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A novel by Kevin J. Anderson (1994, Bantam Spectra)
Book 1 of the Jedi Academy Trilogy
11 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

As Luke tries to find Jedi students to teach, Han stumbles into a secret Imperial weapons facility commanded by a headstrong admiral who has been isolated for ten years, and who wants revenge.




Read January 11th to 20th, 2011, for the 2nd time  
    This book holds up a lot better than I remember. This was the author's first foray into the Star Wars universe, and this trilogy is, in my mind, unquestionably the best of his work. Even so, I don't really like his writing style, and I can't quite figure out why. I'm reminded of James Luceno's work, which I thought was horrible in Hero's Trial, but wonderful by the time he got to The Unifying Force. Kevin J. Anderson's work, unfortunately, didn't get any better. Darksaber I remember as being mediocre, and the Young Jedi Knights, though they started off well, became mediocre as well.

On the other hand, the story is very strong, and the characters are in-character. The various stories were intertwined reasonably well, and I enjoyed much of the book. Unfortunately, Luke's portion was probably the weakest. He addresses the Senate, which seems very small compared to what we later found out the old senate looked like, asking for permission to start a Jedi academy. The senate is ruled by all the former heroes of the Rebellion, which seems also rather weak, but is characteristic of the whole novel. He then travels to a double planet that will tear itself apart in a millennium, where he has heard that a descendent of a Jedi might live. He finds Gantoris, who puts him through various tests before he agrees to follow Luke back to Coruscant. The tests were rather primitive, but probably all the primitive people could come up with, but I was a little embarrassed with Luke while reading. Fortunately, Luke is confident and does pass the tests rather easily, but he doesn't really require much use of the Force to do it, except to walk on lava, which was impressive. Luke promises to find a suitable planet to relocate Gantoris' people.

Luke and Gantoris then go to find Streen, who lives alone on the abandoned cloud city.  Strange to see the city is such disorder, that it is slightly tilted from repulsorlift neglect, its walls are corroding, and its buildings are crumbling. I don't recall hearing more about this city until Trouble on Cloud City, where the place has been completely restored. How many credits did that take, given what we learn here? And that book was written by the same author! Anyway, they find Streen and easily convince him to leave, where Luke can teach him to close his mind to the myriad thoughts of all the people around him.

C3PO and R2D2, back on Coruscant, find another potential Jedi candidate, an extremely lucky gambler, in their search through various records. Just at that moment, Lando pays Leia a visit, and is offered this mission. Lando is stuck with the two droids, but enjoys himself nonetheless, especially since he is watching a race with other gamblers. The man, Tymmo, is not Jedi material, however, cheats at the races, trying to win enough money to get offworld where his mistress, a royal duchess, won't find him. Instead, Lando captures him and gets the reward for his return. I thought that this story was more filler than anything else, but at least it was in a different kind of setting than we're used to.

Leia is waiting on the Ambassador from Carida, an Imperial training facility she really wants to join the New Republic. Ambassador Furgan is openly hostile to Leia and all she represents. I don't know why they insisted on bringing him to Coruscant at all. He makes the pilgrimage to see his former Emperor's palace, but it is all a ruse, so he can throw a drink in Mon Mothma's face. He makes a grand scene, but even though my first thought was that he should have been detained, throwing a drink in somebody's face, even the chief of state, is a sign of disrespect, not a criminal act -though it should be. Especially since that was no mere drink. We'll find out in one of the two later novels that this was a poison. Leia is taking on more and more duties since the New Republic started growing, but this is where she starts to get even busier, something she regrets, now that her twins are returning from their hidden planet.

I always found the scenes with the very young Jacen and Jaina to be too juvenile to be entertaining. Now that I have kids of my own, I see where the author borrowed from reality, but I still find them to be superficial, and without real consequences.

And yet we haven't even met the real, non-Force using villain of the trilogy. Han Solo will be the first to do this, but not until very late in the book. I think the buildup to finding Admiral Daala was perfectly pitched. The Force-using villain, Exar Kun, won't make his debut until the second book. So the pacing allows us to get to know the character situations, get them into trouble, and out again, only to get into worse trouble, before finally revealing Daala. It's a very nice return to good pacing, compared with the more recent series, which have been plodding around and doing nothing much over the course of way too many books.

