New Jedi Order
The Unifying Force
by James Luceno
Published by Del Rey
Scott's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Mike's Rating: 3.8 out of 4
Nick's Rating: 4 out of 4
This is the final book in the New Jedi Order series.
When a Yuuzhan Vong prisoner of war escapes from a camp thanks to Han and Leia, the Galactic Alliance makes two important discoveries. The first is that a large number of high ranking prisoners of war are being transferred to Coruscant (now the Yuuzhan Vong capital world) for a mass sacrifice to the gods. The second discovery is that the alien invaders are making the sacrifice to bless their impending attack against the Alliance forces on Mon Calamari. It appears that the final stand in the war is at hand.
The Galactic Alliance then begins planning a counterattack against Coruscant. However, it remains to be seen how the living planet Zonoma Sekot, the Shamed Ones, and Nom Anor will factor into the final outcome. But when the secret biological weapon Alpha Red is released, will it be the salvation or destruction of the galaxy far, far away?
The New Jedi Order finally concludes on a high note with The Unifying Force. James Luceno continues to do good work and he takes care of many of the problems I had with his previous novels for Agents Of Chaos. Like he did with Droma, Luceno does an excellent job of creating new minor characters, then making you care for them in short order. The opening of the book is a good example of this. It is an obvious Star Wars version of The Great Escape. As these prisoners make their harrowing escape, you root for them to get away and cringe when they are picked off. You invest so much emotion in them that you want to see more of them in the story. (And Luceno delivers on this, though they don’t remain as prominent characters as they are at the beginning.)
This book also granted one of my earliest wishes for the New Jedi Order series – the re-appearance of Boba Fett. I’ve griped in almost every review that he needed to appear, and here he finally is. He faces off with the Yuuzhan Vong in impressive form. He also has a new group of Mandalorian warriors that he has trained. It’s everything I hoped it would be…except for the fact that his appearance is nothing more than a cameo role. He pops up briefly and then disappears again. I was hoping to see him play a major role in the resolution of the conflict and that simply didn’t happen. However, they have set things up so that they could do a mini-series of Boba Fett and his Mandalorians fighting the Yuuzhan Vong. I’m hoping they eventually do this though there currently doesn’t seem to be anything in the works.
Luceno also does a good job throwing in humor. It helps lighten the otherwise dark mood and it makes the characters more like their movie incarnations. For example, when Boba Fett appears, Leia says something to Han to the effect of, “If he’s fighting on our side, stay away from his jet pack.” Other bits of humor are spread throughout the novel along with references to the films. I found it amusing that the Yuuzhan Vong referred to Zonoma Sekot as a “death star”. Nice touch!
I also liked the length of the book. At over 500 pages long, you definitely feel you get your money’s worth. This feels like three of the typically shorter novels in one. This is especially apparent in the final battle that seems to last well over 150 pages. It’s an epic conclusion to the story and it provides you with hours of entertainment.
Finally, I think Luceno does a good job making you feel like your favorite characters were in jeopardy. That was the whole point in killing Chewbcca and I think it worked. There were a couple of times where I thought they were going to kill off Luke, Wedge, Lando, or Han. The only reason I had a feeling they might be OK was because there wasn’t any advance publicity about more major deaths.
I’ve also got to mention the CD that is a nice addition. It features an electronic version of Vector Prime, the first book in the series. While most readers probably already have Vector Prime in some form or another, it’s the thought that counts. It also includes an interview with Shelly Shapiro, James Luceno, Lucy Wilson, and the other masterminds behind the New Jedi Order. It’s an interesting and in-depth interview about the NJO. It found it particularly revealing and candid. It’s well worth checking out if you’re a Star Wars EU fan. Throw in the Yuuzhan Vong chapter of their “bible” for writing Star Wars and you have a great little feature.
I have a big post-NJO dissertation-type piece in the works, so I'm gonna spare you readers the fancy composition here and just get down to it.
First things first: The title; my favorite of the series. It has everything; relevance (on a number of different levels), dramatic flair, and a Star Wars feel (of course). It gives a sense of tying up not only the NJO, but the SW saga as a whole.
