Book Review: STAR WARS Aftermath Book 2: Life Debt

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star wars aftermath 2

Chuck Wendig
Del Ray
2016

“If there’s one mystical energy that powers the galaxy, it’s not the Force. It’s pure, unadulterated irony.”

  • The Emperor is dead, and the remnants of his former Empire are in retreat. as the New Republic fights to restore a lasting peace to the galaxy, some dare to imagine new beginnings and new destinies. For Han Solo, that means settling his last outstanding debt, by helping Chewbacca liberate the Wookiee’s homeworld of Kashyyyk. Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of Imperial hunters pursue Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and the Empire’s remaining leadership across the galaxy. Even as more and ore officers are brought to justice, Sloane continues to elude the New Republic, ad Norra receives an urgent request from Princess Leia Organa. The attempt to liberate Kashyyyk has carried Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a band of smugglers into an ambush resulting in Chewie’s capture and Han’s disappearance. Breaking away from their official mission and racing toward the Millennium Falcon’s last known location, Norra and her crew prepare for any challenge that stands between then and their missing comrades. But they can’t anticipate the true depth of the danger that awaits them or the ruthlessness of the enemy drawing them into his crosshairs.

Here we are in the second book in the Aftermath trilogy of Star Wars new cannon. Obviously, I began reading it the moment the first book was done. I have to admit, it was less out of excitement to see what would happen next, and more out of obligation to see this trilogy through. Much like how I approached the Prequel Trilogy releases. So, let’s see what Life Debt has to offer this continuing adventure.

So, our motley crew formed at the end of the last novel is now employed by the New Republic to hunt down and bring in Imperial war criminals for trial. We open on one of those missions, where things don’t go exactly as planned, let’s just say. Regardless, after escaping capture and taking on some Hroth-beasts, they manage to capture their target and head back to the New Republic headquarters. Meanwhile, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is busy working propaganda for what’s left of the Empire, while Fleet Admiral Rax is working behind the scenes to get a Shadow Council set up to guide the Empire’s resurgence incognito. Back on the New Republic side, Princess Leia relays the news that, while trying to help liberate Kashyyyk from the Imperials, Chewbacca was captured and Han has been trying to locate him by himself since, because the whole promise of “help” from his fellow smugglers turned out to be A TRAP! Imagine that. Leia asks Norra to go find them, but they can’t be officially sanctioned by the New Republic to do so. After a reprimand, Norra resigns her Republic commission and goes off looking for Han herself, which leads to finding Han, then heading to Kashyyyk where the slaves and prisoners are being used as living batteries for power*. One of those prisoners happens to be Norra’s long-lost husband, and the father of their teenage son. After a rather interesting battle and scuffle, the prisoners are freed, and Nora flies off with her son, his comic relief killbot, and approximately 100 prisoners, back to the Republic. Flash forward a month later, and Norra is now working as a shuttle pilot for the Galactic Senate, and things haven’t exactly gone back to normal with her family, as things have changed between her and her husband (which may have something to do with that arbitrary blooming romance between her and Wedge Antillies). Things are looking up for the New Republic, however, as they’re about to parade the freed prisoners in a celebration, and have agreed to meet with Grand Admiral Sloane for potential peace talks. Norra’s son discovers that his formerly estranged dad is acting, really strange, especially after he’s locked in a storage pod and left for dead. Later, at the celebration, the prisoners being presented suddenly all start firing on the Republic officials, as they were set up as sleeper agents apparently. Nope, didn’t see that coming**. Anyway, chaos ensues, and the book ends by finally introducing the Obligatory Tie-In to The Force Awakens. To be continued.

Overall, this second book in the Aftermath trilogy is the same as the first, in that this works best when it gets to the action. The bit at the beginning where they’re trying to abduct the Imperial was particularly amusing, as was the battle to free the people being used as flesh batteries on the base on Kashyyyk. Like the last novel, there are several interludes where their a bit more interesting than the ones in Book 1, but not by much. And the parts where the story itself stops completely to focus on arbitrary drama between characters, like last time, shows the areas where Wendig’s writing is the weakest.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I read Life Debt more out of the need to finish up the trilogy, rather than out of overpowering interest in the overarching plot and stories. As I move on to the final book in the Aftermath trilogy, I do so with more of the same. Take that as you will.

