Star Wars: Journey to The Force Awakens (Young Adult Trilogy)

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Amidst the madness that is the holiday season, home repairs and everything else I finally managed to read all three of the “Young Adult” Star Wars novels that were released last month. These books, unlike Lost Stars, are truly aimed towards younger readers both in size and content/vocabulary. But I’m happy to report that this fact doesn’t make them any less worthy of a read. The writing and content of all three of these books are surprisingly excellent.

These novels are truly companions to each other in more ways than one. First, each book starts with a short prologue, each takes place in between Episode VI and VII. These prologues serve as a vehicle to introduce the main story, which is always presented as a “tale of yesteryear”. During these prologues (and  epilogues) we are given some hints and glimpses as to the state of our favorite heroes in a post-RotJ setting. This is very well done, and extremely exciting for any Star Wars fan who is eagerly awaiting the upcoming movie.

The first book I read was Weapon of a Jedi. This is an adventure that focuses on Luke Skywalker and is set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. In it, we see a version of Luke that is just beginning to emerge from his phase as a naïve farm boy into a more inquisitive adult who is desperate to learn anything he can about the legacy of the Jedi. This book seems to take place sometime around the events of the Star Wars comic book by Marvel and the Heir to the Jedi novel. In my opinion, despite being aimed at younger readers, this book  is actually a much better portrayal of Luke in this time period than Heir to the Jedi. (There’s no noodle scooting to be found here.)

The second of these books I picked up was Smuggler’s Run. This novel focuses on Han Solo and Chewbacca. It is also set around the same timeframe, between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. This book is fantastic. It captures the persona of Han Solo from this time period perfectly and has a surprising amount of action and storytelling packed into such a short book. This is easily my favorite of the three.

Finally, I read Moving Target. This book, unlike the others, is set between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. This novel focuses largely on Princess Leia. It provides some really good insight into just what role she played in the rebellion as well as gives some backstory on the events directly leading up to RotJ. There’s also a small appearance here by Luke Skywalker that I found quite interesting. This book is probably my second favorite of the trilogy.

All in all, these books are worth reading even if you’re an adult. They may be aimed at a younger audience, but they are not watered down in any way. Aside from their size, they read just like any adult Star Wars fiction. You can tell just how much dedication and though the authors put behind these novels. In my opinion, they really make a great lead in to the new film, which is now less than ten days away.

Due to their size and simultaneous release, I’m reviewing these together.

Story: Surprisingly thoughtful and well written. Great for old fans of the series and anyone looking forward to the new film. Each book focuses on a specific character from the original trilogy.

Recommended:  FOR ALL FANS

Star Wars: Lost Stars – Claudia Gray

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Just the other day, I finally finished the next book on my Star Wars “to-read” list; Lost Stars.  This book was marketed as a young adult novel, but it is anything but. If you’ve been on the fence about this one for that reason, cast aside all doubt and dive in. Lost Stars is eloquently written and it’s actually one of the more “adult” Star Wars novels I’ve ever read.

The book starts between Episode III and IV, and follows the lives of two childhood friends who meet in the early days of the Empire. Throughout the story, you see as they grow and mature, eventually enlisting in Imperial service. Essentially, this ends up becoming a romance story that takes place during the time of the Original Trilogy. We get to see key events such as the Battle of Yavin, Hoth, Endor, and even the new famed Battle of Jakku – all through the eyes of these two characters. While this could easily end up feeling forced, the author does a wonderful job of making this work. The characters of Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree are WONDERFUL additions to the Star Wars universe.

When I say this novel is “adult”, I mean that all aspects of the relationship between these characters is explored. Even the subject of sexual activity is covered here, but it very tastefully done. Regardless, this was not something I expected from a novel being marketed as “young adult”. For many, the subject matter and sheer size of the book itself may seem a little off-putting. Romance is not a subject one typically thinks of when picking up a Star Wars novel, but it works very well here. Don’t let this fool you. This is a fantastic read.  All that aside, a lot of this book features behind-the-scenes detail of already familiar events, from an Imperial perspective. This alone ends up being a very interesting part of the novel. I can’t recommend this one enough. In many ways, this book serves as a better set up to Episode VII than even “Aftermath“.

