14 Star Wars Book Reviews, including Last Shot, Bloodline, Lost Stars, and the first two in the Aftermath trilogy


A year and a half ago, I decided that I was going to attempt to read all of the Star Wars books that fall under the newly defined canon. When Disney bought Lucasfilm, they wisely decided to abandoned the Expanded Universe of books and stories in order to give themselves a clean slate for their new films. I read dozens and dozens and dozens of EU books when I was a kid, and I loved how they either continued the story of the original trilogy, expanded on aspects of the universe we’d only glimpsed before, or introduced entirely new characters and locations to follow along their own path. But I eventually ran out of steam as I got older, and couldn’t keep up with the multitude of books in many different time periods that expanded more quickly than I could read them. But Disney placed all of the old books under the “Legends” label, and started from scratch with a new canon and a Lucasfilm Story Team to oversee continuity, and I realized the time was ripe for me to jump back in. I originally wanted to read them all in release order, but after a few books I decided to balance things out a little better to give myself some variety, and also to free myself up to jump ahead for tie-in books for new movies. I’m now working on my 15th Star Wars book over the last 18 months (I have read other things too), so I thought I’d take some time and review what I’ve written. There’s a lot of variety here in terms of writing style, tone, and time periods in which these stories are set. Some of them I absolutely loved, while others were more disappointing or simply not my type of book. Hopefully this can provide a little guidance to those who might want to jump into the new Star Wars books, or to those who have read some and are considering others. These are listed in the order I read them, so certain books that go together, like the Aftermath series, are not listed together. Once you’ve checked out my reviews, drop me a comment to let me know what you’ve thought of the new Star Wars canon books, which are your favorites, and any that I haven’t read yet that you’d recommend!

Tarkin by James LucenoTarkinCovera

Starting my journey into the new Star Wars canon with Tarkin might not have been the best idea, but my original goal was to read everything in roughly the order it was released. Tarkin was actually the second novel released in the new canon, but I bought it a bound-together pairing with the next book on this list, A New Dawn. I’ve never been a big fan of villain-focused stories, though I’m not outright opposed to them. Tarkin, to me, was just not a character whose background I needed to see. That can be excused if there’s an interesting story to tell, but I just didn’t feel like this book had one. The bulk of the action is set during a specific period between Revenge of the Sith and Attack of the Clones, when construction has just begun on the first Death Star. Tarkin is overseeing that secret operation in the Outer Rim, under the cover of having been given an unfavorable post but secretly reporting to the top leaders of the Empire. But a mysterious attack by former Separatists leads to Tarkin and Vader being sent by the Emperor to track down and uncover a plot against the Empire. As they do, we learn about Tarkin’s brutal childhood and his rise to power as he gained Palpatine’s attention by making a name for himself thanks to his ruthless tactics putting an end to piracy. The book is well-written, but the story just wasn’t very compelling for me. Tarkin’s backstory doesn’t enhance Star Wars for me in any meaningful way, and his cold, calculating brutality was obvious the moment he destroyed Alderaan. Somewhat more interesting is seeing his earlier interactions with Vader, and the workings of the Empire generally as they consolidate power over the galaxy but allow corruption and criminals to flourish. Portions of the book follow the Separatists (early Rebels) as they try to evade Tarkin’s relentless pursuit, and I think I’d have preferred the bulk of the book to have been written from that perspective. It’s just wasn’t an enjoyable read to spend so much time with Tarkin. C

