Monday, April 29, 2013

Between Books - Oz/Wonderland Chronicles Book Two

I liked the first volume of The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles. But I loved The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles Book Two by Ben Avery and Casey Heying!

The second trade paperback collects The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles: Jack and Cat Special and The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles: Jack & Cat Tales. This sequel does not focus on Dorothy and Alice, but does react to the aftermath of the Jabberwocky attack on Chicago! The story follows Mae Mannering, fantasy author, who in the months after the original story finds herself with two unlikely traveling companions, Jack Pumpkinhead and Cheshire Cat. The trio discovers that the pumpkin and the cat are just two of many travelers from Oz and Wonderland and that a group of hunters are tracking the visitors. They three investigate the motivation of the hunters and help to uncover the connections between their three worlds.

Seriously, I love this volume. And it is still not fair to compare The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles to Fables but I enjoyed this story arc just as much as my favorite Fables’ tales. I honestly could not put it down (again to be fully transparent I am friendly with Ben Avery). But I finished this volume and immediately wanted more stories of Mae, Jack, Cheshire and the Wizard. Please Avery and Heying I need more!

In my mind, the authors were free to be audacious. They did use Alice, Dorothy, Oz or Wonderland as main story elements, allowing them to play in my opinion. I did not have preconceptions of how Mae should act unlike the other two heroines, and I was not trying to find Easter Eggs to her back story, instead I was letting the story move me. And by bringing Jack and Cheshire into our world I really think the authors were able to have fun showing how they would react to our world, familiar to us but not to this fictional duo. Watching Jack react to Star Wars and James Bond is more interesting to me than if we had followed Mae into Oz.

Additionally, the Wizard who has a large role in this story is more interesting to me than his doppelganger from Oz the Great and Powerful. The authors make it clear that this Wizard is an adventurer, a scholar, a magician a doer, a traveler and a man who is more than meets the eye. He is as complex to me as the Disney version is flat and predictable. He also shows that he is a man willing to sacrifice, a theme Disney seemed to miss in their version. I really want to see more of this character too and Avery and Heying have only built on my excitement I had for this character in their first offering. And I think it would be very exciting to watch Mae and the Wizard in new stories. Their dynamic would simply be interesting to watch.

As a Disney fan I will admit I did not know that Avery was such a big fan of Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald has worked on a number of Disney Parks projects including Star Tours the Adventure Continues. The Wizard notes that he had a friend who once remarked, "If we can dream it we can do it."  Disney fans recognize this quote immediately from the extinct Horizons at Epcot Center.  Fitzgerald wrote this classic line, which some often attribute to Walt Disney himself.  Okay, I kid!  I instantly got the reference that the Wizard and Walt were friends, and of course I loved the idea.    

The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles Book Two is a fast paced story that readers will fall in love with. I have talked to a friend who also read this volume and we came to the same verdict, this volume is fantastic. I want more tales of Mae and her companions. And I wish that Disney would take note of stories like this, because this is the type of adult fantasy that I want to serve as a companion to Once Upon a Time!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dreaming Disney - Monster's University M.A.T.

Mike and Sully in thier college dorm room.
As someone who's day job is in higher education, I have been really impressed with Monsters University and all the steps they have taken to make good old MU feel like a real school.  The school website is truly fantastic.

When I began to see social media messages about the M.A.T., well I needed to take the Monster's Aptitude Test, because I need to know if I could make the cut!

The M.A.T. can be found on the Monsters University Facebook page.  It consists of two stages.

First, one watches the newest trailer.  
Second, one takes a ten question exam.  The ten questions can truly be described as comprehension.  So before you take the exam watch and listen as carefully as possible.  I honestly did not do the best on the M.A.T., since I tend to miss the little little details.

I was kind of disappointed in the exam.  I was really hoping that this might have been a step towards me getting my ID card.  As I see tweets from my local weather man (what, really) about his Monster's University Alumni Foundation letter, well, I want in.  So I would love to see these go a step further and get me enrolled at MU.

