My Star Wars Life Part 4 – Baited Breath

It was sometime in early 1998 when I came across the Star Wars Magazine (the UK version of SW Insider until recent years). As I was flicking through a couple of things caught my attention, 1 – a mini-guide to the last few levels of a game called Jedi Knight and 2 – on set pictures of Star Wars Episode I.

Now, imagine this, a world where the internet is not everywhere. That was me. We had no internet at that point and so I had to wait another to find out new Star Wars info when the next issue came out. And all we got was set pics, sometimes with an extra or two but nothing on the story. But there was a new Star Wars film coming out.

Until then I had to be content with what I could get my hands on. More toys of course. New books, definitely and after my birthday, on the required birthday money spending spree I got one of my favourite PC games ever, Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight. By today’s standards it looks shoddy but at the time it was beautiful. The cinematic cut scenes were amazing. The story was fantastic and you could choose to be Light or Dark side with different Force powers. So obviously I had two saved games.

Towards the end of the year rumours started up about the teaser trailer for Episode I. The title had been announced some time before if I remember correctly. On the rumoured day of the trailers release Dad and I were going to the cinema to see ‘Mark of Zorro’. I even asked him if he thought we’d see the trailer. He doubted it.

We sat through the trailers, obviously forgettable. The curtains closed. They opened again and the trailer started.

The Gungans coming out of the swamp. Wide shots of Theed. The title cards. ‘Every generation has a legend… Every journey has a first step… Every saga has a beginning…’ The space battle. Young Obi-Wan. What was that weird frog like thing? A droid army? Yoda? Prophesy? Balance in the Force? DOUBLE ENDED LIGHTSABER???

Needless to say I did not pay attention to Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins fighting for freedom in Mexico that night.

And I had to wait another 8 months to see it.

My Star Wars Life Part 3 – 1997

Star Wars Special Editions were on the way. And so was more merchandise.

I was never a big crisps eater. But when Walkers Crisps did their collectable Star Wars Tazos (like Pogs but not quite) I ate crisps like nothing else. I had almost the whole collection and I even had the special folder to store them in. But there were an elusive set of 10 that you could only get by eating a specific brand that neither me nor my parents ate. I was gutted. But some family friends came through and I got all but one, the Wampa. Oddly enough I managed to complete the set about two years ago when I found that last Tazo at my local comic shop. Best 10p I ever spent.

The weekend Star Wars: A New Hope SE came out I was staying at a friend of the families house and we were all going to see Space Jam. I was a late addition to the group and it was questionable that I would get a ticket to see the Warner Bros crew team up with Michael Jordan, so I said if I couldn’t see that maybe, just maybe I’d be able to see Star Wars. I’m afraid it was not to be that day, but I did watch the Behind-the-Scenes special that was on TV that evening. My friend Vix joined me in front of the TV, and when it finished she said she wanted to see those films having never seen them before.

A couple of weeks later Vix and I were sat in the cinema with my Brother and Sister and a few of their friends and it was amazing. We were so in awe we stayed until the end of the credits with my Sister who proclaimed that you hadn’t fully seen a film unless you watched the credits. This was before post-credits scenes were a thing so god knows why. I remember enjoying the new and altered scenes. CGI Jabba was a novelty and something I remembered from the novelisation. The Death Star hanger bay where Han runs in and then away made sense and the new Battle of Yavin shots with more X-Wings and more dynamic shots was mind-blowing.

My Dad took me to see Empire. He hadn’t seen that one before, only having seen A New Hope and Return of the Jedi when they came out originally. I pointed out the stuff that wasn’t in the original cut. The changes to Empire, aside from the Wampa sequence were subtle and welcome. Cloud City looked so much better with windows and the fly-through was great. The new Vader shuttle sequence was one of my favourite changes. Always like more Vader but why was Luke screaming when he let himself fall down the shaft after the revelation? Wasn’t so sure about that.

Vix joined Dad and I for Return of the Jedi. At the time I loved Jedi Rocks (I have since seen the error of my ways). The Sarlacc changes didn’t bother me much. But the ending, the celebration across the galaxy. Wow. The new music was great, it still gives me chills now, and I loved Yub Nub growing up but this was something else entirely.

