Saturday, June 3, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Guardians of the Whills Review

Last night I had the displeasure of attending a high-school graduation ceremony. Gotta say, it's been quite a while since I've endured such a perfect storm of pomp, empty platitudes, bad music, painfully contradictory life advice, and weak analogies. Still, I suppose it's worth putting up with to see one of your own move ahead into something new, much the same way Star Wars moved onto something greater with the release of it's first side-story film last December. How's that for a lousy analogy?

A common complaint against Rogue One was that the cast of characters were underdeveloped. I found it odd for people to point this out as if it were a new phenomenon within this franchise. Admittedly this particular film did have quite the sizable cast squeezed into one movie, which leaves the heavy lifting of further character development in the hands of expanded universe novels. Today we'll be taking a look at one such novel with author Greg Rucka's Guardians of the Whills.

Guardians is a very short, young adult novel focused on Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus. Formerly guardians of the Jedi temple in the holy city of Jedha, the pair now spend their days protecting their fellow citizens from the hardships of imperial occupation. However the two begin to question whether their efforts are honestly making life better for anyone, yet they lack the power to accomplish much else until a rebel fanatic named Saw Gerrera reaches out to them.

The story plays a fairly subtle game in regards to revealing it's true narrative. Early on I feared that it would meander like far too many of the books we've covered thus far. Thankfully once the primary conflict revealed itself, I found it'd been in place the whole time. Likewise the flow of events felt very natural, never too rushed or forced. For that reason alone I feel it's best to not reveal too much, as the steady flow of events really helps to push the book along, making for a fun read.

Author Greg Rucka has previously proven himself able to properly capture the voices of characters from the screen, his portrayal of Leia in Before the Awakening being the prime example. He puts that skill to great use here, especially when it comes to Chirrut. It's so easy to imagine the dialogue and mannerisms here being delivered by Donnie Yen that it's an absolute treat to read.
That strong use of character voice is all the more important when you consider that this is one of the most talkative books in the franchise so far. Like many young adult books, descriptions of environments are kept light and sparse, leaving those pages to be filled with back and forth bickering. It's good stuff too. The friendship between these two aging heroes feels natural and comfortable, like there's a truly immense shared history between them.

The universe building here is slight yet intriguing all the same. We don't get a ton of information on our leads pasts, leaving room I'm sure for another novel someday. What we do get however is a good look at their life shortly before joining Jyn Erso's mission in the film. Along with that slice of life are glimpses into daily activity in the holy city along with hints of the different religions that worship the force. Peppered throughout the book are various prayers and poems from these sects, including a Sith prayer of all things. I'm continually pleased to see that there's more to faith in this universe than those stuck-up Jedi.

Honestly, I'm having a tough time finding things to criticize here, as Guardians made for such a pleasant surprise. Possibly the biggest flaw is also one of it's largest strengths, which is how streamlined and simple it all is. Unlike Thrawn or Twilight Company, this one doesn't go off on large tangents that add little outside of a page count. At the same time, I would have liked a little more detail on different topics. Still, that's a difficult balance to strike and I think this one accomplished it better than most.

The absolute biggest compliment I can give this book is that it really does accomplish the mission of adding value to what we've seen these characters do on screen. The extra depth given to this friendship, and each individuals outlooks on faith and the universe make their big moments within the film all the more meaningful and compelling.

I'm gonna have to give Guardians of the Whills a huge recommendation. I actually took the opportunity to read this in one day, and all the way through I knew it was easily top five material. Frankly it was good enough that it's casting a shadow over the title I'm currently reading. Don't let it's small size or young adult banner get in the way of reading this one, as it is easily one of the most enjoyable entries in the new continuity

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka
5. Ashoka by E.K. Johnston
6. Tarkin by James Luceno
7. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
8. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
9. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
10. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
11. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
12. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
13.Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
14.The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

Before I head out, got a few small announcements to make. There will be some new types of articles and changes to some long standing features coming this month. Recently I've felt like I'm finally getting on top of things so June is going to mark the point of kicking this year in the ass. So stay tuned for some new goodies, along with some work for another site, and of course more Star Wars and lackluster analogies.

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