Context is King (and Dex is Hot) in Mike Chen’s Brotherhood: a Guest Review

“Without context, facts are useless.” – Dexter Jettster, Brotherhood

There are several themes woven throughout the latest Star Wars novel: prejudices, mentorship, societal systems and participation therein. But this particular line appears to be the thesis of it all. It’s the driving force behind the entire plot. Everyone is racing to find, understand, or conceal the context.

Context, therefore is king, when reviewing Brotherhood. For example, I am a guest of RoguePod who has managed to bring up a particular character every time I have been invited on. That context is important. Because, even though I did my best to approach this book on its own merits, my efforts were doomed the moment author Mike Chen began teasing the appearance of said particular character.

A List of Thoughts Drafted While Reading Brotherhood. Never Tweeted.

1) brotherhood!dexter jettster is…… making me realize things

After the first tease, I began religiously watching any updates that Chen posted on his Twitter about Brotherhood. And he has not been shy about his influences. I knew to expect elements of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä, Matthew Stovers Revenge of the Sith novelization, and E. K. Johnston’s Queen’s Hope. The can was open, and there was no stuffing the worms back in, and that is how that metaphor works thank you.

In short, thanks to a singular tease about a single character, I could not approach this book outside of the context Chen himself provided. In addition to the titles listed above, I was also keenly aware of other works with which Brotherhood was intersecting.

2) “gold rush” (evermore) was written about brotherhood!dex

At first, I was rather frustrated with myself, that I was unable to approach or review Brotherhood solely on its own merit. When I took a moment to let my thoughts percolate, however, I considered the even broader context: Star Wars. Knowing the context of Star Wars, knowing the various influences from which George Lucas pulled, doesn’t lessen A New Hope as a story. It just provides a different lens through which to view it. Furthermore, being a part of the Star Wars franchise actively requires Brotherhood be in dialogue with other entries.

Beyond the obvious chronology and recurring characters, the strongest dialogue I saw was specifically with the stereotypes that many alien species within Star Wars can fall into. As stated by RoguePod many a time: the way that aliens are othered in Star Wars often reflects real-life racism, especially when the humans are a majority white cast. Neimoidians especially have had a very specific, and very racist, stereotype associated with them since their introduction in The Phantom Menace. And Chen deliberately brings Brotherhood into dialogue with it.

It’s not just a meta commentary, clumsily overlaid on top of the story. Instead, like the thesis of “context,” it is baked into character motivations and permeates every important conversation. The Neimoidians, and how the in-universe galaxy is determined to view them only through a specific stereotype, is the emotional core of the novel. It’s what the villains seek to weaponize, the Jedi seek to understand, and the two main Neimoidian characters seek to express. And it culminates in a scene that is straight-up Shakespearean in nature (Julius Caesar fans, keep a weather eye).

Without the context of Star Wars, this could feel like simply another scifi book where aliens replace marginalized groups to make white people like me more comfortable with the commentary. Within the context of Star Wars, the commentary has teeth. Brotherhood demands that its own franchise take a look at itself and the messages it spreads.

3) i want dex to affectionately scold me into critical thinking

On the reverse side of this conversation: knowing the context of a work doesn’t automatically make it good. Knowing that a story is a reference to Kurosawa doesn’t automatically elevate that story to the same level. Fortunately, Chen shows significant craftmanship in his writing. The various themes mentioned before weave through one another, as do Chen’s stated influences, each one reinforcing the next. 

For example, the theme of mentorship consistently questions how the characters do or do not participate in societal systems. Newcomer Mill Alibeth puts Anakin into a mentorship role that questions Jedi participation in the war with her Nausicaä-influenced pacifism. Our two main Neimoidians – royal guard Ruug Quarnom and cadet Ketar Nor – are constantly discussing the best way to help their people within the galaxy’s growing division. Through Ruug’s attempts at mentoring Ketar, we are prompted with critical questions: Is there any true choice of neutrality within this system created by the Separatists and the Republic? Or is participation in one side or the other unavoidable?

