Republic Commando - Hard Contact
by Karen Traviss
Published by Del Ray
Scott's Rating: 3 out of 4
Mike's Rating: 3.8 out of 4
Star Wars – Republic Commando is inspired by the Lucasarts video game of the same name.
The Republic Commandos are a special breed of clone. While not equal with Jango Fett, they are created to have more personality, free will, and creativity than their other clone brothers. Shortly after the Battle Of Geonosis, the surviving members of several Republic Commando squads are put together to form the new Omega Squad. The team includes Darman, Niner, Atin, and Fi. Their first mission is to infiltrate the Separatist held planet of Quilura. Despite its peaceful agricultural façade, the Separatists have established a biological weapon research facility there. They are developing a virus designed to kill clones.
A Jedi Master and his Padawan Etain were sent to investigate, but they both disappeared without a trace. It’s up to the Republic Commandos to make contact with the Jedi, kidnap the scientist responsible for the virus, and destroy the facility. The Separatist facility also happens to be guarded by Ghez Hokan, a Mandalorian Warrior and former acquaintance of Jango Fett. It’s a suicide mission, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Omega Squad.
The last novel based on a video game (Star Wars Galaxies) wasn’t that impressive, so I was a bit wary of “Republic Commando – Hard Contact”. Fortunately, my worries were unfounded. Republic Commando had me hooked early on and I quite enjoyed it. While many of the Star Wars novels vary between fantasy and hard sci-fi, this novel fits more in the “military sci-fi” category than any other that I’ve read. There are scenes here and there in the book that remind me of “Band of Brothers” and “Starship Troopers” (the Heinlein novel, not the movie). Since this is right up my alley, I got quite a kick out of it.
Star Wars newcomer Karen Traviss does an excellent job writing the Republic Commandos. Not only does she handle the warfare, training, and covert operations well, but she makes the clones characters that you care about. She emphasizes aspects of their character that you might not otherwise think about. For example, Darman marvels at a stream and beautiful insects flying above it. Since he grew up in an enclosed environment on Kamino, you forget that it would be a novelty to him. Later on he savors unique food since he has only known military rations his whole life. It’s little touches like this that help add depth to the characters and make them more than just cannon fodder in the Clone Wars.
Traviss also introduces us to a different type of Jedi – Padawan Etain. While most of the Jedi we meet in the Expanded Universe are skilled, confident, mature, and well-connected to the Force, Etain is just the opposite. She only has a tenuous grasp of the Force, she’s unsure of herself, she’s inexperienced, and generally in over her head. Her incompetence is a bit refreshing as it makes her more human and less superhuman like the rest of the Jedi. She eventually gains new skill and confidence thanks to Darman and the other commandos. Interestingly, in their first meeting Etain doesn’t even know about the clones, the Republic Army, or the fact that the Jedi have been appointed commanders of the army. It’s intriguing to see the burden of leadership thrust upon Etain at literally a moments notice. Again, it’s a subtle touch that I wouldn’t have thought of. Traviss does some interesting things with Force powers, too. Etain moves soil with her mind, influences the thoughts of a Weequay in a different way, and deflects flak during a bombardment.
Overall, I thought that Karen Traviss brought a fresh new perspective to the Star Wars universe and has created an interesting and entertaining novel. I’d be interested in seeing these characters in other adventures in the future.
On a final note, I have to say that I liked the cover artwork. Too bad the artist isn’t credited.
It's been a while since I finished Hard Contact, and like The Cestus Deception, I find myself struggling for specific things to say about it. Unlike Cestus, however, I was consistently impressed, and am looking forward to Karen Traviss' upcoming role in the Post-NJO series. I see her style complementing Allston's and Denning's nicely.
I don't want to over-compare this book to its hardcover predecessor, but a lot of what I liked about Hard Contact is related to what I didn't like about Cestus. Both stories are pretty straightforward, with comparable levels of drama thrown in; said drama being more combat-related in this particular book than in Cestus, of course. The thing about Hard Contact, for me, is that the drama just seemed to work better. Scott mentioned the middle section feeling too slow for him, but I enjoyed the downtime every bit as much as I enjoyed the action. Occasionally (I'm thinking in particular of the Etain-Darman duel in the woods here), the book even hit that rare plateau where the images in my head felt truly cinematic. This doesn't happen for me unless I feel a certain closeness to the characters, and Traviss did a great job with the character work, especially on the clones. In fact, I'd go so far as to call the commandos the best-written clonetroopers we've seen yet. They certainly have more personality than Jangotat.
Hard Contact didn't impress me as much as Shatterpoint, nor did I enjoy it as much as Medstar, and that's probably why I don't have a lot to say about it. All I know is that I was pleasantly surprised. Or maybe not so surprised, given that Traviss' continuing involvement in the Star Wars universe was announced before I read the book.
One of my problems with Republic Commando is that it starts out with a strong opening, then slows to a crawl for a good portion of the book. There are bits of action spread here and there through the story, but it’s generally slowly paced. I think the boring farmland background didn’t help matters much. This is probably the least exciting planet that a Star wars story has been set on. That’s not to say that the story isn’t entertaining, but it starts out at a sprint then slows to a jog for the remainder of the book.
I was also expecting a big final duel between the Commandos and Mandalorian Warrior Hokan. I thought it was quite intriguing that he knew Jango Fett and despised the fact that he allowed himself to be cloned and their armor to be copied. I was expecting to see him really let the Commandos have it by the end of the novel. While they did eventually fight, it was rather anti-climactic.
Finally, there was one plot point that I thought was left dangling. At one point in the story, a group of farmers are found brutally murdered. The novel never reveals who or what did it. Maybe it’s going to be explained in a sequel? Maybe Traviss just forgot about it? I’m curious what’s up with it.
Etain, while generally a good character, drifted a little close to cliché at times. The concept of a less-than-masterful Jedi protagonist isn't quite as rare in this universe as the author seems to think.
Nothing to add here.
I do believe the first scene with Guta-Nay contained one of the more overt references to rape we've seen in the GFFA. Nothing pretty about that.