silverflight8 (silverflight8) wrote in bookish,

Review of several prequel-era Star Wars books

Roughly in chronological order: Rogue Planet | Jedi Trial | Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Wild Space | Star Wars: Clone Wars Gambit: Stealth | Star Wars: Clone Wars Gambit: Siege | Star Wars: The Life and Legend of Obi-Wan Kenobi

Title: Rogue Planet
Author: Greg Bear
Length: 352 pages

cover with Kenobi and his lightsaber nearly scorching young Anakin's head
Blurb, minus the intro for space:

That boy is twelve-year-old Anakin Skywalker. The Force is strong in Anakin…so strong that the Jedi Council, despite misgivings, entrusted the young Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi with the mission of training him to become a Jedi Knight. Obi-Wan—like his slain Master, Qui-Gon—believes Anakin may be the chosen one, the Jedi destined to bring balance to the Force. But first Obi-Wan must help his undisciplined, idealistic apprentice, who still bears the scars of slavery, find his own balance.

Dispatched to the mysterious planet of Zonama Sekot, source of the fastest ships in the galaxy, Obi-Wan and Anakin are swept up in a swirl of deadly intrigue and betrayal. For there are others who covet the power such superfast ships could bring. Raith Sienar, a brilliant but unscrupulous weapons and ship designer, has the brains to decipher the Zonama Sekot ship design. Commander Wilhuff Tarkin has at his disposal the forces of the mighty Trade Federation with which to extract the secret. Together, they make a formidable foe, one a small and undeveloped planet can hardly hope to stand against.

But as Tarkin's fleet strikes with all its brutal power, Obi-Wan and Anakin sense a disturbance in the Force unlike any they have encountered before. It seems there are more secrets on Zonama Sekot than meet the eye.

The search for those secrets will threaten the bond between Obi-Wan and Anakin…and bring the troubled young apprentice face-to-face with his deepest fears—and his darkest destiny.

Set between Star Wars Episodes I and II, this novel traces Anakin and Obi-Wan’s assignment of looking for Vergere. Some years ago she was sent to find out more about Zonama Sekot, a planet of obscure origins and little contact with the galaxy, and never returned. What they do know about Zonama Sekot, though, is that they design luxury ships – made of organic material.

The book was published before the filming and release of Episodes II, which admittedly explains things, but I found some characterization impossibly off. (These Star Wars books, as explained before, I can’t help but analyze in context with all of the others; and so characterization compared to other sources comes into play, too.) Mace Windu was the most prominently out of character: he seems the type to make a decision and then stick to it, and won't be swayed except by very logical, sensible reasons. This is not displayed. At least Anakin’s penchant for racing and disregarding rules are well set out. This is where Tarkin – the supposed engineer for the Death Star – shows up for the first time, alongside a sometimes friend Sienar.

Title: Jedi Trial
Author: David Sherman and Dan Cragg
Length: 352 pages

cover with Anakin, the head of Asajj Ventress, and clone trooper


"Within twenty-four standard hours we will sit firmly astride the communications link that connects the worlds of the Republic…. Our control will be a dagger thrust directly at Coruscant. This is the move that will win the war for us."

With these ominous words, Pors Tonith, ruthless minion of Count Dooku, declares the fate of the Republic sealed. Commanding a Separatist invasion force more than one million strong, the cunning financier-turned-warrior lays siege to the planet Praesitlyn, home of the strategic intergalactic communications center that is key to the Republic's survival in the Clone Wars. Left unchallenged, this decisive strike could indeed pave the way for the toppling of more Republic worlds…and ultimate victory for the Separatists. Retaliation must be swift and certain.

But engaging the enemy throughout the galaxy has already stretched Supreme Chancellor Palpatine's armies to the limit. There is no choice but to move against the surging waves of invading battle-droids on Praesitlyn with only a small contingent of clone soldiers. Commanding them will be Jedi Master Nejaa Halcyon — hand-picked by the Council for the do-or-die mission. And at his side, skilled young starfighter pilot Anakin Skywalker, a promising young Jedi Padawan eager to be freed of the bonds of apprenticeship — and to be awarded the title of Jedi Knight.

