Monthly Archives: April 2016

Star Wars EU Reviews: Marvel #1-6

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

Comics 1

The original Marvel Star Wars movie adaptation is not so much an adaptation of the film as it is an adaptation of the Alan Dean Foster novelisation. The same differences from the movie that are in the book are present in the comics. The X-Wings are Blue Squadron instead of Red Squadron, the deleted scenes are adapted, the word Sith is used once again, and so on.
Like last time the original opening crawl is missing, but instead of the Prologue we got in the book we have a new opening crawl which is drastically reworded from the crawl in the film.
In addition to the dialogue again being  jarringly different from the film much of the designs and imagery are strangely altered from the movie as well. Both of C3PO’s legs are gold, the interrogation/mindprobe is a humanoid droid instead of a floating sphere, and weirdest of all is the unusual depiction of Jabba the Hutt. If you remember from my review of the novelisation Jabba was described as jumping which indicated a non-canonical physique to Jabba. This is confirmed by the comic adaptation where Jabba is a bipedal humanoid wearing an orange uniform whose head looks like a yellow furry seal. This is a far cry from the slug we see in Return of the Jedi and the A New Hope Special Edition and no amount of imagination can come up with an explanation or jusification for this blatant contradiction of Star Wars lore.
Another thing that is different will please the “Han Shot First” protestors. In this adaptation, not only does Han shoot first, but he also shoots Greedo in mid-sentence with no warning whatsoever. I wonder how George Lucas would have felt about that!

One final comment I wish to make is on the original covers of the issues which are hilariously misleading. Issue #1 has a tagline on the cover saying, “Enter: Luke Skywalker! Will he SAVE the Galaxy – or DESTROY it?” Since when were any of us worried about Luke doing anything of the kind? Issue #2’s cover shows Obi-Wan and Luke having a standoff in the Cantina. I don’t remember that from the movie! Issue #4 depicts Luke attacking Lord Vader despite Obi-Wan’s protests. I am not sure what Luke was so pissed off about since Obi-Wan wasn’t even dead yet. Issue #5 Shows Yavin 4 getting blasted by the Death Star! Holy crap! And Issue #6 has a cover with Luke and Vader dueling each other both using red lightsabers! For some reason that I do not understand the comics had an aversion to showing Luke using a blue lightsaber as we shall see later.
I have no clue why these covers were used, but they give inaccurate expectations for what happens in the issues and I just have to laugh every time I see them.

Overall I think this adaptation is not necessary. It’s no different than the novelisation and the only reason to read it would be preparation for issues #7 onward in the Marvel Star Wars line. If you want to read graphic novelisations of the Star Wars saga there is an updated version of A New Hope using Special Edition imagery that is more tonally consistent with the other adaptations leaving this one skippable. If you wanna good laugh or just want to be a completist in reading Star Wars EU material then this adaptation is a must. Otherwise it is nothing special. Unless of course you are one of those people who gets a kick out of Biggs saying “So long, Piggy.” after Porkins gets shot down. Yes, that actually happens.

Check in next time for my review of issues #7-10 of the Marvel Star Wars line and may the Force be with you.

Star Wars EU Reviews: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

Book 2

I have to be honest; I was not expecting much from this book going in. The Post-90’s EU era is what most EU fans are referring to when they praise it while the late 70’s/early 80’s was a different story. This was when the Star Wars comics Marvel was producing were going for a more Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon feel and the books were not taking any continuity with the comics and other media very seriously. This was the era that gave us the Holiday Special, had Luke having the hots for his sister big time, a six-foot green bunny rabbit joining forces with Han Solo, and blue and green skinned aliens with wings believing Luke was their messiah. It was a bizarre era where the EU was campy, kitschy, and in extreme conflict with the generally accepted canon of Star Wars lore.
So I must confess my surprise when Alan Dean Foster’s 1978 novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was actually good. If you remember what I said in my last review I was not a big fan of Foster’s prose. Here it is vastly improved and even better, the story is pretty damn good.

