The novel begins on Murkhana, homeworld to the chairman of the Commerce Guild, Passel Argente. The Republic is leading an assault on the Guild, with no less than six Jedi in the fray, when suddenly the clones receive Order 66 and some of them question its validity. After a disagreement between the clones, three of the Jedi, led by Roan Shryne, are able to escape into the city, however Darth Vader is sent to investigate why the order was not carried out, during which he kills one of Roan’s companions. Roan and the padawan Olee Starstone are finally able to escape the planet thanks to one of his smuggler contacts, and they rendezvous with none other than Roan’s own mother, who became a pilot with the express purpose of one day finding her son.
Vader suffered an injury to his prosthesis during the fight on Murkhana, leading him to begin the process of upgrading his suit. He is tasked by the Emperor with retrieving the dissident senator Fang Zar, who has sought political asylum on Alderaan ahead of returning to his homeworld of Sern Prime. Roan has thrown in his lot with the smugglers while Olee is determined to find more Jedi who may have survived Order 66, and uses her master’s comm to tap into the Jedi Temple records to find the location of other Jedi at the time the order was issued. They are able to meet up with a beleaguered band of Jedi, many of whom are injured, but the activity in the Temple archive is being monitored by Armand Isard, who brings it to the Emperor’s attention.
Olee and Roan go their separate ways, Roan helping his mother and her crew to smuggle Fang Zar off Alderaan. Unfortunately for them, Vader shows up and is able to kill the senator before they can rescue him. Olee finds out that Yoda was on Kashyyyk with two other Jedi at the time of the Order, so the band of Jedi heads there to find the local population busy reclaiming the hulks of Separatist droids abandoned shortly after the abrupt end of the war. However, Vader is tipped off to their presence and joins forces with Moff Tarkin, who has an interest in taking Wookiee prisoners for his superweapon project. Roan comes back to help Olee, and he and Vader duel among the wroshyr trees as the Imperials begin to bombard the planet. Feeling Roan’s death in the Force, Olee determines that she was wrong to try to team up with other Jedi, and they must all heed the advice of the beacon and go to ground, hiding from the Empire and biding their time.
In the closing pages, Obi-Wan is watching over Luke on Tatooine when he hears of the news from Kashyyyk, and the praise lauded upon the Emperor’s enforcer, Darth Vader…
As is usual with James Luceno books, there’s a lot going on in this one, and he proves that he is as adept as ever at weaving a story around the pre-existing material at the time. In many ways, it’s quite a straightforward story really, as we see how the aftermath of Order 66 affects a couple of Jedi, and the polarizing ways in which they choose to deal with it. For Roan Shryne, who was never particularly happy with a lot of the Jedi bureaucracy, he is quite able to slip into the life of a smuggler and put his Jedi past behind him. For the “temple acolyte” Olee Starstone, who had a promising career in the archives but wanted to see the galaxy before cloistering herself up, she is completely unwilling to let go of all she has ever known, and is quite manic at times in her efforts to reunite with other members of the Jedi Order.
I was quite pleased, in a way, that all of the Jedi that we meet along the way are nobodies – we’ve never met them in any other story before, at least! It means the stakes are higher, as we just don’t know if they’re going to make it. But this isn’t just a Jedi story, of course. We also get to see how Bail Organa and Mon Mothma are dealing with the transition from Republic to Empire, and it was quite shocking, in a way, to see the death of Fang Zar. He didn’t make the final cut of Revenge of the Sith, of course, but I think the way in which it all happened seemed to be quite brutal. A member of the Senate, attempting to return to his homeworld following a period of political asylum on Alderaan, is brutally cut down by Darth Vader. Not a great deal is made of this, unfortunately. We do get a lot of rumblings about dissention and rebellion, but a lot of the political stuff seems to have been stripped away this time, which is unfortunate as I know Luceno could have quite brilliantly put something out there that dealt with the political backlash, and perhaps even incorporated more action as Vader quashes a rebellion on Sern Prime? Shame.
Of course, the book is all about Vader, and it reads quite beautifully at first, as we get to see how much Anakin is struggling to adapt to the suit etc. Well, I suppose he’s not Anakin anymore, is he? It was really well done, how we see Vader is disappointed with his prostheses at first. It still seems a bit weird to believe the fan theories about the Emperor wanting to keep Vader in his place by making the suit cumbersome and painful, because surely he’d want a strong apprentice? Indeed, in one of his many brooding monologues, we see the Emperor planning to find a stronger apprentice in the fullness of time.
One of the things I liked about this book is the fact it begins on Murkhana, as the Republic are taking the fight to the Commerce Guild. To me, the clone wars should have involved more of the Republic actively fighting the Separatist leadership on their homeworlds, and not the continual “battle of the week” style thing, where we see the clones liberating yet another random world. I’ll have more on this later in the week though, hopefully, as I plan to write up a bit of a post mortem of the prequel re-read!
All in all, though, it was a good book. Sadly not up there with Labyrinth of Evil or Cloak of Deception, probably more on a par with Darth Plagueis. Very enjoyable, and provides a very interesting window into the post-Order 66 world that the Jedi find themselves in. But with this one, my prequel re-read is now over! I hope you’ve all enjoyed my rambling thoughts on these books and comics as I’ve been wading through them all, anyway – five months of Star Wars reading has kinda done me in for now though, so I think it’ll be time for something a bit different before I return to the GFFA…
Well folks, we’re hurtling towards the end of my Summer of Star Wars now – is September still the summer? Well, I’m counting it. Today it’s the turn of Labyrinth of Evil. This is one of my favourite Prequel-era novels, so as with some of the other blogs in my great prequel re-read, prepare for some slightly biased reporting!
The Clone Wars are raging across the galaxy, with the Separatists finally on the run. Dooku and his forces have been pushed back from the core and inner rim, and the war is predominantly being fought now in the Outer Rim, as Palpatine is committing more troops to besieging the worlds still held by the Confederacy there.
Obi-Wan and Anakin are on the trail of Nute Gunray, who has stopped off at the Trade Federation purse world of Cato Neimoidia. In his rush to flee the planet, however, the Neimoidian Viceroy has left a mechno-chair behind, which incorporates a hyperwave transmission grid into its seat that Anakin quickly discovers contains a recording of part of a call between Darth Sidious and Nute Gunray. Having the final proof of the existence of the Sith Lord, after Dooku’s initial confession to Obi-Wan on Geonosis, the Jedi Council decide to pursue the lead, and Anakin and Obi-Wan head to Charros IV, to speak to the Xi Char artisan who made the chair.