I can only hope that we will see more of the lead characters presented here in future works, maybe even Episode VII

Story: Excellent plotline. The author does a great job of introducing two new characters and actually make you care about them. Not to mention, the storytelling is second-to-none.

Recommended:  FOR ALL FANS (Guys, if your wife/girlfriend typically only reads “girly-books” – this might make a good launching point into Star Wars fiction for her.)

Star Wars: Aftermath – Chuck Wendig

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The first post-Return of the Jedi novel in the new Star Wars canon is here! Star Wars Aftermath. Without spoiling too much the book, I’m going to do my best to share my thoughts on this crucial entry in the Star Wars universe.

First, let’s talk about what this book is and isn’t. While this story does take place shortly after RoTJ, it is not exactly a bridge to the upcoming Episode VII. This book is the first in what will be known as the “Aftermath Trilogy“. Part 2 and 3 will come out after the release of VII. In this entry, we get to see the state of the galaxy immediately after the fall of the Emperor. The uprising that is taking place, the political position of both the New Republic (alliance) and the fractured Imperial remnants.

The book focuses mostly on new characters, but there are some familiar faces. Wedge Antilles plays a large role in the novel, and we also get a few short insights into some other popular characters. What stands out most about this book, and also what happens to be the source of much criticism, is the writing style. I’ve never read any other works by this author, Chuck Wendig. To be honest, unless he writes more Star Wars, I probably won’t again. The pace of the writing is very odd and it reads very strange. It is unnecessarily punchy and at times feels unprofessional. The effect of this does give the book a somewhat cinematic feel, which is interesting, but overall I found it to be very distracting.

I often found myself reading the story and being very into what I was reading, only to encounter a page break followed by a brief description of new un-introduced characters involved in some other  event. Then, as soon as that is over, these characters are never heard from again. I get what the author is trying to do. Yes, there’s the main story of Aftermath, but peppered in are also insights to what is going on in other parts of the galaxy. This is actually a pretty neat idea, but I feel that it should have been structured a bit better. I don’t know. Odd.

In terms of the story itself, I found the plot of Aftermath to be quite interesting. I enjoyed the overall story-arch as well as the characters that were introduced. For the first time ever, I found myself actually liking the prequel-era Battle Droids. (If you read, you’ll see what I mean). I’m very interested to see if any of these characters will make an appearance in Episode VII. (I do have some suspicions about one of them.)

Overall, despite some flaws in the writing, this is pretty much a must read for any hardcore Star Wars fan.

Story: Great plot and lore into the final days of the Empire and the rise of the New Republic. The writing style takes some getting used to.

Recommended:  FOR ALL FANS

Star Wars: Dark Disciple – Christie Golden

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September is nearly upon us and with it comes a torrent of new Star Wars novels. In fact, in many ways, September will herald the beginning of the official Star Wars Episode VII hype. The new novels will bear the tagline: Journey to the Force Awakens, as will a slew of new comic books. So, in preparation for the upcoming flood I have finally caught up with the latest novel in the official Star Wars canon: Dark Disciple.

Here we have a Clone Wars-era novel. In fact, the story contained in this book was based on an arc written, but never aired for the final season of the Clone Wars television show. The book focuses on character Quinlan Vos, a Jedi Master who teams up with the unlikely ally of Asajj Ventress. For those unaware, Ventress was a former sith apprentice of Count Dooku who ended up turning on her master and going rogue. In this book, the Jedi order have decided to take the rather unorthodox step of assassinating Dooku in attempts to end the war. To do so, they send Vos undercover to seek out and befriend Ventress in attempt to take out her former master.

