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A novel by Matthew Stover (2003, Del Rey)
21 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

Mace Windu searches a war-torn planet for his lost Padawan, learning what drove her to madness along the way.



1 star

Read November 14th to 29th, 2003  
    There were so many things I disliked about this novel, that it is hard to know where to begin. Browsing on-line, I see that this book is very highly rated; I fail to see why.

I can't believe this is the same author who wrote Traitor. The writing style is so different, with short, clipped sentences and dripping sarcasm, as well as hyperbole. It reminds me of the style of Shadows of the Empire, or The New Rebellion, each of which I disliked so much upon second reading. The difference was the beginning of Mace's logs, which started out fairly well, but then degenerated into mostly exposition.

In fact, I don't know why the author created the story in terms of logs, at all. They use the same tone as the narrative, and both tell Mace's thoughts, one in the first person, the other in the third person. It doesn't make it more personal, because it tells the story in exactly the same way.

The book is out to tell the story that "war is hell", and appears like a Vietnam war story, similar to Apocalypse Now. This was more of a war story set in the Star Wars universe, than a Star Wars story featuring war. This really could have been any setting. We see Mace Windu, second-most powerful Jedi on the Jedi Council, begin to lose his mind as he travels the war-town jungle towards his lost apprentice. The biggest problem with this book, I think, is that the author never convinced me that this was happening.

He explains Mace's vulnerability by the "fact" that he likes to fight. Again, I never believed it. We don't know enough about Mace from the movies, and the fact that he remains cool throughout his fighting doesn't suggest to me that he enjoys it, but it doesn't tell me that he doesn't, either, I suppose. As he travels the jungle, he has trouble controlling his anger and the Force. He must have been really unstable, and removed from the Council, then.

Mace returns to the world of his birth, a world where the people have access to the Force, because they are the result of a crashed Jedi ship from before The Sith War, so long ago. I guess Mace is an exception to the rule that the Jedi cannot know about their past, since his people, the Korunnai, were descended from Jedi. If Mace was taken to be a Padawan, why weren't the other Korunnai, since they showed potential?

From the moment Mace arrives on the planet of Haruun Kal, he seems to be affected. The tone of his thoughts, other than short and clipped, reminded me of techno-SF, like Neuromancer, for example, where the major characters are ruffians, as if to say he is a "bad dude!" He is almost portrayed as a Han Solo character, which puzzles me. How did he end up on the Jedi Council, as he doesn't seem nearly as noble as Qui-Gon.

The first half of the book has Mace travelling the jungle, towards a goal that is Depa Billaba, former Jedi Master and Council member, who sent him a very gruesome message about what was being accomplished here -she and the natives managed to drive the Separatists away, but that is not really the issue here. The Separatists keep being brought up as the reason for this book, but it is only the excuse to make this a Clone Wars novel.

Mace teams up with Nick, a native who swears way too much (and the swear words are just mildly disguised), and a few other no-name characters. Mace pretends to take control, but he makes so many bad assumptions or mistakes that he never is. I wondered, from their time in the only real city, if the Separatists have already begun molding places into pre-Imperial worlds, or if it was just the backwater nature of this planet that made people so eager to take up arms. It's a wonder these places would ever get visitors from off-world.

Through the jungle, we get a sense of the world, and what the people here are fighting for, which is not much. They fight because they were taught to hate off-worlders from birth, and the non-natives were taught to hate the Korunnai. There is no reason for it, at least not anymore. The jungle, it appears, has a very potent fungus, which destroys all metal. It also quickly infects any wounds. There are some sort of wasps that burrow into the brain, and explode out to infect others. The native people are bonded to their huge grassers, which don't do much except eat all the time, and akks, which help protect the herd. We saw these akks before, in Emissaries to Malastare, so at least I could visualize these creatures, which were put to use many times throughout.

Eventually only Mace and Nick are left alive, with two of their comrades infected by the wasps, who have to be put into suspended animation. Mace is left at a compound, while Nick goes to find Depa and the others. Here, he is once again in charge, as he cleans up the destroyed compound, and rescues several children from death. The parents arrive in a convoy fleeing the native attack, and end up being nearly completely slaughtered as the natives arrive. The fight and negotiation at the compound, at least before the natives show up, was the only part of the book that I found reasonably well written, though I still never bought into the way Mace's character was so susceptible to depression or lack of control.

It was at this time that I decided I didn't like Mace Windu as a character, at least as he was portrayed here. I had so much trouble believing that Mace was losing control, because the author didn't make me feel it was a logical progression -it wasn't, because it was a nebulous effect of the planet. The important distinction here, I think, is that we don't know what Mace is like when he is in control. We have no reference point.

I don't see why the author had to create a new "style" of lightsaber fighting, Vapaad. It didn't seem any different from what the other Jedi use in the movies, in their terrific fight sequences. It did allow Mace to do some things that seemed less than credible, but nothing near as incredible as the stuff that Luke and his followers are able to do in the New Jedi Order, or earlier.

I did enjoy the brief moments when Mace was in control, like when he freed the prisoners from the natives, and led them to the militia. I liked his scheming, and when he finally grew into a Jedi Master, and decided to confront Kar Vastor. Unfortunately, the fight was a total bore. First, I could not believe that Kar was stronger than Mace, just because he was a wild Force user. Mace has control of the Force, as a Jedi. But the worst part of the fight was they way it was portrayed as Matrix-style, hanging in the air, and so on. I couldn't comprehend why Mace would do the things he did, like head-butting all the time, or ramming into non-critical areas. The fight didn't make sense, except to drag out the so-called action.

