Star Wars Legends: Revan

Overview

Revan was written by Drew Karpyshyn, who was part of the team that developed Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic. The novel continues Revan’s story, providing linking material between KotOR 1 and 2, shows what happened to Revan and The Exile (Meetra) after KotOR 2, and provides background on the Old Republic MMO.

Cover for the Revan novel

Story:  9

Revan is divided into two parts. Part 1 shows why Revan vanished between KotOR 1 and 2, and largely portrays events Revan’s search for Mandalore’s helmet and the elevation of Canderous Ordo to the title of Mandalore. These events were mentioned in KotOR 2. However, Revan’s secondary motivation is to discover a planet covered in storms, a planet that he saw in his dreams. But along with Revan’s story, we meet Lord Scourge, a Sith assigned to protect Darth Nyriss, a member of the Sith Dark Council. Scourge prefers actions to talk and politics, which is unfortunate since he is quickly manipulated into an insurrection against the Sith Emperor, who Nyriss believes will one day destroy all life in the galaxy in order to ensure his continued rule. Agreeing that the Emperor is insane, Scourge joins the insurrection. Eventually, they capture Revan.

Part 2 of the novel takes place after KotOR 2, and deals with Meetra’s search and rescue of Revan. In the end, Scourge, Meetra, and Revan find themselves working toward a common cause: assassinating the Sith Emperor.

From what I have seen, this novel has been divisive. While people tend to enjoy part 1, part 2 has been criticized for retconning Revan and Malak’s turn to the Dark Side. And yes, this novel does indeed retcon their change. This was fair game, however, as we never saw where Revan and Malak went in the Outer Rim beyond finding the Star Forge, and the Exile started off for the Outer Rim to search for Revan after KotOR 2. According to the Wikipedia article for KotOR 2, the planned third game would have dealt with the Exile encountering Ludo Kresh’s faction of the Sith, the group that didn’t side with Naga Sadow’s plan to invade the Republic. While Revan doesn’t go with this original story, it does play on the idea of a Sith Empire remnant, and it embraces the idea that the Sith Emperor saw Sadow’s defeat, and decided the Republic was too strong to attack. Instead, he decided to bide his time, and later corrupted Revan and Malak in an attempt to see if the Republic had weakened. When the two fallen Jedi did not return, he decided to continue waiting.

While I know this annoyed many fans of Revan, I enjoyed the attempt to bring resolution to Revan and Meetra’s story. (A story I know is dealt with further in the Shadow of Revan expansion for The Old Republic. I’ll get there eventually). This story may not have been the one Bioware or Obsidian would have told at the time, but it did juggle the pieces well. And since I read this novel while I was also playing KotOR 2, I was impressed with how well they fit together.

Characters:  8

Yet another area in which this novel is divisive, fleshing out somewhat blank-slate character that gamers were able to inhabit can be tricky. While Revan and The Exile have back stories, the emphasis of both games was that their pasts didn’t matter; who they are as player characters matters. Add to that the question of Revan’s gender, and polarization can occur. So what is Revan’s gender? There was a line early in KotOR 2 where Kreia mentioned Revan being female. There is a dialogue option that says, “I heard Revan was a man” or something to that effect. I think it was a clever addition on the developers’ part to do this since it allows players the option of continuity between the two games. Later in the game, Mandalore referred to Revan as male, and I assumed that was influenced by the dialogue choice early in the game. But does this make Revan male or female? I don’t know if Bioware or Obsidian had given a definitive answer to that question until this novel.

That said, I like that they alternated gender. I really enjoyed the Exile’s story more, and I was thrilled that she became a major character in the second part. I also liked that T7 and Canderous appeared. I was disappointed that Bastilla didn’t play a larger role and that the other characters didn’t appear. For example, what happened to Atton? He and the Exile headed off into the Outer Rim at the end of their game, and he didn’t get so much as a mention in the novel.

But the characters we got were good. I liked how Nyriss played Scourge. I also enjoyed Sechel and the exploration for how Sith with almost no Force sensitivity could use manipulation and deceit to move up the ranks. But what really impressed me was how Karpyshyn orchestrated Revan, Meetra, and Scourge’s team up. He did a great job of unifying them in a common cause and of showing Scourge’s musings of the Jedi and their philosophy of the Force. No, they were never going to be friends, but at the very least, Scourge grew to respect their differences so long as they had a common cause. In the end, Scourge’s decision when they faced the Emperor made sense according to his journey. In a way, his ending is as tragic as the others. It reminded me a bit of Paul Atreides’ decision in Dune: what is the best of the bad scenarios?

I would have liked more about the Sith Emperor himself, but I think that will have to wait until The Old Republic. (My character is probably nowhere near meeting the Sith Emperor. So far, I have a Jedi Knight and a Sith Agent characters in Chapter 1 and the Prologue, respectively.)

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

As far as I can tell, it was trying to set up SWTOR while bringing some amount of closure to the KOTOR games.

Was it successful in doing it?

Somewhat. I think some fans will say no, but it fit well enough with what was set up in the games. I would have liked to see more of the characters from the games, but the leads were covered. And the way this novel ended probably didn’t help people like this one more.

