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Star Wars Expanded Universe Thread


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#1 of 67 OFFLINE   Brendon

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Posted May 24 2005 - 05:15 AM

Given that there seems to be a strong enough head of steam in the Movies>ROTS Discussion thread for talking about the Star Wars Expanded Universe, here it is!

Before launching in, is it worth laying a couple of ground rules with respect to spoilers ? I appreciate some may be unavoidable when discussing a particular book or plot thread, but can we keep these to a minimum ?

Ok, my own experience of the EU consists of the first Timothy Zahn trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising and Last Command), I bought and read them in hardback when they first came out but haven't gone back since. I really can't rememer if anything the books had to say regarding clones have been contradicted by either AOTC or ROTS.

Otherwise, aside from the game (Dark Forces line & KOTOR 1), I'm something of a newbie.

I realise a couple of people made suggestions for reading back in the Movies>ROTS thread, but in truth they got a bit lost in amongst discussion regarding the film.

So, to get the ball rolling, does anyone have any suggestions for further reading ? Any standalone stories or series to start from ? Any books/authors to specifically avoid ?

Timeline wise, I guess I'm most interested in the PT era and anything that directly follows on from the original Zahn trilogy (which I'm planning on re-reading). That said, I'm more interested in a good story in keeping with the feel of either film trilogy rather then delving into the life story of "second Stormtrooper from the left".

Cheers,

Brendon

#2 of 67 OFFLINE   John Mansor

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Posted May 24 2005 - 05:43 AM

I would love to be pointed to a timeline that explains how the EU fits in with the PT & OT. Thanks.

#3 of 67 OFFLINE   Kevin Grey

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Posted May 24 2005 - 05:47 AM

Oh goodie, now I get to write my EU manifesto Posted Image

#4 of 67 OFFLINE   Brendon

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Posted May 24 2005 - 05:59 AM

Kevin,

Go right ahead! There are plenty of FAQs out there, but they still purely to the facts - each book and games place in the chronology, author, brief plot outline. Little more.

The "My List"'s on Amazon are equally unhelpful in finding a foothold into the wealth of EU stuff that's out there.

Even one person's considered opinion is going to be much, much more useful than simply listing "this book, then this book, then this book".

Brendon

#5 of 67 OFFLINE   Kevin Grey

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Posted May 24 2005 - 06:32 AM

Alright, here's my take on the Expanded Universe.

First, none of this stuff is great literature. From a fan's perspective the EU exists just to provide us with more adventures in that Galaxy Far, Far, Away with characters we love and maybe even some fresh faces too.

It should be noted that Lucas has little to know involvement with the EU with a few recent exceptions I'll mention later. He does have veto power over everything though and all authors are required to submit an outline before writing so he can make any changes he wants. With a few exceptions he does not read the final works.

The first "phase" of EU is the Bantam-Spectra era:

The current EU started, for all intents and purposes, with the Timothy Zahn "Thrawn Trilogy" whose first book was Heir to the Empire, published in 1991. These books provided the bedrock for all of the EU to follow and should be the first place for anyone interested in reading post ROTJ stories.

The Thrawn Trilogy (TTT) starts five years after ROTJ. The Imperials have been largely routed and control only a few last systems. The Rebellion has been reformed into The New Republic, headquartered on Coruscant, with Leia, now married to Han, acting as leader IIRC. The story is concerned with the reappearance of the Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn, who had exploring the far reaches of the galaxy during the time of the OT.

TTT is generally considered the best of the EU works and is easily the most popular. Zahn really nails the characters from the OT and the whole universe really does feel like a logical continuation of the events of the OT. The best thing about Zahn is that he introduces a whole group of original characters that will be favorites of many to come and continually reappear throughout the EU. Thrawn is easily the best villain the EU has ever had and is almost on the level of Vader and the Emperor. Unlike so many other EU villains, Thrawn is formidable not because of a superweapon but instead due to his superior intellect and strategic brilliance.

