"But it was so artistically done."

Thrawn starts with a rewrite of Mist Encounter, the short story Timothy Zahn wrote in the 90s. The original story served as the chronological introduction of the titular Grand Admiral that he first wrote about in Heir to the Empire, a few years prior. After being exiled from the Chiss Ascendancy and ending up on a backwater jungle world, Thrawn stows away on an Imperial ship after the crew investigate the planet. Impressed by Thrawn's survival skills and silver tongue - the latter feat made more impressive by his inability to fluently speak their language - the Imperials bring him to the Emperor, who immediately sets both him and another nascent Imperial officer, Eli Vanto, on the path to military success. Unwillingly saddled with Thrawn as his translator, Vanto supports the blue-skinned, red-eyed tactical genius as he swiftly climbs the ladder of the Empire's military.

At the same time, on the planet Lothal, a young woman named Arihnda Pryce is forced to watch her family's mining company be subsumed by the Empire's control. Getting herself a job with an Imperial Senator directly involved in taking the company away, Pryce quietly swears revenge as she advances across Coruscant's political landscape. Along the way, she makes it clear that those who seek to turn her into a pawn will meet a swift end. To get what she wants, she'll need the help of a certain prodigious, blue-skinned Imperial officer.

Sound like interesting premises for our three main characters? Sure. But, like a set of prisoners who fall victim to a blunt guillotine, they're not executed very well.

Let me make it clear right now: although it's one of my favourite pieces of the old Star Wars Expanded Universe, the Thrawn trilogy is not a sacred cow. Its imperfections pale when compared to its triumphs, and the character of Mitth'raw'nuruodo - better known as Grand Admiral Thrawn - still remains one of the best things to come out of those initial post-Return of the Jedi days. But the trilogy  has its problems, up to and including the fact that Thrawn was so masterful and skilled a bad guy that the only way he could be defeated was through a near-literal deus ex machina on the part of author Timothy Zahn.

So, in theory, I've got nothing against the idea of Disney having a do-over to reintroduce the novels' most legendary antagonist, and getting Zahn back onboard to do the deed is icing on the cake. The new Thrawn novel had all the pieces on the board to be an instant classic, a full-strength, double-barrel blast. Unfortunately, despite a few moments of colour and sound, what it became was largely something of a quiet misfire.

One of Thrawn's biggest issues is how detached one feels from its protagonists. Thrawn is a genius on the same level as Sherlock Holmes or the Doctor, intentionally unknowable and unrelatable because of his brilliance. Part of the enjoyment in past books of Thrawn the character comes from witnessing other characters we can relate to be dazzled by his tactical mastery and lateral thinking, analysing enemies through their body language or sizing up cultures based on their art and history. By contrast, Thrawn the novel gives us glimpses inside his head for the first time, which usually come in the form of present-tense analyses of the body language of whomever he's speaking to as he searches for weaknesses. It's interesting in the same way that the analytical scenes in Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes films are - you know, where time slows and Holmes calculates his options in the space of a second, like the opening scene where he's fighting a guy - but after the first few chapters that are dominated by this storytelling device, it gets old. The literal description of scenes or a character's physical movements, intended to show Thrawn analysing his opponent, works well in a visual medium, but comes across as dryly recitative (and, eventually, repetitive) in text.

Pryce and Vanto are even less interesting as point of view characters. For the former, I admit that I didn't realise she was a major character on Star Wars: Rebels who works closely with Thrawn, but honestly, that knowledge didn't make her any less of a dull protagonist. For the longest time, until she grows a spine and starts actively manipulating those who seek the manipulate her, Pryce is a cipher with very little in the way of characterisation beyond "pissed-off, vengeance-seeking woman in politics". I'm not engaging with her struggle against the jerks who took her family's company, not even in the somewhat cathartic "pay evil unto evil" way that other Star Wars villain-centred stories - such as the Darth Vader comic book series - do well. Vanto isn't much better, though at least his plot about being denied advancement within the Imperial ranks because of his association with Thrawn adds a nice dollop of tension between the mastermind and his aide.

As much as I understand why Zahn might not have wanted to entirely replicate verbatim everything that made his original Thrawn stories so successful, lest it be seen merely as a carbon copy, one thing he initially got right, and which Thrawn got wrong, was the inclusion of Gilad Pellaeon. Introduced in Heir to the Empire as Thrawn's second-in-command and one of the more reasonable officers of the Empire, Pellaeon was the Watson to Thrawn's Holmes, our view into the inner workings of Thrawn's mind and a more grounded, relatable and three-dimensional aide to the Grand Admiral; a sounding board for Thrawn's complex thinking and a more rationally-minded moral compass for Thrawn's coldly pragmatic mindset. Though the character was used in other areas of the Star Wars Expanded Universe after Zahn's work, Pellaeon was at his best when paired with Thrawn, and vice versa. To not have him in the Thrawn novel is a rather large missed opportunity.

