The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 17 : Heir to the Empire
This is THE definitive book of the expanded universe. There’s no real way to get around that. This is the book more than any other that proved the viability of the Star Wars universe outside of the films. Moreso than Shadows of the Empire or any other entry that I can think of. I don’t mean to say that it is the best entry in the canon, I’m not even sure it’ll rank in the top ten when all is said and done. I just mean to say that it’s one of the most important especially since the majority of the stories in the canon evolve from the ideas presented in this book, ie. Han and Leia’s offspring, Mara Jade and Luke’s relationship, etc.
The book’s main shortcoming is that it is most definitely part of a larger story. It’s the first chapter of a trilogy revolving around Admiral Thrawn, and while the story resolves itself well enough to stand on its own, several plot threads are left dangling to be picked up on in the second installment, not the least of which being the importance of Joruus C’baoth who is thrown into the mix in the beginning of the story and never really dealt with. He’s a plot point that seems written with the intent of being strung out over the course of a few books. One gets the feeling that he easily could have been introduced in another book so that the main narrative of this novel could have felt a bit more focused.
The book is really better remembered for its legacy over its own literary merit. This is the book that gave us the name Coruscant, after all. Zahn is a decent enough writer but I feel about this book the way I did about The Courtship of Princess Leia, in that the prose doesn’t have the refined quality of the later books that it spawned. But I think that may just be a direct result of writers inspired by this book trying to prove they could do it better.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 16 : The Courtship of Princess Leia
I was afraid that my interest in this project was beginning to wane as I started reading the first few chapters of this book. It wasn’t hooking me in at all. The prose felt stilted and lifeless in areas and the story seemed tedious. The rest of the book redeems itself once the main characters find themselves off of Coruscant but the time it takes to get there and the characterization of the leads is a sluggish slog that takes a great amount of willpower to overcome. The book reads like a first draft, with the language and narration feeling like it was never refined to the point of general readability. And the conceit that Han Solo is Corellian royalty just smacks of bad fan-fiction, though the concept is redeemed in the closing moments of the book when the outcome is played for laughs.
The novel gets better as the narrative progresses, with the action on Dathomir being engaging and outside the usual realm of what one associates with the Star Wars canon. The melding of iron age fantasy style elements with Lucas’ sci-fi brings out something that hasn’t been seen in any of the other books I’ve read thus far in the pantheon, the closest being perhaps Rogue Planet with the agricultural ship-building conceit being similar to the image presented of the Hapan castle-ship. But the general idea of the force being identified as magic and a whole sub-culture of force sensitives building their own mythology around it separate from the jedi is an interesting one, although the abrupt and out of place nature of the concept takes a while to get used to. Honestly, the whole exploration of the cultures felt a lot more like an episode of Star Trek than anything in Lucas’ wheelbox. Author Dave Wolverton isn’t afraid to mix genres and create something interesting, he just didn’t do it in a way that left the book feeling as polished as the X-Wing series. If anything it feels more like Shadows of the Empire, and if I had to guess I’d say that the tone of the novel is something linked to the time period it was written in. The X-Wing books and something like Death Star feel very different from Shadows or Courtship, and I believe it is because this book is one of the earliest in the expanded universe and they were only beginning to get comfortable with establishing their own universe.
Definitely my least favorite of the books I’ve read thus far, but its not a total disaster either.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 15 : X-Wing Solo Command
You know, it’s hard to remember a year where I read fifteen books cover-to-cover let alone a time when I’ve done so in four months time. At this rate I’ll have read sixty novels by the end of the year. That’s not the entirety of the expanded universe but it’s gettig there. By my calculations I should be able to get through the New Jedi Order series by December.
But today I’m finishing up the main chunk of the X-Wing series, with Solo Command, which I will say is a step up from the previous book but still suffers from a fatal flaw in that it ends with zero resolution to the main story of the battle against Warlord Zsinj. The problem is that this book was written in 1999 and leads into The Courtship of Princess Leia which was written in 1994. Allston couldn’t give a proper ending because his job was effectively to get us to a point in the timeline that had already been fleshed out years before. It’s frustrating but it’s a continual part of the Star Wars reading experience. Newer books handling older parts of the timeline is an evil that has to be endured in order to get the whole picture.
