Wednesday, June 06, 2007

impressions of Star Wars: Sacrifice

In the Legacy of the Force series, Sacrifice is an obvious turning point. To say this book has some significant plot developments would be an understatement. My motivation to finish it was so strong that I kept coming back to it (generally, I'm not the type who reads for hours and hours at a time). Inhaling such heady material so rapidly has produced some strong impressions.

The primary point, that hardly bears mentioning, is that this is a book by Traviss. The three authors who are collaborating on the Legacy of the Force books are in a rotation. For me, the mental sensation is akin to watching a shape turn in mid-air to sequentially expose each of its faces. If Allston is writing, there will be some humor to the proceedings, space battles, and Wedge and Corran. If Denning is writing, there will be probably be a load of references to the Dark Nest books and a good all-around balance between descriptions of the action and corresponding character introspection. If Traviss is writing, there will be Boba Fett and Mandalorians, conciseness, and musings about the gray area between good and evil. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Emperor's black bones, there's a lot of musings on moral ambiguity. It got so old. Every kriffing character in the book had to have a moment of thinking, "I'm so unsure of what to do. Formerly I had a childlike clarity of what separates right from wrong, but after enduring moral dilemma [fill in the blank], I got confused. Maybe after I undergo painful situation [fill in the blank], I'll abruptly shift into passionate, unreflective certainty." Yes, we get it, a sense of innocence is fragile. Adults sometimes do squeamish things for the greater good. In the Expanded Universe, the characters have gone through incredible tragedy. Now can we switch back to the Star Wars in which the characters exhibit fairly good-natured gallows humor instead of jaded quips? (I suppose for Mara, some sharp words are normal. But shouldn't the Jedi Council talk formally like a Jedi Council?)

I knew there'd be more Fett and Mandalorians, just not this way. Although those scenes give the book some touching moments, I have trouble viewing them as anything other than interlopers, or pages that fell out of another book into this one. Including authentic Mandalorian words in the text is an annoying practice. How odd is it that in this book the main characters seem to discuss Fett and/or Mandalorians surprisingly often, but in pretty much every other Star Wars book they, well, don't? About as odd as Han Solo and Alema Rar having more or less cameo appearances.

The dialogue otherwise bugged me in a few places, but I'll concede these are minor nitpicks. I still insist that Star Wars characters should not live or talk too similarly to the reader. "'Freshers need a good clean. Here's a toothbrush", for instance, is too close to reality. So are certain idioms, like "There's anger, and then there's being controlled by it - not seeing the forest for the trees", and "even if that cousin was a grade-A scumbag". Too many references to, or even quotes from, the original trilogy movies is also an excellent way to tear me out of the story (I seem to remember the line "no disintegrations" coming into play in one of Fett's scenes). This is the Legacy of the Force book series. Decades have passed in the timeline. Let it go.

Something I can appreciate is when a story has important deaths. If the title doesn't give it away, this book has a few. Undoubtedly, a tragic tone fits some parts quite well. A memorable image in my mind is the description of a "gel" droid designed to both look and act like a specific person for realistic target practice. The droid sustains a hit, reacts like a person...then self-repairs and clambers back upright. After many such cycles, it struggles helplessly to get back up again. Creepy.

Apart from deaths, the continuing series storyline moves along via a power shift. Audaciously, the shift occurs with apparently minimal disruption to all involved! I found this fascinating. People working within the law, preserving the peace, but simultaneously making power grabs. I suppose it makes sense from the point of view of cost-effectiveness. Why replace something when one can just appropriate it? Why demand allegiance when one can just fabricate legitimacy?

Something else that surprised me was the elaboration of the Niathal character, whom I enjoyed more and more as the book proceeded. I think it's fitting that someone who interacts with Jacen so much should take on more dimension, both because of being in the book's "spotlight" and her role of acting as a counterpoint to him. My hope is their personal interactions will become complex and nuanced (wheels within wheels, etc.) and not degenerate into a simpler form.

Maybe my favorite quality of Sacrifice was its resolute movement forward; ignoring the Mandalorian detours, I seldom felt like I was reading filler. Each chapter propelled me to the next. It was a fun ride, but be prepared for the bumps.

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