Star Wars: The New Jedi Order Series

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Vector Prime by R. A. Salvatore

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When George Lucas first created the Star Wars universe, he envisioned three trilogies of movies to tell his tale. The first trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) was actually the middle trilogy and tells the story of Luke Skywalker and the overthrow of the evil Empire. The first trilogy, which has now begun with the Phantom Menace, will tell the history of Anakin Skywalker, and the rise of the Empire. The final trilogy was to explore the next generation of Jedi Knights (i.e. – the offspring of Luke and Leia). It is unclear whether Lucas will ever produce this final trilogy in movie form. But with the release of Vector Prime, Lucas has allowed the novelized Star Wars universe to be pushed into the time frame of the third trilogy.

It is 21 years after the defeat of the Emperor as detailed in Return of the Jedi. The Empire is a shadow of its former self and has ceased to be a threat to the New Republic. However, the New Republic is now suffering its own political woes as it struggles to hold together a vast array of worlds spanning the galaxy. Old feuds, hatreds and rivalries amongst member planets of the New Republic threaten to tear it asunder. Luke, Leia, Han and the rest of the familiar characters have been attempting to hold the fragile republic together through various diplomatic missions. They are now being assisted by the Solo children, Jania, Jacen and Anakin, who are now teenagers and are coming into their own as Jedi Knights.

Luke’s Jedi Academy has now turned out over 100 students. But the Jedi seem to lack leadership or a common purpose. They wander around the galaxy attempting to write wrongs or wage campaigns against injustice as each individual Jedi sees fit. In order to provide some stability and leadership to the Jedi, Luke considers reviving the Jedi Council. Distracting Luke from his other endeavors is the fact that his wife, Mara Jade is suffering from a disease that is changing the molecular structure of her cells. The medical doctors of the New Republic are unable to provide a cure for the disease, which has already killed every other person who has been infected. Mara is using all her Jedi skills to hold the disease at bay, but without a cure, this is a battle she is sure to lose.

Meanwhile, from beyond the rim of the galaxy, invaders appear intent on conquering the New Republic and wiping out the Jedi. The Praetorite Vong revile technology and instead use insidious organic-based weapons unlike anything the New Republic or the Jedi have ever encountered before. Unless the Jedi can rally the New Republic forces and find a way to neutralize the organic technology, the New Republic and the Jedi may very well cease to exist.

In the majority of the other Star Wars novels, the enemy was easy to discern. The Empire (or the remnants of it) was always trying to defeat the New Republic. But with the Hand of Thrawn series, Timothy Zahn effectively ended any further threats from the Empire. Therefore, Salvatore needed to invent a new enemy for the Republic and he does a brilliant job of it. The Praetorite Vong bear some similarity to the Klingons of Star Trek fame. Their entire society seems to revolve around and actually worship the waging of war. The unique twist of having them shun technology and use organic weapons is a vast departure from the technology-rich Star Wars environment. Salvatore has created a worthy new adversary for the Republic, which should provide interesting story lines in the inevitable novels that will follow. The plot, like most of the other Star Wars novels, is full of battle sequences and moves along at a frenetic pace. The major character development is based around the Solo children (the other characters are familiar to everyone at this point). It will be fun to watch the children expand their powers and come into their own in future volumes.

Salvatore and Lucas have been taking major heat for killing off Chewbacca in this novel (this has gotten so much press I doubt I’m surprising anyone with this revelation). I don’t have a problem with part of the story line. As much as we love these characters, they are not immortal. They will all have to die at some point as time goes by. Yoda, Anakin (Darth Vader) and others have died without all the hue and cry surrounding the death of Chewbacca. Get over it! It’s just a story!

This book is an excellent addition to the Star Wars universe and I will be eagerly awaiting the release of the sequel.

Reviewed by: Alan

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Dark Tide: Onslaught by Michael A. Stackpole  

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Michael Stackpole has already proven himself to be a fine Star Wars author by writing six other novels in the Star Wars universe. He shines once again with this latest volume in the New Jedi Order Series. This is the first of two volumes he will be writing in this series and the action picks up immediately after the conclusion of Vector Prime.

After narrowly defeating the Yuuzhan Vong in their first encounter, Luke, Leia, Han and their children return to the core systems to warn the New Republic of the danger. The Yuuzhan Vong have come from beyond the rim of the galaxy with virtually unstoppable organic weapons, the like of which the New Republic has never seen. Clearly the group of invaders that our heroes defeated was only the advance force for an invasion fleet. Unfortunately, mistrust of the Jedi and of Leia herself, prevents the New Republic Senate from recognizing that a threat actually exists. Therefore, it is up to the Jedi to seek out the Yuuzhan Vong and bring conclusive proof to the Senate that an invasion is underway.

