22 August 2014

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XVII: Star by Star by Troy Denning

Hardcover, 606 pages
Published 2001

Acquired December 2001
Reread July 2014
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Star by Star
by Troy Denning

Year Three of the Invasion (Months 1-2)
I still don't know why Luke Skywalker was so opposed to Jedi taking action in the earlier New Jedi Order books, and thus why he suddenly decides it's okay to take action here isn't really explicable. But, I'm glad he does because though it isn't quite as good as Conquest, Star by Star is the book that really kicks the New Jedi Order up a notch. While Luke, Leia, Han, and company try to do what they can as the Yuuzhan Vong advance on Coruscant, Anakin Solo leads a team of Jedi apprentices on a strike team to destroy the voxyn queen, the "mother" of Force-sensitive, Jedi-hunting creatures starting to plague the galaxy. Unlike the ponderous space strategy of the earlier books, this is really effective.

It's a little different for Star Wars, but it works. Denning brings concepts into Star Wars that are new but work with what we've seen before. The Jedi shadow bombs are a clever idea, but I love the Jedi battle meld, which is used to co-ordinate the actions of the strike team, but also to really make that strike team come to life as characters: this is a group of desperate people, pushed to their limits, and it's utterly engrossing to read about. Anakin Solo was brought to life by Conquest, and Denning really sustains that development here, plus lifting up Jacen and Jaina for the first time in the series. Meanwhile, Leia and Han's adventures on Coruscant are the danger-a-minute escapes you'd expect from them; other than the strike team, these are the best segments of the book-- you can see why Denning went on to write Tatooine Ghost, as he gets these characters perfectly. There are even nice parts for Lando and C-3PO! Heck, he's even the first NJO writer to treat Borsk Fel'lya as a genuine character, and not just an improbable obstacle for our heroes.

Famously, this is the book that kills Anakin Solo. Though I'm disappointed it had to happen given how much Del Rey mishandled the Solo kids in the years to come, the death scene itself is incredibly well done, and it's the right choice for both the book and the series. Anakin consumed by the Force as he dies to save his teammates-- it's marvelous. And then... that scene where Leia and Han find out... you can feel their grief, I got shivers just from reading it. How utterly devastating. This is the emotional low point of The New Jedi Order, this is its The Empire Strikes Back, and it promises that nothing will ever be the same again...

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