Darksaber

Wait a second...I thought X-Wings had red lasers?

Wait a second…I thought X-Wings had red lasers? This is certainly a good sign…

Darksaber

by Kevin J. Anderson

I’ll start off by saying that I really, really wanted to like this book. After the disaster that was the Jedi Academy series, I was willing to be open-minded and approach Darksaber (1995) by Kevin J. Anderson with a fresh pair of eyes. I wanted to be able to come on here and say, “hey, Anderson’s previous three books stunk, but this one was okay!” But I can’t.

This book was bad.

It’s not worth the $0.01 price on Amazon. It’s not even worth getting for free. I feel Anderson owes me money for putting up with Darksaber long enough to finish it.

It was so bad, that I’ve decided to shake up my usual format in favor of a ‘plot summary plus commentary’ style. I’ve tried five times now to put my thoughts on paper and I keep starting over a few pages in as it descends into incoherent rambling. My hope is that this time I’ll be able to explain exactly why this book is one of the most atrocious pieces of Star Wars literature there is.

Before anyone worries about my sanity when they realize just how long this review is, I want you to know I didn’t write it all at once. I worked on it a few minutes a day during free moments for about a week and a half.

I want to start by laying out my issues with the book up front, then I’ll dive right in. First, there is the problem of Kevin J. Anderson’s lack of skill at storytelling. Maybe he’s gotten better since the mid-‘90s (he has written dozens of books since then and continues to work), but Anderson’s books are hallmarked by artificially-inflated mega conflicts that get built up and built up and built up and then just kind of…end. There are no plot twists. You can predict most of what’s going to happen in an Anderson story by just reading the paragraph on the back cover of the book. Anderson also fails at making the reader care about the characters and, by extension, anything going on in the story (though, to his credit, Anderson does hide a few gems in Darksaber, they are just so few and far between that, by the time you get to them, it’s to little too late). He also has a propensity for butchering the characterization of classic Star Wars players. Admiral Ackbar, Crix Madine, even Princess Leia get misused in Darksaber, doing very stupid things that their movie versions wouldn’t consider in their wildest dreams. Finally, we’re greeted yet again by Kevin J. Anderson’s strange concept of time. As he displayed amply in the Jedi Academy trilogy, he has no problem compressing events that should take months, if not years, to play out in to a few days. This issue plagues Darksaber, as well. These are my basic problems with the story. That said, let’s crack open the book.

Darksaber picks up fairly quickly where Children of the Jedi left off (see my review of Children here). Luke has fallen head over heels for Callista, a Jedi from the Clone Wars era who had somehow grafted her consciousness into a computer which then somehow transferred it into a human body. Let that sink in. In transferring her consciousness, she somehow lost her connection with the Force and Luke is doing everything he can to get Callista back to full Jedi powers.

Meanwhile, the Hutts are up to no good! Durga the Hutt has decided that he wants himself a Death Star.

Let’s stop here.

A superweapon. In the Official Star Wars Chronology, this now the SIXTH CONSECUTIVE BOOK with a Superweapon. Six books in a row with big, planet breaking ships. Really? This is the best you can do, Anderson? I am so sick of the dearth of creativity in this block of books that Anderson helped mastermind, especially when there is so much good Star Wars literature out there. Just because your story doesn’t end with the Good Guys having to blow up the Death Star doesn’t mean it’s a bad story. Take any number of other Star Wars books where the threat is so much more understated, yet the stakes seem so much higher. In the early X-Wing books, the threat is largely political with the Imperial Remnant sowing seeds of distrust and malice that threaten to tear the Republic apart from within. In the Thrawn trilogy, the threat is little more than Thrawn’s genius. Yet with his relatively small force, he can wreak havoc and really put our heros in a tough spot. Heck, in The Courtship of Princess Leia, the stakes boiled down to Han Solo losing Princess Leia to a romantic rival. In all of these situations, had the outcome been different, had our heroes ‘lost,’ the Star Wars story would have been fundamentally altered in the same way a superweapon would. But the authors of these example books had the skill to know that sometimes (even often times) the more understated the threat, the more deadly it seems. To wrap up this paragraph, I’ll use horror movies as an example. Many of the ‘classic’ horror movies had very little blood. The violence was implied rather than graphically depicted. Or Hitchcock, who ramped up the tension through storytelling and character rather than cheap gimmicks. And these are the movies that people hold up as pinnacles of the genre, not the novelty schlock-fests that come a dime a dozen. Darksaber is a schlock-fest.

I’m sorry to have fixated so much on the superweapon gripe, but it really is indicative of the larger laziness and lack of skill and creativity displayed in this book. Not only with the whole concept of the superweapon, but how poorly written and contrived every single plot point is to make the Death Star happen, and how incredibly stupid the payoff is once the thing is complete and the final confrontation takes place.

Anyway, Durga wants to build a Death Star. So he shows up on Coruscant under the guise of opening diplomatic relations between the Hutts and the New Republic, but with the real (obvious) intent of stealing the Death Star plans so he can put everything in motion. He meets with Princess Leia, who is now the Head of State of the New Republic. You’d think you’d need to have strong diplomatic skills to attain such a position. You’d think you’d need to have acquired a thick skin. You’d think you wouldn’t fall for basic negotiating tactics and mind games. But Kevin J. Anderson’s Princess Leia is an incompetent, short tempered individual who can’t seem to display much in the way of tact. Durga manages to covertly steal the plans using his little furry pets, a species of hive-minded, rodent-like creatures. Leia is suspicious that Durga was up to something, but doesn’t quite know what.

In Imperial space, the supposed-to-be-intimidating-but-is-actually-a-bumbling-idiot Admiral Daala is back and ready for battle. The Imperial Remnant has been mired by infighting as various warlords all spar with each other to be the new leader of the Empire. Daala steps in and kills them all (in what is actually a pretty well done sequence) and brings all of their assets under her control. It was a ‘had to happen’ sort of plot point, as the Empire had to eventually unify and turn its attention back to the Republic, but at least Anderson displayed some competency in how it all happened. My only real gripe is that Pellaeon, one of the superstars from the Thrawn books, is back and plays loyal second fiddle to Daala. I have a hard time believing that Pellaeon would have been as blind a follower of Daala based on how his character had been developed in previous books.

Finally, Kyp and Dorsk 81 depart the Jedi Academy on Yavin IV to act as Guardians of Peace and Justice for the greater galaxy. They decide to start on Dorsk’s planet, where Dorsk hopes his mere presence as a Jedi Knight will shake up his dormant society enough to inspire change. Why exactly it is so important that this society change is never established (they seem to be doing just fine as they are), but I’m not really too concerned because it did give me a chance to explore Dorsk’s planet. One of Kevin J. Anderson’s hallmarks in his Star Wars books is setting up these really cool, thought provoking situations and ideas…and then pissing them away. He does it yet again on Dorsk’s planet.

