by Dan Cragg and David Sherman
Published by Del Rey
Scott's Rating: 2.5 out of 4
Michael's Rating: 2.5 out of 4
Mike's Rating: 1.5 out of 4
While Obi-Wan is away on a mission during the Clone Wars, Anakin Skywalker is left behind at the Jedi Temple to prepare for his trials. During this time, the Separatists invade the planet Praesitlyn. Located on this planet is a communications relay station that connects Coruscant to the Outer Rim. Reinforcements are to be sent to the planet’s aid. The clone troopers are to be led by Jedi Master Nejaa Halcyon (Corran Horn’s biological father). Halcyon is known for his rouge ways, and his request for a second-in-command is no exception. He asks the Jedi Council to allow Anakin Skywalker to accompany him in battle.
As the Jedi race to reclaim the planet, the remaining forces strive to hold on. Leading the armed forces is Zozridor Slayke, a renegade captain who has deserted the Republic forces to wage his own war against the Separatists. With him are starfighter pilot Erk H’Arman and reconnaissance trooper Odie Subu. Will help arrive before Pors Tonith and his droid army wipe them out?
Just like “Republic Commando: Hard Contact”, this novel falls firmly under the category of “military sci-fi”. This is understandable seeing as how authors Dan Cragg and David Sherman draw upon their real world U.S. Marine experience to write the battle scenes. Never has a Star Wars novel gone into such detail on things such as military strategy, troop supply, friendly fire, reconnaissance techniques, and more. There are times when the novel almost reads like a combat training manual rather than a Star Wars story (to its advantage or disadvantage, depending on your point of view). It gives it a degree of realism that few others could offer.
This book is also noteworthy because it shows Anakin Skywalker in military command for the first time. Up till now we’ve seen him in covert Jedi missions, one-on-one battles, and battles with Sith. This is the first time you really see him commanding thousands of troops as they rush headlong into battle. He’s there making battle plans, inspecting troops, and giving orders. It’s a little taste of how he becomes the military leader Darth Vader.
One of the major characters of this novel is Jedi Master Nejaa Halcyon, Corran Horn’s biological father. Including him is a nice tie-in between the Clone Wars era and the Expanded Universe. Halcyon also has a remarkable number of similarities with Anakin Skywalker. Both are rogues. Both question the Jedi teachings. Both have secretly broken the Jedi Code and married. It’s almost like Halcyon is what Anakin would have become if he didn’t turn to the Dark Side. It’s nice to see Anakin connect with a Jedi Master rather than constantly butting heads with them.
It is great to finally see some decent conflict in a Clone Wars novel. Ground battle descriptions were very good. Could tell that the authors have a lot of experience in this area, ie: Vietnam. Their personal military history was also made obvious by their descriptions about the logistics of war, the importance of water, and other things that we non-military people take for granted.
I felt that the authors had the characterization of Anakin Skywalker done very well. From the very beginning of the novel, they highlight the impatience of Anakin, who dislikes being stuck at the Jedi Temple without a mission. The brief character interaction between Anakin and Reija Momen was very interesting. Momen reminded Anakin of his mother, and I thought it was poignant that in her presence, Anakin truly for an instant felt at peace. I also found the relationship between Anakin and Grudo to be very interesting. I enjoyed how these characters clicked together in respect and friendship. Most interesting though, is that the later Empire has a strong anti-alien bias, so it will be interesting when watching the transformation of Anakin to Vader, if his views changes in regards to non-humans.
I also enjoyed having Nejaa Halcyon in the novel, and discovering more of his back-story. After getting to know about his character in "I, Jedi", having his character in Jedi Trial is a great way of linking the era's and storylines together. I found it highly interesting that Anakin and Nejaa personally had a lot in common, especially in regards to having a secret wife. It is unfortunate that Nejaa and Vader never crossed paths, due to the death of Nejaa in another Clone Wars battle... that would have been an interesting story, and I would have liked to have read their reactions about one another.
It was great to see nods to continuity, with mention of the Sluis Van Shipyards, a potential appearance by Qui-Gon Jinn (well, Anakin *hears* his voice) and Freedon's Sons. I really enjoyed discovering more about Freedom's Sons. This organisation was initially an obscure Marvel Comics reference, which then was elaborated more by the Holonet News entries - fun way of tying in a part of continuity across different mediums, which has been floating around for decades.
Admiral Pors Tanith was an interesting change for a villain. Instead of a Sith, or a droid general, we have an anal, stiff, banker... meticulous in his actions, overconfident and with a highly inflated ego.
Whew...let's see here.
I like the plot. I really do. Sherman and Cragg definitely know what they're doing with the military stuff, and there are some genuinely exciting and surprising moments in the story. The attention devoted to the logistical problems raised by war was occasionally entertaining and always enlightening. Anakin, a difficult character to write, was handled competently and with affection, as was Nejaa Halcyon, who came off believably as a relative of Corran Horn. This was one of the few books where I actually looked forward more to the Jedi scenes than the "regular people" scenes.
I did have a number of problems with Jedi Trial. First and foremost, the dialogue was pretty bad at times. At one point a character exclaims, “Great balls of fire!” At another point, Tonith says, “’We’ you say? We? Have you by any chance a dianoga stuffed if your pocket?” There are other examples throughout the book, but you get the idea. There are other silly elements as well. One character was named “Odie” and I couldn’t help but think of Garfield’s dog whenever I read it. The book also features Anakin Skywalker performing a wedding ceremony. While I know a few fans that wouldn’t mind being married by Darth Vader, this seemed a bit over the top.
