We’re getting close to the end of the Great Prequel Re-Read 2022 now – I’ve got to be honest, I thought I’d have finished this by now, but this is the way it goes, I guess! There isn’t much left, in fairness, but I think it surprises me because in the past I’ve been able to read the bulk of my Prequel plans in just the month of December! Just a couple of graphic novels, and a couple of novels left though!
Yoda: Dark Rendezvous was the last of the original Clone Wars Multimedia Project novels to be published, prior to the release of Revenge of the Sith. As such, it is able to reference things like General Grievous, although we don’t get to meet the cyborg general during the course of the book. There are plenty of references to the wider conflict at this point, as well, which is quite a nice way of dating the book – a lot is made of the recent devastation of Honoghr, which was dealt with during the one-shot Armor storyline. The battle of Omwat is referenced as well, without further elaboration – but it’s worth mentioning that Tarkin was involved in that conflict, where he eventually abducted a number of Omwati children to work on his superweapons, as later detailed in the Jedi Academy trilogy. Quite an impressive reference, I think, even if it’s all Legends so it doesn’t matter any more!
The premise of the novel is that Count Dooku wants peace with the Jedi, and sends a message that he will meet only with Yoda. The Grand Master of the Jedi agrees, and travels incognito with Jai Maruk and Maks Leem, and their respective padawans, Scout and Whie, to Vjun. Along the way, however, they are ambushed by Asajj Ventress, who thinks killing Yoda will land her in Dooku’s good graces and he will make her his apprentice. She kills the Jedi Knights, but Yoda is able to escape with the padawans, and they travel on to Vjun, a planet strong in the dark side and, unbeknownst to him initially, Whie’s homeworld. With the loss of the Jedi Knights, Mace Windu dispatches Anakin and Obi-Wan to help out, because of course he does. Yoda and Dooku meet, but Anakin’s intervention causes the meeting to go sour, and Dooku escapes from the planet.
I’ve only read this once previously, and I can remember loving it back in the day. The writing was somehow just incredible, the way Sean Stewart is able to use sounds in the narrative to drive forth the story is really quite something. You really get the sense of foreboding from the click of Asajj’s heels, or the incessant tapping of the rain on the windows of Dooku’s lair. The atmosphere of the book is also just stupendous – Vjun is a planet steeped in the dark side, first mentioned way back in Dark Empire, and Dooku has holed himself up in the mansion of a nobleman who went mad and killed his staff and family. It’s got overtones of a gothic horror novel about it, which of course is just perfect for the aristocratic Dooku, and it works tremendously well.
The story, as well, is beautifully told. Dooku and Yoda have history, of course – Yoda trained Dooku as his own padawan, not merely as a youngling, and that sense of shared history comes out really strongly during the initial overtures each of them makes, when trying to broker this peace negotiation. It’s interesting, because we never really know if peace is Dooku’s intention – is he fooling himself when he says it was almost on a whim, or is it actually a more deep-seated desire? Is he genuinely feeling as though he has gone too far with the war? It’s a fascinating character study into Count Dooku the man. Interestingly, throughout the whole prequel era, we hardly ever know him as Darth Tyranus, and Dooku’s Sith Lord status is intentionally kept murky, in part I suppose because he needs to be the suave, urbane leader of the alternative to the Republic. Does Dooku want to end the war, and therefore go against his Master, Darth Sidious? How strong is his loyalty to the Sith Lord, given he has spent decades of his life as a Jedi, regardless of how far in opposition to the Council he placed himself.
The book leads up to his interview with Yoda, and after their meeting on Geonosis, I remember being intensely curious as to how this was going to play out. In the end, it’s mostly a conversation – Yoda asks Dooku to turn him to the dark side, in an effort to make Dooku see how useless the dark side really is. It’s only when the Count catches sight of Anakin on one of the security cams, fuelling the older man’s jealousy of the so-called “chosen one”, that any possibility of détente is ended. We’re left wondering just whether Dooku would have come back into the light.