I must say, when it comes to Star Wars, I was never very passionate of the Clone Wars television series. It certainly had its moments, but overall I felt it never really stood up well against the films themselves. As a result, I was not expecting much when I started reading this book. I’m happy to report, that I was dead wrong. I loved this book. In fact, I daresay that Dark Disciple has been my favorite out of all the new Star Wars novels released thus far. The characters of Quinlan Vos and Asajj Ventress are so well represented in this book, that it makes me want to give Clone Wars another watch just to see if perhaps I was missing something the first time around. I would love elaborate on that more, but I fear by doing so I might give away some really great plot points of the book. It is truly an amazing read.

The book started off a bit slow at first, but by around 30% of the way in, I was hooked. If you’re a fan of the Clone Wars era, this book is a no-brainer. You must read it. Even if you’re not, there is some really enjoyable content here.

Story: The final season of Clone Wars was amazing, this book, like the Darth Maul comic continues that trend. Christie Golden is an amazing author. Very readable. Classic Star Wars.

Recommended:  FOR ALL FANS

Star Wars: Lords of the Sith – Paul S. Kemp

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With all the Star Wars printed media flooding the market currently, I’ve found myself slow to consume all of it. But finally, I have finish this latest novel in the new Star Wars universe and I’m happy to share my thoughts on Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp.

This novel takes place shortly after the events in Episode III, but before the events in the Star Wars Rebels television series. It focuses mostly on a small rebel cell on the planet of Ryloth. This group is led by Cham Syndulla, a character from The Clone Wars television series (and father of Hera from Rebels) as he leads a small guerrilla effort against the Imperial forces that occupy his planet. Through an interesting twist of events, he learns that his planet is scheduled to be visited by none other than Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader themselves. As a result, he conceives a plan to strike at the very head of the Empire.

In many ways, this book helps to bridge together several parts of Star Wars lore. It helps lay the groundwork the Rebels TV show while linking characters from that show to characters from The Clone Wars. It also touches on the characters of Darth Vader and Palpatine in a post-prequel trilogy timeframe but with strong references to Anakin’s past. Again, the author does a good job of trying to bring both trilogies in one cohesive story without overdoing it. Seeing the Emperor and Vader together in a potentially dangerous situation, working as a team is quite interesting. But I would have liked to have seen more of this. The relationship between Vader and his master is explored in depth in this book and to me, was probably the most interesting part of the novel.

As far as the story goes, the book starts off a little on the slow side. We spend several chapters getting to know the Twi’leks of Ryloth and their backstory, then we are introduced to a few new Imperial characters. Eventually, the pace picks up when Vader and Palpatine enter the tale and the action doesn’t stop. Overall, I was very pleased with this book and what it contributes to the Star Wars canon. I can easily recommend this one.

Story: Very good insight on both the early days to the Rebellion as well as the relationship between our two favorite Sith Lords.

Recommended:  FOR ALL FANS

 

 

 

Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Master’s Guide 5E

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Confession time! Even though I was thoroughly enjoying my weekly D&D game, I missed a week back in the fall due to family vacation and I have not played since. The thought of missing a week’s worth of content discouraged me a bit. I guess that’s the drawback to playing a sanctioned game; it goes on with or without you. Despite my lack of playing, I still maintain an interest and I’m still buying the new releases so that when I decide to play again, I’ll have a whole library at my disposal.

So that brings me to my latest acquisition, the 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. This book was actually released back in December, so I’m a little late with this post. But that’s given ample time to flip through and look over this product and I have to say, I’m very impressed. I’ve spent a lot of time with my nose in various DMGs over the years and I was delightfully surprised to see that the 5E DMG is packed with more content than I’ve seen yet. All the staples that a Dungeon Master would expect from a DMG is here: treasure tables, optional rules, game lore, etc. But while previous manuals have often provided barebones information on many topics, this book really expands on them.

For example, in the older 1e and 2e guides that I’m used to, the section describing Planes of Existence is usually relegated to a paragraph or two with a simple rudimentary diagram, this book gives the planes their own chapter. Which I personally found to be fantastic, as the Outer Planes are one of my favorite aspects of D&D.

