Star Wars Expanded Universe Read-Through: “X-Wing: Wraith Squadron” by Aaron Allston

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: Wraith Squadron by Aaron Allston

Wraith Squadron marks a departure for the series as Aaron Allston takes over for Michael A. Stackpole. Wedge has moved to a different task. Instead of leading the elite-of-the-elite in a squadron to be commando-pilots, he is taking on the castoffs and problem children of other squadrons, whipping them into shape, and making them into, er, commando-pilots.

The idea is a fine one, and it gives the series a slew of new faces. The best part of the book is all the side characters getting so much development. I was blown away when a certain event happened, showing characters in this series are actually vulnerable. It was quite well done, especially the aftermath.

The plot is a good thread, as an Imperial Warlord continues to meddle with Wedge’s affairs. There are plenty of well-written space battles (caveat being you have to accept the complete absurdity of Star Wars space battles–no; physics and common sense need not apply) to be had. What bogs the story down is some of the more commando parts in which the pilots are out of their various spaceships. There are many scenes that are apparently supposed to be a kind of spy-action type thing happening, but instead just feel slow. They’re throwaway scenes as far as the plot goes, too. One can almost feel Allston waiting to get pilots back into their fighters.

Wraith Squadron is another good read in an excellent series. I continue to enjoy my first-ever read through of this series, and I’m glad I’ve been able to circle back and read them at last.

The Good

+Great space battles
+A villain that at least has some mystery to how he acts
+Many side characters introduced
+Actual consequences for characters in the book

The Bad

-Gets bogged down in action scenes that aren’t in space
-A bit too much standing around talking with each other

Cover Score: 5/10 – They basically just mashed as many fighters on the cover as they could

Grade [measured against my super objective* Star Wars enjoyment factor]: B Allston takes over the series with hardly a hiccup.

*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.

All Amazon Links are Affiliates

Links

Star Wars Hub– All of my Star Wars-related posts can be found here. These include posts about more expanded universe books, the movies, and new canon novels.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through: “X-Wing: The Bacta War” by Michael A. Stackpole

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.

The Good

+Great action sequences
+Development of many side characters
+Wider repercussions exist

The Bad

-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.

All Amazon Links are Affiliates

Links

Star Wars Hub– All of my Star Wars-related posts can be found here. These include posts about more expanded universe books, the movies, and new canon novels.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read Through: “X-Wing: Rogue Squadron” by Michael A. Stackpole

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: Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole

Michael A. Stackpole is one of those writers who spends most of his career writing in other people’s universes. Some people call authors like that “hacks.” I think that’s stupid. Let people enjoy things. Stackpole is actually quite good at capturing the feel of multiple different franchises. His BattleTech novels are fantastic (especially the Warrior trilogy). Here, he opens the Star Wars universe up far more than any other author has done so far.

X-Wing: Rogue Squadron follows the story of a squadron of, well, X-Wings that is brought together to fight the enemies of the Rebellion. The name Rogue Squadron has become legendary, and they are the sharp edge of the sword for the ragtag Rebel fleet. Familiar faces show up in droves, with Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar being the most prominent. Readers who have explored more of the series know a certain Corran Horn is kind of a big deal, but in this book he’s a fresh face fighter pilot who gets commended and chastised for his daring bravado.

The plot includes some of the political meanderings and in-fighting of the Rebels that become par for the course in later development. Stackpole handles these scenes well, using them as true tension-building rather than info dumps. He also writes excellent action scenes. The final few battles are quite fun to read, and just as crazy and campy as one would expect from the flashiest Star Wars film.

What makes the book most impressive, though, is its lack of reliance on the big three characters (Luke/Leia/Han) and building its own core of names, some of whom go on to much bigger and better things.

I had actually never really delved into the X-Wing books before this read-through. I somehow missed the vast majority of them as they launched and by the time I noticed them there were enough that younger me was perplexed with how to find them before the preponderance of finding and buying things on the internet. So I came at X-Wing: Rogue Squadron fairly fresh and was very happily surprised by it.

For me coming at it the first time, the biggest strength of the novel is how strongly it evokes the feeling of Star Wars. What I mean by that is the novel has that sense of awesome wonder that the first few films truly bring out. It’s as if anything can happen. Heroes are heroes, enemies are evil but might have some lingering complexity. I don’t know how to describe it. The sense of “space opera” with heavy emphasis on the “opera” part is what I’m getting at. It feels like something far larger and grander than it truly is.

