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The Road To Episode VII: The Column Awakens

Welcome to Forces of Geek’s Road to Episode VII. We are slightly under three months away from the release of the film and everyone is waiting with baited breath to see what the end result is going be.

Will the franchise, now under Disney’s control, reach new heights, or will their first attempt at the release of a new Star Wars film every year fail to connect with fans?

I personally have faith that Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and director J.J. Abrams will make December 18th a day long remembered.

New owners means new changes to the stories that we know and love. The Lucasfilm story group headed by Leland Chee has been charged with making one cohesive canon. From this point forward, all Star Wars novels and comic books, released by Marvel, are considered canon.

The 30 year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens leaves us with a bunch of unanswered questions about our favorite worlds and characters.

Let’s make the jump to lightspeed and review some of the stories that provide some insight as to where things stand in a galaxy far, far, away.

Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
Published by LucasBooks

Out of all the new Star Wars novels being released in the new canon, Aftermath had a crazy amount of hype surrounding it.

Would be this the second coming of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire or would this be something different and better?

Well, it’s different.  I can’t say it’s better, or even on par. Honestly, I can’t even say it’s that good.

If you read the book’s synopsis, we are led to believe that Wedge Antilles plays an integral role in the plot.

In reality, he’s a non-factor and that is barely in the book. This was extremely disappointing because many authors have done a great job at fleshing out Wedge as a character that means something and who does more than just sits in a cockpit.

Now that those books officially don’t count, getting something staring the leader of Rogue Squadron, that’s actually true canon, was ripe with possibilities that ended up being a sorely missed opportunity.

While we get some good tidbits leading to The Force Awakens with the side stories, the main story involving the fallout of a secret Imperial meeting on the planet Akiva was not the delicious bag of Halloween candy we were expecting.

Going back to the side stories, they were fun and hinted at some possible developments leading to TFA.

On Tatooine, heavily damaged and acid scared Mandolarian armor was found on a Sandcrawler, leading us to believe that Boba Fett might be alive. Even if this means something completely different, the tease itself was certainly meant to invoke warms fuzzies of everyone’s favorite bounty.

If Boba Fett is alive, is the character only meant to serve new canon material or will we see a senior citizen Fett on the silver screen?

Chuck Wendig’s writing, as it relates to the main story, felt like somebody who was trying to write Star Wars, but never quite found his footing. It’s possible that Wendig was creatively handcuffed by Lucasfilm in an effort to avoid spoilers for TFA. We won’t know for sure until we see the second book in the Aftermath trilogy.

If you absolutely need to know every piece of new canon material, then you should pick up this book, but don’t put it high on your list as there are other stories, such as the next book I’m going to talk about, that will provide more entertainment value while giving you what you want.

Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray 
Published by Disney Lucasfilm Press

When I first heard that four of the five Star Wars novels that were released on Force Friday were being marketed as Young Adult books, I stereotypically dismissed the idea of reading them due to my fear of pale moody Jedi and sparking Sith Lords.  However, one of the books titled Lost Stars has received a lot of praise with many calling it the best of the new canon novels.

I now even know why these books were labeled YA.

In its simplest form, the story follows two star-crossed lovers trying to find their place in the universe all while serving the Empire.

The success, misfortune and bedlam coupled with the intense and raw emotion displayed by youth produced a mature and thought provoking narrative along with interesting characters that have depth.

The main characters Ciena Ree (pronounced Sigh-EN-nah) and Thane Kyrell are from opposing social structures on outer-rim planet of Jelucan.

Ciena’s humble way of life and Thane’s noble upbringing fails to create the usual divide between the two as their love of flying and dream to join the Imperial Academy creates the strongest of bonds.

While tales of love and compassion are common place in the galaxy far, far away, it’s never been the Shakespearean “wherefore art thou, Romeo?”, and more along the lines are the characters finding themselves in each other while embarking an adventure with one another.

The New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray superbly make this story feel like Star Wars while incorporating familiar moments spanning eight years after the fall of the Old Republic through one year after Episode VI, such as the gunner who almost fired at C3PO and R2D2’s escape pod. Everything came across organically and never felt forced or out of place.

All of the story elements keep building with action, excitement and despair and never fall into the trap of being formulaic. Even the slightly predictable moments always have a little twist in them and the literary flow of the book is seamless as you never find yourself being taken out of this story that is exquisitely crafted.

Claudia Gray goes from great to near perfection as she takes full advantage of the reader’s emotional investment as you desperately want Ciena and Thane to be together. This is a challenging task considering they are Imperials. In fact, their shared dream of training to serve the Emperor is what made them so close. The bravery of the Rebel Alliance and the tyranny of the Empire is as black and white as is gets.

The idea that there are entire civilizations that love, cherish, and believe in the peace and security of the Empire never enters our minds.

Instead of having a reputation of being a dictator and dark lord, Palpatine’s reputation is more in line with The Pope where people are honored by his mere presence or even the mention of his name. This could have easily come off as a warped propaganda piece that paints the protagonists in a similar light. Instead, it all comes off naturally where it’s almost easy to see how the Rebels would be seen as terrorists as opposed to freedom fighters. That ideology wanes to varying degrees in the wake of Alderaan’s destruction as a different points of view begin to take shape.

Those who are desperate for clues regarding The Force Awakens will be satisfied as the final chapters provide a snap shot of the galaxies political climate after Return of the Jedi. We also discover how the crashed Star Destroyer in the second teaser trailer found its sandy grave on the desert planet of Jakku.

So far, this is my favorite book of the new canon. It’s easy to see the passion Claudia Gray has for this franchise and we should all hope that this isn’t the last time we see her name grace the cover of a Star Wars novel.

Star Wars: Shattered Empire #1
Written by Greg Rucka 
Art by Marco Checchetto 
Colored by Andres Mosas 
Published by Marvel Comics

If you’re a canon junkie, Greg Rucka gives you everything you need with this first installment that is fully designed to fill in the blanks.

From Han Solo’s reaction to Lando losing the radar dish on the Millennium Falcon, to creating how truly gangster the Ewoks can be, Rucka’s story is large in scope with giant-sized bread crumbs leading to what is currently an uncertain future.

The biggest development from the book is that we meet the parents of Poe Dameron who is the hotshot X-Wing pilot who will be played by Oscar Isaac in the upcoming film.

This probably explains some of Poe’s rumored character traits of having absolute commitment to The Resistance.

The artwork of Marco Cheecchetto knows no bounds as the final moments of the Death Star battle above Endor is an immersive experience that made me feel as if I had TIE-Fighters swarming all around me. The character work was not only spot on, but very expressive which complements Rucka’s dialog.

Besides giving several characters their time to shine, the emotional turmoil in the books closing moments resonates deeply when the scope of the Empire’s remaining might is revealed. Perhaps these are the first seeds to what eventually becomes The First Order.

Shattered Empire is one of the best single issue comics of the year. Color, art, and story are all beautifully in sync to produce an enthralling first chapter that creates even more excitement for the next issue, scheduled for an October 7th release.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for joining me on The Road to Episode VII.

May the Force Be With You.

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