New Jedi Order - Vector Prime
by R.A. Salvatore
Published by Del Ray
Scott's Rating: 4 out of 4
Helen's Rating: 4 out of 4
THIS ENTIRE REVIEW EXTENSIVELY DISCUSSES MAJOR SPOILERS!!!! Turn back now if you don't want the book ruined for you!!!
This is the first book in the New Jedi Order series, and it is also the first Expanded Universe book Del Rey has published since they got the Star Wars license back. It takes place 25 years after A New Hope.
The Yuuzhan Vong are an alien race from a neighboring galaxy and they are preparing to invade the Star Wars Galaxy. Their technology is based on organic, genetically engineered organisms and their culture is based on war. Their advance force, led by Nom Anor, has already been in position and preparing for the invasion for a while. Anor has been sowing the seeds of civil war on various planets in order to distract the New Republic. Yomin Carr, in disguise, is also in position with a team of unsuspecting scientists at the edge of the galaxy waiting for the arriving invasion.
Luke Skywalker is now married to Mara Jade and there are now dozens more Jedi in the galaxy, all operating under their own authority and without coordination. For example, Kyp Durron leads a squadron in the Outer Rim as smuggler busters. Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin Solo are much older and ready to operate as full fledged Jedi Knights. Luke considers re-establishing the Jedi Council again to organize them all. Unfortunately, he is distracted by a mysterious disease that is threatening to kill Mara Jade.
The Skywalkers, the Solo Clan, and Chewbacca fly out to the Outer Rim for a vacation at Lando's latest mining operation and a fact finding mission on the Jedi Knights operating in that region. Of course, as they arrive, the Yuuzhan Vong quietly begin their invasion. Our heroes must deal with their strange alien technology and weapons which threaten to annihilate them. The stakes are risen even higher when Chewbacca dies saving Anakin Solo and a bunch of refugees as the Yuuzhan Vong cause the planet's moon to crash into it. Yes, that's right. Chewie dies, but he does so heroically.
How will our heroes win? Will more die? How is Mara's disease connected to the Yuuzhan Vong? For answers, you'll have to read the book!
I'm going to be long winded here, but I think it's necessary. :)
Well, lets start off with the design of the book. It is, of course, very different from the old Bantam novels. I wasn't sure about the cover artwork at first, but it has grown on me. I like the aged Luke on the cover, and the Yuuzhan Vong on the cover is what I now picture them looking like. I could have done without the X-Wing photos or the trilobites, but it doesn't ruin it.
I really liked the Galactic Map in the inside cover and the Timeline of all the novels. Those were extremely good additions.
OK, the story. I really think this is a fresh new direction for the novels. I truly believe that Del Rey has addressed every concern fans have had in the past. No superweapons. The heroes from the films are no longer invincible. No evil Jedi or Imperial plots. No storylines that are finished and end up having no impact on the storyline overall. That's all been taken care of and I like it.
The Yuuzhan Vong are a great new enemy. Many people accuse them of being rip offs of other sci-fi aliens. But you know what? The Star Wars films ripped off Buck Rodgers, Flash Gordon, Wizard of Oz, Dune, and countless other stories. The Yuuzhan Vong rip off Alien, the Abyss, Independence Day, Jim Shooter's Warriors of Plasm comic, and tons of other recent sci-fi. I just recently thought that the Yuuzhan Vong seem to represent 90's-like grim, gritty, and bleak sci-fi while the Star Wars Universe characters seem to represent the golden age of sci-fi. This book seems to almost be a battle between the two outlooks at sci-fi. I loved the Yuuzhan Vong technology and totally alien weaponry. Good stuff.
I thought R. A. Salvatore had the characterizations dead on. The Solo kids are more interesting than ever. I thought Lando was more like the guy in the films than he's ever been before. He has more of a gray philosophy on things than in the other novels. That seems more consistent with the guy that turned Han Solo over to Vader, but then had a change of heart. I loved the new Jedi he came up with too.