It was at this point that Nick started to get really, really annoying. His humor might have been funny to other people, but to me it made the character intolerable. Was the author writing for a comedy duo, or a serious novel? He stopped the action so often to relate a bunch of half-sentences, repeating far too often "Nick, shut up", which is what I was saying, myself.  I didn't need to hear him heckle Mace for the remainder of the book. It's impressive that their enemies stopped long enough for them to have those exchanges.

The meeting with Depa, finally, was anti-climactic, to say the least. They say almost nothing, and nothing changes.

The author piqued my interest every so often by indicating that the government of the planet had betrayed Mace, but that interest only lasted until we discovered the trap, itself. How did they manage to track his lightsaber? The energy is so diffuse, they should be able to pickup individual people more easily. It is not like a comm signal, which has direction, and can be traced.

It is about this time, when they arrive at the native's "base", that the book changes from a journey story to give us a war story -with real battles. The change is not a good one, in any way. The author gets way too technical, which was a problem earlier, as well. He describes the armaments of each side of the conflict in excruciating detail, down to the number of energy cells or bullets. The technical jargon is ten times worse than in a Stackpole novel, where it is at least bearable. The narrative suddenly takes a dispassionate tone, describing the battle as if it was a history textbook -but one that exudes hyperbole to the extreme.

From here nearly to the end of the book, Kar Vastor suddenly starts taking orders from Mace! What a turnaround! This makes the power struggle depicted earlier irrelevant, if it ever had any meaning. Mace single-handedly stages the defeat of the planetary government, using a partially recovered Depa, the native Korunnai, and the clone troopers that managed to survive the destruction of his "extraction" ship by Separatist droid starfighters.

The battle starts with the bombardment of the native base by meteor-like satellites, follows with a huge gunship battle, where Mace, Depa, Nick, Kar and a couple of others hijack two of those ships and convince the droid starfighters to attack the rest. I was yawning throughout the whole thing, because it was so technically-described. It wasn't entertaining at all.

Mace goes after the local governor, leaving a clone trooper in charge, but he is killed and Depa takes control, leading the natives on a strike against the city, taking out as many non-natives as possible. Again: yawn. I wondered why the author focused so much on Mace's ability to find "shatterpoints", weaknesses in a situation that could be exploited, when he is so wrong so many times. He almost never made the correct decision in this book, that every time he found a shatterpoint, I expected the errors to come from it.

When finally Mace has to battle Depa, she spears him with her lightsaber! How the heck does Mace survive a lightsaber strike to his gut, when Qui-Gon and so many others died with a single strike so quickly? He even manages to continue fighting after that, defeating Kar Vastor, but not killing him. In fact, nearly all of the characters survive this novel, leaving Nick as a major in the Republic army (why is it being called the "grand army" of the Republic- Palpatine used the term "grand" to describe the scale of the thing, not as a title), Depa as a mentally-insane Jedi, Kar as a prisoner of war, and Mace without a scratch, as far as we know. It actually didn't bother me too much, because by this time I had stopped caring, and was just reading it to finish the book -otherwise I would have abandoned it long ago.

The author treated the Force as a continuum in this book, as if it was finite. When the Jedi draw on the Force, life isn't taken away, so why should power grow when Force-users die? Is the pelekotan so different from the Force? If so, why? By the time of the final battle I was so eager to finish the book, because the author was destroying what little I still liked about the character, so I believed less and less of what he was saying. The last act came when Mace couldn't even feel a personal attack through the Force. By this time, he wasn't a Jedi, just a normal person- and a poorly characterized one, at that.

On another front, the author gave Mace too much tongue-in-cheek future-sense. He actually gets a vision of the Yuuzhan Vong attack on Coruscant, and the jungle it becomes in his other book, Traitor. He sees the death of all the Jedi, and the survival of Anakin Skywalker.

So the author's message, once again, is that war is hell. Okay, the Jedi already know that. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon managed to immerse themselves in brutal civil wars in the Jedi Apprentice series, and they understood. I have trouble believing that Mace didn't; his attitude was just not plausible.

The Jedi cannot survive a war with their peace principles intact, the author tells us. Yet they managed to survive the war with the Yuuzhan Vong, and they were far fewer than the Jedi of Mace's time. Luke has had his attitudes changed, but not to the point where he is unrecognizable to the Jedi (though maybe that was Vergere's point when they finally met).

To recap, I wasn't impressed with this book, especially as an opening to the Clone Wars novels. Mostly, I didn't like the author's style, which is completely opposite to what I liked about Traitor. I also didn't like the portrayals of any of the characters, including the main character. I didn't believe what was going on, especially how far into despair and loss of control Mace went.

Even though his novels have been well-received, I don't know why this author was chosen to be the author of Episode III. The movie will likely span a galactic conflict, as the previous two prequel movies did. This author has only done localized stuff. Traitor was isolated almost exclusively around Jacen Solo on Vong-controlled territory. This book is even more localized, as everything comes from Mace's point of view. I have nothing against him doing the novelization, but I hope he is up to the challenge.


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