I don’t think I’ve looked forward to any book in the new line of canon Star Wars novels with more anticipation than Star Wars: Dark Disciple by veteran Fate of the Jedi author Christie Golden. There was just something enticing about it; that something was, I think, a combination of a gorgeous cover by Matt Taylor, a Clone Wars setting that provided a fresh perspective following the slew of post-Revenge of the Sith-era (more properly known as The Rise of the Empire) novels released in the past few months, and its promise of dark content, intrigue, and romance.
The latter promise was, I am happy to say, fulfilled, and what was born from a cobbling together of unfinished The Clone Wars television scripts was a fast-paced story with straightforward prose and compelling characters. Though the emotion-based actions of a few characters seemed to me to be occasionally incongruous with the plot situations and even the characters themselves, emotion was nevertheless a crucial component in the book’s internal conflict and most importantly, its complexity, which made Dark Disciple rise up as one of the greatest (perhaps the greatest) of the canon Star Wars novels released to date.
The fact that Dark Disciple is grounded in unfinished The Clone Wars scripts is a significant contributing factor to its quick pace and almost episodic progression through a series of threaded story arcs. Fortunately, I didn’t feel that the transition between story arcs felt too episodic, as if the translation of television episode to novel wasn’t smooth enough. You can distinguish where a story arc begins and ends, if you study it carefully; but for me, they were no more distinguishable than those that can be found in any other book in which the plot, conflict, and characters develop in stages.
In fact, it’s this variety of not just location, but the stages of character and plot development that carry the reader swiftly through Dark Disciple. Additionally, Dark Disciple presented something that I have not experienced yet in any of the new canon novels so far: a complexity of such a nature that it not only makes the characters think about what actions and thoughts they’re pursuing, but also makes the reader think about how he or she feels about the actions and thoughts being carried out throughout the course of the story. Golden and The Clone Wars writing team hit the characters and the readers with a few truly difficult questions that could be debated amongst religious or philosophical groups just as well as Star Wars fans: Is removing something evil worth venturing into evil itself? And how far on that dark path is “too far?”
That complexity alone, if nothing else, garners my highest praise. Not only did it make the story more intense, but it made the characters more intense–more human, even. Quinlan Vos and Asajj Ventress, who are by nature complex and dramatic personalities, were displayed in the best (and also the worst) light because they were caught up in the fray of choosing between the Jedi and the Sith, the Dark Side and the Light, and ultimately right and wrong.
With regard to Vos and Ventress, their characters were, as far as I can tell from my own watching of their canon incarnations on The Clone Wars, accurately portrayed. What I find interesting about their pairing is how much of a disaster you feel it’s is going to be. Based partly on passion and partly on a genuine respect for one another, the consequence of their relationship and the circumstances and conflicts surrounding them is that both are riding on their emotions by last third of the book. Such a consequence, as Yoda or another even Obi-Wan would tell you, can only lead to further complications.
As I alluded to before, emotion played a large role in Dark Disciple, but not just in Vos and Ventress. Mace Windu projects his emotions into the conflict as well; in fact, he is the instigator of much of the conflict, in the sense that the plan to assassinate Count Dooku is his suggestion. In this book, he is truly a negative force such as I never expected to see from him. I realize that he is not particularly kind or understanding even in the films, but the decisive way in which he vocalized his opinions–most of which supported aggressive actions–was infuriating. But once again, more complex questions surface: How many disasters do you allow to occur before you take action? And at what point should that action take on the form of violence? Though it’s true, and let’s be honest: Mace Windu is a jerk in this book, there was still a part of me that wondered if he was right about some of the things he said that, while reading them, sounded so appalling.
This negativity, this emotion that is projected not just from Mace, but from other members of the Jedi Council, as well, is something that I initially thought was overdone, uncharacteristic. On the other hand, however, it expresses perfectly how far the Jedi had fallen. In that light, the emotion becomes a vehicle for communicating the sad state the Jedi Order, and the galaxy at large, is in.
The person who brings everything back into the proper perspective is, I am delighted to say, Obi-Wan Kenobi. As Obi-Wan is my favorite character, I was pleasantly surprised to continually find parts of the story that were told from his perspective. If Mace is the representative of how far the Jedi have fallen, to the point that they have committed themselves to achieving their goals through aggression, Obi-Wan is the example of what a Jedi should really be: loyal, thoughtful, peaceful, and true to the most noble tenets of the Jedi Code. Not only this, but he is, as my friend Matt Neve wrote in his review of Dark Disciple, the “glue” between Vos and Ventress. Amidst the tumultuous roller-coaster that is their lives, he is what grounds the story back into a place of reason. Also, by opposing Mace’s view at every turn, Obi Wan becomes the vessel for depicting yet another side of this book’s inherent complexity.
A cast of supporting characters, some original to the story and some familiar, helped move the conflict of the story along and highlighted some of its most complicated situations. Yoda, in what I believe is an attempt to keep peace within his own council, seems to both agree with and be wary of the new path of “murder” and violence the Jedi are testing. Count Dooku, the target of the Jedi’s angst, comes into his own as a fierce enemy, something I am glad to see after his many failures throughout The Clone Wars. Anakin Skywalker makes numerous appearances and even goes so far as to agree with Mace’s suggestion of assassinating Dooku. Anakin also serves as a bit of comic relief alongside Obi-Wan, which lightened the tone of the book and made it even more of a delight to read. Anakin and Obi-Wan, along with Vos’s best friend, Desh, together add another layer to the narrative by demonstrating the familial aspect of the Jedi and how much support the latter will give to (and, at times, withhold from) their brethren.
In the end, my criticisms are few, and some are even difficult for me to define. I do wish that more time had been allowed to be spent in certain scenes; the fast pace and the directness of the prose were well-suited for The Clone Wars aesthetic of Dark Disciple, but it also took away that particular sense of intimacy, that gift of being able to slow down and linger that only a book can offer. In addition, Vos’s actions throughout the story are not that of a Jedi Master, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that his brash actions and the fast pace occasionally collide to generate a sense of the story feeling hodgepodged together in certain scenes. Perhaps if there had been more exploration of his inner conflict in key areas, along with more time spent in those crucial parts… But then again, Vos comes across as the kind of character who doesn’t do anything in halves. This creates a stubborn will, as well as unwanted consequences, so the problem may be in my reading and not in the story itself. And as to the story, there is no denying that there is a lot of story; Golden had a mountain of material to squeeze into 300-400 pages, and I believe that she succeeded very well and that the pacing helped ensure that success.
The end of the book, though it wasn’t exactly what I had been expecting, was more than satisfying. I won’t elaborate on it here, because this review is meant to be spoiler-free, but the ending was truly beautiful. The book itself was a fun ride with lots of twists and turns; sometimes the twists and turns seemed too jarring, the characters too enmeshed in emotion, but I have learned to think that that was probably the point. What marks this as a great book is, after I had finished it I was still trying to process it. That’s due, again, to the story’s complexity, its layered conflict that touches almost every single character; and, I hope, every single reader.
You can pick up Star Wars: Dark Disciple by the talented Christie Golden on digital and in hardcover TODAY!