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was a project assigned to Foster to write what would become the official sequel to A New Hope – when it was still just called Star Wars – if the original film performed only modestly at the box office. Obviously Star Wars was a big hit and this book was never adapted into film. Instead we got The Empire Strikes Back which is in my opinion (and a lot of other people’s) the best of the Saga.
But, before all that Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was intended to be a low-budget sequel with no space battles, limited sets, and only the contractually obligated actors returning. Harrison Ford never signed on for three films opting instead to renegotiate his contract for each individual film in the trilogy which means Han Solo is no where to be found in this book. The only returning characters from A New Hope are Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, and the two droids C3PO and R2-D2.

The story is fairly simple. Luke and Leia are traveling to planet Circarpous IV intending to negotiate the currently neutral world to side with the Rebel Alliance rather than the evil Galactic Empire. Unfortunately, mining on Circarpous V – known locally as Mimban – causes atmospheric anomalies resulting in Luke, Leia, and the droids to crash on Mimban.
Mimban is a swampy tropical planet which I pictured in my head as sort of a combination of Dagobah and Yavin 4. After Luke and Leia meet up again after the crash they disguise themselves as miners and discover the Empire is running an illegal mining operation on the planet.
At a cantina Luke and Leia are approached by an old woman named Halla – who kind of reminds of Maz Kanata from The Force Awakens – who is a non-Jedi Force-sensitive who is seeking a powerful relic called the Kaiburr crystal which amplifies the abilities of a Force-sensitive who comes in contact with it. Halla owns a small shard of it, but desires the whole thing. In exchange for helping her find it she promises to help Luke and Leia get offworld so they can make to Circarpous IV to continue their negotiations.
During this time Luke had been pretending Leia was his servant to disguise her identity, however the way he treats her to make the effect convincing angers her and they get into a physical altercation outside of the cantina after making the deal with the Halla. This unfortunately draws the attention of other miners who interfere causing Luke to draw his lightsaber inevitably leading Luke and Leia to be arrested and brought before the sadistic Captain-Supervisor Grammel. This Imperial officer is small, petty man who gloats in what little power he has over those under him. He has Luke and Leia thrown into a cell just prior to receiving a report that an Imperial governor named Essada is interested in the prisoners for undisclosed reasons. Hoping to earn himself a promotion and higher esteem within the Empire he tried to interrogate the prisoners to learn what Essada could possibly want with them. When they do not cooperate he leaves them in their cell in frustration.
Their cell is shared with two large furry sentient aliens called Yuzzem who had been arrested for public drunkenness. Luke who has experience with this species befriends them. Halla ends up coming to their rescue and the group, including the two Yuzzem – named Kee and Hin – hijack a speeder and steal back the two droids. After a few misadventures involving a giant worm trying to eat them in the forest the group is divided after Luke and Leia fall into a pit.
Journeying on hoping to meet back up with their comrades the pair are captured by a species indigenous to the planet known as the Coway. They are a highly superstitious, tribal culture that hates humans believing them all alike after previous run-ins with Stormtroopers and Imperial officers. Luke and Leia find their companions also captured and Luke is told the only way to free himself and his friends is to battle in hand-to-hand combat one the Coway warriors. Luke reluctantly does so and defeats the Coway by using the Force to hurl a rock at his enemy’s head immobilising him. The Coways honour their agreement and free the captives and offer them hospitality.
The pace of the story quickens up after this with the Coways befriending the group and defeating a force of Stormtroopers after the Empire discovers their location. The Kaiburr crystal is found in an ancient temple devoted to a deity called Pomojema and there Luke battles Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel. The power of the Kaiburr crystal makes Luke a match for Vader and Luke ends up defeating the Dark Lord who falls into a pit. Luke, however, senses in the Force that Vader is still alive.
Halla claims she no longer desires the crystal and says it would be better in the hands of the Jedi rather than an untrained Force-sensitive who would only use it for parlour tricks and personal gain. Luke and Leia agree to take Halla with them offworld where she will be left to decide if she wishes to join the Rebellion or go where she will.

     Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is a much better story than anything in the contemporary Marvel comics had to offer. It was not campy, it respected the idea of the Force where the comics mostly tried to ignore it, and the old characters felt true to themselves and the new characters were interesting. It took me only about a couple days to read and it never bored me. It was fun and exciting being everything you would expect from one of the Star Wars movies. One notable detail is that this is the first instance of the word Force-sensitive being used in the EU or canon which is another example of concepts I thought were more recent existing further back in the Star Wars mythology.
Some things that may put some readers off is, of course, the many passages where Luke thinks about his feelings toward Leia. Modern Star Wars fans all know that Leia is his sister and some may find these emotions creepy. However, to be fair, Luke was not aware Leia was his sister and the attraction he has to her is apparent in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and not just the early EU. It is not entirely unreasonable he would be attracted to a girl his own age if he was not aware that they were relatives. And remember this is 1978. I doubt even George Lucas even knew they were siblings at this point!
Another thing that is a bit bothersome for modern readers is that Darth Vader addresses Luke Skywalker by name during their fight. This would of course reveal that Vader already knows that he is Luke’s father. The only explanation I can think of for Vader’s silence on the issue is that he may not have considered converting Luke to the Dark Side yet and so had no reason to tell him. At this point the Dark Lord was so steeped in the Dark Side of the Force that I doubt he was above killing his own son if he felt the need. It was feelings of emotional conflict later on that led him to try to bring Luke to the Dark Side and tell him who he was. This all goes to show that most issues with continuity are manageable if the reader is imaginative enough to provide an explanatory background to ostensible contradictions that crop up here and there.
But there was one thing in this book I really disliked and I shall point it out briefly here. I really did not care for the scene where Luke and Leia brawl outside of the cantina. As I said above the book kept their characters faithful for the most part, but here is where I question their acting like themselves. Leia trying to humiliate Luke by kicking him in the mud leading to a fight I thought was stupid and I would have rather seen them get arrested a different way in the story.
Otherwise, this was a fun read and an excellent story set in the Star Wars universe. I highly recommend it and I hope fellow EU newcomers like myself enjoy it as much as I have.

Check in next time for my review of the Marvel Comics adaptation of A New Hope (Issues #1-6 of the Marvel line) and may the Force be with you.

Star Wars EU Reviews: A New Hope Novelization

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

Book 1

Welcome to the first entry in a series of reviews on the Star Wars Expanded Universe or EU for short. I shall be going over books, comics, games, and even Television shows and films that have spawned in the Star Wars universe for the past 40 years. And yes I will do a review of the notorious Holiday Special in the future.
Now while I am a big fan of the Star Wars universe, I must confess that I am just now recently getting into the EU. Aside from the films which I have seen dozens of times since I was a little kid I have explored very little of the expanded media Star Wars has to offer. I have played both KOTOR games and watched bits and pieces of the TV shows, but I never really got into the books or comics until recently. I am not a big fan of the idea of Expanded Universes in general as I said in a previous post of mine, but with The Force Awakens splitting extreme fans of the EU and fans excited for the new movies I have decided to give a closer examination of the EU and see what the fuss is all about.
Now one could ask why I am daring to work on a review project like this if I have no experience in the EU. Well, the reason is because I thought it would be a good idea to produce a series of EU reviews not as a long-time fan, but as a newcomer giving first time impressions. Most reviewers of this stuff are long time fans and I wanted to give the readers of this blog a bird’s eye view of someone exploring the EU for the first time and see his observations as he goes along. This means my reviews will come out as I myself move forward in reading and watching (or playing) the various EU stories that have accumulated in the past 4 decades years and so I won’t be reviewing from the angle of someone who knows what comes next or what to expect later on. As of this writing I have not read the Thrawn Trilogy or the New Jedi Order. I know virtually nothing of Dark Empire, Crimson Empire, Dark Forces, or Tales of the Jedi. And I do not have an opinion about Grey Jedi, Jaina and Jacen Solo, or Yuuzhan Vong (whatever the hell those are). But I will learn about them and the reader will see my own progress as I publish these reviews. Bear in mind that this will undoubtably cause these posts to be sporadic in their production schedule. I am not even gonna try to fool myself or anyone else by declaring this a weekly or monthly series like I did with the Top 5 Things series which has gone on indefinite hiatus. Be prepared to wait. I read a lot of different things and I get busy and with the massive amount of content to go through in addition to other personal commitments this will take some time.