[*Pedantic Fun Fact: the human body is notoriously insufficient to be used as a power source, despite what The Matrix tells us]

[**Sarcasm…I totally saw that coming]

Book Review: STAR WARS Aftermath Book 1

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star wars aftermath 1
Chuck Wendig
Del Ray
2015

The TIE wibbles and wobbles in the air, careening drunkenly across the Myrran rooftops–it zigzags herkily-jerkily out of sight.

  • As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance–now a fledgling New Republic–presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akira, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antillies watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders. Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world–war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’ urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is–or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be. Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit–to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies–her technical genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector–who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

I’ve gone into detail about my history with reading the Expanded Universe Star Wars novels before, so I won’t bore you by going into detail about them here. Suffice to say, after the Disney acquisition of LucasFilm and all its intellectual properties, it’s taken me a number of years to start in on the new Official EU Cannon, as it were. Mostly because the guy who got me into reading the now-Legends Cannon books didn’t have a lot good to say about them. Eh, I have to check them out for myself, and I figured here was the best way to start.

One of the new novels written to help bridge the gap between Return Of The Jedi and the Force Awakens, and to explain what happened right after the former movie, is The Truce at Bakura Aftermath, the first book in a trilogy featuring four new main characters–a shell-shocked Rebel pilot, her angst-ridden mechanical genius son, a turncoat ex-Imperial Officer, and a mercenary bounty hunter–and an ambitious Imperial Admiral character that’s trying to fill the void left by the death of the Emperor and keep the splintered Empire together.

I’m not familiar with the other works by author Chuck Wendig outside of this and the other two Star Wars novels in this trilogy. From what I could glean from the interwebs, fandom seems quite divided on the books and the author himself: Reviews either loved or absolutely loathed Aftermath. My aforementioned friend from the first paragraph considers Wendig to be a hack writer, and has, shall we say, less than favorable thoughts on this book particularly.

Personally, I think that Aftermath is fine. Fine in the sense that it’s satisfactory. The narrative doesn’t exactly flow as smoothly as I would have liked–there are several brief interludes that touch on the effect the victory at Endor had to the rest of the Galaxy, which made me wonder if I should be keeping notes for future novels instead of keeping me invested in the main story. Did we really need them? Probably not. The two that I think were important to the overall story was the opening one, which takes place immediately after news of the death of Palpatine over Endor reached Coruscant and the ensuing riot that takes place, which highlights the fact that not everyone in the galaxy far, far away were unified about their sudden horrible, horrible freedom from the Empire. The other is the brief aside where Han and Chewie decide to say, “Screw it,” and go try to liberate Chewie’s home planet from the remaining Imperial occupation. That one ties into the next novel itself.

Overall, though, I would give Aftermath Book 1 a 2.5 out of 5, mainly because Wendig’s writing style is a bit ham-fisted, especially when he writing personal relationship scenes, and the dialogue gets a bit soap opera-ish. Especially when it involves a certain whiny 17-year-old boy genius, and the retrofitted killbot who loves him. Also, there’s not one, but two scenes where a main character manages to escape certain death by Deus Ex Machina that made me pause to shout “REALLY?!?” rather loudly and repeatedly. Otherwise, like the majority of the Star Wars novels I’ve read in the past, this is fine. You read it, then move on.

Book Review: FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW

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from a certain point of view

  • In honor of the fortieth anniversary of Star Wars: A New Hope, this collection features Star Wars stories by bestselling authors, trendsetting artists, and treasured voices from Star Wars literary history. More than forty authors have lent their unique vision to forty “scenes”, each retelling a different moment from the original Star Wars film, but with a twist: Every scene is told from the point of view of a background character. Whether it’s the X-wing pilots who helped Luke destroy the Death Star or the stormtroopers who never quite could find the droids they were looking for, Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View places the classic movie in a whole new perspective, and celebrates the influence and legacy of the unparalleled cultural phenomenon, Star Wars.

As I’ve mentioned in previous Star Wars book reviews, I started reading the expanded universe novels around 2001, on the insistence of my friend Nex. This was long before Disney bought out Lucasfilm and Star Wars, rendering the novels to be what I like to call “professional fan-fic”, aka Star Wars Legends. Personally, my favorite ones that I liked to read were the three that contained short stories from the point of view of the peripheral characters: Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, Tales of the Bounty Hunters, and Tales from Jaba’s Palace. I’ve always been intrigued by what the minor characters you see in movies, experiencing what’s going on, were thinking or doing that lead up to that moment. These books really scratched that imaginative itch I had.