The trail leads from the manufacturer of the chair to that of the transmission chip, a Bith technician currently holed up in a mining facility on Escarte. He points the Jedi to a pilot who delivered the device to Coruscant, a Twi’lek who is now living on Naos III, and she is able to indicate a factory building in The Works on Coruscant where she delivered the Sith Infiltrator ship. However, Grievous has attempted to contact Gunray through the mechno-chair, telling him that the Separatist Council will soon be re-located to Belderone – when Gunray disn’t answer, and the Jedi had a task force waiting in orbit at Belderone for the Separatists, Dooku informs Sidious that their comms are compromised, and the Jedi are on the Sith Lord’s trail.
While Anakin and Obi-Wan are dispatched to Tythe to confront Dooku, Mace Windu and Shaak Ti lead an investigation team into The Works and soon discover forensic evidence of both Dooku and Sidious being in the building. They learn that the tunnels used by Sidious leading eventually to the sub-basement of 500 Republica, the monad where so many senators and other celebrities live, including the Supreme Chancellor. However, just when the Jedi team has made this discovery, Grievous launches his attack on the capitol planet, and the Jedi are soon called to the defence of the Chancellor.
Grievous has been furnished with intelligence supplied by Count Dooku, and is able to pursue Palpatine across the planet as the Jedi and Senate Guards attempt to spirit him to his armoured bunker. The Separatist General captures the Chancellor, and is able to return to his flagship in orbit, while Anakin and Obi-Wan realise Tythe was a ruse to keep them away from Coruscant after all.
The book is pretty action-packed, especially considering it is something of a detective story. The opening on Cato Neimoidia is fairly tense at times, and there are space battles at Belderone and Tythe, as well as a snow sledge chase on Naos III and of course, the climactic battle of Coruscant, which takes up roughly the last 100 pages of the book. In some respects, it’s similar to Luceno’s earlier Cloak of Deception, as we follow the Jedi as they’re tracking down clues, with intermittent action sequences, though I think the earlier book is much superior, as it doesn’t have quite such a tight deadline to meet. With Labyrinth of Evil, we have a lot of plot threads to weave into the tapestry, and there is a definite end-point with the beginning of Revenge of the Sith.
That’s not to say it’s not a good book, however! Indeed, I think it’s one of the best prequel-era books out there. We get to learn a lot about the major players, including a complete backstory on General Grievous. Luceno is adept at bringing together many strands of stories to make a cohesive narrative, perhaps reminiscent of the fact his original role in the New Jedi Order was a continuity overseer. Threads from the comics, particularly Quinlan Vos’ storyline, Yoda’s meeting with Dooku on Vjun in Dark Rendezvous, as well as the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars cartoon series, are woven in here to make things feel like we’re in one coherent narrative. Ironically, though, it’s with the Clone Wars cartoon that things become a little unstuck, as we know that the third season of the cartoon essentially deals with Grievous and his invasion, but also involves Anakin and Obi-Wan on the planet Nelvaan, in an episode that once again rams it down our throats that Anakin will become Darth Vader. I believe the cartoon was based on the novel’s outline as it existed at the time, though once the animation was finished, it then caused the novel to change as things had been sexed-up for TV.
Nevertheless, the invasion sequence is pretty spectacular, I have to say. It is absolutely frenetic, as Grievous is pursuing the Chancellor and his bodyguard across the planet. There is a lot of reference made to the real-world politics of the Second Iraq War during the Clone Wars, as we were at war while these stories were being published. It was perhaps natural, even if Lucas and others refuted the claim at the time. Palpatine makes a State of the Republic address, we have the Triad of Evil in Felucia, Mygeeto and Saleucami, etc. However, the way Palpatine was spirited to his hardened bunker was apparently purposefully modelled on the way vice president Cheney was moved during the 9/11 attacks – I remember reading something years ago where Luceno said he had originally planned to write it where Palpatine was instead flown around the planet on the Star Wars equivalent of Air Force One, as happened for president Bush.
There isn’t as much politics as you might expect in this one, perhaps in reflection to how Cloak of Deception had been received. There are a few scenes with Mon Mothma, Bail Organa and Padme where they try to persuade Palpatine to find a diplomatic resolution to the war, though they are few and far between, and eventually the three senators are caught up in the invasion and don’t really have much more of a part to play. It is a shame, given that the political stuff with the Loyalist Committee was cut from the final film, that more wasn’t afforded to it here, but I suppose this novel is more about the intrigue with the search for Sidious than mere political machinations.
We do have a very angry Anakin in this book, and sometimes it seems like he’s almost primal, like when he brings the roof down on top of both him and Obi-Wan simply by being annoyed with Dooku. Now, it might just be me, but this kind of behaviour must surely be setting off alarm bells to someone like Obi-Wan, a member of the Jedi Council? Hm? I get that they kinda cut him some slack, him being the Chosen One, and the late training and all, but even so. On the subject of coming to training late in life, it’s always kinda bothered me that they allowed Obi-Wan to train such an important, such a potentially difficult padawan when he had barely made Jedi Knight the day before. Someone like Mace or Yoda should surely have taken on the fabled Son of Suns? At any rate, Angry Anakin is given a lot of lassitude, even when Obi-Wan is dropping massive hints that he knows what’s going on between him and Padme. Another hm.
But I guess that’s part of Lucas’ overall plot. There are some genuinely good spots of camaraderie between the two of them throughout, and you begin to see that perhaps they were friends after all. Angry Anakin might bristle at the merest hint of Obi-Wan in the majority of the Clone Wars media, but even Count Dooku remarks on how well they have come to work together here. It does go some way to help show that Alec Guinness wasn’t lying when he called Anakin “a good friend”.
There isn’t really a great deal more to be said on this one, though, I guess. It’s a good book, tells a very good tale as we lead directly into episode III. One of the downfalls of the story, of course, is that it doesn’t resolve, and you kinda have to watch the movie to finish it off – even if you know that going into it, it still manages to leave you hanging on the edge of things, more so than Rogue One. Of course, this works both ways, and if you have ever been bothered by the fact that Revenge of the Sith opens directly into the middle of a battle, and you’ve wanted to know what was going on, then you can wonder no more as to what is going on there!
Hey everybody, 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!
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!
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…
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!
Continuing the Great Prequel Re-Read, yesterday I finished reading Outbound Flight, by Timothy Zahn. The storyline was expanded out of a paragraph included in Dark Force Rising, where Luke is researching the Jedi Master Jorus C’baoth and learns he was part of the Outbound Flight expedition.
