Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Between Books - Star Wars: The Living Force

Book cover for Star Wars: The Living Force showing the 12 Jedi Masters including Yoda and Mace Windu.

The Star Wars literary world has recently moved us from one prequel, The High Republic, to another. It’s been 25 years since Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. This prequel was criticized by fans and general audiences, much like I feel about The High Republic. But now, decades later and after stories like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, this period is beloved by many fans.

Star Wars: The Living Force by John Jackson Miller is two storylines that merge together in an action-packed conclusion. In the first storyline, the Jedi find themselves closing outposts as trade and population centers move in the galaxy. With those movements, crime fills the vacuum. The Jedi Council decides to leave their temple before closing the beloved outpost on the planet Kween in The Slice region of the galaxy. Many Masters have a history with this location, and they realize that the criminal element has increased as Jedi outposts nearby close. The Jedi Council Master plan to hold a session in person on the planet and celebrate publicly the history and legacy of the outpost. Readers follow the members of the Jedi Council as they interact with the citizens of Kween and follow the Force’s urgings to aid groups and individuals. The second storyline follows Jedi Master Depa Billaba who has gone undercover into a criminal ring to help one young girl escape a life of crime. Master Mace Windu, her former Master, stops on his way to Kween to ensure she makes the meeting and if needed provides aid. Both stories meet on Kween as all 12 Masters influence the book’s conclusion.

John Jackson Miller knows science fiction and Star Wars. He has written several prose Star Wars books, though he had taken a decade's leave from this universe…with him writing some Star Trek books during that time. He has written even more Star Wars comic tales, especially for the Dark Horse era. So while we honestly won’t get many revelations, he weaves a tale that will keep the reader’s attention as someone who has completed the assignment before. While it’s not a full-on giant battle piece, I think he does a good job of showing the personal failure of the Jedi Council. They had removed themselves from the people. So to the people, they were merely rumors. And for the Jedi Council, the needs of the people were abstract. They have lost connection with the reality of the galaxy. For me, this shows how a Sith Lord could manipulate a galaxy Jedi leadership knew nothing about in a practical way.

Miller also allows us to use familiar mental images and a hook to bring in readers of other Star Wars media. First, most moviegoers have seen the majority of Masters on the screen. So we have general images for most of them. Miller is then able to use his space to give us a story that we never knew and lacks conflict with other stories as most of them are enigmas to us. Let us also not forget we have Yoda as a Master, who is very active in this book and invites us to get to know the others better, and their faults. Along with him we also get Mace Windu though his interactions with the other Masters are limited. Second, we have a halo effect for Master Billaba. She is the Master of a character not found here, Kanan Jarrus. I personally think that Jarrus may be one of the most effective Jedi found in Star Wars stories, and definitely, he is beloved. Billaba has been seen just a little bit in comics and television. This story allows us to see her in more fullness and we want to see her personality in view. While she challenges herself to help just one person, we can see a moral compass that she passed down to Jarrus. 

Star Wars: The Living Force by John Jackson Miller is refreshing. It is a standalone story, that has a clear beginning and end that really only needs the basic understanding of the prequel trilogies. One can get in, enjoy, and move on to their next read. I think the publishing program can use a little more of this, a stand-alone adventure that serves to just provide adventure while also reinforcing the action we saw on the screen.


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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Between Books - The Magic is in You

Cover for The Magic is  in You with the title in the middle surrounded by Disney characters including Mickey Mouse, Dorry, Pascal, and Aladdin

Cash or prizes, which do you prefer? What do you like to give for graduations or other turning point celebrations?

The Magic is in You by Colin Hosten and Brooke Vitale illustrated by Grace Lee is an inspirational children’s book, which reminds us of a core message, the magic is in you! The book follows a basic pattern. A crisis is presented by the writers using images from Disney or Pixar animated films. The moment is illustrated in soft original art. The next page resolves the issue by pointing out the magic and strength in each of us. The book is simple and repetitive and repetitive as the situations are demonstrated in the worlds of Tangled, Toy Story, and more.

The book as I mentioned is simple. The pattern is easy for a child to grasp and predict, especially after a few readings. It is one of those reads that I expect a child would start saying the resolution line as the page is turned. I would not read it at bedtime. While I love the message of internal strengths and magic, it does present a series of crisis moments that could create anxiety. And at bedtime, no parent really wants to set up an obstacle blocking sweet dreams.

This is a nice hardcover book with an attractive book cover. And it reminds me of when Dr. Suess’ books meant to inspire young adults were often gifted at high school graduations. I can see doing the same with this edition especially if they are a Disney family. Young adults will face challenges. Hosten, Vitale, and Lee inspire for those moments. But I think if you are not close to the graduate and don’t know their Disney Young Adult Status, I would go with cash. If they are not Disney film fans, the book may seem too brief and not connect.

Cash or prizes? I lean toward cash in most circumstances. Young people transitioning into the next stage really need a nest egg for computers, pens, and late-night pizzas. But The Magic is in You by Colin Hosten and Brooke Vitale illustrated by Grace Lee provides a delightful option for transitioning young people who are also Disney fans. It also is a book that can remind kids of the magic within themselves as they grow using Disney’s fanciful and beloved characters.

Maybe the question is really cash, prizes, or magic? Two out of three ain’t bad. Three out of three is better!


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Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Between Books – Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual 2023

Cover for 2023 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual showing the contents and images of subjects in the collection like Woolie Reitherman in a military pilot's uniform and Pete Seanoa in Polynesian clothing.

New year, same review?