Luke gathers the Jedi at the Jedi Academy and deploys them throughout the galaxy to investigate possible threats from the Vong. Leia’s children, Anakin, Jacen and Jaina are full-fledged Jedi knights now and are deployed on various missions with the rest of the knights. But will 100 Jedi knights be enough to uncover the actions of the Vong and prove that they are a threat to the entire galaxy?

In Vector Prime, we gained insight into the Vong since much of the book was written from their perspective. In this volume, virtually nothing is written from the Vong point of view. Instead we see our main characters investigating disturbances around the galaxy and attempting to figure out why the Vong act as oddly as they do (shunning technology for organic devices, scarring themselves and thriving on pain, enslaving other races yet making the slaves suffer until they die). Jacen, Jaina and Anakin all have their own views as to how the Force should be used and there are a number of scenes that "get inside their heads" to show their struggle to come to grips with being full-fledged Jedi. Although there is a fair bit of action in the book, it is mainly a thought provoking exploration of the differing Jedi views about the force. The Vong are scary, dangerous foes and Stackpole continues to develop the menacing aspects of this race as effectively as Salvatore did in Vector Prime. Although we always expect our heroes to win, these aliens may be unstoppable! An interesting way to end the Star Wars franchise would be by having everyone killed or enslaved by the Vong. Of course, with the wild popularity of the Star Wars universe, this is not likely to happen. However, it could very well take many years (and hence many novels) to end the Vong threat once and for all.

Han Solo fans may not like Stackpole’s treatment of him in this novel. He appears in only one scene as a broken down drunk who blames himself for Chewbacca’s death. I found this to be a plausible reaction for Han, but I have noticed some negative feedback about this portrayal on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Everyone grieves in different ways and unfortunately, some people lose themselves inside a bottle. It will be interesting to see how Han resolves his grief in future volumes.

Reviewed by: Alan

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Dark Tide: Ruin by Michael A. Stackpole

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Stackpole is in fine form once again as he completes the duology that he started with Dark Tide: Onslaught. Once again, the Yuuzhan Vong appear to be an unstoppable menace that continue to baffle the Jedi.

The Vong continue to conquer and occupy worlds in New Republic space. Despite this threat, political maneuvering casts suspicion and doubt on the Jedi Knights and the New Republic government ceases to offer support to the Jedi. Fortunately, the Jedi continue the struggle against the Vong with only covert support from the New Republic military. However, dissension in the Jedi ranks about whether to attack the Vong directly or conduct a defensive campaign threatens to tear the newly formed Jedi council asunder.

While Luke struggles to hold the Jedi together, Jacen Solo and Corran Horn lead a team to infiltrate a Vong occupied world and gather intelligence. They uncover a secret that could be useful in combating the Vong if they live long enough to get back to the New Republic.

The usual Stackpole tour de force is in full bloom here. Stackpole does an excellent job of character development, especially with the Solo children. Anakin, Jacen and Jaina are all struggling with the death of Chewbacca and must come to terms with what it truly means to be a Jedi Knight. The author does a marvelous job of exploring the maelstrom of each teenager’s feelings as they struggle to find themselves and their path through the Force. However, the detailed character development does not come at the expense of plot or action. This is a well-crafted story that moves along rapidly. There is plenty of action and the New Republic even manages to win a few battles!

In addition, many scenes in this novel are presented from the Vong point of view. Through the eyes of the Vong, we gain much insight into the Vong philosophy. We begin to understand why they are not afraid of death and are so eager to embrace pain. The Vong will certainly not be easily defeated and should provide ample plot material for many volumes to come.

Again, Han Solo was only featured in one scene in this novel and was again portrayed as a pitiful, depressed drunk still blaming himself for Chewbacca’s death. However, the next two Star Wars novels focus on Han, so we will finally get to see how he deals with his grief.

Alas, according to Stackpole’s home page, he is currently not contracted to write any more Star Wars novels. The bright spot is that he said he would do more work in the Star Wars universe if approached. Hey Del Rey…get on the stick! Stackpole is one of the best authors writing in the Star Wars universe (along with Timothy Zahn) and in my opinion, he deserves more book contracts in this series. I will continue to read the Star Wars novels written by other authors, but I will miss Stackpole. If this was his last Star Wars novel, it certainly is a fine way to end his foray into this universe.

Reviewed by: Alan

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