Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Television Shows March 2 to March 8

BebopRocksteady

It's time for another round of TV commentaries! No Flash or Arrow for the time being, but that leaves me with five shows to keep on top of.

Star Wars Rebels: Fire Across the Galaxy is the season finale for season 1. Unfortunately, due to the show's tendency to start and stop without any notice, I was not aware this was coming. Luckily, it was brought to my attention. This actually comes at a perfect time for me, though, as between the start of Rebels and the end of the season I've actually watched all of The Clone Wars, with the exception of the incomplete episodes on StarWars.com. As a result, the revelation of Ahsoka at the end of the episode means a whole lot more to me than it would have initially. Still, what catches my attention the most at this point is the question of what the Inquisitor was talking about – was he discussing Kanan awakening the Dark Side within himself, or knowing that his death would call the attention of a more powerful Force user?

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Aftershocks was the return of the series after a mid-season break, populated by the new (or temporary) Agent Carter. “Aftershocks” deals with the results of the transformations that occurred in “What They Become”, specifically Raina, Skye and Trip. The latter was killed in the transformation, which triggers changes in everyone, particularly Jemma and Coulson, which is...awkward. This leads to a forced conflict and to Skye's new Carrie powers being kept secret; ultimately, a well executed version of some tired plots I'd rather have avoided.

Gotham: Everyone Has a Cobblepot I'll admit was a surreal experience for me. I watched it while acquainting myself with Knights of the Old Republic II, which means I mainly remember it as Jim Gordon and friends narrating while I investigated a post-apocalyptic Peragus II. Still, I love the concept of Jim Gordon launching a serious investigation into the root of the corruption in Gotham and making just enough difference to keep himself in the force and keep himself and Bullock moving up without having a chance at seriously fixing things. I'll need to rewatch this with my full attention one of these days, though.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Pig and the Rhino was pretty much the episode that fans of the 1987 series have been waiting for since 2012. The episode knew exactly what the climax was and how to deal with it, and it was a stroke of genius having the no-nonsense boss-type love the names Bebop and Rocksteady and having the more comical character hate them. While I still wish for the real Irma to show up (kidnapped by the Krang and kept to study, perhaps?), on the whole I have to say I am not disappointed with the way beloved elements of the show have been introduced.

Power Rangers Dino Charge: Breaking Black was an interesting piece. It did teach me all I needed to about the black ranger, which was its point, but I don't particularly like this black ranger, so that's a mixed bag. Still, I appreciate the way they're introducing each episode. It definitely makes me like this season more than the previous two/four. This gives me a lot of hope for the upcoming 25 episodes.

Monday, March 23, 2015

An Unearthly Podcast: Cyberwoman

In our 97th episode, we tackle the question: Is "Torchwood: Cyberwoman" the worst Cyberman episode ever? Tune in and find out!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

7 Days of Legends: Tales of the Jedi–The Golden Age of the Sith

GAotSWhile Dawn of the Jedi is a rather new invention, for over fifteen years, this prologue by Kevin J. Anderson to Tom Veitch’s Tales of the Jedi comics was the start of the Star Wars universe. The reference guides - The Essential Atlas and Chronology - had stories, there were articles written by Del Rey and LucasFilm Ltd staff - but in terms of easily consumed stories, this was the Genesis of my generation of fans.

Tales of the Jedi: Golden Age of the Sith starts with issue #0: Conquest and Unification. This story features Jedi Apprentice Odan-Urr on a mission for his Master Ooroo. This Jedi Scholar, whining the entire time about how he is not cut out for this mission, teaches the skill of Battle Meditation to Memit Nadill, Jedi advisor to Empress Teta of the Koros System, which would historically be known as the Empress Teta system. That makes these the titular Unification Wars, the wars fought between Empress Teta and the dissidents within her system to unite the worlds there under one common front. What's of note here is that while Teta clearly seems to be a wise and benevolent ruler (as we'll see later), we have yet to see any indication as to what the cause of these wars are. Whether this is a Firefly style war of simple domination or whether the rebels in question did something to require unification, we never know, but ultimately Teta wins the war.

Golden Age of the Sith proper begins with fraternal twins Gav and Jori Daragon, two down-on-their-luck fringers in the Koros System. Feeling that they are out of options to make their way, they steal their parents' ship from the custody of Aarrba the Hutt to use for one last chance as deep space scouts - individuals who risk their lives by entering hyperspace along unplotted coordinates and selling those coordinates to Spacers' Guilds. There's a subplot involved here wherein a merchant lord used a route that Gav and Jori had found, but labeled to be unsafe to use, but that won't become important until later.

