFICIONADO RATING: A very well put together book for younger readers, which I also think has the potential to be expanded on to form an excellent adult range of STAR WARS titles. Regardless, Vader fans of all ages will welcome, and quickly lap up, this chronicle of the life and death of the STAR WARS Saga’s greatest hero, and, ultimately, its most tragic villain. 8 out of 10
Above image: the gorgeous double cover art from the now apparently, and sadly, retired Drew Struzan.
Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Before fan controversially losing her way as a Jedi in THE CLONE WARS animated series, healer and former Padawan, Barriss Offee, made a fine live-action partnership with Luminara Unduli during the tumultuous events of EPISODE II. As played by Mary Oyaya and Nalini Krishan, the actress duo would become hugely popular on the worldwide convention circuit.
Check out our exclusive interview from a few years back with the lovely Nalini, talking about life as Barriss Offee, here:
NOTE: To see this Google PDF in the best quality, it's best to download the file straight to your desktop.
SCULPTING A GALAXY: INSIDE THE STAR WARS MODEL SHOP
By Lorne Peterson
Published by INSIGHT EDITIONS
Reviewed by Scott Weller
As one of the few people residing in the very privileged club to have worked on all six STAR WARS films, special effects man/model maker Lorne Peterson’s knowledge and anecdotes to fans over the years on the behind the scenes and model building side of the making of our favorite six movie saga had us all crying out “when are you going to do a book on the subject?!”. And, rather brilliantly, he now has! A highly detailed, thoughtfully and stunningly designed hardcover, in fact, that presents us with all the things we wanted, nay demanded, to know about the universe of STAR WARS creations brought to life from George Lucas's imagination, as well as providing a perfect opportunity for a beautiful photographic resume of both his and ILM’s talents in which up and coming model makers of the future will be thrilled to see fantastic close in shots of all the detailed models built for use in the saga. From the beautiful originality of the heroic Millennium Falcon starship and the Rebellion’s X-wing fighters, to the majestic evil of the Imperial Star Destroyers, to the environments of the Prequels planets like Geonosis and Naboo, it’s all here to savor. The Original Saga shines out like a beacon the most-it has more of an edge on the Prequels, but the detail for the latter is much welcomed-the models here being more beautiful than ground breaking but nonetheless still having the distinctive STAR WARS flavour that imitators of the saga can only dream about matching. In many ways, the Prequel designs are a perfect example of pulp science fiction adventure craft that feels both new and familiar all at the same time-the very feeling and instincts within us that Lucas specifically, and successfully, wants us to have when watching these movies.
|Lorne (far right in red shirt) with the original 1976/77 STAR WARS model-making team.|
There are also some lovely little information snippets amongst the how we did this text, and the detail with which Peterson, ILM and the model making team goes to bring their imaginary universe of George Lucas’s to life are superb. There are also some great quotes and anecdotes, including one that tickled my laughter belly: the story of the JEDI ILM team members “appropriating” specific rare foilage from the outside porch of a San Francisco Doctor’s office to illustrate the Endor jungle (with the local cops, finding out that their caught prey is working for LUCASFILM, soon letting them go when they find out they are working on the new STAR WARS). Also fun is Lorne Peterson’s playful RETURN OF THE JEDI conversation with Lucas about how much it would cost to build the second DEATH STAR should they need to, as well as other early stories about ILM’s genesis and its unlikely cinematic heroes on and off camera.
The photo sections, part of a book which is equally beautifully printed and bound, are much appreciated and the stills photography (though many pics are not rare) is used well alongside the stunning high quality still-life shots of the models (the Millennium Falcon model, after all these years, still looks amazing)-all illustrated with further little technical bits of how they were constructed, and further great stuff on ideas and concepts that were never developed (or at least not yet developed!! LUCASFILM never wastes a good idea!!). The Falcon, the Walkers, Snowspeeders, the planetary civilizations, all have that beautiful, lived in universe look that propelled STAR WARS into our collective consciousness (and keep an eye out for some of the photographed spacecraft built for the films that didn’t make the final cuts, too!). There is a useful section at the end of the book, too, listing all of the models built and used for the films and a photo list of all the creative geniuses who brought them to practical reality. We salute you all!
