Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: Star Wars- The Musical


I don't remember how I stumbled across Star Wars- The Musical, but when I heard about it I thought, "Yeah, that makes sense."  I've often discussed with my friends what movies have influenced society the most and which are referenced most by pop culture in general.  I am afraid of my own fandom being a bias, so I often propose the question and let the discussion take its own course.  Generally, those whom I have surveyed agree that Star Wars tops the list with maybe The Wizard of Oz being a close second.  Because it has been subject to so many references, parodies, spoofs, and spin-offs a musical version only made sense.  I downloaded all of the files and put it on my long list of things to listen to when I get the chance.  As I read through the Legends Expanded Universe timeline and around Christmas break when I realized that getting through the whole series would probably take the whole school year [two semesters and not just one] I figured that it didn't matter if I tried to drag out the midway point which seems to fall right around the original trilogy [side note, I should actually go back and count and see which novel is the mid-point by novel number and separately by playtime, since so many of the original Bantham books are only available as abridged versions.  Heck, as long as I'm doing that, I might as well consider the midpoint from the perspective of print novels and not just audio books, but I digress].  Anyway, I was interested, if not eager, to listen to the musical.  I am not a great lover of musicals, but I have enjoyed quite a few.  Unfortunately, I was not able to bring myself to finish this one.  The lyrics, music, and singing were all just mediocre.  Couple that with the fact that it didn't load onto my phone properly and so I was having to stream it file at a time not in proper order from a cloud hard drive, and by the time I was halfway through and to the cantina scene I gave up.  Since it is unofficial in every sense, I felt no guilt that I gave up on it and promptly moved on to other audiobooks.  Great idea, poor execution- makes me kind of glad they've never taken a stab at the other movies.

Random side note, I was just thinking earlier today, and remembering that I left off at the cantina scene here reminds me all the more: When I was in junior high and early high school there were two versions of the Star Wars soundtrack in reprint one was a "best of" the original trilogy with John Williams guest directing the Utah Symphonic Orchestra and the other was John Williams conducts John Williams with The Skywalker Symphony.  I didn't own the second, but I had several friends who did and the Cantina band song ended differently there and also ended with weird blast shot sounds effects and a coin flipping or landing on a table [their take on the Han shot first killing Greedo and "Sorry about the mess" scene].  In retrospect it sounds pretty strange and horrible, but I remember wanting that soundtrack simply because it had those minor differences.  Fortunately, someone has uploaded it to YouTube.  Later in high school I acquired all of the 2-CD each movie Special Edition soundtracks.  They released a similar multi-CD set for The Phantom Menace, but to my knowledge have never done this for any of the other movies in the prequel trilogy or the newer sequels and stories, but if they do I will collect them all.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book Review: Star Wars: A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy- Alexandra Bracken

A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy (Star Wars Illustrated Novels #1)A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am working my way through reading all of the Legends Timeline of books. The movies, and their spin offs, make up the link between the old and new Expanded Universe timelines. Although this book, and the two others in the series, were written after the EU split, I figured since it was based off of the movie that it would be OK to listen to it here.
This book is the first in a series of young adult adaptions of the original trilogy. It is hands down the best of the series also. I'm first going to start with the author's note at the end of the book. In that note the author mentioned how much her father loved the Star Wars movies and that he had recently passed away, and despite it being fiction, she argued that the true power of the Force was its ability to bring people together through shared experiences. The note brought tears to my eyes.
The story itself is told in three parts, each part from the perspective of one of the main characters: first Leia the princess, the Han the scoundrel, and lastly Luke the farm boy. I was amazed at how well the original, familiar tale fit this literary device. For the Leia part there was a lot of embellishment and backstory to her part of the tale. Having said that, a lot of it seems to have been inspired by cut parts of the original script and Brian Daley's NPR Radio Drama Adaptation. Overall, Leia's part at the beginning was probably the shortest section, but it was enriched by having a unique perspective and lots of new details*(see footnote). The middle part, told from Han's perspective, was slightly awkward in how it addressed the introduction of Obi-Wan. It also also ended up having to rely on flashback of other characters to tell parts of the story where the party split up on the Death Star, like Luke and Leia's famous grappling hook swing across the chasm. Luke's perspective was about what you would expect, a good mix of enthusiasm and self-doubt. Like Daley's version, Luke's section also included the cut scene of him training or trying out to fly with the Rebel's. Telling the story from one person's viewpoint at a time worked very well overall, it was also very nice to have the tale told from the first, person perspective unlike before. The biggest loss in this method is the view of things from the Imperial side and the side adventures of the droids. None-the-less, these losses are more than made up for by the joy brought from the unique person perspectives of the books and the details added to the storyline. As I am typing this after having completed my read-through of the Legends EU Timeline I can say that this book stands out, hands-down as the best young adult book I read and one of the best movie adaptations books as well.

