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A novel by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry (2007, Ballantine Books)
years before Star Wars: A New Hope

As the Death Star nears completion, several groups of Imperials or slaves are transferred there to live and work.




Read June 26th to July 9th, 2009  
    I'm not quite sure what to think about this novel. On one hand, the multitude of characters is interesting, if somewhat predictable. They never reached a level where I really cared for them as more than supporting characters, however. Because that's what they were: secondary to everyone else. No main character took up most of the screen time, so it felt like we were getting a small snapshot into some lives, and little more. They did nothing heroic, which is strange for a Star Wars novel. Actually, the characters did little of note.

The other problem I had with this novel was that all of the characters were good, with the exceptions of Tarkin and Vader (and possibly Daala; Motti barely got any time worth mentioning), and they all felt like the Empire was turning into something they didn't want to serve, especially after the prison planet was destroyed, and very much so after Alderaan. Every single one. I think the authors blew an opportunity here to give us a character who was truly evil, or at least supportive of the Empire, and to take the risk of getting into their heads, or trying to.

There are three Imperials in the cast of characters. One, Tenn Graneet, is a gunner, and he is good at what he does. Eager to fire the largest guns in the galaxy, he is happy to be transferred to the Death Star. The simulations he runs give him excellent practice, until he actually gets to fire the weapon at an attacking Rebel cruiser, at 6% firepower, from a huge distance. He is amazed. But when he is told to fire on the prison planet Despayre, where all sorts of prisoners and even Imperial guards were still stationed, he feels a hollow pit starting to form in his belly. It takes three shots at 30% power to destroy the planet. After Alderaan, he wonders how he can live with himself, and how the galaxy will view him after the war ends, as the man who pulled the trigger on a peaceful planet. He would probably be happy to know, after the fact, that he dies when Luke's proton torpedo destroys the Death Star.

Ace pilot Villian Dance is also transferred to the Death Star. He is disillusioned with the Empire early on, when he is told to fire on a shuttle of escaping prisoners, rather than just disabling them. He flies training exercises as the Death Star is being completed, until the attack by the Rebels, where he easily becomes a double ace as the rebel fighters ignore him to try and fire on the battle station. None even get close. When they approach the Rebel base, he has to decide if he is going to fight with his squadron, or abandon the Death Star altogether. It would have been nice to have him as one of the pilots killed as the Millennium Falcon escapes the battle station.

The third Imperial actually has a Force-sensitivity, though he doesn't know it. Nova Stihl is a guard down on Despayre, until he is transferred to the Death Star. He is a true martial artist, who actually teaches the convicts how to defend themselves. His prescient abilities help him with that, but it is obvious that at least one of the authors is a martial artist, because the attitude is presented perfectly. When he gets his physical, the doctor discovers that his midi-chlorian count was quite high. I wonder, really, why a standard batch of scans would include this information, in Imperial times, except if they were looking for potential threats. But although Vader finds out about it, he and the Emperor do nothing about it. So why bother? He feels the deaths of the prisoners when Despayre is destroyed, and passes out after Alderaan is. He actually gets to fire on Han Solo, before deciding to abandon the station.

Two characters were prisoners before being transferred to the Death Star. Teela Kaarz was an architect. I found it corny that she wanted to change the design of the exhaust ports, to eliminate some altogether as redundant. Of course, the Death Star has the bureaucracy of the Darksaber, so her request gets lost, especially as the Wookie foreman is transferred. Even though she promises herself not to, she falls in love (or lust) with pilot Dance. She had been a political prisoner after backing the wrong candidate in an election, nothing more. So she was never happy about working for the Empire in the first place, but rationalizes it to herself, to stay alive. She decides she really wants to leave after the Death Star becomes active. When the Rebel attack begins, she somehow recognizes the trench (should it really be a polar trench? I'm guessing it wasn't the equatorial one, but I don't remember it being so far north or south to be polar.), so it must have made a huge impression on her. She realizes that an attack could be successful, if a proton torpedo is detonated inside the exhaust port.