I feel it's important here to address the matter of the Sith. Tales of the Jedi, in large part, exists to bring the Sith from their original state as a distant Empire to the Sith that we know today. It doesn't go the whole route, of course - the Rule of Two wasn't introduced in this series, and I'm uncertain as to what year Jedi vs Sith was released - but it takes long steps over the course of the next several miniseries. In Golden Age of the Sith, Emperor Marka Ragnos has just died after a century of unquestioned rule (once he removed the head of Simus, who now functions as a member of the Sith Council, anyway), and the question of his successor is in question. Naga Sadow, who is the fastest to claim the title of Dark Lord and Emperor for himself, feels that the only way for the Sith to survive is to unite the Empire against a common enemy and begin to take new ground through force. His chief opponent, Ludo Kressh, is convinced that Sadow's plan is folly and is sure to guarantee the destruction of the Sith people through war.

The Daragons, led by the Force, though they do not know it, find what in other circumstances would have been a very fortuitous prize indeed: an unimpeded Hyperspace corridor that leads from the Inner Core to the Outer Rim. This corridor from the Koros System to the Imperial throne world of Korriban is one that would rarely be used in the future, owing most likely to the fact that a pathway between the centers of power of both the Sith and the Empire would likely be filled with hyperspace mines and fortified areas for the next 5,000 years. For the purposes of events in the comic's near future, however, the Daragon Trail, as it will come to be known, has become the most important thing in the galaxy.

The rest of the volume is spent following two sequences of events: the reactions in the Koros system to Gav and Jori's actions (both the saurian spacer who blames the Daragons for the loss of his ship and the Hutt who felt both robbed and betrayed by their actions), and Naga Sadow's manipulations of both his human captives and his fellow Sith Lords

For an early Kevin J Anderson story, Golden Age of the Sith requires relatively little in the way of leaps of faith. Once you can believe that the Sith and Jedi both have different powers than the ones that you're familiar with in the modern era, this works as a tale that transforms from a quaint historical anecdote into an epic about a major turning point in galactic history once the Sith discover the Republic.

I'd like to take a moment to talk about the art, not only for this story, but for the entire Tales of the Jedi line. This is an older story, as far as Star Wars is concerned, and certainly art standards for comics have changed since the 90s, especially for publishers with less budget behind them than DC and Marvel. Still, while the art of this series would not be appreciated in the modern day, for a historical story such as this, I actually feel like the art present here is superior. It gives it a sort of gritty feel, as though you're looking at a recollection, rather than watching events as they happen. It also gives a sort of mystical tone to the proceedings that I feel matches very nicely with the Sith sorcery and more fantastical powers exhibited by the Jedi in the Tales line of comics.

As a whole, Tales of the Jedi: Golden Age of the Sith does not tell a complete story, but it was never intended to. This story acts as a massive prequel, comparable to Fellowship of the Ring in its role in the buildup to massive, galaxy-spanning war. The Sith build up for war, not only with the Republic, but with themselves, and with a title like Fall of the Sith Empire following, it's not hard to imagine the results of such a two-front war on the Sith.

My recommendation of Golden Age of the Sith, then, is that you should read it if you intend to read both parts of the Great Hyperspace War. In fact, if any of this appeals to you, my suggestion is to buy the Omnibus Edition of Tales of the Jedi Part 1. This features the whole of the Great Hyperspace War, in addition to several of the succeeding stories one thousand years in this story's future.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

7 Days of Legends: Dawn of the Jedi–Force War

DOTJ_Vol_3

I had high hopes for Dawn of the Jedi, especially when Force War was announced. There was a lot that this could cover. There were members of the Sith species chastised for being too fond of the Dark Side. There was a Galaxy-wide threat in need of fighting off. Between the title and Force Storm, I could only assume that both were going to be resolved.

To anybody who followed Prisoner of Bogan (or my review of it), it was clear this wasn't going to be the case. This wasn't a story of various tales about the history of the Jedi, spread out over the millennia. This is a story about a single group of individuals over the course of a few years, at best. That's not to say that it couldn't still cover both, and Prisoner of Bogan indicated a very powerful Darksider intent on becoming leader of the Je'daii. It's also a single story arc in a decompressed style focusing heavily on the undersold romance of a Je'daii and a Rakata Force hound.

