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Review: Allies

Allies by Christie Golden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, I have a confession: series books {a.k.a. a book like Star Wars Fate of the Jedi: Allies by Christie Golden} are my guilty pleasure. I don’t read as many as I used to and I don’t read as many series as I used to, but my love of “Star Wars” knows no bounds and so therefore, I gobble up any and everything related to that long ago and far away galaxy.

It’s been a while since a “Star Wars” EU series has captured my attention like Fate of the Jedi. I’ll admit that I missed some of the Yuzhan Vong hoopla (I have always believed that aliens belong in the Star Trek ‘verse, not SW), but when I found out that the end of the series featured a showdown between Solo twins, Jacen and Jaina, I quickly got up to speed. Because not only am I sucker for Star Wars, but I am a huge sap for Han and Leia’s kids, and Luke & Mara’s son, Ben. Which is probably another reason why I am so digging FOTJ.

The premise of the series is interesting and different from other EU works. Instead of being worshipped like a demigod by the powers in charge, Luke Skywalker has been banished, cut off from the Jedi Temple and the universe at large by dictator–er, leader–of the Galatica Alliance, Admiral Natasi Daala. (Yeah, she’s a chick and she’s ex-Imperial. This ain’t your mama’s Star Wars.)

The series begins with Luke and Ben leaving Coruscant, deciding to travel the galaxy together, while being forced to leave behind their family, including Leia, Han, Jaina, and Jacen’s illegitimate daughter, Amelia. (Babies out of wedlock? What would George say?) But, I digress, for many of these events happened during the whole Yuzhan Vong series.

Let me get back to Star Wars: FOTJ Allies. This book finds Ben and Luke in the soup, forced to ally with Sith (Yeah, those Sith.) and find and destroy an ancient creature that someway, somehow is causing Jedi the galaxy over to go crazy. Not a little bit crazy either, but batshit, I-think-the-moon-just-winked-at-me crazy. Meanwhile, Daala is warring with the Jedi in a pissing contest for control that would make Palpatine proud. This of course means, Han and Leia are alternately Prime Suspects No. 1 and 2 for anything that appears to go against the GA, appears to aid the Jedi or might involve Luke getting illicit help from his former students.

But where FOTJ and Allies in particular really shine, is in the illustration of the relationships. Gone are the semi-uncomfortable realization that you once kissed your sister, replaced with complex emotions. These characters grieve and struggle to find meaning in a galaxy that constantly disappoints and amazes them, just as we all do. While Han and Leia deal every day with the fact that both of their sons met early deaths, Jaina must also deal with being the last surviving Solo offspring, the Sword of the Jedi, and oh yeah, the fiancee of the GA’s top military leader. She must also contend with the fact that her Jedi ways and her boyfriend’s ex-Imperial leanings don’t always mesh and may end up costing her love in the name of family loyalty.

And then there’s Luke. Another confession for you: He’s my favorite original Star Wars character. I love Han and I love Han-and-Leia, but I have always had a special place in my heart for Luke, an orphaned farm boy on a distant planet dreaming of something more. And for the most part I have been quite pleased with how the EU has treated young Skywalker, especially Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire series, which is still the shining achievement in established trilogy EU (in my opinion).

And I loved Luke and Mara Jade together. I loved it when they had a son and I loved it when they named him Ben. I thought it was even more interesting when this son, while he was just a toddler, but already strong in the Force, eschewed his father’s and his family’s legacy, afraid of what wielding such power might mean. What an interesting place to put our hero, looking at his own child who wants nothing to do with the family business.

Luckily, Ben came around and he is now quite the Force user. But along the way, he lost his mother and Luke lost a wife. And this is something that Allies brings to the fore so very well. In a twist I won’t reveal, Mara comes back to help both her boys and it’s Luke reaction to seeing her again that resonated deeply with this particular reader. The knowledge that Mara is gone, but can never really be dead (because she is now one with the Force) is at once the greatest gift and the harshest cruelty.

