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A novel by Karen Traviss (2008, Del Rey)
Republic Commando, Book 4
Set 19 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

As the war draws to a close, commando trainers who believe their clones are being unfairly treated finalize their plans to escape the army with as many clones who will desert with them.



Read July 2nd to 23rd, 2011  
    It's hard to read a book when you really don't like the characters, or the attitudes the author is presenting. Such is the case with this novel, which feels overly-long because of it. On the other hand, I give the author points for good, detailed writing, and consistent characters.

Aside from the fact that these guys are in a war, this is a character story, which means the characters need to be good, because the action isn't going to hold the story on its own. And when you don't like the characters, it's hard to get invested.

In terms of plot, not much happens, because it really is mainly about the characters, and their feelings. And the feeling that is unanimous across all of the characters is that the clone troopers are being treated like separatist droids. They think nobody believes they have any feelings, or lives outside the war, and they don't even get paid. It seems that somebody is griping about one or all of these things on almost every single page of this book. And when they aren't, they are complaining about how bad, immoral, or unfeeling the Jedi are. As with the last two novels in this series, starting with Triple Zero and into True Colors, the author seems to be telling us that Skirata and his gang of Nulls are the good guys, while the Jedi are the bad guys. It's not just about the characters thinking such things. There is no room for other ways of interpreting the theme in this book.

It seems strange that I can half-agree with the author about the Jedi. It was a bad mistake for them to become Generals in this war, which they were manipulated into, of course. But from before the war, they are portrayed as arrogant, self-righteous, manipulative, thieving, and have no concern for the welfare of others, despite what they profess.  They think they can see the bigger picture, and think this justifies it, but they are just as short-sighted in Yoda's time as a non Force-sensitive person.

It's no wonder that the clones don't hesitate or even think twice when given Order 66. By this time they hate the Jedi, and are almost at the point of trying to kill them anyway, without the order -at least according to this novel. They have no trouble at all believing that the Jedi could turn against the Republic. On the other hand, they hate Palpatine just as much, and believe he is just as corrupt -and they accept his word that all the Jedi must be killed.

I saw a trend right from the start, and in hindsight from the last book also, that the author was going to try to blame the execution of the Jedi on Palpatine's new clones, saving Skirata's troopers from the responsibility. But though some of his most beloved troopers got out, others did take part in the slaughter.

All the regular players were present, from the Nulls like Ordo (who marries Bessany), Darman (who marries Etain, and has the expected reaction when he finds out the baby is his), Fi (who marries a Mandalorian woman who helps bring his motor and mental functions back from the brink after what happened last book), Skirata and Vau, who try to find a way out for clone deserters. Bessany finds more information about new clones and starships, as well as a projected date for when they will be deployed. She nearly gets in trouble for it, but the clones save her. She also survives an audit when security finds mole programs the clones have set up.

There are a bunch of other characters, one of whom gets left behind after he is separated from his squad at Kashyyyk -he is sacrificed specifically by Yoda, because that is the Jedi arriving, and who needs the cannon emplacement destroyed. This generates more hatred for the Jedi, and shows us, the readers, how callous the author thinks he really is (and I can't blame her, either, based on his behavior in the prequels). It's just not necessary. The sacrifice does highlight the difference between Delta and Omega squads, though, in that Delta left one man behind, while Darman wouldn't leave Niner, and so he sacrificed his chance to desert with Skirata. It's a wonder any clone squads survived, with that attitude. I'm sure they have to leave comrades behind all the time in the situations they get into.

Skirata has set up a nice homestead in the far north of Mandalore where they can retire unobserved. We get a lot of talk of how Mandalorians are the most honest people in the galaxy, being mercenaries they tell you exactly what they plan to do and how much it will cost. Their family values can't be criticized because they are so wonderful -they'll adopt anybody, and even search for blood-relatives who have disowned them. If they kill, it might be personal, or not. They don't mind collateral damage -sorry, but they're honest about it when they break the law. It seems that physical violence really is the best way of settling disputes in the most civilized of places, after all. Because nobody is expected to control themselves, and fists are all humanity knows, anyway.

I just roll my eyes and try to get through these passages as fast as I can.

