The Stolen Data Tapes
Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream by Aaron Allston (2002, Del Rey)
Aaron Allston, whose first Star Wars novels were the latter half of the X-wing series, made his foray into The New Jedi Order with a two-part series called Enemy Lines. Unsurprisingly (and much to my delight), the first book of this duology, Rebel Dream, reads a lot like one of Allston’s X-wing novels.

The book begins shortly after the fall of Coruscant in Star by Star. Rebel hero, two-time Death Star survivor, and all-around badass Wedge Antilles has withdrawn from Coruscant with a detachment of New Republic fighter squadrons to the (galactically speaking) nearby planet of Borleias. Long-time expanded universe readers will remember that, ironically, this is the planet from which Wedge and his pilots staged their push toward Coruscant in the first X-wing novel.  

After capturing and holding the planet and having a very unfruitful meeting with the New Republic’s remaining bureaucrats, it becomes readily apparent to Wedge, Lando, Luke, and other members of Wedge’s trusted “Inner Circle” that the Republic is as good as gone, and the task that remains is for a new rebellion to be established—a resistance against the now-dominant Yuuzhan Vong.

Allston does a good job of balancing and servicing quite a few characters in this book. We have Wedge and the original trilogy cast, Corran Horn, Kyp Durron, members of Allston’s Wraith Squadron, and, of course, Jaina Solo, who, with Anakin dead, is poised to become the main series protagonist of the younger generation.

Wedge and his group decide to make continued use of the ruse Jaina began in Dark Journey, in an attempt to trick the more gullible of the Yuuzhan Vong into believing that Jaina is an avatar of the Vong trickster goddess, Yun-Harla. Most of Jaina’s time is taken up with posturing as the goddess and leading the hodge-podge Twin Suns fighter squadron against repeated attacks by the Vong. However, now that she’s mostly out of the woods with the whole dark side thing, she finds that she has to wrangle with her feelings for Jagged Fel, the dashing, chivalrous, and sometimes arrogant pilot who has joined her squadron.

Of course, all of this is going on with a mind-controlled, unwilling traitor in the midst.

Most enticing, however, are Luke’s premonitions of a dangerous dark side presence on Coruscant. Because the Yuuzhan Vong are somehow invisible in the Force, this indicates something different altogether lurking on the former capital world. Lando risks his neck to bring Luke, some of the Wraiths, and a party of additional Jedi to Coruscant, but this plot is largely left to be explored in the next book.

Rebel Dream, while remaining firmly a part of the New Jedi Order storyline, injects a lot of the flavor of the old Bantam novels, and the X-wing books in particular. A large cast of colorful characters, plenty of excitingly depicted space dogfights, and an overall lighter and more recognizably Star Wars tone pervade this book. Allston also peppers this novel with his distinct brand of witty dialogue, which is especially apt in the mouths of Han and Leia, whose wry banter is especially enjoyable in this novel. Allston manages this lightness of tone without ever letting the reader forget that Anakin Solo’s death is still taking its toll on the protagonists.

In short, Rebel Dream is a very fun read that combines the sensibilities of the New Jedi Order with those of older entries in the Star Wars canon. Next week, we’ll check out the second part of Enemy Lines, Rebel Stand.

(Big props to Dave Seeley, by the way. That’s the best cover I’ve seen on one of these books in a while.)

Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream by Aaron Allston (2002, Del Rey)

Aaron Allston, whose first Star Wars novels were the latter half of the X-wing series, made his foray into The New Jedi Order with a two-part series called Enemy Lines. Unsurprisingly (and much to my delight), the first book of this duology, Rebel Dream, reads a lot like one of Allston’s X-wing novels.

The book begins shortly after the fall of Coruscant in Star by Star. Rebel hero, two-time Death Star survivor, and all-around badass Wedge Antilles has withdrawn from Coruscant with a detachment of New Republic fighter squadrons to the (galactically speaking) nearby planet of Borleias. Long-time expanded universe readers will remember that, ironically, this is the planet from which Wedge and his pilots staged their push toward Coruscant in the first X-wing novel.  

After capturing and holding the planet and having a very unfruitful meeting with the New Republic’s remaining bureaucrats, it becomes readily apparent to Wedge, Lando, Luke, and other members of Wedge’s trusted “Inner Circle” that the Republic is as good as gone, and the task that remains is for a new rebellion to be established—a resistance against the now-dominant Yuuzhan Vong.

Allston does a good job of balancing and servicing quite a few characters in this book. We have Wedge and the original trilogy cast, Corran Horn, Kyp Durron, members of Allston’s Wraith Squadron, and, of course, Jaina Solo, who, with Anakin dead, is poised to become the main series protagonist of the younger generation.

Wedge and his group decide to make continued use of the ruse Jaina began in Dark Journey, in an attempt to trick the more gullible of the Yuuzhan Vong into believing that Jaina is an avatar of the Vong trickster goddess, Yun-Harla. Most of Jaina’s time is taken up with posturing as the goddess and leading the hodge-podge Twin Suns fighter squadron against repeated attacks by the Vong. However, now that she’s mostly out of the woods with the whole dark side thing, she finds that she has to wrangle with her feelings for Jagged Fel, the dashing, chivalrous, and sometimes arrogant pilot who has joined her squadron.

Of course, all of this is going on with a mind-controlled, unwilling traitor in the midst.

Most enticing, however, are Luke’s premonitions of a dangerous dark side presence on Coruscant. Because the Yuuzhan Vong are somehow invisible in the Force, this indicates something different altogether lurking on the former capital world. Lando risks his neck to bring Luke, some of the Wraiths, and a party of additional Jedi to Coruscant, but this plot is largely left to be explored in the next book.

Rebel Dream, while remaining firmly a part of the New Jedi Order storyline, injects a lot of the flavor of the old Bantam novels, and the X-wing books in particular. A large cast of colorful characters, plenty of excitingly depicted space dogfights, and an overall lighter and more recognizably Star Wars tone pervade this book. Allston also peppers this novel with his distinct brand of witty dialogue, which is especially apt in the mouths of Han and Leia, whose wry banter is especially enjoyable in this novel. Allston manages this lightness of tone without ever letting the reader forget that Anakin Solo’s death is still taking its toll on the protagonists.

In short, Rebel Dream is a very fun read that combines the sensibilities of the New Jedi Order with those of older entries in the Star Wars canon. Next week, we’ll check out the second part of Enemy Lines, Rebel Stand.

(Big props to Dave Seeley, by the way. That’s the best cover I’ve seen on one of these books in a while.)

Dark Journey by Elaine Cunningham (2002, Del Rey)
The next installment of the New Jedi Order series picks up immediately after the events of the previous book, Star by Star. The survivors of an important mission to a Yuuzhan Vong worldship, led by Jaina Solo, steal one of the Vong’s vessels and escape. Circumstances cause them to seek shelter in the Hapes Cluster (home of Prince Isolder of Courtship of Princess Leia fame), where most of the novel’s action takes place.

Over the course of the book, Jaina and Wookie Jedi Lowbacca discover a way to mislead the Vong about the location of their stolen ship, and Jaina begins taunting their priests by adopting the iconography of the Yuuzhan Vong trickster goddess, Yun-Harla. This plays an important role in a climactic space battle to defend the planet Hapes from the Vong, but Dark Journey is more about character than plot. Jaina, still reeling from the death of her brother Anakin, now has reason to believe that Jacen Solo, who has definitely been taken prisoner, might be dead as well.

All of this loss culminated in a scene near the end of Star by Star in which Jaina blasted a Yuuzhan Vong warrior with Force lightning—a signature dark side move. As the title of this book suggests, Jaina continues down the dark path, allowing her grief over Anakin’s death to morph into a thirst for vengeance that threatens to consume her. Jaina’s Jedi companions, dashing pilot and future love interest Jagged Fel, and even her parents see this happening, but she won’t hear any of it from them, declaring that concern about the dark side has no place in this war.

Instead, Jaina draws closer to Kyp Durron, a Jedi who has been walking on the knife’s edge between light and dark for virtually his entire existence. She also seeks the counsel of Ta’a Chume, the scheming former Queen Mother of Hapes, who begins grooming the ambitious young Jaina to replace the current, ailing queen.

Ironically, it’s Kyp himself that brings Jaina back from the brink of darkness, and it appears that Jaina’s actions even lead Kyp to question his own judgment. The novel ends with Jaina becoming Kyp’s apprentice, but there appears to be more hope for the future than when the book began.

Author Elaine Cunningham does a great job with the character of Jaina Solo, allowing the reader to sympathize with her while still recognizing the ill-advisedness of her actions throughout the book. Her interactions with other characters as they try to warn her away from the dark side are at times sad, touching, and frustrating—and often all three at once. The comedy of errors that takes place between Jaina and Jag Fel as they continually misinterpret one another’s intentions also serves to keep Jaina grounded in her humanity, even as she heads down a path where she might lose it.