Shoulder to shoulder with a rogue Republic army officer and his battle-hardened crew, a hulking Rodian mercenary with an insatiable taste for combat, and a duo of ready-for-anything soldiers, the Jedi generals take to the skies and the punishing desert terrain of occupied Praesitlyn — to gain back a vital position in the Republic. Already outnumbered and outgunned, when confronted with an enemy ultimatum that could lead to the massacre of innocents, they may also be out of options. Unless Anakin Skywalker can strike a crucial balance between the wisdom born of the Force…and the instincts of a born warrior.

On the planet Praesitlyn, one of the headquarters of communications, is also the scene of an oncoming battle. Skywalker, who is at the time a Padawan, is assigned with another Jedi to oversee the Republic’s battle forces: this is Nejaa Halcyon, a disgraced Jedi Knight. Like Skywalker, he too has a secret wife and family. On the planet, there is Reija Momen, who is in charge of the communications center and beloved by her technicians who work in the facility; as well, there is a pilot, downed, and a speeder-scout, who complete list of protagonists.

This book was immensely disappointing. Erk, the pilot, and Odie, the recon scout, were not well fleshed out – indeed, most of the characters were pretty flat. Both authors are veterans, and I thought the book had enormous potential – it's Anakin's knighthood trials! He's the Chosen One, in capitals! Surely he must have an interesting sort of trials. (His mentor's, after all, were rather spectacularly dramatic, involving the first sighting and subsequent defeat of a Sith in a thousand years.) Instead, it was a dry and wince-inducing read; the premise was interesting, but the execution – mostly the writing – was terrible. The focus of the novel wavered between sets of characters, and often the chapters were so short so as to be empty: it was hard to relate to characters when all they had time to do was talk a little and move. The character development was not helped by the frequent switching between lead characters; in particular, Erk and Odie's dialogue was fantastically clichéd and you could see their eventual romance from fifty miles off. I did like the parallels drawn between Halcyon and Skywalker, though; it seems very strange there are only the Lost Twenty (those who have broken from the Jedi Order in about a thousand or two years), and surely there must have been a great deal more who have hidden secrets. 6/10

Title: Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Wild Space
Author: Karen Miller
Length: 342 pages

cover with clone troopers aiming blasters
The useful bit of the backcover (as in, the bit minus the "inspired by the full-length feature film..."):

The Separatists have launched a sneak attack on Coruscant. Obi-Wan Kenobi, wounded in battle, insists that Anakin Skywalker and his rookie Padawan Ahsoka leave on a risky mission against General Grevious. But when Senator Bail Organa reveals explosive intelligence that could turn the tide of war in the Republic's favor, the Jedi Master agrees to accompany him to an obscure planet on the Outer Rim to verify the facts. What Obi-Wan and Bail don't realize is that they're walking into a deadly trap concocted by Palpatine...and that escape may not be an option.

The book opens right at the end of the battle of Geonosis. Several Jedi, including Obi-Wan and Anakin, are sequestered in the Halls of Healing at the Jedi Temple; Yoda reflects on the wisdom of launching the Geonosian intervention in the first place, and then the events skip forward to the later parts of the Clone Wars. A short while after the attack on Coruscant, Bail Organa hears, by secret confidence from an anonymous source, that there are Sith artifacts in a planet called Zigoola. The Jedi Council is alarmed, having never determined whether Darth Maul was the apprentice or master Sith, and send Kenobi to investigate, and, if possible, retrieve artifacts. Although Kenobi is assigned to this task, Organa tags along. Once they land on Zigoola, a planet past the Outer Rim and fully into what is called Wild Space, Kenobi is almost crippled by the presence of whatever was left on Zigoola by the Sith; Organa, not being Force-sensitive, is unaffected. As they walk across the planet – a remnant of the Sith’s holocrons had caused their ship to crash into the planet – Kenobi hallucinates constantly that there are enemies to fight, draining his energy and ability to move on. Because of their ship’s crash, however, there is no choice but to see if the Sith’s temple has any communication tech to call for help.