The cover to this book is also a bit deceptive (though I liked the artwork). Asaaj Ventress is shown prominently on the cover though she has little more than a cameo role. Anakin Skywalker is also only in about half the novel. A significant amount of time is spent on the secondary characters and the battle raging on Praesitlyn. I would have liked to have seen more time spent on our favorite Jedi. I also have to say that I was expecting to learn more about the “trials” that Anakin always whines about. I was expecting something more formal than Anakin just having to do real well alone in battle. After all, he’s performed exceptionally in a lot of Star Wars books. I thought there was more to becoming a Jedi Knight.
Though the intense attention to combat detail is an impressive part of this novel, it can also be dry at times. For example, there are a couple of pages devoted to how much water troops require per day. While that’s interesting, it slows the pace of the book to a crawl. This is especially the case when the characters go into agonizing detail about their battle plans.
Finally, I expected there to be some revelation about why Palpatine / Darth Sidious would want all these particular pawns in this location in this conflict. It was hinted that he had some master plan at work, but that ended up not being the case.
The storyline is centered around the fact that the Intergalactic Communications center of Praesitlyn is a vital cog to the stability of the Republic, but I disliked how this wasn't explained in more detail. The authors didn't really go into what the consequences would be if the communications facility was destroyed, or if the Separatists captured it. Would a sector be effected, the Core, or the entire Galaxy?
Throughout the novel, there are a few references to ships using a cloaking device. I thought by comments made in 'The Empire Strikes Back' and the 'Thrawn Trilogy' that cloaking devices are extremely rare. And if they were rare in that era, then I imagine even more so during the time of the Clone Wars.
Anakin hardly appears in the first 150 pages of the book. The book is hyped as the novel that would showcase the Jedi Trials of Anakin, yet mostly focuses on new characters that appear on Praesitlyn.
Once again, I am tired of being mislead by the cover art of a novel. Asajj Ventress is a prominent figure on the cover, yet she hardly appears in the novel at all, at best, a few brief scenes, and those are only communicating to her underling - Admiral Pors Tonith. This has happened quite a fair bit lately, ie: with Count Dooku on other Clone Wars novels, but hardly appearing. I can understand in the fact that Dooku is in Episode III and they don't want to tread on any toes, but Ventress is not in the final prequel film, so why mislead readers? For the cover art to fit the storyline, they should have had a graphic of Pors Tonith on the cover, a Muun. As we know what Muun's look like thanks to Episode II and the Clone Wars Cartoon, this would not have been hard to accomplish.
The space battle at the end of the novel only went for a few pages, this could have been a lot longer. The novel could have easily gone on for another 100 or so pages, as I expect from a hardcover, and an epic space battle could have easily taken up this page space. I thought that the battle, and its resolution was anticlimactic.
This was one of the few books where I actually looked forward more to the Jedi scenes than the "regular people" scenes.
Odie and Erk. My God. I haven't hated protagonists this much since Death of a Salesman. The authors try. They really do. But it just doesn't look like they're very good writers. This extends to every aspect of the book but the actual plot itself, which, like I said before, was fine and ocassionally great. I'll get back to that later, but I'd like to finish with the lovers first. Odie and Erk go through all the motions of a nice and classic romance story, but each one is handled horribly. Their interaction, right from the beginning, is nothing but reprocessed cliché (no, not even reprocessed; just regular old cliché) disguised as lighthearted flirtation and overplayed boy-we're-in-trouble-now joking around. Making jokes in dramatic situations is a very real defense mechanism, especially in war, and I'm sure the authors are quite familiar with it in real life, but they can't write it. Erk comes across less like Wedge Antilles and more like Ash; he's nothing but defense mechanism; a walking caricature. Odie isn't quite as bad, but like Willy Loman's wife, I hate her simply for her attachment to such human garbage. The culmination of this pathetic romance (and I don't mean the laughably implausible wedding, but man, wasn't that something? If Anakin Skywalker is the officiator of your wedding ceremony, what does that say about the stability of your relationship?) is when Odie is trying to get Erk away from the legions of oncoming battle droids, but he refuses to budge, shoves her away, and keeps firing. Maybe it's a realistic portrayal of some kind of battle madness or whatever, but to put it between two characters who are supposed to be falling in love, with no effect on their relationship whatsoever even though it practically got both of them killed, isn't just bad writing, it's irresponsible. From that point on, I could've cared less if a random meteorite fell out of the sky and killed them both.
Beyond all that nonsense, there are numerous examples of all kinds of bad writing. My first hint that something was seriously wrong was in an early confrontation between Pors Tonith and the technicians in the communications center; the technicians are hurrying to destroy the comm equipment so it's no good to Tonith, and he has them killed. The wording of their execution is forever burned into my brain: "They died when droids blasted them." See Droid. See Droid blast Jane.
The aforementioned problem of characters being far too lighthearted pops up throughout the book, and while I was able to buy Slayke and his gang acting the way they did, it still wasn't handled very well. It seemed like every time Slayke said something frivolous, they would go out of their way to mention that people chuckled in response. That's the literary equivalent of laughing at your own joke to get other people to think it's funny.
The one time where the writing problem really manages to overwhelm the generally solid plot is the final space battle. After my Odie and Erk diatribe, I don't even want to say anything about that, other than that it flies in the face of every last bit of common sense when dealing with space battles, in terms of drama, plausibility, and continuity. I'd have an easier time taking the space battle over Muunilinst in the Clone Wars cartoon literally.
Nothing to add here.
When I first read the line that Admiral Pors Tonith was drinking Dianoga tea, I thought 'huh?!'... the Dianoga is long turd like creature, it is not a planet, etc... Then I was horrified to learn that the tea is actually extracted from the spleens of the Dianoga... yuck!
The constant references to Tonith's damn purple teeth. Okay, it's gross, I get it. Move the hell on.