The Stolen Data Tapes
The Han Solo Adventures by Brian Daley (1979-1980, Del Rey)
The Han Solo Adventures is a one-volume collection of three short novels by the late Brian Daley chronicling a few of Han and Chewbacca’s adventures before the first Star Wars film. These books were among the very first Star Wars novels, with only the novelization of the first film and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye preceding them. These books, along with Splinter and The Lando Calrissian Adventures, constitute the only expanded universe novels to be published prior to Heir to the Empire. As with the Lando books, I’ll review each of these separately.



Han Solo at Stars’ End
In this first novel, Han and Chewbacca find themselves in the Corporate Sector, an area of space controlled by a tyrannical oligarchy of corporations concerned solely with profit. Brian Daley used the Corporate Sector and the Corporate Sector Authority in lieu of the Empire because, as he explains in this 1995 interview, he wasn’t permitted to use most of the trappings of A New Hope. The original Star Wars was the only one of the films out at the time, and, Daley explains, continuity was a concern. As you might surmise, this is also why The Han Solo Adventures are set prior to the original Star Wars. Despite these differences, Daley immediately captures the exciting space chases, Han’s wry wit and cocky demeanor, and the interplay between Han and Chewbacca in a way that reminds the reader of everything that made Han so much fun to watch in the first movie.

The Millennium Falcon is in need of repairs (and a fake waiver to operate within the Corporate Sector), so Han and Chewie turn to “Doc,” a well-known outlaw mechanic. When they arrive at Doc’s shop, they find his daughter Jessa in charge. She informs them that Doc has disappeared and that the down-on-their luck duo can pay for the Falcon’s repairs by tracking down him and several other people who have been captured by the Corporate Sector Authority.

The fact that several people are missing leaves Daley an opening to add a few original supporting characters to Han’s crew, most of whom are searching for loved ones or associates.



Daley also introduces here the only two characters (aside from Han and Chewbacca) that appear in all three Han Solo Adventures novels: the droids Bollux (rendered in British publications as “Zollux” for obvious reasons) and Blue Max, an old labor droid and pocket-sized computer hacking unit, respectively. Having a pair of droid companions in the novel’s cast lends it some more of the film’s feel, but the droids’ unique personalities add a distinct quality to the Solo books.

Shit gets real when, in the group’s first and failed attempt to liberate the occupants of Stars’ End prison, Chewbacca is captured. The eventual rescue is thrilling for the reader and nigh-suicidal for Han Solo—much in the vein of the Death Star detention block bust in A New Hope.

This book is great pulp adventure, sci-fi fun, and established a lot of materials, technologies, and conventions of the Star Wars universe (i.e. the Z-95 Headhunter starfighter) that continue to be utilized in the expanded universe today.
One last note about this one. It’s already a great line that evokes the image of Han’s cocky smile, but one thing Han says in this book has been lent extra humor in the past fifteen or so years: “I happen to like shooting first, Rekkon. As opposed to shooting second.”



Han Solo’s Revenge

The second book in the series finds Han and Chewbacca down enough on their luck that they’re willing to pick up a job from an anonymous source with no explanations—for ten thousand credits. This quickly proves itself to be a regrettable choice when they discover that they’re being asked to transport slaves. Han, of course, is at this point hardly a pinnacle of principle, but slavery is one place where he and Chewbacca both draw the line. The slavers aren’t much interested in their moral qualms and decide to hijack the Falcon, but with the help of Blue Max, the slavers get good and dead at the hands of their own “cargo” and Han, Chewie, and the Falcon escape intact.

The way Han sees it, though, somebody still owes him ten thousand.

From there, the novel follows Han’s mission to track down those responsible for the setup and to get his money. In the process, he crosses paths with members of the Corporate Sector Authority’s Security Police and the dangerous quick-draw gunman, Gallandro, whose skill with a blaster rivals or exceeds Han’s own.



The book is as much crime fiction as it is sci-fi, with plenty of police corruption, hidden identities, and double-crosses. Gallandro lends the novel that western-in-space vibe that the character of Han Solo and Harrison Ford’s performance always brought to the films. All of this is a recipe for a great time with Han Solo.



Han Solo and the Lost Legacy

The third and final book of The Han Solo Adventures stretches beyond the Corporate Sector to a region of space known as the Tion Hegemony, where, thousands of years ago, a man known to history as Xim the Despot ruled over a vast empire. An old friend of Han’s—to whom he owes a favor—believes that some associates of his have a good lead on the location of the Queen of Ranroon, an ancient spaceship belonging to Xim, fabled to contain untold wealth.

In their quest for the lost treasure, Han and his companions must contend with the theft of the Millennium Falcon; a group of people descended from the survivors of a starship crash who now offer up sentient beings in ritual sacrifice in an attempt send a distress signal to High Command; an ancient army of Xim’s killer war robots; and the gunman Gallandro, intent on settling his score with Han.

Lost Legacy is my favorite of the three, with the strongest assembly of supporting characters, a sort of pre-Indiana Jones vibe, an exciting one-on-one showdown in the book’s climax, and a great twist ending.

The Han Solo Adventures are three highly entertaining, more-or-less stand-alone pulp adventures. Without even the benefit of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Brian Daley understood exactly what made Han Solo tick and wrote the character to perfection while putting him through his paces. I only wish more fun, small stories like these were told in today’s Star Wars fiction.

The Han Solo Adventures by Brian Daley (1979-1980, Del Rey)

The Han Solo Adventures is a one-volume collection of three short novels by the late Brian Daley chronicling a few of Han and Chewbacca’s adventures before the first Star Wars film. These books were among the very first Star Wars novels, with only the novelization of the first film and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye preceding them. These books, along with Splinter and The Lando Calrissian Adventures, constitute the only expanded universe novels to be published prior to Heir to the Empire. As with the Lando books, I’ll review each of these separately.

Han Solo at Stars’ End

In this first novel, Han and Chewbacca find themselves in the Corporate Sector, an area of space controlled by a tyrannical oligarchy of corporations concerned solely with profit. Brian Daley used the Corporate Sector and the Corporate Sector Authority in lieu of the Empire because, as he explains in this 1995 interview, he wasn’t permitted to use most of the trappings of A New Hope. The original Star Wars was the only one of the films out at the time, and, Daley explains, continuity was a concern. As you might surmise, this is also why The Han Solo Adventures are set prior to the original Star Wars. Despite these differences, Daley immediately captures the exciting space chases, Han’s wry wit and cocky demeanor, and the interplay between Han and Chewbacca in a way that reminds the reader of everything that made Han so much fun to watch in the first movie.

The Millennium Falcon is in need of repairs (and a fake waiver to operate within the Corporate Sector), so Han and Chewie turn to “Doc,” a well-known outlaw mechanic. When they arrive at Doc’s shop, they find his daughter Jessa in charge. She informs them that Doc has disappeared and that the down-on-their luck duo can pay for the Falcon’s repairs by tracking down him and several other people who have been captured by the Corporate Sector Authority.

The fact that several people are missing leaves Daley an opening to add a few original supporting characters to Han’s crew, most of whom are searching for loved ones or associates.

Daley also introduces here the only two characters (aside from Han and Chewbacca) that appear in all three Han Solo Adventures novels: the droids Bollux (rendered in British publications as “Zollux” for obvious reasons) and Blue Max, an old labor droid and pocket-sized computer hacking unit, respectively. Having a pair of droid companions in the novel’s cast lends it some more of the film’s feel, but the droids’ unique personalities add a distinct quality to the Solo books.

Shit gets real when, in the group’s first and failed attempt to liberate the occupants of Stars’ End prison, Chewbacca is captured. The eventual rescue is thrilling for the reader and nigh-suicidal for Han Solo—much in the vein of the Death Star detention block bust in A New Hope.

This book is great pulp adventure, sci-fi fun, and established a lot of materials, technologies, and conventions of the Star Wars universe (i.e. the Z-95 Headhunter starfighter) that continue to be utilized in the expanded universe today.

One last note about this one. It’s already a great line that evokes the image of Han’s cocky smile, but one thing Han says in this book has been lent extra humor in the past fifteen or so years: “I happen to like shooting first, Rekkon. As opposed to shooting second.”

Han Solo’s Revenge

The second book in the series finds Han and Chewbacca down enough on their luck that they’re willing to pick up a job from an anonymous source with no explanations—for ten thousand credits. This quickly proves itself to be a regrettable choice when they discover that they’re being asked to transport slaves. Han, of course, is at this point hardly a pinnacle of principle, but slavery is one place where he and Chewbacca both draw the line. The slavers aren’t much interested in their moral qualms and decide to hijack the Falcon, but with the help of Blue Max, the slavers get good and dead at the hands of their own “cargo” and Han, Chewie, and the Falcon escape intact.

