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A novel by Kathy Tyers (1994, Bantam Books)
4 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Immediately after the Battle of Endor, an Imperial governor tries to accept help from the Alliance against an invasion, while maintaining control of the planet.



4 stars

Read January 6th to 10th, 2002 for the second time  
    I was extremely impressed with all aspects of this novel. It has been a long time since I was drawn to a Star Wars novel in this way, anticipating what was going to happen (even though I had read the book before) after I put it down, ready to pick it back up again.

I remembered the story less than fondly from the last time I read this book. People being enslaved by removing their life energy to power spaceships? Hmmm... But the author is so skilled, the story so well written, that it is made plausible. Better than that, the entechment (the process whereby the life energy is stolen) was almost background stuff, rarely brought to the surface, except as a dire threat, a reason the battle had to be won.

Character is another strong point of this book. Each character has his or her own demons, and they face them all down by the end. It is unfortunate that the newly introduced Force user could not survive the book, but the way he dies is nicely unexpected. Dev Sibwarra is injured in the final battle, but medical technicians are able to help him with bacta treatment. His spirit is so withered by what he has done, what he has been through, that he embraces the light and the peace that death brings even though his body could have supported him.

Luke enjoys (or rather, doesn't enjoy) his first real command. He is put in charge of the task force sent to Bakura to make contact with the Imperial government there, in order to help them to repel the Ssi-ruuk. He doesn't relish the fact that he is stuck in a giant command ship, coordinating the battle, rather than being out in an x-wing fighting it. He gets sympathy from Wedge and R2D2. But he does a good job, first enticing the Imperial commander Thanas to accept his help, and then in pushing the Ssi-ruuk into a retreat. 

The next step is more of a challenge, and it's Leia's part of the job. She starts off by going a little too far, almost to the point of sedition (from the Imperial governor Nereus' point of view) in the Bakuran senate! But she backs off and tries to organize a truce. After some harsh words in the senate, and then more over dinner with the Prime Minister, the truce is finally formalized only when Nereus gets official news about the Emperor's death. 

For this whole situation started only a day after the second Death Star was destroyed at Endor. Luke was blacking out from being exposed to intense electrical charges, Alliance pilots were elated but exhausted, Han and Leia are coming to grips with their emotions for each other and for Luke, not to mention Leia's disbelief and anxiety about Vader being her father. Although it was still fairly well done, I could have done without the latter subplot. It interrupts the flow of the story, with Leia fretting over it, getting over-agitated and defensive when people start discussing the Lord of the Sith, and making her peace with the idea during the heat of battle (which was a little silly). 

There is a humorous scene where Wedge triggers a self-destruct in a message beacon coming from Bakura and has to hold the two contacts together using his gloved hand. Luke rescues him using his lightsaber, where I think he could have used the Force to hold the contacts open, having time then to cut the destruct contacts off at leisure. 

The author makes too liberal use of the Force spirits, real or imagined. When the message comes that aliens are invading Imperial space, Ben's spirit comes to a weakened Luke, telling him that the fate of the galaxy rests on Luke going to Bakura. Later, every time Luke makes a decision, he thinks he hears Ben or Yoda making some snide comment, based on the irony of the situation. Finally, Anakin Skywalker appears to Leia, asking for forgiveness. I would have thrown out the whole lot of them.

Of course, the first apparition is the basis for Luke going to Bakura in the first place. Leia is a given, since she's the best diplomat for the job of negotiating a truce. Han won't be separated from her, and Chewie goes wherever Han goes. C3PO is a protocol droid, and is also a natural for the mission. Wedge and Rogue squadron, even though they are beat up from the Battle of Endor, are the best fighting force to battle the Ssi-ruuk. But Luke is not yet recovered from his ordeal with the Emperor. He is still suffering mental and physical strains of what happened -plus he's exhausted, and has not finished his physical treatment. So we have to find some way to get Luke on this mission. Having received orders from General Obi-Wan Kenobi is one way to do it, but nobody thinks Luke might be lying because he desperately wants to go, and they suddenly put him in charge of the mission! What kind of logic is that?

Luke, of course, is mostly healed by the time he arrives at Bakura, and they are able to repel the Ssi-ruuk for the time being. During the course of the battle, Luke encounters a strong Force-sensitive, partly trained as a Jedi. He also discovers that the small robotic warships they are fighting have twisted and horrified human souls powering them. And so we get to see the aliens from the point of view of their convert, the one they keep subdued. 