Dorsk 81 is the 81st clone of the original Dorsk; several hundred years ago, the society on his home planet decided they were perfect and wanted to ‘freeze time’ so to speak by setting up a hierarchy of cloning. Every person is an exact replica of the generation preceding him, fills the same position in society, lives in the same house, etc. Along comes Dorsk 81, who, for whatever reason, is force sensitive. No one in his lineage had been a Jedi. Indeed, all indications are that he is the first member of his species to even feel the Force. This makes him different, an aberration in the system. He left the planet in shame because even though he had the power within him to do so much good for his planet and the greater galaxy, he did not fit the strict criteria of conformity for acceptance among his peers. Not gonna lie, this is a really nice setup. I honestly wish we had spent more time with Dorsk, investigating his planet and the society around him, not to mention his personal story.

Luke and Callista have not had much luck on their quest to get Callista’s powers back and their budding romance is facing problems. No, I’m not talking about Anderson’s poor, sickly-sweet dialogue (which would make even Episode III Anakin and Padme cringe). Callista is dealing with a deep moral problem; should she, a non-Force user, get more serious in her relationship with Luke, arguable the most powerful Jedi around? More importantly, she is concerned about his legacy. What happens if they have kids who can’t use the Force? Again, an interesting premise and in a rare smart decision, Anderson lets this internal struggle drive Callista’s actions through the entire story. He even throws a nice wrinkle in there by having Callista briefly reconnect with the Force one time, but only when she gets very angry. The implication is that she could indeed reconnect with the force permanently, but it would mean succumbing to the Dark Side. I really feel for her character and, even though every time she opens her mouth to be lovey-dovey with Luke I want her and Skywalker to die, she surprised me by becoming one of my favorite parts of this story.

To get to the root of her problem, she and Luke decide to take a tour of Luke’s own past. They start off on Dagobah, then head off to Hoth. On these planets, Anderson’s strengths as an author, that of someone who can create evocative locales, really shines through. I said it in the Jedi Academy books and I’ll say it again: Anderson really knows how to bring a world to life. He would be great if he was just writing sourcebooks or encyclopedia entries on the planets, flora, and fauna of the Star Wars Galaxy. Unfortunately, someone gave him a book deal to write novels instead. He takes these locations and makes the events transpiring at them contrived and far-fetched. Take what happens on Hoth, for example. Luke and Callista land near the abandoned Rebel base from Empire Strikes Back and are quickly attacked by Wampas. These Wampas, who are primal, instinctual creatures are magically super smart all of a sudden and are coordinating all these trick plans and strategies. Lo and behold, they are being ‘controlled’ or ‘led’ or something by a Super Wampa who just happens to be the same one who’s arm Luke sliced off in the movie. Apparently when Luke dismembered the creature, he also gave it super intelligence. But really? It’s the SAME Wampa? There’s coincidence and there’s tipping your hat to the classic movies, but this is its own category entirely; it’s just stupid. And what makes it better is that on Hoth we meet the stranded group of hunters who serve absolutely no purpose to the story. They are there entirely to pad out the page length of the book with their deaths. And they all die. Why are they there? What is the purpose of this whole subplot? It doesn’t establish anything with our main characters, and it doesn’t set up the next phase of the book. A good 20 pages could have been deleted wholesale and no one would have known the difference! A sign of good writing if I ever saw one…ugh.

Back on Coruscant, Leia and Han figure out that Durga stole the plans for the Death Star and hatch a plan to foil the Hutt. They engage in their own ‘diplomatic mission’ to Nal Hutta, the adopted homeworld of the Hutts. Similar to Belsavis in Children, Nal Hutta is a planet heavily featured in the MMORPG The Old Republic, so I thought it was kind of cool to visit a planet in a book that I have seen visually in video games.

Nal Hutta as seen in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Nal Hutta as seen in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The Solos decide to bring a few Capital Ships and support vessels from the Republic Navy with them to ‘play war games’ in the neutral space near Nal Hutta (and serve as protection/action response when the whereabouts of the Death Star are uncovered). It’s obvious to everyone this is really a show of force. What bugs me about the war games is, again, how dumb they are. Wedge Antilles commands one of the fleets, while Admiral Ackbar commands the other. Here we have Admiral freakin’ Ackbar going up against Wedge freakin’ Antilles. You’d think you’re in for a total awesome-off between the two of them. NOPE. Ackbar IMMEDIATELY takes his entire fleet, forms them up in a straight line (I’m not kidding…one after the other like schoolchildren), and makes a run at Wedge’s fleet. He told everyone on board Wedge wouldn’t expect him to try this, so Ackbar would win. I suppose Ackbar was right about one thing…Wedge wouldn’t expect a Master Tactician the level of amazing as Ackbar was to play the war equivalent of Red Rover. When Wedge instantly ‘drestroys’ the Ackbar fleet, Ackbar is shocked he lost.

I wasn’t.

Around the time Anderson completely screws up the Ackbar character, he also brings Crix Madine into the story. Madine appears briefly in Return of the Jedi during the briefing scene on the Rebel Fleet as one of the Generals giving details of the attack on the Second Death Star. But Crix Madine is someone Star Wars nerds of my generation hold in a special place in our hearts; we grew up rescuing him on Corellia in the classic N64 game Rogue Squadron when the then-Imperial Soldier Madine decided to defect to the Rebels. Not to mention his key role in Dark Forces, one of the greatest video games of all time.His major part in the games makes his name recognizable to any of the “Special Edition” crop of Star Wars fans.

True to form, Kevin J. Anderson takes one of our beloved childhood memories and goes “Phoey and Pishah! How can I take another classic character and destroy him?” It starts of fairly benignly. Madine is introduced as the Chief of Intelligence for the New Republic. That’s fine, nothing wrong with that. Even in the movies he was always involved with Special Forces and infiltration and whatnot, so it was the right move to put him in the role as Spymaster for the Republic. Madine has accompanied the New Republic fleet playing to war games because he wants to stay “up-to-date” on his field skills. He spends some time analyzing battle data and intelligence gathered in the field at one of the ship’s stations. Alright, I can sort of buy that. To be honest, I didn’t really have a problem with much of this. Where I had problems was, again, when Anderson had a character speak. He paints Madine as this regretful, tortured soul. At one point, Madine is feeling all remorseful and that he has “so much to atone for,” specifically he has to atone for coordinating the attack on the Second Death Star which led to Emperor Palpatine’s death. Wait, he feels bad for killing the Emperor? That’s dumb. To top it off, Madine switches on a dime from being all regretful about his actions at the Second Death Star to feeling all patriotic about how awesome the New Republic is. This again epitomizes one of Anderson’s major flaws as an author; the man can’t make us believe in any of the characters. When we can’t get behind a character, then, as a reader, we have no stake in the story and the whole thing falls apart. We’ll come back to Madine a little later on, when his part in the book REALLY gets stupid.

General Crix Madine as he appears in Return of the Jedi.

General Crix Madine as he appears in Return of the Jedi.

Through all this, Durga has been working on his Death Star. We meet one of the designers of the original superweapon, Bevel Lemelisk. Bevel is another one of those rare good points in an Anderson novel; an interesting character who actually stays interesting throughout. Bevel had been put through a special sort of torture by Emperor Palpetine. When the first Death Star was destroyed, the Emperor had piranha beetles eat Bevel alive. When the engineer was on the brink of Death, the Emperor somehow transferred Bevel’s consciousness into another body so that he could continue living (but with the memory of pain and agony fresh on his mind). The Emperor repeated this a handful of times over the years whenever Bevel displeased him. Anderson actually lets these memories drive Bevel, who is by the time of this book a fairly jumpy, broken man and I will give Anderson credit for the good job. We also meet Sulamar, another Ex-Imperial that Durga brought on the project as a Commanding Officer for the weapon when it is completed. Sulamar spends most of the time strutting around the project acting important and bragging about the massacres he spearheaded in his past. He’s also in charge of securing materiel for the project.

