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Outcast Cover
Back Cover

Fate of the Jedi: Outcast

Paul's Rating

3.7 / 4

Adrick's Rating

2 / 4

Matt's Rating

/ 4

Stephen's Rating

3.8 / 4

Wes's Rating

2/ 4

 

After a violent civil war, and the devastation wrought by the now-fallen Darth Caedus, the Galactic Alliance is in crisis -- and in need. From all corners, politicians, power brokers, and military leaders converge on Coruscant for a crucial summit to restore order, negotiate differences, and determine the future of their unified worlds. But even more critical, and far more uncertain, is the future of the Jedi.

In a shocking move, Chief of State Natasi Daala orders the arrest of Luke Skywalker for failing to prevent Jacen Solo's turn to the dark side and his subsequent reign of terror as a Sith Lord. But it's only the first blow in an anti-Jedi backlash fueled by a hostile government and suspicious public. When Jedi Knight Valin Horn, scion of a politically influential family, suffers a mysterious psychotic break and becomes a dangerous fugitive, the Jedi become the target of a media-driven witch hunt. Facing conviction on the damning charges, Luke has only one choice. He must strike a bargain with the calculating Daala: his freedom in exchange for his exile -- from Coruscant and from the Jedi Order.

Now, though forbidden to intervene in Jedi affairs, Luke is determined to keep history from being repeated. With his son, Ben, at his side, Luke sets out to unravel the shocking truth behind Jacen Solo's corruption and downfall. But the secrets he uncovers among the enigmatic Force mystics of the distant world Dorin may bring his quest -- and life as he knows it -- to a sudden end. And all the while, another Jedi Knight, consumed by the same madness as Valin Horn, is headed for Coruscant on a fearsome mission that could doom the Jedi Order . . . and devastate the entire galaxy.


Reviews

Paul: There is, I think, a great deal to enjoy and admire in Outcast, the first of nine books in the Fate of the Jedi series, set around four decades after the original Star Wars trilogy.

This novel is a fun, well-paced read. It effortlessly captures the feel of the "Galaxy far, far away" and the personalities of the Star Wars heroes. It should be very accessible to casual fans, and it also contains varied layers of depth and subtlety, to appeal to the interests of the more observant and thoughtful members of the audience. The jokes are good, especially the dialogue-based ones.

It has, in short, everything that the most discerning reader should expect from an Aaron Allston Star Wars novel.

But, surprisingly, I'm not sure how much I really enjoyed it. There were a lot of individual moments of joy and humour in this book, but in what seemed like the important places, I generally found myself somewhere between a thoughtful frown and an outright antipathy. I'm not sure that this sort of opening bodes well for the rest of the series. Maybe the ominous mood is something that the authors are deliberately going for (more on that later), and if so, Allston deserves kudos for how well he developed it here. But, if so, then this series is also going in a direction that's simply less enjoyable for me.

On the other hand, it's possible that the difficult elements of this novel are meant as buildup, and the authors and editors have some sort of payoff planned. If that's the case, then it'll hopefully happen sooner than it did in the preceding "Legacy of the Force" story-arc, where it took until book six for the series to really get going.

Structurally, Fate of the Jedi seems to start off in familiar territory: a foreground 'A' plot involving Jedi Knights descending into a dangerous madness, set against a background 'B' storyline about peace negotiations between the Alliance and the Galactic Empire. So far, so reassuring. About a quarter of the way through, though, the book changes shape, and the plot spins off in a way I hadn't anticipated. The rest of the novel has three separate narrative strands that are given approximately equal weight, and which don't appear to be directly connected.

Luke Skywalker resigns as leader of the Jedi, and goes into exile, accompanied by his son Ben, in an attempt to discover why his nephew Jacen fell to the dark side (this, incidentally, explains the picture of a spaceship at the start of every chapter - it's the vehicle they take with them on their quest). Meanwhile, Han Solo and Princess Leia head off to the spice mines of Kessel in the Millennium Falcon, in a bid to uncover a mystery there for their old friend Lando Calrissian. In the third plotline, the younger characters, led by Han and Leia's daughter Jaina, remain on Coruscant and try to deal with both the political machinations and the insane Jedi Knights. At the end of the novel, each of the storylines is given a temporary resolution, but they aren't brought together, as the three groups of characters set off separately into the next chapter of the series.

