Thursday, March 16, 2017

Read. You Must: Darth Vader: Sith Lord

“Jedi? Sith? Man or Machine?”

In 2017 there are still many unanswered questions about Anakin Skywalker, but 40 years ago young minds were blown by this terrifying but engrossing new villain!

Between 1977 and 1980, with only one Star Wars movie to discuss, fans weren’t even sure if he was human! Kids and adults alike argued over whether or not Darth Vader was a droid. Even Obi-Wan in A New Hope says of Vader “He’s more machine now, than man,” fueling the hotly debated topic!
The fact that Darth Vader actually was Anakin Skywalker wasn’t solidified until 1983 but that then raised many more questions. The prequel movies of Episodes 1 -3 (1999 – 2005) focused on Anakin’s fall the Dark Side and the rise of the Empire, and finally clarified much of Vader’s story.

As time goes on and new Star Wars TV shows, comics and of course movies come out, more and more periods of Anakin/Vader’s life become revealed. Learning about all these events means a lot of reading and watching which may not always be age-appropriate for all fans. 

Star Wars Backstories Darth Vader: Sith Lord is a brand new biography from Scholastic Press of the legendary Dark Lord of the Sith. In a middle-grade paperback format, the book gathers the life story of young Anakin, from childhood slavery to his heroic days as Jedi Knight. In 128 pages it continues with Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side of the Force and life as fearsome servant of the Emperor, Darth Vader.

Considering how little is known about some characters (what was Luke’s life like before A New Hope, or between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens? Or the hundreds of years of mystery in Yoda’s past?), Anakin/Vader’s story is pretty well told through the Star Wars saga. This book brings most of it together in one place.

Chapter by chapter, author Jason Fry chronologically tells the known story of Vader. This includes not only the information given in Star Wars movies, but also covers major events from The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels and Marvel comic books. Along the way, the gory details are spared, but the book never tries to pretend Vader was anything but a villain. Anakin’s downfall and Vader’s evil deeds are here, but presented appropriately for middle-grade readers. Many wonderful black-and-white illustrations by Randy Martinez highlight the key moments, with additional artwork by Rick Burchett and cover art by Phil Noto.

Also available now
Scholastic’s Backstories series began featuring Star Wars characters for the first time with the terrific Princess Leia: Royal Rebel last year. Hopefully these books will continue as they are great for young readers who may want to know the major moments of a Star Wars character’s story but not have access to all the TV episodes or are not ready for Teen-rated comics.

Jason Fry is possibly the most prolific Star Wars author with many wonderful books to his credit: Weapon of a Jedi, Aliens of the Galaxy, Rey’s Survival Guide, the Servants of the Empire series, and many more! Once again Fry shows his love of Star Wars and his talent for telling it well. 

In Darth Vader: Sith Lord, Fry begins the book with a foreword “by Darth Vader” which solidifies Vader's belief that he was “born” when Anakin “died”, a notion that Luke never totally believed. It may have been interesting to keep the book going as if it were written by Vader himself, but it’s hard to imagine the Dark Lord sitting down to write his memoirs. It’s probably for the best that it was done the way it was.

Randy Martinez is a well-established Star Wars artist having illustrated many Topps Star Wars trading cards, Star Wars Celebration official artwork and even cover illustrations for Scholastic’s Star Wars: Rebel Force middle-grade novel series (2008-2010).

The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader
For die-hard, read-everything fans Darth Vader: Sith Lord may have few surprises but it is a well-written, well-illustrated recap of just about everything we know about one of the most tragic stories in all of Star Wars.

Publisher's Recommendation Ages 8 - 12

Also highly recommended if you can find it: The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader by Ryder Windham (Scholastic 2008)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Read, and Listen, You Must: Star Wars Read-Along books!

"The circle is now complete!"

With the recent release of Revenge of the Sith, the Star Wars Read-Along Storybook and CD series has adaptions of all seven Star Wars “episodic” movies now available.

Each movie title is condensed into a 32-page storybook, full of brand-new illustrations, displayed nicely in the popular 8 x 8 picture book format. The accompanying CD is the same version of the story told through narration, sound effects, music and even dialogue from the movies. They are a lot of fun and a whole new way to experience the stories.

All of the books contain beautiful new artwork from the digital painting master Brian Rood. His art is also in many other recent Star Wars books, especially The Force Awakens storybook and Star Wars: The Original Trilogy Stories.

