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20 Year Anniversary

Posted in Spotlight with tags , , , on 13 November 2017 by Megan

Star Wars has always been one unified galaxy to me, one single saga told over a variety of mediums, all equal parts of the same body, all the undeniable history of a single place. The main reason for this is that I originally encountered all three branches of the saga–the Original Trilogy, the Expanded Universe, the Prequel Trilogy–within one year of each other–and that year, by and large, was 1997. So as I’m guessing you’ve heard me say once or twice over the last few months, this year is absolutely full of significant anniversaries for me.

Storytime!

November 12, 1997. I was twelve and, after seeing Star Wars for the first time ten months ago, I’d begun to consider “Star Wars fan” a foundation of my identity. Also foundational to my identity, “horsewoman.” I’d been taking riding lessons at a local horse farm over the summer and my mind was full of daydreams where I get my own horse, achieve horsemanship certification level 4, and eventually teach students how to ride like my idol, the woman who taught our class.

Anyway, in November, the horse camp offered an opportunity to local homeschooling families, an opportunity to come out during a week and spend a couple days during the off-season learning horse-care chores and, I guess, helping them get the place closed up for winter.

This time of year, Ohio becomes a blanket of gray. The sky is like a field of slate. Bare trees with gray trunks stab black branches into the heavy clouds. Even the earth in the empty farmland has a grayish cast. Snow isn’t uncommon, and I used to make jokes about “White Thanksgiving” when I was about this age. That week, temperatures were between 20-30 °F (average of -2 °C). It was dark long before dinner, and for some reason, I had gone upstairs to the bunk room before it was time to eat. I don’t know if I was just looking to get away from people or after something I’d left in my bag, but I found someone else sitting in the room.

“The House” at Marmon was an old, creaky building, and the girls’ bunk room was at the top of the stairs and to the right. There were bunk beds along both walls and a window at the far end. Sitting under this window was a girl named Megan who looked just like me only she didn’t have bangs. She was sitting on the edge of the lower bunk, hunched over, reading something. I caught sight of the raised foil lettering and before I could think, I exclaimed, rather than asked, “Is that a Star Wars book!”

It was Assault at Selonia. She let me hold it for a minute, but I could tell she was more focused on reading than anything else, so I handed it back and left. We sat together at dinner, though, and were inseparable for the rest of the trip. That night, I switched bunks with someone else so both Megan and I had top bunks with our heads together and I read my first EU book–her book, her flashlight, which we shared by reading one chapter before passing it back to the other.

I couldn’t have slept that night for anything. My brain was more fireworks than it had been after finishing Return of the Jedi back in February. I had known for some time there were books; I have no idea when or how I found this out, but I knew they were out there and I took it absolutely for granted they were equal status with the films. A novel set 14 years after Return of the Jedi may seem like an awkward starting place, but after all, A New Hope starts with a 20-year-old empire and plenty of unspoken backstory. I was ecstatic that Han and Leia had three kids. And one was (almost certainly) a hot, intelligent, awesome boy my own age! And hysterical that Han was being held prisoner and tortured by an evil cousin. Selonians were instantly fascinating. The galaxy had suddenly grown that much vaster and my brain could barely keep up with all the expanding territory.

Eventually, one of the chaperones scolded the Other Megan and I into keeping the light off, but I still doubt any sleeping actually took place. We were glued together through the next day, taking work assignments together and polishing dozens of saddles in a semi-heated room that would eventually become the camp gift store. We talked nonstop, mostly about Star Wars, but a few personal details crept in. We also played a game dubbed “Star Wars railroad,” which consisted of giving a Star Wars word that started with the same letter that the previous word ended with. i.e., Star Wars – Selonia – Anakin – Nien Nunb – Bakura. I described the day in my diary when I got home:

Elisa went home and I went to camp today. There were 3 Megans in our room. One Megan looks like me, dark hair and Eyes, and she’s my age, loves Star wars, has a dog named Abby, and rode Toby! She’s letting me borrow ‘Assault at Selona’. We soaped saddles then we oiled them. Toby wasn’t there. Rode Vandi.

Megan ultimately ended up being the source of my first dozen EU books, as we were both in a play that December (pictured), and then we went on to be in the same electricity class in the new year. We were both in chess and horseback riding, though not the same sessions, so we began trading letters. For a few years, we wrote letters regularly and called on weekends when cell phone minutes were free. The last time I really remember talking to her was the end of May 1999, when she was exuberant over having seen Episode I and I was wallowing in disappointment that I wouldn’t get to see it for a few more weeks.