Dev Sibwarra has been with the Ssi-ruuk since they invaded his planet and took him prisoner. They discovered his Force talent, something his mother (a Jedi who abandoned her training when the purges started) taught him a little about. He was brainwashed using drugs and a Ssi-ruuk's spinning hypnotic eye (which reminded me too much of Kaa from the Jungle Book movie), and I think he used his Jedi powers to subdue the humans who were about to be enteched. How he helped is really a mystery, because he doesn't seem to be able to subdue them well, and he can't keep them from feeling pain. He can't have helped with the entechment process, because the Ssi-ruuk had been enteching slaves for centuries.  But he must have provided some help that I missed. 

Anyway, he is a very interesting character, because in between brainwashings (which happen way too often), he touches Luke, and remembers his humanity, his freedom, and his resentment builds. He is able to warn Luke of the danger, but then goes back to becoming a mindless slave, thinking the best thing in the world would be for the Ssi-ruuk to capture the Jedi. It is extremely well done, and I'm glad we spent so much time with the character of Dev. When Luke finally pushes him with the Force and removes the conditioning, but falls anyway, Dev pretends that he is still conditioned, but the Ssi-ruuk are not fooled. They use his help (feigned as it is), then grab him to be enteched, now that they have somebody stronger. It was wonderfully written, along with the scene where Luke takes control of the ship -because he was able to fool the Ssi-ruuk where Dev wasn't!

In between all this, there is a lot of action on the planet. Luke is intensely drawn to a woman in the Bakuran senate, Gaeriel Captison. There is no real basis for the attraction, except as man and woman, and he pursues her the only way he knows how -ineptly. He has really only loved one woman, Leia, and realized that love is maybe something that Jedi have to do without. This is a concept strengthened by what I have seen from the trailers for Attack of the Clones, though I don't understand it. I felt really bad for Luke when she rejected his advances.  But Luke initially draws Gaeriel's interest, too, until she learns that he is a Jedi -then she scorns him, because of her religious beliefs. But as she gets to know him, they draw even closer together, and she begins to shed her Imperial sympathies. For Gaeriel was educated on Coruscant, and she realizes that without Imperial rule, Bakura would have suffered through a horrible civil war. But she doesn't realize how much her people have given up for this "help" -in the way of freedom. 

It is kind of what we are teetering on the brink of right now, the balance between freedom and protection, before it goes on to become the trampling of freedom in the name of prevention. The idea that if you have nothing to hide then you won't mind being searched is not a valid one; dignity and trust are values that must be respected too. As Luke says, there are problems and aggravations to freedom, too, but we choose to live that way, despite this.

Leia tries very hard, meanwhile, to create Alliance sympathies in the Bakuran senate, which eventually gets her arrested. Han gets to rescue her. Their feelings toward each other see-saw like mad all throughout the book, as Han gets jealous, then finds her in his arms again, acts rudely in a diplomatic situation, and back and forth again. 

The biggest difference between this book and many that came afterwards, especially the New Jedi Order, is its use of the auxiliary characters. Most authors don't know what to do with Chewie and the droids. Here, Chewbacca was put to his best uses -intimidation and bodyguard. He guards Luke when they go out to quell a disturbance near the Alliance ships, he shows the determination of the Alliance when he joins them at dinner with the Imperial Governor and the Prime Minister, and he displays incredible courage and loyalty when Han decides to ram the Imperial ship as a last resort after the Ssi-ruuk are forced to withdraw. The droids get to be very heroic, too. Notwithstanding C3PO's ride in an airspeeder dressed as a stormtrooper, he is very determined to win the favor of the Bakurans by helping out this droid-fearing society. He cracks the translation of the Ssi-ruuvi language, offering them a chance to monitor the enemy's comm traffic. R2D2 is always the more heroic, as he can tap into computer terminals, gaining access to data he is not supposed to be able to access. He also grabs Gaeriel out of harm's way when Luke is captured and takes initiative when contacting the Bakuran resistance.

