Republic Commando: Triple Zero
Fans of hard-hitting specialty-clone military literary action have reason to cheer as author Karen Traviss is set to continue the Republic Commando adventures (inspired by LucasArts' Star Wars Republic Commando video game). Star Wars Republic Commando: Triple Zero - the sequel to Star Wars Republic Commando: Hard Contact - is set a year after the battle of Geonosis, and follows the continuing missions of Omega Squad. As the Clone Wars casualties mount, the commandos find themselves deployed on increasingly dangerous missions that take them beyond the battlefield and further into sabotage and intelligence operations in the heart of Separatist territory. Newly-promoted Jedi Generals Etain Tur-Mukan and Bardan Jusik are also catapulted into front line combat roles and find themselves identifying strongly with the clone soldiers under their command, who turn out to be anything but predictable cannon fodder.
Paul: Triple Zero is the second novel in the Republic Commando series by Karen Traviss, loosely based on the Star Wars computer game of the same name. But, like its precursor Hard Contact, this book is far more than a tie-in to a shoot-’em up.
Hard Contact had a narrative alchemy which made it one of the best pieces of ‘Prequel-era’ Star Wars in any medium, and Triple Zero provides a new chapter in the ongoing adventures of the characters introduced in that book: the four warrior-clone commandos of Omega Squad, and the young Jedi girl Etain Tur-Mukan. Once again, it features the subtle and compelling characterization and world-building that are the hallmarks of Karen Traviss’s writing. The prose is engaging and lucid, with a healthy does of humour in the dialogue, and wit, compassion and energy in the tightly-constrained character POVs through which the story is told.
But, that said, Triple Zero isn’t simply a reprise of Hard Contact, and readers expecting the same sort of story might be a little disappointed. Hard Contact was a relatively straightforward adventure, pitting its five heroes against a ruthless Mandalorian mercenary on a remote Outer Rim world—and while Triple Zero involves Etain’s reunion with Omega Squad after a year apart on the front line of the Clone Wars, it tells a very different story. This time out, the heroes of Hard Contact are assigned as part of a larger team, charged with stopping a cell of terrorist bombers on Coruscant, the capital world of the Galactic Republic—the ‘Triple Zero’ of the novel’s title. And that’s just the start of it.
The expanded team includes Omega’s revered training sergeant Kal Skirata and his old rival Walon Vau, and a variety of other Jedi, clones and allies—most notably, the four clone commandos of Delta Squad, the player-characters in the Republic Commando computer game.
But the cast doesn’t include the terrorists they’re fighting, who appear as little more than targets to be tortured, deceived and destroyed, and this lack of any obvious ‘opposition’ to the heroes here gives Triple Zero a strangely weightless, unsatisfying feel; unreal.
It’s not simply the focus that creates this effect—Hard Contact could probably have carried itself comfortably without any scenes told from the opposing point-of-view; it’s the fact that this narrative choice is combined here with a particular sort of storyline. After a truly spectacular opening section, in which the various characters’ divergent stories are brilliantly intertwined, the narrative strongback of the novel is a waiting-game mission, described by one character as “Sitting around, more sitting around, even more sitting around, then scramble, sheer panic, and bang.”
This means that, for most of Triple Zero, we’re simply watching the Republic Commando team methodically putting their plan into motion. There’s no real feeling of danger, and little sense that the heroes are ultimately fighting against other people’s human motives and moral choices. Even the finale lacks tension—a climactic shoot-out in which all the terrorists die, and the ‘good guys’ survive with nothing more than some scratches and surface charring on their armour.
But maybe that’s the point. The underlying theme of Triple Zero is the dislocation of the Republic’s defenders from the people they are expected to defend: Jedi Knights and Grand Army warrior-clones alike are forced to suspend their moral judgement in fighting against the Republic’s enemies, committing inhuman acts in the name of freedom—and they deny this to themselves. The more I think about Triple Zero—and it’s a book that seems to call for a lot of thought—the more I wonder if the apparent flaws in narrative structure aren’t really mis-steps at all, but indications of something gone badly wrong in the situation the heroes find themselves in.
Jedi and clones alike are denied full membership of the civil society they are born to defend—arguably brainwashed from birth to be its willing, disposable janissaries; but no mention can be made of the clones without considering the Mandalorian culture of their mercenary training-sergeants—an ancient warrior civilization, born at the dawn of the Star Wars Galaxy’s recorded history, and eagerly adopted by the troopers of the Grand Army as a means of self-identification.
Superficially, the mission to Coruscant, placing these battle-hardened warriors amid the teeming diversity of the Galactic metropolis, stresses the disjuncture between the citizens of the Republic and their defenders, but the introduction and development of the Mandalorian culture hints at something more ancient and profound. The very start of the Star Wars timeline is the Mandalorians’ expulsion from Coruscant, their exile from the Galactic capital and their sundering from what would become the Republic; with quiet, careful subtlety, this backstory suggests that civilization creates its own enemies, and thereby the means of its own destruction. And with this in mind, the lack of any overtly challenging points of view in Triple Zero becomes not an oversight, but a necessary part of the story—anything more explicit would intrude too bluntly on the sense of subtle wrongness that pervades the mission, and overexpose the as-yet understated hints that the Republic, in attempting to avoid direct engagement with the threats it faces, has created—or given new life to—the very enemies who will bring it down.
Triple Zero isn’t a straightforward adventure like Hard Contact, and the subtle subtext will no-doubt unsettle rather than satisfy a lot of readers; but there’s still a lot to enjoy in this book. With twenty characters operating as part of an interlocking group, Karen Traviss manages to keep their voices and psychologies vividly distinct, and it’s hard not to enjoy seeing cloister-raised Jedi and combat-bred clones finally learning what it means to be human.
But perhaps most importantly of all, Triple Zero—in which every character wears an armour of deadly professionalism over a troubled soul—feels like the long hot day before a mighty thunderstorm; all this slow, simmering build-up hints at a dramatic payoff to come in the further adventures of the Republic Commando characters.
With that in mind, it’s hard not to relish the prospect of the next book in this series.