|Lorne with a TIE fighter model from STAR WARS.|
To compliment the photos, Peterson’s writing style is very good and the book will not blind you with sciences on all the techniques used in the film–making process, and regarding the construction of the models. The info is there but it’s all very accessible and always fascinating. It’s a fine read. Having met Mister Peterson, I can more than say that he is a very amiable, friendly man, also very dedicated to his craft, and the written words of the book are a perfect companion to his mindset and talents. Cementing the authors abilities are some nice complimentary words from Mister Lucas himself (in the Preface), as well as Rick McCallum (the Foreword) and equally groundbreaking effects pioneer Phil Tippett (the Afterword).
The even more expansive 3,000 copies only limited edition box set of the hardback edition, similar to Trisha Biggar’s beautiful costumes book of a few years back, of which there just may be a few copies of both still available online (but probably at very exorbitant collectors prices) also comes with rare unique materials (including an extra booklet, seven replica pieces from the films and a model of Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder), and a DVD of Lorne’s personal and professional memories of making the epic saga, with rare footage and photos that will delight you further, and also including my personal favourite rarity of Peterson’s: the original concept and insert filming for the conflict between Obi-Wan and Pondo Baba (to me he’ll always be Walrus Man!!) in the Mos Eisley Cantina, supervised by Gary Kurtz which were eventually cut for reasons of being too gruesome!! Decapitation wouldn’t really appear again until ATTACK OF THE CLONES and it was far less gory!!
SCULPTING THE GALAXY is the perfect celebration of the model makers and effects men’s craft-and its a real shame that the model department, in this new age of CGI, doesn’t exist as part of ILM anymore-now a separate entity in it’s own right and diversified for use by film companies all over Hollywood and beyond. Regardless of this fact though, we shall continue to enjoy the created models and sheer hard work of the effect technicians, not only on our STAR WARS saga, but many others over twenty eight years, for a long time to come.
AFICIONADO RATING: A lovely read and one that will appeal to all, not just the model and effects connoisseurs. 8 out of 10
Tuesday, 25 June 2013
As Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher take a breather between intense drama within the cramped Millennium Falcon cockpit, Billy Dee Williams shows some spirited fun, in this great behind the scenes image from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.
For all fans of charming rogues Lando Calrissian and Han Solo, Timothy Zahn's Ocean's Eleven meets STAR WARS tale, Scoundrels, is coming soon to UK paperback from CENTURY.
|Experience STAR WARS - the FAMILY GUY way! All images: FOX.|
FAMILY GUY: BLUE HARVEST - SPECIAL EDITION DVD
Released by TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX DVD
The Griffin clan are unleashed in the STAR WARS universe!
In the sixties you were either a BEATLES person or a ROLLING STONES person. The same can be said in the area of humorous animation these days, with legions of fans dedicated to either THE SIMPSONS or FAMILY GUY. For me it was THE SIMPSONS, as I’d never had enough exposure to FAMILY GUY. But now, having seen the latter’s 2007 season opener dedicated to spoofing the first STAR WARS, I plan to have a look at further previous episode box sets.
