As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, all things Star Wars lead me down a winding path.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 3 discs. color. 136 min. J.J. Abrams, Walt Disney. Apr. 2016. DVD/Blu-ray combo UPC 786936849769. $39.99. SF
As eager fans await the arrival of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to theaters on December 16, there is plenty to keep them busy, starting with director Abrams’s The Force Awakens, which brings back the energy, valor, action, and power of George Lucas’s original film trilogy, rebooting its magic. While beloved characters return—Han Solo and Chewbacca, Princess Leia (aka General Leia), and Luke Skywalker—the new protagonists share their same passion, making this adventure engrossing, fun, and just a bit romantic. Arrayed on the side of the light are the past champions but also Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who has both the Force and destiny pushing her on. With Rey is the noble Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper–turned–awkward hero. Lurking in the dark is the petulant and vengeful Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), tied, as was Darth Vader, to the evil powers of the Empire. With speed and verve, this film delivers a rich story with intriguing threads and a deeply immersive landscape.
Firefly: The Complete Series. color. 660+ min. Joss Whedon. 2008. Blu-ray UPC 024543533696. $29.99. closed-captioned. SF/TV
There are moments in many Star Wars films that remind viewers just how far the echoes of the Old West reach into outer space. Writer Whedon clearly appreciates the links between the sf and Western genres, as proven in this cult hit of a famously one-season TV show (and, via a film extension, the 2005 movie Serenity). The series is most notably similar to Star Wars if one imagines what might have happened had Han Solo never met Luke Skywalker and the Evil Empire was a standard government operation that didn’t evoke world-ending, fascist overtones. Tracing the exploits of a scavenger team making dubious deals and covert runs in a ship crewed by a rag-tag collection of colorful characters, the show is built around an ongoing overflow of escapades, offering a larger arc of a crew trying to stay together while at the same time marking their place in the world.
Guardians of the Galaxy. color. 121 min. James Gunn, Marvel. 2014. Blu-ray UPC 786936843996. $24.99. SF/FANTASY/ACTION
There is a great deal of the Saturday morning cartoon, or even older, the matinee-adventure film, in Star Wars productions, and few recent movies have captured that roller-coaster ride as well as this riotous caper of an sf/fantasy. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) makes his living stealing intergalactic artifacts, which he cleverly liberates while listening to a soundtrack of hit tunes on his very Earth-y Sony Walkman, a treasured relic itself that he had with him when he was abducted by space pirates and transformed from a normal Earthling into a resident of a much larger world. Now he has found a powerful object he should have left alone. On the run, and with little recourse but to save the day, he joins forces with a motley group of heroes as they face down all those who want the mysterious item. Like the best of the Star Wars stories, Guardians mixes adventure with higher purpose and offers plenty of thrills.
Star Trek. 3 discs. color. 126 min. J.J. Abrams, Paramount. 2009. Blu-ray UPC 097360718249. $28.49. SF
Another iconic sf series that makes for solid company for fans of Luke, Rey, and the others, Star Trek got the Abrams reboot treatment in 2009. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is a bigheaded, rebellious student at Starfleet Academy when he and his cohorts are ordered into the fight to help save the planet Vulcan. On his first mission he will retrace a path his father fatally undertook and in the process meet and bond with fan-favorite characters from the original TV series, including Spock, Bones, Scotty, and Uhura. As with The Force Awakens, this sf adventure features an important assignment, bonding among characters, and clever references to the foundational aspects of the earlier work. It’s also brimming with action, features great visuals, and sweeps viewers along in a compulsive fashion. While the two stories are divergent, fans looking for more tales of a hero made good, space battles, and the return of cherished famous faces will find much to enjoy.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter: The Complete Series. Bks. 1–7. Arthur A. Levine: Scholastic. 2009. 4167p. illus. by Mary GrandPre. ISBN 9780545162074. pap. $86.93. F
Confronting evil, deciding where you stand, and learning to master your powers are common concerns found in both the Star Wars series and the Harry Potter books, as are abiding friendships, well-detailed landscapes, and abundant action and adventure. Rowling’s series may begin with Harry as a young child, but the stakes quickly advance through the books as he comes into his full abilities in his wizarding universe. There are sidekicks, romantic threads, mentors, villains, and an evil empire prepared to do anything and turn anyone to its side to win. By the end, three central figures face down the darkness, supported by a cast of others all ready to stand alongside the forces of good. For any reader willing to trade space opera for middle school–set fantasy, this series makes a great companion.
