Book Review: Star Wars Life Debt by Chuck Wendig

Even though the Aftermath trilogy wasn’t well received by fans, I wanted to give it a chance and see what all the fuss was about. Taking into account that, yes, the trilogy has some flaws (as with any Star Wars movie), I loved Life Debt. Filled with action packed chapters, characters that are way far from the main storyline, and pacing that gives the sense of urgency, it grabbed me by the hand to show me a different style of Star Wars novel. Book 2 of the trilogy, Life Debt, takes everything a step further, adding more layers to the narrative, bringing beloved characters in a way that makes sense, starting in a smart way were the last book left us.

Chuck Wendig has a love for Star Wars that it breathes in the pages. I find that the interludes he includes between some characters are his most personal writings, thinking about how the galaxy perceives the bigger narrative shown in the movies and the book itself. Now, Wendig brings Han, Chewie, and Leia in his story without shoehorning; the characters belong to this story as the original Aftermath crew has gained some recognition among the New Republic due to the task achieved by Norra, Jas, Sinjir and Temmin.

The story starts with Leia asking a personal request to Norra: to find Han Solo. Leia’s husband has been gone with Chewie, trying to liberate the Wookie planet of Kashyyk. The plot moves forward with Jas Emari, Temmin, Mister Bones, Sinjir and Wedge Antilles as they attempt a secret plan to find Han. In the middle of this situation, they eventually find Han and end up in the smuggler’s plan to save the Wookie planet.

The Aftermath crew has a bad feeling about this plan as problems arise due to the Kashyyk liberation plan, affecting the Imperial plans of Rae Sloane and Mon Mothma´s relationship with Leia. With Gallius Max as an enemy for Sloane, a great dynamic of power develops, reminiscent of the confrontation between Kylo Ren and General Hux in The Last Jedi. This tension pays off later in the book, with a satisfying resolution that leads straight to the next book.

I was reading this book while reading Last Shot and it became a great complimentary read for the upcoming Solo movie. The book handles Han Solo characterization very well while bringing more internal conflicts within him. These conflicts resurface later in Last Shot. Another great thing about this trilogy is the fact that there isn’t much of a time jump in between books, making it more immediately to start reading one book after the next.

As a person that was curious about the Aftermath trilogy, this is definitely a fun read that is unjustly maligned by many fans. Wendig achieves the daunting task of explaining how the Empire slowly turns into the First Order, presenting new characters, and taking into account what happens within Episodes 6 and 7. The author juggles all of these elements while not making the story itself conscious of all this juggling. With the release of ‘Solo’, this book is a great Han and Chewie story you can get into without even reading the first book of the trilogy. You could be lost in some places with the characters, but the book will fill you in with the needed information.

Book Review: Star Wars Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

Set in between Episodes 6 and 7 of the Star Wars saga, Aftermath by Chuck Wendig was one of the first books to give us a glimpse into how the Empire started to shape up after the death of the Emperor.

In an attempt to save Wedge Antilles, known Rebel pilot, from the hand of whats left of the Empire, we meet Norra Wexley, a known pilot from Rebel Alliance. In Norra’s pursuit, her son Temmin gets involved in the mission by accident, as well as bounty hunter Jas Emari and ex Imperial officer Sinjir Rath Velus. Wedge Antilles is in the hands of Rae Sloane, a high rank Imperial officer, while the Empire tries to tie some loose ends from planets that don’t have the news of the Battle of Endor.

The novel revolves around action sequences filled with chases, investigations and space flight. It could be a bit jarring for those looking for a character driven story, but the glimpses that shine on the intentions of each character keeps you involved. This flaw turned into a major criticism during its initial reception, but it misses the fact that this is part of a trilogy. There are many characters involved, as it happens with many Star Wars novels. Chuck Wendig is smart at giving you the details of each characters, making you care about them.

The novel has many chapters in between called Interlude, that act as short stories that describe different situations around the galaxy. The balance between narrowing down with a set of character for the main plot and diversifying in these interludes is welcomed by me. Sometimes there are so many characters in Star Wars that we don’t have the time to care about all of them. These chapter give a broader view, explaining how different planets react to the fall of the Empire and how that affects them as a whole.

Some well-known characters of the galaxy are mentioned in a way that makes sense. Wedge Antilles taken as hostage jumps to mind, making it instantly interesting to any fan. Admiral Ackbar is involved in the story, but it stays as an ancillary character, making the story believable, blending well-known characters and brand new ones.