X-Wing: Rogue Squadron is a top-tier Star Wars novel that manages to really shine with many characters. Stackpole knocks it out again.

The Good

+Great action sequences
+Tons of new characters and side characters developed
+X-Wings
+Captures Star Wars-esque feel

The Bad

-Enemies are largely comic-book villains
-Droids- see below

Best Droid Moment

Very little characterization of droids here.

Cover Score: 7/10 – captures some great Star Wars action but largely lacks camp or 80s-esque characters faded in the background.

Grade [measured against my super objective* Star Wars enjoyment factor]: A “Stackpole delivers an excellent novel that incorporates many, many side characters into a coherent whole.”

*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.

All Amazon Links are Affiliates

Links

Star Wars Hub– All of my Star Wars-related posts can be found here. These include posts about more expanded universe books, the movies, and new canon novels.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Star Wars Expanded Universe Read-Through: “Hard Merchandise” by K.W. Jeter

I have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. There will be SPOILERS in what follows for the novel discussed as well as (possibly) earlier books in the same series.

Hard Merchandise by K.W. Jeter

Hard Merchandise gives us the payoff of the first two novels in the trilogy, The Mandalorian Armor and Slave Ship. The payoff is… okay. The core of the novel isn’t bad, but a lot of the window dressing has issues. 

Suspension of disbelief, I have to say, was somewhat difficult at parts of this trilogy in general. First, the notion that the Bounty Hunter Wars would even be more than a flicker as far as the galaxy goes. I should have marked it, because I don’t remember the exact scene/wording, but somewhere in Hard Merchandise we have some character make an offhand comment about how there are basically no bounty hunters operating any more because the Guild has had some problems. And I was just shocked, because it seems impossible that in an entire galaxy there would be like two bounty hunters operating due to some conflict in a single organization. It’s baffling that that would even be a possibility on a planet, let alone over a huge number of planets and civilizations. I’m pretty good about granting huge suspension of disbelief to sci-fi, especially science fantasy like Star Wars, but this pushed my limit past breaking.

I did like the many tie-ins to the core movies and broader Star Wars franchise the novel had. Giving us explanations for specific people at Jabba’s palace and even some more background on Return of the Jedi was great. Fett’s investigative skills weren’t always on display, but when they were, it definitely made him into a more interesting character. The back-and-forth with Xizor’s enemies and friends (both together?) was interesting enough to keep me going. I have just started watching “The Mandalorian” TV series, and I’m curious to see if anything from this trilogy gets pulled into the show.

Honestly, though, the best characters in the series were probably Dengar and Neelah. Dengar is largely a tough guy with a heart figure, but he’s done well enough that I don’t mind the cliché. Neelah, on the other hand, is the memory-loss cliché but her character growth and development are probably the highlight of the series. She goes from being an unknown figure to a major player due to her connections with the weapons manufacturer Kuat Drive Yards. And the Kuat scenes are among the best in the book with the intermingling of corporate backstabbing with pseudo-nobility. It’s a great thread and honestly would make a decent cyberpunk type world to explore further. Apparently that’s Jeter’s background, so it doesn’t surprise me that those aspects of the novels were done well. In Hard Merchandise, I found myself reading as much to find out what these side characters were up to as I was reading for Fett. 

Hard Merchandise is a competent conclusion to a series that left me wanting more. I wanted more development, more explanations of what was happening, and more to believe in. But with some strong side characters, the series is worth reading, especially for those interested in non-canonical ways Fett developed. 

The Good

+Yet another great cover
+Good characterization for some side characters
+Great tie-ins to the movies…

The Bad

-The tie-ins are sometimes forced
-A little bland

Grade: C+ “A competent conclusion to a trilogy that left me wanting more.”

Links

Star Wars Hub– Read all my posts about Star Wars here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through – “Children of the Jedi” by Barbara Hambly

I have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, we look at Children of the Jedi, which is apparently the first in a trilogy about Callista, kind of. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Okay, I want to start with the good here. That cover is absolutely gorgeous. I can definitely see it being a kind of movie cover. It has the retro vibe down pat, and is definitely Star Wars all over it.