Unfortunately, Force War spends much of its time pretending that much of Prisoner of Bogan never happened. At the start of Force War, Daegen Lok is in charge of the Je'daii forces defending the Tythan system against the Rakata. That is to say, the villain that we have seen invent new Dark Side powers, attempt to murder those who aided him, and try to raise an army of war criminals to take over the Je'daii is now treated as the lovable rogue who is just too useful not to be in charge. His entire redemption occurred off-screen. The closest analogy to this I can think of is if Jabba the Hutt became a general at the Battle of Endor, or if Count Dooku spent the first Act of Revenge of the Sith fighting alongside Obi-Wan. A story could definitely be told to redeem him, or of the necessities of war forcing him to the front line, but this story is never told, and it is no less jarring in the context given than either of the two examples above would have been.

A significant portion of the story is spent “fleshing out” the romance between Shae Koda and Xesh. I say “fleshing out” in quotes because this love story suffers the same way that many love stories in Star Wars do, especially in comics: characters are shown to have a vague connection that has nothing to do with romance, help each other out from time to time, announce their love for one another, and then sleep together. This is, of course, key in Xesh's redemption – more on that later – but it makes the story feel even more as though a chapter was missed between Prisoner of Bogan and Force War.

The other main plot of Force War features Predor Skal'nas redeems his investment. Throughout Force War and Prisoner of Bogan it is alluded to the fact that Xesh doesn't remember everything about his purpose on Tython, and that he may be responsible for the death of his own Predor. This plot pays dividents in Force War, in which Skal'nas reveals Xesh to be a sleeper agent sent to kill Tul'kar and infiltrate the Jed'aii. During this, Trill reveals her true purpose and betrays the Sith, Sek'nos. Sek'nos barely restrains himself from killing her in a fit of rage, held in check only by a reminder from a Jed'aii Master.

While it starts off weak, Force War ends strong. Tasha Ryo, torn between her duties in Force Storm, finds herself with a clear duty in Force War and sacrifices herself to defeat the Rakata. The war isn't followed to every last detail, but the actions taken by the protagonists set the stage for the defeat of the Rakata (which, lore suggests, sets the stage for the foundation of the Republic). The purpose of the Tho Yor that brought the ancestors of the Jed'aii to Tython is revealed, as is their creators: the Kwa.

Force War isn't terrible, and neither is it perfect. It is more of an ending than Prisoner of Bogan (for which I'm thankful) but it still doesn't feel like an ending. The story plays out as if it were planned by a team who knew they would get three volumes, but weren't sure whether or not they would get four. There are a lot of unanswered questions, but many of them are in the “it's a new era for the planet” vein rather than the “what's going on with this plot thread” way. The Forcesaber thing still bugs me, but the rest of the openings only stand out to me because of what I had hoped Force War would be about and know what it can be about, not because they are gaping holes. If not for Trill and Xesh's arc, I would almost recommend to skip Prisoner of Bogan and go straight to Force War, but it feels like you would be missing something by doing so. Ultimately, I leave it up to the reader as to which would trouble you more: the missing development of Daegen Lok, or missing some of Xesh's development.

Friday, March 20, 2015

7 Days of Legends: Dawn of the Jedi–Prisoner of Bogan

Prisoner of Bogan

I have never been so glad to read optional tangential material in the order that I did with Dawn of the Jedi. Of course, this seems to be fairly intentional. Despite the fact Force Storm actually starts around the same time as Into the Void and ends several days later (not counting the novel's epilogue), Into the Void was released later and appears on most accounts of the metaseries after Force Storm. This could be for the very simple reason that the comic was the progenitor of the series, but the benefit to it all is that almost all of the background ideas in Prisoner of Bogan are introduced in Into the Void.

This starts in the prelude novella, Dawn of the Jedi: Eruption. Originally featured in Star Wars: Insider, Eruption was included in Into the Void as a crossover between Hawk Ryo from the comics and Lanoree Brock of Into the Void. While Force Storm treated Hawk as a generic Jedi without having much to say about him, Eruption mentions the fact that he has a history with the Dark Side and is a bit more comfortable giving into his anger than the average Jedi. Into the Void, by comparison, features Lanoree Brock traveling from planet to planet within the Tython system, including spending a good amount of time on Nox.

Nox, along with several other planets, is featured in Prisoner of Bogan, although not in as great detail. Perhaps more importantly, the general opinion of the Je'dai throughout the system is equal between the two: generally, they're feared, but not very well liked. Not much different than the Jedi around the time of the Clone Wars, actually.

In Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm, a Rakata starship in search of territory to invade crash-lands on Tython. The one survivor is Xesh, a human slave of the Rakata and a powerful Force-sensitive who the Rakata trained in the use of the Dark Side. After being defeated by the Je'dai – largely because he chooses to save their lives against a Tythan monster – Xesh is then sent to dwell on his predilection toward the Dark Side on the moon Bogan, from whence this story begins.

