Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Jax Pavan and his motley crew of rebels is back again in a sprawling novel that ends up being the best novel starring Jax Pavan. While this is technically not part of the Coruscant Nights Trilogy, The Last Jedi is a continuation of that story line centered on the capture of Whiplash resistance leader Thi Xon Yimmon and the personal grudge between Pavan and Vader.  Friends, enemies and rebels all get caught amidst the struggle between Pavan and Vader.

Publisher's Summary:

The Emperor’s ruthless Order 66 has all but exterminated the Jedi. The few remaining who still wield the Force for good have been driven into exile or hiding. But not Jax Pavan, who’s been steadily striking blows against the Empire—as a lone guerrilla fighter and a valued partner of Whiplash, a secret Coruscant-based resistance group. Now he’s taking on his most critical mission: transporting a valued Whiplash leader, targeted for assassination, from Coruscant to safety on a distant world. It’s a risky move under any circumstances, but Jax and his trusted crew aboard the Far Ranger, including the irrepressible droid I-Five, are prepared to pit their combat skills and their vessel’s firepower against all Imperial threats—except the one Jax fears most. Reports have raced across the galaxy that the dark lord of the Sith has fallen in a duel to the death with a Rebel freedom fighter. But Jax discovers the chilling truth when he reaches out with the Force . . . only to touch the dark, unmistakable, and malignantly alive presence that is Darth Vader. And Jax knows that Vader will stop at nothing until the last Jedi has fallen.

This book has a serious advantage over most novels, it is set in what is one of the most interesting time periods in Star Wars. The rise of the Empire and Jedi purge present us with the villain we all love to hate, Darth Vader and any book that can use Vader as the main villain really has an unfair advantage.  Reaves and Bohnhoff don't stop with Vader, they dig down into the EU and continue the use of Vader's goon squad the Inquisitors.  They also toss in some Black Sun, some early rebel groups (Whiplash and others), and even take a day side trip to Dathomir to play with the witches.

While I have enjoyed much of Reaves' works,  Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter and The MedStar Duology in particular, the Coruscant Nights Trilogy while enjoyable was not one of the highlights of the Expanded Universe for me.  Going into The Last Jedi, my expectations where not to high, but I was blown away by how much I enjoyed this book.  It is hard not to love I-5YQ, the droid with more personality and brains then most sentients.  I also have a soft spot for former journalist Den Dhur.  The relationship between Jax Pavan, Laranth,  I-5, and Den forms the emotional backbone of the novel that takes the characters in some unexpected but compelling directions.

I love the way the story of Pavan diverges from his friends part way through this novel only to reconnect.  This allows for some very power character growth on Pavan's part and some real tension regarding the choices that Pavan makes while on Dathomir. I am sure I won't be the only reader who stared at the page and started shouting at Pavan during a particularly tense moment on Dathomir.

This book also uses some novel Force powers, some Force philosophy, and introduces the ability to alter time and events, but does it in such a way that limits the dangers inherent in time travel as a plot device.  Though I have to wonder if this new Force power may be a convenient way to retcon some stuff down the road.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how it deals with the theme of attachment.  In the book we have not only attachments between individuals, but also Pavan's attachment to objects.  A Sith lightsaber, a pyronium nugget, a miisai tree, and Darth Ramage's Sith Holocron all are objects which Pavan is attached to, to an extent that is unusual for a Jedi. Most Jedi leave a rather spartan existence with little beyond their lightsaber being a constant companion.  All of the objects that Pavan is attached to play an important part in the story and without these attachments Pavan would have been less successful in his endeavors.

The personal attachments of the characters are also very compelling but these are characters that long time EU fans will have grown attached too.  It is interesting that first with co-author Steve Perry and now with Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, that author Michael Reaves has carved out a unique little corner of the Star Wars galaxy with his own regular troop of characters.

The positive spin on attachment is a nice counterpoint to what we often get in the Expanded Universe and films.

One closing note, this novel gave me the mental image of Emperor Palpatine in a speedo, that is both a horrifying and hilarious mental image. Thanks to the authors for that.

As a 460 page paperback novel, The Last Jedi is well worth the $7.99 cover price and resolves the story in a very satisfying way that also opens up new storytelling possibilities in the Classic Trilogy as well as New Republic eras. While some fans may be concerned about the expansion of Force powers in this story, I believe it is a novel that will quickly become a cult favorite among EU fans.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is available in paperback and ebook formats on Tuesday, February 26th. For more information or to read and excerpt visit Random House's website.

Author's Note: A review copy for the novel was provided by Del Rey/Random House for this review.

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