The Stolen Data Tapes
Episode II: Attack of the Clones by R. A. Salvatore (2002, Del Rey)
R.A. Salvatore is best known among sci-fi/fantasy fans for his series of Forgotten Realms novels featuring Drizzt Do’Urden, a character that has ensured that every tabletop roleplaying group includes at least one joker who, at some point, wants to play as a chaotic good dark elf.  A skilled and experienced writer of pulp fantasy, Salvatore was a good choice for the Attack of the Clones novelization.

In places where the novel sticks to the plot of the film, dialogue and action generally adhere closely to the screenplay by George Lucas and Jonathan Hales. As in the Episode I novelization, we see here that perhaps less of the dialogue’s cringe-inducing quality comes from the script than from the acting. The movie’s better performances, like those of Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor are missed, to be sure, but without Hayden Christensen’s wooden delivery (half-sincere apologies to my many Hayden-obsessed followers!), the Anakin/Padme love scenes are far less rife with unintentional comedy. Of course, nothing can save, say, the infamous “I don’t like sand” speech, and I’ve never really thought that “Begun, this Clone War has” sounded nearly as ominous as it’s supposed to, but in many places, the weaker dialogue from Episode II is helped by its translation from speech to prose.

Rounding out the length of this novelization are several sequences from the screenplay that didn’t make the final cut of Episode II and a number of original contributions from Salvatore that serve to enhance character relationships and provide deeper plot detail. These mesh quite organically with the story material from the film and, I would go so far as to say, manage to improve it a little bit.

Salvatore also has a gift for writing quick and exciting action. The most entertaining example in this novel was probably the sequence in which Anakin and Obi-Wan chase Zam Wesell through Coruscant’s lower levels. Despite Salvatore’s skill, this book doesn’t quite capture the excitement and spectacle of Yoda’s duel with Count Dooku at the climax, but anyone who’s seen that sequence (i.e. anyone reading this) can appreciate how difficult it would be to make Yoda’s acrobatics as fun to read as they are to watch.

Attack of the Clones is a faithful adaptation that isn’t so slaved to the script as to make it boring. Salvatore puts enough of his own stamp on the story to keep it interesting even for those who’ve seen Episode II multiple times. It doesn’t quite attain the heights of entertainment that its source material offers, but in many places, it makes up for that source material’s lowest lows.



Included in the paperback are seventy-six of Rodolfo Damaggio’s storyboards for the Battle of Geonosis, complete with annotations on camera movements. These are very dynamic and are a lot of fun to look at. By themselves they’re worth the low price you’d get for this book at a used bookstore.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones by R. A. Salvatore (2002, Del Rey)

R.A. Salvatore is best known among sci-fi/fantasy fans for his series of Forgotten Realms novels featuring Drizzt Do’Urden, a character that has ensured that every tabletop roleplaying group includes at least one joker who, at some point, wants to play as a chaotic good dark elf.  A skilled and experienced writer of pulp fantasy, Salvatore was a good choice for the Attack of the Clones novelization.

In places where the novel sticks to the plot of the film, dialogue and action generally adhere closely to the screenplay by George Lucas and Jonathan Hales. As in the Episode I novelization, we see here that perhaps less of the dialogue’s cringe-inducing quality comes from the script than from the acting. The movie’s better performances, like those of Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor are missed, to be sure, but without Hayden Christensen’s wooden delivery (half-sincere apologies to my many Hayden-obsessed followers!), the Anakin/Padme love scenes are far less rife with unintentional comedy. Of course, nothing can save, say, the infamous “I don’t like sand” speech, and I’ve never really thought that “Begun, this Clone War has” sounded nearly as ominous as it’s supposed to, but in many places, the weaker dialogue from Episode II is helped by its translation from speech to prose.

Rounding out the length of this novelization are several sequences from the screenplay that didn’t make the final cut of Episode II and a number of original contributions from Salvatore that serve to enhance character relationships and provide deeper plot detail. These mesh quite organically with the story material from the film and, I would go so far as to say, manage to improve it a little bit.

Salvatore also has a gift for writing quick and exciting action. The most entertaining example in this novel was probably the sequence in which Anakin and Obi-Wan chase Zam Wesell through Coruscant’s lower levels. Despite Salvatore’s skill, this book doesn’t quite capture the excitement and spectacle of Yoda’s duel with Count Dooku at the climax, but anyone who’s seen that sequence (i.e. anyone reading this) can appreciate how difficult it would be to make Yoda’s acrobatics as fun to read as they are to watch.