Prisoner of Bogan is, like Into the Void, a chase across the Tython system. Unlike Into the Void, there are two different hunting parties chasing the query. The titular Prisoner of Bogan, Daegan Lok, is a madman who has seen visions of an army of Force-saber (or possibly lightsaber, which is a similar technology) wielding soldiers advancing. His goal is to raise such an army, take over the Je'dai by Force, and lead the Jedi in the defense of the Tython system. Once he discovers Xesh's knowledge, he takes him with him and begins to act on this. The Je'dai are hunting them, for obvious reasons, but so are the Rakata, trailing Xesh.

Unfortunately, this concept is as far as this story goes. Unlike most modern comic collections, Prisoner of Bogan does not tell a story. It tells a middle chapter. There is really no beginning or end here, despite the fact that Force Storm clearly functions as a self-contained event and there is no reason to give Force War extra baggage when it's got, you know, a war to tell.

The one other writing problem is that it recognizes the inherent problems of Bogan without doing anything to address them. The concept of Bogan is that it is a prison where individuals who are falling or have fallen to the Dark Side are exiled in order to meditate and find their way back to the light. It is sort of like locking violent criminals in a wrestling ring with no hope of respite for the violence, or like trying to cure slash fiction addicts by locking their browsers to only slashfic.org. If somebody really wants to get back to society and truly feels that they've made a mistake, this is a terrible prison, and they might be able to meditate themselves back to rehabilitation. For anybody who is honestly falling to the Dark Side, on the other hand, this is the most worthless form of rehab imaginable.

Those are pretty much the only complaints I have about the writing. As installments of a monthly comic, this is fine. It's not the best story ever, but it is perfectly reasonable as a continuation. Unfortunately, “perfectly reasonable as a continuation” limits the amount of people I can recommend this to.

The artwork is much of the same. It's fine. It lives up to the high standards of what we expect from the current Star Wars comic team. And that's about it. There's nothing I can particularly glorify, nothing to complain about. For many others this would be an artistic accomplishment, but for the team behind Republic/Clone Wars, Legacy, and now Dawn of the Jedi, it's run of the mill.

There is one issue I've had with the visuals, but since I can't seem to find any other reference to this online, it might only a be a problem with my specific copy. That problem is the lettering. It seems the spaces between words – or even letters – was left out, and all of the text is crammed as tightly within a section of the speech bubbles as possible. Unfortunately, I have no way to tell without buying another copy if this is a standard problem or just one with the copy I bought. If anybody else owns this, please let me know whether you've faced any problems with the lettering.

While this volume doesn't give much to recommend it on its own merits, it is the middle chapter of a great series so far. Dawn of the Jedi has something for fans of any element in the Star Wars universe, or for Science Fiction or fantasy fans in general. My recommendation is to take a look at Force Storm and if you like it enough to continue the series, pick up Prisoner of Bogan and Force Wars both.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

7 Days of Legends: Dawn of the Jedi–Into the Void by Tim Lebbon

DawnOfTheJediIntoTheVoidCoverIf you’re following along chronologically, the third entry in this series was reviewed here due to a scheduling issue. Don’t worry though; you’re not missing much.

As of its release on May 7th of 2013, Tim Lebbon’s Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void became the earliest novel in the Star Wars universe.  This is not unusual.  In fact, since I started reviewing Star Wars novels in 2009, this has happened seven times.  In 2009, Darth Bane: Path of Destruction was the start of novel history.  In July of the following year, Fatal Alliance, the first novel celebrating the upcoming release of The Old Republic brought the start of the timeline back by about 2,600 years.  Later that year, Red Harvest was set two years earlier.  In march of 2011, The Old Republic: Deceived brought the start of the timeline back by about a decade, and eight months later Drew Karpyshyn’s Revan gave us another big leap, this time about 300 years, closing the gap between the earliest games and their novels.  In July of 2012, Lost Tribe of the Sith was released in paperback, bridging another gap- this time, between novels and comics.  Except for the fact that a new comic series was released- the one I just spent the last two weeks talking about.

As trends in fiction go, this is one that I like.  Ever since I read the then-recent Tales of the Jedi in the late ‘90s, I’ve wanted to see novels exploring the origins of the Jedi and the Sith.  The most appealing story to me, that of the Second Great Schism, hasn’t been written yet (neither has the Third, another story I’m looking forward to) but Dawn of the Jedi does seem to be leading down the line toward the First Schism.

