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Legacy of the Force

Stephen's Rating

0.9 / 4

Well, we have recently seen the completion of Legacy of the Force (LotF); a 9-part series produced by Del Rey and written by authors Aaron Allston, Karen Traviss and Troy Denning. The setup was that each would write a book in order one after another, culminating into a set of 3 hard back and 6 mass market paperback novels. In order, these books were Betrayal (HC, Allston), Bloodlines (PB, Traviss), Tempest (PB, Denning), Exile (PB, Allston), Sacrifice (HC, Traviss), Inferno (PB, Denning), Fury (PB, Allston), Revelation (PB, Traviss), and Invincible (HC, Denning).

Originally, LotF was supposed to be set during the Sith Era (ref), it was changed during the planning session to be set a decade or so post-New Jedi Order (ref). The erstwhile reasoning behind this time shift was so that the readers would already be concerned about the characters and the readers wouldn't know the "ending" due to the fact that the Sith Era is thousands of years prior to the movies. Of course, the second bit of that reasoning falters in the fact that the Legacy comic series was produced and set somewhere around a hundred years after the NJO.

As an aside, this review will contain SPOILERS. I tried to write a review which would not have them, but was unable to accomplish it while still bringing up all the relevant points I felt needed to be said about the story. So, consider thyself warned.

With the spoiler warning taken care of, let's talk plot. For a nine-book series, the plot here was fairly simple. We take the Prequel Trilogy, drop in Han and Leia's children, and other EU favorites into pivotal roles, shake, stir, and viola, you have a story. No, really, that's the plot: a Sith shows up and starts up a war in order to lure the Jedi Order to its doom, tempting and turning one of its own in its effort to accomplish this fact.

The problem comes in by the fact that the authors didn't seem to know exactly what type of story they were wanting to tell.

The first half of the series focused heavily on the war. Those books all focused heavily on the Corellians and their little rebellion against the GFFA. Yet at the mid-point Hard Cover, things start to shift, and by Revelation the war is missing except as a backdrop to the Jedi action.  Sure, you have a space battle or two, but it's all Jacen versus someone else. It's not the Confederation (and yes, they re-used that name) versus the Alliance. 

It's somewhat said, in that we have this potential for literally years worth of stories, and in the end, it's merely a vehicle for the Jedi (or in the Karen Traviss novels the Mandalorians) to attack one another with melee weaponry. This was especially disappointing when we were given things such as the great scene early on in Betrayal which featured Wedge Antilles and his escape from an Intelligence Detention Facility. At least the Prequels were honest in their decision to tell a story about Jedi, and to leave the actual war to the EU.

Anyways, because this is a multi-book storyline, we have a huge cast of characters. Most of whom are there for the sole purpose of being canon fodder (yes, I'm looking at poor Nelani Dinn as I write that). Unsurprisingly, since this is Del Rey EU, the primary characters are Force Sensitives, with a major focus on those of Skywalker blood, or Mandos. If LotF has taught us anything, it's that the EU is unconcerned with telling stories about elite pilot squadrons, or even intelligence agents (yes, I'm missing Rogue and Wraith Squadrons).  It is clear, to me at least, that everyone who ultimately matters in the Galaxy Far, Far Away must be either a Jedi or a Mandalorian--additionally, they must be a subset of those either with the surname of Skywalker or Fett. While Allston did have folks like Wedge Antilles, Tycho Celchu and Syal Antilles, they were rare, and unlike Traviss' pet Mandalore did not impact the story outside of their book. Or in the case of Tycho, outside of his chapter in the book he appeared in.

Now, some would say that this is an effort to step away from the Big 3; to allow the next generation of EU characters to shine. Well, if that's true (and they said the same thing about the NJO) then they're failing miserably. At the end of the day, you're left with even LESS next generation characters (again, like the NJO), and those that are left aren't that... Heroic, at least in the traditional Star Wars sense. Likewise, while the Bantam-era EU provided us with youth readers, all of the recent ones have been focused on Prequel characters. Let's be clear here; the adult novels tend to focus on adult protagonists. Majority of the 'next generation' characters were introduced in the young reader books (YJK/JJK). The exception to that rule, are the Horn and the Antilles children--who, if you'll notice, rarely, if ever, get page-time.

