Book Review: ‘Thrawn: Alliances’ by Timothy Zahn

Any book with the Thrawn character in it deserves the highest interest and expectation. Not only did Timothy Zahn kickstarted the Expanded Universe with a trilogy including the character, but it has been a character strong enough to become part of the new canon with his appearance in Star Wars Rebels. Besides that, the Recent ’Thrawn’ book is one of the best books of the new canon, establishing the character in the new timeline.

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’Thrawn: Alliances’ is a sequel set in two timelines. The first timeline shows the Chiss having to share a mission with Darth Vader in order to complete it. The second timeline shows a younger Thrawn unexpectedly helping General Skywalker during a mission in The Clone Wars. This dynamic, with Thrawn knowing Vader’s past as a Jedi, creates a strong power play that keeps developing throughout the story.

As with the ‘Thrawn’ novel, we see glimpses of the Chiss interpreting his surroundings and the reactions of other individuals. Similarly, the double vision that allows Vader/Anakin prepare his fight moves in the foreseeable future is an interesting touch that hasn’t been seen in any recent book. Each character tries to complement its abilities, but it gets complicated as they try to see if each other is truly loyal to Emperor Palpatine.

Even though each storyline works separately, they constantly link to each other. In both occasions, the mission eventually leads to Batuu, the land on which Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is based. The information known from The Clone Wars helps Thrawn and Vader to better face the unknown planet. These similarities keeps on going, which leads to a satisfying conclusion as unexpected as any deduction made from Thrawn.

The interactions between Thrawn and Vader shows that there’s still Anakin in the Sith. Each time Thrawn loosely mentions the fact that Vader and him worked together previously, Darth shuts him down. Vader doesn’t want to face the fact that he once was Anakin Skywalker. This internal conflict makes him a more compelling, less one dimensional character. Yes, Darth Vader is pure evil, but sometimes he wonders if he’s really just that.

One of the main characters is Padmé Amidala, which truly shines on the page. Several chapters are dedicated only to her whereabouts, while she tries to search for Anakin to help her. In many ways, the chapters dedicated to The Clone Wars could be an episode of the beloved series in its own right. The same happens with the Vader and Thrawn timeline, which could easily become another episode of Star Wars Rebels.

Of the main problems you might face during reading is the complexity of the mission. It is easier to follow a path when the story is told in one timeline, but when you need to understand two timelines then things get complicated. I had to read several times some pages and even listen the audiobook to make sure I was understanding all of it. The fight sequences are also hard to read because they also convey pieces of information necessary to the rest of the story. Many of these elements that were included in the first ‘Thrawn’ book and they didn’t affected my reading experience. This time it did due to constantly switching timelines. Still, Timothy Zahn makes a great effort to constantly remember some aspects of each mission and having smooth transitions between one timeline or another. But I can’t hide the fact that this jarring experience to pick up pieces of information affected my enjoyment of the story.

If ‘Thrawn’ became one of your favorite Star Wars books, ‘Thrawn: Alliances’ keeps up in tone and style with the first book. For someone who doesn’t enjoy action sequences and multi-threaded plots, you’ll have a harder time reading this book. The character development for Thrawn and Vader will keep you intrigued in their political feud as they try to complete their mission to please the Empire.

Book Review: Hocus Pocus In Focus by Aaron Wallace

For many years I’ve been interested in reading The Thinking Fan’s Guide series by Aaron Wallace. These books aren’t available in ebook form. For a person who constantly reads on his iPad and lives outside of the US, it has been difficult to get my hands on one of these books.

After re-watching Hocus Pocus some months ago, I acquired the only ebook I could get my hands on from this author. The film itself isn’t a favorite of mine, but I was interested in what Aaron Wallace had to say about this Disney cult film. Ever since the debut of the Hocus Pocus Villains’ Spelltacular show in the Magic Kingdom, the curiosity on the film grew on me.

‘Hocus Pocus In Focus’ is a book that peeks behind the curtain to understand details on the production and making of the film. It is difficult to understand how a silly witch story became one of the edgiest films released by Disney. Why would they give permission to mention about a teen’s virginity and its implications for the story? But more than just another book about the insider story of the production, Aaron Wallace theorizes about the meaning behind many overlooked lines and scenes of the film. In this sense, Aaron is able to give us the right ingredients to reinterpret the movie and maybe understand why it has grown within many fans two decades after its initial release.

