{Pop Culturally Insensitive will now be co-hosting (De)Constructing the Ion Canon, an ongoing blog surveying the entire official Star Wars canon according to its timeline. Check back every week for the next installment.}

Get caught up with the mission statementEpisode IEpisode IIthe Clone Wars moviethe first season of the showthe secondthe third, the fourththe fifth, the sixth, the Clone Wars Legacy and Episode III.

So, for those of you who followed along on the schedule, this week’s post was meant to be solely devoted to John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn, the first novel of the new official canon. In the mission statement for this whole endeavor, I delved into a diatribe about my reasoning for only doing this one novel, pertaining to timing and intent, as well as the questionable completeness of other elements of the canon, and while some of that sentiment still holds true, I couldn’t help but feel the sentiment Cham Syndulla expresses in Lords of the Sith, that I’m too far in to turn back now. It’s true. I’ve devoured most of the canon, and A New Dawnturned out to be such a quick read, I felt it best to devour the rest. But fear not, much like the Clone Wars Legacy post, I don’t intend to dip much into spoilers for those who haven’t delved into anything outside the films.
That said, anyone who hasn’t gone exploring outside the cinematic really should. Unlike the inconsistent Clone Wars Legacy, not only was there nothing within this collection of the canon that disappointed, and strangely some of the most enthralling material was where you least expected it to be.
Obviously, after the Disney/Lucasfilm merger, the sole casualty outside the Expanded Universe was the Clone Wars series, cancelled and relegated to the storytelling means we discussed in the Legacy column when a deal couldn’t be reached with Warner Bros., but showrunner Dave Filoni was offered a very appealing consolation prize: building a new series bridging the two cinematic trilogies, showing the rise of the rebellion and utilizing ideas he’d originally rejected by George Lucas himself for the Clone Wars series, including a rogue jedi, a big bruiser alien and a freighter traveling the galaxy. However, seeing as the Rebels series takes place a full 14 years after Revenge of the Sith (it needed time for the Empire to build into the imposing establishment), the powers that be quickly set about filling the gap between the film and series, starting with Miller’s introduction to two of the protagonists of the Rebels series, and then commissioning various projects to explore the rise of various Imperial figures, introduce audiences to the various characters who would feature prominently in the upcoming series, and flesh out the planet Lothal, the primary setting for the events of Rebels. Utilizing short stories, both in the monthly Star Wars Insider and in a collection entitled Rise of the Empire (which also included the full novels Tarkin and A New Dawn, well worth picking up), a singular thread runs through the various stories, making one true feel as though they’re experiencing a singular linear multi-media narrative that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable ride through the years instead of merely a disjointed time jump (from this vantage point, anyway. The various items discussed below were released throughout the run of Rebels over the span of a year, so to one consuming them in real time, it may perhaps have failed somewhat haphazard and disjointed. However, credit should be given to the new Story team, for endeavoring to plan ahead for future fans looking to dive in, making their new canon far more accessible than the previously massively convoluted Expanded Universe).
So, without further ado, let’s dive right in:

Kanan: The Last Padawan Vol.1

Now, for clarification, we’re thus far only going to address the first five issues of the first arc of Marvel’s Kanan comic book, though the first volume also contains a sixth (which is the kind of specificity that takes this Star Wars blog to a new and nerdier low, I realize). This is because, while some jumps in the timeline are unavoidable (Force Awakens-era flash forwards in pre-Empire Strikes Back YA novels, and Clone Wars flashbacks in A New Dawn, for example), the sixth issue of the Last Palawan story arc acts as a conclusion to the Rebels-set framing device that introduced the main story, which is set immediately after Revenge of the Sith, so we’ll deal with that in time.