The book takes place before the outbreak of the Clone Wars, in 27BBY, and focuses on the efforts of Jedi Master Jorus C’baoth to launch the Outbound Flight venture, an attempt to reach a new galaxy for colonisation. Six dreadnoughts, tethered together around a central storage core that carries enough provisions to last for generations, on a mission of exploration. The project has languished for many years for a variety of reasons, but following a successful negotiation between the Barlok and the Corporate Alliance, C’baoth is able to ride the wave of popularity to force his project through. It turns out that C’baoth has foreseen dark days ahead for the Jedi (it is hinted that he has foreseen Order 66) and so wishes to take as many Jedi with him as possible. He eventually gets 16, along with a number of techs and families who wish to leave the corruption of the Republic behind and start a new life in the Unknown Regions or beyond.
However, the Council don’t especially trust C’baoth, and so assign Obi-Wan Kenobi to keep tabs on him, both during the mission to Barlok and the initial test flight for Outbound Flight. Kenobi is quite concerned by some of the practices C’baoth introduces on the dreadnoughts, such as practicing the Jedi mind-meld technique, and training Force sensitive children much older than the infants normally trained by the Jedi. He eventually wishes to remain aboard for the full project, which is anticipated to return to the Republic within 10-15 years, but Supreme Chancellor Palpatine himself intervenes to ensure Obi-Wan and Anakin return to Republic space before Outbound Flight heads into the Unknown Regions.
Kenobi isn’t the only one concerned with C’baoth however, and many of the families and workers aboard the vessel grow increasingly disaffected by what they perceive to be C’baoth’s tyranny. C’baoth is convinced that his insight from the Force makes him the one able to know what is best for those non-Force-sensitives, but many see this as crossing the line into Jedi rule.
Meanwhile, a smuggler group that includes a very young Jorj Car’das find themselves on the edge of Wild Space, where they are apprehended by a Chiss task force led by Commander Thrawn. The Chiss keep them as uneasy guests for months on end, and Thrawn and Car’das form an unlikely friendship as they each learn the others’ language. Thrawn is part of the Expansionary Defence Force, whose remit is to patrol the space around the Chiss Ascendancy to watch for potential intruders, but never to act as an aggressor. However Thrawn, who subscribes to the maxim that the best defence is a good offence, is able to use Car’das to effectively neutralise the threat of the Vagaari raiders who have been coming ever-closer to the Ascendancy.
During his patrols, he comes across a Trade Federation/Techno Union battleforce lying in wait for somebody, and with meets with Kinman Doriana, who has assembled the warships in that region specifically to destroy Outbound Flight when it arrives. Doriana, working for Darth Sidious, believes Outbound Flight could jeopardise the Republic, and specifically Sidious’ plans for a new order, by coming into contact with an extra-galactic group referred to as Far Outsiders. Sidious had foreseen these invaders cutting a swathe across the galaxy, and intended to stall this until he had more firm control over the galaxy. Thrawn meets with Doriana, after the Chiss have effectively neutralised their task force, and realises Thrawn would be more than capable of destroying Outbound Flight. He introduces Thrawn to Sidious, who approves of the Chiss joining the conspiracy, and so the trap is set.
Car’das travels to the Vagaari last-known position and succeeds in tempting them to a strike against the Chiss, but they are diverted to the area of space where Outbound Flight is being held. Thrawn is able to manipulate the Jedi into using the Force to attack the minds of the Vagaari, before he then uses Doriana’s droid starfighters to disable Outbound Flight. Finally, he uses radiation bombs on Outbound Flight to ensure all crews aboard the six dreadnoughts are killed. However, a small group of dissidents against C’baoth’s “tyranny” were being held in the storage core, and survive this bombing. When the Chaf family arrive in an attempt to claim Outbound Flight and its technology for their own, these survivors are able to escape, only to crash-land on an unknown planet.
I was surprised by this book. I remember reading it when it came out, back in 2006, but my memory of the plot is just so hazy that it was like reading a new book! I do recall some aspects from the start, but the action with the Chiss, specifically Car’das and Thrawn, and the denouement as Outbound Flight is destroyed, was like uncharted territory! Which is just as well, in some respects, because the beginning on Barlok and Coruscant almost feels like it was shoehorned in as a compulsory element to force Anakin and Obi-Wan to have a role in yet another story.
Once we leave Barlok behind, and particularly once Obi-Wan and Anakin leave, things take a bit of a turn as we focus in on Zahn’s trio of Thrawn (and Car’das), C’baoth, and Kinman Doriana. Doriana was first introduced by Zahn in Vision of the Future, but has somehow become a firm part of Palpatine’s inner circle in my mind, so it’s nice to see the man himself again here. Part of the Trade Federation task force, there was an element of cognitive dissonance at first for me, as we have Thrawn on the Springhawk (which is familiar from the Ascendancy trilogy) attacking C’baoth and Outbound Flight (which has been a part of the lore since Dark Force Rising), while Kinman Doriana watches from the bridge of a Trade Federation battleship… worlds truly collide!
I always appreciate seeing more of Palpatine’s direct underlings like Sate Pestage and Kinman Doriana, so I did like getting to see him work to further Darth Sidious’ plots. It’s interesting that Doriana doesn’t know that Palpatine and Sidious are the same person, but he serves both individually. I believe it was some time during the Clone Wars that he eventually caught up to speed.
Jorus C’baoth behaves almost exactly as we would expect him to, from the behaviour of his mad clone in the original Thrawn trilogy. It’s almost too on-point, however, and you have to wonder how he was able to get away with being so overbearing during a time when he would have been in fairly regular contact with the likes of Mace and Yoda. I suppose it’s similar to Dooku, though (can you imagine getting the pair of them together?!) C’baoth’s actions aboard Outbound Flight, however, become increasingly reprehensible, though, and I was left wondering just how he could justify these to anybody, when he is quite clearly taking over the whole enterprise and ruling over the others aboard. Towards the end he is said to have fallen to the dark side, but it seems that he spends most of the novel on that path, anyway. Although it’s entirely possible also that he is simply meant as a different kind of Jedi, separate from the serene space monks that we otherwise get during the prequels. Hm.