Attack of the Clones is a faithful adaptation that isn’t so slaved to the script as to make it boring. Salvatore puts enough of his own stamp on the story to keep it interesting even for those who’ve seen Episode II multiple times. It doesn’t quite attain the heights of entertainment that its source material offers, but in many places, it makes up for that source material’s lowest lows.

Included in the paperback are seventy-six of Rodolfo Damaggio’s storyboards for the Battle of Geonosis, complete with annotations on camera movements. These are very dynamic and are a lot of fun to look at. By themselves they’re worth the low price you’d get for this book at a used bookstore.

Coruscant Nights II: Street of Shadows by Michael Reaves (2008, Del Rey)
The first Coruscant Nights novel, which I reviewed last week, had a very hard boiled/noir vibe. The second, Street of Shadows, is a straight-up murder mystery that hits all of the beats of classic American detective fiction.

Jax Pavan and his team agree to help a member of the pheromone-producing Zeltron species, Dejah Duare (who I couldn’t help but imagine looking and sounding a bit like a space-alien version of Barbara Stanwyck). Dejah wants to get off Coruscant with her lover, a well-known light sculptor and possible political target of the Empire. Soon after Jax signs on to help the couple out, however, Dejah’s partner is found dead in his apartment.

What follows is a very solid mystery, complete with suspects, entanglements with the police, and red herrings. To complicate matters, Darth Vader is still looking for Jax, this time sending the bounty hunter Aurra Sing after him.



Running parallel to these events is another subplot, this one involving Padme Amidala’s former security chief, Gregar Typho.



Typho, apparently, had strong and unrequited feelings for Padme, and has vowed to discover the truth of her death and exact vengeance on the responsible party. His quest takes him surprisingly far in the right direction, leading him to Coruscant and Darth Vader, who he believes killed both Padme and Anakin Skywalker. The influence of this story on the A-plot is mostly incidental, but it is tragic and rather touching nonetheless, and I’d say the book is better with it than it would be without it.

Street of Shadows continues the story that its predecessor began, but also functions well as a stand-alone novel, and at only three hundred pages with fairly large print, it’s a quick read that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The mystery is sufficiently puzzling, if you’re into guessing at this sort of thing, and its solution is a nifty twist on a whodunit cliché.

Next week, we’ll look at the third and currently final book in the Coruscant Nights series, Patterns of Force.

One last note: Much as the Roman and Eastern Rite branches of Christianity celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter on different calendar dates, the Star Wars fan community appears to be divided into two sects. The first, seemingly consisting of the majority of fans, celebrates “Star Wars Day” on the fourth of May—today. The basis for this is, of course, a fairly obvious pun. I personally am of the persuasion that May 25th, the anniversary of the original Star Wars film’s release, is “Star Wars Day.”

But, ultimately, we should put our differences aside; ever since I started this project, every day is, to one extent or another, a Star Wars day (I read at least a few chapters of a Star Wars book a day to stay caught up for my reviews). And, as I have pointed out many times while discussing this, any excuse to watch Star Wars is a good one. So, while I really do think that pun is lame, I hope you enjoy watching the films or whatever commemoration you choose. May the Force be with you.

Coruscant Nights II: Street of Shadows by Michael Reaves (2008, Del Rey)

The first Coruscant Nights novel, which I reviewed last week, had a very hard boiled/noir vibe. The second, Street of Shadows, is a straight-up murder mystery that hits all of the beats of classic American detective fiction.

Jax Pavan and his team agree to help a member of the pheromone-producing Zeltron species, Dejah Duare (who I couldn’t help but imagine looking and sounding a bit like a space-alien version of Barbara Stanwyck). Dejah wants to get off Coruscant with her lover, a well-known light sculptor and possible political target of the Empire. Soon after Jax signs on to help the couple out, however, Dejah’s partner is found dead in his apartment.

What follows is a very solid mystery, complete with suspects, entanglements with the police, and red herrings. To complicate matters, Darth Vader is still looking for Jax, this time sending the bounty hunter Aurra Sing after him.

Running parallel to these events is another subplot, this one involving Padme Amidala’s former security chief, Gregar Typho.