Still, I have a box of letters in the closet, all signed “Megan ‘Han Solo'” and with the opening greeting, “Red Leader to Gold Leader.” (All mine to her began “Echo Five to Echo Seven.”) She made trivia cards and sent them to her; I made bookmarks. She also sent me clippings, stickers, and a Luke Skywalker poster I kept in my closet for years so no one would know I had it.

Ooh! Fun story about that Luke Skywalker poster. I had two closets in my room and one I considered “my office.” I used to shut myself up in it especially if my nieces were over and I wanted privacy. I actually slept in there one night my oldest niece was being a particular pain in my neck; I “locked” the door by tying a bathrobe sash to the knob and tying the other end to the shelf so she couldn’t get in. I had the mini-poster of Luke on the wall, not to mention a bunch of cozy blankets, and a plastic cart with three baskets in it where I could keep things. I can’t find a good picture of that bedroom, but it wasn’t big, not like a walk-in closet or anything. Just a regular clothes closet. I can’t believe there’s no pictures. Anyway…

The point of all that is, 20 years ago this very week, I read these words for the very first time:

And I knew, knew that being a Star Wars fan was inseparable from being a fan of the EU. The EU is Star Wars. Star Wars is the EU. To pretend otherwise would be like cutting one of the six movies from existence–like pretending to make movies without George Lucas–both incomplete and also a little obscene.

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Game Time Started

Posted in Fun, Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , , , , , on 25 May 2016 by Megan

4A review of Star Wars: The Old Republic, a massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) which I have officially been playing for exactly one year today.

This is how Star Wars has gone for me: 1997-2005, Oh my gosh Star Wars is the most awesome thing ever and I swear I will know everything about it that was ever created or published because knowledge is power and I will be the most powerful Star Wars fan ever. 2005-2011, Education is distracting and anyway all that new Star Wars stuff is crap written by people who don’t know jack diddly about Star Wars. I know better than all of them so I can’t be bothered to read their stupid ignorance anymore. 2011-2012, New renaissance! Life is good and wow I missed a bunch of Star Wars stuff and need to catch up. 2012, My life is in the dumpster and to top it off, Star Wars has been destroyed. I give up and quit. 2013- New new renaissance! I will NOT be told by a mouse to get out of my fandom! Star Wars is MINE.

This includes games. I never really played Star Wars games, either because I never had computers that could handle the graphics, or Sims took up all of my non-school hours. Dark Forces II was a perennial favorite, but frankly the way everybody went on about Knights of the Old Republic had me pretty confident I was going to ignore it forever. (I don’t like things people go on about.) I didn’t know The Old Republic was separate. I got sick of hearing KOTOR this that and the other and determined never to play.

And then Disney took everything away. Disney made me reevaluate Star Wars. Also, GOG sold games I could install on Windows 7. So I bought KOTOR and decided to give it a try. And then I found out that The Old Republic was something different.

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Somebody from the Star Wars group encouraged me to get an account, so I chipped into the game with extreme caution. I logged in, did the first scene, walked out into the cantina, and immediately had a panic attack.

It was huge. It was mind-bogglingly, indescribably huge. And every person I saw was a real person who could see me, too. And they were all judging me. I hadn’t even wanted to ask the NPC in KOTOR for the tutorial because I thought he’d think I was an idiot; how could I handle an entire game full of a hundred real life people actively actually judging me walking into walls, getting killed, and behaving with general incompetence?

Sweet relief, the phone rang and I logged out. I genuinely thought at the time that I probably would never log back in again. So my one-year-ago-to-the-day experience was quite truncated.

Funny thing was, I couldn’t stop thinking about that initial cutscene. As much as everything else made me panic, the fact that I could click on buttons and my character actually said real words filled me with awe. Every other game was stuff like “ask about X” and the person replied; there was no first-person dialogue from me. I was suddenly overwhelmed with interest to know what my character would say. So I tiptoed back in.

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She’s a Zabrak because as f2p, I didn’t have any other nonhuman options. I’ve always come up with insane backstory for every character I’ve ever played — seriously, the hours I used to spend as a kid playing Alley Cat, I spent the whole time coming up with complex histories for the cats. So by the time I’d finished creating Anmaradi, she had a rich history — and I truly intended for her to be me if I existed in the era of TOR.

She made me feel like a badass. It wasn’t easy to learn, especially in pre-KOTFE days, especially for someone who had barely even heard the term “MMORPG” before. But the cutscenes kept me coming back and for awhile, I played just cutscene to cutscene.