A New Dawn by John Jackson MillerANewDawna.png

A New Dawn serves as a prequel to the excellent animated TV series Star Wars Rebels, and shows us the first meeting between former Jedi Kanan Jarrus and the upstart Rebel Hera Syndulla. Kanan has been in hiding since Order 66 wiped out most of the Jedi, and spends his days moving from job to job, mostly refusing to stick his neck out for anyone in fear of revealing himself. Kanan winds up on a mining colony called Gorse, where he pilots a freighter hauling explosives to the mining operations on the orbiting moon. The mining has been slow, so the Emperor sends a corporate fixer of sorts, the cyborg Count Vidian, to do whatever is necessary to increase production of the minerals upon which the Imperial war machine depends. However, Hera has been tracking Vidian and after a few run-ins with Kanan the two reluctantly team up to uncover and foil Vidian’s plans. A New Dawn is a far more interesting read than Tarkin, and it fills in a portion of Hera’s and Kanan’s story that was missing from Rebels. It gives us a look at some of the tactics of the early Rebellion, and the ways it allowed beings with vastly different grievances against the Empire to join forces towards a common goal. It also shows us a bit of the corporate side of the Empire, where the eagerness of businessmen to get in good with Palpatine are willing to subject their workers and even entire worlds to horrible conditions and also to use them as pawns in political and corporate games for their own petty ends. Vidian makes for a different sort of villain, with his own motivations and a unique and calculating sort of evil, and A New Dawn also introduces us to Imperial officer Rae Sloane, a Captain in this book but eventually an Admiral who will play a major role in the Aftermath books following the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi. Overall a fun read with interesting characters, made more poignant by its connection to Star Wars Rebels. B+

Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearneimg_0497

Heir to the Jedi is a fun, though not especially memorable, adventure story with Luke at its center. Taking place after A New Hope, we follow Luke Skywalker on his first official missions for the Rebellion as a Lieutenant, as he and Nakari Kelen, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, attempt a variety of tasks for Admiral Ackbar aboard Nakari’s ship. Heir to the Jedi has plenty of action, romance, and espionage, and it fills in a nice gap between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and like all Star Wars books it expands on locations and cultures both new and familiar. Perhaps its most interesting aspect is that it is written in first-person from Luke’s perspective, a rare setup that works fairly well. As with any familiar character, it can be a challenge to match the tone and style of the voice we’re used to hearing, but Hearne does an admirable job and certain passages sound exactly like the Luke we know and love. The first-person perspective works especially well in moments where Luke tests his growing Force powers, and as he struggles with the burden Obi-Wan left him along with Nakari’s help. Overall it’s an enjoyable read, but Heir to the Jedi lacks the impact of some of the other books on this list. B

Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kempimg_0757

Where you one of the people who thought the best part of Rogue One was Darth Vader murdering all of those Rebels in the corridor at the end? If so, a) I think you missed the point of Rogue One, and b) Lords of the Sith is the Star Wars book for you. The book opens with a scene of Vader violence in the style of his massacre of Rebels in Rogue One, but even more impressive and “badass,” if that’s a term you’re inclined to use about Vader. Lords of the Sith alternates perspectives between the pairing of Vader and the Emperor, who have decided to directly intervene in affairs on the planet of Ryloth, and a group of early Rebels lead by Hera Syndulla’s father who hope to not only free Ryloth and put a stop to the Empire’s persecution of their people, but also potentially take out Vader and the Emperor at the same time. For a story focused on villains, it’s a more pleasant read than Tarkin, as it doesn’t seem to revel in its darkness and violence as much as the other book. It has a nice balance between the Rebellion and the Empire, and gives us a chance to see how each group views the others. To the Rebels, Vader comes off like the shark in Jaws, this unknown, often unseen, but completely unstoppable force, while Vader finds the Rebels a source of annoyance and the Emperor sees them as an opportunity worth exploiting. There’s some interesting interplay between Vader and Palpatine, as the master uses everything as a chance to test Vader’s loyalty and dedication as is skills in the Dark Side constantly grow and he constantly struggles with his past, while both deal with the constant corruption they’ve allowed to flourish in their Empire. There are also some insights into life on a world where people are enslaved and exploited, and we see the varying motivations of these early Rebels, from backgrounds in the sex trade and need to see it eradicated to more abstract ideals. Lords of the Sith is noteworthy thanks to its inclusion of the first LGBT character in the Star Wars canon, Delian Mors, a Moff and the Imperial governor of Ryloth, who has become corrupt and self-indulgent following the death of her wife, but who is thrust into the fray by Vader and Palpatine’s arrival. Overall, Lords of the Sith ties nicely into some of the backstory of Star Wars Rebels, as well as packing in some memorable moments, plus being a step forward for inclusion. B+

