Star Wars - The Clone Wars
by Karen Traviss
Published by Del Rey
Adrick's Rating: 3.8 out of 4
sabarte's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Across the galaxy, the Clone Wars are raging. The Separatists, led by Count Dooku, the onetime Jedi and now secret Sith Lord, continue to press forward, and more and more worlds are either falling, or seceding and joining the cause. Under the leadership of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, the Republic heroically battles on, championed by its huge army of cloned soldiers and their Jedi generals.
Anakin Skywalker, believed by some to be the prophesied “Chosen One” destined to bring balance to the Force, is now a Jedi Knight under the tutelage of his Jedi Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Death is a constant possibility – and his chances of survival aren’t improved by the unexpected arrival of an apprentice: Ahsoka, a brash, inexperienced fourteen-year-old Padawan apprenticed to Anakin. But there’s no time for Anakin to question his latest orders: He and Obi-Wan have been assigned a new mission, and failure is not an option.
Jabba the Hutt’s precious infant son has been kidnapped, and when the frantic parent applies to the Jedi for help, it falls to Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, and their clone troops to track down the evidence and retrieve the missing Huttlet. And more is at stake: For a grateful Jabba just might allow the Republic access to the Hutt-controlled space lanes that the Grand Army desperately needs in order to beat the Separatists into submission.
But the Republic is not the only power that craves access to those space lanes. Count Dooku, determined to win the prize for the Separatists, has set a trap for the Jedi. When they find the Huttlet, they will also find Dooku’s master assassin, Asajj Ventress, and countless legions of battle droids waiting to spring a trap.
This is the novelization of the final Star Wars prequel.
When Karen Traviss was announced as the writer of the novelization for The Clone Wars animated movie, I thought this was either madness or sheer genius. On the one hand we have a movie that, judging from the clips I’ve seen, is an unapologetically cartoonish swashbuckling adventure. The entire focus of the story is rescuing a cute baby Hutt who spits on people. On the other hand we have Traviss, who tends to bypass the epic mystical fantasy adventure nature of Star Wars in favor of a gritty realistic approach. The fusion of such disparate styles might work…or cause some kind of apocalyptic literary explosion the likes of which the world has never before seen.
After finishing the novel, I’m leaning more towards the “genius” side of the equation. Traviss has added a lot of depth to what is (and should be) a fairly shallow screen adventure. You can watch the movie for the battles and duels, and then read the book for a completely different experience. In a world where movies and television shows are released quickly to DVD, readers need a reason to buy a novelized version of the film they just paid eight bucks to see—and Traviss does deliver here, no question.
It was nice seeing the sparse plot of The Clone Wars used to bridge Anakin’s journey from Attack of the Clones to Revenge of the Sith. Traviss also realistically played up a lot of character elements that are (judging from the other adaptations I’ve read, anyway) glossed over in the movie, such as Anakin’s legitimate distaste for Hutt gangsters and his and Rex’s reaction to losing so many troops during the assault on Teth.
I was also pleased to see a few elements of preexisting Expanded Universe literature sprinkled throughout the novel. It’s going to be a long, hard road reconciling The Clone Wars series with the preexisting Clone Wars books and other sources, but it’s good to know that they haven’t been forgotten. And of course, I always like seeing another Zorba the Hutt reference.
Finally, I found that reading Traviss writing out of her element was quite enjoyable. A lot of her dialogue for un-Traviss like situations—Ahsoka taking a liking to a baby Huttlet, a villain named Loathsom—was very funny indeed. I’m beginning to think that the Clone Wars folks should let Traviss do some polishing on the script the next time we get a movie.
If you want an exact play by play of the new Clone Wars movie, this isn't it.
That's not a bad thing. This book is an interesting creation, told from six points of view - those of Jabba, Dooku, Sidious, Asajj Ventress, Anakin Skywalker, and a clone named Rex. It covers the the major events of the movie - a battle on the planet Christophsis, a rescue/assault on the planet Teth, and a series of negotiations and fights on Tatooine - but doesn't hew exactly to the script. The (inferior) junior novelization seems to give a better look at the movie dialogue, though the majority of the dialogue changes are improvements.
What seem to be sizable sections of the movie happen offscreen due to the lack of Kenobi, Ahsoka, and Padme as point-of-view characters. With one possible exception (see below), the reader can gather enough of what is going on not to feel they are missing anything, and it leaves room for surprises. At the same time, the book covers quite a bit of behind the scenes machinations by the villains, including a series of Jabba and Dooku conversations that were excellent. It takes a lot of work to get a plot that is not just sensible but intelligent out of a movie like The Clone Wars, and I appreciate the effort. The villains may be thwarted, but you get the sense that they are actually worthy adversaries and not mere caricatures.
