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The Approaching Storm
by Alan Dean Foster

Published by Del Rey


Scott's Rating:   3 out of 4
Chris's Rating:   3 out of 4
Michael's Rating:   2.5 out of 4
Nick's Rating:   2.5 out of 4


"The Approaching Storm" features the return of Alan Dean Foster to the Star Wars universe. Foster was ghost author of the "A New Hope" novelization and writer of the first Star Wars spin-off novel "Splinter of the Mind's Eye". This book takes place immediately before Episode II - Attack of the Clones.

With outside forces led by Commerce Guild president Shu Mai secretly influencing things, the planet Ansion is considering seceding from the Republic. A rather unassuming planet that is primarily made up of prairies, Ansion is actually at the center of many alliances with other planets. If Ansion were to secede, there would be a domino effect of other planets leaving the Republic.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Luminari Unduli, and Barriss Offee are dispatched by the Jedi to the planet for negotiations. Their goal is to get the inhabitants of Ansion to vote to remain in the Republic. However, they must get the nomadic and city dwelling inhabitants to agree to remain. The city dwellers pledge to remain in the Republic if the Jedi can secure a deal with the nomads.

Thus begins a quest by the Jedi to find the nomads in the prairies and arrange the treaty. Along the way they must face dangerous creatures, strange nomadic people, and assassins sent by Soergg the Hutt to kill them. With a quickly lapsing timetable pushing them, it will take all their Jedi skills to survive much less secure the treaty.



Scott:

    It's good to see Alan Dean Foster return to Star Wars. Considering his long history with the Star Wars Universe, it's cool to see him write this intro to Episode II. This book helps establish the political atmosphere of Attack of the Clones and is a great treat for people who have been anticipating the film. I believe this marks the first appearance of Count Dooku. Shu Mai, the Commerce Guild, Luminari Unduli, and Padawan Barriss Offee will also appear in the movie, but this is your first good introduction to the characters. There's also a rather fun and foreshadowing moment in the book where Anakin expresses his disbelief that Yoda could formidably wield a lightsaber.

While Obi-Wan and Anakin are major players in this novel, you could make an argument that Luminari Unduli and Barriss Offee are the centerpieces of the story. Foster spends quite a bit of time developing their characters and making them interesting. Their calm resolve and teamwork make an interesting contrast to Obi-Wan and Anakin. It is also interesting to see Anakin and Barriss act as siblings. It will be quite a treat to know so much of these characters when they make an ever so brief appearance in the film.

Despite the fact that Foster jumps between the four Jedi in the story, he absolutely nails the character of Anakin Skywalker. He is impatient, restless, bold, and craving power. It's very easy to see how this character is on the path to becoming Darth Vader, yet you still see the ties to the young boy in Episode I. He is a fierce Jedi warrior while at the same time longing to return to his mother. I particularly liked a scene where he would rather fly in a fleet of Republic warships to deal with Ansion rather than use diplomacy. It was very telling of his thinking process and made it clear that, while having good intentions, it's exactly a tactic Darth Vader would use.

While many Star Wars novels jump between several planets before you become oriented, "The Approaching Storm" is a rather localized adventure. It takes place mostly on one planet and lets the reader explore it more deeply. We get to see more of the local culture, flora, and fauna. This makes a much more rich background for the story to unfold in front of and a more memorable planet than those that appear in other adventures. The fast running suubatars are particularly cool. Parallels in the story to the real world are also interesting. The nomadic Alwari are very reminiscent of North American Indians while the political situation reminds me of the early days of the American Revolution. It is also a unique moment when the Alwari tribe require the Jedi to entertain them in some fashion. Their choices of entertainment make one of the more memorable events in the story.

Finally, I appreciate Alan Dean Foster throwing in a little humor to the story. All of the movies have really funny moments and a lot of authors forget that when writing serious storylines. Not all of Foster's humor is great, but some of it does hit the mark. For example, Barriss and Anakin talk to each other while speaking in Yoda's backward speech. You know a lot of his students had to have done that over time.


