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Legacy of the Force IV - Exile

Stephen’s Rating

3.7 / 4

Paul's Rating

3.6 / 4

Mike's Rating

3.6 / 4

 

Evil is on the move as the Galactic Alliance and Jedi order battle forces seen and unseen, from rampant internal treachery to the nightmare of all-out war. With each victory against the Corellian rebels, Jacen Solo becomes more admired, more powerful, and more certain of achieving galactic peace.

But that peace may come with a price. Despite strained relationships caused by opposing sympathies in the war, Han and Leia Solo and Luke and Mara Skywalker remain united by one frightening suspicion: someone insidious is manipulating this war, and if he or she isn't stopped, all efforts at reconciliation may be for naught. And as sinister visions lead Luke to believe that the source of the evil is none other than Lumiya, Dark Lady of the Sith, the greatest peril revolves around Jacen himself.


Reviews

Stephen: Exile is the latest addition to the Legacy of the Force series, telling the continuing story of the descendants of Anakin Skywalker as the galaxy once more falls into civil war. It is written by the esteemed Aaron Allston, and contains all of the hallmarks of an Allston novel: clear, concise starfighter battles, wonderful characterization, subtle humor, and a solid grasp of what a Jedi is. Say what you want about the man, but he knows how to write, and more importantly he knows how to write Star Wars.

The characters and characterizations are brilliant. They are vibrant and three-dimensional, realistic and most importantly flawed beings. This brilliance shines through especially in the case of Ben Skywalker. He's a petulant teenager having the first pangs of maturity, realizing that those around him, the giants and heroes of the galaxy, aren't exactly infallible, and between all this, Ben takes giant strides in growing up here. For the first time since the death of Anakin Solo, we're being given hints of a character that could conceivably be worthy of being a Star Wars archetypal hero. Then we're given brilliant representations of the Skywalkers, the Solos, the Horns and the Antilles. Yet, the character that surprised me the most, in terms of sheer characterization, was Kyp Durron. We finally get to see Kyp acting like a Jedi Master as opposed to the perpetually guilty brat from the NJO and DN3 series. He's wise, he's sarcastic, and he shows up various government officials.

The plot is fairly standard Star Wars fare: we get a bit of dialogue, a bit of politics, a bit of space battles and a bit of lightsaber action. Though don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with standard fare, provided that it is written well, and here, it is written well. That said, there is one big disappointment for me in this regard and that was in Ben's plot. Allston had set up the potential for a serious bit of man-versus-environment story telling, and it's over in just a few chapters, and there's not really any man-versus-environment conflict. I thought that was a tad disappointing, mainly because we have never seen a man-versus-environment story in Star Wars. I mean we'll get occasional bits like the Ben part here or Luke & Han on Hoth during ESB - but we haven't really seen a story about one of our heroes fighting the environment, and by extension themselves. We almost exclusively have an enemy (be it human, alien or creature) which the heroes are fighting against. Is this bad? No. But it would be something that we hadn't really ever seen before in Star Wars, which is a good thing.

The settings were the usual fare, and Allston, as always, is beautiful with his descriptions of starships. For example, in less than a sentence, he gives us a perfect description of a Carrack-class ship; one that is not overly detailed but one that provides the reader with a general thought of what the ship should look like. As is usual for Star Wars novels, we're given a whole host of various planets to visit (and I think that might be why I like Allston's earlier novel Starfighters of Adumar so much, with so many locations even on just a single planet). Overall, like I said, the settings were typical Star Wars and again that's not a bad thing, especially since the characters shine so well here.

The overall style of the novel is pure Allston. The dialogue works well, and feels in-character all round. The writing is simple and contains a clarity that is always refreshing (I find myself reading fairly complex documents on a nearly daily basis for my job, so clear, concise, simple writing is always a breath of fresh air for me), though this is not to say that the story itself is simplistic - but rather that it is accessible for the readers.

Theme-wise this is a very multi-faceted story but there is still an overarching concept of what constitutes right and wrong or good and evil. This concrete duality between light and dark has been a focal point of the Star Wars series since the beginning and was seriously blurred during the NJO. This novel, especially Ben's parts in it, goes a long way to... well not exactly answer the questions about what is light and what is dark, but formalize them in the context of Star Wars, the characters and the EU mythology as a whole. It doesn't really answer these things for the reader, but frames the question to make their answer less ambiguous both within the Star Wars universe and to the fans as well.

Overall, I was happy with this novel, and it reminded me why I love Star Wars. The story is well crafted and solid, but above all it is fun. Yet where the novel shines is the characters. They are beautifully done and I'm truly impressed. I whole heartedly recommend this book and I'm giving it a 3.7 out of 4.


Paul: Exile is the fourth novel in the ‘Legacy of the Force’ storyline, and the second contribution from Aaron Allston, the author of last year’s series opener, Betrayal. We’re nearly half-way through the nine-book sequence now, and looking at the big picture, the news seems good: the overall quality thus far has been impressively solid.