Even what initially felt to me as a cute reference to Satine Kryze, a spot of fanservice for Obi-Wan fans, wound its way back. By the end, Chen bringing in the context of Mandalore’s neutrality – that which effectively held off Palpatine’s complete galactic takeover for a time – forced me to reflect on the final decisions of each of our viewpoint characters.

4) i don’t know why but dex’s specific line of “one question, old buddy” to hold his line of inquiry as obi-wan is trying to dismiss dex’s prodding about satine has my heart going a-pitter-pat

Chen’s writing finesse does not stop at his ability to weave big-picture ideas. Sometimes authors that are skilled at symbolism and themes remain at arms-length to the messy individuals of their story. Taking that omniscient third-person view so that the various threads of the thematic tapestry are shown clearly. Stover’s Revenge of the Sith novelization, one of Brotherhood’s influences, uses this angle.

Even deep-dives into a character’s emotion Stover writes in a bardic fashion, as someone retelling a myth by a tavern fire. The tale already done, the tragedy already wrote, and we but the distant audience watching it go up in flames. Stover puts the symbolism and themes at the forefront, the characters artistically just out of reach.

Brotherhood, by contrast, drops us into the shoes of our characters. The themes and symbolism weave around them not as a distant lesson to a distant audience, but as something tangible to their present circumstances. Something the characters question and grapple with.

A great example of this is the sun dragon tale. Created in Stover’s work as mythical symbolism for Anakin, Chen guides it down into something personal. Anakin spends a lot of time reflecting on this tale that his mother told him, and it informs the way he engages with Mill, passing along Shmi’s mentorship.

Chen’s symbolism draws us closer to the characters because they too are following the thematic threads that are often reserved for the readers alone to see. And what a treat that is, because Brotherhood portrays the characters we know with dangerous accuracy. 

5) The Smuggler’s Guide!Dex makes me Soft Heart Eyes. Brotherhood!Dex makes me (asexually) horny.

There are, of course, characters we already know. Our three big names are Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ventress. These are the characters that were marketed to us, the reasons many of us picked up this book. And I am pleased to say that Chen delivers on each of them.

6) “i’m going to cruise through brotherhood so fast to get to all the dex scenes” false. you are going to be buckling at every mere mention of dex being competent af and will need to lie down for hours or draft thirsty tweets you can’t send because there’s an embargo

But Chen’s original characters absolutely deserve their own mention. Mill and Ketar manage to be foils and commentary on Anakin while still being full-formed in and of themselves. But out of all the characters, the standout was truly–

7) it’s not just like a competency kink though good god his competency is very hot. it’s the imaginary scenario where this fella who is ludicrously observant would see all my weirdness and still be like “yes i would let you rest your face on my hand”

–Ruug Quarnom. This bluntly complex Neimoidian manages to steal every scene she’s in, even when sharing the stage with the big shots like Obi-Wan and Ventress. It’s through her eyes that we get to see Neimoidians in a new and better light, but not by way of being a pure cinnamon roll, too good for the galaxy. Ruug is flawed, trying to make the best choices in a galaxy giving her the worst options, and fully aware that her decisions have consequences. And often bloody consequences at that. She also gets the honor of Obi-Wan comparing her favorably to an old friend.

8) obi-wan in brotherhood literally cannot shut up about how competent dex is any time dex comes up, and he comes up a not-insignificant amount of times, obi-wan is “no dex cannot be wrong he’s so sexy haha” okay the sexy part was me but the other part is summary not exaggeration

9) i am sitting here, caught in the embargo of an ARC, unable to tell you how fucking hot dex is in brotherhood. There are still a couple of choices that feel fatphobic. but outside of that, dex has never been written this hot before.

10) to be clear, he’s been written ATTRACTIVELY before like i already mentioned “the smuggler’s guide” and also “life & legend of obi-wan kenobi” and aotc (obvs) and “wild space” and others make me want to hold his hand and kiss his knuckles. i want brotherhood!dex to pin me to a wall

I can’t be too specific in my praise of Ruug, for the sake of spoilers, but if Ketar and Mill are foils to Anakin, Ruug is Obi-Wan’s, and the pay-off took the air out of my lungs. Even knowing the context of her influence (that Deep Space Nine intersection), she never felt like a cheap knock-off of Obi-Wan or Kira Nerys.