Now here's what's going to stir the pot. I think the death of Chewbacca was entirely appropriate. That doesn't mean I LIKED seeing him die, but the timing was right and it was necessary to the story. His death set the tone for the seriousness of the Yuuzhan Vong invasion and it has also cast doubt upon the security of ALL the characters for the future books. That was needed and makes the story more interesting for me as a reader. There's nothing more pathetic than a once beloved character that has gone stale. Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man are all cool and interesting, but they haven't aged or really progressed as characters. The comic publishers have resorted to scrapping the storylines and starting completely over. At least Chewbacca went out in a blaze of glory rather than being old and tired. His death at some point is also the natural end for his character. Let's also forget that Chewie owed a LIFE DEBT to Han. What did that mean? That's he'd follow him around a be a co-pilot for Han? Fix his ship? Do the dishes and vacuum the Falcon? NO! It meant that he was there to save Han's life in exchange for his own, if necessary. Giving his life for Han, or his children, was why he followed him around for 30 years, why he left his family for all that time, etc etc etc. Chewbacca dying to save someone else was the whole point of his character, not to be a sidekick, not to get old, gray, lose his hair from Wookiee male pattern baldness, and die of old age in a Wookiee nursing home. That was an appropriate ending for the character. I also thought Han's reaction to Chewbacca's death was some of the most powerful and realistic character interaction in any of the books.
I thought this had great action, suspense, and characters. I could go on, but you get the idea that I liked this novel.
For perhaps the first time, this is a Star Wars tale that goes out on a limb, taking a potentially unpopular course in order to tell a story that is more authentic and has more depth than what we have seen previously (Zahn's Vision of the Future comes in a close second). It was a direction for the story - no, the entire Extended Universe, as this is the first of the New Jedi Order novels, that could have either succeeded or fell very, very flat. In my opinion, it succeeded. Hard decisions (the decision to kill a major character) regarding this story were obviously made and they were the right ones. The Republic is under attack, and realistically speaking, people - important and key people, die during battle. As usual, our favorites take off, defeat the enemy against all odds, but in Vector Prime there are consequences. In lesser hands than Salvatore's, this may have been a very different review. The course corrections for the Extended Universe made by Timothy Zahn in Visions of the Future were not lost, but strengthened. Salvatore doesn't tie everything tied up in a neat little bow. Vector Prime leaves several points unresolved, and that is a good thing. It gives us reason to come back, if only to see what happens to people we finally have good reason to care about.
Their are no Imperial Warlords in Vector Prime, nobody gets kidnapped, and there are no "cutesy" characters. Even the Solo children are breathing, thinking fully realized people with personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. Instead of overblown and overhyped events propelling the core of the story along, in Vector Prime, it's characters paired to a new and very real danger facing the New Republic that drives the novel. The thought given by Salvatore to who he was writing and creating is evident. We see this in Leia's mixed emotions regarding the close relationship between her now near-adult daughter and Mara Jade, and Jacen Solo's philosophical differences with Uncle Luke about the future path of the Jedi. Even Mara Jade herself is given the full treatment. Facing death from an incurable disease, she laments privately to Leia the possibility that she may never have children with the husband she adores. Real people in the real world react like this. Children grow up, adults harbor petty jealousies, families disagree, and sometimes a few of us face own mortality and don't like what we see. Events in our lives encourage changes in who we are. Some of us grow, some stagnate, and not always in pleasant ways. Chewie's death has the potential to concretely add to and propel the long range story arc with honest character growth and change, not detract from it. If the arc is handled with the right dose of sensitivity, none of the characters are going to be the same without him. In shaking things up, Salvatore has given all of the characters in the Star Wars Extended Universe cause to become more than they have been, to stretch beyond some rather delineated traits. These are levels of truth in characterization and storytelling reached only by a select few among the Star Wars authors.
I have to separately add in a word or two about how women are treated in the Vector Prime. I have often thought that while the women had larger roles in the Star Wars novels, they weren't necessarily better developed ones. Salvatore has written as good a story for the female characters as he did for the males. I mentioned Leia, Jaina, and Mara Jade above. I won't harp on this point, but I do want to say that as someone who at one point or another occupies all of the arch-typical female roles (daughter, sister, mother, friend), these were the some of most authentic characterizations of women in any Sci-Fi that I have ever seen.