Turning to Exile itself, the nearest thing I have to a criticism is that it’s not quite as relentlessly enjoyable as Betrayal was; but that’s really just a difference of mood and style.

Exile is a great read — it’s probably impossible for Aaron Allston to write a novel that’s not; but where Betrayal (just released in paperback) was the grand fanfare for the series, Exile is a quieter and more subtle piece, adding depth, complexity and intelligence without losing sight of the themes and motifs that create the overall sense of unity in the story — in fact, the references that tie this book back to Betrayal are particularly understated and effective.

In other words, Exile is close in tone and theme to The Empire Strikes Back, and the same is broadly true of the story’s structure as well — although there’s no equivalent of Rebel snowspeeders to delay the villains’ attack at the start, and rather than a loud cry of grief, the climactic clash of lightsabers leads to a moment of understated and unsettling peace between old lovers.

Like Empire, Exile divides between two main plotlines. The more important one involves the movie heroes — Luke, Han, Leia and the rest — along with other characters like Corran Horn and Jag Fel, introduced over the years in the Star Wars novels and comics. The other story told here is a solo adventure for Luke Skywalker’s teenage son Ben.

For much of this book, Ben is trapped alone with just a small droid and an even smaller Force-sensitive on a barren wilderness world — and if you think this resembles Luke’s time on Dagobah, that’s quietly flagged up in the text; it also bears some comparison to Anakin Solo’s epic trek across a captured world in Conquest. But it’s ultimately, and emphatically, Ben’s own journey.

This is the first time the ‘Skycrawler’ has been asked to carry a plotline on his own, and he does so flawlessly here. Admittedly, as a story of a hero overcoming dangers and challenges, this isn’t heavyweight Star Wars — not as substantial as the hero’s journey in Conquest, and without the sweat and pain of the duel at the end of Empire. The danger, whether it comes from space-pirates or packs of savage predators, seems to keep itself at arm’s length. But that makes the story a credible one for a fourteen-year-old hero, and more importantly, the sense of detachment from the danger reflects the character’s self-contained state of mind. The threats Ben faces are actually very real, but the emphasis of the story lies on the inward aspect of his journey — and this is as it should be: the true danger that Ben overcame here was the threat of moral and spiritual corruption.

Ben has been trained as a Jedi by Jacen Solo — Han and Princess Leia’s son. As participants in the Darth Who competition at StarWars.com will know, it’s no spoiler that Jacen has secretly embraced the dark side, and will become the new Sith Lord in the next book of this series: and that gives some idea of what sort of a Jedi Master he’s been for Ben.

Jacen has opened out Ben’s connection to the Force, but he’s also encouraged Ben to focus all his trust and idealism on him — and in doing so, he’s exiled him from the wider community of his family and the Galaxy in a way a fourteen-year-old can’t really understand. In the previous books in the series, Jacen has encouraged Ben to become something more like a stormtrooper officer than a heroic knight; in Exile, he gives him over to Lumiya without hesitation and with barely a second thought, for a test that’s designed to corrupt him into a useful Sith acolyte, or — more likely — kill him when he fails. And the boy obeys his Master willingly, blindly, gladly.

From this starting-point, I found the development of Ben’s moral, social and emotional dislocation during the first stages of his journey one of the most powerful and effective sections in the book, and that only added to my satisfaction when he rejected the madness of the Sith path — for madness is what it is — and came through stronger and more aware of himself and the Galaxy around him. In the way he ultimately escapes from the dead planet of Ziost, Ben reconciles the opposed worlds of the Sith and the Jedi in a way that Jacen, for all his dark hopes, might never understand; and in doing that, Ben Skywalker is placing himself, subtly but unarguably, in the heroic stance that’s at the core of Star Wars storytelling.

Ben’s journey establishes him as a solid Star Wars character in his own right — potentially much more than that; my only worry is that, as with Anakin Solo before him, they’re building him up here simply in order to kill him off in a novel or two from now.

In contrast, Jacen doesn’t really do anything much in Exile. He’s the nominal protagonist of the series, and he’s attempting to impose his vision of order on the Galaxy, but overall, it’s not very impressive. He’s a rounded and credible character, but he passes his time bullying ordinary men and women, viciously murdering occasional background characters, and overestimating his own strength and importance — and he pales in comparison to his shadow partner, Lumiya: one-time lover of Luke Skywalker, one-time Sith Apprentice to Darth Vader, and the ultimate antagonist in both strands of the plot.

