The Stolen Data Tapes
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. 

Edge of Victory II: Rebirth by Greg Keyes (2001, Del Rey)
In Greg Keyes’s second New Jedi Order novel, the Jedi are in dire straits. Yavin 4 has been taken over by the Yuuzhan Vong, the collaborationist organization known as the Peace Brigade is hunting the Jedi at the bidding of their future overlords, and now the Republic itself has turned its back on the Jedi, with Chief of State Fey’lya calling for the arrest of Luke and Mara.

Again, much of the book follows Anakin, along with Tahiri—who struggles with implanted Yuuzhan Vong memories—and Corran Horn, who discover a Vong fleet on what was supposed to be a simple supply mission for the Jedi Academy in exile.

Meanwhile, Jacen Solo clashes with his father over the use of violence and deception in wartime situations, while Jaina deals with Kyp Durron. You remember Kyp, right? Blew up a star system, repented, but is still apparently arrogant as hell? He has all but broken away from Luke’s Jedi Order in favor of a group of Jedi that are directly waging war against the Vong. He informs Jaina that the Vong are building a superweapon (which, as you might imagine, immediately elicited a groan and an eyeroll from me) and convinces Jaina to get Rogue Squadron involved in the attempt to destroy it.

In a fantastic reversal of the reader’s expectations, we discover that Kyp lied about the nature of the target. What they destroyed wasn’t a superweapon at all, but a Yuuzhan Vong worldship—a vessel housing both military and civilian personnel.

Keyes ends his duology on a happy note, however. Mara, whose disease has reemerged to threaten her unborn child, is purged of the contagion through the power of the Force, and the child, Ben Skywalker, is born.

The strengths of Conquest carry over to this book. Another subplot in the novel follows Keyes’s Yuuzhan Vong scientist, Nen Yim, whose concerns and sacrifices are all for the sake of her people’s survival. I hope that subsequent New Jedi Order writers continue in this more nuanced approach to the extragalactic invaders. The best element of the book was the aforementioned twist regarding the Yuuzhan Vong “superweapon.” It was a clever move on Keyes’s part to play with a tired expanded universe trope to add a new dimension to the overarching New Jedi Order storyline.

Both Edge of Victory novels are a potentially huge improvement to the overall trajectory of the series. They make the baddies more interesting and carry a less relentlessly dark and dingy tone, resulting in books that feel a lot more like what I want out of a Star Wars book that most of the NJO titles have thus far. Having read these, I am cautiously optimistic about the remainder of the series.

That said, we are going to take a break from New Jedi Order next week to talk about some of the most controversial books among Star Wars fans—the Republic Commando novels by author Karen Traviss. 

Edge of Victory II: Rebirth by Greg Keyes (2001, Del Rey)

In Greg Keyes’s second New Jedi Order novel, the Jedi are in dire straits. Yavin 4 has been taken over by the Yuuzhan Vong, the collaborationist organization known as the Peace Brigade is hunting the Jedi at the bidding of their future overlords, and now the Republic itself has turned its back on the Jedi, with Chief of State Fey’lya calling for the arrest of Luke and Mara.

Again, much of the book follows Anakin, along with Tahiri—who struggles with implanted Yuuzhan Vong memories—and Corran Horn, who discover a Vong fleet on what was supposed to be a simple supply mission for the Jedi Academy in exile.

Meanwhile, Jacen Solo clashes with his father over the use of violence and deception in wartime situations, while Jaina deals with Kyp Durron. You remember Kyp, right? Blew up a star system, repented, but is still apparently arrogant as hell? He has all but broken away from Luke’s Jedi Order in favor of a group of Jedi that are directly waging war against the Vong. He informs Jaina that the Vong are building a superweapon (which, as you might imagine, immediately elicited a groan and an eyeroll from me) and convinces Jaina to get Rogue Squadron involved in the attempt to destroy it.

In a fantastic reversal of the reader’s expectations, we discover that Kyp lied about the nature of the target. What they destroyed wasn’t a superweapon at all, but a Yuuzhan Vong worldship—a vessel housing both military and civilian personnel.

Keyes ends his duology on a happy note, however. Mara, whose disease has reemerged to threaten her unborn child, is purged of the contagion through the power of the Force, and the child, Ben Skywalker, is born.

The strengths of Conquest carry over to this book. Another subplot in the novel follows Keyes’s Yuuzhan Vong scientist, Nen Yim, whose concerns and sacrifices are all for the sake of her people’s survival. I hope that subsequent New Jedi Order writers continue in this more nuanced approach to the extragalactic invaders. The best element of the book was the aforementioned twist regarding the Yuuzhan Vong “superweapon.” It was a clever move on Keyes’s part to play with a tired expanded universe trope to add a new dimension to the overarching New Jedi Order storyline.

Both Edge of Victory novels are a potentially huge improvement to the overall trajectory of the series. They make the baddies more interesting and carry a less relentlessly dark and dingy tone, resulting in books that feel a lot more like what I want out of a Star Wars book that most of the NJO titles have thus far. Having read these, I am cautiously optimistic about the remainder of the series.

That said, we are going to take a break from New Jedi Order next week to talk about some of the most controversial books among Star Wars fans—the Republic Commando novels by author Karen Traviss. 

Star Wars #5 by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda (2013, Dark Horse)
Dan: This issue picks up right where the last one left off, with Leia, Wedge, and fellow pilot Tess pinned down by an Imperial Interdictor and Colonel Bircher’s TIE Fighter squadron. Leia’s X-wing gets pulverized in the action, and in a touching moment, Wedge chooses to stay behind, declaring that he doesn’t want to lose any more friends.

We get a brief, mostly expository exchange between Luke and Prithi (a relief, I suppose, for you, Tim), but it appears Wood is waiting to clue us into what precisely last issue’s revelation regarding Prithi’s abilities will mean to the character dynamics and the overall narrative. Instead, the other half of this issue is devoted to Han and Chewbacca, who run afoul of Boba Fett and Bossk on Coruscant (a nice, unobtrusive nod to the Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy, which tells us that the two hunters were sometimes working together at this point in the timeline). Chewie and Han escape the bounty hunters with the aid of a new character called Perla, who gives them a hand—for a price.

I had a good time reading both of these stories, but they still feel like very separate stories to me. I’d also like to see them shake things up a bit with the Han and Chewbacca story. Putting Leia in an X-wing cockpit provides a pretty fresh take on the character that still remains true to who she is (despite some bellyaching I’ve read online). The Han tale is fun, but it has a distinctly by-the-numbers vibe so far. Any ideas, other than killing off Prithi, for how to remedy some of these issues, Tim?

Tim: I still like Leia’s role as a pilot and believe it is, contrary to most of the fan complaints I’ve read (many of which stink of sexism), perfectly in character. That said, I think there may be a few too many space battle sequences filled with far too much flying jargon to keep me interested. The Han storyline still feels quite disconnected, and it’s not particularly fresh, but I was happy to see a large chunk of this installment devoted to it after so many issues where we just drop in for one or two pages.

I also like Perla quite a bit. She’s like a roguish female protagonist imported in from another Brian Wood comic. Her dynamic with Han is a lot of fun. She thinks she’s being really smooth, but Han has a seen-it-all-before demeanor that’s throwing her off.