The way Han sees it, though, somebody still owes him ten thousand.

From there, the novel follows Han’s mission to track down those responsible for the setup and to get his money. In the process, he crosses paths with members of the Corporate Sector Authority’s Security Police and the dangerous quick-draw gunman, Gallandro, whose skill with a blaster rivals or exceeds Han’s own.

The book is as much crime fiction as it is sci-fi, with plenty of police corruption, hidden identities, and double-crosses. Gallandro lends the novel that western-in-space vibe that the character of Han Solo and Harrison Ford’s performance always brought to the films. All of this is a recipe for a great time with Han Solo.

Han Solo and the Lost Legacy

The third and final book of The Han Solo Adventures stretches beyond the Corporate Sector to a region of space known as the Tion Hegemony, where, thousands of years ago, a man known to history as Xim the Despot ruled over a vast empire. An old friend of Han’s—to whom he owes a favor—believes that some associates of his have a good lead on the location of the Queen of Ranroon, an ancient spaceship belonging to Xim, fabled to contain untold wealth.

In their quest for the lost treasure, Han and his companions must contend with the theft of the Millennium Falcon; a group of people descended from the survivors of a starship crash who now offer up sentient beings in ritual sacrifice in an attempt send a distress signal to High Command; an ancient army of Xim’s killer war robots; and the gunman Gallandro, intent on settling his score with Han.

Lost Legacy is my favorite of the three, with the strongest assembly of supporting characters, a sort of pre-Indiana Jones vibe, an exciting one-on-one showdown in the book’s climax, and a great twist ending.

The Han Solo Adventures are three highly entertaining, more-or-less stand-alone pulp adventures. Without even the benefit of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Brian Daley understood exactly what made Han Solo tick and wrote the character to perfection while putting him through his paces. I only wish more fun, small stories like these were told in today’s Star Wars fiction.

Coruscant Nights III: Patterns of Force by Michael Reaves and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff [uncredited] (2009, Del Rey)
Currently the climactic final book in the Coruscant Nights series (pending the release of a fourth next year), Patterns of Force has more going for it than simply sharing a name with one of my favorite Star Trek episodes (that’s right; I’m a fan of both. Come at me).



Reaves digs into long-standing expanded universe lore and utilizes the Imperial Inquisitorius, a special division of the Emperor’s Dark Side Adepts focused on rounding up Force-sensitives and either pressing them into Imperial service or killing them. This novel largely follows the efforts of Jax Pavan and his team to protect Kajin Savaros, a young and untrained Force-sensitive, from that fate.

At the same time, tensions and divergent goals within the team threaten to fragment it. I-5YQ, the sentient protocol droid, is contemplating participation in a plot to assassinate Emperor Palpatine. Weathered reporter Den Dhur is growing tired of the dangerous life he’s chosen, and is considering a life of quiet domesticity back home on the planet Sullust. Laranth Tarak, Jax’s only fellow Jedi companion, must cope with the fact that she has developed feelings for Jax, while he seems to be infatuated with Dejah Duare, the widowed Zeltron woman who has now joined the team. Finally, Haninum Tyk Rhinann, former aide to Darth Vader, wants his old job back.

All the while, Vader is getting closer to completing his search for Jax, as the two of them draw closer to the inevitable confrontation at the novel’s climax.

Aside from a somewhat predictable double-cross, Patterns of Force is a departure from the noir vibe of the last two Coruscant Nights novels. While I devoted a lot of space in the last two reviews to praising those hard boiled elements, their absence here doesn’t hurt the book. Reaves has established strong enough characters and dynamics to carry the story without the extra genre flavor.

Patterns of Force would have been a great note for the Coruscant Nights series to go out on, but I’m glad there’s another one in the works. These books are great pulpy fun, and they follow a cast of original and colorful characters whose exploits I look forward to reading about again in the future.

*****

Not to hijack my own review, but on an unrelated note:
A year ago this week, I started The Stolen Data Tapes as a way to document my progress toward my goal of reading every full-length Star Wars novel. The following day, I posted my first review. Despite a schedule that is often very busy, I’ve managed to get at least one review out every week, with the exception of one week last summer when I was on vacation. I’ve still got a while to go before I reach my goal, but contrary to the expectations of many a naysayer, I’ve made a pretty hefty dent, having squeezed in reviews of a lot of other Star Wars material besides.

It’s primarily your continued interest, appreciation, and kind words that have helped me stay consistent and diligent with this blog. I’ve said so before, but again, thank you all so much for your moral support. I hope you’ll all continue to read and enjoy for another year. Check back here this coming Wednesday, next Friday, and every Friday for new reviews. As always, feel free to drop me a line in my “ask” box for any reason. Thanks again, and may the Force be with you.

Coruscant Nights III: Patterns of Force by Michael Reaves and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff [uncredited] (2009, Del Rey)

Currently the climactic final book in the Coruscant Nights series (pending the release of a fourth next year), Patterns of Force has more going for it than simply sharing a name with one of my favorite Star Trek episodes (that’s right; I’m a fan of both. Come at me).

Reaves digs into long-standing expanded universe lore and utilizes the Imperial Inquisitorius, a special division of the Emperor’s Dark Side Adepts focused on rounding up Force-sensitives and either pressing them into Imperial service or killing them. This novel largely follows the efforts of Jax Pavan and his team to protect Kajin Savaros, a young and untrained Force-sensitive, from that fate.

At the same time, tensions and divergent goals within the team threaten to fragment it. I-5YQ, the sentient protocol droid, is contemplating participation in a plot to assassinate Emperor Palpatine. Weathered reporter Den Dhur is growing tired of the dangerous life he’s chosen, and is considering a life of quiet domesticity back home on the planet Sullust. Laranth Tarak, Jax’s only fellow Jedi companion, must cope with the fact that she has developed feelings for Jax, while he seems to be infatuated with Dejah Duare, the widowed Zeltron woman who has now joined the team. Finally, Haninum Tyk Rhinann, former aide to Darth Vader, wants his old job back.

All the while, Vader is getting closer to completing his search for Jax, as the two of them draw closer to the inevitable confrontation at the novel’s climax.

Aside from a somewhat predictable double-cross, Patterns of Force is a departure from the noir vibe of the last two Coruscant Nights novels. While I devoted a lot of space in the last two reviews to praising those hard boiled elements, their absence here doesn’t hurt the book. Reaves has established strong enough characters and dynamics to carry the story without the extra genre flavor.

Patterns of Force would have been a great note for the Coruscant Nights series to go out on, but I’m glad there’s another one in the works. These books are great pulpy fun, and they follow a cast of original and colorful characters whose exploits I look forward to reading about again in the future.

*****

Not to hijack my own review, but on an unrelated note:

A year ago this week, I started The Stolen Data Tapes as a way to document my progress toward my goal of reading every full-length Star Wars novel. The following day, I posted my first review. Despite a schedule that is often very busy, I’ve managed to get at least one review out every week, with the exception of one week last summer when I was on vacation. I’ve still got a while to go before I reach my goal, but contrary to the expectations of many a naysayer, I’ve made a pretty hefty dent, having squeezed in reviews of a lot of other Star Wars material besides.

It’s primarily your continued interest, appreciation, and kind words that have helped me stay consistent and diligent with this blog. I’ve said so before, but again, thank you all so much for your moral support. I hope you’ll all continue to read and enjoy for another year. Check back here this coming Wednesday, next Friday, and every Friday for new reviews. As always, feel free to drop me a line in my “ask” box for any reason. Thanks again, and may the Force be with you.