Would I like to see elements of this added to the New Canon?

Yes, as I’m always up for seeing the Old Republic era in the new canon.

Style: 8

Karpyshyn is a good writer. His prose is clear and easy to follow. I liked how different chapters were from the third-person perspective of the character they followed. Thus, we gained information as Scourge, Revan, or Meetra gained it. It was fun when the chapters switched between Scourge and Revan while Revan was imprisoned. We got to see how each manipulated the other. The book is a quick read, too. I look forward to the next SW book by Karpyshyn, and I may check out some of his non-SW books.

Personal Enjoyment: 9

I really enjoyed this one. I read it as I played KOTOR 2, so everything was fresh in my mind. I think the book supplemented the game quite well. I didn’t mind the retconning, probably because KOTOR was just okay for me. But I enjoyed getting some small amount of closure to those stories (until I get to Shadow of Revan, which will hopefully resolve more). I also can’t wait to journey further into the SWTOR era through the books, comics, and game.

Final Rating: 8.4/10

Star Wars: Lost Stars

Overview

Lost Stars is by Claudia Gray, and it is the first Star Wars young adult romance novel. I was apprehensive about picking this up when I first saw it. I don’t remember hearing about it when the Journey to the Force Awakens line was announced. But word of mouth has been positive. In fact, word of mouth has largely been that Aftermath, the “adult” novel set after Return of the Jedi in the new canon was a disappointment and that Lost Stars is the novel we had all been waiting for. I haven’t read Aftermath, so I can’t judge this, but I do know of its reputation. I’ll get there soon enough.

Lost Stars Cover

Story:  7

Lost Stars is about Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree. Both are from the planet Jelucan. Thane is an aristocrat and Ciena is more of a peasant villager. Their positions in society would normally keep them apart, but they bond over their love of flying. When they were young, they met (and impressed) Wilhuf Tarkin. Both dream of joining the Imperial Academy. They spend their youth training with the Kyrell V-171. They eventually join the Academy, they become star pupils, and they each have promising careers ahead of them. Well, until the Death Star and Alderaan. After Alderaan, Thane finds his loyalty shaken. Ciena’s loyalty is shaken as well, but the loss of innocent Imperial lives (and friends) at the hands of Rebel terrorists ultimately strengthens her resolve. Soon, the childhood friends find themselves on opposite sides of the galactic conflict and struggling with their growing feelings toward one another. In all, a very personal story played out on the galactic scope we have seen in Star Wars. Everything culminates in the Battle of Jakku, the final stand of the Empire against the Rebels.

While the story is well told, it shines with the new material: the Jelucani culture, the experience of the Imperial Academy, Thane’s time on the crew of The Mighty Oak, and the Battle of Jakku. But I confess I lost interested when the novel covered episodes from the original trilogy. Sometimes it seemed like Thane or Ciena were doing things just off camera. Ciena disabled the hyperdrive of the Millennium Falcon on Bespin; Thane was a soldier who investigated the abandoned Rebel base on Dantooine. It put me in mind of some Lord of the Rings video games where your character is part of the B-Team, having the same experiences as the leads, though of slightly less importance. This can be fun, but I think I have grown weary of it. So much of the emphasis in Star Wars right now is on the Imperial/Rebellion era. This feels like the Star Wars galaxy is shrinking. But this is also why I enjoyed the moments that took us to new places. I’m eager to see this new era of Star Wars build the canon, not give fans more of the same.

Characters:  8

Ciena and Thane are memorable and distinct. Because Gray goes deep into their heads and emotions, we get a lot of information about who they are and what motivates them. I enjoyed Gray’s perspective on why someone would continue to support the Empire after Alderaan. She created Imperial characters that were not evil or corrupted by Sith. These were people in conflict with their personal ideologies and trying to find a way to remain faithful to their beliefs even when evidence challenged that. This is a very human struggle. And since the Empire as portrayed in the original trilogy was not based in religion or mysticism, this had to be a secular struggle.

But along with Ciena and Thane, many of the secondary characters are good. We meet people who are killed in the first Death Star. We see how an Alderaanian officer responds and copes with his loss. We meet new friends and old, and all the characterization seem to fit.

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

Lost Stars tried to be an entertaining, YA Star Wars novel while shining new light on what happened after Return of the Jedi.

Was it successful in doing it?

Yeah, I would say so. I can’t speak for where it ranks in the YA romance genre, but it was largely entertaining.

Was this a good Journey to the Force Awakens?

Yes and no. Again, where we covered old ground, I was less engaged, but I enjoyed learning about the Battle of Jakku. Even more, I enjoyed seeing some of the power struggle after the Emperor’s death. There was good stuff in these sections, though far too little.

Style: 8

Gray’s style is immensely readable. I only had two complaints: the font (not her fault) and a few places where transitions weren’t clear. This may have been an editing issue. While we spend far more time in characters’ heads and emotions than I was accustomed to for a Star Wars novel, this is likely due to YA conventions. Regardless, this book can probably be read over a couple of days, despite being over 500 pages.

