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New Jedi Order - Dark Journey
by Elaine Cunningham

Published by Del Ray


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


This latest installment of the New Jedi Order series picks up immediately from where Star by Star left off. Jaina, Tenel Ka, Zekk, Lowbacca, Tahiri, and the surviving Jedi flee the Yuuzhan Vong worldship in Nom Anor's stolen ship. They recovered Anakin's corpse, but Jacen still remains a prisoner. After discovering that Coruscant has been invaded, they flee to the Hapes Cluster where Tenel Ka's family rules. There the young Jedi meet up with Han, Leia, Luke, and Mara.

While grieving the loss of Anakin, the Jedi feel another jolt in the Force - the apparent death of Jacen. Jaina, who has already been treading between the Dark Side and Light Side of the Force, fully commits herself to revenge by any means necessary. If this means resorting to Dark Side powers - so be it. She begins to use the stolen Yuuzhan Vong ship to learn their bio-technology and form a plan to defeat it. She uses Kyp Durron, the Hapan military, Lowbacca, and a recently arrived Jag Fel (working for the Chiss) to further her plan. However, the former Hapan Queen Mother may have bigger plans for Jaina.

(You may want to note that Star Wars Gamer Magazine #8 has a short story by Eliane Cunningham that takes place DURING Dark Journey. It features Jaina and Kyp.)



Scott:

    The highlight of this book is seeing Jaina cross over to the Dark Side. Since this series began I always wondered how a Dark Jedi or Sith would deal with the Yuuzhan Vong. This gives you a taste of that. I liked how Jaina's conversion seemed like such a natural thing. Her decisions to fight dirty with Force lightning and such seem totally rational under the circumstances. This is very similar to how Anakin drifts to the Dark Side in the films. When Jaina fully commits herself to revenge, she really sticks it to the invaders in a satisfying way. It was fun to see the tables turned on the grotesque aliens. It was also great to have Jaina gives Kyp a taste of what he's been giving Luke Skywalker. For once Kyp must deal with a hotheaded Jedi more impetuous than he is. It's also interesting to see Leia have to deal with a troubled teen daughter. That's not really something we've seen before in the Star Wars storyline.

I read all of the Young Jedi Knight books and this is really a sequel to that series. It's amazing to see the characters grow up and deal with their new world. I was particularly impressed with Tenel Ka. Not only does she kick butt in the story, but she matures and steps up to embrace her destiny. She has some really touching moments in the book.

Jag Fel becomes more of a major character in this book. Being not only a second generation Imperial but a friend of the Chiss (the aliens who are of the same race as Thrawn), he makes an interesting character. The hints at flirtation between Jag and Jaina are an interesting touch. It's interesting to see the children of Imperials and Rebels take a romantic interest in each other, especially in light of the invasion of their galaxy. Jag could easily be the new Wedge of this second generation of characters.

Dark Journey also briefly brings into play a race that has so far been inactive in the battle - the Wookiees. They don't play a big part in this story, but it should be interesting to see what happens when the Yuuzhan Vong try to mess with a planet full of Wookiees.


Michael:

    I found the character development of Jaina in 'Dark Journey' to be satisfying. She has taken the back seat to her two brothers, and it was interesting to finally fully see her shine in the forefront of a novel, taking center stage. Jaina's character arc within this story can be entirely related to real life, to the grief, anguish, and anger at the loss of a loved one. Her pain brings her to the brink of consumption within the Dark Side, and it is fascinating to watch her spiral down this path without full realisation to its consequences.

Ta'a Chume, the previous Queen Mother of the Hapes Consortium makes a welcome return to the Expanded Universe - her character is perhaps unique within the Star Wars universe, that of a manipulative, self-centered, matriarchal type figure. It is always intriguing determining whether she is looking after he own selfish interests, or in her own perceived way trying to protect her culture and planet.

Kyp's philosophical shift in his perceptions of the Force was a welcome progression of his character. Reassessing his own beliefs helped Jaina and himself learn from one another in relation to the pitfalls of the Dark Side. Kyp Durron is nearly turning full circle to his self that was portrayed in 'Vector Prime', although I am sure that there is room for more growth yet in his quest for forgiveness for past actions.

Once again, the growing influence of the 'Young Jedi Knights' series of books permeates the NJO, which is becoming more obvious with each passing book, as the Solo kids take more center stage - I think that this is great for continuity. The YJK series laid the template of Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin, and now the NJO has richly expanded the template to fully give life and richness to their characters. They ARE the New Jedi Order.

The story arc of Jagged Fel, son of Baron Soontir Fel makes a welcome return, with his presence and character growing throughout this novel. His character opens up many possibilities of future storylines, his liaison with the Chiss and a possible romance with Jaina for example.

Elaine Cunningham's use of dialogue was exactly spot on nearly throughout the novel, using many derivatives of dialogue from the films themselves, which gave the story a greater Star Wars feel. This was very well done, and made the story more engrossing.


Chris:

    Like the reviewer at Echo Station, I waited a while to review this book. And like him, I’m glad I did. When I first read this book, September 11 and “Star by Star” were still too fresh in my mind; the book couldn’t help but suffer in comparison. Looking at it again months later allowed me to judge it on its’ own merits.