|Darth Vader has plans for the Princess.|
With a very nice introduction, especially for the BLUE HARVEST DVD release, to the characters before the episode starts (in case you hadn’t seen the show before), all of the FAMILY GUY regulars effortlessly slip into the familiar parts played by the original actors (i.e. Lois as Leia, Chris as Luke, etc), but obviously with a whole new, and sometimes perverse slant on them. One of the highlights is the very dodgy grandad Herbert, as Obi-Wan, whose directed interest in Luke is a little bit more than casually normal. Believe it or not, the character shines in the episode, but in a much different way, I have to say, than Sir Alec Guinness ever did as Obi-Wan Kenobi (what a shame Sir Alec isn’t alive to have a chuckle at what they did with the character!!). Stalwart Peter Griffin as Han also shines out like a bright star and is terrific-a worthy piece of re-casting- as is Brian the dog as Chewbacca-loved that sofa moment, the scene in the Falcon gun pit, and where Han takes on Greedo in the Cantina.... and he shoots first! Quagmire as Threepio has some very funny innuendo jokes that Anthony Daniels would never have gotten away with! And let’s not forget
|On their way to Alderaan...|
The writers and artists on this episode truly know, and love, their STAR WARS, and it’s destined to be a classic I’ll always be able to quote a line from it type of icon. The way the story is compressed into the hour is also very well done..yet the humour never slates the movie, and is very affectionate- laughing with us, not at us, at the films legendary scenes and characters. This is comedy homage at its best and warmest. Once past the very long, but belly achingly funny title crawl (Almost as long as Lucas’s original third draft one before being changed by Brian De Palma in early 1977!), involving Angelina Jolie and her red-hot movie GIA, there are comedy moments from this programme that really will live on in my mind forever…the Red X-wing fighter call ins moment was priceless-I really laughed out loud at that scene. As I also did on MAGIC JOHNSON'S TIPS ON ATTACKING THE DEATH STAR...Herbert’s dance moment with the very camp Stormtroopers, to the “I’ve had the time of my life” song from DIRTY DANCING brought happy (or unhappy?) memories of the DONNIE AND MARIE 1977 special hauntingly back-though this was actually far funnier!
|Things have gone a bit limp for Obi-Wan!|
The comedy moments continue, in the best FAMILY GUY tradition, with
The film is beautifully rendered with its universe of characters, the production designs by
|Our heroes in danger...again!|
The attention to details goes beyond the programme itself, and the DVD special features are terrific. The detailed interview with Lucas by FAMILY GUY creator Seth MacFarlane at the ILM facilities in San Francisco is very enjoyable and of a nice length-laid back and amusing, but Lucas looks quite ill and tired during the interview-I have never seen him looking so unwell...hopefully, having seen the episode, we hope he had a nice big smile on his face afterwards. There’s also some fun behind the scenes material, including clips of other STAR WARS related gags in the shows regular episodes, an audio commentary (which reveals that Mark Hamill wasn’t happy with Peter Griffin’s line about only Harrison Ford being the actor to make it successfully from the films), and an Easter Egg.
The DVD box set also comes with some nice gifts- a terrific booklet that shows you some of the great conceptual art, storyboards, and character sketches used for the creation of the episode, a T-shirt that is supposed to be large but is really for someone whose waistline is a little larger than Brad Pitt’s, rather than my own expansive girth sadly, though it’s nice to look at!!, the 3D glasses for the funny but rather pointless clip on the disc, and the lovely TOPPs recreated cards-I always adored those first set blue star background card spines-my favourite and most nostalgic set of the original releases, from when I was a kid doing swaps at school and of course there was that lovely smell of bubble gum that wafted out of the packs when you opened ‘em (but it was always annoying when the card you really wanted tin the pack always had the bubble gum slate actually stuck all over it!)..
So, all in all, a terrific package-a super episode of FAMILY GUY and great extras-what more could you want? Well, more FAMILY GUY STAR WARS episodes for a start. And that’s exactly what we’re gonna get-as their EMPIRE spoof, SOMETHING, SOMETHING, SOMETHING, DARK SIDE, will soon hit the screens (of which there is a brief, very brief, trailer on the DVD). They’ve set the bar with this first spoof. Can they top it? If many people believed EMPIRE did over the first film in 1980, then Seth and his gang have a pretty good chance of doing so for FAMILY GUY as well....
AFICIONADO RATING: A “FRICKIN’ SWEET” DVD release. If you haven't already got it, go, go, go get it! 9 out of 10.
Monday, 24 June 2013
Despite Darth Maul's sneak attack, Qui-Gon Jinn's mastery of his lightsaber proves skilful, as his enemy only just misses one of his lightning fast responses, in this behind the scenes image showing stuntman Andrew Lawden as Qui-Gon fighting Ray Park during a tricky fight move (which I don't think made the finished film), for the Tunisian filming of EPISODE I.
