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A novel by Matthew Stover (2008, Del Rey Books)
4 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Luke leads a task force to capture Lord Shadowspawn, not realizing he is moving into a trap designed to capture his body.



Read October 17th to 26th, 2010  

An enjoyable story that didn't take itself too seriously. I enjoyed it, though there were elements that I really wished the author had been able to avoid, like yet another concept of the Force.

I guess it's inevitable that with something like the Force, different peoples would use it differently, and have different concepts of what it encompassed, like all religions. And each of these conceptions would have its own fanatics, in this case Cronal. I seem to remember a being called Blackhole, which is undoubtedly from either the newspaper strips or the Marvel comics. As I commented with Lumiya back in Betrayal, I don't see how Luke could remember somebody's essence in the Force after meeting them briefly (or even not-so-briefly) at a time when he had no training and could barely register the Force.

In placing this novel before all that was to come, the author could use his fore-knowledge to good effect. Unfortunately, I keep wishing these authors could do more with Chewbacca, simply because he can't be used in the much later novels anymore. Still, I liked Luke's quip about not liking redheads, as he of course marries the ultimate redhead -Mara Jade. Other knowledge seemed to be misused, such as R2D2 using his thrusters to get airborne. We have not seen that since before A New Hope, at the very least, and never in the novels that occurred in the timeline after this. It is therefore safe to assume that somebody had them removed at some point.

My major complaint about this novel was going to be the too-colorful language the author uses. Not swearing, because the characters do that thankfully not so often. But the similes. In the first hundred pages or so, they occur almost every paragraph, certainly several per page, and they very nearly disrupt the flow of the story! They die down for a while after that, but start up again near the end. But in the frame to the story, where Luke hires an investigator (Geptun from Shatterpoint) to write the true story of Mindor, after Luke reads the rendition, he comments on the terrible use of similes! Which means the author was taking a particular style with the story, one that ultimately fits with the larger-than-life title of the novel. I think it's a good thing that we've never heard of such dramatizations of our heroes in other novels.

This novel takes place over the course of about a day, or less. Luke has been promoted to General, and is sent to Mindor to take out the next Imperial warlord in a long line of them at this stage in the chronology. He is entering a trap, however, and realizes it as soon as all his ships are in position. When Lord Shadowspawn, as Cronal/Blackhole is also known, shows up in a shuttle in surrender, Luke senses that something is not right. That's when the gravity bomb explodes, taking out an entire Mon Calamari cruiser. I can't stand superweapons these days, even if the Imperial arsenal is full of them at this stage. But it does give Luke the chance to do what Anakin did in the opening of Revenge of the Sith: pilot a dead half-starship from orbit down to the surface of a planet, and survive. Do we ever get to know what happened to his sensor specialist? I don't remember, but we only follow Luke the rest of the way.

Cronal's trap is to use the special sentient rock-like substance that lives in this system, which he can control using an interface mechanism with his brain, to entrap Luke. That part goes according to plan. Then he takes the force-sensitives he has kidnapped over the months to help him transfer his consciousness into Luke's body. That part doesn't go according to his plan. When Luke encountered one of Cronal's puppets, he managed to disconnect the man from Shadowspawn for a moment. Nick Rostu (also seen in Shatterpoint and more recently in Jedi Twilight) shows a crack of Light in the otherwise Darkness that surrounds him, feeding him its own truth about destruction being the only thing to live for, because in the end, that's all there is. He is buried so deep that he starts to believe it, and is only able to get out when he sees Nick's Light.

I found it difficult to believe that Luke had defeated Cronal's plans for him with half a book remaining. What happens next almost lends credence to the Dark. The author has managed to kill more people in this book than possibly any book before (notwithstanding Alderaan or the vague damage to "billions" of people due to the Sun Crusher and other planetary disasters -these deaths are more personal). The Mandalorians on the surface battle room-to-room against stormtroopers. Rogue-squadron and other fighters battle TIE Fighters of all kinds (even the TIE advanced). Cruisers are destroyed from orbit. Not to mention the slaves bound to Cronal.

