I’m on a quest to re-read all of my favorite (or least favorite that I kept for whatever reason) Star Wars novels in the Expanded Universe and beyond. Come along for the ride and check out my Star Wars Hub for more. There will be SPOILERS for the book discussed.
X-Wing: The Bacta War by Michael A. Stackpole
I believe it was around when this novel came out that I realized something dreadful when I was at the bookstore. I had missed out on the earlier entries, and as I cast about trying to find the earlier books in the series, they weren’t available. I was both a kid and a human who lived before Google and so had no concept of going to the desk to ask them to order it for me or to do so at the library. I figured I’d just have to wait for the other books to show up someday, and it never did. So this is actually my first ever reading of the novel.
I do recall other Expanded Universe books having mentions of the Bacta War or Bacta shortages, so one of the things I love about this book right off the bat is that it has wider ramifications. Too often, events in one book are either ignored by others or tie directly into the next book in an endless parade of sequels. Here, though, the Bacta War ripples out to books that aren’t even in the same series, showing a more ambitious form of storytelling than before.
The plot itself is fun, too. We’ve got the now splintered off group of pilots seeking to build their own resources in the first quarter or so of the book. Then, the middle portion is found with Corran Horn et al. playing a cat-and-mouse game with Isard. Finally, the latter part focuses on an epic final showdown. It’s all pretty solidly done, and the conclusion is satisfying.
There are plenty of great character vignettes as well. Stackpole has done well writing characters in other universes (eg. BattleTech), so it’s fun to see him unleashed in Star Wars. He does so with grand impact, showing off several side characters who get more development than any did earlier in the EU novels.
On the flip side, our villains are once again very one-dimensional. Isard is evil for evil’s sake and power hungry is the icing on the cake. Her erstwhile allies and supporters do everything but diabolically laugh as they watch her defeat or quiver in fear if she gets angry. Also, one specific scene talks about how the Empire continues to underestimate the power of a snub-nose fighter with torpedoes. I know it’s a weird sticking point, but it annoyed me that this is the case. You’d think after the first Death Star, they’d be all over that. The Second Death Star can be forgiven for being incomplete when it got rocked. But after that, if I were the Empire I’d be investing all my resources into building something like the anti-fighter/corvette missile destroyer from the video game Homeworld. Just imagine a huge ship that has effectively limitless guided missiles to track down fleeing fighters. That’s what I’d be building by the dozen. Instead, they underestimate fighters again? Come on.
Overall, though, The Bacta War was everything I was hoping it’d be. It’s got tons of Star Wars space fighting, solid character relationships, and a glimpse at broader implications.
+Great action sequences
+Development of many side characters
+Wider repercussions exist
-Villains continue to be very one-dimensional
Cover Score: 7/10 A solid cover with iconic ships and explosions.
Grade [measured against my super objective* Star Wars enjoyment factor]: B+ Worth going back and reading as a fan.
*Not super objective and in fact wholly based on my feeling at the time of this review. Not measured against any other sci-fi works or really any other literature. This score is purely because I like giving scores to things.
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