Yoda - Dark Rendezvous
by Sean Stewart
Published by Del Rey
Scott's Rating: 4 out of 4
Mike's Rating: 4 out of 4
Six months before Revenge of the Sith, the Clone Wars continue to rage. As Dooku reflects on the carnage he has caused across the galaxy, he begins to have regrets about turning to the Dark Side. Old age and fear of Darth Sidious begin to catch up with him. Amid these doubts, he secretly contacts his old master Yoda for a rendezvous. Is there still a glimmer of light in Dooku or is this another trap?
Yoda receives the message and decides to accept Dookuís invitation. But in order to keep their meeting private, he must have a good cover story for leaving the Jedi Temple. He recruits Jedi Masters Jai Maruk and Maks Leem to help sneak him out. Along with them are Padawans Tallisibeth Enwandung-Esterhazy, or Scout, and Whie. Scout is a young Padawan who isnít as strong in the Force as her fellow students. However, perseverance, courage, and determination have kept her within the Temple. Whie is just the opposite. Heís strong in the Force, honorable, and highly skilled. But he also suffers from dreams and visions of the future. His latest vision shows him and Scout in the clutches of Asajj Ventress on the brink of death. Will their mission with Yoda end in disaster?
This isnít only one of the best Clone Wars novels to be released, but one of the best Star Wars novels to come along in quite a while. It manages to capture the feel of the films while offering up dead-on depictions of the characters from the movies, an intriguing story, and a great cast of secondary characters that you care for in short order.
Sean Stewart captures the character of Yoda perfectly. He is shown not only as the all-powerful Jedi Master, but as the humorous imp we saw in The Empire Strikes Back. He is shown interacting with the Jedi students, battling droids for food in the cafeteria, and even fighting Dooku. Every aspect of his character is touched on at one point or another. Stewart also emphasizes the fact that heís over 800 years old. The implications of that and the lessons learned by Yoda are mentioned. Yoda also manages to provide some of the laughs in the story as he hides within an R2 unit in order to sneak out of the Temple. All this comes together to make Dark Rendezvous the definitive Yoda novel as well as making him a character you want to see a lot more of.
Stewart also does a fantastic job of writing Dooku. Heís the evil character that we saw in Attack of the Clones while at the same time being a character that you believe wavering away from the Dark Side. He takes up residence in a chateau that was the site of an insane massacre and soaked in old blood. It seems like the perfect lair for a Dark Lord of the Sith. But as Dooku starts pondering what he has done and reflecting on his younger days with Yoda, you totally buy his transition even though you know heís still evil in Episode 3. Knowing what eventually happens doesnít take away from the intrigue of his inner thoughts and his impending meeting with Yoda. His flashbacks to Yodaís lessons when he was younger were well written and touching as well.
As already mentioned, the secondary characters are fantastic. You care for Jedi Master Jai Maruk in short order despite the fact that he exits the story just a couple hundred pages after being introduced. But by far the most interesting characters are Scout and Whie. You quickly warm up to Scout after finding out that sheís the underdog in a Jedi combat competition. The competition is fantastically executed and humorous as it spills from a sparring room into a cafeteria free for all. It makes the Jedi Temple seem every bit as fun as Hogwarts. In the movies it always seems more like a monastery than a cool place to be a kid. In any case, Scoutís clever ways of winning makes her a favorite very quickly. When she goes on her bigger adventure with Yoda, you are firmly on board with the character. The same goes for Whie. Unlike many of the Jedi students, he finds out about his parents and his background before he came to the Temple. His dark past makes him all the more sympathetic, especially as he continues to uncover it. Visions of the future were a big part of The Empire Strikes Back, but they havenít been touched on much in the novels. Whie brings that mystical aspect of the Jedi powers back quite vividly. His visions make his ultimate confrontation with Asajj Ventress all the more climactic. He also has a vision of his own death at the hands of a Jedi Knight. Any guesses who that might be? (Whie is actually one of the Jedi extras shown in Episode 3.)
That brings me to the next good thing about this novel. It ties into the movies and expands on them perfectly. Besides the visions of the future, you learn a lot that has a big impact on the films. Obi-Wan finds out that Anakin is carrying on a secret relationship with a girl. (He doesnít find out its Padme.) The power of Jedi to retain their ghostly form is also discussed by Yoda. He even has a conversation with the spirit of Qui-Gon. Stewart also deals with the fact that the Clone Wars are decimating the Jedi and the fact that the Temple is left empty and the students are without teachers. The Padawans that have lost Masters are also quite touching.