Here, yet again, we see Anderson’s refusal to create a believable time frame. Durga steals the plans for the Death Star, redesigns them to meet his needs, creates a few shell companies to gather resources without drawing suspicion, builds massive asteroid miners, finds, buys, and secures of millions dollars of computer equipment (where exactly he’s getting the money to fund this is unclear), and gets construction going all within a few DAYS. The stupidity of this timeline just pulls me right out of the story! Not that I was in the story to begin with. Durga wants to eliminate most of the stuff in the Death Star and keep just the turbolaser and a few other systems. The result would be a long, cylindrical ship. The redesign alone should have taken weeks with a team of engineers. But nope. Bevel just sits alone in his office, hits the delete button a few times to get rid of the floors and systems he isn’t going to use in his version and just runs with that. But it’s okay, right? That’s how designing works. When an engineer wants to turn a Mini-van into a compact car, they just erase what they don’t like out of the blueprints without actually redesigning and testing it, right? In order to accommodate his preposterously compressed timeline, in what is perhaps the most pitiful example of Deus ex Machina thus far, Anderson has created a race of hive-minded creatures who are able to magically build at super speed. Yeah right. I’m sorry, Anderson, but expecting your readers to swallow this tripe is simply an insult to our intelligence.

As the construction of the Darksaber (as Durga has dubbed his superweapon) unfolds, it becomes clear to Bevel (and the reader) that things aren’t going well. The Deus ex Machina creatures are easily distracted, so they keep screwing up in the construction. The materials and computer equipment that Sulamar brings in are thirty or forty years old and clearly inadequate for the job. Durga keeps pushing for the project to continue on schedule, but Bevel keeps commenting to himself that the superweapon has been shoddily constructed and probably won’t even work once it’s finished. And this gets established about halfway through the book, well before we’ve reached any dénouement.. So even if there was tension in the book, Anderson has removed it by having his own characters admit that the whole project is a failure and that the Republic really shouldn’t feel threatened because Darksaber will probably blow itself up when it gets fired the first time. That’s dumb. It’s almost as if Kevin J. Anderson doesn’t want his book to be griping and filled with excitement.

In related news, Admiral Daala has been consolidating all the dead Warlords’ forces and resources under her command, with Pellaeon as her Second in Command. Like Durga, she has managed to three years of work in just a few days. After killing the Warlords, she has taken complete inventory of all their stuffs, magically ensured the loyalty of every officer in all the Warlords’ fleets, put the entire Imperial Navy through training on teamwork (Pellaeon even comments that the Captains who had been fighting against each other not long ago displayed surprising precision and coordination all of a sudden), won the affection of every single citizen still living in Imperial space by lifting the long-standing anti-alien segregation laws of the Empire, got them all working together also, and put together a strategic plan for retaliation against the New Republic. And all before eating a nutritiously balanced breakfast! But seriously, folks. Daala accomplished all this practically overnight. The simple arithmetic doesn’t add up. Bringing former enemies together to work cohesively and precisely in military engagements is not a matter of loyalty, as Anderson wants us to believe…it’s something that has to be practiced and developed over time.

What I love most about all this is Daala has carried out everything without the New Republic knowing about it. When Kyp Durron and Dorsk 81 leave Dorsk’s planet, they spend a few days gallivanting around Imperial Space, infiltrating Daala’s new force and discovering her plans. When they first arrive in Imperial space, Daala’s plans are pretty well in motion; she has already killed the Warlords and consolidated their forces. She’s already got the Imperial war machine churning out new ships (again, you have to figure it takes at least a few weeks to build a ship except in this book where it doesn’t) and she’s already won the loyalty of billions of workers. Yet the New Republic remains blissfully unaware. Later in the book, when word does get out to Leia and Admiral Ackbar, they are all caught off guard. I’m sorry, I just can’t suspend my disbelief enough to even pretend the Republic wouldn’t have even a single spy operating in Empire space who would alert them. If Daala’s operation was as Grand as it is set up to be, encompassing all aspects of the military and civilian quarter, you betchya the Republic would know. Then again, while this is going on Crix Madine, Director of Intelligence is running around Nal Hutta in commando garb ‘keeping his skills sharp’ rather than at his desk on Coruscant actually doing his job and…gathering intelligence. No wonder they didn’t pick up on it.

I find myself wanting to come up with adequate synonyms for “stupid” and “dumb,” but I’m just flabbergasted by how infantile these plot points are. Infantile. Maybe that’s the right word. Darksaber reads more like a bad piece of fan fiction where the author was like “and then there’s gonna be a Death Star…and then Luke goes to Hoth and meets up with the Wampa whose arm he chopped off…and then the Empire is gonna rise up again…and then Ackbar and Wedge are gonna pretend fight! How cool is that!?!”

We’re rounding third and heading home, folks.

So Durga has magically built his Darksaber over the course of a few weeks. Daala has magically revamped the Empire from the ground up over the course of a few weeks. Luke and Callista are stuck on Hoth for some reason whatsoever and Leia and Han are chillin’ on Nal Hutta to find out what Durga’s up to. Oh, by the way, on Nal Hutta we meet this emaciated Hutt who is considered a disgrace because of his lack of obesity and is degraded by Durga. You think that’s going to come in to play somehow, but it doesn’t. Yet another among the dozens of lost opportunities and interesting ideas that Anderson introduces, hints at, but then discards in favor of the mundane.

Anyway, the Republic finally finds out that Durga’s been building the Darsksaber in the asteroid field around the Hoth system (Really? Of all the asteroid systems in all the galaxy you pick that one? In a good book, I could look past this. But this isn’t a good book) and dispatch a three-commando team led by New Republic Director of Intelligence Crix Madine. This is the part where the book officially lost me. My in the world the Head Honcho for the entire New Republic Covert Operations force would personally go on a dangerous mission is beyond me. It would be like Dwight D. Eisenhower joining in the first wave of Omaha Beach. Really? This is what you give me? No leader in their right mind would do this! I get that Madine wants to stay ‘brushed up’ on his skills, but to personally go on a mission that Madine himself admits within minutes of its onset that none of the team will probably make it back from is just asinine. The mission, like the rest of the book, follows incredibly predictable beats. One of the two commandos hits an asteroid and blows up. If you didn’t see that coming, you’re dumb. Madine and the other commando spend the rest of the trick brooding and crying over the ‘surprise’ death of their idiot colleague, which made me glad the New Republic doesn’t hire battle-hardened, experienced warriors to conduct Spec. Ops. Because that wouldn’t make sense, would it?

