About the Author:
Ryder Windham is a former editor of Star Wars and Indiana Jones comics. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island, USA with his family.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
2.9 out of 5
Star Wars: Adventures In Hyperspace - Fire Ring Race
The first book of the 'Adventures in Hyperspace' duology (the series got cancelled after two books), which is set about a year and a half before 'A New Hope'. Han and Chewie take a job from Jabba the Hutt to pick up a cargo from Fornax Station but in doing so they fall afoul of a corrupt security officer.
This book is aimed at younger readers and despite the fact that Windham never talks down to his intended audience, it nevertheless shows in the format of the book. At about ninety pages of very large type interspersed with half-page illustrations, the actual prose of this book amounts to little more than a short story. Those looking for something a bit more meaty should definitely avoid this book.
The story on offer is a pretty unremarkable romp for our two main smugglers which would've been very much at home in the original Marvel era of Star Wars comics. It should be praised, however, for a pretty spot-on depiction of Han Solo. There's a great scene where, after calling a noblewoman spoiled and having her jaw drop in shock, he points at her gaping mouth and says "You should really get that fixed".
Overall, a harmless non-event of a Star Wars story.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Adventures In Hyperspace - Shinbone Showdown
1.5 BBY. The second and final book of the 'Adventures in Hyperspace' series sees Han and Chewbacca sent to the planets Gamorr and Shinbone on errands for the crimelord Jabba the Hutt.
The truth is were it anyone but Windham writing this book, it would be totally bland uneventful younger reader fare (see Cavan Scott's 'Adventures in Wild Space: Escape') but luckily, this author's years of working in Star Wars fiction gives him an edge in helping to immerse the reader in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. But it can't be escaped that this is a much more twee and camp story than the previous book, with walking plant people and dancing mushrooms, and suffers as a result.
Once more we do get a perfectly on-point moment of pure Han Solo in which he cheats in a quick-draw contest and defends himself by saying "I happen to like to shoot first". If only George Lucas had had as good a grasp of the character as Windham does!
2 out of 5
Star Wars: Droids - Rebellion
(Art by Ian Gibson)
10 BBY. C-3PO, R2-D2 and the heroic security droid Unit Zed chase the criminal Olag Greck to Nar Shaddaa, the Smuggler's Moon.
It sounds exciting, but sadly it's all downhill from there. Zed is quickly done away with (actually, I was a bit shocked by how brutally this was done - I liked Zed!) and then Artoo and Threepio become embroiled in the bewildering plans of Movo Brattakin. I've read the book three times now and I've still failed to grasp the logic of using a computer virus to turn Threepio into a droid revolutionary. The Droids stories in general aren't much cop, lacking that essential Star Warsness, but this one in particular is pretty boring and unremarkable.
It does have two redeeming features, the first of which is Nar Shaddaa itself. The Smuggler's Moon is one of my favourite Star Wars locations, so it's always good to see it from a different perspective. The other good thing is the humour in this story. It's not as funny as it seems to think it is, but there are some genuinely amusing moments, such as the droid threatening to vapourise Artoo and Threepio with the device in it's hand before going back to vacuuming the floor with it or Threepio's encounter with a surly fifth-degree droid.
If you can pick it up cheap, it's good for completeness (or if you're one of those weirdos who actually enjoy the droids' antics), but generally speaking, I wouldn't bother.
2 out of 5
Star Wars: Episode I Adventures - Jedi Emergency
32 BBY. The fourth book of the series sees a Jedi team, led by Yoda, attempting to secure a Force-sensitive girl on Corulag.
It's pretty much more of the same, as the Jedi once again battle the irritating Bartokks. However, we are treated to seeing Yoda in action, which is doubly interesting when you consider that this book was written before his spritely lightsaber antics in Episode II.
Overall this book is a little better than the first two, but not by much.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Episode I Adventures - Search For The Lost Jedi
32 BBY. The first of a series of books for younger readers set just before 'The Phantom Menace'. I want to say straight from the off that this book wasn't what I was expecting or hoping for and Mr Windham shouldn't be held accountable for my expectations.
I thought this would be a book in the same vein as Jude Watson's Jedi Apprentice books, but it's not. It starts off like them, but a short way in the story stops and offers you the chance of continuing using the companion Gamebook. Now, I don't own the Gamebook, so I just read on. Unfortunately this meant that I was left with that feeling you get when you nod off for ten minutes whilst watching a movie.