Rather, Ruug is the most fully realized characters in the entire novel. She easily entered the top three of my favorite ladies in all of Star Wars and is worth the price of admission alone. Chen has spoken more than once on Twitter that he would like to explore her life further, and I personally would love to spend more time with Ruug Quarnom.

11) brotherhood!dexter jettster would scold me into getting my life together and i would fuckin kiss him for it

12) i’m gonna accidentally hit “tweet” instead of “save to draft”on one of these thirst tweets aren’t i?

13) i am sitting and suffering with how hot dex is and I CAN’T TELL ANYONE

Brotherhood by Mike Chen is a worthwhile entry in the dialogue Star Wars is continually having with itself, bringing much needed context to bear. Brotherhood is also a skilled tapestry of themes worth exploration. Brotherhood is also simply fun: a fun adventure with engaging characters. Highly recommended.

And I am sure you can take my opinion as a pure and unbiased source on the matter.

14) okay so i think one of the things that makes brotherhood!dex so hot is that like… mike chen lets dex physically exist in the space? without a lot of the demeaning, fatphobic descriptions like jedi quest?
(Note: I am straight-sized, so please take my interpretations of what is/is not fatphobia with a grain of salt)

15) i mean, brotherhood does have a few descriptors that have me like “why. stop.” but they’re nowhere near jedi quest’s and they quit early on, as opposed to permeating everything and becoming his personality

16) dex is also not just some talking head with no character to his movements like some of his other appearances. chen actually gives us casual descriptions of what it’s like to physically be around dex

17) like there’s dex putting one set of hands behind his head while the others rest on his belly, or the way he leans on a counter, or draping a towel over his shoulder, or “HIS MASSIVE SHOULDERS SUDDENLY LOOKING LIKE MOUNTAINS” bench press me

18) that present physicality to him, the way he inhabits his space in a scene comfortably and confidently… combined with his competence AND his ability to affectionately push obi-wan to broaden his perspective… Hot.

18) also i am very very happy that brotherhood fulfilled my longtime headcanon of someone doing the double take at a badass thing like, “i’m sorry, the fuckin’ DINER OWNER???” yes that’s my husband

Thank you Lucasfilm for the Advanced Reader Copy, and thank you RoguePod for inviting me to contribute to their blog. You can find more of my work at Eleven-ThirtyEight, whom I betrayed briefly to write for RoguePod for good reasons, I swear. –Dillon, Glistener (he/they)

Book Review: My Complicated Relationship with Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire


Part 1: Why I Didn’t Hate The Idea of Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire

In this essay (which is actually just the next four paragraphs) I will explain why I wasn’t immediately a hater of the concept of Galaxy’s Edge tie-in literature.

Star Wars lit, by its very nature is tie-in literature. Primarily, the stories tie-in to the movies, but we’ve seen plenty of books that connect with the TV shows or video games. We’ve even seen some experimentation with tying in with the comics, with the recent Alphabet Squadron – TIE Fighter crossover. So that’s a paragraph of words. Hang onto that.

Star Wars, by its very nature, has always been experimental. The original movie captured so many fans’ attention because it pushed the boundaries of what movies could do with special effects. The Phantom Menace created Jar Jar! Rogue One brought Peter Cushing back to life!! Whether or not you appreciate the decisions themselves, the Star Wars franchise has always been about pushing boundaries, trying new things, getting ~~experimental~~

When Star Wars announced their Galaxy’s Edge line of novels with the reasoning of “it’s so that fans who can’t go to the parks can still experience the parks,” I think it was pretty obvious to all of us that the translation of that reasoning was “it’$ $o that fan$ who can’t go the park$ can $till experience the park$.”

