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Monday, 22 July 2013

AFICIONADO CLASSIC REVIEW (2009) - 'STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS - WILD SPACE' NOVEL


STAR WARS - THE CLONE WARS: “WILD SPACE”


An original novel by Karen Miller

Available now in hardback from CENTURY PUBLISHING (UK)

Reviewed by Scott Weller


Warning: this review contains possible plot spoilers.


“DIE JEDI, DIE JEDI, DIE JEDI”


Karen Traviss set the benchmark high with her highly successful first book of the new THE CLONE WARS series –the task of adapting a movie into a successful novel would be a challenge to any writer, new or already distinguished, and she met that goal well, but then getting a second writer to follow on from that...well, that was always going to be an even greater challenge. So it’s a pleasant surprise to me that Canadian born/Australian raised STAR WARS novel newcomer Karen Miller has provided such a strong all new original adventure that follows on well from it’s predecessor.

Though low on the typical STAR WARS trademarks of action and high excitement, WILD SPACE is instead more of a character adventure, and essentially a book of two halves, the first builds on the relationship triangle between Anakin, Padme and Obi-Wan on Coruscant after the events of EPISODE II, whilst the second, which is really the core of the story, involves the destined pairing of Obi-Wan and Bail Organa as they embark on a perilous mission to stop a dreaded Sith attack on the Jedi by finding the Dark Side world of Zigoola, unaware that they are heading into a killing trap initiated by Darth's Sidious and Dooku.

Like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK did for STAR WARS, WILD SPACE builds on a prior success and adds further depth, bringing a nice amount of humanity and some emotion within it’s pages-not an easy task when applied to the more chiseled, emotionally reserved Jedi characters of the Prequel Trilogy- and especially to the love between Anakin and Padme (creating a firm bridge to their relationship in further additional set up material for both the future animated series installments and EPISODE III), as well as, most importantly as the book continues, Obi-Wan, of which there’s some nicely written and quite touching moments between him and Anakin taking place directly after EPISODE II linking into EPISODE III, too (as Ewan McGregor stated in one of his interviews in 2005, it was vital that the film-makers of EPISODE III created a sense that the pair had a strong friendship/brotherhood before the final conflict that turns them into enemies-WILD SPACE builds into this). A fan of Ewan McGregor as Obi, Miller has done well in making the reader think of the actor in the part for the duration of the book’s reading. Though in her treatment of her favourite hero, I think she must have a very dark and wicked side-he certainly gets injured enough in this book (how many more times could she possibly wound him??)-having more fractures and bouts with the Jedi Healers than Humpty Dumpty ever could!

There’s also a very nice early on sequence/ conversation between Obi-Wan and Padme in which Yoda has forced him to end the Senator's attachment to Anakin before the war starts (which, obviously, Padme unwillingly says she will do, but, being the Padme we all know and love, doesn’t, leading to their marriage as soon as her and Anakin have arrived back on Naboo!). The sequence in part, and the way it as written, I felt, had some similarities to a deleted scene from EPISODE III where Obi talks to Padme about her relationship with Anakin and how he knows the pair are in love, only in the EPISODE III scene he tells her he will keep this forbidden union a secret from the Jedi Council and asks him to look after his ex-Padawan whilst he’s on Utapau. The tone of Miller's scene might be different but it does feel as if she were trying to do something in the same vein and spirit, showing the often uneasy way the pair of them has to adapt in their relationship with Anakin.

Of the other main characters, the Anakin Skywalker of this book stills feels more in the angst teenager model rather than the adventurous hero of the Clone Wars animated movie, even though this story is set after that first adventure. There are touches of the animated Skywalker’s personality present but not as much as I thought there would be-I think the time has come now to cut down on the angst of the character that has been in every CLONE WARS related comic/book over the last four or five years and have some fun with him and the action he gets involved in, and to start developing his relationship with Ahsoka more. That’s not to say that the future side of him shouldn’t be developed, though-referencing to Vader always works, and Miller gets the chance to inject small bits of darkness into Anakin-the way she describes certain moments, the clenching of his fist in anger, etc, ala THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, so full credit to her for continuing to do that.

With the story set three months after the battle of Geonosis-the next conflict of Christophsis has recently taken place, with the books second half beginning leading into the series first officially made episode DOWNFALL OF A DROID, and the subsequent DUEL OF THE DROIDS-it’s here that Anakin’s involvement in the book pretty much ends, with the beginning of that episode’s search for the missing Artoo unit, whilst the Organa/Kenobi plot takes front and center. It is on the latter mission that Miller works hard at developing the friendship between Bail Organa and Obi-Wan.

WILD SPACE presents the first of the great opportunities with this new book series to additionally expand on the popular supporting characters we’ve enjoyed over the years-one of my favourites of the Prequels being Bail Organa (so brilliantly played by Jimmy Smits). Pairing Organa and Obi-Wan for their first time works well for the most part, and in the beginning they are kinda the intergalactic odd couple of sorts, soon at loggerheads in their differing ideals and beliefs, but by the dramatic and dangerous events of the books finale, they have become the greatest of friends against the Sith. This situation also gives Miller the chance to explore Organa as a character and his feelings as a man- a member of Royal nobility and his duties to his world and the Republic. In fact, despite a lack of any kind of Jedi powers, Bail becomes almost like a surrogate Anakin to Obi-Wan and has some further character development in his working relationship/friendship to Padme Amidala-they are almost like brother and sister. Miller does a pretty good job at bringing Organa to life and it felt right to imagine Smits saying her created lines. I’d now really like to see a proper adventure on Alderaan. James Luceno’s DARK LORD book had a sizable section there to good dramatic effect but I’d like more. Perhaps there’s potential for a series of books to come?