Yoda, for his part, is complex in another way. The book places him front and centre – the title was even changed during development to include him. However, this is mainly because of his presence throughout the book – we don’t really get to learn anything new about him, it’s all stuff that we already knew. For the majority of the book, he is very much in adorable/annoying scamp mode, much like we first meet in Empire Strikes Back. At times, the author doesn’t quite get his speech right, either, making it more backwards than it usually is. (There’s a pretty funny part where the two padawans are fixing a ship and talking to each other like Yoda, as well, which you just know most of the Jedi have done at some point during their youth). There are, however, some moments where the incredible wisdom of the little guy comes out, and his showdown with Dooku is a really amazing piece of intellectual sparring.
Naturally, Anakin and Obi-Wan appear, because what is a clone wars novel without them? Considering they’re meant to be saving the galaxy every five minutes, it’s incredibly annoying to see them show up quite literally everywhere. Their presence here, and in Outbound Flight, and in plenty of other places, is completely unnecessary – I kinda get the fact they’re in Outbound Flight, as otherwise that book has almost zero connection to the films, but this book has Yoda in it, there’s no need for the daring duo to be shoehorned in yet again. If they really needed to send Jedi after Yoda, and I’m hardly convinced that Yoda needs an escort, then why couldn’t it have been another pair of new characters, to raise the stakes as they too might fall victim to Dooku or Ventress? Or why not Ki-Adi-Mundi, or Plo Koon, or Agen Kolar, or literally anybody else who has appeared as set-dressing in Attack of the Clones? Bah! I suppose you could say that Anakin being on Vjun, a planet which amplifies the dark side in a Jedi, is another way to foreshadow his fall; but seriously, Star Wars stories that only exist to foreshadow existing events or situations from the movies are just the worst.
The best parts of the novel are those that involve Dooku. Unfortunately, however, there’s a lot of this book that deals with the Jedi on their journey, and as much as we’re supposed to like the padawans, I did find these parts of the story a bit boring. There’s a Padawan Tournament that takes up a couple of chapters near the start, where we are introduced to them, but it’s just in the way, somehow. It also annoys me, a bit, because it plays into what is becoming a familiar whine from me recently – “this is meant to be a Clone Wars novel, but it’s not!” Now, this book does tenuously walk that line as it is predominantly a character drama, and even involving as it does the leader of the Separatists and the Grand Master of the Jedi Order, the fact that there is a war going on across the galaxy is barely touched upon.
In many ways, it’s quite an introspective look at things, though. We get to see the effect of events such as the Battle of Geonosis, where so many Jedi were killed, on the padawans who were left behind, for instance. Whie is a padawan tormented by prophetic dreams, including a vision of his own death at the hands of a Jedi (he is actually seen among the holorecordings Obi-Wan flits through following Order 66, where he is killed alongside Cin Drallig). It makes for a very introspective character. Dooku is very thoughtful about where he currently stands in life, as I’ve already mentioned. To this extent, then, it kinda makes sense that the book wouldn’t focus on the massive conflict at large, but even so, this series of books really does feel like a missed opportunity to show us the actual Clone Wars conflict. It continually bemuses me how nobody seemed to plot out how the war would be told – instead, it seems to be a continual series of vignettes or worse, where we’re told that the war really is raging, just not on this particular corner.
As it stands, we have no clear idea of what the clone wars are about, really. The Separatists are trying to break planets away from the Republic, and the Republic is trying to keep them in the fold – why does that need millions of clones? Why has diplomacy failed? Why is it a military conflict? Well, reading these novels won’t make that clear, despite “a Clone Wars novel” being emblazoned on the cover. It all boils down to – there’s a conflict going on called the Clone Wars, and this is a book set during that time, but telling a different kind of story.
But all of this is criticism that is more properly levelled at the overarching publishing programme, and not the book in and of itself. It’s actually really good, if a little slow at times. The atmosphere of the book is all-pervasive, and while the climax is a little stunted, it is nevertheless gripping as Yoda and Dooku face each other once more.
Up next, we have a couple of graphic novels, where we get to see what Asajj Ventress does next, and we catch up with Quinlan Vos and the tangled web in which he has found himself!