Of course, now that those have been regulated into the Legends category, it was a wait to see if anything like those books would appear in the new official Disney canon. Lo and behold, in 2017 there was published the anthology From a Certain Point of View, a collection of short stories that were written by several authors, based on certain peripheral characters that were in the background of everything going on during the run of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. This was released in conjunction with the movie’s 40th anniversary since its release back in 1977, and since it features 40 stories (one for each year, I presume), I need to stop yammering on and get to the stories contained within this tome. Shall we? We shall…

“Raymus” (Gary Witta)
It’s the story of Raymus Antilles, the captain of the Tantive IV, taking place from essentially the tail end of Rogue One, when they launch out of the Star Cruiser Profundity, to when he’s choked to death by Darth Vader after their capture over Tatooine. Basically, this bridges the small gap between the end of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope…

“The Bucket” (Christie Golden)
This one deals with Stormtrooper TK-4601, who is the one who manages to nab Princess Leia on the Tantive IV, right after she sticks those Death Star plans into some random astromech droid that I’m sure has no bearing on the overall saga whatsoever. Oh, and the “bucket” in question refers to the stormtrooper helmets. You’re welcome…

“The Sith of Datawork” (Ken Liu)
A brief yet amusing look at the bureaucratic side of the Galactic Empire, specifically the paperwork involved for a certain gunnery captain that ordered his subordinates not to fire upon some escape pod that didn’t have any life signs…

“Stories in the Sand” (Griffin McElroy)
Here, we have a story about a Jawa named Jot who likes to hide in his secret space on the clan’s sandcrawler and watch the “stories” taken from the memory cores of the droids they find before they’re wiped for resale. Then one day, he happens upon the memory core of a recently acquired R2 unit, which shows him clips from the Prequel Trilogy, among other things…

“Reirin” (Sabaa Tahir)
A young female Tusken Raider outcast wants to leave Tatooine (couldn’t imagine why), so she’s tasked with finding a shiny stone held within the Jawa sandcrawler that happens to be selling a couple of droids to a moisture farmer and his plucky nephew…

“The Red One” (Rae Carson)
That’s right, there’s a story about the R5-D4 unit that was the Owen’s first pick from the Jawa’s swap meet. This goes into things a bit into detail as to why it fritzed out like it did…

“Rites” (John Jackson Miller)
Hey, you remember the part in A New Hope, with the Tusken Raiders who ambush Luke while he’s trying to find R2? This is a story about those guys. This one has a bit which alludes to the part in Attack Of The Clones, where Anakin slaughters a camp of Tuskens for killing his mother. Continuity, yay.

“Master and Apprentice” (Claudia Gray)
An existential bit of a discussion between Obi-Wan and the force ghost of his old master, Qui-Gon, during that part where Luke goes back to find his aunt and uncle kind of sort of not well…

“Beru Whitesun Lars” (Meg Cabot)
This is a short but rather interesting story narrated by the title character, Luke’s Aunt Beru, all about raising Luke and her thoughts on that. Given the ending of the story, it does raise more questions, here…

“The Luckless Rodian” (Renee Ahdieh)
Of course, there’s going to be a story about Greedo, the green-skinned bounty hunter that NEVER SHOT BECAUSE HAN SHOT AND THAT WAS IT…sorry. Deep breaths, here. Anyway, this is what led up to that confrontation, and it appears there was a woman involved that horked Greedo off in the first place…

“Not for Nothing” (Mur Lafferty)
Presented as a chapter from a book of memoirs by one of the members of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (that band in the cantina that plays a style of music that elicits giggles by myself immature man-boys when spoken of), this sheds a bit of light as to why a band comprised of Bith (a species with pink sensitive skin and big, lidless eyes that are unable to secrete tears) would be on a planet like Tatooine in the first place…

“We Don’t Serve Their Kind Here” (Chuck Wendig)
Now we take a look at the cantina bartender Wuher, who is grumpy but affable, going about his day trying not get involved with everything going down around him. Which includes the arrival of some farm kid and an old guy in robes with a couple of darn droids on the day that his droid detector is not working properly…

“The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” (Kelly Sue DeConnick / Matt Fraction)
Kind of a wacky story involving Muftak and Kabe, the two aliens that…well, Google ’em, you’ll know them when you see the images. Anyway, this involves a sought-after Bith instrument, where the rent monies went to, and various other instances involving Greedo that demonstrates that the continuity between the stories are a bit off…

