Review: Champions of the Force
Kevin J. Anderson, Jedi Academy Trilogy #3.
I will admit that there was a certain lack of enthusiasm as I embarked on this third book in the acclaimed trilogy. As I got to the halfway point, I had a pair of linked epiphanies. First was a realization of what makes the third book in Reaves’ many several trilogies so weak, which was also at play here — the books really betray the fact that the writers are operating under a severe deadline and trying to milk three books out of a two-book plot, specifically by the fact that the third book spends a good chunk of its pages rehashing what happened in the first two. That device is certainly more useful when it’s been a year since the reading (or however far apart they were released) than when it’s been a week, but after a third iteration of how Luke found Streen and Gantoris, a third description of how Kyp’s family was torn apart by the Empire, and a third rehash of Qwi Xux’s brainwashing under Tarkin, a certain weariness overtook me.
The second epiphany was that Kevin J. Anderson was clearly writing with a television show in mind. I realized this when I finally placed certain sight gags time-honored by countless of 90s shows from Everybody Loves Raymond to The X-Files and the overly-dramatic chapter endings reminiscent of a pre-commercial-break hook. Oh, Mr. Anderson, this is a book, not an episode of Twin Peaks! I experienced some frustration there.
According to my initial research, I dated this book at 01148 but now I think it’s probably more like 01149. It picks up pretty much right after the events of book 2, which further suggests that Anderson really only had two books’ worth of material but had to write a trilogy because “duologies” are so awkward. Luke’s spirit has been knocked loose from his body and Leia comes to Yavin IV in a desperate move to help. Kyp Durron is wreaking havoc with the Sun Crusher. Qwi Xux is trying to recover from his brutal erasing of her memories. Wedge is preparing to invade Maw station.
I like that Han has a chance to do more than spout catchphrases; he chases after Kyp, taking more of a mentor interest in him as he tries to save the boy from his descent to dark side madness. Chewbacca being elevated above comic relief is nice, and Wedge’s taking care of memory-wiped Qwi Xux is a new facet of his military commander personality. Anderson was a little heavy-handed with the two-and-a-half-year-old Jedi twins in the first books, so it was nice that they were toned back in this one. (He credits a child in his dedication, which suggests that he recently discovered little kids and for some reason had to pump the book with charming little kid foibles. The scenes go on a little long, but I still want to buy a stuffed bantha cub. . . .)
And yet I struggled to start this third one because its first chapter is my absolute least favorite scene in any Star Wars book. (If you’re concerned about a spoiler from a book almost old enough to order alcohol in the US, then cover your ears.) Kyp Durron, having been seduced by Exar Kun into tampering with dark side powers, has stolen the superweapon Sun Crusher from the heart of Yavin IV and gone tearing off to wreak havoc on the Empire. His first stop is the Imperial training base on Carida. He demands knowledge of his press-ganged brother, they put him off with a story about his being dead, and Kyp fires the super torpedo into the heart of the Caridan sun. With twenty minutes to spare, the administration discover his brother on the planet and he makes a mad dash to rescue him. He fails and watches his brother incinerated before his eyes because of his own action.
I find this scene the most frustrating and pointless, and therefore most painful of any scene in any book I’ve ever liked. Maybe Kyp would have believed their false report and pushed the button. But at the very least, he would have been able to use the Force to drag his brother onto the ship and to safety. This is the kid who could pilot a black hole cluster with the Force — there’s no reason he would try to use the Sun Crusher’s tractor beam and not the Force. Also, there’s no catharsis in Zeth’s pointless death. Kyp the fratricide should have become irredeemable, a psychotic mess. Anderson either kills the brother 1) because Kyp must be punished for his deeds, “justice” — or 2) he had no idea what to do with a brainwashed Stormtrooper zombie. Possibly a touch of 3), cheap emotional jarring for the reader. And I hate that.
But. That being said. Regardless of the lackluster finish on the trilogy, there are many aspects of this book that make it a worthy successor to the two I love so much. Disembodied Luke makes for a surprising twist in the plot as he and Exar Kun trade bodiless threats and he relies on his untried students to save him when he can’t even communicate with them. There is wisdom in the declaration that shadows are eliminated by flooding them with light.