Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review: Star Wars Fate Of The Jedi: Outcast by Aaron Allston


After a violent civil war and the devastation wrought by the now-fallen Darth Caedus, the Galactic Alliance is in crisis–and in need. From all corners, politicians, power brokers, and military leaders converge on Coruscant for a crucial summit to restore order, negotiate differences, and determine the future of their unified worlds. But even more critical, and far more uncertain, is the future of the Jedi.

In a shocking move, Chief of State Natasi Daala orders the arrest of Luke Skywalker for failing to prevent Jacen Solo’s turn to the dark side and his subsequent reign of terror as a Sith Lord. But it’s only the first blow in an anti-Jedi backlash fueled by a hostile government and suspicious public. When Jedi Knight Valin Horn, scion of a politically influential family, suffers a mysterious psychotic break and becomes a dangerous fugitive, the Jedi become the target of a media-driven witch hunt. Facing conviction on the damning charges, Luke must strike a bargain with the calculating Daala: his freedom in exchange for his exile from Coruscant and from the Jedi Order.

Though forbidden to intervene in Jedi affairs, Luke is determined to keep history from being repeated. With his son, Ben, at his side, Luke sets out to unravel the shocking truth behind Jacen Solo’s corruption and downfall. But the secrets he uncovers among the enigmatic Force mystics of the distant world Dorin may bring his quest–and life as he knows it–to a sudden end. And all the while, another Jedi Knight, consumed by the same madness as Valin Horn, is headed for Coruscant on a fearsome mission that could doom the Jedi Order . . . and devastate the entire galaxy.

I’ll be honest. Like most guys my age, I grew up on Star Wars. It’s always the most prevalent, nostalgic thing from my youth that I still remember with any vivid detail, aside from after school cartoons (Transformers, G.I. Joe, Thundercats ect.).  Whether anyone wants to admit it, the original trilogy is a generation-shaper, and if what I can glean from a few of the young kids who have grown up around the prequels is any indication, the new films stand to be that as well.

So it should come as no real surprise that I have read a number of the Star Wars EU (Expanded Universe) books and comics over the last few years. 

There have been many books in the EU over the years that take place after Return Of The Jedi. Some are good (Timothy Zahn’s THRAWN TRILOGY, THE COURTSHIP OF PRINCESS LEIA), some are absolutely brilliant (Mike Stackpole’s I, JEDI, BETRAYAL & EXILE by Aaron Allston, TEMPEST by Troy Denning) and some downright awful (THE JEDI ACADEMY SERIES, NEW REPUBLIC), but I think the powers that be over at the Skywalker Ranch have found out a neat little trick. Decide on a long arcing plot, nine books worth, and then assemble 3 authors to tell that story together. The LEGACY OF THE FORCE series that really did that first (the NEW JEDI ORDER series that precedes it had 16 different authors!). What makes this such a good idea is that there is less deviation from the subject matter with only three authors, as well the books can come out three at a time, thus getting the whole series out is only months in the making and not years.

LEGACY has its point and it succeeds in a lot of ways, but one of the authors, Karen Traviss, was pursuing her own agenda in her three volumes. She spent her time fleshing out an aging Boba Fett instead of the main plotline with the Jedi, and this makes that main plot thread suffocate during her books. So a series that was nine books could have easily been six and the yoke on Traviss should have been tighter as it seems she wasn’t working as a team with Allston and Denning. Still, Jacen’s story was worthy of telling and the LEGACY books are a pretty good read. It’s also kind of imperative to know what happened in those ones to know what is going on in this new FATE OF THE JEDI series as it deals with the direct aftermath of the LEGACY.

Sorry for the longer than normal preamble, but I wanted to give a little background before I go ahead and start reviewing these new books. Partially because they swapped out Traviss for the very good Christie Golden, so I am hoping that the new FATE series will fix LEGACY’s failures.

OUTCAST by Aaron Allston, the first entry in the aforementioned FATE OF THE JEDI series is a rollicking adventure and an easy to read book. His skill is always present in these books. He can tell a story that will satisfy even the most demanding Star Wars fan, while blazing new territory in the SW galaxy. This one concerns the direct aftermath of Jacen Solo’s fall to the Dark Side that was the story arc in LEGACY. A few Jedi are getting some sort of plague that makes them believe that those around them, friends and family, are not who they are. That they are in fact fakes, really clever copies or the real deal. Jedi Master Corran Horn’s (the hero from Mike Stackpole’s I, JEDI) son, Jedi Knight Valin Horn is the second to succumb and goes on a rampage to escape these “fake versions” of his family and friends. The Galactic Alliance government on Coruscant (now run by previous Imperial supporter Natasi Daala) starts a witch hunt, claiming the Jedi are too powerful to be left to their own devices. She uses Jacen Solo’s recent fall to the dark side and this new plague as evidence that the Jedi cannot be allowed to function as they have up till now. Grand Master Luke Skywalker chooses his own exile to give the rest of the Order a chance to survive this political upheaval, and Daala agrees. He is to stay away for ten years, only to return early if he can find a cure for this new plague, and a reason for Jacen's fall to darkness.

There are three plot threads here: Luke and his son Ben venture out of the system following Jacen’s trail when he went wandering studying the Force. Then there is the political situation on Coruscant between those left in the Jedi Temple (Masters and Knights alike) and Daala and her GA government Jedi persecution. Lastly, the third one is Han, Leia, and Lando attempting to find the source of groundquakes on the small planet Kessel.

Allston deftly moves between the three threads and gives you just enough in each situation to keep you reading. The pace is blisteringly fast (I read this first one in about a day and a half) and all three threads are interesting, fun, action-packed and all drive the larger plot forward. Now, this being the first book in a nine book series the whispers of the overarcing plot thread are still just that, but you can sense them there, which is nice.

What is great about books that have come out AFTER the release of all three prequel films is that the authors have MUCH, much more of a universe to tie into their stories than they previously had. So little things from prequel characters, species or places get nicely woven into these new books. Like the Kel Dor are a big one in this book (Jedi Master Plo Koon, a Jedi Master who died in the Order 66 Purge was a Kel Dor). The Jedi Archives are another, as is having Coruscant have visual representation, not to mention the Jedi Temple (the original council chamber is once again used by the Master’s of the Jedi Order). There is actually a little conversation where Threepio always says “thank the maker” when he is relieved, and Jaina Solo asks him who the “maker” was. We know it was Anakin, but Thrrepio doesn’t (had his memory wiped at the end of ROTS)…and Allston adds this in to give us a bit of nostalgia without being blatant. That’s skill in my eyes. These are little things mind you, but they have made the last bunch of books in this EU so much more enjoyable for me.

A great first entry into the series, OUTCAST has all the starfighter-flying, lightsaber-wielding, droid-chirping fun that makes this universe so enthralling, while at the same time starts to tell us a new story, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Full marks.

Note: I am about 80 pages into the second book Christie Golden’s FATE OF THE JEDI: OMEN, and will likely have the review up for that in a day or two, so keep you eyes peeled.

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