Of course, those that matter to the galaxy at large in this story are as follows: Jacen Solo, Ben Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Mara Jade, Han Solo, Leia Solo, Jaina Solo, Lumiya, and Boba Fett. For a story that spans over 2,000 pages, that's not a lot of folks. Oh, sure, people like Alema Rar, Jagged Fel, Tahiri Veila, Daala and Zekk show up, but they're ancillary to the tale, not major players. Or course, even with that short list, you must realize that we don't have a hero to follow. There is no strong Heroic character for us to root for. No one that stands up through the entire series and says, "This is what a Hero does."

Since we have no real hero, we'll start looking at folks from the other end of the spectrum, and grab the individual most likely to bore you to death: Jacen Solo, or as he called himself Darth Caedus. Now, I've read a number of "fall to the Dark Side" stories in my life; they exist all over the place: Boromir in The Two Towers, Jean Grey in the Dark Phoenix Saga, and you could even see Willy from Death of a Salesman from that POV. That forgoes the most obvious characters in the genre, both Anakin and Luke Skywalker (the Prequels and Dark Empire respectively). Yet, Jacen's decent into the dark failed to grip me. His initial steps to the Dark Side were motivated by a desire to stop a possible future where he would kill Luke Skywalker. I mean, out of all the possible motivations that Jacen Solo could or should have, not wanting to possibly kill Luke is pretty stupid as far as one goes. After all, he should know that the future is always in motion--and as Invincible shows us, a Force user is able to influence the future another Force user sees.

Even beyond the inane fall, Jacen's characterization between one novel and the next fluttered from one extreme of cackling madness to the other of cold-hearted, emotionless psychopathy.  With little by way of connective issues. Even to start out with, he's a cold, emotionless robot-style character who I had trouble connecting with. He's ultimate decision to murder a young Jedi not withstanding, Jacen has trouble being a villain even from the beginning. A fact not helped by the jumping characterizations as he delved deeper into the Dark Side of the Force.

The next of these characters we should probably discuss, is our tentative hero, Jaina Solo.  Jaina is an odd choice for hero here; she spends the first half of the story as effectively a bit player, never taking center stage among any of the action. In the third quarter, she does appear on screen more, but it's not until the final two or three books that she's actually an active participant in directing the plot. Personally, I find that highly disconcerting, and poor storytelling. The protagonist should have been fully recognizable from the beginning of the story--how many times does the Hero's Journey need to be discussed before folks catch on.

All that said, despite what a good portion of the folks out there are saying, I don't think Jaina is the hero for LotF.  Jaina just isn't in the narrative enough to be the hero. For the person ultimately responsible for stopping the main proto-villain, she's an active force in the story for less than half of the novels. That just doesn't cut it. In fact, there's only a single player who gets nearly as much screen time as Jacen: Ben.

And in my opinion, that's the closest LotF gets to having a real hero in the Star Wars sense. Despite the fact that Jaina is the one that ultimately stops Jacen, despite Jaina's own sense of importance, and approval of her actions by the Council, it's Ben who comes closest to following the necessary steps of the Hero's Journey.

Let's take a look at things here:
  • Departure (or Separation)
    •  The Call to Adventure - Ben with Jacen & Nelani in Betrayal
    •  Refusal of the Call - Ben not wanting to deal with his dad
    •  Supernatural Aid - Jacen helping him hide in the Force
    •  The Crossing of the First Threshold - Joining GAG
  •  Rebirth
  • Initiation - His assassination task
  • The Road of Trials - Trip to the Sith world
  • Marriage - Finding Mara's dead body
  • Woman as Temptress -Tahiri tempting him
  • Atonement with the Father -Reconciles with Luke
  • Apotheosis - Decides that he wants to bring Jacen to justice by rules of Law
  • The Ultimate Boon -Goes to Corucscant to find evidence against Jacen
  • Return
    •  Refusal of the Return - After Omas' death, wants to kill Jacen
    •  The Magic Flight - Goes to Corucscant to find evidence against Jacen
    •  Rescue from Without - Shekauf helping him
    •  The Crossing of the Return Threshold - Luke stops Ben from killing Jacen in anger
    •  Master of Two Worlds - Returns to Coruscant for spy mission
    •  Freedom to Live - redeems Tahiri

See, sure a good number of the steps are out of "order" here, but ultimately that doesn't matter. What does is that Ben has more or less fulfilled them.

