Monday, November 30, 2015

Between Books - Aftermath

I continue my quest to prepare for Star Wars: The Force Awakens with Aftermath by Chuck Wendig.  I started the book knowing this was official canon that also serves as part of “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens”.  And I opened the book excitement to find out officially what happened to Han, Luke and Leia after the Battle of Endor.  But what I got was very different.

I have decided to write this synopsis from the window of a casual Star Wars fan.

On a world you don’t know in the Outer Rim, the Empire attempts to regroup after the loss of the Emperor, Darth Vader and the Death Star.  Wedge Antilles travels to this world in a scouting mission and stumbles into the Empire’s planning conference.  Imperials you don’t know capture the Rebel hero and dream of a Imperial tomorrow.  On the planet you don’t know, a Rebel, bounty hunter, former Imperial and streetwise kid, all of which you don’t know, struggle to make their way in the galaxy while also potentially sabotaging the Empire’s talks.  These heroes you don’t know are the only hope for Wedge’s freedom, a hero you might know.  Interspersed in this adventure are interludes from throughout the galaxy as people you mostly don’t know, but hey Han and Chewy show up, are forced to answer issues caused by the fracturing Empire and the rising New Republic.   One thing is made clear, the struggle you know is not yet over!  

I will continue to argue that Star Wars works best with a visual element.  And with all apologizes to Chuck Wendig who was given and job and did his job, Aftermath has this problem and more working against it.  First, Wendig puts us in a new world and uses aliens where we have to rely on either our imagination visual reference or the internet to create a picture of the mind.  But unlike an original science fiction novel our mind pushes for a visual reference for the mind’s eye.   Our minds know this galaxy and pushes to provide the right image instead of accepting imagination.  Second, Wendig is largely using original characters to this story, this trilogy wow really, so readers are left frustrated wanting to spend time with original trilogy characters who are largely absent.  And finally the plot is not what a casual Star Wars fan would want since it is really about this new group of heroes for which we have no context.  The blunt reality is Wendig’s book would be a good science fiction story.  But it fails in meeting the needs of causal and hard core Star Wars fans.  

What I really want to know is what happened after Return of the Jedi.   And Aftermath gives us a big picture.  The Empire is hurt but not eliminated.  And a power vacuum has been created with multiple voices trying to fill the void.  The Rebel Alliance is also in transition as they move from a guerilla underground movement to a legitimate authority in several planets and systems in the universe.  Both sides are scrambling to keep or take power.   In short there is enough contested territory that the war is far from over.  And so I can use this to enter the movie with the sense that a long struggle continued or even continues into the future.  The other aspect I take from the book is the ideas that were found in the Expanded Universe to be frank with a New Republic, Mon Montha as the key political leader, Wedge Antilles as a flying legend and Imperial Moffs and Admirals fighting to become key political players.  

Aftermath by Chuck Wendig is set to prepare me for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  In the end it was largely failed for me.  What could be a solid science fiction story is high jacked by the constraints of Star Wars.  And of course there is the slight problem that it does not even close to meet the expectations of casual and even hardcore fans.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Between Books - From Disneyland's Tom Sawyer to Diseny Legend

From Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend: The Adventures of Tom Nabbe by Tom Nabbe outlines a Disney career that arches over 5 decades.  Nabbe was there on opening day at Disneyland, standing in the crowd as invited guests entered the park.  The youngster would actually get to enter the park that first day though he would not be able to ride his favorite ride.  Nabbe’s history with the park actually started earlier as he relocated to Anaheim and was lucky enough to watch the park grow up from the orange groves it replaced.  The boy started in the park selling newspapers and would eventually be hired by Walt Disney to be the first Tom Sawyer walk around character for Tom Sawyer’s Island.  Nabbe would spend several summers in this role, until he became too old to play the role.  He would then move into other jobs at Disneyland, eventually after a stint in the Marines, entering a management track.  His career would then take him to new and unexpected places which included relocating to Orlando and providing supervision in portions of the Magic Kingdom Park.  He would later move into distribution services managing warehouses that helped build Epcot, supply Walt Disney World, and support expansion under Michael Eisner, and even Disneyland Paris.  Along with his Disney history, Nabbe provides information about his personal and family life.  The book ends with an essay by Keith Murdock, the second Tom Sawyer who filled the role after Nabbe became too old.

I really liked From Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend.  I flew through the book as I found Nabbe’s recollections interesting and in an easy to read tone.  I felt like I was listening to him tell stories about his time with Disney and even found his later accounts of warehouse work to be highly interesting.  I am thrilled this Disney Legend’s thoughts are captured for fans like me to enjoy.

Sometimes I find Nabbe’s Disneyland hard to imagine.  He goes into some depth on the fishing that occurred from the dock on Tom Sawyer Island.  In today’s legal minded society what I read was honestly hard to comprehend, but it happened.  I just cannot see any lawyer today allowing a company to let a teenage boy supervise adults and kids by himself on an attraction.  And I cannot comprehend that any lawyer would sign off on untrained guests swinging a line with a hook near other guests within the park.  And this does not even include the sanitation issues with fish in the Rivers of America dying due to the results of the catch and release program.  Yes, this is a different time and park then I have ever known.

