Thursday 19 January 2023

Giana Sisters 2D/DS

I played Giana Sisters 2D through Proton/Steam on Linux, and on the force of love for the C64 original I could complete the game and even enjoy it in parts.

In concept it's not that different to the original Great Giana Sisters, jump and run your way to the end of the level and collect diamonds as you go along.

With this PC version it's just that the graphics are vector-based and more mobile-like, and somehow I felt the general level of polish is not as high as it could be.

As this is a re-versioning of a 2009 Nintendo DS game, I became curious enough to order the game off eBay and borrowed a Nintendo DS hand held console to see how this really plays.

Let's dive in.

It was more easy to take screenshots from the "2D" version.

New Coke, New Giana

For the new Giana, the designers made an important streamlining. When becoming "punk", Giana gains both the head-butting ability and the fireball. You can also shoot multiple fireballs, importantly the power acts as a kind of one-hit shield so Giana does not instantly lose a life.

There are no additional bonuses for creating reflecting missiles, homing missiles or the one-off bonuses found in the original game. This means it isn't so devastating to loose your "punk", as the next bonus will bring it all back and there's nothing further to build. Admittedly some nuance is lost here, but this change helps make Giana Sisters more playable on the long run.

From the start we see the game can scroll vertically too, and although many of the initial levels are horizontal they can be traveled back-and-forth, unlike the C64 game. Later the levels expand to all directions, steering away from the original level styles, but admittedly they bring some needed variety.

Part of the World Map

One central new idea is the occasional red diamond found among the usual diamonds. This is not only a nod to the Amiga version which had red diamonds, they are special jewels. Collect all from one level, and you have cleared it perfectly. Clear all levels in a world to perfection, and you can access a bonus level of that world.

The red jewel is also why some levels are worth exploring forwards and backwards, up and down. Later it will become increasingly hard to discover all the red jewels. You can play a level again if you didn't clear it perfectly the first time around. This adds some replay value as I just didn't care when sweeping the levels on the PC 2D version.

The red jewel is also a likely reason for why the time counter for levels is extremely generous. You can leisurely explore the whole area searching for those hidden jewels. Still, I got the feeling no-one really tested meticulously what would be a good amount of time for any given level, so they just gave a bunch.


There are also two additional tools for Giana. First, it's possible to get a bubblegum or a soda from a dispenser. The former allows Giana to float in a balloon, whereas the soda produces a Turrican-style beam of water that can be rotated momentarily around Giana. 


Here some of my problems begin, at least on the PC version. Floating on a balloon, avoiding sprites, is something that I could have cooked up as a C64 BASIC game in the 1980s and the movement is just as sluggish. And of course there has to be at least one hell-hole of a level that requires the player to navigate the balloon in a corridor of spikes and flames and bees. The 8-8 level particularly can F.O.

The DS version at least has better controls and Giana doesn't jank around in the bubble when flying. It still doesn't become my favorite part of the game. There's an option to use the microphone to blow the balloon upwards, but I shudder even to think of this.

The Soda gimmick is mostly just a "key" to open areas, as it washes out breakable walls and obviously blows out any flames. It's said to push monsters too, but at least the crabs didn't seem to care much about it and I ended up losing a life because of this misinformation.

Splosh. Also, the inevitable glitch.

The two extra items didn't do much to the Giana experience, but as a way to open bonus areas they are more inventive than just plain keys or warp items. On the DS, having to press the touch screen to activate the bubble gum does not add much, or actually nothing. 

The game doesn't make much use of the double screen anyway. The information and world map is at the bottom screen, which means you have to slide your eyes there to check if you have all the red diamonds. So, it's one area where the PC version could be said to be better.

Both versions have a look up and look down function, which in theory adds to the process of searching secrets on some levels. It tends to be a bit useless, although fortunately not too distracting.

Levels and difficulty

Part of the main game levels are clearly based on the original Giana Sisters material, and I enjoyed these the most. Although it also felt like visiting the ruins of a partly abandoned gianaverse. These tribute levels have no warp tiles, and although the spaces for the spider and the dragon bosses are there, the bosses do not appear.