The trek they make across Zigoola is almost analogous to Sam and Frodo’s trek across Mordor – painful, long, and bleak. (Personally, I think it also rather explains why Kenobi spends his life after the Clone Wars practically a hermit on a desert planet, baby Luke or no; the book is a slog of pain and more pain, and their final solution for breaking through the Sith’s influence to call Coruscant is excruciating.) Organa, who is a politician from a royal house (the House of Organa is his family, and he is pretty much ruler of the planet), is surprisingly helpful; he, being unaffected by Zigoola, is like the readers' concern made flesh. The usual Jedi-protects-others is almost reversed here.

In the beginning, as events are picking up on Coruscant, Palpatine watches the bombing of the Couruscant Administrative sector unfold with no little glee. To write from both the perspective of both protagonist and antagonist is difficult, and I felt that Miller went a little far in the glee; for someone who successfully fooled billions of beings in the galaxy, and the many thousands of clever, astute politicians, into thinking he is a harmless old man, the savagery of his glee is a little too much. 8/10

Title: Star Wars: Clone Wars Gambit: Stealth
Author: Karen Miller
Length: 409 words

blue cover with Kenobi's face
The back-cover:

Planet by planet, darkness creeps across the galaxy. Among warriors and generals, among ordinary beings living in far-flung worlds, the fear will not go away: We are losing this war. . . .

Anakin Skywalker feels it, too. The Separatist Alliance, with ruthlessness and treachery, is beating the Republic to every strategic target. But after a costly clash with General Grievous for the planet Kothlis, Anakin has a mission that will focus his anxious mind. Alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi, he is posing as a long-lost native of Lanteeb, an impoverished world on the Outer Rim. This seemingly unimportant planet has drawn the interest of the Seps—and Anakin and Obi-Wan soon discover the disturbing reason: A scientist enslaved by General Lok Durd is drawing on Lanteeb's one natural resource for a devastating bioweapon. Now Anakin and Obi-Wan have entered the eye of a storm. Their presence has been exposed, Lok Durd's plans unveiled, and a fight has begun for survival behind enemy lines—and a chance of winning a war that must be fought at any cost.

From the Star Wars wikia

The book opens with Obi-Wan, Anakin, and his Padawan Ahsoka on the Indomitable, in the middle of the Clone Wars. They attempt to cut off Grevious at the Kothlis system, which is targeted by the Separatists. Although the Republic is eventually able to defeat the Separatists' forces, Grevious escapes and there is a great deal of damage inflicted on Kothlis. Ahsoka goes with badly wounded clone troopers to the Kaliida Shoals to recover, while Anakin and Obi-Wan return to Coruscant. There, Senator Organa brings up a funny feeling he has about a seemingly insignificant planet - Lanteeb, which should be unimportant but suddenly, inexplicably, is to the Separatists.

Its inhabitants are xenophobic and have little contact with the rest of the galaxy, so to investigate, the Jedi Council sends both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker to Lanteeb. Skywalker’s Padawan, Ahsoka, stays behind with the squad of clones as they recover.

On Lanteeb they’re disguised as natives returning to the planet after years abroad. They find that the cities are mostly overrun by Separatist droids; there’s a lovely scene in which Anakin is randomly shocked by an electrostaff for no apparent reason, except that they appear suspicious.

Subsequent research discovers Lok Durd, a supposedly captured Separatist general, to be on Lanteeb, and that he has acquired a biochemist named Bant’ena Fhernan to help him develop a bioweapon. Things are muddied as Skywalker and Kenobi discover that the scientist developing the weapon is hostage, and held there over fear for her family.

