Thursday, March 7, 2019

Book review: Lords of the Sith: Star Wars

Star Wars: Lords of the Sith is a Star Wars novel by Paul S. Kemp, published in April 2015. Set between the film Revenge of the Sith and the novel Star Wars: Tarkin, it features Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine facing off against revolutionaries. Lords of the Sith was one of the first four novels published in the franchise after Lucasfilm redefined Star Wars continuity in April 2014.

Book is available on Amazon

Lords of the Sith follows Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith by just a few years. The Empire is at it's peak, and the Rebel Alliance has yet to be dreamed up. When a rash of terrorism breaks out on Ryloth, the Twi'Lek home world, the Emperor decides that he and Lord Vader will pay a personal visit to smash the early seeds of rebellion/terrorism. What follows is an engaging, swashbuckling romp through the Ryloth system that pits Vader against increasing odds, and an interesting look at the beginning of one part of the Rebel Alliance.

Paul S. Kemp does a good job realizing the Star Wars milieu and making it feel seedy and lived-in. He also does a really good job making it feel sci-fi, a dimension of it's identity that most Star Wars stuff chooses to ignore. Ships feel isolated and fragile in a very good way, technology feels embedded within the world, and honestly, I really loved that side of Lords of the Sith.

I also enjoyed reading about Vader, for the most part. He's written with surprising depth, and his relationship with the Emperor is really unsettling. It's both disarming and disgruntling to see their emotionally-abusive relationship played out like that; and yet, Vader doesn't become the victim in the way the prequel movies tried so hard to paint him. He is fully aware of his actions, their implications, and his ultimate monstrosity. Indeed, he revels in it, believes that this is the role he was cast into by the Force--that he is the bloody hammer necessary to make everything else right. It's twisted and messianic and conflicting in a good way. I do wish that Kemp had been given a few more Force-related descriptions in his bag: the biggest letdown of Lords of the Sith is that the force-users are written with a numbing repetition.

Though the book does feature the titular galactic bullies as, if not protagonists, than certainly narrators, most of the book is actually told from the perspective of the Twi'Lek terrorists, or the Imperial Colonel Belkor, whose station on Belkor has led to an escalating corruption in pursuit of personal power and accolades. Vader accounts, as a narrator, for less than a quarter of the book, with the Twi'Leks taking at least half, and Belkor the remaining third or so. No narrator is particularly weak, though the politick of Ryloth did wear on after a while. When Kemp finally brings everything to a close, and the remaining narrators are standing on top of each other, it's a marked relief.

This is a rock solid entry in the new Star Wars canon. It treats the sci-fi aspect of the series with much more respect than Chuck Wendig's Aftermath, or the Lost Stars book, and bridges the gap well between the prequels and original trilogy. I'd recommend it without reservation.

Book is available on Amazon
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Monday, March 4, 2019

Book review: Tarkin

Bestselling Star Wars veteran James Luceno gives Grand Moff Tarkin the Star Wars: Darth Plagueis treatment, bringing the legendary character from A New Hope to full, fascinating life.

Star Wars: Tarkin is on sale on Amazon 

Here is my review:

"Tarkin," like many Star Wars novels, is not a book of one genre. While it's certainly part of a greater space fantasy environment, "Tarkin" has much in common from genres of historical fiction set in the Victorian and Napoleonic eras.

James Luceno, who wrote the excellent "Star Wars: Darth Plagueis" shortly before the Lucasfilm canon reset, takes a rather different tone with his villainous protagonist. Wilhuff Tarkin isn't a Sith Lord. He's not the sort of boldly despicable villain that you love to hate. He's not maniacal or all-powerful. He's neither Byronic nor dashing. He doesn't have a complicated inner good person struggling to get out. Tarkin is cold and calculating, and as the novel shifts between the genres of mystery, savage survival, and naval warfare, Tarkin echoes characters of Imperial literature and history like Professor Moriarty, Cecil Rhodes, and Admiral Nelson.

Like Moriarty or his rival, Tarkin has strong deductive reasoning skills. A good portion of the novel reads like a Victorian-era Sherlock Holmes mystery, albeit with a ruthless amoral genius at the helm rather than a drug-addicted defender of the meek. Tarkin doesn't make it through the novel without making a few incorrect predictions, but his mind is sharp, and his ability to unravel conspiracy is impressive.

Interspersed throughout the mystery are flashbacks to the Tarkin family's brutal rites of passage on the planet Eriadu. Like Cecil Rhodes, most infamous of Victorian colonialists, young Wilhuff adapts to survival in the savage savannahs and jungles of his homeworld. Accordingly, Eriadu's Carrion Plateau could have been the setting of a Star Wars "Heart of Darkness." Eriadu is the Darkest Africa of diamond mines and Boer wars, and like a good Victorian, Tarkin is taught the importance of order and fear. He rises to power treating both the natural and civic aspects of his universe as things to be tamed.