The Chiss storylines I was particularly surprised by, because of how they fit in with the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy. I hadn’t realised that Admiral Ar’alani had a presence in the EU that went quite as far back as this! I think the only thing that felt a bit wrong was how the Chiss ships are able to get into hyperspace with no mention being made of the sky-walkers. As these parts were invariably being told from Car’das’s point of view, I suppose it’s easy to assume he just wasn’t paying enough attention, or maybe was too focused on Thrawn, or maybe even the caregiver was instructed to keep that side of things especially hidden from the humans on the bridge. Whatever. It’s a tiny niggle in a storyline that otherwise I did enjoy a great deal. Though much as with C’baoth, I did find myself exasperated by how short-sighted the Chiss are, but I suppose Thrawn has to shine…
All in all, a good book, though one that I wouldn’t say is particularly necessary to read during the Prequel re-read, per se. It fits in far more closely with Zahn’s later EU work, especially Survivor’s Quest, which was written to tie in with this book while it was still in the planning stages. But I’ll get to that book later in the year… It’s a shame that Anakin and Obi-Wan were shoved into the mix, because their storyline could pretty much be excised without losing anything from the main plot, but I’m not the first to point out that it’s probably a bad editorial choice.
Following, to some extent, hot on the heels of the last book in the prequel timeline, Darth Maul Shadow Hunter takes place in the roughly 48 hours before The Phantom Menace begins. Darth Sidious has positioned Nute Gunray and his Neinoidian brethren at the head of the Trade Federation and, in retaliation for the Republic’s taxation of the Free Trade Zones, has told them to blockade Naboo, whose Senator Palpatine was one of the biggest supporters of taxation.
The problem that arises here is that Gunray’s deputy viceroy, Hath Monchar, has gone missing, clearly with the idea of selling the information about the impending blockade to the highest bidder, so Sidious sends his murderous apprentice to kill him. The Neimoidians, however, engage a bounty hunter to attempt to reel the wayward Monchar back in, and so we begin the manhunt.
On Coruscant, we meet down-on-his-luck information broker Lorn Pavan, and his protocol droid “business partner” I-Five. Desperate for money, the two meet with Monchar and agree to pay half a million credits for a holocron with the Neimoidian’s info. I-Five commits a bank fraud to finance the deal, but Darth Maul beats them to it and kills the Neimoidian, but fails to retrieve the holocron crystal due to the intervention of the bounty hunter Mawhi Lihnn. She blows up the domicile, forcing Maul to flee, but when Pavan arrives for the meeting, he is able to retrieve the crystal from the wreckage.
The manhunt goes up a notch then, as Maul is on the trail of Pavan. Meanwhile, Jedi padawan Darsha Assant is assigned to escort the Black Sun informant Oolth from the Crimson Corridor, a particularly rough area of the city, as her Jedi trials. She fails to do this, and Oolth is presumed dead when the two are attacked by hawk-bats. She returns to her master Anoon Bondara, who suggests they go to check before reporting it to the Council, but in the course of their investigation they discover the swirling maelstrom in the Force that is Darth Maul, and go to investigate. The two rescue Pavan and I-Five, and Anoon Bondara gives his life to allow for Darsha and the two information merchants to flee into the depths of the city.
The chase is on through the bowels of Coruscant, as the trio evade subhuman cannibals and Force-immune monsters before they arrive back in the Crimson Corridor, whereupon they are able to use a street gang’s secret method of getting up-levels and arrive in a disused power plant. Darth Maul, tired of continually chasing his quarry, hacks into the security cams to get ahead of them, and arrives at the power plant at the same time. He and Darsha duel, while I-Five uses a carbonite freezing chamber to allow for him and Pavan to survive the ensuing explosion that Darsha engineers, sacrificing herself in the process. Maul, using the Force to make sure, believes everyone to have died, and reports in to his master.
When they’ve thawed out, Pavan calls in a favour to get himself a ship to follow Maul to an orbital skyhook. He also asks for I-Five to be delivered to the Jedi Temple, but unfortunately his associate takes the opportunity to steal the droid. Meanwhile, Pavan travels to the skyhook and is able to retake the holocron due to having a Force-nullifying skin nodule from the earlier encounter in the labyrinth under the surface. Pavan flees into the public area of the skyhook, and runs straight into Senator Palpatine, who takes the holocron from him and offers him help. However, there is no escape from Darth Maul, and Pavan is killed.
I grew up with this book, more so than with Cloak of Deception as that one came out later. I used to love it so much, as it’s such an enjoyable adventure across the planet of Coruscant, being pretty much entirely set on the capital world. However, re-reading the book for the first time in years this past week, it surprised me a little just how it has slipped down in my estimation. Cloak of Deception will, I think, forever be a 5-star book, but this one has dropped to just the 3-stars now.
I still like it, don’t get me wrong, but I think that the story doesn’t feel particularly like Star Wars. I mean, sure, it makes all the right noises, but it’s like more of a noir-type detective story that’s set in New York or something, or maybe even something like a Batman story. But with Darth Maul as the villain. The mean streets of the Crimson Corridor are straight out of Gotham, or Hell’s Kitchen, and it kinda surprised me this time around just how tacked-on the GFFA is.
Something that struck me this time around was the fact we never follow up with the Neimoidians towards the end. Sidious calls them at the start, realises something is amiss with Monchar not being there, so sends Maul to look into it. The next time we see Sidious and the Neimoidians is in episode one, when they tell him about the Jedi ambassadors. I feel like we need some kind of closure there, even if it’s “your wayward colleague has been dealt with by the Sith – never lie to me again, Viceroy” or something. But I realise that this is a very minor thing!!
Lorn Pavan is an interesting protagonist, with a very interesting reason for disliking Jedi, but does suffer a bit of the Marty Sue complex – indeed, he’s even described by an alien bartender in glowing terms, which is just awkward. I-Five has always reminded me of Bender from Futurama, which I find hilarious when I think back on it. He is an interesting idea, and almost the precursor for Lando’s L3 in Solo, being free-thinking and all. I’m glad he crops up again in later stories, and I think I might actually add in the Medstar duology to my reading list as a result.
Darsha Assant is another interesting idea, a Jedi padawan failing her mission completely, but her growth along the rest of the story is really interesting to watch. I get the feeling that she passed her tests, after all. I’m not exactly annoyed with her, but what she represents. It’s fairly well-documented online and beyond how Episode I destroyed a lot of the mystique of the Force by bringing in midi-chlorians. Now, stuff like Darsha’s story here, at least how it starts, really abuse this further, as the Jedi trials become basically a final exam before graduating from university, and it’s just utterly ridiculous to me. I get that there wasn’t really anything in the established canon at this point to support my ideas of what the Jedi were, but the prequel trilogy really does a good job of making them a corporation (with Yoda as CEO), and material like this book just continue to reduce the situation down to something too worldly.
