Monday, November 19, 2007

Review: Death Star

Ah, well, after an excess amount of travails, I've finally finished reading the most recent Star Wars hard cover: Death Star (ISBN: 9780345477422). This is a collaboration produced by Michael Reeves and Steve Perry. Both of whom are veteran Star Wars authors. Mr. Perry wrote Shadows of the Empire while Mr. Reeves gave us Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. Additionally, together they have given us the MedStar duology under the Clone Wars imprint. Anyways, this was an average sized novel at 363 pages, with an average price tag of about $25. Not the cheapest hard cover I've bought recently, but definitely not the most expensive. There was one thing that was unique about this book though, but I'll touch on that later.

Anyways, on with the blurb!

The Death Star's name says it all, with bone-chilling accuracy. It is a virtual world unto itself--equipped with uncanny power for a singularly brutal purpose: to obliterate entire planets in the blink of an eye. Its annihilation of the planet Alderaan, at the merciless command of Grand Moff Tarkin, lives in infamy. And its own ultimate destruction, at the hands of Luke Skywalker, is the stuff of legend. But what is the whole story, and who are the players, behind the creation of this world-killing satellite of doom?

The near extermination of the Jedi Order cleared the way for Palpatine--power-hungry Senator and Sith Lord--to seize control of the Republic, declare himself Emperor, and usher in a fearsome, totalitarian regime. But even with the dreaded Darth Vader enforcing Palpatine's sinister will, the threat of rebellion still looms. And the Emperor knows that only abject fear--and the ability to punished dissent with devastating consequences--can ensure his unchallenged control of the galaxy. Enter ambitious and ruthless government official Wilhuff Tarkin, architect of the Emperor's terrifying dream come true.

From inception to completion, construction of the unprecedented Death Star is awash in the intrigues, hidden agendas, unexpected revelations, and daring gambits of those involved on every level.The brightest minds and boldest egos, the most ambitious and corrupt, the desperate and the devious, all have a stake in the Death Star--and its potential to control the fate of the galaxy.

Soldiers and salves, loyalists and Rebels, spies and avengers, the innocent and the evil--all their paths and fates will cross and intertwine as the Death Star moves from its maiden voyage to its final showdown. And a shadowy chapter of Star Wars history is stunningly illuminated in a thrilling, unforgettable adventure.
Did you get all that? While its not the longest blurb that's graced these pages, it's still a whopping 290 words. I shudder to think how they're going to fit a blurb like that on the back cover of the paperback. All that aside though, there's an even more important thing going on here in this. The blurb is supposed to sell the book. It's supposed to draw folks in and make them want to place their 25 dollars onto the counter, and get this chunk of wood pulp, glue and ink handed to them. Yet, I don't see that here. This blurb did nothing for me. It reads like an infomercial directed at Star Wars EU fans (i.e. those folks who are going to buy this book anyways). In the end, I have to say that this blurb is a dismal failure.

Now, onto more meat-filled things: the plot. Well, at least that's what one assumes when one picks up a hardcover novel. Even after reading this thing, I'm struggling to decipher enough of what happened in it so that I'm able to define a plot. There are a number of interwoven story threads for the various primary characters, but that's not a plot for the novel. There's things that could almost be considered a plot; things dealing with the choices folks make, and how they support evil when they don't deny it. Yet, that never gets off the ground, plus it's more of a theme than a plot. The feeling that I ended up with, after reading it, was that it was a fictionalized account of an historical event. Basically, it's the Star Wars version of Command the Morning (ISBN: n/a) or Los Alamos (ISBN: 9780440224075).

On the character front of things, we have a lot of characters here, but only 13 of whom are important enough to warrant inclusion in the Dramatis Personae. These thirteen are: Atour Riten, Celot Ratua Dil, Conan Antonio Motti, Daala, Darth Vader, Kornell 'Uli' Divini, Memah Roothes, Nova Stihl, Rodo, Teela Kaarz, Tenn Graneet, Villian Dance, and Wilhuff Tarkin. If anything, it is these 13 characters that are the protagonists for this novel. Unfortunately that doesn't leave us with any antagonists. Of course, if you read the paragraph before this where I discuss the plot, you'd have caught on that there's not really any conflict needing an antagonist. All that aside, for those of us who care about these characters, the stuff we learn about Daala, Motti, Vader and Tarkin is good stuff, and provides interesting insight into their characters and actions in the films and other EU sources. Additionally, watching the character arcs for a couple of the new characters was interesting, and probably saved my ability to actually read this novel.

Theme-wise, I'm left with nothing. There's some vague things about standing up against evil or weapons of mass destruction breeds other WMDs. Yet it's all vague and ill-defined. Sure, the characters learned something, but that something is something that every 9 year old who has seen the original Star Wars already knows: the Death Star (and by extension, the Empire) is bad mojo. Of course, in a somewhat macabre form of amusement, we learn that there were contractors even on the first DS when Luke makes it go boom--and that yes, some of them are innocent. As an aside, if you don't know why that was amusing I highly suggest you stand up, get dressed, go to the nearest video store, and beg them to allow you to rent a copy of the movie Clerks; and be happy that you're not hunted down and beaten with phone books.

That digression aside, let's stumble over to continuity. Ah, continuity; how I like to point out your blessed flaws in the new novels. Truthfully, there wasn't a lot of flaws here. The first one that stuck out in my mind was a mention of Hoth. Hoth's discovery is a bit of contention in the canon of things, but beyond that, one has to wonder why it is a world that Vader would think of while comparing Tatooine to Mustafar years before the Battle of Hoth. If memory serves, there was no record of Vader having visited that world before that battle, so why wouldn't they have used one like Rhen Var where Vader had actually visited. Of course, this, like all the continuity issues I stumbled over, were minor things. Yet, I'm even now, wondering why they didn't take this time to give Daala a first name.

This book was billed as providing the definitive answers to the Death Star. I remember some claims (though I can't find them any longer) that it would answer all the questions we had about the Death Star. I'm still wondering if I agree with that. Sure, it answered a lot of them (including the big one from Clerks) and it did do a good job of tying various continuity flubs together into something resembling a coherent whole. Little things like the Maw installation and the prototype Death Star there are addressed and dealt with. That said, I'm left wondering if the authors weren't given a list of things to address and then wrote a story around that list. What's sadder is that the last quarter or so of the book deals almost exclusively with things from the original movie. We get a lot of repeat scenes, just from a different point of view.

Yet, for all that, I was bored.

And that's that uniqueness I alluded to at the start of this review. This is the first Star Wars novel that has bored me. There have been novels that I disliked. There have been novels that I thought did not read like Star Wars. Yet, this is the first Star Wars novel to actually bore me. The new characters were a mixed bag of interesting and useless, and one of them only served to introduce issues into Luke's hunting for Jedi adepts in later novels. The existing characters did have some growth. We actually got to see behind the mask so to speak for Tarkin and Motti, and we got a bit of useful info for Daala. Yet for all that, I couldn't bring myself to truly care about what happened in the novel. I only held the slightest interest in whether or not the characters would get flash-fried when Luke does his little shooting gallery thing. Is it a well-written novel? Sure. There's nothing mechanically wrong with the thing. It's just lacking that essential something that makes books fun to read for me.

In the end, I have to give this novel a .4 out of 4.

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