For those reading from a chorine-canonical perspective, the comic opens with a strange batch of people aboard a ship bound for the planet Kaller, but those who’ve already seen the Rebels series know these to be the crew of the Ghost, and the group’s leader to be former Jedi Kanan Jarrus. When Twi’lek pilot Hera asks if Jarrus has ever been to the aforementioned planet, it triggers the traumatic memory of his escape from the deadly Order 66. Without dipping into any serious spoilers, Kanan: The Last Palawan provides some thrilling moments that leap right off the page, as well as a powerfully heart wrenching moment at the conclusion of the first issue, when Kanan, a young Palawan whose true name is Caleb Dume sits beside his Master Depa Billaba and several clone troopers, palling around after a fierce battle during the Clone Wars. One of the troopers steps aside to retrieve a transmission, and the final panel reveals it to be the fateful Order 66. The series continues to cap off each issue with such cliffhangers in true Marvel fashion, merely missing the alliterative Stan Lee demands to pick up the next issue. By the end, while its clear there’s much more story to tell, the reader has a sense of how Padawan became pirate, and grow instantly attached to what proves to be our first example of the roguish space cowboy archetype that would go on to populate the Star Wars franchise to great adoration. Absolutely worth reading.

“Orientation”

Originally appearing in Star Wars Insider Magazine 157, “Orientation” attempts to tie into Paul S. Kemp’s Lords of the Sith, yet is written by John Jackson Miller, author of A New Dawn, and prominently features the character of Rae Sloane who first appeared in Miller’s novel (but would prove to swiftly be a fan favorite, racking up a total of 5 literary appearances and growing). It attempts to fit itself in early on in Lords of the Sith, which finds the Imperial duo of Palpatine and Vader en route to the planet Ryloth, by having them supposedly detour at the Defiance Flight Training Academy, wherein they attempt to weed out treachery in the ranks. Yet if the story fits within the timeline of the novel, it does so clumsily, and while the writing itself isn’t lazy, its structure perhaps is, lacking any real purpose for its primary characters. Canonically, yes, this is the first time we’ve seen Vader and Palpatine dispute the proper way to deal with dissidents, but such issues are also raised in the novel itself, to a better degree. Ultimately, the main purpose it serves is to be the catalyst to Sloane’s meteoric rise within the Empire, as she helps expose the traitor, earning Vader’s admiration. Yet beyond that, there’s nothing within this short story that fleshes out any aspect of its main characters, nor expands the universe at all. It’s hardly abysmal, but is inconsequential, so its hardly worth breaking one’s back to try and locate this back issue of the Star Wars Insider Magazine solely to read this, unless one is heartily invested in the Sloane character (this does prove to be a crucial part of her biography, referenced in a later short story) or the intricate aspects of the Empire. That said, if you have a copy readily available, and won’t be as vexed as I was about its awkwardly forced placement within the overall Lords of the Sith storyline, its not a bad way to spend a few minutes.

Lords of the Sith

As a story, Paul S. Kemp’s Lords of the Sith is serviceable. Given that its main characters are Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, and that its main plot involves an attempt on their lives, there’s little stakes to the story; anyone with even a passing knowledge of the franchise knows both characters survive for decades after this novel, and even without that, logic would simply tell the uninitiated that two characters whose origins were charted for three films and six seasons of television would not be dispatched in an under-promoted novel (I say under-promoted as, for example, Lords of the Sith received none of the vitriolic attacks Aftermath did for “forcing” nerds to accept diversity by including a gay character, despite Lords doing so a full five months earlier with Moff Mors, as it was barely on anyone’s radar at all). As a character study, however, it proves to be fairly enthralling once they pick up steam. It’s weak link is its rebel faction, a group of Twi’lek run by Cham Syndulla (who you may remember from the Ryloth-set episodes of Clone Wars), who outside of Cham and the violent Isvall (who gets a truly great scene in the murky Ryloth underbelly early on) prove to be fairly  indistinct from one another, and given their plans are guaranteed to fail, provide little interest for the reader. More interesting is the double dealing Imperial Belkor Dray, manipulating both factions to get ahead, and ultimately {SPOILERS} his descent into madness proves to be the most surprising and engaging thing within the novel beyond the two Sith lords.