All three strands of the story are very well-told, with Allston's usual authorial skills being strongly displayed, including blaster-bolt dialogue and a remarkable ability to capture the visual appearance of objects in a few simple words. There's a particular pleasure for me in the deft descriptions of the various spaceships that play such an important role in any Star Wars tale. Perhaps the most important of the book's obvious strengths is in the characterization of the movie cast and their "Expanded Universe" relations. Not for the first time, Aaron Allston was so on-point with this that I only saw the people, and didn't even think of it as an aspect of the author's craft until the book was done.

There's more depth behind those overt strengths, too. Allston uses subtle Star Wars references to add texture and detail to the story. These don't interrupt or undermine the narrative, but they're there for the reader who already knows to recognize them. Some of the places visited in this story are derived from role-playing scenarios, some scenes riff off the movies, and there are even throwaway lines that seem aimed in the direction of discussions in online fandom. Jedi Master Kenth Hamner, a background character whose lack of any identity beyond a basic character profile has become something of an in-joke, is suddenly thrust to prominence, and given a sharp, unexpected personality.

The attention to detail and the quiet acknowledgment of the various elements that make up the Star Wars mythos will add to the enjoyment of this book for a lot of fans, but it's important to emphasise that these references aren't just intrusive moments of geekery to satisfy or amuse the hard-core fanboy. Readers who don't get the allusions shouldn't notice anything, except perhaps a sense that the people and places in this book are enjoyably well-developed; and my personal favourites are the details that add extra meaning. One minor character carries a lightsaber injury sustained around the time of Episode I, silently adding chapters to his biography; another laughs at an unintentionally amusing statement, but doesn't explain to the person who made the gaffe, or the reader. References like this add depth and wit to scenes, and hint at deeper layers of storyline, left unsaid, behind the narrative.

The thematic aspects of the novel also reflect this subtlety of expression. A character's observation of the world around him in one plotline can hint at the wider conclusions drawn at the story's end by someone else, on another world - creating a message that the reader is left to infer, and ponder. The message of Outcast seems to be that life is there for the living, no matter what the situation. After a couple of days to reflect on the whole story, I'm starting to wonder if there are further, deeper themes about exile and identity, as well.

The psychosis that has gripped two Jedi Knights at the start of the book takes the form of a certainty that all their friends and family have been replaced by impostors, leading to an abrupt and horrified estrangement from their once-familiar world. Throughout the three unexpectedly separated storylines of this novel, there are themes of exile, dislocation, or loss, and especially of dual identity and impersonation, some played clearly, others left very implicit. Outcast is also notable in lacking any space-battles or Galactic conflict at all, an unexpected contrast with the previous novels - the New Jedi Order era, Dark Nest trilogy and "Legacy of the Force" series. At first, I thought that this was a deliberate attempt to move the story into more comfortable, less angsty territory; now, I'm not so sure.

There certainly isn't less angst in this story, for one thing.

And yet... while I can admire and respect this book in intellectual terms, while it even makes me laugh aloud quite regularly, I don't feel like I'm enjoying myself. Perhaps that's the point, the result of a subtle sense of unease that's meant to unsettle the reader. On the other hand, that's not really my taste in fiction, especially long-form material.

There's a scene, exactly mid-way through the book, where what seems to be the main antagonist of the series is revealed for the first time; it's played deliberately in a way that's designed to evoke a horror movie (and, to reinforce the idea, we're also told that Han and Leia enjoy watching the Galaxy far, far away's equivalent of Army of Darkness movies - or maybe just Indiana Jones ones). Perhaps it's played for fun, but I'm not sure, and even if it is, it didn't work that way for me. But then again, that's just a very personal opinion, and many readers may disagree.

I would be a curmudgeon if I denied that there were things I liked in this book. The climax of Han's plotline gave me a brief whoop of elation, as I'm sure it was meant to do. Outcast also successfully showed that it's possible to tell a Star Wars story that has no space-battle, without losing the feel and fun of the mythos. But overall, these moments, and there were many of them, didn't add up to an overall positive feeling about this book.

Perhaps that's another in-joke: "I have a real bad feeling about this..."