The trailer itself does give us more about the story, and it does have more of an Animal House feel now.  The Between Tween did yell out with shock, "he was a nerd!"
 Randy Boggs from Monster's University  
So the M.A.T. is a success, because it got me to watch the new trailer which continues to keep me excited.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Between Books - The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles Book One

Book cover with a face split down the middle, one side Dorthy and the other side the Wicked Witch

I have become very interested in the concept of traditional Disney fairy tale characters stumbling into our non-magical world. Because of this, I really enjoy Once Upon a Time and the comic book series Fables. They are both have very different takes on traditional fairy tale characters. For example Cinderella in Once Upon a Time is a young girl who continued to work in service positions in our world while the Cinderella of Fables is a female James Bond. I really enjoy seeing how authors redraw the lines around these characters that we think we know while staying true to their basic nature.

Recently a friend recommended that I check out The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles by Ben Avery and Casey Heying. My friend knew I enjoyed Fables, had heard good reviews of the series, and I am friendly with author Ben Avery (ironically it was not Avery who told me about this series and when I asked him if I would enjoy it before I ordered it, of course he hedged his bets). One of the hooks that led me to pick it up was the fact the main characters have been underutilized in Fables and Once Upon a Time, Alice and Dorothy. Dorothy you say? Yes between Oz The Great and Powerful and Return to Oz, we need to see Dorothy as Disney canon.

The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles Book One collects issues 0 through 4 of The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles. In this adventure we meet a Dorothy and Alice that are all grown up, going to college and sharing an apartment in Chicago with three other roommates. Dorothy has moved off the Kansas farm following the death of Uncle Henry and Alice has moved from the United Kingdom and her strict family. Their world is turned upside down when a destroyed Jack-O-Lantern shows up on their doorstep. The Jack-O-Lantern is actually Jack Pumpkinhead from Oz, coming to warn Dorothy of a new witch which has taken power in Oz, stolen all magical items she can gather, and has arrested or sent on the run all of Dorothy’s former friends (who Dorothy does not remember). Alice is pulled into this adventure as they discover in Oz that the witch’s plan involves transporting the Jabberwocky from Wonderland through our world and into Oz. The fates of all three worlds is in the hands of Dorothy, Alice and their newly remembered old friends.

I do not want to keep making comparisons to Fables, but it is impossible not to for me. I would say compared to Fables this story line is not as action packed, though a fight in downtown Chicago between armies from Wonderland and Oz against the Jabberwocky is action movie material. There is a lot of dialogue as the girls go through a journey of self-discovery and remembering. It is a very cerebral book as one puts together the pieces of who these characters are. As smart as Fables is, The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles relies more on drama and not action to move the story forward. A big difference is the Between Kids are not allowed to read Fables. There are plenty of adult situations, blood and sexuality in that universe. I would be more comfortable with the Between Tween picking this up, no naked werewolves here! And the Between Tween picked it up, flipped through the art, pointed out images that were enjoyable and then handed it back to me without reading the entire volume. Honestly, I think that despite this being a safer version of fairy tales in our world, it is meant for an adult audience who has worked though self discovery themes a few times. If I was to continue making comparisons with Fables the characters also do not overlap greatly, with neither Dorothy nor Alice major characters in that series.

I really enjoy how the authors use characters that are part of these original stories but that we have not generally seen in other media. For me a highlight was Jack Pumpkinhead who was a new character for me, yes I know he is in Return to Oz. I really enjoyed his confrontation with the gnome king in our world. Additionally, I liked the addition of Hungry Tiger and his constant requests to eat. I enjoyed the Wizard of Oz, who has returned to our world to become a college professor. However, he comes off as an action hero to me, complete with guns a blazing. The Wizard is more solider than con man in this version. I also like how they introduce us to content about the characters we think we know well, like why is the Scarecrow not just smart, but sharp!