What this book doesn’t give fans is information about the new characters from the sequel trilogy, something that affected the initial response. It is more about the state of the galaxy after the fall of the Empire seen in Return Of The Jedi. I wanted to learn more about these new characters, especially Jas Emari and Sinjir. I hope these characters are more developed in the next books of the trilogy. (Update: they do!)

If you like an action packed story that gets you hyped enough to have all those vibes for experiencing a dog fight in space, then this book is a great addition. This is the first book in a trilogy, so it won’t give you the whole depth of the characters. If your’e interested about more characters besides Han, Luke and Leia, then this book will give you new, interesting characters that might give you a pause from the main storyline.

Toy Story Land And The Despise Of Kiddie Rides

On June 30th, Toy Story Land will be open for guests in Disney Hollywood Studios. This addition adds two brand new rides to the park: Alien Swirling Saucers and Slinky Dog Dash Coaster. Toy Story Mania will be refitted into the new land, with a different queue. Kiddie rides have always been look down by many fans, especially in the past decade. Some arguments that Toy Story Land is a cheap expansion could be understood, but it begs the question: why are kid rides unjustly maligned when Disney parks should have activities for everyone?

In many ways, the additions to Toy Story Land will be the first real attractions for smaller audiences in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Besides these attractions, the live shows and The Great Movie Ride (currently being replaced by Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway) were the only experiences they could go into, some of them considered intense for small kids.

Toy Story Land is a needed addition for guests looking for their kids to do something they could enjoy. It still questions why fans were so mad about it. Isn’t Dumbo considered a classic even though is a ride for small kids? The same occurs with many classic attractions.

Even though it makes sense that hardcore fans are mad about sudden budget cuts from the original concept art, this is a common thing that happens with projects. Many elements and buildings from the original concept art were completely removed, including a cowboy area (resurfaced in Shanghai Disneyland’s version) and Al’s Toy Barn. Even though these elements weren’t particularly needed, they would give the special touches of theming that fans wanted.

This could be a case of time budget instead of money budget. Toy Story Land expands an already attraction lacking park, giving more rooms for the upcoming guests of this summer. This major expansion will also be key in dealing with the 2019 crowds expected for Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. Simultaneously, Imagineers are surely doing the best they can to open Mickey’s Runaway Railway as soon as they can. If this attraction uses the same ride vehicles as The Great Movie Ride, it could have enough hourly capacity (2400 guests per hour) to keep the crowds moving. For an attraction that is right in the entrance of the park, it will help with the bottlenecks expected from Galaxy’s Edge.

In many ways, this is more a case of Disney being smart about opening a major expansion rather than just budget cuts. These things are common in the parks due to the size and scale of the projects, but with the internet we are more conscious of these situations because we can compare between each concept art that Walt Disney Imagineering shows us during D23 or any of the press releases.

The fact that Imagineer are doing kiddie rides doesn’t mean they aren’t focused on theming or other E Ticket attractions. First, the attractions from Disney Hollywood Studios are not off-the-shelf rides, which has been a common practice in other versions of Toy Story Land around the world. Second, they have done a great job at theming, including Wheezy as an Audio-Animatronic at the end of Slinky Dog Dash Coaster and Mr. Potato Head possibly coming back to the queue of Toy Story Mania. They do care. It isn’t easy to keep up with so many projects, dealing with the current expansion of the Parks division that includes merchandising and consumer products.

Kiddie Rides are a necessity for a family oriented theme park, as Walt Disney always wanted it to be. Maybe Toy Story Land will not be a flashy addition compared to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge or the upcoming attractions for Epcot, but it sure will be an addition that brings great moments and emotions for the little kids that love the Toy Story movies, just as those who grew up with Woody and Buzz like me.

John Lasseter: 6 Months Later

A few days before the premiere of Coco, John Lasseter announced his 6 month leave of absence due to sexual misconduct, a shocking move to many Pixar fans but a well known problem in the industry. Pixar, a male dominant studio, had already known of some problems that women had about Lasseter ’s behavior. What was once a friendly approach during the early days of the studio became a problem that John had to face.

Six months later, we haven’t heard a thing about John Lasseter coming back. Will he retire? Should he come back?

We still don’t know much of the details behind the management of the studio, but what could be an opportunity to change leadership or a moment to highlight females in the studio has been more of a silent calm. Have women at Pixar being heard? These two problems, leadership and gender equality, need to be balanced if the studio wants to move forward. Lasseter ’s leave of absence could have been more catastrophic, but Disney appears to have had a plan to deal with the collateral damage. A complete shake up isn’t expected if the problem is only one person, but it will be interesting how Lasseter fits within Pixar after the allegations.