That all being said here is the first review beginning with the novelisation of the first movie published in 1976.
A common misconception that needs to be avoided regarding this book is the notion that George Lucas is one who wrote it. Pretty much every copy of this book you find will have him named as the author and this has led people to think he penned it.However, the truth is that this was actually ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster who among other things later wrote Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and The Approaching Storm. Lucas indeed wrote the script for the film and this story is without a doubt his own, but it was Foster who actually penned the novelisation. Now with that out of the way I can go on.
One of the things that stands out the most about this novel is the differences it has between itself and the actually movie that was released nearly 6 months later the following year. Much of the dialogue is subtly different with phrases and words not being exactly how they were said in the film. This is not a big deal, but if you are like me and grew up with the movie to the point you can say back the dialogue word for word the differences can be jarring to a reader who finds himself stumbling on the differences if he makes the mistake of trying to hear the movie’s dialogue in his head as he reads this.
Another difference that is quite shocking is the prologue. Instead of the text of the opening crawl as seen in the movie we get a strange excerpt from a fictional book called From the First Saga: Journal of the Whills. Now I do not know what this book is, but the claims it makes in the excerpt are interesting to those of who have seen the Prequels. The prologue gives a brief summary of the Empire and how it arose. In one passage it says, “Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic….Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears.”
This gives the reader the impression that Palpatine was just naive and easily manipulated by flattery and his own ambitions rather than the conniving, manipulative Dark Lord of the Sith as we see in Return of the Jedi and the Prequels. Also note that he became “President of the Republic” rather than Supreme Chancellor as the Prequels clearly state.
And speaking of the Sith this book refers to Darth Vader as a Lord of the Sith which of course is correct, but the word Sith was not used in any of the films until the Prequels came out and it is interesting to see that the term has existed in George Lucas’s mythology this early on.
There were some differences that I really liked. Many of the deleted scenes only watchable (legally) on disc 8 of the Blu-ray set are included in the novelisation. I am fine with the scenes removed from the film because they would have slowed the movie down, but in this book they are a welcome sight. We get to see Luke and Biggs at Tosche Station just before Biggs tells Luke about his plans to join the Rebellion. What’s great about this scne is that it explores a side of their friendship making the scene where Biggs dies during the assault on the Death Star more meaningful. In the original version of the film Biggs is introduced right before the assault begins so there is a complete lack of character development that leaves us wondering why Luke was so shaken by his death when so many other X-Wing pilots perished before him. The book helps explain that.
The scene where Han confronts Jabba the Hutt in the Docking Bay is also included. We never got to see this on film until the 1997 Special Edition and the scene is just as unnecessary and repetitive in the book as it was in the film. In fact, in the book it is even worse because Jabba is described as jumping with surprise when Han Solo approaches him (a feat obviously impossible for a Hutt). It is apparent that a very non-canonical vision of Jabba is implied in this book’s text and this is later confirmed in the Marvel comics adaptation which I will review in the third entry of this series.
Other differences are mild. Some of the names of the Imperial staff in the conference room scene are different and instead of the Red Squadron X-Wings attacking the Death Star as in the film they are described as Blue Squadron. These are minor though and do not really affect my enjoyment of the book.

Overall the book is a very faithful adaptation of the film with some added content and differences to make a curious reader have something new to look forward to. Otherwise the book is not essential reading and watching the movie is really all you need to do.
Some complaints I have is Alan Dean Foster’s prose. I am not extensively read in his work, but his writing is not that good here in my opinion and some of his ways of describing things is bad and ineffective.
The book is,however, an interesting curiosity; but I think it is in the large scheme of things fairly skippable.

Be sure to check in next time for my review of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and may the Force be with you.

