Tag Archives: Star Wars

Allies

On the one hand, I knew intellectually that the second half of the Fate of the Jedi series had been sitting on a shelf collecting dust[1] for a while. But it’s quite another hand indeed to go back through my previous four reviews in preparation for this one to discover that I read them between 2009-2011. And yet, I want to reread the Malazan series before tackling the last two books, or Sanderson’s series before opening its book 2, or Rothfuss before the finale comes out. I wouldn’t have time for this if I wasn’t working 50 hours a week! (Although, to be fair, a good portion of my reading does occur within those hours, so I don’t have it as hard as it sounds.)

Another uncomfortable realization I had while scanning these reviews to catch myself up is that the series is deeply flawed. Or possibly the Extended Universe itself is deeply flawed? Well, at least the future half of it, by which I mean the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker and his Extended Family. Which, when you get right down to it, is the flaw. But I said plenty enough about that last time; all I mean to convey here is that 2011 me was pretty persuasive and is still right.[2]

The funny thing is, even though I was aware of flaws in Allies just as I had been in the previous members of the series, that did not stop me from enjoying myself. This time, the weird outlying thing was slavery. Don’t get me wrong, the various people in the various far-flung reaches of the galaxy should ought to be free. And maybe the fact that it hasn’t come up until now, right in the middle of a story that is very much about other things is exactly the point? It’s not like you’re going to catch me saying “too soon”; if anything, it’s millennia overdue and I can’t help wondering why the Jedi have never done anything about it before, even though I know the answer.[3] But structurally, even if it is the point from a “the world/galaxy/whatever sure is messy about its timing” perspective, it’s weird to bring it up as a third of a book’s topic at the midpoint of a nine book series, when other than acknowledging its existence in the galaxy, Star Wars has literally never[4] talked about this topic before.

So, okay. Structurally odd, like I said. But the treatment was handled well and clearly tied into the future of the series even if not its past. And everything else? I’ve probably mentioned that the Jedi are under a dark cloud because of their failure to prevent the latest previous Sith incursion, right? Well, not only is that political stew getting worse all the time, but in the meantime Luke has allied[6] himself with a whole armada of newly discovered Sith, because of… well, it’s honestly not that important why, in the scheme of things. Jedi going insane, massively overwhelming evil in the middle of a nest of black holes, you know the drill. “Dawn’s in trouble? Must be Tuesday.” Like that.

But it’s Star Wars, and even bad Star Wars…. no, you know what? There’s some craptacular Star Wars out there. But even structurally unsound, problematically repetitive Star Wars is still fun. That’s all I’m really trying to say.

[1] Oh, how I wish I meant this less literally than I do.
[2] On the bright side, the announcement of an Episode 7 has halted all production in that direction, such that three years later, I’m only the rest of this series plus one more book behind. Probably because they can see all their carefully crafted continuity about to come crashing down around their ears. ….which is probably the best news the Extended Universe has had in a long time. Or maybe I’m just cynical. But seriously, 2011 me was pretty smart about this.
[3] Wildly insufficient numbers is the answer. I mean, spectacularly insufficient. Though probably not insufficient to have been the shining beacon leading the way for everyone else.
[4] Well, that I’ve seen. And okay, I have not consumed all the Star Wars out there that is to be consumed. But I’m way over half, which is more than probably anyone else you know.[5]
[5] For values of “you” whose initials are not ZD.
[6] Oh, hey, maybe that’s where they got the title! Nah, I kid, there were a number of unlikely alliances throughout the story.

Death Troopers

DeathtroopersIf you’ve been saying to yourself (and who hasn’t?), “Man, I like the ninety or so Star Wars novels floating around out there, but why don’t any of them have zombies?”, then I am here to tell you that you’ve been ignoring Death Troopers, which has been sitting on my shelf for at least two years.