Labyrinth of Evil by James Luceno (2005, Del Rey)
“The must-read prequel to Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith,” proclaims the obnoxious-looking copy in the lower-left corner of the cover. The “must-read” descriptor clearly is false, since I went to see Revenge of the Sith on opening night, not having picked up a Star Wars book in years, and understood what was going on just fine.
Now, in pointing out a bullshit marketing ploy, I’m certainly not trying to tell you notto read Labyrinth of Evil. James Luceno, in my estimation, is one of the better writers in Del Rey’s stable, and with the exception of Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, this is probably the best work of his that I’ve read.
Luceno has a very good understanding of just how much of a brilliantly evil, manipulative bastard Palpatine is, and that really comes through in this book. Labyrinth of Evil draws on the numerous stories that came out between Episodes II and III for a pretty rewarding culmination of events.  During “that business on Cato Neimoidia,” Obi-Wan and Anakin come across the device Nute Gunray had been using since The Phantom Menace to keep in touch with Darth Sidious. With no more doubt as to the existence of Sidious, the Jedi begin an effort to track down the Sith Lord and piece together his identity.
The trail of the transceiver’s origins stretches all over the galaxy and (of course) leads right back to Coruscant itself. Mace Windu and Shaak Ti are even able to follow the trail as far as 500 Republica, the massive apartment complex that is home to Coruscant’s most rich and powerful—including Palpatine. The search forces Palpatine’s hand, and his plans are set into motion early; thus, the Jedi don’t have time to put two and two together concerning the identity of Darth Sidious before Coruscant itself comes under attack. The book ends on a “TO BE CONCLUDED” cliffhanger, with Obi-Wan and Anakin, who had (by design, of course) been tied up with Dooku, getting ready to rush into the battle over Coruscant.
My favorite bits, though, involve Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and Padme—members of the “Loyalist Committee”—and their dealings with Palpatine. While Bail might not know that Palpatine is a Sith Lord, he seems to have a better understanding than most about where things are going. A fantastic passage early in the book discusses what Bail refers to as “the new Coruscant,” where such an effective climate of fear has been created that constant, invasive searches by clone troopers are a daily reality, anti-alien sentiments are brewing, and the Supreme Chancellor throws around terms like “Triad of Evil” to help him garner continued support for the prolonged war. A lot of people read a criticism of then-President George W. Bush’s administration into the events of Revenge of the Sith. That’s debatable, but there is little question that Luceno had Bush and the “War on Terrorism” in mind when he wrote these passages. Some folks get upset when a sci-fi or fantasy story strays outside the realm of pure escapism, but I can appreciate a certain level of commentary, even in a Star Wars book.
Most importantly, though, this book, while not necessarily a “must-read,” is a great tie-in to Revenge of the Sith. It has all of the elements that make that film great: Anakin’s struggle to keep his emotions—particularly his rage—under control; Obi-Wan and Anakin’s camaraderie, which is very touching at times in this book; exciting space battles and lightsaber duels; and, above it all, Palpatine, ever the puppet master, the chess player, pulling strings and sliding pawns around the galactic board.

Labyrinth of Evil by James Luceno (2005, Del Rey)

“The must-read prequel to Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith,” proclaims the obnoxious-looking copy in the lower-left corner of the cover. The “must-read” descriptor clearly is false, since I went to see Revenge of the Sith on opening night, not having picked up a Star Wars book in years, and understood what was going on just fine.

Now, in pointing out a bullshit marketing ploy, I’m certainly not trying to tell you notto read Labyrinth of Evil. James Luceno, in my estimation, is one of the better writers in Del Rey’s stable, and with the exception of Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, this is probably the best work of his that I’ve read.

Luceno has a very good understanding of just how much of a brilliantly evil, manipulative bastard Palpatine is, and that really comes through in this book. Labyrinth of Evil draws on the numerous stories that came out between Episodes II and III for a pretty rewarding culmination of events.  During “that business on Cato Neimoidia,” Obi-Wan and Anakin come across the device Nute Gunray had been using since The Phantom Menace to keep in touch with Darth Sidious. With no more doubt as to the existence of Sidious, the Jedi begin an effort to track down the Sith Lord and piece together his identity.

The trail of the transceiver’s origins stretches all over the galaxy and (of course) leads right back to Coruscant itself. Mace Windu and Shaak Ti are even able to follow the trail as far as 500 Republica, the massive apartment complex that is home to Coruscant’s most rich and powerful—including Palpatine. The search forces Palpatine’s hand, and his plans are set into motion early; thus, the Jedi don’t have time to put two and two together concerning the identity of Darth Sidious before Coruscant itself comes under attack. The book ends on a “TO BE CONCLUDED” cliffhanger, with Obi-Wan and Anakin, who had (by design, of course) been tied up with Dooku, getting ready to rush into the battle over Coruscant.

My favorite bits, though, involve Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and Padme—members of the “Loyalist Committee”—and their dealings with Palpatine. While Bail might not know that Palpatine is a Sith Lord, he seems to have a better understanding than most about where things are going. A fantastic passage early in the book discusses what Bail refers to as “the new Coruscant,” where such an effective climate of fear has been created that constant, invasive searches by clone troopers are a daily reality, anti-alien sentiments are brewing, and the Supreme Chancellor throws around terms like “Triad of Evil” to help him garner continued support for the prolonged war. A lot of people read a criticism of then-President George W. Bush’s administration into the events of Revenge of the Sith. That’s debatable, but there is little question that Luceno had Bush and the “War on Terrorism” in mind when he wrote these passages. Some folks get upset when a sci-fi or fantasy story strays outside the realm of pure escapism, but I can appreciate a certain level of commentary, even in a Star Wars book.

Most importantly, though, this book, while not necessarily a “must-read,” is a great tie-in to Revenge of the Sith. It has all of the elements that make that film great: Anakin’s struggle to keep his emotions—particularly his rage—under control; Obi-Wan and Anakin’s camaraderie, which is very touching at times in this book; exciting space battles and lightsaber duels; and, above it all, Palpatine, ever the puppet master, the chess player, pulling strings and sliding pawns around the galactic board.

The Lando Calrissian Adventures by L. Neil Smith (1983, Del Rey)
Or, at least, that’s what it’s called according to the cover. Wookiepedia agrees with this title, but the title page refers to the collection as The Adventures of Lando Calrissian.
It seems very strange to me to have the cover and title page of a book disagree. Strange, but of little consequence. Not only do these both amount to the same title, but The Adventures of Lando Calrissian/The Lando Calrissian Adventures is not a single book, but a one-volume collection of a trilogy of short novels about everyone’s favorite gambler and con-artist, all originally published by Del Rey in 1983. Rather than review the collection as a single piece, then, I’ll be looking individually at each book.

Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu
This first installment joins Lando shortly after his winning the Millennium Falcon in a card game. His galactic wandering has taken him to the Oseon system, where he is currently engaged in the very same card game: sabacc. In fact, this is the very first appearance of a sabacc game in any published Star Wars material. Smith starts strong right out of the gate by making said game’s rules understandable and his description of the game both amusing and exciting.
One of the other players, a pedantic academic-type called Osuno Whett, tells Lando all about the priceless treasure that can be found in a nearby star system called the Rafa. The treasure was supposedly left behind by an ancient civilization that once lived there. After winning from Whett a droid that’s currently in the Rafa system, Lando high-tails it there.
Shortly thereafter, two of this trilogy’s principal players are introduced.

The first is Vuffi Raa, an oddly-shaped droid with no recollection of his origins. Vuffi becomes Lando’s companion throughout these three novels, the Chewie to his Han. His insistence on always calling Lando “master,” despite the latter’s protests provides a source of humor right up to the third novel’s final page. His unknown origins provide a continuous source of mystery for almost as long.

The other key character is the trilogy’s antagonist, Rokur Gepta, Sorceror of Tund. In Gepta, Smith has created an unabashedly over-the-top villain who would be just as much at home in a Robert E. Howard story as he is here. Rokur Gepta, with his mysterious technology disguised as magic, is as vile as they come, hell-bent on absolute power and the destruction of life.
Having exerted his “magical” power and authority over the planetary governor of Rafa IV, Gepta has Lando arrested and then forced to go on an errand: a search for the mysterious Mindharp of Sharu, an artifact of the ostensibly extinct Sharu civilization, believed by Gepta to have the power of mass mind control.
What follows is a wild and outlandish adventure, culminating in an almost psychedelic journey through one of the ancient Sharu pyramids and a conversation with the room that houses the Mindharp.
This first book had me hooked right away. It is a sci-fi novel very much characteristic of its time—and to me this is nothing but a good thing. The pulpy, madcap quality of this story’s plot (and its turn-of-a-dime conclusion) obeys none of the preconceptions or limitations that have come to govern the Star Wars expanded universe in more recent times.

Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon
Lando and Vuffi Raa escaped Rokur Gepta and the Rafa system with a cargo of very valuable Sharu life crystals, but this book checks in on Lando and Vuffi Raa a short while later, when taxes, unsuccessful investments, and other financial miscellanea have depleted the pair’s funds. To make matters worse, someone has been planting bombs on the Falcon and trying to kill Lando. I find it strange that Lando would not guess that Rokur Gepta might be upset about the Mindharp incident—although the truth winds up being a bit more complicated than that, anyway.
Lando and Vuffi Raa, down on their luck, get invited by one of the many super-rich folks in the Oseon system for a high-stakes game of sabacc. Lando accepts, of course, and lands himself in a very similar situation to that of the first book. Called away from the game on the false pretense that the Falcon is on fire, Lando is attacked by an unknown assailant and is forced to kill him. He is subsequently arrested and forced to go on a mission. In some cases I would find this repetition of formula irritating, but here it is commented on and the circumstances as presented do not feel forced.
Lando is given the task of transporting two police officers to the home of a rich drug addict living on one of the other asteroids of the system. Lando is to attempt to sell him his drugs, whereupon the officers will arrest the buyer. There is one very big catch: Lando and Vuffi Raa will have to navigate Oseon space during the Flamewind, a three-week long storm of multicolored radiation from the system’s sun. The event renders communication devices useless and complicates navigation, both by computer and by the naked eye.
Having no choice, Lando sets out on the journey assigned him. The trip features one delightfully bizarre sequence involving shifting colors, a highly disoriented Vuffi Raa… and an attack by a rag-tag squadron of fighters. The squadron is led by Klyn Shanga, a survivor (like the rest of his men) of an all-but-destroyed civilization in the Renatasia system. They have sworn vengeance on the enemy who destroyed their worlds. Smith leads the reader to believe that Rokur Gepta is this enemy, but in a surprising twist, it turns out to be none other than Vuffi Raa. This is due to a grave misunderstanding, but Shanga refuses to accept Vuffi’s explanation.
Prior to this, the novel reaches its climax with Lando having a very close call with Gepta, but managing to escape yet again.
The Flamewind is slightly less captivating in my mind than the ancient Sharu civilization from the first book, but otherwise Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon retains all of the previous installment’s charm. Lando’s confrontation with Gepta, in which the sorcerer uses Lando’s memories to torture him, gives the reader insight into the gambler’s past and psychology. It also firmly establishes Calrissian as Rokur Gepta’s arch-nemesis.

Lando Calrissian and the StarCave of ThonBoka
The final entry in this trilogy begins with a clever twist: Smith describes a manta ray-like being who has swum away from his home into the open sea. The being encounters another strange creature… which is revealed to be the Millennium Falcon. Lehesu, the sentient in question, is part of a race called the Oswaft, a civilization of beings capable of surviving in hard vacuum and living within a vast, hollow nebula called the ThonBoka, or StarCave. (Yes, this makes the title of the book effectively Lando Calrissian and the StarCave of StarCave.)
I find this concept for an alien civilization fascinating in the extreme. Surprisingly, however, this book has probably the most straightforward storyline of the three. A fleet has been sent to the ThonBoka. The Oswaft are enormous in size and actually capable of travelling through hyperspace purely by instinct. The Empire and the Centrality (the territory in which these books take place) consider this a threat, and plan to exterminate the aliens. Rokur Gepta is involved, of course, commanding the fleet. Gepta also employs Klyn Shanga in his efforts, exploiting his and his squadron’s desire for revenge against Vuffi Raa, the “Butcher of Renatasia.”
The book culminates in two climactic confrontations. The first is a battle between the Oswaft and the fleet’s cruisers. Thanks to Lando’s cunning, this goes well… for a time.

The second is a duel to the death between Lando Calrissian and Rokur Gepta in open space. At stake is not only Lando’s life, but the entire Oswaft civilization, which Gepta has threatened to annihilate with a mysterious and obscenely potent life-destroying weapon.
After Gepta’s inevitable (but still quite satisfying) demise, the problem of the fleet is solved through a delightfully shameless deus ex machina that also answers the question of Vuffi Raa’s origins.
StarCave is a great final entry for the series, with plenty of wonderful character moments, a tidy conclusion to various loose threads, and a last page punch line that brought a big, cheesy grin to my face.
The Lando Calrissian Adventures are a joy to read. Smith writes in a lax, humorous, conversational style that manages to be simultaneously poetic. This is, of course, perfectly suited to the suave, sophisticated gambler and con artist around whom the story centers. As mentioned earlier, Smith isn’t afraid to throw wild, outlandish concepts and characters into the mix—and he’s not afraid to leave some pretty strange stuff mysterious and unexplained, either. At the same time, Lando’s encounters with corrupt cops and bureaucrats lend the narrative a somewhat down-to-earth quality.
These books represent a style that is no longer very common in Star Wars books or pop science fiction in general. It’s a style that doesn’t take itself too seriously and welcomes the bizarre and even, at times, the hokey, if that serves the story. With The Lando Calrissian Adventures, Smith delivers pure enjoyment.  

The Lando Calrissian Adventures by L. Neil Smith (1983, Del Rey)

Or, at least, that’s what it’s called according to the cover. Wookiepedia agrees with this title, but the title page refers to the collection as The Adventures of Lando Calrissian.

It seems very strange to me to have the cover and title page of a book disagree. Strange, but of little consequence. Not only do these both amount to the same title, but The Adventures of Lando Calrissian/The Lando Calrissian Adventures is not a single book, but a one-volume collection of a trilogy of short novels about everyone’s favorite gambler and con-artist, all originally published by Del Rey in 1983. Rather than review the collection as a single piece, then, I’ll be looking individually at each book.

Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu

This first installment joins Lando shortly after his winning the Millennium Falcon in a card game. His galactic wandering has taken him to the Oseon system, where he is currently engaged in the very same card game: sabacc. In fact, this is the very first appearance of a sabacc game in any published Star Wars material. Smith starts strong right out of the gate by making said game’s rules understandable and his description of the game both amusing and exciting.

One of the other players, a pedantic academic-type called Osuno Whett, tells Lando all about the priceless treasure that can be found in a nearby star system called the Rafa. The treasure was supposedly left behind by an ancient civilization that once lived there. After winning from Whett a droid that’s currently in the Rafa system, Lando high-tails it there.

Shortly thereafter, two of this trilogy’s principal players are introduced.

The first is Vuffi Raa, an oddly-shaped droid with no recollection of his origins. Vuffi becomes Lando’s companion throughout these three novels, the Chewie to his Han. His insistence on always calling Lando “master,” despite the latter’s protests provides a source of humor right up to the third novel’s final page. His unknown origins provide a continuous source of mystery for almost as long.

The other key character is the trilogy’s antagonist, Rokur Gepta, Sorceror of Tund. In Gepta, Smith has created an unabashedly over-the-top villain who would be just as much at home in a Robert E. Howard story as he is here. Rokur Gepta, with his mysterious technology disguised as magic, is as vile as they come, hell-bent on absolute power and the destruction of life.

Having exerted his “magical” power and authority over the planetary governor of Rafa IV, Gepta has Lando arrested and then forced to go on an errand: a search for the mysterious Mindharp of Sharu, an artifact of the ostensibly extinct Sharu civilization, believed by Gepta to have the power of mass mind control.

What follows is a wild and outlandish adventure, culminating in an almost psychedelic journey through one of the ancient Sharu pyramids and a conversation with the room that houses the Mindharp.

This first book had me hooked right away. It is a sci-fi novel very much characteristic of its time—and to me this is nothing but a good thing. The pulpy, madcap quality of this story’s plot (and its turn-of-a-dime conclusion) obeys none of the preconceptions or limitations that have come to govern the Star Wars expanded universe in more recent times.

Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon

Lando and Vuffi Raa escaped Rokur Gepta and the Rafa system with a cargo of very valuable Sharu life crystals, but this book checks in on Lando and Vuffi Raa a short while later, when taxes, unsuccessful investments, and other financial miscellanea have depleted the pair’s funds. To make matters worse, someone has been planting bombs on the Falcon and trying to kill Lando. I find it strange that Lando would not guess that Rokur Gepta might be upset about the Mindharp incident—although the truth winds up being a bit more complicated than that, anyway.

Lando and Vuffi Raa, down on their luck, get invited by one of the many super-rich folks in the Oseon system for a high-stakes game of sabacc. Lando accepts, of course, and lands himself in a very similar situation to that of the first book. Called away from the game on the false pretense that the Falcon is on fire, Lando is attacked by an unknown assailant and is forced to kill him. He is subsequently arrested and forced to go on a mission. In some cases I would find this repetition of formula irritating, but here it is commented on and the circumstances as presented do not feel forced.

Lando is given the task of transporting two police officers to the home of a rich drug addict living on one of the other asteroids of the system. Lando is to attempt to sell him his drugs, whereupon the officers will arrest the buyer. There is one very big catch: Lando and Vuffi Raa will have to navigate Oseon space during the Flamewind, a three-week long storm of multicolored radiation from the system’s sun. The event renders communication devices useless and complicates navigation, both by computer and by the naked eye.