“Added Muscle” (Paul Dini)
And here we have a bit of a Boba Fett inner monologue involving that Special Edition scene where Jabba the Hutt confronting Han Solo in Docking Bay 94 with a bunch of other bounty hunters to collect on Solo’s debt. This one was written by long-time television writer Paul Dini, and let’s just say he doesn’t really nail Boba Fett at all. He sounds more like Lobo, from the Superman: The Animated Series which he has worked on. Really could have used K. W. Jeter handling Fett…

“You Owe Me a Ride” (Zoraida Cordova)
This one is about the Tonnika sisters, the two females that were seen maybe a split-second in the movie. Here, they head off to Jabba’s palace for a job, then decide to steal the Millennium Falcon to get off planet and…do stuff. Things don’t go as planned, obviously…

“The Secrets of Long Snoot” (Delilah S. Dawson)
This one’s about that steampunk clad snitch Garindan ezz Zavor, who lead the stormtroopers to Docking Bay 94. Goes a bit into why he was on Tatooine, and how he was trying to get back home…ah, who cares? He ratted out our heroes, guys…

“Born in the Storm” (Daniel Jose Older)
A rather amusing story told in the form of an Imperial Incident Report form, from one of the stormtroopers that happened to be in the group that were on Tatooine searching for a couple of droids…

“Laina” (Wil Wheaton)
Yes, that Wil Wheaton. Here, he pens a story about a rebel soldier on Yavin IV videotaping a message to his 2-year-old daughter, whom he’s about to send away with a couple of aunts off-world for safty’s sake. This one had me shouting, “THAT WAS MY JOKE GUESS, YOU BASTARD!” at the end…

“Fully Operational” (Beth Revis)
Here we have a story taking place shortly before and during that meeting on the Death Star where Tarkin informs everyone that the Senate was disolved and that chokey-chokey thing happened between Vader and an Admiral. This is from the point of view of General Tagge, not the guy getting choked, but the one who was concerned about the Rebels finding a weak point in the Death Star from the stolen plans. Interesting bit, here…

“An Incident Report” (Mallory Ortberg)
Taking place directly after the previous story, this is the rather angry incident report filled out by the guy who was force-choked by Vader, one Admiral Motti, Chief of the Imperial Navy. He doesn’t seem too happy about the incident, it seems…

“Change of Heart” (Elizabeth Wein)
This is from the point of view of…um, Unidentified Imperial Navy Trooper, who was the guard of Princess Leia while she was prisoner on the Death Star, and was present at her interigation by the hands of Vader, and on the bridge when Alderaan got blow’ed up…

“Eclipse” (Madeleine Roux)
Things are getting rather dark, as now, right after the previous story, we have one about Leia’s adoptive mother, Breha Organa of Alderaan, experiencing her final hour or so on the planet before getting blow’ed up…

[It’s right around here, where I had to pause and look at pictures of kittens for about ten minutes before continuing on with the book]

“Verge of Greatness” (Pablo Hidalgo)
Didn’t think we would skip a story featuring our favorite galactic despot, Grand Moff Tarkin, did we? Here, we get a glimpse of his black, icy soul as he contemplates the power of the Death Star, his acquisition of said Death Star, the destruction of Scarif and thoughts on Director Krennic, all while preparing to take out the rebellion once and for all…

“Far too Remote” (Jeffrey Brown)
This is a single panel comic involving stormtroopers and an Imperial officer (turns out it was General Tagge) searching out Dantooine for that rebel base…

“The Trigger” (Kieron Gillen)
Okay, so, here we have a story involving one Chelli Lona Aphra. As someone whose fandom of Star Wars only covers the movies, a handful of cannon novels, and The Mandalorian series, I had to look up this character. Seems that Aphra is a scavenger that is mentioned in a lot of comic book stories, and apparently appears here because it involves the obligatory search of Dantooine by Imperials, and her running into them while scavenging the abandoned Rebel base. Decent story, though…

“Of MSE-6 and Men” (Glen Weldon)
And here we have a story told from the point of view of the MSE-6 repair droid aboard the Death Star, some time before the destruction of the base above Yavin IV. You know, that thing on the wheels that skittered away freaked out by Chewbacca? That’s the one. Only, the majority of the story concerns the hook-up between a stormtrooper and an Imperial officer, as told by way of the recorded information stored within the droid. Like an episode of Queer As Folk in space…

“Bump” (Ben Acker / Ben Blacker)
Now we have a story about that one Stormtrooper that famously bumped his head on the threshold of the control room where C-3PO and R2-D2 are hiding out in the Death Star. You know the one. This is a story about what happened leading up to that moment, and what happened directly after…

