Monday, December 29, 2014

Jaina's Dark Journey

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.

I read Dark Journey quickly, both because I was on holiday break and because I enjoyed it. This tale of Jaina's fall to the dark side and recovery moves fast. Although there isn't a lot of action, the many points of view and Jaina's own strong emotions pull the story along. The Myrkyr strike team limps to Hapes, where, with Teneniel Djo ill and Ta'a Chume's daughters preoccupied with infighting, the appearance of Jaina Solo sets off a matriarchal game of thrones.

Author Elaine Cunningham wrote only one Star Wars novel, although she also penned three short stories (one set during Dark Journey, and two about a younger Jaina and younger Jag respectively.) In general, her prose reads like any other New Jedi Order installment. Some moments were gloriously cinematic, like Jaina's visions of Darth Vader and her climactic decision. (Visions like this made me think about just how much I dislike the narrative use of flow-walking to heighten emotion, but that's another story.) 

I noticed one awkward scene in the book, from a plotting perspective: the appearance of Jag right after the lightsaber battle between Kyp and Jaina. Jag needed to see the fight but not participate for plot purposes, and his appearance feels like an unsubtle afterthought. I would think that Jaina would have sensed him at some point.

One of Cunningham's strengths in this book is her focus on faces. Some of the book's strongest moments, I thought, were simply about expressions: Isolder's glimpse of Leia's weary face before she puts on a younger-looking diplomatic mask, Han and Ben staring at each other with matching "dubious curiosity." The comparison of Jaina to both Leia and Han is also nicely done.

Dark Journey CoverDark Journey is, of course, Jaina's story. She's a juggernaut, forced by her brothers' deaths to take whatever means necessary, and probably accelerating the war by sacrificing other people. Her lack of concern for others' lives is disturbing, and her change of heart quick but satisfying. I had forgotten the uncertainty surrounding Jacen's death, and on a re-read much of the suspense is lost. A lot of irony is gained, though, with the knowledge that Jaina's vision of killing Jacen will come true, and that Tenel Ka will have a child with Jacen but not raise her with him.

In a way, Dark Journey is also Tenel Ka's story. Ta'a Chume tries to manipulate both women, and while Jaina sometimes falls for it (more on Jaina and trickery later), Tenel Ka always has a card up her sleeve. I did think that some things happened astonishingly quickly in this book: the Hapan fleet has remained hidden for months, and with all of Jaina's work and space travel I was surprised when the text mentioned that only a matter of days had passed. However, the courtly intrigue is entertaining and easy to follow. The concept of "Courtship of Princess Leia" feels cringingly cheesy to me now, but Dark Journey is not a refutation of Courtship: it plays it straight, with a quiet, polite Isolder and amoral Ta'a Chume. (Coy, doomed Trisdan, especially, could have come from an earlier era.)

I liked immature, reactionary Kyp a lot more than I expected in this book. While I hardly remember their formal Master-apprentice relationship or how long it lasts, the interactions between Kyp and Jaina are tense and intriguing. Jaina, acting with a casual darkness that starts out looking a lot like Luke's in Return of the Jedi, takes Kyp's philosophy farther than he ever has, and leads both of them to the realization of how unhealthy that philosophy could become. Before finishing the book I wrote that Jaina and Kyp had too much baggage and were too competitive to be a good pair, but by the end, their traumas fit each other.  I love that Cunningham has Kyp point out that both of them lost brothers. The moment where Jaina tricks Kyp using his willingness to ritually fight her was a glorious snub, as was her comment to Tsavong Lah shortly afterward: "If you still have your own hands, you're probably not as far up the ladder as you wanted us to think."

I can see how people pair Jaina and Kyp romantically (although the age and power gap is questionable), but it's also nice to see such powerful emotions flaring between people of opposite genders without any mention of romance. 

Jaina has a lot of men in her life at the moment, with Jag Fel existing and Prince Isolder holding himself away from the idea of marrying Jaina (or Leia) without ever expressly forbidding it. While Jaina and Kyp compete, Jag tries to be the voice of reason. Jaina is really spectacularly mean to him, which is not her worst crime of the book, since she also sends Hapans and Wookiees on suicide missions and basically tortures someone for science. (She acts a lot like the Yuuzhan Vong, in those times.)  On a planet of scheming diplomats, the Chiss soldier has to try to be the voice of reason.
Jaina-The Apprentice
Jaina as Kyp's apprentice.

 My favorite scene with Jag was his first scene, where Cunningham waits to reveal that he's talking to not just any commanding officer, but his father, who has already lost two children. Otherwise, it's clear that sparks fly between him and Jaina, although she's too busy going to the dark side and winning the war. At this juncture, their romance seems inevitable. I was very amused that in the first meeting between Jag and Han, in a scene completely unrelated to Jag's relationship with Jaina, Han accidentally punches Jag in the face.

Luke Skywalker watch continues. After going back to performing his own heroics in Star By Star, Luke is almost completely absent from Dark Journey.  Since it's so much Jaina's story, there's no real reason for him to have a large role except that he's missing huge developments in Jaina's and Kyp's Force lives.

The rest of the strike team is also absent from the story. However, with Tenel Ka having her own emotionally heavy plot line, Ta'a Chume playing the puppetmaster, and of course Jaina undergoing a hugely important arc in this novel, there is no shortage of female characters. (Other notable scenes: the brief, thorough characterization of the pirate Crimpler, and everything with Harrar.) Cunningham penned a female-centric book that's small in scope, taking place entirely in the Hapes system, that taps into the key elements of the Solo childrens' fated relationship with the Force and deepens it. 
Next up: Enemy Lines, about which I remember very little.

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