Having no choice, Lando sets out on the journey assigned him. The trip features one delightfully bizarre sequence involving shifting colors, a highly disoriented Vuffi Raa… and an attack by a rag-tag squadron of fighters. The squadron is led by Klyn Shanga, a survivor (like the rest of his men) of an all-but-destroyed civilization in the Renatasia system. They have sworn vengeance on the enemy who destroyed their worlds. Smith leads the reader to believe that Rokur Gepta is this enemy, but in a surprising twist, it turns out to be none other than Vuffi Raa. This is due to a grave misunderstanding, but Shanga refuses to accept Vuffi’s explanation.

Prior to this, the novel reaches its climax with Lando having a very close call with Gepta, but managing to escape yet again.

The Flamewind is slightly less captivating in my mind than the ancient Sharu civilization from the first book, but otherwise Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon retains all of the previous installment’s charm. Lando’s confrontation with Gepta, in which the sorcerer uses Lando’s memories to torture him, gives the reader insight into the gambler’s past and psychology. It also firmly establishes Calrissian as Rokur Gepta’s arch-nemesis.

Lando Calrissian and the StarCave of ThonBoka

The final entry in this trilogy begins with a clever twist: Smith describes a manta ray-like being who has swum away from his home into the open sea. The being encounters another strange creature… which is revealed to be the Millennium Falcon. Lehesu, the sentient in question, is part of a race called the Oswaft, a civilization of beings capable of surviving in hard vacuum and living within a vast, hollow nebula called the ThonBoka, or StarCave. (Yes, this makes the title of the book effectively Lando Calrissian and the StarCave of StarCave.)

I find this concept for an alien civilization fascinating in the extreme. Surprisingly, however, this book has probably the most straightforward storyline of the three. A fleet has been sent to the ThonBoka. The Oswaft are enormous in size and actually capable of travelling through hyperspace purely by instinct. The Empire and the Centrality (the territory in which these books take place) consider this a threat, and plan to exterminate the aliens. Rokur Gepta is involved, of course, commanding the fleet. Gepta also employs Klyn Shanga in his efforts, exploiting his and his squadron’s desire for revenge against Vuffi Raa, the “Butcher of Renatasia.”

The book culminates in two climactic confrontations. The first is a battle between the Oswaft and the fleet’s cruisers. Thanks to Lando’s cunning, this goes well… for a time.

The second is a duel to the death between Lando Calrissian and Rokur Gepta in open space. At stake is not only Lando’s life, but the entire Oswaft civilization, which Gepta has threatened to annihilate with a mysterious and obscenely potent life-destroying weapon.

After Gepta’s inevitable (but still quite satisfying) demise, the problem of the fleet is solved through a delightfully shameless deus ex machina that also answers the question of Vuffi Raa’s origins.

StarCave is a great final entry for the series, with plenty of wonderful character moments, a tidy conclusion to various loose threads, and a last page punch line that brought a big, cheesy grin to my face.

The Lando Calrissian Adventures are a joy to read. Smith writes in a lax, humorous, conversational style that manages to be simultaneously poetic. This is, of course, perfectly suited to the suave, sophisticated gambler and con artist around whom the story centers. As mentioned earlier, Smith isn’t afraid to throw wild, outlandish concepts and characters into the mix—and he’s not afraid to leave some pretty strange stuff mysterious and unexplained, either. At the same time, Lando’s encounters with corrupt cops and bureaucrats lend the narrative a somewhat down-to-earth quality.

These books represent a style that is no longer very common in Star Wars books or pop science fiction in general. It’s a style that doesn’t take itself too seriously and welcomes the bizarre and even, at times, the hokey, if that serves the story. With The Lando Calrissian Adventures, Smith delivers pure enjoyment.  

The Approaching Storm by Alan Dean Foster (2002, Del Rey)
Anakin Skywalker must be strong in the Force, indeed; according to this cover, he is apparently able to grasp a lightsaber by the blade with no discernible negative consequences.

When I look at this cover, however, I’m less interested in the questionable placement of Anakin’s hand than I am in the name at the bottom. The Approaching Storm is the third, and so far final, Star Wars novel by Alan Dean Foster, and comes to us more than twenty years after his last entry in the Star Wars saga. Foster, as you may recall from prior knowledge or my previous reviews, is the author of Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker (the novelization of the original film) and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (the very first expanded universe novel).

The Approaching Storm, set shortly before the events of Attack of the Clones, follows Luminara Unduli, Barriss Offee, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker as they are sent by the Jedi Council to a seemingly unimportant world called Ansion. The planet, through multiple treaties and agreements, is connected to many other worlds, making its allegiance pivotal. The Separatist movement is already gaining momentum, and Ansion is poised to vote on the issue of leaving or remaining within the Republic. The Jedi, of course, are sent to persuade the Ansionians to stay.

This basic formula would later be followed by an exhausting number of Clone Wars-era Star Wars stories—a phenomenon I discuss with a fair degree of exasperation in my review of The Cestus Deception. The primary difference here is that Foster actually manages not to put me to sleep with this.

To begin with, Foster realizes two things that can be a real pitfall for people writing Star Wars stories, or really any science fiction: 1) If your entire story is set on one planet, that planet has to actually be interesting, and 2) you can’t focus on how neat your newly created planet is at the expense of character exploration.

The Approaching Storm succeeds on both counts. Ansion, with its creatures and civilization, are very well-thought out. Foster gives most of the animals features in common with the sentient Ansionians (like a single nostril), suggesting evolution of all life on the planet from a common ancestor. This was a nice touch that most writers don’t consider. The dominant sentient species, known simply as Ansionians, are divided, broadly, into two distinct civilizations: there are the “civilized” city-dwellers, and the nomadic, plains-dwelling Ansionians known collectively as the Alwari. The Alwari themselves are divided into an indeterminate number of clans.

Most of this novel concerns itself with the mission of the Jedi to make peace between the city folk and the nomads, a condition of Ansion’s continued membership in the Republic. To do this, they must seek out the Borokii, the most powerful of the Alwari clans, and they must do so without the aid of landspeeders or other modern transport, which all of the clans would consider disrespectful.

These conditions make for a long journey full of conversation, character interactions, and encounters with bizarre creatures that certainly held my interest. Foster introduces a solid supporting cast, including two formerly brain-damaged Alwari who are healed by Barriss and, later, a comic relief character called Tooqui, who I fear would be quite annoying on film, but manages to get laughs out of me on the page.

The nurturing personalities of Luminara and Barriss (the latter of whom makes her first appearance in this novel) are given a fair degree of elaboration, as opposed to the quiet reserve of Obi-Wan or, more strikingly, the restlessness of Anakin. Indeed, it’s Anakin who receives the most exploration. His conversations with Barriss about the state of the Republic emphasize the desire for justice fatally combined with impatience that we know will eventually make him into the clenched fist of fascism… but for now, we can find sympathy for his frustration with a bloated and corrupt system.

I very much appreciate this novel’s somewhat leisurely pace. Several digressions are found here, most of them exploring morality, philosophy, or even, in one surprisingly stirring passage, the power of story and myth. The plot wraps up rather predictably with a newly united Ansion remaining within the Republic, but from the outset, this book was more about the journey than the destination. 

The Approaching Storm by Alan Dean Foster (2002, Del Rey)

Anakin Skywalker must be strong in the Force, indeed; according to this cover, he is apparently able to grasp a lightsaber by the blade with no discernible negative consequences.

When I look at this cover, however, I’m less interested in the questionable placement of Anakin’s hand than I am in the name at the bottom. The Approaching Storm is the third, and so far final, Star Wars novel by Alan Dean Foster, and comes to us more than twenty years after his last entry in the Star Wars saga. Foster, as you may recall from prior knowledge or my previous reviews, is the author of Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker (the novelization of the original film) and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (the very first expanded universe novel).

The Approaching Storm, set shortly before the events of Attack of the Clones, follows Luminara Unduli, Barriss Offee, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker as they are sent by the Jedi Council to a seemingly unimportant world called Ansion. The planet, through multiple treaties and agreements, is connected to many other worlds, making its allegiance pivotal. The Separatist movement is already gaining momentum, and Ansion is poised to vote on the issue of leaving or remaining within the Republic. The Jedi, of course, are sent to persuade the Ansionians to stay.

This basic formula would later be followed by an exhausting number of Clone Wars-era Star Wars stories—a phenomenon I discuss with a fair degree of exasperation in my review of The Cestus Deception. The primary difference here is that Foster actually manages not to put me to sleep with this.

To begin with, Foster realizes two things that can be a real pitfall for people writing Star Wars stories, or really any science fiction: 1) If your entire story is set on one planet, that planet has to actually be interesting, and 2) you can’t focus on how neat your newly created planet is at the expense of character exploration.

