Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Truce at Bakura review

At the time of The Phantom Menace's release, many complained that the movie was no good because it used politic issues as a main plot point in what is obviously an action-oriented franchise. Some even went as far as to say that politics don’t have their place in Star Wars. Those fans are idiots for saying so but they’re not entirely wrong. They’re idiots because politics has been a part of Star Wars for several years before the release of the first movie in the prequel trilogy. Many of the novels and comics in the Expanded Universe integrate politics in some fashion. Indeed, the charm of the Expanded Universe is that the Star Wars galaxy is so large it can be the home to several different types of stories. One of my favourites is the unlikely genre mash-up that is Death Troopers. In short, there is something for everyone to enjoy in the Expanded Universe.

The fans where right in saying that the movie suffered because it used politics but that had as much to do as how the politics were used. Politics has been used effectively in all sorts of genre writing. An obvious example is the Star Trek franchise. A more current and obvious fantasy exampled would be George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and Game of Thrones the HBO show based on the series. You could easily add many different series and novels to the list but my point here is that politics in itself cannot be blamed for a bad movie or book because of its inclusion in said movie or book. Cue The Truce at Bakura by Kathy Tyers. 

The novel begins just minutes after Return of the Jedi. It’s a great little idea especially when a couple chapters later the plot has moved on to a diplomatic mission to a planet on the edge of the Outer Rim which is rife with troubles and under potential attack from xenophobic aliens looking to enslave the Galaxy. Bakura is a planet under the rule of an imperial Governor, Wilek Nereus. When they find out about the imminent Ssi-ruuk attack, they contact the Empire for assistance but the message is intercepted by the Rebel Alliance. Knowing that Emperor Palpatine has just been defeated and that the Empire is likely going to be in disarray for a while, Leia, Han and Luke decide to go to Bakura to defend the planet and hopefully have them sign up with the Alliance when they realize who came to their help when they needed it most. That’s the Rebels for ya, nothing but a bunch of opportunists!

The book has three main problems. The first is that the Ssi-ruuk are boring villains and boring aliens, there is very little about them that is interesting. The second is that the characterization of the main trio is really off and the nice bit about Leia isn’t enough to make up for the rest of the poor decisions. The third and final problem is that Tyers doesn’t seem to know what kind of story she wants to write and by throwing everything in together she only ends up writing what I would quality as an uneven and poorly plotted book.

The Ssi-ruuks which threaten Bakura are some of the more uninteresting aliens in the Expanded Universe I’ve had the displeasure of reading. They’re not just boring, they’re actively annoying. They’re essentially space raptors (which is a terrible idea) that speak in a combination of whistles and clicks. They scour the Outer Rim for human prisoners which they “entech”, transferring their life energy into battery cells. Those battery cells are then used to power droid starfighters. It’s pretty evil. They’re essentially soul traffickers and it’s a pretty despicable trade. I like the idea of entechment as a story element but it’s never explored. I want to know if the souls are like energy, once they’re expensed do you need to acquire more souls in order to power the droid? Or is it different, does one soul power one starfighter indefinitely? They’re good ideas but they’re not really used, it’s just a way to setup conflict on Bakura which provides the writer with an excuse to send the movie cast on an adventure. The reason the Ssi-Ruuk don’t work is that the main Ssi-Ruuk characters are poorly written. They talk in clichés and their motivations are equally uninspired.

As much as I like the idea that The Truce at Bakura begins mere minutes after the end of Return of the Jedi, it unfortunately serves to point out one of the book’s flaws which is the poor characterization of Han and the Skywalker twins. Han is as his most uninteresting in this book. He doesn’t really do anything of note. He flies around in the Millennium Falcon at the beginning and towards the end but aside from piloting his famous ship, he serves no real purpose to the story. When he’s not flying, he’s arguing with Leia. Han and Leia’s relationship progressed nicely in Return of the Jedi but here it’s regressing simply to provide the reader with forced and uninteresting bitch fits between our favourite Star Wars couple.

Thankfully the other half of the power couple gets some interesting moments. It’s nice to see her put her skills as a diplomatic to good use. In the movies we mostly see her as a rebel strategist and running around blasting Stormtroopers.  Unfortunately, Leia’s diplomatic skills appear to have been left unused for too long a time. She’s very rusty. I think that’s more representative of Tyers’ inability to write a convincingly accurate portrayal of Galactic politics or believable senators. Leia continues to be regarded as a very good diplomat in my mind even though I’ve never really seen her skills in action. The other interesting element of Leia is that she actually gets to deal with the news that Darth Vader is her father. It’s the best thing about this book. Tyers could easily have skipped over it and, honestly, I likely would not have noticed it. It’s extremely important to Leia’s character that she acknowledges this fact and learns to deal with it. While Luke has been obsessing with Vader and the power of the Force for three entire movies, Leia has simply despised the man for what he represented within the order of the Empire as well as for his cruelty and the evil deeds he’s done.

Luke’s portrayal is alright but like Han’s, he seems to have regressed as a character. Gone is the Jedi who is confident in his ability in the use of the Force. Every time he says or thinks something of which Yoda wouldn’t approve, Luke has an immature thought which amounts to “Whoops, Yoda would disapprove. I shouldn’t think that.” It’s unnecessary for the readers and it makes Luke think like a petulant child which is something he used to be but isn’t any longer. He’s also immature in his search for an apprentice. So much has happened to him in the time before and during Return of the Jedi you think he’d take a breather for a couple days. Besides, he has several other more important things keeping him busy on Bakura (the diplomatic mission, protecting the planet from the Ssi-Ruuk and a Jedi-hating love interest) he’s obsessing over finding force-sensitive individuals to train in the ways of the Force. Why doesn’t he focus on his own training for a bit while searching? Why doesn’t he make it his primary focus and leave the Alliance for a while? Luke, you’re too busy to obsess over everything. Just take it easy for a little while.

The best thing about the book is the setup. I really liked the book for the first few chapters. I really liked the idea that it begins directly after the credits of the last film in the trilogy. It's a logical extension of the story which began in the movies. After they defeated the head of the Empire the Rebel Alliance is now trying to establish its credibility as an alternative governing body. They do so by providing aid to a planet under imperial rule because of the Empire's current inability to offer aid to said planet. Unfortunately, once the setup is over the book starts to go downhill pretty fast. The novel lacks focus, it doesn’t have a main story is a problem and all the other, separate elements are tacked on to each other in the hopes of making something cohesive. Is The Truce of Bakura an action adventure story or is it political drama? Theoretically, it could be both but in this particular case there isn’t enough that connects both stories to make for a compelling novel. The focus shifts from one to the other without any reason rather than have both stories feed each other and grow. It makes for an uneven read and probably the most disappointing Star Wars novel I’ve read yet.

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