The only real criticism from me is some art. For example it was difficult for me to distinguish between the three roommates. They just did not stand out to me. And I would have liked them to be more individualized since the character biographies in the volume make it clear that Alice and Dorothy are not the only ones with childhood adventures! Also there is one sequence where Alice’s image to me morphs into a version of the roommates/adult Dorothy. Her hair even darkens. I would assume the artist has a reason for this change, but I am not really a visual detail guy so it just caused me some minor confusion. Maybe this is the reason I like superheroes, costumes! In a room full of blonds, I always know the guy in orange is Aquaman!

In the final summary, if you like Once Upon a Time and/or comic books I would suggest exploring The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles. The story has familiar Disney characters while also introducing you to the bigger worlds of Carroll and Baum in an interesting way. But with adult themes, you may want to direct the kids to other kid friendlier titles (though this is more kid ready than Fables). Personally, I plan to check out some additional volumes of this universe as I see the potential of this first story in building on itself into new directions.

Contest: Jump over to the Between Disney Facebook page to find out how to enter to win a copy of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Comic Corner - Guardians of the Galaxy #1

The Guardians of the Galaxy and Iron Man

Disney and Marvel announced an unexpected choice for an August 2014 theatrical release for the second phase of the Avengers Initiative. The Guardians of the Galaxy is a hero team that most Disney fans are probably not aware of. And I will admit, even though I feel prepared by a childhood of nerdy for anything Marvel could throw at us, I actually confused this group with another, Corsair and the Starjammers, when I first heard the news. And I have a feeling I am not the only one who knows little to nothing about these space warriors that includes a space raccoon!

Marvel and Disney likely recognize this low public visibility for a property that they are preparing a tent pole movie around. I think the Guardians have less public visibility than John Carter! So I would argue some audience education is needed. This orientation has formally begun with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy issue #1 written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Steve McNiven. While the general public will probably not pick up this title, it should help to mobilize the comic book core audience. And with the inclusion of Iron Man in the story, they may attract some casual comic book fans also.

The book opens with Peter Quill, Star-Lord, attempting to win over a young lady of non-Earth origin on a space station. Peter is confronted by his father, the King of the Spartax planetary system, who warns Peter that Earth is off limits due to an agreement by a shadowy council of galactic rulers. Peter does not feel obligated to follow this edict due to his half human origin, his spiteful feelings towards his father and a fear that this pronouncement will actually but Earth at peril. Peter gathers his team Gamora (the most dangerous woman in the galaxy), Groot (a plant like creature), Drax, and Rocket Racoon (yes, he looks like a raccoon). The Guardians of the Galaxy arrive in Earth space just in time to join Iron Man in defending the planet against an alien attack. Can these heroes protect the planet?

I have a hard time recommending this issue. Honestly, it is the start of a bigger story and it is difficult to evaluate as a standalone issue. I assume that the whole will be better than its parts, but this piece is a lot of setup for the future. I fully intend to read the whole story arc when it is collected together in one volume, but I will not be picking up issue #2.

One problem I have with the story is the inclusion of Iron Man. The reason that the Guardians bump into Iron Man, who is joy riding, is based on a statement that Peter made to Tony Stark either in another title at an earlier date or off screen. But the comments that leads to Stark’s joy ride are thin and it comes off as forced. I would have been happier if the reason that Stark intersected with the Guardians would have been pure coincidence and had no links to Star-Lord and his team. I understand the need for Disney to make their number one superhero cross paths to bolster the 2014 movie. But in this story it failed for me. I feel really sad saying that since I generally enjoy Bendis’ writing.

This issue really focuses on Peter Quill and not the members of the team. One friend, and Between Disney reader, noted that Bendis frames Star-Lord as a Han Solo type character. He is a touch of rogue with a sprinkling of hero. Honestly, placing Quill into the Solo mold may be a good choice for Disney/Marvel as this is a formula that has proven to work. The rest of the characters, even the raccoon, are not given much space to develop their characters. Marvel has introduced a set of free online comics that focus on the non-human members of the team and help put flesh on Drax, Gamora, Rocket and soon Groot. I personally think this is a good marketing choice. The Gamora issue helps establish a tie to Thanos, a character we know will be a major focus in Phase 2 of the movies. The Marvel name will help Disney sell this film, but the audience needs to be introduced to these characters if they really do want box office success.