However, the richness of characterization in Vector Prime is never more evident than in the death of Chewbacca, even though I will miss Chewie as much as the next person. In a backlash against Vector Prime, many will attempt to argue that Chewie's death was a cheap stunt. This could not be further from the truth. Frankly and honestly, in many of the novels, our beloved Chewie is hardly more than window dressing. When Chewie was there at all, he has rarely been more than an oversized Ewok for the Solo children to play with, or a mechanic who was willing to work on the Falcon one more time. In Vector Prime, through his contribution to the effort to save thousands who might had perished had he not been there, and more importantly the life of his closest friend's son, we are allowed to see the highest manifestation of the nobility of this character. In his portrayal of Chewbacca's death, Salvatore touched exactly what made Chewbacca so beloved - his devotion, his strength, and most of all, his loyalty to those he loved. Chewie died fulfilling his life debt, not only to Han, but to the ideals that he held dear. The effects of this are only beginning to be felt, I'm sure. If the life someone has led and their death can have meaning, this was it. To think otherwise is to ignore what the character was about.
A good word about bad villains: Nom Anor's absolute ruthlessness and evil scared me. No cardboard cut outs here, unlike in The Crystal Star or Planet of Twilight. These are bad guys who will haunt us for some time to come, and the fact that they were not so easily vanquished can only serve to enhanced the long range story arc of the New Jedi Order. It's going to take sustained action on the part of the Republic to prevail.
First off, I didn't like the fact that Mara Jade started out the novel close to dying. It was immensely frustrating. I mean, I had been rooting for them to get married all along, and we saw their engagement in Vision of the Future. Then we pop in and Mara is suddenly about to die. I wanted to see them work together as a team. I wanted to see them in their prime. I at least wanted to see them have kids and Luke and Mara to raise them. All of that was skipped.
I thought Nom Anor was more annoying than threatening. I didn't like him in Crimson Empire II, and I didn't see him give me any reason to fear him here. His buddies were more threatening.
Some of the action scenes were a little redundant. Toward the end, they assault the Yuuzhan Vong base planet, get whipped, then immediately turn around and do it again. There was almost 40 pages of dog fighting, and it got a little repetitive. Same went for the flights through the asteroids. They also buzzed the base and escaped numerous times which diminished the threat of the Yuuzhan Vong in my view. I was under the impression that you only got so close once before you paid the price.
If the upcoming New Jedi Order duology (Dark Tide: Onslaught and Dark Tide: Siege) weren't being written by Michael A. Stackpole (author of the Rogue Squadron series with Aaron Allston), I have to say the bad is that Salvatore isn't writing the follow-up. There are some great unresolved character threads in Vector Prime that Salvatore gave life to, and I would have liked to see where Salvatore would have taken them.
Another issue to be listed here is that Borsk Fey'lya is Chief of State of the New Republic, and leads the Council. I have a bad feeling about this. Personally, I've always wanted to hit this overstuffed Bothan with a bottle of Nair, or better, a vat of hot hair removal wax and pull the wax off very slowly, a little bit at a time. Let's hope that Fey'lya's ascension is returned to later and not lost storyline-wise. I accept that it adds a layer to the big picture, but he's gone on long enough without retribution. If I had my way, Gavin Darklighter or Asyr Sei'lar (see the X-Wing Series) will be the ones to take him down. Let two people who have previously and personally been targets of his be the agents of his undoing. Perhaps with Stackpole at the keyboard for the next two New Jedi Order novels, we'll get to see this (Gavin Darklighter is featured in Dark Tide: Onslaught, so a girl can hope).
You've gotta say the Yuuzhan Vong here. If their faces are as mutilated and as tattooed as the punks I see at the mall, they gotta be rather butt-ugly. :)
Those grutchins. And we thought Mynocks were bad.