* Footnote: I couldn't find a way to integrate this thought into the narrative above, and I am always concerned about how it may sound, because I don't want it to sound sexist, but I think it helped Leia's character a immensely to be told by a female author.  It just seemed to fit better than any other attempt to tell this old, familiar tale have done.

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Friday, February 3, 2017

Book Review: Why is the Penis Shaped Like That?: And Other Reflections on Being Human by Jesse Bering

Why is the Penis Shaped Like That?: And Other Reflections on Being HumanWhy is the Penis Shaped Like That?: And Other Reflections on Being Human by Jesse Bering
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book I picked up more because of the odd title and the fact that it was a science book on audio that was short and available from my library while I waited for another hold to come in. A year later, as I write this review, I don't remember a lot about it, so I suppose that tells you a little bit about the impression that it made on me. Having said that, I remember that it was not overly sexual or explicit, but rather that it addressed a lot of anatomy questions and was full of random facts and some current research. I cannot say that I learned a lot about the human body that I didn't already know, but there were some details or minor gleanings that I picked up. It was also interesting to hear the perspective of a homosexual doctor on some of the issues presented. His approach to some sexual anatomy and towards sex itself was interesting. Overall, this books doesn't stand out too much from other medical curiosity books out there, like Why Do Men Have Nipples?: Hundreds of Questions You'd Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini , Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex? More Questions You'd Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Whiskey Sour , or anything by Aaron E. Carroll.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Book Review: Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama- by Brian Daley

Star Wars: The Original Radio DramaStar Wars: The Original Radio Drama by Brian Daley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brian Daley added a lot to the Star Wars Universe but the radio dramas in general, and this one specifically, might be his greatest contribution. Adapting anything for radio drama can be difficult, but he manages to avoid having characters describe their every move in an inane way like other audio dramas do and still keeps the narrating to a minimum. Additionally, the voice work is impressive. I usually don't like audio dramas because the vocal actors are sometimes difficult to distinguish from one another, but here they are clear, well spoken, and well acted; not to mention the Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels reprising their roles as Luke and C-3PO. Not only does the audio drama retell a familiar tale in a new way by taking the visuals away and immersing you in sound, but it also adds details and background that we haven't seen before. In fact, the first two of thirteen stories give us background on Leia and Luke that were not in the movie and take place before the start of the main story. Whether you have seen the movie or not, read the book or not, this retelling has enough new details to make it enjoyable for any fan.

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Book Review: Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope- by George Lucas [Alan Dean Foster]

Star Wars: A New HopeStar Wars: A New Hope by George Lucas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Being as big of a Star Wars fan as I am I had never read the original movie adaptation. For a little background I saw the movies out of order in 6th grade because at the time TBS did Christmas Day marathons of the original trilogy. I ended up seeing Return of the Jedi [RotJ] first. Coincidentally, I also ended up with a copy of the novel version of that book about the same time because we did a book swap in elementary where you donated a book and then were allowed to pick out a book. Somehow I ended up getting to pick out a book late in the day when most of the books had been picked already and I ended up with RotJ and it sat on my shelf gathering dust for quite a while. Eventually after watching the movies and starting to get into reading the novels I read RotJ first, probably early in 8th grade. Later that year I managed to borrow a copy of The Empire Strikes Back from a friend and read it through. Throughout 8th grade I began to learn a lot of Star Wars trivia and that same friend had a book of trivia questions and through that book I learned about some of the minor differences between the movies and the novels. There were also only two technical questions that I missed which is what led to me memorizing Luke's stormtrooper number [TK-421] and the serial code to the trash compactor on the Death Star [3263827]. Still I could not get my hands on a copy of the novelization of A New Hope . About this same time I started listening to Star Wars audiobooks because my library had audio, but not print copies, of many of the books. I also had an odd habit of not reading some of the books that I owned, while devouring others- more on this another time. It wasn't until I graduated college that I managed to find a copy of A New Hope in a used bookstore (there was a collection of all three novels into one book that my local bookstore sold, but I was never interested in owning it, because I preferred the individual books). By the time that I owned a copy of the book, though, I had become addicted to audiobooks and also had very little time to read, so it also gathered dust on my bookshelf.

