Much like the many of the new canon novels, Battlefront starts out a snail’s pace. However, unlike the other new novels, Battlefront does this set up in a way that highlights the visceral brutality that accompanies ground war troops as they slog their way through blaster fire, bio weaponry, and artillery. The slow set-up adds a rich layer to the story of Twilight Company’s tour of the galaxy, showcasing that war on the front lines is hell, even for those who have lived it their entire lives.
Ultimately, the slow set-up works in the novel’s favor, proving essential in setting up the characters. Every character is rich, complex and nuanced, especially its lifelong soldier, anti-hero protagonist as well as an Imperial governor turned Rebel informant. Named characters continually perish in the novel just as you grow to appreciate them, making this the only novel, thus far, that hit me emotionally. The settings are widely varied, from the jungles of Coyerti to the snowbanks of Hoth to the sweltering lava beds of Sullust, and gives you an idea of just how vast the Galactic Civil War is. Best of all, it re-canonizes Kuat and its (in)famous Star Destroyer shipyards.
To begin, it’s best to put this novel in context. This novel was written from eight unproduced The Clone Wars scripts that would have take place over the course of Seasons 6 and 7. It follows the journey of Quinlan Vos, an energetic and whimsical Jedi Master often tasked with going undercover in the seediest parts of the galaxy, assigned with a dark task by the Jedi Council: the assassination of Count Dooku. At the suggestion of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Quinlan Vos seeks out Asajj Ventress in an attempt to ally with and learn from her experience as the Sith Lord’s spurned assassin and apprentice.
Picking up a few months after the events Aftermath, Life Debt immediately re-establishes the protagonists, Norra and Temmin ‘Snap’ Wexley, Jas Emari, Sinjir Rath Velus, Jom Barrell, and their murderous battle droid Mr. Bones, as a team seeking out and capturing high ranking Imperial officers that have been eluding the New Republic. However, after returning with their latest mark, Princess Leia Organa asks team leader Norra Wexley to track down her wayward husband, Han Solo and his Wookiee copilot, Chewbacca, who mysteriously disappeared after running off to Kashyyyk, the Wookiee homeworld, in an attempt to liberate it from the clutches of the Empire.
Life Debt also spends a significant amount of time establishing antagonist Rae Sloane as Grand Admiral of the Imperial Navy, whom is trapped in a game of wits, intrigue, and deception with her mysterious benefactor, Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax. Rax controls the events of the novel through a master plan that only begins to reveal itself at the novel’s end.
Unlike the more localized first novel, Life Debt is packed to the brim with galactic wide intrigue and conflict. Flitting back and forth between the main team, Leia, and Sloane, we get a clear picture of the post-RotJ state of the galaxy showcasing the flaws of the New Republic and what appears to be the sinister, secret beginnings of the First Order, buried in the death throes of the Empire. In addition, Aftermath’s interludes are back and just as intriguing as they were in that novel. From the shadowy Acolytes of the Beyond to more bizarre stories like the fate of the Rancor keeper from Jabba’s Palace, the interludes plant story seeds to be continued in Empire’s End and likely beyond. Best of all, Life Debt acts as a nexus for the new canon, drawing upon characters, planets and ships from other novels and comics. As a completionist, it was very satisfying to see all of the connections to the new canon, wrapped neatly into this already expansive tale.
Taking place six years before The Force Awakens, Bloodline follows Princess/Senator Leia Organa as she investigates a mysterious criminal cartel while also being intimately involved in the hyper-partisan political environment that is the norm in the New Republic senate. She’s joined by a very colorful cast of characters from a stoic assistant with a tragic secret, a hotshot pilot out to prove himself, a mousy intern with strong convictions, a vain senator with a hidden agenda, and, finally, Leia’s foil, Senator Ransolm Casterfo, a charismatic senator from the opposition who is deeper than his persona suggests.
Running concurrently with Star Wars Vol. 1, this comic places Vader front and center as he deals with the Emperor’s displeasure and secrets following the destruction of the Death Star. Vader himself comes across as strong, furious, and cunning, managing to stay convincingly ahead of all of his adversaries, but most of the problems that this comic faces comes from author Kieron Gillen’s secondary characters.
These include sinister parodies of Threepio and Artoo, a terrified, juvenile Indiana Jones, an underutilized General to rival Vader,and the Emperor coming up with a groan worthy plot to test his apprentice. While Vader feels as dangerous as ever, it feels like he’s strangely out of place among the odd characters and head-scratching plots that surround him. Furthermore, its ending felt slightly cheap after Star Wars Vol. 1’s final scene was nearly identical.
This book was astonishing. For starters, this barely qualifies as a Young Adult book, dealing with headier material and more complex themes than most of the so-called Adult novels. Furthermore, it is an excellent retelling of the Original Trilogy (And beyond!); the main story involves a young boy and girl, both from the same planet but different social castes, winding their way through the universe, with the OT occurring in the background. It’s also a surprisingly touching romance with subtle links to the mythology of the galaxy.
Ultimately, it’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, if the titular characters were actually Romeo and Juliet. The pace and prose are breezy and the length is shorter than what it appears to be, thanks to larger type print, probably the biggest indications that this is meant as a YA novel, but don’t let that discourage you. This is, easily, the best new novel thus far, even outstripping the mostly great Twilight Company.
I don’t want to give too much away with this one, but if you’re an OT fan and are interested in a touching romance that stretches across a galaxy far, far away, pick this one up. You won’t regret it.
Book reviewed by Space Dragon contributor Matt Pellegrino