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TFN Review: Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse by Troy Denning
Reviewed by Adam on October 14, 2013 |
Doug Bragg's take

Apocalypse is the aptly titled final book in the Fate of the Jedi series. The series began with putting Luke on a quest to determine what happened to Jacen Solo to cause him to become a Sith in the Legacy of the Force series. The series also sought to explore what happens when an Imperial Admiral becomes head of a democracy, and explores the political and legal consequences to the Jedi and members of the Jedi Order based upon the events of the Legacy of the Jedi series. In other words, a lot of this series is about tying up loose ends from the Legacy series. The Fate of the Jedi series does add two more threats to the Galaxy – a planet full of previously unknown Sith and a strange being known as Abeloth. By the end of Apocalypse, we have some pretty major devastation, and at least a couple of the main storylines get some semblance of resolution.

The Fate of the Jedi series, like Legacy of the Force before it, is a near-constant journey into darkness in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. While Star Wars has always had its dark moments (deaths of Owen and Beru, the loss of Alderaan, Obi-wan and Biggs’ deaths) those moments tended to be brief and were generally mixed in with a good dose of action and humor (Luke’s moment of silence for Obi-wan was followed almost immediately by him laughing and carrying on with Han as they fought through a small group of TIE Fighters, for example). The Fate of the Jedi series, and Apocalypse in particular, felt like it abandoned the humor and “fun” of Star Wars.

Apocalypse also seems to show that while Luke has grown much since he started on Tatooine, he hasn’t grown in some important ways. As a military leader – and a big part of Apocalypse is Luke and the Jedi implementing Luke’s plan to defeat the Sith threat and Abeloth – Luke still prefers the high risk/high reward plan (i.e. marching into the detention block with no plan to get out, or rescuing Han Solo by first having nearly his entire team captured by Jabba the Hutt) over the safer alternatives. In Apocalypse, Luke develops a risky plan, which seemed reasonable as I read the book, but upon further reflection just didn’t seem worth the risk. Admittedly, the plan Luke and the Jedi implement makes better reading than the alternatives. However I had to wonder about an Order that seems to take a very utilitarian philosophy on things to send so many beings into impossible odds for the possibility of saving only a few.

Setting aside the logic of the plan, the implementation as told by Denning was action packed from the outset, and Jaina Solo certainly shows why she is the “Sword of the Jedi”. I also enjoyed the connections to the rest of the larger Star Wars Universe. I also enjoyed how Denning handled the politics that seemed to be over-done in this series and his approach to answering questions about Abeloth.

On the topic of Abeloth: while she is certainly one of the more strange and threatening villains in the Star Wars Universe, it felt like the authors of this series did not really have a handle on her for most of the series. It felt like her abilities changed over the course of the novels – which could simply be attributed to her growing in power over the course of the books. However, from her discovery, the Jedi knew basically that they knew nothing about this strange being. It was therefore odd that they waited until the last book of the series to investigate who or what Abeloth was. I’m glad that Denning chose to spend time on that in this book, and while the investigation felt rushed (due to the fact it was condensed into a portion of one book), the resolution had an interesting tie into the Mortis episodes from The Clone Wars cartoon. The way that the heroes learned about that connection had me wondering about the consistencies of how much of the Jedi archives survived the Emperor’s reign. Luke spent years trying to learn about his mother, and the Jedi and travelled the Galaxy to do so. Yet in Apocalypse, he’s able to simply tap into the Jedi Archives and pull up logs from Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda relating to the Clone Wars. I understand, given the limitations of doing this in one book, that this could not be expanded into a longer investigation.

I will give Denning credit in that he managed to tie the Abeloth backstory investigation and Mortis storyline in a way that helped explain Abeloth. He did so in a way that didn’t necessarily require the reader to be familiar with those episodes – which I find to be a plus. The book also answers a question that has been eating away at me since Betrayal – the first of the Legacy of the Force series – who was the cloaked figure that set Lumiya on an intercept course with Jacen? We still don’t have an answer, at least not an explicit one, but I think we are given a pretty good hint in Apocalypse.