Boba Fett: If you follow this site enough to be reading our reviews, you've probably heard of the Sernpidal Theory. If not, basically it goes like this: years ago, right after Vector Prime came out, a guy at our message boards named Darth Ludicrous got it into his head that it would be pretty funny if that old crazy mayor guy on Sernpidal, the one who jumps down the hole to kill the dovin basal, was a retired Boba Fett. Though almost no one really thought that that was what Del Rey and Salvatore had intended, the theory found a surprising resiliency through JC in-jokes, people asking VIPs about it, etc. This was also boosted by the fact that Fett was nowhere to be seen for basically the entire NJO. I was one of the biggest supporters of this idea, so you'd think that his finally being included in the NJO through TUF would irk me, or at the very least not be a positive thing, but it turns out to be one of the best parts of the book. The main thing I loved about the Sernpidal theory was the idea of Fett having given up hunting and basically become a kind-hearted hermit type who actually ends up helping Han out. This sort of end was supported, in my mind at least, by some of his final (timeline-wise) appearances before now that seemed to indicate Fett had moved beyond his grudges and was getting on with his life. And now, TUF has basically taken that idea (though I guess I wouldn't technically call him retired) and confirmed it, with the added bonus of him still being alive, as opposed to dying on Sernpidal (though Fett meeting his end due to another monster in a pit did have a nice bit of irony to it). It's a shame that the NJO is over now, because TUF's Fett was exactly the Fett I've been hoping for for the last four years. Bravo.
Kyle Katarn: Finally! With his first "official" EU appearance and by uttering his first "official" EU line, Luceno has ushered Kyle into the mainstream continuity once and for all, taking the next step past his first "official" mention in Force Heretic. No longer can people call the Dark Forces series infinities, or "below" the novels. Yet another great way to begin a new era.
The Selvaris escape: I never expected the most important story in the entire war to begin with fifty pages following the exploits of a Jenet named Thorsh, but it made for an exciting and unique first act. Very cool.
Deaths: Now I see once and for all why they killed so many people off in this series. The only prominent good guy to die in this entire book is Ackbar, and that's not even on-camera. As for the bad guys; Shimrra, Onimi, and *cough* Nom Anor aside, there weren't even all that many big Vong deaths. I liked seeing Nom strangle that punk Drathul, though. Did they plan on killing anyone major in TUF? Personally, I doubt it. Were there moments I honestly thought that Luke, Han, Leia, or Mara might be about to die? Damn right there were. This is exactly what they wanted; the NJO wasn't about half-assedly wiping out popular character for cheap suspense as lots of people complained; aside from Luke at the very beginning, I'll bet they never had any interest whatsoever in killing off the big guys. They just wanted us to think they might. And it worked beautifully. I just hope they continue this policy in any post-NJO stories.
Maybe this is my intense love for the character seeping through, but is anyone else not counting Nom Anor out just yet? If that was in fact his end we witnessed, then it was exactly what I hoped it would be; Nom finally giving up and saying "Aw, the hell with it." The best part is how it happens at a couple different levels over the course of the story; beginning with him deciding to become the prophet again and lead the Shamed revolt; not because he's absolutely convinced they'll win, but because he just can't take Shimrra's BS anymore. And when he finally does meet his "end", it's his own decision to do so; the heroes give him a chance to escape the coffer and he declines. Like Viqi Shesh, some antagonists are just better served by doing themselves in. Like I said, though, I'm not ready to close the book on him just yet, especially with that Denning trilogy coming up. We all know the "no body" rule.
Harrar: There's your proof of the "no body" rule right there. Harrar was the perfect character to redeem in light of Nen Yim's death. His turnaround in the last two books is one of the greatest things about a huge arc like this; he's been around, if not terribly prominent, since almost the beginning, and though the first seeds were planted as far back as Dark Journey, did anyone really see this coming? I definitely didn't.
Alpha Red: AR's ultimate role was quite well done. Not only did it end Dif Scaur's career, but it presented the only real challenge to Zonama Sekot in the entire story. From a story point of view, I admit I never really believed it would get to the planet, but it was nice to see a plausible threat as least present itself.
The Vong's backstory: while there were issues to be found (see below), I generally got what I wanted out of the origin. I think everyone was pretty sure ZS was gonna turn out to be Yuuzhan'tar itself, so the curveball of it being Yuuzhan'tar's offsrping, if minor, was a nice touch. In light of the new information, anyone else think that Yuuzhan'tar's ultimate fate might have been that of Sernpidal's? They seemed to be big on the Yo'gand strategy back then.
Onimi: like Yuuzhan'tar and ZS, this wasn't exactly an enormous shock, but it was nevertheless a well-executed twist. The final confrontation between him, Jaina, and Jacen has incredibly cool and chilling to read. The Vong religious system has lent itself to some fascinating interpretations among the more prominent antagonists, from Nen Yim to Shimrra to Nom Anor, and the fact that Onimi genuinely did believe in the gods, in his own way, was an appreciated touch.