I’m supposed to be here to tell you more than that, you know? This was certainly a zombie book, in that it included a government conspiracy, a rampaging horde of dead people, plucky yet mostly doomed survivors, unpleasant trouble-making survivors, and multiple instances of chase scenes and grotesqueries. And it was certainly a Star Wars book, in that it included references to familiar types of aliens and droids, an evil Galactic Empire run by an asthmatic cyborg, and laser blasters instead of pistols and shotguns.

It was not, however, a particularly inspired version of either genre. In fact, it has just occurred to me, I did not at any point have a John Williams soundtrack thundering in my ears. So, wow. Probably worse than I thought.

Backlash

star_wars_fate_of_the_jedi_backlash_frontcover_large_uz9CMVYuUc5x3R7While trying to remember the name of this book so I could find a link on Amazon, I determined that the series is almost completed, despite my not even having reached the halfway point. Does this mean I’ll suddenly start reading a lot more Star Wars books? Y’know, probably not, it’s not like anyone talks about them such that I have to avoid spoilers; if anything, I’m the one who’s guilty of them. It’s hard to avoid spoilers in my own reviews, because the continuity is so massive now. When I talk about Ben Skywalker’s brief period as potential apprentice to a Sithlord who happened to be his cousin, you’d be all like, “Wait, what? What Sithlord? What cousin? Since when is there a Skywalker named Ben?” Kind of enormous spoilers for events like 10 books ago, and yet necessary backstory to understand some of his motivations in Backlash, as he and his exiled father[1] try to prevent the Sith apprentice they are following from both returning to her leadership with news of a very powerful Dark Side creature they all encountered in the last book while simultaneously helping to end a long-standing wrong on the planet of Dathomir. Oh, and while laying the groundwork for future romance, I predict!

It’s funny how much this series reminds me of an episodic TV show like Burn Notice, or episodic book series like the Deathlands. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the connective tissue in which we are apparently to learn the Fate of the Jedi, politically as well as spiritually[2], is certainly interesting. And the non-Jedi politics are also a thing about which I… well, okay, I mostly don’t care who’s in charge, and the maneuvering is a little infantile after having just re-read the entire Song of Ice and Fire series to date over the summer, but I still rarely get tired of that kind of fiction. And you can always count on Han and Leia to get up to interesting things, regardless of what the story is notionally going to be about. But after two long series in a row, one with twenty books about extra-galactic invaders and one with nine books about that Sithlord, an episodic series with connective tissue feels a little bit like stepping backwards into the mid ’90s when none of the authors had a plan or any kind of interaction with each other as they stumbled from one event to the next to another one two years in between the first two, in the days after the fall of the Empire.

And don’t get me wrong, they only let pretty good authors write these books now, and they all collaborate extensively, so it’s not like I’ve read an actually bad Star Wars book anytime this decade. It just still feels weird to have so much looser of a plot arc than usual, is all. I find myself hoping for some kind of societal collapse, which I know is not okay, because billions of sentient beings would die or fall upon dire straits. Nevertheless, the wild and woolly days of the Empire, with scattered, ineffective Jedi and a struggle against overwhelming odds were a lot more fun than these struggles to maintain the status quo. Whatever the Jedi used to be in the Old Republic, they aren’t that anymore. Too many people remember too many failures, and as long as books keep being written in this time period, there’s never going to be a generation of peace during which they come to represent the old days, so forcing them to weather scandal after emergency just makes them look more and more small and sad, and I’d rather see roaming Jedi deciding what’s best for each situation on an individual basis than an Order that is as decayed today as the Senate was during the last days of Chancellor Valorum’s reign.

Huh. This is not the review I expected to write.

[1] Oh, you know. Don’t pretend.
[2] You may recall that a) they are on the outs with the current government after the big Sith thing I mentioned earlier and that b) some of them are going crazy, with virtually no rhyme or reason and certainly with no cure.