Honestly, I am hopeful for the cinematic Guardians of the Galaxy. It has superheroes and sci-fi so I want it to be a hit. I want to know more about the Guardians, because my personality desires more and more information. But instead of following this title on a monthly basis, I am going to look forward to a collected trade edition of this story arc.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dreaming Disney - Patton Oswalt's Star Wars Pitch

Remy mixing a stew
I am honestly not a fan of Rataouille, but you have to admit that the rat can mix up some ingredients and come up with a good finished product!

Remy's voice, Patton Oswalt, will appear on the NBC show Parks and Recreation.  For his scene he was asked to improv a filibuster scene, and was allowed to use any topic he wanted.  His improved speech is the craziest pitch you may find for Star Wars Episode VII!  And like the rat, he mixes some of my favorite things together!

What I love about this is Disney's two major hero franchises, Marvel and Star Wars, are both mentioned.  I mean there is part of me that would love to see Han Solo and Tony Stark together.  And part of me that would be horrified.

What do you think of Oswalt's pitch?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Between Books - The Art of Cars

Book cover showing Mater and McQueen
The Art of Cars by Michael Wallis with Suzanne Fitzgerald Wallis explores the artistic development of Disney/Pixar's 2006 Cars.  The Wallises put into the readers hands readers the production images, paintings and sculptures used to develop the rich world of Cars.  The authors explore both the background of American highways and Pixar's, especially John Lasseter's, love of the American automobile.  They discuss the extensive research completed by the Pixar staff including visits to NASCAR races, shutter Detroit automobile plants and down the real Route 66.  The books discusses how these influences came to influence Radiator Springs and the Cars' characters.

The Art of Cars is a very handsome book.  And as disappointed as I was by The Art of Meet the Robinsons, my expectations were met with this volume.  The text provides interesting background, but not so much to overwhelm the reader.  And as it should be the images are the star of the book, and there are numerous images of various types and styles to help satisfy the Cars fan.  Additionally they are arranged in a very pleasing way.

Michael Wallis has a special connection to the Cars universe.  He wrote Route 66: The Mother Road used by Pixar as a research tool.  Additionally, he lead Pixar's two Route 66 research trips.  Pixar was so impressed by Mr. Wallis that they designed Sheriff after his distinctive features, and he voices the character in both Cars and Cars 2.  It gives a very pleasing feeling knowing the author has such a special connection to the film.

Michael Wallis
Author and Voice Actor Michael Wallis

What I liked most about The Art of Cars is seeing how these designs have Disney connections.  As one flips through the pages and sees the planned details around the map of Radiator Springs, the proposed early origins and the town's buildings,  one who has visited Carsland cannot but help but feel like they are reading about a place that they have been.  Then seeing the design of the flowers and other landscaping used both in the movie and the land further impresses the feeling that the theme park land was far from thrown together.  A highlight for me was a presentation of cone gags, all puns that I felt like Marc Davis would have enjoyed.

For fans of both Disney animated films and the Disney parks The Art of Cars is sure to be delight.  The images and designs found throughout the book are sure to give both a familiar feeling!  And for me it has helped to redeem the Art of style books.     