Tom Nabbe was a company man.  He was hired by the man with his name on the door!  His story filled with love and dedication to his job and family both entertains and inspires.  Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend is sure to delight those who wish to remember the early days of Disneyland or the creation of Walt Disney World as they lazily sit by the river with their line dangling in the water.   

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Friday, November 20, 2015

Cap's Comics - Big Thunder Mountain #4

You know what is exciting...a train robbery!  Now that is exciting!

The action in Dennis Hopeless' Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #4 heats up.  Abigail, Chandler, Onawa and Dolfo attempt to hit Barnabas T. Bullion where it hurts most, his gold.  The job is full of action and excitement.  But the robbery has consequences, and life in Rainbow Ridge gets a little tougher with Bullion upset about the loss of his property.  And we begin to question again who the real villain is.  But one thing is certain, Big Thunder Mountain is watching.  And perhaps it thinks it is time for Bullion to pay for his greed.

Brian Crosby Connecting Variant Cover

This issue really rebounded the story for me.  First and foremost there is action in multiple scenes, with the train robbery being the big moment.  Second we do get some character moments which make us question the motivations of the potential villains.  This of course is going to free up the possiblity that Bullion could find reconcillation with Abigail.  And finally we get additional story around Onawa and her motivation and links to the mountain.  And her storyline helpfs reinforce that the mountain is a character.  

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #4 heats up the action as we push to the story's conclusion.  And I for one am happy that this installment worked better for me.  And I will admit I really want this story to have a good payoff, because I am still hoping for a Jungle Cruise comic!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Between Books - Star Wars: Dark Disciple

Star Wars: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden adapts a story arc developed but never produced for  Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  The Jedi are strained and have come to an unthinkable decision, they must assassinate Count Dooku the head of the Separatists in order to save the lives of countless others.  But this is a mission they are not equipped for.  The Jedi Council tasks unorthodox Jedi Quinlan Vos to secretly recruit former Dooku disciple Asajj Ventress to the cause.  Vos pretends to be a fellow bounty hunter making his way through the universe.  And what he finds shocks him, a damaged woman who has lost everyone she has ever loved.  Ventress must teach Vos to balance Dark Side energies to kill Dooku.  And it all horribly goes wrong in a story of broken lives, betrayal and love.

As I have said many time, Star Wars really needs a visual element to work really well.  That being said, Star Wars: Dark Disciple is a very strong book.  Yes, at times as some of the countless aliens of the galaxy is being described one does get a bit lost.  But it is the central character tale that really holds everything together.  Asajj Ventress is someone fans of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is familiar with.  But this 300 page plus book really gives Golden the time to flesh her out.  We have time to hate and love her.  We cringe at her cruelty and marvel at her tenderness.  Readers get a chance to really understand how she turned to the Dark Side and then walked away.  And in the end one cannot but feel compassion for her.  Can there be happiness in the galaxy for Asajj, or will her worst personality traits cost her happiness?  Basically, if one is familiar with Ventress the book becomes highly enjoyable and interesting.  Especially since it does build on the last few arcs that viewers saw of her on television.

Will Vos and Ventress succeed?  Okay that is really not the big question since Dooku's final fate has already been established.  No what Star Wars: Dark Disciple gives readers is tension around a Star Wars: The Clone Wars figure.  In the time of new canon, one knows that for Ventress and Vos this story has real stakes.  Can there be happiness?  Would another Jedi Master leave the order?  Could someone fall to the Dark Side?  These are the sorts of questions that Star Wars: Dark Disciple asks and answers! 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Between Books - The Wisdom of Walt

The Wisdom of Walt: Leadership Lessons from the Happiest Place on Earth by Jeffrey A. Barnes finds personal improvement and leadership lessons in the history and enjoyment of Disneyland.  Barnes provides 17 chapters that vary from topics like continuing education, getting stuff done, leading teams, telling stories and creating superior experiences.  Each chapter includes information about Disney parks and history.  Disney content is paired with experiences from Barnes' own life which provide practical anecdotes showing how Barnes' concepts can play out in one's life.  Each chapter includes a "Souvenir Stop" where readers can reflect on the chapter, and take first steps towards growth.  The chapters conclude with "Getting Your Hand Stamped" which is one last chance to reinforce the chapter's lesson as one leaves the park. 

Mr. Barnes and I started off on a bad start.  Every chapter starts with a quote by Walt Disney, as reported by the author.  But the first chapter's quote is not an actual Walt Disney quote.  Now as much as I love the quote, "If you can dream it, you can do it." it was not actually said by Walt Disney.  So I set my eye towards fact checking everything.  Now I did eventually did give up on this.  There were several new to me facts that seemed incorrect or slightly off to me.  But everytime I went to double-check Mr. Barnes, I found he was correct.  I found myself transformed from "I'm going to get him" to "you know this guy knows a thing or two about Disney history."

