Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed by Sean Williams, from a story by Haden Blackman (audio book read by Jonathan Davis)

Darth Vader's new, secret apprentice has one task remaining to complete his training: he must defeat an enemy of his master's. Then he will be ready to join Vader in defeating the Emperor. The chosen target is Jedi Master Rahm Kota, a former general of the Clone Wars. To do this, the apprentice (code named Starkiller) must travel to Nar Shaddaa accompanied by his droid PROXY and his new pilot, the beautiful and talented Juno Eclipse, hand picked by Vader for numerous previous missions, especially during the Great Jedi Purge.

(For those not familiar with the workings of the Sith, Vader's apprentice is secret because of the Sith's Rule of Two, which states that there must be only two Sith Lords at any given time: the master and the apprentice, who will then defeat the master and take his own apprentice. Trouble is, Vader is not a master but the apprentice of Emperor Palpatine and thus not eligible for his own student. But then Darth Vader has never played by any rules but his own.)

His task complete, Starkiller races to Vader's side to fight the Emperor, only to be met with an unfortunate surprise that will change the direction of his life yet again.

The Force Unleashed by author Sean Williams (from a story by Haden Blackman) is one part of a multimedia adventure of the same name, including two video games, a graphic novel, some toys, and other products, much in the same manner that Shadows of the Empire was launched in 1996.

The novel's main weakness stems from having to incorporate most of the video game while remaining a seemingly original novel with its own entertainment value. Plenty of familiar faces appear in supporting roles (the events take place only two to three years before the original Star Wars), and the book leads well into the next novel in the timeline, Death Star.

As always in Star Wars novels, the battle scenes are particularly exciting, and especially interesting is the internal conflict experienced by Starkiller as the destiny he thought his life held is changed irrevocably (though a novel with such a conflicted protagonist otherwise has little place in the black-and-white Star Wars universe). Williams offers few surprises in The Force Unleashed (some of these are more surprising to the characters than to the reader), and the "romance" between Starkiller and Juno (originally intended to be with Princess Leia, an idea nixed by George Lucas himself) elicits little emotion. However, Juno herself is a nicely complex character.

Audiobook reader Jonathan Davis, with the help of various sound and vocal effects, shows his vast range once again in The Force Unleashed. Davis and Marc Thompson are definitely the top readers of Star Wars audios, and just about any book they read is enjoyable from that standpoint, however weak the story may be.

Unfortunately The Force Unleashed is simply too flawed to recommend. A pivotal scene from Return of the Jedi is practically retold her word for word with a different character (whether this is supposed to be retroactive foreshadowing is up for debate), and in the end the protagonist is simply too dumb for his own good. He ends up being used simply as a tool in order to retain narrative consistency to the series, and that's no reason to exist.

Trivia: "Starkiller" was the original surname of the character that eventually became known as Luke Skywalker.

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