by Troy Denning
Published by Del Rey
Scott's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Nick's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Mike's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Tatooine Ghost is set shortly after The Courtship Of Princess Leia and before Heir To The Empire.
Princess Leia has heard of a rare Alderaanian moss painting called "Killik Twilight" being sold in a black market auction on Tatooine. Not only did the painting belong to her adopted royal family, but there's a secret code to access the Rebel spy communication network hidden on it. With the help of Han, Chewbacca, and C-3PO, she hopes to win the painting back in the auction. However, she will have a bit of competition. A representative of Grand Admrial Thrawn's has arrived at the auction to win the painting and add it to his collection.
Leia's arrival on Tatooine brings many bad memories of her father, Anakin Skywalker. She can only remember him for his evil deeds as Darth Vader, not his good side as Anakin. However, her perceptions are abruptly shattered when she meets Kitster, Anakin's childhood friend. He offers Leia her first glimpse of the real person her father was.
When the auction goes horribly wrong, "Killik Twilight" ends up in the possession of Kitster. He leads the Imperials, the Rebels, and everyone else on a chase across Tatooine. Along the way Leia learns more about her father's past. Encounters with Wald, Beru Lars' sister, Sand People, and more teach her about how Anakin started out as a good person and how he took his first steps towards the Dark Side. However, a datapad found hidden at the Lars Homestead teaches her more about the grandmother she never knew, Shmi Skywalker.
I had long been waiting for the characters of the classic trilogy to meet the characters of the prequels, and Tatooine Ghost finally delivered. This tale is fairly localized as far as Star Wars stories go, but it is of significant importance to our favorite characters. Leia learning about her father's past and her grandmother was everything I had hoped it would be. And the fact that it is Leia who discovers it rather than Luke makes it all the more interesting. After all, her father had not only tortured her but he destroyed Alderaan. She of course has lingering issues about him. Truce At Bakura briefly touched on this by having the spirit of Anakin visit her, but this tale addresses the issue even more thoroughly.
Troy Denning masterfully weaves together the prequels, classic trilogy, and the Expanded Universe all into one novel. You see many of Anakin's childhood friends from Episode I, Shmi's life with Cliegg and Owen from Episode II, and Grand Admiral Thrawn gearing up for the events in Heir To The Empire. It all comes together in a great package and still fits within the overall continuity. It's also somewhat refreshing to take a break from the New Jedi Order and the Yuuzhan Vong and just have our Rebel friends taking on the Empire again.
I really enjoyed seeing Kitster revisited as an older character. Despite being a basically good person, he still has a shady background as you might expect from someone who spent their life as a slave. I found it particularly interesting that he knew Leia was his best friend's daughter all along. Wald is also fun to see as an older character. He's a bit cranky but still dependable to his friends. He's also shown to be tough as he gets the drop on Han Solo. Denning doesn't totally rely on previously established characters, though. He also introduces us to Grunts, a gruff Weequay that Han Solo freed from slavery and tried to partner with. That relationship ended when Grunts and Chewbacca failed to get along. Their rivalry continues in this story.
I've liked Troy Dennings style in that past and I like it in Tatooine Ghost. His writing style is very readable and he always seems to nail the film character's personas. I also think Denning does a great job writing action. A chase with Han Solo on a super swoop is one of the highlights of the book. Tatooine Ghost is also a nice change of pace because it focuses entirely on Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO. It's kind of nice to have a novel that sticks with one set of characters rather than jumping between many locations and events.
Overall, this is a pleasing story on a lot of levels. Fans of the movies will like to see the classic trilogy connect with the prequels. Fans of the Expanded Universe will enjoy seeing the connections with Thrawn and Wraith Squadron. People just starting reading Star Wars novels will enjoy picking up this stand alone novel without feeling like they are missing a lot.
I have to admit, when I first heard about Tatooine Ghost I was a bit hesitant about moving back into the New Republic era after it was wrapped up so nicely in The Hand of Thrawn duology, but if anyone was up to the task, it was Troy Denning. After reading Star by Star, I knew this veteran Star Wars author could pull it off effectively, and in doing so, tie the Prequel and Classic trilogies together. Having read Tatooine Ghost, I can say that it offers a wholly different, yet nonetheless enjoyable experience than Star by Star.
