James Luceno, LABYRINTH OF EVIL.
Very rough-drafty first-impressiony, this one. For a change!
Prequel to Revenge of the Sith. I’ve been on a Star Wars kick lately, what with all the X-Wing Miniatures Game I’ve been playing with my son, so I was tempted by the comparatively strong reviews this book had gotten — an io9 rundown of the Expanded Universe said the ‘Dark Lord Trilogy’ was the one thing that deserved to survive the EU’s demise or somesuch, back when ‘the EU’s demise’ meant the Star Wars thing and not the other thing.
Well, I’ve got three or four hours to spare, may as well.
Luceno’s talents are unequally distributed. There’s a bad case of vocabulary ostentation syndrome (starting with a faintly embarrassing mention of Thomas Pynchon in the acknowledgments), some pseudoscientific shenanigans, and a number of surprisingly boring action sequences — Luceno makes an effort to clearly lay out the physical space for his battles, but it all feels like rote combat moves set against familiar stage backdrops, and the long descriptive passages feel a bit like his heart isn’t in it.
Against those liabilities we have a superbly effective evocation of Anakin and Obi-Wan’s parental/fraternal bond, a much needed deepening of the Grievous/Dooku/Palpatine scheme which imbues Dooku and Grievous with unexpected tragic sympathy, thoughtful handling of Mace and Yoda, a healthy application of elbow grease to matters of series plot consistency, and the first rendering of Anakin the apprentice’s psychology which has felt real to me. I come back to the only memorably intelligent monologue in the whole prequel trilogy, Anakin’s ‘Jedi are required to love’ seduction/rationalization, and see that Anakin — more powerful than smart, more passionate than loving, desirous of connection yet unable to comport himself like just another human being now that he knows he’s secretly Paul Atreides — in Labyrinth of Evil. The Anakin/Obi-Wan relationship is the core of the book, as it’s the core of the whole prequel trilogy, with a (comparatively) richly imagined Palpatine/Sidious moving subtly, inexorably, to sever their partnership; the action scenes are tedious but as long as the major players are onscreen it all seems unusually meaningful, for a Star Wars story.
I feel obligated to state that not only is this not Great Literature, it’s not even a particularly good novel; if you don’t know the story already, I can’t imagine it making much sense. Not even even a middle chapter, it’s spackle, filling the holes in the prequel trilogy and connecting the Clone Wars series to the main text. It accomplishes the work of literature with about the proficiency you’d expect, but its spacklework is handled with extraordinary aplomb.
Star Wars matters to me. It always will. I like the prequels even though they’re hilarious, disastrously incompetent in so many ways. I’m glad I read this book. It brought me home for a time.