The issues with the characters are compounded further by the underlying plot and ostensible villain not being very interesting. The book pits Thrawn, Pryce and Vanto against a criminal organisation run by the elusive Nightswan. The seemingly disparate crises which Thrawn has to resolve in the lead-up to his promotion to Grand Admiral turn out to all be connected to this Nightswan and their operation; the payoff to this plot was as anticlimactic as the similar battle of wits between Thrawn and Nuso Esva in Choices of One. Nightswan is depicted as a foe matching Thrawn's intellect, but - as with Nuso Esva - I never got the impression they were Thrawn's equal in anything (although it did lead to a very quiet, effective scene in a meadow, a sentence I never thought I'd write in association with a story about a blue-skinned alien commanding gigantic space battles).

For all my griping, though, I have to admit that Thrawn is a markedly different book to the ones we've gotten so far in the Disney canon. The intense focus on Thrawn as an antagonist and the alternative writing style that Zahn employs are draw cards for those who are tired by some of the recent samey, uninspired Star Wars tales, like Catalyst or Heir to the Jedi. It's also to Zahn's credit that he's written a backstory for Thrawn which could, with a bit of wiggling, slot in neatly within the old canon; despite the rewrite of Mist Encounter and both the lack and addition of a few notable characters, Thrawn could easily serve as a prelude to Heir to the Empire. At the very least, I certainly expect any new fans who aren't already familiar with Thrawn as a character will get a kick out of reading about the deadly, intelligent Grand Admiral who can stand alongside the likes of Darth Vader as an iconic Star Wars antagonist.

For me, Thrawn just didn't meet the expectations I had, failing to be anything more than a competent, occasionally engaging novel. Maybe I'm somewhat coloured by my high opinion of Zahn's pre-Disney work with the character, and perhaps the bar is set insurmountably high as a result. Or maybe it just wasn't so artistically done this time around.

- Chris




Star Wars: Thrawn is available in bookstores now.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Rian Johnson



The Man with the Iron Heart/HHhH
- Cedric Jimenez



The Little Hours (NSFW) - dir Jeff Baena



The Beguiled - dir Sofia Coppola



American Assassin - dir Michael Cuesta



Drone
- dir Jason Bourque



Kingsman: The Golden Circle - dir Matthew Vaughn




Episode 43! Stu and Billy are back this week to discuss RAW!

RAW is a French-Belgian horror film written and directed by Julia Ducournau, and stars Garance Marillier in the leading role as Justine. 

The film centers on Justine, a stringent vegetarian, and her first week at veterinary school. Desperate to fit in she strays from her principles and eats raw meat for the first time.

Soon an unbidden taste for meat grows within her as she experiences terrible and unexpected consequences as her true self begins to emerge.

As well as the film, Stu and I discuss what else we've been watching this week, and look over the latest in movie news.

As always it would make our day if you could take a couple of minutes to rate and reviews us on iTunes or drop us some feedback below! Really keen to have your input in the show.

Enjoy!





                                      Get it from Podomatic here

                                            Get it from Itunes here




Attention Aussie film fans! To celebrate the release of Pork Pie we're giving away 5 double passes. To find out how to win, just head over to our Facebook page and find the PORK PIE post. It's seriously that simple!

Jon (Dean O’Gorman, THE HOBBIT Trilogy, TRUMBO), a charming but out-of-luck novelist, musters the bravery needed to try and win back the love of his life by surprising her at a friend’s wedding. One problem: he's in Auckland and the wedding is in Wellington. After a failed attempt to make the journey south in his bomby Holden, Jon hitches a ride with Luke (James Rolleston, BOY, THE DARK HORSE), a sparky young dude driving a fancy new (and, unbeknownst to Jon, stolen) orange MINI Cooper. Soon after, undercover vegan-activist Keira (Ashleigh Cummings, HOUNDS OF LOVE, ‘Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries’) climbs through the fast food drive-through window into the MINI bound for Wellington and the Blondini gang of three are formed. As they journey south, the most epic road trip of their lives ensues. To add to Jon's romantic struggles, he and his two new mates become accidental outlaws on-the-run and soon have a frenzy of police and media hot in their pursuit… A wild ride across the magnificent scenery of New Zealand.