Abyss

abyss_bgAs with previous ongoing Star Wars series, Abyss marks a point in the storyline where it gets a lot harder to say anything much useful while also avoiding large spoilers for previous books. But I’m interested enough in seeing where they’re going with it to lay out at least a bare-bones sketch, all the same. First, things I’ve probably already told you anyway: the Fate of the Jedi series takes place some forty years after Luke and Leia and Han saved the galaxy from the Emperor. They have since saved it from the rest of the Empire that wasn’t really done yet despite their boss’s demise, from extra-galactic invaders, and most recently from a newly risen Sith Lord with uncomfortable family ties. Now, the Jedi are trying to save it from themselves, since many of them are suffering psychotic delusions, while navigating a political minefield that has already resulted in Luke Skywalker stepping down as Grand Master of the Jedi Order to go on a pilgrimage and figure out why good people do bad things, more or less.

Okay? So, the series at large has been Luke and his son hopping from one group of non-Jedi Force-sensitives to the next to gather this information, while everyone else plays at political shenanigans back home. The political shenanigans have been interesting, but in this book (as, I suspect, ultimately will be the case in the series as a whole) they’ve been largely irrelevant stage-dressing, since they don’t really touch on the Force, which is what we’re honestly here about, right? That part is where I’m getting to be interested, for two reasons. The first is one I’m likely to be let down by in the long run, but they seem to be making a close examination of Lucas'[1] underlying cosmology for the entirety of his creation, and I hope to see interesting conclusions drawn. The second, though, is a thing I haven’t mentioned previously (I don’t think), that there seems to be an old-fashioned Jedi-Sith confrontation on the way. Not the master-and-apprentice always-two Sith Lords of the last good long while, no, I mean the actual Force-sensitive species of them that wanted to take over the galaxy way back before there was an Old Republic. Which admittedly doesn’t sound that different on the surface, but old things coming back has always seemed pretty cool to me, and I do not expect to be disappointed as far as seeing where that goes. So, y’know, possible cool stuff in the outing, and interesting philosophical turns and the omnipresent swashbuckling and aforementioned political shenanigans in the mean time are more than tasty enough mind-candy to keep me coming back for more.

[1] I mean, obviously he has never given it even a tiny fraction of this much thought, but I guess at some degree of abstraction he still has veto power.

Omen

Omen_front_bgIf I had not read Outcast first, or[1] if it had been a different book, I would have liked Omen a lot better. Because, Omen was almost exactly the same book, it was just written a little more tightly. Two plot elements were identical, in fact. Luke Skywalker and his son are wandering the galaxy in search of non-Jedi Force-sensitives to learn from them and find a way to guarantee that he’ll know the next time one of the Jedi is slipping toward the Dark Side. And meanwhile, more and more Jedi are experiencing the Capgras delusion, wherein they are convinced that everyone they know has been replaced by perfect impostors. I’m saying, the prose was different but large swathes of the plot have literally not moved.

The only thing that is really new is that the extraneous third plot from the previous book has been replaced by dire rumblings of a new Sith ascendancy troubling the galaxy. Like, old school Sith from thousands of years ago, before even the Old Republic; a last remnant that has been cut off all this time, back from when they were a species more than a lifestyle. So that part was pretty cool, as was the prose I mentioned, really, and all in all it’s like I said at the start. I’d have liked this book a lot better if most of the events of it had not been duplicated from the inferior first book of the series.

Dear stable of Star Wars writers: it is okay to write fewer, more tightly plotted books to tell a story. Despite the fact that people will pay for nine books when only a three book series is needed, you should write three books anyway and consider the lost money a write-off on your soul. It will be worth it! …to your soul, I mean. Also, to me.

[1] More rationally, since this is a series.