That’s the good. Look, I went through and purged my Star Wars collection a while back of the books I knew I didn’t really want to re-read because they weren’t great. There are some truly fantastic Star Wars novels out there–like the Darth Bane trilogy or the Thrawn Trilogy. But this is not one of them. The only reason I can think of for keeping it was because of the cover. Oh, and maybe I thought having Luke fall in love would be cool. I had vague memories.

Did I mention Luke fell in love with the recording of a woman Jedi’s consciousness on a machine and that she’d later take over the body of a traveling companion of Luke, Han, and Leia’s seemingly purely for the sake of plot? No? Oops. Well, that is what happens.

There are a lot of ways I could go in this review, but of all of them, I really want to focus on that aspect of it. First, let’s talk about how computers in Star Wars are either totally inept or completely advanced? Like, C-3PO is programmed with an AI basically, and can easily converse in many languages and even learn new ones on the fly occasionally, but they struggle to use their computers to even analyze what’s wrong with their spaceships. Someone needed to plan this better. But here, we’re supposed to believe that some Jedi magic managed to put a woman’s personality and being, apparently, into some computer system? No. Sorry, but no.

It might help if the conversations Luke and Callista had were interesting, but they’re not. They’re just… boring. And they aren’t written in any believable fashion whatsoever, either. Combine that with Luke, Han, and Leia all acting somewhat out of character and surprisingly nonchalant throughout the book and you’ve been delivered a Star Wars novel where even the favorite characters are out of sorts.

The whole book just feels uncomfortable. Not in a “good” way for fiction like being foreboding when appropriate or challenging your perspectives. No, it just reads like all the characters aren’t quite sure they should be acting how they are and as though they’ve forgotten how to have real motivations and dialogue.

I think I may just skip the rest of this trilogy. I think I got rid of Darksaber but kept the third book. Anyone have any thoughts on the rest of them?

The Good

+The cover is beautiful

The Bad

-Stilted dialogue
-Incredibly slow paced
-Suspension of disbelief is stretched beyond all bounds
-Characters are boring

Best Droid Moment

Basically any time they show up because at least they still add some comedic element occasionally.

Grade: F “It stretches suspension of disbelief beyond the limit on every level, is stilted and dry, and run through with pacing issues. I still might keep this one for the beautiful cover, though.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read Through “Revenge of the Sith” by Matthew Stover

I have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, we look at Revenge of the Sith, the adaptation of the film of the same name and book 2 in the Dark Lord Trilogy. It’s a surprise, I’ll give it that. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Matthew Stover has done something with this book that I did not believe possible. Namely, he made the film “Revenge of the Sith” seem not so terrible. Yes, it’s still full of atrocious dialogue and gaping plot holes and random jerking around of character’s emotions and reactions to events, but somehow Stover manages to make some of this not stupid.

The way Stover accomplishes this nearly miraculous feat is by taking advantage of the written format. So, for example, when Anakin Skywalker is about to deliver some horrendously awful line of dialogue that Stover is forced to use because he’s adapting the film into a book format, he can massage the text to make it somewhat reasonable for Anakin to sound like an idiot. He does this by providing reasoning behind what the characters do and say throughout the book in a great many instances. There’s constantly internal dialogue (the kind of dialogue that should have been in the movie) explaining why the characters react the way they do or speak like they’re being controlled by three-year-olds. It’s frankly remarkable, and for that alone I want to give Stover a high five.

But Stover goes beyond that Herculean task and also gives more flesh to the story and the characters more generally. I admit, I was really skeptical about reading this Star Wars novel, but I saw time and again people citing it as a great one. Stover delivered, big time. There is a much greater sense of foreboding and inevitability in the novel than the film ever had. Scenery is built up and integrated into the story. Planets feel like more than simple set pieces for fights; there’s a reason that people would go to an absolutely hellish planet. Motivations for characters are interesting. It’s all superbly done.

All of this said, I know the film is bad, but because I love Star Wars I almost can’t help but like it. Thank you, Stover, for making that not seem so foolish. I’d give this book an A+ for effort, really, but the dialogue from the movie is still there, and it can’t be avoided, so it, unfortunately, must be bumped down a bit because of that. But seriously, read this book and you may be able to sit back and think, “Maybe that movie wasn’t so bad.” And that, my friends, is a delightful thing indeed. Pick up Revenge of the Sith and read it. I bet you’ll be surprised.

