Monday, June 28, 2010

Review: Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor





"Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. "… Ernest Hemingway

" I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened." …Obi Wan Kenobi

  1. The Setting
  2. About the Author
  3. Pet Characters
  4. Force Philosophy
  5. Protagonist and Antagonist
  6. Integration with the Expanded Universe
  7. New Characters


I.Setting

Shadows of Mindor is set approximately 5 to 5.5 years after the Battle of Yavin (ABY), and six months after the events of Return of the Jedi. In terms of the EU novels involving the main characters it falls after The Truce at Bakura and before the Courtship of Princess Leia. It also occurs about 3.5 years before Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy.

This book is a refreshing change from the EU lately. In effect we are getting the characters as they were when we last saw them in the movies, without 18 plus years of EU material changing and growing the characters into different people then who they were in the movies. We see a cocky but tactically brilliant Lando Calrissian, the roguish scoundrel of Han Solo who still harbors doubts about his worthiness and relationship with Leia, a Leia who is unsure of her Jedi powers but still the active take charge Leia that staged her own prison break. We see the assorted members of Rogue Squadron in their cameo of what for them is prequel for the Rogue Squadron series of novels. We also see a return of a living Chewbacca, with extended dialogue, and get a chance to see the relationship between Chewie and Han. But ultimately this novel focuses on a Luke Skywalker who is caught between worlds, between being a soldier and being a Jedi. At this point he is more of a fighter jock with Jedi training, and then he is a Jedi with starfighter training. Instead of seeing as we do in the modern EU the Grand Master of the New Jedi Order, who has unparalleled experience, knowledge and powers in the force. We see a young man struggling with the weight of fame and unfair expectations.

II. About the Author: Matthew Stover

Mr. Stover is the author of four Star Wars novels and one short story. His novels are the NJO: Traitor,
Shatterpoint, the Revenge of the Sith Novelization, and Luke Skywalker and he Shadows of Mindor. Stover gets to handle some pretty serious leading characters in his Star Wars authorship, taking on Jacen Solo, Mace Windu, Anakin and Luke Skywalker. He also has a recurring theme of exploring the darkness and inner turmoil of his protagonists. In Traitor, we see Jacen being tortured and shaped by the teachings of Vergere. In Shatterpoint, we see Mace Windu in a homage to the Heart of Darkness travel deep into the jungle after his lost apprentice and how the war, evil and suffering can effect a Jedi. In Revenge of the Sith we see the hands down best novelization of one of the movies, with an exploration of the inner turmoil of the soon to be Darth Vader.

Stover's heroes aren't simple swash buckling do-gooders, but flawed characters that deal with doubt and guilt. In Shadows of Minor we see this in the extreme as the book opens with Luke in effect putting himself on trial, but more on that in a bit…

III.Pet Characters

Lorz Geptun:

Geptun who was one of the villains in Shatterpoint makes a brief cameo at the beginning and end of the novel in two scenes with Luke Skywalker that are set after the events on the main part of the novel. Somehow Geptun has wormed his way into the New Republic Judicial corps and Luke enlists him to investigate the events of the Battle of Mindor. In the end he takes advantage of his situation and writes a cheap holothriller to make a dime off of Luke's story.

Nick Rostu.

"Nick was absolutely certain that on the day of his birth the Force had looked down upon his life and smiled, and cheerfully made an obscene gesture. Or something."

Nick is a survivor plain and simple. Created by Stover but was also by Michael Reeves in his Jedi Twilight novel. Nick provides some of the novels humor. Nick is the reluctant hero, similar to Han Solo of Episode IV, he usually acts in his self interest but deep down and in the end you think he is going to end up doing what is right.

Kar Vastor.

Vastor was the main villain in Stover's novel Shatterpoint. He was a native of the planet Haruun Kal and was a relative of Clone Wars era Jedi Master Mace Windu. Vastor was what amounts to a witch-doctor; he was both extremely powerful physically and in the force. Following the events of Shatterpoint, Vastor who was imprisoned in the Jedi Temple managed to escape and was a fugitive. At some point he came to the attention of Cronal and was an unwilling test subject of the Pawning process. Vastor is the embodiment of the power and danger that is the jungle, and has a brain abnormality that prevents him from being able to talk, he grunts and growls but is able to communicate his meaning through the force.

IV. Force Philosophy

In Mindor we also see a new prospective on the force. The "Dark" as it is referred to by Cronal is a philosophy of complete destruction. Basically the only meaning of the universe is destruction. A follower of the Dark would not try to create anything, simply destroy. Through this destruction the practitioner could align themselves with the will of the Dark and gain the power of Darksight. The ability to see and choose between the different possible futures, guiding events to follow this vision. This is a pretty dark view of the universe and an interesting twist on the typical Jedi vs. Sith/Dark Jedi stories that we often get.

