Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor
4 / 4
3.7 / 4
3.6 / 3.7
4 / 4
Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader are dead. The Empire has been toppled by the triumphant Rebel Alliance, and the New Republic is ascendant.But the struggle against the dark side and the Sith Order is not over. Luke Skyawlker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, and their faithful comrades have had little time to savor victory before being called on to defend the newly liberated galaxy.
Powerful remnants of the vanquished Empire, hungry for retaliation, are still at large, committing acts of piracy, terrorism, and wholesale slaughter against the worlds of the fledgling New Republic. The most deadly of these, a ruthless legion of black-armored stormtroopers, do the brutal bidding of the newly risen warlord Shadowspawn. Striking from a strategically advantageous base on the planet Mindor, they are waging a campaignof plunder and destruction, demolishing order and security across the galaxy--and breeding fears of an Imperial resurgance.
Another reign of darkness beneath the bootheel of Sith despotism is something General Luke Skywalker cannot, and will not, risk. Mobilizing the ace fighters of Rogue Squadron--along with the trusty Chewbacca, See-Threepio, and Artoo-Detoo--Luke, Han, and Leia set out to take the battle to the enemy and neutralize the threat before it's too late. But their imminent attack on Mindor will be playing directly into the hands of their cunning new adversay. Lord Shadowspawn is no freshly annointed Sith Cheiftain but in fact a vicious former Imperial Intelligence officer--and Prophet of the Dark Side. The Emperor's death has paved the way for Shadowspawn's return from exile in the Outer Rim, and mastery of ancient Sith knowledge and modern technology has given him the capability to mount the ultimate power play for galaxywide dominion. Dark prophecy has foretold that only one obstacle stands in his way, and he is ready--even eager--for the confrontation.
All the classic heroes, all the explosive action and adventure, all the unparalleled excitement of Star Wars, come breathlessly alive as the adventures of Luke Skywalker continue.
Stephen: I can honestly tell you that I have a stack of other books to review prior to this one; but I put those all to the side, and proverbially jumped for joy at the return of a fun Star Wars novel.
Anyways, this is about Matthew Stover's latest entry into the Star Wars canon: Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor (ISBN:978-0-345-47744-0). It clocks in at a decent 309 pages in the hardcover edition, and I have to say that the title is pure genius. In a heartbeat it hearkens back to old serials. Titles such as Flash Gordan's Trip to Mars, The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Tom Swift and the Visitor From Planet X, or even Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.
It builds certain expectations; we're expecting bubble-gum pop SF. We're expecting our heroes to be heroes, and our damsels to be in distress. We're basically expecting the joys of those old Flash Gordan movies and even A New Hope. That's the power of that title; it lends itself beautifully to those expectations, and yes, hope that the days of dire, boring, gore-filled snooze-fests, with the grim and gritty "reality" state have finally flew from Star Wars.
The A plot itself holds up those expectations. We're seeing Luke's stint as a General of the New Republic here as he goes about tackling those bad guys in the ways which only he can do. Then of course it's the obligatory rescue attempt of him by Han and Leia. It's just classic Star Wars fun.
The thing is that Matthew Stover takes that plot and wraps it in proverbial bacon.
Because the B plot is just pure Stover as it deals with light/dark and good and evil in ways which Star Wars fans have loved since Traitor. The B plot basically revolves around what it means to be a hero and a celebrity, and this is also couched in the Dark/Light motifs of the Star Wars mythos. It touches on questions about Luke, and what it means for him to be both a Hero of the Republic, as well as personally responsible for millions of deaths on the Death Star; and how Luke is portrayed in what amounts to pop-culture in the GFFA. As the repercussions of the B plot slapped into place in my head, I just had to stare at the novel in awe; it made me feel smarter, just holding a book that Stover wrote.
The characters here were just a joy to behold. The primary players are the usual suspects in terms of the Star Warriors as represented by Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, Chewie and the droids. On the opposite side of things we have Blackhole, the old Marvel villain, as the baddie.