The Good

+Massively approves upon the movie
+Provides background explanations for strange character actions and reactions
+Makes up for shoddy dialogue by exploring why characters sound juvenile
+Makes the film a tad bit more bearable

The Bad

-Dialogue from the movie still must be included

Best Droid Moment

I don’t know. Maybe when they weren’t delivering awful dialogue alongside everyone else. They’re forgiven, because they’re droids.

Grade: A- “The source material drags this down, but Matthew Stover does a phenomenal job working with what he’s got.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through “Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil”

dynasty_of_evilI have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, we look at Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil, the conclusion of the Darth Bane trilogy, which is set a millennium before the original trilogy. It provides a background for how the Sith came to be as they appear in the films. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction

Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil starts yet another ten years after the previous entry, Rule of Two (which itself started 10 years after the first, Path of Destruction). Bane is beginning to have concerns about his apprentice, Zannah, who has yet to challenge him to combat despite his own belief that she ought to have done so by now–and his suspicion that she may even be able to best him. He is also pursuing the path to possible immortality from a lost Sith document that will give him time to find a new apprentice and destroy Zannah, if needed. Meanwhile, Zannah is making strides of her own, plotting to take on her own apprentice, a rogue Jedi named Set, while pursuing the mission Bane sent her on offworld. Bane is captured by the vengeful daughter of Caleb, the healer Bane threatened in order to be helped. He escapes with help from a former compatriot in the Sith army, and goes to confront Zannah at last. Set takes some valuable Sith artifacts and escapes, hoping to learn about immortality on his own, while Bane moves to confront Zannah. The Huntress, an assassin has pledged to become Zannah’s new apprentice if she defeats Bane. During the battle, Bane appears to have been defeated, but at the end it seems he has simply taken over Zannah’s body in his pursuit of immortality, and he takes on the Huntress as his (possibly) unwitting apprentice.

I have to say, this is a phenomenal conclusion to an excellent plot arc in the Star Wars expanded universe. Karpyshyn has written a work that can truly stand on its own without the Star Wars license, but as he did in the previous entries, he wisely uses that license to improve the work rather than as a crutch. Dynasty of Evil is fast-paced, intense, and absolutely full of twists and turns that kept me guessing–0r at least anticipating–through the last page. The action scenes remain quite strong, but more importantly, Karpyshyn’s character writing continues to exceed expectations. There is no doubt that Bane and Zannah are evil characters, but the motivations, plotting, and the like that they do is every bit as realistic as more complex “good guys.” They aren’t just evil ogres; they are characters that easily stand on their own.

Tying in the continued pursuit of ancient Sith artifacts to the story is really just icing on the cake. There’s a sense of history and depth in this book and the rest of the series that isn’t always present in the Star Wars universe.

Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil is a fantastic conclusion to a superb trilogy set within the Star Wars universe. It is highly recommended reading, and could easily stand on its own as a great work.

The Good

+Intriguing characters
+Great action scenes
+Excellent pacing
+Open-ended but satisfying conclusion

The Bad

-None

Best Droid Moment

N/A 😦

Grade: A+ “A stirring success as the conclusion to one of the better complete story arcs in the EU.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through “Darth Bane: Rule of Two” by Drew Karpyshyn

ruleoftwoI have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, we look at Darth Bane: Rule of Two, the middle of the Darth Bane trilogy, which is set a millennium before the original trilogy. It provides a background for how the Sith came to be as they appear in the films. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Darth Bane: Rule of Two

Darth Bane: Rule of Two picks up 10 years after the events of Path of Destruction with Bane teaching his apprentice, Zannah. Zannah has become a powerful ally, but due to Bane’s own teaching about the way of the Sith, she is also becoming more and more a rival and possible enemy to Bane. Zannah has begun looking for her own apprentice, seeking to perpetuate the Rule of Two–that there ought always and ever only be one master and one apprentice of the Sith, the master to teach, the student to try to overthrow. She uses this quest to test Bane’s strength but also to gather more forbidden Sith knowledge through collecting manuscripts from those she manipulates. In a battle with some Jedi, Bane is brutally wounded and forces a healer, Caleb, to care for him. Zannah protects her master rather than killing him in his weakened state because she’s decided she still has more to learn from Bane.