“End of Watch” (Adam Christopher)
This is a story about an administrative Imperial officer in charge of the Death Star’s Station Control West, who is about to get off of duty for the night, when wouldn’t ‘cha now it, there’s an unscheduled arrival of some old YT-1300 light freighter named the Millennial Falcon messing up the traffic…

“The Baptist” (Nnedi Okorafor)
Hey, do you remember that eye-stalk that pokes out of the fetid water of the trash compactor, conjoined to that thing that drags Luke down into the water with it? Presumably to eat him? This is the story of that creature. Turns out it’s a “her”, her name is “Omi”, and she wasn’t planning on eating him after all, really…

“Time of Death” (Cavan Scott)
Finally we have a story about Obi-Wan Kenobi, told from his point of view…just after he’s killed by Darth Vader. Buncha flashbacks in this interesting story, which features a 3-year-old Luke Skywalker at one point…

“There Is Another” (Gary D. Schmidt)
Hey, a story involving Master Yoda. Who wasn’t a part of A New Hope. Eh, whatever. Here, he’s getting ready to plant some seeds for food, takes on some Imperial probe droids, and senses the death of Obi-Wan. It also seems Yoda would rather train Leia rather than Luke as a Jedi, as Obi’s force ghost tries to convince him otherwise. Also, there’s a cooking pot…

“Palpatine” (Ian Doescher)
Okay, so, this one was written by the guy who has written the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars book series, so this story is also written in iambic pentameter. And, true to the title, this one is from the point of view of Emperor Palpatine, after hearing news of Obi-Wan Kenobi at the hands of Darth Vader. He goes from gloating, to worry about other Jedi that may have slipped the Jedi Purge, right back to gloating again…

“Sparks” (Paul S. Kemp)
This one focuses on Dex Tiree, one of the pilots in Gold Squadron, and his thoughts on things as he goes through the briefing on the Death Star schematics, and his favorite R5 unit nicknamed “Sparks”, going on the run on the Death Star…kind of ends on a downer, this one…

“Duty Roster” (Jason Fry)
And here we have a story from one of the other starfighter pilots that didn’t partake of the run on the Death Star due to some anger issues, mostly due to the Empire ravaging his home world, but also having the nickname of “Fake Wedge”…

“Desert Son” (Pierce Brown)
A story told from the point of view of Biggs Darklighter, Luke’s friend from Tatooine. This focuses mainly on his perspective of the trench run on the Death Star, and what’s going through Bigg’s head, up until it was his windshield…

“Grounded” (Greg Rucka)
Here’s something from a mechanic on the Rebel base on Yavin 4, named Nera Kase. We get a look at the situation and tension at the base as the battle of Yavin takes place over the radio broadcast, and the weight that the deaths have on the ground crew…

[again, I had to pause to look at kitties…man, this is taking more out of me than expected…]

“Contingency Plan” (Alexander Freed)
And now, a story of Mon Mothma, another character that didn’t appear in A New Hope. Anyway, in this story, it’s explained why she was absent during the Battle of Yavin, and delves into the inner turmoil she was experiencing after Alderaan was destroyed. It gets kinda dark, this one does…

“The Angle” (Charles Soule)
Another story involving a beloved character that didn’t really appear until one of the later movies. This one involves Lando Calrissian, having a friendly game of Klikklak interrupted by an Imperial officer and a handful of stormtroopers, and then witnessing a holovid of the Empire’s Death Star being blow’ed up with the help of his former ship, the Millennial Falcon…

“By Whatever Sun” (E. K. Johnson / Ashely Eckstein)
The penultimate story in the collection (I just wanted to write the word “penultimate”), and it’s another one featuring a periferal character that originated outside the movie proper: Captain Miara Larte, one of the few survivors of Alderaan, along with her crew are standing front-and-center of the celebration at the end of the movie. We get a glimpse of what’s going through her head as she witnesses Leia awarding medals to Luke and Han, totally snubbing the Wookiee…

“Whills” (Tom Angleberger)
And finally, we have a very brief, but utterly amusing story dedicated to the unseen Whills of Star Wars legend that watches and chronicles the epic sprawling story of Star Wars, explaining where we get the opening crawl, and also where we got the Star Wars Holiday Special…

Well, now. This was quite the trip. For the most part, the stories here managed to take something about the movie that didn’t seem important to the overall story, and make it far more interesting than it should have been. The handful of nit-picks that I have concern the stories that involved Greedo in one way shape or form, as they didn’t necessarily jive with the continuity with each other. With the ones that took place in Mos Eisley, I had to remember these weren’t part of the Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina book, and thus didn’t share the same explanation of who and what the characters’ motivations were. Some stories resonated more for me than others, but I’m not really going to go into detail about those, mainly because these are subjective, and I’ve already gone a bit long with the review of this.

