Death Star by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry (2007, Del Rey)
“In order to get it built quickly and quietly, they’d hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average stormtrooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms.”
-Randal Graves, Clerks.
Randal was, of course, talking about the thorny ethical issues surrounding the construction of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi, but I couldn’t help but think of that conversation from Clerks as I read this novel about the construction (and destruction) of the first Death Star.
One of the characters, Teela Kaarz, actually is an architect who has been given a temporary reprieve from her sentence on the prison planet of Despayre (really?) to work on the Death Star. The novel follows her and a host of other characters: a TIE fighter pilot, a doctor, a librarian, a bartender, and the head of the Death Star’s superlaser crew, among others. With the exception of Vil Dance (the TIE pilot) and Tenn Graneet (the gunner), none of them are Imperials.
The first portion of the book deals entirely with its characters and their reactions to working on this deadly space station. Much of the interaction takes place in the Hard Heart Cantina, a bar run by Memah Roothes, a Twi’lek bar tender who was offered the job by the Empire after the “accidental” fire that destroyed her establishment on Coruscant.
It makes sense that the Death Star, being the size of a small moon, might have bars and eating establishments. I had to draw a line, however, when one character avoided detection by ducking into a clothing store—and one carrying lingerie, at that. I don’t imagine that too many stormtroopers are wearing push-up bras under that armor. I can’t blame Reaves and Perry entirely for this, as they were drawing from existing supplementary material, but it really doesn’t jive for me.
We also get a healthy dose of development for Imperial characters like Grand Moff Tarkin and Conan Antonio Motti (he’s the guy Vader chokes; the one with the disturbing lack of faith). Tarkin, we discover, is engaged in an affair with one Admiral Daala, who you’ll be hearing much more about later, as she makes several appearances in (chronologically) later novels. While this adds a human-like element to Tarkin’s character, he is also portrayed as having a pragmatic disregard for the human lives he orders extinguished, serving to make him a believable villain in a way that I feel is true to Peter Cushing’s performance.
The general theme of the novel is that of the dilemma placed before ordinary people living under immoral authority. Each character must choose if he or she will continue to work on the Death Star and support—explicitly or tacitly—an Empire that commits planetary genocide twice: first destroying the prison planet Despayre as a test, and then, of course, Alderaan. For most of the primary characters, the answer is “no,” and they plan to escape the Death Star. They are successful, and leave just in time to escape the station’s explosion.
Tenn Graneet, the lever-puller in the destruction of both Despayre and Alderaan, is not so brave or so lucky. Although severely tormented by his conscience, his desire to follow orders wins out time and again as he destroys the two aforementioned worlds. In the last moments, he waffles on whether or not he will send the planet of Yavin IV and its Rebel inhabitants to their demise, but we never find out if he would have finally made a stand.
All in all, I think that Reaves and Perry have written a fairly entertaining story about the courage to follow one’s conscience regardless of consequence.
One last note, though: I “fripping” hate make-believe expletives, and this book is absolutely “milking” full of them. I can handle it to a point, and I actually enjoy imaginary oaths (i.e. “Minions of Xendor!” from The Han Solo Trilogy), but an over-saturation of stuff like that gets very distracting and can pull me right out of the story. I’m not suggesting that characters in the Star Wars universe tell each other to go fuck a bantha when they’re upset, but real, albeit mild, profanity appears in the Star Wars films, and extremely coarse language can easily be written around without the use of obvious and ridiculous analogs like “feke.” So, they should knock that poodoo off, but otherwise, well done.
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