Finally, this book features one of the better depictions of Asajj Ventress. Few stories have really made her an impressive or intimidating character. This paints a more vivid portrait of her than before. Sheís shown to be resourceful, highly skilled, and even fearful of Dooku.
Overall, this was a fantastic book and one Iíd highly recommend to anyone, especially those jaded by the Expanded Universe.
It's funny how things work out. If Escape From Dagu has looked just a little better to LucasBooks, we might never have had this. I won't bash Dietz, but the odds of that book having come anywhere near Dark Rendezvous are slim indeed. This book marks the official end of the Clone Wars novel publishing campaign, since Labyrinth of Evil is considered a RotS tie-in, and in retrospect, it's been a weird three years. As many people have been pointing out since Jedi Trial, the hardcover Clone Wars books (with, at least for me, the exception of Shatterpoint) have been lackluster at best and offensively poor at worst, while the paperbacks, the books that are supposed to be the less-important filler material between the Big Events, have been uninterruptably excellent. As such, Dark Rendezvous was a great way to end the "series".
I'm at the point where it's getting hard to review Star Wars books, they've been so good lately. It's easier, I think, to wax poetic about a series of crummy books than about great ones; I find myself saying the same things over and over: enjoyable and consistent characters, both old and original, compelling story, can't wait to see more, and so on. Bad books, on the other hand, can be bad for all kinds of different reasons. Some of the specific points I can come up with:
Yoda: Sean Stewart said he was going for the Yoda of Empire, and he sure as hell nailed it. If anything, he's a little too much like he was in the Classic Trilogy, and doesn't quite mesh with the rest of Yoda's appearances in this time period. Nonetheless, it's quite enjoyable.
Humor: Naturally, it's possible to write a great book without humor, but I don't think it's possible to write a good Star Wars book without it. I'm one of the bigger Lucas apologists out there, but even I'll admit that the prequels don't match up to the classics in the comedy department, and sadly, neither does a lot of the literature. Stewart clearly knows what he's doing in that regard, though, and while he doesn't go to Allstonian levels or anything, he puts in enough funny moments, and makes them funny enough by far, to keep the book exciting. The amount of humor he extracts from the droids in this story in particular is a rare feat and worthy of praise.
Speaking of which, the fire-happy security monad deserves a special mention. Its short-lived plotline was not only quite amusing, but also represented a digressive sort of humor not seen often enough in Star Wars. In other words, there was no dramatic need whatsoever for its inclusion in the story, and while some feel that that means it shouldn't have been included, I think stuff like this is key to the real-universe feeling that's so important to the appeal of Star Wars. It's why I'm such a fan of Perry and Reaves.
Lastly, there's one more small matter: the story is simply spectacularly written. The book is filled with expertly crafted scenes, especially the final round of the Padawan tournament and, well, especially the scenes between Yoda and Dooku. It's obvious going into the book that their encounter is going to be the apotheosis of the story, and that puts a lot of pressure on Stewart: how does the great Yoda fail to bring Dooku back, since he's obviously still a bad guy later on? What's the nature of the debate? How do they both get away in one piece afterward? Very impressively, every question is answered more effectively than I thought possible. The role Anakin plays in the conclusion is, simply put, my favorite plot moment in the entirety of the Clone Wars. And I just read Obsession #3.
I have no real gripes whatsoever about this novel. If I had to mention anything it would be the fact that a message from Padme is delivered to Dooku, but weíre never really shown what the message is or what the contents of it are. Itís possible that I just missed it, but it was not immediately clear to me.
There are also a lot of references to Anakinís past encounters with Asajj Ventress and Count Dooku. They even refer to a clone of Count Dooku being killed, but as a follower of the novels and comics, I havenít seen that yet. It was a bit confusing.
Like I said earlier, Yoda can come across almost too much like his Empire incarnation at times, which, enjoyable or otherwise, makes things feel a little inconsistent. But only a little. The same goes for Yoda's oddly casual chat with an ethereal Qui-Gon. Isn't that Force ghost thing still supposed to be baffling to him?
That's all I can think of. Here's hoping Sean Stewart has a long Star Wars career ahead of him.
Nothing to add here.
Thinking about how close we came to getting Escape from Dagu instead.