Overall: I’ve only read a small handful of what you would call the “New Canon” of Star Wars books, From A Certain Point of View included. I liked this collection. It told entertaining bite-sized stories from a galaxy far, far away, as expected. Also, none of the authors got paid to do this; they all agreed to have the proceeds go to a reading charity. So, for those of you who like that warm fuzzy self-righteous feeling to go with your rank consumerism, there you go. Recommended.

Confessions Of A Depressed Christian: DEPRESSION, CHRISTMAS, & STAR WARS

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charlie brown christmas depressedI will confess that, like many other children, I used to love the Christmas season. There was always something magical about the time, something in the air. The world just seemed to be brighter, shinier and lit up, somehow. I was probably what you would call a Spirit of Christmas Junkie, come to think of it. The build-up to the big day, Christmas Day, then the inevitable After Christmas Depression that would come over, a malaise that hits and stays with until after the first of January and everything gets back to the standard day-to-day mundane existence of it all.

I haven’t been excited about Christmas for years, now. I do recall the exact last time I was actually jazzed about celebrating the season: 2013, and that was because my betrothed at the time had an enthusiasm that was downright infectious. No need to retell the tale of how that ended up. Needless to say, it’s almost like the depression I suffer from has intensified since then, over five years ago as I write this.

Now, the act of gathering with what’s left of the family seems merely perfunctory, going-through-the-motions kind of celebrations. I still have times, often out of nowhere, where a wave of grief and sadness and shock will hit me. It’s the nature of the condition. And starting right after Halloween, the closer we get to Christmas, the more and more I can feel this dark time close in on me.

I’m not writing this to elicit sympathy. I simply want to share what I go through each Christmas, and despite the loneliness, the despair and darkness of the time, why I still celebrate Christmas. What Christmas really means to me.

First, it means that my pain and suffering are not unknown to God. Instead, they are shared by God. He is not the absent God of the deists, or the remote God of Aristotle. Nor is He only the moral/creator God of the Old Testament. He is a God who has chosen to walk among us, to get down into the messy, dirty and broken world of our humanity.

At the tomb of his friend, Jesus wept. Not perfunctory tears, but tears of great grief. Even though he knew before he got there that Lazarus was dead, he wept. Even though He knew he would in a few minutes raise Lazarus from the dead, he wept. Even though he knew that Mary and Martha’s tears of grief would soon turn to tears of joy and shouts of thanks, he wept. Even though he knew all would eventually be made right, Jesus wept.

The incarnation means to me, in a deeper way than I had experienced before, that God’s heart beats with love and sympathy for the losses of my life. But even more than this, Christmas is also precious to me because it tells me that the worst thing is not the last thing. Jesus came, not only to share our sorrows, but to redeem them. And to give the hope of the resurrection. The hope that pain and suffering and loss are not random, not pointless, not the hand of impersonal fate. And definitely not the end of the story.

Let’s pretend that there exists someone who only has seen one Star Wars movie: The Empire Strikes Back. For whatever reason, this is the only one they’ve seen, and are unaware that this is merely the second part of a continuous story that began with A New Hope and concluded with Return Of The Jedi*. This person would probably conclude that the story, although powerful and profound, is pessimistic and somewhat sad; so much is still wrong, so many sacrifices wasted on nothing, so much evil still holding sway.

This is where we are at right now. At this point, we are still living in the middle of a bigger story arc. But Jesus has come, and told us that the future volumes are already written, that evil and death and suffering are not the final word, that sacrifice is not in vain, that pain has a purpose. That death is not eternal. For the Author has stepped into the story, to make all things right, in their time.

This is what I believe. This is why I still hold Christmas as a time for hope and joy, despite of what my chemical imbalance and circumstances tell me. The hands of the King are hands of healing and redemption. Suffering and separation are not forever; pain is not the final word. Death itself will die, and resurrection will rule.

The worst thing is not the last thing. This is what Christmas means to me.