But also, go back to paragraphs two and three and mash those together. What happens when you combine a franchise whose lit is by nature tie-in lit and which is always pushing the boundaries of new and unique ways to tell stories? By golly, I daresay you end up with novels that tie into a theme park! And that’s why, despite the capitalistic cash grab alarm bells going off in my head, I was kind of curious to see how they went about with this new and experimental way of creating tie-in literature.


Part 2: When Is World-building World-building And When Is World-building A Commercial?

Black Spire is a good Star Wars book! I enjoyed it! Especially because, right now, I’m so hungry for post-The Last Jedi content to hold me over before we all get TROSed. And yes, of course, this novel doesn’t give us any big information on what Rey, Leia, Finn, Poe, Rose, Chewie, Nien, the Abednedo dude, Konnix, and that Porg are up to after escaping Crait. But, much like the Aftermath series, it paints a picture of the state of the galaxy, and tells a story about the challenges of recruiting “regular” people into the galaxy-wide conflict when those “regular” people are just trying to afford their groceries (or as we all know they are called in space, “sproceries”). So that’s cool.

The thing is, if I were reviewing this book as simply a post-TLJ novel and nothing more, I would say that its strongest point was the world-building. Vi and friends go to a planet I’ve never heard of, and over the course of the novel, we learn about the culture, the people, the landscape. And I come to empathize with the plight of the residents, and maybe come to want to visit that planet myself someday!

Problem is, we’re all suffering from a little Batuu-fatigue, since all of the sudden, every character in every Star Wars property has some reason to visit or mention that “backwater outpost.” So, every time a detail is dropped, a detail that in any other novel would be considered standard world-building fare, all I see are dollar signs. “Vi went to Oga’s cantina and ordered a Black Spire Brew” OH MY GOD I GET IT I’LL GO TO OGA’s CANTINA AND BUY THE BLACK SPIRE BREW WHEN I GO TO THE THEME PARK.

So what is it? World-building? Or just a straight up commercial for things you should look for when you sell your firstborn and go the Star Wars land? Probably both.

In the end, I wasn’t able to separate the two in my mind. And, for better or worse, that hindered my enjoyment of the novel some. But not entirely. Because there are a few other reasons to enjoy this book, which I will describe in Part Three, happening on the next line of this book review.


Part 3: Which Begins On This Line Of The Book Review

Some non-Galaxy’s Edge-related reasons you may enjoy this book.

  • Did you like Phasma? I liked Phasma. Well this hasn’t really been advertised, and I’m not sure why because a lot of people seemed to like Phasma, but this book is definitely a direct sequel to Phasma. Two major characters’ stories continue onwards in this novel (spoiler alert: Phasma isn’t one of them). And it’s a pretty good continuation of their story. Except for that their relationship kind of makes me uncomfy. But maybe you’re into that kind of thing?
  • This book addresses PTSD! Mental health in Star Wars! We don’t see that much! Does it do it well? I don’t know. I’ll leave that commentary to the folks who have PTSD themselves. But it’s nice to see an author making an effort!
  • What happens when your small band of Resistance fighters trying to save the galaxy from the soul-crushing hoards of pseudo-fascist children puts out a distress call and no one responds? You gotta RECRUIT! This book is about that, but I already kind of addressed that.

Basically, what I’m getting at, is that this book is about more than just a list of things you can buy at Galaxy’s Edge. But it’s also a list of things you can buy at Galaxy’s Edge. So my recommendation is to buy it and read it. Or not. You have free will, so it’s up to you.


Thanks to Del Rey for providing a free advanced review copy of the book to Rogue Podron!!

A note from Rogue Podron

DuawH7GWwAA4Bp1-1“Always in motion, the future is.” Now read that again, but in Danny’s Yoda voice.

In the past three years, Rogue Podron has gone from an X-wing book club with a small, cult following to an international sensation (we don’t make the rules), having inspired a mountain fanfiction, a gallery of fanart, and the (largely misguided) belief that everyone from New Zealand can make hilarious horse sounds.

Continue reading “A note from Rogue Podron”