Sunday, 23 June 2013
Another early, magnificent poster concept for the original STAR WARS (notice the different "W" in the logo) - possibly linked to merchandise?- capturing the iconic elements, action and characters of my favourite movie in the series. If anyone has any more info and knows who the artist was, please get in touch...
STAR WARS: DEATH STAR
A novel by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry
Out now in paperback from ARROW BOOKS UK
“That’s no moon….. It’s a space station.”
Ben Kenobi’s ominous words for an ominous new dawn of Imperial technology and firepower. The appearance of the DEATH STAR in that first mind blowing STAR WARS movie was a cinematic thrill that continues to this day. The mighty battle station, with a prime weapon containing enough firepower to destroy an entire planet, was probably the most significant and dangerous threat to the galaxy’s heroes than anything they, or we as cinemagoers, before or since, had ever seen in the annals of science fiction history. The distinctive death world visual look of the white and grey space station, with that vicious Cyclops eye facing its near dark side, would help give it an evil countenance that would inspire generations of film makers and writers for years to come. The way it was shot on screen, a combination of various matte and model shots, brought tremendous impact in both depth and sheer size, whilst its grey, claustrophobic, barely lit no-escape interior skilfully came to life from the minds and hands of the various behind the scenes craftsmen that worked on the film. Added to that, the vessel was a character in it’s own right and permeated evil with the central leadership inside it-the cruel and unfeelingly sadistic Governor Tarkin, his power hungry deputy Motti and Tarkin’s ultimate servant/bodyguard/lackey, co-conspirator in evil deeds-the Dark Lord of the Sith himself-Darth Vader. And let’s not forget all the other supporting players that worked, and lurked, within the belly of the steel beast, like all the Imperial Stormtroopers, TIE pilots and gunners helping to steer the weapon in all its obliterating objectives. Though Luke Skywalker’s destruction of the planetoid by the end of the movie was well warranted-stopping it before it could destroy his friends- the enigma of the construction of the space fortress, and those beings that resided in it for the period of time leading to it’s construction, shakedown and ultimate destruction due to Imperial foolhardiness and that brilliant shot from a Jedi-to-be, has lived on with fans ever since- all, like me, eager to find out more about it as a beacon of evil in the STAR WARS universe. The later made STAR WARS Prequels would tantalizingly provide some clues-showing us the schematics of the satellite and how the insectoid Geonosians had helped in its coming to being alongside Darth Sidious and his servant Count Dooku, but we wanted more. More, more, more. Now, LUCASFILM and ARROW BOOKS have capitulated to such a mighty storytelling idea, determined to fill in the blanks of STAR WARS history ever further, with respected action/sci-fi adventure, and STAR WARS, genre veterans Michael Reaves and Steve Perry bringing us the true story of the DEATH STAR’s rise to being-a tale full of deadly deceit and power hungry machinations showing the Empire during the deadliest time in it’s history.
Could the book, with such important STAR WARS history to be told, possibly live up to such high reader expectations? The challenge is certainly one that Reaves and Perry, with their strong writing abilities, were determined to give their best shot.
The first third of the book is by far the best with the setting up of the new characters and their arrival on the in-progress- construction DEATH STAR itself. This section regarding the space station is very interesting and carries on well from where James Luceno’s excellent DARK LORD novel left off, with Wookiee slaves amongst other alien and human prisoners hard at work in bringing it to physical life. The main characters gradually introduced in their own specific chapters, are an eclectic bunch created to mirror our own unusual band of favourite film Star Warrior heroes, but it seems, to this readers limited experience of the EU books at least, that pretty much all modern day writers of the STAR WARS books have struggled to come up with anyone anywhere near as exciting as our original Lucas created heroes. Only some of the Timothy Zahn characters seem to have made an impact and that was nearly fourteen years ago.