It’s the interaction between Vader and Palpatine, however, that makes the novel worthwhile. We get insight into Vader’s mind, his remembering Padme and Obi-Wan, even Ahsoka Tano (though I loathed her at first, I grew so fond of the character by the end of the Clone Wars series that I’m grateful to see a mention of her beyond it). Through Palpatine’s various mind games and the resistance Vader sometimes offers, we’re painted a portrait of Vader as someone who, while quick to anger and ruthless when he wishes to be, himself opposes some of the more sadistic tactics of his master. The novel has some truly chilling moments, no more so than towards its conclusion, when the two take on aliases, words from an ancient Sith language with ominous meanings. It’s a nice touch, the idea that Vader and Palpatine are able to speak an ancient Sith language, and simply making canon that such a tongue even exists. The novel is peppered with these wonderful little insights, and makes for a wonderful read after a somewhat slogging early portion. Though there’s nothing revelatory within the text, it provides some good connective tissue between the Clone Wars/Republic era and the current age of the Empire, as well as remind us that the well-intentioned Anakin was always there behind the mask, he’d simply lost his way.

“Mercy Mission”

“Mercy Mission” admittedly isn’t much to write home about, serving as an epilogue of sorts to Lords of the Sith more than an introduction to Tarkin, the novel it precedes in The Rise of the Empire collection, but fits much more elegantly and organically with it than “Orientation” does. It takes place a year after the events of the novel, and features several of the characters, including Moff Mors and some of the Twi’lek who survived from Cham Syndulla’s ill-fated Free Ryloth movement, with Cham’s daughter Hera now involved as well. The movement has seemingly lost interest in killing Imperial forces, and instead focuses itself on delivering goods and supplies to those in need, rebelling against the Empire by smuggling. Long story short, its the closest you’ll ever get to a Firefly story in the Star Wars Universe, so much so that amongst all the unsavory characters and talk of medical supplies and drop points, when the team’s ship eventually makes its inevitable escape, my mind involuntarily started to sing “Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand.” Yeah, its true you really could swap out the names Hera and Goll with, say, Kaylee and Jayne, and you wouldn’t notice a difference, save for the final pages where Hera contemplates how she’d one day create a more organized and devoted rebellion (serving as a prequel to her doing just that in A New Dawn), and I’m not sure if that’s a negative or not (for me, I’ll take any taste of Serenity I can get). That said, if just for a bridge between Lords of the Sith and A New Dawn, its worth a look.

Tarkin

This is one hell of a novel. It’s the novel I’ve preached to people since the moment I shut it. It’s my argument in favor of tie-in novels to movie-only fans. James Luceno did an incredible job of crafting an intense, atmospheric, and utterly engaging portrait of a lesser character within the Star Wars Universe, yet he instantly managed to turn Peter Cushing’s one-off (besides his brief appearances in the Clone Wars series) Imperial into my favorite character in the entire franchise. Ruthless but eloquent, tactical and practical, a gentlemanly elegant left hand of the Emperor to counter the brash and brooding Vader at Palpatine’s right. The novel splits its narrative between Tarkin and Vader, disdainful rivals pitted together on a mission by the Emperor to track down traitors in order to forge a mutual respect between the two, and the young Wilhuff Tarkin’s training within the wilderness of his home world. Luceno not only crafts the most engaging story in the novel, by imbuing it with enough biographical information to make it more a novel of “how did we get here” rather than “where will this go”, helping it overcome the issue of stakes the plagued Lords of the Sith or many other of these prequel endeavor; he’s also a very talented writer outright, the first and only novel within the canon I’ve experienced thus far whose prose isn’t merely serviceable, but actually good (I’ve accepted I’ll never get Joyce or Nabokov talking about lightsabers and Wookies, but the occasional Rowling or King level prose is nice to experience). I could talk for hours about this novel and still have more to say, yet I also wish to leave as much to the reader to discover as possible, so I’ll merely leave it as being a must-read, and my favorite piece of material of any medium in the canon thus far.