Living, Breathing Art

Contributor ~ Amanda Zober

You can find beauty in anything, art in the unlikeliest places; you can find inspiration to create anywhere you are, as long as you look for it. It can set you free, raise you higher than you’ve ever been before if you let it. With practice and passion you can turn your own life into your most valued and perfect work of art.

Music is your escape. You work to find the beat and rhythm in even the most mundane of tasks. It helps to calm the frantic beating of your heart; makes the chaotic mess of thoughts in your mind still, even if it’s for just one short moment, just enough for you to think clearly.

It took you a long time to get here, to be in this place in your life where you can truly say that you know who you are and you know what you’re doing with your life. There’s a list of reasons hiding somewhere in your past that once made you believe that you would never make it to this point in your life. There were people at every turn telling you that you would fail. There is a part of you that takes pride in the fact that you didn’t let their negativity get you; instead of resigning yourself to defeat, you used their hateful words to steel your resolve and turned it into motivation to prove them wrong.

Looking back, it makes you proud that you can say that you worked hard and earned your place in this world. While you aren’t in the forefront of the public eye, people still know your work; it’s anonymous, yes, but there are still people who are trying to emulate you. You take it as a compliment of the highest honor, after all imitation is the highest form of flattery.

If asked, you wouldn’t truly be able to define the type of artist that you are. There is no one specific skill set that you’ve honed to perfection. If pressed, you’d have to say you were a type of mixed media artist. There is music you compose while creating your art that no one will hear when they finally see the completed piece. What the news will eventually talk about is the paintings and sculptures that make up the finished product that is your creation.

You’ve traveled all over the world as discreetly as possible to leave your artwork in hidden alcoves, old parks, buildings scheduled for demolition, trying to leave something beautiful in places that people have long since abandoned. It gives you a sense of joy and happiness when someone stumbles across all your hard work and people come from all over to cover it as a semi-important new piece. It’s become something of a guessing game among the who’s who of the art world, and media at large to figure out who this mysterious artist is that has left magnificently detailed portraits and sculptures all over the world without having been caught yet.

There are still those neigh-sayers that are claiming your work to be vandalism; you just believe that they don’t quite know what art truly is. You’re trying to take the places that the world has forgotten and abandoned, and doing your hardest to make them into something again, something that people will flock to and talk about for generations to come. You’d say it could be considered street art in it’s finest form, but you wouldn’t like to give yourself a big head; cockiness would lead to you being found out, and you like being anonymous.

You like the idea of people judging and appreciating your art for exactly what it is, and not on who you are. Growing up where you did, and sitting on the edges of the more popular social groups, you know that people buy into the person selling the ideas and art more so than the art itself. That isn’t something you wanted. You didn’t want to become the brand that sold your work, you wanted your work to stand on it’s own and sell itself. You think you’ve done a pretty good job of that. With no one knowing who the artist is, all they can buy into is your art itself.

When you need to get inspiration for a new piece, you like to volunteer at community centers in whatever city you happen to be in at the time. You’ll pick up odd jobs at local dives, meeting the regulars and paying your way while teaching little kids about art. It’s a modest living, but you’re content with it. It’s a life free of obligations and demands.

When you do finally get an idea for what you’re next piece is going to be, you’ll ask for help from some of the older high school kids that you work with at the community center, and from some of the rough and tumble regulars from whatever place you’re currently working at. You try to find the more unsavory locals, the high school bullies, the angry old drunks, and short tempered women; you want to take these people who have such a hard time showing kindness to others, and show them how beautiful the world can be when you open your hearts to art. You want to be the one to make a difference for them, to change their views on the world. You put your faith in them to keep our identity a secret and so far no one has let you down in the decades you’ve been doing this.

You’re current piece has some great volunteers helping you. They are parolees and their probation officers thought it would be good for them to take classes at the center. They all seem to harbor a great deal of vitriol, and you know that both of them just want to see the world burn down around them. You’re hoping you can change that, even if they don’t seem to think all that much of you. Currently you have one of them sprawled out across a bench that seems to be decomposing in some areas.