The biggest issue now with TTT is that parts of it have been invalidated by the Prequel Trilogy. When Timothy Zahn was writing these in the early 90s the prequels didn't exist and Lucas wouldn't offer up any concrete details, instead only vetoing some story concepts he wanted to use. Consequently, Zahn inferred many things about the Clone Wars that would turn out to be false. I'd love to see a new Special Edition, so to speak, of these books with all of the prequel references fixed. Its still a worthwhile read but just keep in mind when it was written.

Also around this time was the publishing of the comic book, Dark Empire (DE). DE is a radical change from TTT. It was originally conceived prior to TTT in 1989 while Marvel comics still held the comics license but was held over while the comics license was transferred to Dark Horse Comics. There was no collaboration at all between Zahn and the writers of DE. Lucasfilm, wanting to maintain continuity, asked Zahn to incorporate references to DE into his book series but Zahn (wisely) refused. Consequently it was decided to make DE follow after TTT and a quick blurb was inserted on to the opening "crawl" of the comic book to indicate it occurred after the Thrawn was defeated.

Dark Empire is a mess. It has some interesting themes to it since the focus of the story is Luke voluntarily going to the dark side in order to better learn how to fight it but its handled horribly. The characters act nothing like they do in the films and the most ludicrous aspect of the story included the appearance of the The Emperor, reborn as a clone.

For many years the most common question on any EU FAQ was "Wait a minute, when did Luke go to the dark side? What's this crap about a clone of the Emperor?" And the answer was of course, this comic. DE is better left ignored though it did have some nice art.

The next significant EU series was Kevin J. Anderson's "Jedi Academy" trilogy. KJA has singlehandedly, in my opinion, done more damage to the EU than any other author. Outside of a few nice action scenes, these books are awful. The characters act nothing like themselves from either the films or the Zahn books. KJA, unable to come up with a compelling villain, instead attempts to come up with an even more powerful super-weapon than the Death Star! The worst part is that this series is what decided how the Jedi Order would be restored and trained so these books would have unfortunate long term ramifications on the rest of the EU since other authors would be handicapped by what KJA did.

What follows was a string of novels that had little impact on any continuity. Lucasfilm took on a strategy of trying to lure acclaimed sci-fi authors into writing in the universe with minimal guidelines. This produced poor results for several reasons: While many of these authors were acclaimed for their own stuff, their writing style wasn't really suitable for Star Wars so it was often a poor fit.

There were also no constraints on when the authors would set their books in the timeline. That meant that early on, one author would decide to set a book, oh lets say 15 years after ROTJ. After that any other authors writing in the time period in between were handicapped by that continuity.

Lucasfilm also wouldn't let any major characters die or change so there was never any suspense. Most of the novels of this era typically feature a resurgent Imperial Faction, a newly discovered superweapon, and one or more of Han and Leia's kids being kidnapped.

There were a few bright spots in this period though- mainly in the form of Mike Stackpole's X-Wing series. Unlike the rest of the books, Stackpole had his series focus on a cast of entirely new characters making up the role of Rogue Squadron, all of them lead by Wedge Antilles. The change in focus is a breath of fresh air and this series is great fun.

There was also the "experiment" of Shadows of the Empire (SotE). SotE was Lucasfilm's experiment to create a multi-media blitz of Star Wars products without a corresponding Star Wars film. It was decided to tell the story of the period between ESB and ROTJ with Luke and Leia's setup of the rescue of Han as well as the story of the recovery of the Death Star plans. This experiment included a N64 videogame, SotE novel by Steve Perry, SotE comic book, new toys, and even an original soundtrack composed by Joel McNeely, all telling different sides of the story.

The SotE novel itself is a lot of fun. Perry has a good feel for the characters and its appropriately fast paced with some great action scenes.

After seven or eight years Bantam Spectra lost the Star Wars license to Del Rey. Wanting to provide some closure to his era, they brought Timothy Zahn back into the fold to cap the era that he had started. This duology, known as "The Hand of Thrawn," is Zahn's attempt to fix many of the continuity errors and loopholes that had built up over the years. His primary target was fixing all of the damage that KJA had done with the Jed Academy and Zahn handles the Imperials once and for all.