Vaughan, Brian K. (text) & Fiona Staples (illus.). Saga. Vol. 1. Image. 2012. 160p. ISBN 9781607066019. pap. $13.50; ebk. ISBN 9781607067238. SF
Star Wars fans might also want to explore this critically acclaimed graphic novels series set in a galaxy consumed by an interplanetary war. Alana and Marko are members of both sides of that conflict, enemies who fall in love and commit the sin of producing a child, Hazel. How they remain united and safeguard their family forms the intimate heart of a tale that is otherwise large in scale and scope, as plots unfold and wander through the long-running chase to seize Hazel and kill her parents. It’s a wild and creative ride full of expressive and inventive visuals that are smartly constructed in a shifting array of panels and highlighted with great colorwork. It should please Star Wars fans seeking a hyperversion of galactic warfare and its personal repercussions.
Szostak, Phil & Rich Cater. The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Abrams. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9781419717802. $40. MEDIA TIE-IN
For a look at the artistic development of the latest Star Wars film (until December 16), turn to this lavishly illustrated set of essays that chronologically follow the production from concept phase through postproduction refinements. Readers will see the iterations of the lightsaber, full-page spreads capturing pivotal scenes, details of costumes, impressions of landscapes, and visual drafts of story segments, ships, creatures, and more. The result is a visual treat supported by insider explanations of the creative process involved in crafting the look and feel of the film. The Art of Rogue One will release on the same day the movie premieres.
Windham, Ryder & others. Ultimate Star Wars. DK. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781465436016. $40. MEDIA TIE-IN
For readers wishing to catch up with the various characters, locations, technology, and vehicles of the various Star Wars sagas, this fully illustrated guide fits the bill. While it doesn’t include The Force Awakens or Rogue One, it does detail every other major Star Wars film as well as the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, nice additions for those viewers who have yet to explore beyond the key movies. For each subject, authors Windham, Daniel Wallace, Tricia Barr, and Adam Bray offer a comprehensive time line spanning the series, followed by background, history, and critical events. Locations such as Tatooine and Dagobah are treated in full, while notable events in those areas, such as the Jedi training that took place in the latter, are explained. The chapters on technology and vehicles follow the same pattern and include the spaceship Millennium Falcon and space station Death Star.
Herbert, Frank. Dune. 18 CDs. 22 hrs. Macmillan Audio. 2007. ISBN 9781427201430. $59.95. SF
One of the key inspirations for the Star Wars series is this seminal title in the sf canon. The inaugural winner of the Nebula Award for best novel and cowinner of the Hugo Award, this heroic epic follows the fate of a young man with special gifts who rebels against the power structure of his world and ultimately defeats it. More political than Star Wars, indeed it has something in common with George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, and its connections to Luke and Rey’s quest are unmistakable. In this enhanced full-cast recording (complete with sound effects), narrators Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Simon Vance, and more collaborate to deliver a bravo performance of the tale. With lush storytelling and invented terminology, Dune is a perfect book to hear, and this stellar group offers a compelling and gripping performance.
Luceno, James. Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel. 11 hrs. Books on Tape. (Star Wars). 2016. ISBN 9780451486202. $95. digital download. SF
The Star Wars world has long spilled out of the films and onto the page, offering novelizations, prequels, spin-offs, graphic novels, and even Shakespearean versions. The newest print accompaniment to this ever-expanding universe fills in the story leading up to Rogue One. Written by a highly regarded author in the Star Wars print world, it tells of the Empire’s plans to build the Death Star, which centrally involve Dr. Galen Erso, father of Jyn Erso, the heroine of Rogue One, and Orson Krennic, a key figure in the Empire’s plots. The audio edition is enhanced with sound effects, some subtle, such as the hum of a spaceship, and some more obvious such as the iconic music at the start, and is read with great tonal effect by Jonathan Davis. As much of the story revolves around the manipulations and realizations of the characters, Davis’s acute performance is all the more appreciated.