So again, this new version of the Dungeon Master’s Guide is just another example of what Wizard’s of the Coast is doing right in the his new edition of the game. Now that the big three core books are out, I’m very curious to see what types of products they are going to offer us next (aside from playable adventures).

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Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition Products:

Starter Set

Core Books:  

Player’s Handbook   –   Dungeon Master’s Guide   –   Monster Manual

Supplements:

Volo’s Guide to Monsters    –   Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide  – Xanthar’s Guide to Everything – Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

Adventures:

Hoard of the Dragon Queen   –  Rise of Tiamat    – Princes of the Apocalypse  –  Out of the Abyss   – Curse of Strahd   –   Storm King’s Thunder  –  Tales from the Yawning Portal  – Tomb of Annihilation  –  Waterdeep: Dragon Heist   –   Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage

Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi – Kevin Hearne

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Today I share my thoughts on the newest Star Wars novel, Heir to the Jedi. This is another big release that I have been eagerly awaiting since the original announcement. This novel is set between Episode IV and V, and focuses on Luke Skywalker as he works for the rebellion and learns to develop his abilities with the force. This is a topic that has always fascinated me. When we last see Luke in Episode IV, he has only the most rudimentary understanding of the force as a whole. Yet by the time we catch up with him in Episode V, he has seemingly learned the secrets of telekinesis. Finally, we have an official account of just where he learned that ability! Sadly… the way this plays out in the novel is not exactly what many fans were hoping for.

Before diving into that topic, I should also mention that this book is written in the first-person, which is a bit of an oddity for a Star Wars novel. But it was actually a decision that excited me quite a bit. I enjoy first-person narratives and the idea of getting into the head of Luke Skywalker seems too good to pass up. All in all, this works well for the book. The author does seem to capture a “voice” for Luke that seems fitting.

WARNING: The rest of this post may reveal some minor spoilers about the contents of the book.

The novel mostly focuses on Luke as he runs various errands for the rebellion. During the course of his adventures, he visits a few planets and even manages to obtain an old lightsaber that belonged to a late Jedi. He takes this opportunity to disassemble it and learns a bit about the construction of the weapon. He notices that the construct of the saber requires precision far beyond what most people would naturally posses. It is during this time, that Luke realizes perhaps Jedi Knights used the force to help assemble these delicate weapons.

During the book, Luke encounters a young woman who becomes a brief but important love interest. It is through her encouragement that he attempts to expand his mastery of the force through meditation and self exploration instead of searching in vain for someone to teach him. At one point, while the two of them are sharing a meal together, she slaps a noodle down on the table and suggests that Luke attempts to move it—- using the force. That’s right. Luke’s first attempt at telekinesis is laughably wasted on… a noodle.

Now, I’m not an author. But I’m sure I could have come up with at least five-hundred better options than scooting noodles across the table. Hell, a loose patch of rocks on the side of road seems like a better option than trying to move some slimy noodle out of a takeout box.

To add insult to injury, after Luke manages to twitch the noodle a bit using his mind, his dinner-date has the audacity to exclaim; “Oh, look at you! You little noodle-scooter!”   I shit you not.

Despite this grave offense, the book is overall well done. Which may actually make this situation even worse. I mean, I have looked at this from multiple angles and I’ve tried to be objective. I understand that one might naturally practice an ability like this using a mundane object. But for some reason using noodles just seems silly and comedic. I mean, even trying to move his fork to scoop up some noodles would have been better than just “scooting a noodle”. I don’t know. I’ll drop it here. Maybe it’s not that big of a deal. It just struck me as stupid.

Content-wise, the book is average. There are few very interesting passages to be sure, but overall it didn’t seem to reach the level of either A New Dawn or Tarkin. This is disappointing due to the high hopes I had for the book.

Side note: before the announcement of the new canon, this book was scheduled to be the third part of a loose-trilogy called Empire and Rebellion. This series of books are all three set between Episode IV and V and each one focuses on a particular character. Razor’s Edge was the first entry in the series and is essentially a Leia novel. (I didn’t care much for this one). Honor Among Thieves is the second entry and features Han Solo and Chewbacca as the main characters. (This was a fantastic book!). Of course now, both of these are part of the “Legends” branch and are not considered part of the official Star Wars timeline. (Although its highly unlikely anything in these novels could or would ever be trumped by the new movies).