Typho, apparently, had strong and unrequited feelings for Padme, and has vowed to discover the truth of her death and exact vengeance on the responsible party. His quest takes him surprisingly far in the right direction, leading him to Coruscant and Darth Vader, who he believes killed both Padme and Anakin Skywalker. The influence of this story on the A-plot is mostly incidental, but it is tragic and rather touching nonetheless, and I’d say the book is better with it than it would be without it.

Street of Shadows continues the story that its predecessor began, but also functions well as a stand-alone novel, and at only three hundred pages with fairly large print, it’s a quick read that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The mystery is sufficiently puzzling, if you’re into guessing at this sort of thing, and its solution is a nifty twist on a whodunit cliché.

Next week, we’ll look at the third and currently final book in the Coruscant Nights series, Patterns of Force.

One last note: Much as the Roman and Eastern Rite branches of Christianity celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter on different calendar dates, the Star Wars fan community appears to be divided into two sects. The first, seemingly consisting of the majority of fans, celebrates “Star Wars Day” on the fourth of May—today. The basis for this is, of course, a fairly obvious pun. I personally am of the persuasion that May 25th, the anniversary of the original Star Wars film’s release, is “Star Wars Day.”

But, ultimately, we should put our differences aside; ever since I started this project, every day is, to one extent or another, a Star Wars day (I read at least a few chapters of a Star Wars book a day to stay caught up for my reviews). And, as I have pointed out many times while discussing this, any excuse to watch Star Wars is a good one. So, while I really do think that pun is lame, I hope you enjoy watching the films or whatever commemoration you choose. May the Force be with you.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks (1999, Del Rey)
I bought this book soon after it came out. At the time, I didn’t have any real interest in reading any of the movie novelizations because, as I reasoned, I already knew those stories. Why, then, did I pick up a copy of the Phantom Menace novel right away, more than a decade before I conceived of a project that would require me to own it? Two words: Terry Brooks.

Brooks, best known for his many Shannara novels, has been one of my favorite writers of fantasy fiction since a few years prior to the release of Episode I, when I read Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold!, the first book of his Landover series. He constantly puts an unexpected spin on familiar fantasy concepts and has a talent for always creating characters that feel thoroughly authentic, regardless of the outlandishness of the setting. If you haven’t read anything of his, do so. He’s the king.

Brooks brings those talents to the table in his novelization of The Phantom Menace. He switches up the sequence of events a little bit, giving us a podrace to open the novel and furnishing us with a more detailed account of Anakin’s life on Tatooine. These early passages—particularly one in which Anakin and friends talk to an old spacer about becoming pilots one day—are filled with a sense of childlike wonder that isn’t hampered by the sub-par performances of Jake Lloyd and the other child actors in the film. Free of bad delivery, even such classically irritating lines as “Are you an angel?” brought a smile to my face that was, I’m sure, much closer to the one George Lucas intended than my usual sardonic smirk. With a few passages unique to the novel, Brooks even managed to endear Anakin’s friends to me, and I even found myself wondering what became of them.

Through passages such as one in which Anakin helps an injured Tusken Raider, Brooks puts a heavy emphasis on Anakin’s kindness and compassion, creating a starker contrast between the boy and the more-machine-than-man he will become. Other sections, which, according to his memoir, Brooks developed over the phone with Lucas, provide details about the histories of the Jedi and the Sith that have served as the basis for the recent deluge of material set a millennium before the movies.

All of this is great. The tone and characterizations are spot on and I would go so far as to say that there are many ways in which this novel is better than the film. Still, we can’t ignore the elephant—or rather, the Gungan—in the room.



Despite several expansions, there are no deviations from the film’s plot here, and unfortunately, Jar Jar Binks is quite present in this book. I would never have thought it possible, but the bane of every fan’s existence may be even more annoying in prose. Having to see the Gungan dialect printed on a page is a truly harrowing experience. Anybody interested in banding together and offering a cash reward to the author who kills Jar Jar? Ah, who am I kidding? I’m too broke to play The Old Republic, let alone put out a Binks bounty. A guy can dream, though, right?
Despite the presence of the most unlikely and unfortunate general and senator of all time, Terry Brooks has written an adaptation that succeeds as its own entity more than any of the original trilogy novelizations.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks (1999, Del Rey)

I bought this book soon after it came out. At the time, I didn’t have any real interest in reading any of the movie novelizations because, as I reasoned, I already knew those stories. Why, then, did I pick up a copy of the Phantom Menace novel right away, more than a decade before I conceived of a project that would require me to own it? Two words: Terry Brooks.