Of course Star Wars fever carried on through the year, books were read and toys were bought. I was over the moon when on Christmas Day I opened a present to reveal the Special Edition Box Set (Gold). Just in time as well, I was wearing my previous versions out through repeated viewings.

A New Dawn Book Review

Potential Spoilers for A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller and Star Wars: Rebels. You have been warned.

I really enjoy this book.

I’ve now read it three times since I got it in April 2015. That’s how much I like it. It’s the only book in the new Star Wars canon I have read multiple times. I felt compelled to read it after the Rebels episodes ‘Jedi Night’ and ‘DUME’.

Like many, this was my introduction to the story of the Ghost Crew, specifically Kanan and Hera and a new mainstay character from the new novels, Rae Sloane.

Kanan is a great character. In the book he’s a lost man who drinks too much and fights even more. He doesn’t stay in one place too long and doesn’t get attached to anyone and hiding a massive secret, he’s a former Jedi Apprentice called Caleb Dume. I really like this younger Kanan, seeing what he was like before he joined Hera.

Hera is a badass! She’s almost ninja-like with her infiltration skills which she utilises a few times through the book, which is a pity when she doesn’t do this much in the series. She’s dedicated to revealing how bad the Empire really is, almost a pre-Rebellion rebel.

The new characters are well fleshed out. Skelly the Clone Wars veteran explosives expert. Zaluna the Sullistian surveillance operative, these two help Hera and Kanan in their plot to bring down The Empire’s operation on The planet Gorse and it’s moon Cynda. Okadiah, the Obi-Wan to Kanan’s Luke, minus the Force but has plenty of alcohol. And how can we forget Captain Rae Sloane, who through the short stories/novels has moved up the ranks of the Empire from a Cadet in the short story ‘Orientation’ to Grand Admiral by the end of the Aftermath trilogy and Count Vidian, the cyborg efficiency expert who’s schemes are thwarted by our heroes.

As far as the story goes it flows quite nicely, if probably a bit by-the-book, which is not a complaint by any stretch. Through the plot we find out how far the Empire is willing to go to help fund and expand their resources, essentially strip-mining planets and even willing to go as far as blowing up moons to get the resources they need. Kanan is the reluctant hero, Hera is the idealistic Rebel. Their paths cross several times before they end up working together with their rag-tag team to stop Vidian’s plot to double-cross the Empire.

The book acts as a brilliant introduction to Kanan and Hera. My only issue there is that it’s set quite a while before the series so there’s quite a time jump between the two. On the other hand this means that there are plenty more adventures they could go on and stories that could be told to further develop them into who they are in the series. I’ve always wondered how they recruited Zeb and Sabine. Those are stories I want to read now.

Until we get them, however, I’ll be content to re-watch the whole series.

The Last Jedi Audiobook Review: Or How I Had to Hide at Work So No One Saw Me Cry

I am a recent convert to the world of audiobooks. My wife, Sara, has an Audible account which I have access to and so far this year I have plundered it when i’ve exhausted my podcast library.

The other day I asked if she had any spare credits. She did so of course I had to get The Last Jedi, written by Jason Fry and narrated by long time Star Wars audiobook narrator Mark Thompson.

First of all, it’s great. I love the writing. So far out of the recent novelisations it’s my favourite. Alan Dean Foster’s adaptation of The Force Awakens was dire. Badly written and the additional material was lacklustre at best. I loved Alexander Freed’s Rogue One adaptation. Lucasfilm hired the best guy for the job after the stellar Battlefront: Twilight Company. He really got into the characters heads and motivations and his writing of battle scenarios was phenomenal. But The Last Jedi by Jason Fry just knocked it out of the park.

Spoilers Ahead

The prologue, a dream Luke is having about what his life would have been like had he not ventured off with Obi-Wan and handed the droids over to the Empire in A New Hope, where he lives the life of a moisture farmer, marrying Cammie (from the deleted scenes of ANH) and carrying on running the Lars Moisture Farm is a welcome surprise. Additional scenes between the Tico sisters before they are split up, carrying on from where Elizabeth Wein’s Cobalt Squadron finishes and expands Paige’s role in the evacuation of D’Quar. The inclusion of deleted scenes, such as Luke’s third lesson to Rey on Ahch-To is a welcome addition and of course the innermost thoughts and small tidbits of backstory that flesh out these film novelisations and makes us fans go nuts.

