It's a big week for Star Wars fans in Portland—last night, Star Wars in Concert took over the Rose Garden with a full symphony, a choir, and LASERS AND FIREBALLS. As if that wasn't enough: This Saturday at the Powell's in Beaverton, horror writer Joe Schreiber will read from his new book Death Troopers, which features ZOMBIE STORMTROOPERS.

Plus: It turns out the Star Wars cartoon, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, is actually getting quite good—even if it's accompanied by a tie-in videogame that's pretty mediocre.

I'll spare you non-nerds all the nerdy details, but for the rest of you, hit the jump for a full rundown of all things lightsaber-y and Jedi-y, with reviews and/or previews of Star Wars in Concert, Star Wars: Death Troopers, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes, AKA The Game with Too Many Goddamn Colons.

Man. That's a lot of Star Wars.

Star Wars in Concert
If one had to come up with the most literal possible example of the phrase "pop culture," they'd probably end up with something very close to Star Wars in Concert, which took over the Rose Garden last night as part of its national tour. The basic idea: A symphony performs the greatest hits of John Williams' rousing, iconic Star Wars scores. But Star Wars in Concert is anything but basic: Anthony Daniels—who might as well just stop pretending he's fooling anyone and just legally change his name to C-3PO already—narrated the concert, putting the songs into vaguely chronological order as a giant HD screen behind the symphony played images from the films. Before the show and during intermission, the halls of the Rose Garden were filled with props, concept art, and costumes from the films, from Chewbacca and Darth Vader's costumes to sketches of Chewie's home planet.


As far as the props and stuff went, the thing I thought was coolest was actually one of the more subdued displays: A few pages of Williams' hand-written score from The Phantom Menace.


As for the concert itself, the music is pretty unfuckwithable—like the films themselves, it's big and bombastic and loud and showy, so it's pretty hard not to have fun. I think the last time I actually went to see any sort of orchestra was during a mandatory field trip in fifth grade, and the Utah Symphony sure as shit didn't have fireballs exploding from the stage or epilepsy-inducing green lasers shooting everywhere when songs hit their climaxes. Even my girlfriend—who is adamantly ambivalent about Star Wars, and valiantly accompanied me because, in her words, "the only thing sadder than you going to Star Wars in Concert is you going to Star Wars in Concert alone"—had a good time, though I suspect her enjoyment was at least partially due to watching all of the adorable little kids who were there running around in various Jedi costumes and stormtrooper pajamas.

Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber (reading at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd, Sat Oct 17, 7 pm, FREE)
Okay. So. I meant to finish Star Wars: Death Troopers before writing up a brief preview of this event, but I haven't yet—I WAS TOO BUSY RECOILING IN FEAR AS FIRE AND LASERS WERE BEING SHOT AT ME. I'm about halfway through, though, and so far I gotta admit that it ain't too shabby. Star Wars fiction is just insanely hit or miss—sometimes it's surprisingly good, and sometimes it's just astonishingly, unbelievably awful. (It's for this reason that I resist my geek instincts to regularly raid the Star Wars section at Powell's, a stance that was strengthened by the fact that the last Star Wars book I attempted was Matthew Stover's Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, which had a great, pulpy cover and was one of the worst-written things I've ever attempted to slog through.) But so far, Death Troopers is pretty enjoyable—it isn't classic lit by any stretch of the imagination, but it does manage to take some Star Wars trappings and frame them in a somewhat original way, mostly because it's about a bunch of stormtroopers and aliens turning into zombies. One can't help but get the sense that Schreiber had a lot fun writing this; I picture him as a morbid little kid playing with his Empire Strikes Back action figures while Dawn of the Dead is on TV in the background.

Anyway, the reading should be enjoyable, mostly 'cause Powell's is promising that the Cloud City Garrison folks will be there in full costume, simultaneously amusing everyone and making everyone kinda uncomfortable.

(Now that Star Wars has officially tackled the horror genre, though, I think they're fresh out of genres: In order to keep things new at this point, the next Star Wars book will have to come with a DVD of a Tusken raider kabuki performance or something.)

Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes
First things first: The second season of The Clone Wars, on the Cartoon Network, seems to have gotten past its rocky first season and found its footing. We're now three episodes into the second season, and it's already darker, smarter, and cooler than the first—true, there's no way around the fact that the show's geared towards a far younger age bracket than the one anyone reading this blog is in, but regardless, The Clone Wars is finally capturing the moody tone and larger scope that it's only hinted at before. You can catch the most recent episode here.

Less rewarding, though, is the Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes videogame, which came out on September 15 for every gaming system known to man (Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStations 2 and 3, PSP, DS, PC, abacus). Developed by Krome Studios, Republic Heroes has you play as both Jedi and clonetroopers, and it's a pretty straightforward brawler/third-person shooter—sure, there's co-op throughout, and there are a few tricks you won't find in your standard beat-'em-up, but for the most part, the game's a series of very simple button mashings followed by more very simple button mashings. I can't be too hard on the game, 'cause it's clearly designed for little kids, but still: After the solid experience that was The Force Unleashed, and with the promise of BioWare's The Old Republic looming, it's disappointing to see a Star Wars game that's so small in terms of scope and ambition—it can't help but feel like an uninspired cash-in. Star Wars in Concert, and to a lesser extent Death Troopers, are at least putting some effort into approaching this 30-year-old franchise in somewhat imaginative ways; Republic Heroes doesn't bother doing anything of the sort.



And with that, I believe I've fulfilled my nerd-writin' quota for at least the next decade. If you'll excuse me, I've gotta go play some football or smoke some cigars or do some push-ups or read some Cormac McCarthy or something. Grrr. Outta my way, dweebs! Etc.