I must say, after the horrible handling the past, oh... decade of the big three, it was a joy to see them once more in their prime. Luke worried about doing the right thing. Leia, caustic, certain and in love with Han. Han himself a pirate, and not quite willing to turn in his upgrades and of course, Lando, the consummate gambler, willing to bet all sorts of things in order to get things done. Best of all, Matthew Stover just seems to understand these characters, much in the same way that Timothy Zahn seemed to.
Blackhole on the other hand is just pure genius. Everything from his thoughts on his training to how he perceives the other characters. I just loved him; he was overtly and purposefully two-dimensional for a good bit of the book, and we find out just in time that, yes, he does have a ton of depth going on there.
As for minor characters, there was a forgettable Mando, and a forgettable Clone Soldier, and finally a couple of characters from another of Mr. Stover's Star Wars novels--the one that's not Traitor.
Most of the action occurs on the planet of Mindor; a former resort world more or less decimated by a science experiment gone awry. The most interesting thing there though, is the meltmassif. One can't go into just why without spoilers, so you'll have to read the book to find out.
All the technology is pretty old-school as far as starships and what not are concerned. Which is sensible since the book is set just shortly after Truce at Bakura. One important thing to note is the inclusion of a Ship's AI. We still don't have them using the holographic communication arrays to generate avatars a la the Andromeda Ascendant, but this is a clear cut case that starships, at least the Republic ones, have AI's that have distinct personalities. For example, Corellian starships are ornery and somewhat rude, while the Mon Cal cruiser which is Lando's flagship is distinctly female--and a flirt.
As one might have surmised from the somewhat... glowing nature of the technical merits of this book, I enjoyed it a lot. This is much like the memory of the feeling I had when I first picked up I, Jedi all those years ago and was thus the starting point for this whole Star Wars fandom thing for me.
I honestly can't think of a single thing that I found distracting or bad about this book. I'm certain that there are things of that nature within it; and I will probably find them in a year or two after 3, or 4 additional reads (again, much like I, Jedi). But the book itself was such fun, the characters so recognizable, the situations enjoyable, that the book as a whole occupies a basically rose-tinted, warm fuzzy place in my heart.
But it gets better. This is a book crouched in Star Wars lore. Everything from characters that pop up at random to the main antagonist. There are nods for over 30 years of continuity through out this book. And Matthew Stover made it accessible. I had left it sitting on a table, and my wife--who doesn't read Star Wars novels--read some of it, and said to me, "I could read this book. It doesn't seem like I have to read all those other books to understand it."
So, after great mechanics, being accessible, and just a joy to read, this novel gets a 4 out of 4.
It's hard to remember a book that inspired as much fanboy-generated hype as Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor
. The last novel that was this highly anticipated and not moving the saga forward chronologically was Revenge of the Sith
, and that was primarily, of course, because it was the fans first chance to experience the story that would come to life in George Lucas' last Star Wars film.
Here the excitement is all centered on something else: Matthew Stover.
Stover has written three of the most well-received Star Wars novels ever published. His New Jedi Order offering, Traitor
, remains a book that could stand alone outside of Star Wars and still be appreciated for its greatness, and one can make the argument without hyperbole that his aforementioned Revenge of the Sith
novelization was actually better than the film.
So is the book as good as we were all hoping? Did Stover craft another Star Wars masterpiece? Does it live up to all the hype so many fans have drummed up about it? Could anything?
In short: Absolutely
Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor
delivers everything a Star Wars fan could reasonably hope for when picking up a novel.
I'd be remiss if I didn't start by pointing out the beautiful cover by David Seeley. Luke Skywalker has never looked more dynamic, and the thrilling image of him charging into chaos with a giant blossoming explosion overhead really helps capture the feeling of the novel. I was a bit put off by the pulpy title design but even that
is actually tied to the plot of the book, so much so that by the time I was a few dozen pages in my reading, I realized how brilliant it all was.