Personal Enjoyment: 7

As stated before, the parts of this novel I didn’t enjoy as much were the “behind the black” moments, the moments where this novel takes place just off camera of the original trilogy. I would have preferred more post-Jedi content, but what we got was good. And I really enjoyed the moments on Jeluca and with The Mighty Oak crew. Lost Stars isn’t my favorite of the new novel in the canon, but it is certainly an enjoyable one.

Final Rating: 7.6/10

Star Wars Legends: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords

Overview

Knights of the Old Republic was made by Bioware, but KotOR 2 was made by Obsidian. I have enjoyed games by both companies. I was a bit nervous about KotOR 2, however, because I wasn’t impressed with KotOR 1 and I had read that KotOR 2 has many bugs due to a less than ideal release schedule. I picked the game up during a Steam sale and used the Sith Lords Restored Content Mod, which purports to restore much of the content cut from the game and to fix most of the game-breaking bugs.

kotor2loadscreen

Characters:  9

As with its predecessor, KotOR 2 has very good characters. You play as the Exile (named Meetra Surik in later Star Wars Legends novels. I will refer to the character as Meetra). The Exile has been traveling the Outer Rim since she was removed from the Jedi Order, her punishment for following Revan against the Mandalorians. The Exile was the only Jedi to return to the Council for judgment. As the game progresses, you pick up a number of companions, each is memorable, and a couple even start as adversaries. The characters have distinct motivations, and your interactions in relation to their motivations increases or decreases your influence, which dictates how much about themselves they reveal. The NPCs are also interesting. When you find the Jedi Masters that exiled you, each has a distinct personality that makes them memorable. The NPCs help make the game-world feel fleshed out.

Story:  8

The story of KotOR 2 is much more complex than KotOR 1. Where the first game was a straight-forward Star Wars story of good versus evil with a very good twist, KotOR 2 is a meditation on war, consequences, autonomy, power, meaning and hope. It is a far darker game, and this darkness comes from the ideas it explores. The titular Sith Lords also represent ideas, from Sion who is the Lord of Pain to Nihilus, the Lord of Hunger. KotOR 2 lives in the grey areas of the Star Wars mythos. It outright rejects the idea that the Sith are evil and the Jedi are good. Instead, the Jedi are flawed humans with immense powers whose philosophy didn’t help them when they faced near annihilation. The Sith are also humans, but they are ruled by desires that have taken over all other impulses. Much like C.S. Lewis’s description of damnation, the Sith Lords are humans who have given themselves over to an idea to such a degree that they have ceased being human and are now a living expression of that idea.

As part of this exploration of the grey, the Exile awakens on Peragus Station, an Outer Rim mining station. She doesn’t remember how she got there, but after exploration she finds only two living beings on the station: Atton, a rogue, and Kreia, a Force user. Hostile droids roam the station, and dead bodies of station workers fill the halls. As you investigate the station and try to find a way off, a Republic cruiser arrives at the station, and Kreia warns of the Sith Lord on the ship. This opening is extremely creepy and unnerving, and it strongly sets the tone of the game through the music and visuals.

Eventually you learn that the Jedi have vanished. Many people think you are the last Jedi. With the Jedi gone, the Republic is on the verge of collapse due to the cost of the Jedi Civil War. The Republic has also committed to restoring the planet Telos, one of the first planets to be devastated by Revan. Telos has become a symbol of the Republic’s ability to restore peace and heal the galaxy from the war. Unknown interests have placed a large bounty for any Jedi, so you have bounty hunters hounding you. Also on the hunt are HK-50 droids that are being produced from an unknown location. Their mission is to kill you. And through all this, Revan, once Sith Lord now hero of the Republic has vanished. With a new Sith menace striking quietly from the shadows, the Exile and her team are the only ones who can stand against the new threat, and your decisions in the game determine if the Jedi Order will be restored or if it will die out, and the Republic along with it.

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

I think it was trying to continue the story of KotOR while adding new depth and philosophical analysis to the Star Wars mythos.

Was it successful in doing it?

Yes . . . though with caveats. The game was full of bugs, and while the mod fixes many game-breaking bugs, there are still quite a few issues with pathfinding, team warping/response, and random background changes during dialog scenes. These bugs are distracting and take away from the story. Additionally, sometimes the plot and motivation are not clear unless you take certain dialog options. While I don’t think there is anything drastic here, these small issues add up over the course of the game.

Would I like to see elements of this added to the New Canon?

This is a great story with a lot of critique of the dualism present in some Star Wars stories. So, yes, I would love to see this story adapted into the New Canon in some way.

Gameplay: 8

As mentioned above, there are a lot of bugs. While nothing broke the game, there was one bug that I feared would. While dealing with the Red Eclipse assault on the Ebon Hawk, when the mission ended, the game would load the next map, and my character would die. On the third attempt, I made sure I had maximum health before initiating the final dialogue for the mission, and this fixed the problem.

There isn’t much change in basic gameplay from KotOR 1. There are a few new Force powers, new Feats, and new Influence mechanics. I also liked that my ratings on different skills sometimes offered different dialogue options . . . and these weren’t always better choices. Sometimes they might annoy the other character. But while the gameplay hadn’t changed much, there was something about the game that was more fun than KotOR 1. Maybe I understood the combat better; maybe Obsidian tweaked it a bit. Either way, I enjoyed it more.