Finally, like Lord Horatio Nelson (or the fictional Horatio Hornblower), Tarkin takes on the role of Napoleonic-era naval strategist. Star Wars media more often depicts dogfights between small craft, making quick turns and dodging beams of energy. Though the space battles of this novel are exciting, they primarily focus on larger, slower vessels. So instead of evasive maneuvers, the novel's ships have to predict the path of their bulky opponents, turning and positioning their starboard cannons to hit the enemy's port with a massive broadside. This last element of "Tarkin" is less dominant than the others, but the relevant passages could have come from a C S Forester novel.

I quite enjoyed Luceno's "Tarkin." It won't be everyone's cup of tea, as the protagonist is neither particularly likeable nor particularly fascinating. Wilhuff Tarkin's shade of evil is instead a bit too close to home, embracing an ugly imperialism that has shown its face frequently on our own little planet.

One final aside for fellow Star Wars enthusiasts: fans of "Darth Plagueis" should be happy to see some small details from this previous work pop up in "Tarkin." It's not particularly explicit, but Luceno references a few characters and plot points from his earlier book as if it had never been extricated from the canon. It's almost as if Del Rey should publish a second edition of "Darth Plagueis," revised to fit the new editorial and canon standards but with at least 75% of the story intact. One can dream.

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Saturday, March 2, 2019

Book review: Star Wars: A New Dawn

Here is our review of Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller. The book is availble on Amazon fon audio and paperback

As someone online on tvtropes noted, *A New Dawn* is a good title for this book in a meta-sense. In-story, this is about the beginnings of rebellion against the Empire, and of Kanan Jarrus taking his life in a new direction, but as a the first book in the new *Star Wars* "canon" since Disney took over, the title is quite apt.

The story takes place about eight years after *Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith*, and about six years prior to the start of the *Star Wars: Rebels* animated series. Since Kanan and Hera, the two main protagonists of the novel are two of the characters on *Rebels*, this is obviously more of a prequel novel than anything else.

The novel follows the exploits of Kanan Jarrus, who holds a secret - he is the Jedi Caleb Dume, a Padawan of Jedi Master Depa Bilaba, who gave her life to save Kanan from the clones who turned on them at Palpatine's orders.

A quick note here. It should be stated that, according to one of the showrunners of *Rebels*, the clones had no choice in the matter due to stuff implanted in them at birth. They HAD to kill the Jedi when given the code by Palpatine. As of this time the book takes place, not just volunteers like Skelly, but actual clone troopers are not just dealing with clone illnesses like those dealt with in the also Canon *Star Wars: The Clone Wars* series, but also immense guilt over murdering the Jedi against their own will. Moreover, with his grip on the galaxy seemingly solidified, Palpatine's Empire is starting to show it's true colors. The galaxy is a hugely horrific, brutal place to live under the Empire.

Anyways, as of the moment the story opens, Kanan is in a sorry state. He is a cynic who hates his past life and wants to just hop from place to place to avoid detection and survive. Having been on the run for nearly a decade has turned him into a womanizing, selfish man. At least, that is what he *wants* it to make him. Underneath that cold, self-centered exterior is the idealistic super-hero wannabe, Caleb.

When a troublemaker forces Kanan to use the Force to save himself and others, he decides to leave his current planet of choice, Gorse, and go find work elsewhere. He already has stayed longer than he should have, he muses, and so on his way he goes. Then he sees a beautiful Twilek woman named Hera, and is swept up in an insane adventure with her, and other characters, doing a very "Caleb" thing, much to his chagrin.

Hera is the second main character, and she manages to get under Kanan's skin, much to her amusement, chagrin, and (when Kanan proves to be useful for stopping the plans of the Empire) pleasure. It's funny to see her go from someone who is annoyed, but amused, at Kanan's flirting, to someone who is intrigued, though not romantically interested, with him.

What made Hera cool is that she is badass. She is not to Kanan's level, given Kanan's old training and access to the Force, but she is skilled enough that you might conclude she'd outstrip him if he wasn't a Jedi. She is more idealistic than Kanan, but has a strange cynicism in her own way. It's hard to explain how without being too spoilery, but just suffice it to say that she must learn that not everything in life can be second-fiddle to her crusade.

I said earlier that Kanan has the super-hero wannabe inside in his old "Caleb Dume" identity. I can kinda empathize. When I went in the Army, I was the uber-patriotic guy, and still am I would argue, but I had rose-colored blinders on then that have since been lifted. I thought it would be heroic and being the "good guy". Actual war dissuaded me of that notion. It's hard, harsh, difficult, nerve-wracking, guilt inducing, so on. Real-world war heroes are not like comic book folks, but they are fallible because they are real. I am more jaded now, and I didn't have a galaxy-spanning Empire try to murder me.