I confess that my favorite part is basically the Anakin and Obi-Wan interaction. Episode II leaned heavily on the mentor/Padawan roles - the scene in Padmé's suites comes to mind – but this book addresses them as equals, friends, and Miller does this beautifully. Their mission on Lanteeb is one that involves significant secrecy, so there is more in the vein of how the Jedi, overstretched though they were in the Clone Wars, could in fact fend off the Separatists’ battle droids. 9/10

Title: Star Wars: Clone Wars Gambit: Siege
Author: Karen Miller
Length: 401 pages

red cover with someone's face on it

On the Outer Rim, the planet Lanteeb has no strategic value, no political power, and one enormous problem: it has been invaded by an emboldened Separatist Alliance. To find out why, Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi have snuck onto Lanteeb -- and now look oblivion in the eye…

Hiding their lightsabers beneath their dusty disguises, Anakin and Obi-Wan draw on their Jedi skills to stay one step ahead of Lok Durd's droid army on Lanteeb. The Jedi know that a captive scientist has given Durd the keys to a terrifying bioweapon. Durd knows that the Jedi are on his planet. With Yoda calling on the powers of the Jedi Council, with a new Separatist technology jamming the Guardians' communications, and a traitor at the heart of the Republic's government, the wheels of war are turning. But the Separatists have blockaded Lanteeb. The finishing touches are being put on a weapon to destroy whole worlds. And it will be up to the two Jedi Knights and their most trusted comrades to liberate Lanteeb or forever suffer the consequences.

The next book after Lanteeb I (Star Wars: Clone Wars Gambit: Stealth), this picks up after the cliffhanger. Skywalker and Kenobi end up in a small damotite-mining town and are soon pinned down there, as the spaceport where they came from is far away and is in any case guarded. Then Lok Durd tracks them down and sends a droid force to bring them back, as ordered by Dooku. In the meantime, Durd also releases the bioweapon on Chandrila, and the Senate is thrown into frenzy as they discover the weapon was delivered through security cameras, and that the supplier is a major one, who supplied all sorts of other equipment besides. As investigations are begun on Coruscant, Ahsoka, Anakin’s Padawan, becomes increasingly worried.

Like the book before it, the lead characters – here Skywalker and Kenobi – are under immense stress almost the entire time. (This rather leads to exhausting the reader, also.) One of the Lanteebian characters, in particular, was relentlessly, festeringly bitter about the Jedi showing up at all, and while I understood why she was so angry (at least at first), it grated badly. One wonders how the two Jedi actually put up with the Lanteebans on top of the droid and Separatists.

Title: Life and Legend of Obi-Wan Kenobi
Author: Ryder Windham
Length: 214 pages

cover with Darth Vader and older Kenobi crossing blades

Back cover:

Overlooked as a Padawan, he was to become one of the most revered Masters of all.

Sworn to serve the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order, his own apprentice would bring about their destruction.

Powerless to retrieve Darth Vader from the dark side, he would train the only one who could.

This is the legendary story of Obi-Wan Kenobi, from his first meeting with Anakin Skywalker to his final meeting with Darth Vader—and beyond...

This book begins with Luke returning to Obi-Wan’s hut in the middle of the sand flats on Tatooine and finding that Obi-Wan had kept a journal* for him. Sections where Luke is reading the journal are interspersed with short stories of each episode of his life.

With only about a hundred pages to summarize and highlight important bits of Kenobi’s life, the stories are skimpy and short on the details. Its biggest strength, though, is bringing together events that are detailed in the Expanded Universe. It’s always fun to see one book reference another – at one point, Karen Miller (in one of the Clone Wars books) references Kenobi’s quitting of the Jedi Order when he was quite young, in drawing a comparison with Anakin – and this is what Windham does well. However, there is nowhere enough space for his whole life, and instead ends up a dry summation of stories already covered.

*as in a journal with actual paper; there’s actually a funny little anecdote wherein Kenobi goes into the store to buy parts, and buys the journal as well. The storekeeper, not knowing what it was, had been using it as a shelf.
Tags: author: b, author: c, author: m, author: s, author: w, genre: science fiction, review

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