At just over three hundred pages, Dark Journey is pretty short—especially when compared to the mammoth tome (for a Star Wars book) that is Star by Star. This, combined with the relative lack of big upheavals in the plot, makes it feel a bit like an interlude. This is a good thing. By not decimating any more planets or killing any more characters in this book, Cunningham allows readers to take a breather after the monumental events of the previous NJO installment; she also provides us with an intimate, character-driven story that further invests us in the future of Jaina Solo.

Next week, Aaron Allston reconnects us with Wedge Antilles, along with Rogue and Wraith Squadrons, in the first book of his Enemy Lines duology, Rebel Dream. 

Dark Journey by Elaine Cunningham (2002, Del Rey)

The next installment of the New Jedi Order series picks up immediately after the events of the previous book, Star by Star. The survivors of an important mission to a Yuuzhan Vong worldship, led by Jaina Solo, steal one of the Vong’s vessels and escape. Circumstances cause them to seek shelter in the Hapes Cluster (home of Prince Isolder of Courtship of Princess Leia fame), where most of the novel’s action takes place.

Over the course of the book, Jaina and Wookie Jedi Lowbacca discover a way to mislead the Vong about the location of their stolen ship, and Jaina begins taunting their priests by adopting the iconography of the Yuuzhan Vong trickster goddess, Yun-Harla. This plays an important role in a climactic space battle to defend the planet Hapes from the Vong, but Dark Journey is more about character than plot. Jaina, still reeling from the death of her brother Anakin, now has reason to believe that Jacen Solo, who has definitely been taken prisoner, might be dead as well.

All of this loss culminated in a scene near the end of Star by Star in which Jaina blasted a Yuuzhan Vong warrior with Force lightning—a signature dark side move. As the title of this book suggests, Jaina continues down the dark path, allowing her grief over Anakin’s death to morph into a thirst for vengeance that threatens to consume her. Jaina’s Jedi companions, dashing pilot and future love interest Jagged Fel, and even her parents see this happening, but she won’t hear any of it from them, declaring that concern about the dark side has no place in this war.

Instead, Jaina draws closer to Kyp Durron, a Jedi who has been walking on the knife’s edge between light and dark for virtually his entire existence. She also seeks the counsel of Ta’a Chume, the scheming former Queen Mother of Hapes, who begins grooming the ambitious young Jaina to replace the current, ailing queen.

Ironically, it’s Kyp himself that brings Jaina back from the brink of darkness, and it appears that Jaina’s actions even lead Kyp to question his own judgment. The novel ends with Jaina becoming Kyp’s apprentice, but there appears to be more hope for the future than when the book began.

Author Elaine Cunningham does a great job with the character of Jaina Solo, allowing the reader to sympathize with her while still recognizing the ill-advisedness of her actions throughout the book. Her interactions with other characters as they try to warn her away from the dark side are at times sad, touching, and frustrating—and often all three at once. The comedy of errors that takes place between Jaina and Jag Fel as they continually misinterpret one another’s intentions also serves to keep Jaina grounded in her humanity, even as she heads down a path where she might lose it.

At just over three hundred pages, Dark Journey is pretty short—especially when compared to the mammoth tome (for a Star Wars book) that is Star by Star. This, combined with the relative lack of big upheavals in the plot, makes it feel a bit like an interlude. This is a good thing. By not decimating any more planets or killing any more characters in this book, Cunningham allows readers to take a breather after the monumental events of the previous NJO installment; she also provides us with an intimate, character-driven story that further invests us in the future of Jaina Solo.

Next week, Aaron Allston reconnects us with Wedge Antilles, along with Rogue and Wraith Squadrons, in the first book of his Enemy Lines duology, Rebel Dream

Star by Star by Troy Denning (2001, Del Rey)
At roughly the mid-point of the New Jedi Order series, Star by Star serves the role often provided by the second act in a play, or the middle installment of a trilogy: it’s the chapter of the story wherein evil triumphs and all appears to be lost for the heroes. …Of course, that’s basically what’s been going on, to one extent or another, in the majority of the NJO books thus far, but things get really dark in this one. By the way, there’ll be some major New Jedi Order spoilers in this review, so if, unlike me, you were able to avoid finding out what happens in this book before reading it, you may want to come back to this review after you’ve read Star by Star.



Using their genetic engineering capabilities to manipulate the DNA of the Force-sensitive predatory animal known as the vornskr, the Yuuzhan Vong have created the voxyn: a beast that hunts and kills Jedi. When it’s discovered that the voxyn are cloned from a single source, Luke reluctantly agrees to send a strike team that includes all three of the Solo kids to destroy the voxyn genetic template, or queen.

Meanwhile, the Vong muster their forces and invade Coruscant. A massive, pitched space battle ensues above the planet while former senator and now open traitor Viqi Shesh tries and fails to kidnap the infant Ben Skywalker. The space battle is particularly exciting, as we get most of it from the perspective of Luke in an X-wing cockpit—a place few expanded universe writers have elected to put the character. It’s also troubling, as the New Republic military splits apart over whether or not to fire on the refugee ships the Vong are using as shields.

Neither of these plotlines ends well for those involved. Sure, the voxyn queen is destroyed, but at a huge cost, and the most shocking character death since Chewbacca’s in Vector Prime: Anakin Solo, leader of the Jedi strike team, sacrifices himself for the good of the mission. Anakin has thus far been my favorite of the three Solo children, so it was a bummer to see him killed off. Despite that, I didn’t hate this the way I’d expected to when I first heard about it. Chewbacca’s death was a device to make the reader feel as though characters were no longer safe, and as such, it rings false in the narrative. Anakin’s death, by contrast, serves a clear purpose in the narrative and in the arcs of several other characters. Perhaps more importantly, the dramatic, self-sacrificial death is worthy of Anakin.


The Vong invasion of Coruscant, meanwhile, is successful. Troy Denning really hammers home the unraveling of everything previously established in the expanded universe’s status quo, the tragedy of Coruscant’s destruction, and the death of countless innocents. Han even refers to it as “the end of the world.” I had fallen out of reading Star Wars books by the time this one was released, but I can imagine the events of Star by Star, released at the end of October in 2001, might have carried some baggage for readers at the time. There are no direct parallels, but the destruction of an urban landscape likely reminded American readers of the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. More interestingly, many characters in the book refer to the Yuuzhan Vong by xenophobic epithets and several scenes involve Jedi who, as they fall to the dark side, casually and even gleefully discuss killing their alien enemies. Intentional or not, this bears some unsettling parallels to the racist and xenophobic attitudes that were disturbingly and openly prevalent in America in the months following those attacks. It will be interesting to see if this is explored at all in subsequent NJO novels (either intentionally or through unintentional cultural osmosis).

Star by Star engages in everything I’ve been complaining about in the New Jedi Order series. Two major characters—Anakin and Borsk Fey’lya—bite it. Yet another feature of the Star Wars galaxy that makes it recognizable as the Star Wars galaxy falls to the Yuuzhan Vong, presumably to be altered beyond recognition. And yet… I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As I said at the beginning of this review, Star by Star feels a lot like a second act, despite its place as the ninth book in a nineteen-book series. It’s NJO’s Empire Strikes Back, and, while nowhere close to being that good, it fills that role pretty well. All of the bad shit that goes down in this book serves a purpose beyond being shocking/grim/dark. All of it either advances the plot (the Vong have all but won the war, Jacen is captured) or advances character arcs (Anakin’s death brings Han and Leia closer together, while it drives Jaina to the brink of the dark side). And like Empire, Star by Star ends with a glimmer of hope in a situation that seems hopeless. I still feel a bit as though Anakin would have served the story better alive than dead, but Star by Star is, nevertheless, a wonderfully executed story, and one of the best of the New Jedi Order thus far.

The paperback edition of Star by Star also includes an e-book by Troy Denning called Recovery.



The story is set shortly after the events of Balance Point, wherein the planet Duro falls to the Yuuzhan Vong and Leia sustains a serious injury to her legs. The plot involves a group of Jedi who figure into the story of Star by Star, as well as an attempt to discredit traitorous senator Viqi Shesh. However, the real story is tightly focused on Leia and Han, who spend some time together while Leia recovers from her injury. Recovery’s title carries a double meaning; it’s really about Han and Leia patching up the damage that Chewbacca’s death, and Han’s reaction to it, did to their marriage.

As in Star by Star and his 2003 novel Tatooine Ghost, Denning demonstrates a firm grip on Han and Leia’s relationship; few writers get it more right than he does. The result is an exciting, amusing, and ultimately heartwarming tale.

Next week, we’ll continue on to the next installment of The New Jedi Order, Dark Journey.  

Star by Star by Troy Denning (2001, Del Rey)

At roughly the mid-point of the New Jedi Order series, Star by Star serves the role often provided by the second act in a play, or the middle installment of a trilogy: it’s the chapter of the story wherein evil triumphs and all appears to be lost for the heroes. …Of course, that’s basically what’s been going on, to one extent or another, in the majority of the NJO books thus far, but things get really dark in this one. By the way, there’ll be some major New Jedi Order spoilers in this review, so if, unlike me, you were able to avoid finding out what happens in this book before reading it, you may want to come back to this review after you’ve read Star by Star.