Outcast

Outcast_coverThere’s a new Star Wars series again, set 40 years after the events of the movies, decades past the final fall of the Empire, well past the invasion of an extra-galactic alien armada not affected by the Force, just a few years past a second galactic civil war caused by another Sith lord from the Skywalker line. And this most recent event shows that people are basically the same all over; public sentiment has turned sharply against the Jedi Order in the wake of Jacen Solo’s fall, mostly because political figures are of the opinion that Luke Skywalker should have seen it coming and prevented it.

The truth of that statement, despite its simultaneous unfairness, points Luke and his son Ben on a quest through the galaxy in search of the various Force-sensitive but non-Jedi societies Jacen visited in the years before his fall, to see if they can find any clues. After establishing this premise and hinting at mental illnesses that may be starting to afflict some of the Jedi, Outcast proceeds to… well, to stall out. The first leg of Luke’s investigation is entertaining, as are Han and Leia’s adventures trying to keep a planet from being blown up. (By earthquakes, not Death Stars.) But the pacing back and forth between these stories and the Jedi illness plotline is awkward, and by the end of the book, I felt like it maybe should have been compressed into just a hundred pages with plenty of room for more. Worse, the Han and Leia plotline actually had no apparent bearing on anything else, even though I’m well aware that a seemingly minor event involving their granddaughter will be relevant later on. The knowing and the entertainment just weren’t quite enough to make up for the structural weirdness and the slowness of the pace.

Possibly as part of a straight through read of the nine book series, the pacing would not have struck me oddly, but in the book standing alone: no good. Luckily, I did enjoy the discrete events, so I have no worries about liking the next book, whenever I get around to reading it. (Probably not terribly long from now, as it would be nice to be caught up again.) I guess the majority of my disappointment comes from the fact that Aaron Allston is a known good quantity in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and to see plotting or pacing problems from him, much less both, confuses me more than just any randomly off-kilter Star Wars book would. It’s not like they don’t exist in the wild.

Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor

You would think, given a decisive lack of job, that I would have plenty of time to read, right? And I can’t in any real honesty say I haven’t had, but I somehow haven’t been reading much nevertheless. Less than usual, even, which is a bit puzzling. I guess all those lunches at work added up? Anyhow, what I have been reading is a perfectly serviceable Star Wars book. I wish I could say more for it, but it really very much reminds me of the early books chronicling the chaotic period after the fall of the Empire, before the people in charge had started taking firm plot-based reins on the progression of the extended universe. So, some of the books would be top notch, some would be godawful bad, and the majority would be like this: perfectly okay, good Star Wars feel, but ultimately forgettable.

Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor suffers the most, I think, for being so plot-based. After a 20 book series with an epic plot and a 9 book series with reasonably epic character progression to follow it, it’s just hard to go back 30 years and read a standalone book that has yet another take on the dark side of the Force and how different people perceive it, yet another wholly alien species that must be understood if the day is to be saved, yet another stack of TIE Fighters and stormtroopers. The characters were all on, and that means a lot. And there’s a reasonably good running gag behind the awkward title. But on the whole, it was entirely too missable for my tastes. I hope the next one I read, which delves the farthest yet into the future of that universe, is a substantial sight better.

Millennium Falcon

I’m not entirely sure why I bother to review Star Wars books at this point, except that it’s expected of me to review everything. It’s just, the context is pretty small, or something. Nonetheless, I’ve typed this much, so I may as well finish up! Millennium Falcon performs a few duties for the Extended Universe. Primarily, it puts together a history of one of the most famous starships in science fiction from before the days when Han Solo owned her (starting with a fairly cheesy Christine-on-the-assembly-line homage and, thankfully, improving from there). Secondarily, it provides a plot hook for a treasure hunt, and then places the Solo family on that hunt as a way to heal some of the still painful wounds brought about by the most recent Sith assault on the galaxy. Lastly, and probably most importantly to the ongoing storylines, it sets up the newest political threat to the Jedi Order, albeit behind the scenes and in throwaway moments.