The level design was much improved in this game. I think the only places that I didn’t enjoy the level design were revisiting levels from the first game, and that was only Dantooine and Korriban. All other planets in KotOR 2 were new, which I appreciated. They felt like real spaces, and I could often get a feel for where things were without constantly referring to the map.

Also, there are a few places where you get to play as NPCs or as one of your companions. One mission had you play a re-programmed protocol droid, one was a solo mission for HK-47, there were frequent instances of playing solo as Mira, and in one section you get to choose a team to rescue the Exile. These missions broke kept me on my toes and forced me to use characters that I hadn’t specifically used. They forced me to branch out a bit, and I appreciated this.

And the music definitely fit the game. While Jeremy Soule’s music in KotOR 1 was good, Mark Griskey’s score for this game was atmospheric, dark, brooding, and always seemed to fit the situation.

Personal Enjoyment: 8

I struggled to quantify this category. Up until the end of the game, KotOR 2 was a solid 9. The ending, however, is sudden and lackluster. A third game was definitely being set up, but that has, sadly, never come to fruition. (Although, the Revan novel builds off some of the ideas that were setting up the sequel, though doesn’t go in the direction that Obsidian was initially planning.) When I finished the game, I didn’t have that feeling of satisfaction that comes from finishing a great game. While I enjoyed most of my time playing the game, the ending definitely doesn’t feel worth it. I was very glad that I was reading Revan alongside KotOR. It provides a type of epilogue. But more on that later.

In general, I think KotOR 2 is a conceptually stronger game than KotOR 1. The improvements made to level design and the new Feats and Force Powers are great, and I love the philosophical questions and the story in this game. There are a few places where KotOR 2 could have improved on gameplay over the first game, and the bugs that are still present even with the mod are highly distracting. And again, that ending is just not satisfying. Overall, even with these flaws, I still prefer Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords over its predecessor. If you liked the gameplay of the first game and want to wrestle with some deeper questions about the Force, the Jedi, war and mass destruction, hope, and redemption, I recommend checking out this game . . . with the Content Restoration Mod, of course.

Final Rating: 8.2/10

Star Wars Legends: Knights of the Old Republic

Overview

Knights of the Old Republic was the first Star Wars CRPG. (Or should it be XBRPG since it was first released on the Xbox?) Released in 2003, the game has become very highly regarded among fans. I recently played through the game for the first time, although I was already familiar with parts of the story, so the big twist wasn’t a surprise. There will be spoilers in this review since the game is over a decade old and no longer (at the moment) in official Star Wars canon.

Knights of the Old Republic box art

Characters:  9

In general, Bioware tends to create good characters. And while I didn’t spend a lot of time pursuing character quests, I did take time to talk to the characters between missions. Each has an interesting back story and each has a distinct personality. I kept getting into arguments with Carth, but over time it was apparent that Carth’s outlook came from a place of personal betrayal. I enjoyed helping Carth reunite with his son, even though it was a bittersweet reunion. I applaud Bioware for putting this much detail into character interactions. I think the only issue I have with characterization is Bastilla. I don’t feel like we got enough to make her sudden turn to the Dark Side believable. The turn seemed more plot-driven than character driven. On some level, we needed her to be a Revan counterpart in the present, for her to personally experience the path Revan walked. She needed to see how evil can come from good depending on the choices made. Maybe different dialogue would have made her turn more believable, but I just didn’t see enough darkness in her.

And of course, HK-47 as a bloodthirsty but well-spoken droid is a ton of fun.

But I can’t discuss character without addressing Revan. Bioware pulled this off quite well. Since the major reveal is that you play as Darth Revan post-mind-wipe, much of Revan’s backstory has to be vague. We need just enough details to see who he was before, but not so much that the backstory alters the player experience. The game takes you through locations in Revan’s past and gives ideas about some of his past actions, but leaves you to fill in the motivations. Revan can truly be whoever you want him or her to be, and the story still works. Creating a story that is so dependent on a character that has this much flexibility (or lack of characterization) is an interesting challenge and achievement.

Story:  9

Possibly more so than with characters, KotOR really shines when it comes to the story. This should be no surprise as it is a Bioware game. On the one hand, you play a new Jedi searching for pieces of a star map to lead you to the Star Forge, a mysterious object that Revan and Malak used to lead the Sith Empire to war with the Jedi. But in addition to this McGuffin quest, you are on a journey of self-discovery. You are putting together pieces of your character’s past. You just don’t realize that at the time.