As Scott said, Tatooine Ghost is a fairly localized adventure, taking place on, you guessed it Ė Tatooine (Iíll bet you didnít see that one coming). The story is told on a small scale. Yes, there will be dire consequences if the Empire gets its hands on the Shadowcast code key, but nothing on the galactic scale of The New Jedi Order. This localized story gives us welcome breathing room and lets us return to the desert planet where it all started.
Denning was presented with the task of tying the Prequel trilogy with the Classic trilogy in an entertaining and relevant story. The story he tells in Tatooine Ghost is one unusual for Star Wars. There isnít a rogue Imperial warlord or some insidious alien menace; here Han and Leia must retrieve an Alderaanian masterpiece, albeit one with a hidden code key. During the hunt for Killik Twilight, Leia discovers the hardships her grandmother endured and her fatherís legacy and his haunting first taste of the Dark Side. In doing so, Leia has several revelations of her own that will forever alter the destiny of the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
An aspect of Tatooine Ghost that I particularly enjoyed was the foreshadowing of Heir to the Empire and Dark Empire. This novel sets The Thrawn Trilogy up brilliantly, introducing us to the admiralís unorthodox methods and taste for fine artwork. Denning presents us with stormtroopers that actually represent a threat, stormtroopers with more brains than blasters, instead of the reverse.
Leia also has a vision of Luke wearing Vaderís helmet, a clear sign of his eventual turn to the Dark Side in Dark Empire. Another bit of humor and foreshadowing pops up later, when Han and Leia are discussing the newfound determination and skills of the stormtroopers they are battling.
ďSo much for lower training standards and sagging morale,Ē Leia said.
ďYeah, youíd think the Emperor had come back to life or something.Ē
It was good to see Denning make use of some prequel characters, ones that we have only seen as small children. Kitster and Wald both play a fairly substantial role in the book, and we see how Anakinís friendship affected them, and indeed the whole city of Mos Espa. Watto even shows up, even if it is only in the form of a holojournal. I always thought Watto had a soft spot for the Skywalker family, and Denning gives us a deeper look at this different angle.
All that said, the one thing that really endeared Tatooine Ghost to me was the humor. Far from the Han dealing with death in The New Jedi Order, Denning presents us with a much younger, more endearing character more akin to that seen in the Classic trilogy. Here, Han still has time to crack jokes in the heart of battle. One scene in particular stands out above all others, in which Han and Leia, having spent an enjoyable night together, stand naked and ready to battle a squad of stormtroopers. Despite the imminent danger, Han only has one worry, ďAt least put on some clothes.Ē
I should say right off that I wasn't exactly excited about this book.
Sure, it was a story that needed to be told, given all we've been learning about the prequel era lately, but an entire book about newlyweds, on Tatooine, chasing a painting? Wa...hoo.
Thankfully, Troy Denning proved me wrong. Not only did Tatooine Ghost serve as the break from the NJO I didn't know I'd needed, it proved that the so-called "New Republic era" was still full of stories to be told. And Denning told this one masterfully, weaving elements of new (Wraith Squadron), old (Grand Admiral Thrawn), and positively ancient (the Squib race) EU with both movie trilogies to form a coherent, and deceptively simple, story that ends up being one of those great little tales that really makes this feel like a single, flowing universe.
Even if we weren't up to our ears in the NJO these days, TG would still be a very different story than what we're used to. It's not an epic story, trying so desperately to find things for all our favorite characters to do that it lacks any real development in any one character, nor is it a fringe book, casting the main characters aside and dealing with the trials and tribulations of characters many people haven't even heard of. It's simply....Han and Leia. Okay, Chewie and Threepio are there too, but you get the idea. Here Denning got the opportunity to improve upon one of the main problems this era had when it was first being fleshed out: inconsistency. Well, maybe inconsistency is a bit harsh, but essentially, every story seemed to show up almost randomly, with our characters starting out in essentially the default position, since there wasn't necessarily anything out at the time to tell the author where the characters had been up to this point. With TG, we now get to see Han and Leia evolve from the people they were at the end of The Courtship of Princess Leia to the people at the beginning of Heir to the Empire; the former overcoming his anger at the New Republic over the Isolder incident and coming to accept the necessity of Leia's job, the latter settling into her new role as a wife, and finally coming to terms with who her father was, the seeds of which were planted oh so long ago in The Truce at Bakura.