I mentioned in the last review that I thought this storyline was going on a bit too long. Though there were some interesting new elements introduced in this issue, I still basically feel that way. What do you think?

Dan: I can’t say that the pilot lingo in the space battles bothers me, but then I’m very used to it from other expanded universe stories and other military sci-fi. I can see where it might be an issue for some, though. I do agree that, given the length of this arc, too much of it is tied up with dogfights.

I do think the arc is a little long in the tooth, but I think that’s directly tied to the two mostly separate stories being told. If they were a little more streamlined, a sixth issue either would not have been necessary, or would not have felt like too much.

I can’t speak for you, Tim, but I don’t want to sound as though I’m not enjoying this book anymore. It’s still a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to the conclusion of this arc and the beginning of the next.

Star Wars #5 by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda (2013, Dark Horse)

Dan: This issue picks up right where the last one left off, with Leia, Wedge, and fellow pilot Tess pinned down by an Imperial Interdictor and Colonel Bircher’s TIE Fighter squadron. Leia’s X-wing gets pulverized in the action, and in a touching moment, Wedge chooses to stay behind, declaring that he doesn’t want to lose any more friends.

We get a brief, mostly expository exchange between Luke and Prithi (a relief, I suppose, for you, Tim), but it appears Wood is waiting to clue us into what precisely last issue’s revelation regarding Prithi’s abilities will mean to the character dynamics and the overall narrative. Instead, the other half of this issue is devoted to Han and Chewbacca, who run afoul of Boba Fett and Bossk on Coruscant (a nice, unobtrusive nod to the Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy, which tells us that the two hunters were sometimes working together at this point in the timeline). Chewie and Han escape the bounty hunters with the aid of a new character called Perla, who gives them a hand—for a price.

I had a good time reading both of these stories, but they still feel like very separate stories to me. I’d also like to see them shake things up a bit with the Han and Chewbacca story. Putting Leia in an X-wing cockpit provides a pretty fresh take on the character that still remains true to who she is (despite some bellyaching I’ve read online). The Han tale is fun, but it has a distinctly by-the-numbers vibe so far. Any ideas, other than killing off Prithi, for how to remedy some of these issues, Tim?

Tim: I still like Leia’s role as a pilot and believe it is, contrary to most of the fan complaints I’ve read (many of which stink of sexism), perfectly in character. That said, I think there may be a few too many space battle sequences filled with far too much flying jargon to keep me interested. The Han storyline still feels quite disconnected, and it’s not particularly fresh, but I was happy to see a large chunk of this installment devoted to it after so many issues where we just drop in for one or two pages.

I also like Perla quite a bit. She’s like a roguish female protagonist imported in from another Brian Wood comic. Her dynamic with Han is a lot of fun. She thinks she’s being really smooth, but Han has a seen-it-all-before demeanor that’s throwing her off.

I mentioned in the last review that I thought this storyline was going on a bit too long. Though there were some interesting new elements introduced in this issue, I still basically feel that way. What do you think?

Dan: I can’t say that the pilot lingo in the space battles bothers me, but then I’m very used to it from other expanded universe stories and other military sci-fi. I can see where it might be an issue for some, though. I do agree that, given the length of this arc, too much of it is tied up with dogfights.

I do think the arc is a little long in the tooth, but I think that’s directly tied to the two mostly separate stories being told. If they were a little more streamlined, a sixth issue either would not have been necessary, or would not have felt like too much.

I can’t speak for you, Tim, but I don’t want to sound as though I’m not enjoying this book anymore. It’s still a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to the conclusion of this arc and the beginning of the next.

Star Wars #4 by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda (2013, Dark Horse)
Tim: Before jumping into this particular issue, I must praise whoever writes the recaps at the beginning of each issue of Star Wars. Having been away from the book for a while, I only had a dim recollection of the previous issues, and the recap here was very helpful with its direct prose. A good jog to the memory and a surprising pleasure to read, as well.
That all said, this was very much a place-setting issue. It was mostly concerned with raising the stakes before the conclusion to this storyline in a couple of issues. Han and Chewie outrun some TIE fighters, straight into the depths of the Coruscant underworld. Leia and Wedge, in their continued search for a new Rebel base, run into a couple of Star Destroyers, while Luke pouts back at home with Prithi. Meanwhile, Darth Vader exercises his control over a few Imperial officers.


HOW?!?! HARD AS FUCK!
Anyway, Dan, were you as blown away by that Vader moment as I was? Are the storylines coalescing well enough for you this far into the story? Would it be too obvious for Prithi to be the Imperial spy? Because fuck her. Get her out of my comic book.
Dan: I didn’t realize your hatred of Prithi ran that deep. That’s the path to the dark side, you know. I’m surprised you didn’t comment on the fact that she can apparently hear Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice talking to Luke. I think this adds a new dimension to the character and has me curious to learn more. 
That said, she is a rather sour person, isn’t she? And she seems bizarrely territorial about the claim she’s staked on Luke after knowing him for a few weeks, max. To answer your question, though, it would definitely be too obvious for her to be the Imp in the squadron. I think it’s this guy:


As to your other questions, A) Yes, Vader is a stone cold badass, and B) sure, things are coming together—although we don’t spend a whole lot of time with Han and Chewie, who still seem to be off in their own comic. 
We also got a new another new character in this issue—Birra Seah, the corporate liaison to the Second Death Star project from Kuat Drive Yards—A.K.A., one of the independent contractors Randall Graves spoke of in Clerks. It’s too early to comment much on this new character, I think, but it does interest me that she’s got the gumption to stand up to Vader, especially since she just saw him gut a guy with his lightsaber. Do you think, though, that too many new characters are being introduced here? Is the original thesis of this series, that it would focus on the original cast, suffering at all as a result?
Tim: I would like to see more of the main characters sharing some scenes, but I think the new characters are mostly pretty good. Birra Seah could prove quite interesting, despite her awful EU name. It’s a new dynamic to see Vader so tolerant of an underling questioning him so directly.
Prithi hit a new low for me in this issue. Her ability to see Ben’s ghost is too much of a character shortcut. Her relationship with Luke was unbelievable before, and giving her a connection with such a potentially huge impact for Luke seems like far too easy a solution.
I initially believed this to be the penultimate issue of this first storyline, and it reads that way. I think this story has perhaps been stretched a bit thin, but we’ll see.
Dan: I can see where you’re coming from with Prithi and Luke. I suppose I’m just taking a “wait-and-see” posture at this point. Perhaps we’ll discuss this a little more later today, when we tackle issue five.

Star Wars #4 by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda (2013, Dark Horse)

Tim: Before jumping into this particular issue, I must praise whoever writes the recaps at the beginning of each issue of Star Wars. Having been away from the book for a while, I only had a dim recollection of the previous issues, and the recap here was very helpful with its direct prose. A good jog to the memory and a surprising pleasure to read, as well.

That all said, this was very much a place-setting issue. It was mostly concerned with raising the stakes before the conclusion to this storyline in a couple of issues. Han and Chewie outrun some TIE fighters, straight into the depths of the Coruscant underworld. Leia and Wedge, in their continued search for a new Rebel base, run into a couple of Star Destroyers, while Luke pouts back at home with Prithi. Meanwhile, Darth Vader exercises his control over a few Imperial officers.