Brooks, best known for his many Shannara novels, has been one of my favorite writers of fantasy fiction since a few years prior to the release of Episode I, when I read Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold!, the first book of his Landover series. He constantly puts an unexpected spin on familiar fantasy concepts and has a talent for always creating characters that feel thoroughly authentic, regardless of the outlandishness of the setting. If you haven’t read anything of his, do so. He’s the king.

Brooks brings those talents to the table in his novelization of The Phantom Menace. He switches up the sequence of events a little bit, giving us a podrace to open the novel and furnishing us with a more detailed account of Anakin’s life on Tatooine. These early passages—particularly one in which Anakin and friends talk to an old spacer about becoming pilots one day—are filled with a sense of childlike wonder that isn’t hampered by the sub-par performances of Jake Lloyd and the other child actors in the film. Free of bad delivery, even such classically irritating lines as “Are you an angel?” brought a smile to my face that was, I’m sure, much closer to the one George Lucas intended than my usual sardonic smirk. With a few passages unique to the novel, Brooks even managed to endear Anakin’s friends to me, and I even found myself wondering what became of them.

Through passages such as one in which Anakin helps an injured Tusken Raider, Brooks puts a heavy emphasis on Anakin’s kindness and compassion, creating a starker contrast between the boy and the more-machine-than-man he will become. Other sections, which, according to his memoir, Brooks developed over the phone with Lucas, provide details about the histories of the Jedi and the Sith that have served as the basis for the recent deluge of material set a millennium before the movies.

All of this is great. The tone and characterizations are spot on and I would go so far as to say that there are many ways in which this novel is better than the film. Still, we can’t ignore the elephant—or rather, the Gungan—in the room.

Despite several expansions, there are no deviations from the film’s plot here, and unfortunately, Jar Jar Binks is quite present in this book. I would never have thought it possible, but the bane of every fan’s existence may be even more annoying in prose. Having to see the Gungan dialect printed on a page is a truly harrowing experience. Anybody interested in banding together and offering a cash reward to the author who kills Jar Jar? Ah, who am I kidding? I’m too broke to play The Old Republic, let alone put out a Binks bounty. A guy can dream, though, right?

Despite the presence of the most unlikely and unfortunate general and senator of all time, Terry Brooks has written an adaptation that succeeds as its own entity more than any of the original trilogy novelizations.

Labyrinth of Evil by James Luceno (2005, Del Rey)
“The must-read prequel to Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith,” proclaims the obnoxious-looking copy in the lower-left corner of the cover. The “must-read” descriptor clearly is false, since I went to see Revenge of the Sith on opening night, not having picked up a Star Wars book in years, and understood what was going on just fine.
Now, in pointing out a bullshit marketing ploy, I’m certainly not trying to tell you notto read Labyrinth of Evil. James Luceno, in my estimation, is one of the better writers in Del Rey’s stable, and with the exception of Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, this is probably the best work of his that I’ve read.
Luceno has a very good understanding of just how much of a brilliantly evil, manipulative bastard Palpatine is, and that really comes through in this book. Labyrinth of Evil draws on the numerous stories that came out between Episodes II and III for a pretty rewarding culmination of events.  During “that business on Cato Neimoidia,” Obi-Wan and Anakin come across the device Nute Gunray had been using since The Phantom Menace to keep in touch with Darth Sidious. With no more doubt as to the existence of Sidious, the Jedi begin an effort to track down the Sith Lord and piece together his identity.
The trail of the transceiver’s origins stretches all over the galaxy and (of course) leads right back to Coruscant itself. Mace Windu and Shaak Ti are even able to follow the trail as far as 500 Republica, the massive apartment complex that is home to Coruscant’s most rich and powerful—including Palpatine. The search forces Palpatine’s hand, and his plans are set into motion early; thus, the Jedi don’t have time to put two and two together concerning the identity of Darth Sidious before Coruscant itself comes under attack. The book ends on a “TO BE CONCLUDED” cliffhanger, with Obi-Wan and Anakin, who had (by design, of course) been tied up with Dooku, getting ready to rush into the battle over Coruscant.
My favorite bits, though, involve Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and Padme—members of the “Loyalist Committee”—and their dealings with Palpatine. While Bail might not know that Palpatine is a Sith Lord, he seems to have a better understanding than most about where things are going. A fantastic passage early in the book discusses what Bail refers to as “the new Coruscant,” where such an effective climate of fear has been created that constant, invasive searches by clone troopers are a daily reality, anti-alien sentiments are brewing, and the Supreme Chancellor throws around terms like “Triad of Evil” to help him garner continued support for the prolonged war. A lot of people read a criticism of then-President George W. Bush’s administration into the events of Revenge of the Sith. That’s debatable, but there is little question that Luceno had Bush and the “War on Terrorism” in mind when he wrote these passages. Some folks get upset when a sci-fi or fantasy story strays outside the realm of pure escapism, but I can appreciate a certain level of commentary, even in a Star Wars book.
Most importantly, though, this book, while not necessarily a “must-read,” is a great tie-in to Revenge of the Sith. It has all of the elements that make that film great: Anakin’s struggle to keep his emotions—particularly his rage—under control; Obi-Wan and Anakin’s camaraderie, which is very touching at times in this book; exciting space battles and lightsaber duels; and, above it all, Palpatine, ever the puppet master, the chess player, pulling strings and sliding pawns around the galactic board.