The story opens after the Battle of Mindor, with a distraught Luke Skywalker asking Lorz Geptun (one of several Shatterpoint
alums appearing here) to investigate his actions during the battle and determine whether Skywalker should be indicted as a war criminal. From here, the rest of the book flashes back to the events of the battle that have so haunted the Jedi Knight.
Despite the surprising start, The Shadows of Mindor
is a fairly straightforward adventure story. Lord Shadowspawn (whose limited history in the Expanded Universe is somehow far too complicated for me to explain accurately in this review) is harassing the New Republic with a seemingly limitless horde of TIE Defenders and black armored Stormtroopers. In response to the raids, the New Republic sets a trap for Shadowspawn, learning the location of his secret base and attempting an ambush there— a volcanic world called Mindor that rests in an incredibly unstable system.
Luke Skywalker has become a General in the New Republic and leads the campaign at Mindor, and as is so often the case in Star Wars, this is exactly what the villain wants. From here, things jump into a lava-spewing, planet-shattering, "Holy-Sith-I-think-the-sun-is-going-to-explode" battle that is as much fun to read as any in recent memory.
What is immediately striking about Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor
is how different it is from Stover's previous Star Wars novels. Instead of a gritty, dark war story similar to Shatterpoint
, we get a tale that is a lot of fun
. The action has a "bounce" to it in line with what we see in the Star Wars films rather than wallowing in angst, and the dialogue is hilarious.
In fact, Stover's writing style in Mindor
is often overflowing with humor. I can't remember a Star Wars novel that made me laugh as much as this book did. It seemed as though I was grinning like an idiot through most of it, and there was normally one or two things in every chapter that made me laugh out loud. This is certainly something I was not expecting at the outset.
That isn't to say that the novel is unrecognizable from Stover's other work. There are lots of recurring themes and symbols here, including the dichotomy of light and dark that saturates so much of the author's other writings, and the symbolic relationship of the two in the struggle of the Jedi. These themes allow for readers to draw some interesting parallels between Luke in this novel and Yoda or Obi-Wan Kenobi in Stover's Revenge of the Sith
novel, or even Jacen Solo in Traitor
, and create the feeling that all of Stover's novels are connected by these common threads.
Much of the story and the writing evoke images of old pulp sci-fi novels and magazines. This is both intentional, and as I mentioned earlier about the style of the cover, a part of the plot in a way that it works on several levels.
Perhaps the biggest factor in what makes Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor
so much fun to read is the characters. Stover's characterizations of the expansive cast of Star Wars heroes are simply flawless. Han Solo and General
Lando Calrissian were so superb, I often felt they outshined Luke, providing much of the humor. Han, in particular, really seemed to dominate the first two-thirds of the novel.
Leia is similarly the great character we remember from the films, determined and sharp— the perfect counterbalance to Han. The couple's burgeoning relationship at this stage in the story of Star Wars also provides some memorable moments (especially at the book's climax).
The droids and Chewbacca are just as well-written. C-3PO is perfect, the unintentional source of endless laughs, and even sparks an unusual romance of sorts I won't ruin here, as I thought it was the funniest part of the book. We actually get some rare scenes from R2-D2's point-of-view, which are infinitely entertaining and incredibly well-crafted. Artoo's loyalty and lovability really jump off the page in the end.
The various factions are well represented. Mandalorians are written as Mandalorians
rather than the silly idealized versions we saw throughout three-ninths of Legacy of the Force, and the scenes with Wedge Antilles and the rest of Rogue Squadron are priceless.
But as the title would indicate, this is Luke Skywalker's story, and Stover delivers the best Luke in ages. He's very much the character we see at the end of Return of the Jedi, determined to do the right thing even when it's impossible, but never paralyzed by indecision. Though some seem to have lost sight of it, this
is what a Jedi is supposed to be. Stover has captured it brilliantly.
villain is carved from the same mold as classic Star Wars antagonists, a seemingly one-dimensional embodiment of pure evil. But most of the POV scenes here are loaded with introspection and dark humor that makes them an absolute joy to read, and manage to paint a portrait of something more complex when all is said and done.