HOW?!?! HARD AS FUCK!

Anyway, Dan, were you as blown away by that Vader moment as I was? Are the storylines coalescing well enough for you this far into the story? Would it be too obvious for Prithi to be the Imperial spy? Because fuck her. Get her out of my comic book.

Dan: I didn’t realize your hatred of Prithi ran that deep. That’s the path to the dark side, you know. I’m surprised you didn’t comment on the fact that she can apparently hear Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice talking to Luke. I think this adds a new dimension to the character and has me curious to learn more.

That said, she is a rather sour person, isn’t she? And she seems bizarrely territorial about the claim she’s staked on Luke after knowing him for a few weeks, max. To answer your question, though, it would definitely be too obvious for her to be the Imp in the squadron. I think it’s this guy:

As to your other questions, A) Yes, Vader is a stone cold badass, and B) sure, things are coming together—although we don’t spend a whole lot of time with Han and Chewie, who still seem to be off in their own comic.

We also got a new another new character in this issue—Birra Seah, the corporate liaison to the Second Death Star project from Kuat Drive Yards—A.K.A., one of the independent contractors Randall Graves spoke of in Clerks. It’s too early to comment much on this new character, I think, but it does interest me that she’s got the gumption to stand up to Vader, especially since she just saw him gut a guy with his lightsaber. Do you think, though, that too many new characters are being introduced here? Is the original thesis of this series, that it would focus on the original cast, suffering at all as a result?

Tim: I would like to see more of the main characters sharing some scenes, but I think the new characters are mostly pretty good. Birra Seah could prove quite interesting, despite her awful EU name. It’s a new dynamic to see Vader so tolerant of an underling questioning him so directly.

Prithi hit a new low for me in this issue. Her ability to see Ben’s ghost is too much of a character shortcut. Her relationship with Luke was unbelievable before, and giving her a connection with such a potentially huge impact for Luke seems like far too easy a solution.

I initially believed this to be the penultimate issue of this first storyline, and it reads that way. I think this story has perhaps been stretched a bit thin, but we’ll see.

Dan: I can see where you’re coming from with Prithi and Luke. I suppose I’m just taking a “wait-and-see” posture at this point. Perhaps we’ll discuss this a little more later today, when we tackle issue five.

Edge of Victory I: Conquest by Greg Keyes (2001, Del Rey)
I know it’s been a while, but if you recall my reviews of previous books in the New Jedi Order series, you’ll likely also remember my ambivalence toward them. The series hasn’t failed to please me altogether, but it does have a number of persistent problems, not the least of which is the series’ antagonists, the Yuuzhan Vong. As I’ve remarked in the past, the Vong characters introduced so far have generally had little to distinguish them as individuals, almost to the point of being interchangeable.

Furthermore, the Yuuzhan Vong have thus far been portrayed as a monolithically evil force, bloodthirsty and ruthless without exception. I obviously don’t look to Star Wars for moral ambiguity, but this lack of variety makes the Vong boring antagonists, and comes off as rather xenophobic when read allegorically. While some of my other gripes are left to simmer in Conquest, author Greg Keyes drastically improves the characterization of the Yuuzhan Vong.

The action of this book primarily revolves around the Vong incursion on Yavin 4, where Luke’s Jedi Praxeum has made its home for the past fifteen years. This invasion is a key part of the Vong plan to eradicate the Jedi, their greatest obstacle in the path to galactic domination.

Keyes’s choice to focus on the Jedi Order in a series called The New Jedi Order is a wise one. Anakin Solo, whom Keyes writes with an appropriately heavy dose of his mother’s resourcefulness and his father’s recklessness, makes for an appealing lead character here.



Keyes augments the cast with Jedi masters and students drawn from previous stories, such as the Pokemon-esque Master Ikrit and Anakin’s childhood friend, Tahiri Veila.



In addition to providing a charming romantic subplot, Anakin and Tahiri provide perspective on the Yuuzhan Vong. Both are captured by the occupying forces on Yavin 4. Anakin, during his stint as a slave, learns about the lowest caste in Vong society, the Shames Ones. These Yuuzhan Vong, deemed unworthy for various dubious-at-best reasons, are used as slaves. Anakin meets one member of this caste, a disgraced warrior called Vua Rapuung who doesn’t accept his lower stuatus and agrees to help Anakin escape in exchange for the chance to avenge himself on the one responsible for his demotion. Their actions eventually lead many of the Shamed Ones to question whether or not their status is truly ordained by the Yuuzhan Vong deities.

Meanwhile, the Vong almost succeed, through intense brainwashing, at making Tahiri believe she is one of them. Through these events, we learn of the genetic engineers, known as shapers, whose job it is to grow the biotechnology used by the Yuuzhan Vong in every facet of life. The shapers, however, must work from existing genetic blueprints. To stray from established bioengineering knowledge is heretical. Some, however, like shaper Nen Yim, are willing to break these protocols in order to help their people.

Keyes does a lot here to develop the Yuuzhan Vong as a race of people, rather than merely a horde of monsters, and this makes them a lot more fun to read about. That said, this book isn’t devoid of what I’ve come to view as typical New Jedi Order problems. A key plot point in this novel is, once again, the destruction of yet another Star Wars universe landmark. I understand and appreciate the desire to shake the expanded universe from the predictability and stagnancy that settled into some of the Bantam Star Wars books, but what appears to have been an editorial mandate that cataclysms or major character deaths need to occur in every book isn’t the best way to go about that goal. It seems as though little thought was given to whether or not the Star Wars universe would, by the end of The New Jedi Order, be recognizable as the Star Wars universe. Unfortunately, I know enough about subsequent books in the series to know that this trend will continue.

Despite this, Edge of Victory I: Conquest is one of the best New Jedi Order novels I’ve read thus far. Keyes manages quite a bit of emotional resonance in this book, while demonstrating a talent for writing exciting swordplay and an extensive knowledge of real-world philosophy and theology, from which he draws heavily to provide conflict within the ranks of both the Jedi and the Yuuzhan Vong. Most importantly, however, he adds much-needed depth to the central conflict of the New Jedi Order series.

Check back tomorrow for a discussion of issues four and five of the Star Wars comic series, and again next week for my review of Greg Keyes’ follow-up novel, Edge of Victory II: Rebirth.

Edge of Victory I: Conquest by Greg Keyes (2001, Del Rey)

I know it’s been a while, but if you recall my reviews of previous books in the New Jedi Order series, you’ll likely also remember my ambivalence toward them. The series hasn’t failed to please me altogether, but it does have a number of persistent problems, not the least of which is the series’ antagonists, the Yuuzhan Vong. As I’ve remarked in the past, the Vong characters introduced so far have generally had little to distinguish them as individuals, almost to the point of being interchangeable.

Furthermore, the Yuuzhan Vong have thus far been portrayed as a monolithically evil force, bloodthirsty and ruthless without exception. I obviously don’t look to Star Wars for moral ambiguity, but this lack of variety makes the Vong boring antagonists, and comes off as rather xenophobic when read allegorically. While some of my other gripes are left to simmer in Conquest, author Greg Keyes drastically improves the characterization of the Yuuzhan Vong.