That’s a story for another day, though.  We’re here to talk about Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void, a story set cocurrent with the Dawn of the Jedi comics, yet chronicling a different story.  Which means that the title is essentially piggy-backing off of another popular product.  Thankfully, the stories share enough similarities that they can be called a series; the second half of Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm seems to take place around the climax of Into the Void, though there is no hour by hour comparison to speak of.

Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void tells the tale of Lanoree Brock, Je’daii Ranger, or the equivalent of a Jedi Knight.  It’s written in the style of Highlander, where the training and its introduction into the mystical world is as important as the here and now, if not moreso.  On one hand, it tells the story of Lanoree and her companion Tre Sana as they chase after and repeatedly face a deadly and charismatic criminal, a man who would destroy hundreds of people and risk destroying tens of thousands more for the sake of fulfilling his goals.  On the other, it tells of Lanoree undertaking her Great Journey - the training of the Je’daii - when this man was just her younger brother, with hints of darkness in him.

Tim Lebbon gives us a strong story that hits most of the right notes.  The link between our hero and villain is strong enough to make up for the lack of depth in the villain (we never really see anything approaching Dal’s point of view).  The action is strong and each movement of the characters is a brushstroke against the tapestry that tells us of the Tython system.  Lebbon keeps you wanting to know more about the characters and the setting, doling out even portions to ensure that you don’t over-indulge on this information.

This even-handedness, ultimately, is what may leave some readers feeling unfilled.  Lanoree shows hints of personality quirks, but ultimately comes across as a flawless hero with no serious inner conflict.  Once they leave Kalimahr - a world that acts as the “tutorial” to start setting up Lanoree, Tre and the system - the story consists of three separate strings of find Dal, fight Dal, leave.  While this succeeds at keeping the success of the mission at large in question, it cuts out much of the other suspense.  The novel clocks in at a measly 263 pages, and lengthening the book by even as little as ten percent could have evened it out and saved some of these issues.  The recurring ideas - pride, charismatic monstrosity and the ease with which one may lose inner balance - could have been developed into serious themes that built off of one another.  To take that one step farther, if Lanoree had been forced to deal with her own inner struggles than the ethical questions surrounding certain powers (powers that, fans know, will ultimately lead to the first two Great Schisms) the ending could have been both ambiguous and powerful, rather than a resolution that feels very much like winding down and putting a character out to pasture so that the comics can finish the story.

While this story leaves some of its potential out, what it does do, it does well.  The action in particular is gripping, and I have a feeling if I were to dig into his previous twenty nine novels that action would be something all of them do well.  The Great Journey and other details about the Je’daii are great reading, possibly the best in the book.  Taken as a whole with Force Storm, this paints a very strong picture of the world that these characters live in, though aside from including brief references to both Force Storm and Prisoner of Bogan, this novel can be taken easily on its own.

Set in the years prior to the foundation of the Republic, Dawn of the Jedi is in the precarious position of being lower tech than Star Wars - than Star Trek even - yet still effectively thousands of years in our future.  The Tython system was colonized millennia ago, but faster than light travel has not happened yet.  This produces the usual awkward mix of slugthrowers and laser pistols, ships that take months to get to the furthest reaches of the system, and battle droids.  This isn’t done any more poorly than could be expected, but is another thing that taking some more time to flesh out and describe would have helped with.  Still, it’s a hard level of technology to convey completely, and no points are lost for it.

Like the technology, the Force has the status of being powerful and ten thousand years into its history as well as not being as refined as it is in more modern eras.  This is coupled with the fact that, as in the comics, Tython is a vergence in the Force.  Think the cave on Dagobah, except spread across the entire planet, and filled with Jedi (or at least Je’daii).  This is portrayed by having lots of powerful techniques such as alchemy and other things that are generally considered to be either lost or forbidden by the Rise of the Empire era, but without more subtle techniques that would be virtually impossible and unstudied on a world where a minor flex creates ripples of Force.

While Lanoree Brock gains absolutely no characterization from her specifics - she and Dal could have been gender- or species-swapped and would not change in the slightest - I’m actually okay with that, though I do feel that these repeated decisions to make every protagonist a Caucasian human stink of backward-thinking editorial interference.  I do feel that at this stage of society a few characters who are female but do not push that fact in the audience’s face are needed; it’s the variety that I feel is important, and with enough variety both female characters that are informed by their gender and that merely happen to be female will both become common enough that there will no longer be a need to advocate for them.  I do like the idea of a sister taking on the role of protector of her sibling, something that is common enough for older sisters to probably not have any agenda while still acting as the barest idea for a role model for girls in a story that does not require any such thing.  Still, I want to stress these are surface aspects of the character, which I have to admit will bother certain people that want to see these aspects fleshed out as much as I want to see Lanoree’s struggle with her own pride fleshed out.