PORK PIE opens in cinemas May 4.






Episode 41! Stu and Billy are back this week to discuss The Fate of The Furious!

The Fate of The Furious is the 8th film in the The Fast and The Furious franchise and is directed by Felix Gary Gray (Friday, The Negotiator, The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton).

The latest instalment sees Dom (Vin Diesel) seemingly betray his team and work with a mysterious woman named Cipher (Charlize Theron). Now his team must unite to stop them before Cipher unleashes Global Terror.

The film sees the return of Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, and Jason Statham.

As well as the film, Stu and I discuss what else we've been watching this week, and look over the latest in movie news.

As always it would make our day if you could take a couple of minutes to rate and reviews us on iTunes or drop us some feedback below! Really keen to have your input in the show.

Enjoy!





                                      Get it from Podomatic here

                                            Get it from Itunes here




With the supremely awesome trailer for Thor: Ragnarok landing, fair to say this week goes to the God of Thunder! Atomic Blonde, Detroit and Chuck are all looking pretty damn fun too. 

- Stu 


Thor: Ragnarok - dir - Taika Waititi


Chuck - dir - Philippe Falardeau



Fullmetal Alchemist - dir - Fumihiko Sori



Atomic Blonde (NSFW) - dir - David Leitch



Risk - dir - Laura Poitras



6 Days - dir - Toa Fraser



Detroit - dir - Kathryn Bigelow



Transformers: The Last Knight - dir - Michael Bay



The Hitman's Bodyguard
- dir - Patrick Hughes


THE SHORT VERSION


Nostalgia-driven cuteness, but lacking some mechanical polish and meaty challenge. Yooka-Laylee is a decent throwback to one of the 90s' best gaming genres, despite its lack of acknowledgement for where that genre has since ventured.


THE SLIGHTLY LONGER VERSION


For those of you who didn't spend your childhood with Crash Bandicoot or Banjo-Kazooie on your television, Yooka-Laylee may come across as a bit of an oddball. Its simplistic style and accessible control scheme seems better suited to a younger crowd, but that same crowd already have the likes of Hearthstone, any number of recent Mario games and (for those subject to lax parenting) the Grand Theft Auto series. To bring them a game like Yooka-Laylee, genetically engineered to be a throwback to the cutesy, bright-palette platform games of yesteryear, seems like somebody has spent twenty years bringing a meatlovers pizza to somebody who's gone vegetarian since they ordered.


As for the rest of us, who do have that nostalgia crosshair firmly on our heads for Playtonic Games to take aim, what we get in Yooka-Laylee is heartening, if at times quite disappointing. In the process of preserving and proliferating the kind of platform gaming experience we enjoyed as kids, the game unwittingly highlights many of the reasons why we've moved on from that experience. Yooka-Laylee is by no means a bad game, but it is a significantly underdeveloped one.


An evil, potato-shaped creature named Capital B - who I assume is modeled off the insect, give or take a couple of vowels, but more resembles a toothy Roald Dahl villain - has activated a machine to vacuum in and destroy all the books in the world. One of these just happens to belong to Yooka, a green lizard who resembles the 2000 Paralympics mascot, and Laylee, a purple bat with the kind of comically-large red nose which is guaranteed to be squeezed at least once by game's end. In addition to the pair being miffed that their book - which they'd used as a drinks coaster - has been taken, they discover that it is actually a powerful magical book, whose pages - cutesily termed "Pagies" - are then strewn across multiple worlds. In order to defeat Capital B, Yooka and Laylee set out to find the Pagies, reassemble the book, and collect enough feathers (the local currency) to fill a modest number of hotel pillows.


If there is one area in which Yooka-Laylee excels, it's the meta-textual elements; the game gleefully takes several opportunities to riff on gaming, both in its historical and modern forms. In addition to several lampshade-hanging moments made by the characters regarding elements of the game's somewhat lackluster story, there is also a mine-cart called Cartos (who is referred to as the 'God of Ore') which leads the characters into a Donkey Kong Country-esque mine cart sequence (fitting, since the Playtonic devs worked on that game during their Rare days). Similarly, the game's somewhat more "family" sense of humour ensures that the obvious jokes get the kids laughing, while the more adult ones - like Yooka and Laylee's shipwreck home being called "Bat Ship Crazy" - will elicit a chuckle from the older players.


