Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review: Invincible

So, another long, drawn-out, multi-novel Star Wars event has come to a close. With the release of Star Wars Invincible (ISBN: 978-0-345-47746-0) by Troy Denning, the nine-part Legacy of the Force series is officially over. At 299 pages, this is the shortest novel in the LotF imprint, and there are not that many books that are shorter. In fact the only one that springs to mind is the A New Hope novelization which clocks in at about 260 pages in my hardcover format. Why is this so important? Mainly because I just dropped $27 on this book. That's dinner out--and not just for me, but for me, the wife and both of my kids, and if I go to Chick-fil-a I'd get change back.

Just for the record, I am not going to be discussing LotF as a whole, nor am I going to be discussing the successes or failures of this novel as the end-cap to that series. I'm leaving those discussions for my planned review of LotF. This review will focus on the strengths and weaknesses of this novel alone.

So, with that out of the way, let's move to the plot! As in all of Denning's novels, the plot reads like a mixture of a movie and a video game script. There are defined arcs, with the action jumping back and forth at more or less random points as we swing from one portion of the galaxy to another in an effort to keep the plot plodding along. Fundamentally, there's not anything wrong with the plot, it's a typical, action-adventure plot, built with the standard three-act play style of most movies. As I said, there's nothing WRONG with this plot, outside of the fact that it's somewhat forgettable.

Waking myself up from thoughts on the plot, I'll focus on the characters. Since this is a Star Wars novel produced by Del Rey we had a relative close knit cast. Ben and Luke Skywalker, Jacen, Jaina, Han and Leia Solo, and then the rest of the EU. I still fondly remember when characters without the last name of Solo or Skywalker would feature predominately in the storyline. But back on topic; what we get is the Jedi, the Sith, and the odd cameo by Boba Fett, Mirta and Jag. Unsuprisingly, the Boba and Mirta that we see here are not the saintly, unstoppable Mandalorians which we had read about in Revelation. Additionally, the Jaina we read here is not the awe-struck, Mando's are awesome girl-child that was in Revelation, but rather the more war-weary woman that appeared in Betrayal. And of course, the Ben we read is yet again divergent--his man-love for Shevu and Lekauf has been toned down a bit, and he can actually go a whole scene or two without thinking about Lekauf; and amazingly enough, he is able to be a Jedi without the need to second-guess his Force abilities.

Yet, these shifts in characters aside, within the context of this novel, the cast's characterizations stay the same, or the evolve naturally from the events within the novel. Speaking of evolving, we do get to see Tahiri here. While we still don't get into her head in the same fashion as we get into Ben's or Jaina's (who are the POV characters when she's on screen), what we do see is not as overtly outside of the realm of possible end points for her character from the NJO as the Tahiri we have been seeing.

What did disturb me somewhat was the obscene over-powering of the Jedi. It's long been something which the authors have struggled against, and for simplicities sake we'll call it the Dragon Ball Z (DBZ) factor. DBZ, and by extension most other fighting-based anime, have a formula they follow: the character is strong, gets beaten, comes back stronger, only to find out there's another bad guy who's even stronger coming so the whole process can be repeated. Bantam-era EU suffered this badly, culminating in the fact that the authors would go out of their way to injure Luke so that he wouldn't be able to draw upon the full range of his Force powers. At the end of the Bantam-era, Zahn went through the trouble of effectively de-powering Luke, a de-powering which lasted throughout the NJO, and that has effectively been undone by the Dark Nest trilogy and LotF. What's sadder is that it's a fact that has now been applied to the rest of the Jedi. This is bad for story telling purposes because we are left with only two possible choices for compelling stories: a bad guy stronger than Luke and the Council combined, or Luke and the Council getting beat down so they can't use the full range of their powers.

Of course, the pessimist in me fears that we'll just get stories which features the Jedi making consistently stupid decisions, or angsting in indecision.

Switching modes quickly before my pessimism wins out, the continuity of this book (outside of the continuity of characterizations) is nigh upon spotless. I don't remember a single continuity flub--which is a rare thing these days. Additionally, the editing worked well as I only remember a single mistake in the novel (look for a blue lightsaber, where there should be a green one). My one complaint on the physical product would have to be the cover. I'm still trying to figure out just how Jaina is supposed to contort her body into that particular pose. What I do find amazing is the fact that, unlike her brother's appearances (especially on the Betrayal cover), Jaina looks like an older version of the Jaina on most of the NJO covers that she appeared on.

Now, we get to the fun part; the theme.

Much like the previous Denning novel I failed to find one. This was space-opera at its best. It neither took itself seriously, nor implied that we should. Oh, I'm sure someone more post-modern than me could wring some concept on how the title factors into Jacen's beliefs about himself, or the Jedi Council's actions or just something. For me, a good yarn without any deep, hidden meanings is good. Especially after the less-than deeply hidden meanings I read in the previous Star Wars novel.

What disturbed me the most about this book was how all off the left-over, dangling Legacy of the Force threads were tied up. All of those things which the first four and a half books were focused on, and which were more or less ignored in the past three, were brought to a close here. Miserably and rather perfunctorily, but they were closed. Yet, that's a discussion for the LotF review--what's important for this book is that Denning does close the threads. And truthfully, I came into this novel fully expecting them to not be addressed at all.

What does all that mean? Basically-I liked this novel as a stand alone story. Its failings are how it ties into LotF as an overarching storyline, and its reliance on uber-powered Jedi (which leads us to DBZ). The first issue is reflected in the fact that there's not a lot of back-story to set things up. We're dropped more or less into the story at full run, which means that for a reader who hasn't read Revelation, it might be hard to to catch up on what's happening. This hit-the-ground-running thing is coupled with the less than stellar way to resolve all the hanging threads. The second issue is defined above and I don't feel the need to go over it again. The good thing is that those issues can be overcome--and they are.

While the plot isn't the best, it's a fun enough read to take your mind off of the issues I stumbled across. In the end, it's an average book. It's not stellar, and I'd have rather paid the paperback price of $8 rather than the hardback price of $27, but I still enjoyed reading it--which in the end is really all that matters. I'm giving this a score of 2.8 out of 4.

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