You’re at a park a few miles out of the city; it’s been abandoned for more than a decade and the locals believe that it’s haunted. Most people don’t come here, but you know some curious teenager will investigate it sometime in the near future, like all teens do with local legends. They will discover your art and soon this poor old place won’t be so abandoned any more.

There is an old swing set that you want to be the focal point of this piece. You are thinking about modeling it after Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. It has taken some time, but you have figured out the logistics on how to make it work. You already have the stuffed arms and legs made, you just have to set up the torso so it hangs right on the old steal frame of the swing; after that. it’s just a matter of sewing the plush limbs onto where you need them to be.

You are covered in the thick paint you used to color the main body. It makes it a little harder to get the torso hung up right, with your hands covered in the slick sticky liquid. You’ve had to use fishing line to hold the head and the first set of arms into place. The first set of legs is perfect to be hanging straight down the way they are. Sewing on the second set of arms takes work. They are heavier than you’d anticipated, but you cut the seams on the shoulders so perfectly that it doesn’t take you too much longer than you anticipated to graft them onto the body. The second set of legs is easy after you got the hang of the arms.

Stepping back, the completed body looks better than you could have imagined when starting. The lines of the extra limbs flow seamlessly into the rest of the body. You couldn’t be prouder of how it looks, and now you just have to finish the cleanup and set up for the soon to be audience. Even though you won’t be around when they discover it, you still want to make sure people have a decent place to admire it.

You go to the bench your first volunteer as laying on. He’d had a rough day and was currently resting. Not wanting to disturb him, you gently try to clean away most of the paint he ended up covered in. He got a little messier than you’re used to but he’s also a lot more rough around the edges than your usual volunteers. You carefully set his limbs up on the bench so he’s more comfortable; you don’t want him to put unnecessary strain onto his body. Once that’s taken care of, you pack the rest of your supplies into your truck. There is a small lake next to the park that you decide to use to clean off the rest of the paint covering your body. You don’t want any of it to stain the inside of your truck; that would be a lot more work to clean it up later.

After you’re as clean as you’re going to get, you drive back to the motel you’ve been staying at. You don’t feel too bad about leaving your volunteers at the park. They had their own cars. This is the part where you get everything packed up and drift out of town like you were never there. By the time the sculpture is discovered no one will remember who you were, and your anonymous streak will continue.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Setting up in a new town, in a new country, you turn on the news to see your last sculpture had been discovered. The buzz on this one is the biggest yet. People are speechless and impressed by how well all the pieces fit together, and how perfectly it’s suspended between the bars of the swing set. Smiling, you reflect on the concerto you composed during the creation of that piece.

It was beautiful and heart breaking in how well the cries of your volunteers blended into the natural sounds of the wildlife surrounding you. Their gasping breaths as the life slowly faded out of them left you with chills, that you knew would just build up the suspense to the climax of your song. The buzzing of the saw thrummed through your veins as you removed the limbs from the shorter one. The cuts are made with a clean precision that has taken you years to master. His blood comes out faster and thicker than you’re normal volunteers. It paints everything a dark crimson that would look absolutely stunning on the main body.

Once you had the limbs, you had set him on the bench to rest until you need him again. The blood from his arms painted the main body perfectly as you attached them to here you needed them to be. It dripped down the torso in perfect rivulets. It was easier than you assumed it would be. The tricky part came with grafting to plush limbs onto the first volunteer. Fabric doesn’t blend as seamlessly into flesh as other flesh does. It took some careful arranging of clothes to cover the stitching so it wouldn’t be as conspicuous.

Once more the world was in awe of your art. No one could figure out how you did it, or who could be capable of such a masterpiece. You know you are now at the height of your career; everyone will be trying to figure out who you are. It was time to plan your biggest masterpiece; the greatest one to complete all you’ve accomplished. It will be your last major work, and then you’ll retire from the spotlight; leave them wanting more. Your greatest work will be your grand finale. With that in mind, you know you’re going to need a lot more volunteers to help you complete it. You think fifteen should work.

You turn off the tv; you have a masterpiece to plan.