Released in a somewhat strange order, the new Star Wars Read-Along series has finally completed the “saga” (no plans for a Rogue One book set announced yet).  Starting in 2015 they were released in the same order the movies were: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Shortly after the film release of The Force Awakens, that movie’s Read-Along book set came out in spring 2016.

Starting in January 2017, the prequel trilogy editions were released, completing the series of the first seven “episode” movies, otherwise known as the Skywalker saga.

This isn’t the first series of Star Wars Read-Along books but is the first time for most the movies in this format. In the 1970’s and 80’s there were book-and-record read-along versions of the original trilogy, as well as several other Star Wars read-along books based on the Ewoks adventures or issues of the original Marvel comics. Many of these were later available with a cassette instead of a vinyl record.

Then in 1997 new adaptions of A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were created to tie into better with the new material added for the "Special Edition" re-releases of the films. In 1999 a read-along book and CD set was also created for The Phantom Menace.

1997 version of A New Hope
With this series there are some re-used elements from the past, but most of it is new to enjoy. The first three “original trilogy” releases have the same text and audio as the 1997 versions (then illustrated with photos) though this appears to be the first time the audio is available on CD. However for this series The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens are all-new retellings of the films, with new art and new audio presentations.

The new adaption books are all written by Elizabeth Schaefer (author of Rey’s Story and The Force Awakens storybook) and the re-released ones were adapted by Randy Thornton. The authors pull off the tricky balance of keeping the story flowing and exciting while also keeping the vocabulary and content age-appropriate for young readers (or read-alongers?), only subtly acknowledging the more grizzly moments, especially in Revenge of the Sith.

Whether you sit down to enjoy these books along with the CD, or enjoy the CD and books separately (I happen to really enjoy just listening in the car), the Star Wars Read-Along books are a wonderful series and entertaining way for young fans to enjoy the stories again and again. Looking forward to a read-along The Last Jedi, hopefully soon!

Publisher’s Recommendation: Ages 3+

Also Available Now

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Read, You Must: Adventures in Wild Space: The Snare

“Two Kids Take On the Empire”

Adventures in Wild Space is an exciting new series of middle-grade chapter books from Lucasfilm-Disney Press. First published in early 2016 by Egmont UK, this series is now becoming available for North American readers.

Set between the end of the Clone Wars and the rise of the Rebellion (basically between Episodes 3 and 4), these exciting stories focus on brother and sister Milo and Lina Graf. The kids are searching deep in space for their missing parents - explorers who were captured by the Empire!

The first book, The Snare by Cavan Scott introduces the young siblings and their life on the run from Imperials. They live aboard their own spaceship, The Whisper Bird, with a droid companion CR-8R (aka. Crater) and Morq, a Kowikian Monkey-Lizard pet just like Jabba the Hutt had.

Original Egmont UK cover
As the series title suggests, these stories take place in “Wild Space”, areas of space far beyond the well-known Star Wars galaxy, so there will not be so many familiar characters or planets as readers may be used to. However there is plenty of humour and adventure here (and one very well-known character near the end!) as the kids outwit and outrun the evil Imperial Captain Korda. 

The brother-sister relationship and constant scrapes with danger makes this book feel a bit like the fun Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear books from the 1990’s, but with less spooky stuff. Although there is a fair amount of creepy grossness in The Snare. Be prepared to encounter the horrible “wart-hornets”!

It's a SNARE!
It might’ve been funny to call this book “It’s a trap!” since that means the same thing as snare, but it’s probably good they didn’t.

One confusing thing about the two books currently available here (released on the same day) is nowhere on the covers does it say which is book one or two! The only way to know which book to read first is on the last page in The Snare it says “To be continued in Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Space Book Two: The Nest”. I admit I only discovered this after looking it up online to know where to start.

Potentially adding to the confusion of where to start, there is also a shorter “Prelude” book called The Escape that sets up the events of The Snare. The Escape is currently only available in eBook format in North America but is a paperback in the UK.

Minor confusions aside, author Cavan Scott has started off the Adventures in Wild Space series with fun, fast-paced adventure in The Snare and the series looks like it will be an exciting ride for young readers.

(Publisher’s Recommendation: Ages 8 – 11)

Book two is also now available: The Nest by Tom Huddleston:

Coming in April: Book Three: The Heist (aka The Steal)

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