Thursday, February 5, 2009

Review: Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor

I can honestly tell you that I have a stack of other books to review prior to this one; but I put those all to the side, and proverbially jumped for joy at the return of a fun Star Wars novel.

Anyways, this is about Matthew Stover's latest entry into the Star Wars canon: Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor (ISBN:978-0-345-47744-0). It clocks in at a decent 309 pages in the hardcover edition, and I have to say that the title is pure genius. In a heartbeat it hearkens back to old serials. Titles such as Flash Gordan's Trip to Mars, The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Tom Swift and the Visitor From Planet X, or even Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.

It builds certain expectations; we're expecting bubble-gum pop SF. We're expecting our heroes to be heroes, and our damsels to be in distress. We're basically expecting the joys of those old Flash Gordan movies and even A New Hope. That's the power of that title; it lends itself beautifully to those expectations, and yes, hope that the days of dire, boring, gore-filled snooze-fests, with the grim and gritty "reality" state have finally flew from Star Wars.

The A plot itself holds up those expectations. We're seeing Luke's stint as a General of the New Republic here as he goes about tackling those bad guys in the ways which only he can do. Then of course it's the obligatory rescue attempt of him by Han and Leia. It's just classic Star Wars fun.

The thing is that Matthew Stover takes that plot and wraps it in proverbial bacon.

Because the B plot is just pure Stover as it deals with light/dark and good and evil in ways which Star Wars fans have loved since Traitor. The B plot basically revolves around what it means to be a hero and a celebrity, and this is also couched in the Dark/Light motifs of the Star Wars mythos. It touches on questions about Luke, and what it means for him to be both a Hero of the Republic, as well as personally responsible for millions of deaths on the Death Star; and how Luke is portrayed in what amounts to pop-culture in the GFFA. As the repercussions of the B plot slapped into place in my head, I just had to stare at the novel in awe; it made me feel smarter, just holding a book that Stover wrote.

The characters here were just a joy to behold. The primary players are the usual suspects in terms of the Star Warriors as represented by Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, Chewie and the droids. On the opposite side of things we have Blackhole, the old Marvel villain, as the baddie.

I must say, after the horrible handling the past, oh... decade of the big three, it was a joy to see them once more in their prime. Luke worried about doing the right thing. Leia, caustic, certain and in love with Han. Han himself a pirate, and not quite willing to turn in his upgrades and of course, Lando, the consummate gambler, willing to bet all sorts of things in order to get things done. Best of all, Matthew Stover just seems to understand these characters, much in the same way that Timothy Zahn seemed to.

Blackhole on the other hand is just pure genius. Everything from his thoughts on his training to how he perceives the other characters. I just loved him; he was overtly and purposefully two-dimensional for a good bit of the book, and we find out just in time that, yes, he does have a ton of depth going on there.

As for minor characters, there was a forgettable Mando, and a forgettable Clone Soldier, and finally a couple of characters from another of Mr. Stover's Star Wars novels--the one that's not Traitor.

Most of the action occurs on the planet of Mindor; a former resort world more or less decimated by a science experiment gone awry. The most interesting thing there though, is the meltmassif. One can't go into just why without spoilers, so you'll have to read the book to find out.

All the technology is pretty old-school as far as starships and what not are concerned. Which is sensible since the book is set just shortly after Truce at Bakura. One important thing to note is the inclusion of a Ship's AI. We still don't have them using the holographic communication arrays to generate avatars a la the Andromeda Ascendant, but this is a clear cut case that starships, at least the Republic ones, have AI's that have distinct personalities. For example, Corellian starships are ornery and somewhat rude, while the Mon Cal cruiser which is Lando's flagship is distinctly female--and a flirt.

As one might have surmised from the somewhat... glowing nature of the technical merits of this book, I enjoyed it a lot. This is much like the memory of the feeling I had when I first picked up I, Jedi all those years ago and was thus the starting point for this whole Star Wars fandom thing for me.

I honestly can't think of a single thing that I found distracting or bad about this book. I'm certain that there are things of that nature within it; and I will probably find them in a year or two after 3, or 4 additional reads (again, much like I, Jedi). But the book itself was such fun, the characters so recognizable, the situations enjoyable, that the book as a whole occupies a basically rose-tinted, warm fuzzy place in my heart.

But it gets better. This is a book crouched in Star Wars lore. Everything from characters that pop up at random to the main antagonist. There are nods for over 30 years of continuity through out this book. And Matthew Stover made it accessible. I had left it sitting on a table, and my wife--who doesn't read Star Wars novels--read some of it, and said to me, "I could read this book. It doesn't seem like I have to read all those other books to understand it."

So, after great mechanics, being accessible, and just a joy to read, this novel gets a 4 out of 4.


David said...

I was at Borders the other day and saw it on the shelf but have ignored Star Wars books since they turned all gritty. It's great to hear that the fun has finally returned to the universe of books!

Stephen Wrighton said...

@David - I can understand that particular stance perfectly. There are a few novels I wouldn't mind being able to "unread" if such a thing were possible.

And yes, the fun has come back, and it has done so in style.

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