I'll admit that this doubt may be due, at least in part, to personal point-of-view on my part. The characterization of Tahiri Veila, in particular, seemed disappointing to me - very well-written, and not unnatural considering the character's backstory, but not what I'd have hoped: she was just a little flaky, and a little too defined by ordinary expectations; Ben Skywalker, too, seemed much more the dutiful and orthodox teenage Jedi than I'd have hoped considering where he stood last time we saw him. The result is that the few characters I was left feeling very positive about at the end of "Legacy of the Force" seemed weakened here. Perhaps that's necessary or deliberate in the opening book of a new series, but I can't say I liked it, and I'm left fearing that these characters' plotlines will either be pessimistic or contrived. But even if I'm right, my interest in these specific characters may skew my response to the novel as a whole, and leave me with a different feeling to other readers. Similarly, the use of two high-speed chases in the skylanes of Galactic City also felt a little underwhelming, but that reaction may have been intensified because there was one in the last Star Wars novel I read, Invincible, as well.

I'm still prepared to be wrong, as well. Perhaps this series will capitalize on this set-up in a very positive way, and perhaps the characterization and situations are deliberately skewed - to add to that that sense of dislocation I mentioned, and to provide tension to be released later. At a key moment, Luke Skywalker utters a mind-numbingly insensitive remark, and I'm pretty sure that the observant reader is meant to recognize it as such, and to realise that he doesn't really know what he's doing at all. I wonder if I'm meant to see an ironic comparison between the landing in a hangar-bay full of Imperials in armour and jackboots at the start of this novel, and the noble farewell scene later, where the uniformed knights of the Order line up to salute their Master as he goes into exile. While Tahiri's character seems outwardly more flaky than Jaina Solo or Dab Hantaq, I find myself trusting and respecting those characters less: although there's nothing to condemn in them, their own obsessions, ideological and romantic, ultimately seem equally kooky, and perhaps rather more misguided, less self-knowing. I'm prepared to hope that the potential subtlety I'm finding here might be deliberate. But the "horror" vibes are simply not something that appeals to me, and when juxtaposed with that, the ostensible message - "bad stuff happens, so keep living, and enjoy the drama and emotion of the story" - isn't one I can fully buy into. With the entire nine-book Fate of the Jedi arc being published in hardcover, I'm going to have to be persuaded far more strongly than I was for the previous "Legacy of the Force" series.

Overall, I give this novel a very solid 3.7/4 - the same as I did for Fury, Allston's last Star Wars novel before this one - but I enjoyed it much less than I did that book. The second of those opinions may be rather subjective, however, and it's certainly no reflection of the level of skill and commitment that I think went into Outcast: I'd recommend all serious Star Wars fans to take a proper look at this novel, and work out what they think about it for themselves.


Adrick:
I always enjoy a healthy helping of Allston’s own brand of humor, and Leia and Han’s adventures in the caverns of Kessel seem almost a throwback to a more adventure-oriented time in Star Wars publishing, before non-stop Coruscant politicking, moral relativism, and nine volume series became the norm.

Ah, the nine book series. I am trying to keep an open mind, but the concept seems inherently flawed after Legacy of the Force, which was essentially a three book story padded out to encompass six more volumes. And after all, even George Lucas himself pared the Star Wars saga down from nine installments to six.

It’s still too early to judge the series as a whole, but the setup seems a little forced: in the aftermath of Legacy of the Force, Luke Skywalker is sentenced to exile until he can explain how Jacen Solo came to commit his atrocities. This seems nonsensical for a number of reasons. First, it’s difficult to see how Luke alone can be blamed for someone who had spent several books winning the support of the Galactic Alliance. Second, the idea that something other than the events of The Dark Nest Trilogy and Legacy of the Force led Jacen to the Dark Side tends to undercut what little dramatic impact those series had. Finally, it’s particularly ridiculous that Luke and Ben must go out of their way to determine what led Jacen to undergo a radical personality change into a genocidal power hungry lunatic, in order to satisfy a government led by a Daala, who underwent a radical and unexplained personality change from a genocidal power hungry lunatic into a candidate for the highest office in the galaxy.

It is difficult to take any scene with Daala seriously. At one point Daala uses Kyp Durron’s destruction of the Carida system during the Jedi Academy Trilogy as an example of dangerous vigilante Jedi. Luke doesn’t give the obvious reply that Durron wouldn’t have been able to destroy Carida if he hadn’t escaped from an Imperial base run by Daala herself, with a weapon whose conception and construction Daala had facilitated, and that Daala had been acting as a dangerous vigilante herself at the time. (Kessel’s garrison moon, obliterated by a superlaser in Champions of the Force, reappears here inexplicably intact. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that a review of the Jedi Academy Trilogy is in order.) Much like Luke’s reaction to Ben’s “Dad, was the Empire really evil” question in Legacy of the Force, this discussion is treated as though the other character has a valid point instead of a patently absurd statement.

