Saturday, 13 October 2018

Jeff Lynne's ELO at the Arena Birmingham [Events]

My mom’s a big fan of ELO. My dad’s a big fan of ELO. I’m a big fan of ELO, thanks to them and a film I’ll be talking about sometime soon. So when it came to Jeff Lynne starting touring again, I knew that soon would be the time. Soon I would be going to watch.

And Friday 12th October was that day. The tickets had been bought by my dad when the tour had first been announced this year, and I was looking forward to it. Then comes a few days before the date we’d be going where the excitement builds, then the day itself. During the journey I was reading Star Wars Rogue Planet, and then we arrived and ate at Ed’s Easy Diner.

The start of the event had Billy Lockett open up with a set of songs that lasted around forty minutes. The pop-rock artist from Northampton played and sang well, with some good songs including Empty House and Fading Into Grey. There felt a charged emotion within them, songs that felt personal. And Billy himself exuded personality in talking with the amassed crowd. With his set complete, there followed a break of around half an hour. Then it was time for the main event itself.

An explosion of sound and lights started up as the first song began. I’m betting it was still storming it down outside, so Standin’ in the Rain gave me a smile. The band played through the setlist of 19 with a lot of passion, with the music sounding – as Lynne himself has always said – at it’s best when heard live.

Following the first song were Evil Woman and All Over The World. Two of the best in my eyes – not counting those from the finale. During the pauses between songs, the crowd would be going wild with whistles and shouts of admiration. At one point in time, there was also a chorus of “Oggy! Oggy! Oggy! Oi! Oi! Oi!”. There was a lot of energy in the crowd, that’s for sure.

Featured from the new album was When I Was A Boy, which has a great sound to it, and proves that Jeff Lynne can still produce some good hits. A favourite of the crowd was Handle With Care – a song from another of his bands The Travelling Wilburys and the song that pays tribute to Roy Orbison and the others of that band.

Rockaria! had a good sound to it, with the high opera tone of one of backing singers really bringing the right tone to the song. Shine a Little Love had a great looking green-hued laser-light show playing. By this point the crowd were starting to get up and groove, and while I wasn’t up for standing, I was also in the groove. The atmosphere had reached its party point, and so the finale was upon us.

 After Turn to Stone played, it was the turn of Mr. Blue Sky – the song that many say is the one that encompasses all of what ELO is about. It was my first introduction to the band, so I’m with them on that. And it was magical to listen to live. With an encore of Roll Over Beethoven to finish the night off, I couldn’t have asked for better.

It was a great night, and one I would want to repeat – even if it was the exact song order from this event. Listening to any band live is an experience to cherish. Something I found out with Crush 40 during Summer of Sonic ’16. And that’s something I wouldn’t mind revisiting either.

As for the Electric Light Orchestra and the show they put on, I’ve already said it was magical. It was also amazing to finally have the beats of their rock thumping in my heart.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Star Wars: Order 66 - A Republic Commando Novel Review [Books]

A year after True Colours released, Order 66 followed. The decision to have it as A Republic Commando novel instead of Republic Commando: Order 66 fits in with how this novel is presented. Each of the previous books dealt with the space of around a few weeks – not counting prologues or pre-war history. It also fits in with the two trilogies format of how I’m guessing the entire story would have played out.

I won’t talk about that yet, but the indications for such a thing happening were clear once the next novel in the series released. As for Order 66, it deals with the Jedi Purge and a year before those events happened. There’s a real urgency in the plan to pull out, and a lot that still needs to be sorted out.

The first chapter looks at the moment that Kal Skirata was born. Not in the literal sense, but in the sense of him putting his past behind him and adopting a new name and a new family as an almost seven year old kid. The second chapter has Skirata and Vau remembering all the fallen commandos at the second anniversary of the outbreak of war. A time skip of six months then gets the story really rolling.

There’s certainly a lot of bitter thoughts about the Republic by the commandos now, and a very clear sense of the shifting tide of the war where Skirata and his extended family need to make their move to get out. A lot of plans are coming together, though that still doesn’t stop other things from catching up to them that could be the cause of all those plans to shatter.