The second — or rather, primary — storyline is even more strongly character-driven than Ben’s narrative, following the rest of the Star Wars heroes as they try to understand the situation that’s caused their long-fought-for dreams of peace and freedom to crumble around them. Han Solo and Princess Leia take a leading part, of course — teaming up with Lando Calrissian, who here makes his first, very welcome appearance in the ‘Legacy of the Force’ books, his scoundrel’s style and charm undiminished by age and roguish ‘respectability’. Luke Skywaker and his wife Mara play the role that leading Jedi Masters should, but they figure less prominently as protagonists than they did in Tempest, leaving room for veteran X-wing pilots Wedge Antilles and Corran Horn, and also for Jag Fel — whose reappearance here will be a delight for fans of his long-interrupted romance with Han and Leia’s daughter Jaina.

It’s not a coincidence that Wedge, Corran and Han are all Corellians: the opening books of ‘Legacy of the Force’ seemed to promise a dramatic division between the heroes, with Han and Wedge backing their homeworld against the Galactic Alliance government supported by Luke and the Jedi Knights — but here, that expectation is overturned, as the new Corellian regime turns on its own heroes and forces them and their families to flee their homeworld, into the ‘exile’ of the title.

Within the storyline of ‘Legacy of the Force’, it seems that reducing the Star Warriors to helpless spectators on the touchline of the spreading war is a key aim of the Sith plot — and the characters are coming to realise this too; but the reasons for their dislocation are very well thought-out both practically and psychologically, and in response, they find things to do that maintain their active role as protagonists even while they’re unable to play any effective role in the ever-worsening military situation.

No direct comparison with the Rebel retreat from Hoth is made — this is far more than just a casual reprise of the movie — but that’s still an analogy that’s quite useful in considering what’s going on here: the heroes who should be opposing the bad guys and standing up for what’s right have been attacked, overwhelmed and scattered, retreating in little groups with just a couple of X-wings riding shotgun on the transports — and left to grapple with the aftermath while they keep running.

This represents a departure for Allston, best know for his X-wing novels — all his previous Star Wars work has placed the heroes firmly within squadron units of fighter pilots; but works brilliantly. The reader’s expectations are subverted and challenged at the same time as the heroes are deprived of the reassurance of their military ‘family units’, and forced to adapt to new, unfamiliar — and often unpleasant — situations. It’s a measure of how well Allston captures these characters, even in changed circumstances, that it’s only now, writing the review, that I realise this is the first time he’s had the opportunity to write Corran or Zekk with this sort of length or depth.

Of course, Exile also displays all of Allston’s tried-and-tested qualities as a writer — and especially a Star Wars writer. I don’t think anyone’s better at the brief, elegant word-sketch of how a Star Wars spaceship looks, and he has few equals at telling a story from the point of view of a pilot in a starfighter cockpit. As fans of his previous novels will expect, the dialogue of the fighter-pilot characters is spiced with humour and lateral thinking — the verbal equivalent of dogfighting.

That said, there’s less of this here than there was in Allston’s earlier novels, even Betrayal. The space-battles in Exile are inconclusive, described from a detached third-person point of view that contrasts with the close-focus perspectives of the rest of the novel, and only one new spaceship design is introduced, an ungainly transport ship glimpsed fleetingly at the start. The X-wings in this story are normally running for hyperspace, pursued by overwhelming forces. And Wedge Antilles drops out of the book several chapters from the end — it’s not really clear where he’s gone.

But I suspect that this is all deliberate. Even as the Galactic Alliance attempts to impose order and union on unwilling star systems, the Star Wars Galaxy is becoming a fragmented landscape of dislocated locations and ideas. Thus far, Jacen’s actions and those of the Alliance might seem largely inconclusive — but their posturing alone is having a direct effect on the lives of the people they’re supposed to help, and the way the narrative is structured allows the reader to experience that situation with a clarity on both emotional and intellectual levels. With the heroes deprived of the means to strike back militarily, Allston’s trademark wit and wordplay are conscripted to great effect, allowing the characters too fight verbal skirmishes — too often rearguard actions — with the villains and the darkening situation that they’ve created.

Finally, a word about editing and continuity. This is something that niggles away in the mind of this particular reviewer — and I’m glad to say that the improvement I felt was achieved in Tempest seems to have been maintained here. I think I found one minor continuity slip, but I could be misremembering what I read in Tempest, or the inconsistency might even be deliberate: the characters in the previous novel could have had imperfect intelligence of the situation we see in more detail here. I only spotted three or four typos over the course of the book, even if one of them was in the opening Dramatis Personae list... unless, of course, there’s a subtext behind the term ‘Chud’ (instead of ‘child’) that’s not elaborated on in the book?

Ultimately, Exile did the most important thing that a chapter in a serial story needs to do: ‘Legacy of the Force’ is a nine-course banquet of Star Wars, and Exile left me feeling satisfied with what I’d just experienced, but still hungry for the next part of the meal — eager for more, especially for Allston’s next book, Fury, due out in November. Overall, Exile gets an impressive 3.6 out of 4 from me.

Just one thought, though: if Betrayal was Allston’s equivalent to the original Star Wars, and Exile takes the role of Empire Strikes Back... does that mean that there’ll be a lot of Ewoks in Fury?!

Yub yub!!


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