Your basic Dwarf+Giant Overview is a comprehensive survey of an author or series. It is not an in-depth analysis, nor is it a summary. Think of it as a buying or reading guide, telling you what’s out there, what’s essential, what to avoid and so forth.
Editor’s intro: This is the second post in our Star Wars novels Overview. For brief introductory notes, please see Star Wars Overview: The Old Republic.
*** Indicates the Best.
** Indicates Good.
* Indicates not the best, but still Star Wars, so not bad either.
Darth Plagueis ***
This book skips ahead to finally start intertwining with the movies – Phantom Menace to be precise. The plans of Darth Plagueis and his new apprentice, Darth Sidious, are intricate, and I don’t mind saying they were difficult at times to make sense of. But it’s all part of the Sith genius.
Sadly, the book also renews an old trope – Darth Plagueis wants eternal life, in order to run the galaxy behind the scenes while his apprentice Sidious (aka Palpatine) acts as the face of the new order they will usher in together. Of course, Sidious has other plans, and the Rule of Two will either be destroyed or confirmed with these two.
One thing that comes of Darth Plagueis’ search for immortality is a slightly more satisfying explanation for Anakin Skywalker’s supposed immaculate conception. It happens briefly, but it’s there.
The fight scenes and action are tons of fun, and even the political scheming, while complicated, leaves the reader with a real respect for the cunning of the Sith.
Darth Maul: Lockdown **
Like Red Harvest, the action is non-stop. The plot gets unnecessarily convoluted, but as this book is told entirely from Darth Maul’s point of view, I felt that served to further the Star Wars story.
I enjoyed watching him succeed, fail, even be punished by Darth Sidious, and how, once again, he felt this mission beneath his abilities, even when it almost killed him. His hubris really helps explain his eventual defeat by Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi. Overall, with a fun peek into Darth Maul’s mind, it’s a slightly overcomplicated but good-time read.
Cloak of Deception *
This one is another political thriller. There is a good deal of action, and we get to see all the Jedi from Phantom Menace, but the book as a whole is rather dry. It gets into the very convoluted schemes of Darth Sidious through the work of Senator Palpatine, and the web, while ingenious from a planning perspective, can get pretty dull.
Qui Gon Jinn is the main driver for the Jedi in this book, and the exploration of his strong-willed nature and belief in the Living Force puts much of what he does in Phantom in perspective, but after a while it gets old as he repeatedly ignores orders from the High Council, and is chastised for it.
Overall, this book is a great read to set up the events in Phantom Menace, but at times it’s a slog to get through.
Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter **
This book begins and ends right before the events of Phantom Menace and is told from the points of view of Darth Maul, the infamous Sith apprentice from the same movie, and three people he is hunting down in service of Darth Sidious.
And that’s the great part of the book. In the movie, Darth Maul says all of two sentences; he is an enigmatic figure wielding a double bladed lightsaber who meets a fate that seems very unsatisfactory. This book, however, gives his history: why he has the lightsaber, how he was raised by Darth Sidious, why he takes such pleasure in fighting the Jedi, all from his own perspective. In the process, the reader finds a possible explanation for his curious end in Phantom Menace.
Rogue Planet *
This is the first book after Phantom Menace, and I was excited to see what Anakin and Obi Wan Kenobi were up to. The book touches on Anakin’s emotional scars from his past, providing a much more detailed character for the boy who will become Darth Vader than Phantom could have ever hoped to. That said, you have to slog through a really slow and seemingly pointless story to get there. We see a young Anakin and Obi Wan, and even a young Tarkin, but I just couldn’t get into this one.
Outbound Flight **
For anyone who has read the earliest books written, (in true Star Wars fashion, the first ones written continue after the end of Return of the Jedi), you will see a lot of familiar faces here.
This book is fun for two reasons, neither of which are spoilers. First, the Republic meets a new race of aliens, and one of their commanders is a beyond brilliant, if eccentric, tactician. His philosophy and tactics are so far out of the box that at times it’s hard to believe they worked, which is the point. The second is that it explores how far a Jedi can go without actually crossing to the Dark side. Jedi C’Boath is overbearing, discriminatory, egotistic, and in many ways ignores the Jedi Code. Through the eyes of his Padawan and the Jedi around him, C’Boath plays at the edges of where Dark and Light meet, and that’s always fun.
The Approaching Storm **
At the beginning of Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan and Anakin are just returning from a mission to Ansion. This is that mission. Alan Dean Foster is extremely descriptive and creates a wonderful landscape for the reader to play in. His style of switching points of view without warning, sometimes in the middle of a paragraph, is jarring, but also keeps the pace of the book moving.