The other prisoner is Celot Ratua Dil, non-human (part plant, actually), who has exceptional speed and manages to "find" or trade for things. He regularly takes Stihl's martial arts class, because he is not a strong person. He trades his way off Despayre and manages to get onto the Death Star, where he walks around like he owns the place, and pretty soon might have. He becomes rich in his closet, then his quarters. He does nothing and gets away with it, showing how big the station really was. He falls in love with the bartender, and they talk about how bad things are getting in the Empire. Stihl sees him on the station, but doesn't report him, knowing how harmless Ratua is.

The bartender is Memah Roothes, whose bar was suspiciously burned down on Coruscant, so she was offered a place on the Death Star. She serves drinks, observes her bouncer Rodo calm people down or throw them out. She's just a down-on-her-luck bartender who managed to get a contract on a huge battle station. She is one of the people the fans in the movie Clerks started wondering about when they think of Luke as a murderer when he destroyed the battle station (except that she escaped). Luke even thinks about this in one of the Legacy of the Force novels, trying to come to terms with it in a major bit of unnecessary retro-continuity. Rodo finds a kindred spirit in Stihl, as they both learn some martial arts techniques from each other.

Two more characters were brought to the Death Star against their will. Uli Divini was last seen in Jedi Healer, where he got to witness a Jedi at work. Now he was forced back into work as the Empire is short on doctors. He examines all the new crewmembers, discovers the midi-chlorian count in Stihl's blood, which attracts the attention of Darth Vader. He even gets to operate on Admiral Daala when she is injured in the brain by the Rebel attack.

Librarian Atour Riten was also stationed on the Death Star against his will. He collects secrets, and manages to get his hands on the architecture plans for the station. It was never clear to me whether he was the one who leaked the plans, which I would find quite corny, as well. Regardless, it was humorous to see him reprogram the librarian droid. When he meets Memah, Stihl, Teela, Dance, Uli and Ratua in the bar after Alderaan, he convinces them that they could escape, as he has collected information about a medical shuttle fueled and ready to leave. But when his droid is taken by Imperial authorities, it can no longer reroute the appropriate call from the bay doors, so Atour must stay behind to do it. He expects to be killed by Imperials for his part in the escape, but is instead blown up with the Death Star.

The others do manage to escape, with the exception of Rodo and Stihl, who die taking out a group of stormtroopers when the group is discovered near the shuttle. At least they did something noteworthy and somewhat heroic. Uli uses the excuse of Daala to convince the controllers that he really needs to get out of the shuttle bay, even though they don't really buy it. Dance gets to fly against Darth Vader, and the shuttle only escapes him because Vader senses Luke nearby.

Vader and Tarkin's early roles in the story were not very interesting. Vader stops by to investigate sabotage, and to keep Tarkin in line. Tarkin invited Daala to the station because she helped develop it in the Maw (see Jedi Search), and so they can be intimate, using the excuse that she is to investigate the sabotage.

Later in the story, we see some of the events of A New Hope play out, from Vader and Tarkin's perspective. I liked the way the authors expanded somewhat on the Imperials' thoughts as they used the dialog from the movie. But I felt they could have gone much, much farther. Some things are put in better context by this retro-fitting. Others, like Tarkin holding Vader's leash in the briefing, are not really satisfactory. Vader is somewhat distracted after killing Obi-Wan Kenobi, which is nice, as he tries to figure out what happened to the body. I wonder if he really connected it with what Sidious told him in Revenge of the Sith about cheating death, and how he really discovered Qui-Gon's secret, so he could appear at the end of Return of the Jedi.

I liked reading about these characters, but didn't really see the point to the story. It was not about the Death Star at all, which just served as a convenient location for the characters to interact. For a novel like this, especially when the first section is called "construction", I would expect to start a little earlier, instead of only months before construction is completed. The authors nicely tie in the various origin stories, from Tarkin's brainchild in Rogue Planet to the Geonosians in Attack of the Clones. But I would have liked to see the complete development of the Death Star. This could have almost been a duology, with beginnings in a different book. For what it actually did, it was a good read. But it didn't really do much.


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