(2005-04-15) One of the great tenets of storytelling is that while destination is often known, it is in the journey, how we get there that counts. Everybody knows Anakin Skywalker will become Darth Vader, we all know Obi-Wan and Yoda will be the only remaining Jedi, we know Palpatine is the dark puppet-master behind the scenes, and since first seeing Padme in Episode I, we all knew she was fated to give birth to Luke and Leia just before dying. As I said, these things are known “facts” of the Star Wars universe. Experiencing these events through the eyes of Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Palpatine, seeing how these characters come to where we know them upon the status quo of A New Hope was placed in the capable hands of Matthew Stover.
Stover has dipped into the pool of the Star Wars Universe before, penning what many Star Wars fans cite as the strongest of the New Jedi Order novels – Traitor as well as the first Clone Wars novel – Shatterpoint. In Stover's novels of Overworld (Heroes Die, Blade of Tyshalle) he has dealt with issues similar to those at the center point of the Star Wars universe - the dichotomy of Dark and Light and the obfuscation of the line between the two as it relates to heroes and villains, or rather protagonists at odds. With all of this writing experience in mind, there may not have been a more appropriate writer to handle the birth of arguably, the most infamous villain in popular culture.
Penning this novel was probably a lot more difficult than one would think, between meeting the demands of the story set forth by George Lucas to maintaining tension with the ending a quantifiable fact, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith is a wonderful achievement to read. The Novel starts out in the midst of an action-filled space battle, right of the bat you get the feeling the story is going to be intense. Throughout these opening scenes, a picture is painted - a picture of great friends and companions, of an unstoppable team. There is a deep respect between the two men and they have a great deal of care and concern about each other. At the thrust of their mission; however, is the man who will eventually destroy this team - Senator Palpatine. While Anakin never had a true father, both of these men act as surrogate fathers to the eventual Lord Vader, Obi-Wan and the Jedi council honing his skills and his mind, while Palpatine stokes the emotional fires, pulling Anakin between his heart and his mind.
One of the strong points of the story, as told by Mr. Stover, is the dramatic tension maintained throughout the novel. As in his previous novels, Stover brings his characterization skills and remarkable ability of portraying internal struggles to this story. From the beginning of the novel Anakin is shown to be a young man under restraint, not just from himself, but also from the Jedi Council. As Stover unfolds the layers of the saga, the flame of Anakin’s frustration burns into distrust, then single-minded anger. In each scene featuring Anakin, you could feel his increasing angst and growing acceptance of Palpatine’s urgings and the Dark Side. Most importantly, Stover allows you to sympathize with the man as he becomes Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith. . I cannot stress enough how well Stover manages to portray Anakin’s fall as a plausible and believable in the context of Anakin’s situation. Again, we know Anakin will become Darth Vader, and Lucas may have laid out the general framework for the conversion, but it is Stover’s skill that allows the reader to experience this and witness this transformation as a thing of awe and wonder, despite the known outcome. This is another of the many strengths of the story – Stover puts you in the head of the man as he transforms from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader something fans have been waiting to experience since first knowing Darth Vader was and is Anakin Skywalker. Furthermore, being in Skywalker’s head is not something you can experience in the film as well as reading it.
Each scene involving Anakin and Palpatine is filled with an internal energy, as Stover deftly portrays their conversations, as Skywalker struggles to reconcile his Jedi teachings with the feelings to which Palpatine so convincingly speaks. Whether the words were set forth by Lucas or not, it is in Stover’s execution and portrayal of these characters that make these scenes some of the most enticing and powerful. Palpatine, in all his mischievousness and dark intent, is seductive and speaks lucidly to Anakin’s plight. It also helps that Anakin wants to believe Palpatine, as Palpatine adds fuel to the fire of Anakin’s thoughts and suspicious about the Jedi Council, that they don’t trust Anakin or Palpatine, and how the Council feels Anakin is too powerful and headstrong to be anointed as a Jedi Master.
Another strong point of this novel is how Lucas, in his broad outline, and Stover, in his execution, manage to keep you guessing. Over the course of the five previous episodes, the Dark Side of the Force was depicted as the ultimate evil, and giving in to the Dark Side as the ultimate fall from grace for a Jedi Knight. As he did in the New Jedi Order novel Traitor Stover looks more inwardly at the true nature Force than, at the least, the five previous episodes did. You begin to wonder, is the Dark Side such a bad thing? At the heart and intention, perhaps not, but like the path to Hell, the outcome of good intentions are not always so bright. In a storyline like Star Wars that can be comforting and reassuring with regard to the many known events, Stover has managed to unsettle those expectations and force you to reexamine your preconceived notions.
Though the opening scenes are indeed of a vast and external struggle between ships in the wide berth of space, at the close of the battle, Stover brings the novel to the internal struggle of Young Skywalker, and it is here where Stover kicks things into the highest gear. I hated putting the book down when my lunch hour ended during the days I read the book and the nights when I needed sleepWe experience the why of Skywalker’s turn to the Dark Side of the Force, and as with many endings surrounded by dark clouds, the intentions were the most noble and begun with a bright ray. At the heart of Anakin’s downfall is his love, devotion, and care for Padme and those close to him. Anakin’s virtue is also his greatest fault; he simply cares too much. He is constantly torn between his care and love for Padme and his devotion to the Jedi, and as Jedi are not allowed to have any personal attachments, his marriage to Padme must be kept secret.
This novel succeeds on many levels. As a fan of the Star Wars universe, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith was as perfect a novel as one could ask. More importantly, as a fan of great storytelling, Stover succeeded supremely, balancing the characters, storyline, internal/external struggles and maintaining the pace and dramatic tension throughout the entirety of the novel. In addition to the success of this novel on a storytelling level, Stover also succeed in adding perhaps the strongest addition to the literary canon of Star Wars. This novel may be considered a companion to the film, but after reading it, I would consider it required reading. Fans of Star Wars, or simply great, entertaining storytelling the questions our assumptions, should read this book. I can’t see how anybody would be disappointed.
Matthew Stover's Web site
Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Del Rey's Star Wars/Lucas Books Web site
© 2005 Rob H. Bedford
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