Instead the Dragon, now somewhat flatulent, makes an appearance in a separate sub-level, where you need to jump on top of the dragon to kill it. In the Nintendo DS version, the Dragon is more formidable. It moves faster and swoops down on you on the first instance. With the PC game, I felt that nearly all the dragons were quite simple up until the last one or two. We don't get to see the giant spider.


The difficulty ramp is one of the more annoying aspects of the game, at least on the PC version. With DS I can't say much because I'm in effect playing the same levels again with better controls. Although at times the small screen makes things harder to see than on the PC.

The PC experience was that for a long while the game is mind-numbingly simple, playing lazily I still had 10+ lives at my disposal. Suddenly it becomes significantly harder and not always in the way I'd hope for. The typical way to die is to bump your head at a thing you didn't properly understand, ending up in a chasm instead.

On Nintendo DS I had 20+ lives at one point. It's possible the balancing of the game and the amount of content is not exactly on par with best console jumping games, but it's a Giana game alright. It may be that as I spent some time in summer to complete the C64 version, the new game felt comparatively easy.

One more detail about the version differences. When the bouncing spiky balls are first introduced on PC, I thought I would have to jump over them much like the similar opponents in the original game. No way this could be done, and I lost many lives trying it. Then I realized I have to go under them instead. Funnily enough in the DS version these spike-balls jump considerably higher and it is more obvious you can pass under them. Hmm.

On the Nintendo DS

The prize for least welcome new enemies are the ghosts, as they simply float around in broad circles larger than the screen, and disregard the physical world around them. They also figure into the "avoid sprite" game mechanic territory which feels a little out of place. I don't think there is a precedent for them in the Giana lore either! My opinion didn't change much on the DS, as added vileness they are maybe even less easy to see.

Looks and feels

The PC version has a "retro" Giana level set, which remixes the original game levels more consistently, but with the new controls and monsters. And a remix it is by necessity, not all the monster types are reproduced, the secret cave logic isn't the same, and so on and on. The DS version doesn't have this game option as far as I know.

The vectorizing of elements on the PC has not been always successful but there have been a few bright ideas here and there. For example, using an airbrushed look for some of the graphics, harking back to that weird Giana Sisters Amiga game cover and loading screen. Then again some of the grass splotches and plants look horribly ill-defined.

Squish those eyes

I'm glad the game is not pumped up with some kind of between-level narrative or text, although for some people this might be a minus. After playing further it's apparent Giana Sisters DS/2D is not a very complex or content-rich game. In this way it further reminds me of the Commodore 64 days.

On Nintendo DS, it is even more apparent how close this actually is to the Commodore 64 game, especially the early levels. The pixel graphics and the atmosphere are spot on, the controls are similar but smoother.

On the other hand, the DS screen is very tiny and not super-high quality. In a perfect world I could somehow play this exact DS version on a CRT monitor.

The DS has nicer looking Giana sprite, and the "punk" version has better attitude and animation than the PC 2D. Truth be told not all the levels look very grand on the Nintendo either, some underground tunnel levels are not on par with the best outdoor ones.


If I'm generous and have my nostalgia lens on, I could see Giana Nintendo DS as a 8/10 game. The PC "2D" version could be a 6 or 7/10 -ish, it still gives enjoyment especially if you're on some kind of Giana binge.

Giana timeline:

1987: The Great Giana Sisters

2009: Giana Sisters DS

2012: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams

2015: Giana Sisters 2D

2015: Giana Sisters: Dream Runners

Wednesday 11 January 2023

Karl Bartos:The Sound of the Machine

I had a German language edition of this 2017 book already a few years back, but after struggling through few pages I gave it up. Now I'm holding the 2022 English edition in my hands.

Although this is an artist autobiography of Karl Bartos, it also tells the story of Kraftwerk from his perspective, and how it befell on him to join Ralf and Florian's project as an electronic percussionist.