The book itself was good but not great. I can’t really recommend it as a standalone, and if you weren’t planning to read it in that sense, you probably will regardless of anything I say on the topic. But the secondary characters were all pretty decent, and the stories-within-the-story format reminds me a lot of World War Z.

Revelation

In the book of Revelation, we finally discover what’s been going on with God’s plan for Creation, plus there’s a lot of drama involving trumpets and earthquakes and some prostitute from Babylon 5. I don’t want to give away the ultimate climax, but, spoiler alert, Jesus is finally back, after we’ve all been waiting for what seems like millennia at this point. What I can’t figure out is how, if this is the penultimate novel of the Legacy of the Force series, they’ll have anything remaining for the last one.

Oh. Um. This is embarrassing. It turns out that the book I read is also called Revelation, but just that title by itself. Oops! So, right, completely different plot, but it fits much better as a next-to-last book, so on the whole I have to approve. (Sadly, no Jesus.) We’ve come back around to another entry focussed on Boba Fett, except this time it finally ties into the overall plot of the series, leading me to care a lot more. Plus, Mandalorian society and Fett’s personality are both a fair bit more interesting than they were in the previous such volumes, making this easily the best of Traviss’ three entries to the series. In addition to the superior character- and society-building being done, the plot that has to do with the new Sith Lord’s ascendancy that we’ve been examining over the past eight books now is also returning to the quality form of the first couple of books in the series.

Unfortunately, I’ve reached the point where anything I could say that holds meaning will be a serious spoiler for the first half of said series. I doubt this will really bother anyone, but on the off chance, look below the cut.

Continue reading

Fury

51l3ROGsfaLI am now officially caught up with all thing Star Wars. By which I mean not the comic books, not most of the prequel era or Sith era novels, not the young adult section books, and not the video games. But at least all of the future of the galaxy stuff, right? Well, probably all of that, anyway. Definitely all of the current big time Legacy of the Force series. So fancy! Nothing new until late February, which is probably more time away than I’ve spent reading the first seven books in the series, so that’s probably going to be a relief for some people, I bet.

Fury chronicles another chapter in the descent of Darth Caedus from grey-shaded humanity toward Sithy goodness evilness, in the galactic civil war at large, and in perennial heroic families Skywalker and Solo’s attempts to work against those forces and try to bring about something good from it all, the kind of galaxy where people can solve things diplomatically instead of by starting wars, building or utilizing planet-destroying megaweapons, or disassembling other people via the aggressive use of lightsabers. There is some dramatic irony in the fact that Caedus’ only moments of humanity these days revolve around his interactions with and thoughts about his daughter, despite that without his monofocus on her well-being at the expense of the other sons and daughters out there in the galaxy, he wouldn’t have fallen to the Dark Side in the first place. But if you leave that out of consideration, there’s nothing particularly special about this book to distinguish it from any other good Star Wars story. The ground is well-trodden by now, is what I’m saying, and as the series ramps up towards its finale, there’s not really any room for the unexpected twists and thematic explorations that marked the early volumes.

I do have an active complaint, which is about the series as a whole rather than this particular book; but now is as good a time as any. Even though the series has been tightly plotted, the breaks between books are far too jarring. One author (this one) is invested in the space battles, and another feels the stirrings of the Force on a regular basis if you know what I mean, and the third has an enormous hard-on for Boba Fett. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with any of these things, except that the books are written alternatingly by each author, with only enough attention paid to the other authors’ foci to maintain that it’s a single series and probably these earlier references will come back before everything is over. I’m fine with Fett still being alive and in the series, but if he pops up tangentially to the story, disappears for two books other than a few throwaway lines, pops back up on an even greater tangent to the story and then disappears for two more books minus a few more throwaway lines, then by the time he pops up for the third time, I’m going to feel a little jerked around by the pacing, even if he’s suddenly integral. And of course that’s only the one author; the other two are doing the same thing but with the characters they’re in love with instead. So, that’s the fly in an otherwise extremely entertaining serial ointment.