Fate of the Jedi’s other major plot point, the inexplicable madness sweeping certain young members of the Jedi Order, feels more old hat than mysterious. Perhaps it’s because Allston used sudden and inexplicable madness in much the same way in both Solo Command and Betrayal.

Once Luke and Ben finally get underway, however, their expedition to Kel Dor is an interesting side story with some nice twists. I enjoy the interaction between the two characters, and Allston shows Ben coming into his own personality as a character, which is nice.

All in all, I enjoyed Luke and Leia’s separate adventures on Dorin and Kessel more than the introduction to the main Fate of the Jedi storyline. I’m glad I read the book, but I don’t feel as optimistic about the series.


Stephen:
The latest in post-RotJ Star Wars EU is a 302 paged book from Aaron Allston entitled Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Outcast (ISBN: 978-0-345-50906-2). Which for ease of use, and general laziness on my part, I shall henceforth refer to it merely as Outcast. Outcast was a fun, fun ride, a continuation of the trend, started by Millennium Falcon, that replaced the NJO/LotF focus on depressing, non-fantasy story lines. Set 40 years after A New Hope, it begins with a tight focus on Valin Horn's situation where he's coming under the sway of what I can only assume is the major plot point of Fate of the Jedi--a plot point which is described on the dust jacket as "a mysterious psychotic break." While the novel itself was a fun read, well-paced, nicely structured, and generally oozing the "feeling" of the GFFA, I was still left with the feeling of something being off.

I must confess something here, even after two reads, I'm still trying to figure out just what the plot is for this story. There's a lot happening, and a lot of characters doing things, but it's not really tightly coupled together with a plot. As stated above, we have this nice defined "A" plot involving psychotic Jedi, and there's the whole peace summit that folks are talking over, and suddenly, we're dealing with three distinct groups, doing three distinct things, none of them really related to what I perceived as the A or B plots from the opening chapters of the novel.

Ultimately I think the problem is in the fact that there's not a clear-cut villain for any of the various plot points which our cast-of-heroes find themselves. The only exception would be the one of the narrative thread bit where the environment itself is the antagonist. We have all these narrative threads--and no true antagonists in any of them.  Sure, the protagonists are doing things against people (or the environment) but none of them come across as a threat to the hero; they're just macguffins to get through.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I just enjoy a book more when there's an overarching reason for the novel; when there's a good guy and a bad guy.

In the end, I think what we're seeing here, is what one often sees in the first chapter of a Dean Koontz novel; it's the section where people tangentially related to the plot, but aren't a focus of the story. do things to let you know that bad things are happening.

Speaking of people, the protagonists here are the usual mixture of Star Warriors in the form of the remaining heroes from the movies and their remaining children.  In fact, the Dramatis Personae is somewhat... lacking this time around. For the start of a nine-book series, Outcast only features eleven characters in the DP (for comparison, Betrayal had 28 characters listed).  What's sadder, is that if they had added just one more character to the DP, then it would've just been a listing of POV characters rather than the list of characters that play a role in novel--and no, they're not the same thing.

But, even then, we can cull our list of characters further, gathering just Luke, Ben, Jaina, Han and Leia as primary--and by extension important--characters.

First, Luke Skywalker, hero extraordinaire, and beloved Jedi Master--actually remembers what it means to be those things.  He's wise, he's decisive, and he's not scared of silly soldiers with blasters and itchy trigger fingers. But above that, this book manages to successfully pull off what both LotF and the NJO failed to do: which is remove Luke as the power-house that can solve the problems of the overarching plot in 5 minutes, and thus leave the Fate of the Jedi "A" plot to the little Jedi to plod along until end of the nine books (which I have a bad feeling will feature Luke returning and setting things right). The thing is those earlier stories did remove him as instant problem solver, but they did so at the cost of his characterization. Allston managed to do this, and still keep him as the decisive hero that Luke is supposed to be.

The only thing that left me annoyed with his characterization here was a discussion between Luke and the Chief of State, in which he takes the time to poke at her over her old flame in order to protect his stance in the conversation, but when she attacks Kyp Durron for something he did 30-something years prior and was pardoned by the New Republic for, he doesn't bring up things she did--and was not pardoned for--during the same time frame. It seemed like he was willing to let Kyp get fed to the wolves there. But a single conversation where he doesn't act quite right is better than where he is way out in Left Field in terms of character in 12 out of a 19 book series .