The story was half-introductory adventure and half-mystery. Since the bad guy is a political servant of the Emperor trying to gain more influence on Coruscant (the capital world), he naturally has others nipping at his heels. The heroes end up exploiting this to make headway in stopping the bad guy. Some might find the ending kinda sudden, but if they view it as political intrigue and study how such things go in real-life authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, it actually has some realism... uh, other than the sci-fi/fantasy stuff, I mean.

The reason I didn't give this book the highest rating, despite enjoying it so much was because the story started out a tad slow. It picked up in interest about a hundred pages through or so. Then it was fun.

The only problem I have with the bad guy is that he is almost cartoonish in his villainy. I almost expected him to grow a cybernetic mustache to twirl. He was a bit cliched, and that hurt the novel. Other than that, the characters were fun and kinda realistic to who they were in this environment. If you stripped away the fantastical elements, they make sense given their histories and what not.

I loved this first entry in the new, integrated (movies, television, books, so on) *Star Wars* Canon, and I heartily recommend it and the *Star Wars: Rebels* series, by the by. Good stuff.

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Monday, February 4, 2019

Star Wars Jedi Academy Still Worth Getting In 2019



So this might make it in a video in the future on the Star Wars Praxeum youtube channel but for now, I'll post this here first for our Reddit community! Okay Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (JKA / JA) is a game that was developed by Raven Software (and many other developers over the years) and published by Activision and was initially released in 2003 and personally this game is definitely one of my favourite star wars game and for many years now so sorry for being somewhat bias in this writing!

Firstly, JKA had great visuals for the time it was released with also a great in-depth lightsaber combat system than any other Star Wars game in the past and arguably this present time (Jedi Fallen Order probably won't be able to top it in my opinion) and also having a reasonably strong community behind the game including other games in the Jedi Knight series. However, the opinion of many people in the community does agree that the storyline of the game is lacking compared to its predecessor "Jedi Outcast (JO)" which had a more in-depth story to it nevertheless JA was a great game which improved on some combat elements within the game and added additional lightsaber styles too! Okay with a strong community behind this game there is a strong modding scene behind this game building extra content for the game from maps, player models, vehicles, full conversion mods and more most popular mods is japlus (ja+ ja++) and movie battles 2.

JKHub.org is mostly the central place of the community hosting a community forum, place to download mostly all mods for the game, the backup game server for server listing and the JKHub Network Bar. JKHub's owner Caelum also has another business that hosts most of the servers within the community including websites and game servers for the community (of course at a reasonable price)

Let's get into the multiplayer side of this game, It can be somewhat difficult on finding someone on a server at sometimes but don't get me wrong there is still heaps of activity well this is at certain times and on modded versions of the game even tho the base game still gets a reasonable amount of activity but most popular mods like japlus and movie battles 2 get most of the activity within the game. There are many communities/clans within the game most popular clans in the japlus is Knights Reborn and also The (JAWA) Clan within the game with their own servers and how they run things going from training schools, events and even tournaments.

Soi has to say this is on you, i personally still like the game and hopefully returning as a clan member at (JAWA) very soon but can i recommend this game for 2019? Simple answer if you are a Star Wars fan is yes and if you don't just get it cause its fun also if you got something to say about the game say it! xD
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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Galaxy Of Heroes: Territory War Rewards Need to be Adjusted



(Thread on forum: https://forums.galaxy-of-heroes.starwars.ea.com/discussion/147594/tw-rewards-not-related-to-ties )

Similar to the change that happened to TB, I think that the dev team needs to consider overhauling TW rewards. I'm in a 98m GP guild, so toward the higher end of the spectrum. Even so, our potential rewards (assuming a win) are 1,275 guild currency, 2 zetas, 3 omegas, 4 purples, 450 GET, and 540k credits. On a loss/tie our rewards are only reduced by 200 GC, 1 zeta, 1 omega, 1 purple, 75 GET, and 405k credits. Gear box is unchanged it seems.

There are two issues with the rewards: One, there's not really a significant difference between first and second (assuming we do 4 TW a month, that's a zeta every 5 months), so there's not a huge incentive to try everything in our power to win. Moreover, the current rewards are SIGNIFICANTLY below what we get from TB in the all-important GET. In the LS TB, we get 37*, which gives 5,900 GET, plus all the GET from various special missions. All together, we are probably getting somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 GET from a single LS TB. Assuming we win back-to-back TWs, we would get 900 GET (i.e., less than 10%).

Under the previous schedule, we basically averaged 3 TBs every 4 weeks, so 30,000 GET a month. Under the new schedule, we are looking at 2 TB and 4 TW in the same time period. That's (assuming 4 wins in TW) 23,600 GET, or a loss of 6,400 GET (20%).

Given that there are now two characters locked behind GET, plus all post G12 gear, cutting down our GET yield is not really reasonable. At a minimum, yield should remain stable (devs must have a good amount of data on GP:star ratio for TB to set the GET rates for TW) if not increasing. TW rewards, as currently structured, are a huge step backwards -- at a minimum, the rewards for the four TWs should be equivalent to the TB we are losing.
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