All in all. Heir to the Jedi is a decent, but flawed book. If you’re a fan, it is certainly worth your time to read despite having a few cringe-worthy moments.

Story: Interesting concept and narrative. Contains new and familiar locations and races. A bit silly at times, unnecessarily so.

Recommended:  FOR FANS

Star Wars: Tarkin – James Luceno

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There’s a lot to talk about on the Star Wars front, but before getting into that, I wanted to take a moment to make a brief post on the most recent Star Wars novel: Tarkin.

Like the title implies, this is a book all about one character in particular; Grand Moff Tarkin.  Tarkin was introduced in the original Star Wars movie (Episode IV) and was played by veteran actor Peter Cushing. In the movie, Tarkin is a high-ranking Imperial officer. Arguably an equal to even Darth Vader. As most Star Wars fans know, Tarkin meets his end when the rebels succeed in destroying the Death Star.

The next time we see Tarkin in any official capacity is a brief on-screen cameo at the end of Episode III. We again see a younger “Commander Tarkin” in a few episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. In these episodes, he works alongside Anakin Skywalker and handful of other characters.

I’ve always been very intrigued by the character, and when I learned there was going to be a novel dedicated to him I was thrilled. I was little let down to learn that the novel was being authored by James Luceno. I’ve had some touch and go experiences with Luceno’s writing in the past. I really enjoyed his novel Darth Plagueis, but I was less impressed with his novel Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. His dialogue is usually pretty spot-on for the characters he’s writing about, but he tends to be a bit wordy and overly descriptive for my tastes.

Regardless, in this book we get to Tarkin at a very young age. We learn a bit about his upbringing and family. A portion of the book is spent on explaining how he became the cold and calculating character we see in the movie. A large portion of the novel involves him working alongside Darth Vader as they undertake a task given to them by the Emperor.

For me, the best part of the book was seeing Tarkin, Vader and Palpatine interact with each other. I love anything that sheds light on the mysterious relationship between Darth Vader and the Emperor and there was a lot of that in the novel.

Several important aspects are also made clear for the first time in this book. Keep in mind, all these novels are now 100% official when it comes to fitting in with the existing Star Wars universe. So we finally get clarification here that the fact of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader is not common knowledge. Also, this book also cements the fact that “Darth Plagueis” was indeed the mentor of Palpatine. This is something explained in the previous novel Darth Plagueis (also written by James Luceno, but is no longer considered to be canon.) So now, we have once again established that connection.

As these new books continue to roll out, I think we’ll see more of these “wink and nod” links between the old EU and the new canon. Many authors are not the type to abandon concepts from previous novels that they’ve labored over. This is why I tend to feel that the contents of both Kenobi by John Jackson Miller and Darth Plagueis are likely stay pretty safe.

Story: Somewhat slow to start but picks up about halfway in. Very technical in parts. Great character interaction.

Recommended:  FOR HARDCORE FANS

Dungeons & Dragons: Monster Manual 5E

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A brief update here on D&D related things. I’m still attending and enjoying the D&D Encounters at my local games store. I’ve found that buying the “grab bag” boxes of miniatures can be quite addicting… So far I’ve managed to acquire a few neat pieces though.

Recently, I got my hands on the new version of the Monster Manual and I have to say, I’m very impressed with this book. Back in the 1e days, monster manuals were very thin and contained only black and white artwork. I enjoyed the old 1e books regardless. By the time the 2nd Edition came out, the developer had the terrible idea to release loose-leaf pages of monsters. The plan was for players to create their own monster compendiums using a big white binder, but for me, the pages always got torn or fell out, etc. It was a big pain.

This book on the other hand, is very well put together and feature absolutely breathtaking artwork for each monster. I found the contents of the book itself to cover quite a bit of ground. I see things here that I remember seeing in the old Fiend Folio. I’m very excited to see what might lie in the future monster indexes. So far, I’ve been VERY impressed with this version of D&D.