The majority of the story is fairly standard Jedi vs Droids fare (because carving up people with a lightsaber isn't suitable for the kiddies). It then ends very abruptly, resolving none of the issues raised earlier in the book. This is, of course, because this is just the first installment in a series meant to be read as one. However, although I can understand that the ending and the Gamebook interlude were part of how the series was intended, they do mean that on it's own this book isn't enjoyable.
1 out of 5
Star Wars: Episode I Adventures - The Bartokk Assassins
32 BBY. The second book of this series aimed at younger readers. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon have to pursue and battle a group of insectoid assassins in order to recover a cargo of stolen starfighters.
Overall, this is a much better book than the previous one; the Gamebook interlude wasn't nearly as intrusive or confusing and, whilst not complete, the story does get a certain degree of closure at the end.
Ultimately though, all that goes on in the book is Obi-Wan fights some Bartokks, flies a starfighter for a bit and then fights some more Bartokks. There's just not any depth to the book which is something that I think authors sometimes lean towards for younger readers, forgetting that young people can handle fiction as intricate as Harry Potter or His Dark Materials.
2 out of 5
Star Wars: Episode I Adventures - The Fury Of Darth Maul
32 BBY. The third book of this series. I think it's quite telling that, where the previous two books took me a couple of days to get through (mostly due to lack of interest), I sat down and read this one cover to cover.
Gone are the poor Lucas-esque jokes of the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan dynamic. Gone is the friendly Jedi approach to investigation. Instead we get exactly what we were promised on the cover; the fury of Darth Maul. The agents of the dark side always make for great characters and Maul is among the most physically dynamic and ruthless, making for an exciting and edgy addition to the series.
I was actually deeply surprised by the jump in quality between the last book and this one (and keep your eyes peeled for a character from the 'Droids' comics!).
4 out of 5
Star Wars: Rebels - Ezra's Gamble
5 BBY. Set shortly before the 'Rebels' TV series begins, here Ezra Bridger is earning a living as a pickpocket when he finds himself employed as a guide by the bounty hunter Bossk (of 'Empire Strikes Back' fame, if you don't know). However, the two of them are set up by a corrupt Imperial officer and then find themselves on the run from the Empire's Stormtroopers as they try to clear their names.
When we first meet Ezra in the TV show he's a street-wise, smart-mouthed fourteen year old living a life of petty crime. In short, an irritating cliche. However, as the series progresses his character develops and deepens. Here, unfortunately, we get Ezra before that development and therefore our protagonist is in irritating cliche territory throughout this book. On top of that, the other main character is a problem too. Bossk has never really been strong enough as a character to carry his own story and that's the case here, but we also exposed to an oddly even-tempered version of him who laughs frequently. Somewhat at odds with his hot-headed and ruthless persona from previous Star Wars stories.
Windham in a talented writer and there's nothing wrong with the way this book is written; it's perfectly readable. Unfortunately, the premise and main characters of the book are so uninteresting that you won't actually get much out of it.
2 out of 5
Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Breakout Squad
The first book of the 'Secret Missions' series, set in 22 BBY shortly after the beginning of the first season of 'The Clone Wars' CGI TV series. When Jedi Master Ring-Sol Ambase is captured on the planet Kynachi, his apprentice Nuru Kungurama and a squad of Clone Troopers must attempt a rescue.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book, having expected little more than a cash-in on the popularity of the TV series and instead getting a fun story about an interesting group of new characters. Of particular interest is Nuru, who is taking command of troops in the field for the first time, but we're also treated to a nice diverse group of Clones who would make even Karen Traviss proud.
Obviously, as a book aimed at younger readers, it is occasionally a little simplistic, but other than that, the only downside to this book is that the characterisation of Cad Bane just seemed slightly off.
Followed by 'Curse of the Black Hole Pirates'.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Curse Of The Black Hole Pirates
Set in 22 BBY, this is book two of the 'Secret Missions' series. Jedi Padawan Nuru Kungurama and the Clone Troopers of Breakout Squad are sent on a diplomatic mission to Chiss space but find themselves trapped in clutches of a black hole.
I was dubious about this book at first, feeling that this was the wrong timeframe to be exploring the Chiss (who are supposed to be largely a secret in later novels) but the easy and enjoyable flow of Windham's narrative soon put my mind at ease. In fact it is Nuru's interactions with the Chiss, learning more about his own long-lost heritage, that makes for the best element of this book.