Fi is getting back on the mend after surviving the brain trauma thanks to Jusik. Seeing how he wants to get back to normal and coming to terms with the fact he’ll never be one hundred percent of what he once was is a strong point of the book. Since Jusik left the Jedi Order at the end of True Colours, he’s been of greater help to Skirata, helping with a number of things – chief of which being his search for Doctor Uthan. He also has a bit of work in convincing a few ARC deserters he is not among their problems.

There’s a point where someone just breaks, and this book does a good job at showing that. Scorch is our viewpoint of Delta, and his going over the edge moment comes at a time of peace disrupted. Then there’s Darman, who has now been told that the kid he held at the end of True Colours is his. With Scorch, only the rage of the moment is told from his POV, but with Darman we get the full of it. Skirata finally comes clean with everything to the squad, with Darman fully going over the edge and harming the only father he has had.

And then there’s Besany Wennen, who has skated so close to the Chancellor’s personal files that for more than a year she has been on the edge about discovery, with every little thing making her jumpy. But when her only friend gets arrested for the things she was doing, that’s her breaking point. Etain has a breaking point as well, as Jusik leaving the Order gave her something to think about, and every day she wonders why she stays, struggling with helping the masses of clones with looking out for her close circle of friends.

With more than a year being focused on, there are hotspots of activity that get focus. However, the middle of the book seems to go for a record of squeezing as much as possible into it. There are so many viewpoints and so much action that it can all blur together. There seems little in the way of prioritising and little in the way of an actual timeline as everything gets fit into that point instead of being spread out in a greater span of time.

Aside from that one period of time, everything else is fine, and the ending goes for full raw emotion. The reason the book is named what it is. Order 66. The Battle of Coruscant stretches out over five days, where Skirata’s daughter is sprung from the POW camp and Uthan is rescued from the detention centre. Omega have returned and Etain is due back, but everyone is scattered around the city planet. Not even a week after the battle – the Order comes.

It’s not the clones that get Etain, though. She died as she lived – seeing the clones for the men they were and doing everything she could to protect them, even if she didn’t know them. And since Etain has been followed throughout the series, the death strikes a very resonant chord. The final few chapters deal with the death perfectly, the way everyone suffers, their thoughts on the matter, and looking to the future to make sure everything she ever wanted comes to fruition. And Darman… he made a choice. And that choice had him look out for one of his squad during the attack, leaving both him and Niner within what now counts as enemy territory.

Order 66 as a novel works. Sure, it tries to cram a lot into one period of time even though it has the confines of more than a year to work with, but it brings to an end one trilogy and works to set up what should have been the next. All these characters are defined by their actions, and while I could never say it’s the best of the series, it’s worth a read just for the end alone.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

October '18 Monthly Update [Network]

As explained in last month's update, delays will happen. And they have. A Look Inside the Morphing Grid will conclude this month. That is priority number one. This is the month I had labelled for the series to finish last year, and pushing it any further away is no longer an option. Second priority is getting the new series started. Animal Crossing was announced last month in the Nintendo Direct, and with Future of Mario Kart now finished, it allows me to start looking at ideas for a new series. Crossing to the New Life starts with a look at a general overview of improvements.

The Solo: A Star Wars Story review will be coming this month, with the last two Republic Commando reviews also falling into this month. Order 66 at the beginning, with 501st being at the end. I'm also going to be flexing my review skills to games again as I look at Forza Horizon 4.

This blog has undergone a slight theme change to bring it slightly closer to how the main site looks. I've also fixed up the labels, which I found to be getting out of hand. There were labels on some posts that had very little to do with the topic at hand, and - particularly with the reviews - stuffed full of labels to the point where the reasoning for including them stretched thin. The new system borrows from the blog archive on the main site, with just a primary and secondary label, with one or two tertiary labels if needed. That also allowed me to remove the post sorting by month and year to use those labels as a sorting method instead - again like on the main site.

