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Sunday, 25 August 2013

CLASSIC REVIEW: 'FATE OF THE JEDI - BACKLASH'



STAR WARS: FATE OF THE JEDI
BOOK FOUR - BACKLASH

By AARON ALLSTON

Published in hardback in the UK by CENTURY PUBLISHING. Out in paperback March 2011, from ARROW BOOKS.

Reviewed by Scott Weller

The dramatic stakes continue to escalate for both friend and foe in the STAR WARS Expanded Universe as Aaron Allston-glad to see you’re back on the recovery track- returns to the continuing FATE OF THE JEDI saga that he helped to launch. BACKLASH may be the middle book of the series, but the danger of it suffering from “middle-itus”, of which symptoms can result in little being pushed forward with the plot and characters until the next book, fortunately doesn’t occur, with the author easily pulling together plot strands and breezily easing the reader into the next phase of the series well, increasing the dangers to both the galaxy’s Jedi protectorate and to their dearest friends and allies throughout the Galactic Alliance. It’s most dedicated protectors- Luke and Ben Skywalker- their indomitable outcast plates already full in the tracking of the now Masterless Sith, will soon face the threat of the Dark Side energy called the Abeloth, which acts almost like an intergalactic siren, bringing danger to both the Jedi and Sith clans from its depths deep in the region of space known as the Maw Cluster. What secrets lurk within its creation, and just what exciting, and hopefully disturbing, ramifications will it hold for the future? And just how do events from the previous LEGACY OF THE FORCE factor into the Abeloth’s existence? As the real mystery behind the Jedi’s madness becomes slowly more apparent, could its deadly hand be reaching out to ensnare the Skywalker family?
With one factor for evil intensifying, there’s also an evolution of sorts for the Sith, too, with Allston making good on his promises to begin an era of change for the new strain of Dark Destroyers-Vestara being such an example, possessing abilities that make her more of a hybrid with the Jedi, a situation with dangerous ramifications for both sets of species, we’re sure. Vestara, who looks likely to be a love interest for young Ben, may become the new Mara Jade on the block, and could easily be just as popular in the long run, too.
And its not only Luke and Ben that’s after Vestara, so too are the dreaded Nightsisters from a previous point in the series. But will the hunters become the hunted? And does Vestara have her own plans at work involving all of them?
Within the tale, Luke and Ben continue to work well together, though the plot line involving Vestara and the Nightsisters related to Dathomir I found mixed at best (male slaves and female force-sensitive’s separated –an attempt to do a more intelligent version of Classic STAR TREK’s Spock's Brain, if you ask me!), though I applaud Allston for continuing to try and create believable worlds and cultures that are all the more necessary for the literary STAR WARS realms. On the bright side, though, the sequence of the unification summit being wrecked by the constant appearance of the Nightsisters is pretty good, and its cool to have the Rancors in the book-a nice sense of Round Two for Luke (however, it’s ultimately Ben, who is also swiftly becoming the detective of the series, that really does most of the action work this time!).
As if this plotline isn’t enough, Allston continues maneuvering the books other story threads with the skill of an expert juggler, with none of the padding of previous books in the series. Its almost all systems go now as the book series begins to enter the final home stretch cycle and the author is clearly enjoying himself in his secured story-telling home which, though at times controversial with devotes of the Expanded Universe, he has helped to create.
Away from the Sith, Galactic Alliance Chief of State, Natasi Daala, is well and truly beginning to lose control of her abilities in leadership of the galaxy, and her plot gets stronger and more focused. Though fans have sympathized with her for her inability to converse with the Jedi and her ignorant, sometimes downright spiteful, attitudes to them (as a Force non-sensitive), she’s just plain dumb as a galactic leader and I won’t tolerate her character’s ineptness at helping our heroes any more-whatever her final fate will be in the series, I’m sure she’ll deserve what she ultimately receives. Will the Jedi and the Solo’s have no choice but to help Daala get back her political believability in the face of such recent public crisis? It all gets even worse when Allston adds a failed assassination attempt, targeted at one of her loyal commanders, to the heady mix of political intrigue.
As for Han and Leia, their roles as galactic ambulancemen for the madness stricken Jedi is over, but, with a stopover on Dathomir, their story involvement thankfully picks up for a brief period when finally re-united with Luke and Ben. Sadly, though, the partnership isn’t for long, as another conflict and chain of events emerges that separates them from the Jedi duo and sends them weaving through the books other various plotlines rather than having them stay centralized in one area, which is a bit of a shame as the book really picks up when they are all together. Generally, I feel that the Solo’s still aren’t being used as much as they should be in this series. Perhaps thats set for ammendment in the future…
As always, to bolster up the action and characterization, Allston’s unique trademark humour (especially in the occasionally flippant attitude of Ben Skywalker), which has proved popular with the readers, returns (with the character of Allana and her interaction and confounding of Artoo and Threepio on the Falcon being a sequence you’ll either love or hate). And, as with previous books, there’s also a cliffhanger ending that looks intriguing.
Overall, BACKLASH brings a bit more escapism and adventure to the series, which is nice, though there is the feeling that the younger characters are being more and more developed to replace our older, beloved characters (LUCAS BOOKS, say this isn’t so!!) who are now past middle age in the cannon. Who’d have thought there would be age-ism in the STAR WARS universe?
Hopefully, Christie Golden will pick up the pace from Allston’s enjoyable tome with a book that’s also hopefully going to be of a bigger page count to justify its hardback status: ALLIES.

AFICIONADO RATING: It may be at its middle ground point, but that doesn’t mean that the book suffers too much from the kind of problems normally faced and suffered by writers this deep in a saga run. BACKLASH, on the whole, remains fast paced and generally well executed-a vast improvement on Allston’s first book launching the series. 7.5 out of 10

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