by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Seventeen years ago, I had a crush on a boy in youth group whose Star Wars Nickname was Luke Skywalker, either because he was blond or because he was sort of the teen in charge. At least he was the one giving everyone Star Wars nicknames, and the one he gave me was Mara Jade, because my name starts with M and also “you kinda remind me of how she acts.”
Obviously, we were all intensely into Star Wars; though he hadn’t read enough of the books to know why I was secretly thrilled and all warm and fuzzy at being made the Mara Jade to his Luke Skywalker, he had read The New Rebellion, which is why I’m even recounting this memory lane business. That and apparently 2017 is the Year of RebeLibrarian’s Nostalgia That Just Won’t Quit.
The way he summed up Hugo-winner Rusch’s contribution to Star Wars was, “It was okay, I don’t know. She just wanted everything to be the worst ever.”
And that assessment has always stuck with me every time I’ve re-read it. Because, indeed, The New Rebellion is a decent book — well-written, with good pacing and decent characterization, even some imaginative contributions to the universe — but something about it just keeps it from earning more than mediocre status.
That something is the author’s desperate need for everything to be THE WORST THREAT EVER. (So desperately that characters will repeatedly say “I think this is the worst we’ve ever faced,” or variants thereof.)
It’s thirteen years since the Emperor was defeated at Endor. The New Republic is an established government; Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy and the Solo family are also equally established. Our heroes have faced down warlords and masterminds, their own shortcomings and weaknesses, and emerged victorious. The danger of complacency is real.
A new villain with great potential has cropped up on the edges of the galaxy: he rightly sees the New Republic’s inefficiencies and weaknesses, but decides in order to resolve that, he must become the new Palpatine. Capturing Luke Skywalker for his Darth Vader is an attractive bonus. A villain’s megalomania can be forgiven, but the author shouldn’t share his egotistical belief that the galaxy has never faced a worse crisis than his appearance.
The New Rebellion has a complex plot that plays well together and even follows Lucas’ established pattern very well. While the EU routinely shuffles the children off as inconvenient baggage, Rusch at least incorporates parental behavior from Han and Leia, with Han even asking Leia if she’ll be all right weathering a crisis without her husband and children for support — because families, even the incorrigible toddlers, are a source of strength for one another. Leia suffers when she comes home to an empty apartment after being buffeted by hostile political colleagues.
Also praiseworthy is how Rusch makes Lando and Chewbacca more than catchphrase-spouting placeholders. The real friendship between Lando and Han is clear. Rusch has a very Lucas-like ability to juxtapose horror and humor. She also underscores Han’s reputation as a moral man even during his days as a smuggler. Threepio and Artoo have more than titular roles, and the character of Cole Fardreamer is an interesting and compelling one. Far better than yet another sequence of Luke and Artoo aimlessly wandering off alone in search of a planet or person that may or may not exist.
Luke squaring off against a flock of Mr. Bubbles is one of the low points of the Star Wars history, and the action in some places is belabored. The mystery, however, completely holds up, and however many times I’ve read this book in the last two decades, I never can remember how the villain was able to bomb the Senate hall so effectively. And I know I wasn’t the only Star Warrior who sat watching the TV on 9/11, gnawing my lip and remembering the descriptions of The New Rebellion as I watched survivors staggering through debris.
Maybe I’ve been too hard on this book. It’s certainly got a lot going for it, far more than it has going against it. I guess really the only thing it’s got going against it is there’s a lot of “tell, don’t show,” and Rusch is infatuated with very short, brittle sentences. But there’s excellent balance between all the players, particularly in elevating others to stand equal with the Big Three, so let’s give her the full three stars, yeah?