I'm not sure it's right to show Luke so powerful at this stage in his life. Just after The Truce at Bakura he was still getting used to his Force powers. Despite what he says (the dreaded -at least to me- phrase "this Jedi thing" -substitute any word for "Jedi" in there, and I hate it), he seems to have mastered all sorts of minute and subtle Jedi tricks. As Nick says at the end, Luke is a better Jedi than those of the Old Republic, and a more powerful one, too.

Leia was negotiating with the Mandalorians who were hired by another Imperial warlord, who was defeated "off-screen". With negotiations going nowhere, and she feels Luke in trouble, she runs to Rogue Squadron to take her to Mindor. This is after Han left in the Falcon without telling her. And when Lando arrives with the Mandalore himself, Fenn Shysa, he is absolutely hilarious, surrendering the system so that he can hire the Mandalorians to fight for him on Mindor.

Cronal's trap is sprung in the form of untold numbers of gravity mines, which don't allow even the interdictor cruisers to leave the area, which makes everybody prime targets for the TIE Defenders. Han and the Rogues, though, use their repulsors to drag the mines around, and get to use the enemy's defenses against them. This warlord seems to have countless stormtroopers available to him, more even than the Emperor did in Return of the Jedi. Lando, meanwhile, gets what is probably the best command of his life, as he coordinates the attack, anticipates a couple of moves (not many), and finally devises some new strategies, such as deflecting the gravity bombs using a string of interdictors, one of which gets blown up (he even flatters C3PO which probably endears the droid to him for life!). Lando also gets inspired by the mass of the ejected volcano, which shields Cronal's base from the deadly radiation, for a sort of shield ship for getting close to a star, which of course he will use in Dark Force Rising.

On the planet, or what's left of it after being pulverized by a rain of asteroids and the star's radiation after it is hit by various gravity bombs, the Millennium Falcon is taken over by Aeona Cantor, who later turns out to be Nick's girlfriend, intent on rescuing him. Han and Leia are forced out and watch as the Falcon leaves without them. I guess this is when Han decided to put in that safety for non-Han pilots that he used in Millennium Falcon. Shadowspawn, however, in realizing he can't have Luke, decides that Leia will be a much easier target, for she hasn't had Jedi training. She proves to have a harder shell than even Luke, however, something Vader found out in A New Hope.

There are a lot of cool scenes, one after another in quick succession, showing Luke in action, and somewhat fewer showing Han and Leia against the dark melter creatures. Luke stops the Falcon from crashing, in what's "not his greatest trick", undoubtedly remembering his failure on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. He flies the Falcon like a podracer, showing once again that he can do anything his famous father could do, only better. And he gets to be called "Emperor Skywalker", as the troopers on this base have been trained to obey Luke in anticipation of Cronal taking over his body.

So when Kor Vastor, another being from Haruun Kal (Stover, of course, wrote Shatterpoint, and so uses all the characters he can -apparently they all survived the Clone Wars), takes Leia in a raw Force fury under Cronal's control, Luke goes after them. Since Luke can control the melters using the Force, he frees Leia and forces Cronal to leave Vastor's body. Luke uses the melters in his body to good effect, able to excrete them into Vastor's body when attacked, and he goes to befriend Vastor in the end, so that they can both enter Cronal's mind.

Cronal escapes in his emergency ship, but Luke takes control of the melters even across hyperspace, and dissolves the ship. Blackhole is said to disintegrate, here, but apparently reappears in Dark Empire, so found a way to evade that death. In disentangling the melters from the stormtroopers, which actually constituted their armor, Luke actually kills each one of them, which is why he wants Geptun to write an investigative report about the incident.

This story is jam-packed with stuff, some important, others not, and still others are mere fun. There were a few aspects I wasn't too fond of, like the Dark, and the overuse of the melters (they didn't need to be in the stormtrooper armor, for example, as we never saw the armor melt from the troopers when shot, as would be expected), and another superweapon. But enough was fun and in-character (or characters well-used) that I can recommend this novel -just take it as it was intended: not too seriously, and over-the-top. In short: a fun read, different from what we're used to (especially these days).


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