Oh, and if you are a fun facts junkie that wants to read about all the little nuggets surrounding the film, don’t worry. There is a whole chapter at the end of the book dedicated to these stories.

Each chapter of the book is an essay about a specific aspect of the film. Of the several chapters, the three that sparked my curiosity the most were:

  • Understanding the meaning of yaboos and the importance of virginity in the film.
  • Why is Hocus Pocus Bette Midler’s magnum opus.
  • Understanding the language of the film as a Spielbergian, just as many films are explained as Hitchcockian.

Each chapter invites you to embrace Hocus Pocus as film worthy of study and analysis. Some chapters are about the plot itself, others about intertextuality and others about its significance within the Disney universe.

The explanation of the meaning of virginity throughout the film will definitely change your perception about the film. How each line of the characters, the video editing and the songs carry this symbol in the movie makes Aaron Wallace’s point bulletproof. Besides that, there is an interesting analysis on how witches are portrayed in this film and how they differ with the portrayal of witches in other Disney films.

‘Hocus Pocus In Focus’ sheds light on the importance of Hocus Pocus for Disney and film history. Besides showing perspectives of the film few people might have thought of, Aaron’s style lets you enjoy reading even if you’re not a huge fan of the movie. Most chapters are short and tight, simplifying the reading experience.

Aaron Wallace’s greatest achievement is the fact that it makes the reader enjoy the film upon multiple rewatches. Every single time you’ll get a different read of the film, taking into account your new information from the book.

Few authors do a serious analysis about the Disney phenomenon and in a way that doesn’t end up in academic mumbo jumbo and silly conspirative theories. Aaron Wallace makes it right with Hocus Pocus In Focus. For any fan who wants to learn more about the cult classic, this book is worth your time and attention.

Book Review: ‘Leia, Princess Of Alderaan’ by Claudia Grey

Some characters in Star Wars are harder to pin down on the written page such as Han, Luke, and Leia. These are personalities we know and feel, making it a real challenge for authors to create stories around them. Claudia Gray’s ‘Leia, Princess Of Alderaan’ gives a voice to one of these characters in a time back when Leia didn’t even thought the problems ahead of her future.

This book occurs in between ‘Revenge Of The Sith’ and ‘A New Hope’. Leia Organa has to prove herself worthy of the throne, so she must be able to do three challenges of mind, body, and heart. With each of these challenges, she faces the struggles of a young girl trying to find her place in the world. Leia has been distant with her parents for reasons she doesn’t understand. Little does she know that her parents are in the works of an important organization, the Rebel Alliance, to face the authoritarian Emperor Palpatine.

During these challenges, Leia meets with many people of her same age as part of the Apprentice Legislature, facing similar challenges like the ones she must complete. There she meets Amylin Holdo, who would later be crucial for ‘The Last Jedi’, and Kier Domadi, a boy from Alderaan who doesn’t know what to do when Leia confronts him with her newfound knowledge of the Rebel Alliance. This coming-of-age story takes the young Leia to unexpected planets while she tries to understand what her parents are hiding and trying to make diplomatic missions in order to do some relevant action to confront the Empire.

This book includes one of the most well threaded stories I’ve ever read. Claudia Gray’s style keeps you engaged from the very beginning, clearly establishing the main plot so that you can follow through in the several situations and subplots that actually lead to the main objective. The character-driven descriptions allow you to understand the struggles of Princess Leia as she finds her place in the political situation. Even though Amylin Holdo is part of the story, she isn’t shoehorned to prove the point that the character always existed. She is a useful ally for Leia, but they aren’t best friends from the start. The same happens when Gray uses Crait as a setting. The mention of the base makes sense as part of the story, thus giving some context to the place without shoehorning a planet only because it is seen in Episode 8.

Even though there isn’t too much action sequences compared to other Star Wars movies, it is able to create tension from many moments when Leia is facing some challenges. There’s especially one passage were Leia may or may not use the Force by accident. There are other chapters were she must be able to handle political inconveniences that also contribute to what is shown on film.

Claudia Gray has been able to pin down the voice and characterization of Leia. No wonder why she has been able to write another book, ‘Bloodline’, with the same character in a completely different timeline. This is definitely an author to look for outside and inside the Star Wars universe. Her pacing and style works like clockwork, having a unique way to thread great scenes that work in favor of the story. No wonder why her books are considered one of the best out of all the Star Wars canon books.

