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Podcast: CCRC37: Droids

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Tonight your hosts, Hugh of HughJODonnell.com, Rich the Time Traveler, and Jurd, get in trouble, in trouble – in trouble.

Click HERE to listen to the podcast commentary!

And Click HERE to watch Droids Episode 1 (not that episode one, though) on YouTube.

Chrononaut Cinema Reviews is presented by http://skinner.fm and http://hughjodonnell.com, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Star Wars: Canto Bight

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Star Wars: Canto Bight
Written by: Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant, and John Jackson Miller
Published by Del Rey

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The Skinny: A collection of four loosely connected novellas set in the Star Wars casino-city of Canto Bight, as briefly seen in The Last Jedi.

In the latest Star Wars film, “The Last Jedi,” we get a very short glimpse of the casino city, Canto Bight, a playground for the rich and powerful play while the rest of the galaxy fights for survival against The First Order. But aside from the message that nobody good profits in wartime, and a delightfully destructive chase sequence, we spend little time there. Del Rey has released a novella collection focused on four stories of gamblers, tourists, servants and criminals that call Canto Bight home, and it is a delight.
The best of the four is “The Wine in Dreams,” by Mira Grant. It follows the self-described greatest sommelier in the galaxy, Derla Pidys, as she attempts to buy a rare bottle from a pair of sisters claiming to be from another dimension, all under the nose of a dangerous night club owner who will do anything to get it.
These four stories are very much in the vein of the new Expanded Universe. You won’t see any familiar faces from the movies in these pages, but they do a magnificent job of transforming a galaxy far, far away into a living, breathing place rather than a backdrop for Our Heroes’ Adventures. They also serve as a light, quick introduction to the writing of four excellent authors. You can find Star Wars: Canto Bight on Amazon, or in person at your local independent bookstore.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End

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Star Wars Aftermath Book 3: Empire’s End
Written by Chuck Wendig
Published by Del Rey
Empires-End-Posters
Star Wars Celebration was this weekend, and as a big nerd, what better time to gush over my latest Star Wars read, Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End?
The remains of the Galactic Empire’s fleet gather above the wasteland planet of Jakku. The fledgling New Republic Senate becomes mired in debate over committing to one last assault. And the last disciple of the late Emperor Palpatine activates an installation hidden in the sand…
The final book in Chuck Wendig’s aftermath series has the complex task of wrapping up his trilogy and also bridging to the new and old trilogies. It juggles these tasks fairly well, although if focuses much more on the former than the later. We do get some scenes with a young Hux and and the birth of Han and Leia’s son is a plot point that the novel determinedly skirts.
Instead, the novel focuses on wrapping up the adventures of Wendig’s crew of misfits, and he starts by splitting the party. Half of the cast is running around Jakku, and the other half are in the New Republic capitals. Wendig’s look at space politics isn’t quite as gripping as Claudia Grey’s, but is still witty and fast paced enough to not be a drag on the story. He also continues to sprinkle in vignettes throughout the galaxy, including a surprisingly touching short story about Jar Jar Binks. Really.
The Aftermath series has always been controversial. Criticisms have ranged from Wendig’s clipped writing style to his use of darker themes to his inclusion of queer characters. The novels were also favored targets of fans of the original Expanded Universe material. Two of these groups of fans made a concerted effort to tank the series, but Aftermath remained true to itself throughout the trilogy. This is no mean feat, especially for a licensed property.
Afthermath: Empire’s End neatly wraps up Chuck Wendig’s trilogy and is a great stepping stone to further adventures in the Star Wars universe. Pick up a copy at your local bookstore, or order it from your preferred digital book syndicate.