As Madine and his surviving commando reach the Darksaber construction site, Bevel Lemelisk, the engineer, notices their ships in the distance. He doesn’t get concerned though, and notes that there have been a number of smugglers who’ve flown into the asteroid field to hide or store cargo and stumbled on the project. But apparently Durga has just let these smugglers do their thing and leave. This apparent lack of caring about site security again begs the question as to how all this was conducted without the New Republic finding out about it. You’d think one of those smugglers would try to sell the information at the very least. The thing is this detail did not need to be revealed; there was no rhyme or reason to why Lemelisk would say it. So why include it? What purpose does it serve except to destabilize the already shaky story? It’s the little details like that that really get under my skin. They are pointless and inane. And this book is full of them! I swear, it’s like Anderson went through his story and tried his best to add as many plot holes as he could.

Back in Imperial Space, Kyp and Dorsk 81 have been discovered and race to escape and warn the Republic about Daala’s plan. She decides to launch immediately rather than wait a few days and somehow within an hour is able to get every Star Destroyer at her disposal ready to go. Whatever. I don’t care anymore. Just get to the fighting. Kyp and Dorsk flee to Dorsk’s home planet and snap off a message to the Republic before heading to Yavin IV, the primary target of Daala’s invasion force. As soon as they enter hyperspace towards Yavin, surprise! Daala’s fleet emerges and reduces Dorsk’s home planet to slag. Again, if you didn’t see this coming…

Alerted to both the Darsksaber and the Daala threat, the New Republic fleet splits in two. Half head to Yavin in an effort to defend that planet while the rest head to Hoth to serve as backup for Grand Poobah Madine’s suicide mission. Madine and his commando assistant infiltrate the Darskaber (not before more comments on how shoddily constructed the weapon was and how it would probably blow itself up. Man, Anderson really loves to hammer his plot points into his reader’s skulls, doesn’t he?) and successfully sabotage part of its engine or power generator or whatever, I don’t care anymore. They break it. The commando gets killed (after displaying a lack of skill and finesse that you’d think a commando would posses) and Madine gets captured.

We’re getting up to one of my biggest gripes with the book. Madine gets dragged before Durga, exchanges a few words, then is promptly executed. That’s right, Anderson kills Madine. My favorite part is that he died for absolutely no reason. If it Madine had lived or died, the outcome of the story would have been the same. If the character who died hadn’t been Madine, if it had been Random Commando #3, the outcome of the story would have been the same. Madine shouldn’t even have been there in the first place. He’s the Director of Intelligence for crying out loud…what business was it of him to be assigning himself a mission he even said at the onset he wouldn’t return from? In doing some research before writing this review, I found an interview with Anderson where he said he wanted to kill a movie character to prove “no one is safe.” Alright. That’s fine. Kill a movie character. Heck, kill Madine if you want. But make it meaningful to the story! There’s an old adage in film circles that if your movie heads in to Act III and a gun just shows up out of nowhere, you’ve done something wrong, you’ve taken the cheap way out. Having Madine die this way is Anderson pulling out a gun in Act III. It came out of nowhere, contributed nothing to the plot, and reeked of Anderson forcing it in there just to be edgy.

Ugh.

We’re really rounding third and heading home this time, folks.

So the New Republic fleet closes in on Durga, so he decides to fire the superweapon at them but, UH OH! It doesn’t work! Again, if you didn’t expect this to happen…Anderson even said it OVER and OVER and OVER in the book that the machine wouldn’t work, that it was shoddily constructed, that it would blow itself apart. The engineer in charge of construction said the ship was doomed. Madine successfully blew up the power station or whatever before he got killed, it’s not like he was captured before he could achieve his objective. None of this is hidden from the reader. I mean, are we really supposed to be surprised by this? I really want to call up or email Kevin J. Anderson and ask him, “did you expect the Darksaber’s failure to surprise your readers?” THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS IN THIS BOOK, PEOPLE! So two seconds into the battle and the Darksaber doesn’t fire and Durga steers it in to the asteroid field where it rams into a rock and blows up. If this review had audio, I would be blowing a raspberry right now. I mean, yeah. I’m just so at a loss as to what to say. You want to talk about anti-climax? Except, I can’t even call it an anti-climax! There was no climax on its way to begin with. So that’s done. Thanks, Anderson.

Back on Yavin IV, the Imperial Fleet has arrived and is ready to wreak havoc on the temple. Bear in mind that this fleet is piloted by Pelleaon, a man who learned strategy and tactics from Admiral Thrawn himself, so there is no reason that the commander and his wildly overpowered fleet shouldn’t wipe the floor with the students of the force who had only been in training for a year or two. Kyp and Dorsk 81 had arrived at the Academy first and they managed to set up some defense. I actually liked what Anderson did here by having Dorsk 81 sort of take command rather than Kyp. It was a nice bit of role reversal and it was good to see Dorsk have his ‘moment.’ But Dorsk is a good character, which means Anderson must immediately kill him off. All the Jedi go to the roof of the Academy, and, in yet another over-the-top display of the Force, channel their energy through Dorsk and Force push the entire Imperial fleet out of the system. It would be cool if the image that Anderson describes of a bunch of Star Destroyers literally getting slapped into space, tumbling like jacks through the void. Of course Dorsk, spent from his exertion, dies in Kyp’s arms. I dunno, people have really gotten on Anderson’s case about the ridiculous level of power the Jedi have (myself included), and this was a bit much but I’ve sort of come to terms with it. Yes, it was stupid. Yes it was flashy. Yes I would have an easier time buying it if it was Yoda Force pushing Star Destroyers, not some 2-year Padawan. On the other hand, this book was written well before the Prequals came about and well before the lines of what exactly a Jedi may or may not accomplish were drawn. That said, it was still a dramatically overpowered moment and a prime example, yet again, of Anderson’s propensity to raise the stakes super high and then…just let the balloon deflate. We saw it with the Darksaber, which took about thirty seconds to destroy. We saw it with Pallaeon’s fleet of umpteen many Star Destroyers, which the Jedi Babies took care of without much trouble. We get 300 pages of build up to nothing. It’s almost frustrating to have spent time reading a book and expecting some sort of payoff, only to have Anderson hit the Staples “Easy” button and solving the problem quickly.

Daala shows up at Yavin all confident and maniacal in a Super Star Destroyer (yeah, another mega-weapon) and battle ensues that would have been mildly interesting in a better book. At this point, though, I just wanted to be done. I have to give Anderson props, though. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a battle scene where I was so detached from the story that I would open the book to read a few pages before I went to bed, make it through about two paragraphs, remember how stupid it was, give up, and then turn out my light and go to sleep. Luke, Callista, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca also make it to the planet to help with the defense. Anderson breaks one of the basic rules of AI by having both C-3P0 and R2-D2 become killers and physically join the fight against the Imperials. That happens. Callista decides to leave Luke and seek out the Force on her own, so she steals a TIE Bomber and drives it up in to Daala’s Super Star Destroyer and uses it to destroy the flagship’s engines. Daala escapes (of course) and Callista heads off to seek her fortune elsewhere. Pallaeon rescues Daala, who finally realizes that she is completely incompetent and gives her command to Pallaeon. I tried to tell her four or five books ago, but she didn’t listen.

A Metaphor for Admiral Daala.

A Metaphor for Admiral Daala.

Everyone’s safe, the end. Book over. Finally

In sumary, Darksaber is a really good book and you should all run out now and buy it.