Another problem with the novel, I think, is it’s reliance on the movies. I’ve rambled about this before, but while Tatooine is a nothing dustball far away from anywhere, here it seems to be the planet in the universe where everybody plans to run away to – and while I get that he’s an information broker, Lorn Pavan’s knowledge of the geography of the planet is phenomenal indeed. We also have people surviving explosions by encasing themselves in carbonite. Hutt gangsters (because no other species will do), Gamorreans are the bodyguard species of choice, and so on. Obi-Wan Kenobi is really shoehorned into the story as being the one assigned to investigate Darsha’s disappearance, because clearly there are no other Jedi on Coruscant. It rather serves to shrink the universe, but that’s just my perspective, I guess.
All in all, it’s not a bad read. It’s not the best Star Wars story, but it’s a very straightforward book, and I don’t think it tries to be anything more than it is. It does stretch credulity a little, when the book takes place over roughly 48 hours, and the blockade is in place at the end of the story anyway, so you do finish the book wondering why Sidious was so worried about a potential leak if the timeframe was that short anyway. Surely he could adapt and just send the Federation out two days earlier than planned to blockade the planet? If there was some mention of the politics to justify that, it might have been a bit more believable.
But I do like to nit-pick here, and this is a book that I’ve read many times, so I’ve thought about these things a lot!
Hey everybody, It’s that time, already! I seem to be on something of a writing streak at the moment, as WordPress tells me this is my 13-day streak for publishing blogs! I’ve already looked at some of the comics from the early prequel era during this time, but today it’s time for the big one! The prequel era has got a lot of good stuff taking place, and while many people have re-evaluated the movies recently in light of the fact that the sequel trilogy hadn’t lived up to their expectations, I have always rather enjoyed my time in this era. I suppose part of that is due to the fact that I was growing up, to some extent, with these films – I was 14 when The Phantom Menace hit theatres, so there is an element of nostalgia for me, and remembering simpler times in my life when the movies were coming out.
Among the films, the comics and the novels that litter the era of the prequel trilogy, there are many stories that stand out, for me, head and shoulders above the other stuff. Cloak of Deception is, without a doubt, the absolute forerunner here, as it is a book that is very close to my heart. Indeed, whenever I think of top-ten lists of Star Wars novels, this one is always at the number two slot, coming second only to Tim Zahn’s original Thrawn trilogy. But that’s another story.
We begin properly with the short story Darth Maul: Saboteur. This is a bit of a throwaway tale really, which tells the story of how two lommite mining companies on the remote world of Dorvalla basically destroyed each other thanks to industrial competition getting out of hand. Darth Maul is dispatched to help tip the balance, and as you can imagine it doesn’t end well – both companies go under, and from the ruins, the Trade Federation swoops in to get shipping rights and, somehow, their seat in the Senate. I like the story, don’t get me wrong, but it kinda feels a little bit silly, somehow. It seems so inconsistent how seating in the Senate works – some star systems have seats, and others defer to the sector of space. Naboo, for instance, is a seat for the entire Chommell Sector, whereas Dorvalla, an insignificant mining world, has a seat all of its own? The lengths that Sidious goes to in order to get the Trade Federation in his grip are also really quite something – surely, the fact that Sidious knows all of Nute Gunray’s secrets should be enough to keep him in fear. Instead, we have Sidious almost bending over backwards to make Gunray beholden to him, when in actual fact I think his fear might have been enough to get him to launch that blockade. But that’s just me.
The real meat of things comes from the main event, however – Cloak of Deception.
At Dorvalla, the Trade Federation is attacked by a mercenary band led by Captain Cohl while loading lommite ore. Cohl and his team make it to the bridge, where they rig the freighter to blow and demand a cache of aurodium ingots from the captain, Daultay Dofine. With the timer counting down, Dofine hands the aurodium over and manages to escape when another freighter arrives in-system following their distress call. Unbeknownst to Cohl, he has been tracked from the surface of Dorvalla by the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, who manage to continue their pursuit even when the freighter jettisons its cargo, raising the captain’s suspicions. Cohl hides in the resulting explosion, leaving the Jedi believing him to have perished.
On Coruscant, the terrorist activities of the Nebula Front, who had hired Cohl and his band, are causing the Trade Federation to petition the Senate to allow them to augment their defences. Senator Palpatine discusses the matter with Supreme Chancellor Valorum, suggesting that taxation of the Free-Trade Zones could allow them to keep the Federation somewhat under control, though the issue is a thorny one due to the notion that the Federation, who already charge their client worlds exorbitant fees for shipping, would simply pass the burden of taxation on to the outlying systems. When the issue is brought for debate in the Senate, and these problems are aired, Palpatine secretly advises Valorum to hold a trade summit on the outlying world of Eriadu, where it can be discussed further before going to a vote.
Qui-Gon is dubious about Captain Cohl’s supposed death at Dorvalla, causing the Council some concern at his seeming obsession with the mercenary. When he and Adi Gallia attempt to meet with the Chancellor to discuss the matter, the Jedi end up foiling an assassination attempt by the Nebula Front. The assassins are traced to the world of Asmeru in the sovereign Senex Sector, and so a judicial mission is approved, with seven Jedi accompanying them, in an effort to mediate the dispute between the Nebula Front and the Trade Federation.
The delegation is shot down over Asmeru, however, and it becomes clear that the Nebula Front intends to hold them as hostage while they make demands of the Republic. Valorum agrees to dispatch Jedi and judicials from the preparations on Eriadu to rescue the stranded delegation, although it further evolves that the Front has split into the moderates and a much more militant wing. From an informant within the organization, Qui-Gon learns that Cohl has survived, and is engaged on a job for someone called Havac. He and Obi-Wan travel to Karfeddion with another Front operative, where the Jedi learn that Cohl has been hiring mercenaries for an assassination job on Eriadu. The Front operative was trying to lure the Jedi away from Eriadu, and tries to kill them when they have uncovered this information, but is himself killed instead.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan arrive at Eriadu to find that Cohl’s plan is already well underway. However, Havac has not been pleased by the fact that Cohl has been so open about recruiting his team, and a blaster fight breaks out, during which Cohl is seriously wounded. Havac attempts to rescue the plan, getting his mercenaries in place on the rooftops of the city, as well as within the hall where the trade summit is to be held, while Valorum arrives with the Lieutenant Governor of Eriadu, Wilhuff Tarkin. The Trade Federation delegation has demanded they be allowed a personal shield for their members, in case of violence, but without knowing it, they have been given a security droid that is controlled by Havac. When Nute Gunray is called away from the hall, the violence breaks out and the Federation activates their shield, whereupon the droid opens fire on the remaining members of the Trade Federation directorate.