Sadly there is very little interaction between the newly created characters and the regular film STAR WARS heroes with only a few of them getting the chance to do, with medical man Uli Divini’s encounter with the tortured Leia in the detention block being one of the few cleverly plotted highlights. The new characters range from the interesting (a hotshot TIE fighter pilot, Vil Dance, who suddenly realizes he may be on the wrong side of the conflict after all) to the least interesting (the Force sensitive soldier Nova and the Cantina manservant Rodo did nothing for me). I also found it stretched credibility to have a cantina bar in the station-yes, the Imperials would use some kind of refreshment areas but I would expect them to be realized differently- with the Emperor’s xenophobic attitude to non-human life forms I doubt he would have allowed a Twi’lek like Memah Roothes to run a bar on the battle station (and I can’t help it, but whenever I think of a female cantina bar patron I always think of Bea Arthur-such an indelible impression in my psyche after her appearance in THE HOLIDAY SPECIAL! Do I need professional psychiatric help, I wonder?).
Of all the characters, old and new, it is actually Grand Moff Tarkin and Vader who have the best moments (and you can feel that the writers are enjoying these sections in particular) and its nice, or should I say bad, to see the Imperial side of things on the first film front. The writers also get the chance to have fun bringing us their point of view and fleshing out unseen events from the film and other pieces of the puzzle in the STAR WARS universe at that time in its history, and there is some equally nice expansion of the first film’s supporting characters, like Motti (now with the full name of Conan Antonio Motti no less!!), though sadly some of the other people like General Tagge and Chief Bast who were crying out for more development are sadly ignored in a book of some 400 pages.
As evidenced in their separate and together MED STAR and SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE books, Reaves and Perry’s writing style is always well paced and reader friendly and with so much of the DEATH STAR visuals, interior and exterior, already a part of our collective consciousness not much has to be physically described apart from some of the new environments they’ve created like the prison world of Despayre. They also get the chance to re-use lots of their own characters/weapons/ planets and situations from previous STAR WARS books and comics (as well as now established material from all over the Expanded Universe), including the use of one of their own characters, the aforementioned Imperial medical man Uli Divini, who had been previously in the authors MED STAR series. In fact, of all the newish characters in the book, he’s probably the best one and has the best place in the story itself-everyone needs a doctor in their lives at some point. One other writers weakness: for a science fiction/ fantasy film series that prided itself in not being bogged down in interminable technobabble, there’s a helluva lot of it in this book, almost at modern STAR TREK TV series proportions in fact, most of it regarding the DEATH STAR’s prime weapon and events linked to the fated character of Imperial gunner, Tenn Graneet. And the idea of such a colorful character as the archivist Atour Riten being on the station and seemingly so dangerous as an information gatherer, seemed a bit out of step for the Empire in it’s hiring procedure, especially on such a top secret project as the DEATH STAR.
To my regret, the middle of the book becomes disappointing and less interesting as it goes on, with all kinds of shenanigans that, to me, didn’t feel right. The characters don’t develop much further and the storyline seems to be biding time until the arrival of the captured Princess Leia in the better final third. The idea of the Rebels attacking the DEATH STAR in such a disastrous way before the Battle of Yavin didn’t sit comfortably with me, nor the idea that they would so foolishly sacrifice so many ships and pilots in a battle they couldn’t possibly win even if they didn’t know just how powerful the station was-the Rebels are far too clever for that and would not have wasted lives in such a way (also, disappointingly, the first successful battle by the Rebels against the Imperial Star Fleet, just as the DEATH STAR plans are captured, as mentioned in the first film’s opening crawl, is sadly not even talked about!). Additionally, the subplot between Tarkin and his girlfriend Daala (who is an Expanded Universe veteran character) also didn’t ring true on a personal level. At an earlier stage in his power hungry life, yes, but not at the point when he is Grand Moff Tarkin which, we discover, is a one of a kind title only). Additionally, she didn’t really play any major part in the story-it’s like she’s there just to have her there, really, for the sake of keeping Expanded Universe continuity going- and is soon conveniently out of the adventure before it clashes with any of the film events that take place in the books final third.