“Bottleneck”

Ok, so it’s clear from my writing above I will gladly take more Tarkin, any way I can get it, and pairing him up with the most interesting part of A New Dawn, the villainous self-help guru, Jim Kramer/Donald Trump stand-in Count Vidian makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read (and the best piece of canon writing, both from a story and prose perspective, from John Jackson Miller). Yes, it attempts to replicate the Vader/Tarkin Midnight Run-esque dynamic with Vidian/Tarkin, but the story itself is interesting enough (dealing not with rebels but with an ideological battle of whether capitalism can truly function in a totalitarian society) that it doesn’t really stand out. It serves as a good lead-in to A New Dawn, giving us a taste of Vidian, the return of Rae Sloane (with a brief moment that proves to be one of the best, when Sloane tells Tarkin Vader approves of her, and Tarking accepts the claim as too audacious to be false), and taking us into the street-level intricacies of Imperial production, a side of life in the galaxy heretofor unseen that would prove as the setting for the first meeting of Kanan and Hera in the next novel. Definitely worth the time. Trust me, you’re gonna like why the short story has the title it does.

A New Dawn

The first novel in the canon isn’t perfect. Let’s just address that up front. Some of the naming is lazy (the crazy derelict character is named Skelly, for example), though not as bad as Halle Burtoni. It attempts to tackle 21st century capitalistic idolatry and NSA government surveillance in really thinly veiled allegory, though not as thinly veiled as Halle Burtoni. Ultimately, these qualities pull one out of the novel, as it feels as though its trying to set the tone for “this era’s” Star Wars, to be timely, when the best quality of Star Wars is its timelessness (even if some of the more terroristic tactics of the rebellion don’t look as heroic in today’s world). However, the sheer swagger of Kanan Jarrus from page one make this a serviceable adventure, with a story ultimately inconsequential but to advance further the career of Rae Sloane, a background character whose life seems to be working out really well in the Empire, and to serve as the origin of the pairing of Hera and Kanan, causing him to recognize there’s a cause greater than himself. It lacks the depth of Lords of the Sith or the panache of Tarkin, but its a standard Star Wars adventure, feeling most akin to the Jedi Apprentice novels I devoured as a child, filled with fast paced action beats that make you hum the proper John Williams score as you thumb through them, and it serves as a good enough introduction to the two future rebels that you instantly want to spend more time with them. Yes, its a trifle without any real gravity, but its a fun trifle, and a quick read, so its worth taking a look.

“The End of History”

Originally appearing in Star Wars Insider 154, Alexander Freed takes us on our first real detour in the canon thus far, in a short story that features not a single character we’ve come to know, whose placement within the timeline is uncertain. Yet its endearing enough to pull in even the most skeptical of readers. It’s an isolated a moving affair about an old man, a keeper of ancient knowledge, torn between helping a downed rebel pilot and preserving the stories he’s been charged with. There’s something almost Gaiman-esque about its sense of both mythology and our reverence towards it, and its the first short story that hasn’t felt like a component of something larger, but rather ultimately satisfying on its own. Yes, I recognize tracking this down may prove difficult, but I highly recommend trying, as it captures that hopeful feeling that original trilogy is so known for embodying, so it acts as a bit of a taste of what’s to come.