So, after this beautiful handling of Luke Skywalker, we must glance over at his partner-in-crime for this particular novel; his son, Ben. For the first time, I've actually enjoyed Ben's characterization. He's no longer the cardboard cut-out which appeared in the first half of the LotF, additionally, he's coming into his own as a valid character--and an interesting mixture of Corran Horn and Luke Skywalker. I distinctly like the thought of a Jedi who approaches things using investigative techniques (including interrogation ones) rather than just following their whims and calling it the "Will of the Force."

Unfortunately, he's still not a character that just screams HERO the way Luke did during the early years, and Anakin Solo did during the early NJO. Still, his character is a lot more sympathetic and generally good, than the little StormTrooper which was Ben in LotF.

Speaking of good little Jedi, we next get to look towards Jaina--who is anything BUT a good little soldier in this novel. She's a perfect example of her mother's wit and fire and well, rebelliousness in relation to authority. Additionally, she seems to finally be over her soap-operatic ways and Mando-adoration and has thus settled into her role as Sword of the Jedi.  But, still, she lacks that special something which would make her the Hero of the story, but she's much closer to having it than Ben, or her LotF incarnation.

The final duo of our primary characters are the perennial couple of couples, Han and Leia Solo. This was the same Solo couple that we got in last year's Millennium Falcon novel; loving and happy, and willing to do just about anything for a friend.

I do feel the need to bring out one additional detail that Outcast needs praise on, and that is the fact that long-time Jedi Master Kenth Hamner actually gets a personality above and beyond "Stern Master #2." Yes, he has that whole retired military officer thing going for him, but just how he interacts with others, including (or maybe especially) Jaina, display him in a much more.... personable light.

Settings are slim here. We get Coruscant, Kessel and Dorin, home of the Kel Dor and the prequel-era Jedi, Plo Koon.  Of those, both Kessel and Dorin get decent descriptions, and emphasis on the alienness of the planets as opposed to such terrestrial planets as Corellia. 

Now while dealing with the Theme of this novel, I have to start and wonder if that sense of disquiet, that "not rightness" that I felt while reading was intentional. The book was titled "Outcast" and there were numerous references to being exiled, and leaving things behind. I have to wonder if the author intentionally built what should be, and on the surface is, a fundamentally sound Star Wars story but structured in such a way that when one thinks about it, it leaves you with a sense of disquiet. As if the story itself is an outcast from the greater narrative which is the expanded universe--or at least our expectations of that narrative.

Which in turn leads nicely to the lack in that narrative, that absence of a Campbellian Hero, which has been at the crux of how everything has played out since the last Campbellian Hero was forcibly removed from the narrative. We're still dealing with the ramifications of the Anakin Solo-shaped hole in the narrative; we're looking at the fact that the narrative exiled itself from the Hero's Journey which is at the root of Star Wars.

We're missing things here, things are separated from how they "should" be. Even above and beyond Luke's exile from Coruscant, this is a book, a narrative, that has exiled itself from the morality play roots of Star Wars. Outcast is a Good vs. Evil story with no defined evil, and no defined Hero to fight that evil. Just a cast of protagonists, going about doing things they feel they need to do. It's not Campbellian, if anything it is episodic operatic drama; a literary version of a daily soap opera or procedural police drama from American TV so to speak.

It's not bad per se, but it's not classical Star Wars either. And that separation, especially coupled with narrative threads that should be Star Wars is what lends itself so well to that disquiet, that sense of disconnectedness with the narrative, that I felt while thinking about the story.

As unintended end result of editorial influence on the author to have XYZ happen in the book, and nothing else, it works. If it was intentional on Mr. Allston's part (whether due to editorial influence or not) it is utter and sheer genius.

And on that note, I feel it might be time for my final thoughts on the novel, and my final thought has to be that I liked it. I liked the way that the absence worked with the greater narrative, but above that I liked the fact that I actually enjoyed it while reading. Sure there were an issue or two that made me stumble over the narrative. I'm not entirely certain how well I enjoy the characterization of Tahiri Veila here, or how much I enjoy the thought of Tarc coming back into the overall storyline. on the flip side of the coin, I did enjoy seeing a handful of secondary, non-Jedi characters during the Kessel scene.