Hugh Likes Comics: Doctor Aphra

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Doctor Aphra #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Kev Walker
Published by Marvel Comics
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How do you write a good anti-hero?  Put them up against forces larger, and worse than themselves and always, always make the bill come due for their evil deeds, in one way or another.  This is just what Kieron Gillen and Kev Walker’s Doctor Aphra sets out in its first issue.
The scheming anthropologist accomplice of Darth Vader is back in her own series, and I couldn’t be happier to see her again.  Accompanied by her droids 000 and BT, dark-mirror analogues of C3P0 and R2-D2, she’s still out looking for big scores and outsmarting the Galaxy’s ever-present underworld.  Clever, deep in debt, and out to save her own skin rather than the galaxy, she’s the perfect update of all of Han Solo’s tropes.  Just don’t call it a redemption arc.
Gillen’s story ditches the Campbellian melodrama and delivers a story full of double crosses, brawling, badass wookiees, and grimly comic murder droids.  Walker’s art is fun, and expressive, with action-oriented layouts.  Colorist Antonio Fabela proves you can tell a dark story in comics without over-shading the page.
Aphra was one of my favorite characters from Gillen’s Darth Vader run, and I can’t see what shenanigans she gets up to away from the sith lord’s watchful eye.  Doctor Aphra #1 is available digitally from Comixolgoy, or in print at your local comics shop.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (novelization)

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Hugh Likes Fiction-Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Written by Alan Dean Foster
Based on a script by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt
Audiobook narration by Marc Thompson
Published by Random House Audio
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Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of blockbuster Sci-Fi film Star Wars: The Force Awakens lacks the polish and ingenuity of the original prose content of the new Star Wars canon, but it is still and enjoyable read for fans of the series.
Hewing fairly closely to the plot of the film, it follows salvager Rey and escaped stormtrooper Finn on their adventures in a galaxy far, far away.  Foster embellishes here and there and delves into the deeper motivations of the characters, but it is a mostly faithful rendition of the plot.  The few added scenes, such as an encounter in a tavern and a snowspeeder chase on Star-killer Base feel more like deleted scenes from an earlier version of the script than things Foster added himself.
Foster’s writing is quick and exciting, although it can get a bit bogged down and melodramatic at times.  It suffers from the demand of quick turn-around time that is a necessary evil of the medium.  If you go in knowing its there, it is easily forgivable.
I experienced this novel as a CD audiobook.  It was narrated by voice actor Marc Thompson, who brings a bit too much emotion to the narration, but his dialogue is fantastic.  He brings each of these characters to life in a way that is consistent with their film counterparts.  Overall, his is enjoyable to listen to.
The Novelization of Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t for everybody, but if you’re a die-hard fan, or are interested in film/novel adaptation, this novel is for you.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Star Wars: Lost Stars

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Lost Stars
Claudia Gray
Penguin/Random House Audio
Narrated by Pierce Cravens
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Lost Stars is one of the new Star Wars novels that does what I like best about the new Expanded Universe.  Following two aspiring young pilots from the backwater mountain world of Jelucan, it updates the events of the original Star Wars movies with delightful new characters and fresh perspectives.
Marketed as a YA Romance, it follows the relationship of of Ciena Ree, a peasant girl from Jelucan’s valley settlement, and Thane Kyrell, the son of an urbane, upperclass ‘Second Wave’ family from childhood friendship to budding war-time lovers, and finally to conflicted enemies as they find themselves caught on opposite sides of the Rebellion.  Thane, awakened to the Empire’s cruelty, defects to the rebels, but Ciena, bound by a strong sense of honor, stays at her post.
Much like Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath, Gray infuses a sense of darkness and nuance into the new Star Wars cannon that is both welcome and refreshing.  She spends a significant portion of the book following Ree and her fellow Imperial officers throughout the events of the film trilogy.  She does a great job giving these characters a human face and exploring the hard choices that living under a military dictatorship necessitates.  Furthermore, she manages to thread the needle of doing so without excusing the atrocities and loss of life that result from those choices.
I experienced this book as an audio book via audible.com  Narrator Pierce Cravenss does an excellent job with the text, bringing characters to life without slipping into exaggerated voices.  He is supported by a mix that incorporates moments of the films’ iconic scores and sound effects.
Star Wars has always worked with romance at its heart.  Ciena and Thane’s story is a worthy addition to the canon for new and old fans alike.  This is one flight I heartily recommend.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Star Wars Aftermath

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Star Wars Aftermath

Written by Chuck Wendig

Published by Del Ray Books

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“Star Wars” isn’t about war.  The movies are adventures, with thrilling chases, dazzling special effects, and last-minute rescues.  Throw in a few cute aliens and droids for comic relief, and cinema history is born.