In reading the Legacy of the Force novels, at the end, I felt that there were significant loose ends left open relating to the beings that gave Jacen that final push. Fate of the Jedi picked up on the thread of explaining Jacen’s actions in Legacy of the Force and brings us closer to learning about this bigger threat. It also leaves us with larger problems for Coruscant and the Galaxy that are unresolved and barely contained. It certainly feels like Fate of the Jedi as a series is “The Empire Strikes Backof a larger series (with Legacy of the Force” being the “A New Hope” entry. It certainly left me wondering just how much of these threads will ultimately get wrapped up in Crucible.

New to Star Wars Literature: This isn’t the book for you. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend starting with the Fate of the Jedi series, or even Legacy of the Force. The events of these series build from the New Jedi Order series and the events of the Swarm War.

Beyond the Pages: It was interesting to see the Jedi launch an assault on the Jedi Temple on Coruscant – the inverse of Anakin and the Clone assault from Revenge of the Sith. I will also say that it appears that the Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi series are trying to build the connective tissue between the novels and the Legacy comic series from Dark Horse.

Say Again?: It was a bit interesting to see that the defenses to the Jedi Temple improved dramatically when under Sith control rather than when under Jedi control. It was also interesting to see the ease with which Luke could access the Jedi Archives that, in prior books, where non-existent or could not be found.

Fast and Furious Thoughts: A dark, action packed entry in the Star Wars literature, but leaves too many loose ends for the end of a series.

Rating: 6/10 Lightsabers

****

Adam Throne's take

If there’s one thing Star Wars does well, it draws on the interconnected elements of its mythic universe, much as the Force draws on the interconnectedness of all living things. Conversely, just as the Force can get thrown out of balance, the Star Wars Expanded Universe sometimes tips its contents like an overflowing barrel that leaves a mess for the next writer to clean up. Troy Denning’s Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse is like that – just when you think the balance of storytelling has been restored to the Star Wars galaxy, the barrel tips – and sometimes a few Dianogas slip out along with the ideas. However, there are far fewer Dianogas to contain in this spillage than in the previous post-Return of the Jedi EU series, and the action and character interactions are on a much grander—and yet paradoxically—intimate scale.

Denning, a fan favorite whose Fate of the Jedi: Vortex had me hooked thanks to the character interactions and shocking events (including a lightsaber duel between Saba Sebatyne and Kenth Hamner, whose animosity with each other’s leadership has been brewing in previous chapters), now has the unenviable task of following up to the series’ penultimate novel, Christie Golden’s Ascension. That novel, like Golden’s Omen and Allies, blended a more personal story for the characters with strong characterization and vivid description, and opened at the end to reveal Abeloth’s takeover of Coruscant. Ascension featured one of the strongest cliffhangers in the EU (featuring powerful twists for both Vestara and Abeloth/Rokari Kem), and is a tough act to follow; unfortunately, despite the initial urgency of events at the start of Apocalypse in its first few chapters, the flipping back and forth to the Solos’ evacuation of Jedi on Ossus, while important, seems to stall the pacing of the main action on Coruscant.

Once the initial story of Luke and the Jedi’s battle with Abeloth unfolds, much of the book focuses on the Jedi’s research into the history of Abeloth (nine books into the series, they’re only just starting to delve into the archives), and the resulting information not only results in the aforementioned spillage of the EU barrel, but the inclusion of the proverbial kitchen sink: the emergence of Abeloth (who, in fairness, is a remarkably powerful and original --if sometimes nebulous -- villain in a universe populated by ex-Grand Moffs and would-be Dark Side warlords) is related to past events concerning the Maw (which was established early on in the Fate series), but also the Killicks, Centerpoint station, and the Force wielding family seen in the Clone Wars TV show "Mortis" trilogy.