Using their genetic engineering capabilities to manipulate the DNA of the Force-sensitive predatory animal known as the vornskr, the Yuuzhan Vong have created the voxyn: a beast that hunts and kills Jedi. When it’s discovered that the voxyn are cloned from a single source, Luke reluctantly agrees to send a strike team that includes all three of the Solo kids to destroy the voxyn genetic template, or queen.

Meanwhile, the Vong muster their forces and invade Coruscant. A massive, pitched space battle ensues above the planet while former senator and now open traitor Viqi Shesh tries and fails to kidnap the infant Ben Skywalker. The space battle is particularly exciting, as we get most of it from the perspective of Luke in an X-wing cockpit—a place few expanded universe writers have elected to put the character. It’s also troubling, as the New Republic military splits apart over whether or not to fire on the refugee ships the Vong are using as shields.

Neither of these plotlines ends well for those involved. Sure, the voxyn queen is destroyed, but at a huge cost, and the most shocking character death since Chewbacca’s in Vector Prime: Anakin Solo, leader of the Jedi strike team, sacrifices himself for the good of the mission. Anakin has thus far been my favorite of the three Solo children, so it was a bummer to see him killed off. Despite that, I didn’t hate this the way I’d expected to when I first heard about it. Chewbacca’s death was a device to make the reader feel as though characters were no longer safe, and as such, it rings false in the narrative. Anakin’s death, by contrast, serves a clear purpose in the narrative and in the arcs of several other characters. Perhaps more importantly, the dramatic, self-sacrificial death is worthy of Anakin.

The Vong invasion of Coruscant, meanwhile, is successful. Troy Denning really hammers home the unraveling of everything previously established in the expanded universe’s status quo, the tragedy of Coruscant’s destruction, and the death of countless innocents. Han even refers to it as “the end of the world.” I had fallen out of reading Star Wars books by the time this one was released, but I can imagine the events of Star by Star, released at the end of October in 2001, might have carried some baggage for readers at the time. There are no direct parallels, but the destruction of an urban landscape likely reminded American readers of the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. More interestingly, many characters in the book refer to the Yuuzhan Vong by xenophobic epithets and several scenes involve Jedi who, as they fall to the dark side, casually and even gleefully discuss killing their alien enemies. Intentional or not, this bears some unsettling parallels to the racist and xenophobic attitudes that were disturbingly and openly prevalent in America in the months following those attacks. It will be interesting to see if this is explored at all in subsequent NJO novels (either intentionally or through unintentional cultural osmosis).

Star by Star engages in everything I’ve been complaining about in the New Jedi Order series. Two major characters—Anakin and Borsk Fey’lya—bite it. Yet another feature of the Star Wars galaxy that makes it recognizable as the Star Wars galaxy falls to the Yuuzhan Vong, presumably to be altered beyond recognition. And yet… I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As I said at the beginning of this review, Star by Star feels a lot like a second act, despite its place as the ninth book in a nineteen-book series. It’s NJO’s Empire Strikes Back, and, while nowhere close to being that good, it fills that role pretty well. All of the bad shit that goes down in this book serves a purpose beyond being shocking/grim/dark. All of it either advances the plot (the Vong have all but won the war, Jacen is captured) or advances character arcs (Anakin’s death brings Han and Leia closer together, while it drives Jaina to the brink of the dark side). And like Empire, Star by Star ends with a glimmer of hope in a situation that seems hopeless. I still feel a bit as though Anakin would have served the story better alive than dead, but Star by Star is, nevertheless, a wonderfully executed story, and one of the best of the New Jedi Order thus far.

The paperback edition of Star by Star also includes an e-book by Troy Denning called Recovery.

The story is set shortly after the events of Balance Point, wherein the planet Duro falls to the Yuuzhan Vong and Leia sustains a serious injury to her legs. The plot involves a group of Jedi who figure into the story of Star by Star, as well as an attempt to discredit traitorous senator Viqi Shesh. However, the real story is tightly focused on Leia and Han, who spend some time together while Leia recovers from her injury. Recovery’s title carries a double meaning; it’s really about Han and Leia patching up the damage that Chewbacca’s death, and Han’s reaction to it, did to their marriage.

As in Star by Star and his 2003 novel Tatooine Ghost, Denning demonstrates a firm grip on Han and Leia’s relationship; few writers get it more right than he does. The result is an exciting, amusing, and ultimately heartwarming tale.

Next week, we’ll continue on to the next installment of The New Jedi Order, Dark Journey.  

Galaxies: The Ruins of Dantooine by Voronica Whitney-Robinson, with Haden Blackman (2004, Del Rey)
Okay, before I can say anything about this book, we need to talk about this cover. Look, I realize that the novel, very obviously, is a tie-in to the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, Star Wars Galaxies. I realize that the cover is taken from that game’s in-game graphics. This makes a certain amount of sense, and I’m not even dissing the graphics of the game. I don’t really play MMOs and I never played Galaxies, but I’m sure the graphics were at least serviceable for that game. However, a screenshot from Star Wars Galaxies with an amateurish font and a generic red border does not a good book cover make. The game itself had some beautiful promotional artwork; I don’t understand why Del Rey couldn’t have mustered something like that for this cover. Yuck.

ANYWAY, Galaxies: The Ruins of Dantooine is, as I said, a tie-in to the now-defunct MMO, Star Wars Galaxies. Author Voronica Whitney-Robinson’s sort-of coauthor, Haden Blackman, helped by providing details about Galaxies and suggesting elements of the game for inclusion, to make the novel feel like what players experienced in the game. I actually think this was a detriment to Dantooine, but more on that in a minute.



The novel’s protagonist is Dusque Mistflier, who, despite my initial bias against her for having a name that sounds like it came out of a bad mid-‘90s superhero comic, turned out to be a pretty interesting character. Dusque is an Imperial xenobiologist who defects to the Rebel Alliance after the death of her partner. Over the course of the novel, she contends with monsters, subterfuge, and her own self-confidence, significantly damaged by her stint in the male-dominated Empire, where she was frequently passed over for deserved promotions.

Princess Leia, making a brief and more or less unnecessary cameo here, sends Dusque on a mission to track down a data holocron containing the names of high-ranking Imperials who sympathize with the Rebel cause. She is joined on this MacGuffin hunt by the also-badly-named Finn Darktrin, who teaches her a little bit about blasters, helps her with her self-esteem issues, and falls into mutual love and adoration with her.

One might say that it’s problematic that Finn, a dude, is so instrumental in helping Dusque overcome low self-esteem caused by her position as a woman in the Imperial hierarchy. Certainly arguable, though what she does at the end of the novel might be a case against that claim. One might also say that the reader is given very little reason to care about Dusque and Finn’s romantic prospects. It would be very hard to argue otherwise. I could probably be persuaded to overlook that stuff, however, if Finn were a more interesting character. Finn’s only defining personality trait is that he is obviously hiding something and he feels really bad about it. To the reader, that something is so obvious that the following statement shouldn’t even be considered a spoiler: Finn is an Imperial agent. If you couldn’t put two and two together based on the book’s prologue, the surname “Darktrin” might have given it away.

Galaxies: The Ruins of Dantooine may have been a better book if it hadn’t been such a close tie-in to Star Wars Galaxies. The bit cameos from the movie characters serve little purpose, and the endless parade of encounters with predatory animals from the game really bog down the book’s short narrative. Whitney-Robinson has created a strong protagonist in Dusque, and I suppose the novel gets a few points for dealing with gender issues a little more directly than the average Star Wars book, but this isn’t enough to lift Dantooine beyond the level of a thoroughly middle-of-the-road Star Wars novel.

Galaxies: The Ruins of Dantooine by Voronica Whitney-Robinson, with Haden Blackman (2004, Del Rey)

Okay, before I can say anything about this book, we need to talk about this cover. Look, I realize that the novel, very obviously, is a tie-in to the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, Star Wars Galaxies. I realize that the cover is taken from that game’s in-game graphics. This makes a certain amount of sense, and I’m not even dissing the graphics of the game. I don’t really play MMOs and I never played Galaxies, but I’m sure the graphics were at least serviceable for that game. However, a screenshot from Star Wars Galaxies with an amateurish font and a generic red border does not a good book cover make. The game itself had some beautiful promotional artwork; I don’t understand why Del Rey couldn’t have mustered something like that for this cover. Yuck.

ANYWAY, Galaxies: The Ruins of Dantooine is, as I said, a tie-in to the now-defunct MMO, Star Wars Galaxies. Author Voronica Whitney-Robinson’s sort-of coauthor, Haden Blackman, helped by providing details about Galaxies and suggesting elements of the game for inclusion, to make the novel feel like what players experienced in the game. I actually think this was a detriment to Dantooine, but more on that in a minute.

The novel’s protagonist is Dusque Mistflier, who, despite my initial bias against her for having a name that sounds like it came out of a bad mid-‘90s superhero comic, turned out to be a pretty interesting character. Dusque is an Imperial xenobiologist who defects to the Rebel Alliance after the death of her partner. Over the course of the novel, she contends with monsters, subterfuge, and her own self-confidence, significantly damaged by her stint in the male-dominated Empire, where she was frequently passed over for deserved promotions.