This story also greatly expands the lore of Star Wars by showing what happened after Exar Kun and Ulic qel Droma’s defeat in The Sith War comics. In those comics, Ulic became the leader of the Mandalorian army. Without his leadership, and with the subsequent defeat of Mandalore, a new Mandalore rose and led his army against the Republic. This new leader had great success where Ulic and the previous Mandalore failed. The Jedi tried to stay out of the war, but the Republic was suffering defeat after defeat. Eventually, a group of Jedi led by Revan and Malak violated the Jedi Council’s wishes, and went to war alongside the Republic. They defeated the Mandalorians, but Revan and Malak vanished into the Outer Rim. They returned later as Lords of the Sith and went to war against the Jedi. The game opens shortly after a major Republic victory in which Revan was defeated. Yes, all that was just the backstory. In addition to the immediate history, we learn more ancient history of the galaxy: ancient Tatooine from Tusken mythology and the rise and downfall of the Eternal Empire of the Rakatan, both of which were later expanded on in the Dawn of the Jedi comics.

In the end, KotOR is a story about identity and redemption that takes place on an epic, galactic scale. It expands the Star Wars lore into some compelling new areas that later writers were able to explore.

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

KotOR was an attempt to create in game form a Star Wars experience with all the epic conflict and twists of the movies.

Was it successful in doing it?

For the most part, yes. As far as story and characters are concerned, I would say yes.

Would I like to see elements of this added to the New Canon?

Absolutely. I would like to see anything from the Old Republic era make its way to the new canon. The ancient conflict between the Jedi and Sith are more fully explored in this era, and there really isn’t anything here that would conflict with the current movies and novels. That may change in time, but for now it can stay firmly in head-canon. In fact, Revan came very close to being canon via The Clone Wars. He was cut at the last minute, but character designs had been made. I guess there’s always hope for him to be reference in Rebels.

Gameplay: 6

Okay, here’s where things get a bit more critical. I’m somewhere between a casual and serious gamer. I’m not going to dock this game for graphics just because I don’t think graphics are necessarily a huge thing when it comes to story and gameplay. They can enhance, but it is how you use what you have. If they get in the way, then it is an issue, but I don’t really think they graphics affected the game one way or another. However, KotOR was initially an Xbox release. I know graphics at the time were capable of better. That was the era of Final Fantasy X and XII (I was more of a Playstation 2 guy at the time). The graphics of those games hold up better; KotOR does not. It looks old, which is why some fans are recreating the game with the Unreal 4 engine.

But again, I’m leaving graphics out of the gameplay rating. For me KotOR suffers on two fronts: level design and combat. The level design is incredibly dull. Taris was probably the worst, and I constantly had to look at the map because everything looked the same. Kashyyk and Manan were better, but the uninteresting design actually made me not want to do side quests because I just wanted to get on to the next planet or next area. When things didn’t improve for me after Dantooine, I just decided to do a story run, not a completion run. When the level design breaks immersion or makes you want to skip things, there is a problem.

The second issue I had with the game was combat. I don’t mind turn-based menus. I grew up with Final Fantasy, after all, but the combat in this game just didn’t interest me. It got better after I got a lightsaber and figured out where to spend my attribute points. But there isn’t really much variety here. Part of the problem is I started playing The Old Republic first, which has a bit of variety with special moves. Even though there isn’t much to that system, the animations are interesting. And the later Bioware title Dragon Age: Origin was complex enough for me to have to monitor all my teammates even though they had tactical conditions set up. I guess I can say those later Bioware games improved on what was started in KotOR (or the earlier Forgotten Realms games), but an elegant battle system hadn’t emerged here yet.

Also, different character builds just didn’t seem effective. Most of the team characters can do stealth, tank, science, etc. better. As a result, making your character anything other than a fighter seemed pointless. Unfortunately, I figured this out late in the game and didn’t want to start with a new character build. So, I started allocating points differently. Then I discovered the level cap! So while the game story allows you freedom to create a character background in your head, the game mechanics are a bit more restrictive.

Oh, and one final thing. The menus are not very elegant. I think I stopped reading data pads early in the game because the text window for the contents was too small.

Personal Enjoyment: 6

Yeah, this was going to be low after the previous category.

It is hard to experience something out of its time. Take classic Doctor Who, for example. Anyone coming to the show having watched new Who can’t experience the show the same way original viewers did. They can’t experience the surprise of Steven and Vicki stumbling into another Time Lord’s TARDIS for the first time in The Time Meddler. We can’t know what it was like to see the Time Lords show up in all their mystical power in The War Games. New Doctor Who has firmly placed a lens of interpretation that changes how fans experience that old show.

Similarly, I can’t experience Knights of the Old Republic as it was at the time. I can’t remove conceptions of gameplay, level design, and mechanics from my experience of the game. I can try to give the game as fair a trial as possible, emphasizing character, story, and vision, but personal experience is still part of the review process, and this game was disappointing to me. Maybe the mystique created by the passion of the fans made my expectations too high. Sometimes art resonates with us better at some points of our lives than others, and maybe I played the game at the wrong time. I wanted to like the game, and I may well play it again one day, but for now, I come away disappointed.

But my experience is not everyone’s experience. And I really like my current rating system because I try to give more weight to artistic craft than personal enjoyment. Knights of the Old Republic takes a hit on enjoyment and gameplay, but the achievements with story and character make up for negatives.