We get a minor history of the creation of the First Order, the Phoenix Rising from the ashes of the Empire, the grand plan of Emperor Palpatine. A tiny bit of Snoke’s backstory, aiding the rise of the First Order and their domination of the inhabited worlds in Wild Space. Luke deciding he has to leave with Rey only to find out she’s Force-Skyping with Ben Solo and a beautiful and incredibly emotional scene between Leia and Chewie in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit after the Resistance escapes Crait which had me hiding at the other side of the warehouse because I had tears running down my face.

Someone, get Jason Fry to write an original Star Wars novel (adult, I know he’s already written loads for kids and the recent cross-sections books).

What really excited me about this novel is that Rian Johnson was heavily involved, giving these additions a lot more credibility.

Marc Thompson absolutely blew me away with his narration. The character voices are pretty good, his Poe Dameron sounds amazingly like Oscar Isaac it’s scary and the inclusion of sound effects and John William’s music works well.

I do have a couple of tiny issues though. Firstly why does the audiobook only use music from the Prequel films? Not to say the music choices are bad, they fit the scenes perfectly, but the is a score for The Last Jedi, why not use that?

My second minor gripe is with Rose Tico. NOW I love the character in the film, Kelly Marie Tran was brilliant, I loved her interactions with Finn and DJ and her character arc was fantastic. I don’t know if it’s the way she was portrayed in the book or the way Marc Thompson portrayed her, she came across as quite catty, especially when Finn is talking about Rey, which is not how I would have ever pictured her in the film. I’ll find out when I get around to buying the book and reading it.

Overall an amazing novel, a brilliant novelisation and a really fantastic audiobook. Well worth a read or listen or both.

God Speed Rebels

In a matter of hours we will be witnessing the end of an era, the end of Star Wars Rebels.

Rebels has been a divisive element of the Star Wars Universe in the years since Disney took over, having The Clone Wars be cancelled mid-way through the production of Season 6 and then given what, on the surface seemed like a watered down, overtly kiddified idea of what a new Star Wars animated series could be.

The announcements of the characters were underwhelming. A pilot, a grouchy droid, the alien muscle, the artsy warrior, the fallen Jedi and some street urchin that may or may not be Force – sensitive. I was dismayed, given the time period and two leads being Force Users all I could think was ‘can’t we move away from the Force and just see what the Rebellion was all about before A New Hope?’ (Cue Rogue One). And I held out watching with when it finally started airing.

I had read A New Dawn, my first book in the new canon and very much enjoyed it, so much so that I am currently reading it for the third time, so it felt right that I dive in head first to the series.

My initial reaction was that it had promise but it was very much aimed for children. Given the channel it was shown on I was hardly surprised.

As I made my way through season one I was drawn in. The Grand Inquisitor made for a top notch Star Wars villain. The development of the characters was good and by the end of the series we started to see the formation of the Rebel Alliance.

The second season opened brilliantly. ‘Siege of Lothal’ will remain in my top 5 episodes for years to come. Same for the finale ‘Twilight of the Apprentice’, that music still gives me chills.

I was at Star Wars Celebration Europe (London) in 2016 and I was in the Rebels season 3 panel queue from 3.15am. I met a few people I am now connected with on Facebook and later that day I was stood 2 foot away from Dave Filoni. I was just too slow to get a picture with the legend but the memory remains.

I was in the room when they announced Thrawn in the season 3 trailer. I joined in with the almost football stadium chant of ‘Thrawn! Thrawn! Thrawn!’ And smiled with unbridled glee when we watched the season opener.

Season three scratched my itch for character development. But was underwhelmed by the lack of direction for Zeb. The filler episodes slowed it down, much like season 2 and even though it was great, the finale wasn’t up to par with season 2 but I was not dissuaded. How many filler episodes did we have to deal with on Lost? And that was an amazing series.

And here we are. Season 4. By far the best season we have had (my opinion). Like season one the shorter season has worked in its favour, less filler episodes and after the ‘In the Name of the Rebellion’ 2 parter we have had a season long storyline with no deviations. Since our heroes landed on Lothal my anticipation for what could come has been through the roof.