Perhaps the best part is that Allies set up a hell of an ending that has left me eager to get my hands on the next book in the series, Vortex. I’ve had some luck recently reading series of books that have made me anxious to read the next and that is such a gift as a reader, and so enviable as a writer. I for one am immensely glad that the Star Wars EU is still alive and well. And that all of our intrepid heroes still are too.

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The Maestro of Movies – John Williams & the L.A. Phil

It’s been almost two decades since I sat under the stars and watched John Williams conduct. Nineteen years ago, I was with my parents at Tanglewood, an outdoor venue in Upstate New York where the Boston Pops are artists-in-residence during the summer months. We packed our picnic and set our blanket on the lawn, waiting for John Williams, one of my personal heroes to conduct the Pops in some of his most famous movie scores.

On that night, there was no “Star Wars” on the program and my disappointment was palpable. I had recently rediscovered my love for George Lucas’ space opera and was dying to hear those familiar strains live. Even through three encores, he didn’t play the fanfare or the theme or even the Imperial March. It was a good concert, but I left with my shoulders sagging just a bit.

On Friday, September 4th, I traveled to the Hollywood Bowl (and I mean, traveled. Do you know how much of a pain it is to get there?) to see John Williams conduct once more. This time he would lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in a night of movie music. I was sitting under the stars once more, waiting for the show to begin. A quick glance at the program revealed no planned “Star Wars” music again. I wondered if fate was playing some cruel joke.

My mounting disappointment aside, the program was pretty Williams heavy with the first half consisting entirely of “Harry Potter” music. Some of his most recent work, the “Harry Potter” motifs are quickly becoming as recognizable as the themes to Indiana Jones and Superman. There were quite a few kids in the audience as well and I knew they’d appreciate hearing those tunes.

For the second half, the selections were a mix of his newer and older stuff, along with a salute to some of the older cinema composers. The medley played at the top of the half was accompanied with a clip package shown on the big screens and I was proud to realize there were only three scenes I didn’t recognize. I did, however, recognize all the songs. Williams’ 30+ year collaboration with Steven Spielberg has given us some great themes, most notably “E.T.,” “Jaws,” and “Jurassic Park.” It also has brought out Williams’ jazzy side, which the soundtrack to “Catch Me If You Can.” Bringing out a jazz trio (alto sax, bass and xylophone), Williams showcased a few of the pieces on this soundtrack. It was understated, moody and invoked the 1960s in a second. My favorite part was listening to the bass solo as I always think basses sound almost like they’re talking when played by hand (sans bow). You can almost imagine the conversation, can hear the intonation as the player picks away.

Closing with the “Superman” theme, the packed audience at the Hollywood Bowl got to its feet and cheered John Williams long and loud. Emerging for an encore, he let the crowd know “this is for our 700-year-old friend Yoda,” which inspired wild cheering. It also set the hillside awash in red, green, purple and blue lights as everyone who had brought a lightsaber to the concert raised them high and waved them in the air. Playing “Yoda’s Theme,” one of the most enduring pieces from “The Empire Strikes Back,” I finally had my “Star Wars” moment. I was happy. Life was good.

Finishing his salute to the little green guy, Williams immediately signaled the group to start the next encore which was the “Star Wars” theme! That got the biggest cheer of the night, including my own. I threw my hands in the air and gave a little shout. It was awesome! Top that off with “The Flying Theme” from E.T. and “The Imperial March,” from The Empire Strikes Back and it was the perfect night.

John Williams holds a record number of Oscar wins for film scores and, at 77, is still hard at work bringing us themes we’ll remember forever. In truth, I can chart a good portion of my life set to his music: “Star Wars” & “E.T” when I was little, “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List” in my teens, “Harry Potter” and “Minority Report” in recent years. He’s the artist with the most songs on my iPod; the guy whose tunes I’ll go to again and again because not only did they underscore some great movies, but also illustrated the beauty of truly excellent music composition. He’s my Aerosmith, Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones. Because, just like those groups, he’s a legend.

The Hollywood Bowl, Sept. 4th, 2009

The Hollywood Bowl, Sept. 4th, 2009

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