Final Rating: 7.6/10

Star Wars Legends: Into the Void (Dawn of the Jedi)

Overview

Into the Void by Tim Lebbon is the first and only novel in the Dawn of the Jedi series. This series explored the ancient, pre-Republic history of the Jedi—or, as they were known 25,000 years before A New Hope, the Je’daii. This novel was tied to a comic series of the same name.

There are a lot of really great ideas in this series, but it looks like a full exploration of this era ended prematurely since this was added to the Extended Universe very late and became a casualty of the Disney cannon wipe. I’m not sure how much of this era was planned at the time, but Into the Void and the Dawn of the Jedi comics were a promising start.

Dawn Of The Jedi Into The Void Cover

Characters:  8

Into the Void primarily follows Lanoree Brock, a Je’daii Ranger who has been given the mission to track down her brother Dal before he activates a device that might destroy the Tython system. Dal was believed to be dead, killed during the Great Journey that all Force-sensitives on Tython must take before becoming Je’daii. Dal had rejected the Je’daii teaching and wanted to rely on his own abilities. He wanted to seek knowledge in the stars, not in the Force. Lanoree’s mission, then, is not just to stop a possible madman from initiating destruction; it is a mission to come to terms with her own feelings of failure. She blamed herself in part for Dal’s rejection of Je’daii teachings and for his supposed death.

Joining her on this mission is Tre Sana, a shady Twi’lek that had been genetically modified by Lanoree’s master Dam-Powl. This modification was accomplished through the Force. The two make a good team, with Lanoree’s deadly stoicism being a good foil to Tre’s Star-Wars-roguish attitude. However, both characters are dealing with great pain. Lanoree keeps her pain inside; Tre hides his pain through jokes and charm.

Since much of the novel is from Lanoree’s perspective (though not a first-person perspective), we mainly get her impressions of Dal. On the surface, he appears to be yet another sci-fi madman, but when you dig deeper into the lore of Dawn of the Jedi, there is actually a plausible motive behind his actions. Because of this, I would actually recommend reading the Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm comic by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema before reading Into the Void. It provides some important backstory to the origin of the Je’daii and the settlers on the planet Tython. Chronologically, this novel takes place just before (and concurrent) with Force Storm, but the exposition from issue #1 is essential. It makes Dal’s motives a bit more clear, though his actions are still irresponsible and malicious.

Story:  8

If you are looking for a fast-paced, action/adventure, Into the Void is going to disappoint. While there are action scenes, the main focus of this story (to me) is to flesh out the Je’daii culture and explore this small pocket of the Star Wars galaxy. The novel moves back and forth between Lanoree’s search for Dal and her memories of the Great Journey that she and Dal took together. Along with this are insights into ancient Je’daii teachings and philosophies—ones that are both familiar but distinctly different. More on this later.

The story takes its time, and much of that time is spent in exploration. I appreciated this, and it made the book easy to pick up right where I left off after putting it down for a month. It wasn’t gripping, but it wasn’t off-putting. I enjoyed working through this novel leisurely, almost like I was on a journey with the characters.

Vision: 9

What was it trying to do?

Into the Void attempted to expand on the already vast Star Wars lore by looking at the ancient Je’daii. It attempted to create something new, yet familiar; fresh, yet plausibly ancient.

Was it successful in doing it?

For me, it succeeded.

Would I like to see elements of this added to the New Canon?

Absolutely.

Personal Enjoyment: 8

This novel surprised me because I put it down for a month, and I thought I wouldn’t come back to it. But after time passed, I missed it and wanted to return to Lanoree, Tre, and the ancient Je’daii. So, while there was no sense of urgency, the book was a journey for me. Sometimes one has to pause in a journey to let things settle, but the journey must always continue. Seeing this book as a journey was fitting as it was largely about Lanoree’s journey, both as a Padawan and as a Je’daii overcoming the guilt of her past.

But I also enjoyed the exploration of the ancient Je’daii. I mentioned earlier that the teachings and philosophies were both familiar but different. This is pre-Jedi and pre-Sith philosophy. The light and the dark are held at balance in the individual. Sometimes a Je’daii must call on the dark, and sometimes the light. The struggle is to maintain one’s balance in this use of the Force. The light and the dark are visibly represented in the moons of Tython: Ashla and Bogan. Ashla is a light moon, Bogan a dark one. When the orbits are balanced, the Tython climate is peaceful and pleasant, but when the moons are unbalanced, terrible storms and earthquakes rage. This environmental and astronomical reality informs the Je’daii understanding of the Force that exists within the individual. I think this rhetro-evolution of the ideas of the Force, Light, and Dark are a fascinating exploration of the evolution of ideas over time. These ideas passed through centuries in the Star Wars galaxy, eventually becoming the ideas of Light Side, Dark Side, balance, peace, and passion that we are familiar with in the Imperial/Rebellion era. These ideas are what kept me thinking about this novel and what kept me coming back.

This series is, I think, one of the unfortunate casualties of the cannon-purge. I would love to see more of Lanoree and the ancient Je’daii.

Style/Craft: 9

Lebbon did a good job of finding the characters in the massive amount of world-building this novel required. The characters felt consistent, and the novel was easy to follow. The pace was slow, but I think it was necessary to what he was trying to do. Even though I haven’t read anything else by Lebbon, it looks like he writes a lot of horror, and a command of pace is essential for that genre. I wouldn’t mind seeing Lebbon return to the Star Wars fold.