In many ways this book is better than the sum of its parts. The plot of the movie feels like Star Wars in a way that Traviss's books often don't accomplish for me. But at the same time, it's innately pretty shallow, with more action than exposition, and dialogue that at times is a little cringeworthy. Having glimpsed some of the movie's scenes in various previews that have been released, I can say that in many places Traviss's take adds a new depth. The relationship between "Snips" and "Skyguy" rings truer in the book (to the point that even the silly nicknames are excusable), which makes me sad that Ahsoka seems to be excessively, er, Disney Princess-like in the movie.
Some of the characterization in this novel is really first-rate. Jabba the Hutt in particular steals the show, in a characterization that is both true to the Expanded Universe roots of the Hutts and respectful of his grotesque but formidable nature. The dichotomy between criminal mastermind and devoted father is done very, very well. None of the villains are treated like idiots, with the exception of the battle droids.
Though he only has a small part, R2-D2 also steals a scene or two.
It's very nice to see Karen Traviss writing large-scale high-casualty ground battles again. She's very good at it, but we haven't really seen this side of her writing since the Battle of Geonosis in Republic Commando: Hard Contact. I'm one of those that thinks battles like these are part of what makes Star Wars great - regardless of how much tactical sense they may or may not make.
There are several potential drawbacks to this novelization, although few of them bothered me. The viewpoints of this novelization are slightly askew, I agree, and because of this parts of the story are glossed over. This is essentially Rex, Anakin, Jabba, and Dooku’s story. Perhaps because I’ve read so many Star Wars movie adaptations from so many different viewpoints, this doesn’t bother me too much. The odder the better I say, although this does tend to distance the book from the movie it is adapted from.
And of course, there is the question of length. This does seem like a pretty short book compared with the prequel movie novelizations, but it’s actually just about the same number of pages as the original trilogy adaptations.
Asajj Ventress, despite interesting or at least adequate novel characterizations in the past (Dark Rendezvous, and I suppose Cestus Deception) is as one-note here as she ever was in the original cartoon series or, I hate to say, the Dark Horse comics. In general, characterization in this book seems to be done by picking one traumatic event in the character's past or present and referencing it endlessly. For Jabba and just-bereaved-of-his-mother Anakin this works, and it is also done fairly well for Dooku. However, with Asajj it begins to feel excessive. Similarly, Asajj's interaction with her spy droid resonates more of The Author Trying to Raise Important Issues than anything else, which is annoying to this reviewer. The spy droid is an interesting character and the issues are interesting, but they're brought up with characteristic lack of subtlety.
As in prior Karen Traviss books, the characters' opinions of the Jedi Council and the Jedi Order take on an unpleasant, polemic tone at times. The selection of four anti-Jedi points-of-view and one anti-Jedi Council one among the six main ones does not seem coincidental. I suspect the book averages over one dig at the Jedi Council per chapter. I have no objection to hearing the "other guy's" point of view on the Jedi. It's when only the "other guy's" point of view is ever aired that it becomes rather dull. One particular criticism of Qui-Gon Jinn is unfounded, though understandable from Anakin's point of view. Since the story is told through the eyes of a Hutt, two Sith, one pseudo-Sith, and two proto-Imperials, the book comes across as more of an extended apologetic for the villains than anything else.
A sick baby Hutt at the center of the plot is not exactly the sort of Clone Wars action I’d been hoping for. My guess is the reason this movie is called just “The Clone Wars” is because “The Clone Wars: The Quest for Rotta the Hutt” didn’t test well…
Based on other sources about the movie, it seems an entire lightsaber duel may have been left out of the novel. It's hard to say until we see the final cut, since what ends up on screen often differs from early material.
The back cover text ("The raging Clone Wars illuminate dark motives and darker destinies until one question must be answered: Does the end ever justify the means? It's time the Jedi found out.") is also worthy of an eyeroll.
The Clone Wars Movie and the EU:
I'm going to split this out from the rest of the review, since it seems to have been decided on the movie end. All this should be pretty obvious to anyone who's been following the movie and the upcoming animated series, but the project as a whole is... messing with... the established Expanded Universe story of the Clone Wars. The book is set sometime in the first year of the war. Anakin is already a knight, and has a young Padawan. Jabba the Hutt has an infant son. A number of the clones featured in Revenge of the Sith show up. There are a number of Expanded Universe references within the book itself, but the word is that the movie and the series will rewrite the Clone Wars and prior material will have to work around it as best it can.
My score is 3.5 - this is a very solid work. It is not as good as the best of the Clone Wars books, but I'd personally rank it with Yoda: Dark Rendezvous - flawed, but with moments of brilliance that more than make up for it.