My Recommendations for this Era

The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn
Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry
X-Wing Series by Mike Stackpole
Wraith Squadron Series by Aaron Allston (a sort of continuation of the X-Wing series)
I, Jedi by Mike Stackpole
The Hand of Thrawn Duology by Timothy Zahn


Next to come- The Del-Rey era and the New Jed Order

#6 of 67 OFFLINE   Jason Seaver

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Posted May 24 2005 - 06:54 AM

Aw, come on, give Brian Daley and L. Neil Smith some love. They did the Han Solo and Lando Calrissean adventures back in the late 70s and early 80s, and they're fun books, with Han, Chewie, Lando, and some droids flying the Millennium Falcon around an outlaw sector, having their own adventures. In terms of continuity, they can be safely ignored, but they're highly enjoyable action/adventures.

Daley also wrote the radio adaptations of the original trilogy which expanded somewhat upon the story.
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#7 of 67 OFFLINE   Kevin Grey

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Posted May 24 2005 - 07:05 AM

I'll give Brian Daley lots of love. Those early Han Solo adventures are great and still hold up. The Lando novels are best left forgotten, on the other hand.

One of the later EU authors, James Luceno, is very much in the spirit of Daley. They were writing partners for many years and together were the psuedonym Jack McKinney that wrote the Robotech novels.

Luceno's two book Han Solo series, Agents of Chaos, is very much a love letter to the Daley series.

#8 of 67 OFFLINE   Kevin Grey

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Posted May 24 2005 - 08:32 AM

Okay, the next era: Del-Rey and The New Jedi Order:

When Del-Rey got the publishing contract they wanted to spice things up a bit. The Imperials as enemies thing had been ground into the dirt long before and there was a general feeling of complacency with material.

The grand idea behind the New Jedi Order (NJO) was to create one massive, epic story arc that would span nearly 20 books with multiple authors. It would be dark, favorite characters would die, the entire galaxy would be at risk, and it would be like no other Star Wars EU material. Taking place approx 25 years after A New Hope, the focus would shift to the new, young group of Jedi (the aforementioned New Jedi Order) with the old favorites still on hand. Authors would largely be new to Star Wars though a few verterans would be on hand too.

A committee of sorts was put together to come up with a general arc and to oversee continuity across the entire series as well as put together a series bible for authors to use. The saga would take place over five years in both real and fictional time with one "event" hardcover per year and paperbacks filling the gaps. The authors for a particular year were summoned to Skywalker Ranch to engage in story conferences to ensure everyone was on the same page.

For the first novel, "Vector Prime," popular fantasy author RA Savatore was tapped. It was determined that a major character needed to be killed in this first book to give some weight to the proceedings. This had to be vetted by Lucas himself who told them which character they could kill off (I won't mention who though I think most likely have already heard of it even if you haven't read the EU). Vector Prime introduced a new enemy, the Vong, from a different galaxy. They were completely unlike the Imperials and their weapons and technology were organic instead of industrial.

Vector Prime was very controversial when released, primarily due to the killing of aforementioned character. RA Salvatore actually received death threats over it and it soured him on the universe, though he was coaxed back to write the Episode II novelization.

Unfortunately Lucasfilm bit off more than they could chew with the NJO. Keeping the whole enterprise on course with so many different novels and authors was a difficult task, especially when planned ideas had to be cancelled or changed. One trilogy, Knightfall, which would have featured another great purge of the Jedi Order, was cancelled when it was felt that the series had already become way too dark for many. Another major change occured almost halfway when Lucas interceded and told them they had to kill off a different major EU character than they had originally planned.

Tone and writing style varied dramatically from book to book and there were definitely a few poor entries. There were some pretty great ones too though and emerging from the NJO came several new Star Wars authors who would quickly become fan favorites: Troy Denning, Matthew Stover, Greg Keyes, and James Luceno.