But as for the book itself, it’s more engaging than Iron Fist was and I think part of that is the level of tension generated by Lara/Gara’s undercover situation finally reaching a boiling point as well as the fact that Han Solo is back in the mix as a major character for the first time in a while. While this is still very much about Wedge and his X-Wing squadrons, pulling out a big gun like Han adds some measure of importance to the proceedings and the book gains greatly from his presence. The novel is well constructed and as an individual piece of the puzzle it does very well and is only hindered by the fact that it feels incomplete due to leading into another story written several years prior. But that’s just my individual gripe.
I’m moving on to The Courtship of Princess Leia now and it seems like it should be a quick read. I’m sad to leave behind the X-Wing series as I’ve enjoyed the majority of it and actually look forward to the one-off, Isard’s Revenge which is coming up a few books down the road.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 13 : X-Wing Wraith Squadron
I was wondering where the series was headed after the last book. “The Bacta War” was a satisfying end to the Rogue Squadron’s saga and so when the next novel started, under the direction of new writer Aaron Allston, what stories could be mined from Wedge Antilles and his X-wing fighters? It turns out that Allston knew that continuing with the members of Rogue Squadron as the principle protagonists wasn’t going to cut it if he was going to make his own mark on the series and instead opted to create a new group of rag-tags to exploit. This new group, code-named Wraith Squadron, is essentially the Dirty Dozen or the Inglourious Basterds of the Rebel Alliance. Cultivated from the washouts and lost causes of other units, Wedge Antilles puts together a team of commandos to fly X-Wings, turning Rogue Squadron’s initiative of pilots who do commando work on its ear.
The action picks up not long after the last book ended, with the primary focus of the New Republic fleet being the destruction of Warlord Zsinj, a portly renegade admiral who has slowly been consolidating his power away from the control of the now defeated Ysanne Isard. The novel moves at a brisk pace beginning with the formation of the squadron and along its missions where they end up in control of an Imperial ship and pose as its crew to get close to their enemy. The novel is thoroughly entertaining in its progression because of the sort of pilots who make up the group. The most interesting characters are the ones that are flawed and here everyone is vying for the title of most dysfunctional with only Wedge and his second in command Wes Janson truly having their game together, which makes for some interesting scenarios when the group has to work together to accomplish their goals.
I have to admit that while it was a really good novel, it took a while to get acclimated to the new cast of characters, because the flaws that are designed to make them interesting at times makes them come off as unlikeable. Kell Tainor, for example, is stepping up to take the place of Corran Horn who was the lead protagonist in the previous four novels. Much like Corran he has some issues with his father’s death, but Corran didn’t come off as emotionally crippled as Kell does. Corran had a tangible ability for revenge for what happened to his father whereas Tainor refuses to understand the circumstances that led to his father’s death and it takes a while to take him seriously as a character and not an archetype.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable read that does well to get it’s major flaws resolved by the end of the book so that they don’t take up any time in the following installments. Or at least I hope that’s the case.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 12 : X-Wing The Bacta War
Michael Stackpole hands the series off to a new writer following this entry wherein his story for Rogue Squadron comes to a satisfying conclusion. Leaving off on somewhat of a cliffhanger in The Krytos Trap, Imperial baddie Ysanne Isard has taken control of Thyferra with the aid of a traitor in Rogue Squadron. Blocked from staging an attack by the government of the New Republic who are firmly against interfering in the internal politics of unaffiliated worlds out of a fear that doing so would alienate future converts to the cause, the pilots of Rogue Squadron resign their commissions and become independent freedom fighters hoping to topple Isard’s government on their own.
Much like Wedge’s Gamble had thematic ties to The Empire Strikes Back, the fourth book in Stackpole’s X-Wing saga has more than a few thematic similarities to Return of the Jedi. The simplest comparison comes from the fact that both tie up their respective sagas. Fortunately, The Bacta War is better constructed than Return of the Jedi was. There isn’t a huge tone shift from the previous book to this one, as there seemed to be between episodes V and VI, though genres are once again hopped and we return thematically to the same sort of narrative that was present in the first and second books, with the focus being on military combat and covert insurgency this time around. Stackpole realizes that he has to tie up everything and he does so quite well. The book could very well have been anti-climactic but the finale is quite well developed and leaves the stage set for later installments.
