Tuesday, May 20, 2014

David: Rancor Spotting #33

Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream by Aaron Allston

Page 251 - Han speaking to Corran Horn's son Valin in his usual Han Solo style.

"You do that. Scoot, kid. Go beat up a rancor or something."

David's Review of Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream

5/5 Rancors - Rebel Dream by Aaron Allston is book #11 of the 19 in the New Jedi Order and is the first book in the Enemy Lines duology. I admit that I am still struggling somewhat to wade through the New Jedi Order. Many of the books could benefit from some severe editing. However, I had my hopes up for Mr. Allston’s book, and he did not let me down. This is more like it. More action and less philosophizing. I believe the seriousness of the threat posed by the Yuuzhan Vong has finally sunk in. Heroic deeds are being done.

Coruscant has fallen. That is a sentence I never expected to write. However, it’s true. The cityworld is in ruins in many places, and the invading aliens are in control. The New Republic is falling apart. Things look grim.

In an effort to fight back, Wedge Antilles leads a force to retake Borleais from the Vong. Once this is accomplished, he works with high-level friends of his such as Luke Skywalker to see what kind of damage they can inflict on the Vong. His plans are not received favorably by some erstwhile leaders of the Republic. A group of politicians holding themselves out as the New Republic Advisory Council comes to Borleais, meets with Wedge and the other leaders, and tries to order them to accept a suicidal plan. Through some deft maneuvering, Wedge manages to refuse their plan and send them packing. This was a very clever section of the book.

From there Wedge and the other leaders on Borleais form what they refer to as the Inner Circle to spearhead resistance against the Yuuzhan Vong. We are back to the days of the Rebel Alliance and it is fun to read about. Skywalkers, Solos, etc. – all the big names are involved and seem enthusiastic about it. Their plan is to go into action against the Vong without having to put up with the paralyzing bureaucracy that has been so prevalent so far in the New Jedi Order. It makes you want to offer a round of applause.

The author has included a couple of new twists in the Yuuzhan Vong. Ex-Senator Viqi Shesh is now physically with the Vong and is trying to prove her worth to them. She is truly a Machiavellian character and cannot be trusted by anyone. I will not miss her when she is gone. We also are introduced to Czulkang Lah, the father of Warmaster Tsavong Lah. The older Lah is a warrior with a legendary record, and he is an interesting character in the book. On the whole, the Vong are still extremely disgusting and very difficult to understand.

Wedge Antilles plays a huge role in Rebel Dream as does Jaina Solo. It is interesting to watch both in action. I especially enjoyed watching Jaina create havoc among the Vong in her role as the Trickster while at the same time resolving some of her own issues and developing into a very worthwhile character. At the end, Mr. Allston does a good job of setting up the next book, Rebel Stand. Wedge has led his forces to an important victory while Luke has led a team back to Coruscant. There may be hope for the remaining books in the New Jedi Order.

Monday, May 5, 2014

David: Rancor Spotting #32

Star Wars: The New Jedi Order - Dark Journey by Elaine Cunningham

A new rancor term in Dark Journey

Page 212
Three men slumped in the prison cell, awaiting Hapan justice in glum silence. They were still wearing the red garments they'd had on the day they brought that she-rancor princess aboard their ship. An assortment of bruises and bumps gave painful testament to the Jedi woman's unexpectedly strong resistance.

David's Review of Dark Journey

3/5 Rancors - For several years now, I have been engaged in trying to read and review all of the books in the Expanded Universe. I suspect many of you saw the recent news saying that Disney and LucasFilm have implemented their own Order 66 and purged the Expanded Universe from the official Star Wars canon. So, here I am with Elaine Cunningham’s Dark Journey, the tenth book in the New Jedi Order series. I am just over halfway through NJO, and I will push on through the remaining books despite the corporate effort to tell me that these books don’t matter any more.

Many of the NJO books have had way too much discussion about Jedi philosophy, the proper use of the Force, and what should a real Jedi do. They are faced with an apparently overwhelming enemy in the Yuuzhan Vong, and they worry about whether or not to use the Force. I thought the previous book Star by Star might have been a turning point, but Dark Journey turned out to be another story that would have benefited from some judicious editing.

Jaina Solo makes my point very well on page 21 of the book when she tells her fellow Jedi Zekk "Oh, come on. You were there. You heard Jacen obsessing over Anakin's motives and methods, trying to make him question himself at every step and turn. You saw what happens when Jedi stop focusing on what we're doing to quibble about how and why." Exactly.

The focus in Dark Journey is on Jaina Solo as she struggles with anger and despair after the adventures described in Star by Star. She is also trying to come to grips with the death of her brother Anakin. That mission ended successfully but at a tremendous cost. Jaina’s getaway involved the theft of an enemy ship which she intends to use against the Yuuzhan Vong as she takes on a new role, that of the Trickster.

Most of the action takes place in the Hapes Cluster, so there is of course much political intrigue and backstabbing among the royal family. Jaina has to deal with that while modifying her ship enough to mislead the Yuuzhan Vong while at the same time staying out of the enemy’s clutches. The Yuuzhan Vong are desperate to capture her with their ultimate goal being to sacrifice her to the glory of their gods. 

Dark Journey is a fairly mediocre book but it does get us a step closer to the end of the New Jedi Order.