And the last four episodes have been stellar. (Spoilers) Kanan’s death hit me hard. I love the character and I have loved watching him develop over the past four years, from the cocky, overconfident yet drunken former Padawan to the wise and powerful Jedi Knight (surely he could be classed as a Master now though) who sacrificed himself for the cause. The episode ‘DUME’ will be long remembered as the Ghost crew dealt with the loss, and so did the fans.

And a last week we were introduced to the Star Wars concept of time travel. Which until I saw the episode I would never have thought it would happen and in fact hoped it wouldn’t but it did and it worked. It was great to have Ahsoka back even for one episode and gave us the closure we have needed from two seasons ago, Ahsoka lives!

And here we are, waiting for the end as the hour gets ever closer. As I am UK based I can’t watch it live, but my alarm is set so I can try to watch it all before I go to work. It’s the end of an era and I don’t want spoilers.

Will anyone else on the crew die? Any of the supporting characters? I don’t know. All I know is Hera, Chopper and the Ghost make it out safely.

Do I know what I want from it? A satisfying ending, that’s all and given the great things he has done so far, I fully trust Dave Filoni to give us such a farewell to these now beloved characters.

And so I quote Amilyn Holdo’s final words, “God speed Rebels.”

Star Wars Lego Review – Resistance Transport Pod

I just finished building this nice little set. Overall it took about an hour (I was taking my time) and I’m pretty chuffed with it as an overall set.

At 294 pieces I was actually expecting it to be a bit smaller so I was pleasantly surprised by the overall size, especially as I have held back from buying this set based on the price.

I got this set for £24 where it usually retails for £39.99 which for just under 300 pieces, most of which are small, to me feels a bit too much. Especially when the Ahch-To Training set is £15 less and has more pieces (another great build I’ve done recently).

For the size I’m loving the detail that has been put into the set. The engines on the back look great with the framework and I’m liking the new steering columns we are getting.

I was shocked by how many stickers were included with the set, 13 in total and most of them used on the canopy which was not my favourite place to stick stickers. I have seen complaints about this in other reviews but never took much notice because most reviews wings about stickers at some point. There are 7 on the canopy… yikes, don’t want to get them wrong at all.

Of course it comes with the pre-requisite stud launcher and firing missiles like most sets do these days but none are obtrusive. The missiles are tucked away underneath the ship and the stud launcher doesn’t look out of place either.

It comes with two minifigs, Finn and Rose. Both have great detailing on the bodies and reversible faces. I especially love the stitching on the back of Finns jacket that according to the Last Jedi Visual Dictionary was something Pod did whilst Finn was in his induced coma. Rose even comes with her shock stick which is a nice touch. The set also comes with a BB-8 who can hide in the back.

Overall a nice little set but hold on until it’s on sale, a solid 8 out of 10.

My Star Wars Life Part 2 – Expanding My Universe

As with any obsession, more is better.

That was how I felt about Star Wars and I didn’t care how, like Anakin I wanted more.

First of all, toys. And my first ever Star Wars toy was a C-3PO ‘Bendems’ figure. It came with a collectable Trading Card from Topps and I loved it. I got as many as I could get my hands on, each with a trading card. My collection was growing and I hadn’t even realised. Then Christmas ’95 something happened that changed my life forever.

Power of the Force Action Figures.

My face lit up like a thousand Christmas Trees when I ripped open the wrapping paper to find an X-Wing toy. The wings opened up. It made sounds. And you could put a figure inside. I tried to stick my bendems Luke Skywalker in (one of the two I owned, the first ones hand came off and I refused to get rid of it due to screen accuracy) but he was too big.

A day or two later, my parents took me on the obligatory post Christmas ‘spend your money’ trip. To Toys R Us we went and I got myself a Luke Skywalker, a Darth Vader and to complement the X-Wing in my imaginary dog fights, the TIE Fighter.

Who cared that Luke looked like a He-Man reject and the Lightsabers were ridiculously out of proportion? Not me. I could finally tell my imaginary Star Wars tales with five points of articulation and we’re less likely to tear if bent in the wrong way.

Over the years the collection grew. Pocket money was thrown to Hasbro in droves, I had to have them all. Like faced Vader often and always on a high ledge, provided by my removing a shelf from its brackets and using them as a battle platform. The only one I couldn’t find for years was the Stormtrooper, which I remedied years later when I got the Luke in Stormtrooper disguise and never took the helmet off. Easy.