The part I found most appealing about the book was the character growth shown by more than a few of the main cast. The events of the series have really helped to shape and define them as organic characters and as such we get some nice moments where the reader sits back nodding, excited that something that has been clear for several books is finally acknowleged and the time put into reading the books has paid off.
All in all, a fine finale to the first chunk of the series.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 11 : X-Wing The Krytos Trap
The thing that strikes me the most about the expanded universe novels I’ve been reading since starting this little project is how books in the grand scheme of things, and even on a smaller scale within the context of their own saga, can jump from genre to genre with such amazing frequency. The first novel in the “X-Wing” series was a straight up military adventure story, a sort of Top Gun for Star Wars in many ways. I had anticipated the rest of the novels following a similar structure. The second novel, Wedge’s Gamble, took a different turn altogether, playing itself out as a spy/espionage thriller that read in many ways like a James Bond novel set to a sci-fi setting. Once again the series hops genres and this time plays itself as a John Grisham courtroom drama mixed with a little bit of The Great Escape thrown in for good measure. Incidentally, I found it to be the most engaging novel in the series thus far, with the twists and turns of the courtroom drama moving at such a brisk pace and in a manner that invited a great deal of speculation on the part of the reader. At the end of the previous novel, we are left wondering about the guilt of Tycho Celchu’s involvement with the supposed death of a Rogue Squadron member, and the revelation that he was captured and not killed by Ysanne Isard in the epilogue of book two does nothing to sway opinion either way, so the court case is handled with the reader not having concrete evidence either way, making the drama around the proceedings all the more potent.
With the secondary plot of the supposedly dead pilot trapped in the infamous Lusankya prison, the tone is evocative of films like The Great Escape, with our rebel pilot having a twinge of Steve McQueen in his character from the get-go, the comparison is more than adequate. His escape attempt, in which we learn that he is in fact descended from Jedi stock could have been considered a bit cliché if not for the fact that hints had been dropped since the first book in the series that this might be the case. There is of course a tendency to want to tie things to the Jedi in the Star Wars universe, and the revelation could have come out like badly written fan fiction if the writer had decided out of the blue to make one of his main characters a Jedi on whim, instead we get a major plot point that informs the climax of the novel and sets up the next installment. The choice of either becoming a Jedi and abandoning Rogue Squadron or remaining with the team and making good on promises made earlier in the narrative becomes the crux of the denouement here and leaves the reader energized to read the next installment, almost knowing that things that have been building over the course of three books and 1,000 pages worth of story will seemingly get a final payoff.
The next book in the series is the last for the author and the saga is taken over by perennial Star Wars writer Aaron Allston for books five through seven, so there is an expectation of closure with The Bacta War. Whether that holds true is yet to be seen, as it could be much as it was with the Republic Commando series and only leads further down the rabbit hole.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 8 : Shadows of the Empire
I remember reading this book way back when the video game adaptation came out for N64. I was maybe ten or eleven years old at the time and I thought it was the most amazing thing in the world. It was pretty much the epitome of 90’s cool to me. I was one of the biggest Star Wars nerd kids you could find at the time, obsessed with collecting the old red and green card Power of the Force figures. I had a remote control that was a replica of Luke’s lightsaber from Return of the Jedi. So you can imagine how this book was like crack to me. It wasn’t intimidating in the way the few other Star Wars expanded universe novels I’d seen on the bookshelves seemed to be. It was light reading by comparison, and I tore through it fairly quickly.
It’s been a while since then and going back and re-reading it has cooled my opinion of it a little bit. Xizor isn’t the amazing villain I thought he was back in the day and the plot tends to drag on a little bit. It’s not that it’s a bad story it’s just that the telling of it seems to be a bit off kilter and has the pace of a record played just a little bit slower than it needs to be to sound right. There seem to be a lot of scenes that are just re-hashes of previous scenes that are left in only to fill out the page count and none of the characters are particularly well defined outside of Xizor. The new side-hero Dash Rendar is basically a Han Solo clone and nothing else is added to his character. He’s got a backstory and an attitude and that’s about it. The ending is also rather anticlimactic, given how hard the book works to establish Xizor as an ultimate badass you wouldn’t expect his eventual defeat to be so underwhelming.
But the end point of the book is basically to connect parts V and VI of the original trilogy and in that regard it succeeds by filling in the gaps that everyone needed to know, ie. how Leia got that bounty hunter costume.