If you’d rather read a book to understand a character and keep you interested from start to finish, this is a great story to pick. It is similar in this aspect to ’Thrawn’ or ‘Most Wanted’, as both of these focus more on the characters rather than the action sequences. Claudia Gray’s style and pacing can’t be praised enough, because it truly immerses yourself into the story. This book written by a different author could be a really tiresome story, but Claudia Gray creates a story that involves one of the most recognized characters of Star Wars in a way that keeps it true to Carrie Fisher’s portrayal in the films.

Book Review: The Perfect Weapon by Delilah S. Dawson

As I’ve reviewed several Star Wars books over the past months, some of my favorites have been those with few stakes that make a genre fit within the universe. This is the case of The Perfect Weapon, a short ebook story that takes you to one of the missions of Bazine Nethal, a character briefly shown in ‘The Force Awakens’ at Maz Kanata’s castle.

Delilah S. Dawson takes this femme fatale character and takes her on a mission to find the identity of an unknown Stormtrooper. Bazine Nethal is headed to ask for her old mentor’s spaceship, making a deal were she can take the transport but she will do the mission with a trainee of his.

Bazine heads to a simple yet intriguing mission, as it has a couple on twists on the way that will keep you interested. The biggest forte of this short story is the fact that it embraces how simple it is, giving detailed descriptions of the action and scenes without making it longer than it actually needs. It’s a self contained story in the vein of the stories of Canto Bight. The story suffers from the simplicity, but the author has taken that and made a good plot out of it.

If you’re into simple stories that don’t have any stakes in the major plots of the galaxy we know, this could be a good story to read in one sitting. It isn’t a mandatory read for ‘The Force Awakens’, neither does it explain why Bazine was at Mas Kanata’s castle. We only see the merciless character that is Bazine Nethal. This mission driven story is a fun ride that will keep you turning the pages for a couple of hours.

Book Review: Three Years In Wonderland by Todd James Pierce

The construction of Disneyland has become a vital chapter of Walt Disney’s career. This project has been documented and talked about in documentaries, TV specials, promotional material, and more. Some of the difficulties they had, including opening day, have been mentioned several times, but others have been left out of the multi-year planning of Walt’s theme park.

‘Three Years In Wonderland’ narrates the untold story of Disneyland, shining light on one of the key talents that had been erased from history: C.V. Wood. This Texan businessperson was Disneyland’s first manager, as well as a planner that helped Walt and Roy during the early stages of the project.

C.V. Wood has been a lesser known character from the history of Disneyland because wasn’t fond oh him, thus erasing him from any official historiography. Even though C.V. Wood had many wrongdoings, there’s no doubt that his help was invaluable for Disneyland.

Todd James Pierce does a marvelous job documenting the life of C.V. Wood, from its early years to months before working with Walt. The beginning chapters flesh out Wood’s personality, business career and track record, showing the reasons why he would later have conflicts during the development of the Disneyland project. Later, the history of Disneyland is retold with this very important character in key moments from the development. These details are exhaustively researched, portraying the relationship between Walt, Roy, and Wood. The inclusion of the Texan businessperson even affects the opening of Disneyland, thus explaining some of the many other problems faced during what is known as Black Sunday.

Even though this book is mainly targeted at theme park fans, Todd James Pierce did an amazing job at writing a great book for anyone who doesn’t know anything about the history of Disneyland. This is what makes ‘Three Years In Wonderland’ a great read. The author didn’t just fill the gaps; he tells the story from the dry beginning and showing how the official history blends in with the omitted chapters. This book on the creation of the first American theme park will be cherished by theme park fans and historians alike for years to come.

Book Review: Most Wanted by Rae Carson

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ shows us a young Han Solo struggling in the streets of Corellia. Q’ira is by his side, trying to do what it takes to escape from the White Worms and fly away with Han. How did these two bonded together in such a hostile place? Most Wanted by Rae Carson shows us the beginnings of this friendly relationship.

The book begins when Han and Q’ira are assigned different missions, only to later figure out they were having the same objective: trying to get an important object from an auction. Both Han and Q’ira get into trouble, teaming up to face the syndicates that are looking for them. In their adventure they are helped by Tsuulo, a nice Rodian, and Tool, a droid. For the next few days, they are about to learn to trust in each other, handle different plans, and understand that they are much more than just an asset from the White Worms.

