Imperial Commando: 501st
by Karen Traviss
Published by Del Rey
Adrick's Rating: 2.7 out of 4
The Clone Wars are over, but for those with reason to run from the new galactic Empire, the battle to survive has only just begun.
The Jedi have been decimated in the great purge, and the Republic has fallen. Now the former Republic Commandos—the galaxy’s finest special forces troops, cloned from Jango Fett—find themselves on opposing sides and in very different armor. Some have deserted and fled to Mandalore with the mercenaries, renegade clone troopers, and rogue Jedi who make up Kal Skirata’s ragtag resistance to Imperial occupation. Others—including men from Delta and Omega squads—now serve as Imperial Commandos, a black ops unit within Vader’s own 501st Legion, tasked to hunt down fugitive Jedi and clone deserters.
For Darman, grieving for his Jedi wife and separated from his son, it’s an agonizing test of loyalty. But he’s not the only one who’ll be forced to test the ties of brotherhood. On Mandalore, clone deserters and the planet’s own natives, who have no love for the Jedi, will have their most cherished beliefs challenged. In the savage new galactic order, old fueds may have to be set aside to unite against a far bigger threat, and nobody can take old loyalties for granted.
Imperial Commando: 501st is a good, solid Star Wars novel, an impressively sized volume that has appeal for anyone who loves to really dig in to the Star Wars universe. Ten years ago, the idea that a Dark Times-era novel would bring in this much of the lore from previous Star Wars sources would have brought warm feelings to this fanboy’s heart—but I wouldn’t have believed it for a second.
And yet here we are: Karen Traviss gives us the Marvel Mandalorian Fenn Shysa and Barbara Hambly’s Callista and Djinn Altis, and hints at the events that will lead into the stories that introduced them. Characters from several other sources pop up as well, including the Kaminoan Jedi Kina Ha and Scout, the protagonist from Sean Stewart’s Dark Rendezvous. And all of these are in addition to Traviss’s own characters from her previous Republic Commando novels. It’s a massive cast of characters, and I’m impressed that Traviss has managed to keep them all organized.
Finally, as a fan of cover art, I have to say that 501st boasts some of the most impressive art in the Commando series. Very nice.
As in No Prisoners, there’s a surprising lack of conflict in 501st—it’s as though the characters (any of the characters) have difficulties in forming opposing views from one another. Even the deep and legitimate conflict between Darman and Skirata (and by extension, the rest of his brothers) seems to be mostly exacerbated by Darman’s increasing insanity tied to his obsession with keeping his son safe from the hands of Force users.
The rest of the novel is similarly affected. The new character of Roly Melusar, an Imperial agent with an intriguing backstory and a distaste for all Force users, might actually be an interesting character…in another story. But here his views and experiences are only slightly more extreme than those of Traviss’s other characters, so they do little to set him apart.
Even the Jedi themselves are never really driven into conflict with the Mandalorians they’re forced to take refuge with in the aftermath of Order 66. Djinn Altis doesn’t seem to raise an eyebrow when it’s suggested that the only alternative to wiping the minds of Jedi who’ve been to the secret Mandalorian stronghold is executing them. I can see why the rightly paranoid Mandalorians would want to leave no witnesses, but to have the Jedi characters—who have no reason to reveal the location of the stronghold and every reason not to—allow this attitude to pass without question just isn’t realistic.
It reminds me of the Saturday Night Live sketch Doppleganger, in which two characters, having decided that two other characters appear identical, state that one of them must be shot. This prompts an urgent “Why are you gonna shoot anyone?!” from one of the characters in question. In that case, the imposed dramatic choice was used for comedic effect, and at least one of the characters objected. In 501st, we’re supposed to take it seriously, and no one objects.
And let’s talk about the Mandalorian stronghold…considering that the Commando novels are generally realistic in their take on the Star Wars fantasy world, it’s odd that it reminds me of nothing so much as Stephanie Meyer’s Cullen household from the Twilight, erm, “Saga”. It’s a safe place in a secluded, rustic environment, where every character finds a loving relationship with a strong male with the security of unlimited wealth. This is just as much a fantasy situation as fighting robots with laser swords, but not one I’m interested in reading about for several hundred pages.
During the time it took me to read the novel and write the review, Karen Traviss left the Star Wars publishing fold, leaving the continuation of the Commando series in doubt. Now it’s been announced that the series will be concluded in a second Imperial Commando novel by a different author. I’m glad to hear that, but I still wish that circumstances had enabled Traviss to finish her series. Hard Contact remains one of the best examples of the EU novel form, and I would have liked to see the end of the Commando series done by the same author who started it all.