Han Solo and Chewbacca go to Kessel, on the idea that this former prison planet should also join the New Republic. The pacing is fast in this story, but seems rather naive and straightforward in execution. This was a time when Star Wars could get through books like they were movies, so the dialog is snappy, though somewhat cloying, and action defines many of the sequences. Han is attacked immediately, and the Falcon is crashed on Kessel. The planet itself becomes a character, with its escaping atmosphere and mining shafts. Moruth Doole used to sell spice to smugglers like Han, before Jabba learned Han dumped his load -because Doole tipped off the picket ships. Doole sends Han to the spice mines, where he meets a young man named Kyp Durron. Kyp shows off some amazing feats, but Han brushes them off as luck. It's only as they try to escape the tunnels after being attacked by a light spider, and their shift boss is killed, that Kyp reveals that he has Force potential. He was even trained a little by Vima da Boda, the crazy old Jedi woman Han and Leia met in Dark Empire.

So they manage to escape, and steal a shuttle, but Doole attacks them with all his fleet, so they make a run for the Maw, the cluster of black holes near Kessel, and source of the Kessel Run. I like the way the author explains Han's apparent misstep about the Kessel Run in A New Hope, as a distance skimming the black holes, rather than Han's ignorance. It does, however, seem unlikely that Kessel could be within range of a non-hyperspace capable ship of the black hole cluster. Both Han and Chewie, and Luke and Lando (who go searching for their missing friends), make a run for the black holes as they've barely edged out of range of the planet, never mind the edge of the solar system!

But it's fun anyway. And when Kyp guides them through the safe corridor between the black holes, they find four Imperial Star Destroyers and an asteroid research facility. There is way too much explanation about how Admiral Daala defeated the anti-female prejudice to become a secret Admiral, even though she was also Grand Moff Tarkin's lover, which diminishes the worth of her promotion. Daala interrogates both Han and Kyp, and based on the information Han gives her, decides to mobilize against the New Republic, attacking with her own new Sun Crusher.

Qui Xux is the main scientist on the asteroid, chief designer of various superweapons, but completely naive of what the Empire was using them for. She designed the Death Star as something to break through uninhabited planets to access rare metals. The World Devastators from Dark Empire were supposed to be manufacturing centers. Han explains how they were used, and can't believe how she deceived herself, given the names of these devices. So when Daala tells Qui that the sun crusher will be used to destroy the New Republic, Qui rescues Han, Kyp and Chewie, and they all escape in the Sun Crusher.

I liked the scene where Han crashes through the bridge of a Star Destroyer, causing it to be completely destroyed, as the Sun Crusher has nearly invincible hull plating. It does seem to be a major weakness of Star Destroyers that if they lose the primary bridge, the whole ship will be destroyed. This happened in Return of the Jedi, too, but there at least there it might have sustained other damage beforehand to explain the result.

Daala chases the Sun Crusher out of the Maw, into a maelstrom of fighters around Kessel, which are trying to prevent Luke and Lando from escaping in the Millennium Falcon. This shows how close the black holes are to Kessel -impossibly close! The two New Republic ships disappear, allowing the two fleets to destroy themselves. Daala actually loses another Star Destroyer in this battle -not the best commander, is she?

Unlike the Force-headache theory of a Jedi among clones proposed in Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn, the two techniques described here for finding a Force-sensitive person does not contradict what came much later in the movies, though they are a little strange. The place in the brain that physically throws Luke backward could actually complement the midi-chlorians. And the paddles used to show a Force-aura might have been developed later. Wedge finds the latter while using a forty story robot to clean up the colossal damage caused by the war in Dark Empire.

Part of my problem with the author's writing style has to do with his frequent references to the movies, mirroring them as closely as possible, but in a different light. I love the cross-references from all the aspects of the Star Wars novels, but this one seemed to have way too many frivolous and unsubtle references to the movies and the few books that had been published to this time. I prefer subtle references, while these were way too obvious, often using the titles of the novels in the references! Statements like "Han's courtship of Princess Leia", or "after the truce at Bakura..." show little imagination. But maybe that's what the author was after.

Regardless, this novel was enjoyable, and I had fun especially with Han's part. It is building to a climax that has not yet been reached, through a gentle buildup that feels a lot like Star Wars, though more innocent.



4 stars

Also read August 29th to 31st, 1994  

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