The action of this book primarily revolves around the Vong incursion on Yavin 4, where Luke’s Jedi Praxeum has made its home for the past fifteen years. This invasion is a key part of the Vong plan to eradicate the Jedi, their greatest obstacle in the path to galactic domination.

Keyes’s choice to focus on the Jedi Order in a series called The New Jedi Order is a wise one. Anakin Solo, whom Keyes writes with an appropriately heavy dose of his mother’s resourcefulness and his father’s recklessness, makes for an appealing lead character here.

Keyes augments the cast with Jedi masters and students drawn from previous stories, such as the Pokemon-esque Master Ikrit and Anakin’s childhood friend, Tahiri Veila.

In addition to providing a charming romantic subplot, Anakin and Tahiri provide perspective on the Yuuzhan Vong. Both are captured by the occupying forces on Yavin 4. Anakin, during his stint as a slave, learns about the lowest caste in Vong society, the Shames Ones. These Yuuzhan Vong, deemed unworthy for various dubious-at-best reasons, are used as slaves. Anakin meets one member of this caste, a disgraced warrior called Vua Rapuung who doesn’t accept his lower stuatus and agrees to help Anakin escape in exchange for the chance to avenge himself on the one responsible for his demotion. Their actions eventually lead many of the Shamed Ones to question whether or not their status is truly ordained by the Yuuzhan Vong deities.

Meanwhile, the Vong almost succeed, through intense brainwashing, at making Tahiri believe she is one of them. Through these events, we learn of the genetic engineers, known as shapers, whose job it is to grow the biotechnology used by the Yuuzhan Vong in every facet of life. The shapers, however, must work from existing genetic blueprints. To stray from established bioengineering knowledge is heretical. Some, however, like shaper Nen Yim, are willing to break these protocols in order to help their people.

Keyes does a lot here to develop the Yuuzhan Vong as a race of people, rather than merely a horde of monsters, and this makes them a lot more fun to read about. That said, this book isn’t devoid of what I’ve come to view as typical New Jedi Order problems. A key plot point in this novel is, once again, the destruction of yet another Star Wars universe landmark. I understand and appreciate the desire to shake the expanded universe from the predictability and stagnancy that settled into some of the Bantam Star Wars books, but what appears to have been an editorial mandate that cataclysms or major character deaths need to occur in every book isn’t the best way to go about that goal. It seems as though little thought was given to whether or not the Star Wars universe would, by the end of The New Jedi Order, be recognizable as the Star Wars universe. Unfortunately, I know enough about subsequent books in the series to know that this trend will continue.

Despite this, Edge of Victory I: Conquest is one of the best New Jedi Order novels I’ve read thus far. Keyes manages quite a bit of emotional resonance in this book, while demonstrating a talent for writing exciting swordplay and an extensive knowledge of real-world philosophy and theology, from which he draws heavily to provide conflict within the ranks of both the Jedi and the Yuuzhan Vong. Most importantly, however, he adds much-needed depth to the central conflict of the New Jedi Order series.

Check back tomorrow for a discussion of issues four and five of the Star Wars comic series, and again next week for my review of Greg Keyes’ follow-up novel, Edge of Victory II: Rebirth.

After several months that I’m sure were, for you, filled with anxiety and breathless anticipation, I’m back. The last four months, in all seriousness, were likely the busiest of my life; they were also some of the most rewarding, and gave me a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
You know what else will give me a wonderful sense of accomplishment? Finishing this project! Now that I’m done, I’m ready to dive back into a galaxy far, far away. You can, for the forseeable future, once again expect new reviews every Friday, as well as the occasional midweek review.

To begin again, I’ll be jumping back into the New Jedi Order series. Later today, look for my review of the first part of Greg Keyes’s Edge of Victory duology (it would be up earlier, but I left the notebook I’d originally written the review in at work yesterday, so I have to rewrite it). Tomorrow, my brother and I will take a look at the last two issues of Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda’s Star Wars comic series from Dark Horse.

If there is a grain of truth for you in my sarcastic, self-deprecating opening sentence, then I appreciate your patience and continued readership. Feel free to say hello; otherwise, I’ll see you back here this afternoon.

After several months that I’m sure were, for you, filled with anxiety and breathless anticipation, I’m back. The last four months, in all seriousness, were likely the busiest of my life; they were also some of the most rewarding, and gave me a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

You know what else will give me a wonderful sense of accomplishment? Finishing this project! Now that I’m done, I’m ready to dive back into a galaxy far, far away. You can, for the forseeable future, once again expect new reviews every Friday, as well as the occasional midweek review.

To begin again, I’ll be jumping back into the New Jedi Order series. Later today, look for my review of the first part of Greg Keyes’s Edge of Victory duology (it would be up earlier, but I left the notebook I’d originally written the review in at work yesterday, so I have to rewrite it). Tomorrow, my brother and I will take a look at the last two issues of Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda’s Star Wars comic series from Dark Horse.

If there is a grain of truth for you in my sarcastic, self-deprecating opening sentence, then I appreciate your patience and continued readership. Feel free to say hello; otherwise, I’ll see you back here this afternoon.

Star Wars #3 by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda (2013, Dark Horse)
Tim: Woah! Second Death Star!

The third issue of Star Wars once again contains a lot of great moments, but its disparate plot threads are beginning to become problematic. This felt like three different comics smooshed together. All good comics, mind you, but still.
With Vader exiled from the Executioner, he is now supervising the construction of the second Death Star. It makes sense they’d be starting around this point, since Revenge of the Sith tells us the original was under construction for almost two decades. Like most of Vader’s appearances in this series, this is brief and doesn’t really go beneath the surface. Like Han and Chewie’s mission on Coruscant, it feels disconnected from the A-plot to a somewhat distracting degree.
Leia’s training exercises seem to be going pretty well, but Luke is distracted by Prithi, an attractive young pilot who’s taken an interest in him. When she causes them to be late to a rendezvous, Leia puts them both on suspension. This results in a great scene between Luke and Leia where Luke is portrayed as the brash young man that he is, claiming to be the “best pilot [Leia’s] got.” Leia rightly corrects him by reminding him of the existence of Wedge Antilles (king).
Whether or not Leia is motivated purely by the responsibility of her command or simple jealousy is left up in the air. This certainly isn’t a black and white issue. What do you think?
Dan: As you said, Tim, it’s not a black and white issue, and I don’t think the two motivations are mutually exclusive. As we’ve discussed before, Brian Wood doesn’t seem afraid to address the romantic tension that is, despite the spin some weak-stomached fans will try to put on in, present right up until Luke discovers his relation to her in Jedi. It’s quite possible, then, that Leia is upset, at least in part, that Luke seems to be developing affections for someone else.
That said, Leia has every right, as Luke’s commanding officer, to be upset. He’s definitely acting like a petulant little kid in this issue, and as you pointed out, it’s rather gratifying to see her take him to task. Wood’s focus on Leia continues to be the strongest quality this book has; never sidelined or relegated to a B-plot, Leia is consistently at the center of the action, and the narration spends more time inside her head than with any other character.
I agree that there are several disparate threads in this issue, and I suppose it creates something of a disconnect, but I’m not sure I agree with the extent to which you seem distracted by it. I’m willing to give these plot threads a chance to come together at the end of the arc. That said, I do maintain that, as we said last time, it would have been nice to see the main characters all together for the first arc of this series.

