Review: “Star Wars Crucible” by Troy Denning

September 21, 2013

This latest Star Wars book is also placed tbe latest (so far) in the timeline, 45 years after the events of the initial film “A New Hope”. Some of the books along the way have been very good, especially those by Timothy Zahn.

But I don’t think this book is among them. It’s a decent read, but fails to meet the initial promise of being something new.

The opportunity is there, as Denning’s starting scenario opens the door to all sorts of possibilities. Instead of the usual “bang bang” enemies, the adversaries are businessmen, two brothers who are so intelligent and so wealthy that not only do they corner the market in many key industries, they can also bribe, extort, or assasinate politicians and other officials to get their way.

How will the Jedi deal with such economic power, when every official might be a secret tool of the enemy? Sadly we’ll never know.

For reasons which only seem partly plausible (hubris?) the baddies kidnap Han Solo and take him to their secret base, just as they are about to use it to transform themselves into something even more powerful. If they’d ust left Han alone they could have accomplished their plan unchecked. But kidnapping Han brings in Luke, Leia, Lando and a couple of other Jedi.

The Jedi have with them battledroids that (very deus ex machina) take out all of the opponents’ massive military strength. So what’s left is a long description of the Jedi tracking down and taking out the brothers. Once again the swish swish of light sabers saves the day.

It’s perfectly workable, it just fails to live up to the promise of the initial premise.

Review: “Kenobi” by John Jackson Miller

September 14, 2013

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Ben Kenobi’s home in the Jundland wastes from Star Wars Galaxies, Image: Sony Online Entertainment

At the end of “Revenge of the Sith”, Obi-Wan Kenobi takes baby Luke Skywalker to Tatooine and turns him over to Owen and Beru Lars. Nineteen years later he is still there, watching over the son of Skywalker. This book is the story of Kenobi’s first period on Tatooine, trying to settle into the Jundland wastes without revealing he is a Jedi.

Apparently it wasn’t easy. Kenobi can’t help trying to help the people he meets in their conflict with the Sand People. But things aren’t always what they seem. He befriends a young widow, reaches a kind of accommodation with the Tuskens, and keeps his Jedi powers mostly secret, but there are some surprises along the way.

In the background lurks Jabba the Hutt and his minions, who also have to be dealt with. Along the way we learn a bit about the life of a moisture farmer, and the dangers of Mos Eisley.

While there’s no answer to how Luke is supposed to be kept hidden while bearing the name Skywalker, we learn how Obi-Wan became Ben, and why he can continue to call himself Kenobi.

This is one of those books that has you looking to read the sequel as soon as you reach the end. (In Star Wars Galaxies, Tatooine was my home planet, and it was fun to visit it again.)

Was the Makeb Expansion Good Enough?

June 24, 2013

Archon Makeb

Update 2.1 has been with us for several weeks now, the first expansion to Star Wars: The Old Republic in the more than a year since its launch. For players frustrated at the level 50 ceiling, it offered a chance to play for another 5 levels. The question is, was the expansion too little, too late?

One important thing to remember about the expansion, it wasn’t a continuation of the class stories for the various kinds of characters, Smugglers, Bounty Hunters, etc. Instead it is a single path of extra quests for all, with a couple of side quests tacked on, and a bunch of the replayable “daily” missions.

Another thing that wasn’t delivered was the promise of same-sex companion romances. Characters in SWTOR receive a number of companions as they progress, of both sexes. One of them at atime fights beside you, and in various ways you can earn their “affection” which can offer advantages in the game. These can turn into “romances” with characters of the opposite sex, even leading to in-game marriage, although after the relationship is consummated, the only indication of it is that the companion sends three love letter e-mails. Outside of that, you would never know the companion is your spouse.

For months now, the developers have been promising they would add same-sex relationships. But all that has happened in Update 2.1 is that in every character’s further adventures, they gain a group of non-player character teammates, with the possibility through in-game dialog of flirting with one of the same sex. Apparently if pursued this leads to an animated kiss. In no way is this little flirt comparable to the development and romancing of companions prior to level 50.