As the story goes, Autobahn became a hit in the US, and the band embarked on a tour over the Atlantic. This likely provided them with a great bonding experience that helped establish Bartos (and Wolfgang Flür) as regulars in the lineup. Perhaps it also convinced the foursome that Kraftwerk had a future at all.

Bartos shared writing credits in many songs during the productive era, so this book could potentially shed light on how the works were created.

Starting the machine

About fifth of the book is dedicated to pre-Kraftwerk days, starting from childhood and tracking Karl's increasing musical competence and diversity. At one moment he could be doing pop and rock covers and backing work with the Jokers on a national level, then playing a vibraphone at a classical concert. The main message here is that Bartos not only had experience as a practical musician but was really the only "theoretically" trained musician in the line-up. The story of applying to the conservatory is amusing, as it doesn't sound very formal.

This background allows him to assess that Ralf and Florian were not big on music theory. More importantly, they instead applied a kind of minimalist art sensibility to sound, arising from the growing kraut/cosmic/psychedelia scene doing rounds in galleries and other unlikely venues.

This is not to say Ralf and Florian were "ordinary" people, as they were embedded in the cultural scene of Düsseldorf, and apparently had more money than most of their experimental contemporaries. Bartos describes Ralf as having a keen entrepreneurial eye over the Kraftwerk project, perhaps for both better and worse.

Whatever the reasons, Kraftwerk achieved a remarkably consistent "European" interpretation of pop-sound, stripped of blues and rock influences, even shedding the psychedelic/cosmic aura in the process. If Kraftwerk did anything "first", it was perhaps this consistent portrayal of themselves as a synth-only band, producing album after album of quality music, paving way to a future where electronic music was no longer esoteric or one-off novelty.

The Magic formula

As the book turns to the Kraftwerk years, the narrative becomes a chronology of events using the album releases as milestones, examining individual songs. A common structure in Kraftwerk literature, however having Karl Bartos recollect it makes it more interesting. The book doesn't really try to explain how Kraftwerk came to be, but he gives a summary of the earlier days.

It is instantly clear that Bartos won't explore all songs in great detail. On occasions there are interesting recollections about how the songs were put together and who did what, whereas some are passed over almost completely. For example, he has nothing to say about the Paul Hindemith melody quote in Tour de France, glossing it over as "film music".

Possibly Karl doesn't want to fabricate things where he suspects his memory wouldn't serve him right, but at times I felt the book could have been a little more colorful when describing encounters with other artists. Instead, Bartos occasionally digresses into historical sidetracks, explaining the origins of electronic music, musique concrète, the presence of onomatopoeia in classical music and the life and times of Wernher von Braun.

I don't mind, these add tapestry to what could have been a very one-dimensional autobiography. But for example, an even more accurate description of their studio and song-making processes could have been of interest.

Bartos interprets the "golden years" of Kraftwerk as resulting from the equilateral triangle of Ralf, Florian and Karl himself working creatively and informally in a state of flow in the Kling Klang studio at Mintropstraße. Whereas the initial concepts, melodies and lyrics could be brought to the table by Ralf, Karl would work from his experience from both classical and pop worlds. This was not limited to percussion. Florian would tinker with sound effects, vocoders and speech synthesis–not a small part of the band's signature sound.

Karl attributes a lot of the development of the late 1970s Kraftwerk sound to sequencers, for example the Triggersumme and Synthanorma, which could handle increasingly complex loops in those pre-MIDI times. It is then not surprising the band would continue to follow new technical trends in order to rejuvenate their interest in music-making.

Somewhat closer to my blog themes, from the late 1980s MIDI-era Karl mentions Sequencer Plus (Voyetra) as his software of choice, an early graphical and mouse-compatible MS-DOS sequencer, yet based on the text mode. In an interview from 1998, available on the SoundOnSound website, he discusses his "little Yamaha C1 music computer" with 8 MIDI out ports, which he still used 10 years after its release with the same software running in it. I didn't know Yamaha had another go at the Music Computer concept after the CX5M MSX.