The Han/Chewie subplot is certainly worthwhile. Everything about it—not just Han’s dialogue, but the timing of Chewbacca’s growls, the framing of the panels, and the high-energy firefight that constitutes the action centerpiece of this issue—is pure Star Wars.
You pointed out some things that you are having issues with, but would you say that you’re generally satisfied with this book? How optimistic are you about future issues?
Tim: The Han/Chewie bits are a lot of fun. It’s not like I’m struggling through them, waiting to get back to the action, but I do think some dovetailing should have occurred by the third issue of a four issue storyline. I waffle a lot about pacing in comics.
I’m certainly still enjoying the book, and as you’ve pointed out, Wood has an impeccable control over these characters’ voices and the overall Star Wars tone. I fully expect the book’s subplots to come together in the next issue or two.
I’m curious to know your impression of Prithi. I think she may be a little too thinly drawn at this point to even register as a threat to Luke’s maturity or Leia’s authority.


Dan: That might be true; we don’t know a lot about her, but I think that’s by design. During that conversion between Leia and Mon Mothma near the end of the issue, Leia implied that Prithi may be their spy. I think, however, that it would be a mistake to go in that direction. It would be an all-too-convenient way to get her out of Luke’s romantic field of view.
While this issue may not have been flawless, I would say that it was generally a very entertaining read, and I look forward to the next issue with anticipation. With that in mind, we’ll see you back here next month!
You can read more of Tim’s work at King and VHShitfest.

Star Wars #3 by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda (2013, Dark Horse)

Tim: Woah! Second Death Star!

The third issue of Star Wars once again contains a lot of great moments, but its disparate plot threads are beginning to become problematic. This felt like three different comics smooshed together. All good comics, mind you, but still.

With Vader exiled from the Executioner, he is now supervising the construction of the second Death Star. It makes sense they’d be starting around this point, since Revenge of the Sith tells us the original was under construction for almost two decades. Like most of Vader’s appearances in this series, this is brief and doesn’t really go beneath the surface. Like Han and Chewie’s mission on Coruscant, it feels disconnected from the A-plot to a somewhat distracting degree.

Leia’s training exercises seem to be going pretty well, but Luke is distracted by Prithi, an attractive young pilot who’s taken an interest in him. When she causes them to be late to a rendezvous, Leia puts them both on suspension. This results in a great scene between Luke and Leia where Luke is portrayed as the brash young man that he is, claiming to be the “best pilot [Leia’s] got.” Leia rightly corrects him by reminding him of the existence of Wedge Antilles (king).

Whether or not Leia is motivated purely by the responsibility of her command or simple jealousy is left up in the air. This certainly isn’t a black and white issue. What do you think?

Dan: As you said, Tim, it’s not a black and white issue, and I don’t think the two motivations are mutually exclusive. As we’ve discussed before, Brian Wood doesn’t seem afraid to address the romantic tension that is, despite the spin some weak-stomached fans will try to put on in, present right up until Luke discovers his relation to her in Jedi. It’s quite possible, then, that Leia is upset, at least in part, that Luke seems to be developing affections for someone else.

That said, Leia has every right, as Luke’s commanding officer, to be upset. He’s definitely acting like a petulant little kid in this issue, and as you pointed out, it’s rather gratifying to see her take him to task. Wood’s focus on Leia continues to be the strongest quality this book has; never sidelined or relegated to a B-plot, Leia is consistently at the center of the action, and the narration spends more time inside her head than with any other character.

I agree that there are several disparate threads in this issue, and I suppose it creates something of a disconnect, but I’m not sure I agree with the extent to which you seem distracted by it. I’m willing to give these plot threads a chance to come together at the end of the arc. That said, I do maintain that, as we said last time, it would have been nice to see the main characters all together for the first arc of this series.

The Han/Chewie subplot is certainly worthwhile. Everything about it—not just Han’s dialogue, but the timing of Chewbacca’s growls, the framing of the panels, and the high-energy firefight that constitutes the action centerpiece of this issue—is pure Star Wars.

You pointed out some things that you are having issues with, but would you say that you’re generally satisfied with this book? How optimistic are you about future issues?

Tim: The Han/Chewie bits are a lot of fun. It’s not like I’m struggling through them, waiting to get back to the action, but I do think some dovetailing should have occurred by the third issue of a four issue storyline. I waffle a lot about pacing in comics.

I’m certainly still enjoying the book, and as you’ve pointed out, Wood has an impeccable control over these characters’ voices and the overall Star Wars tone. I fully expect the book’s subplots to come together in the next issue or two.

I’m curious to know your impression of Prithi. I think she may be a little too thinly drawn at this point to even register as a threat to Luke’s maturity or Leia’s authority.

Dan: That might be true; we don’t know a lot about her, but I think that’s by design. During that conversion between Leia and Mon Mothma near the end of the issue, Leia implied that Prithi may be their spy. I think, however, that it would be a mistake to go in that direction. It would be an all-too-convenient way to get her out of Luke’s romantic field of view.

While this issue may not have been flawless, I would say that it was generally a very entertaining read, and I look forward to the next issue with anticipation. With that in mind, we’ll see you back here next month!

You can read more of Tim’s work at King and VHShitfest.

Star Wars #2 by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda (2013, Dark Horse)
This is the second installment of Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda’s new subtitle-less Star Wars series. My brother and I began reviewing the series last month with a conversation about its place in the expanded universe and its treatment of the classic Star Wars cast in the direct aftermath of A New Hope. Here, we’ll take a look at how this series is developing beyond its inaugural issue.
Dan: If you read last month’s review, you’ll recall that I was fairly pleased with the first issue of Star Wars, finding its simple plot and faithful Star Wars tone a delight to read. Here, Wood and D’Anda continue this trend as they further lay the foundation for the series.