Chris:

    Foster, of course, is a master in playing with other peoples’ universes. His adaptations of the first three Alien films, “The Black Hole,” the 1970’s Star Trek animated series, his ghostwriting of the ANH novel and “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” are all testament to this. Like “Splinter,” Foster here finds himself with familiar characters and a familiar universe, but having to craft an original story out of it. And unlike SOTME, he finds himself very restricted in what he can and can’t do. Thankfully, he makes the most of it. This is supposedly the prelude to AOTC, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. Yes, some of the AOTC characters are present, as is a bit of the setup. But this is by and large a separate stand-alone adventure, and so well crafted that by the fifth chapter you don’t mind.

He also does a VERY good job at quickly establishing and fleshing out the characters of Luminara and her apprentice Barriss. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few short stories in Gamer about them by Mr. Foster (hint hint).

He also played a little with expectations as to the ending (which I won’t give away). Needless to say, the denouement is satisfying.


Michael:

    I enjoy politics. I love politics. I love the intrigue, the Machiavellian atmosphere, the corruption, and the bastions of truth and honesty. A number of contradictions and conspiracies, serving their own needs, desires and agenda's. A very mixed pot, boiling and bubbling constantly; at times the heat gets too hot, and we are witness to some very interesting explosions. This has repeated itself since time began. I enjoyed witnessing this approaching storm to Episode II develop and gain momentum until the inevitable.

I found it fantastic that some elements of Episode II were represented in 'The Approaching Storm', and it was fascinating to read a small part of the background they played before the movie. I enjoyed how Alan Dean Foster fleshed out the characters of Luminari Unduli and Barriss Offee, two female Jedi who make an appearance in Episode II. The character interaction between the two really exemplified the Master and Apprentice relationship of the Jedi Order. Just as intriguing was the interaction between the two Padawan's - Anakin and Barriss. Initially, they were always trying to out do each other, however, towards the end, they begin to earn a deep respect for each other.

I agree with Scott with respect to the characterisation of Anakin Skywalker by Alan Dean Foster. He has successfully portrayed the angst of a troubled teenager, while also displaying his brashness and over-cockiness.

Having finished reading the novel after viewing the last Episode II trailer, 'Clone War' - it helped me appreciate the novel more. The novel has some nice little tie-ins to the movie that aren't fully realised until AFTER the movie is viewed... perhaps in a sense this novel should have been released after Episode II. For example, I loved after watching the trailer, we see that Obi-Wan hates any form of flying, yet in the yellow speeder that Anakin 'borrows', you see him collect and calm himself, with his arms crossed. This is the exact same mannerisms when he travels on the thunderous Suubatars.

Lastly, I did enjoy the humour that was sprinkled throughout the novel, especially the Gwurran and Tooqui. As Chris mentions, he did remind me of the Ewoks crossed with Jar Jar.


Nick:

    First and foremost, it’s great to see one of the founding fathers of the Expanded Universe returning to the fold. When Foster wrote Splinter of the Mind’s Eye in 1978, there was little for him to worry about. Jump twenty-four years into the future to 2002 and you have a completely different story. The Star Wars universe has become a vast and mighty organism, one that no single person fully grasps. However, as Chris mentioned, Foster is a master of playing in other peoples’ universes, Star Wars being one of them.

It was also enjoyable to see two background characters, Luminara Unduli and Barriss Offee, take a leading role in a novel. Foster does an excellent job building these characters and their relationship, something that will increase the enjoyment of the upcoming Clone Wars Medstar duology, in which Barriss will play a major role. Through these two characters we are given a glimpse of the deep relationship between master and apprentice.

The relationship between Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker provides an interesting juxtaposition to the calm and patient relationship between Luminara and Barriss. Obi-wan is a rather unorthodox teacher and Anakin an unorthodox student. It is interesting to see how the others react to Anakin, as he is the only one among them with any memory of his mother. As we witnessed in Attack of the Clones, these memories have been torturing Anakin for some time. Foster does a talented job portraying this troubling problem, as well as Anakin’s predisposition towards brash actions and authoritarian political leanings. One scene in particular reminded me of the waterfall scene in Attack of the Clones during which Anakin and Padmé debate the nature of government.

Another aspect of notable praise is the vivid setting Foster has created in the planet Ansion. This is not just another planet to add to the ever-growing Star Wars galaxy, but one described in rich sensory detail. We witness entire ecosystems in their natural state, oblivious to those that intrude upon the land.

Although most of the humor didn’t strike me as funny, I did enjoy the antics of the Gwurran and Tooqui. Chris likened him to an Ewok, but he reminded me a bit more of Teek, Wicket’s super-fast friend.



