Well folks, I finally made it through the first official Clone Wars novel, Shatterpoint. What a book!
Mace Windu heads to his homeworld of Haruun Kal on a rescue mission with a difference. His former padawan and fellow Council member Depa Billaba appears to have “gone native” with the local partisan groups trying to eradicate the off world prospectors, and Mace fears that she may have fallen to the Dark Side. He teams up with Nick Rostu as he is led through the jungle to Depa and the Koruun natives, led by the powerful, untrained Force user Kar Vastor. All Koruunai are able to feel the Force, but Kar embodies the natural power of the jungle itself, and he does not want Mace to take Depa from them. When the offworlders, backed by the Separatists, lead a massive attack against the natives, Mace is forced to work alongside Kar and the others; however, when the Koruunai and Depa turn the tables and use the Separatist droids to annihilate the offworlder settlements, Mace is forced to switch sides in his attempt to stop the fighting.
This book has been well-publicised as the Star Wars equivalent to Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, and the depictions of war as a living nightmare are particularly graphic, to say the least. There are descriptions of wounds and displaced persons, the fallout of battles and the legacy of generational racism that all serve to underscore the serious tone of the novel. Some of this is counterbalanced by Nick and his sometimes forced levity, though it doesn’t take a genius to see how it’s perhaps a coping mechanism for the life he has led.
We definitely get the gritty, realistic feel of a war story here. It’s interesting because it’s not really Star Wars, that kind of tone, is it? A story that essentially tells the harrowing aftermath of a warzone that has almost been forgotten by the overall conflict, and left to let the natives carry on their eternal struggle is quite bleak, to say the least. The sounds and smells are described at length, and Haruun Kal is definitely not going to be high on anyone’s list of destinations to visit. A very interesting moment occurs as Mace arrives on-world and is the target of mistrust based on his race, which is a very different way of portraying the legendary Jedi Master.
One of the things I like a lot about this book comes from just two pages near the start, where we get an update on the galactic war position. We learn what has happened since Geonosis, how the Separatists have castled up in their “Forge of the Confederacy” heartlands, while the Jedi, under the guidance of Yoda, have primarily been engaged in destabilising the governments on those worlds, trying to bring systems back into the Republic or, at the very least, trying to cause a chaos that will prevent the Separatists from making use of the fact that they were prepared for the war to begin. All of this is happening while the Republic war machine attempts to catch up with the Separatists droid factories. With so few clones to rely on, the Republic needs to call on local peacekeepers and volunteers, meaning that there are very few actual engagements in the early months of the clone wars, merely skirmishes and an extension of the kind of border disputes Dooku took advantage of in the first place. It’s so satisfying to see a bigger picture here, as it’s something that we usually lack in these stories, as they seek to tell the story of a one-on-one fight without widening the focus to the larger brawl. Context is key – something that Star Wars writers have increasingly failed to understand, especially in the sequel trilogy!!
Much later on, there is also a very interesting comment from Depa Billaba as regards the war destroying the Jedi. Of course, in hindsight, given what we as readers know of the overall Star Wars plot, this is very true. The war was engineered to destroy as many Jedi as possible. But it’s interesting to see Depa comment how, no matter which side wins, the Jedi will lose, and she’s kinda dismissed by Mace as her jungle madness, or whatever.
However, this isn’t really one of my favourite Star Wars novels. The message is driven home pretty hard, and we end up with a fairly heavy-going book that kinda isn’t fun, for the most part. The interesting thing, to me, is how a lot of the prequel stuff, and especially the Clone Wars stuff, was written during the second Iraq War, which didn’t really click for me at the time, but looking at this now, it does come through.
For all the branding of being “a Clone Wars novel”, and being the first book in a publishing program that intended to tell the Clone Wars story in real time between 2002-05, the book is predominantly the story of the Koruunai partisans vs the offworld prospectors. Yes, the Separatists backed the offworlders, and yes, we get clones and droid star fighters at the climax, but in the main, this doesn’t feel like it’s telling a Clone Wars story. It sometimes doesn’t even feel like a Star Wars story…
I know a lot of people love this book, but for me, it’s probably going to be another 20 years before I think of picking it up again…