Monday, April 7, 2014

David: Rancor Spottings #30 and 31

Star Wars: The New Jedi Order - Star by Star by Troy Denning

Star by Star is a major book in the Star Wars genre, so it naturally contains more than one reference to a rancor.

Page 170
Anakin expresses his concerns in the middle of a battle with the Yuuzhan Vong. "Not good," Anakin groaned. "Really not good. Uncle Luke will like that about as much as rancor fighting."

Page 293
In the midst of a board game that includes rancors. "Tsavong Lah turned away from the viewing lens and, finding the rancor alone on the mat, nodded."

David's Review of Star by Star

5/5 Rancors - I am in the midst of a multi-year effort to read and review all of the Star Wars books, and I admit to having gotten somewhat bogged down in the New Jedi Order series. There are 19 books in the series, and it has seemed to me that the first eight have, for the most part, spent an awful lot of time discussing the Force, what is appropriate for Jedi, and just basically the philosophy of fighting a savage enemy while observing the etiquette of the Force. I felt as if they have been fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. Plus, the Yuuzhan Vong have had the Republic forces on the run for the entire series so far.

Well, I think I can possibly see the glimmering of a turnaround in Troy Denning's Star by Star. This is an excellent book and is certainly one of the longest books in the Star Wars genre. It is packed with action, courageous deeds, treachery, and the death of a major character. However, even though the Yuuzhan Vong have now reached Coruscant, the valiant efforts of the Jedi and others are beginning to pay off. I am now looking forward to seeing how the remainder of the New Jedi Order plays out.

The Yuuzhan Vong have been ruthless in their campaign through Republic space. They are completely alien when compared to anything we have seen before. Their ships and weapons are so strange that I still have trouble just attempting to visualize them. Needless to say, the Republic forces have had a huge learning curve in trying to find a successful way to fight the war. Star by Star includes our favorite characters. Luke, Mara, Han, Leia, Jaina, Jacen, Anakin, Lando - all of them are actively involved.

The Vong have also unleashed voxyns, creatures that are extremely good at killing Jedi or anybody else who crosses their path. A major part of the story deals with a strike team of young Jedi led by Anakin Solo that goes into a Yuuzhan Vong worldship to kill the voxyn queen. The action here is particularly intense.

Star by Star is a major book in the New Jedi Order series and should not be missed.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Andrew's Review of Empire and Rebellion: Razor's Edge

3/5 Rancors - Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge is the first book in an intended set of three featuring the primary heroes of the Original Trilogy. It is also Martha Wells’ first contribution to the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It’s a slim volume, weighing in at an extremely brisk 249 pages of story. That’s not a whole lot of space for deep character development and Ms. Wells primarily spends her time focusing on Princess Leia Organa along with Han Solo in a supporting role. The other characters are not given much characterization and mostly serve to facilitate the plot about Leia and Han on an adventure after the Battle of Yavin in A New Hope.

Leia is leading a mission to procure materials for Echo Base, the new secret home of the Alliance as depicted in The Empire Strikes Back. Before they are able to decode coordinates and complete their mission, the Rebel ship is ambushed by Imperials, which appears to indicate the presence of a traitor onboard. Jumping to rendezvous coordinates as planned despite the air of suspicion onboard the Rebel vessel, Leia and the crew encounter what appears to be an Alderaanian gunship engaged in piracy: the mystery around this vessel fuels the plot of Razor’s Edge.

Leia is given the spotlight throughout the book and introducing fellow Alderaanian refugees presents a great jumping-off point to explore the impact the destruction of her home planet has had on Leia. There are some touching moments as Leia struggles with her survivor’s guilt and her explicit role in the events leading up to the catastrophe. Unfortunately we don’t really get much perspective from the Alderaanian survivors-turned pirates aboard the gunship: Captain Caline Metara and her crew are mostly ciphers. They have turned down a bad path but they seem curiously passive about their participation in piracy and slaving. I attributed this to the incredible capacity people have to ignore wrongs they are perpetuating when it is convenient to do so but I would have liked more time spent on them and the Alderaan diaspora.

Han and Leia’s relationship is as contentious as we would expect between Episodes IV and V. Ms. Wells does spend some time in Han’s head as he reflects on his ongoing transformation from smuggler to Rebel hero. Adding to this is a few chapters featuring Luke and Chewbacca as they chase down their friends. Luke muses over an especially apt comparison where he thinks of Han as a wild pet his friend Biggs once brought into the household (although he is wise enough to not disclose this to Han!).

The antagonists in Razor’s Edge are some rather forgettable Imperials chasing the Rebels, the Imperial spy who provides a lively if annoying presence throughout the story, and Captain Aral tukor Viest, a Lorrdian pirate lord Leia must outwit to prevail. Lorrdians have a refined ability to read the smallest tics in body language and her early verbal sparring with Leia is entertaining, as is a mid-book arena battle sequence with an “insane” mining droid (the Star Wars galaxy sure has a lot of arenas). The intrigue as Leia attempt to solicit allies from Viest’s crew is well-written and Leia showcases her burgeoning diplomatic skills as well as the expected action ones.

Razor’s Edge is an entertaining but rather slight tale. I enjoy returning to the Original Trilogy heroes but thanks to the story’s placement between movies, it is afforded little chance to provide meaningful suspense. This is exacerbated by its brevity, which leaves no room to get to know the new supporting characters well. There’s just not much dramatic space for the Empire and Rebellion series to play in without giving more serious support to some non-movie characters.