Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: Star Wars: Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson

I saw this book for a dollar at my local second-hand book store and bought it not expecting much. Darksaber was one of the earlier Star Wars "expanded universe" books (published 1995) and I loved the series as a sixteen year old, so I decided to take a punt so I spent my loonie and got only a fraction of the pulpy escapism I expected. Pulp sure, but about as escapist as the Birdman of Alcatraz.

Unfortunately it was a poorly-written attempt to cash in on Anderson's prior Star Wars novels - his "landmark" Jedi Academy trilogy. Like all Star Wars set pieces Darksaber features a superweapon in the hands of the bad guys - the Hutts this time, with yet another bloody Death Star revisit - and Imperials who, though scattered in the last "canon" book are suddenly a force to be feared again. It goes without saying that the Rebel Alliance, sorry - Galactic Alliance - triumph at the end.

Disappointingly characterised, Anderson seemed to think copying George Lucas's hackneyed dialogue straight from the first three Star Wars movies passes as convincing interplay, forgetting that he's stealing words from probably one of the worst screenwriters of all time, and that Lucas`s style works much better on celluloid than paper. The `Chancellor of the Star Wars Universe` doesn't appear comfortable writing any intimate scenes as Luke Skywalker and his new love interest seem about as passionate as cardboard while Han and Leia`s marriage seems to be more `for the kids`than for themselves. The less said about Wedge Antilles and his bird (literally, bird) the better. You care for the characters as portrayed about as much as you do for your own toenail clippings.

Apparently creating a character worth investing in is illegal in The Expanded Universe, so when Luke and his girl are trapped on Hoth, they find themselves confronted with the same Wampa Ice Creature who`s arm he severed at the start of Empire. I mean, Lucas himself stretched credibility to beyond breaking point by using essentially the same characters in both trilogies, making us think that the Galaxy is populated by about 20 people and a bunch of Stormtroopers, but this is just ridiculous. If you want new ideas, don`t read Kevin Anderson.

Any traits a character may have are simply for the purposes for plot, which makes the 480-some pages both direct, unengaging and a waste of forest. Worse still, plot threads appear and disappear as a matter of convenience rather than building to any sort of climax. The titular Darksaber weapon is the greatest of these and its existence seems only to provide a base for ineffective, unmemorable villainy of the most banal kind. To add injury to insult, it`s disposed of with less care and interest than one throws away a crisp packet, as if Anderson realised four-fifths through writing that the Imperial rabble, though less threatening than at any time throughout the canon, were more interesting than the Hutts and disposed of the book`s raison d├Ętre without thinking even once.

Overall, it's a page-turner simply because you can kind of - if you squint a bit and stretch the friendship to breaking point - identify with Han, Leia and Luke - no, sorry, not Luke because apparently being a Jedi de-emotionalises into becoming a one-note bore - but the book leaves you feeling blah about finishing it and reading even the more well-crafted Star Wars novels. It does this because it doesn't reflect any of the spirit of Star Wars - the fun that Cowboys and Indians in space became for us all.

Star Wars: Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson scores only marbles.
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