The hunt for the Rebel spy/saboteur aboard the station also ultimately, and highly annoyingly, doesn’t get anywhere fast, either, and the destruction of the Star Destroyer in the DEATH STAR docking bay is a wasted opportunity for drama and excitement. In fact, very little information is revealed about the sequence of events leading up to Princess Leia’s recovery of the data tapes (though, to the writers credit, there are a few nice continuity nods to Brain Daley’s STAR WARS radio drama) and I was expecting more-in fact, the recovery of the stolen data tapes seems to be very low key considering their importance-with all the different, and conflicting storylines over the years regarding the tapes in comics and books(in some stories there are two sets of data tapes), perhaps the writers decided just to steer clear of it as much as possible. I was also expecting the story to be altogether bigger encompassing, not just the Imperial view (though it was the writers prerogative to keep the book to the side of the baddies pretty much just on the DEATH STAR itself), but more parts of the Empire linked to the station's construction. And would it really have harmed the book to have had some kind of cameos from Rebel leaders Mon Mothma or General Dodonna somewhere?
On the plus side, continuity with the existing characters at that point in the STAR WARS universe is well kept, with all the players in their rightful places, and Vader, in particular, remaining the nasty, clever, adaptive, seeing how the tide goes lackey of the Emperor and to Tarkin. The writers also get the chance to sort out any bugging continuity problems history-wise in the STAR WARS saga through tantalizing moments about our film heroes being on the DEATH STAR that they could actually have expanded further on, especially in the Imperial hunt for them on the station, and I was dying to read a fun little scene that may have explained who the guy was that had previously talked to one of the Stormtroopers in the Obi-Wan/tractor beam conversation/distraction moment (the “new Xp-16?”, “Yeah, some guy was telling me about it. I hear it’s quite fancy” moment)-I’d hoped we’d get a nice kind of in joke linked to one of the newly created characters, like the wheeler dealing rogue Ratua Dil. Alas, it was not to be. The use of our favourite film heroes in the book, like Han and Chewie (in a flash forward scene (you have to read the book to find out how this is done)) was obviously going to be sparse- this is the Empire’s doomed story after all- but the finale, linked and weaved around the DEATH STAR battle with old and new characters, is well plotted. However, I was left wanting just a couple more scenes with them, that’s all...
There are also noted attempts to fill in the gaps as to why characters didn’t do certain things in the film (like why Tarkin didn’t send out the vessel’s full compliment of thousands of TIEs to wipe out thirty Rebel fighters in the final battle) and why Vader didn’t realize he was torturing his own daughter, but in the latter’s case it isn’t really necessary and ultimately doesn’t add much to the story or character anyway. This need to tie up any loose ends of plot (i.e. how the small thermal exhaust port came to be, and how it took so long to build the station after the events seen at the end of EPISODE III) is a nice idea and handled in some cases better than others but, ultimately, when it comes to the movies, I’m not bothered too much by this. As Mark Hamill once said about examining the story’s plot holes: “it’s not that kind of a movie”. In some ways I think the Expanded Universe people try too hard to make the live action films fit into their realm, when I feel it should be the other way round.
By the book’s conclusion nothing really major or unpredictable happens with our new characters- all they can do is react to events and they can’t interfere much with the already established story as seen on film. There are some colorful touches and clever little additions, new insights and add ons into established history along the way but, overall, you know the story isn’t going to go anywhere and the final chapters detailing what happens to the new motley band of reluctant heroes/escapees, though, as previously mentioned, paced more than adequately and integrated well with events during the trench battle, I found enjoyable but less than totally thrilling.
Though not their best works, Reaves and Perry have weaved a generally good read in DEATH STAR and merged continuity and the Expanded Universe realm into the story in a satisfactory manner, but I get the feeling that so much more could have been done, on a more epic scale, with such a promising and ingenious idea.
Despite the talent involved, and with so many of my expectations not totally fulfilled, I can’t say that DEATH STAR is one of the greatest books in the overall LUCASFILM book range. But if you are able to add it to your collection without damaging your pocket financially, and are interested in seeing how Reaves/Perry fill in the blanks then it’s worth a look.
AFICIONADO RATING: A quirky “anomaly” in the STAR WARS book universe-not a must-have essential purchase, but a great holiday season read. 3 out of 5.