If Lasseter understood the consequences of his behavior and he is willing to fix the culture within the studio, then his return could be welcomed as long as he understands that it is time for new leadership to take over after cleaning up the mess. Moving the chess pieces to a different direction before his return would show outsiders a good sign. Even though John Lasseter is the main person, this doesnt mean there couldn’t be other misconducts from other people of the studio. Lets hope it isn’t the case.

The Disney-Pixar brand hasn’t been affected by this situation. The move of leaving right before being caught and being clear about his actions allowed for the press to talk for some weeks as some other personalities told their side of the story. Two weeks after the press release, most critics and insiders went silent. They were too occupied giving critical acclaim to Coco. Audiences acknowledged the problem, but they didn’t attack Pixar or other talent from the studio. Yes, Pixar is aligned to Lasseter ’s DNA, but it has proven that their projects are done with a massive group of talented individuals.

People still expect the Incredibles 2. Coco still became a highly acclaimed film. The shadow of Lasseter wasn’t enough to tarnish decades of storytelling excellence.

Will John come after or before Incredibles 2? We don’t know. Pete Docter is mentioned as a posible replacement, but no confirmation has shown. With Lasseter leaving the directorial helm for Toy Story 4, many have expected a complete retirement. It still begs the question of who will handle his leadership. Whether it is by adding more women to the Brain Trust, choosing a new Chief Creative Officer or with a return from Lasseter, Pixar has to show that it learns from its mistakes because the main problem is how management accepted this behavior for so long.

Negativity in Star Wars Fandom

Ever since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, they had to deal with the raising eyebrows of long time fans of the famous galaxy from far, far away. It happened first when they cancelled The Clone Wars TV series in favor of Star Wars. Then, fans had to deal about their favorite Star Wars novels being stripped out of canon, adding them to what is now known as Star Wars Legends. This community also raged when the company didn’t consider any story ideas from George Lucas for Episodes 7 to 9 (later to be found false, as many elements have appeared). But the single biggest rage appeared in the form of “The Last Jedi” haters, blaming Rian Johnson to have ruined their childhood, boycotting the review metrics from Rotten Tomatoes, striking against Luke Skywalker’s portrayal.

It is hard for me to know if this kind of negativity skyrocketed with the Lucasfilm acquisition, as many fans also raged during the prequel era, but it has slowly caught fire in such a way that it feels toxic.

The next target for these haters is “Solo”, opening in theaters May 25. Even though the film hasn’t even been widely released, with a premiere in May 10, individuals have already found their way to express their irrational opinions.

“Solo” has already a rough start, with a complete directorial turnover and rumors about Alden Ehrenreich’s difficulty to perform the smuggler we all know(which aren’t really true). The marketing team has done a great job at changing this perspective with several stories, trailers and teasers. Most recently, Billy Dee Williams (who portrayed Lando Calrissian in the original trilogy) was invited to the premiere and Harrison Ford did a surprise appearance to Alden Ehrenreich in a recen interview. Donald Glover has already become a main influencer in attracting people to the theatre seats, as well as the enthusiasm from director Ron Howard and screenwriters Lawrence and Jon Kasdan.

These efforts don’t seem enough for the already negative fans. Groups in social media have been vocal about boycotting “Solo”. These people, who had a love for the franchise, have decided to bury it instead of understanding that maybe they might not like the movie, but they still enjoy other areas of fandom. As a recent Star Wars convert, one of the things I love the most about Star Wars is that you can be interested in very niche topics or specific merchandise, giving room to many fans with different ways to express their fandom. But the hater seem to forget this aspect altogether.

The reactions from the unhappy fans reflect a world were we just moan about stuff we don’t like, even though there will always be things we don’t enjoy in the world. Lucasfilm has done the difficult job of refueling the franchise with new series coming up, the sequel trilogy, a theme park area, new books, and more. They are doing the best to move forward while many fans are holding them back.

Maybe this negativity is a very loud minority, but it is affecting the landscape of the franchise. Let’s just hope they consider the potential of a brighter future, just like Marvel fans have experienced a Renaissance they never thought of in their wildest dreams. “Solo” promises to reunite the fandom as a palate cleanser from “The Last Jedi”, but it will be a difficult remedy to swallow if the fans are already hesitant to give it a try.

Mickey Doesn’t Talk Anymore. Now What?

Back in Spring of 2015, I had one of the most emotional experiences ever in my life.

Yes, read that again.

Right before watching the Festival Of Fantasy parade, I visited Mickey Mouse. My family waited near Town Square. The wait time was 15 minutes. The only way to share my experience was my phone and my memories.