I feel like I restate the same thoughts whenever I read the latest Hyperion Historical Alliance annual.

Maybe it’s because I feel “excluded” and I don’t like that. I’d like to think I’m pretty serious when it comes to history.

The “2023 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual” consists of five articles that span decades of Disney history from the early days of animation to the 1900’s in Disney parks. The five articles are:
  • “Oswald the Laemmle Rabbit” by Tom Klein

  • “Walt Disney and The Life of Hans Christian Anderson” by Didier Ghez

  • “Woolie Reitherman Needs to Fly” A Disney Artist Goes to War” by Lucas O. Seastrom

  • “1945-1946: Edgar Bergan and Disney’s Story Department” by Didier Ghez

  • “Direct from the Islands: The Polynesian Magic of Pete Seanoa” by Nathan Eick

The articles are all written with an academic slant. And they have extensive footnotes with bibliographies showing source material. They definitely as a group are attempting to show the seriousness of Disney history.

For me, the most engaging topics were Oswald and Woolie Reitherman. Klein’s article demonstrated that the creation of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was not fully in the mind of Walt Disney. In many ways, Oswald was a corporate creation, which reminded me of the modern studio and network system where executives, producers, and writers all have claim to pieces of the character. Disney’s additions were critical, providing Oswald with much of his character development and growth. But Klein makes it clearer that the Lucky Rabbit was a corporate rabbit not a Disney one. We might even call Oswald work-for-hire. The Reitherman article dives deep into the artist’s non-animation career as a military and civilian pilot. The article helps remind us of how the Greatest Generation was often more than one thing and career, which should inspire us! But it is also a history that includes World War II, transportation over The Hump into China, and the growth of commercial air travel.

The “2023 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual” to me has an audience, Disney fans who want serious historical research. They want their passion to be validated as a serious academic pursuit. I also think these fans, like me, would love to support the Hyperion Historical Alliance in their mission. In fact, my proof is the purchase, reading, and review of now four Annuals. I just think that they need to grow the mission. I am someone who has a master’s degree in history. I’d like to think I am taking my history seriously. I am also not currently mining archives for serious historical additions to the knowledge base. But I would like to support those that are doing so. As someone who’s been a member of the Society of Baseball Research, who has a model I think can be used here, I don’t get why this isn’t being democratized. I’ve also been a member of the Society for Military History and American Historical Association, founded in 1884 and very serious, which both have options for non-working historians.

The “2023 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual” is a collection of five historical articles that span the varying topics in Disney history. Most Disney fans, like I did, will likely find a topic of interest and comparisons to trends today in media. Again, I wish they would open membership up to a more scalable and likely-lasting membership model.

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Monday, May 6, 2024

Between Books - Why Wakanda Matters

Book cover for Why Wakanda Matters with the profile of a panther on a field of yellow

I am a huge comic book fan. One of the things I love about comics is our ability to learn lessons in multi color action stories. I get why a lot of people don’t like the rude and crude Deadpool. But if you read some of the best Deadpool comics(like Gerry Duggan and Joe Kelly) you find lessons that readers can learn about self-worth, friendship, grieving, self-care and so much more. Many of these great stories and their lessons have been translated onto the screen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Audiences worldwide learned that superheroes can help teach lessons through many of these movies, with one of the most impactful being Black Panther.

Why Wakanda Matters: What Black Panther Reveals About Psychology, Identity, and Communication edited by Dr. Sheena C. Howard is a collection of academic articles discussing the impact of Black Panther on audiences and the general population. A common theme in the book is the power of a movie starring and made by a cast and crew of people of color. The movie seeks to avoid and overcome stereotypes found in the media. By not falling into the expected movie tropes for people of color, it communicates messages to young people about the roles that they can take within society. Additionally, it helps to combat the impact of stereotypes found in media.

I won’t go into the essays in-depth as they are many varied in their messages and themes. The big messages that I see are first and foremost, representation matters. Ryan Coogler and crew when creating the world of Wakanda intentionally built a world that audiences saw as important models for what people of color could be, with the movie showing scientists, soldiers, and kings as just a few of the many options open for futures. This world-building moved beyond stereotypes and generalizations, which often are used in film when creating for broad audiences. Another theme is while all authors agree that the representation in the film is impactful, they may disagree with the messages that the movie projects. For example, some writers see T’Challa’s final choices as conforming to long-term imperialistic and disempowering frameworks. But Killmonger’s strategies challenge the status quo and can be at times applauded. As one reads, you can tell that the authors as a group are very conflicted by the image of Killmonger who they applaud and criticize for his over-the-top aggressive choices…much like the movie-going audience.

Why Wakanda Matters is an academic work, and likely not for every reader with its heavy focus on theory and research. But I think it is more accessible than many academic works because the examples are often ones we know from viewing Black Panther. With it being a work that delves into many cognitive theories, I can also see readers who do not agree with everything written. Let’s be honest, this book talks about a charged issue with race. But, I also do not believe that the authors fully agree with each other, and Howard does a great job of bringing multiple perspectives together.

Why Wakanda Matters: What Black Panther Reveals About Psychology, Identity, and Communication edited by Dr. Sheena C. Howard is an academic collection that makes you think about race, representation, and portrayals of people of color in media. It helps to teach the importance of our stories, even when super, in teaching us important social and cultural lessons about how we interact and treat each other. For comic book fans, I think it is a great collection for understanding the power of comic characters. And for media fans, it demonstrates the power of story. I think it is definitely worth the read for Marvel…and DC…fans.


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