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.

Should Attractions Be Considered Art?

The first phrase that Imagineers use to excuse themselves from the closure or the reimagining of a Disney attraction sounds ridiculous: ‘Parks are not museums’. After using his phrases, the Imagineers mention how Walt always wanted to change the parks, because they will never be completed. Even though these excuses talk about the evolution of theme parks, it doesn’t answer if attractions could be considered art, and thus be preserved.

Parks are not museums, but they do involve artistry that should be respected.

Many of the earlier ride vehicles from Disneyland came as off-the-shelf pieces, later dressed as pirate ships, flying elephants, and turn-of-the-century cars. Imagineers, taken from the animation and live action departments of the studio, were trying to tell the story of the movies in a compressed time limit (as Tony Baxter would say, a book report of the movie). As any storyteller, Imagineers express the same stories in different ways. The design and layout that Harper Goff gave to the early vegetation of Disneyland has his imprint. The tone and mood created by the designs of Ken Anderson and Claude Coats in the dark rides on Fantasyland stays even in improved, reimagined versions of the ride. Frank Thomas will always be part of the railroads at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Every single artist has defined the style and layout of the theme parks, making a personal statement in this place.

As technology advances, Imagineers had more opportunities to express themselves in a similar way that improvements in sound, storyboarding, color, and multi plane cameras helped animators express better in their films. This allowed for artist to create immersive environments such as Pirates Of The Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. These attractions exist to tell a broad story instead of the attraction itself. In this way, the story transcended the medium.

In this sense, art became part of the attractions.

Art expresses a story, an idea, a concept. It expresses something without any particular function, making it a piece to understand our world and humanity. Can attractions fit within this definition? Or are attractions a functional product, delivering only entertainment for the guests in a theme park?

Some dark rides do have the function of entertainment, but sometimes they don’t. Even Pirates Of The Caribbean didn’t have a real function other than an idea Walt Disney had about a wax museum. Other attractions, like those developed for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, have a function, in this case a marketing purpose. Does this mean It’s A Small World couldn’t be a piece of art? It has an idea, a concept, that transcends its initial function. This is one of the most artistic attractions, with the imprint of Mary Blair in and out. So the definition of art without function dilutes for attractions that could have had an initial function but its overall message transcends it.

Marc Davis was a true believer in attractions as an art form, using Audio-Animatronics for the next step of three dimensional animation and storytelling. It was such an important belief in his career that he took nearly 5 years of active development in Western River Expedition, which would become Marc Davis’ greatest achievement.

Marc David did most of the staging and visual gags for Pirates Of The Caribbean, contributing also to The Haunted Mansion. These attractions have his staple comedy and humor, just like a good piece of art represents the artist. Western River Expedition could have easily been title Marc Davis’ Western River Expedition because of how much involvement he had in the project.

For a person who started working at WED because Walt asked him, Marc had an artist’s ambition. Walt wanted more humor for Jungle Cruise, so he asked Marc to reimagine some scenes and develop new ones. From this short task, Marc came up with some of the most iconic moments from The Jungle Cruise. After that, he would collaborate for other projects like It’s A Small World and The Enchanted Tiki Room. Even though Marc Davis would later talk about attractions as an art form that could helped him express, he started working in Imagineering because Walt begged him. Does that undermine the artistry of Marc Davis in these projects? No. It could still be considered art, even when Marc started with a clear task.

Maybe if we consider what Walt Disney thought about attractions, we can better define if they could be considered art. Even though he understood all the artistry involved in his project, trying to live up to the high brow audience since Fantasia, he ended up thinking about himself as a showman, an entertainer. When the early stages of The Jungle Book had many ideas of a film with a darker tone, Walt despised it and said that the movie should be a party in the jungle. Even with earlier films like Bambi, Fantasia or Dumbo, he was very conscious to keep the attention of the audience and make it entertaining. Walt, other that delivering a certain message or pushing and agenda with his projects, wanted people to be entertained with his films.

Disneyland was constructed because Walt wanted a place where kids and grownups could have fun together. He didn’t opened Disneyland to be a museum or an art gallery. Walt just wanted people to have fun. Even though he just wanted to make fun, you can’t undermine the thoughts of the hundreds of artists that worked on the project and thought of Disneyland and its attractions as a piece of art.

There’s a balance between creator and creation to define the artistry of attractions. Because its final product is intended to be entertaining, it could only be considered that. But during the process of creation for that piece of entertainment, there’s a lot of artistry into it that is a piece of art in itself. Attractions have that blend of art, technology, and entertainment.

