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My Review of Star Wars: Tarkin, by James Luceno

25 Jan

January 25, 2019

In Star Wars, Grand Moff Tarkin was played by Peter Cushing. He’s easily my favorite character, more villainous in the film than Darth Vader. He’s also played by one of my favorite actors, so when this book came out I went against my better judgement and read a Star Wars novel. I’m glad I did.

I give Tarkin 5 stars, but bear in mind, this 5 star rating is not the same 5 stars I give Flowers for Algernon. This is 5 stars as far as Star Wars books go, a totally different scale. Flowers for Algernon is a triumph of literature. This is a good read.

I generally dislike Star Wars novels. This one, though, breaks the mold. It is more sci-fi than fantasy, ignoring all the Jedi mumbo-jumbo nonsense that other books get bogged down in. In fact, being from the bad guy’s point of view, this has a nicely negative view of the Jedi. It reads more like the old Alan Dean Foster novels, like Splinter of the Mind’s Eye or the original Han Solo novels. It bridges the gap to the New Hope era, disposing of The Clone Wars and entering the better era of Star Wars. If  you need a movie reference point, consider this as happening just before Rogue One.

Peter Cushing

Some reviewers don’t care for the plot, which they dismiss as Tarkin and Vader chasing around some random disposable rebels. They miss the point. This book is all about the backstory. You learn a lot about Tarkin and what molded and motivates him. You also learn a bit about The Emperor and Vader too. The main plot is really just the skeleton that the meat of the backstory hangs on. This is a character study / biography of Grand Moff Tarkin, and as such it works. The novel also explores the relationship between Tarkin and Vader, and for all those who wonder why Vader would take orders from anyone besides the Emperor, let alone someone who isn’t even a force user, this book explains.

The writing is also well done. In fact, just compare it to the two excerpts of novels by other authors that follow it in the paperback edition. Not only is neither the least bit interesting or original, but their writing is clearly not as good. James Luceno may be the only Star Wars writer today worth reading.

 

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The Best Line Ever Written In All Of Star Trek

3 Dec

December 3, 2018

Back in 2015 I introduced you to The Worst Line Ever Written In All Of Star Wars (“space diapers.”)

Today I’d like to introduce you to The Best Line Ever Written In All Of Star Trek. And appropriately, it comes from The Best Film Ever Made In All Of Star Trek, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

(I’ll skip the spoiler warning as I’ll assume that you already know that Spock dies at the end. )

During the climactic battle with Khan, The Enterprise’s engines have been disabled and warp drive is offline. Khan, in his final act of defiance (“From hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee”) has activated the Genesis device, which will wipe out anything it’s energy touches.

There’s some terrific writing in this scene, as the sense of impending doom is palpable. The Enterprise, flying as fast as it can, is swiftly being overtaken by the detonation and it is only a matter of minutes before everyone on the ship dies. This is driven home by Mr. Sulu, who was always  one of the more positive members of the crew. “We’re not going to make it, are we?”

Sulu looks at Captain Kirk, heroic and unstoppable, who during the course of the film discussed the many ways he’s beaten the unbeatable. Kirk, completely uncharacteristically, is sitting with his arms tightly folded across his chest, and simply looks at his son, David, a scientist behind the Genesis device.

David quietly shakes his head no.

There is doom, there is dread, and there is Mr. Scott, to whom Kirk had earlier said “Scotty, I need warp speed in three minutes or we’re all dead.”

It is a perfect Star Trek line, one we’ve heard dozens of times in the TV series. Scotty is a miracle worker. He’ll get the engines back online. He’s done exactly that in situations as bad as these many times over. It’s almost a joke. So when Captain Kirk tells Scotty he needs warp speed in three minutes, he’s pretty sure he’ll have them back in two.

But he won’t. And we know he won’t, because down in engineering Scotty is barely conscious and being treated by Dr. McCoy. We know but Kirk doesn’t. But Spock does. It is Spock who saves the ship, who sacrifices his own life. (“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.”)

But Jim Kirk doesn’t know it. So when the engines come online, the ship goes to warp speed and everyone escapes certain doom, Kirk says the best line written in all of Star Trek:

“Bless you Scotty.”

Because we know it wasn’t Scotty. We know it was Spock. We know he’s dying, probably already dead. We see his empty chair on the bridge but Kirk hasn’t seen it yet. In the moment Kirk is blessing his miracle working engineer, we the fans are already mourning his best friend’s death. The line, delivered so thankfully by Kirk, is actually painful to us watching the film.

Alfred Hitchcock defines suspense as, in a nutshell, the audience knowing something bad that the characters do not. It is us seeing the bomb under the table while the couple slowly drinks their morning coffee, oblivious to the countdown. It is good writing. And it is also good writing with us knowing Spock has died while Kirk is praising the wrong man for saving the ship.

But Kirk soon finds out, and it’s when he calls engineering to congratulate Scotty, only to hear Dr. McCoy grimly say, in what is the second best line written in all of Star Trek, “Jim… I think you better get down here.” Followed by “Better hurry.” Kirk looks at Spock’s empty chair, and he knows.

The whole ending of the film, leading up to Spock’s death, is dark and portentous. It is heavy and funerary in a way Star Trek has never gone before. This one film is full of fantastically quotable lines, from the campy “Khaaaaaan!” to the subtle “how we face death is at least as important as how we face life. ” Star Trek II is well-written in the same way every single Star Trek film since 2009 has not been

“Bless you Scotty.” The best line in all of Star Trek. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, written by Jack B. Sowards and Nicholas Meyer.


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