And then we decided to form a guild. The group expressed interest mainly in a Republic side guild, so I had to make a pub side character. Anmaradi acquired a brother — a Zabrak smuggler with a grudge against the Empire.

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By then, I realized that I was enjoying the game and that I didn’t like KOTOR. I broke my neck to get internet connection in my new apartment because all I wanted to do was play TOR. And with my first long weekend, I bought a hardcopy of the game from Amazon for $9 and finally got to play as a subscriber.

Which made me really want to make a Twi’lek.

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And then we were collaborating with another guild so I decided making an ambassador alt would be a good idea. And because I had cartel coins — and didn’t imagine I’d ever have another use for them — and I like Sith and didn’t really want to play a Jedi anyway, I decided for the ultimate joke, I’d make a Sith Jedi.

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Safe to say by the time Vulkeen rolled onto the scene, I was addicted. The music was incredible. The graphics were incredible. I was still addicted to cutscenes. There was so much to do, so much to explore.

When I found out that there were Chiss specific interactions, at least for bounty hunters and agents, I embarked on a new quest — to play every class as a Chiss. And just like that, I’d gone from “not logging back in again” to “gonna play the agent and that’s it” to “four characters is plenty” — to “I’m going to play all 8 classes twice.”

It’s addictive. It’s stunning. I’ve never encountered anything like this game before, but I don’t think that’s why it’s so breathtaking. The story, graphics, characters, companions, gear, everything is made with such attention to detail, such attention to Star Wars — real Star Wars, the way George Lucas originally envisioned it — even though it’s 3,000 years before the Battle of Yavin IV, it feels like Star Wars.

I laugh. I cry. I ride tauntauns and fight with lightsabers. The books seem more vivid when I read them, because I know how it feels to fight my way down a corridor of shock troops. I’ve looked up at a Hutt from his beast pit; I’ve told an emperor his overconfidence will be his undoing. I’ve walked a path of pure light and of pure dark and discovered how each can be painful and difficult. I’ve made friends, lost them, avenged them, married them.

And I’m not even halfway through.

TOR is a great gift. Thanks to the Star Wars group person who got me into the game. Thanks to the people who made the game. Thanks to swtorfamily on Twitter.

And thanks a bit to Peter Cushing’s Ghost who caused me to discover another 40% of the game I’d utterly been missing, because she got an account in January and I discovered just how awesome the social aspect of the game can really be.

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Love.

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Get social.

I now have 13 total “toons” with at least three more in planning. My first has 6 days, 3 hours, 8 minutes of play time, while my second has 5 days, 14 hours, 58 minutes on the second. After racking up 48 days, 17 hours, 56 minutes of total play time in one year (that’s roughly 40% of all non-working, non-sleeping hours!), I couldn’t ask for more from a game 💝

Review: Hard Merchandise

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , , , on 28 February 2016 by Megan

by K.W. Jeter, Book 3.

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Well, it’s the end of Fettuary, y’all, so what else can I do but give you my final review of my favorite trilogy? I told you I might’ve cried during Slave Ship. Now I’m telling you I definitely cried during Hard Merchandise. People accuse me of not wanting NJO/Legacy because I can’t handle sad books and death scenes, but the fact is I just can’t handle soft reboots.

No, the end of this book hurts so, so good that I had to put it down and get my breath before continuing.

Again, as I said, it’s the characters that makes this trilogy such a bright constellation in the EU’s galaxy. As Kuat of Kuat tries to navigate turbulent waters of galactic neutrality in a time of civil war, betrayed by friends and best upon by his own people, Boba Fett likewise tries to unscramble the secret codes of the past and solve the mystery of Neelah the slave girl who saved his life.

One thing about this trilogy, I keep saying it’s about how Fett survived the Sarlacc, but that isn’t really true. His escape and survival is more of a footnote to the first book than anything else. I love how it takes for granted his survival, and how Fett is no longer man but machine when he is in his armor. He’s no cyborg, but he’s not a human anymore, either.

Again it’s a matter of, how can I review the 3rd book without giving any spoilers or repeating myself? This trilogy is masterfully put together, bringing the flashback segments forward from the past to join up almost seamlessly with the sections from the present, making it clear why the flashbacks were even a necessary part of the story.

Each character has a voice, is a living, breathing creation, and at times one wonders if they can even survive at all — even when you know they must! At the risk of tearing down Joe Schreiber, one of my favorites, Jeter is able to write the silently mysterious film character without destroying any of his mystery — a sharp contrast to Lockdown where Maul ceases to be a figure of the Dark Side and becomes a sardonic enforcer. Maybe you like sardonic enforcers; okay, I just thought it spoiled him. But not Fett. Jeter’s Fett is cold yet not amoral, silent yet expressive.