For Bakuran resistance is needed to get rid of the Imperials. Luke helps heal a former resistance leader, and she incites her world to riot, even as the Imperial forces are defending it against the Ssi-ruuk. For she knows as well as Luke and Leia do that the moment the Ssi-ruuk are repelled, the Imperials will turn on the Alliance, breaking the truce. And sure enough, it happens that way. The Alliance loses a lot of ships, including Luke's flagship, after they have helped defeat the alien enemies. With Luke's help, especially after he planted the seeds of trust in Commander Thanas at the beginning of the book, the Imperial space forces surrender. The resistance takes over the Imperial offices, eventually killing the governor, which leads only the garrison to deal with. Since Thanas is a good man, he honors the Bakurans wishes when they tell the Imperials to leave. Except that he defects to the Alliance (and ends up marrying Gaeriel, I believe, by the time Ambush at Corellia starts). 

Luke suffers another tragedy by the end of the book. the Ssi-ruuk want him so badly because they think he can entech people from a distance, without requiring all the drugs and the bother of actually capturing prisoners. So they build an elaborate entechment chair for him, and capture him while he is distracted by Dev's return to humanity. But this is part of a deal the aliens made with Governor Nereus, that they would go away if Skywalker was given to them. Nereus doesn't believe this, but knows that he will be just as much a hero in the Empire if he gets rid of Luke. So he puts some lethal larvae in Luke's food (food he shares with Gaeriel, who is also infected, but saved by Nereus, who has personal designs on her too). 

Between the larvae and the creature that severed some of Eppie Belden's nerves (the resistance leader), I wonder how much inspiration this use of live creatures gave to the ideas of the Yuuzhan Vong in the New Jedi Order? 

Luke is able to sever large concentrations of the imprisoned life energy in the Ssi-ruuk ship before feeling the effects of the parasites. He and Dev blockade themselves in the bridge and try to take control, but Luke collapses. He uses the Force to rid himself of the parasites before they kill him, as Dev fails to fend off his former master. The Ssi-ruuk is killed only by a blast from the attacking Imperial ships. If the parasites had killed Luke, as Nereus expected, they would have bred and infected the Ssi-ruuk, perhaps killing a large portion of their population (or at least their battle-group), thus also saving Bakura. Thankfully, he didn't count on Luke's strength with the Force, and Han and Leia were able to rescue him before the alien ship was nearly destroyed.  

I don't know why the author felt she had to create a new weapon, especially since as described, it seemed to be an ion cannon.  It did manage to cripple a few Imperial ships, but nothing more than that, since it failed to work!

There was a lot going on in this book, especially considering how short it actually was. The author was able to balance story and put in an incredible amount of character building in the same book. There were plots within plots, and every group had their own agenda. Luke was split between defending Bakura and pursuing Gaeriel, then finding Dev. Interestingly, he chose Dev over Gaeriel when it came down to the critical moment. If Gaeriel was ever inclined to follow Luke to the Rebellion, her decision was made when Luke chose a Force-user, even in death, over her, for just a moment. When Dev died, Luke cried on her shoulder in a heart-wrenching scene. But Gaeriel also knew that she had to stay behind to rebuild Bakura. 

Leia was interested in bringing Bakura into the Alliance fold, even as she was conflicted by her reactions every time somebody mentioned Darth Vader. Han was mainly around to provide Luke and Leia support, and to be the one suspicious of the Imperial's motives, but he was also a driving force in the big battles. 

On the Imperial side, Thanas was trying to avoid being punished in slave mines, after he had refused a direct slaughter order years ago on another planet. He was a good military strategist, but was held to the Empire by fear. Nereus exuded contempt. He was forced to accept Alliance support to defend Bakura, but also had to rid the planet of the threat of the rebels, and perhaps collect a handsome reward for capturing or killing some of its top members.  I was intrigued by the fact that Palpatine had made contact with the Ssi-ruuk and offered them prisoners in exchange for a life-energy warship. I wonder who else he contacted...

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Remembering back, this was the fourth expanded universe novel to appear after Return of the Jedi. I was so eager that first time, that everything seemed top notch. I see now how we have been starved for truly excellent books since those early days, by authors who really seem to know the characters and the way to tell a good story. Some of those early books are not as good as I remembered them (like The Courtship of Princess Leia), but seemed so at the time because there was so little out there. Now that I read them again, I don't expect many to be as good as they seemed. But this one surprised me. I don't remember the last book about our trio of heroes that I enjoyed as much as I did this one (Solo Command doesn't count, because even Han didn't appear much in there). Kathy Tyers wrote Balance Point, which I will be reading very soon, and I hope it is as good as this one.



4 stars

Also read December 31st, 1994 to January 4th, 1995  

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