The plot of this entry isn’t quite as tightly woven as that of Path of Destruction. It meanders a bit, throwing Zannah all over the galaxy while the eponymous Bane falls into the background. That’s unfortunate, because Karpyshyn had made Bane into such a dynamic character in the previous entry. The portrayals of Bane when he does show up, as well as the development of Zannah, remain quite strong and are probably the highlight of the book. Karpyshyn has truly presented some of the most interesting evil characters I’ve run into this side of Robin Hobb.

The action scenes, when they happen, remain intense, and Karpyshyn deftly writes lightsaber battles that are easy to visualize and pulse-poundingly exciting. It’s not easy to write action scenes, as I’ve discovered myself, so this is another highlight of the book. Another difficulty is the rather ho-hum feeling of the tying off point. The tension at the beginning as Zannah apparently sought to betray Bane by finding her own apprentice fades away and we are left with Bane and Zannah effectively in the same position as they were in the previous book: master with much to teach, apprentice waiting to learn.

Darth Bane: Rule of Two is a good entry in what is already a great part of the Expanded Universe. Although it does drag occasionally and it feels very much like a middle entry in a series, the tone and characterization are enough to make it a worthy entry in the Star Wars universe.

The Good

+Excellent characters
+Good action scenes
+Theme and tone

The Bad

-Not as tightly plotted as previous entry
-Feels very much like a “middle” book

Best Droid Moment

N/A 😦

Grade: A- “It doesn’t live up to the stunning success of the previous entry, but it keeps the story going and the theme well enough to deserve its place.”

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe read-through “Darth Bane: Path of Destruction” by Drew Karpyshyn

path-of-destructionI have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, we look at Darth Bane: Path of Destruction, the beginning of the Darth Bane trilogy, which is set a millennium before the original trilogy. It provides a background for how the Sith came to be as they appear in the films. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction

I’m going to throw this one out right at the beginning: this is one of the best Star Wars books I have read, and one of the few that is capable of standing on its own right as a great science fiction novel (it would be good without the Star Wars franchise/branding). That it does have Star Wars branding serves either as icing on the cake or, unfortunately, to ensure that many won’t enjoy this exceptional plot arc (as they won’t read Star Wars books no matter what).

The story is somewhat straightforward: a man who lives in extreme conditions finally snaps, ultimately engaging in a life that combines elements of mercenary work with even more questionably moral acts. A secret power is discovered inside him that brings him to the attention of the powers that be, and he is recruited, ultimately raising through the ranks.

But the story has its share of major twists and turns. The Sith society is an ancient one, but the man, now calling himself Darth Bane, sees it as a departure from what the Sith ought to be. Power has been distilled and distorted, making a group of weaklings the dictators rather than spurring all on to greater feats of maleficent gains. So Bane goes back to the source, exploring the secrets of the long-dead Sith race and ancient masters. In doing so, he discovers the way to fix the Sith: to destroy them.

The war between the Sith and Jedi rages on, but Bane uses it–and the Jedi–as his tool to destroy the Sith. In doing so, he re-forms them from the ashes. He is the only Sith Lord, and his chosen apprentice is the only apprentice. The apprentice must always seek to kill the master, but only once the apprentice is sure that all that the master has taught that is worthwhile has been taken from him or her.

It’s a much darker tale than most of the Star Wars universe. The Jedi seem morally ambiguous rather than as knights with shining lightsabers. Why are they drawing out a war that could (maybe) be halted? The “bad guys” are the only perspectives given in the novel, and Bane becomes a first-rate antihero. The shades of the past that decorate the pages–ancient secrets, lost artifacts, and the like–provide phenomenal flavor to the world. The characters, though few, are deep and complex–moreso than one might expect for “evil” characters. The pacing is well-done as well.

In short, Path of Destruction easily stands out among the best Star Wars novels. If there is a problem in the book, it is one that constantly impacts the Star Wars universe–some resolutions are gained too easily. There is an air of convenience about some of the plot points, but unlike some of the other books in the Star Wars universe, this one doesn’t ever fall into contrivance.

Another great aspect of the novel is that it (and its successors) never falls prey to the pitfall of over-reliance on the franchise. Indeed, a noticeable lack of droids helps set the tone of the series. It is supposed to be 1000 years before the other books and movies, so different technology ought to be expected. The use of the Sith is equally smart, making them as intimidating as one might expect.