I realise that I said videos would happen and they didn't, but this month I am sure to have some up. Forza Horizon 4 provides plenty of opportunities to do so. I want to get a Mario Kart Monday video up to see how sixteen races put together looks. And I think it's about time I put another Star Wars Battlefront video up.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Star Wars: Republic Commando - True Colours Review [Books]

After Triple Zero, another short story got published to Star Wars Insider [87]. Odds provides the set-up for what was to come next with True Colours – introducing several factors that play a part in the whole plan to pull out from the war. When True Colours was published more than a year later, those elements were explored further.

True Colours branches out the locations rather than sticking to just one, which fits with the growing cast and ever-expanding story. A lot of new locations are within this book, with the first look at Mandalore, and a return to Qiilura. With a lot of locations, more viewpoints are also explored.

Walon Vau accompanies Delta to Mygeeto where he empties his family’s hoard of wealth. Omega have been sent to Gaftikar to help with the resistance there under the watchful eye of Null ARC A’den. Etain is on Qiilura helping with the removal of colonists on the Gurlanin homeworld, having been sent there by Skirata to hide her pregnancy. Meanwhile, Skirata, Ordo, and Mereel are on the hunt for Chief Kaminoan Scientist Ko Sai after she slipped away into hiding. Agent Besany Wennen trawls through government information looking for leads on just what the future holds for the Grand Army of the Republic.

With four hotspots of action, there are at least one point of view per place. Having been introduced to him in Triple Zero, we get to explore Vau from his point of view. It’s mostly seeing just how similar he and Skirata are in their core values but showing how their different approaches still achieve similar results. After busting a gut to rescue him, Skirata is dumbfounded at just how much wealth the Vau family has – all now within the sack Vau had with him. This starts off the two finally putting aside their differences. That, and the growing hate they share of the Republic – which is something shown very well here.

Skirata and Ordo are back with viewpoints, as are Darman and Etain. Skirata’s ever growing need to provide for his boys
now includes Etain again after the angered exchange the two had at the end of Triple Zero when Etain had mentioned her pregnancy. Things are on much friendlier ground with the two of them after a few months of being separated and the solid irreversible change that the baby is. Etain is still struggling with her emotions, with her hormones making that struggle even worse.

Jusik doesn’t get a viewpoint, but he is a vital part of this story as he plays both sides. After Mygeeto, Delta are put on the same mission that Skirata is pursuing – hunting Ko Sai. Not only does he go against orders and informs Skirata and co. exactly what’s going on, he also slows Delta down to allow Skirata to capture the Kaminoan first. He does exactly what he feels is right, and that builds to what happens at the end. It also plays parallel with how Etain feels, but she goes about it in a different way despite the fact she now has more to lose.

Sev is our view of Delta, and it is from his viewpoint how we see that Vau’s methods of training soldiers probably aren’t the best. Mygeeto rests heavy with Sev as he feels they failed Vau. That constant need to be perfect is strong with them all, and they all have to be feeling the failure in some way. That focuses them on the next job at hand, but maybe it’s just Sev who also feels that he would never be able to look at Vau without feeling guilty and radiating that failure like a beacon.

The end is quite raw feeling for all involved, as it speaks to the injustice of the system. The assault on Gaftikar ends early for Omega when an explosion rips through a building and puts Fi in a coma. Omega do everything they could, Skirata bends a lot of rules, but in the end Fi is officially dead. Unofficially, he is being Jedi mind-healed by Jusik until he breaks out of the coma in the back room of Captain Jaller Obrim’s residence. It hurts for everyone because it is someone they know. Because it speaks to what they all know. That the Republic isn’t worth it.

Mandalore is explored in this book, giving us a look at the base of operations of Skirata’s extended family that is currently under construction with its finishing touches. Mandalore becomes important in the next two books, so having the introduction here is worth it to see the bastion grow as a home and explore the wider world of Mandalore.

True Colours explores the darker side of the Republic that becomes very important when hitting Order 66, as that gives an interesting take on the events that happen during the period of Revenge of the Sith. That’s for the next review though, with True Colours exploring a lot, with many great interactions between the characters and the world, and making the necessary preparations for a whole lot of growth to this story.