Themed attractions could be a piece of art, while the off the shelf rides are not. There is an effort to achieve a well themed attraction. Pirates Of The Caribbean redefined the dark ride genre and the log flumes that appeared in other regional parks. At the same time, it is still difficult to say which attractions can’t be considered art. Even though many attractions in the Chester and Hester’s area from Dinoland U.S.A. of Animal Kingdom are off the shelf, they do deliver a theme, but there’s no doubt that Dinosaur could be considered art.

The difference between attractions and rides could be the answer to this problem. A ride is a lower experience, defined by the momentary feelings and emotions. An attraction however gifts a long lasting memory, the kinds of memories that we hear over and over when someone visits a theme park.

Parks aren’t museums after all, which is why old attractions don’t belong in a park because it is a business after all. And the decision to replace an attractions happens because of key performance indicators, not the value of art. The moment an attraction doesn’t deliver the kind of excitement that is entertaining to guests, then it is replaced with another attraction that could bring the necessary excitement for guest flow and customer satisfaction.

Maybe we can cherish long forgotten attractions in other ways than keeping them in the same park. Theme parks are a business, pondering the idea if attractions can be considered art. If films are made as a product, why are they still considered an art form? The question repeats itself.

But this time, let’s say that attractions could be an art form after all.

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.

‘Bao’ Crosses A Needed Cultural Shift In Animation

Checking the reactions from social media, it is clear that ‘Bao’, Pixar’s new short screened before ‘Incredibles 2’, hasn’t been understood by most audiences. This misunderstanding was evident during my screening, with diverging responses from the audiences. While some people cried, others were laughing out loud.


The mixed reactions received by the short film happen to be due to a misunderstanding of the situation. While I was trying to understand the story as it developed in the cinema, my best friend instantly sobbed halfway through the short. In this sense, this is a very impressive short, one that connects instantly with those who have struggled with cultural pressures and family differences.

‘Bao’ tells the story of an Asian mother whose son grows with the American culture, thus leading to differences between family traditions and the culture were they live. She eventually replaces her son with a dumpling only to find out the same issues occur.

Even though I’m not Asian-American, the topic is much broader than it appears. Many films and series are so focused on American culture that they don’t show how they influence others. For example, even though in the US it is common to leave your house for college, in Venezuela teenagers stay at their homes almost until marriage. Some people stay at their homes due to the current economy in Venezuela, but it shows a cultural difference that could easily compare to those shown in ‘Bao’.

The misunderstanding of the short film shows that audiences are so used to one cultural way of living that they barely understand the struggle that the mother has during the short. Because people know other cultures and traditions, they consider the son’s actions as ‘normal’ because he’s living the life of a common US citizen.

Another thing that people might be confused is the fact that the dumpling and his son are the same person, one replacing the other after leaving the house. This article explains the fact that the mother is suffering of empty nest syndrome, a common situation in mothers who are left by their kids. Should the syndrome be explained in the short film? No. Maybe people without kids don’t understand it, but parents know the struggle that the mother has.

What ‘Bao’ does best is creating a deeper conversation about cultural influences and how this could affect a family relationship. Over the years, more and more people around the world with different cultural backgrounds are trying to fit in another country’s culture while staying true to their cultural roots. The problem is more present than ever, needing much conversation to comprehend the implications it has.

The fact that many audiences have been alienated by ‘Bao’ shows that globalization hasn’t been great at showing other cultures. The echo chambers of our current media homogenizes people, making it deeply complicated to confront another reality, tradition or culture.

‘Bao’ has crossed a cultural shift in animation that embraces a much more diverse global audience by showing a different culture but also expressing a struggle many people have as immigrants or even being exposed to media that shows other cultural norms. It is the kind of storytelling that shows that animation is able to convey a topic in such a way that opens up the conversation in a light-hearted manner. One of the strongest points from Pixar is how they deal with deeper topics in their films. Let ‘Bao’ be a sneak peek how what the future could hold for the animation studio. Just in the way ‘Coco’ expressed a different culture in a respectful way, ‘Bao’ exposed what the studio is able to achieve when they bring artists from different backgrounds, showing new realities that are relatable to a wider audience.

Right Down The Middle Of Main Street U.S.A.

January 2006.

Uncles and cousins were there, laughing and celebrating the trip. The Florida breeze and the fireworks blushing the myriad of colors over the park wandered on my eyes as I scream at Big Thunder Mountain. The score of the Wishes nighttime spectacular filled the speakers throughout the Magic Kingdom.

Time to go. Walking right down the middle of Main Street U.S.A., I made the mistake of contemplating Cinderella’s Castle. Sobbing started as we went to the monorail, as if they were taking from my hands a special sort of talisman.

Every time I walk out of Magic Kingdom and look at the castle, the tears of my internal child start falling on my cheeks.