So what's the problem here? Why wasn't Ben pushed? Why the sudden emphasis on Jaina in the last quarter of the story?

As noted at the start of the review, there was a disconnect between the original plans, and the end product. One of the things that shifted slightly during the planning phases was the length of time that was going to originally be covered. LotF was originally supposed to take up about 4-5 years. Long enough that Anak...err Ben would no longer be a minor, and thus could theoretically take over as the Hero of the franchise.

Well, I'm not sure if it was because Ben was such a... storm trooper in the early novels, or the fact that LotF ended up taking less than a year in universe, but Ben just didn't make the cut; he lacks that special something which allowed fans to connect to him, and would allow him to be a great Star Wars Hero. In fact, he was something of a chump. He assassinates a political leader, and later goes on a second assassination mission. He gets sent to a Sith world, hunting a Sith amulet, while being told to not tell his parents what he's doing, and he listens to this. It's his idea to burn Kashyyk, and of course he admires Palpatine's Empire, even going so far as to compare Luke's destruction of the original Death Star to his actions interning innocent Corellians.

So, not only was Ben too young in LotF, but he's also already too dark and tainted to be the swashbuckling hero the franchise needs--in other words he has too much Anakin Skywalker, and not enough Han Solo.

So, my guess is the Powers That Be were left struggling with a way to redeem Ben's character, and send poor Jacen out the door. They needed to unequivocally make Ben a "good guy" and still have someone that's around to smack Jacen down (read: assassinate on the Jedi Council's orders). Cue Jaina, who gets to get over her boy-angst, her pilot-love, and get down and dirty as a Mando.

Though, she never dons the armor, she does spend a great deal of her time on screen gushing in totally unrepentant Mando-love. It's bad. It is literally a different characterization from every example of Jaina we had beforehand and what appeared in the final book of the series. One can only be thankful, that this is a mind-set which she lost once the next author took over. So, there is one good thing to Jaina taking such a small role in the first two-thirds of the series: she's only in awe of the Mandos for a single book.

But now that we got the children out of the way, let's take a look at the supposed elders of this group; starting with the Grand Master of the Jedi: Luke Skywalker. What can we say about Luke here. First, I have to go and grab a quote out of my Bloodlines review:

I mean, we have Luke, Mara, Corran and Kyle as Jedi who have quite often been involved in anti-terrorist activities, and are some of the best people in the galaxy at being where they're not wanted. Yet they balk at the idea of leading an anti-terrorism task force? Uhm, did they all forget that before they became high-an-mighty Jedi Masters that they were insurgents and assassins?

And remember, this is the point that Luke and the gang are starting from. You just know that their decisions aren't going to be getting any better as time goes on.

And Luke doesn't let us down either.

Starting from this stance, he then goes and in a fit of angst, murders Lumiya, later on he keeps his son from killing Jacen (even though it would solve SOOO many problems), tricks his family and friends into believing he was killed, and ultimately does this whole thing where he focuses on Jacen, making him see all the possible futures where they end up fighting one another.

Which brings up another point about the Jedi here; by the end of things, these Jedi are once again the nigh omnipotent beings that we were getting during the latter portions of the Bantam run (as I noted in my Revelation review). Forget the de-powered Luke, apparently we want out Jedi to be all-powerful!. Personally, I fully expect us to once more start getting Luke stories where he spends a majority of his time in casts so that he can't access the full range of his Force abilities.

Mara though, I spent most of my time flickering between utter disgust of her character, and rooting for the Mara that I remembered from the Zahn Trilogy finally showing back up. Of course, the Zahn-Mara only appeared during Sacrifice, but hey, at least she showed up, and kicked the Jacen-appeasing Mara to the curb.

The final character I feel the need to glance at here is Tahiri Veila. She's not a main character, even though she has only a few hundred pages less of screen time than Jaina. At the end of the NJO and the start of the Dark Nest Trilogy, Tahiri was a strong character. She was effectively over Anakin's death and had gotten on with her life. Yet when she became an active character in the LotF plot, she was a weak-willed, vile creature, willing to do anything to get a simple glance at Anakin again. This is so out of left field that I was left struggling to figure out just what had happened.