Sorry, I can’t write that with a straight face.

I really don’t have much more to say about this book. I think I’ve thoroughly laid out the glaring issues that riddle this piece of literary atrocity. I’m not alone in disliking this book, by the way. On TheForce.net, one of the premiere Star Wars nerd sites, almost 50% of users voted it among the worst Star Wars books of all time. Don’t waste your time. It’s a juvenile, cookie-cutter story that keeps promising all these great things and then toss those great things aside in favor of mediocrity. Anderson does have talent as a creator and describer of environments. I thoroughly enjoyed his narratives for Illustrated Star Wars Universe. But all four of his novels have been big, fat disappointments. I wish he would stick to sourcebooks and stay away from my Star Wars stories.

 DEATH STAR (Your brain can’t withstand bad writing of that magnitude!)

 I want to give huge props to the folks at the SMN Podcast, whose format I absolutely ripped off for my review this week. Consider this my homage to their work. Darksaber is the Star Wars equivalent of a Uwe Boll movie, so I suppose it is only fitting.

The Adventures of Gunslinging Granny: Part II

Well, your favorite Gunslinger Grannie made it to the Republic fort on Ord Mantell safe and sound!

Have you met my pet Tauntaun, by the way? His name is Tauntie. Original, I know, but I just love that name. I brought him with me from Parsons VI. Isn’t he precious? I hope he enjoys our trip as much as I do!

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Tauntie and I share a quiet moment together in the fort.

At the fort, Corso introduced me to some of his friends. One of them said that my ship had been taken to a nearby Separatist secret base. It was in a volcano! Corso offered to escort me to the base and help out. He said he was just trying to make some money off it, but I think it’s because he’s worried I’ll get hurt. Don’t worry, Corso…ya don’t make it through 56 years of marriage without learnin’ a thing or two about staying alive. He even gave me his gun. They just don’t make gentlemen like that anymore.

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Me with my new gun. I’m ready for anything!

I landed with a small squad of Republic troops outside their base (imagine it! Little ol’ me in charge of a squad! Oh, Papa Banting if only you were still alive to see this).

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Here we are before we head in to the base to kick some Granny Fanny!

After making our way to the top of the base, we discovered that the Eaglebeak, my ship, had already left the planet. The Separatists were rather rude and didn’t want to tell me where it had been flown, but I got a little nasty and persuaded them to see things my way (Haha! I love talking like that).

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Granny can be grumpy when she’s gotta!

Turns out they took my ship to Coruscant. Coruscant! Hear that, little Granny is heading to the capital!

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Tauntie and I take one last look at Ord Mantell before getting on our shuttle off the planet.

As I write this, our shuttle is heading into port on the Republic Fleet. From there, Corso says he knows some folks who run a transport ship called Esseles that can get us a quick, easy run to Coruscant. It’ll be nice to sit back for a change after all this action!

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Off to the fleet!

See y’all around! – Dosi, the Gunslinger Granny

P.S. Here are a few other pictures from our time on Ord Mantell. This first one was inside the Separatist base. It was a real volcano!

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Reminds me of the place Papa Banting took me for our honeymoon. Mufasa, I think the planet was called.

And this second one I took just for Genine. I call it “Granny is not impressed.” What do you think?

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The Adventures of the Gunslinging Granny: Part I

Well, hello there young fellar! My name is Dosi and I’m 76 years young. My husband, Papa Banting, and I spent many happy years on Parsons VI over in the Hood Sector, living in our cabin on the water. Well, he up and died a few years ago and I figured, what the heck? With Papa gone, what’s keepin’ me here? So rather than go to the Home my ungrateful son picked out for me, I decided to become a starship captain. I looked around and got myself a little ship and took to the stars to start off my next stage of life!

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This is me! Dosi, the Gunslinging Granny.

Now I don’t consider myself political, but you can’t read the mornin’ holo without knowing a thing or two about his cold war we’ve got goin’ with the Sith. I got myself a paying gig running guns for the Republic to Ord Mantell, where there has been some trouble with some o’ the locals.

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Here I am pulling in to port on Ord Mantell with my ship. I named ‘er the Eaglebeak. Doesn’t she look like one?

Ord Mantell was really my first mission…boy, I hadn’t been to space in ages! It was a thrill seeing a different planet for once. Too bad it’s a warzone…

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These young men told me to get down! There were enemies about.

When I landed, a firefight broke out between Republic Troops and the Separatists just outside my hangar. I was a WAC back in the last war, so I knew how to handle myself. I grabbed a gun and helped the young men fight back.

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Here I am surrounded by the rotting corpses of my fallen enemies. Isn’t it exciting!? Genine, I know you’re reading and wishing you were here with me!

After checking in with my ‘contact’ (that’s what we in the Smuggling business call the gentleman who sets up a job), I headed back to my ship to unload my cargo…only to find that one of the Separatists was making off with the Eaglebeak!

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There goes my retirement…

I gave that young man a good piece of my mind when I got in touch with him on holocall.

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What a rude young man! Back in my day, young men wouldn’t have stolen an old lady’s ship! Dagnab it, if only Papa Banting were around. He’d have put this boy in his place.

A nice young man named Corso told me to head to the nearby Republic fort for help. He was so polite, I just couldn’t say no!

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This is Corso. He’s one of those Rastafarians or a young college student trying to get attention. I can never tell with that hairstyle.

So now I’m headed off to the fort to try and track down my beloved Eaglebeak. Hopefully someone there will be able to help me out.

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Running through the sniper fields to the fort. You can just see it in the picture. Thanks, Corso, for taking the picture!

That’s it for now. I’ll let you know what I find in the fort.

See y’all around! – Dosi, the Gunslinger Granny

Children of the Jedi

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Children of the Jedi

By Barbara Hambly

**Spoiler Disclaimer** As with all my reviews, I note up front that there will be spoilers in this post. I’d like to evaluate the stories on a number of different merits, and that sometimes involves giving away plot points. If you’re like me, you don’t care…you just want to know what happened.**

Children of the Jedi, by Barbara Hambly, continues the adventures of Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca, along with new additions Cray and Nichos as they try to discover why one of Han Solo’s old smuggling buddies showed up, deranged and physically decrepit, screaming about how everyone’s gonna die.

It seems that some Jedi hid Force-sensitive younglings on Belsavis when the Emperor did his thang at the end of the Clone Wars. The story quickly branches when Luke, and his Jedi protégés Cray and Nichos (a married couple) head off in one direction to see what they can find at some cryptic coordinates they somehow uncover (I read through the scene three times and didn’t quite figure out how), while Leia, Han, and Chewie head off to the planet Belsavis to follow up on the crazed smuggler’s information. As an avid player of Bioware’s MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic, it was a thrill to see Belsavis crop up in this book (indeed, this was the first time the planet was mentioned). Alas, none of my guild mates seemed as thrilled when I logged in to brag about reading it, but so it goes.

Luke eventually ends up on the superweapon (yep, another one) Eye of Palpatine, which has laid dormant for decades but has somehow been activated and is now headed to Belsavis to wipe out the Jedi settlement. Meanwhile, Leia, Han, and Chewie discover that the Jedi young have since fled Belsavis, but there still seems to be something…strange going on planetside. They stick around to see if they can get to the bottom of some disappearances and try to determine what about this planet made Han’s buddy go so crazy.