Without Karl really saying so, the various technical apparatuses might be considered the "fifth" member of Kraftwerk. Obviously there were a number of important sound engineers and associates that could also fit in that role. The currently touring personnel Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz emerge from these positions and have in fact been associated with the band for a rather long time. Emil Schult, despite (or because) being a visual artist, could also have a claim of being a 'werker, and he also shared songwriting credits.

Oh, and although Kraftwerk had bespoke gear and the impressive Kling Klang studio set, they didn't really "build their own synths".

As is usual in Kraftwerk literature, the album Electric Café is cited as a failure. Bartos is perhaps more entitled to say this than most, and I can understand it from an artist's point of view: Five years were spent tinkering on the record and it barely visited the charts.

Karl gives a lengthy interpretation of the album's failure as a combination of forgetting the aforementioned music-making methodology that led to the successful albums, the poorly thought out renovation of the Kling Klang studio which also encouraged working in a detached way, and the insistence on trying to replicate or improve on the synth sound now ubiquitous in the charts. Bartos also feels that the increased focus on dancefloor music was harmful to the developments.

To me, even if a commercial and critical failure, the album perhaps aged better than many contemporaries. In an age when the "warmth of analogue sound" has become a saturated cliché, this cold and stark echo-chamber of digitalized musical ideas feels novel in comparison.

Later Years

Karl Bartos was hungry to do more musical work, with or without Kraftwerk, but as Ralf and Florian put an embargo to any solo projects, he felt he had to leave the band behind. It happened surprisingly late considering how problematic Bartos saw the situation already in the early 1980s.

It is astonishing that the band did not do concerts for almost ten years, at a time that appears in retrospect as the peak of their creativity. But as Bartos tells Kraftwerk didn't get huge audiences with their early 1980s gigs, and considering the amount of bulky gear they had the motivation to tour must have been low. After the success of The Model there might have been more demand, but apparently Ralf refused to tour.

How could anyone have known that months would turn to years, and years into a decade. A decade that sported an isolated single and a strained album release, culminating into the retrospective self-remix album The Mix. In some ways, the process of "cataloguing" the Kraftwerk sound had already begun in mid-1980s.

After leaving Kraftwerk, Bartos has done a surprisingly large number of projects, solo albums, remixes, production work and other appearances. For those who didn't actively follow the "ex-kraftwerker" career, this output was likely not very visible.

But even I was aware of Elektric Music, the project between Bartos and Lothar Manteuffel of Rheingold fame. Esperanto was a good straightforward electro-pop album in the vein of OMD and Depeche Mode, decked with a recognizable Emil Schult cover design.

Despite having material towards a second album, the project broke up. Considering how much Bartos discusses the dysfunctionalities within Kraftwerk, it's a pity the closing of this chapter is not explored in more detail.

The solo album Communication from 2003 was unfortunate in that it co-incided with Kraftwerk's Tour de France Soundtracks. Bartos laments the timing and being overshadowed by his former band. Although the album is solid, I felt it was burdened with the somewhat heavy vocoder/robot sound.

The book doesn't discuss Wolfgang Flür that much, possibly allowing his story to live in his own autobiography "I was a Robot" from 2000. In this telling it even looks like Flür didn't so much "leave" Kraftwerk, but simply did not bother to come back when his playing was required, instead preferring to focus on his interior design work. I've sometimes wondered why Bartos and Flür did not subsequently collaborate, and the book gives no answer to that.

I am slightly worried that Karl's voice in this book isn't as determined as in some of his past interviews, where he might discuss gear and events in more detail. Has he "bought" the commonly accepted narrative about Kraftwerk, and fills the gaps of his memory and notes with it? How reliable is this narrator?

Much like that Wolfgang Flür outing, this book gives just one piece of a larger puzzle. Anyone interested in Kraftwerk needs to read it. But the ultimate mystery of Kraftwerk, if there really is one, does not become really closer to being revealed. Ralf Hütter's public utterings are repetitions of past and mostly intentional riddles anyway, Florian Schneider is dead and can no longer answer questions. Possibly the long-time collaborating sound engineers, touring currently, could add their say.