The Approaching Storm succeeds on both counts. Ansion, with its creatures and civilization, are very well-thought out. Foster gives most of the animals features in common with the sentient Ansionians (like a single nostril), suggesting evolution of all life on the planet from a common ancestor. This was a nice touch that most writers don’t consider. The dominant sentient species, known simply as Ansionians, are divided, broadly, into two distinct civilizations: there are the “civilized” city-dwellers, and the nomadic, plains-dwelling Ansionians known collectively as the Alwari. The Alwari themselves are divided into an indeterminate number of clans.

Most of this novel concerns itself with the mission of the Jedi to make peace between the city folk and the nomads, a condition of Ansion’s continued membership in the Republic. To do this, they must seek out the Borokii, the most powerful of the Alwari clans, and they must do so without the aid of landspeeders or other modern transport, which all of the clans would consider disrespectful.

These conditions make for a long journey full of conversation, character interactions, and encounters with bizarre creatures that certainly held my interest. Foster introduces a solid supporting cast, including two formerly brain-damaged Alwari who are healed by Barriss and, later, a comic relief character called Tooqui, who I fear would be quite annoying on film, but manages to get laughs out of me on the page.

The nurturing personalities of Luminara and Barriss (the latter of whom makes her first appearance in this novel) are given a fair degree of elaboration, as opposed to the quiet reserve of Obi-Wan or, more strikingly, the restlessness of Anakin. Indeed, it’s Anakin who receives the most exploration. His conversations with Barriss about the state of the Republic emphasize the desire for justice fatally combined with impatience that we know will eventually make him into the clenched fist of fascism… but for now, we can find sympathy for his frustration with a bloated and corrupt system.

I very much appreciate this novel’s somewhat leisurely pace. Several digressions are found here, most of them exploring morality, philosophy, or even, in one surprisingly stirring passage, the power of story and myth. The plot wraps up rather predictably with a newly united Ansion remaining within the Republic, but from the outset, this book was more about the journey than the destination. 

Jedi: The Dark Side #5 by Scott Allie and Mahmud Asrar (2011, Dark Horse)
A lot of new folks have started following The Stolen Data Tapes since even my review of the previous issue in this series, so I refer those of you who are interested to my reviews of the first four, which you should be able to find pretty easily in my archive.

As is generally to be expected with a five part comic book series, this final installment is all climax. In the first few pages, Xanatos makes peace with his father—at the worst possible time. Lord Crion’s plan to consolidate his power by creating conflict among his own people has succeeded, at least insofar as violence rages in the streets.



Things fall apart for the governor of Telos IV when Crion’s Ithorian adviser exposes his superior’s plot.



Qui-Gon is, with minor assistance from Padawan Orykan, able to defeat Crion, effectively quelling the threat to Telos IV. This, however, comes at a pretty steep price. Circumstances force Qui-Gon to kill Crion, and Xanatos snaps and attacks Qui-Gon, blaming the Jedi for not only his father’s death, but his sister’s as well.

Both master and apprentice survive the encounter, with Xanatos giving Qui-Gon the slip. Curiously, in his report to the Jedi Council, Qui-Gon pronounces Xanatos dead and declares that he’s not coming back to Coruscant right away. The reader is left with some unanswered questions, apparently to be answered in a future story arc due out next year. I’ll be sure to cover that one here when the time comes.

The issue was a solid conclusion. Xanatos’s fate was somewhat predictable, especially for readers familiar with the Jedi Apprentice young adult novel series. Nevertheless, his final confrontation with Qui-Gon managed to elicit the proper emotional response. This is, in part, due to the use of imagery that evokes Obi-Wan and Anakin’s showdown on Mustafar.



For those of you who were not reading this series, the question, of course, becomes: “Is this good enough to buy when it comes out in trade paperback?” Jedi: The Dark Side was a good, solid Star Wars story, rife with the political intrigue that characterizes the prequels and surrounding expanded universe material. Qui-Gon’s past remains largely unexplored, including the nine years between this issue and the beginning of Obi-Wan’s apprenticeship to Qui-Gon, which is an excellent hook for the next story arc.

My love for Qui-Gon and interest in his companions was enough for me to enjoy myself while reading. Apart from the fourth issue and a few isolated moments, however, there was nothing here that blew me away. If just spending some quality time with Qui-Gon Jinn sounds like it’s worth the price of admission (it was for me), then go for it. Otherwise, wait until you can pick up some lower-cost back issues at your local comic shop. 

Jedi: The Dark Side #5 by Scott Allie and Mahmud Asrar (2011, Dark Horse)

A lot of new folks have started following The Stolen Data Tapes since even my review of the previous issue in this series, so I refer those of you who are interested to my reviews of the first four, which you should be able to find pretty easily in my archive.

As is generally to be expected with a five part comic book series, this final installment is all climax. In the first few pages, Xanatos makes peace with his father—at the worst possible time. Lord Crion’s plan to consolidate his power by creating conflict among his own people has succeeded, at least insofar as violence rages in the streets.

Things fall apart for the governor of Telos IV when Crion’s Ithorian adviser exposes his superior’s plot.

Qui-Gon is, with minor assistance from Padawan Orykan, able to defeat Crion, effectively quelling the threat to Telos IV. This, however, comes at a pretty steep price. Circumstances force Qui-Gon to kill Crion, and Xanatos snaps and attacks Qui-Gon, blaming the Jedi for not only his father’s death, but his sister’s as well.

Both master and apprentice survive the encounter, with Xanatos giving Qui-Gon the slip. Curiously, in his report to the Jedi Council, Qui-Gon pronounces Xanatos dead and declares that he’s not coming back to Coruscant right away. The reader is left with some unanswered questions, apparently to be answered in a future story arc due out next year. I’ll be sure to cover that one here when the time comes.

The issue was a solid conclusion. Xanatos’s fate was somewhat predictable, especially for readers familiar with the Jedi Apprentice young adult novel series. Nevertheless, his final confrontation with Qui-Gon managed to elicit the proper emotional response. This is, in part, due to the use of imagery that evokes Obi-Wan and Anakin’s showdown on Mustafar.

For those of you who were not reading this series, the question, of course, becomes: “Is this good enough to buy when it comes out in trade paperback?” Jedi: The Dark Side was a good, solid Star Wars story, rife with the political intrigue that characterizes the prequels and surrounding expanded universe material. Qui-Gon’s past remains largely unexplored, including the nine years between this issue and the beginning of Obi-Wan’s apprenticeship to Qui-Gon, which is an excellent hook for the next story arc.

My love for Qui-Gon and interest in his companions was enough for me to enjoy myself while reading. Apart from the fourth issue and a few isolated moments, however, there was nothing here that blew me away. If just spending some quality time with Qui-Gon Jinn sounds like it’s worth the price of admission (it was for me), then go for it. Otherwise, wait until you can pick up some lower-cost back issues at your local comic shop. 

Jedi: The Dark Side #4 by Scott Allie and Mahmud Asrar (2011, Dark Horse)
In my review for the previous issue of this book, I mentioned that I wasn’t entirely sure what Dairoki, then the comic’s apparent evil mastermind, was planning. Everything comes into focus here in the penultimate issue. As with last month’s review, I feel I should mention that spoilers lie ahead.

The issue, picking up shortly after the death of Xanatos’s sister, Nason, is rather moody. It focuses on Xanatos’s grief and his fear of being ejected from the Jedi Order and replaced by the Twi’lek Padawan, Orykan as Qui-Gon’s apprentice.



Xanatos’s disputes with Qui-Gon, Tahl being issued a new assignment, and the pervading grief add a greater sense of pathos to the reveals in this issue. Looking back, I figure that some readers may have pieced all of this together, but I personally was quite surprised by the following:

It turns out that Dairoki was not the puppeteer in this story; instead, he was in the employ of Lord Crion. The plan all along was to frame the Antarian Rangers of Toprawa for the murder of the Telosian priestess in order to justify war with Toprawa and what amounts to a state of martial law on Telos. Nason was unintentional collateral damage.



The issue ends with Qui-Gon and Xanatos on the outs and Telos on the brink of war. Mahmud Asrar’s art remains consistent, and Scott Allie’s particularly suspenseful plotting this time out makes it the best issue so far in my estimation—and it leaves me greatly anticipating next month’s conclusion.

Jedi: The Dark Side #4 by Scott Allie and Mahmud Asrar (2011, Dark Horse)

In my review for the previous issue of this book, I mentioned that I wasn’t entirely sure what Dairoki, then the comic’s apparent evil mastermind, was planning. Everything comes into focus here in the penultimate issue. As with last month’s review, I feel I should mention that spoilers lie ahead.