My first visit to the Magic Kingdom was when I was nine months. Since then, I’ve visited Walt Disney World countless times. I’ve had the chance of visiting Disneyland in California and Disneyland Paris. It has been inevitable to be attached to these places that represent so many of my nostalgic memories.

The Disney parks represent family in many ways. They represent moments that I’ve shared with brothers, cousins and uncles. It has also been a place of sour farewells. Time sugarcoats the photos of past visits.

In an article named ‘Disneyland Is Good For You’, Imagineer John Hench pinpointed the ‘pseudomenace’ as the sentiment shared by millions of park guests. There’s no other place to have a trip to the second star to the right, survive a haunted mansion with 999 happy haunts and sing ‘Under The Sea’ in a single day. It is filled with minor details that really turn dreams into a palpable reality, bonding the experience to your inner self.

Theme parks are multisensory experiences. You will never understand a kid’s obsession to meet his favorite character until Mickey Mouse talks to you just like in the beloved animated shorts. Once you’re part of the fantasy, the game begins as if in a virtual reality experience.

Disney parks mean different things for different people. Decades elapse and millions of families keep visiting. It’s a second home to many fans. Every single change in the park affects their feelings and memories. They are part of a tightly knit fan community. When an attraction closes, many cheer and others lament it. Imagineers constantly use Walt’s phrase to justify closures or refurbishments: ‘Disneyland will never be completed. It will grow and change as long as there is imagination left in the world’.

These attractions and places have emotions and experiences attached to them. I understood that when a host from the Retro Disney World podcast told the story of how Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, closed in 1998, reminded him of his mother, who recently passed away on the recording date.

When people fly with Dumbo or hop aboard a pirate ship with Peter Pan, it creates a moment that is deeply rooted into your memories. It isn’t about the attraction, but of the feelings that takes you back down memory lane.

Disney movies are my infancy. Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Melody Time, Peter Pan, Fantasia, and more. The animated characters hypnnotized me. There was a mysticism behind them that lasted even after the movie ended. I remember that my Peter Pan VHS had a documentary that explained the behind the scenes story of the movie, showing animators studying real actors as reference for the characters. That was the first time that I understood how these movies were made frame by frame, changing my perception about the art of animation.

Every time I watch an animated film, I admire each detail of the frame. I laugh at gags I didn’t noticed as a child, admire the color palette, observe the depth of vision achieved by the multiplane camera. I have had a whole different experience every time I watch the movies.

Disney Channel is the sole reason to watch television. I came back from school, had lunch and went to see my favorite series. When ‘Zapping Zone’ started, I would take a bath in between commercials so I wouldn’t miss a thing. Then, there was the featured film. As the credits rolled, I went to sleep.

But what Disney Channel made the most was to relive my park memories and fandom. I would watch promotional material and featurettes, search over the internet about the most recent news and rumors, and I played endless nights in the Virtual Magic Kingdom, an online community that opened for the 50th anniversary of Disneyland.

When I discovered that there were fans with the same enthusiasm, I followed them. I stayed for hours reading, a site dedicated to The Haunted Mansion, and, a site dedicated to Pirates Of The Caribbean. I would read them thoroughly until I could say every single detail about the attractions’ history.

The history behind these two attractions grabbed me immediately. I saw the secrets behind the curtain, marveled at everything. As a magic enthusiast, the details of the illusions behind the attractions were fascinating to me.

Another aspect that I discovered during my research about the parks was the close relation they had with Walt Disney. When you consider that Walt invested so much to Disneyland even though nobody believed in the project, it becomes the story of a creative battle. The parks were the last big project that Walt oversaw. His ambitions in Florida wasn’t only a theme park, but a whole new city dedicated to presenting a new way of urban living. E.P.C.O.T. would be the name of this experimental city, while what we know as Epcot is just a tribute to Walt’s great and undone project.

While learning about all the process involved in the design and the construction of the parks and attractions, I also learned about other topics. My sensibilities regarding visual design, architecture, the use of color, storytelling, visual transitions, and the smart use of engineering solutions is thanks to all my investigations about the Disney parks. Every time I enter a mall or any public space, I think of a hundred ways of improving the experience. When I visit the parks, I know when a special effect is not in place, the sound isn’t in sync and there’s an malfunctioning Audio Animatronic.

The story behind Walt Disney Imagineering makes me believe that creativity has no limits. How can you explain that a group of animators, with no knowledge about three dimensional designs, architecture, engineering or the inner workings of a restaurant, were able to design a theme park? These are multi disciplinary creative geniuses. For them, the sky is the limit, no matter the tools required needed to achieve it. I identify myself with them because curiosity takes me to many creative projects, never sticking to one thing at a time. Some days I’m a magician, others I’m a film director, writer, or actor. My limit isn’t the craft, but the sky itself.