Princess Leia, making a brief and more or less unnecessary cameo here, sends Dusque on a mission to track down a data holocron containing the names of high-ranking Imperials who sympathize with the Rebel cause. She is joined on this MacGuffin hunt by the also-badly-named Finn Darktrin, who teaches her a little bit about blasters, helps her with her self-esteem issues, and falls into mutual love and adoration with her.

One might say that it’s problematic that Finn, a dude, is so instrumental in helping Dusque overcome low self-esteem caused by her position as a woman in the Imperial hierarchy. Certainly arguable, though what she does at the end of the novel might be a case against that claim. One might also say that the reader is given very little reason to care about Dusque and Finn’s romantic prospects. It would be very hard to argue otherwise. I could probably be persuaded to overlook that stuff, however, if Finn were a more interesting character. Finn’s only defining personality trait is that he is obviously hiding something and he feels really bad about it. To the reader, that something is so obvious that the following statement shouldn’t even be considered a spoiler: Finn is an Imperial agent. If you couldn’t put two and two together based on the book’s prologue, the surname “Darktrin” might have given it away.

Galaxies: The Ruins of Dantooine may have been a better book if it hadn’t been such a close tie-in to Star Wars Galaxies. The bit cameos from the movie characters serve little purpose, and the endless parade of encounters with predatory animals from the game really bog down the book’s short narrative. Whitney-Robinson has created a strong protagonist in Dusque, and I suppose the novel gets a few points for dealing with gender issues a little more directly than the average Star Wars book, but this isn’t enough to lift Dantooine beyond the level of a thoroughly middle-of-the-road Star Wars novel.

Just a heads-up:Tomorrow, I’m leaving on vacation to visit my family in New England. I’ll be out of town and not on the internet for about a week or so. This means no review on Friday the 12th, but I’ll be back on the 19th to talk about Galaxies: Ruins of Dantooine. 
In the meantime, if you have questions, veneration, vitriol, or anything in between to offer, leave it in my ask box, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m settled in back home. As always, thanks for reading. Have a great week, and may the Force be with you. 
-Dan

Just a heads-up:Tomorrow, I’m leaving on vacation to visit my family in New England. I’ll be out of town and not on the internet for about a week or so. This means no review on Friday the 12th, but I’ll be back on the 19th to talk about Galaxies: Ruins of Dantooine

In the meantime, if you have questions, veneration, vitriol, or anything in between to offer, leave it in my ask box, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m settled in back home. As always, thanks for reading. Have a great week, and may the Force be with you. 

-Dan

Lost Tribe of the Sith: The Collected Stories by John Jackson Miller (2009-2012, Del Rey)
This is a collection of eight short stories originally released as e-books, along with an additional novella. The series was conceived as a tie-in to the Fate of the Jedi series, which, while set forty years after the original trilogy, involves a Sith culture with origins in the distant past, millennia before the movies.
In these stories, author John Jackson Miller chronicles those origins. The stories span a period of over two thousand years, and most feature different characters, but their concern with the development of a planetary society and the unifying voice of one author make this book more like a novel of short stories than a collection of disparate tales.
The first story, “Precipice,” follows a crew of Sith aboard a starship called the Omen. After an attack by a group of Jedi and a subsequent flubbed hyperspace jump, the Omen crash-lands on a remote, isolated planet. This first story has Yaru Korsin, the ship’s captain, as its protagonist, and follows his efforts, along with those of his crew, to salvage the ship. Needless to say, these efforts fail, and the Sith are stranded on this new world—a world whose mineral count is low enough that recreating the Iron Age is impossible, let alone building or repairing a spaceship.
Miller establishes here what becomes one of the primary themes of the Lost Tribe series: it’s really hard to get a group of utterly self-centered people to work together efficiently. Already, squabbling abounds, and Korsin, the most level-headed of the crew, finds it necessary to kill his brother to maintain control.
In “Skyborn,” we learn that the planet on which the Sith had landed is populated by a native species: the Keshiri. The Keshiri religion focuses on a pantheon of deities known as the Skyborn, who are held to be the creators of the world. The story’s protagonist, Adari Vaal, is a geologist whose understanding of plate tectonics challenges the accepted Keshiri creation mythology. This puts her at odds with the Keshiri religious authorities, and prompts her to flee to the crash-site of the Sith vessel Omen, also in part to investigate it as a unique volcanic phenomenon.
She meets the crash-landed Sith, and she and Korsin work out a mutually beneficial arrangement: she saves herself from being declared a heretic by bringing back the Skyborn themselves to the capital city, and the Sith get to play-act as gods. Miller makes his Sith into truly despicable antagonists by having them exploit the beliefs of these people in order to subjugate them and establish a new, tyrannical Sith state on the planet Kesh.
The next two stories, “Paragon” and “Savior,” detail more Sith infighting and the near collapse of their fragile civilization. Yaru Korsin’s wife (formerly sister-in-law) Seelah engineers a plot to destroy the pureblood Sith species among their crew and to depose Yaru. The result is a Sith civilization still intact, but built more on conniving and backstabbing than ever.
“Purgatory” and “Sentinel” skip a thousand years ahead and tell a story I’d not have expected out of this collection: a love story. Ori Kitai is a high-ranking member of the Sith Tribe’s warrior class, but she’s developed a soft-spot for a young, back-woods farmer called Jelph. When a reversal of fortunes disgraces her family and she subsequently discovers that Jelph is a Jedi with a functioning starfighter, she’s torn between the Sith beliefs she was raised on and an affection that is leading her to question the very validity of those beliefs.
“Pantheon” and “Secrets,” jumping ahead nearly another thousand years, follows the exploits of Varner Hilts, an elderly scholar of the Sith. Over the centuries, the Tribe has fragmented and declined, and an accidental revelation that their Sith ancestors were in fact stranded underlings throws the Tribe into a blind panic that threatens to destroy Sith civilization on the planet Kesh. Hilts makes a pilgrimage to the Sith temple surrounding the original crash site and there makes a discovery that not only saves Sith society, but puts Hilts at its head: an untapped continent lies across the ocean on the other side of the planet, waiting to be conquered.
Miller concludes his centuries-spanning tale with a novella-length story called Pandemonium. When the Sith invade the new continent, they’re met with resistance; it turns out that Adari Vaal, the Sith’s original Keshiri ally, had found the new continent two millennia ago and warned them that the Sith would one day arrive to subjugate its people. The Keshiri here had been preparing to fight the Sith for two thousand years. However, through subterfuge and a more sophisticated version of the ruse used by the initial Sith landing party two thousand years before, even these Keshiri are brought to heel in a new age of Sith tyranny.
Too often in Star Wars and other space-based science fiction, individual planets feel more like cities or small regions of a planet, rather than fully realized worlds with the complexity and variety we see in our own. Miller hasn’t achieved quite that level here, but the focus on a single planet over so many stories has allowed him a greater attention to world-building, and the result is fairly impressive. In the Lost Tribe of the Sith stories, John Jackson Miller has created an engrossing multi-generational tale that deepens the history of the Star Wars universe and, at its best, is a thoughtful reflection on the type of scheming and ruthless ambition that has built and razed civilizations in our own history.

It’ll be a while yet before I get around to the Fate of the Jedi series, so I can’t speak to how well it and Lost Tribe complement one another, but taken on its own, Lost Tribe of the Sith is definitely worth a read.

Lost Tribe of the Sith: The Collected Stories by John Jackson Miller (2009-2012, Del Rey)

This is a collection of eight short stories originally released as e-books, along with an additional novella. The series was conceived as a tie-in to the Fate of the Jedi series, which, while set forty years after the original trilogy, involves a Sith culture with origins in the distant past, millennia before the movies.

In these stories, author John Jackson Miller chronicles those origins. The stories span a period of over two thousand years, and most feature different characters, but their concern with the development of a planetary society and the unifying voice of one author make this book more like a novel of short stories than a collection of disparate tales.

The first story, “Precipice,” follows a crew of Sith aboard a starship called the Omen. After an attack by a group of Jedi and a subsequent flubbed hyperspace jump, the Omen crash-lands on a remote, isolated planet. This first story has Yaru Korsin, the ship’s captain, as its protagonist, and follows his efforts, along with those of his crew, to salvage the ship. Needless to say, these efforts fail, and the Sith are stranded on this new world—a world whose mineral count is low enough that recreating the Iron Age is impossible, let alone building or repairing a spaceship.

Miller establishes here what becomes one of the primary themes of the Lost Tribe series: it’s really hard to get a group of utterly self-centered people to work together efficiently. Already, squabbling abounds, and Korsin, the most level-headed of the crew, finds it necessary to kill his brother to maintain control.

