Sunday, August 30, 2015

The New Jedi Order Rises in The Unifying Force


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.

It seems appropriate that I would finish the New Jedi Order shortly before Aftermath comes out. Reading The Unifying Force just before diving completely into the new canon lets me shift from Legends to canon books smoothly. The end of The Unifying Force was beautiful to me as a teenager, and I still believe that it works well as a finale for the Expanded Universe.

That isn’t because I have anything against the books that came afterward. Look at this, though:

“And gradually their bittersweet laughter floated from the wooden table, up past the lanterns, the wind chimes, and the thick branches from which they dangled, meandering up through the crowds of the tallest wroshyr trees and gliding weightless into the twilight sky, up, ever up into stars too numerous to count, defying the stillness of vacuum and dispersing, vectoring out across space and time, as if destined to be heard in galaxies far, far away … “

It’s the type of ending where the family and found families laugh together, more Disney than Star Wars under Disney has been so far. It also allows the story to breathe, to travel out, just as it says, into space. It gently leads the reader back into the real world, so that they can turn and look at that galaxy far, far away from a distance. I remember sitting in a window seat at my grandparents’ house, reading this transformative, escapist, run-on masterpiece. 

The Yuuzhan Vong Harrar expresses how I’ve always thought about the series: “It is no small wonder I felt nostalgic for this place the moment we landed; that I felt I’d arrived home, though I’ve never been here.”

With the exception of a finale filled with revelations, though, the rest of The Unifying Force wasn’t quite as thrilling as I remembered. It starts slow, all of that James Luceno-word dump and a distant, omniscient point of view. Despite the fact that I remembered the big twists (blast it, Onimi) the end was a ride, though, and some of Luceno’s phrasing is beautiful. The book really picks up after about page 100, when Pash Cracken and Judder Page are rescued from a slave camp.

The political modus operandi of the Yuuzhan Vong leaders flip-flops rapidly as the GFFA puts them on the back foot. Nom Anor is back in Shimrra’s good graces after Zonama Sekot, and Shimraa, in his madness, actually suggests that the Yuuzhan Vong should learn from the Jedi.

The actual explanation of Shimraa’s backstory is from an omniscient point of view, and your mileage may vary as to whether that was the best way to explain it. I don’t mind, but I might have more if I hadn’t read an excellent fanfic, probably ten years ago, that detailed the Yuuzhan Vong society in the time of Supreme Overlord Quoreal.

When it comes to female characters, Bhindi Drayson returns, and Alema is still in Jaina’s squadron. Some of the Han and Leia stuff didn’t quite work for me: him “twirling” her off her feet for a romantic scene after he saves her life, his introducing C-3PO before her and her gently, toothlessly chiding him back - didn’t work for me. Their relationship does have a very A New Hope feel to the comedy, with clever, casual dialogue from Han, and C-3PO translating.

Luke finally gets a big fight scene against Shimraa, and it’s clear that he hasn’t lost any of his abilities. The “enduring melancholy” he feels at the end is powerful. To my own disappointment, I still don’t like Luke and Mara as a pair. Her relentless fight against Nom Anor is great, but as a romantic pair she and Luke still seem prickly, liable to talk around one another as much as to really communicate.

Jaina is still one of my favorite female characters, and I was sad to see that she was sidelined during the final battle, providing energy so that Jacen could fight Onimi instead of fighting herself. Jaina’s experience with the seed-partner ships is fascinating, although it too removes what could have been a great accomplishment for her. She doesn’t receive one of Zonama Sekot’s living ships. I don’t remember this hitting me so hard before, of being so aware of her disappointment when she says, bitterly, “Easy for you to say. You didn’t even try bonding with the seed partners.” Long before I grew attached to CT’s similar story in Red vs Blue, there was Jaina being denied something that the people around her took to with joy.

I love the fact that the Yuuzhan Vong were stripped of the Force, that Jacen was the lightsaber all along, that he and Onimi duel on a microscopic level slinging poisons and toxins, that at the end, the Yuuzhan Vong are allowed to go free on Zonama Sekot, and Tahiri, Danni and Tekli stay with the living planet too. (I still want more stories about the Yuuzhan Vong acclimating to the GFFA and vice versa after the war.)

Ten years later I’m still surprised by the suggestion that anyone can use the Force, not necessarily by wielding its power, but by choices that tend toward the light or the dark. It doesn’t seem to be something that literally affects the galaxy - not everyone is Force-sensitive - but like the ending paragraph, it has the potential to speak directly to the reader. You too will be called upon to make important moral choices.

I wanted to learn something from re-reading the New Jedi Order, and I think the most I’ve learned is that I still have the same taste in Star Wars stories as I did when I was a teenager. The re-read has been fun, and it felt like a journey - which I think is a testament to the strength of the story.  

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