Throwing Count Dooku, Bossk, Cad Bane and Asajj Ventress into the mix makes this a thoroughly enjoyable continuation of the series and one of the best Clone Wars-based books in general.
Followed by 'Duel at Shattered Rock'.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Duel At Shattered Rock
22 BBY. Book three of the 'Secret Missions' series sees Jedi Padawan Nuru Kungurama and Breakout Squad diverted to the planet Vaced to meet with a delegation of diplomats. However, the arrival of a mysterious assassin wearing Mandalorian armour sends the mission awry.
Right off the bat here Windham proves that not only is he completely at ease writing Star Wars stories but that he's not inclined to dumb-down these books due to their being nominally aimed at younger readers. What I mean is that the opening scene in this book sees the badass bounty hunter Cad Bane infiltrating a Hutt's palace and proceeding to kill everyone therein. Further to this point is the fact that the book as a whole contains plots within plots, shape-shifting infiltrators and various characters whose allegiances and moral compasses remain mysterious.
As with previous elements of this series, my fears that the inclusion of a member of the Mandalorian Death Watch was just a cheap cash-in on an element of the TV series were unwarranted. The conflict between Nuru and Mandalorian Hudu Shiv actually made for some great reading and I particularly enjoyed the way that Shiv, after being bested and driven off by Nuru, nonetheless finds himself disappointed by the martial prowess of his first Jedi combatant.
For me, the highlight of this book was the introduction of the swoop thug Big Gizz. I've enjoyed his comic book escapades, particularly 'The Jabba Tape', for years and it was great to see him get a new lease of life. You're also left wondering if it's a coincidence that here he befriends a Chiss Padawan and in his later adventures his sidekick Spiker is also a Chiss...
Overall, another thoroughly enjoyable story.
Followed by 'Guardians of the Chiss Key'.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Guardians Of The Chiss Key
22 BBY. The fourth and final book of the Secret Missions series. Nuru Kungurama and Breakout Squad are drawn ever-deeper into the convoluted plots of Count Dooku as they return to Coruscant, where Nuru will have to confront his former Master Ring-Sol Ambase, who has been corrupted by Dooku's lies.
Windham continues to deliver a great mix of intrigue, action and Star Wars ephemera throughout this book. I particularly enjoyed seeing how both Nuru and Master Ambase's perspectives are twisted so that, to each of them, the other seems to have fallen to the dark side.
As this series wraps up, I think its also worthwhile to aplaud the great characters the author has created. As well as the likes of Nuru and Ambase, Windham has also given us a diverse and genuinely interesting group of Clone Troopers, not to mention the reformed commando droid Cleaver and the wonderfully rogueish Captain Lalo Gunn. On top of this, the author makes great use of established characters too and, unlike in the first book of the series, it is Cad Bane who shines in that regard.
I did, however, have one major problem with this book. The problem is that, like Nuru and his allies, we never actually get to understand why Sidious and Dooku arranged the elaborate move and countermove deceptions that have permeated the series. What exactly was Dooku's motivation for turning Ambase against Nuru? Surely if it was just to cause a bit of strife among the Jedi, there are less convoluted ways of doing that. And what was the big mystery of Nuru's origins and the escape pod he was found in? Sadly all this is left unresolved, perhaps in the hope that the series would have continued for longer. But since it didn't, we the readers are left without answers. For this I have to mark the book down.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Strange Allies
(Art by Ben Dewey)
21 BBY. This graphic novel serves as a sequel to Windham's 'Secret Missions' series of younger reader novels. Jedi Padawan Nuru Kungurama and his unlikely friend Big Gizz, as well as the Clone Troopers of Breakout Squad, find themselves responsible for the fates of a group of orphans who have become embroiled in a diabolical plot.
I really enjoyed seeing some more adventures for the characters from the 'Secret Missions' series and the relationship between earnest young Jedi Nuru and the cynical swoopgang member Gizman makes for the best element of that.
Also here we're shown one of the early assassination missions undertaken by the dark side warrior Savage Opress. The scenes involving Savage are a bit of a sideline rather than part of the main plot (in fact, they were released on their own at one point as part of Free Comic Book Day), but I really enjoyed seeing this particularly violent Sith in action against a Hutt and his lackeys.
4 out of 5