March 24, 2005

Amateur Book Review: Various Star Wars

This would be a long and probably unnecessary look at three recent Star Wars novels: Yoda: Dark Rendezvous, Jedi Trial, and Labyrinth of Evil.

Yoda: Dark Rendezvous

As with most paperbacks these days, this book seems a throwaway, something easy to ignore. That would be a mistake. Sean Stewart has crafted an excellent Star Wars story, an engaging look at one of the most enigmatic characters in the franchise. Yoda is a difficult character to get correct. Certainly the prequel movies haven’t done so. Stewart nails it, better than anything since ESB. His Yoda is humorous without being a clown, empathetic without being cloying, and wise but approachable.

The setup is a good one. Count Dooku, claiming to be tiring of the war, is holed up on the dark world of Vjun. He’s sent a message to Yoda, wanting to meet face-to-face. It’s a setup of course, but there seems to be an element of sincerity. “He thinks he is lying”, according to an unexpected character. Yoda, along with two other Masters and their young Padawans, head off in secret to Vjun.

While Yoda is the titular character of this book, and is featured throughout, it’s not a Yoda solo story by any means. You could make the case that he isn’t even the main character in Dark Rendezvous. The story actually follows the two young Padawans, both are teenagers, both are human. Both have some issues. Scout, the girl, is not very strong in the Force and is in constant danger of being reassigned to the Republic Agricultural Corps. Whie, a slightly younger boy, is very talented, but troubled by visions of the future. Scout may be the most fully realized minor character in the EU: She’s tough, smart, and outwardly fearless. Whie is obviously an Anakin Skywalker stand-in, but unlike Anakin, he’s a quiet, thoughtful boy.

This book just works on every level. The movie characters are caught almost as perfectly as Scout and Whie. Dooku’s scenes work especially well, whether it is with Asajj Ventress trying to convince him to make her his apprentice, or Yoda asking him to come home to the Jedi. Anakin and Obi-Wan make short appearances, and Anakin is actually likable. There is a recurring moment where Padme watches ships come in, hoping that Anakin is returning. It’s a very nice, very melancholy theme. Considering how poor the romance has been portrayed in the movies, it’s a nice touch. The action flows well throughout the book as well, and it even features some humor, something sorely lacking in both the CW series and the New Jedi Order that proceeded it.

An excellent Star Wars book.

Jedi Trial

On the other hand, we have this mess. The cover of this book, featuring Anakin and Asajj Ventress, is a study in false advertising. The title suggests a look into Anakin’s passage from Padawan to Knight, and it promises a large role for both Ventress and Nejaa Halcyon, father of Corran Horn from the X-Wing series and I, Jedi. Well, Anakin’s trials are briefly mentioned but never explained. The bulk of the book is an attack on the remote world of Praesitlyn. No trials, no Padawan to Jedi. Ventress only appears as a holographic communication to the Separatist leader on Praesitlyn. Halcyon is in about half the book, but never really develops any voice beyond a short passage between him and Anakin about being secretly married.

No, this book is about Odie and Erk. Who are Odie and Erk you ask? Well, they would be soldiers on Praesitlyn. Odie, the single most stupidly named character in SW history, edging out Dooku and Sleazebaggano, is the scout on the ground. Erk, an impressively unlikable sort, is the pilot she falls in love with. Now, unlike Dark Rendezvous, we never connect to these characters, they never show any memorable personality traits. Jedi Trial follows them throughout the entire book. In the end, they end up married by Anakin. And this isn’t dashing, heroic Anakin either, this is why-didn’t-we-leave-this-kid-in-the-desert Crazy Anakin.

Not all is lost with this book though. The battle scenes are excellent, and befitting the authors (David Sherman and Dan Cragg) military background, seem technically correct. When Nejaa is in the book, he seems a decent sort, certainly more interesting than Erk and the dog from Garfield. Still, there isn’t enough in this book to recommend it, and you have to wonder why in the world this was worthy of Hardcover release while the Yoda book was a paperback.

Labyrinth of Evil

This book is only half a story, the first half of Revenge of the Sith in fact. For those who haven’t heard, the next movie will begin halfway through a major space battle; the battle is for Coruscant, the galactic capital. This book covers the events immediately preceding, including the planning and first part of the battle. It also explains just why Obi-Wan and Anakin have to come to the rescue.

The book opens as Obi-Wan and Anakin are on the verge of capturing Nute Gunray, the Nemodian head of the Trade Federation from the both Episode I and II. They fail, but do manage to acquire the device (a chair, of all things) that Gunray uses to receive orders from Dooku, General Grievous and Sidious. Even better, the chair contains a message from Sidious, giving the Jedi their first proof that the Dark Lord even exists. Anakin and Obi-Wan then are off on a wild-goose chase after the makers of the chair. Each clue leads a little closer to the Sith, but takes them farther away from Coruscant. There Mace Windu and Shaak Ti are leading a recon team of Jedi and ARC troopers through The Works, a Coruscanti slum strong in the dark side. It also just happens to border 500 Republica, the LaJolla-like fancy area where most of the planets leading citizens, including Chancellor Palpatine happen to live. Hmmmm…..

There is a lot to like about this book, despite its scattershot plotting. Like Luceno’s most recent SW effort, the New Jedi Order finale The Unifying Force, LoE has almost too much stuffed into it. Just about every character you can think of from the movies shows up, plus several EU types are mentioned as well, like the rogue Jedi Quinlan Vos. He’s from the excellent Dark Horse Clone Wars series. Luceno also finally solves one of the (many) giant hanging plotlines from the movies: just who the hell was Syfo Dias and why did he grow a clone army? And why was Dooku the man who choose Jango Fett as the template? The logic is a bit tortured, but this is as good an explanation as we’ll get. More importantly, we get inside the head of General Grievous. He’s much more interesting than presented previously.

This book is worth reading, and gives a lot of insight to Revenge of the Sith

Posted by Frinklin at March 24, 2005 05:59 PM
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