There was mixed criticism of the update, many complained that they accomplished the extra 5 levels in a day or two. Others protested that the new levels required more xp to advance than was available in the content on the new planet Makeb. That is, they finished all the content and were still short of 55.

There’s an answer for both problems.

First, it was wonderful for a character stalled at 50 to have 5 more levels. But there’s absolutely no need to rush it. When I reached level 52 on the character I was playing in the expansion, I left Makeb and returned to the two level 50 planets, Corellia and Ilum. Before the expansion. after I had hit level 50, in the middle of my quests on Corellia, I had gone on to Ilum, played for a while, decided it was boring, and just stopped and waited for Update 2.1. So there was lots of content left on both planets, I was two levels above the max there, and gameplay there was easy, and fun.

After I had done about everything I could do on the level 50 planets I returned to Makeb, a couple of levels higher, and resumed the missions there.

The only problem with those missions is that their endings are beyond my kind of gameplay, which is solo PvE (that is versus the game and not fighting other players, which is PvP).

The two side quests involve using a “seeker droid” and a pair of “macrobinoculars”. After long and fun gameplay, one ended up in a mission that had to be done in a group, it was impossible to solo.

The other involved jumping boxes. There is a subgame in SWTOR where you go looking for “datacrons” which can give you extra strengths. This are in hard-to-find places and usually involve complicated jumping from thing to thing, with the risk that if you fall, you have to start over again. I’ve done a few of these, but I don’t really enjoy the jumping or the time it takes. But the end to the Update 2.1 side quest involved a series of jumps that was at least 20 times as hard and long as any I have experienced for datacrons. I must have tried it 30 or 40 times, and after every failure it was back to the beginning.

So that quest ended there.

The final regular quest on Makeb involves taking on an enemy that is so complicated and powerful you almost have to be in a group to do it. I googled for solutions, but those that I found didn’t really seem doable. So that character’s Makeb quests have ended.

The good news is that I have five more characters at level 50 I can take through those final 5 levels. But I’m not sure, having done them once, that I really feel like doing the same thing again several more times. Unlike Star Wars Galaxies, SWTOR is extremely boring when you get to the top level. You just keep doing the same things over and over again, with the only rewards being better armor, so you can do those same missions over and over again easier.

And it would seem we have to wait at least another year for more content…or by then LucasArts’ new owner, Disney, may have just pulled the plug on the game like LucasArts did with Star Wars Galaxies. We might even get a better online Star Wars game.

There’s this flaw in “Into Darkness”

May 28, 2013

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I’ve seen “Star Trek Into Darkness” twice now. I don’t think it’s as good as the first reboot film, but it’s better than I feared. And there’s a massive logical flaw towards the end that probably no one besides me cares about. But I hate it.

The thing I disliked about the first film was its whole premise, the altered timeline. I don’t want an alternative future developing without Vulcan. So even if the film was very good, I worried where its sequels would take us.

On that score there’s no problem in this film. Sort of a reworked homage to “The Wrath of Khan” (also the second film in its series), it works. I especially like the revamp of the climactic scene from the end with the roles of Kirk and Spock reversed.

There are flaws…there’s no explanation for the weird landscape on Qo’noS (a supposedly deserted province is covered with buildings, albeit in ruins), the scene with actress Alice Eve in her underwear was totally unnecessary, and while Benedict Cumberbatch was great in his role, the role of Khan required either someone who looks like Ricardo Montalan or who looks like a Sikh.

It’s as if Brad Pitt was supposed to be playing Jackie Robinson.

But it’s the logical flaw at the end that really bothers me.

(Spoiler alert)

The shoot out in space supposedly happens close to the Earth, only 280,000 kilometers away. That’s closer than the Moon, so the part about being pulled towards the Earth after the battle works.

But there’s no way that shoot out can take place so close to such a huge audience, to make any sense at all it has to be secret. At that distance, not only would the whole planet be watching, the surrounding space would be filled with ships. No way comms would be out, no way the admiral would be allowed to destroy another federation ship, no way there wouldn’t be ships and space stations helping the crashing Enterprise.

So why do it that way? Does JJ Abrams think we’re too dumb to care? (It’s a bit like there being absolutely no ships left close by when Alderaan gets destroyed. Where’d they all go?)


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