Friday, November 05, 2010

Review: The Force Unleashed II by Sean Williams

I highly -HIGHLY- enjoyed The Force Unleashed II novelization by Sean Williams. It continues to be a bit like a dog in a china shop, bumping carelessly into the shelves and wobbling the continuity dishes, but never smashing through them like a bull might do - just showing, similar to The Clone Wars, that it doesn’t care what may have already been established. I still think (just like in the original The Force Unleashed novelization) that this book is hampered by the fact that it’s adapting a videogame - it appears to never stray far from the story the game tells (though I’m curious if the game goes back and forth between Starkiller and Juno the way the book does). At the same time, this story feels a little less like videogame levels with bosses at the end of the stage. There are a couple of spots like that, but less than the first book… If you've seen the game trailers then you've already got a sense for how this book opens. Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice is back – despite his seeming death at the end of the first book/game. Vader tells him he’s a clone of the original, and the only way to surpass his predecessor is to overcome his weaknesses – especially his love of Juno. But when Starkiller won’t even kill a robot-likeness of her, Vader orders his destruction. Instead Starkiller escapes, and the hunt is on to retrieve him. The story switches back and forth (mostly) between following Juno’s adventures with the Rebel Alliance (fighting in a few skirmishes, some space-bound, some planet-bound) and Starkiller’s attempts to track her down. Juno can’t seem to get on with her life, despite his death having been 6-months earlier (and them never sharing more than just a single kiss) - yet she feels like she lost the one true person meant for her, so now she’s buried herself in her work. Starkiller meanwhile knows that the Alliance won’t trust him when he comes looking for Juno, he’ll be seen as an Imperial plant - and that’s assuming he can figure out where she is. It’s a little ridiculous that the entire Imperial Navy can’t find the Rebel fleet - but Boba Fett and his commandoes have no problem tracking them down, then lying in wait for Starkiller to show up (because Boba wasn’t hired to go after the Rebels, just Starkiller). It would have made far more sense for Vader to “allowed” Starkiller to escape, knowing he would seek out Juno - and put Boba on his trail so that Boba could tell the Imperial Navy where the Rebel fleet was hiding. That said, Boba’s scene raiding Juno’s ship, capturing her, with Starkiller trying to catch them was similar to the big “Vader throws Starkiller out the window” scene in the first book. It’s a really cool sequence - the big climax of the middle act of the book. Boba is much more like his appearances in the movies, there’s very little to tie him to the greater expanded universe (EU) in The Force Unleashed II - which is probably good news for those who aren’t big fans of the character - and for those who do enjoy his appearances, it may not be too deep, but then what did you expect in The Force Unleashed II? I pretty much bought the love story angle between Starkiller and Juno - it was played up much more in The Force Unleashed graphic novel than I remember it being in the original novelization - but ultimately it’s just something you have to “go with” in this book. I actually liked how the reader is getting introduced to some new faces in the Rebel Alliance, between Juno, her commanding officer - then there’s Garm Bel Iblis and returning Rahm Kota, as well as Berkelium Shire. Heck, we got more characterization out of Mon Mothma in The Force Unleashed II than we’ve had in pretty much any other EU appearance of hers I can think of - and she’s not necessarily “right” about how the Rebellion should function - it’s a nice bit of background that adds to what we already know about Garm’s break from the Alliance. I’m not sure about Juno as role model for Leia (and frankly, I think that was Juno’s thoughts we were hearing there, not Leia’s) - I found it more likely that Leia saw Juno as a friend in the Rebellion, someone almost her own age. At first I was annoyed at Wedge’s very minor first words (something about “we’re getting slaughtered here” and a general telling him not to panic - Wedge panic?!?) - but I decided that since this book takes place prior to ANH still (hence Wedge is probably a green recruit still) I was willing to overlook it - and later use of him in the book more than makes up for it. I also think they missed a nice opportunity to use Targeter (Winter) as Juno’s contact at Dac (instead of Bail). I thought the Yoda stuff actually worked really well. On the other hand, I thought the PROXY stuff didn’t work well at all. I have no idea what was going on with him, nor what the story was trying to say about him. I think the ending was a HUGE missed opportunity. PROXY gets back his primary programming (which he’s been looking to regain through the whole story) - we’re reminded in a scene that PROXY’s primary programming was to kill Starkiller. Starkiller saw in a vision that one of his clones kills him - but he has avoided that by killling all the clones. PERFECT opportunity to have PROXY finally achieve his goal, disguised as Starkiller to kill him on the ship at the end, free Vader and one of them kill Juno as well. This story practically begged for a tragic ending, and instead we get a completely open ending, where too many things are left unresolved, for the obviously planned TFUIII - which looks like it’s never going to happen. Again, here’s where I feel like Sean Williams was hampered by the needs of the videogame - and based on what we’ve seen happen with Republic Commando, I’m sure we’ll never get resolution to this story via book form unless a sequel game ever gets greenlit. The big finale is a huge showpiece in the novel, taking place on Kamino and tying up nicely what I’d consider a bit of a loose end in the EU. If Kamino is so damn important in The Clone Wars, how come it’s never a part of the movies/EU starting with A New Hope? The answer - the Rebels took it out in one of their first major raids on the Empire. They sink the whole damn city, destroying it’s clone making facilities and (hopefully) any Starkiller genetic material as well. Here the reader gets to go from navy vessel warfare, to starfighter dogfighting, to lightsaber dueling - ending with Starkiller facing his “master” once again. This finale is a major part of the end of the novel, stretching for chapters, and you’ll be glad it did. I especially enjoyed Starkiller fighting off the hordes of his own clones, like a scene out of The Matrix Reloaded. While the story played up the question of “who is THIS Starkiller - clone or original” - they never answered that question. There are WAY too many questions left open at the end of this book/story - obviously intended for a The Force Unleashed III that now seems unlikely to come (due to changes at LucasArts, creators of the videogame). Vader in Alliance custody. Starkiller’s identity. Again, a better ending (not Sean Williams fault) should have tied up both these plots – for instance with Proxy killing Starkilller, Vader escaping, and Starkiller in his moment of death asking Juno to call him Galen - as he finally accepts who he really was. Yet ultimately, I was really entertained by this book. The story really had me from the first page, and I just had a heck of a time reading it. Now I’ll admit, I recall enjoying The Force Unleashed pretty well too (though I also remember liking The Clone Wars novelization more than The Force Unleahsed - I read them both around the same time) - and I’d definitely say I liked The Force Unleashed II more than the original. This is one of those high-octane books, where the action rarely lets up and the reader is brought along on the ride. It’s not a deep story, but as I said at the very start of this review – it is a whole lot of fun, and I certainly recommend it.

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