::END TRANSMISSION::

[*=I‘m only going with the Original Saga here, as an example; let’s not get pedantic with the comments, here]

R2D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas

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I present to everyone the very first professional recording of some guy named Jon Bon Jovi…


::END TRANSMISSION::

Movie Review: SOLO A Star Wars Story

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solo a star wars storyLucasfilm / Disney
2018
PG-13

“So, what’s your name, anyways?”
“Rrraaawwgghhhyyy.”
“You’re gonna need a nickname, ’cause I ain’t saying that every time.”

The second release in Disney’s supplemental films in the Star Wars universe, Solo: A Star Wars Story delves into the back story of everyone’s favorite intergalactic scoundrel with a heart of mythra, Han Solo. While there was the Han Solo trilogy of books that was regulated to the Legacy non-cannon section since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, that didn’t stop Disney from delving into the past and giving us an official canon back story for Han — how he met Chewie, got into smuggling, and came across that little space boat called the Millennium Falcon.

Having been released a mere six months after The Last Jedi, I think that contributed to the lack of enthusiasm with the release of Solo. There wasn’t as much of a buzz, and preview reports were lackluster at best. Also, there may have been something about the change of directors midway through that could have been part of it. I have to admit, I wasn’t really all that jazzed to watch it myself, and my fellow partner in crime, Nex, kept referring to it as the “Ill-Advised Star Wars Movie”. Regardless, I watched Solo, along with the other Exalted Geeks (recording the podcast about it here), and so let’s get to my thoughts on the movie. But first, as always, the Rundown (spoilers ahead):

We open on the planet of Corellia, where a young Han is livin’ the Dickens style street urchin life, stealing shiny things for a giant worm alien gang leader. This is the day that he and his love interest named Qi’ra make their escape from the gang to get off of the planet to a better life; only, it doesn’t exactly go as plan, as Qi’ra gets recaptured, while Han manages to get off of the planet, but at the expense of joining up with the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet. Fast forward to three years later, and we find that Han and the military aren’t exactly a great fit, as he’s been downgraded to the infantry, and while on one of them Imperial conquests of a planet, Han tries to hook up with a bunch of criminals posing as infantry soldiers, but is then thrown into a pit to be fed to a beast of some sort. Of course, by the law of plot conveniences, this “beast” turns out to be none other than Chewbacca, and after a bit of a rocky start, they bond by working together to escape. They catch a ride off of the planet by the same batch of criminals Han ran into earlier, because one of the members — the one with the big neon I’M GOING TO DIE FIRST blinking on his forehead — took a shine to their moxie. Or whatever. After a heist to steal a shipment of a super hyperspace fuel called coaxium goes south due to the interference of SPACE PIRATES!, the crime lord who hired the group to steal the stuff decides to let them try and make it up to him, by taking raw coaxium from the mines on Kessel, and assigns his top lieutenant, who turns out to be Qi’ra, to tag along and make sure nothing goes wrong this time. Or, you know, death. So, they hire the guy with the fastest ship in the galaxy, which turns out to be some guy named Lando Calrissian (I’m sure he’ll be of no consequence later in the series), who pilots a certain heavily modified YT-1300 Corellian light freighter he calls the Millennium Falcon. After a bunch of chest-puffing between Han and Lando, they take off for Kessel, where they pick up the raw (and highly unstable, I should add, otherwise there wouldn’t be much tension and drama involved) coaxium, all the while causing a riot and freeing a bunch of Wookiee slaves and triggering a droid uprising. Han manages to make the jump in 12-ish parsecs through the Maw and gets the shipment safely to the planet Savareen to process the coaxium. Then the SPACE PIRATES! show up, say they really aren’t the bad guys in this movie, and then Solo tries to do the right thing by confronting the crime lord. There’s a bit of cross/double cross going on, the crime boss dies and then Han takes off while Qi’ra decides she’d rather be the new crime boss and stuff. Then Han wins the Millinnium Falcon from Lando, and he and Chewie flies off to join up with some gangster on the planet Tatooine. The end.

So, overall, while I feel that Solo wasn’t exactly necessary as a movie, it was still pretty good. There were plenty of cheesy bits in there — how Han got his last name, an inverse of the “I love you / I know” exchange, and a surprise cameo that seemed a tad shoehorned in. Also, did we really need a social justice warrior droid, or implied human/droid sex? Did they really contribute to the story, here? But, I digress (I look forward to all of your comments and emails)…

Alden Enrenreich does a decent job portraying the younger Han. But Donald Glover is the best one here as Lando, channeling his inner Billy Dee Williams, convincing me he’s gonna break out a Colt 45 at a moment’s notice.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is an enjoyable distraction but not exactly essential watching. It’s a good matinée flick, and I’ll probably watch this again sometime when the DVD gets released.