The issue, picking up shortly after the death of Xanatos’s sister, Nason, is rather moody. It focuses on Xanatos’s grief and his fear of being ejected from the Jedi Order and replaced by the Twi’lek Padawan, Orykan as Qui-Gon’s apprentice.

Xanatos’s disputes with Qui-Gon, Tahl being issued a new assignment, and the pervading grief add a greater sense of pathos to the reveals in this issue. Looking back, I figure that some readers may have pieced all of this together, but I personally was quite surprised by the following:

It turns out that Dairoki was not the puppeteer in this story; instead, he was in the employ of Lord Crion. The plan all along was to frame the Antarian Rangers of Toprawa for the murder of the Telosian priestess in order to justify war with Toprawa and what amounts to a state of martial law on Telos. Nason was unintentional collateral damage.

The issue ends with Qui-Gon and Xanatos on the outs and Telos on the brink of war. Mahmud Asrar’s art remains consistent, and Scott Allie’s particularly suspenseful plotting this time out makes it the best issue so far in my estimation—and it leaves me greatly anticipating next month’s conclusion.

Rogue Planet by Greg Bear (2000, Del Rey)
Rogue Planet takes place three years after The Phantom Menace. It’s the first novel, apart from the Episode I novelization and the Jedi Apprentice young adult series, to take place in the prequel, or “Rise of the Empire,” era. Greg Bear opens his novel by reminding us of one of Anakin Skywalker’s primary characteristics: recklessness. The novel pulled me in right away with its description of a race through an elaborate—and dangerous—garbage disposal system in Coruscant’s lower levels. When Obi-Wan shows up to reprimand him (and rescue him from a “Blood Carver” assassin), the dynamic of reckless apprentice and long-suffering master is effectively established.
The novel’s plot revolves around a world called Zonama Sekot, where Obi-Wan and Anakin are sent in search of a missing Jedi, Vergere. There they purchase a “living starship” from the planet’s inhabitants. The construction of this vessel involves a process of bonding with “seed pods,” the better to create a ship that is perfectly in tune with its owner.
All of this is intriguing, but the most enthralling aspect of the book for me is the interaction between Raith Sienar (head of the corporation that would go on the produce TIE fighters) and future Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. Tarkin is already aware of the New Order that’s coming and, first by persuasion and then by coercion, gets Sienar on board. Their double-crossing of one another and the foreshadowing of the Empire adds a good deal of weight to the story.
Of course, Rogue Planet doesn’t only tie in with the original trilogy. Several of the book’s characters and plot elements, including Vergere; the mysterious “Far Outsiders” who Anakin and Obi-Wan discover abducted Vergere; and the planet of Zonama Sekot (which, shockingly, escapes into hyperspace), all figure heavily in the New Jedi Order series of novels.
Despite this—and I speak from a relative lack of familiarity with New Jedi Order—Rogue Planet manages to stand on its own and not read like a promo for later books. And that book, as it stands, is pretty good. With Anakin, Bear avoids many of the pitfalls that come with writing about children: Anakin has matured significantly in three years, but he isn’t unrecognizable; he’s intelligent beyond his years, but he acts like an intelligent pre-adolescent, not a miniature adult. Obi-Wan’s continuing trials, doubts, and tribulations in training Anakin are explored in a believable manner as well, and, as previously stated, the interaction between the two characters rings true with the films and is thoroughly enjoyable.
All that said, I do feel that the book sags in the middle. Much of it is spent describing the landscape and workings of Zonama Sekot. The planet, a living being with the capability of producing preternaturally fast starships, is certainly an imaginative world, but the characters that populate that world did not grab me. Jabitha Hal, who projects images of her dead father, is interesting, but Zonama Sekot’s other denizens are little more than devices for plot advancement.
Still, Greg Bear’s level of technical proficiency is considerable, making that middle portion readable despite its flaws, and the rest of the book is well done across the board. It’s not one of the best, but this one’s worth a look if you’re interested in Anakin’s early stint as a Padawan or if you’re planning on tackling the New Jedi Order series.

Rogue Planet by Greg Bear (2000, Del Rey)

Rogue Planet takes place three years after The Phantom Menace. It’s the first novel, apart from the Episode I novelization and the Jedi Apprentice young adult series, to take place in the prequel, or “Rise of the Empire,” era. Greg Bear opens his novel by reminding us of one of Anakin Skywalker’s primary characteristics: recklessness. The novel pulled me in right away with its description of a race through an elaborate—and dangerous—garbage disposal system in Coruscant’s lower levels. When Obi-Wan shows up to reprimand him (and rescue him from a “Blood Carver” assassin), the dynamic of reckless apprentice and long-suffering master is effectively established.

The novel’s plot revolves around a world called Zonama Sekot, where Obi-Wan and Anakin are sent in search of a missing Jedi, Vergere. There they purchase a “living starship” from the planet’s inhabitants. The construction of this vessel involves a process of bonding with “seed pods,” the better to create a ship that is perfectly in tune with its owner.

All of this is intriguing, but the most enthralling aspect of the book for me is the interaction between Raith Sienar (head of the corporation that would go on the produce TIE fighters) and future Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. Tarkin is already aware of the New Order that’s coming and, first by persuasion and then by coercion, gets Sienar on board. Their double-crossing of one another and the foreshadowing of the Empire adds a good deal of weight to the story.

Of course, Rogue Planet doesn’t only tie in with the original trilogy. Several of the book’s characters and plot elements, including Vergere; the mysterious “Far Outsiders” who Anakin and Obi-Wan discover abducted Vergere; and the planet of Zonama Sekot (which, shockingly, escapes into hyperspace), all figure heavily in the New Jedi Order series of novels.

Despite this—and I speak from a relative lack of familiarity with New Jedi OrderRogue Planet manages to stand on its own and not read like a promo for later books. And that book, as it stands, is pretty good. With Anakin, Bear avoids many of the pitfalls that come with writing about children: Anakin has matured significantly in three years, but he isn’t unrecognizable; he’s intelligent beyond his years, but he acts like an intelligent pre-adolescent, not a miniature adult. Obi-Wan’s continuing trials, doubts, and tribulations in training Anakin are explored in a believable manner as well, and, as previously stated, the interaction between the two characters rings true with the films and is thoroughly enjoyable.

All that said, I do feel that the book sags in the middle. Much of it is spent describing the landscape and workings of Zonama Sekot. The planet, a living being with the capability of producing preternaturally fast starships, is certainly an imaginative world, but the characters that populate that world did not grab me. Jabitha Hal, who projects images of her dead father, is interesting, but Zonama Sekot’s other denizens are little more than devices for plot advancement.

Still, Greg Bear’s level of technical proficiency is considerable, making that middle portion readable despite its flaws, and the rest of the book is well done across the board. It’s not one of the best, but this one’s worth a look if you’re interested in Anakin’s early stint as a Padawan or if you’re planning on tackling the New Jedi Order series.

Jedi: The Dark Side #3 by Scott Allie and Mahmud Asrar (2011, Dark Horse)
I’ve never given spoiler warnings on The Stolen Data Tapes before. I generally assume that readers understand that to write a comprehensive review, you need to talk at least a little bit about what actually happens in the story you’re reviewing. That said, this is a comic that literally just came out today, and there are a few surprises in this issue, so I thought I’d mention that if you’re reading this comic, you should probably wait to read my review until after you’ve read the issue.

There. You’ve been warned. Anyway…

In this issue, a little more sympathy is generated for Xanatos, who I largely dismissed as a whiny bitch in previous reviews. He gets to spend some time with his sister Nason, conversing about their homeworld and their (presumably deceased) mother.

It turns out, however, that Nason is connected in some as yet unexplained way to this issue’s newly introduced antagonist, Dairoki—who looks like one of the bomb-worshiping mutants from Beneath the Planet of the Apes.


Xanatos doesn’t know this yet, but given what happens to Nason at issue’s end, her connection to Dairoki would likely not be at the top of his list of concerns.

The same goes for Qui-Gon, as we discover that the mysterious Dairoki has ties to Qui-Gon’s past.

Asrar’s art remains solid, without the wonky facial expressions I saw in the last issue. Xanatos and Nason’s speeder bike excursion was a nice sequence (even if they did look a bit like Tron characters).



With only two issues remaining, the villains’ plans and motivations remain somewhat mysterious. This is not a slight against it; the plot is built around mystery. Allie will, however, need to be careful to pace the conclusion in such a way that it doesn’t feel rushed.