Lastly, I have to applaud the completely unexpected inclusion of Kilik Twilight at the end. My biggest complaint with Tatooine Ghost was that they didn't get away with the painting at the end, and while certain aspects of that complaint aren't really negated here, it was a spectacular way of capping off Han and Leia's role in the EU, and is a perfect example of Luceno's ability to pick out obscure (albeit recent) details and make them matter in the story at hand. The more I think about it, the more important it is to me that TUF is the end of Han and Leia's story. I can live with a cameo or two in the post-NJO material, but we couldn't possibly leave these characters in a better place than the one they're in right now. Ditto for Luke. That's pretty much the best way of describing TUF as a whole for me; it does a flawless job of wrapping things up. Well, almost flawless...
After four years, The New Jedi Order is finally over. What a bittersweet moment, particularly considering this series is the reason I’m in my current position and have the privilege to write this review. And so begins my final review of The New Jedi Order.
The novel begins on a small scale, but with a sense of urgency and importance that carries throughout the entire novel. From the book’s opening, Luceno makes the story very personal, even the parts from the Yuuzhan Vong perspective. It is the last act in the unfolding epic, and both sides are playing their final. We see what both sides have to gain, but more importantly what they stand to lose. In the end though, both sides emerged victorious. Granted, from a political standpoint the Galactic Alliance won the war and the sadistic Yuuzhan Vong Empire crumbled beneath the united forces of the galaxy, the Yuuzhan Vong people succeeded in their goal: they were reunited with their true homeworld, and through it, the Force.
The Unifying Force brought every character to a new level. Luke finally found and accepted his role in the New Jedi Order and has a wife a young child to care for and guide in the ways of the Force. Hand and Leia reached a new place in their relationship and came to understand and appreciate true sacrifice. Jacen achieved a connection with the Force that even Luke hasn’t reached: The Unifying Force is really the beginning of his journey. Jaina accepted her role as an undying warrior, fighting for her family, friends, and the Force, realizing that she doesn’t need to sacrifice love to be the Sword of the Jedi. Lando remains the same lovable scoundrel, but even he was changed by the war. I think we’ll see a family man emerge in the years to come.
The Yuuzhan Vong reached a turning point in their history by throwing off the shackles of countless generations of corruption and cultural degeneration. With Harrar and Nas Choka to guide them, the Yuuzhan Vong will evolve into a noble warrior culture with a connection to the Force unlike any species we’ve seen. I can’t wait to see the first Yuuzhan Vong Jedi: all the tattoos and skill, but none the scars and hatred.
The Jedi have finally matured into a new order, distancing itself from the traditions that doomed their progenitors and moving to serve the Force rather than a governing power. Their journey to seek and do the will of the Force has only begun.
Luceno is the greatest author when it comes to utilizing secondary and seemingly lost or forgotten characters. There were numerous instances of this in Agents of Chaos, and The Unifying Force is no different. Luceno gives us Kyle Katarn’s first official Expanded Universe appearance and lines, although a head nod goes to Williams and Dix for mentioning him in their trilogy. More important though, Luceno resurrects one of the saga’s most popular and enduring characters. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the infamous Boba Fett is back, and he’s leading a new band of Mandalorians to boot. One can only hope we’ll see more of their adventures, both in The New Jedi Order and beyond.
I saved my discussion of the Yuuzhan Vong Empire’s collapse for last, as it is far and away the highlight of The Unifying Force and The New Jedi Order as a whole.
“The Master and the Twins, how long have we anticipated this meeting.”
With Yuuzhan’tar in flames and Shimrra’s Citadel under siege, the Yuuzhan Vong armada clashes with the galaxy’s last hope in the skies above the embattled world. The major powers of the galaxy have united like never before: the Galactic Alliance, the Imperial Remnant, the Hapes Consortium, the Chiss Ascendancy, the Empire of the Hand, the Hutts, the Smugglers’ Alliance, the Jedi Order, and most significant of all, the living world of Zonama Sekot. In the crown of the Citadel, the most powerful warriors in the galaxy are locked in combat: Shimrra Jamaane, the titanic supreme overlord of the Yuuzhan Vong and Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master and scion of the Force. In the fiercest of battles, Luke Skywalker gets his ass handed to him, only to seize victory at the last moment thanks to the legacy of Anakin Solo's sacrifice two years earlier. Moments later, the Jedi twins face down the true enemy. In a battle for the Force itself, Jacen Solo embraces his destiny and turn’s Onimi’s own poisons against him, ending the greatest threat the galaxy has ever known. And far away, removed from the action, James Luceno captures the experience with unparalleled precision and skill.