For a few years, Kraftwerk had a playing field largely to themselves, but as others caught up, many of their ideas could be replicated with world-class engineering and equipment the band themselves lacked. Kraftwerk tried to rise to defend the small hill they so far had occupied, but, the way Bartos sees it, were mistaken about their goals and purpose.

Now Karl is critical of the latest trends in music distribution, which can be difficult for a musician with a 1970s conception of the recording industry. If music becomes ubiquitous, he argues, it is in danger of losing meaning. Such is the price of democratizing the means of sound generation, distribution and listening! Karl's love of music is tied forever to the moment when a person came from over the channel and put a physical disc of Beatles' Hard Day's Night on the turntable.

Off the Record, on record

I also acquired the Karl Bartos album Off the Record, from 2013. Back then I felt no great compulsion to buy the album. After reading the book I had a bigger motive, trying to see the album as a complementary piece to the retrospective writing.

As a tiny tribute to his thinking, I chose to play the disc from start to finish on a CD player, instead of habitually ripping the tracks over to the computer.

The album plays heavily into the idea of Bartos as a former Kraftwerker, an identity he has variously distanced himself from. The backstory of a "secret audio diary" gives the tantalizing prospect that here might be some material from the golden age of Kraftwerk. Yet these are no lost tapes, but new songs based on concepts and material from over the years, an "autobiography in sound".

Glancing at some reviews and comments, some apparently feel Karl's solo output sounds the same as Kraftwerk. I tend to disagree. Although there are Kraftwerk quotes here, to me this is still an extension of the personal sound Bartos developed after leaving the band. 

Yes, it's surely part of the same genealogy and almost immune to any recent trends in the myriads of genres of electronic pop music. Nowadays the idea of equating progress with electronic music appears problematic, so it is not surprising the album does not attempt to innovate but to simply move on.

I felt that listening to the record as a whole makes the music stronger than trying to concentrate on the merits of any individual songs. The more beautiful and intriguing spots are distributed evenly across the album, no one song becomes a real stand-out piece.

Beatles was a revelation to Bartos. To me Kraftwerk was perhaps a similar turning point, something that made me appreciate any music at all, really. But it may be that instead of music, to me computers and TV games were more miraculous and a "lights-on" moment, the "voice of my generation". Encountering Kraftwerk's music and visuals was more an extension of that experience.

Sunday 1 January 2023


The customary look-back at a year passed, and mix of themes that didn't make it into a blog post. 

As usual, the blog follows an interest which generally last from a few weeks to about a month or two. The year begun with some C64 related matters, then engaging with Amstrad CPC and writing some text with it. More space was taken by detailing my adventures with an electronic kickbike, a hobby which unfortunately took a badly timed hit after having an accident.

Programming, Pictures, etc.

Despite not releasing any programs or games this year (when did that even become granted?), the new version of Multipaint is still under construction and I have hopes of getting it out soon-ish.

Some of the biggest developments are not even intended for release at this point. There's a companion piece to Multipaint, a C64-only editor that should enables sprites, multiplexed sprites, sprites in borders and so on. I have made couple of works that relied on this new program.

Cartoonzone workstage inside Gfxlab

Here I liked exploring the use of both extended and non-extended sprites in the same picture, and finding a fitting context for each.

There's some actual Commodore 64 game goodness coming out too. My reluctance to discuss on-going game projects means it will have to wait, but it's now safe to say it should be complete in 2023.

Then a few examples of C64 PETSCII and bitmap images.

Ego The Living Planet

Above, Ego the Living Planet PETSCII and below Night of the Homeless at the Vammala Party graphics compo. This is a plain hires without sprites.

Asunnottomien Yö

Oh, and one of my older works, Countryside, was printed and exhibited in the Pixeled Years exhibition at the Game Museum in Vapriikki, Tampere, Finland. Some of my other works were included in the rolling slideshow along a bunch of Finnish bitmap C64 art.