For me, this book is half and half. I liked the Han/Leia story, but wasn’t crazy about the Luke plot. The Luke story was confusing and the payoff was disappointing. This is true both from a Star Wars and a literary point of view.

Literarily, I had trouble getting in to the book in the first few chapters because Hambly seemed to jump ahead of herself, only going back to explain what was going on when she felt the reader was adequately confused. The book would jerk from scene to scene with no real transition. One conversation wasn’t contiguous with another that just ended. It was jarring and weird. A few chapters in, Hambly’s writing became more fluid, at least in the Han/Leia story.

The Han/Leia story was far more engaging than Luke’s. I could easily follow the Belsavis plotline, and it did have some nice setpieces, though the only character I felt actually “changed” by the end of the book was Mara Jade, who only pops in for a few lines here and there. There were a few nice twists along the way and we got some interesting glimpses into Leia’s upbringing on Alderaan. I also thought Hembly did a good job dabbling in some of the intergalactic intrigue surrounding Alderaanian organizations that popped up after the planet was destroyed.

Luke’s plot, on the other hand, was fairly disastrous in execution. You always feel a few steps behind Luke, but not in the good, suspenseful way. It was tough to follow and Hembly didn’t really give us many reference points. Luke is trapped on the Eye with a myriad of sentient creatures like Gamoreans, Tusken Raiders, and Jawas. The Eye has brainwashed these creatures to become the Emperor’s men through and through (to varying degrees of success). They wander around the ship like crazy people, and not even in a way that logically fits the story. The computer that runs the Eye supposedly indoctrinated them to be professional soldiers who could carry out a ground mission to wipe out Jedi on Belsavis, but none of them act like soldiers at all. They really do act like they are members of an insane asylum, breaking out into nonsensical internal fights or sitting around command rooms acting out space battles (complete with sound effects). It’s surreal. Luke’s apprentices get kidnapped and provide a ticking clock device as one is to be publicly executed and needs savin’. He spends most of his time going through corridors and finding things. It’s about as thrilling as it sounds, and because you never really know where Luke is in relation to anything else in the Eye, it’s befuddling as well.

There are some interesting conceptual components to Luke’s plot; namely the sub-plot of his apprentice’s relationship. Cray, before becoming a Jedi, was an AI engineer and roboticist (one of the best in the galaxy, actually). When her husband Nichos was diagnosed with an incurable, fatal disease, she designed a perfect droid replica of him and somehow transferred an imprint of Nichos’ brain into it. There are some heavy ideas there about what makes life and how far you should go to save a loved one. But this plot is but a pleasant diversion from the tangled mess of Luke’s primary arc.

I might have forgiven the Luke storyline if it were not for Callista. As he explored the hallways of the Eye, he stumbled on Callista, a Jedi who had successfully infiltrated the Eye but had died before she could destroy it. She had managed to store her consciousness and spirit in the Eye’s weapon systems. Alright, I guess I can buy that. There’s precedent for such a thing in other Star Wars stories. As you might guess, she helps Luke figure out how to get the gaggle of sentients on board evacuated and destroy the Eye. But then it gets weird. She interfaces with Luke through a computer, except sometimes when she shows up in physical form. Luke falls in love with her, and vice versa. It even implies that Luke and ghost-computer-Jedi sleep together at one point. Uh, ok. That’s odd. But wait, there’s more. Towards the end of the story, Callista makes it clear she’s going to get blown up with the Eye when it gets destroyed. Weepy-eyed Luke can’t take it, and begs her to get put into a droid like Nichos. She refuses, pointing out that Nichos is hardly human, only a replica of a memory. Ok, nice ethical message.

Cut to: end of the book. Nichos and Cray (in what was apparently supposed to be a surprise) sacrifice their lives to destroy the Eye. But Callista magically turns up, having taken over Cray’s body. It isn’t perfect, though, because she has lost her connection to the Force. She becomes, in essence, only a replica of a memory. Hembly pretty much took her message and said “Phoey and Pishah! I want Callista to be a person.” A very unsatisfying ending that really shouldn’t have happened. Callista should have died with the ship.

From a Star Wars point of view, I loved exploring Belsavis and learning a bit more about a planet that has more recently been thrust to the forefront of the lore. There were a couple of interesting scenes in deep catacombs on the planet where our heroes stumble on Jedi Padawan training equipment, giving Luke yet another boost in his quest to figure out how the Jedi Order functioned before the Jedi purge. Luke’s story I feel like just ignoring. I don’t want to dive into another list of problems like I did with the Jedi Academy books, but I’ll just mention this: in this book, Gamoreans can speak Basic. That’s just…so wrong.

I know I focused a lot on the shortcomings of the Luke plot and didn’t really spend much time with Leia and Han, but that’s because the Belsavis plot is just so much better. I don’t have a lot to pick at there. Children of the Jedi is worth the read if for no other reason than that. And Luke’s story is hardly unreadable, it’s just confusing. Unfortunately, it does hold the book back from being an overall satisfying read.

Should you read it? Overall, Children is a fun read and worth picking up. It’s not a page-turner like Heir to the Empire, but doesn’t push me away, either. It falls into that same “second tier” category of the Jedi Apprentice series. Start with something else like the Thrawn trilogy or X-Wing and work your way down into some of the less outstanding works.

Bronze Star (Read once you’ve read everything else)

Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu

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Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu

By L. Neil Smith

The Adventures of Lando Calrissian Trilogy is a strange little side-adventure from today’s standpoint. Written in 1983, well before the Golden Age of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the books didn’t play by the rules that were established in the 1990s and beyond. Each of the three books is fairly short (180 pages or so), but I feel they are different enough to deserve their own review.

Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu (1983) by L. Neil Smith was the first book in the Adventures of Lando Calrissian. It’s sort of a quirk in the grander EU vision. For example, it takes place in the few years leading up to A New Hope, a period that has still been largely unexplored by Star Wars authors. It also exclusively follows Lando. There’s no Han. No Luke. No Obi-Wan or Vader or anything. Just Lando.

Calrissian is trying to live the carefree dream of hopping from planet to planet in search of his fortune, having recently acquired a new ship, theMillennium Falcon. He’s a good Sabaac player, and uses his skill to reap nice piles of cash wherever he goes. One of his games turns sour when he wins a very expensive droid and the (now former) owner accuses him of cheating. Lando flees the planet, running out the frying pan and into the fire on Rafa IV. Accompanied by his new droid, Vuffi Raa, he is sent by the Imperial Governor and the governor’s mysterious, Sorcerer boss to find the Mindhard of Sharu, an ancient artifact locked away in the equally ancient ruins of a mysteriously vanished civilization. I say ‘ruins,’ but that isn’t really accurate; they are more like perfectly kept geometric formations that are older than old and cover the planets in this system.