While I’m dealing with issues bigger than this book (literally, when you look at the page count), I should mention that any idea of heteronormativity in this book is purely the result of fan-’shipping; all sexualities are ignored equally and there is not a hint of romance or intimacy between any characters present.  I am now thoroughly uncomfortable and prepared for authors and fans alike to poke holes in my statements about minor issues that do not effect the story at large.

While Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void is an enjoyable book and I do not regret buying it, it is both too short and too shallow to recommend full hardcover price for it.  It is easily worth the price of a paperback, and waiting for that version is not going to damage the intentions of fans that are following Dawn of the Jedi along step by step, as both stories are fairly independent from one another aside from the areas where they tie together.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

7 Days of Legends: Dawn of the Jedi–Eruption by John Ostrander

Eruption

Ever since Star Wars: Gamer started publishing short stories, Star Wars developed a proud tradition of publishing free short stories in order to promote upcoming fiction releases.  Sometimes these would be promoted to fans that were already reading Star Wars: Gamer, then Star Wars: Insider after Gamer’s run ended.  Sometimes, these stories would be published online.  Star Wars short fiction had been collected and published for years, but it wasn’t until West End Games’ Star Wars Adventure Journal stopped being published in 1997 (the same year that I watched the Star Wars trilogy on the big screen, which may or may not be a coincidence) that it served a purpose other than allowing authors to write fan fiction in their favorite series.  In 1999, two major novel lines were launched by Del Rey for Star Wars: The New Jedi Order, a series of 19 novels that are still the best-remembered Star Wars literature project of more than three books, and tie in novels to the new prequel trilogy movies.  Both the first line of Clone Wars books and the New Jedi Order made their full use of this idea of using free short stories to encourage people to pay for long ones, with Emissary of the Void having become the only reason that a lot of fans remember that Star Wars Gamer existed.

Dawn of the Jedi: Eruption comes from this proud tradition, and as such, it isn’t a very long story.  Like several other short stories (the earliest probably being James Luceno’s Ebook novella Darth Maul: Saboteur), Eruption was folded into the covers of the novel it existed to promote: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void.  While Into the Void was written by Star Wars newcomer Tim Lebbon, Eruption was written by John Ostrander, writer of over one hundred Star Wars comics and, to my knowledge, no previous prose stories.

Ostrander writes about Lanoree Brock, the heroine of Into the Void and Twi’lek Je’daii Hawk Ryo from the Dawn of the Jedi comics.  The two are tasked with dealing with labor negotiations and the hostage situation that sprung from it, in the midst of a literal eruption of the volcanic sort.  The twin roles give a good showing of what the Je’daii mean for the Tython system, which has both similarities and differences to what the Jed mean to the Republic in its twilight years.

The short story, published in April of 2013 and a week before Into the Void, is a fair introduction to the setting for new readers.  Fans of the comic series will see it as a short aside, an introduction to a new character, and a day in the life of more experienced Je’daii than the stars of Force Storm, while prose-exclusive readers will see their introduction to the Je’daii weapon - the longsword - the ideology of balance, and the chaotic brother-versus-brother and neighbor-versus-neighbor life of the Tythan colonies.

As would be expected, Lanoree Brock stands out as the star of this story.  Hawk acts as an action hero, doing nothing that you wouldn’t expect from the average Jedi Guardian (though he does it well).  Brock, on the other hand, handles the negotiations, which she rightly identifies as the more difficult task, through a combination of intimidation, timing and persuasion, she identifies a poisoning attempt by scent and talks a confession out of the culprit, and perhaps most importantly, treats it all as part of a day’s work.  This would get a little overblown in the actual novel, but for a teaser, it does a good job.

If there’s anything I feel this story is lacking for its length, it’s the sense of being part of something greater.  Comparing it again to Darth Maul: Saboteur, it was clear that that story was just a minor mission leading up to something greater.  Eruption makes a mention of being summoned to Tython for the briefing at the beginning of Into the Void at the end, but that’s about it.  There’s no sense of the calm before the storm, which helps the story feel self-contained, but doesn’t give you any feeling of anticipation of the book to come.

I wouldn’t recommend hunting down Insider #141 just for the sake of reading this story, but if you have an interest in Into the Void or already have a reason to read Star Wars: Insider (and let’s face it, I don’t need a specific reason to want to read more Star Wars: Insider), give Dawn of the Jedi: Eruption a look before reading Into the Void.  You can treat it as a sort of Chapter 0, introducing you to the character before she meets with the Masters on Tython.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

7 Days of Legends: Dawn of the Jedi–Force Storm

 

Force StormDue to a scheduling issue, the third post in this series has gone live already. Let’s back up and start at the beginning of the Star Wars Legends universe!