Drew Karpyshyn has given a sterling contribution to the Star Wars universe with Path of Destruction. I highly recommend it and its sequels to readers.

The Good

+Fascinating characters
+Darker tone than much licensed content
+Great pacing
+Excellent use of the license

The Bad

-Somewhat simplistic solutions to problems

Best Droid Moment

N/A 😦

Grade: A+ “A phenomenal novel on its own merit, Path of Destruction is an exciting entry in the Star Wars universe that makes it seem broader and perhaps more real than it did before.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read Through: “Tales of the Bounty Hunters” edited by Kevin J. Anderson

sw-tobhI have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, we look at Tales of the Bounty Hunters, a collection of stories about the bounty hunters that show up in some way or another in The Empire Strikes Back. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Tales of the Bounty Hunters

First, what is inside this book? It’s a collection of stories from each of the bounty hunters that shows up to get assigned by Darth Vader to hunt down Han Solo, basically providing background for each of them. The tales are, “Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88” by Kevin J. Anderson (IG-88 is an assassin droid, not pictured); “Payback: The Tale of Dengar” by Dave Wolverton (Dengar is the older looking man); “The Prize Pelt: The Tale of Bossk” by Kathy Tyers (Bossk is the reptilian… thing on the front); “Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM” by M. Shayne Bell (they are the insectoid looking thing and droid); and “The Last One Standing: The Tale of Boba Fett” by Daniel Keys Moran (it’s Boba Fett, come on). I adored this book when I first read it when it came out. I was maybe 10 years old. 11? Anyway… how was it on the re-read?

The quality of the stories is variable, with some being particularly good and others being middling or below average. Let’s just go over them. IG-88’s story is full of action and has a massive scope, as is typical of Kevin J. Anderson adaptations (see his Dune books, which I frankly enjoyed quite a bit… deal with it). It also has major plot holes and difficulties that are too easily resolved, a problem that surfaced in his Jedi Academy trilogy as well. It’s not a bad story, but the sheer speed by which the droids manage to take over is surprising, as well as the immediate galaxy-threatening intensity. The tie-in to the movie by having IG-88 in one form take over the Second Death Star without anyone realizing it was a stretch.

Dengar’s story was neat and provided some background for how Boba Fett could survive, so it wins major extra credit points in my book, because I love Boba Fett. It also has some cool look at the insidious nature of the Empire, which is appreciated. Kathy Tyers’ look at Bossk… wow! That was a lot darker than I expected to find in a Star Wars book. Tyers is an ultra-talented writer who penned the fabulous Firebird series (see my reviews). This story really showed her range as she wrote about a somewhat disturbing reptile whose goal is to skin a Wookie and wear its pelt. Yucky. Very well done story, though.

The tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM was also pretty neat. I liked the idea of a kind of transcendental meditation idea crossing over into Star Wars (which has, in the EU, explored a lot about religion, even if it does so obliquely). It has a bit of Dune influence as well. The tale of Boba Fett… well… I wanted to love it. I remember as a kid being blown away by it. But there’s not really that much there. It was kind of a let down, and I think that was in part because I had some huge and kind of unrealistic expectations for it. It wasn’t bad… it just didn’t match up to what I’d remembered it as, which turns out to largely be a lot of imagined additional fanfic in my head that I assigned to that short story.

So we have a somewhat uneven but overall good collection of stories here. I think the Zuckus+4-LOM/Bossk ones are worth the price of entry on their own. IG-88 was fun but way overdone. The other two were decent but not great. The best part was how they all tied back into the films in one way or another, but this also lead to some unnecessarily open-ended conclusions that didn’t so much leave me wanting more as it did leave me disappointed.

Tales of the Bounty Hunters is a good read. I look forward to reading the other “Tales of…” collections.

The Good

+Good background for each bounty hunter
+Darker tone shows depth of Star Wars possibilities

The Bad

-Unresolved storylines at points
-Too ambitious/easily resolved plots in some

Best Droid Moment

IG-88’s utter self-confidence getting wrecked at the end of his story as we know the Death Star blows up.

Grade: C+ “A somewhat inconsistent quality level of stories mars a good collection of rather dark (for Star Wars) stories.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.