Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reading the New Jedi Order (Part 1)

Star Wars is the first movie I remember seeing and I've been a huge fan of it ever since as are many other people. As someone who's loved to read for most of my life as well it's not surprising that I found the Star Wars expanded universe (EU) stuff and read a lot of it throughout my high school years and continuing into college. The last series I followed was the New Jedi Order, which was meant to change the face of the EU and did in many ways. About a week or two ago I decided to start reading through the series again and give my thoughts on the books as I read them. I'm going to be doing this in larger chunks of reviews as I don't want to throw out small blurbs for each individual book. So without further ado here are my thoughts on the first four books of the series.

Vector Prime by RA Salvatore

The first book in the series and the Star Wars book that got the most press with the act of dropping a moon on Chewbacca. This book starts the series on the path of handing over the reigns of defending the New Republic to the new breed of Jedi represented by Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin Solo. The book features a big family dynamic with all of the Solos together with Mara Jade and Luke, the droids, and Lando showing up and the plot works well with giving the new characters stuff to do. Jacen and Jaina get that treatment the best when they actually take the place of Mara and Luke to recon the Vong base. Anakin gets good stuff to work with as well with Han blaming him for Chewie's death. Some complaints I have about this book are the dialogue is a little too clunky to explain how people are feeling at times, and the Senators come off as too villainous to me. My biggest gripe is the fact that Chewie's death is used to prove that they could kill any of the characters, which is fine, but then there is dialogue between Han and Leia that says exactly that. You don't need to prove that you could kill anybody and then repeat it to make sure people get the idea. A lot of the Star Wars books including this one in the series do a lot of hand holding for the reader. My biggest complaint on that point is Chewbacca is exactly the character you would kill to prove that point without really meaning anything. The loyal protector/partner is written into stories to be the character that dies to prove anything could happen. I like the way the death is handled, but it doesn't make me believe they'll kill anybody in the series.

Onslaught by Michael A Stackpole

I used to love Stackpole's books, but they don't hold up well on rereading. At least not his Star Wars stuff.  The dialogue is rough throughout his two books in the series and he just throws his EU characters in and has them take over. Corran Horn, who I still like as a character, comes into play which makes sense as he's a Jedi and as an EU character despite his age important to the story. A beginning trend in the series is throwing in tons of viewpoint characters which I think hurts the individual books. Starting here the authors will throw the character into the viewpoint of a random soldier to view battles that none of the main characters are at.  Along with Corran Stackpole brings in his creations of Elegos A'Kla and Gavin Darklighter as Jaina Solo joins Rogue Squadron. I think Jaina joining Rogue Squadron was a poor choice, but that's just my view, and Rogue Squadron doesn't add much to the stories as Stackpole goes on to develop nobody but Jaina or Gavin and kill squad members off throughout the two books. This is supposed to be the fucking elite fighter squadron not a bunch of cannon fodder. Anyway this book is much more of a setup for the next in the series. All of the new Jedi are paired with their mentors who take them on dangerous missions, and don't do much teaching just directing. Except Mara who has some good scenes with Anakin teaching him to not use the force.

Ruin by Michael A Stackpole

The second installment from Stackpole and a stronger showing as it has more from the military of the New Republic than just the Jedi and features Jacen a little more prominently, although you can tell Corran is still the focus of his plot and story. One thing that bothers me about Corran in this book is how much he acts like a Jedi Master. Yes he is older than the other Jedi, but he hasn't used the force anymore than the others. He is treated as almost equal to Luke and that fucking blows my mind. Sure he can provide good advice, but in the force he is no more trained than others, and weaker than many. We get some thoughts from the Vong Shedao Shai in this book as well which I think was a poor decision. He sends Elegos to be with the Vong and learn about them and Shai trains Elegos in the Vong way, and these scenes should definitely have been from the view of Elegos. Anyway this book works better than Onslaught with a little more focus ending on Ithor in a better way than the previous did on Dantooine. My biggest problem comes with the end and how he writes off Corran as a character. The explanation is there, but doesn't make much sense, and almost reads like I made my EU character a big deal in this war and now I'm taking him away so nobody else can use him.

Hero's Trial by James Luceno

This is the best written book of the first couple. The problem, in my eyes, is that all it deals with is Han Solo and getting over Chewbacca's death. That is a story that needed to be addressed, but not as its own novel and really needs to include the new people because this book doesn't do a good job of establishing the new Jedi characters at all. It also gives us too many scenes from the perspective of the Vong. I think it takes away too much of the mystery of the species which the reader should learn more along the lines of the New Republic characters we are following. It also deals with characters who are too far on the sidelines of the main story which would be fine for its own series, but not in this world they are trying to create with the series. It does have a lot of callbacks to the Han Solo trilogy by AC Crispin which I enjoyed, but tonally I think this one strays to far from the idea of the NJO and harkens back to the normal EU which is the adventures of Han, Luke, and Leia. There are also scenes from the viewpoint of C-3P0 conveying his fear of death since the Vong kill machines that I didn't find engaging either.

I know the series gets better, but at this point in time if it wasn't for my love of Star Wars I probably wouldn't continue reading the series. They do a good job of making Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin the focus at the beginning and then don't move forward with it in the two Stackpole novels and then completely forget about it in Luceno's first novel. Hopefully I don't get quite as ranty with the next ones of these I put up.

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