The middle book of the series, Troy Denning's Star by Star, is probably my favorite of all Star Wars novels and is on par, IMO, with the films. It is incredibly dark and epic, features the biggest battles ever to be featured in any Star Wars property, book or film, and dramatically raises the stakes for everyone involved.

NJO ended up being a bit of a rollercoaster with some great books, some not-so-great books, and a whole lot of "just okay" books but I respect and enjoy it for its ambitions and for trying something of a much larger scale and tone than every attempted before in the EU. Many people disliked it for just this reason too.

Recommendations

This is hard because its one continuous series. Its very difficult to jump around from book to book and keep up though some can safely be skipped (and should be) like "Dark Journey by Elaine Cunningham and "Rebel Stand" by Aaron Allston.

My favorites though are:

Vector Prime by RA Salvatore
Dark Tide II: Ruin by Mike Stackpole
Agents of Chaos 1 & 2 by James Luceno
Edge of Victory by Greg Keyes
Star by Star by Troy Denning
Traitor by Matt Stover
Destiny's Way by Walter Jon Williams
Final Prophecy by Greg Keyes
The Unifying Force by James Luceno

Next Up: The Prequel Era

#9 of 67 OFFLINE   Jason Seaver

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Posted May 24 2005 - 08:43 AM

Don't think I've read those two, since I lost any interest in the "New Jedi Order" monster pretty quickly.
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#10 of 67 OFFLINE   Kevin Grey

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Posted May 24 2005 - 08:46 AM

Probably not worth going out your way for them, but Agents of Chaos was very early on in the series.

#11 of 67 OFFLINE   Brendon

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Posted May 24 2005 - 08:52 AM

Kevin,

Wah! I'm beginning to suspect that little in these novels could match up to the drama of the story of the books being written, shepherded and controlled; authors being summoned to Skywalker Ranch to be given the what for!

Beyond the TTT, it would seem that the Bantham Press books have little to offer. What does suprise me is Kevin J Anderson having, in your opinion, done so much damage. I read a couple of his X Files tie-ins (back during the first couple of seasons of the show) and was quite impressed; impressed enough to try a couple of his stand alone novels such a Resurrection Inc. I quite liked his writing style and was considering starting with the Jedi Academy stuff once I'd reread TTT.

Could your recommendations for each period be read by themselves (ie without the intermediate books not on the list) and still have the overall story arc(s) make sense ?

I'm eargerly awaiting your assessment of the PT era, arguably the books I'm most interested in; I feel the political machinations of the PT films, especiaclly AOTC, ROTS and the Clone Wars themseves are ripe for story potential.

Your posts have made for great reading so far; much appreciated!

Brendon

#12 of 67 OFFLINE   Kevin Grey

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Posted May 24 2005 - 09:07 AM

I've never read any of KJA's other work so I can't say how his Star Wars stuff compares. While he is generally considered the worst of the EU authors there are plenty who do like him so give the Jedi Academy novels a shot. I thought his overall story was weak and that he didn't write characters well. I'm hesitant to go into further details because they are spoilers.

Most of the Bantam stuff can be read standalone and all of my recommendations I made certainly can be.

The NJO order stuff, though, should be attempted in order if possible. Some of the individual series can be skipped if need be.

#13 of 67 OFFLINE   Jason Seaver

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Posted May 24 2005 - 09:45 AM

Anderson's Star Wars stuff was pretty weak; I've also heard people get truly angry about his Dune books.

And yet, when he's not doing work-for-hire, he's evidently quite good. He had a couple stories in Analog set in a near-future when people can exchange bodies at will that quite impressed me, to the point of checking to make sure that there weren't two Kevin J. Andersons. Sometimes you just need to feel ownership, I guess.
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#14 of 67 OFFLINE   Casey Trowbridg

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Posted May 24 2005 - 09:53 AM

Quote:
I would love to be pointed to a timeline that explains how the EU fits in with the PT & OT. Thanks.

I'm also interested in one of these. Theforce.net had one, but I don't know if they were redesigning it or something as a lot was missing last time I looked.

I'm very gradually dipping my toe in to the EU.