Thankfully, Invincible took a bit of time to try and rectify that situation. Of course they did it  by having Tahiri hit on Ben (please remember that they're 28 and 14 respectively), and then having him forget about his man-love for Shevu as he watches Tahiri murder Shevu in a spat of shock (despite the medical droid telling her that it would happen). Really, it makes about that much sense in the narrative as well.

While it's not a character, but rather a Force power, the concept of Flow Walking did get defined; at least somewhat. On page 228 you get this sequence:

Tahiri's confusion turned to distress. "What is it?" she demanded. "Are you telling me it wasn't real? That when we flow-walked back to see Anakin, we were just--"

The flow-walking was real," Caedus interrupted. "We did return to the battle at Baanu Rass, and you did kiss Anakin. But the past didn't change. It can't."

Tahiri's eyes started to burn with denial. "That makes no sense," she said. "If I really kissed him, then we changed the past."

Caedus shook his head. "When you drop a pebble into the river, what happens? There's a splash, and then the splash disappears. The splash is real, but the river doesn't change. It continues on just the same."

"But it does change," Tahiri objected. "Maybe you can't see it, but the pebble is still there, rolling along the bottom."

"And the kiss is still there, too," Caedus said. He reached out and gently tapped Tahiri's temple. "In there. That's where the bottom of the flow is."

"In my mind?"

"In the way that you perceive the past," Caedus said. He was not surprised by the anger and disbelief in Tahiri's voice. When the Aing-Tii monks had explained why he couldn't stop Anakin from dying, he had reacted the same way. "We went back tot he battle on Baanu Rass, and you kissed Anakin. What changed? The past--or your memory of the past?"

But that sequence of chatting between Jacen and Tahiri left me with a big, good old-fashioned, "huh?" Did the author--who happened to be the person who created it in the first place--forget that the first time we saw Force feat this was when Jacen went back into the past to watch Raynar struggle out of the Tachyon Flyer, and then travel INTO THE FUTURE so that he could have a chat with his mother--and as Luke points out, affixing her future in place so that she had to visit that site? How exactly can both concepts be true? Additionally, we don't see any activity of the Dark Nest (specifically Lomi and Welk) itself until AFTER Jacen's little time traveling trip.

Please remember that I dislike the entire concept of Flow Walking, yet despite that the explanation offered in Invincible does not explain all the various discrepancies that have been introduced. And let's be honest here, Jacen did not need Flow-Walking in order to do either of those feats in DN3. If Denning had wanted Jacen to see what had happened to Raynar, and be able to inform Leia of things, existing Force powers would have worked just fine. Telepathy is well known ability for the latter, while this simple Yoda quote would have taken care for the former without the hassle of introducing Time Traveling into the Star Wars universe:

Concentrate...feel the Force flow. Yes. Good. Calm, yes. Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The future...the past. Old friends long gone.

Yeah, Force visions don't just show the future, but they show the past.

Now, let's take a moment, and once more go read the Invincible quote again, especially in light of Jacen's flow-walking into the future to set Leia's future into stone. What's odd?

Quite simply, Jacen hasn't tried it. Take a look at this portion of it again:

When the Aing-Tii monks had explained why he couldn't stop Anakin from dying, he had reacted the same way. [emphasis mine]

All we have seen are small shifts in the Flow, but what if Jacen had done something drastic; such as saving Anakin? Could the Aing-Tii monks have been lying to him in order to protect the present or to stop a paradox? Jacen doesn't know, he merely accepted their explanation for this ability and is now passing it on to Tahiri as fact. Tahiri, and presumably the rest of the Strike Team, now remembers Tahiri kissing Anakin--because that's now what she did in the past.

Digression aside, let's move on to the THEME!

I always like hunting for a theme to a story. It's often fun, especially when chatting with Thrawn McEwok over the various themes that we have each found. Yet, the only thing I could think of for this, was a meta-theme which broke the fourth wall. The theme I found was: Lucas Books has ran out of new ideas. This relates back to the fact that the plot was a simple rehash of the Prequels and Anakin Skywalker's fall. A bad, Bollywood-style rehash.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed Betrayal, and Tempest and thought Sacrifice was a good read, but the overarching plot was just not that intriguing. It lacked the necessary "umph" required to grab and maintain concentration on a multi-year, multi-book arc of this sort. Let's be honest, if this had been any other franchise than Star Wars, I'd have dropped the book series well before Sacrifice saw print.