Now, finally, I have come across an audio copy of the original novelization. Those original novels were short, but I suspect that the audiobook version is abridged, even though it didn't say so specifically in the transcript of the title or credits. Either way, it was a very good read. There is plenty of background material that was added to the novel. Furthermore, Alan Dean Foster's writing is beautiful. His choice of adjectives and adverbs really added depth to the novel, helping it to stand on its own. It is a shame that I took so long to read this one because I think, especially after listening to the other two for the first time [despite having read them previously, this is the best novel adaptation from the original trilogy, and despite its shortness, possibly all of the movies. Additionally, it is great that now, finally, Alan Dean Foster has gotten the recognition that he deserves for ghostwriting the novel for George Lucas.

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Book Review: Star Wars: Death Troopers- by Joe Schreiber

Star Wars: Death TroopersStar Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I preemptively complained about this book when I reviewed its prequel. When I read the prequel I was just beginning my listen through all of the books in the Expanded Universe in In-Universe chronological order, some books were going to be new to me, and many were familiar to me because I had read them before. I had listened to this book originally, shortly after it came out and was disappointed with it then. Having been through Joe Schreiber's other additions to the Star Wars Universe I was not excited to re-read this one.
So maybe because I had such low expectations, I was not as disgusted by this book the second time through it. There is a descent amount of mystery, tragedy, and suspense in this novel that make-up for its ties to the horror genre. I suppose nearly anything can be tied into horror genre [somewhat like Rule 34 of the Internet], but just because it can be made to fit doesn't mean it should. In fact, I recall my cousin (who works at an independent bookstore) asking me about the new Star Wars novel he shelved that looked like a horror/slasher novel and asking me if I had given it a chance yet, and being appalled by its very existence. There are enough disturbing bits of to this novel that I don't really enjoy it, however, there was a really nice surprise cameo appearance of (view spoiler) for a descent amount of time and right around the climax of the novel. It was enjoyable to see (view spoiler). The book was not as bad as I remembered and I was surprised by the amount of detail that I had forgotten, but I still stand by it not really fitting into the Star Wars Universe, nor was it really worthwhile, and by my assertion that I am not sure who was begging for a prequel to the book- which was even more disturbing to read.

PS- Coincidentally, just this morning someone on Goodreads liked my review of this books prequel.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

Book Review: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II- by Sean Williams

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed IIStar Wars: The Force Unleashed II by Sean Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Normally I review series together, but I chose to do these separate because the books differ significantly in quality. The first book followed the video game so closely that it felt formulaic and robotic and was very stifled by the repetitive environments.
This book on the other hand was helped by a video game that was more linear and streamlined in its flow. The book does nothing to settle the mystery of whether the main character, Starkiller, is a clone or the original man brought back to life. Also, like any video game that gives you a good-evil choice to take you down different paths, this book has to pick and follow only one of those paths for the official cannon. This inevitability will upset some hardcore purists.
One thing that I did not complain about in my prior review, and will mention here because it is applicable to both, there seems to be an obsession in the Expanded Universe, post-Episode III of showing a weakened and battle-damaged Darth Vader. I suppose this is a desire to show the such-and-such a new character is bad-ass, or to somehow strike a balance where evil doesn't just dominate. However, I feel that this is a mistake. For example, The Empire Strikes Back does a good job of showing that hope remains despite evil prevailing and too often I think we are afraid to have a book or movie or whatever form of media that shows the good guys losing sometime. Furthermore, in the Star Wars Universe, there is such love of the character of Darth Vader that it seems a shame to show him beat so often just in the name of having the main characters survive or to allow good to prevail despite obvious and overwhelming odds.
Anyway, I've not touched on the specifics of the book too much here, but I will say that it is a much better adaptation of the video game that holds its own as a stand-alone novel because it allows gamy things to remain in the game, rather than trying to force a fit.

haha "Force a fit", I wasn't trying to be punny, but it worked.

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