The final scenes are full of tension and heartbreak, leaving the reader shaken and raw like an adrenaline-fueled ride on a new roller coaster. In every way, this trilogy pushes itself and excels in the pushing. A brilliant piece of realcanon that I love every bit as much now as when I first read it in 1998.

Review: Slave Ship

Posted in Questions, Spotlight with tags , , , , on 27 February 2016 by Megan

by K.W. Jeter, book 2.

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The Mandalorian Armor ended on a total cliffhanger, so the first chapter of Slave Ship comes off like an old-timey movie, taking a step back to show you how the hero escaped. Telling you that Boba Fett escapes isn’t really telling you anything new, since this is an entire trilogy about him and he shows up years later.

But we don’t read this trilogy to find out that he survives. We read it to find out how. And as the flashback sequences increase in complexity, the central book of the trilogy picks up its pace with a sense of urgency.

It makes one wonder how Boba Fett and Thrawn would ever do matched against each other. Both of these warriors have a skill at predicting and controlling other creatures’ movements, manipulating them into an outcome that does the best for their own ends. But while Thrawn looks for big pictures, Boba Fett looks only for profit. That makes me think Thrawn would win.

At any rate, I digress. The Bounty Hunter Wars have begun, and Xizor, Kuat, and the Emperor continue to move beings around the galaxy as if they were pieces on a game board. What is the significance of the symbol Nil Possondum carved on the floor of Fett’s cargo hold? In fact, what is Possondum’s significance, anyway, and what’s he got to do with the dancer Neelah? Can Bossk get revenge? Is Boba Fett just waiting for a chance to sell out his partners? Can Dengar survive a partnership with Fett, or will he just be another casualty in the long line of deaths caused by the neo-Mandalorian?

It’s not a bounty hunter’s job to ask questions, but there’s a lot floating around here. K.W. Jeter continues to weave flashbacks with the present, only now he explains that this is Dengar telling the mind-wiped Neelah the story of the old Bounty Hunter’s Guild. Treachery and deception runs rampant, but they might just be closing in on the prize at last.

The thing with this trilogy that I absolutely love are the characters. I hear a lot of people saying they’re bored of books about the Big Three; they’re bored of Force users. They want something else. Yet so few sample this trilogy! Why? There’s nary a Force user in the entire book, and the closest you’ll ever get to the Big Three is the occasional bounty hunter mentioning how much they’d like to catch one for the credits.

They may be the fringes of the galactic population, but these are the plain ol’ mortals of the Star Wars universe. They have strong stories, and Slave Ship leaves one hanging on every bit as much as The Mandalorian Armor. I may have cried. It’s so, so worth it.

Review: The Mandalorian Armor

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , , , on 19 February 2016 by Megan

by K.W. Jeter, book 1.

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I’ve mentioned this book a couple of times [1] [2] but never properly reviewed it! How’s that? This is a very fetting fitting time to review this trilogy, too, because as you know, I’ve begun renaming months after Star Wars characters and this is FETTUARY.

Something about black knights entrances humanity. Those armor-hidden features, the silence rather than speech, the suspicion that even if he looks like a renegade, he might be an honorable man. Boba Fett fascinated audiences from the get-go, and while it’s probable Lucas had him fall into the Sarlacc in a fit of pique, it didn’t take long for the EU to bring him back.

Because he’s just that cool.

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The point of all that is, fans have been longing to know the details behind Fett’s improbable survival probably since 1983 but at least since 1992 (when he appeared in Dark Empire, confirming his escape). A short story appeared in Tales of the Bounty Hunters which touched on the matter, but without any real detail. And then there was K.W. Jeter.

I love this trilogy and there’s no mistaking that. From its start, with a desperate Dengar seeking any potential cash venue in the wreckage of Jabba’s sail barge, through harrowing encounters with bounty hunters and the elements, all the way to its cliffhanger ending, the post-ROTJ events of The Mandalorian Armor are a thrill ride that doesn’t let up. The mysteries come thick and fast, from a sabotaged droid hidden on board the Slave I to a memory wiped slave girl Boba Fett isn’t willing to let escape him. Not that she’s willing to go anywhere, either, because Boba Fett is the only person she remembers and she’s sticking close until she knows more.

As if all that weren’t exciting enough, Jeter skillfully weaves in “flashbacks” set before the events of A New Hope: the story of the eponymous Bounty Hunter War, the machinations of Xizor, and Boba Fett’s penchant for survival at all odds.