The main plot, the recovery of the Killik Twilight, was, well, good enough. It managed to remain interesting and entertaining, which is impressive seeing as how it takes up pretty much all of the 403-page book. Like I said before, it's rare to see an entire novel devoted to such a minor enterprise, and Denning deserves the highest praise for not letting it get dull. It also provides a good opportunity for some serious geographical detail work on Tatooine, adding what must've been around twenty new landmarks to an already well-documented landscape. It'd be interesting to see someone make a map that factors in all this new info.
The Shmi subplot, if it can be called that, was a nice treat. The journal entries were an interesting break in the tension of the main plot, and did a good job of filling in all the important stuff that happened between TPM and AotC. I think I actually felt sorry for Watto when I saw how he was duped out of ownership of Shmi, especially when it was revealed that he'd long ago deactivated her bomb implant thingy. I really hope we find out what ultimately happened to him someday.
The Thrawn stuff was great, of course, although the one thing that disappointed me about the book involved his role. I'll get to that in the "Bad" section. Generally, it was fun to see him getting ready for the big push, personally training his stormies, etc. Denning got Thrawn's attitude down, and having him be behind the book's Imperial forces definitely helped keep the chase interesting where normally we'd just be dealing with the typical bumbling Imperials.
As much fun as Tatooine Ghost is, it does have a couple of problems. First of all, it starts out interesting and fast paced then slows down considerably 2/3 of the way through. This is mainly because an extended chase scene across the Tatooine desert starts becoming repetitious. We are repeatedly told how hot and miserable it is in the desert. We repeatedly see Han and Leia have close encounters with stormtroopers and TIEs. Leia's revelations about the life of Shmi also get less and less interesting. All this leads to a rather anti-climactic ending. The book starts out giving you a real sense of discovery and that feels like its lost by the end. For these reasons I bumped it down from a perfect score. Other than that, it's an enjoyable read.
I donít have any major gripes with Tatooine Ghost, other than the fact that I found the action to be a bit confusing at times. The actual plan to retrieve the painting from the ghost oasis was the main source of frustration, but after rereading that portion I managed to clear up the confusion.
Another thing that bugged me was Kitsterís rationale for stealing the painting. Sure, he wanted to give something to Anakinís daughter, but was it really worth risking the wrath of an entire Imperial-class Star Destroyer? A nice thank you card and some flowers would have done nicely.
Aside from those small issues, I donít have any complaints that warrant mention.
Around a third of the way through the book, something absolutely brilliant occurred to me. Thrawn wants to add the painting to his collection, I thought, and he anticipates his enemies' actions through their culture's art. The Killik Twilight is Alderaanian art. And who was the one person to outwit Thrawn? The one person who was able to go behind his back and bring his own bodyguard down on him? Leia.
In other words, I became convinced that we were getting a look at the reason things happened the way they did in the Thrawn trilogy. Naturally, Han and Leia would succeed in keeping the painting out of Imperial hands, I thought, which would result in Thrawn not quite getting a read on Leia's actions later on. As the story went on, I became more and more infatuated with the concept, but then the story ended. And the painting wasn't rescued.
Granted, we don't actually see the painting get sold to the Empire, so my theory could still hold true. But the fact that its fate is left ambiguous, I think, means that this probably wasn't Denning's intention, which was pretty disappointing. It's ironic, actually; I started out expecting very little from the book, and in the end, my sole complaint ended up being the result of inflated expectations. In any event, it's not really Denning's fault that this happened, but it did kinda leave a bitter taste in my mouth during the last few pages.
Han dresses up as a devilish looking Devaronian. This is the ugliest Harrison Ford could ever get.
Urusai scavengers feasting on the flesh of dead Jawas in the hot Tatooine desert. Cook me up some of that.
You want ugly? Try riding under a galloping dewback in the middle of the desert for a few hours, with your head resting in its water trough, while smeared with its waste from head to toe. Threepio may be annoying sometimes, but no one deserves that. At least he was switched off for most of it.