The Rebel Alliance has been looking for a new location for a permanent base, only to have their scouting missions constantly—and a little too coincidentally—thwarted by Imperial patrols. In an effort to circumvent this problem, which may well be the result of an intelligence leak, Leia has assembled a covert, off-the-grid team of X-wing pilots, including herself, Luke, Wedge, and several new characters. Nobody else will know what they’re doing, and they will receive no outside help from Alliance command. On the plus side, they’ll get to fly some really cool looking black X-wings. Meanwhile, a separate Rebel mission takes Han and Chewie into the heart of Imperial Center itself.
While the exterior conflict builds, Wood has given Luke and Leia clear internal conflicts that they will likely wrestle with for many issues to come. Luke, still fresh from his single-handed destruction of the great and terrible Death Star, and in this issue from wiping out an entire squadron of TIEs in a simulator run, appears to think himself invincible. Naturally, this has Wedge a little concerned.
Leia, meanwhile, is only now beginning to mourn the loss of Alderaan in earnest. The sequence in which she watches a tourism advertisement from her late home planet is easily the most emotionally effective so far.
Wood and D’Anda appear content to let this story build slowly. Tim, does this level of decompression strike you as a good idea, or would you like to see them move at a quicker pace?
Tim: I’m not sure I would agree the series is moving at a particularly slow pace, at least by modern comic standards. This is hardly the first arc of Ultimate Spider-Man. That’s not to say the book doesn’t take its time. The sequence you mentioned in which Leia breaks down is exactly the kind of scene which is only allowed by a storyteller who knows when to give his characters room to breathe.
Wedge, who we saw briefly in the first issue, is given a lot more to do here. It’s a smart move to make his relationship with Luke a focus. With Ben dead, and Yoda a few years off, Luke is in need of a mentor. I had never given it the thought before, but it makes perfect sense that Wedge would fill that role at this point on the timeline.
If there’s one part of this first story arc which isn’t working for me, it’s Han and Chewie’s side mission. Nothing about it isn’t working on its own, but as a B story, I’m not sure what it’s contributing to the A story. Should the core trio be separated in the first arc of a book which declares itself definitive right there in the title?
Dan: I hadn’t given it much thought, but that’s a valid concern. One issue I often have with expanded universe stories is that we don’t see Luke, Han, and Leia together in one place and interacting with one another often enough. Likely these stories are taking their cue from The Empire Strikes Back, and, to a lesser extent, Jedi, both of which have Luke separated from the rest of the gang for significant portions of their run times. Still, I think this book should be closer in tone and structure to the original Star Wars than anything else. That said, I’m very interested to see what kind trouble Han and Chewie get themselves into on Coruscant.
As you said, developing the relationship between Luke and Wedge was definitely a good call. In the movies, we see them flying together, and their embrace during the last moments of Return of the Jedi implies that they’re pretty tight. In the post-Jedi expanded universe, we’re often told of their close friendship, but with Luke mostly uninvolved in military exploits at that chronological point, we’re given very little tangible evidence of his relationship with Wedge on the page. Here, their camaraderie, as well as the young gun/experienced mentor aspect of their relationship you mentioned, is strong.
What about the new characters we’ve met in the past two issues? I couldn’t help but notice that one of the pilots in Leia’s crack team is from Alderaan. Any thoughts about how that might affect their interactions? Colonel Bircher seems like a standard-issue Imperial tight-ass to me, but might there be a little more to him—or to his new subordinate, Ensign Llona?
Tim: I’m also finding the Imperial characters to be fairly bland at this point, but I think there is some potential in the pilots introduced in this issue. None of them are particularly fleshed out here, but the Alderaanian you mentioned is certainly interesting, as is Prithi, who seems suspicious of Luke and Leia’s relationship.


The first arc, “In the Shadow of Yavin,” is set to end either next issue or the one after that. Middle chapters are typically transitional and more difficult to review. Still, it is possible for each installment of a serialized story to stand on its own, a skill Wood has demonstrated in his masterpiece, Local. I’d like to see him bring a little of that to Star Wars. Give each issue something to hang its hat on.
This was, for the most part, a successful issue. It deepened its core characters, introduced some intriguing new ones, and made the mission clearer. Presumably, next issue will see the story move into its climax, and perhaps my minor gripes will be addressed.
Check out more of Tim’s writing at King and VHShitfest.

Star Wars #2 by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda (2013, Dark Horse)

This is the second installment of Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda’s new subtitle-less Star Wars series. My brother and I began reviewing the series last month with a conversation about its place in the expanded universe and its treatment of the classic Star Wars cast in the direct aftermath of A New Hope. Here, we’ll take a look at how this series is developing beyond its inaugural issue.

Dan: If you read last month’s review, you’ll recall that I was fairly pleased with the first issue of Star Wars, finding its simple plot and faithful Star Wars tone a delight to read. Here, Wood and D’Anda continue this trend as they further lay the foundation for the series.

image

The Rebel Alliance has been looking for a new location for a permanent base, only to have their scouting missions constantly—and a little too coincidentally—thwarted by Imperial patrols. In an effort to circumvent this problem, which may well be the result of an intelligence leak, Leia has assembled a covert, off-the-grid team of X-wing pilots, including herself, Luke, Wedge, and several new characters. Nobody else will know what they’re doing, and they will receive no outside help from Alliance command. On the plus side, they’ll get to fly some really cool looking black X-wings. Meanwhile, a separate Rebel mission takes Han and Chewie into the heart of Imperial Center itself.

While the exterior conflict builds, Wood has given Luke and Leia clear internal conflicts that they will likely wrestle with for many issues to come. Luke, still fresh from his single-handed destruction of the great and terrible Death Star, and in this issue from wiping out an entire squadron of TIEs in a simulator run, appears to think himself invincible. Naturally, this has Wedge a little concerned.

imageLeia, meanwhile, is only now beginning to mourn the loss of Alderaan in earnest. The sequence in which she watches a tourism advertisement from her late home planet is easily the most emotionally effective so far.

Wood and D’Anda appear content to let this story build slowly. Tim, does this level of decompression strike you as a good idea, or would you like to see them move at a quicker pace?

Tim: I’m not sure I would agree the series is moving at a particularly slow pace, at least by modern comic standards. This is hardly the first arc of Ultimate Spider-Man. That’s not to say the book doesn’t take its time. The sequence you mentioned in which Leia breaks down is exactly the kind of scene which is only allowed by a storyteller who knows when to give his characters room to breathe.

Wedge, who we saw briefly in the first issue, is given a lot more to do here. It’s a smart move to make his relationship with Luke a focus. With Ben dead, and Yoda a few years off, Luke is in need of a mentor. I had never given it the thought before, but it makes perfect sense that Wedge would fill that role at this point on the timeline.

If there’s one part of this first story arc which isn’t working for me, it’s Han and Chewie’s side mission. Nothing about it isn’t working on its own, but as a B story, I’m not sure what it’s contributing to the A story. Should the core trio be separated in the first arc of a book which declares itself definitive right there in the title?

Dan: I hadn’t given it much thought, but that’s a valid concern. One issue I often have with expanded universe stories is that we don’t see Luke, Han, and Leia together in one place and interacting with one another often enough. Likely these stories are taking their cue from The Empire Strikes Back, and, to a lesser extent, Jedi, both of which have Luke separated from the rest of the gang for significant portions of their run times. Still, I think this book should be closer in tone and structure to the original Star Wars than anything else. That said, I’m very interested to see what kind trouble Han and Chewie get themselves into on Coruscant.

As you said, developing the relationship between Luke and Wedge was definitely a good call. In the movies, we see them flying together, and their embrace during the last moments of Return of the Jedi implies that they’re pretty tight. In the post-Jedi expanded universe, we’re often told of their close friendship, but with Luke mostly uninvolved in military exploits at that chronological point, we’re given very little tangible evidence of his relationship with Wedge on the page. Here, their camaraderie, as well as the young gun/experienced mentor aspect of their relationship you mentioned, is strong.

What about the new characters we’ve met in the past two issues? I couldn’t help but notice that one of the pilots in Leia’s crack team is from Alderaan. Any thoughts about how that might affect their interactions? Colonel Bircher seems like a standard-issue Imperial tight-ass to me, but might there be a little more to him—or to his new subordinate, Ensign Llona?

Tim: I’m also finding the Imperial characters to be fairly bland at this point, but I think there is some potential in the pilots introduced in this issue. None of them are particularly fleshed out here, but the Alderaanian you mentioned is certainly interesting, as is Prithi, who seems suspicious of Luke and Leia’s relationship.

image

The first arc, “In the Shadow of Yavin,” is set to end either next issue or the one after that. Middle chapters are typically transitional and more difficult to review. Still, it is possible for each installment of a serialized story to stand on its own, a skill Wood has demonstrated in his masterpiece, Local. I’d like to see him bring a little of that to Star Wars. Give each issue something to hang its hat on.