In the aftermath of the summit, it transpires that distant cousins of the Supreme Chancellor, who own a shipping company based on Eriadu, had received a massive injection of capital that has been traced back to an account funded by aurodium ingots, the same amount stolen from the Trade Federation above Dorvalla. While many companies had received investment in the wake of the Supreme Chancellor’s decision to tax the trade zones and allot a portion of the revenue to developing projects in the Outer Rim, he is made to look corrupt and so his position as leader of the Republic is weakened.
The droid delivered by Havac to the Trade Federation directors came on the orders of Darth Sidious, whose aim was to increase Nute Gunray’s standing within the company, drawing him further into his web. With the Trade Federation arming themselves with droids, Sidious suggests they carry out a trade blockade of Naboo, the homeworld of the Senator who was the biggest champion of taxation in the first place.
This summary does not really do the book justice at all, as there are so many wheels within wheels at work. I’ve mentioned several times now that I love this book, and I think it’s just such a good story that sets up The Phantom Menace perfectly. The object of the book was fairly clear, I think, in that it needed to explain much of the opening crawl to episode 1, such as the trade dispute and the corruption charges against the Chancellor. And in my view, it does that really well. I think we have certain expectations from Darth Sidious, that he’s going to have a very labyrinthine scheme to achieve power, and yet when we first saw The Phantom Menace, a common accusation levelled at the film was that it was boring, because Star Wars had been reduced to trade disputes and politics. But how else is Palpatine going to become Emperor? He won’t be massacring Jedi and stuff, he gets other people to do his wetwork. He’s dangerous because of his strength in the Dark Side, for sure, but it goes beyond that, because his mind is his greatest weapon. A holdover from the early drafts of the original movie is that the Emperor is too charming and too charismatic to be allowed, and he can get anybody to do anything – he can even convince a galaxy to elect him as Chancellor. And this is the Palpatine that we get here. He has all the answers, but he’s doing it all behind the scenes; he’s everybody’s friend, while committing to nothing, yet making other people do it all for him. I think it’s beautiful to see the plot with Palpatine unfold here, and every time he’s on the page, it’s just glorious.
What’s more, Luceno has a knack for writing the characters’ voices correctly – Palpatine in particular, he uses a lot of the phrases that Lucas scripted, which allows us to read the book in those voices. It’s a small point, but it becomes incredibly powerful when it comes to enjoyment of the story, I think.
I know that a lot of people dislike the politics of the prequel trilogy, and while to some extent I do think they’re a bit silly at times, and a bit over-wrought in terms of how we’re almost like in some kind of allegory or something, it’s books like Cloak of Deception, and later, Labyrinth of Evil, which really serve to flesh out what is going on in the galaxy, and make it feel a lot more “grown up”, for want of a better expression. I get it, there’s only 2 hours or so for the story to be told via the film, and people might not want to see something like this novel filmed, because it’s got a high ratio of politics to lightsabers, but Lucas himself has said that the early story of Anakin and his downfall was a bit more of a thriller rather than the action/adventure of the original trilogy. Cloak of Deception provides some very necessary backdrop for the movie to take place, and at times it does feel like required reading, which might make it sound like I’m being negative towards the film, but I’m really not. I think it’s just unfortunate that so much more story was left out of the film!
The book is not without action though, as we have the Jedi subplot as they attempt to thwart the Nebula Front’s activities, with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan involved in a fair bit of action. On Asmeru, we get almost a repeat of Jedi Council: Acts of War – seven Jedi with lightsabers blazing, the sequence is a bit short I suppose, but even so! Once we get to Eriadu, though, the suspense is real as the pieces fall into place.
Of course, it’s not all amazing stuff. It was Luceno’s third Star Wars novel, and he was still in that habit of trying to show off, I feel, and reference as much as possible. Of course, back in 2001 there wasn’t much in the way of prequel references, so instead there’s a lot of foreshadowing (another hallmark of Star Wars literature!) Tarkin, for example, is said to look like he prefers the “antiseptic gleam of a space-worthy freighter” while Valorum is being shown around his palatial mansion. Qui-Gon will attempt to rescue / befriend any native creature he comes across. And on it goes. It’s not bad per se, but it does begin to feel a bit like these are two-dimensional characters, who will never develop or anything. Maybe Tarkin liked rococo architecture before he designed the Death Star? Who knows.
When it came out, Cloak of Deception had something of the USP that it would feature clues to the plot of episode 2. Now, a few references to the Techno Union and Commerce Guild were really all that this amounted to, but there is also a line about taxation of the trade routes leading to potential secession for the Outer Rim, which I don’t think I’d noticed until this read-through. Or, I should say, I don’t think I had really taken on board until this read-through. I wonder if the events of episode 1 had proceeded differently, and Maul had survived and the blockade had not been lifted by Queen Amidala leading a successful resistance, whether Sidious’ end goal was to cause this rift between the Core and the Outer Rim to engineer the Separatist crisis? Of course, things still worked out pretty well, with Count Dooku being the charismatic front man for his Separatist Alliance, but I do find it interesting to explore these what if moments.
It’s also worth noting that Luminara Unduli makes a speaking appearance here, as she is the same near-human species as Captain Cohl. I mentioned Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy at the top – well, Jorus C’baoth (the original, not the clone) also has a small speaking part to play. Every member of the episode 1 Jedi Council has a speaking part, actually, which is interesting, and Adi Gallia has quite a significant role to play as something of a liaison between Valorum and the Council. There is a throwaway reference to how Yaddle became a Jedi Master, which I believe is made in reference to one of the Jedi Apprentice books published at this time. There are still some wide-ranging layers within the book, and fans of the literature like myself will invariably find stuff to enjoy here.
Sate Pestage and Kinman Doriana both have repeated appearances, and we get Bail Antilles and Orn Free Taa in fairly large roles for the political storyline. Having now seen the deleted composite scenes of Adrian Dunbar as Bail Antilles, I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I read the scene where he indicts Valorum at the court, as I kept imagining Dunbar in his role as Hastings in Line of Duty – “there’s nothing I hate more than a bent Supreme Chancellor” and so on. At any rate, much like the Jedi Council, we have a lot of speaking roles from among senators, and this is fairly interesting, because there are a number of references to both episode 1 and episode 2 politicians, the latter group including those senators who joined the Confederacy. It really gives the setting that kind of homogenous feel, like this is a real place, and so on.