Aftermath by Chuck Wendigimg_1237

As far as the new Star Wars books go, the Aftermath trilogy looms largest over the rest. For one thing, it’s the only true series of books in the new canon, and as such can tell a much larger story than the other, isolated books can. Also, it’s the story that feels the most important in the timeline of the films. Aftermath picks up soon after the events of Return of the Jedi and makes up the largest part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” project that aimed to help set the stage for The Force Awakens for Star Wars fans before that film’s release. (The next 5 books on this list were also a part of the leadup to The Force Awakens.) It doesn’t directly follow the story of our Rebel heroes, but it does pick up the events following the Emperor’s death and the destruction of the second Death Star. The plot is set into motion by famous Rebel pilot Wedge Antilles, as he uncovers a meeting of the surviving Imperial leaders on the planet Akiva while helping the New Republic search for remnants of the Empire and is subsequently captured. Fortunately, a former comrade of his, Norra Wexley, is also on Akiva searching for her son, Temmin (who shows up in The Force Awakens), whom she abandoned to try to track down her husband during the war before falling in love with being a Rebel pilot. She and Temmin eventually, reluctantly team up with a bounty hunter, Jas Emari, and a former Imperial loyalty officer, Sinjir Rath Velus, to rescue Wedge from Admiral Rae Sloane (who we previously met in A New Dawn). Aftermath is filled with interesting characters who all have conflicts both internal and interpersonal. Sinjir and Vas are both struggling to figure out if or how their past misdeeds can mesh with this New Republic and these new companions. Norra works to come to terms with the man her son has become while she was away, while Temmin resents being abandoned and would rather just be with the battle droid companion, Mister Bones, he built. And Sloane is a compelling character, as she navigates the waters of the Imperial remnants, trying to gain power without setting off a battle for supremacy that will weaken their forces. Aftermath also includes interludes that show us what this chaotic time in the galaxy is like for people on various worlds as information and misinformation about the Empire’s fall spreads and people react in a variety of ways to a variety of situations.

Overall, I liked Aftermath, and don’t think it’s deserving of its somewhat negative reputation (fueled in part by fans who were angry over Disney’s decision to wipe out the previous Star Wars books and start a new canon, and also upset that Sinjir, one of the main members of this new group of heroes, is openly gay). I admire its ambition, and it’s definitely nice to have a trilogy in this new Canon that allows more time for character development and a chance to expand the story from the films in a meaningful way. The characters are interesting and complex, with a multitude of issues to work out, and I appreciate the way the story handles the aftermath of the Rebellion’s victory, even if the plot of this first book in the trilogy isn’t as memorable. On the other hand, I’m not as big a fan of Chuck Wendig’s writing, which didn’t flow as well for me as I would have liked. It’s mostly down to personal taste, but the writing style made Aftermath a little more difficult to sink my teeth into as some of these other books. It’s not a bad start to a trilogy that serves as a major anchor of the new canon books, but it’s not especially revolutionary either. B