The only real problem with Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor
is the same one that hampers nearly every Star Wars novel that jumps backwards in the timeline: We know what's going to happen. We know that Luke and Han and Leia and Lando and everyone else we love aren't in any real danger, and the events of the novel will have little to no impact on the Star Wars saga.
While some may find this to be a nice break from the oft-overwrought and melancholy storytelling that has dominated the New Jedi Order era, it is a weakness when a novel relies as heavily on the idea that the principal characters are doomed as Mindor
does. The suspense is a bit hollow when we know that they're not.
Still, kudos should be given to Stover here, who manages to ratchet up enough tension and jam the characters into a large enough catastrophe that I was still wondering how in Yoda's name they were going to get out of it alive.
The only other minor problem with this book that's worth noting is the point at which it becomes the reunion tour. Bringing in three characters from the Clone Wars-era novel was a little much, but it's probably not as silly as it sounds from the outside. People who tend to resent authors for using "pet characters" may be annoyed, but Stover's Shatterpoint characters aren't shoehorned in and made bigger or more important than they should be. These characters never exceed their function within the story.
I don't think Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor is the best Star Wars novel ever— I don't even think it's Mr. Stover's finest work in this saga. But it is a tremendous book and some of the most fun I've had reading in ages. More than anything when I was finished, The Shadows of Mindor made me want to pop in the original Star Wars trilogy and watch them again.
This book feels like Star Wars should. It's a great adventure novel laced with sharp wit and superb characterizations that every fan should pick up, even non-EU readers. It's extremely accessible— anyone who's seen the films can enjoy this story.
And, I'm almost certain, they will.
Paul: This novel is, quite simply, fun. I enjoyed reading it, and the silly grin of pleasure stayed with me for the rest of the day. It's focused firmly on the heroes of the original Star Wars trilogy, and gives them all something worthwhile to do, as well as adding some excellent new characters to the mix. If I have one complaint, it's that there's not quite enough of this book, but I'm not sure if that's a valid criticism.
You'll know the main characters of this novel even if you've never even seen a Star Wars movie, and the more serious fans of the franchise will also recognize the supporting cast: Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca; Lando Calrissian, Artoo Deetoo and See Threepio; the X-wing pilots of Rogue Squadron, and even Fenn Shysa, the most popular hero from the tie-in comics that were produced at the time of the original movies. It's shortly after the Battle of Endor, and the plot is built around the latest move by the victorious Rebels to tidy up the remnants of the Empire - a brutal military campaign against devious, fanatical opponents, entrenched on the dark and deadly planet Mindor. That's the story, but as the title suggests, the emotional and psychological journey at the centre of this novel belongs to Luke Skywalker. With the focus of his early life - his father and the evil Emperor - removed, the young Jedi Knight is struggling to see meaning and light in his existence, and the novel is ultimately about his attempts to find purpose in the shadow of war, loss and self-doubt.
In terms of characterization, gestures and moods, the description of Luke, now a somewhat reluctant General, was absolutely pitch-perfect, building on the inner turmoil that he faced at Cloud City and the Death Star, and the silent clarity the character acquired during Empire and Jedi, not to mention the uncertainty about his future direction and moral choices that he has grappled with in the other novels set after the original movies - and, of course, his capacity for selfless, automatic, and triumphant heroism. Oddly, considering how well-expressed his identity was in this book, Luke Skywalker is the one character in this novel whose speaking voice sounded a little off to me. I found it hard to hear Mark Hamill speaking this dialogue. That said, considering the character's state of mind in this story, his lack of a confident, distinctive voice was appropriate, and may even have been deliberate: the character's dialogue certainly grew stronger towards the end.
Of course, if Luke was the only character whose speaking voice sounded a little strange here, that means all the others were just awesome. This is a novel with a wide cast of characters, and they're portrayed with a depth and clarity that is both impressive and enjoyable. Han and Leia in particular were strongly-written, and it's somewhat disconcerting to realise that this is Stover's first foray into writing these characters. It's not just snappy dialogue, either - every one of the Star Wars heroes gets a moment to shine in the spotlight of the storyline, with the author deftly highlighting the key aspects of their well-known identities, and building their key contributions to the plot from the natural basis of who they are - from Lando's glitzy new uniforms to Threepio's querulous pride in his translation abilities.