In the end, I have to give this a 3.8/4. All the good things done right here, far outweighs the few bad things--and even on just the chance that that sense of disquiet I felt while reading was intentional makes me all sorts of happy.


Wes:
What is immediately striking about this book is how different the galaxy seems in it than it did in James Luceno's Millennium Falcon, the book that precedes it chronologically by a few short weeks. At Millennium Falcon's end, we'd learned that the Galactic Alliance government was going to file charges against Luke of "Dereliction of duty" for "allowing Jacen to slip to the dark side," and Allana proclaims, "We're going to rescue Master Luke!" before Han puts the Falcon into hyperspace so he and Leia can do just that. When Outcast opens, however, we see that nothing has come of this yet, and the Skywalker and Solo families are actually just sitting at a very dull "Unification Summit" between the Alliance, Imperial Remnant, and Confederacy.

In Millennium Falcon, the Mandalorians are being used by Daala as a royal guard, patrolling the streets of Coruscant, and are even working with Galactic Alliance intelligence to hunt down the rogue Jedi Seff Hellin. In Outcast, there are no signs of these Mandalorians, and they seem to have been replaced instead by hordes of reckless bounty hunters working with the government. There are humans and aliens represented in their numbers, even a cyborg and a Force-sensitive woman, but no Mandos.

The universe of Millennium Falcon paints a stark picture of Daala's reign as Chief of State. We learned from Lando that, "If Daala had her way I think she'd eradicate all the insectoid species, but her hands are tied," and that he's "Not all that comfortable with her alliances with the Remnant and the Mandalorians." There's even a sign on a spaceport that says, quite poetically, "Natasi Daala is Chief of State, so why give a poodoo?" The Universe of Outcast, on the other hand, has Luke and Leia agreeing that Daala is "honorable" (more on this later...) and we're told Daala "had done a fine, measured job of restoring the union's economies and network of political alliances." This runs contrary to Millennium Falcon, in which it’s said that the star systems putting aside their differences "has less to do with Daala than the simple fact that there's nothing to be gained by isolationism."

It all makes for a fairly jarring transition between books, and there are no real explanations given for the change in tone.

But the real problem with Fate of the Jedi: Outcast, is that the story just isn't very good.

And there's not a lot to it, either.

Nothing of significance really happens that can't be read in a couple paragraphs of the blurb on the book's dust jacket, making it difficult to justify the novel's hardcover binding and subsequent price. To be honest, Outcast would feel a little light on content even by paperback standards.

There are two major storylines in the book— a couple of young Jedi are going crazy, convinced suddenly that everyone they know and love has been replaced by malevolent doppelgängers, and go on rampages because of this, believing they and their real friends and family are in danger.

This facilitates the other main storyline: Luke Skywalker's exile from Coruscant. Our good friend, the "honorable" Chief of State Daala uses the political leverage gained from the mad Jedi destructathons to justify Luke's arrest and convinces Grand Master Fail to accept a ten year timeout from the Galactic Capital, which can be commuted only if he can find out what caused Jacen Solo's fall to the dark side.

I'm afraid it all feels as contrived as it sounds, but that doesn't mean there isn't potential here for interesting stories, and I was surprised by how emotional the author manage to make Luke's sendoff. Unfortunately, in this first novel, Allston fails to deliver past that.

As silly as the idea is of young Jedi suddenly coming down with a case of the dark side, this is, surprisingly, far and away the best part of the book. Early in Outcast, we get to witness one such transformation from the POV of a character who has contracted dark sideitis— Valin Horn, who is the second case (Seff Hellin in Millennium Falcon by James Luceno was the first.). This is one of the book's best scenes and I found it extremely effective (sans everyone from Valin's POV being referred to as "Not-someone." Ex: Not-Mirax, Not-Corran, etc.) and the actions scenes that follow the Jedi's Force-dementia are truly thrilling to read, reminiscent of Allston's great writing in the early parts of Betrayal.

One of the things that really helps what could be a totally absurd storyline is the writer's terrific characterizations and the fact that he's writing about characters he clearly knows and cares about. Allston expertly conveys how distraught the Horns are at their son going berserk and trying to kill them, and the conflict therein makes for some great, though arguably often cheap, drama. One of my favorite scenes involved Valin escaping imprisonment by influencing bugs with the Force to chew through his bindings, harkening back to a younger Valin Horn we saw manipulating insects way back in Michael A. Stackpole's spectacular Dark Tide: Onslaught. The utilization of the actual character and his traits rather than coming up with an escape that was bland and generic and could to have been performed by anyone, was a breath of fresh air.