The author has dumbed down the Jedi, too. General Zey can be easily fooled, because The Force only gives vague feelings, or so Etain and Jusik have told Skirata and Vau. Ah, yes, Jusik. Become a Mandalorian and given up his Jedi heritage. Why can't he have both? Why does he have to put his Force powers away? It's like Tenel Ka's desire to use only her physical strength rather than supplementing it with her Force ability. At least that action had consequences, in that she lost her arm. Being privileged enough to have that ability, I don't understand the desire to not use it to help where possible. I'm sure Jusik could help Skirata's movement more using his powers. On Mandalore, of course, they distrust Jedi because of Jango's experience with them in Open Seasons.

I do like the way the author gives one of the characters the idea that Jango, who they all thought sold his soul for the clone army, was playing the long waiting game to get back at the Jedi. It's actually Palpatine who does this, as I seriously doubt Jango even knew why the army was being created. The idea is that only an army of Jango's could defeat the Jedi the way the Jedi defeated the Mandalorians in Open Seasons -a complete slaughter.

And then there's Etain... She started out as a little girl, a Padawan who didn't think she was a good Jedi back in Hard Contact. She may have warmed to the clones over the next three books, but I don't think she's much smarter. She was bullied by Skirata into keeping her pregnancy a secret from Darman back in Triple Zero. Here she's so close to the clones that she goes out to every small outpost to reassure them, which is good (and something she learned from Skirata), and she never visits the Jedi Temple anymore, causing her to lose sight of her roots (not so good). She is as brainwashed as the clones. It was inevitable that either she or Darman would die by the end of the book, because they are Kad's parents. Her death is supposed to be a huge emotional fiasco, and the characters certainly treat it as such.

But I see it as just one more stupid thing on a list of stupid things Etain has done. In the climax, as she is trying to sneak through a security station in plain clothing, a small group of Jedi is trying to do the same. So the clones close in on the Jedi, who act in self-defense and try to kill as many clones as they can to get away -anybody knowing lethal force was about to be used would do the same. But Etain can't bear to see another clone harmed, so she jumps in front of a lightsaber blow intended for a clone. She reaches for her weapon, but either she's forgotten it's hidden (unthinkable, even for a half-Jedi like her), or she's too slow (which is also unthinkable since it's a youngling or Padawan on the attack). Since she used Force-speed to get there, wouldn't it have been smarter to Force-push the attacking Jedi? There are any number of things she could have done, but the story required that she die, and so she did -stupidly, just as she lived her life, as far as I can tell.

There were a number of nice touches in this book, making it not as bad as it might seem from my comments above. One was Callista, who shows there is another sect of Jedi who do not live under the Council, and who have families. Etain was thinking of joining them. The story also picked up a little when meshing with the events of Revenge of the Sith, starting with the deployment of the additional clones when the Chancellor is kidnapped and the Separatists attack Coruscant. This brings in a huge number of clones to patrol the streets of the capital world, and enables them to march on the Jedi Temple when the time comes. The Nulls are the ones who report that Grievous is at Upatau, allowing Obi-Wan to chase after him. But it seemed that they knew where he was all the time, so why did they not report it earlier, or go after him themselves? They take part in the defense of some Coruscant buildings (including, strangely, the single building that houses all of the holonet news service headquarters -don't they have other places where they could broadcast from?) when the Separatists try to land. They see the fire from the Jedi Temple and react to the idea that the Jedi could try to kill the Chancellor and take control. And they take the attack as a distraction to rescue Jango's sister (whose daughter would appear in Invincible), a gene scientist (the one who was captured in Hard Contact), and the woman who was framed for Bessany's espionage.

As an aside, the clones often complain that the Jedi are outside the government, but that is not how the prequel movies make it look. In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon asks the Chancellor to call a meeting of the Jedi Council. It is the Chancellor who ordered the Jedi to Naboo in the first place. In Attack of the Clones, the Senate passed the law creating the clone army (after it was discovered), and it is implied that the Chancellor put the Jedi in charge (though they were the presumed generals from the start, according to the Kaminoans). Then there is a turnaround in Revenge of the Sith as Mace Windu states that the Jedi will have to take control of the government, which makes absolutely no sense. It is that "reality" which is taken for Truth in this novel.

Short action sequences involve Omega squad being nearly stranded after successfully completing an ambush on a local leader siding with the Separatists, breaking several people out of high-security Republic jails (as mentioned), and a few others.

Now this series ends, with almost a cliff-hanger where we wonder about Darman and Niner, as well as the rest of Delta squad, who didn't make it to the sanctuary, and what Skirata is going to do to get them back, especially now that there is an Imperial base on Mandalore. All of that will be taken up in the next series (which I understand has been truncated to one book), Imperial Commando. Hopefully it will have a different theme.


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