In “Skyborn,” we learn that the planet on which the Sith had landed is populated by a native species: the Keshiri. The Keshiri religion focuses on a pantheon of deities known as the Skyborn, who are held to be the creators of the world. The story’s protagonist, Adari Vaal, is a geologist whose understanding of plate tectonics challenges the accepted Keshiri creation mythology. This puts her at odds with the Keshiri religious authorities, and prompts her to flee to the crash-site of the Sith vessel Omen, also in part to investigate it as a unique volcanic phenomenon.

She meets the crash-landed Sith, and she and Korsin work out a mutually beneficial arrangement: she saves herself from being declared a heretic by bringing back the Skyborn themselves to the capital city, and the Sith get to play-act as gods. Miller makes his Sith into truly despicable antagonists by having them exploit the beliefs of these people in order to subjugate them and establish a new, tyrannical Sith state on the planet Kesh.

The next two stories, “Paragon” and “Savior,” detail more Sith infighting and the near collapse of their fragile civilization. Yaru Korsin’s wife (formerly sister-in-law) Seelah engineers a plot to destroy the pureblood Sith species among their crew and to depose Yaru. The result is a Sith civilization still intact, but built more on conniving and backstabbing than ever.

“Purgatory” and “Sentinel” skip a thousand years ahead and tell a story I’d not have expected out of this collection: a love story. Ori Kitai is a high-ranking member of the Sith Tribe’s warrior class, but she’s developed a soft-spot for a young, back-woods farmer called Jelph. When a reversal of fortunes disgraces her family and she subsequently discovers that Jelph is a Jedi with a functioning starfighter, she’s torn between the Sith beliefs she was raised on and an affection that is leading her to question the very validity of those beliefs.

“Pantheon” and “Secrets,” jumping ahead nearly another thousand years, follows the exploits of Varner Hilts, an elderly scholar of the Sith. Over the centuries, the Tribe has fragmented and declined, and an accidental revelation that their Sith ancestors were in fact stranded underlings throws the Tribe into a blind panic that threatens to destroy Sith civilization on the planet Kesh. Hilts makes a pilgrimage to the Sith temple surrounding the original crash site and there makes a discovery that not only saves Sith society, but puts Hilts at its head: an untapped continent lies across the ocean on the other side of the planet, waiting to be conquered.

Miller concludes his centuries-spanning tale with a novella-length story called Pandemonium. When the Sith invade the new continent, they’re met with resistance; it turns out that Adari Vaal, the Sith’s original Keshiri ally, had found the new continent two millennia ago and warned them that the Sith would one day arrive to subjugate its people. The Keshiri here had been preparing to fight the Sith for two thousand years. However, through subterfuge and a more sophisticated version of the ruse used by the initial Sith landing party two thousand years before, even these Keshiri are brought to heel in a new age of Sith tyranny.

Too often in Star Wars and other space-based science fiction, individual planets feel more like cities or small regions of a planet, rather than fully realized worlds with the complexity and variety we see in our own. Miller hasn’t achieved quite that level here, but the focus on a single planet over so many stories has allowed him a greater attention to world-building, and the result is fairly impressive. In the Lost Tribe of the Sith stories, John Jackson Miller has created an engrossing multi-generational tale that deepens the history of the Star Wars universe and, at its best, is a thoughtful reflection on the type of scheming and ruthless ambition that has built and razed civilizations in our own history.

It’ll be a while yet before I get around to the Fate of the Jedi series, so I can’t speak to how well it and Lost Tribe complement one another, but taken on its own, Lost Tribe of the Sith is definitely worth a read.

Order 66: A Republic Commando Novel by Karen Traviss (2008, Del Rey)
This final installment of the Republic Commando series ramps up to the events of Revenge of the Sith, in which Palpatine reveals himself as a Sith mastermind by ordering the clone troopers to murder their Jedi generals in cold blood.
…Except that’s not so much the focus of this novel, oddly enough.
By the time the book begins, Mandalorian Sergeant Kal Skirata and his rag-tag team of clone commandos, ex-Jedi, and other assorted misfits and misanthropes already have an endgame: 1) use the secrets of deceased Kaminoan cloning scientist Ko Sai to halt the clones’ accelerated aging, and 2) get the hell out of Dodge before Palpatine’s plan (of which they have vague inklings) goes into effect.
Karen Traviss has created some very interesting characters and situations in this series, and by the time I picked up Order 66, I was definitely invested in these characters achieving the aforementioned goal. The clones, victims of circumstance and basically slaves to the Republic, want only to escape their preordained fate and live normal, peaceful lives, and Traviss has done the leg work over the course of this series to make the reader sympathize with these clones as real human beings.
There’s plenty of interpersonal drama to be found here, too, especially when Jedi General Etain Tur-Mukan finally reveals to Darman that the two of them had a son together—about a year ago. The novel—and the series—are less about a romantic love story, however, than about Kal Skirata’s paternal love for the clones and any other “strays” that he takes in. Skirata is likely Traviss’s best achievement in this series; in him we’re given a nuanced character who, as several of the novel’s other characters observe, has a fierce love for those he considers family that almost always manages to overshadow his faults.
This is so completely true, in fact, that when Palpatine gives the command to “Execute Order 66,” Skirata and the novel’s other protagonists aren’t presented with the dilemma you’d expect: obey the order or defend the Jedi. It’s quite clear by the novel’s climax that Skirata’s group is ambivalent at best toward both the Republic and the Jedi Order.
It’s the latter position that presents the most problems with this book as a Star Wars novel. Throughout this series, Traviss takes an idea that is certainly present in Revenge of the Sith—that the Jedi Order has, to a certain extent, fallen from grace through its dogmatic rigidity and its participation in an unjust war—and totally blown it out of proportion to the point that, in her version of the Star Wars universe, the Jedi are bigger villains than Palpatine. Despite tons of Clone Wars stories that would indicate otherwise, we’re told here that the majority of Jedi treat clones like dirt and don’t care whether they live or die. It’s insinuated, albeit not openly stated, that Force-sensitive children are taken from their families by lightsaber-point. Yoda himself is made out to be a backward, stubborn old fool who is responsible for the Order’s stagnation. Not even Obi-Wan Kenobi is off the hook, apparently. One clone character calls him “a glory-seeker who wastes too many men.” On what basis this charge is leveled, I really failed to ascertain. Maybe someone can help me out with that one.
This uncaring, borderline malevolent group of navel-gazing, inflexible monks makes for a decent group of antagonists… but it bares only superficial resemblance to the Jedi Order from Star Wars.
And that brings me to the best way I can sum up Order 66 and the Republic Commando series as a whole: these books are entertaining and offer an original take on familiar concepts. They even go a long way to give texture to what I had previously found to be one of the less interesting elements of the Star Wars universe. The series is very enjoyable—provided you are willing to suspend your knowledge about the Star Wars canon as presented by the films and other expanded universe stories.

Next week, look for a review of the previous issue of Brian Wood’s Star Wars comic series, as well as a look at The Lost Tribe of the Sith.

Order 66: A Republic Commando Novel by Karen Traviss (2008, Del Rey)

This final installment of the Republic Commando series ramps up to the events of Revenge of the Sith, in which Palpatine reveals himself as a Sith mastermind by ordering the clone troopers to murder their Jedi generals in cold blood.

…Except that’s not so much the focus of this novel, oddly enough.

By the time the book begins, Mandalorian Sergeant Kal Skirata and his rag-tag team of clone commandos, ex-Jedi, and other assorted misfits and misanthropes already have an endgame: 1) use the secrets of deceased Kaminoan cloning scientist Ko Sai to halt the clones’ accelerated aging, and 2) get the hell out of Dodge before Palpatine’s plan (of which they have vague inklings) goes into effect.

Karen Traviss has created some very interesting characters and situations in this series, and by the time I picked up Order 66, I was definitely invested in these characters achieving the aforementioned goal. The clones, victims of circumstance and basically slaves to the Republic, want only to escape their preordained fate and live normal, peaceful lives, and Traviss has done the leg work over the course of this series to make the reader sympathize with these clones as real human beings.

There’s plenty of interpersonal drama to be found here, too, especially when Jedi General Etain Tur-Mukan finally reveals to Darman that the two of them had a son together—about a year ago. The novel—and the series—are less about a romantic love story, however, than about Kal Skirata’s paternal love for the clones and any other “strays” that he takes in. Skirata is likely Traviss’s best achievement in this series; in him we’re given a nuanced character who, as several of the novel’s other characters observe, has a fierce love for those he considers family that almost always manages to overshadow his faults.

This is so completely true, in fact, that when Palpatine gives the command to “Execute Order 66,” Skirata and the novel’s other protagonists aren’t presented with the dilemma you’d expect: obey the order or defend the Jedi. It’s quite clear by the novel’s climax that Skirata’s group is ambivalent at best toward both the Republic and the Jedi Order.