I’ve gone through this entire review without mentioning one of my favorite characters in the entire Star Wars saga: Nom Anor. Throughout the series, I thought the one-time executor would change sides and join with our heroes, but that was never truly a possibility. Although he worked with both sides when it suited him, Nom Anor served no cause but his own. When a final way out was laid before him, Nom Anor formed his own escape plan: his own death. Nom Anor was the architect of his own fate, from the war’s inception to its end; his end... “I will die here with Onimi, for we have been two of a kind from the start.”
As much as I enjoyed the book, I did have a few minor nitpicks about it. First of all, it features the death of Admiral Ackbar. While I have no problem with them killing off his character, it really only happens as a passing mention. He was a big character in Return Of The Jedi and a major character in the EU book, yet he barely gets a mention in The Unifying Force. He deserved a little more attention. (I would have liked to see him killed in action in the final battle, but I guess that’s asking a lot of a sickly old Admiral.) I also thought Lando’s wife was shoved aside and relegated to brief cameos in the series. I’m glad she got a little attention here, but I think the NJO should have been used to boost more of the secondary characters to the forefront. Luceno was the man to do it, too.
I also think The Unifying Force and the New Jedi Order as a whole missed a lot of opportunities for side stories. I’ve already mentioned that I thought Boba Fett and his Mandalorians deserved more attention. They could have easily been featured in a whole paperback trilogy that would have been cool. I also thought the Noghri deserved more attention. Luceno tries to use them as much as possible in this story, but I thought they should have had a more prominent role overall in the series. For a race sworn to protect Leia, you’d think they would have had more of these vicious guards covering her tail. They should have had more confrontations with the Yuuzhan Vong throughout the series.
Speaking of lost opportunities, I think Jag and Jaina should have ended things with a much stronger relationship, if not a marriage. After all, romance has always been a major part of the Star Wars series. While we were teased through the 20 or so books in the New Jedi Order, we end the series with no new romances or relationships. It would have been a nice way to lead into the post-NJO era.
Finally, the whole New Jedi Order needed a “Luke, I am your father” type of revelation, yet there wasn’t one. Sure, we learned that the Yuuzhan Vong originated with Zonoma Sekot, but who didn’t see it coming? I was hoping for something more shocking. We also learned that Onimi was the real Supreme Overlord, but was that a shocker on par with The Empire Strikes Back? Not really.
So Jaina and Jag get their big conclusion. So do the Jedi, the smugglers, the military, the Vong, heck; even the droids. But what do we get from Jacen and Danni? Squat. Would I have liked to see them together? Yes, especially after the few teases we got in Force Heretic. Can I live with them not being together? For now, sure. But theirs was a plot thread that deserved more than "we thought there might be something, but we changed our minds". I went to the last page still praying for a scene between them, or at least an offhand mention of Jacen deciding to stay on Zonama Sekot, or something like that. I'd been waiting for a payoff on this since the rescue scene in Vector Prime, and I was quite irked to see it just fizzle off into nothing. In fact, I don't recall Jacen and Danni even speaking to each other once in the entire book. Moving on...
So the Vong were stripped of the Force by Sekot. Okay, that's cool. How? Who knows. Will they return to the Force now that they've been redeemed? Couldn't tell ya. How did Onimi get the Force back? I seriously doubt implanting Yammosk tissue into his brain would've done it, so I don't know that either. There really should've been some more specifics at the end; at the very least, a throwaway line that said these were things Luke and Sekot would continue to look into. I was even hoping we'd get to see the first Vong Force-sensitive by the book's end. Like the Jacen/Danni thing, this would be a much bigger problem if it weren't for the Denning trilogy coming up. Hopefully we'll get some more answers then.
Last, and definitely least, I have to bring up the incredibly large amount of typos I noticed. It didn't hurt the experience any, of course; this is The Unifying frickin' Force we're talking about. But it was very strange to see in such an important book.
Ah, what a bittersweet ending! I'm ready to see something beyong the New Jedi Order, but I hate to see it end at the same time. Onwards ever!
The typos. Oh, and the roughshod nature of this review. I promise something much more tasteful coming up.
Onimi Jamaane’s horrific death ranked up there with the ugliest moments of the series, although there was a certain beauty to watching the great enemy falling to the righteousness of the Force.