Multipaint running on a PC was also displayed opposite to a joystick-driven Advanced Art Studio, to also give an idea to the visitor how the conditions for making images differs. The exhibition, curated by Electric and Duce of Extend, is still running.

The panel discussion at the exhibition, alongside heavy presence and comments at the Zoo'22 demoparty (and an experience in tutoring the platform at a university) did make me reflect on my role as the tool creator. I'm now thinking that the resemblance to a 1980s/1990s paint program is actually a good thing and shouldn't be ruined by trying to add too many features.

Pictures at an exhibition

Talking of Advanced Art Studio, recently I've dug out some of my old C64 floppy disks in the expectation I could find some hilarious BASIC gems and pictures from around 1989-1990. This was helped by SD2IEC SD card reader and JaffyDOS program which allows me to create D64 disk images, using the real 1570 drive as a source.

It turns out the treasure was not as abundant than I had hoped for. The BASIC programs tended to be short and unfinished. It's also tricky to piece together the few machine code and sprite materials which generally don't have any kind of loader built-in.

But there was a nice instant payoff in the form of a couple of graphic artefacts, such as this copy of a cover from a Traveller 2300AD Role Playing Game extension Kafer Dawn.

1990: Traveller 2300AD

I'm fearing that my earliest programs are not present, as my findings looked like they were from a second wave of creativity. Going through dozens of disks, I no longer think there are any significant "lost disks". The floppies back then were mostly reserved for copied games which tended to have priority and I could have overwritten my programs on a whim. The same was even more true for ZX Spectrum tapes, and I have very little or nothing remaining from that era.

I'll return to these in more detail if I get around to examining the BASIC program disk contents.


The blog saw slightly more MIDI minded postings recently. It is as if I finally have the kind of setup I envisaged at late 1990s, never mind actually producing something with it. Maybe it is a kind of eternal "garage project".

I have continued to work on a sequencer that combines tracker and piano-roll editing into some kind of fake Atari ST/Amiga sensibility, partially hard-coded to the kind of equipment I happen to have. MIDI only, no VST support. Again, this is unlikely to be released, there is enough such software out in the wild and I don't want to be answerable to this...


This project which I've only called Miditracker, and its latest incarnation, Windowman, has obviously been under development before 2022. It has a some sort of genealogy dating back to late 1990s. Now was simply the year when it began to feel more fully formed.


I felt I played less games overall during the year, but looking back it's not true. At the beginning I did complete Control, after which I had a long pause from larger games.


Control was more action-oriented than I expected. Cleverly the confined setting doesn't require so much content creation (I suspect) so the focus is instead on the explosive encounters and modulating this experience almost endlessly through power-ups and weapon variations. The story and the underlying mystery didn't captivate me so much, but the milieu and the relatively banal environment are well done. At some point I simply wanted to be good enough to beat the game.

I still used GeForce Now to stream the game, which was surprisingly doable. But overall I became weary of streaming games. Too random selection of games, the streaming can hiccup and a game can just as well crash remotely as they do locally. After returning to non-streamed games it felt like a breath of fresh air.


The largest game was Jedi: Fallen Order, which despite some hiccups and crashes could be finished in Linux/Proton. I have to say Linux has come far from Quake and Tux Racing, although in a sense these Proton-games aren't "true" native Linux games. Apparently Proton can run some games better than Linux native versions, though.

Generally, somewhat smaller and just so slightly older games work almost always on Proton without even fiddling anything.

Jedi was a fine game, but surprisingly it wasn't that different from Tomb Raider, or I guess almost any third person action adventure these days. The guy is even explicitly raiding tombs.

Jedi: Fallen Order

Towards the end of the year, I picked up pace and completed Rise of the Tomb Raider, then Gris. The Tomb Raider sequel didn't have the same impact as the 2013 reboot, being mostly more of the same.

Gris was stylish and enjoyable, occasionally utilizing the simplest of 8-bit game mechanics without the frustration and unfairness that often went with the early games.

I also picked up a bunch of cheap games from the Steam sale which is still going on.

For shits and giggles I got Garfield Kart, which I quickly set aside. 

