Continuing the Prequel re-read today, let’s start with Hero of Cartao. It’s a short novella from the pen of Timothy Zahn no less, and deals with the Separatist invasion of the planet Cartao. The planet has an industrial facility called Spaarti Creations, which is notable for the alien species who work there, who are able to make pretty much anything to order. They’re pressed into service by Kinman Doriana to make cloning tanks to help bolster the clone troopers, because apparently Kamino’s process is taking too long. Whether the Trade Federation actually got wind of this or not is unclear, but they soon arrive on-world as well and take over the plant. A lot of fighting ensues, but both sides don’t want to damage the plant itself. However, a Republic cruiser is eventually sent to help the beleaguered Republic fighters, and crashes straight into the factory.
This story basically exists to explain why the Emperor had Spaarti cloning tanks in his facility on Wayland, after the revelation that the clones were good, and made in Kamino. I’ve mentioned this briefly before, but when Tim Zahn was writing his original Thrawn trilogy, it was theorized that the Clone Wars pitted evil clonemasters against the Republic, and Palpatine was able to capitalize upon this to ensure his election to Supreme Chancellor. With the reversal that the clones we see are actually fighting on the side of the Republic, some retconning was required!
That said, the story isn’t bad in and of itself, it just seems a bit by the numbers at times. It’s fascinating to see Kinman Doriana again, of course, as he thinks he is playing both sides by serving both Sidious and Palpatine, without knowing they’re the same person. There’s an element here that suggests he thinks he’s pulling the wool over Palpatine’s eyes, which is kinda interesting. A significant part of the story deals with the droid siege of the factory complex, and the atmosphere of an occupied planet is really well-written, I think.
It’s by no means an important story, even when taken as the explanation for the Spaarti cylinders. I suppose it’s nice to have, but it wasn’t a huge burning question that I had, that is now answered!
From Cartao, let’s now head to Praesitlyn. Yes, we must!
Jedi Trial is the fifth novel in the original Clone Wars multimedia project, which began with Shatterpoint. In case you didn’t read my earlier blog on that book, between 2002-2005, Del Rey aimed to tell the story of the clone wars in real time, publishing these books while Revenge of the Sith was filming. Written by real-life veterans of war, it tells the story of Anakin’s progression from padawan to Jedi Knight, during a mission to the strategic comms centre of Praesitlyn. With Obi-Wan off doing other stuff, Anakin is cooling his heels at the temple when Nejaa Halcyon asks for him to join him on his mission. Nejaa, himself something of a rogue Jedi, is of course the Jedi grandfather of Corran Horn, who was one of the great stalwarts of the old expanded universe, and star of any book written by Michael Stackpole. Nejaa and Anakin both have secret wives, and they bond over their shared transgressions against the Jedi Code.
The leader of the droids on this instance is Pors Tonith, of the Intergalactic Banking Clan. The ground forces on Praesitlyn take up the main chunk of the story, however, which is probably because of the authors’ experience in similar fields. We get to go through military strategy where it actually makes sense (even if the situation doesn’t), and the exhaustive detail over stuff like military supply is, well, exhausting.
When you read this as a military sci-fi novel with Star Wars characters, it’s kinda fascinating. When you read it as a Star Wars novel that promises to show Anakin front and centre, possibly facing off against Asajj Ventress given how prominent she is on the cover, you’re going to be disappointed to the point where it’s just criminal. Before or since, we’ve never had a Star Wars novel tell us how important the quartermaster is to the army. The level of detail, which I keep banging on about, is off the charts impressive. But this isn’t what Star Wars is about. At least, not for me.
Nejaa and Anakin arrive to relieve the Praesitlyn Defense Force, and find barely anybody left. Anakin is in his element during combat, and performs exceptionally in both rescuing some hostages and capturing Pors Tonith. In the later space battle, his Force-aided skills allow him to cheat death, and the Council has no choice but to agree that his actions are worthy of becoming a Jedi Knight.
Somewhere in here there is a good idea for a story, which showcases Anakin’s ability when he is unfettered from Obi-Wan’s caution. Indeed, I don’t think there has been a story where I’ve actually liked Anakin Skywalker as a character, because authors are forever trying to foreshadow his turn into Darth Vader. But Anakin here is actually a pretty competent military commander, and his command of the Force is almost instinctive, as though he really is some kinda living prophecy. There’s a lot of derring-do, of course, but I don’t think it has ever been explained so clearly before that Anakin behaves like this because he knows he can do it. It might seem like suicide for him to lead a charge on the Separatists’ position, but he knows he will be successful, so of course he does it. It’s an interesting take on Anakin, and reminds me somewhat of how Horus Lupercal is portrayed in Horus Rising – no effort to foreshadow the monster he will become, instead we have a genuinely likeable guy.
Unfortunately, the story ignores Anakin for about half of the page count. Instead, we get Odie and Erk, the unlikely romance plotline that I really, really wish had been stripped out of the book. We also barely get any Asajj Ventress, only when Pors Tonith reports in to her. Why is she featured so prominently on the cover? Grr.
Overall, the book is just bad. I’ve read it three times now, and each time it has been, well, a trial to get through. I remember one Christmas-time, reading only the interesting bits and skipping over the other stuff – I basically read it in half a day, because the bad far outweighed the good. Like I said, somewhere in here there is a good story, but for a book that deals with Anakin’s Jedi trials, I was expecting far more Jedi stuff as we got to learn all about how the Council decides who is ready to graduate from Jedi school. The fact that the Prequels have been institutionalising the Jedi to make us believe the Trials are basically a formal test, it turns out that it’s actually much closer to what Luke has to do in Return of the Jedi, and it amounts to basically doing really well as a Jedi without supervision.
Every time I think about this book, I want to like it, because I want it to be good. And every time, bloody Odie and Erk drag me down and infuriate me over everything that’s bad about it. While it’s arguably a better Star Wars book than Shatterpoint, because it gives us more of the actual war and so on, I think the Clone Wars novels series in general is just a bit of a let-down. In Shatterpoint, we learnt that there haven’t really been any major offensives in the conflict, but instead we’ve had a lot of shadow operations as Jedi have attempted to negotiate planetary governments staying in the Republic, or destabilising those who have joined the Separatists. However, given that this is a galactic conflict, we should imagine that there are massive theatres of contested space. Instead, we get these kinds of stories where major characters are sent to tiny backwater worlds where the book stays on one world for the most part. It’s a complaint that I’ve made before, I know, but we just don’t get that kind of galactic sweep that we have in stuff like Zahn’s books – or, for that matter, in the movies themselves.
Anyway, I think I’ve talked this one to death. Anyone else notice how I spend far too much time talking about the books I don’t like?! Up next is Yoda: Dark Rendezvous, and I seem to remember that I do like this one!