Scott:

    While I liked some of Foster's humor, some of it seemed out of place. For example, when Barriss asks a character if he's aware of a movement on the planet, the character responds, "Only movement Bulgan knows is in bowels." Ack. Another time as Barriss is sucked in the mouth of a large creature, she yells out, "This situation sucks. I mean literally." Ugh. There is also frequent reference to characters falling on their "butts". I think this is the first time "butt" is used in a Star Wars novel.

There are quite a bit of politics in this novel. For me, that is some of the most boring content. This is unfortunate because most of the political material is the direct link to Episode II, the biggest draw for me to "The Approaching Storm". There's also not a large amount of action to offset it. At the beginning of the novel, every character seems to feel the need to explain this political situation and why Ansion is important. This becomes repetitious after a while.

While "The Approaching Storm" is a good Star Wars story, it's not the epic story I would have hoped for from a book leading into the next film. I would have liked to have seen more about Count Dooku, Anakin's training, and his interaction with the other Jedi beyond Barriss Offee and Luminari Unduli. And why didn't Anakin go after his mother sooner that 10 years after Episode I? Why didn't the Queen offer to pay Watto for freeing his mother? After all, her son singlehandedly saved Naboo. I would also have liked to have seen what Palpatine was up to between the novels. None of that is in this story as you might expect.


Chris:

    Like I said, Foster is good when adapting other peoples’ work; he’s not quite so good when he’s doing his original material. He tends to get a little TOO into describing locales, creatures, and motivations, to the point where the book, while intriguing, seems somewhat unfocused and logged down with what I call “novel fat.” I feel shaving a few pages of needless prose off this would have helped immensely. I also felt at times he got a little repetitive; having the Jedi repeatedly prove themselves to the various Alwari tribes got old quickly, as did having the Hutt crimelord Soerrg rage to his majordomo.

Did anyone else reading the character of Tooqui have the Ewok theme playing in their head? Tooqui seemed just a little too similar to Wicket (circa the Ewok TV-movies) for my liking. But thankfully he wasn’t in there too much, and he helped the story move along when he was.


Michael:

    I have to admit, it took me a while to read this book. At times, I just could not get into it. Ever since I heard the announcement of this novel, I was strongly anticipating a novel that would be a true prequel / prologue to Episode II... what was delivered was basically a stand-alone adventure. The only real tie in to 'Attack of the Clones' is the planet Ansion (which gets a mention in the film), and the growing political momentum of the Secession Movement. The Secession Movement is an important part of history in the Star Wars Universe, however, I was looking forward to more of an adventure on a galactic scale, between many planets, etc... I hope that this type of story will be written in future film bridge novels.


Nick:

    Although it had some many good qualities, The Approaching Storm just didn’t do it for me. I really wanted to like this novel, but some underlying factor, one I still can’t completely isolate, was holding me back. I came away from it feeling disappointed.

Like Michael, I love political intrigue and patient, plotting villains. However, The Approaching Storm didn’t really deliver this on the scale that I hoped it would. Perhaps I was spoiled by Cloak of Deception, but I was disappointed by the lack of political machinations. To be fair, The Approaching Storm did have its share of devious schemes, but unlike Cloak of Deception, it didn’t bring them to fruition. To fully understand the vast extent of the antagonists’ plot, one has to read several other novels. All of the prequel novels have, thus far, felt like an important cog in Palpatine’s power game, but The Approaching Storm lacked this quality. I found it very predictable, whereas the denouement of Cloak of Deception took me completely by surprise.



Scott:

    I'd have to say the giant sucking frogs were pretty ugly. Luckily Foster didn't have them croak, "Bud. Weis. Er." :)


Chris:

    Having to hide behind boulders while a hundred million kyren birds shoot around you and smash themselves against said boulders. Can you imagine the stench, let alone being splattered by kyren blood ‘n guts? Eww.


Michael:

    At times, I felt that the constant descriptions of flora and fauna to be overused and a little repetitive. I like a Star Wars book to flow fast, just like the movies.


Nick:

    I think Scott covered the humor, or attempt at humor, fairly well. One too many gastrointestinal jokes for my liking. It seemed a bit juvenile, and out of place, for Star Wars.


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