The sprawling battles are bolstered by the extensive cast utilized by Aaron Allston, including Octa Ramis, Seha Dorvald, Kyle Katarn (who has some tremendous interaction with Jaina Solo), and many more. This was one of the things Allston did in Fury that I loved, bringing more of a New Jedi Order feel to the story by expanding the scope beyond the Big Three and their children, and I'm so glad to see the author continuing this here.

Without spoiling too much, Valin eventually gets the Han Solo treatment when he is turned into a carbonite coffee table, complete with anguished facial expression, and put in an Alliance prison. When Seff Hellin comes to bust out his fellow psycho-in-arms, the novel's second, blistering action sequence follows that is almost as much fun as the first.

But as fun as some of these sections are, it's too often undercut by the inherent silliness. It's hard to imagine this going anywhere ultimately that's satisfying and I found myself simultaneously hoping that the Fate of the Jedi author triumvirate would pull the mother of all twists on us by making Seff and Valin the sane ones in a galaxy that actually had been replaced by doppelgängers, and sad because I doubt they'd do anything that bold.

Still, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that just about everyone in this series really is an evil double and the Allston-Golden-Denning machine is going to blow are collective minds with their explanation and where they take this story.

Strangely, the storyline I found most disappointing in Outcast was actually the one I was most looking forward to at the outset. Being a fan of the other Force-using sects and exotic powers, the idea of Ben and Luke retracing Jacen's footsteps during his five year sojourn to determine what caused his fall very much appealed to me. Unfortunately, the opportunity to learn more about one of these groups in the first Fate of the Jedi book is completely squandered.

I'd like to tell you that something of significance happens during the Skywalkers’ visit with the Baran Do Sages on Dorin, that it will tie into the overall plot in some way, that they attained some crucial piece of information or that it was at least an interesting yarn, but none of that seems to be true. Nothing is even learned about Jacen here, except where he went next in his travels. This storyline really goes nowhere at all and largely feels like a very disappointing waste of page space by the end, saved only by some well-written father and son character moments between Luke and Ben.

I really hope this picks up with the next novel.

To make matters worse, the "B plot" of Outcast involves Han and Leia investigating a series of earthquakes for Lando on Kessel that seems just as pointless. Now, I'm sure the weird things they saw in the Kessel mines will tie into the plot with the crazy Jedi in some way (the closeness in vicinity of Kessel to the Maw, the place where the young Jedi suffering from the dark sides stayed during the Vong War, which seems to be connected to all of this, virtually ensures it). But the nature of this plotline and its resolution make it possible to sum up anything of significance from it in a single sentence.

This means 2/3rds of Fate of the Jedi: Outcast is essentially filler. Not exactly what once expects when buying a book, especially a $27 hardcover. It's all kind of reminiscent of the old Bantam-era novels where nothing much happened and everything was resolved by the end of the book— only less interesting.

The novel actually bears some striking similarities to Michael P. Kube-McDowell's Black Fleet Crisis series, which also had some interesting concepts that were ultimately executed in a fairly unsatisfying way. In that series, Luke is convinced his mother belonged to a mysterious sect of Force-users named the "Fallanassi" and retraces her steps with the aid of a Fallanassi woman named "Akanah." They visit a lot of strange worlds on their journey, most which have little to do with anything and never tie into the overall story in any meaningful way, and more often than not, were pretty boring. The series also contains a B plot of Lando investigating a strange ship of completely alien technology that is never connected to the wider plot and seems more than a little arbitrary when you finish reading.

Perhaps this shift in style is a reaction to the detractors of the New Jedi Order and Legacy of the Force who said those series were too bleak or over-arching, but this definitely feels like movement in the wrong direction.

Continuity also takes a beating in the Kessel plot, when the Garrison Moon is mentioned as a place for the mine workers to evacuate to. Apparently, it healed itself... This is an especially strange error, considering the only series in which the moon has appeared thus far was the series in which it was destroyed. It's hard to imagine how one could be aware of it and yet not know it was obliterated by the Death Star prototype in Champions of the Force— and to add an extra layer of irony, this is the aforementioned benevolent Daala's Death Star prototype from the Maw Installation.

I'll pause here for your laughter.