I was a little skeptical when Dawn of the Jedi was announced.  It came out right around a time that I was feeling a bit disillusioned by Star Wars.  Decisions by writers and editors for Del Rey, decisions involved in the writing of The Clone Wars, ultimately I was feeling like the Star Wars that had been the better part of a decade of my life was over.  I’ve also always had a bit of skepticism about Star Wars comics, not because Dark Horse has ever dropped the ball, but because there’s generally more Star Wars Dark Horse releases in a year than paychecks.

What wasn’t I taking into account?  John Ostrander and Jan Duursema.  This pair has become a comic-making machine that is synonymous with everything good about Star Wars.  Their last major project was Star Wars: Legacy, a project that combined influences from Clone Wars (the retitled earlier Star Wars: Republic comic series), New Jedi Order, the Darth Bane novels, Dark Empire, and of course the six episodes (not counting those that were released between the writing and publishing of this article) without alienating anybody who had not read them, all while telling a new and unique story about an original era in the Star Wars universe, set decades after any established canon.

Apparently, someone behind the scenes at Dark Horse saw this and gave them a similar project, upping the ante by giving them a world that acts as a prequel to Knights of the Old Republic- in addition to setting up things like the great schisms and other historical events.  In a manner that I would trust very few creative teams to pull off as instinctually, humans are as much of a minority here as they were on Geonosis prior to the advent of hundreds of Jedi.  Twelve species, (one of which I don’t recognize) not to mention multiple complexions of human, are present in the first issue, and it doesn’t take a Mos Eisley cantina scene or a burgeoning urban hub in order to pull it off.  To top it off, the art here is absolutely gorgeous, everything that I’ve come to expect from a comic with this team working on it.

Dawn of the Jedi starts off with a deus ex machina, a squadron of eight ships traveling the galaxy to collect Force-sensitive individuals and bring them to one place.  I wanted to complain about this, but the fact of the matter is, this is during the heyday of the Rakatan Infinite Empire and the wane of the influence of the Celestials.  The fact of the matter is that this sort of shit happened all the time in this era of galactic history.  While I do feel that this sequence will be a lot stronger if the creative team explains what happened at some point, this matches well enough with established history that to complain about this would require me to take issue with the existence of Corellian humans.

After we see the various Force-sensitives forced to deal with the deadly world of Tython, we move forward about a thousand years, learning the history of the system in the process.  In the years prior to the existence of widespread hyperspace, this sort of event is really the only way we’re likely to see a system populated by so many species- especially without those species having been gathered as slaves of the Rakata.  Between a volatile planet that only Force users can manage to survive on and about as many species as Episodes V  and VI combined, a rather heated history springs up rather quickly.

Tython itself starts solving mysteries as it is essentially a dark Force planet that requires its inhabitants to learn "alchemy" in order to survive. Alchemy in Star Wars essentially means altering the nature of things with a combination of Force techniques and tools, with the best known examples being Sith swords and creatures such as Palpatine's crystal rancors. Most often alchemy is seen applied to monstrous creatures, and most often prior to the Second Great Schism. Dawn of the Jedi gives us a reason: many of the creatures of Tython are Force mutants naturally, and even regular monsters such as rancors can hardly be seen as dangerous on such a planet.

Off of Tython, Dawn features the Rakata, the dominant space traveling race of this time. Reference guides tell us that their technology was powered by the Force, they kept slaves, and a revolt among their many slave races eventually led to the development of hyperspace travel and the formation of the Republic. Force Storm shows us that the Rakata are as brutal as any historical villain species, apparently invented lightsabers superior to anything the Je’daii (later to become the Jedi) will have for several thousand years, and use Force user slaves (named “hounds”) in place of navicomps.

We watch one of these hounds as he first proves himself the strongest slave of the Rakata, then kills everybody on his ship (off-screen) before fighting our other main characters and disappearing into Tython’s deadly wilderness.  These other main characters are a pair of Jedi apprentices, each with different strengths and backgrounds.  The one that stands out to me is a Sith, a species we see rarely and one that would, in later years, be synonymous with evil and domination.  This is a different brand of Sith, a member of a family who has been separated from their species for a thousand years, though I imagine in later volumes his descendants will be pivotal when the escaping Dark Jedi choose a destination.