Lando and Vuffi Ra (whose own backstory unfolds through the trilogy) have some run-ins with the natives before finally gaining access to the Mindharp. This is the part of the book that is a little tougher to explain. It is, in many ways, a perfect example of the 1970s and 80s style of what I call “Procedural Science Fiction,” those sort of longer, unfolding sequences of discovery that pander to the spectacle of science fiction seen in such films as Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind or even 2001: A Space Oddyssey, and your interest/personal opinion of the book will depend heavily on how well you tolerate that sort of writing. Lando spends the better part of the second half of the book going through a very trippy sequence within the pyramid involving shrinking rooms and mazes and colors and long hallways and disembodied voices. Again, it is a fine example of the ‘vogue’ sci-fi style of the time (and is certainly far more Science Fictiony than the Star Wars movies ever were), but a modern audience may find it a bit weird. I personally enjoy it, but then I studied History in college so I have an interest in investigating cultural context.

 **MAJOR SPOILER** The book has a surprisingly real-world political message, too, as it is a revenge story of sorts about a small group of natives who were virtually wiped out when the Imperials showed up, but when the Mindharp is recovered, they reclaim the planet as their own. I’d go so far as to say the story stirred up that White Guilt in me that Americans are so beholden to these days. The author, L. Neil Smith, has actually written a fairly successful series of Alternate Reality US History books, so in retrospect it’s hardly surprising that he would stick that little bit in.**END SPOILER**

 Should you read it? That really depends on your preference in literature. A lot of people don’t like Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu because it is so mercurial in its content. I won’t deny that it is trippy as crap during the second half. Like I said, your interest in this book will be directly proportional to your tolerance for procedural stories. There is a bit of action thrown in the book, but it’s much more of an adventure story than the typical battle-centric Star Wars fiction. I like it because of its place in the history of Star Wars writing, and because it introduces us to some interesting locations (and because it isn’t a widely read book, I can feel like a super nerd when I pull out some obscure reference to Rokur Gepta). But if you’re looking for something a bit more in line with the spirit of the films, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

Gold Star (If you like the style)

 Bronze Star (If you don’t)

Yoda: Dark Rendezvous

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Yoda: Dark Rendezvous

By Sean Stewart

**Spoiler Disclaimer** As with all my reviews, I note up front that there will be spoilers in this post. I’d like to evaluate the stories on a number of different merits, and that sometimes involves giving away plot points. If you’re like me, you don’t care…you just want to know what happened.**

Yoda: Dark Rendezvous, by Sean Stewart and published in 2004, focuses on the eponymous Yoda as he sets up the eponymous “dark rendezvous” with Count Dooku towards the end of the Clone Wars. I’ll be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to the various Clone Wars projects. It’s not like I’m opposed to them, I just haven’t been compelled to read them or watch the various shows or movies (am I missing anything? I’ve heard mixed reviews). In other words, this is sort of new territory for me.

Anyway, in Dark, Yoda has received a message from Dooku that the Count is having doubts about the War and is contemplating a way to put an end to the fighting. Yoda and the rest of the Jedi are wary of the offer, suspecting foul play (and Dooku establishes to his cronies pretty early on that the offer was indeed a lark) but Yoda decides to go ahead and meet with Dooku despite the danger. He brings along two young Padawans, Scout and Whie, and their Masters to act as cover/bodyguards for the mission. Meanwhile Asajj Ventres, a Force-using assassin, has been dispatched to kill Yoda.

After the trainwreck that was the Jedi Apprentice series, I wanted to review one of the many Star Wars books I enjoy and Yoda: Dark Rendezvous is, in my opinion, not too shabby. I can honestly say, stylistically, I’ve never read anything quite like it. For better or for worse, Sean Stewart loves his similes. What makes the book stick out more than anything else is just how many similes Stewart peppered through the book. The device, while effective in small doses, was a bit overused in Dark, like a delightful pasta dish that’s been ruined by oversaucing. The book also suffers from trying to cater to too many audiences; the inclusion of the Padawans makes the story sometimes feel like a kid’s book trapped in an adult novel (or vice versa, the book waffles back and forth)(no, not adult in that way. C’mon, this is Star Wars). But Dark is clearly not a children’s book; it delves into some very dark themes like death and insanity, while some of those similes verge on graphic. I would have rather had Stewart just leave out some of the more kiddy elements and trust that youth can enjoy something a bit more mature.

Despite the occasionally childish elements, the characters act as an interesting conduit for learning more about the Jedi Order pre-Palpatine. We get a chance to see the Temple operating as it did before the fall, get some glimpses into Jedi training, and a boatload of Yodaly wisdom. The ancient Master is a delight, and through his dialogue and interactions with the Padawans show us a Yoda in his prime, much more youthful than his already-boisterous “Empire Strikes Back” characterization.

In Ye Olde Official Star Wars Chronology, Dark is set on the eve of the destruction of the Jedi, barely six months away from Order 66. In the real world, it was released mere months before “Revenge of the Sith” hit theaters. To be honest, having that timeline in mind adds a melancholy air to the book. As a reader, I knew I was witnessing the end of the Jedi. Stewart knew this, too, and filled the halls of the Temple with a depressing emptiness. As Yoda passed a group of very younglings headed off to a training exercise, I couldn’t help but wonder if one of them was the one that turned to Anakin for help in the Jedi Council chamber before Skywalker cut him down in fury. As the relationship between Scout and Whie developed, it made me almost sad to know that they would probably be dead before their next birthday. As I said, this book deals with some dark themes.

Should you read it? Yoda: Dark Rendezvous is the study of a civilization in decline, a mighty order about to collapse. It’s pretty good and I certainly thought it worth my time, though you will find yourself rolling your eyes every time Stewart throws yet another literary device at you. Even if you are one of those folks who wants to pretend that nothing before “A New Hope” actually happened, you might consider giving this a shot as it focuses almost exclusively on Yoda’s story (Obi-Wan and Whiney Boy have a few cameos, but don’t spend too much time talking). Just bear in mind the type of book Dark is; it almost seems to require a certain state of mind to get the most out of the writing. Next time you are perusing the Star Wars section of your local library or used book store, see if they have Yoda: Dark Rendezvous. It’s worth it if for no other reason than to hear Christopher Lee in your head as you read Count Dooku’s dialogue.

Silver Star (Not Bad)

Champions of the Force

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Champions of the Force

By Kevin J. Anderson

(Read my reviews of the preceding books in the trilogy, Jedi Search and Dark Apprentice)

**Spoiler Disclaimer** As with all my reviews, I note up front that there will be spoilers in this post. I’d like to evaluate the stories on a number of different merits, and that sometimes involves giving away plot points. If you’re like me, you don’t care…you just want to know what happened.**

Champions of the Force, the penultimate book in Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy trilogy, following Luke and his Jedi Apprentices as they struggle to overthrow the specter of Exar Kun, an ancient Sith lord still lurking in the temples of Yavin 4. Meanwhile, Leia and Han respond to a threat on the life of their youngest child, Anakin, (who is hidden on a fortress planet with dozens of traps designed to foil kidnapping attempts), and the continued “threat” of Admiral Daala. Meanwhile, Kyp Durron, the Force adept introduced in the series’ opener Jedi Search, runs amuck in the indestructible superweapon, the Sun Crusher.

