Monday, September 22, 2008
Coruscant Nights Volume 1: Jedi Twilight
Our book today is the first novel in a Star Wars trilogy called(for reasons the books themselves fail to make clear) Coruscant Nights. It's called by Michael Reaves, and it's called Jedi Twilight, and its events take place immediately after the conclusion of the last Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith (anybody remember when this whole thing was just one quirky, hyper-enjoyable summer movie? I thought not .... sigh ...).
For those of you needing a refresher course, The Revenge of the Sith differs from the common run of big-budget sci-fi movies by ending with the total and resounding defeat of the good guys. The clone army, under the direction of the evil Emperor, has assassinated virtually all the Jedi Knights and driven the few remaining survivors into hiding or exile. Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi go into exile. Jax Pavan, the dour and capable hero of this trilogy (on the books' covers, he looks a bit like Patriots super-quarterback Tom Brady - who might just be up for the part, since his football days are over) goes into hiding, and he hides in the last place you'd expect a Jedi to hide (if you were prone to expecting such things): in the bowels of Coruscant itself, the capital city of the Empire, the seat of the aforementioned evil Emperor's power.
Jax Pavan goes into hiding as a kind of private investigator, but he's always on edge about the Imperial pursuit that forever dogs his footsteps, and even the slowest readers will quickly anticipate a confrontation down the line between our hero and Vader. Reaves is a talented, quick-footed author, however (Jedi Twilight is very often a very entertaining read), not one to blow his perfect climax early, as it were. Jedi Twilight has plenty of action, derring-do, and explosions to keep the pages turning in the meantime.
And there are plenty of subplots too, the best of which involves a reporter named Den Dhur and his trusty droid I-5 (who's been heavily modified in the personality department, just in case you were dreading another C-3PO), both of whom are also searching for Jax Pavan, although for different reasons. Dhur is just after a great story; I-5's motives center around Jax's father Lorn Pavan and a surprising undercurrent of stubborn loyalty. Even half-inebriated, Dhur is aware enough of this to let it irk him:
But did it make any sense to keep looking? Den thought about it, somewhat laboriously, one neuron blindly groping through the alcoholic fog to link with another. Though he hated to say it, hated even to think it, he couldn't help reaching the same conclusion over and over: No. It didn't. Lorn Pavan's son was either off-planet or akk chow by now. Either way, there wasn't a lot that could be done about it. The remaining Jedi had scattered to the four solar winds - a prudent move, in Den's opinion - and even if Jax Pavan was still somewhere on Coruscant, the odds of bumping into him on a street corner weren't too good in a planetwide city with trillions of inhabitants.
One of the most amusing little themes running through Jedi Twilight actually involves those trillions of inhabitants, or at least the species making up the bulk of them:
Humans. They dominated culture, trade, government, the military - everything, in short. Love them or hate them, you couldn't ignore them. For better or worse, humans were the architects of the galaxy's future. It was only such a benighted, aggressive, and hubristic species, it seemed to him, that could have created a monster like Darth Vader.
Of course, there are problems inherent in reading any Star Wars novel. The backstory is now so hysterically profuse - and the rabid fan base so, shall we say, up to date with all of it, that a writer in Reaves' position must either include explanations of what a Neimoidian is (and risk offending the geeknoscenti) or leave those explanations out and bewilder newcomers. And lurking in the background of all these books is the weird, insane spider at the heart of this vast web, Star Wars creator George Lucas, whose 'outlines' these books fill in and whose approval they all require. It's like if Gene Roddenberry were still alive, read every Star Trek novel, and were crazy as a shithouse mouse.
Still, when those obstacles are overcome, Jedi Nights and its sequels provide some better-than-average escapist action reading. Michael Reaves clearly knows his craft, and in addition to peppering his tale with enough special effects to keep the whole thing humming like a lightsaber, he also manages to slip in more characterization than any reader of a series like this would expect. Jax Pavan might remain a bit of a hero-manque, but lots of secondary characters (most especially I-5, but also certainly including Darth Vader himself) get some pretty loving attention. Franchise fiction has been worse served than this, certainly.