Friday, September 29, 2017

Review - 99 Stormtroopers Join the Empire by Greg Stones

Short review: Ninety-nine stormtroopers join the Empire. Then they all die.

Many stormtroopers
Die in lots of funny ways
And then, the Death Star

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: 99 Stormtroopers Join the Empire is an absolutely adorable little Star Wars-themed picture book. The book opens by introducing the ninety-nine stormtroopers who have joined the Imperial forces, and the succeeding pages show how, in groups from one to thirty-six, they meet their demise. The various deaths are played for humor, with the troopers dying from a variety of causes that will be fairly recognizable to anyone who has seen the Star Wars movies. The entire book is illustrated in a cute, kind of whimsical style, with cartoonish and somewhat surprisingly (given the violence inherent in many of the deaths) bloodless artwork.

The entire book has kind of the same tone as Ed Gorey's Gashleycrumb Tinies, mirroring it somewhat with the creative ways the stormtroopers die. It is also somewhat reminiscent of the old children's song Ten Little Indians, especially since the book keeps a running account of how many stormtroopers are left as each page goes by. One the other hand, such comparisons aren't entirely accurate. Unlike Gorey's Gashleycrumb work, there is no rhyme to the text, and unlike both of the aforementioned works, there is no apparent pattern to the forms the stormtroopers' deaths take or how many stormtroopers die per page. I suppose the fact that the deaths are so completely random is part of the joke - disposable stormtroopers dying in completely unpredictable ways highlights the casual, almost offhand manner in which the characters in the movies treat these fatalities.

One question that comes to mind when reading this book is exactly who is its intended audience. At first, one might think that this is a cute Star Wars book aimed at young children, but I suspect it really wouldn't work for them. The "jokes" are really only funny if you know what the author is alluding to: "One stormtrooper fails to shoot first" isn't really funny unless one has seen the cantina scene from the original Star Wars (and followed the ensuing controversy as the scene was cut and recut in various editions of the movie). "Two stormtroopers think the security droid is on their side" is really only funny if you have seen Rogue One. And so on and so forth. The problem is, kids who are still in the "picture book" stage generally won't have latched on to the Star Wars movies yet - they are just too young to appreciate them, at least in my experience. Some of these sorts of works, such as Darth Vader and Son, work as humor even if one doesn't really get the references. They are enhanced when one knows what the author is alluding to, but that is unnecessary for the enjoyment of the book. Without the references, 99 Stormtroopers Join the Empire is just a bunch of guys dying creatively, and that's probably not all that interesting. I can only surmise that the true intended target for this book are people who grew up on the film series who want something cute they can put in their infant's nursery because it looks cool to have it there, or possibly leave on the coffee table as a conversation piece.

Overall, 99 Stormtroopers Join the Empire is a cute little book that delivers exactly what one would expect. Ninety-nine stormtroopers enlist, and then amusingly die as a result of a combination of the Empire's callous indifference and their own ineptitude. The book is not really much more than silly fun, but it is fairly clever silly fun, chock full of Star Wars references that are used to humorous effect. This book is unlikely to change anyone's life, and probably won't occupy anyone for more than ten or fifteen minutes, but it will be a joyful and goofy ride while it lasts.

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