It’s the latter position that presents the most problems with this book as a Star Wars novel. Throughout this series, Traviss takes an idea that is certainly present in Revenge of the Sith—that the Jedi Order has, to a certain extent, fallen from grace through its dogmatic rigidity and its participation in an unjust war—and totally blown it out of proportion to the point that, in her version of the Star Wars universe, the Jedi are bigger villains than Palpatine. Despite tons of Clone Wars stories that would indicate otherwise, we’re told here that the majority of Jedi treat clones like dirt and don’t care whether they live or die. It’s insinuated, albeit not openly stated, that Force-sensitive children are taken from their families by lightsaber-point. Yoda himself is made out to be a backward, stubborn old fool who is responsible for the Order’s stagnation. Not even Obi-Wan Kenobi is off the hook, apparently. One clone character calls him “a glory-seeker who wastes too many men.” On what basis this charge is leveled, I really failed to ascertain. Maybe someone can help me out with that one.

This uncaring, borderline malevolent group of navel-gazing, inflexible monks makes for a decent group of antagonists… but it bares only superficial resemblance to the Jedi Order from Star Wars.

And that brings me to the best way I can sum up Order 66 and the Republic Commando series as a whole: these books are entertaining and offer an original take on familiar concepts. They even go a long way to give texture to what I had previously found to be one of the less interesting elements of the Star Wars universe. The series is very enjoyable—provided you are willing to suspend your knowledge about the Star Wars canon as presented by the films and other expanded universe stories.

Next week, look for a review of the previous issue of Brian Wood’s Star Wars comic series, as well as a look at The Lost Tribe of the Sith.

Republic Commando: True Colors by Karen Traviss (2007, Del Rey)
If you’ve been keeping up for the past two weeks, you know I’ve been reading the Republic Commando series. So far, I’ve had some serious misgivings about the series, most of which involve its negative view of Jedi philosophy in favor of the more pragmatic, hard-nosed beliefs of the Mandalorians, as portrayed by author Karen Traviss. Triple Zero, the last book, subtly implied that the lesson we should take away is that the value of life isn’t as universal as the Jedi believe it to be. Philosophical differences aside (“…the average person has a much harder time saying ‘booyah’ to moral relativism”), the last book developed its characters into well-rounded people—an impressive feat on Traviss’s part, given that at least half of the main characters are clones.

In this third novel, Traviss significantly raises the stakes, as Mandalorian sergeant Kal Skirata leads his clone commandos on a totally independent quest to capture fugitive Kaminoan scientist Ko Sai, who they hope holds the secrets necessary to stop the rapid aging of the Republic’s clones. In the process, they uncover some dirty secrets that give the protagonists the first inklings that, at the very least, there’s something fishy about this war; and when they learn that no long-term provisions have been made for clones after the war and that untreatably injured clones are routinely terminated, they know that the Republic doesn’t have the best interests of its soldiers in mind.

The series’ two Jedi characters, Etain Tur-Mukan and Bardan Jusik, are forced to struggle with their faith in both the Jedi Order and the Republic. In the end, Jusik rejects both, on the basis that the Jedi Order isn’t living up to its own principles. I found this much more agreeable than earlier implications that the Jedi’s principles weren’t worthwhile in the first place, and much more in line with the portrayal of the Jedi in the movies.

Traviss has succeeded in creating a fair amount of emotional attachment to these characters—something I certainly hadn’t thought possible after reading the first book of the series. Etain’s agony over not being able to tell Darman about their child, Fi’s serious injury and resulting coma, and Kal Skirata’s constant willingness to put himself on the line for the clones the Republic has so mistreated all give the story a much-needed emotional core.

In the last book, the clones and the Mandalorians were infallible and nigh-invulnerable, like superheroes or warrior gods who rode into the Star Wars galaxy from Valhalla itself. Thankfully, Traviss largely curbs this impulse in True Colors. Characters get hurt and make mistakes. Skirata even questions the mandates he gave concerning Etain’s baby that I was so up-in-arms about last week, and some of the hypocrisies and contradictions of Mando culture are discussed, rather than laying those particular shortcomings only at the feet of the Jedi.

True Colors is, without a doubt, the best of the three Republic Commando novels so far. Unlike the previous two books, which were (mostly) closed narratives, this one leaves most of its plot threads at least partially unresolved, building anticipation for the series’ final installment, Order 66.

The paperback edition of True Colors also includes a short story by Karen Traviss, “Odds,” originally printed in Star Wars Insider #87.



This story takes place before the events of True Colors, and would have better served as the first chapter of the book, rather than a separate story. It follows the commandos on two separate infiltration missions: one to a Separatist droid factory, the other to the cloning facility on Kamino. The former mission reveals that the number of battle droids in production has been wildly inflated, both by the Separatists and by how it’s been reported within the Republic. In the latter mission, ARC Trooper Mereel discovers that no new clone production has been ordered beyond the next two years—what the reader knows to be the end of the Clone Wars and the beginning of the Emperor’s New Order.

These revelations are important plot points in the novel, and they’re also part of one of the fan controversies surrounding these novels. The issue is that Traviss gives the number of clones currently fighting in the war at three million, a figure that seems extremely low when you consider the nature of this galaxy-spanning conflict. It doesn’t bother me very much (I think it’s a little silly to demand much hard realism from Star Wars, to be honest), but it does strike me as odd that Traviss, who seems very concerned with writing about realistic military conflicts in the Star Wars setting, was so insistent on a number that, at least to this layman, seems ludicrously low.
Regardless, “Odds” serves as a good prologue to True Colors, but doesn’t stand on its own very well as a piece.

Join me back here next week as we execute Order 66.

Republic Commando: True Colors by Karen Traviss (2007, Del Rey)

If you’ve been keeping up for the past two weeks, you know I’ve been reading the Republic Commando series. So far, I’ve had some serious misgivings about the series, most of which involve its negative view of Jedi philosophy in favor of the more pragmatic, hard-nosed beliefs of the Mandalorians, as portrayed by author Karen Traviss. Triple Zero, the last book, subtly implied that the lesson we should take away is that the value of life isn’t as universal as the Jedi believe it to be. Philosophical differences aside (“…the average person has a much harder time saying ‘booyah’ to moral relativism”), the last book developed its characters into well-rounded people—an impressive feat on Traviss’s part, given that at least half of the main characters are clones.

In this third novel, Traviss significantly raises the stakes, as Mandalorian sergeant Kal Skirata leads his clone commandos on a totally independent quest to capture fugitive Kaminoan scientist Ko Sai, who they hope holds the secrets necessary to stop the rapid aging of the Republic’s clones. In the process, they uncover some dirty secrets that give the protagonists the first inklings that, at the very least, there’s something fishy about this war; and when they learn that no long-term provisions have been made for clones after the war and that untreatably injured clones are routinely terminated, they know that the Republic doesn’t have the best interests of its soldiers in mind.

The series’ two Jedi characters, Etain Tur-Mukan and Bardan Jusik, are forced to struggle with their faith in both the Jedi Order and the Republic. In the end, Jusik rejects both, on the basis that the Jedi Order isn’t living up to its own principles. I found this much more agreeable than earlier implications that the Jedi’s principles weren’t worthwhile in the first place, and much more in line with the portrayal of the Jedi in the movies.

Traviss has succeeded in creating a fair amount of emotional attachment to these characters—something I certainly hadn’t thought possible after reading the first book of the series. Etain’s agony over not being able to tell Darman about their child, Fi’s serious injury and resulting coma, and Kal Skirata’s constant willingness to put himself on the line for the clones the Republic has so mistreated all give the story a much-needed emotional core.

In the last book, the clones and the Mandalorians were infallible and nigh-invulnerable, like superheroes or warrior gods who rode into the Star Wars galaxy from Valhalla itself. Thankfully, Traviss largely curbs this impulse in True Colors. Characters get hurt and make mistakes. Skirata even questions the mandates he gave concerning Etain’s baby that I was so up-in-arms about last week, and some of the hypocrisies and contradictions of Mando culture are discussed, rather than laying those particular shortcomings only at the feet of the Jedi.

True Colors is, without a doubt, the best of the three Republic Commando novels so far. Unlike the previous two books, which were (mostly) closed narratives, this one leaves most of its plot threads at least partially unresolved, building anticipation for the series’ final installment, Order 66.

The paperback edition of True Colors also includes a short story by Karen Traviss, “Odds,” originally printed in Star Wars Insider #87.

This story takes place before the events of True Colors, and would have better served as the first chapter of the book, rather than a separate story. It follows the commandos on two separate infiltration missions: one to a Separatist droid factory, the other to the cloning facility on Kamino. The former mission reveals that the number of battle droids in production has been wildly inflated, both by the Separatists and by how it’s been reported within the Republic. In the latter mission, ARC Trooper Mereel discovers that no new clone production has been ordered beyond the next two years—what the reader knows to be the end of the Clone Wars and the beginning of the Emperor’s New Order.

These revelations are important plot points in the novel, and they’re also part of one of the fan controversies surrounding these novels. The issue is that Traviss gives the number of clones currently fighting in the war at three million, a figure that seems extremely low when you consider the nature of this galaxy-spanning conflict. It doesn’t bother me very much (I think it’s a little silly to demand much hard realism from Star Wars, to be honest), but it does strike me as odd that Traviss, who seems very concerned with writing about realistic military conflicts in the Star Wars setting, was so insistent on a number that, at least to this layman, seems ludicrously low.

