On sale July 7th is Dark Disciple by Christie Golden. Not only is this the latest canon novel released from Del Rey but it is also a continuation of the stories and characters from the cancelled animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Without question this is my favorite Star Wars novel from Ms. Golden, who has also written three other Star Wars books, all in the Fate of the Jedi series: Omen, Allies, and Ascension.
Dark Disciple features two lead characters, Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos, and is set during the later stages of the Clone Wars, taking place after the final The Clone Wars television series episodes that were grouped together as “The Lost Missions.” The novel is actually an adaptation based on scripts from two story arcs consisting of four episodes that were never finished and aired. In terms of The Clone Wars timeline, the first four episodes “Lethal Alliance,” “The Mission,” “Conspirators,” and “Dark Disciple” are set after the Bad Batch story reels but before the Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir story arc released by Dark Horse Comics. The second arc consists of “Saving Vos Part I,” “Saving Vos Part II,” “Traitor,” and “The Path,” and takes place after the Son of Dathomir arc.
The credited writers for those episodes were Katie Lucas (George’s daughter and writer of many episodes), Matt Michnovetz (head writer), and supervising director Dave Filoni. The beauty of adaptation particularly when it is from screen or script to page is that it allows for deeper exploration of characters and moments than is allowed either on the film or TV screen. This allows the story to breath and to fill in gaps that may exist in the end resulting in often a better story. Two Star Wars adaptations that come to mind are Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith novelization and Karen Traviss’ The Clone Wars film novelization. In my mind both these adaptations were improvements on the stories told in their respective films.
The one big downside to the Disney acquisition of Star Wars and the production of new movies that I expected and that I think we have seen, was very tight editorial control on the novels. I am a Star Wars book lover and in the Expanded Universe (now Legacy) line of books there were no new movies set after Return of the Jedi; as a result the stories went into some crazy areas in terms of scope, scale, and galactic ramifications.
In the new canon era of novels we have gotten some books of variable quality, but that tended to focus more on the characters and relatively minor events. To be honest there is some narrative wheel-spinning going on where the events of each novel can only have a small impact on the larger saga tapestry. While I think it will always be more tightly controlled by the Story Group than the EU was, I expect we will see more loosening of story once The Force Awakens and Rogue One are done and Episode VIII is in production.
Into this context we get Dark Disciple which plows through a metric ton of story. It feels very much like the new TV model where series burn through story in their first season that just a few years ago it would take them 3-4 seasons to unveil. While Golden’s story is also limited as we know the inciting event (i.e. the Jedi plot against Dooku is doomed to fail given the events of Revenge of the Sith), we have two characters at the center of the book that have tremendous storytelling leeway with.
As I read Dark Disciple I was absolutely loving the book until I got to what felt like a very clear demarcation between the two story arcs. As I started reading the part of the novel based on “Saving Vos Part I” my mental brakes slammed on because the ending of the book that I was dreading in the back of my mind was suddenly center in my reading. The second half of the novel was much more of a march towards an inevitable outcome. As a reader, I kept hoping that Golden would swerve it in a way to get to a different end point but as we got further and further down that storytelling road, you can tell that there are no more exits.
As a reader I am not sure if my issues with the novel’s second half are a flaw with me or in the writing, or perhaps the fact that we got concept art long before the novel was announced that foreshadowed the outcome. This is a novel that I think will be one of the most re-readable in the new canon so far. If you are a fan of The Clone Wars you need to read this novel, just be prepared for strong emotional responses.
Author’s Note: An advance review copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.