The story is further strengthened by the antagonists: a truly dangerous arch-villain whose dark confidence is nearly a match for Luke Skywalker's heroism, and his honourable, deluded sidekick. I thought both these characters were written incredibly well, with a deep, understated complexity to their motivations. I don't want to say too much, because maybe I'm reading in a little more than the author intended, but considering that one theme of this novel is the search for something beyond the rational and quantifiable, I think it's something worth mentioning. Either way, the Imperials are certainly responsible for leading the heroes into a multi-layered and appreciably devious trap, and doing so with a combination of parade flourish and black-clad vilainy, and that contribution to the story alone would be more than enough to make them great Star Wars adversaries.
The battleground in which the action is set, the Mindor system, is one of the most impressive and detailed new settings in recent Star Wars storytelling, a place that almost seems deliberately designed for the bad-guys to spring a deadly deep-space ambush. Certain details of the system also bear a strong resemblance to elements of the gnostic creation-myth, which is certainly appropriate considering the clash between heroism and darkness in this story, but which may be pure coincidence: I've been wrong about this sort of thing before, and if you want a good laugh, I can give you a copy of my entirely spurious point-by-point comparison between Matt Stover's earlier Traitor, and Voltaire's Candide.
I'm pretty sure that a space-combat trick involving repulsorlifts wasn't consciously intended as a thematic statement by the author, either, but it still works as one, because of the way that this simple, cheap technology casually defies the major implications of known physics, creating energy from nothing. Some other details that add to the coherence and effectiveness of this story do seem likely to be deliberate: a reference to the astrophysical and metaphysical implications of Force-sensitivity in hyperspace that turns the destruction of Alderaan into a glimpse of immortality, and a playfuly direct reference to the poetry of W.B. Yeats.
Overall, Mindor arranges characterization, storytelling, and the details of its sci-fi world-building into a powerful prose-symphony, but it's never too complicated or abstruse to lose the reader's interest. Don't let my analysis make you think this novel is primarily philosophy disguised as pulp fiction, either: Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor is all about action and fun. That trick with the repulsors that I mentioned is mainly there to make the reader grin with pure enjoyment. The details and possible subtexts add depth and resonance to the story, rather than demanding the reader to pay attention to their hidden agendas.
In fact, the main narrative of the novel is starkly straightforward: the characters find themselves in the jaws of a massive, deadly trap, jump through the required superhuman hoops, and leave with a jump to lightspeed. Alongside the thematic flourishes I just mentioned, there was a level of directly narrative complexity that transcended the plot. Framing-device scenes at the start and end of the book teasingly suggested that the rest of the story was the novellization of a propagandist action-movie. Luke Skywalker also retained his ambiguity and uncertaintly at the end, a situation which readers of the other Expanded Universe stories will know eventually leads him to becoming a reborn Palpatine's new Sith Apprentice, until Leia rescues him. Direct foreshadowing of these events was even included, within a pattern of references to other stories, which would be invisible to new readers, but which should serve to deepen the meaning of those adventures for those who have read them, and to strengthen the thematic continuities within the Star Wars saga. But, for a key which has the finely-wrought mechanism to open this complex lock of meaning, Mindor was surprisingly undecorated and straightforward in its overall design. A little of the unstoppable exuberance of Matt Stover's usual prose was perhaps missing, too.
To an extent, I think this was probably deliberate. This book has been billed as taking the Star Wars novel back to its "pre-Zahn" roots, with the pulp adventure feel of the early novels produced alongside the original movie trilogy, rather than the more poised storytelling of Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy. The simple story of human heroism against impossible odds reflects that inspiration. Ironically, though, I thought the plot still resembled Zahn's books, with its neatly-engineered structure and surprising yet appropriate outcome - albeit a slightly more light-weight Zahn. Either way, it felt slightly off-balance when paired with the distinctly "Matt Stover" effect of all the bold and brilliant, heavy-hitting details. This is best described as a novel by Matt Stover, rather than a Matt Stover novel - for that, you really need the full, take-no-prisoners, attitude on all fronts.