Yooka-Laylee started life as a Kickstarter project way back in 2015, with Playtonic Games formed from a number of ex-Rare employees who wanted to continue the kind of work they'd started with games like Banjo-Kazooie. Unfortunately, what they've delivered is more of a carbon copy rather than a continuation, highlighting the glaring flaws in their versions of areas where platform games usually excel. Those who come looking for engaging gameplay will be disappointed, since there is little beyond the standard run, jump, attack enemies and find collectibles rigmarole, a process compromised by an at-times annoyingly rigid camera (there are additional moves you can buy from entrepreneurial snake Trowzer, but none of them really elevate the gameplay beyond where it starts off). Anybody who's after the kind of laid-back, affectionately-drawn and raucous storytelling the genre popularised will be left hanging, since the narrative is fairly weak and Capital B doesn't make for a memorable villain the way Dr. Neo Cortex or Gruntilda do. Players who look for fun protagonists to control will discover that the characters come across as fairly irritating, thanks to the use of repetitious vocal sounds in place of actual dialogue. They sound as if Playtonic were trying to emulate the kind of sounds Banjo-Kazooie and Undertale's characters used more effectively when speaking, but in this case they just come across as aggravating noise which you cannot turn off in the options menu (See here for an example of what I mean; Capital B in particular sounds like he's having a particularly hard time pushing a boulder up a mountain). And those who are after fun side activities - beyond the collect-a-thon gameplay - will instead discover a number of "retro" minigames unlocked in gigantic arcade machines, which riff on things like capture the flag gameplay and the Mario Kart series, and which each have fairly maddening control schemes (particularly the Mario Kart one, discovered early on and using the thumbsticks to navigate a track barely wide enough for a bicycle, let alone a go-cart).


It's disappointing, especially since Yooka-Laylee had such goodwill going for it during its crowdfunding and development process, and particularly when it looked so good in comparison to other high-profile nostalgic crowdfunding failures like Mighty No. 9. At the end of the day, there's still quite a lot to like in Yooka-Laylee, from the broad, expansive levels which are made larger with more tasks and collectibles through finding Pagies, to the cheerful, welcoming colour scheme and its exaggerated character design. I never left a session of play feeling like I'd wasted that time, and as a guy who particularly loves the exaggerated visual style, wry humour and bright, shiny colours of the Crash Bandicoot games, it felt good to have this as a tide-over until the N-Sane Trilogy launches in June.

As a fun throwback to 90s platforming, it's a nice experience while it lasts, particularly for those who were entrenched in the genre back then. But because of its ardent appeal to nostalgia, Yooka-Laylee ends up as a game irrevocably stuck in the past, for better or worse.

- Chris


Yooka-Laylee is out now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch.

Review copy kindly supplied to Geek of Oz by Five Star Games.

EDIT: The original version of this review erroneously referred to the developer as "Playtonic Studios", rather than "Playtonic Games". This error has been corrected.


Episode 41! Stu and Billy are back this week to discuss Lego Batman!

Lego Batman is a spin-off from The Lego Movie with its story focusing on Batman as he attempts to overcome his greatest fear, and stop the Joker's latest plot.

Will Arnett (Arrested Development, The Lego Movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) reprises his role as the voice of the Dark Knight, and Chris McKay (The Lego Movie, Robot Chicken) returns to direct the spin-off.

Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, and Ralph Fiennes also star as the voices of The Joker, Dick Grayson/Robin, Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, and Alfred Pennyworth respectively.

As well as the film, Stu and I discuss what else we've been watching this week, and look over the latest in movie news.

As always it would make our day if you could take a couple of minutes to rate and reviews us on iTunes or drop us some feedback below! Really keen to have your input in the show.

Enjoy!





                                      Get it from Podomatic here

                                            Get it from Itunes here




Here are some of the bigger trailers which dropped this week. Take a peek, we don't mind...

- Stu


Annabelle Creation - dir - David F. Sandberg



King Arthur: Legend of the Sword - dir - Guy Ritchie



The Mummy - dir - Alex Kurtzman



Ingrid Goes West (NSFW) - dir - Matt Spicer



Rodney King - dir - Spike Lee



All Eyez on Me - dir - Benny Boom



I am Heath Ledger - dir - Adrian Buitenhuis & Derik Murray


Thanks to the awesome folks at Transmission films; we're giving away 5 in-season double passes to see Nacho Vigalondo's Colossal, starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. For your chance to win you simply hit this link right HERE and find the Colossal post on our Facebook page to play along. So easy! Make sure you check out the trailer below, this film looks amazing.

Colossal opens in cinemas nationally from April 13.

- Stu