This history of the parks captivates me. It represents a world where they try to achieve the impossible everyday. It helps you dream and eliminate frontiers. There are no attachments rather than hard work and creativity. Walt Disney is the most visible example, moving from short films to fully animated features, then to the world of television and later to theme parks and urban planning.

I am grateful of the parks because of the memories, feelings, happiness and sadness that they have given me. I also thank them for my admiration for design, architecture, storytelling, engineering and technology.

Since that small discovery over the internet in 2006, my passion keeps growing. Everyday I have a list of Twitter users, podcasts, blogs, and books about the topic of the history of the parks. I even discuss about new color palettes in a building of Main Street U.S.A.

I’m a Disney fan because it has given me experiences, teachings and feelings that I have found nowhere else. It has accompanied me in every moment in different ways. The history of Walt Disney connects in many ways towards my aspirations of the future.

So when people ask me why I am a fan, to explain it shortly, I just tell them that story back in 2006, turning around to see Cinderella’s Castle with tears running down my cheeks.

‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ Review: Don’t Judge A Superhero(ine) By Its Size

How can you release ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, both films critically praised by critics and audiences alike, and still release a movie that tops both or equals the quality of these stories?

Well, apparently, Marvel can.


Because ‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ isn’t only a palate cleanser after ‘Avengers: Infinity War’.

‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ is a great film about family and unique personalities, something that the studio has been able to pin down to a point were you’re not even interested about the powers a suit might have.

The story takes place a few years after ‘Ant-Man’, apparently slightly before ‘Avengers:Infinity War’. After Scott Lang helps Captain America against Tony Stark in ‘Captain America: Civil War’, he is placed under house arrest, ending the close relationship with Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne. When Hope and Pym find out a way to activate a device that transports you to the quantum realm, they recruit Scott once more while making sure the FBI still thinks he is under house arrest. All three will have to go under several attempts to open the quantum realm to save Hope’s mother, who went subatomical during a mission almost 30 years ago. Under the way, they’ll find a new compelling villain whose name is Ava, while they also deal with a black market dealer and the FBI.

The film does a really good job at explaining the stakes at hand and retelling the story of Janet Van Dyne and her disappearance, meaning that even a person who never saw the original ‘Ant-Man’ could easily follow the plot throughout the film. The explanation that sets up the whole plot from the very beginning allows the film to never stop, keeping its pace constant without rushing every scene. As we go through, Ant-Man’s involvement in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ is constantly hinted at, so you don’t need to necessarily watch the film to know what is going on. A round of applause to the screenwriters who were able to handle this amount of exposition in a short amount of time and still make it interesting. This compares drastically to ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2’, who was never really able to keep the story of Peter Quill’s father in a compelling way to get rid of to many scenes with exposition.

Because Scott Lang is under house arrest and Pym doesn’t trust him anymore, we se lots and lots of Wasp in the film. This is great to show her abilities besides the suit, because it really pays off after all the frustration Hope had of not being able to help during ‘Ant-Man’. The initial action sequences are filled with fun moments, easy to follow through, and very well directed by Peyton Reed. The movie is able to handle subplots that keep the main characters occupied while still evolving throughout the story, especially Scott trying to show Hank and Hope that he still can be useful for the mission.

Very early on we meet Ghost/Ava Starr, a villain with heart. She is mainly finding a way to stabilize herself, not making her a real villain besides the fact that she confronts the heroes out of frustration. This villain is one of the most empathetic characters from the Marvel Universe, so much that it competes with Killmonger’s ‘Black Panther’.

This movie differs from the comedic moments you might see from Marvel films, rather than the usual one liners, the movie focuses on great visual gags, especially in the final action sequences. I laughed from start to finish, while the movie still is able to deliver a lot of heart. ‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ couldn’t be complete without Luis and the gang. They eventually become an important part of the mission. And who doesn’t want a good story from Luis’ himself?

The story of Hope’s mother keeps you interested to see if they will be able to achieve it throughout the film. The family story is the through line that keeps everything tight plot wise. ‘Ant-Man’ was all about Scott Lang and becoming the father his daughter thinks he is. ‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ is about Hank Pym showing Hope he still cares about her and he always wanted to protect her after the disappearance of her mother.

Two end credits appear in the film. The first one directly relates to ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and clearly shuts down a possibility for the superheroes to be saved. The second end credit is a fun one, but it also could show a possibility were Ant-Man and The Wasp could be crucial in the next Avengers film.

‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ just became my favorite Marvel movie since Guardians Of The Galaxy, and it will sure win your heart over. Yes, it is another superhero film, but Peyton Reed and the cast has been able to create a unique film that departs from the MCU, balancing the personal struggles of the characters with the really fun action sequences.

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.