What's good about Outcast is Aaron Allston himself. His writing is what carries things forward even when the story if failing. While not as laugh-out-loud funny as the early parts of Betrayal, Allston's trademark humor is well-represented in his first Fate of the Jedi offering. Especially when Lando, Han, Ben, or any of the various pilots who make an appearance are on the page.

As I mentioned briefly earlier, the characterizations here are fantastic. The interaction between Luke and Ben is vastly improved over Legacy of the Force, and old standbys Han and Leia have their usual, excellent chemistry in Allston's hands. Allana too, has grown into an engaging character, and I loved the hints of mischief, and even calculation and resentment the author has hiding beneath her veneer of childhood innocence at times.

But what's really impressive is how Allston incorporates the larger cast of characters, like the Horns, Kyle Katarn, Octa Ramis, Wedge, Inyri Forge, and many others, without missing a beat. It adds so much depth to the universe and I'm glad to see an author doing more of this after so much of LotF focused almost exclusively on the Solo and Skywalker family.

Not all of the characterizations are stellar, however. After the great work Luceno did in Millennium Falcon, I found the characterization of Daala here extremely disappointing. It seems as though Allston is trying to convince us that Daala is actually a good and respected leader by having our hero characters think this— characters for which these thoughts make no logical sense. Daala is a genocidal maniac who terrorized the galaxy in the Jedi Academy Trilogy and Darksaber. Her attacks had no chance of winning a war; she just wanted to kill as many people as possible. She slaughtered the Mon Cal in a truly brutal fashion, attacked the Jedi Academy (Dorsk!!!) and was even going to crash a star destroyer into Coruscant for kicks. She's really worse than her old flame Grand Moff Tarkin when you get right down to it.

To have Luke Skywalker and Leia think of her as "honorable" is a little insulting to the reader's intelligence. It's completely unbelievable.

Also in the con department, Jag Fel seems to be suffering from some pre-Legacy symptoms. When Jag was catapulted into Imperial leadership at the end of Invincible, it felt like an afterthought, as though the writing team said, "Oh yeah, we need to make this connect to Legacy and the Fel Empire, so let's make Jag the leader of the Remnant now." Sadly, they seem to have rushed it.

Taking Jag out of the cockpit when they have about a hundred years of canon in which to play with seems like a huge mistake, making him a very boring politician instead. This is especially disappointing given the great Exile-turned-"bounty hunter"-or-Alema-Rar-hunter-out-for-revenge-and-honor storyline Jag had in Legacy of the Force, which was truly one of the series' highpoints.

Here, Allston's attempt to make Jag a super-Moff action hero just kept reminding me of the worst parts of The Force Unleashed with its shallow attempts at "kewlness." In one of the big drawbacks to an otherwise entertaining action sequence, Jag is running around in full Mandalorian armor that is as uber-lightsaber resistant as the worst of Karen Traviss's stuff going toe to toe with a crazed Jedi, and using "crushgaunts" again that apparently make him the Incredible Hulk. He was a double-bladed lightsaber and personal YT-1300 away from making the cliché-meter rupture and even the most shameless of role players shake their heads in disgust.

To make matters worse, the interaction between the Jagdalorian and Jaina is truly cringe-worthy, at times feeling like Allston is just tossing chum into the waters for hungry 'shippers— not that Jaina and Jag fans haven't been tormented long enough with the trials and tribulations of this relationship and are deserving of some romantic page time between the pair. I just wish it was good and more believable.

I just don't buy this relationship anymore. At this point, I'd almost rather Jaina said to Jag, "Hey, remember how I tried to kill you and you tried to wipe out a whole species not too long ago? Well, we're not going to ever address that, we're just going to pretend it didn't happen. We'll also ignore the fact that we had absolutely no meaningful interaction throughout 9 books of Legacy of the Force sans me telling you and Zekk I wasn't interested. Just accept the fact that we're totally in love and a couple, 'cause, like, we totally are... suddenly."

I also almost found myself wishing Zekk would come back into the picture...

Almost.

To top it off, Allston actually spends some time teasing a possible romantic relationship between Tahiri and Dab Hantaq, who if you don't remember, was the boy in Star by Star that Viqi Sheesh had paid to have surgery in order to make him identical physically to Anakin Solo.

Haven't we done enough to Tahiri on this front already? It just seems pretty twisted to me.

All in all, Fate of the Jedi: Outcast is a journey that doesn't really seem worth it. Aaron Allston's charm and skill as a writer aren't enough to overshadow a contrived and hollow story.

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