The HoloNet News Reports
Released as a series of eleven short videos in the build up to Rebels, these little broadcasts proved to be a delightful little insight into not only the day to day goings on of the Empire, but just how their propaganda machine works, daring the viewer to try and read between the lines and find the proof in the seemingly peaceful and universally beloved actions of the Imperial forces. Some, like the “Wookie Revolt Quelled on Kashyyk”, are pretty easy to spot, but others like the talk of a “controversial” statue being removed makes one wonder “What are you hiding there?”, not to mention the seemingly insignificant story of a famed Imperial pilot testing prototype TIE Fighters on Lothal proving to be an excellent punchline to one of the Rebels shorts down the line. Ultimately, these eleven 30-second clips might have been one of the best decisions the powers that be made in order to tell the story of the rise of the Empire, placing the viewer directly in the role of an Imperial subject and crafting brief flickers that greatly expand the world of Star Wars thus far. They’re absolutely worth your time, and have all been compiled here.
Servants of the Empire: Edge of the Galaxy
I’m going to be honest, I didn’t have any expectations for the Servants of the Empire series. I was reluctant to even pick up this first volume from my library, as I felt it wouldn’t be worth the judgmental gaze of the employees (as a 25 year old man, only a geriatric would qualify me as a “Young Adult”, the novel’s target audience). Yet, for you, dear reader, as well as my compulsion to be a completionist, I bit the proverbial bullet, and we astonished to find that Jason Fry had composed a truly engaging novel. Aside from being our first real portrait of the life of an Imperial, as well as the conflict that comes from discovering the Empire is not the benevolent group you’d believed it to be (perhaps forecasting what Finn will be going through in Force Awakens, though I’m probably wrong and will look foolish in two months time for even suggesting it), Servants of the Empire tells an Ender’s Game-esque tale of intrigue and Imperial bureaucracy. Admittedly, after one 150 page book, I feel like I know as much about grab-ball as I did after 8 books about Quidditch (yes, 8. There was a whole Quidditch manual), and the numerous sport sequences, while I see their narrative necessity to a degree, do slow down the pacing. Even so, its simplistic writing makes for a very quick read, and there’s a hefty amount of plot that thoroughly fleshes out both life under Imperial rule and the specific circumstances of life on Lothal. As the first of a four part series, the rest of which occurs throughout the Rebels timeline (to hopefully be addressed after the Rebels Season 1 article next week), Servants of the Empire: Edge of the Galaxy leaves you on a hell of a cliffhanger, and manages to leave even adult readers wanting me. It’s a shockingly good and swift read, and definitely worth a shot if you’re willing to claim you’re picking it up for a nephew (just saying, that alibi works).
Ghost Raid
 