With Kenobi, Miller shows a side to him at this point that’s warmer, more akin to what the character will become when played by Sir Alec Guinness, though still keeping the Prequel Obi-Wan’s feelings of loyalty and duty to his Jedi brethren that are sometimes at odds with his thoughts and beliefs regarding Anakin. Kenobi also feels the burden of guilt and responsibility for events over the last ten years in the build up to the Clone Wars, which his enemies will soon use against him on Zigoola.

Despite the strength and positive news of pairing Bail and Obi for the book, it was ultimately in this section, however, that I lost a little bit of interest slightly-I felt that their travel and arrival on Zigoola dragged a little bit, and that some events and dialogue there could perhaps have been shortened. Things do pick up more successfully in the book’s last few chapters, by the time of their arrival at the Sith Temple and the unusual danger it holds within.

As well as Bail, another equally fave EPISODE II character, the “Ernest Borgnine-like” alien Dexter Jettster, appears briefly, providing vital information to Obi-Wan abut an upcoming attack by General Grievous on the Bothans, though coming across as a little bit more serious now that the Clone War has begun.

Of the new characters introduced from the animated series and the previous book, Ahsoka Tano suffers the most. As the story starts, it’s quite early days still in the relationship between the Togrutan and her master. She’s still the young and craving for adventure personality we saw at the end of the animated movie, wanting to live up to Anakin’s expectations. Having had that previous strong intro she sadly has very little to do in this book except run around by his side, basically acting as the reader in asking what’s going on now, which is a bit of a shame. This may be due to the fact that Karen Traviss had so rigorously introduced her in the first book, or, with this second book possibly being done as the series was about to enter production, not much info may have been available to Miller at the time of writing for her to use. The Clone Soldiers are not as heavily involved in the book either, as the author continues her focus on the main Prequel characters.

Unlike the earlier Traviss book, however, there is more of a return to the politics and dark machinations by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine of the film Prequels, with the vines of terrorism and bombing stretching out towards Coruscant itself. The author brings some additional wily humour to Palpatine (we even discover that he’s a very nifty speeder pod pilot!) and she gives his alter ego, Darth Sidious, continued maliciousness, yet builds on his sly aspects too, as he enjoys looking at the chaos he has created all around him. The books second half also has the chance to explore some of the instruments of the Sith, but to find out more about this you’ll have to read the book.

As well as keeping our heroes in character, a difficult puzzle for any new THE CLONE WARS author has to be deciphering and working out the timeline for the events of the animated movie/beginning of the series in relation to where they occur after EPISODE II and before EPISODE III, and it is here that Miller admirably succeeds in working it all out, especially taking in parts of the still superb Genndy Tartakovsky 2003/2005 animated segments as well. To her credit, it’s all done convincingly. Miller also importantly expands on what happened between the events of Geonosis, before the full declaration of war, and the disembarking of the Clone soldiers out into the galaxy, as well as what happened with the return of the injured Anakin and Obi-Wan to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. Miller does an equally great job of filling in some vital back story moments we were all wondering about and helping to reveal some unanswered questions/plot holes about both the Prequel Trilogy as a whole and the emotional state of the triad of friendship between Padme, Anakin and Obi-Wan. And let’s not forget some nice links to upcoming episodes of THE CLONE WARS, too, after what took place in the movie (on Christophsis, Teth and Tatooine) –which aforementioned have now become one of the earliest battles of the wars. Miller also tantalizingly reveals through Obi-Wan some further early conflicts involving Jedi like Ki-Adi Mundi that I hope we may one day see or read more about. And even the planet Mimban, from the first original novel ever, SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE by Alan Dean Foster, gets a mention-FAB!

But enough of the pleasantries, I hear you ask-are there any other niggles? Well, one very minor complaint about the cover. The Clones of the title aren’t seen all that much in the book yet they are the cover stars. Yes, it’s about the Clone Wars but so much of it centers on Obi-Wan that I think he and Bail should have been on it primarily, with the Clones lurking in the background. I’m assuming the Clones photo artworks are the new uniform design style for every book, however, rather than the main characters. This quibble isn’t, and won’t, stop fans from buying the book if they really want to, but I just feel they could have done more with such an important buying aspect for non-fans who want to sample the book range, that’s all…

From the way the future release schedules are being honed by LUCAS BOOKS I assume this new series will be done on a rotating basis by the two Karen’s, with Traviss providing the action adventure type Clone heavy novels, whilst Miller will be adding more meat to the bone character-wise with her stuff- a good idea by LUCAS BOOKS that will stop the series from becoming stale. It seems that the two Karen’s will soon form an indomitable duo, much like Anakin and Obi-Wan!


AFICIONADO RATING: Though I enjoyed the first half of the book more than it’s second, WILD SPACE is still a very positive addition to the STAR WARS/THE CLONE WARS book range, and Miss Miller shows great promise for future books-I’d like to see her show her mettle on an Original Trilogy book now. If you’re a fan of the Prequel movies, and especially of Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi, WILD SPACE will prove to be an irresistible purchase. 7.5 out of 10.

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