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mousey Movies - Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

Movie poster showing the cast of Diary of a Wimpy Kid Dog Days
If you have a tween aged child, you are likely familiar with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series. I am pretty sure we have every volume in our home library. Yeah, the oldest loves the series, but what I did not realize was how much my youngest would love the original Dairy of a Wimpy Kid movie. I would constantly hear shouts from the Between Kid yelling, Zoo-Wee-Mama! In the Between House these three movies are hits, and I have to admit I really enjoy Roderick. As we watched the most recent installment Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, which follows the misadventures of young Greg Heffley, I was thrilled I could declare this film Diary of a Mousey Kid:

  • Runt: In 1996, Steve Zahn who plays father Frank Heffley, caught my attention in Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do as Lenny Haise. The somewhat creepy yet fun Lenny had me in stitches. He delivers quick lines throughout the film that just crack me up every time. And in 2005’s Sahara, directed by Michael Eisner’s son Brock, I loved and wanted to see more of him as sidekick Al Giordino. Basically, if Steve Zahn is in a movie’s cast I am more likely to watch it. Sadly that rule honestly has led me to sit through some stinkers. One of my complaints with the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid was there was not enough Steve Zahn. Of you bring in Zahn to play the dad, we need more dad! Okay the story may not have supported that choice, but I was thrilled this third installment really is a father/ son story that requires a lot of Zahn on screen time. For Disney, Zahn voiced Runt of the Litter in Chicken Little, also in 2005. For me the most memorable line of the movie is Zahn delivering, “Just leave me some ammo, a little water, some chips if you have 'em.” Yes, Zahn you do know how to give classic lines that make you chuckle. Seriously, can we get The Santa Clause 4 with Zahn entering a quip war with Tim Allen?
  • Wilderness Explorer: As Frank attempts to spend more time with Greg and get him away from video games, he signs Greg up for the Wilderness Explorers! Wait, is this Up? I had looked at the organization Wilderness Explorers as being a fictional Boy Scouts like group that only existed in the minds of Pixar. Here the Wilderness Explorers are used again as a fictional Boy Scouts like organization. I kept waiting for someone to yell, “The wilderness must be explorered!” But alas it never happened, and no one earned a badge for aiding the elderly.
  • Oh Jesse: You just cannot escape the cast of Disney Channel’s Jesse in this film. Peyton List plays Holy Hills, Greg’s young love interest and generally nice young lady, especially when compared to her older sister. Karan Brar returns as Chirag Gupta, one of Greg’s classmates and friends. Sadly Brar’s performance is somewhat lost as roles for Zahn and others are expanded. But honestly the storyline within Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules where Greg leads his classmates to completely ignore Gupta is unforgettable. When those kids ignore someone they do it right! On Jesse, List plays the oldest Ross sibling Emma a young lady who is all about fashion. And Brar plays Ravi Ross, a very intelligent young boy much like Gupta, who is the third oldest of the Ross kids.
  • It’s Nice to Be Nice: Zahn is not the only parent to get into the Disney film game. Rachel Harris who plays Little Women loving Susan Heffley is featured in one of my favorite movies of 2012 Wreck-It Ralph. She voices the Nicelander Deanna.
  • I’m a Real Boy: About an hour into Dairy of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days it hit me. Greg is Pinocchio! Greg lies constantly. He does it to stay out of trouble. He lies to make situations more convenient for him. And Greg really is a horrible friend as his best friend Rowley should have learned in the original Dairy of a Wimpy Kid. His lies have legal, financial and physical consequences for others. Greg lies, lies, lies. Much like Pinocchio, Greg has to learn to tell the truth and take responsibility of his actions to receive the approval of his father. Yes kids, as Walt Disney taught us in 1940, lying does not make parents happy!

I have to admit. Greg cannot seem to learn. He is a really bad friend and he lies constantly, and has done so since the first movie. I wonder if a Pinocchio trilogy would still have him lying so much in the third film. The good news is the movie does provide a great opportunity to discuss the consequences of lying as we watch the wooden boy lie on screen, I mean Greg in this Mousey Movie.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dreaming Disney - Bob Gurr: The Wizard of Wheels

Bob Gurr accepting his Disney Legends honor
My profile of Disney Legend Bob Gurr is now available online at WDWNT: The Magazine

This profile took months to complete and was one of my most involved biographies that I have undertaken.  Why?  Because Gurr was involved in almost everything.  And he did not slip quietly into the night after his Disney years but continued a vibrant design career.