#15 of 67 OFFLINE   Kevin Grey

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Posted May 24 2005 - 10:14 AM

John and Casey,

This page from TheForce.Net book section lays out the EU novels chronologically with respect to the films:

http://www.theforce....vels_chrono.asp

#16 of 67 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted May 24 2005 - 10:48 AM

Thanks Kevin. I really enjoyed the Zahn trilogy and was not aware of the duology. I believe I read Anderson's trilogy and kind of enjoyed it, but it was nothing compared to Zahn's. Perhaps it's telling that I didn't seek out any other EU books after that.

Now I'll more than likely read Zahn's duology.
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#17 of 67 OFFLINE   Casey Trowbridg

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Posted May 24 2005 - 11:30 AM

Kevin, thanks for the link.

#18 of 67 OFFLINE   Kevin Grey

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Posted May 24 2005 - 12:35 PM

And finally, the Prequel Era, the Clone Wars, and the Future of the EU:

The initial prequel novels had no overarching story. The first prequel-era novel was "Rogue Planet" by Greg Bear which tells the story of one of Obi and Anakin's first adventures following TPM. Greg Bear is an acclaimed sci-fi novelist who once again wasn't a very good fit for the Star Wars universe. Rogue Planet is enjoyable but is relatively slow paced and lacking in scale. Bear does nicely detail the early part of Anakin and Obi-Wan's relationship though.

The next two novels were significantly better- "Cloak of Deception" and "Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter"

James Luceno's "Cloak of Deception" is effectively a prequel to The Phantom Menace. Political machinations between Palpatine and Chancellor Valorum are a large focus, as well as some very good Jedi action featuring Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. This is basically the story that leads right into the opening crawl of TPM. For anyone who enjoys the politics of the prequel era as well as some more adventures with Obi-Wan and Qu-Gon then this is the book for them. James Luceno probably understands the Star Wars Universe better than anyone on the planet aside from Lucas himself. One of my favorite Star Wars novels.

Then there is "Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter" by Michael Reeves. Again a prequel to TPM this one concerns a group of original characters who go afoul of Darth Maul while he's on a mission in the lower slums of Coruscant and their attempt to evade him. There is some great action, the new characters are well-written and interesting, and you see a seedier side of Coruscant than in the movies. Reeves is a sometimes writing partner of Steve Perry, author of Shadows of the Empire, and they have very similar styles. Both would later team up for the Medstar Duology in the Clone Wars.

"The Approaching Storm" by Alan Dean Foster was conceived as the "official" prequel novel to Attack of the Clones. Unfortunately it lays almost no groundwork for that movie instead focusing on an adventure that Obi-Wan and Anakin have on the planet Ansion just prior to their arrival on Coruscant at the beginning of AOTC. Boring at times I recommend skipping it.

After that starts "The Clone Wars" novels. Lucasfilm decided on a different approach from NJO. This time each novel or series would be relatively stand alone but put together they would form a tapestry depicting the events between AOTC and ROTS. Again, there are mixed results.

The first Clone Wars novel Shatterpoint is one of the best. By the author of NJO fan favorite Traitor, Shatterpoint is Heart of Darkness in a Star Wars setting. Its focuses on Mace Windu as he tracks down a Jedi they've lost contact with on his jungle homeworld. This is an incredibly violent and dark book which are the areas that Matt Stover excels at. The action is exciting and brutal and he really gets into the mind of Mace Windu and makes him into an interesting character.

Another novel, "The Cestus Deception" which focues on Obi-Wan and Kit Fisto is decent enough though nothing too compelling. The Medstar Duology by Michael Reeves and Steve Perry is an interesting and effective "experiment." Its basically MASH in the Star Wars universe focusing on a group of Republic surgeons, including a Jedi Healer, manning a Surgery Outpost in a war zone. Reeves and Perry's ability to write good characters is on full display here. Not epic at all but a good and different read nonetheless.