This volume isn’t particularly big on character development- there’s no room for that.  They’re too busy setting up several brand new cultures, not to mention a world. There is some character development- as I stated earlier, each character has a different personality, backstory, and specialty in the Force (and yes, the Sith’s specialty involves the Dark Side).  But that’s really all when it comes to characters and personalities.  And I didn’t mind that- it was interesting reading about the origins of Ashla and Bogan (they were originally the names of the two moons of Tython, and became synonymous with the Light and Dark Sides, respectively), and seeing all of these cultures coming together at the dawn of galactic civilization.

This pilot drew me in, with some questions that I hope will be answered, character paths that will be interesting to follow, and a lot of potential for development.  This is a fitting start for this journey- the very beginning of the Star Wars universe, and a setting that works just as well to introduce someone to this setting.  If this is what Star Wars is doing today, then maybe I feel a lot better about where this journey is going to end up than I did when I planned it.

Monday, March 16, 2015

An Unearthly Podcast: Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel

 

In our 96th episode, the AUP crew steps into another universe: the modern era of Doctor Who and it's first Cyberman multi-parter, "Rise of the Cybermen" / "The Age of Steel"

Sunday, March 15, 2015

TV Shows: Week of Feb 23 to Mar 1

 

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In order to better justify the time that I spend keeping up with various TV shows (though whether or not to continue calling them TV shows in a day where my TV sits dormant is up for debate), I thought it might be a good idea to share my thoughts on them in blog form. I want to note that these are not reviews in the strictest sense – these are perhaps mini-reviews, with my thoughts immediately upon rewatching them without additional research. Still, if you're on the edge about whether or not to watch any given Sci-Fi related show or you just want to know what I think about it, this column is for you.

Episodes are listed in the order I watched them, rather than the order of airing. If you're not sure about the airdate, Wikipedia is a useful tool. All episodes discussed have aired within a week of one another, however.

Gotham: Red Hood is a necessary companion to the previous week's episode. That episode was mentioned multiple times as a way to definitively introduce the Joker into the series, and indeed introduced a child that seemed to be possessed by the combined spirits of Mark Hamill and Jack Nicholson. “Red Hood”, therefore, is needed to complete this origin, by providing a title that the Joker held before actually becoming the Joker. As a standalone episode of Gotham, this episode is perfectly fine: it features an element of Gotham in a way that Jim Gordon must deal with it, before it would spiral out of control and become something Batman would need to deal with. Unfortunately, as part of a multi-pronted “Joker origin” it falls flat, simply because it has nothing to do with the previous story and not nearly the dramatic potential. The supporting stories crawled along at just the minimal required amounts and are not remotely worth mentioning.

Agent Carter: Valediction was the season finale and the end of the intermission that was Agent Carter Season 1. Ultimately, I prefer watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Rather than one likable star, a side-kick, and a handful of supporting characters mostly of varying degrees of unlikability, the parent show features arguably at least two leads in what functions more as an ensemble cast of protagonists. Either more or less importantly, I have no idea what Agent Carter's relationship to Marvel is, although I find the aesthetics and the characters of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to be more enjoyable.

Still, Agent Carter is its own show, and is likely to improve now that its main character has some degree of respect among her peers and isn't constantly hiding from them. Similarly, the only character with enough personality to be considered having one is also no longer in hiding. So, two points for next season. “Valediction” also gains points in treating a comic-style villain (a man who can hypnotize anyone who speaks with) seriously when there has been no note of such a thing in the show before. So, all told, “Valediction” was a success that paints the rest of the season bleakly yet makes me look forward to the next one.

Arrow: Nanda Parbat was disappointing. In fact, this entire season has been a waste of time. The villain from Season 1 does something horrible and Ollie defends him for barely defined reasons. Of course, this defines Mr. NoSupermanLetMeDie, but it still has led to some ridiculous actions on the behalf of Green Arrow. His goal this episode is just as bad: he is going to save the life of the man he failed to kill so that Thea doesn't feel responsible for his death. This, of course, being a villain that he either has to execute or will be forced to keep fighting him in future seasons of the show. It's getting beyond ridiculous. There are elements I enjoy about Arrow, but quite a few that I do not, and this episode has as much of the latter as it can without introducing Ollie to a new love interest.

Power Rangers: Dino Charge: Return of the Caveman just feels out of place. It's not that it doesn't work as an episode – as the fourth episode of the series, it would be rather difficult to make that assertion. Rather, the presence of Kota in Episode 3 was what was completely out of place, and switching these episodes would have fixed that without causing any problems. Other than the fact that I don't see how someone can live thousands of years without aging and still talk like a caveman (so many other ways they could have addressed this)