Movie Review: STAR WARS Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

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The Last JediDisney / Lucasfilm
2017
PG-13

“What do you know about the force?”
“It’s a power that Jedi have that lets them control people and…make things float.”
“Impressive. Every word in that sentence was wrong.”

So, this is a first. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi happens to be the first Star Wars movie that has left me without a fully-formed opinion about it immediately after the credits rolled. And even now, as I write this a day or two after watching this with the Exalted Geeks, I find myself chewing over what I really thing about this newest entry in the ongoing saga from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But, I’m gonna give it the ol’ college try, I am I am.

Let’s take some time, then, to warn about SPOILERS, as I have no earthly idea how to keep things spoiler-free while talking about my thoughts on this movie. But, considering I know this won’t be scheduled to be posted until the second day of 2018, I don’t know if there will be anyone in existence that will need the spoiler warning, but just in case there is, be ye warned. If somehow you’re reading this and haven’t seen The Last Jedi, this is your chance to jump ship and go do so. Go on, I can wait.

So, The Last Jedi begins with the First Order striking back against the Resistance lead by General Leia (she’ll always be the Princess to me). After narrowly escaping following a botched defensive attack, the Resistance find themselves on the run and hotly pursued by the First Order. Meanwhile, Ray is finding that Master Skywalker’s reaction to her arrival is not what she was expecting. Which was the Jedi hero of legend. Instead, she’s confronted with a grumpy old man who wants nothing to do with Jedi, and has cut himself off from the Force. But, Ray proves to be a persistent whipper-snapper and manages to get Luke to agree on three lessons. They don’t go as expected. Oh, and Chewy may or may not have gone vegetarian, I don’t know. Meanwhile, a revived Finn has gone off with some new character named Rose to find a master code breaker at a posh high-roller casino so they could get past the defenses on Snoke’s ship so they can shut down the techno-McGuffin so they can outrun and escape the First Order. That goes as well as expected. Ray comes to odds with Luke and leaves, while the surviving Resistance squares off against the First Order at a long-abandoned Rebel base, and then Luke finally squares off against his nephew Kylo Ren. To quote Luke Skywalker from this movie, this is not going to go the way you think.

All that, and I still left out a whole bunch from that synopsis. And there is a lot to take in. And quite frankly, rather than analyze the film (there are plenty of blog and YouTube posts out there, so take your pick), I’ll just cut to the chase: I rather enjoyed The Last Jedi. I thought it built up on and continued the previous story nicely, not just rehashing what has come before while still retaining the overarching saga; there wasn’t just a reliance on the older characters, but a much-needed passing of the torch to the new characters involved. The story was dark, like the second installment in the trilogy should be, and deliciously so. The characters weren’t just 2-dimensional, but had depth and conflict, regardless of what side of the fight they were on. Luke turning out to be jaded and unwilling to get back into the fight, let alone training Ray, is something unexpected, yes…but I loved this character development. It was unexpected, given the hopeful and (admittedly) slightly naive Jedi Knight Luke we last saw at the end of The Return Of The Jedi. Not that I was rooting for a curmudgeonly Skywalker…I too was surprised at his reaction, but I accepted it as one of the logical conclusions his character arc would take. Kylo Ren is turning out to be a far more compelling character than expected. Also, I’m glad those Porgs didn’t end up being this movie’s Ewoks. They’re just there, not really needing to be in the movie as much as they were, but good for some light comedy relief when needed.

That’s not to say that The Last Jedi doesn’t have its flaws. Leia surviving being blown into the vacuum of space being my first point of contention while watching this. I realize this is a movie about space wizards with lazer swords fighting space Nazis; still, presuming this is the same kind of space that we’re subjected to here in our galaxy, that was quite a bit of stretching of my suspension of disbelief, there. And while I get the feeling we’re not necessarily done with him just yet, I still think that Snoke was wasted here. Such a buildup with The Force Awakens, and then…well, rather let down, I was.

Overall, I think the good things about The Last Jedi far outweigh all the bad, especially the cries of this being the “worst Star Wars movie since The Phantom Menace” I’ve seen on some blogs and reviews. I think what may have happened is that The Last Jedi wasn’t what they were expecting, and because it didn’t cater to their own needy sense of entitlement, they couldn’t see past that to just enjoy a friggin’ Star Wars movie. I for one highly recommend seeing this.

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