V. Protagonist and Antagonist

Luke Skywalker:

We see Luke in the Prologue of the book as a man racked with guilt, so we know something pretty bad happened. He holds himself guilty for approximately 50,000 deaths. What could Luke have possible done to bring about all those deaths?

The story proper begins with Luke as the reluctant general seeking guidance from the force, hoping for advice from Obi-Wan about what direction his life should take now. Does he devote himself to his studies as a Jedi or accept command of the New Republic Rapid Response force? Luke gives in to the advice of Han and Leia and takes the job. What he finds is that Command is not quite what he expected or what he needs to be successful. Luke's officers are to deferential to him, expecting that a Jedi has all the answers, not questioning his strategy or tactics enough. Was there anything that Luke could have done to anticipate and/or prevent the ambush at Mindor? Is Luke blaming himself for something out of his control?

Luke's morality appears throughout the novel, he chooses to incapacitate by punching Nick/Lord Shadowspawn instead of killing him, which in turn ends up saving Luke's life. He abandons all his moral questioning to save his sister. Ultimately I think the story shows how Luke's eyes are fully open to reality and the value of each individual life form. This appreciation for life

Cronal/Blackhole:

Originally a Sorcerer of Rhand, later a Prophet of the Dark Side, an Emperor's Hand, and Director of Imperial Intelligence. Stover didn't create the character, but this is his first appearance in a novel. The origins of the three characters Shadowspawn, Blackhole and Cronal are a very interesting story about how the EU is created and how retcons occur. But for the purpose of this review, I'm not going to delve past the level that this novel canonizes an interpretation where these three characters are merged into one. Cronal is a shriveled shell of a man destroyed physically by the dark side. In the novel he first appears using his Shadowcrown (a product of Sith Alchemy) to control the body of Nick Rostu and through the use of holographic projections presents the face of Shadowspawn to the New Republic and his own forces.

Cronal is a creepy kind of villain who has enslaved hundreds and thousands a people using his mind control devices. He also is attempting to find a new body to transfer his soul into before his current body dies. This part of the story echoes the Dark Empire comic book story where the resurrected Emperor Palpatine was looking for a new body to transfer his soul into.

Based on the cover art and the novel blurb, the villain we actually get in the story is not the one that you would expect. In many ways the villain isn't really that important in this story. This isn't a story focusing on some epic light saber combat between Luke and the big bad guy. It's more a story about the struggle that Luke has within himself, how to make a decision when all the options are wrong, and how to deal with the consequences.

VI. Integration with the Expanded Universe

In this novel Stover introduces a new substance meltmassif, a new species "Melters." He also expands upon the brief use of Shadow storm troopers, and gravity based weapons. But some of my favorite parts of the novel are the brief tips of hat that Stover gives to other EU works. Early in the novel we have Han Solo meeting Aeona Cantor (Nick's girlfriend) in which he reminds himself "no redheads." This refers to Han's first love Bria Tharen created by A.C. Crispin for the Han Solo Trilogy novels. Towards the end of the novel we have a tip of the hat to Timothy Zahn's novels, the escaping Cronal's use of the chunk of rock/volcano as a shield against radiation in the Taspan system gave Lando the idea to use Shield Ships in his mining operation on the planet of Nkllon. We also see Klick addressing Mandalorian Commando's lead by Fenn Shyssa in Mando'a a language developed by Karen Traviss for the use in her Republic Commando series. These are little things, but it helps tie the expanded Universe together and they provide a satisfying payoff for fans that are immersed in the EU.



VII.New Characters

Stover keeps a relatively tight cast for this novel, we see the Mindorese lead by Aeona Cantor, the Imperial faction featuring Group Commander Klick, and the New Republic Defense Force led by Admiral Kalback. Of the new characters the most interesting to me is Klick, aka Trooper Pilot 1000. Klick is an original Fett clone veteran from Geonosis and had fought for the Republic then Empire through the Clone Wars and Rebellion eras, and now found himself in the service of Lord Shadowspawn. Klick is interesting because at the same time we see a grizzled veteran we also have a bit of naiveté, he's a huge Holodrama fan, and a diehard imperial loyalist who falls for Cronal/Blackhole's con game. What does Klick's survival and the suggestion later in the novel that Cronal employs a number of clones in his forces say about the previously established fact of accelerated aging for clones that we have seen in other EU material.



VIII.Conclusion

As with all of Stover's Star Wars novels, this one is an entertaining and action packed read. In the end it's not what I expected going in, the best parts of the novels are the quiet moments that deal with what is going on inside Luke as he is faced with decisions that he is not yet fully equipped to deal with. In the end this novel helps us transition the character of Luke Skywalker closer to the character we see in the Jedi Academy trilogy.

I give it 4 lightsabers out of 5.






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