The monorail zooms over a classic Autopia

I hope you enjoy the story of the man who is truly the Dean of Disney Wheeled Vehicles!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Between Books - Battle Scars

An armed man faces Nick Fury, Captain America, and Hawkeye
Some moments get a lot of hype. In 2012, Peter Parker “died” within the main Marvel universe. In early 2013 Damian Wayne the current Robin in the DC universe was killed. I apologize if I spoiled something for you, but both of these story arcs led to major news coverage in the mainstream media. Yet, I heard nothing of something I believe is a major shift in the Marvel universe from 2011. Marvel released a miniseries titled Battle Scars written by Christ Yost, Cullen Bunn, and Matt Fraction. Seriously you may have never heard of this series, but you need to Disney fans, because its conclusion the Marvel print world and Marvel Cinematic Universe were reconciled. Because at the end, Nick Fury in the print world was African American and stylized after Samuel L. Jackson!

The trade paperback Battle Scars collects all six issues written by Yost, Bunn and Fraction and illustrated by Scot Eaton. The story follows U.S. Army Ranger Marcus Johnson, whose mother an “innocent” school teacher is killed while his is serving overseas. When Johnson returns for her funeral he discovers that he has a bounty on his head and some of the world’s most dangers assassins including Taskmaster and Deadpool are looking to collect, dead or alive. Though put under the protection of S.H.I.E.L.D., Johnson escapes their custody to solve the mystery of why someone killed his mother, targeted him, and the identity of his father who he never knew. While on this journey, he is assisted by a fellow Ranger named Cheese. The two ordinary men bring their training and friendship into a world of superheroes and super villains. By the time the action packed story concludes, the image of Nick Fury is reconciled with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I enjoyed this story. I did not pick up the trade thinking I would need to think deeply. What I was hoping for was escapist adventure, and the creators delivered that in spades. This story is full of action. It is really fast paced. And you come to sympathize with Marcus as you want to help him uncover the mystery around him. Because I had seen much of the plot in internet searches earlier I was spoiled to some key point story points and reveals. But I still wanted to keep up with Johnson as he uncovered the mystery surrounding his life. Additionally, I really liked the character of Cheese. Though he lacks flash, his skill and loyalty shine throughout the story.

Again, minor spoilers, at the end of this issue S.H.I.E.L.D. gains two key agents. The first Nick Fury Jr., is an African-American with an eye patch and movie matching scars. If anything the biggest difference between this Fury and the movie version is a Captain America stylized uniform, a gift from Cap himself. Additionally this Nick Fury Jr. is a field commander not the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. This role is continued into the Secret Avengers series which launched in 2013. The other agent is Phil Coulson, suit and all. The writers make it clear that this version of Coulson is a highly trained fighter, who is as expected a Captain America fanboy. We get glimpses of Coulson in this book in the midst of fire fights and the reader understands he is a man of action. I like how he is depicted here more than Secret Avengers where he seemed more like a salesman than a hero to me. I would say if the Marvel Cinematic Universe was able to develop the Fury/Coulson back story that we find in Battle Scars, Coulson’s final act in The Avengers would have even more impact!

Nick Fury Jr. and Coulson
Fury and Coulson, Together for the First Time!
Marvel has reconciled itself. No longer is the Nick Fury of the Marvel print world an old crusty Caucasian. He is now an African-American, who looks like a younger version of Samuel L. Jackson. I think this is a good move for Marvel as it may help bring movie fans to the comics. I just don’t understand why more was not made of this as help spread the word, Agent Coulson is in the comics!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Dreaming Disney - Ghosts in Disneyland

When reading The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland's Haunted Mansion by Aubrey Graves, I found myself asking for proof.  I am honestly a pretty skeptical guy.

In her sources Graves includes a few videos that for some may serve as the evidence that ghosts are living in the happiest place on earth.