Rae Carson’s style allows for detailed descriptions of what is happening in a small amount of time. The whole book takes place for several days, so each chapter happens in real time with few time jumps in between. Don’t be fooled in thinking this is just another mission driven plot. Once the characters are fleshed out, you will not want to drop the book. Even though it is a young adult novel, it handles the tropes really well, meaning that this isn’t another romantic novel.

The highlight of this book is Q’ira. Seeing her in the movie, you want to understand her thoughts and intentions. This book hints at the way Q’ira thinks and acts, making it a more compelling character. From the very beginning, she thinks very practical with subtle hints of weakness after meeting Han.

Even though this is a very well-written book, it has one major problem: it is a prequel book to a prequel movie. ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ advances the character in some ways, but not all of them because his arch is later developed in other movies. ‘Most Wanted’ suffers from the fact that Han’s arch is very subtle because his major arch occurs later in ‘Solo’. Rae Carson has taken this opportunity to develop Q’ira much more because she is not the main character in the film. The fact that this book revolves around a mission also justifies the fact that Han doesn’t change as much, which is a smart decision from the author.

This isn’t a mandatory read for the movie. What this means is that you can easily watch the movie without this book. What the books gives is 1) A fun adventure for Q’ira and Han 2) A better understanding of Q’ira as a character 3) A glimpse of life on Corellia.

Rae Carson has written one of my favorite books so far of the Star Wars canon. What makes this book great is the detailed descriptions, the internal struggles of the characters, and the right balance of action. Even though it keeps a narrowed story, the book is able to stretch it in such a way that makes it a very compelling read.

Book Review: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

One of my favorite characters in Star Wars Rebels is Thrawn, so this book was on my reading list for quite a while. I preferred reading it after watching all the series to see how much it would inform the series. This character centric story is everything you might expect and more for a compelling villain that has reappeared after being one of the main characters of the trilogy that kicked of the Expanded Universe books (now Legends).

Thrawn by Timothy Zahn tells the story of the blue skinned Chiss as he slowly ranks up in the Imperial Academy and beyond. Every chapter builds up the character and moves the plot forward, giving intricate details of the character that are relevant in the book. Thrawn is the most empathetic villain I’ve ever read in the Star Wars books, giving more context to its decisions. Timothy Zahn takes his time to develop how Thrawn obsesses over small details to set up the tactical plans that made him Grand Admiral. The descriptions of how he interprets body language and art give a glimpse of the character in Rebels. I was always curious if Thrawn in the series collected art just because he was powerful enough to acquire it. When the novel explains how he can analyze the culture of a planet just by the art, you understand why he is so passionate about art.

While Thrawn slowly goes up the ranks of the Empire, we see a young Ahrinda Pryce trying to find her place in the galaxy after the political attack that took over her family’s mining facilities of Lothal. This story is as intriguing as Thrawn’s, sometimes even more interesting. Her struggles and feelings are developed to make us care about her. Pryce is trying to gain power as much as Thrawn’s but in the political world. It balances both characters really well and it explains why they have a mutual business relationship during Star Wars Rebels. Thrawn’s lack of knowledge about politics balances out with Pryce’s need of military power.

Other surprising character to appear was Colonel Yularen, which took me a while to remember his importance in The Clone Wars series. This is a light connection to other canon stories that doesn’t intrude nor it makes the world seem smaller. It makes sense that, as Thrawn ranks up, he meets a veteran of the Clone Wars.

Even though the novel is character centric, it has enough action in between. We see how Thrawn handles different missions, sometimes not understanding his decisions until the very end. That keeps you engaged in such a way that you just want to keep reading. There’s a moment when you think the story plateaus because of the several missions that happen one after the other, but the payoff at the end makes you understand why these missions are relevant to the story. Thrawn’s obsessions with Nightswan, an unknown bounty hunter, leads him slowly to find out who this character really is.

Overall, I can’t explain how good this book is. If you’ve enjoyed Thrawn in Rebels, this book will develop the character in such a way you’ll want to watch the series again. I haven’t read the classic Thrawn trilogy, but it will sure be in my reading list after enjoying this one so much. Take this book as soon as you can. A sequel, Thrawn Alliances, will be released soon. So if you’ve only read action packed Star Wars novels, take this book to deepen your toes in more character based stories.