Regardless, “Odds” serves as a good prologue to True Colors, but doesn’t stand on its own very well as a piece.

Join me back here next week as we execute Order 66.

Republic Commando: Triple Zero by Karen Traviss (2006, Del Rey)
Last week, I began the Republic Commando series by Karen Traviss. In my review of the first book, I already discussed the behind-the-scenes and fan community strife that apparently went down in connection to Traviss’s take on Star Wars. I wasn’t there for the clashes between  Traviss and some of the fans that happened online, so my opinion that the first book wasn’t so great isn’t tainted by any bitterness toward the author.
In fact, the second book of this series, Triple Zero, is much better than its predecessor. We follow the same characters as in the last book (a crack team of clone commandos and young Jedi General Etain Tur-Mukan), along with some new additions, as they go off the grid on Coruscant in an officially unsanctioned mission to dispose of Separatist terror cells operating on the Republic’s capital planet.
My biggest problem with Hard Contact was the fairly light character development in favor of combat sequence after combat sequence. Triple Zero, with a hundred more pages than Hard Contact, manages to have it both ways. Niner, the clone commando who leads “Omega Squad,” is still more or less a blank slate, but over the course of their mission, the reader does get to see Traviss’s other clone characters take on some extra layers. Fi, the squad’s jokester, struggles with constant reminders on the city-planet of the normal life that has been denied him; Atin is forced to work with his abusive training sergeant; and Darman gets serious about his affection for Etain, his Jedi superior officer.

Traviss introduces some new characters in this novel as well, the most notable of whom is Kal Skirata, the Mandalorian mercenary in charge of training Omega Squad and about a hundred other clones. Traviss writes Skirata as a tough, military hard-case, but also gives him a tangible affection for his clone soldiers that is sometimes touching. His most interesting trait may be his open contempt for the Kaminoan cloners, the Republic, and the war that his “boys” are forced to fight.
All of this extra character work is decently balanced with infiltration missions, sting operations, and explosive combat sequences, and the combination makes Triple Zero a much more enjoyable read than Hard Contact.
That said, this book still has some issues.
The Mandalorians have been a significant part of the Star Wars universe for a while now, and they’re some fans’ favorite element of the expanded universe. Like the Clone Wars, I kind of liked it better back when Mandalorians were a mysterious element of the Star Wars universe that nerds like me could speculate endlessly about and never reach solid conclusions—but that’s neither here nor there. The Mandalorian culture is one of the more robustly developed in the expanded universe, and that’s largely attributable to Karen Traviss.
Traviss writes the Mandalorians as a nomadic warrior culture that values family as much as it values killing folks—and they’re really good at the latter. The culture is largely based on the Celts, and Traviss even went so far as to develop elements of a Mandalorian language with vaguely Gaelic phonic conventions, complete with a glossary in the back of the book.
All of this is impressive (the Star Wars universe never had a made-up language before this), but the focus on the Mandalorians and the way Traviss portrays them are the source of most of my problems with Triple Zero. The Mandalorians are extremely competent warriors—and I’m not using “extremely” as an empty intensifier. They, and the clones by extension, are written as being so supernaturally competent in all things military that it very rarely feels as though the characters are in any real danger—a serious problem if you’re trying to build tension.
Furthermore, Traviss pits the Mandalorians and the Jedi against one another culturally and ideologically. The underlying stance detectable here is that the Jedi are naïve, sanctimonious baby-stealers who rely on magic tricks, while the Mandalorians are practical, stout-hearted family men, and true warriors.
The prequels definitely portray the Jedi as a flawed religious order; how those flaws in the Order contribute to Anakin’s fall is one of the most compelling and tragic elements of the prequel narrative. However, these flaws are exaggerated and misrepresented in Triple Zero, and this contempt for the heroes of the Star Wars movies makes this book feel very much unlike Star Wars. Jedi virtues are renounced almost without a thought while Mandalorian virtues are never even questioned.
The most insulting example of this is when Etain becomes pregnant with the clone Darman’s child, and Kal Skirata insists that, because Darman is a de facto Mandalorian, the child must be raised as a Mandalorian warrior, rather than the normal life that Etain initially wanted for the child. Not only does Etain accept this demand; she doesn’t even question it, and we as readers are clearly meant to feel as though this is the right decision. If it’s bad for the Jedi Order to keep children from their biological parents, it’s bad for a Mandalorian to tell a woman how to raise her kid. I know I’m about to piss some fans off when I say this, but the Mandalorian code of honor seems largely like a bunch of tough-guy bullshit to me.
Despite these misgivings, I’m now much more interested in seeing what happens to these characters, especially in the final installment of the series, Order 66. As long as it’s not portrayed as the Jedi getting their perceived comeuppance, anyway.
This printing of Triple Zero also includes a short story, also by Karen Traviss, called “Omega Squad: Targets,” originally published in Star Wars Insider.

The story takes place shortly before the events of Triple Zero and follows Omega Squad on a mission to rescue hostages at the Galactic City Spaceport on Coruscant. The story showcases Traviss’s ability to write tense, action-y prose, and it’s entertaining as far as that goes. Like Triple Zero, it raises questions about war ethics and the relationship between heroism and hard training. For the most part, though, “Targets” is pretty standard-issue action fair.

Republic Commando: Triple Zero by Karen Traviss (2006, Del Rey)

Last week, I began the Republic Commando series by Karen Traviss. In my review of the first book, I already discussed the behind-the-scenes and fan community strife that apparently went down in connection to Traviss’s take on Star Wars. I wasn’t there for the clashes between  Traviss and some of the fans that happened online, so my opinion that the first book wasn’t so great isn’t tainted by any bitterness toward the author.

In fact, the second book of this series, Triple Zero, is much better than its predecessor. We follow the same characters as in the last book (a crack team of clone commandos and young Jedi General Etain Tur-Mukan), along with some new additions, as they go off the grid on Coruscant in an officially unsanctioned mission to dispose of Separatist terror cells operating on the Republic’s capital planet.

My biggest problem with Hard Contact was the fairly light character development in favor of combat sequence after combat sequence. Triple Zero, with a hundred more pages than Hard Contact, manages to have it both ways. Niner, the clone commando who leads “Omega Squad,” is still more or less a blank slate, but over the course of their mission, the reader does get to see Traviss’s other clone characters take on some extra layers. Fi, the squad’s jokester, struggles with constant reminders on the city-planet of the normal life that has been denied him; Atin is forced to work with his abusive training sergeant; and Darman gets serious about his affection for Etain, his Jedi superior officer.

Traviss introduces some new characters in this novel as well, the most notable of whom is Kal Skirata, the Mandalorian mercenary in charge of training Omega Squad and about a hundred other clones. Traviss writes Skirata as a tough, military hard-case, but also gives him a tangible affection for his clone soldiers that is sometimes touching. His most interesting trait may be his open contempt for the Kaminoan cloners, the Republic, and the war that his “boys” are forced to fight.

All of this extra character work is decently balanced with infiltration missions, sting operations, and explosive combat sequences, and the combination makes Triple Zero a much more enjoyable read than Hard Contact.

That said, this book still has some issues.

The Mandalorians have been a significant part of the Star Wars universe for a while now, and they’re some fans’ favorite element of the expanded universe. Like the Clone Wars, I kind of liked it better back when Mandalorians were a mysterious element of the Star Wars universe that nerds like me could speculate endlessly about and never reach solid conclusions—but that’s neither here nor there. The Mandalorian culture is one of the more robustly developed in the expanded universe, and that’s largely attributable to Karen Traviss.

Traviss writes the Mandalorians as a nomadic warrior culture that values family as much as it values killing folks—and they’re really good at the latter. The culture is largely based on the Celts, and Traviss even went so far as to develop elements of a Mandalorian language with vaguely Gaelic phonic conventions, complete with a glossary in the back of the book.

All of this is impressive (the Star Wars universe never had a made-up language before this), but the focus on the Mandalorians and the way Traviss portrays them are the source of most of my problems with Triple Zero. The Mandalorians are extremely competent warriors—and I’m not using “extremely” as an empty intensifier. They, and the clones by extension, are written as being so supernaturally competent in all things military that it very rarely feels as though the characters are in any real danger—a serious problem if you’re trying to build tension.

Furthermore, Traviss pits the Mandalorians and the Jedi against one another culturally and ideologically. The underlying stance detectable here is that the Jedi are naïve, sanctimonious baby-stealers who rely on magic tricks, while the Mandalorians are practical, stout-hearted family men, and true warriors.

The prequels definitely portray the Jedi as a flawed religious order; how those flaws in the Order contribute to Anakin’s fall is one of the most compelling and tragic elements of the prequel narrative. However, these flaws are exaggerated and misrepresented in Triple Zero, and this contempt for the heroes of the Star Wars movies makes this book feel very much unlike Star Wars. Jedi virtues are renounced almost without a thought while Mandalorian virtues are never even questioned.