Lost Stars by Claudia Grayimg_2377

I’m not entirely sure why Lost Stars gets classified as a “young adult” book when it is one of the longest and most complex of the new Star Wars books, other than it deals with somewhat younger characters and involves a romance. Is that all it takes to be “young adult”? Regardless, Lost Stars is by far one of my favorite books in the new Star Wars canon. It tells the story of Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell over many years, tracing their lives from the days of the Empire, through the events of the original movie trilogy, and into the New Republic era. As children on the Outer Rim planet Jelucan, Ciena and Thane both possess a passion and talent for flying, despite their vastly different backgrounds. Ciena comes from a rural area of the plaent, from a people who have a strict code of honor and who can trace their lineage on Jelucan back many generations, while Thane comes from a wealthy urban family and a culture which is always at odds with Ciena’s. They bond over their love of flying, however, and when the Empire annexes their planet they both sign up for the Imperial Academy to become pilots. The story follows their time in the Academy as they both strive to be the best in their class, making friends and rivals among their fellow students as they try to distinguish themselves, all the while trying to feel out their feelings for each other. They both graduate and are deployed in the Imperial fleet, and they experience the realities of battle and the growing Rebellion as the events we’re all familiar with happen around and to them. It’s a brilliant idea for a novel, giving us a new perspective on a war we know so well, all while wrapped up in the relationship between these two, richly-written characters. It finds that fascinating middle ground of young people who have faith that they’re on the right side of things, but who end up questioning their beliefs as their world falls apart around them and their eyes are opened. Thane and Ciena are not major players in the events we’ve witnessed, and that allows them to reflect on what is happening and what they’ve been told. Their vastly different upbringings have instilled a different system of values in each of them, and while an event might make one think of leaving the Empire it causes the other to double down and commit more strongly to the Imperial cause. Thane and Ciena’s love develops as galactic happenings and their own maturing beliefs work to tear them apart. It’s incredibly compelling stuff that simultaneously deepens and enriches Luke’s, Han’s, and Leia’s adventures by showing some of the unexpected outcomes of their heroism. It humanizes the average soldiers of the Empire and illustrates their reasons for following the cause without ever attempting to justify the Empire’s actions. It’s epic, sweeping, romantic, insightful, and simply a joy to read. It’s not a storytelling templet that I would want every Star Wars book to follow, but it’s executed perfectly here and the result is definitely one of my top picks. A

Before the Awakening by Greg Ruckaimg_2664

The next four books, which were all a part of the “Journey to The Force Awakens” along with Lost Stars and Aftermath, were intended more for kids than adults. They’re all around 200 pages long, tell simpler and less dramatic stories, and help to set up both new characters and familiar faces before the events of The Force Awakens. They wouldn’t have spoiled anything for the movie, but instead offer a glimpse into events immediately leading up to the movie. In the case of Before the Awakening, the story is split into three, giving us a first look at Finn, Rey, and Poe right before we meet them in the film. Finn’s story covers his stormtrooper training back when he was FN-2187, leading a squad of troopers (including one who has a cameo in The Force Awakens shouting “Traitor!” at Finn) through a battle simulation. FN-2187 shows himself to be a capable leader, fighter, and tactician, and he earns Captain Phasma’s respect for his abilities but also her admonishment for being too soft and too eager to help the weaker members of his team, causing him to start to question how he feels about the First Order. Rey’s story shows what her life was like as a scavenger on Jakku, how she taught herself to be an outstanding pilot from a simulator she discovered in a crashed ship, and her eventual discovery of a nearly intact spacecraft that would be worth a fortune in food and water. But Rey has to contend with a pair of other scavengers who stumble across her claim, and whether she can trust them to not double-cross her as they work to get the ship working again. Poe’s story is the longest and does the most to establish his character, in ways that actually tie in surprisingly well with The Last Jedi. Poe, whose parents both fought in the Rebellion, flies an X-wing for the Republic and has a history of disobeying orders and acting impulsively in the fight against the First Order. He eventually gains the attention of General Leia, who sends him on a mission to uncover a traitor who has been passing information to the First Order. Overall, Before the Awakening didn’t exactly blow my mind, but it’s a nice intro to the new, young trio of heroes we meet in The Force Awakens, and it gives them all a little more depth and background. Having the book split into three stories didn’t give any of the characters much of an opportunity to stand out, however. It’s not a book I’d necessarily recommend to anyone who isn’t a diehard Star Wars fan looking to complete their set of books, but it’s a quick read that isn’t in any way a waste of time. B-

The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure by Jason Fryimg_2684

Told as a flashback, The Weapon of a Jedi follows Luke Skywalker after the destruction of the first Death Star (and after the events of Heir to the Jedi) as he is sent on a mission by Mon Mothma with R2-D2 and C-3PO. But when things don’t go as planned, Luke is forced to set down on Devaron for repairs, where he finds himself drawn by the Force to an ancient Jedi temple which has been declared off limits by the Empire. He befriends a local girl and finds an untrustworthy guide to lead him to the temple, where he is able to speak to Obi-Wan through the Force and continue the lightsaber training he started aboard the Millennium Falcon before Obi-Wan’s death. But when the Empire shows up, Luke has to put his developing Jedi powers to the test in order to save his life, his new friend, and to protect the secrets of the Jedi. The Weapon of a Jedi was a bit of a disappointment, though not bad in any particular way. The problem is that it covers a lot of the same thematic ground (and time period) as Heir to the Jedi, but is much simpler and shallower given that it was written for kids. It also doesn’t do as good a job at capturing Luke’s voice as the other, similar book. It would be fine for kids, and works well enough on its own, but I’d definitely recommend Heir to the Jedi over this one. C

Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fryimg_2743

Moving Target was definitely my favorite of these four kids books that lead up to The Force Awakens. Like the other two of these books that focus on classic Star Wars characters it is told as a flashback, with General Leia reluctantly telling a story for her memoirs. Back between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the Rebellion was on the run and forming a plan to deal with the Empire’s second Death Star, while Luke searched for Han. Leia is given lots of protection by Mon Mothma due to her role as a leader and symbol of the Rebellion, and is uncomfortable with the sacrifices of lives and resources given in the name of her safety. She proposes a plan to divert Imperial resources in a hunt for her by leading a very noisy recruitment campaign in a region of the galaxy a long way from where the Rebel fleet is gathering. She recruits a team, including future Battle of Endor hero and Lando’s copilot Nien Nunb and his ship, and they set off to three worlds to make contacts and to plant beacons that they know the Empire will find advertising a Rebel meeting to happen soon. But the chance that hopeful Rebels might be captured by the Empire after believing Leia’s message starts to wear on her, and she has to decide whether to stick with the plan that was intended to help the Rebellion or put her life in danger to protect the innocents caught up in the plot. Moving Target was the first book to establish the trend that I’ve discovered that books involving Leia are usually better than other comparable books. I don’t know how much of this is personal preference and how much of it is Leia working better on the page or being easier to write. This book was deeper than the other four “Journey to The Force Awakens” kids’ books, telling a more complete and compelling story, and delving into more mature themes. The examination of the sacrifices that ultimate victory sometimes requires also ties in extremely well to Rogue One and Cassian’s internal struggle. Of this set of four books, I would definitely recommend Moving Target the most. It was the most engaging read of the group, and even features some interesting and unexpected connections to Return of the Jedi, in addition to giving us a good look at both Princess and General Leia. A-

Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure by Greg Ruckaimg_2916

Like the two previous books on this list, Smuggler’s Run is told as a flashback, in this case with Han (in disguise) telling a story of his younger exploits to a bar full of skeptics. Han’s story tells of his and Chewie’s secret mission, following the destruction of the first Death Star, to rescue Rebel commando/spy Caluan Ematt who is being hunted by the Empire. Han and Chewie aren’t eager to take on another mission for the Rebels, as they need to pay of their debts to Jabba the Hutt and have bounty hunters on their tale, but Leia convinces them. It’s up to Han and Chewie to track down Ematt, evade the bounty hunters and the Empire, and find a way to escape unnoticed. Smuggler’s Run has its moments that feel like classic Han, as he improvises his way out of trouble or meets up with old friends, with chases, shootouts, and some fancy flying along the way, not to mention some verbal sparring with Leia before his true colors as a hero get the best of him. Smuggler’s Run doesn’t feel like it has much to contribute to the greater Star Wars story, either thematically or as far as plot goes, although it’s nice to see Ematt, who shows up in Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi. It’s a more compelling read than The Weapon of a Jedi, but it’s not nearly as good as Moving Target. B

Bloodline by Claudia Grayimg_2932

Bloodline is my absolute favorite of the new Star Wars books I’ve read so far, and not coincidentally was written by the same author as my second favorite, Lost Stars. Bloodline takes place some time after Return of the Jedi, at a time when Leia is a senator in the New Republic representing Alderaan. Her husband, Han, spends much of his time organizing and competing in starship races far away, while her brother Luke trains her son Ben in the ways of the Force. Leia aligns with the Populist faction of the New Republic, which feels that individual star systems require greater freedom and autonomy, while the Centrists want a stronger military and more powerful and controlling government. Leia struggles with the stagnation and gridlock of the Galactic Senate, while second guessing her decision to continue to serve in a political body where she feels she can’t make much of a difference, despite her legendary status as a hero of the Rebellion. She plans to step down as a Senator, but first agrees to take on an investigative mission for the Senate to look into a crime cartel. She is accompanied by a vain, young, handsome Centrist Senator named Ransolm Casterfo who has a sick obsession and adoration for the Empire of old, and the two begin to uncover a vast conspiracy amid terrorist attacks that threatens to destroy the government they both want to protect, though in different ways.

