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!