“You know Mickey, Rafael is coming all the way from Venezuela to visit!”, a Cast Member said.

“Venezuela? Great! I have a great idea. ¿Nos tomamos una foto juntos?”, Mickey said.

That moment when he talked to me and even mentioned my country, I knew that this was the next step in meet & greets. My heart started pounding, my eyes got teary, and I was just talking to the most famous mouse in the whole universe.

Disney Parks management thinks differently. Mickey has lost his voice in the past few days, as well as any hopes for expanding this great character interaction to other characters. There has been no official announcements.

Park management arguments this decision because people get confused when Mickey doesn’t talk in other Meet & Greets or even other characters. But we can look at the problem another way.

What if Disney could expand this initiative to more characters? Why should Mickey talk only in the Magic Kingdom?
This decision is, mostly, a cost cutting measure. As simple as that, without any PR pixie dust. It’s a shame to see not only Mickey go, but the possibility of expanding this technology to more interactive Meet & Greets. I imagined the possibilities to use this technology in controlled situations such as dining experiences, designated areas and even Disney hotels. If Meet & Greets have become such an important aspect of the Disney experience, why not invest fully in it?

I’m not sure if this is only a temporary decision due to the further investments for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, but I’m sure that the company could embrace this technology for other characters, even justify the cost by first operating them in ticketed events and later expand for the day to day guest.

Or it is just a case to make hard decisiones like getting rid of this great experience while management handles the new structure of Walt Disney Imagineering and further expansion in the parks.

Respect, Don’t Revere: The Cultural Shift Of Bob Iger

In a recent episode of The Disney Movie Review, the hosts discussed about a recent interview Bog Iger did for Bloomberg, talking about how he views the legacy of The Walt Disney Company among other topics. Bob Iger mentioned that the company should respect the legacy, but don’t revere it, acknowledging the achievements of the past without letting it define the potential future of upcoming projects. The current CEO believes in this thought as a guiding principle, even admitting that he changed staff on order to make this cultural shift within the company.

This change of course that Iger tries to achieve is a battle that dates back to the early days of Michael Eisner as a CEO, begging the creative staff to stop asking “What would Walt do?”. With a company closely connected to Walt Disney, the master producer whose input goes from animated films to urban planning, with a rich legacy of stories that are part of the global culture decades later, it is difficult to know what to do with such a historical past.

What’s sacred in The Walt Disney Company? That is the question many fans ask, especially dealing with the parks’ attractions. If “respect, don’t revere” is the guiding principle, it makes it easier to understand the decisions they’ve made for the films and the parks. This is how they justify that remakes of old classics make sense, parks should evolve no matter which attraction needs to shut down, acquisitions are good as long as they make sense for the brand and why there’s less mentions of Walt Disney as the man behind everything.

“Respect, don’t revere” takes away the idea of something sacred within the company. This allows you to give tribute to many fulfilled creations, but also change them. This guiding principle reminds me about the phrase “Parks aren’t museums, a quote Imagineers say every time fans rage about an attractions’ closure. I believe these creatives value the projects of the past. At the same time, they’ll never hesitate if they need to get rid of them in order to move ahead.

Acquisitions reflect the school of thought under Iger’s tenure. They know their studios have an indisputable track record, but other companies and studios can show Disney new ways to manage creative projects. Pixar is one of those, bringing a new animation language and storytelling beyond the three dimensional aspect, including different characters that differ from the traditional Disney animation. John Lassetter would expand these aspect as Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Marvel was a tough one to understand back then. Iron Man and Hulk were independently financed, unsure if the Marvel Cinematic Universe could move forward with lesser known character due to the restrictions they had due to licensing contracts with Sony and Fox. Kevin Feige has created what Star Wars initiated, bringing a new universe of characters and storylines that keep loyal fans and casual moviegoers expecting the next superhero movie. The difference with Marvel’s sequel based strategy is that it actually weaves situations that pass the baton to other movies and characters to be explored.

Lucasfilm, a company that has one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time, have had a close relationship with Disney in the past, starting with the link both companies have due to Pixar’s beginnings. A studio that has family oriented adventures, a vast experience with merchandising, and one of the most talented visual artists, Lucasfilm allowed to expand upon existing characters from Star Wars and Indiana Jones as well as a great asset for film production.

“Respect, don’t revere” seems to be a common theme that unifies each move that Bob Iger has done to the company. From huge acquisitions, like the Fox deal, to revitalizing projects, such as the reimagining of Disney California Adventure, and more. As long as Iger has a strategy for each acquisition, allowing for each component to have its own identity, this philosophy could keep Disney a healthy creative space that builds upon the old and the new.