This was, for the most part, a successful issue. It deepened its core characters, introduced some intriguing new ones, and made the mission clearer. Presumably, next issue will see the story move into its climax, and perhaps my minor gripes will be addressed.

Check out more of Tim’s writing at King and VHShitfest.

Balance Point by Kathy Tyers (2001, Del Rey)
Apart from The Truce at Bakura, Balance Point is the only full-length novel that Kathy Tyers wrote in the Star Wars universe. Its action takes place primarily on the environmentally blasted world of Duro, where the New Republic has established several refugee camps (each under a dome, to protect its inhabitants from the polluted atmosphere) and put Leia Organa Solo in charge. Han does his part, too—in a separate dome. He and Leia are still estranged after their long separation and the fight they had in the previous New Jedi Order book, Jedi Eclipse.

Jacen, too, is present on Duro. In the book’s opening chapter, he has a vision of the galaxy as a spinning disk teetering precariously on some unseen fulcrum, ready to tip into light or into darkness. Jacen becomes convinced that his actions could push this balance in the dark direction if he isn’t careful, and decides to stop using the Force altogether to avoid wielding power aggressively. The logic of that decision, of course, is full of holes, and it can sometimes be as frustrating for the reader as it is for some of the other characters (most notably Jaina). Nevertheless, Jacen’s struggle, as the emotional centerpiece of this novel, is dramatically effective, and Tyers was able to keep me invested in Jacen’s constant deliberations.

Luke, Mara, and Anakin also appear in this book, arriving on the orbital space stations the Duros have inhabited since the ancient poisoning of their planet to search for a missing Jedi apprentice. Tyers handles all of the primary characters well. There are some particularly touching moments with Mara and Luke, as the former realizes that the foreign presence she senses inside herself, far from signifying the return of her disease, is a child. Even at this chronological point in the story, Mara can often seem guarded and emotionally distant to me, so these moments of warmth with Luke are always pleasant to read.

Eventually, of course, the Yuuzhan Vong arrive to invade Duro as part of their push toward the core of the galaxy. They struck a deal with the Duros in the orbital cities to sell out the refugees planetside in exchange for being left alone—the Vong’s duplicity is a given, as they begin to destroy the cities themselves as technological abominations while the heroes try desperately to get the refugees out of dodge. The main character arc of the novel ends on an up note, with Jacen realizing that he must give himself to the Force to prevent aggression, rather than avoid it in the hopes that he won’t perpetrate it. Nevertheless, the external conflict predictably ends in a Yuuzhan Vong victory.

Del Rey’s intention with this series was, in large part, to shake up reader expectations. Chewbacca’s dead, guys—anyone could bite it! Aw, shit, kids—the bad guys just won! What’s gonna happen?! The problem with this, for me, is that a situation has been created where defeat appears to be just as assured as victory ever was in any other Star Wars book. A pretty clear pattern has emerged, where the Vong take/destroy yet another well-known piece of the Star Wars universe in each book, roundly trounce the New Republic, and move closer to Coruscant. I’m sure this formula will change once the Vong finally do conquer the Republic’s capital world, but six books deep into this series, this pattern is growing tiresome.

That aside, Tyers does pretty well with Balance Point, and when the Yuuzhan Vong warmaster Tsavong Lah offers the remaining unconquered worlds of the galaxy peace in exchange for turning in all of the galaxy’s Jedi, she provides the best hook for the next installment that this series has seen so far.

Please Note: From this point forward, you may see a drop-off in the amount of reviews I post. My academic semester begins on the 28th, and there are some things I need to do to prepare for it next week. My brother and I will continue to review the new Dark Horse Star Wars series by Brian Wood, and I believe I can promise at least one novel review each month during the coming semester. Sorry in advance for the slowdown; if only I could make a living writing about Star Wars…

Balance Point by Kathy Tyers (2001, Del Rey)

Apart from The Truce at Bakura, Balance Point is the only full-length novel that Kathy Tyers wrote in the Star Wars universe. Its action takes place primarily on the environmentally blasted world of Duro, where the New Republic has established several refugee camps (each under a dome, to protect its inhabitants from the polluted atmosphere) and put Leia Organa Solo in charge. Han does his part, too—in a separate dome. He and Leia are still estranged after their long separation and the fight they had in the previous New Jedi Order book, Jedi Eclipse.

Jacen, too, is present on Duro. In the book’s opening chapter, he has a vision of the galaxy as a spinning disk teetering precariously on some unseen fulcrum, ready to tip into light or into darkness. Jacen becomes convinced that his actions could push this balance in the dark direction if he isn’t careful, and decides to stop using the Force altogether to avoid wielding power aggressively. The logic of that decision, of course, is full of holes, and it can sometimes be as frustrating for the reader as it is for some of the other characters (most notably Jaina). Nevertheless, Jacen’s struggle, as the emotional centerpiece of this novel, is dramatically effective, and Tyers was able to keep me invested in Jacen’s constant deliberations.

Luke, Mara, and Anakin also appear in this book, arriving on the orbital space stations the Duros have inhabited since the ancient poisoning of their planet to search for a missing Jedi apprentice. Tyers handles all of the primary characters well. There are some particularly touching moments with Mara and Luke, as the former realizes that the foreign presence she senses inside herself, far from signifying the return of her disease, is a child. Even at this chronological point in the story, Mara can often seem guarded and emotionally distant to me, so these moments of warmth with Luke are always pleasant to read.

Eventually, of course, the Yuuzhan Vong arrive to invade Duro as part of their push toward the core of the galaxy. They struck a deal with the Duros in the orbital cities to sell out the refugees planetside in exchange for being left alone—the Vong’s duplicity is a given, as they begin to destroy the cities themselves as technological abominations while the heroes try desperately to get the refugees out of dodge. The main character arc of the novel ends on an up note, with Jacen realizing that he must give himself to the Force to prevent aggression, rather than avoid it in the hopes that he won’t perpetrate it. Nevertheless, the external conflict predictably ends in a Yuuzhan Vong victory.

Del Rey’s intention with this series was, in large part, to shake up reader expectations. Chewbacca’s dead, guys—anyone could bite it! Aw, shit, kids—the bad guys just won! What’s gonna happen?! The problem with this, for me, is that a situation has been created where defeat appears to be just as assured as victory ever was in any other Star Wars book. A pretty clear pattern has emerged, where the Vong take/destroy yet another well-known piece of the Star Wars universe in each book, roundly trounce the New Republic, and move closer to Coruscant. I’m sure this formula will change once the Vong finally do conquer the Republic’s capital world, but six books deep into this series, this pattern is growing tiresome.

That aside, Tyers does pretty well with Balance Point, and when the Yuuzhan Vong warmaster Tsavong Lah offers the remaining unconquered worlds of the galaxy peace in exchange for turning in all of the galaxy’s Jedi, she provides the best hook for the next installment that this series has seen so far.

