30 May 2006
Member worlds chafe under heavy taxation, bridle at providing materiel and conscripts, and make noise of open rebellion. The central government blusters, threatening isolation, economic stagnation and military retaliation, but secretly fears secession and the eventual withering away of its power and influence.
So opens Betrayal, the first in a planned nine-book series following the characters of the Star Wars universe 36 years after events in Revenge of the Jedi and 10 years after the events of the Yuzhong Vong invasion, chronicled in the last extended novel cycle, New Jedi Order (19 volumes published 1999-2003).
To prevent the dissolution of the Galactic Alliance, Chief of State Cal Omas and his government devise a plan in which the Jedi will abduct the leadership of the GA's most openly antagonistic member, Corellia, so that the GA might then brow beat Corellia's leaders into quietly paying their taxes and end all talk of independence. It's one of the most ridiculous plans you're likely to encounter in a Star Wars novel. At least the most ridiculous I've read to date. How much more belligerent - short of dropping bombs or shooting people - can you get than kidnapping a government's leaders? It's as if the Germans decided to kidnap the leaders of the French government for threatening to leave the EU. Even more ridiculous, this plan is approved by Luke Skywalker, a guy normally depicted as levelheaded, who prefers talking to fighting (and who later in the book turns down a second snatch plan on the grounds that the GA doesn't want to set a precedent of kidnapping leaders of hostile governments!).
Word of the plan leaks out and the Jedi come up empty handed in their kidnapping caper. To salvage what little he can from the operation, the GA's leading Admiral over Corellia seizes and occupies a small leisure planet within the Corellian system. Now the Corellians are spitting mad and things quickly move from bad to worse.
Along the way, the characters are put into situations where they must make difficult choices. While the story itself is often confusing when it isn't implausible, author Aaron Allston should be given some credit for trying to beef up this hodgepodge of a novel with some thematic muscle. Betrayal is a story about choice and conscience, about weighing consequences and realizing that sometimes the best action is also the most painful.
Han must choose where his allegiance lays, with the GA or his homeworld of Corellia, while Leia, a newly minted Jedi, must choose between her husband, the GA and the order. Ben must choose whether to terminate a computer simulation of his lost cousin Anakin Solo in order to shut down the Corellian's superweapon, Centerpoint Station. In Betrayal's other main plot, Han and Leia's son Jacen must choose to take a life in order to save the lives of many more, and further whether to extend his knowledge of the Force by studying the dark arts of the Sith.
Overall, there's far too much happening in Betrayal for it to be anything but rushed. The first third covers the initial attack on Corellia (including a laughable scene in which 13-year old Ben Skywalker sneaks into and eliminates the threat from Centerpoint Station by tricking the computer, a la James Kirk, into believing that it isn't a real person after all), the middle part the political maneuvering to get the combatants unstuck, including a subplot of political assassination leading into the last third of the book, Jacen's discovery of the Sith (this particular branch having descended from a sentient species of Mynok, a flying rodent and pest of pilots in the SW universe). Anyone of these parts could have been a novel itself, but mashed together here the stories suffer as a result of having to constantly advance the plot so that we can get to the end of the book - and start the next one.
And there's the rub. These extended series involve a number of editors and writers working together to make a coherent and consistent story. It also involves working on a tight deadline to make sure the books are delivered at regular intervals. With so many cooks stirring the pot, with the added pressure of having to write to deadline, its not surprising that we end up with half-baked books.
Still, I'm looking forward to the next one, especially as Karen Travis will be writing a 71 year old Boba Fett who has to work together with his old bounty, Han Solo. Stay tuned.