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition Products:

Starter Set

Core Books:  

Player’s Handbook   –   Dungeon Master’s Guide   –   Monster Manual

Supplements:

Volo’s Guide to Monsters    –   Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide  – Xanthar’s Guide to Everything – Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

Adventures:

Hoard of the Dragon Queen   –  Rise of Tiamat    – Princes of the Apocalypse  –  Out of the Abyss   – Curse of Strahd   –   Storm King’s Thunder  –  Tales from the Yawning Portal  – Tomb of Annihilation  –  Waterdeep: Dragon Heist   –   Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage

Star Wars: A New Dawn – John Jackson Miller

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Mere moments before the premier of the new Star Wars series on the Disney Channel, I managed to finish reading my copy of Star Wars – A New Dawn. This book is unique for a number of a reasons. First, it is actually the prequel to the Star Wars Rebels TV show. Second, it is the first Star Wars novel released under the new unified timeline. This means the story contained within this book is considered to 100% official.

For years, fans of Star Wars had to contend with the fact that while there was a plethora of written material out there for them to consume, any or all of it could be overwritten and invalidated at any moment. For the most part, this is didn’t happen. In fact, in several cases George Lucas would often borrow elements from the novels or comic books and incorporate them into this official stories. (Case in point, the name “Coruscant” was originally created by an author, and then added into Star Wars: The Phantom Menace). But occasionally, there were conflicts. For example, there was a whole backstory for the character Boba Fett detailed in a series of books. this was later completely overwritten when Boba Fett’s origins were revealed in Episode 2. Now, for fans, this scenario is no longer a concern.

So here we have A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller, one of my favorite Star Wars authors. And as always, he does not disappoint. As I mentioned earlier, this book actually details the backstory for two characters that star in the new television series: Star Wars Rebels. The story focuses on Kanan and Hera. Two characters that until now, we have never heard of before. Creating books around new characters in the Star Wars universe has always been tricky. First, it’s hard to introduce a new character and make them interesting. Second, it’s even harder to make them the centerpoint of an entire story. But Miller manages to do this nicely.

The lead character is that of Kanan. Kanan is a bit of a drifter a “rough around the edges” kind of guy who is always on the move from job to job and planet to planet. Kanan has a secret. He was a youngling in training to become a Jedi Knight when the purge came at the end of the Clone Wars. He witnessed first hand the destruction of the order by the hands of the Empire. After managing to escape, he has lived a life on the run, concealing his true identity and trying to put the past behind him.

When the story begins, he is a materials handler working for a mining corporation. All is well until the Empire takes a sudden interest in the planet where he is working. It is at this time, that he encounters the mysterious Hera. A young woman who seems to be on a mission seeking those who might have grievances with the Empire. At first, his interest in her is purely one of a flirtatious nature. But eventually, he comes to realize there is much more to this woman than meets the eye.

Considering that this book is the set up for the upcoming Rebels TV series, I don’t think it will be much of a spoiler to reveal that eventually, Kanan and Hera join forces and end up working together to cause some much needed chaos for the Empire in the end.

All in all, this book is very well done. John Jackson Miller does a fantastic job of introducing these characters and making you care about them. Everything here feels right. This book does a great job of capturing the tone of the time in which it take place. The evil Empire looms above and sees all things. Even some of our heroes are a bit reluctant at first, but are driven to strike by the very brutal nature of the Emperor’s oppression.

I finished this book nearly twenty minutes before the debut of the new show so the characters were very fresh in my mind when I sat down to watch the premier of Rebels. I must say that the characters in the book match perfectly with what was presented on the screen. Mr. Miller did a fantastic job of staying true to the characters that were outlined to him by Lucasfilm. I can only imagine how much of a challenge that must have been.

Story: Fast paced, and engaging. New, interesting characters A wonderful set up to a new era in Star Wars storytelling.

Recommended:  YES