Unfortunately, while Luceno is excellent at providing these kinds of rich tapestries in terms of the large cast, he still falls into the trap of having Tatooine as the only remote planet that anybody talks about. Tatooine is meant to be the planet farthest away from the core, and even allowing for Luke’s hyperbole, it’s still going to be pretty obscure and overlooked. Yet everybody knows about it, everybody makes reference to it… I mean, Luceno should be better than that. How about gardening on Ithor? Or crop farming on Uyter, if he wants to stay firmly in the prequel era? That’d show off some knowledge, right there. But no, we have Tatooine as the only planet worth mentioning…
I do like the fact that the Stark Hyperspace War is mentioned though, and later on becomes something of a plot point as Cohl gains access to the summit hall. We’ll get to that later on in the Republic comics series, though, but it’s nice to see this kind of recent history to the story added in. It’s also nice to get Vergere as a character in here, as well – Luceno introduced Vergere to the New Jedi Order with his novel Agents of Chaos – Hero’s Trial, and it eventually came out that she was a Jedi of the Old Republic. To see her in the prequel era is slightly complicated, because it opens up questions about when she attached herself to the Yuuzhan Vong, but with all of this being Legends now, I suppose the point becomes moot!
I’ve read this book so often, I can’t begin to say how many times. I’ve read it in a day before now. It used to be something of a cornerstone of my Christmas reading, as I’d read a few of the prequel-era stories over the festive period. Cloak of Deception really became almost like a signal that Christmas had begun for me, which is always nice! I know it’s got politics, and I know it’s not going to be to everybody’s taste because of it, but I think overall it’s really amazing, and I would recommend it to anybody who stands still long enough!
Next on the list is Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. A pretty good adventure in the depths of Coruscant, and one that I do enjoy quite a lot!
The novel begins 35 years before the events of The Phantom Menace, when we see Darth Plagueis and his master, the Bith Darth Tenebrous on the world of Bal’demnic, examining a deposit of cortosis ore. Keen to exploit the natural resistance to lightsabers in the ore, as another step in the plan of the Sith to overthrow the Jedi, they are nevertheless forced to flee when an underground explosion is triggered. Plagueis uses the event to his advantage, and kills Tenebrous by hurling debris from the blast upon his master.
Plagueis escapes the planet by stowing away aboard a ship, killing the crew but taking a droid 11-4D back with him to his home planet of Muunilinst, where he goes about as Hego Damask, CEO of Damask Holdings. As Damask, he holds annual gatherings on the moon Sojourn, where he plays power-broker among the galaxy’s most powerful beings. On Sojourn, he learns that the company who provided Tenebrous with the information on the cortosis deposit, Subtext Mining, has links with Pax Teem, the Senator for Malastare. Representatives of Subtext tell him of a massive lode of plasma on the planet Naboo, which will prove particularly lucrative, in exchange for their lives.
Also on Sojourn, Plagueis is attacked by a dark acolyte known as Darth Venamis, who claims to have been sent by Tenebrous. Plagueis overpowers Venamis, and forces the other to poison himself. Plagueis then takes his comatose body for further experimentation into midi-chlorians and prolonging life. Learning of more potential acolytes, he hunts down each one and kills them.
On Naboo, Damask and the Trade Federation enter into a deal with Bon Tapalo to gain control over the plasma reserves in exchange for support with Tapalo’s election as King of Naboo. Plagueis learns of the potential for an ally in Palpatine, the son of one of the noble families who has defied his father and the isolationist politics of many on Naboo. Plagueis begins to court Palpatine as a potential apprentice, when he senses a great deal of ability in the way the young man is able to shield himself in the Force. Plagueis manipulates Palpatine into killing his entire family with the Force, and promptly takes him as his apprentice, naming him Darth Sidious.
Eleven years later, Palpatine has elevated himself to the position of ambassador for Naboo, and with the help of new allies Sate Pestage and Kinman Doriana, he is able to instigate the assassination of Naboo’s current senator, Vidar Kim. Meanwhile, Plagueis continues his experimentation in the Force, and makes contact with the clonemasters of Kamino, with the possibility of creating a cloned army of Yinchorr warriors. Attempting to increase his own knowledge of the Dark Side, Sidious visits Dathomir and there is given a Zabrak child as a gift – he sends the child to Mustafar to be trained as a weapon of the Dark Side.
At a secret ceremony to initiate Damask’s colleague Larsh Hill into the Order of the Canted Circle, Plagueis is ambushed by Maladian assassins and almost killed – only the arrival of Sate Pestage and Sidious allows the Muun to escape with his life. The assassination was orchestrated by Pax Teem, and so Sidious unleashes his fury on the Gran Senator, killing his entire entourage. Plagueis goes into a sort of retirement on Sojourn, forced to use a transpiratory mask in order to assist with his breathing. His escape makes him even more determined to conquer death, however. In his absence, it falls to Sidious to further the plans of the Sith.
Twenty years pass, and Palpatine is a well-respected Senator, remarkable for having never been involved in scandal or corruption. He continues to court the great and the good, and in secret he makes contact with Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation, promising him wealth and power in exchange for an alliance. When Sidious is able to elevate Gunray to the post of Viceroy in the Trade Federation, the Neimoidian becomes indebted to Sidious and so is easily persuaded to order the blockade and invasion of Naboo.
For years, Palpatine and Jedi Master Dooku had something of an acquaintance, which grows further when the latter’s disaffection with the Jedi Order increases. From Dooku, Palpatine learns of the existence of Anakin Skywalker, a child seemingly born from the Force itself, and both he and Plagueis become obsessed with learning more about him. Years previously, at roughly the same time Anakin was born, Sidious and Plagueis had performed a Sith ritual in an attempt to truly become masters over the Force, and Plagueis had sensed the Force acquiesce before his might – now, however, it seems that the Force has in fact fought back, producing the long-prophesied Chosen One who will restore balance to the Force.
Palpatine is able to manipulate Queen Amidala of Naboo to call for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum, precipitating the election of Palpatine and, as they had planned, the subsequent naming of Hego Damask as co-chancellor. On the eve of the vote, the two Sith celebrate their coming victory even as Amidala returns to Naboo in an unexpected move. Sidious is able to catch his master off-guard, however, and savagely uses the Force to cripple and then kill Plagueis. Despite his victory over his old master, however, Sidious feels oddly hollow – he later discovers that at the same time, Darth Maul had been killed on Naboo.