Cunningham’s strength is in characterization, and this story called for lots of that. She did a great job welding the different portrayals of Jaina so far into a complete, three-dimensional character, as well as recapturing and building on the personality of the other Young Jedi Knights. What I liked most about the characterization of Jaina was just how gradual her fall into the Dark Side was. Most people seem to think falling into the Dark Side involves a sudden, overnight 180-degree personality change. But all the examples of fallen Jedi so far show it to be far more gradual, a little bit at a time; slowly at first, then accelerating and worsening quickly like the effects of drug addiction. Cunningham captured that to a T, in my opinion. Her budding romance with Jagged Fel, almost an inverse of the Han-Leia relationship, was also portrayed very satisfyingly.

Even more interesting to me was that this wasn’t solely Jaina’s “dark journey” – it was Kyp Durron’s, as well. Cunningham did what I didn’t think possible anymore – she made me like Kyp again. It was an incredible feat of character rehabilitation, and I only hope future authors don’t screw it up.

Some readers groused that Anakin’s funeral was almost completely bypassed, while the Hapan court intrigues took up too much of the book. I don’t see it that way. This book wasn’t about the funeral, any more than it was solely about the Hapan court. This is JAINA’S story, and the two events were viewed through her and their impact on her. I can’t fault the author for keeping such a tight focus. That said, I do hope the funeral is revisited in a comic or short story in the not-too-distant future.



Scott:

    The thing I liked best about this book - Jaina turning to the Dark Side - becomes irrelevant by the end. I had hoped to see her go fully down the path of the Dark Side and live up to her potential reputation as Darth Vader's grannddaughter, but that doesn't happen. By the end of the book she learns the error of her ways. The New Jedi Order series is starting to fail to deliver on some of the potentially interesting storylines it sets up. Chewbacca's death was negated by the death of Anakin. The potential romance between Tahiri and Anakin was wiped out. They killed off the more interesting character of Anakin. Now Jaina drops her Dark Side ways.

That leads to my second problem with the book - nothing of signifigance really happened in this story. A couple of characters shift their status in the storyline, but beyond that there's not much else. There are no major character changes or turning points in the story. You could probably skip this book and still be up to speed when starting the next one. It's still a fun read, but not on the critical reading list for the NJO story.

The book is also unsatisfylingly short. At only 301 pages, it is a quick read. This becomes more frustrating at the end as the story starts accelerating so fast that you get lost. For example, one minute Kyp will be talking with Jaina on the face of the planet, the next they are jumping out of hyperspace into battle. It was rushed and a bit disorienting. It was like the story was being accelerated to finish by 300 pages.

The sub-plot of Ta'a Chume trying to get Jaina to marry Isolder was ridiculous. Unfortunately it takes up a lot of this short book. The idea of Jaina possibly marrying her childhood friend's father is even more soap opera-ish than a lot of the stuff in Star Wars. In light of this storyline playing out as Anakin lies dead on a table, it seems rather trivial. In fact, Anakin's death was not significantly addressed beyond a brief funeral scene that quickly degenerates into an argument on a separate topic. I don't think Anakin's death has had much of an impact on the overall storyline by the end of Dark Journey.


Michael:

    The length of paperbacks in the NJO continues to irk me - I prefer novels around the 400 - 450 page mark, I find that novels with a page count of 300 or so are just too quick a read. I need to be engrossed and enveloped in a story, sure this can happen with any book, even if short, however if it is short, it becomes more like a tease, rather than epic.

Like 'Balance Point', I wish that 'Dark Journey' was not centered on one location (Hapes). Star Wars has always been an epic that spans multi-locations, which is obviously especially prevalent in the films themselves. Books that fit this type for example are Tim Zahn's Thrawn trilogy.

Anakin's funeral continued the growing tradition of cremation in the Star Wars universe, which was great continuity wise, however, I felt that this scene felt rushed, and could have greatly been expanded upon, making it the centerpiece of the novel. I would have liked to have seen more speeches, and perhaps a 'wake' - were the characters discussed Anakin's life, and his sacrifice, and what that meant to them.

I felt that the space battles seemed short and felt rushed, and could have been fleshed out more and expanded upon. As a combat pilot makes up a considerable chunk of Jaina's life and psyche, more time devoted to this could have given greater insight into her mind as a character.

The attempted forced relationship between Prince Isolder and Jaina was a ridiculous concept - even for Ta'a Chume! :) Isolder is old enough to be Jaina's father!


Chris:

    This book does have faults. The problem is, I don’t know who to blame for those faults – Cunningham, LFL, or the editors at Del Rey Books.

The final chapters of the book, I felt, were a ripoff. Up until around Chapter 26, the book was keeping a good pace and building up interest and suspense. Then all of a sudden it becomes like “Whoops, we’re out of time, we’ve gotta wrap this up.” I suspect the final segment of the book was originally much longer, and the editors at DR hacked it to ribbons to fit a certain page count. If so it’s a damn shame, especially because the denouement of Jaina’s inner conflict badly suffers as a result, dragging the whole book down. Those who would be getting into the book would be like “Huh? That’s it?”

Did anyone else read the character of Khalee Lah and think of Shao Kahn in the movie “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation?” I couldn’t get that out of my head – the loud bragging voice and hard body, coupled with total stupidity and a short temper. I was not as all sorry to see his fate, and I hope it’s the last time we see that particular kind of villain in this series.



Scott:

    Nothing to really add here.


Michael:

    I thought that the story element that involves failed or disgraced Vong committing suicide to atone for their actions as very 'ugly'. This is really an emphasis point for their civilisation…


Chris:

    Other than the Vong themselves, nothing really ugly this time around.


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