Thank the little baby Jesus! I was afraid that my ability to enjoy a Star Wars novel was completely dashed upon the rocks when I read Children of the Jedi. I’m not going to lie. I had to read two random books just to get the damned taste out of my mouth. Luckily Darksaber is in another league altogether. I think Kevin Anderson just grasps the sort of narrative flow of the expanded universe better than Barbara Hambly. The characters and the flow seem to mesh better than in Children of the Jedi, despite the fact that he’s working with mostly the same characters. Callista is still a black hole for me, but that’s mostly personal preference. I feel like Anderson just wanted to write her off entirely but seeing how she pops up again in Planet of Twilight, again written by Hambly. I’ll assume that Hambly liked Callista more than I do.
Darksaber at first seemed poised to turn me off once again, as the “build another Death Star” plot point was not at all enticing. But the side-plots involving the return of Admiral Daala and her attempts to unify the Imperial fleet, which seemed like the logical course of action following the events of the last few books, was quite well written and probably the most engaging element of the book. I really didn’t care one lick about Callista and only truly warmed to the Durga the Hutt/Darksaber plotline about midway through the course of the novel.
I am going to state here and now that I have no intention of reading Planet of Twilight, as I don’t care about Callista and barely made it through Children of the Jedi so I’m going to call that one a bye-week and move on to the final installment of the X-Wing series instead. It’s my blog. I can do what I want dammit.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 23 : Champions of the Force
The Jedi Academy trilogy comes to a close with the most satisfying entry in the series by a long shot. Admittedly it’s still a fairly average book but it is a few steps above the previous two just in the manner which the action is handled. We jump right into the story with Kyp Durron flying the sun crusher to Carida in the hopes of finding out what happened to his brother. By now his RAAAMPAAAAGE!!![/archer] is in full swing having blown Admiral Daala’s fleet to tiny little pieces. What follows is a great back and forth between Furgan and Durron about his brother that ultimately leads to bad things happening on both sides.
Back on Yavin IV Luke Skywalker is still in a jedi coma after Kyp went all grimdark on him in the previous book, a moment that I still contend came out of left field and didn’t feel organic at all but the final book makes some strides towards correcting this by making excused through the strength of sith lord Exar Kun which ring a little hollow but also work within the context of the story. Durron flip flops so much that it’s not hard to realize that all of this was probably well thought out but not all that brilliantly executed.
The best parts of the book were the comedic moments that revolved around the crew manning the prototype of the third death star. (I know, a third one, real original) Their constant bickering and focus on procedure, being a bunch of laboratory science types, are a nice contrast to the machinations of people like Thrawn or Daala and make for some fun reading.
The final book wraps most of the plot threads up well enough although as with every installment there’s always the cliffhanger of where certain people will end up in the immediate future. In this case it’s where the final Star Destroyer left in Daala’s fleet will end up and what effect it will have on the core worlds. Everything else tidies up nicely and helps to relieve some of the bitter aftertaste left from the previous two installments.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 22 : Dark Apprentice
This book leaves me conflicted. That’ll be the crux of this review, really. In most ways it is a definite step up from Jedi Search, just in terms of pacing and narrative engagment, but at the same time much of what happens doesn’t seem to mesh well with what we’ve been told in the previous book. I think that Kevin J. Anderson wrote it this way to surprise us but it really doesn’t work that way.
I’m speaking of course about the titular dark apprentice who turns to the dark side almost inexplicably over the course of maybe five pages. The abrupt turnaround in the character’s nature seems implausible knowing what we do about jedi who wind up going down the dark path. It took years of manipulation by Palpatine to turn innocent Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. Luke’s brief brush with the dark side came after long bouts with self doubt. Here, a formerly eager protagonist who echoed Luke’s innocent demeanor gets angry and then all of a sudden he’s a sith. It does not sit right.
It feels like Anderson was building one character to turn to the dark side and the buildup was organic and natural. You could understand why he might be tempted. It made sense. Then that character is tossed aside for the one who just doesn’t mesh and that part of the story seems like a bust. Everything that comes after leaves you shaking your head wondering what the purpose of the sudden shift in direction serves.
Other elements of the book are quite intriguing. Admiral Daala’s military assaults and Admiral Ackbar’s tribulations make for some of the more interesting parts of the novel. But considering that this is the Jedi Academy trilogy, the fact that the a-plot falls apart drops the overal score down a few notches.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 21 : Jedi Search
Wow, I was actually caught off guard when I cracked the cover of this book because I skipped ahead in the timeline long enough that somewhere along the way Emperor Palpatine was resurrected, Luke studied the dark side alongside him and then the old bastard died again. It turns out this happened in the Dark Empire comic, which I only have a vague recollection of. It doesn’t affect much as the streamlined summary I just gave sums up everything and it isn’t really mentioned much anyhow.
