Sunday, July 20, 2014

Conquest: Lots of Things Changin' on Yavin IV

Conquest

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

"Edge of Victory I: Conquest," published in 2001, is the first Star Wars novel by Greg Keyes. At the time of its writing he was working on a degree in anthropology, and between Edge of Victory and his other New Jedi Order contributions one can see how his interest in cultures might have helped him flesh out the Yuuzhan Vong. This book is the one which I could hand to someone and say “this is why the New Jedi Order means a lot to me” - but I also wouldn’t expect it to convert them, wouldn’t expect it to stick in their brain the same way it did for me.

It is one of my favorite novels of the New Jedi Order because of the pathos and power of Tahiri’s transformation, and the shock of seeing both the Jedi Temple and Rebel base destroyed. Those events were a much smaller part of the book than I remembered, though. Maybe there’s more from Riina’s perspective in the next book, but I remember her having to fight between two personalities more than was shown in “Conquest.” I also distinctly remember the damutek crushing the temple, but there was only one line of dialogue describing that in the book. I must have constructed more out of my own attachment to these scenes - unless they are detailed in the sequel.

 I was a big fan of the Jedi Academy trilogy, despite its flaws. The destruction of the temple hit me hardest out of all the irreplaceable losses in the New Jedi Order. I could have sworn I remember descriptions of stone cracking, the temple flattening, Yuuzhan Vong shovel-beasts scooping up the pieces. I suppose not.


Likewise, we get almost nothing from Tahiri’s point of view as Riina Kwaad. Maybe she gets to use her knowledge of Yuuzhan Vong culture to help the Jedi later, but for now, Anakin takes the lead in that regard.

As in most of my favorite Star Wars books, the cast has a lot of alien characters. Jedi Master Ikrit, a transplant from a Young Jedi Knights book written by Nancy Richardson, smoothly advises Anakin Solo about how to be a calmer person. He’s another example of Yoda’s “size matters not” credo, and of the whimsical, unexpected look of Star Wars aliens. His wisdom works, even or especially from a rabbit-sized creature that speaks in the same simple, earnest rush as Anakin and Tahiri.

The dialogue harkens back to the Young Jedi Knights series in its slightly goofy simplicity, but it sounds appropriate coming from children. After Centerpoint and other scenes of war and Anakin’s philosophical concerns, it’s hard to remember that he’s in his early teens - the same age as Ahsoka when her apprenticeship started.

The Yuuzhan Vong in this novel are some of my favorite characters in the series. Nen Yim and Mezhan Kwaad give great insight into a side of the Yuuzhan Vong culture the reader had never seen before. I still think that they’re fascinating characters, but had forgotten that both are established with romantic interests - and Nen Yim’s is only mentioned to trick her into revealing information. In fact, this is the first book in which Yuuzhan Vong romance is mentioned at all, and there’s quite a lot of it - Anakin’s ally Uunu ends up accompanying him because a man punished her for not becoming involved with him.

Nen Yim is a strong character, a scientist with her own ideas about the Yuuzhan Vong gods. Her story is a fantastic bit of “show, don’t tell,” as we see her move through the Shaper ranks. The reactions of the Yuuzhan Vong around her tell exactly how the Shaper mindset works and what heresy she has committed within her caste. She pushes forward with a determined scientific curiosity and atheism, and remains calm even through her disgusting initiation into the Shaper caste. Her calmness and her loyalty to her fellow heretics are admirable traits. She’s also young - not as young as Anakin, but like him, she’s an apprentice. Like Anakin, she sees her master die in war. Like Anakin, she helps create Tahiri’s adult self. She even stands up to Tzavong Lah. She’s one of the most sympathetic Yuuzhan Vong so far, and interesting because she’s working against their beliefs but not against their cause.

The Anakin-Tahiri relationship moves at a nice pace - there’s no question that the two are set up for one another romantically in terms of the story, but the end of the book is about their friendship and Tahiri’s healing, not about a love that young children probably can’t name yet. Both are written realistically young, which is interesting to see after Anakin wrestled with very adult guilt at Centerpoint station. He continues to do so, with his “Vongsense” adding to his dilemma about whether the Yuuzhan Vong are part of the dark side of the Force.

One thing I had forgotten about the book was Vua Rapuung’s motive and the recent nature of his Shaming. His brother has a small but significant role, and his character arc is complete with its own emotional catharsis at the end. He was, though, one of the more forgettable parts of the plot for me.

It was strange to learn that the part of “Conquest” that had stuck with me for ten years was never even shown in the book. This was still one of my favorites out of the series, though, with its sympathetic Yuuzhan Vong and a huge leap forward in Tahiri’s development. Coming up next is more Edge of Victory, and presumably why Talon Karrde shouldn’t have shown vornskyrs to the Peace Brigade.

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