Labyrinth of Evil by James Luceno (2005, Del Rey)

“The must-read prequel to Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith,” proclaims the obnoxious-looking copy in the lower-left corner of the cover. The “must-read” descriptor clearly is false, since I went to see Revenge of the Sith on opening night, not having picked up a Star Wars book in years, and understood what was going on just fine.

Now, in pointing out a bullshit marketing ploy, I’m certainly not trying to tell you notto read Labyrinth of Evil. James Luceno, in my estimation, is one of the better writers in Del Rey’s stable, and with the exception of Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, this is probably the best work of his that I’ve read.

Luceno has a very good understanding of just how much of a brilliantly evil, manipulative bastard Palpatine is, and that really comes through in this book. Labyrinth of Evil draws on the numerous stories that came out between Episodes II and III for a pretty rewarding culmination of events.  During “that business on Cato Neimoidia,” Obi-Wan and Anakin come across the device Nute Gunray had been using since The Phantom Menace to keep in touch with Darth Sidious. With no more doubt as to the existence of Sidious, the Jedi begin an effort to track down the Sith Lord and piece together his identity.

The trail of the transceiver’s origins stretches all over the galaxy and (of course) leads right back to Coruscant itself. Mace Windu and Shaak Ti are even able to follow the trail as far as 500 Republica, the massive apartment complex that is home to Coruscant’s most rich and powerful—including Palpatine. The search forces Palpatine’s hand, and his plans are set into motion early; thus, the Jedi don’t have time to put two and two together concerning the identity of Darth Sidious before Coruscant itself comes under attack. The book ends on a “TO BE CONCLUDED” cliffhanger, with Obi-Wan and Anakin, who had (by design, of course) been tied up with Dooku, getting ready to rush into the battle over Coruscant.

My favorite bits, though, involve Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and Padme—members of the “Loyalist Committee”—and their dealings with Palpatine. While Bail might not know that Palpatine is a Sith Lord, he seems to have a better understanding than most about where things are going. A fantastic passage early in the book discusses what Bail refers to as “the new Coruscant,” where such an effective climate of fear has been created that constant, invasive searches by clone troopers are a daily reality, anti-alien sentiments are brewing, and the Supreme Chancellor throws around terms like “Triad of Evil” to help him garner continued support for the prolonged war. A lot of people read a criticism of then-President George W. Bush’s administration into the events of Revenge of the Sith. That’s debatable, but there is little question that Luceno had Bush and the “War on Terrorism” in mind when he wrote these passages. Some folks get upset when a sci-fi or fantasy story strays outside the realm of pure escapism, but I can appreciate a certain level of commentary, even in a Star Wars book.

Most importantly, though, this book, while not necessarily a “must-read,” is a great tie-in to Revenge of the Sith. It has all of the elements that make that film great: Anakin’s struggle to keep his emotions—particularly his rage—under control; Obi-Wan and Anakin’s camaraderie, which is very touching at times in this book; exciting space battles and lightsaber duels; and, above it all, Palpatine, ever the puppet master, the chess player, pulling strings and sliding pawns around the galactic board.