A browser-based game available for free on Disney’s Rebels website, it’s technically canon, and vaguely tells a new story, so for y’all, I gave it my time. In terms of placement, it’s listed on Wookiepedia’s remarkably thorough timeline as preceding the Rebels shorts, but its clear those occur during the events of the game, as it concludes on Lothal, with us presumably participating in the event Ezra witnesses in the final short.
Anyway, the game itself is extremely simplistic, with nothing changing between levels beyond backdrop and the occasional design of an enemy. Through a combination of mouse-click activated blaster shots and space bar deployed bombs, you pilot the Ghost (Hera’s ship, first introduced in A New Dawn) as it makes supply runs, downing Imperial cruisers while fending off TIE Fighters and other ships. The title cards between each level depict not only Hera and Kanan, but the astromech Chopper, Mandalorian Sabine Wren and the Lasat Garazeb Orrelios, without any explanation as to how the other three joined the crew. The only real “story” element we obtain from the game is the path that led the crew to Lothal, which is presumably canon, with a supply run on Ryloth and Christophsis, followed by trips to Kashyyk and Toydaria to assist the people there and gather more supplies, until ultimately arriving at Lothal and the crew concluding to stick around for a bit.
From a video game perspective (our first canonical video game, no less) it’s not exactly Bioshock, but neither is it Superman 64. It’s a simple little distraction, a slightly more demanding Candy Crush, if you will (not in terms of mechanics, but in terms of required attention), and not an awful way to kill 15 minutes. After all, after even a few clips of the Rebels cartoon, you’re gonna be desperate to pilot the Ghost any way you can. You can play the game here, and though its not at all necessary, why not, right?
Rebels Short #1: The Machine in the Ghost
Here’s our first taste of Rebels proper, our first look at the animation, our first peek at these characters in action, and from the first line of Chopper’s indecipherable but vaguely “What the ****?” sounding dialogue, you’ve gotta be in. The action is engaging, the animation itself gorgeous and fluid, both cartoonish and still life-like, more organic than the Clone Wars‘ angular Stingray-like character designs. We get a taste of both Hera and Kanan’s Beatrice and Benedict romantic banter, as well as a look at the disgruntled astromech who mans the ship, making for a brief but enjoyable taste of what’s to come. You can find the short officially hosted here.
Rebels Short #2: Art Attack
Out of the four, this was easily my favorite short. It’s light, fun and mildly unpredictable. It stays true to the spirit of classic Star Wars while also feeling like something we haven’t seen before. As a Manadalorian whose look and attitude recall Bo Katan, Sabine’s agility and affinity for color seem to suggest she’ll make for an interesting component for the upcoming show, and her graffiti rebellion symbol, which looks like a cross between the rebel symbol we’ve all come to know from later installments and a Mockingjay, makes for an interesting component of the growing rebellion, like how we saw Coruscant’s blue-armored guards slowly turn into the Imperial red-clothed guards. You can find the short officially hosted here.
Rebels Short #3: Entanglement
Though Entanglement follows every beat of the typical way to introduce a Star Wars character, from acrobatic conflict to sarcastic dialogue, there was seemingly no other way to properly introduce audiences to the big bruiser that is Garrazeb Orrelios, better known as Zeb. It’s an enjoyable little piece, and its nice seeing that broad daylight action doesn’t make the animation look any less fluid or diminish its quality in the way early Clone Wars episodes could occasionally suffer. You can find the short officially hosted here.
Ezra’s Gamble
I’m not going to sit here and criticize a kid’s book as though I were Harold Bloom dissecting Moliere, but where Servants of the Empire showed you could craft a unique and enjoyable work for all within the confines of the genre, Ezra’s Gambleis much more standard children’s book fare, complete with obvious twists, repetitive vocabulary and syntax, and simplistic characters (even for a universe full of archetypes). We’re introduced to Ezra Bridger, who for the sake of simplicity we’ll just describe as Aladdin in space, who winds up working in tandem with bounty hunter Bossk (who he refers to as Mr. Bossk, which gets grating pretty quick) to elude a nefarious Imperial, targeting him Bossk with mysterious motives. There’s no MacGuffins in this work, so from the earliest introduction of a gladiator fight Ezra’s selling tickets for on the behalf of a mysterious Commissioner, you know where we’re headed, and we do eventually get there, without any sort of character development short of Ezra admiring the Ghost as it takes down a TIE Fighter he raids in the epilogue. Its not a chore to get through, and given its simplicity and page length, it takes an hour tops to finish. If you have a child who likes the Rebels series, this is a nice little bit of background on Ezra, divided into 10 brief chapters to make for easy bed-time reading. As an adult, its hardly worth a glance, save for completionists, but considering that’s not at all who it was meant for, it can hardly be faulted for that.
Rebels Short #4: Property of Ezra Bridger
In a weird choice on someone’s part, Property of Ezra Bridger doesn’t pick up where Ezra’s Gamble left off, but rather fully animates the final sequence of the book, with the dialogue and actions exactly the same as they appeared in Ryder Wyndham’s work (though admittedly the events are much more fun than the book made it sound). The book was released a month prior to the short, but assuming the short was in production before the book given how long animation of this quality takes, its tough to say who actually copied who. Had the novel ended with the TIE Fighter being downed, and the short simply picked up from there, it would have made for a more fluid timeline, but even without, it’s certainly interesting to see Ezra whistling through the fields of wheat (astoundingly detailed wheat), and knowing he’d just hours prior fended off stormtroopers on a speeder bike and stood in the center of an underground gladiator arena. You can find the short officially hosted here.
Well, that’s it for the pre-Rebels work. Check in next week, when we’ll be discussing the first season of Star Wars Rebels, and then from every week thereon out, its the original trilogy (peppered with mid-week bridge posts of the remainder of the canon, if at all possible. I am only human, guys).
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