Soon after his election, Palpatine meets Dooku, who had left the Order following the death of his old apprentice, Qui-Gon Jinn. The two discuss a potential alliance in broad terms, as they both wish to tear down the Republic and replace it with something far greater. The book ends with Supreme Chancellor Palpatine meeting with Obi-Wan and Anakin in his office on Coruscant, thanking them personally once more for their involvement in liberating Naboo.
I love this book. It is so huge in terms of its scope, that despite that almost thousand word summary, I have barely done any justice to it at all. I’ve read this one before, of course, around the time my eldest daughter was born, and while the opportunities for reading were scarce back then, I remember being wholly drawn into the story. It succeeds in bringing together the story of Palpatine’s rise to the post of Supreme Chancellor, as well as covering his training as a Sith, while along the way hitting almost every single beat from the established lore around the Prequels. I think I was a bit disappointed when I first read it, when the story started to dance in and out of the plethora of other books that take place at this time – there’s plenty of “oh, you just missed him!” and “Plagueis was just out of shot in the Senate” etc, which does wear thin after a while. But there is equally a lot of “cut scenes” from, in particular, The Phantom Menace, where we see stuff that was taking place behind the scenes. As such, I think things are balanced out fairly well, so I can’t really complain. Plus the worst offender, as I seemed to recall it, wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered – the moment where Lorn Pavan delivers the holocron to Palpatine.
Of course, for all that the novel is a huge monster, I was still left wanting more. While the novel shows us the rise of both Sidious the Sith Lord and Palpatine the politician, most of the book is spent on the political side, with not a great deal spent with Sidious. There’s enough, for sure, but I think I would have preferred to get more of the lore of Sith training.
The famous “creation of Anakin” also happens off-screen, during one of the time jumps. That was a bit jarring, to me, as it was surely an event worth depicting? As it is, it is referenced a few times and the dots are joined when Anakin is brought to Coruscant. I did like that bit, at least – the frenzy of both Sith Lords amid all of their political manoeuvring as they discover the Force has created a being to potentially counteract their plans.
However, we do get a lot of Darth Plagueis, and a lot of Hego Damask – the first two-thirds of the book are just a delight, as we see the depth of the plans the Muun has hatched. His experiments with Yinchorri as a perfect army going awry, his courting Sifo-Dyas and the Kaminoans, the way that his plots almost cannibalise each other as he uses his position to back so many different beings, including Gardulla and Jabba, at times it can be difficult – and I think, reading it the first time when I was juggling new parent duties, a lot of this either didn’t sink in, or I wasn’t able to retain it in the same way, and so ended up missing out on some bits. With the full extent of the web laid out, though, it was just a joy to read through.
Throughout the book, Luceno is able to not only hit the necessary story beats that are perhaps required from a story in this time period, telling the story of the rise of Palpatine, but he also weaves so many references into the plot that it’s quite a joy, really. The political landscape is developed really quite beautifully as the story moves along, and we see how the impact of things like the growing presence of the Trade Federation, and the dominance of commercial interests achieved in the Senate through seating their client worlds. The way Luceno is able to take something like the line from the opening crawl of episode 1 about taxation of the Free Trade Zones, and spin it into an intelligent story that actually helps to set up the movie so perfectly – it’s something he’d done previously with Cloak of Deception, but I’ll never grow tired of reading this man’s work, as it all just dovetails so beautifully.
There is also the short story The Tenebrous Way that takes place between the first couple of chapters of the book. We see the death of Darth Tenebrous from his own point of view, and learn that he had in fact mastered the Sith technique of essence transfer, creating maxi-chlorians as a kind of retrovirus to contain his essence, and would use these to infect a nearby host. The idea being that he would infect the Chosen One, and become an immortal Sith, with the loss of any power of foresight as the price. However, he is forced to infect Plagueis to wait for the Chosen One, but soon realises that Plagueis never met the Chosen One before his own death, so removes his maxi-chlorians from Plagueis’ body and discovers his own mummified corpse – and realises that he has doomed himself to an eternal life of repetition.
It’s a cute little story that gives us perhaps more background than we ever needed. Darth Tenebrous and his maxi-chlorians are almost comical, although there is a moment of almost-pathos when he realises that he has actually failed, because Plagueis never met Anakin. One of those throwaway stories that doesn’t really add anything (although we do get a bit more of Plagueis’ master, and when are we otherwise going to learn more about him?) But it’s kinda fun, regardless.
Finally, we have the short story Restraint, also by Luceno. It’s a Darth Maul story that shows some of his time as a trainee on the planet Orsis, which is alluded to during the novel but never really fleshed-out. While one would hardly be missing much by not reading this, it’s always good to get a Maul story because they seem pretty scant, really. Maul is training with the Faleen combat expert Trezza, but others at the academy on Orsis grow sceptical of his abilities, even though Sidious has commanded his pupil to show restraint, particularly in his use of the dark side.
The Mandalorian mercenary Meltch has deduced Maul has a connection to Dathomir, and so tells Mother Talzin about him. The Nightsisters then attempt to abduct Maul, but the Zabrak simply believes this to be a test devised by Sidious. Meltch has double crossed the Nightsisters by then telling the Rattataki mercenary Kirske about it, and so he shows up hoping to capture some Nightsisters for the arena on his home world. It all ends with a bloodbath, as Sidious shows up to reclaim Maul, whom he then orders to kill everybody at the academy.
I think the story is most interesting for building up more of Maul’s character in the pre-Phantom Menace timeline. We get hints of it during the novel, but Maul is somewhat dissatisfied with his position, being kept in the dark by Sidious and unsure of why he is being trained, etc. In this short story, he outright asks his master “what am I to you?”, which I think is a great way of showing how different the nature of Sith apprenticeship is. Of course, part of this does seem to have stemmed also from the curious decision to have Darth Plagueis survive for so long – I guess it would be a different relationship if Sidious were the Master when training Maul, but as it stands, we find ourselves with a surfeit of Sith.
Not essential, of course, but it’s still nice to have these kinds of side-stories that add in just a little bit more to the overall story. I’d not read Restraint previously, and in fact was not aware of it until quite recently. There’s another Maul short story that I’ve recently discovered, also by Luceno, set during the events of Episode I, and I’m looking forward to seeing what that’s about.