Bloodline is about the earliest whispers of the First Order and how it managed to come into being and rise to power despite the presence of a new Republic that ought to have been wary after what happened in the Old Republic to allow Palpatine to seize power. And equally it’s about the rise of the Resistance to counter the First Order. It gives us a really in-depth look at the political dysfunction, tribalism, and entrenched opposition that allows a fringe group to grow in secret while everyone is distracted by petty bickering. The book feels particularly timely, in a way that the prequels felt during the early 2000’s, and despite focusing on politics it wisely doesn’t retrace the same steps that the prequels did. Leia is exceptionally well-written in Bloodline, and we get to see all of the facets of her character, from asskicking heroine to patient politician to military strategist to wise leader, and we get a look at how she is able to build both the Rebellion and the Resistance through her ability to connect with people on a personal level. She’s a three-dimensional character, not a flawless goddess, capable of making mistakes and being petty but always striving to do the right thing and to seek out justice. And hovering over her is the secret that Darth Vader was her father, the bloodline of the novel’s title, a secret that threatens everything she has worked to build and could be used as a weapon against her to shatter those relationships she has worked so hard to build. The book finds time to devote to Leia’s complicated and difficult family life, where her devotion to her duty and Han’s passion and restless nature mean that their marriage and time with their son is always doomed to be unsatisfying in spite of their deep love and respect for each other. The other characters are just as well-written, particularly Ransolm Casterfo, who starts as a shallow and even disturbing antagonist but who gains depth and emotion as the story unfolds, and it’s filled with memorable new heroes and villains. Bloodline is definitely a political novel, but it also has plenty of action and emotion and never feels dry or slow. I can’t recommend Bloodline highly enough. It’s a book that plays a crucial role in the greater Star Wars story, and it’s one that will deepen your understanding of both the Star Wars universe and of one of its most important characters. A+

Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendigimg_3049

Life Debt, the second book in the Aftermath trilogy, begins its team of heroes from the first book led by Norra Wexley hunting down Imperial officers who have gone into hiding on behalf of the Republic. Meanwhile, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane has taken control of the remnants of the Empire, though a mysterious Fleet Admiral named Rax is pulling the Sloane’s strings and manipulating her and what is left of the Empire to serve his own ends. Norra’s team returns from a mission to capture a former Imperial that didn’t go as planned to be offered an off-the-record task by Princess Leia. Her new husband Han has gone missing along with Chewie. The pair had set out to try to free the Wookies and their homework Kashyyyk after the New Republic refuses to intervene due to its military resources being stretched so thin. Norra and her team agree take Leia’s job, despite a clear profit for the more mercenary-minded members of the group. Their mission will bring them not only face-to-face with the legendary Han Solo, but deep into the heart of territory still held by the most sadistic and cruel parts of the Empire, where the Wookies are brutally enslaved for the profit of those in charge, and where shadows from Norra and her son’s past threaten to disrupt the life they’re trying to build. All the while a grave threat to the New Republic builds as Sloane works to find her place and navigate the complicated waters of the diminished Empire. Life Debt is a bit of a mixed bag, much in the way the first book of the trilogy was. It has great potential, and I really enjoyed the new directions in which the protagonists of the series are taken. These are all complicated heroes (and villains), with a variety of motivating factors and issues to sort out. Interestingly, I found Sloane particularly compelling, especially given the way this book ends (I have yet to read the final book in the trilogy). It was nice that the book featured more familiar characters from the original trilogy, with Han and Chewie in particular getting many moments to shine and work with the group at the heart of these stories. This book also continues the trend from the first of giving us isolated interludes that provide glimpses into what is happening at various spots around the galaxy. But the whole book just felt sloppy. Wendig’s writing still doesn’t appeal to me all that much, and I noticed a number of editing mistakes that bothered me. One interlude in particular deals with a non-binary character, which is a positive as far as representation is concerned, but it was inconsistent about pronoun usage. But the story just didn’t flow as well as I would have liked, and it made it difficult for me to get very invested in the book. I’m curious where the story leads and to see what happens to this group of characters that I like, so I’m looking forward to reading the final book in the series, Empire’s End, which has been out for over a year. B-