Before I go in to detail, I just want to say…I’m defeated. Dark Apprentice had so thoroughly dashed my hopes for this series that by the time I got to Champions of the Force, I was so de-invested in the characters and the story that reading it was more of a courtesy than anything…I’d read the other two, so I might as well just see it through.

At the Jedi Academy, Luke has been defeated by Kyp Durron (and Exar Kun) and is suspended in some sort of Force Ghost plane of reality in a sustained out-of-body experience. While his physical being is in a coma, he can wander around and chat with the ghost of Exar Kun with his mind. The Jedi Apprentices have to draw on all of their training and intuition to defeat Kun and bring Luke back to the real world.

Meanwhile, Kyp heads to Carida, the home of the major Imperial Academy for the predictable de nu mon. Blinded by the Dark Side, he calls up the Academy and demands to know what has happened to his brother (you remember his brother, right? The one who was conscripted when his family was dragged off for political dissent? To be honest, this same detail is so oft repeated in the books that I started flat out laughing whenever a character started telling it) and threatening to blow up the system if they don’t tell him. The Academy doesn’t take him seriously and feeds him a lie that his brother was killed in training. Kyp gets mad and shoots the magic, sun crushing torpedo toward the system’s star to set off the deadly reaction. Panicking, the folks at the Academy take 30 seconds to punch his brother’s name into the computer and find out that he is still alive and stationed on Carida. Considering the ease with which they found out the truth, you wonder why they didn’t just tell him in the first place…they didn’t gain anything by lying. The scene plays out just like you guess; Kyp tries to abort the torpedo but can’t, so he flies down to the planet’s surface to try and pick up his bro before the star goes nova and obliterates everything for lightyears around. The lack of suspense is palpable when, surprise, the bomb goes off before he can get his brother on board Kyp watches him get turned into cosmic dust.

When news of Kyp’s war crime hits Coruscant, there is a remarkable lack of emotion considering an entire system (containing a pretty big chunk of the Empire’s military strength) has been destroyed. Han heads out to try and find Kyp and stop him from using the Sun Crusher again. Successful, Han brings Kyp and the weapon back to Coruscant where Kyp is immediately arrested and put on public trial for committing an atrocity against life beyond anything the Empire ever did. This is the sensible thing to do so that the member states of the Republic (and those considering entrance) know that a democracy will not tolerate such unwarranted, horrific, genocidal destruction. Oh wait, this is a Jedi Academy book we’re talking about. Of course the sensible thing doesn’t happen. Instead of putting the kid on trial, the government apologizes to Kyp for making it so easy for him to get at the Sun Crusher and ships him back to Yavin 4 to continue his Jedi training. I’m not joking, this is what happens in this book. Before he can go back to Yavin, Kyp is tasked with flinging the Sun Crusher into a black hole, something the reader suggested to the characters a whole book ago.

The story hits its climax barely halfway through when the Jedi Apprentices on Yavin band together to destroy Exar Kun. Throughout the book, Kun has sent jungle beasts to try and kill Luke’s physical body. These novice Force users realize that “teamwork makes the dream work” and form a magic chanting circle to summon Kun unto them, only to use their combined mental forces to defeat his spirit once and for all. Let’s put this into perspective…these adepts had the Force ability of the little six-year-old Younglings that Anakin finds in the Jedi Council Chamber towards the end of Episode III. And what does Anakin do to these kids? He wrecks ‘em! Mind you, Anakin had not studied the depth of the powers of the Dark Side that Kun had. Yet when Kun gets faced by Team Power Rangers, he instantly flips out and explodes like that guy who eats a hot dog in Leonard, Part 6. Boom. Defeated.

And this happens literally halfway through the book. This big, impending conflict which was easily the most interesting part of the whole series gets paid off not with a bang but with a whimper, with over 150 pages left to go before the book ends! When you realize it’s over, you just wonder where else the story can possibly go with its core element resolved. It works in Return of the King because you actually care about the characters and the book takes an absolutely unexpected twist when you think the story was resolved, but with this series you don’t care about anyone or anything, and you already know how the book is gonna wrap up because the plot is just so insipidly transparent. The Sun Crusher is gonna get destroyed. Admiral Daala is going to be stopped on her “rampage.” Everyone’s gonna live happily ever after.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, I was pretty much cruising through this book so I didn’t really care how absurd this all was anymore. I just wanted to finish. To that end, the book did have some pleasant surprises in store, most notably the little council of scientists that get control of a prototype Death Star (yep, another superweapon) and try to figure out how to use it by following all “standard, pre-established bureaucratic protocol.” The dialogue in these scenes is refreshingly witty and would make anyone who has dealt with Academics or big organizations chuckle. But this little glimmer of enjoyment does not make the rest of the book worth the time.

I learned two lessons from this book. 1) The New Republic is not a free and just Democracy at all, and 2) Jedi are evil. To reach the second conclusion, just take a look at the track record…the last three Jedi of note were Darth Vader, an agent of Evil, Luke Skywalker, who apparently turned to the Dark Side and served the Emperor and murdered a bunch of people in one of the comic books, and Kyp Durron, who ran off and blew up an entire star system. If I were any citizen of the Universe, I’d be questioning if I’d be letting the Jedi run around with any power. Maybe Palpatine had it right. As to the Republic, Kevin J. Anderson makes it clear that they don’t care about doing anything actually interest of the people. They take Kyp, a man who killed more people in a day than Hitler, Stalin, and Mao killed combined in their lifetimes, and just let him walk off without so much as a slap on the wrist. I’d be screaming for blood! And when Mon Mothma, the head of the New Republic, decides to step down, she hands the baton off to Leia. Don’t worry about free elections or anything, just let one Dictator pass rule on to the next. No need to get the people involved.

Seriously, what was Anderson thinking when he wrote these books? I can’t fathom how any of this series got green lit and out the door. They suck. That’s all there is to it. They mess with any sort of reasonable, logical timeline of events. They paint the Republic and the Jedi, organizations we as readers are supposed to sympathize with, and through piss-poor writing and storytelling shape them up to be more evil than the Sith and the Empire (because at least they didn’t try to hide the fact that they were bad folks). If these books had been ANYTHING but Star Wars books, not only would I have ignored them, they would have been universally panned by critics and readers. As it is, I know I’m not alone in my distaste for the Jedi Academy books, but what is most disappointing is that these books were released on the heels of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. I, and most of Star Wars nerddom agree, that the Thrawn books kick butt. They have great enemies, exciting sequences, interesting stories and dialogue. I’ve read them all three times and I still can’t put them down when I read them again. Thrawn established a certain level of quality in storytelling that you’d think LucasArts and Random House would want to live up to. But, for whatever reason, the next thing we get is this crap.

Whatever. I’m done with this series.

Should you read it? Reading Champions of the Force is like watching a bad film adaptation of a book you already know the plot to; you know the ending and you can see all the “plot twists” from a mile away because you know how everything has to unfold. If that sounds like your cup of tea, I’m not gonna stop you. I certainly can’t recommend Champions, or any of the books in the Trilogy. Like I said for all of my previous reviews of the Jedi Academy books, don’t start here. If you’ve read Search and Apprentice and you just want to get through, just do it. But if you are lucky enough to have not started the series, seek out other books first.

Death Star (Your brain cannot withstand poor literature of that magnitude)