This book also introduces one of my favorite characters of all time, Kuat of Kuat, whom I would cast to be played by the inimitable Yul Brynner.

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Calm, cunning, honorable and moral only according to his own system, Kuat is a prime counterpoint for Boba Fett. The hunter and the engineer both see the galaxy in binary: success and failure, profit and loss. Only for Boba Fett, success and survival are one and the same, and for Kuat, success means the survival of something bigger than himself.

Even though this first chapter introduces the character and events of the rest of the trilogy, it never really feels like a prologue. So many trilogies have expendable first books, because there’s so much set up in the one and so much recap in the next two. This is not one of those trilogies. These three books are equally weighted, telling an equal portion of the story, and in many respects, even though all three are awesome, The Mandalorian Armor remains pretty much my favorite.

Prequel Appreciation: Favorite Book

Posted in Opinion, Questions with tags , , , on 8 August 2015 by Megan

Day 8 of the Prequel Appreciation Week.

I know a week consists of seven days. (I also know the names of those seven days in A Galaxy Far, Far Away.) But first of all, this month started weird on a Saturday and I wanted the challenge to run Sunday-Saturday. And second of all, this is a librarian’s blog and the focus is always going to be on books.

The original challenge didn’t include books, because the SWPAS site focuses exclusively on the films. It’s not a choice I would make, but I’m weird because I can’t/don’t separate the films from the books anyway. There’s no difference in my mind between Cloak of Deception and Attack of the Clones. Deal with it.

That being said — what is my favorite prequel-era book? Well, a prequel-era book has to be one set during the decade the prequels actually cover — books set between 1108-1118. The highest rating I’ve given during that era is four stars and tied between Outbound Flight and Shadow Hunter.

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Honestly, I’m going to go with Shadow Hunter. Michael Reaves’ Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter is an underrated favorite I’ve loved since I first read it almost fifteen years ago. I can remember stumbling breathlessly through it, adrenaline and teary eyes only adding to the thrill ride.

In 1999, with Vision of the Future complete, a brand-new Star Wars era had been opened for exploration, and this way my first foray into it. No longer would the pre-ANH years be shrouded in mystery.

This is what happened before The Phantom Menace. This is who and what the phantom menace is. We had only just been shown the Old Republic for the first time, but already, this book ripped away illusions: corruption and weakness, even the Jedi choked by the weeds of hypocrisy and evil. (Yes, the Jedi were evil — they kidnapped children! If that’s not evil, what is?)

Lorn Pavan catapulted to near the top of my favorite Star Wars character lists, a tragic man with a lost son and a grudge against the Jedi. Darth Maul’s quest filled me with horror. And while the end of the book was inevitable, the ride was no less awesome.

I really need to reread this thing.

Prequel Appreciation: Favorite Ship

Posted in Opinion, Questions with tags , , , on 7 August 2015 by Megan

Day 7 of the Prequel Appreciation Week.

Now, I was simultaneously surprised and yet not surprised to discover that this meant romantic. I still don’t like fangirls, I detest “feels,” and even if The X-Files is what gave us the concept, I really do not like or approve of “shipping.” There actually is a prequel-era relationship I “headcanon,” which I believe is the correct “shipping” terminology, but I’ve already done a post on it. See here for my detailed rave about Shmi-Gon.

But since I don’t believe in romance in any other capacity, we’re going to abandon the challenge-writer’s intention here and move on to far more interesting territory. If you want romance shipping, go read about Shmi-Gon. Because this post . . . this post is about the J-type 327 Nubian royal starship.

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I love this ship. I have been in love with it since the first time I ever saw it, the first time I turned to that page in the Episode I Visual Dictionary and learned all the minute trivia about it.

One of the undeniable highlights of the PT is its glittering design. Things are softer, more organic, more colorful, and filled with light. This ship looks like it congealed out of mercury, and remains surely one of the most beautiful starships in scifi. I used to imagine having one called The Seven Sins, because how prosaic is it the Naboo didn’t name their royal starship? They did polish it by hand, though.

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The first I saw of the ship was in the Visual Dictionary I carried around with me for months in 1999, until it fell apart. I also eventually picked up the Complete Cross Sections and memorized the ship’s schematics in that.

Spaceships have rarely terribly interested me; they remind me of that “science” part of science fiction that I find boring and frustrating. But this elegant bit of quicksilver had my mind at once. It’s exactly what I could see myself traveling in if I lived then. Aerodynamic, sleek, beautiful, yes, it’s very flashy, but at the same time, it’s extremely practical.

I love everything about it, and it’s only one of the many reasons Episode I is such an awesome movie. So there!