Rogue Planet by Greg Bear (2000, Del Rey)
Rogue Planet takes place three years after The Phantom Menace. It’s the first novel, apart from the Episode I novelization and the Jedi Apprentice young adult series, to take place in the prequel, or “Rise of the Empire,” era. Greg Bear opens his novel by reminding us of one of Anakin Skywalker’s primary characteristics: recklessness. The novel pulled me in right away with its description of a race through an elaborate—and dangerous—garbage disposal system in Coruscant’s lower levels. When Obi-Wan shows up to reprimand him (and rescue him from a “Blood Carver” assassin), the dynamic of reckless apprentice and long-suffering master is effectively established.
The novel’s plot revolves around a world called Zonama Sekot, where Obi-Wan and Anakin are sent in search of a missing Jedi, Vergere. There they purchase a “living starship” from the planet’s inhabitants. The construction of this vessel involves a process of bonding with “seed pods,” the better to create a ship that is perfectly in tune with its owner.
All of this is intriguing, but the most enthralling aspect of the book for me is the interaction between Raith Sienar (head of the corporation that would go on the produce TIE fighters) and future Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. Tarkin is already aware of the New Order that’s coming and, first by persuasion and then by coercion, gets Sienar on board. Their double-crossing of one another and the foreshadowing of the Empire adds a good deal of weight to the story.
Of course, Rogue Planet doesn’t only tie in with the original trilogy. Several of the book’s characters and plot elements, including Vergere; the mysterious “Far Outsiders” who Anakin and Obi-Wan discover abducted Vergere; and the planet of Zonama Sekot (which, shockingly, escapes into hyperspace), all figure heavily in the New Jedi Order series of novels.
Despite this—and I speak from a relative lack of familiarity with New Jedi Order—Rogue Planet manages to stand on its own and not read like a promo for later books. And that book, as it stands, is pretty good. With Anakin, Bear avoids many of the pitfalls that come with writing about children: Anakin has matured significantly in three years, but he isn’t unrecognizable; he’s intelligent beyond his years, but he acts like an intelligent pre-adolescent, not a miniature adult. Obi-Wan’s continuing trials, doubts, and tribulations in training Anakin are explored in a believable manner as well, and, as previously stated, the interaction between the two characters rings true with the films and is thoroughly enjoyable.
All that said, I do feel that the book sags in the middle. Much of it is spent describing the landscape and workings of Zonama Sekot. The planet, a living being with the capability of producing preternaturally fast starships, is certainly an imaginative world, but the characters that populate that world did not grab me. Jabitha Hal, who projects images of her dead father, is interesting, but Zonama Sekot’s other denizens are little more than devices for plot advancement.
Still, Greg Bear’s level of technical proficiency is considerable, making that middle portion readable despite its flaws, and the rest of the book is well done across the board. It’s not one of the best, but this one’s worth a look if you’re interested in Anakin’s early stint as a Padawan or if you’re planning on tackling the New Jedi Order series.