This isn’t to say I don’t like Star Wars. They are (at least three) of my favorite films.  But there was always a feeling of slight-of-hand about the consequences.  We watch the destruction of Alderaan from the bridge of the Death Star, not the surface.  We hear a lot about Jabba’s grip on the Outer Rim, but what we see is the pleasure barge.  There is a lot of grungy corners in the Star Wars universe, but the movies focus on the brightness of the lightsabers.  Valuing plot over character, and spectacle over consequence, the films, particularly the prequels, are fun, but never quite mature.

With Star Wars Aftermath, the first novel set after “Return of the Jedi” since Disney did away with the previous ‘extended universe,’ Chuck Wendig has certainly pushed the property towards adulthood.  That isn’t to say the book is ‘mature’ in the sense of gore and sex, although both skirt the edges.  Like the title implies, this is a novel about what happens when the battle ends, and examines whether they ever really do.

Wendig takes the bold step of delivering a Star Wars tie-in that has almost no beloved characters in it.  Luke is nowhere to be seen, and Han and Chewy show up for a brief two-page interlude.  Instead, our heroine is Norra Wexley, Rebel pilot and survivor of the Battle of Endor.  After following Wedge Antilles through the second Death Star, she’s returned to her home planet of Akiva to collect her teenaged son and start a new life for themselves.  But their reunion is complicated.  The remnants of the Empire are gathering on Akiva for a summit.  Her remote, Outer Rim world is blockaded.  She evades it, but Wedge, in the area on a routine scouting mission, isn’t so lucky.  And then there is the fact that her son Temmen, a technical genius and junker, has gotten himself in deep trouble with a local crime lord.  He’d rather stay and fight it out with the criminals than leave the planet with his absentee mother.

While Wendig’s present tense style is a bit to get used to, and this particular entry could have used another editing pass in parts, he does a great job of delivering these characters and fleshing them out.  Also excellent are the interludes, which take the reader across the galaxy and into the lives of anyone from newly named Chancellor Mon Mothma to a back-world farmer trying to keep his sons, each having chosen a faction, from killing each other.  These feel like the complex, emotional scenes George Lucas left out.  The characters are not just a monolithic band of evil facing off against a team of scrappy yet hopeful rag-tag heroes.  Wendig shows us once-idealistic people  on both sides, ground down by years of violence.  It’s a brave and striking move, but I think it pays off, while still delivering a solid adventure story.

Speaking of brave moves and what Lucas left out, this next bit will be a bit spoilery, but needs to be addressed.  Wendig has included not one, but three queer characters in the story, and has been getting a lot of flack for it.  This is unwarranted, and the reveal for one of them is certainly something I had spoiled for me.  The other two are minor characters mostly uninvolved with the action, Norra’s sister and her wife.  That’s right, Wendig also brought gay marriage to the Galaxy, and good for him.

Often, telling a story with diverse characters isn’t lauded, but greeted as something that simply should be done.  And the disincentive to include these characters is strong.  The novel has come under a hail of one star Amazon reviews for forcing the issue ‘down our throats,’ as one reviewer so eloquently put it.

I think this is a big deal, and we should be noting it.  And then continuing to support Wendig’s approach, in which diversity is not something to be overcome or avoided, but a facet of his deeply rich and interesting characters.  Our fantasy worlds are reflections of our own ideals, the landscapes of our collective imaginations.  The original trilogy had a handful of women, only three of whom had speaking roles.  It had a few aliens, Lando Calrissian, and an entire cast of young, white, and canonically speaking, straight men.  Chuck Wendig’s view of the Galaxy is a bit more complicated, but it’s the Star Wars I’d rather see going forward.  If this is the face of the new Expanded Universe, I’m ready for a lot more stories in a galaxy far, far away.