Well, guys, I finished it!
The Approaching Storm is one of those Star Wars books that I know I don’t really like, but nevertheless I find myself willing to reread it more easily than the more truly dull books.
The seemingly insignificant planet Ansion is tied by many treaties to its more powerful neighbours. President of the Commerce Guild Shu Mai hatches a plan to have Ansion secede from the Republic, which would mean the planet’s neighbours would also be compelled to do so, creating the start of the Separatist movement. Shu Mai asserts that nobody would notice if Ansion did leave the Republic, yet within a page or two we learn that actually yes, many people are also aware of the network of treaties and alliances that bind Ansion and others, and the Jedi have dispatched both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luminara Unduli, and their padawans, to mediate this “border dispute”.
The planet of Ansion exists in tension between the city dwellers, many of whom wish to secede to open up free trade, and the nomads who roam the open prairies, who wish to remain in the Republic to keep the protection afforded to them by the many Republic acts in favour of ethnic groups. The Jedi offer a bargain to the city folk, to stay in the Republic if a treaty can be negotiated with the nomads. And so the Jedi embark across the prairie to find the Overclan, to whom the rest of the nomads generally listen.
Eventually they find the Borokii nomads, and a treaty is negotiated, and the Jedi are able to keep Ansion in the Republic, and all is well.
So, why did I give this book a 2-star rating on Goodreads? Well, I like my Star Wars books to have the sort of planet-hopping adventures with actual consequences or significant changes taking place. There’s nothing wrong with a book that is set on just one world, of course, provided the story is actually good, and stuff happens. However, TAS achieves very little, if anything, of consequence. We get some attempts to foreshadow Anakin turning into Darth Vader, while cognisant that he’s just a teenager, and the book actually marks the first appearance of Shu Mai and, indeed, Count Dooku himself. I think the book was marketed as a lead-in to Attack of the Clones while actually the only real impact it makes on the film is to explain Mace’s remark about Obi-Wan and Anakin returning from a border dispute on Ansion.
The book gives us Luminara Unduli and her padawan Barriss Offee, though, and these two are really very interesting. Their inclusion was meant, I believe, to act as a counterpoint to the relationship of Obi-Wan and Anakin, plus the added bonus of being able to say “I know them!” when they have that brief two second scene in the arena on Geonosis. However, as representative of what Jedi are supposed to be like, I think it’s really interesting to see the two of them throughout the book.
I also really like seeing Shu Mai predominantly acting as the villain of the piece. She’s a bit like the shadowy puppet master, even though we know she reports to Dooku etc.
Many of the bits I like about the book come in throwaway sentences, unfortunately. One such is a discussion of how diplomacy works when there are millions of languages in the galaxy. As it happens, the Jedi take a kind of short language course as they travelled to Ansion, allowing them to converse with the natives out on the prairie without the need for a protocol droid. It’s interesting, because we don’t normally get this kind of detail in Star Wars books.
Most of this book is spent with the four Jedi crossing the grasslands, and we get a variety of scenelets that allow us a glimpse into the planet. In terms of novel writing, I can’t help but admire the breadth of scope we get here, seeing all manner of minutiae from across the rolling plains. But as a Star Wars novel, against the backdrop of galactic secession that we know will form the backdrop to the clone wars, I really don’t care why a certain grazer has six legs, or a certain other grazer has three eyes arranged vertically rather than horizontally. It’s interesting on one level, but I don’t want a Star Wars book to be on that level, if I’m honest.
Thinking about this now, I want this book instead to dive into who Count Dooku is, why he’s the leader of the group of industrialists who want to leave the Republic, and why Padme thinks he would try to kill her. I want more galactic intrigue, too – not this bumbling low-level stuff we get here. Fine, if Ansion is the best we have, then let’s still send four Jedi there to mediate – but let’s show it for what it is, and have all eyes on Ansion. Let’s find out what Bail Organa thinks about the situation, or whoever is in charge over on Corellia or Kuat.
And the biggest thing, let Ansion secede. The Jedi should fail, and this book becomes more than just a throwaway Obi-Wan and Anakin story, but instead it actually shows the beginning of the Separatist crisis, which is already about to kick off as the opening crawl flies up the screen.
However, instead we have a zoological gazetteer of Ansion that is vaguely tied in to the GFFA. Which is a shame.
Anyway, let’s try not to get too down on things. We have that great romance coming next (cough), it’s time for Attack of the Clones!