Two Padawans are compared here, Anakin Skywalker and Bariss Offee. For those who know the future of each character, this comparison is even more interesting. Bariss is the textbook Padawan. She learns quickly, follows orders, and does most things by the book. She has little patience for the impulsive and mercurial Anakin. There is a struggle within Anakin that he rarely admits to himself. Though in his private thoughts, he will sometimes admit his own dark leanings. Through their interaction, and the observations of their Masters, Obi-Wan and Luminara Unduli, seeds are planted that will bear fruit years down the road.
The Cestus Deception **
There is a timeline issue with this book. First off, as the book opens, it’s suggested Anakin is still Obi Wan’s Padawan. But the book is set 12 months into the Clone wars, so Anakin is already a Jedi Knight with his own Padawan, Ahsoka. What can I say? It threw me. Once that is let go, the fun can begin.
As the name implies, everyone in this book is lying. First, the two Jedi on the scene, Obi Wan and Kit Fisto, are basically lying to the government of Cestus. They are trying to trick the government into taking action that will save millions of lives, but does the end justify the means? Secondly is the storyline of Nate, an ARC Clone Trooper who manages to fall in love while on mission with Kit and Obi Wan. This wakes all kinds of emotions in him that the Clones were bred and trained to never feel. But does that training, and by extension Nate’s awakening, make a soldier stronger or weaker? The moral conundrums in this book are many and no one, except maybe the troopers themselves, is innocent.
After the book is a short story, “The Hive”, that explains the rapid trust and friendship that develops between Kenobi and ‘Mai Duris, Regent of the planet. Lots of action and some history to the X’Ting species. A fun ride.
Jedi Trial **
This is another book that screws with the storyline. If you read this, I recommend reading it right after Attack of the Clones as it will be far less jarring. The authors are both war vets, and give a lot of detail about war and battle and the philosophy behind it. That knowledge gives the book a gritty realism I haven’t seen in the other Star Wars books to date, but it is at the expense of some plot and character development (the love story here feels forced). There are also portions of the book where this philosophizing goes so far as to seem like one is taking a class on the theory of war, not engaging in the Star Wars Universe.
All that aside, the book is full of action, and the tactical back and forth between the Republic and Separatist forces is really interesting.
The Clone Wars **
This is by the same woman who wrote Republic Commando: Hard Target, and so there are a lot of the same moral dilemmas. What makes this one an interesting read is not the plot, or even the clone dilemma (though they are pretty good), but that the reader gets a peek into the minds of Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress, and what made them who they are. Both began as followers of the Light side of the Force and both switched to the Dark Side. One out of anger, and one out of ideals. Their flashbacks and internal dialogue provide the “why” of their actions and supposed betrayal. Towards the end, another layer is revealed in Darth Sidious’ plot, so keep your eyes peeled: it happens quickly.
The Clone Wars: Wild Space **
Note: For those fans who’ve watched the Clone Wars animated series, this book is interwoven with the events of “Downfall of a Droid.”
This book covers a lot of ground, which means the early part of the book moves pretty slow, despite a lot of action. Ahsoka, Anakin, and Padme all get a voice, but things really heat up in the second half when Obi-Wan Kenobi confronts the powers of the ancient Sith, something the Jedi haven’t dealt with in a millennia. His struggle against those powers, Bail Organa’s assistance in the struggle, and the dynamic between the two men is, in my opinion, the best part of the book. Despite even some interesting passages from Yoda’s perspective, nothing compares to it.
Republic Commando: Hard Contact ***
Action packed with some great moral dilemmas, this is one of those books where you get the story, not through the eyes of the leaders, but through the eyes of the people on the ground. This happens especially through the eyes of the clones. Though they have been bred to fight and are expendable, they nevertheless have their own unique personalities and are still learning a lot about themselves as men. Their experiences as men bring up the question that the Jedi ask themselves throughout the Clone Wars: Is it justifiable to doom sentient men to a short, brutal life for your own ends?
Like the Clone Wars Gambit two parter, I really liked the story itself, but I felt the author, Matthew Stover, takes some liberties with Mace Windu’s character that I was not comfortable with. The story as it stands is an intricate, fast-paced, fascinating journey of one of the most interesting Jedi in the canon. And the obstacles he confronts force him to rethink his position on the Jedi as warriors (as opposed to peacemakers), his own relation to the Dark Side and the line he must walk to remain the great warrior he has become. But the liberties the author takes with Windu’s character and background made it difficult for me to swallow this otherwise excellent book.
Continued in Rise of Empire, Part II