Last Shot: A Han and Lando Novel by Daniel José Older img_3093

Last Shot is the first tie-in book for Solo: A Star Wars Story. It doesn’t directly connect to the plot of the film, but it does introduce us to some of the new characters and reacquaint us with the younger versions of characters we’ve known a long time. Its story is split over three time periods, with the main narrative taking place a few years after Return of the Jedi. Leia is busy working on building the New Republic, while she and Han raise their young son, Ben. Han struggles with being a father, afraid that he’s going to mess things up because he doesn’t know what he’s doing and struggling to reconcile his love for his family with how much he misses his old life. But Lando throws a wrench into things when he shows up (and punches Han) after one of his droids tried to murder him looking for a mysterious device from their past. Han and Lando (and Leia) decide that the pair needs to put a team together and track down this device before a mysterious enemy either finds it or succeeds in assassinating Lando. The story then mixes this quest with the pair’s earlier encounters and near misses with the device. Lando and L3-37 stumbled across it 15 years earlier back when they owned the Millennium Falcon, while Han and Chewie actually managed to get ahold of it briefly during a job gone wrong. Last Shot does a great job of picking up the themes of Solo by delving into Han’s constant internal battle between a life of freedom and a desire to do the right thing, all while hiding a healthy dose of insecurity behind a veil of confidence. It does an excellent job capturing the voices of familiar characters, and it also has one of the more interesting and unexpected villains in the series, whose motivations are well-explored and even sympathetic. But where Last Shot really shines is in the strength of its supporting characters and the way it loves to subvert expectations. It gives us our first look at L3, one of the best parts of Solo, whose desire for droid rights meshes perfectly with the droid-related plot of the book, but it also features a gender neutral human who uses “they” pronouns, a sarcastic and constantly frustrated Ewok slicer (hacker), and a Gungan who really hates when people use “meesa” at him and talk to him like he’s a Jar Jar stereotype. I didn’t have much in the way of expectations for Last Shot, but it turned out to be one of my favorites. A-

The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liuimg_3123

The Legends of Luke Skywalker is a bit of an oddity. It was one of several “Journey to The Last Jedi” books leading up to that film, but given how close that movie follows The Force Awakens and the desire to keep Luke’s story a secret, it couldn’t exactly fill in any gaps in the story. Instead it takes an entirely different approach, giving us a collection of stories and legends about Luke as told by the young crew of a cargo ship. The stories are all told 3rd-hand or beyond, and thus are not always believable or accurate. There’s one crewmember who relates an elaborate conspiracy theory that Luke and Han and the heroes of the Rebellion were just a propaganda fabrication. Another story tells of when Luke visited the speaker’s home planet in search of new ways to learn about the Force and encountered a seafaring people who have a connection to “The Tide.” There was the time Luke and a scientist ventured deep into the belly of a cave worm, or the legend a droid tells of when he liberated a world of droid slaves in an attempt to rescue R2-D2. And craziest of all is the story of a flea-sized sentient creature who lived on Salacious Crumb in Jabba’s palace and helped Luke defeat the rancor and save Han and the rest of the team from the Sarlacc. There were times in this book when I had to stop and ask, “What the hell am I reading?” But it was definitely bizarrely entertaining. It wasn’t until the end when I realized how brilliantly the book captured the key themes of The Last Jedi and Luke’s personal journey in the film, about the power of legends and symbols and the way they grow and inspire far beyond the source with each retelling. It’s still a bit of a strange read, but it’s an excellent companion to the last half hour of The Last Jedi. B+

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