The most insulting example of this is when Etain becomes pregnant with the clone Darman’s child, and Kal Skirata insists that, because Darman is a de facto Mandalorian, the child must be raised as a Mandalorian warrior, rather than the normal life that Etain initially wanted for the child. Not only does Etain accept this demand; she doesn’t even question it, and we as readers are clearly meant to feel as though this is the right decision. If it’s bad for the Jedi Order to keep children from their biological parents, it’s bad for a Mandalorian to tell a woman how to raise her kid. I know I’m about to piss some fans off when I say this, but the Mandalorian code of honor seems largely like a bunch of tough-guy bullshit to me.

Despite these misgivings, I’m now much more interested in seeing what happens to these characters, especially in the final installment of the series, Order 66. As long as it’s not portrayed as the Jedi getting their perceived comeuppance, anyway.

This printing of Triple Zero also includes a short story, also by Karen Traviss, called “Omega Squad: Targets,” originally published in Star Wars Insider.

The story takes place shortly before the events of Triple Zero and follows Omega Squad on a mission to rescue hostages at the Galactic City Spaceport on Coruscant. The story showcases Traviss’s ability to write tense, action-y prose, and it’s entertaining as far as that goes. Like Triple Zero, it raises questions about war ethics and the relationship between heroism and hard training. For the most part, though, “Targets” is pretty standard-issue action fair.

Republic Commando: Hard Contact by Karen Traviss (2004, Del Rey)
For a guy who has a blog, I don’t spend a whole lot of time online, especially compared to most. Still, it hasn’t taken much poking around on message boards and elsewhere in the online Star Wars fandom to discover that Karen Traviss is the most divisive author in Star Wars fiction. In 2009, Traviss stoped writing Star Wars books, abandoning the Imperial Commando series she had just begun. This departure seems to have been primarily due to continuity conflicts and creative differences (most speculate that it had to do with the animated The Clone Wars series), but Traviss also frequently clashed with Star Wars fans online.
Most records of these arguments have been deleted by message board moderators, and Traviss’s blog is now password protected, so I wasn’t even able to dig up her explanation of the events. The whole debacle went down before my renewed interest in the expanded universe and the beginning of this project; virtually all of the info I could scrounge was second hand. Some of you probably know more about it than I do. Generally, though, it appears that the controversy revolved around what many fans believed to be plot points and characterization in her books that contradicted established canon. On the other hand, there are plenty of fans who enjoy Traviss’s Star Wars books for their depictions of clone troopers and gritty, realistic descriptions of warfare.
Even with the well thus poisoned, I’ve tried to go into this series unclouded by what others have said about it, and will assess the books on their own merits.
In this first installment, a squad of four clone commandos is inserted onto the planet Qiilura, where their mission is to eliminate a virus that targets Republic clones and to capture the Separatist scientist who engineered it. In the process of landing on the planet, the clones are separated, and much of the book is spent getting them back together. One of the clones, RC-1136, or “Darman,” encounters Etain Tur-Mukan, a Jedi Padawan whose Master has just died at the hands of the Separatists. The relationship between these two characters is the most well-developed in the novel. Etain is astounded by the strange combination of her clone companion’s killer instinct and his naiveté as a man who is only ten years old. As she travels with Darman, she must struggle with the harsh realities of war and her own perceived lack of competence as a soldier.
I’ve frequently seen this series compared to the X-wingbooks. Both feature small military teams carrying out a series of guerilla-style missions against their enemies. The later Wraith Squadron installments of the X-wing series even include ground infiltration missions like the one in Hard Contact. What really makes the X-wing series so much fun, though, is its colorful cast of memorable characters.
Traviss is careful to add details that attempt to distinguish the clones from one another, but these unique details are superficial: Niner is the serious one; Fi is the wisecracker; Atin is prickly because he’s the sole survivor of his last squad. Darman, through his interactions with Etain, gets the most definition, but these clones usually feel like character sketches, rather than fully realized people. Furthermore, many of the clones’ blasé attitude toward non-combatant casualties (“Not all soldiers wear uniforms”) detracts a couple of likability points, at least for this naïve, idealistic, peacenik civilian.
The book’s primary antagonist is Ghez Hokan, a Mandalorian mercenary in the employ of the Separatists. Beyond being cold, competent, and willing to kill folks to make a point, he’s a pretty thin character as well.
The book succeeds most in its battle scenes, which are chaotic, rapid-fire sequences that attempt to approximate military combat as much as they try to make the heroes look cool. Traviss herself served in the military, and she brings her knowledge of military procedure to bear in this book, both to good and bad effect. As I said, the battle sequences are cool, but the endless succession of them grows dull in places, and the book sags in the middle.
I can dig military science fiction, but like anything else, I need a reason to care about characters beyond how competent they are in a fight and how big their guns are. It would be unfair to say that Hard Contact offers nothing more; it explores some of the ethical issues of combat and gives the reader something to latch onto in Darman and Etain. However, I find it a little too thick with military chatter and chains of battle scenes and just a little too thin on human interest.
There are four more of these books, including the Imperial Commando novel, so I hope that Traviss can get me more invested in these characters as the series progresses. We’ll see next week when we discuss the next Republic Commando book, Triple Zero. In the meantime, feel free to let me know what you think of this book and feel free to let fly if you think my criticisms are wrongheaded. 

Republic Commando: Hard Contact by Karen Traviss (2004, Del Rey)

For a guy who has a blog, I don’t spend a whole lot of time online, especially compared to most. Still, it hasn’t taken much poking around on message boards and elsewhere in the online Star Wars fandom to discover that Karen Traviss is the most divisive author in Star Wars fiction. In 2009, Traviss stoped writing Star Wars books, abandoning the Imperial Commando series she had just begun. This departure seems to have been primarily due to continuity conflicts and creative differences (most speculate that it had to do with the animated The Clone Wars series), but Traviss also frequently clashed with Star Wars fans online.

Most records of these arguments have been deleted by message board moderators, and Traviss’s blog is now password protected, so I wasn’t even able to dig up her explanation of the events. The whole debacle went down before my renewed interest in the expanded universe and the beginning of this project; virtually all of the info I could scrounge was second hand. Some of you probably know more about it than I do. Generally, though, it appears that the controversy revolved around what many fans believed to be plot points and characterization in her books that contradicted established canon. On the other hand, there are plenty of fans who enjoy Traviss’s Star Wars books for their depictions of clone troopers and gritty, realistic descriptions of warfare.

Even with the well thus poisoned, I’ve tried to go into this series unclouded by what others have said about it, and will assess the books on their own merits.

In this first installment, a squad of four clone commandos is inserted onto the planet Qiilura, where their mission is to eliminate a virus that targets Republic clones and to capture the Separatist scientist who engineered it. In the process of landing on the planet, the clones are separated, and much of the book is spent getting them back together. One of the clones, RC-1136, or “Darman,” encounters Etain Tur-Mukan, a Jedi Padawan whose Master has just died at the hands of the Separatists. The relationship between these two characters is the most well-developed in the novel. Etain is astounded by the strange combination of her clone companion’s killer instinct and his naiveté as a man who is only ten years old. As she travels with Darman, she must struggle with the harsh realities of war and her own perceived lack of competence as a soldier.

I’ve frequently seen this series compared to the X-wingbooks. Both feature small military teams carrying out a series of guerilla-style missions against their enemies. The later Wraith Squadron installments of the X-wing series even include ground infiltration missions like the one in Hard Contact. What really makes the X-wing series so much fun, though, is its colorful cast of memorable characters.

Traviss is careful to add details that attempt to distinguish the clones from one another, but these unique details are superficial: Niner is the serious one; Fi is the wisecracker; Atin is prickly because he’s the sole survivor of his last squad. Darman, through his interactions with Etain, gets the most definition, but these clones usually feel like character sketches, rather than fully realized people. Furthermore, many of the clones’ blasé attitude toward non-combatant casualties (“Not all soldiers wear uniforms”) detracts a couple of likability points, at least for this naïve, idealistic, peacenik civilian.

The book’s primary antagonist is Ghez Hokan, a Mandalorian mercenary in the employ of the Separatists. Beyond being cold, competent, and willing to kill folks to make a point, he’s a pretty thin character as well.

The book succeeds most in its battle scenes, which are chaotic, rapid-fire sequences that attempt to approximate military combat as much as they try to make the heroes look cool. Traviss herself served in the military, and she brings her knowledge of military procedure to bear in this book, both to good and bad effect. As I said, the battle sequences are cool, but the endless succession of them grows dull in places, and the book sags in the middle.

I can dig military science fiction, but like anything else, I need a reason to care about characters beyond how competent they are in a fight and how big their guns are. It would be unfair to say that Hard Contact offers nothing more; it explores some of the ethical issues of combat and gives the reader something to latch onto in Darman and Etain. However, I find it a little too thick with military chatter and chains of battle scenes and just a little too thin on human interest.

There are four more of these books, including the Imperial Commando novel, so I hope that Traviss can get me more invested in these characters as the series progresses. We’ll see next week when we discuss the next Republic Commando book, Triple Zero. In the meantime, feel free to let me know what you think of this book and feel free to let fly if you think my criticisms are wrongheaded.