Please Note: From this point forward, you may see a drop-off in the amount of reviews I post. My academic semester begins on the 28th, and there are some things I need to do to prepare for it next week. My brother and I will continue to review the new Dark Horse Star Wars series by Brian Wood, and I believe I can promise at least one novel review each month during the coming semester. Sorry in advance for the slowdown; if only I could make a living writing about Star Wars

Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse by James Luceno (2000, Del Rey)
Last week, I reviewed the first part of a two part series by James Luceno called Agents of Chaos. The New Jedi Order books are so heavily serialized that I think it renders having separate series within the series a little silly, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.

Picking up soon after where the first Agents of Chaos left off, this sequel sees Han and his new partner Droma searching the galaxy for the latter’s displaced family. While this is going on, Luceno lets the reader know where they are: a refugee camp on a planet called Ruan. In this camp, Droma’s species, the Ryn, are persecuted and shuffled off into their own separate ghetto within the camp. The only escape from the squalid conditions in the camp is to take a job with Salliche Ag, the farming corporation that more or less runs the planet. These sequences reminded me (superficially, anyway) of The Grapes of Wrath. …Of course, while this book’s pretty good, it’s not quite that good.

Meanwhile, Jedi Knight Wurth Skidder allows himself to be captured by the Yuuzhan Vong. This is an important storyline, especially to someone like me, who hasn’t had much interest in the Vong up to this point. Here, Luceno gives us a look into not only how the Vong communicate military strategies to one another and rant about how abhorrent toaster ovens are (which is basically all we’ve seen so far), but into how they treat their prisoners and interact with various more familiar denizens of the galaxy. In some passages, the Vong even display a sense of humor! Luceno hasn’t turned me around on them, but he does a lot of work here to make the Yuuzhan Vong at least somewhat interesting. It helps, also, that Skidder, while not the greatest character the expanded universe has ever seen, is interesting enough to read about and, while somewhat unorthodox in his interpretation of the Jedi Code, is a good enough guy to root for.

Luceno again successfully courts the love of fans like me by introducing a plot involving Leia seeking aid from the Hapes Consortium, the isolationist, but powerful cluster of words from which Prince Isolder of The Courtship of Princess Leia hails. Rather than indulging in some hacky story about Leia’s old feelings being rekindled or something, Luceno has Leia reflect that the Hapan culture of honor duels and outmoded social stratification is unappealing, and Isolder’s willingness to bank the future of the galaxy on a round of fisticuffs in one chapter is pretty annoying, to say the least. It makes for a good link to the past for long-time expanded universe readers, and demonstrates how much things have changed.

The plot thread that culminates in an explosive space battle climax also draws from Star Wars books of old. In a scramble to discover what world the Vong will hit next, the New Republic tries a gambit in which they deliberately make the planet Corellia an attractive target. The plan is to lure the Yuuzhan Vong into the system and then activate the interdiction field generated by Centerpoint Station, a massive and ancient space station first seen in The Corellian Trilogy. The snag is that they need Anakin Solo to do it. This plan goes horribly awry, culminating in a very tense moment between Anakin and his brother Jacen, and the fallout of the ensuing catastrophe is sure to impact the events of several books to come.

As in the first installment of this duology, Luceno demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the expanded universe and puts it to good use in a way that feels natural within the context of this story. He has a great grasp on writing both Han and Leia, leaving the two of them on a sour note that I’m anxious to see resolved. Luke wasn’t present very much in either of these books, which was kind of a bummer, but Luceno did give him a few good moments with Mara and even let him interact a little with Talon Karrde.

Luceno manages a number of plot threads here that come together in a way that isn’t silly. That said, I prefer the tighter focus of Hero’s Trial. The duology works well as a whole, though, and Luceno hits all the right buttons to give me confidence, based on his authorship of the final installment, that The New Jedi Order will, at the very least, go out on a strong note.

We’ll continue with The New Jedi Order next week, with Balance Point.

Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse by James Luceno (2000, Del Rey)

Last week, I reviewed the first part of a two part series by James Luceno called Agents of Chaos. The New Jedi Order books are so heavily serialized that I think it renders having separate series within the series a little silly, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.

Picking up soon after where the first Agents of Chaos left off, this sequel sees Han and his new partner Droma searching the galaxy for the latter’s displaced family. While this is going on, Luceno lets the reader know where they are: a refugee camp on a planet called Ruan. In this camp, Droma’s species, the Ryn, are persecuted and shuffled off into their own separate ghetto within the camp. The only escape from the squalid conditions in the camp is to take a job with Salliche Ag, the farming corporation that more or less runs the planet. These sequences reminded me (superficially, anyway) of The Grapes of Wrath. …Of course, while this book’s pretty good, it’s not quite that good.

Meanwhile, Jedi Knight Wurth Skidder allows himself to be captured by the Yuuzhan Vong. This is an important storyline, especially to someone like me, who hasn’t had much interest in the Vong up to this point. Here, Luceno gives us a look into not only how the Vong communicate military strategies to one another and rant about how abhorrent toaster ovens are (which is basically all we’ve seen so far), but into how they treat their prisoners and interact with various more familiar denizens of the galaxy. In some passages, the Vong even display a sense of humor! Luceno hasn’t turned me around on them, but he does a lot of work here to make the Yuuzhan Vong at least somewhat interesting. It helps, also, that Skidder, while not the greatest character the expanded universe has ever seen, is interesting enough to read about and, while somewhat unorthodox in his interpretation of the Jedi Code, is a good enough guy to root for.

Luceno again successfully courts the love of fans like me by introducing a plot involving Leia seeking aid from the Hapes Consortium, the isolationist, but powerful cluster of words from which Prince Isolder of The Courtship of Princess Leia hails. Rather than indulging in some hacky story about Leia’s old feelings being rekindled or something, Luceno has Leia reflect that the Hapan culture of honor duels and outmoded social stratification is unappealing, and Isolder’s willingness to bank the future of the galaxy on a round of fisticuffs in one chapter is pretty annoying, to say the least. It makes for a good link to the past for long-time expanded universe readers, and demonstrates how much things have changed.

The plot thread that culminates in an explosive space battle climax also draws from Star Wars books of old. In a scramble to discover what world the Vong will hit next, the New Republic tries a gambit in which they deliberately make the planet Corellia an attractive target. The plan is to lure the Yuuzhan Vong into the system and then activate the interdiction field generated by Centerpoint Station, a massive and ancient space station first seen in The Corellian Trilogy. The snag is that they need Anakin Solo to do it. This plan goes horribly awry, culminating in a very tense moment between Anakin and his brother Jacen, and the fallout of the ensuing catastrophe is sure to impact the events of several books to come.

As in the first installment of this duology, Luceno demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the expanded universe and puts it to good use in a way that feels natural within the context of this story. He has a great grasp on writing both Han and Leia, leaving the two of them on a sour note that I’m anxious to see resolved. Luke wasn’t present very much in either of these books, which was kind of a bummer, but Luceno did give him a few good moments with Mara and even let him interact a little with Talon Karrde.

Luceno manages a number of plot threads here that come together in a way that isn’t silly. That said, I prefer the tighter focus of Hero’s Trial. The duology works well as a whole, though, and Luceno hits all the right buttons to give me confidence, based on his authorship of the final installment, that The New Jedi Order will, at the very least, go out on a strong note.

We’ll continue with The New Jedi Order next week, with Balance Point.