It wasn’t just the toys that had captured my imagination. I had also heard, from my older sisters Uni roommate that there were Star Wars books.

Now, as a kid, I was a big reader. And not to toot my own horn but I read at a higher level than my peers. Sure I was a fan of the age appropriate fare, such as Goosebumps but I was also starting to read longer, more adult fiction. My greatest achievement in reading at the time was Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. So after some pleading with my folks I was granted permission (I was 9 at the time) to traverse the ever expanding Star Wars Universe. The first books I got were the novelisation of A New Hope by George Lucas (ghost written by Alan Dean Foster) and Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn.

I completed Zahn’s Empire trilogy and jumped into Kevin J Anderson’s Jedi Academy Trilogy. This was phenomenal. New stories. New worlds. New characters. Wow, just… wow.

In early ’97 I picked up the paperback of Shadows of the Empire. My original plan was to complete the Young Han Solo Trilogy by A C Crispin but something about Shadows drew me away. Xixor. I had got the action figure the previous Christmas in a 2 pack with Darth Vader (with a proportionate lightsaber) as well as the Millennium Falcon and AT-ST, and so I put my education about Han Solo’s history on one side (still not finished the trilogy) to read the connective tissue between Empire and Jedi.

It was also during this shopping trip that I learned an incredible thing.

The Star Wars Trilogy was coming back to cinemas.

My Star Wars Life Part 1 – The Journey Begins

I can’t remember the first time I saw a Star Wars film. Not the opening to a blog about Star Wars but it’s true. It was however sometime before 1993 when the Holy Trilogy was released Digitally Remastered but somewhere on the cusp of living memory. Bear with me on this one.

At some point in my early years I am sure my Brother and Sister (from my Dads first marriage) had me watch one with them and I am convinced that it was Empire Strikes Back for the sole reason that I had a memory of seeing Luke fall down the shaft on Bespin when I finally watched it properly in ‘93.

Before that night, in front of the ‘big’ TV in the front room and with no memories of any pre-recollection viewings the most Star Wars I got in my life was descriptions of moments by my Dad. One such conversation happened in a hotel room in France on a family holiday, we had been talking about Sci-Fi, and at the time the only Sci-Fi I had seen was old episode of Doctor Who and Star Trek (was not a fan of either) and my Dad told me about this fabled film called Star Wars. He waxed philosophical about the huge Sandcrawler and the two droids C-3PO and R2-D2. How real it all felt, with bizarre aliens, not like Trek where it was just painted people, these aliens looked weird. I was intrigued.

A trip to Disneyland Paris only piqued my interest more. Walking through the park, wide eyed and in awe of the magic all around (and yet to be bored senseless by Its a Small World) there was this amazing looking space plane high above my head, I asked my Dad who told me it was an X-Wing… mind blown… What on Earth is an X-Wing? I must know more. And then there was Star Tours. The queue was long but all I could do was marvel at the scenery and those fabled Droids my old man had described to me only nights before. Then of course we went on the ride. I couldn’t get over Captain Rex, (a real droid pilot!!!) and was blown away by what was on screen, unfortunately I don’t remember what mission we went on but I do remember loving it. I begged to go on again but it was a resounding ‘No.’ and off we went to explore the magical kingdom.

A year or so later and a VHS from 20th Century Fox heralded what could only be my own personal Mecca, the Star Wars Trilogy on VHS. And like any impetuous child I pleaded to get them, and my Mum told me to ask my older siblings if they had a copy on video. I was in luck and so was passed down the first item in my Star Wars collection, The Empire Strikes Back from the 80’s on VHS.

Once home that night I put in the VCR and pressed play. After making it through trailers for Chariots of Fire and the Mel Brooks vehicle, To Be Or Not To Be there was a trailer for Star Wars. Oh boy. Wow! And then the main event.

It was glorious.

It was the best thing I had ever seen.

I don’t know at what point my Mum came in but as Vader revealed the most devastating news anyone could hear I turned to her and I had to ask ‘Is he really?’

‘You’ll have to find out.’ She said to me. To this day I don’t know if she was trying to keep up the mystery or had no idea.

I didn’t find out until Christmas that year when I got A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. Life was complete.