This first video is described in Graves' book as a ghost wandering around The Haunted Mansion.  

Is it a spirit, or some sort of electronic phenomenon? 

In this video a glimpse has been seen by some sitting between two dwarfs?

Some claim that when you freeze the video you can make out the features of a man who looks like he could be Walt Disney himself?

Please enjoy and judge these for yourselves.  But if some are right, we may not be alone on our vacations! 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Between Books - Star Wars: Scoundrels

Chewbacca, Han and Lando in a police lineup on a book cover

Recently I mentioned to a friend that I was planning on reading Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn. Despite the fact he really did not know much about the Star Wars Expanded Universe, his reaction was to say, “That’s what Disney is going to make the Han Solo movie from right?” After reading the book I would say, maybe, but some major rewrites would be needed.

Star Wars: Scoundrels is for Star Wars a small story. The action is almost exclusively on one world and the fate of the galaxy is not in the balance. Solo is recruited by Eanjer Kunarazti to recover 163,000,000 credits on encrypted credit tabs stolen by a local gangster on the planet Wukkar. Despite his rising star within the Rebellion after the Battle of Yavin, Solo is still a man with a price on his head. Seeing this as an opportunity to pay off Jabba the Hutt, Solo takes the job. The book follows Solo as he gathers his team, makes his plan, and attempts to steal back Eanjer’s credits. The Ocean’s 11 style caper sees the number of targets grow for Solo’s team as they add to the plan stealing the blackmail files of galactic gangsters Black Sun. Will Solo and his team make it out alive (okay you do you know that Solo is going to make it since this story is set before Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)?

This is the Ocean's 11 of the Star Wars universe. It is a true caper story. We get the whole setup of building the team, making the plan, and trying to pull it off. Unlike a lot of Expanded Universe stories it is a small tale. There is no major planet hopping with almost all the action occurring on Wukkar. And the story sticks to the main cast, where there is no attempt to pull Princess Leia or Wedge Antilles into a Solo story. There is one character, Winter, who will be familiar to even casual fans of the Expanded Universe but will probably be new to fans who have only seen the films. This does not distract for the story. For first timers, Winter’s role does not need background information and for those familiar to her it honestly makes her relationship to the Solo family, wink wink, even stronger.

I do worry that I had too high of expectations for this book. It is written by Zahn who really is the dean of the Expanded Universe. You generally cannot go wrong with a Zahn Star Wars tale. And though the book is solid, I at times found it bland! It was okay but it does not compare to his Thrawn trilogy. But I should not compare, with the Thrawn trilogy being an epic tale and this being a small story. Maybe it’s because the scope allows for more character and less action. I could have used faster more intense. And maybe I have become accustomed to action packed quick paced Zahn stories. The story could really use some faster more intense. It is nice to see Zahn’s efforts focused on an original trilogy character instead of relying on his own creations of Thrawn and Mara Jade.

The big question is would Disney use Star Wars: Scoundrels for one of the reported Star Wars standalones movies, I have had friends state they thought this was the Han Solo movie plot. Well, let me say it could happen but not without a lot of editing. Admittedly this formula is one that has shown to work on the big screen. And I expect that the Han Solo movie would probably be on a smaller less epic scale (though can anything with Solo not be epic). So I think some of the right elements are there. But I do thing the screenwriters would have to change the time frame of this story. This book is set after the Battle of Yavin (the destruction of the first Death Star in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope). And I do not believe audiences would buy a Solo story after those events that did not have Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams as their respective characters. And I think that the movie going audience would need to be introduced in the movie to Black Sun in a more comprehensive way. And I think the key scenes would have to transition more quickly on the screen. Unless you have read Expanded Universe stories or seen some key episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, this criminal organization is completely new. But it is doable as a standalone theatrical release concept.

Star Wars: Scoundrels is the caper story of the Star Wars universe. Compared to other books by Timothy Zahn it is smaller and honestly slower. If one wanted to see Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian in Ocean's 11, this may be the story for you.