Which does kind of frustrate me. I spent around $150 on the three hard covers and six mass-market paperbacks which made up LotF, all so that I could get the same story as appears in my boxed set of the Prequel Trilogy--just with a slightly different cast and ending. If I had really wanted that story, I'd have just sat down in front of the idiot box, and watched it; or better yet, pulled out my copies of the Prequel novelizations and read those.

So, this is what we're left with: poor characterizations, lackluster story lines and the melancholic feeling that nothings going to change. Which is highly odd, considering Sue's response to the question "Co you think a long series with multiple authors was a good idea in retrospect?" over at the Official Site:

I do think it's a good idea. The 19 books in the NJO was a bit too much to coordinate -- it was successful, yes, but very challenging and looking back at that, I wouldn't suggest doing it again. The 9-book series was challenging as well, but working with 3 authors, all of whom were involved in each step of story planning, made everything run tighter and smoother and I believe resulted in a better series with deeper plots and more consistent character development.[emphasis mine]

Frankly, I was left flabbergasted, and wondering if she had read the same books that I had. 

Regardless the whole exchange left me with two big things which left the proverbial bad taste in my mouth.

The first of these (and the least of them) is how the series was wrapped up. The shortest novel in the entire series was the end cap--and the entire epilogue consists of Han and Leia telling Jaina what was happening in that whole annoying war subplot, that apparently no one cared about, while we were focused on Jacen.  Of course the biggest shock in this, is the overt setup for the Legacy comic series which we get at the end of Invincible (what does it say about the plot and the story itself, if the biggest shocks happens in the final dozen pages, after the final battle?): Jag's heading up the Empire, the Corellians are doing something, Niathal is AWOL, and Daala's the new Chief of State (an appointed position now).

That last has turned quite a few heads, but my favorite comment regarding it (and one that sums up my issues quite well) has got to be in Wes' Revelation review:

Admiral Daala, the one-eyed psychopath who attempted to destroy the Jedi Knights, the New Republic, and the Imperial Remnant-- a woman so deranged she would actually have sex with Grand Moff Tarkin-- is now the Chief of State of the Galactic Alliance.

Amusingly enough, my final issue with the whole shebang is also found in Wes' review of Revelation--mainly that whole feeling of "What's the point?" Maybe it's because LotF is such an overt Prequel rehash--and as I wrote that I realized that that could really be the prime factor of my discontent.

In making the decision to retell the Prequels by leading Jacen to the Sith, the Powers That Be seemed to have forgotten that the payoff to the Prequels is not at the end of Revenge of the Sith, but rather the payoff is the whole of the Original Trilogy. The Prequels were back-story; merely setup for the OT. If we had been given Episode 1 in theaters back in 1977, Star Wars as we know it today would not exist. There would be no Skywalker Sound, no Lucas Films, and no Lucas Films Licensing. Star Wars would have appeared, and then disappeared, off to where ever old episodes of Space:1999 are stored and subsequently forgotten by all but a dedicated handful of fanatics. To put it more bluntly, rather than a franchise that has inspired people for over 30 years, we would have the same fan-base as The Food of the Gods.

This is not a good place for the Expanded Universe to be, especially when the silver and small screens are currently set to navel gazing into that most boring of time periods the Clone Wars. At this point, one can hope that Millenium Falcon is able to introduce a bit of fun and escapism back into the EU.

In the end, there are distinct bits that I liked in this story. Most of the books were actually fun reads when they are taken as atomic units; and if it wasn't for the fact that it's post-RotJ EU, I'd be absolutely in love with Karen Traviss' writing. A couple of fun new characters were introduced, and we got to see some children of favored heroes out in the world (I'm looking at Syal Antilles there as we still have no sign of Jysella Horn).

All that said, the overarching storyline was just lacking. It lacked cohesion. It lacked consistent characterizations. It had too much repetitive actions (one could consider the number of times Han disowns Jacen in books two through nine as a drinking game). And it lacked a honest-to-goodness Star Wars style Hero. While Ben went a decent ways towards redeeming himself, he's still not the next Luke Skywalker.

What that all means is that I have to give LotF as a whole, a 0.9 out of 4.

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