That said, I think that the Dairoki/Qui-Gon connection is a good twist, and I look forward to seeing how issues four and five play out.
And, just for fun, here’s a panel of Qui-Gon wrecking a guy’s shit:

Jedi: The Dark Side #3 by Scott Allie and Mahmud Asrar (2011, Dark Horse)

I’ve never given spoiler warnings on The Stolen Data Tapes before. I generally assume that readers understand that to write a comprehensive review, you need to talk at least a little bit about what actually happens in the story you’re reviewing. That said, this is a comic that literally just came out today, and there are a few surprises in this issue, so I thought I’d mention that if you’re reading this comic, you should probably wait to read my review until after you’ve read the issue.

There. You’ve been warned. Anyway…

In this issue, a little more sympathy is generated for Xanatos, who I largely dismissed as a whiny bitch in previous reviews. He gets to spend some time with his sister Nason, conversing about their homeworld and their (presumably deceased) mother.

It turns out, however, that Nason is connected in some as yet unexplained way to this issue’s newly introduced antagonist, Dairoki—who looks like one of the bomb-worshiping mutants from Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Xanatos doesn’t know this yet, but given what happens to Nason at issue’s end, her connection to Dairoki would likely not be at the top of his list of concerns.

The same goes for Qui-Gon, as we discover that the mysterious Dairoki has ties to Qui-Gon’s past.

Asrar’s art remains solid, without the wonky facial expressions I saw in the last issue. Xanatos and Nason’s speeder bike excursion was a nice sequence (even if they did look a bit like Tron characters).

With only two issues remaining, the villains’ plans and motivations remain somewhat mysterious. This is not a slight against it; the plot is built around mystery. Allie will, however, need to be careful to pace the conclusion in such a way that it doesn’t feel rushed.

That said, I think that the Dairoki/Qui-Gon connection is a good twist, and I look forward to seeing how issues four and five play out.

And, just for fun, here’s a panel of Qui-Gon wrecking a guy’s shit:


Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter by Michael Reaves (2001, Del Rey)
“He’s a nothing character! A nothing character!” This was an old middle school friend’s less-than-articulate indictment of Boba Fett, a character about whom I’d read plenty of expanded universe material. When pressed, I had to admit that in the films, all Boba Fett really had going for him was that he looked and sounded like the hardest motherfucker in the galaxy. Still, his depth came from his mystique, dammit.
I fought tooth and nail with my friend on this point, but for a long time, I found myself taking up his mantra whenever Darth Maul entered the conversation. “He has two lines,” I would gripe, “and people only think he’s so great because he has a double-bladed lightsaber!” Eventually, I pulled the stick out of my ass and realized that a double-bladed lightsaber and accompanying acrobatics were enough to make Darth Maul pretty cool— but I never took much of an interest in the character beyond his visual impressiveness in The Phantom Menace.
Because of Maul’s limited depth in that film beyond impressive stunt work, I cracked open Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter with a great deal of curiosity. Michael Reaves does deliver on some backstory for the character. We discover that Maul has been a Sith apprentice from a very early age. Digressions into Maul’s past paint his relationship with Darth Sidious as something resembling that of a child with a manipulative, emotionally abusive parent. For me, this adds an element of tragedy to the character. He was raised with a twisted set of values, and to be unquestioningly loyal to his master. To a great extent, he had no choice in what he became.
Despite these interesting elements, Maul exists here primarily as a relentless force of nature and as Palpatine’s puppet. The main protagonists of this story are Darsha Assant, a Jedi Padawan, I-5YQ, a heavily modified protocol droid, and that droid’s partner, Lorn Pavan. Pavan is an information broker who has recently come into possession of a Sith holocron detailing Palpatine’s plans to destroy the Jedi. Maul’s mission is to retrieve the holocron and kill everyone who knows of its existence.
Reaves’s original characters are very likable and had me hoping that Darth Maul wouldn’t succeed in offing them. Darsha is struggling with the unmitigated failure of her culminating mission as a Padawan and, later, the death of her master; I-Five is much more spirited and independent than the average protocol droid; and Lorn Pavan is, through his interaction with Darsha, confronted with his deep-seated resentment of the Jedi Order— those responsible for his separation from his Force-sensitive son.
Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter never feels rushed, but it moves along at a brisk pace. Once it really gets going, it is essentially one extended chase through the lower depths of Coruscant. This is punctuated, but never disrupted by encounters with the city planet’s less sophisticated denizens. Giant monsters, in the end, only underscore the fearsomeness of Darth Maul, who combines primal rage with cold, inexorable efficiency.
Reaves has succeeded in crafting a suspenseful Star Wars tale, vindicating Darth Maul to those who would dismiss him as a “nothing character,” and in creating some interesting plot threads and characters to be picked up later in his Coruscant Nights series.
Also included in this volume is James Luceno’s e-book novella, Darth Maul: Saboteur.

Somewhat confusingly, this story appears in the back of the book, and yet takes place before the events of Shadow Hunter. Darth Sidious has Darth Maul interfering in the affairs of two rival mining and refining companies on the planet Dorvalla. Luceno provides the same quick and entertaining prose as he did in Cloak of Deception, as well as some background information that sheds light on the events of Shadow Hunter. Despite this, I feel that the story, at its core, offers little more than Darth Maul killing lots of folks. I’m sure that’s all many of you would want from a story about Darth Maul, so I hesitate to discourage folks from reading it altogether, but I prefer the emotional depth that Michael Reaves provides in his take on this character.

Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter by Michael Reaves (2001, Del Rey)

“He’s a nothing character! A nothing character!” This was an old middle school friend’s less-than-articulate indictment of Boba Fett, a character about whom I’d read plenty of expanded universe material. When pressed, I had to admit that in the films, all Boba Fett really had going for him was that he looked and sounded like the hardest motherfucker in the galaxy. Still, his depth came from his mystique, dammit.

I fought tooth and nail with my friend on this point, but for a long time, I found myself taking up his mantra whenever Darth Maul entered the conversation. “He has two lines,” I would gripe, “and people only think he’s so great because he has a double-bladed lightsaber!” Eventually, I pulled the stick out of my ass and realized that a double-bladed lightsaber and accompanying acrobatics were enough to make Darth Maul pretty cool— but I never took much of an interest in the character beyond his visual impressiveness in The Phantom Menace.

Because of Maul’s limited depth in that film beyond impressive stunt work, I cracked open Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter with a great deal of curiosity. Michael Reaves does deliver on some backstory for the character. We discover that Maul has been a Sith apprentice from a very early age. Digressions into Maul’s past paint his relationship with Darth Sidious as something resembling that of a child with a manipulative, emotionally abusive parent. For me, this adds an element of tragedy to the character. He was raised with a twisted set of values, and to be unquestioningly loyal to his master. To a great extent, he had no choice in what he became.

Despite these interesting elements, Maul exists here primarily as a relentless force of nature and as Palpatine’s puppet. The main protagonists of this story are Darsha Assant, a Jedi Padawan, I-5YQ, a heavily modified protocol droid, and that droid’s partner, Lorn Pavan. Pavan is an information broker who has recently come into possession of a Sith holocron detailing Palpatine’s plans to destroy the Jedi. Maul’s mission is to retrieve the holocron and kill everyone who knows of its existence.

Reaves’s original characters are very likable and had me hoping that Darth Maul wouldn’t succeed in offing them. Darsha is struggling with the unmitigated failure of her culminating mission as a Padawan and, later, the death of her master; I-Five is much more spirited and independent than the average protocol droid; and Lorn Pavan is, through his interaction with Darsha, confronted with his deep-seated resentment of the Jedi Order— those responsible for his separation from his Force-sensitive son.

Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter never feels rushed, but it moves along at a brisk pace. Once it really gets going, it is essentially one extended chase through the lower depths of Coruscant. This is punctuated, but never disrupted by encounters with the city planet’s less sophisticated denizens. Giant monsters, in the end, only underscore the fearsomeness of Darth Maul, who combines primal rage with cold, inexorable efficiency.

Reaves has succeeded in crafting a suspenseful Star Wars tale, vindicating Darth Maul to those who would dismiss him as a “nothing character,” and in creating some interesting plot threads and characters to be picked up later in his Coruscant Nights series.

Also included in this volume is James Luceno’s e-book novella, Darth Maul: Saboteur.

Somewhat confusingly, this story appears in the back of the book, and yet takes place before the events of Shadow Hunter. Darth Sidious has Darth Maul interfering in the affairs of two rival mining and refining companies on the planet Dorvalla. Luceno provides the same quick and entertaining prose as he did in Cloak of Deception, as well as some background information that sheds light on the events of Shadow Hunter. Despite this, I feel that the story, at its core, offers little more than Darth Maul killing lots of folks. I’m sure that’s all many of you would want from a story about Darth Maul, so I hesitate to discourage folks from reading it altogether, but I prefer the emotional depth that Michael Reaves provides in his take on this character.