Final Rating: 8.4/10

Star Wars: Lords of the Sith

Overview

Lords of the Sith is by Paul S. Kemp, and based on its strength, I am looking forward to reading his other Star Wars novels.

While Darth Vader and The Emperor are used to sell this novel, and they are indeed major characters, the novel spends just as much time on the leaders of the Free Ryloth movement. Ryloth is the home planet of the Twi’leks, and it has known enslavement and oppression for a great deal of its history. Republic or Empire, the regimes change, but the approach doesn’t. However, the movement has a great opportunity as The Emperor and Darth Vader have scheduled a visit to Ryloth. This is the perfect opportunity for an assassination.

Lords of the Sith cover art

 

Character: 10

All of the characters worked for me in this novel. In fact, the relationship between Darth Vader and the Emperor was fascinating. This story takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, though it is closer to Sith than Hope. Kemp’s portrayal of the Sith lords works toward bridging the gap between where we last saw Anakin Skywalker and where we first (in real-world chronology) saw Darth Vader. In many ways, this is a psychologically abusive relationship where the Force is just one more tool used to oppress a person’s autonomy. The Emperor constantly goads Vader into remembering the most painful moments of his past, keeping him emotionally enslaved to his darkest fears and anger, and repeatedly emphasizing that he, the Emperor, knows more and is in control. He allows Vader moments to consider asserting himself, but always reiterates that he knows everything Vader thinks and feels. In the end, Vader doesn’t hate or fear the Emperor; he submits because it is the only option he has. It is the only option the Emperor leaves open to him.

Another double act in this novel is that of Cham Syndula and Isval. Cham is the leader of the Free Ryloth movement, and Isval is one of his most-trusted (I guess an organization such as this doesn’t have military rank) co-leaders? A little less leader? She’s interesting, regardless. Cham and Isval are a type of counter-point to The Emperor and Vader. They are leader and subordinate; they are the calm and controlled planner and the angry enforcer. They are different from the Sith, however, because their relationship is built on respect, not control. Cham and Isval are still at odds, though, because of their unspoken love for one another. The two characters are interesting in their own right, and their relationship (or fear of one) elevates them to a level of sympathy that I rarely feel toward characters in books.

The final double act is Moff Mors and Belkor Dray. This is the most chaotic of the leader/subordinate relationships in the novel. Mors is hedonistic and incompetent. Belkor is calculating and calm. But this relationship is upended when the assassination attempt occurs. Belkor thought he was using Cham’s group to subvert Mors. Instead, Cham used and manipulated Belkor. When the targets were not quickly eliminated, Belkor’s carefully constructed plan fell apart, and his cool demeanor broke. Mors, on the other hand, gets a surprising amount of great characterization as Kemp explores why she became a bad leader. Someone in Palpatine’s Empire doesn’t rise through the ranks if he or she is incompetent, and Mors is no different. She was quite good early in her career, but tragedy broke her, and her slide into seeming incompetence was actually a slide into despair. Kemp surprised me by bringing depth to this villain. He made her sympathetic, which was unexpected and gains major points from me.

Story:  8

Of all the novels I’ve read in the new canon, Lords of the Sith is the most cinematic, the most suited for adaptation into a film. It has three major acts, one that introduces the characters and their motivations while setting up the Imperial visit to Ryloth, which leads to act two, the assassination attempt. The third act is the hunt for Vader and Palpatine. Despite knowing that the two Sith would survive, there was still surprise as I wasn’t sure which of the new characters would live or die. Particularly chilling, however, was Palpatine’s lack of concern over the events that transpired. He was always calm, always in control. I never thought the assassination would succeed, but the question of how bad it would be for the heroes was ever-present. Overall, I think the story was strong, with only a few places where my attention wavered. As the new canon goes, that’s pretty good.

Vision: 10

What was it trying to do?

This novel attempted to bridge the characterizations of Darth Vader and Palpatine between the prequels and the original trilogy. It attempted to bring more depth to Anakin and his journey to the Dark Side by showing how he viewed his former self. It also provided a fascinating look into the Vader/Palpatine relationship, which is portrayed as somewhat psychologically abusive. Additionally, the novel continued to set up the idea that disparate rebel groups would one day need to unify into a larger movement. The Empire is large and organized. Disparate cells could not hope to take down something this big.

Was it successful in doing it?

Yes

Relevance to New Canon?

There is plenty here that applies to the new canon. We meet Hera Syndula’s father, thus tying the novel to Rebels. Again, the novel bridges the years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. It also showed that while knowledge of Vader’s mystique and prowess were spreading (and sometimes dismissed as rumors—to the horror of those who found out otherwise), the Emperor worked hard to make sure his status as a Sith was known only to Vader and his personal guard. Anyone who saw him use his powers would die.

There is plenty in this novel to enhance the new Star Wars lore.

