December 01, 2005

Amateur Book Review: Star Wars: Dark Lord-The Rise of Darth Vader

Yeah, the title needs some work.

This title is a companion piece to James Luceno’s previous Clone War-era work, the Revenge of the Sith prequel Labyrinth of Evil. That was a look at Darth Sidious’ machinations just prior to RotS, and made the beginning of the movie make a lot more sense. Now Luceno tries to do the same with the ending.

Dark Lord starts before the movie even ends. A team of Jedi, led by Master Roan Shryne – a slightly burned out combination of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Quinlan Vos- leads a team of Jedi and clones against an Outer Rim territory controlled by the Separatists. The invasion goes well, and Luceno does an admirable job of showing the hard-won camaraderie between the clones and Jedi. Then Order 66 is issued and the Jedi are slaughtered. Shryne and a Padawan named Olee Starstone survive thanks to a clone that refuses the order, thinking that it is a Separatist ploy. The book then splits to follow two stories: Shryne and Starstone’s escape and dawning comprehension of what has happened, and Vader’s acclimation to his new body and new self.

Vader’s story works better. Anakin’s story is endlessly fascinating, especially when he realizes his new limitations. There is an entire chapter, more or less, that concentrates on his limitations in the Vader bodysuit. It’s a scene wallowing in self-pity and pathos. Anakin spends much of the first half of the book like this, very much a woe-is-me, what-have-I-done mode. Which, considering in about a span of a day or so he killed his teachers, betrayed the order, murdered several dozen children, tried to kill his best friend, accidentally killed his wife and (he thinks) unborn child… well, that’s to be expected, isn’t it? The trick is how Palpatine twists these feelings and channels them toward his own ends. The relationship between Sith is endlessly fascinating. Palpatine continues the father figure role, but it’s clear –even to Anakin- that he’s just using Vader for his own ends. This is also the first book that looks into Sidious’ character for any amount of time, and it is an avenue that the powers at Lucasbooks should really explore.

The other storyline, the struggle of Shryne and Starstone isn’t as compelling. That might be due to the fact that the competing storyline is something SW fans have been wanting for 20 years, and we’ve never heard of the new people. It works, of a sort, and Luceno captures the sense of bewilderment (and entitlement) that the Jedi are feeling. The two stories intersect at the end, with the Imperial invasion of Kashyyk. Luceno constructs this well –military action is a strength of his- and though the book strains for an emotional climax as well, it falls a bit short.

There is a lot to like about Rise of the Dark Lord. The moments that touch on Anakin and Palpatine’s relationship are excellent, as are moments with Bail Organa and an epilogue where Obi-Wan realizes that Anakin survived Mustafar. The book is short, probably too short at 322 pages, and moves very briskly. Luceno is somewhat of a go-to guy for the SW universe at this point, having wrote The Unifying Force, the finale of the New Jedi Order series, as well as Labyrinth of Evil. Both were excellent, which surprised me, as my initial experience with his work was the turgid and nearly unreadable Agents of Chaos series. He’s improved a great deal, and I would read further Vader books by him.

Posted by Frinklin at December 1, 2005 03:36 PM | TrackBack
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