Garfield Kart

Now I'm looking into the Giana Sisters 2D which I bought on the reputation of the DS game it appears to be based on.

However, the rather nice pixel graphics of the DS version have been translated somewhat unevenly into mobile game vector muck. Sometimes it even refers to the Amiga airbrushed cover art, and the music has some of that Amiga twang too. Can't say how the game play differs from the DS version, which I never played, but it does feel a little clunky at times.

At some point I also completed Great Giana Sisters on the C64, something I've not done since the early 1990s I guess.

I have alternatively numbed and irritated my mind by playing, which I might be finally leaving behind together with and the like.

Giana Sisters 2D

TV, Books, Film, Star Wars

After getting the Chromecast dongle and discovering streaming apps for Android, we've been watching this and that, opening and closing subscriptions as needed. I've had Netflix subscription quite permanently, occasionally turning Disney+ and HBO Max on/off. 

The apparently final season of Westworld felt more satisfying than seasons 2-3, but I guess there's little to salvage from that concept from now on. 

What else. Stranger Things, Locke and Key, Bridgerton, Emily in Paris, 1899, Manifest, Witcher, Lucifer, Sandman, Raised by Wolves, Discovery of Witches, The Nevers...

Although it looks like this should make me a couch potato, it was achieved by watching one series at a time, 1-2 episodes per evening.

The Doctor in Doctor Who was finally reincarnated. The final hurrah was better than most material from the recent years, but still a far cry from the most glorious seasons. Given the new series has been going for 15 years (sigh), it's not surprising it had to go through a bad patch. Now there's some signs of course-correction, but this isn't usually a very promising artistic direction.

If anything, you'd think Star Wars would be that one pop-culturally over-saturated, over-ripe thing that would better lay down and rest for a while. But I did binge on Star Wars during summer. The expectation of the Kenobi series led me to watch the films in episodic order, up until Kenobi, then after the series I followed with Rogue One, the original trilogy and the sequels. (I left out Solo).

Some of my Star Wars junk

I have to say the prequels felt slightly better than before, whereas my previous assessment of the sequel trilogy as "better than prequels" began to feel doubtful after this proper re-watch. At least the Rise of Skywalker was pretty dire. The film dives into depressing depths through Palpatine's return with a killer fleet, the stupid hyperspace-skipping scene, the Sith dagger plot... Yet strangely the film managed to end on a reasonably high note and cast an arc back to the prequel themes.

Disney+ keeps churning out Star Wars. Mandalorian season 2 wasn't as triumphant as the first one, relying more on cartoonish characters, fan service and pushing the uninteresting Mandalore mythos. Still all in good fun. Book of Boba Fett was enjoyable but tended to derail from its premise and ended up with prequel-style hijinks. I liked Kenobi better, because it was bold enough to take central characters and bring a kind of emotional closure to the Vader/Kenobi interactions the prequel trilogy lacked.

Star Wars: Andor was in some way what I always feared a live action Star Wars series might be like, before any such existed. Talky drama, low on fx and action, 99% planetside... However they managed to make it compelling, mixing genres and ideas not usually seen in Star Wars. What was the Imperial bureaucracy like, mentioned off-hand in the first Star Wars film? What's the world like outside the Skywalker saga and force-users? My main gripe is that as season 2 became a certainty, various plot threads were vaguely non-committal by the end of this first season.

All this re-watching and watching was capped with reading the famous Star Wars "Thrawn trilogy" books. Short verdict: it wasn't that impressive to me. Perhaps you had to be there, a kid in the early 1990s, starving for more Star Wars and buying into the idea this was the "sanctioned, official sequel" to the film trilogy. Bullshit! I do not think these novels would have made a great premise for a film trilogy or TV series.

Otherwise 2022 wasn't a huge year for sci-fi reading, but I did get into Liu Cixin's Thunderball, and lately, Carl Sagan's Contact. At some point I also re-read Fred Hoyle's Black Cloud. Through serendipity, the themes of these books were not that far apart from each other, life careers in science conflict with politics, military and religion.