Personal Enjoyment: 8

I truly enjoyed this one. While my attention waned a bit in the last third, Kemp kept me engaged through the majority of the novel, and I always looked forward to reading it. The strength of the new characters really worked for me. My only real issue was with the fight against the predators (Lyleks) in the forest. I don’t think I would say that it was unnecessary; I just didn’t care for it.

Style/Craft: 9

Kemp is a good writer, and as I said earlier, I look forward to reading his other Star Wars novels, especially those set in the Old Republic era as I’m on a bit of an Old Republic kick right now.

Final Rating: 9/10

Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi

Overview

Heir to the Jedi is a canon Star Wars novel by Kevin Hearne. It takes place after Star Wars: A New Hope and follows Luke Skywalker as he goes on two missions: meeting with Rodian arms dealers and smuggling an Imperial code-breaker out of Imperial employ. Joining him on this mission is Nakari Kelen, a pilot who is the daughter of the founder of Kelen Biolab and a liaison between her father and the Rebel Alliance. She is also Luke’s love interest in this book.

From what I read in my extremely brief research on this novel, it was originally part of the Empire & Rebellion series of novels that is now part of the Legends line. I guess Hearne lucked out.

Also, the novel is in first person, told from Luke’s point of view.

Heir to the Jedi cover

Character: 5

Okay, let’s get this out of the way. I think the first-person perspective hurts the book a bit because I never quite felt Hearne captured Luke’s voice. This is the risk an author takes when using an established and popular character from a franchise and writing from his or her perspective. Maybe if the narrative was third person, Luke would have come across as plausible, but since we spend the entire novel in his head, it never quite worked for me. I realize that the Luke of this novel is the wide-eyed idealist of A New Hope, but the characterization just felt off for most of the novel.

The new characters of Nakari Kelen and Drusil were interesting and distinct. Nakari, however, had a major flaw in that she had never appeared in another Star Wars story, yet it was clear that she was influential to Luke’s journey. Teachers in Star Wars don’t fare well. From the moment she became important (well, from the moment she was introduced) I figured she would either die or be outed as a traitor, thus leaving Luke with the baggage of betrayal. The latter option would have been the more interesting one, and could have been explored in more stories set between Hope and Empire. Unfortunately, this was not the option the story took.

Story: 6

Similar to Tarkin, the story is a bit light. There are two distinct parts to the novel: the arms deal and the smuggling. I thought the arms deal was interesting in that is showed an aspect of the Rebellion that would have been a real need: supplies. It’s a strange Star Wars novel where the administration and organization of the Rebel Alliance is the more ground-breaking material. But along with that, the arms deal led Luke to investigate a shrine to a long-dead Jedi master on Rodia. I guess I’m just a sucker for pilgrimage in any form because I enjoyed Luke’s brief interlude to the gravesite and his internal uncertainty of what it means to be a Jedi and use the Force, questions for which he has precious few answers with Obi-Wan’s too-short tutelage. While these ideas recurred throughout the novel, most of the time they were addressed with Nakari being generally encouraging. While this wasn’t particularly satisfying to me, I guess it emphasizes the degree to which the Empire had purged access to information on the Jedi.

Vision: 4/10

What was it trying to do?

Apart from showing how Luke started to develop his skills in the Force without a teacher, I’m not sure.

Was it successful in doing it?

If I’m not sure about what it was going for, then it didn’t succeed for me.

Relevance to New Canon?

This story is the most disposable story of the few I’ve read. If I’m correct in my assessment of the main point of the story, I don’t think it was needed. It doesn’t add to or take away from my experience of Star Wars. This is mildly annoying because when the word “canon” is invoked, an authenticity and importance is imparted on the work. Perhaps unfairly, “canon” causes my expectations to rise. Given how many amazing novels are in the Legends line, anything that isn’t significantly above average feels like a letdown. It’s unfair to Hearne that his novel could be held up to any of Timothy Zahn’s novels as an argument for the superiority of the Legends line. This is unfair because, first of all, Hearne isn’t Zahn and no one should expect him to be, and, second, there are some Legends novels that I think rank well below Heir to the Jedi. Unfortunately, Heir to the Jedi is placed early in the Canon line (from a publication standpoint) when many people are ravenous for Star Wars content in the lead-up to The Force Awakens. I read Heir to the Jedi after TFA, so I wasn’t particularly disappointed in my search for clues. But I also wonder what in this novel might have important in the new canon:

  • A New Dawn was obvious in is telling of the Kanan and Hera’s first adventure.
  • Tarkin told us how Vader and Tarkin first worked together and reintroduced Tarkin to set up for his appearance in Rebels. It also showed us that the Rebel Alliance was still a long way off.
  • Heir to the Jedi showed us that Luke could use the Force to move a noodle.

Personal Enjoyment: 6

Ok, even though I think I’ve been a bit hard on the novel, I never actually came around to disliking it. Much like Tarkin, I never got tired of reading it. Unlike Tarkin, however, I rarely had moments of, “That was good.”

Style/Craft: 7

Very easy to follow, but again, I never really felt like I was reading the words and thoughts of Luke Skywalker. I’m not sure the first person perspective worked for this story since the voice didn’t feel right to me.

Final Rating: 5.6/10