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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed by Sean Williams


Title: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Author: Sean Williams
Reviewed Format: UK hardcover
Release Date: 2008
Pages: 319

I think I understand why I don’t like the Darth Bane books and why I didn’t like The Force Unleashed as much as I could have.  Both have Sith as protagonists.  Sith have massive egos.  I don’t particularly like massive egos.  I’m also tired of reading about the “best” pilot/apprentice/whatever who did everything phenomenally well in their careers, did it early, and are infinitely better than their peers, past and present.  What happened to slightly above average, average, or even really below average protagonists?

I’ll tell you why these massively huge, uncontrollable egos bother me.  A character can boast all they want or simmer under the surface with barely contained self-love and admiration, preen themselves flailing a weapon around and showing off to their underlings or other, less worthy souls, but they still wind up getting killed in the lamest, most easy way ever.  Are Sith really supposed to be this two dimensional?  I don’t think I’ve ever read an in-depth study of any Sith, other than Anakin; the star of the Prequel Trilogy had his psyche picked apart so we could have the movies in the first place.  Jacen Solo’s recent dive into the Dark Side was enough to provoke my desires for him to finally do something as a character.  I was impressed with his transformation, but ultimately was left feeling like Sith are boring for a reason: they’re single-minded ego-maniacs with anger management issues.  There’s only so much repetition of the same archetype I can take before my brain says, “no more.”
It’s not enough that Darth Vader’s apprentice is unnamed (he’s so great, he doesn’t need a name--his presence is enough for celebrity) and gifted in so many ways that are better than everyone else: he’s fast, he’s strong, and he kills on command--his assigned pilot is top notch, too.  She doesn’t fear (much) his scalding gaze and threatening undertones.  Captain Juno Eclipse has two jobs to do: pilot the Apprentice around the galaxy and stay alive.  She’s not about to let an over confident Sith get in the way of her duties.  Putting aside her credentials, she wasn’t a very compelling character.  Darth Vader hand-picked her because of her talents and accomplishments.  She’d proven herself well and on assignment performed as expected: brilliantly, with no hitch to upset her tempestuous charge.  But I was more interested in her backstory than I was her current situation.  The only interesting thing about her was discovering she was raised after the Jedi Purge, learning of the Jedi as legendary and mythical nightmares of imagination.  That perspective is often lost among all of the books that take for granted the foreknowledge of Jedi before the Purge.

The friendship Juno develops with The Apprentice was touching, but should have remained a friendship.  There was nothing in the narrative that suggested the story should take the most predictable path and have the two of them fall in love.  Their relationship was one of curiosity, probing, and an attempt to understand one another because despite their differences, The Apprentice and Juno were stuck with each other in the same ship.  Hostility doesn’t make for a good shipmate.  Also, friendship doesn’t necessarily lead to romance.  I can’t help but feeling the romance was only here because the story needed something to keep The Apprentice wavering and because Juno is a female.  I appreciate Sean Williams’ bringing the two together, but disagree with the romance.  It should have stayed a working relationship, if only because that’s what it was.  There were no sparks.  I can’t fault Williams too much--he was writing based on someone else’s story.

With regard to the writing: there’s some redundant prose, but Star Wars novels are so filled with expected action, it’s hard to avoid the dreaded “show don’t tell.”  For example, when The Apprentice has been fighting Kota in the control room for a page and a half, Williams pointed out the obvious, “The duel raged all across the control center” (p.27).  It was made pretty clear the control center was The Apprentice’s destination and I hadn’t read any passing narrative with either character passing through any doors or through hallways once the fight began.  Other than that, I think Williams was a good choice for this book.  It was accessible and, while I haven’t played the video game, seems like it filled in whatever missing moments in time the game had to skip.  The ending also bridges itself to the Rebellion and “A New Hope” which, while functional, actually disappointed me.

Not only does Starkiller (the codename for our protagonist) take us back and forth across the same three planets over and over again, he pays lip service to his duties to the Dark Side in what’s never a completely believable manner.  It’s clear from the beginning he can’t be all that bad if he has an obvious emotional attachment to a droid.  The narrative couldn’t sustain his internal conflicts for very long before they became tired and useless.  I’m not too pleased to have what I felt was a mediocre character turn into the symbol of the Rebel Alliance--the ultimate exercise in ego.  Also, I think I’m just tired of reading about third rate characters being molded into something more important by having certain relations to either Vader or the Emperor.  That trope needs to be dropped.

While I didn’t enjoy this book too much, there are other people who will appreciate the adventure and tragedy better than I did.  I’ll have to look elsewhere for the type of Star Wars books I can really dig my teeth into.  In the meantime, I’m still glad I finally got around to reading The Force Unleashed.

How many Jawas recommend this book?


 

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