The plot revolves around Luke trying to form a Jedi academy, collecting pupils from across the galaxy. Meanwhile Han and Chewie get captured while on a diplomatic mission to Kessel. Normally you wouldn’t want that guy doing diplomatic missions in the first place but he gets the gig because of his former associations smuggling spice out of the prison mines. Of course, the people in charge there have old beefs with him and as such everything goes to slag. It’s interesting that over the course of the books I’ve come to dislike Han a bit more with each book. It started in The Courtship of Princess Leia where any semblance of logic in his brain went out the window and it continues here in Jedi Search with none of his resourcefulness coming into play at all when it comes to his capture. And while he manages to escape (he is still Han), much of it comes down to blind luck and it diminishes him as a character in my eyes.
The book also sees the return of Admiral Daala who we first met in Death Star but if I recall correctly this is actually her first appearance. Much of her backstory was just filled in over the course of that later novel. There’s not a lot of disconnect between the two other than there is no mention of her supposedly very serious injury that forced her departure from the Death Star as represented in that novel.
Jedi Search is an average book that really just works as setup for further adventures by bringing in Daala and introducing the weapons developments in the Maw cluster at Kessel. Luke manages to scrounge up two students for his Jedi academy but nothing comes of it. That will get handled as the trilogy progresses. Hopefully there is more substance to the next two books as this one felt a bit light.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 19 : The Last Command
I was really amped up to finish this trilogy. The second installment was just amazing and so I was more than ready to see how everything wrapped up. While I think the book was an admirable effort, it just wasn’t as good as the second book. Still better than the first, I think. But I may be alone in that line of thought. I can’t be sure. I’m avoiding reviews on any of these books while I write my own so as not to be influenced by outside thought. All of this bullshit is entirely of my own design.
This installment seemed to hit the peak as far as the “Thrawn is an unstoppable infallible force” trope where things seem to go in his favor every single time. Of course it all falls apart in the third act, but for the most part the book seems to throw as much of Thrawn being the epitome of the unbeatable villain as they could possible manage. It can get a little overbearing sometimes. I’m not going to lie, the repetitive nature of Thrawn gets grating after three books. He’s still a more interesting villain than say, Zsinj, but I still think that Isard was a better antagonist simply because she didn’t fall into the same pattern that Thrawn tends to in each and every book.
The climax of the book dealing with C’Baoth is a little fan-ficcy as well. Before the prequels delved into what exactly happened with the Clone Wars, every fan fiction had a clone jedi running around and the fact that this book decided to go in that direction is a little disappointing. The eventual ending does a good job of wrapping up the Mara Jade sub-plot, and the star battle that accompanies the denouement is actually quite well written. But compared to the climax of the last book it didn’t impress me all that much.
Next we return to the X-Wing series with Isard’s Revenge.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 18 : Dark Force Rising
I know that Heir To The Empire gets a lot of attention for its contribution to the expanded universe, but after reading the followup installment Dark Force Rising I can say that the first book in the series was nowhere near as good as the sequel. Dark Force Rising truly is like The Empire Strikes Back to Heir‘s New Hope, as just about every element present in book number two is an improvement on its predecessor. I’m not trying to say that Heir wasn’t a good book, because it was, but Dark Force Rising was a faster paced, better constructed, more impactful entry into the canon than Heir was.
In my review for Heir to the Empire, my major complaint was that of pacing and that plot points could have been saved for later installments and suffered no ill effects. The problem with that is that Dark Force Rising has NONE of those problems specifically because they were all handled in the first book. The structure of Dark Force is superbly executed and whatever bumps Heir might have suffered in that department frees up book two to do it’s own thing without having to deal with much in the way of setup. The characters are all developed and maneuvered into position in a manner that allows for the reader to blow through the novel with all the speed of an x-wing fighter. The thing really is a breeze to read even at 400+ pages.
The most satisfying thing about Dark Force Rising is the way that the narrative really only has an A & B plot structure. There’s Leia’s story interacting diplomatically with the Noghri and Han and Lando’s story in their search for the Katana Fleet. Han and Lando’s story is subdivided into several smaller parts because the crux of the story revolves around everyone looking for those lost ships. The intertwining of multiple castmembers towards that end is what makes the books so much fun. There is some really crafty plot work going on in this novel.
The book ends on a massive cliffhanger, as one would expect the second book in a trilogy to do, and further links it to Empire Strikes Back in structure, but it doesn’t leave you feeling incomplete the way that something like the end of Solo Command did. And that’s enough to prove that the story was fulfilling if you ask me.
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 # 14 : X-Wing Iron Fist
I’m of two minds when it comes to this book. I think that some of the hurdles presented in the previous installments have been corrected and as such the story is able to move forward without those nagging hindrances. That having been said it felt a bit boring in contrast with it’s predecessors and even though it’s the shortest of the series thus far it never really seemed to pop the way the others did.
It’s hard to write a review for a book that is neither great nor terrible. It’s harder still for me to specifically pinpoint what makes the book feel like it fell short. It’s better written overall than Allston’s first installment and the story is compelling, with the subterfuge of a previously staunch Imperial agent having to navigate her new life as a pilot for the Republic. Those story beats alone make the book worth reading. Perhaps it just felt a little bit too much like filler. I can’t say for sure.
I wasn’t truly disappointed in the book, it simply didn’t connect with me the way that I was expecting. I think it fits well in the overall scheme but does little else. And maybe that’s okay.