And then there is the fact that I am the perfect audience for Barnes.  Barnes works in higher education, and has been both an administrator and history instructor.  My education is in history and I am now a higher education administrator.  So many of Barnes' tales of working with students and logistical concerns of the higher education are all things that I can and do relate to.  You got me there Mr. Barnes!  In fact I am quite jealous that he was able to achieve his dream of a Disneyland history course.  I really would love to take it!  And Barnes was highly relatable to me. 

I also found myself inspired.  While reading The Wisdom of Walt I found the courage to try two new things.  I also found myself inspired to focus myself and make progress on some personal projects that I have been stalled on.  So while I have read books of this type before, I found myself taking action instead of simply passing over the words to complete the text and shelf the book. What is even more remarkable, is it was Barnes' stories not the Disney history which motivated me to action. 

I am the guy who spends his day telling stories about Walt Disney and Disneyland to lead my team.  Sometimes the stories actually go over well.  I love the fact I have heard colleagues say, "Yes, If" in meetings twice this week.  Jeffrey A. Barnes in The Wisdom of Walt entertained me while helping me to grow as a leader and professional.  And now I have additional stories to bolster my story database.        

Review Copy Provided by Author  

Friday, November 6, 2015

Cap's Comics - Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #3

As Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #3 opens, Abigail Bullion finds herself captured by the gang that robbed her father's gold train.  And as she discusses her situation with her captors, the real question becomes who is the real villain in this story.  The robbers swear it is her father who is the real robber, mistreating workers and the mountain.  But can her father sweet old Barnabas T. Bullion, the victim of theft, be everything the thieves claim he is.  Talking is not enough to show Abigail who the real villain of the story is, but action reveals all.  A crisis will reveal to Abigail everyone's true colors.

Brian Crosby Connecting Variant Cover
Sadly the third installment of this Dennis Hopeless Disney themed adventure is slowing down for me.  Honestly the tardiness of my review shows my general lack of enthusiasm.  Honestly, it could be because it is a Western comic, something I really do not read.  But Figment 2 definitely has help my interest when Big Thunder Mountain Railroad  has not.  Though I do still like the fact this title has a strong female hero.  And she is willing to open her mind while still standing firm for what she believes.  I just wish that a Tony Baxter modeled figure was not a questionable bad guy.

Hopefully, the next issue can help me feel connected to the parks and the roller coaster my family truly loves and have not seen for way to long.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Between Books - Smuggler's Run

I am totally excited about Star Wars: The Force Awakens!  But I am spoiler free, well except for what Disney wants me to know.  So I have made a pact to prepare for the movie by only knowing beforehand what has been officially released under the "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" label.  And I was lucky enough to get my first installment from the library, because I generally do not buy Star Wars prose books since they are generally lacking.

Smuggler's Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure by Greg Rucka starts in what we assume is the Force Awakens eraA group of thieves consider how to get their hands on a fast ship and which one they would want.  An old man hears this conversation and spins a yarn about the Millenium Falcon literally days after the destruction of the Death Star at the Battle of Yavin.  Han Solo is pressed into service by the Rebels to retrieve a reconnaissance soldier from the Outer Rim.  Of course it cannot be easy as he is being chased by one of the finest officers in the Imperial Security Bureau.  Can Han and Chewy save this key rebel or will he be delivered into the hands of the Empire?

So I started here on my Star Wars: The Force Awakens quest because I am very familiar with Rucka's work in comics.  His Gotham Central run is gritty and classic.  His creator owned title Lazarus is smart, edgy and great science fiction.  And he had shown he could take a superhero into space with Cyclops.  But this is a categorized as a children's book by the library.  So Rucka's work has death and action, but it lacks our hero or villain diving into an overly excessive dark place.  And perhaps needing to be a short book of under 200 pages and having a strong author like Rucka helped it overcome issues I see in other Star Wars books.  Rucka is "faster more intense" with quick cuts like Star Wars is meant to be.  He does not have a lot of pages to work with so his story moves fast!  There is no time of Han or Chewy to contemplate their belly buttons!  And so it is fairly engaging despite being for young adults/mature kids.  I would have likely loved this in Junior High!  But it is all high-action, there is nothing deep here. 

This volume promises hints of what is to come in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  For me the biggest non-reveal is that Han and Chewbacca still live into the future.  But the trailers have already shown us they are home.  I do find it interesting that the story includes a beloved Marvel plot point, can Han pay off Jabba?  And I found it interesting that Imperial Center is out and the familiar Coruscant is being used instead.  Perhaps the new name given by the expanded universe is out.  Finally, and again I do not believe this spoils anything, there are still a few Clones in the Stormtrooper ranks.  I would say that I had an enjoyable brisk Star Wars adventure, though perhaps not a strong prequel.  Because honestly there are not many big reveals.   

Smuggler's Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure by Greg Rucka is a fun and quick read.  And honestly, that helps it feel like Star Wars!  I definitely would suggest this to any pre-teens who are interested in science fiction and required reading for Star Wars fans preparing for a little film!