Monday, 16 February 2009

‘Outcast (Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi)’ – Aaron Allston (Del Rey)


It was about the time that I started running out of shelf space, in our old flat, that I realised it was time to stop collecting Star Wars books. Not only that but a large number of the Star Wars books I’d already got weren’t that good (‘Planet of Twilight’ and ‘Darksaber’, I’m looking at you in particular)... As time went on (and the number of published Star Wars books grew) I just knew that there was no way back, there was too much continuity to catch up on and it wasn’t as if I didn’t have other things to be doing in the meantime. At least I had the films to watch...
Karen Traviss’ ‘Clone Commandoes’ books completely changed my way of thinking last year (they’re really good, check them out) and I found myself wondering if it was time to give the Star Wars series a go again. ‘Outcast’ (to be published by Del Rey on March 24th) seemed like a great place to start as it is the beginning of the new ‘Fate of the Jedi’ series and the best place to start is always at the beginning, right? Well, maybe not in this case...

A violent civil war has just come to end and Darth Caedus is now dead. The galaxy is slowly recovering and a bewildered populace is looking for people to blame. Given the nature of Caedus’ rise to power, the Jedi are an easy target... In a shocking move, Luke Skywalker is arrested for failing to prevent the rise of the Sith Lord at the same time as a prominent Jedi suffers a psychotic breakdown and goes on the rampage. The citizens of the galaxy now have more than one reason to doubt the Jedi and in order to safeguard their reputation (and the Jedi’s future) Luke Skywalker will go into exile from Coruscant. There will be no return until Luke can uncover why one of his own family turned to the dark side of the force and that he can prevent such a thing from ever happening again...

If you’re anything like me then you just read this blurb and thought, “Violent civil war? Darth Who?” The simple fact is that, despite some background filling in; ‘Outcast’ is definitely not the place to start for anyone picking up a Star Wars book for the first time or for those looking to get back into the swing of things. At the very least, you probably need to have read the ‘Legacy of the Force’ series first and probably the ‘Yuuzhan Vong’ books (can’t remember the actual name of the series) as well. Failing that, Wikipedia could very well be your friend... ;o)

To be fair though, while ‘Outcast’ isn’t the easiest of books to get straight into there are enough familiar faces to make things a little bit easier going. In a sense, it’s very much a case of the story not mattering so much as we get to see Han, Leia and Luke back to doing what they do best; namely solving mysteries and fighting off the scum of the universe whilst making wry comments along the way.
It’s also interesting to see how these characters (and the galaxy as a whole) have grown and developed since they first appeared in Star Wars. It’s a measure of how long lived the franchise has been that yesterdays Imperial villains are now today’s Alliance bureaucrats and politicians. However, after reading ‘Outcast’ I was left wondering how much swashbuckling Luke et al have left in them. Like I said, the overall story has been running for years now and surely there’s only so many times that you can have the same characters doing the same things...

The story itself is full of these swashbuckling exploits but I couldn’t help but feel that a lot of these were written in to cover over the fact that ‘Outcast’ is the opening shot in a nine book sequence and (as a result) the plot is more about setting events up than things actually happening. This is another reason why you really need to have read the ‘Legacy’ series before starting on ‘Outcast’. If you’ve already ploughed your way through one multi-author series then you’ll know what to expect with this one!
While there is some attempt to cut the Jedi down to size in this book, they’re still too resourceful and all powerful to be kept down for long. This makes for some exciting moments but has the unfortunate side effect of robbing the book of its tension. Questions may be asked but the book then goes and answers them too quickly, ‘the Jedi will sort everything out...’
Being the first book in the series, a lot is left deliberately vague in ‘Outcast’ and these questions will more than likely be answered in later books. There is some attempt to give the book a stand alone feel but this is done through a ‘trip to Kessel’ sub plot that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the rest of the book at all. This left things feeling a bit disjointed to me...

‘Outcast’ took me back to a familiar setting, with familiar characters, but what I felt was missing was a fresh burst of energy that would take the book out of it’s comfort zone and really get things moving. I know that characters have been killed off in previous books but the main characters are all still there and this leaves things feeling a little too... safe. ‘Outcast’ was missing that sense of urgency that would have made it a really gripping read; you just know that nothing’s going to stop Luke and the rest of the gang...
Having said that though, I’ll more than likely be back for the next book to see how that one goes. It is Star Wars after all... ;o)

Six and a Half out of Ten

5 comments:

Dave said...

Great review, Graeme (and yes, I'm still jealous). :-) You've hit the nail on the head - I definitely wouldn't reccomend Outcast to those who haven't read Legacy of the Force, Dark Nest, or The New Jedi Order. (Ouch, that's 31 books total)Not only to understand what's happening or to get all the references, but also to get used to this new Star Wars universe. Still, looking forward to the book, and I'll follow your Liz-relayed advice, thanks! :-)

TK42ONE said...

I gave up collecting them too. Just too many, way too many books to keep track of, even with the help of a spreadsheet.

The New Jedi Order series was awesome. The Legacy of the Force has been good, I just haven't finished it yet. There are others that stick out as good books here and there (like the Clone Commando series, X-Wing series, and a few others). But I think I'll wait until I finish the Legacy of the Force stretch before I start anything new.

Dave said...

TK42One, (awesome name, btw, though a bit unlucky) don't start Outcast until you'v finished LoTF; you need that background before you'll understand character's motivations. :-)

Kyle said...

the review is good, but how could you of read the first one when it doesnt come out until march 24? anyways LOTF isnt all that great for the first three are the best and so were 5 and 8, but nothing to hype about.
anyways this series better change my mind or i sugest the star wars novels shouldnt be written. the best ones i have read have been by zahn and karphsyn.

Graeme Flory said...

Kyle - My copy came through before the books made it into the stores... ;o)