These are neat ideas to tie into EU stories in and of themselves, but all together become too much of a coincidental series of name checks (something the Star Wars universe is notorious for often doing), and prove unnecessary. The "Mortis" plot, while a neat tie in to the prequClone Wars cartoon series, was clearly shoehorned in at a late stage; as a result, it doesn’t feel organic to the story that was unfolding. The resulting mission of Luke’s Jedi at the end of the novel does propose an interesting angle on future adventures that could tie back to the Clone Wars, and the Mortis story in particular. However, the multiple references that are infodumped from the Jedi archives detract from the uniqueness and mystique of Abeloth, who is a strong enough presence to sustain a backstory that carries no baggage from previous sources.

The truth about Jacen’s descent to the Dark Side, sorely lacking from the previous Legacy of the Force series, is long overdue, and makes sense in a context that parallels Jacen’s grandfather in his quest to protect those he loves from the outcomes seen in his own terrible visions. The plot point of the Jedi children hidden in the Maw, a point which has an unwitting and horrifying link to Abeloth, is a positive use of the interconnectedness of things in this universe. There’s good use of the characters of Jaina Solo, Jagged Fel, Tahiri, and Wynn Dorvinn, as each of them steps up to a higher calling. The slaying of Abeloth by the Jedi is powerful, even if her initial attempts to take over the Coruscant computers is too “bad sci fi” to take.

Vestara, who has become a figure of major importance in this series, has plenty of action and scheming to do, and her battle within is portrayed well, but much of the emotion between her and Ben Skywalker, felt strongly in previous books, is lost, not only due to the conflict between the two of them causing a divide, but by the heavy focus on action. Vestara’s final musings of loss for Ben, which she channels into power to fuel her dark side, are told to Ship rather than shown, so the emotional impact is never as strong as it could be, even if the bond she shares with the Sith sphere proves intriguing. It’s great to have Jaina and Jag finally agree to tie the knot, and while many of the other threads of this (and previous) series are wrapped up, many more are left dangling: the fate of Vestara and Ship, the Jedi quest for the Monolith of Mortis, the fate of the Alliance under Wynn Dorvan, among others.

New to Star Wars Literature: It's possible to enjoy the Fate of the Jedi series without having read previous series, but it's definitely a challenge and ultimately not as fulfilling. If you must start with this series, though, go back to Aaron Allston's Outcast and enjoy the slow burn as events unfold through all nine books in the series.

Beyond the Pages: The beyond shadows realm is one of the most fascinating concepts of the Fate of the Jedi series. The haunting ideas at its core follow logically from the cryptic Dagobah cave scenes in The Empire Strikes Back, and beg returning to, not necessarily for cameos from “old friends long gone,” but for the further exploration of the nuances and eeriness of the Force. It is within Luke’s isolated loneliness of his meditation to get to the realm, his conversations with the deceased, and his quest to understand how the actions of himself, his father, and their Jedi forefathers have had universal ramifications, that the compelling importance of true comprehension of the Force finally seems to be fulfilled in the EU.

Say Again?: In the final battle, there is an unnamed warrior, a Sith, who fights with Luke against Abeloth, when no one else in the realm beyond shadows (including Mara and Jacen) can assist him. The non-naming of this stranger is infuriating, and while those familiar with the Legacy comics may go out on a tractor beam ledge to guess, it’s too good a point -- and a potentially personal one at that for Luke -- to not have developed and named here for payoff. As a result, it's less cliffhanger than a move to appeal to crossover fans (ala Dark Horse’s Vector series).

Fast and Furious Thoughts: As overstuffed with tie-in exposition as it is, the series finale doesn’t feel unfulfilled in the way the Legacy of the Jedi series did. In the end, though, as welcome as a serious exploration of the abuses and powers of the Force proves to be, the book could do with more certainties and a little more uplift than what we’re left with. Knowing what we know from the Legacy comic—and the mystery cameo—where the galaxy is headed, it will be interesting to see how this part of the spirit Star Wars will continue.

Rating: 7.5/10 lightsabers
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