Saturday, December 14, 2013

New Jedi Order Retrospective

The New Jedi Order was one of my first obsessions in Star Wars novels. Soon after seeing the movies for the first time, I got caught up in this strange, ongoing story about Jedi fighting aliens. About ten years later, I’m re-reading the series with a fresh perspective.

I started paying attention to the New Jedi Order series around 2002. I watched a lot of forum discussions and fan fiction trends from the sidelines, being more active in movie fandom myself. Now, my goal is to read one book per month and produce something that is less a review and more a short retrospective. I've tried to stay away from major debates in the fandom and present the novels as I see them. Feel free to comment with your memories or thoughts about the whole series or one particular book.

One book per month means that it will be at least 19 months until I’ve finished this, although it might end up taking longer or shorter. Hopefully it won't run up against Episode VII! I may occasionally have guest bloggers bringing their own memories of the series.

Pro tip: The Japanese cover art is better.

The first book, Vector Prime, was published in 1999, the same year The Phantom Menace came out on film and Starfighters of Adumar in print. Author R.A. Salvatore had never published a Star Wars novel before, being known primarily for the Forgotten Realms series set in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. Chronologically, the New Jedi Order follows the Young Jedi Knights series, which established Han and Leia’s children as teenagers but were not especially popular with an adult audience.

Vector Prime takes its time setting up the relationships between the likable characters established in that series. I can identify with the Solo children, and like that each has their own perspective and talents. The philosophies and arguments between Jacen and Anakin Solo are never shoved aside in favor of plot, which I think is one of the advantages of a very long series. The characters have enough conversations that the reader gets to see their ideas from many different angles. Leia, Jaina, and Mara Jade likewise have shifting relationships with each other. (And the very first scene passes the Bechdel Test.) The tone is dark without losing some optimism. Salvatore tends to throw in moments of snark or physical comedy just when a battle scene is getting really intense.

The author was one of the main creators of the Yuuzhan Vong, the antagonists of the series. They’re frightening, grotesque, and consistent. The names of their technologies may be repeated ad nauseum, but that gives us a clear picture of their culture, and, if I remember correctly, their down fall doesn’t include any deus ex machina technologies that aren’t introduced in at least larval form in Vector Prime.

The prose is a bit too elevated, especially in the last half of the book, with an attempt at a faux-poetic cadence that can be cheesy. Luke comes off as condescending a few times even when the prose insists that he doesn’t, and Mara closes herself off from both her husband and the reader. But the plot flows well, mirroring the original trilogy in places without bombarding the reader with callbacks. It’s rekindled my fondness for the Jaina, Jacen, and Anakin I used to know. I’m glad to see that Vector Prime holds up to how much I liked it in high school.

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