Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The NJO explores Jedi pride in Onslaught

Japanese edition art by Tsuyoshi Nagano
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.

Onslaught contains some very shaky prose and slow swaths, and at points it just made me want to get to Matthew Stover’s contribution, but it also has a notable structure, with two parallel stories about people dealing with pride in the face of danger.

The NJO books often come in trilogies and duologies such as “Dark Tide.” They make for some cumbersome titles, but tend to have an overarching plot and focus on certain characters. Dark Tide I: Onslaught introduces Gavin Darklighter and Corran Horn. It was published in 2000 and written, along with its sequel, by Michael A. Stackpole. Previously, he had written four X-Wing novels and the Corran Horn revisionist novel I, Jedi.

A Karen Traviss-penned eBook novella entitled Boba Fett: A Practical Man takes place chronologically between Vector Prime and Onslaught, but I won't be discussing it here.

Onslaught was a bit of a slow go, with some painfully stiff dialogue and fight scenes that, while detailed, lacked poetry. This book introduces the Republic vs. Jedi politics that will resonate through the EU right up until Crucible. Borsk Fey’lya makes it clear that he’ll oppose Leia and the Jedi for the heck of it, but meanwhile, the Yuuzhan Vong are gaining a foothold in the galaxy on Dantooine and Bimmiel.

“They’re always right behind us,” Mara Jade says during her mission with Anakin Solo. That mission, containing characters that I don’t otherwise particularly seek out, is one of the more interesting riffs on Jedi philosophy in the EU. She tells him not to use the Force for trivial things such as stacking luggage, drawing a dividing line between small uses of the Force and big ones. The scene shows that Mara wants Anakin to be able to hold his own even without the Force. She also teaches him that he shouldn’t use the Force to show off or to show people that he doesn’t have to “break a sweat” to do hard work. For me, this is one of the most memorable bits of dialogue in the EU.

Ganner Rhysode and Corran Horn are another prickly pair. I’ve always liked Corran. It’s difficult for me to describe why, though because Corran’s largest personal flaw is his arrogance, and arrogance as a flaw is a pet peeve for me. It’s used far too often to make characters look stronger than the people around them, while masquerading as a requisite weakness. Corran has a lot of backstory, though, from space cop to rebellious Jedi to proper Jedi, and I’ve enjoyed watching him grow. He has a warmth to him, which is especially apparent when he jokes with Mirax at the end of Onslaught. He also has another flaw - his inability to use telekinesis.

It might also help that Corran is an adult - he doesn’t have the “teenagers are always cocky” excuse, and his pushiness gets in his way in professional situations. Sometimes Corran does things that he thinks are heroic but are in hindsight just petty and embarrassing.

Corran tries to be civilized to Ganner, but Ganner’s own alpha male pushiness makes it difficult. Both storylines feature people who don’t always get along. Ironically, it’s Ganner (and some scientists) who end up saving Corran’s life, while both Ben and Mara need to be rescued by someone else despite their student-teacher bond.

Near the end of the book, Corran has a moment that reminded me of Mara’s resistance of her disease:

“[Corran] let the worry in Ganner’s voice appeal to his own sense of vanity, injecting steel into his spine. It wouldn’t do to let Ganner see me as weak.” 

In an earlier chapter, Anakin catches Mara drooping, and thinks:

“That I could see her looking tired indicates how tired she must truly be. She’d never have let me see her like that if there was any way around it.”

I thought it was interesting that Mara sees her own resistance to help as strength, but Corran sees his as vanity. By the end of the book, Corran has acknowledged that his toughness is tied to his arrogance, and Mara is still sick and getting worse despite her strength. Both Jedi must find their feet in a galaxy that is changing around them, just like the New Jedi Order changed the Star Wars expanded universe.

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