Perhaps the self-conscious homage to a particular style, and that prevented it from being quite what it might have on its own terms. Stover deserves credit for the respect he showed to his sources, but I think I prefer what he does when he has the confidence to take hold of the material somewhere painful, and pull. Hard. That's what he did with Traitor, taking the familiar ideals of the Jedi and forcing them to fight for survival, and with Shatterpoint, referencing Apocalypse Now, and thus both Joseph Conrad and the early drafts of The Star Wars, and yet making something fully new and strikingly original out of it.
That said, this is a good novel, and probably more approachable to new readers than a more intense, compicated, and mind-bending version would have been. I'm giving it the somewhat quixotic score of 3.6/3.7, because this novel is damn near perfect, but I just felt that it was slightly lacking in muscle.
Maybe that's appropriate, though, considering that the novel is built around the disillusionment of Luke Skywalker, the man whose initiation into the uncertain adult world that he inhabits here is symbolized by the amputation of his right hand.
Adrick: In these days of economic instability, it’s sometimes difficult for me to justify spending something in the neighborhood of twenty dollars on a hardcover Star Wars novel. And given that there is generally no guarantee that a Star Wars hardcover will be any more epic or better written than its paperback counterpart, it’s rare that I feel a desire rather than a fanboy obligation to plunk down that much money for a book. But Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor made me feel exactly that.
This is the Star Wars hardcover with the most bang for your buck since…well, since before Betrayal, anyway. It starts with the cover, which puts the Fate of the Jedi books to shame. I know the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”…this may be true, but it’s no excuse for a bad book cover. A cover is the book equivalent of a movie trailer. Movie trailers don’t settle for one generic image and a logo to represent the entire story—movie tie-books shouldn’t either. Not only is the front a gorgeous painting of a heroic Luke Skywalker, the illustration extends to the back of the jacket, where a flamboyant villain leads black armored Imperial troops into battle. Hot dog, that has got to be one of the best Star Wars novel covers in over ten years. It’s a welcome break from computer manipulated generic headshots on vague backgrounds.
If the eye-catching jacket doesn’t sell you, the story should. Continuity geeks like me love it when our favorite obscure stories and characters are resurrected in sourcebooks and articles, but seeing them appear in fully fledged novels is only a relatively recent phenomenon. Luke’s battle with Lord Shadowspawn has, until now, been mentioned only infrequently, so seeing used as the basis of an entire novel is a real treat.
Blackhole—the villain who here creates the menace of Shadowspawn—has, through his ever-marketable Shadowtroopers and the reference works of Abel G. Pena, snowballed into one of the galaxy’s biggest biggest reoccurring villains, becoming a fusion of several previously unrelated characters and taking responsibility for preexisting evil deeds nearly every time he is mentioned. But it’s only here that Blackhole finally becomes his own character, with the many aspects of his personality—from his name to his hyperbolic mannerisms—finally reconciled into one impressive character. Not bad for someone whose main appearance was in a newspaper comic thirty years ago.
Luke Skywalker is also given the treatment he deserves, a combination of confident Jedi and reluctant general, someone who is sure of his faith but uncertain as to its application. Han, Leia, Lando, and even Threepio all have parts to play as well, and their characters are well represented.
The backdrop for the battle between the New Republic and Blackhole’s Imperial forces is both epic in scope and remarkably self-contained. It’s vivid and intriguing, and makes the dogfights and ground battles a pleasure to read.
This novel does have its drawbacks, among them a few minor continuity gaffes and an annoyingly open-ended conclusion. (After Death Star, Millennium Falcon, and Coruscant Nights, I’m starting to wonder how many unlikely-but-effective teams of minor characters on quests that may or may not be addressed in future novels we really need.) Still, this is absolutely one of the best examples of a Star Wars novel I’ve read.