Karen Traviss's "Republic Commando: Hard Target" came as a surprise to many. Conceived as a tie-in to the Republic Commando videogame expectations were pretty low. Instead Traviss turns in an excellent novel focusing on a group of Republic Commandos and a not-so-talented Padawan as they struggle to complete a mission early in the war. In a universe where the Jedi are often mythical in their accomplishments it was a breath of fresh air to encounter a Padawan with a lot of heart who, quite frankly, wasn't very powerful. Traviss and Hard Target quickly became a favorite after publication.

The final Clone Wars novel and another one of the best is "Yoda: Dark Rendezvous" by Sean Stewart. It concerns a trap that Count Dooku lays for Yoda. Stewart writes some of the best characters in the Star Wars universe, including the best portrayal of Yoda by any author. He also does an outstanding job at at making Count Dooku at least somewhat sympathetic. Highly recommened. Stewart had access to the ROTS script and their is even some foreshadowing here of things to come.

That leaves the recent "Labyrinth of Evil" by James Luceno. Another official tie-in, this one is actually worthy of the title. Unlike almost every other bit of EU, Lucas actually worked with Luceno on this, giving him access to the script, production materials, and answering any questions he had. He also read and approved the final manuscript. This is about as canon as EU gets. It focuses on the hunt for Darth Sideous and leads right into the opening crawl of ROTS, with some overlap with the Clone Wars animated series. For anyone who enjoyed "Cloak of Deception" this is an excellent followup.

And finally there's the future of the EU.

Mindful of the lessons learned from both NJO and Clone Wars, Lucasfilm has paired down the authors considerably with the list now dominated by proven Star Wars favorites.

First up is Troy Denning's upcoming Dark Nest trilogy which will take place after the NJO.

Timoth Zahn has a prequel era book coming out this fall focusing on the Outbound Flight project mentiond in so many of his novels.

James Luceno has a new novel coming early next year titled "Dark Lord." Forming the final book of a trilogy that includes "Labyrinth of Evil" and "Return of the Sith," this novel will focus on the early part of Darth Vader's career.

Next summer starts the next major story arc. This one will be nine novels long using only three authors- Troy Denning, Karen Traviss, and Aaron Allston. Each author will rotate each book and all are collaborating together. Hopefully this will be more consistent in quality than NJO.

Also on tap for the future- Another book by Zahn taking place betwen ANH and ESB, a post ROTS series by Reeve and Perry called Coruscant Nights, and two novels set in the Old Republic timeframe (1000 years prior to ANH).

#19 of 67 OFFLINE   Chuck Mayer

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Posted May 24 2005 - 01:58 PM

Good write-up, Kevin.

Quote:
KJA has singlehandedly, in my opinion, done more damage to the EU than any other author.

Quote:
KJA has singlehandedly, in my opinion, done more damage to the EU than any other author.
Quote:
KJA has singlehandedly, in my opinion, done more damage to the EU than any other author.


Uhhh...yes Posted Image He drove me away with a force that defies adjectives. The combined mental sodomy of the Jedi Academy trilogy and "Darksaber" (seriously) cauterized the left side of my brain.

I did dip my toe in lately, thanks to some prodding. Republic Commando is actually a good book, even without the SW name. I am lukewarm of LoE; I found it plodding and dull, because there is no overarching story. It's all set-up for the film. And the cartoon is a googol better IMO. But it was well-written. I'll check out ROTS when it gets really cheap. And Dark Lord could be interesting, or it could be a swift kick to the nads. I'll let someone else jump on that grenade first.

I do recall enjoying a Han trilogy set 20 years in the future that is about 11 years old (Corellian trilogy or somesuch). Except for the Corellian prince bullshit. I don't think the story was great, but the writing was pretty good.

I could probably eat the Jedi Academy novels and SHIT a better book than what was published.

Take care,
Chuck
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#20 of 67 OFFLINE   Ric Easton

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Posted May 24 2005 - 02:24 PM

Kevin,

I was just wondering about all this. Thanks for the very informative and exhaustive rundown!

I think you may have left out one more Zahn book... "Survivor's Quest" Have you read it? Is it any good and where does it fit into the timeline? Was it part one of a multi-parter?

Ric


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