Let’s face it: my love of fiction started with Star Wars. It fueled my budding imagination and, though I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, I got my start in creative writing with a lot of Star Wars fan fiction (fortunately, none of it ever saw the light of day because it was God-awful). Even so, I really got into the Expanded Universe novels thanks to a series that started back in 1999 called The New Jedi Order–and now, some twelve years later, I am ready to finally present my readers an opinion on these books.
The New Jedi Order series was an attempt to redefine Star Wars outside the classic format we were used to seeing: the Rebels vs. the Empire, with Luke Skywalker being more or less the only real Jedi Knight left in the galaxy, and the “Big Three” (Luke, Han, and Leia) being the main cast of characters. With NJO, more emphasis was put on the next generation of Jedi–in particular on Han and Leia’s three children: their daughter Jaina and their sons Jacen and Anakin. It also gave us a new enemy: the Yuuzhan Vong, an extragalactic race of alien warriors with a fanatical devotion to pain, a mission of conquest, and an obsession with eradicating all forms of technology and the “infidels” who used them. While these were not necessarily bad concepts to work with, the way they were handled is… well, I’ll explain below.
Normally, when I review a series, I don’t go through each particular episode or installment, but there are nineteen books in NJO and only a few by the same author. So instead of my usual treatment for a single book, I’m going to provide a short but sweet review for each novel.
Vector Prime, by R.A. Salvatore
So it’s twenty-something years after Return of the Jedi. Han and Leia’s kids are growing strong (with Jaina becoming a starfighter pilot, Jacen becoming a pacifist/philosopher, and Anakin becoming a Jedi who’s here to kick ass and chew bubblegum). Then that all goes to hell as aliens from outside the galaxy start their invasion by way of crushing Chewbacca with a moon pulled out of orbit (I really wish I was making that up). Han goes into a spiral of despair and alcoholism, but the fun’s only just getting started.
Dark Tide I: Onslaught, by Michael A. Stackpole
Luke Skywalker’s wife, Mara Jade, has been afflicted with a terrible illness that mysteriously began just before the Yuuzhan Vong (Why, you ask? Because, dramatic tension!). He sends Anakin to escort to Dantooine for recovery, only it happens to be right in the middle of the Yuuzhan Vong invasion path. Big surprise, it gets invaded; cue massive ground battle-turned-space battle. Also, Jaina Solo joins Rogue Squadron, while her twin brother Jacen grapples even more with whether or not actually fighting the malevolent aliens with the power of the Force is a good one (even Obi-Wan Kenobi knows the answer to that one, you so-called Skywalker).
Dark Tide II: Ruin, by Michael A. Stackpole
What’s left of the Empire (who finally stopped going to war with the good guys a few series back) decides to get in on this war, although this is compounded by the sudden anti-human bent in the New Republic leadership (again, for the sake of dramatic tension!). Jedi Knight Corran Horn fights a duel with the local Vong commander for the fate of the unspoiled planet of Ithor and wins, but then the Vong decide to be jerks and just waste the planet anyway. In other news, Jacen still has trouble grappling with how he should be helping out besides talking to animals and being generally pacifist.
Agents of Chaos I: Hero’s Trial, by James Luceno
Han Solo attends a memorial service for Chewbacca and then decides to get over his crippling despair through a trip to the Outer Rim with an old friend named Roa. When their trip bring them right into the path of the invaders, Han actually starts to be his old adventurous, carefree self again, in addition to getting a temporary new partner, Droma, whose species is basically the Star Wars version of the Romani.
Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse, by James Luceno
Han and Droma get into more adventures as they try to find Droma’s family among the millions of refugees displaced by the invasion. They succeed, and Han even reunites with his friend Roa, who had fallen into enemy capture. Also, a once-cocky Jedi named Wurth Skidder does a complete one-eighty and sacrifices himself while trapped behind enemy lines.
Balance Point, by Kathy Tyers
Jacen tries to solve his moral dilemma by denying himself all contact with the Force, which not only makes him even less heroic, but also blind to all the obvious villains in this story. Mara Jade Skywalker is revealed to be pregnant despite the horrible disease ravaging her body, while Leia Organa Solo tries to make the planet Duro a haven for refugees, only for it to be invaded (noticing the pattern here?). However, Jacen does embrace his Jedi heritage at the climax, when he fights and defeats the Vong’s commanding general, Tsavong Lah, in an epic duel to save his mother’s life. Savor this characterization while you can because it will be forgotten until Matt Stover gets to make his own contribution to the series.
Edge of Victory I: Conquest, by Greg Keyes
Anakin Solo gets his own pair of novels, which is nice considering how much heroism was left to Luke, Han, and Leia in the previous novels, giving only the occasional act to the Solo children. Here, he has to save a bunch of Jedi students from the Vong, although his love interest, Tahiri, gets captured, then scarred and brainwashed into thinking she’s been a Vong all her life. Anakin has to team up with a disgraced Vong warrior named Vua Rapuung in order to save her, while also giving Rapuung an excellent heroic sacrifice for the Jedi.
Edge of Victory II: Rebirth, by Greg Keyes
Anakin tries to help Tahiri rediscover herself in the wake of the torture and implanted memories she received in enemy captivity. Along the way, they finally declare their love for each other. Things further improve when Mara Jade Skywalker gives birth to her son, Ben, and the new family of three uses the Force to somehow eradicate the Vong-born disease from Mara’s body.
Star By Star, by Troy Denning
The New Republic and the Jedi finally get their act together and start wailing on the Vong, even though they wind up losing Coruscant. Also, the Vong start breeding super Jedi-killing creatures, so that promising young hero from the last two books leads a strike team to wipe out their cloning labs. He is then killed so the fans can realize that this is a serious war (because killing off Chewbacca wasn’t enough, you see).
Dark Journey, by Elaine Cunningham
Jacen gets captured, Jaina wants to crush the enemy with all of her hatred, and Jedi Knight Kyp Durron tries to stop her when he remembers what it was like to fall to the dark side. Jaina gets over her fall pretty well, although it doesn’t bring her brother back. We also get some Hapan court intrigue that does little except piss off the heir, Tenel Ka, to the point where she accepts her heritage and becomes the next Queen (hooray for her).
Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream, by Aaron Allston
The New Republic starts falling apart again, especially when the leadership seems convinced it can’t win against the enemy after losing Coruscant. Wedge Antilles, the awesome veteran of so many battles and former leader of Rogue Squadron, decides to screw over the cowardly leaders by actually fighting back the Vong and making them impressed by their “infidel” enemy for once.
Enemy Lines II: Rebel Stand, by Aaron Allston
While Wedge and Company are kicking Vong ass, Luke, Mara, and Tahiri go into enemy-held Coruscant, where they fight a Dark Jedi with lightsabers embedded in his elbows and kneecaps (don’t ask, it wasn’t well thought out). It was never exactly clear how this threat put the entire galaxy at risk, but if Luke Skywalker says it must be destroyed, then so be it! Also, Han and Leia get to spend their time setting up resistance cells on different planets, while Artoo-Detoo gets to shine by breaking them out of prison despite being stuck on the other side of the planet.
Traitor, by Matthew Stover
Jacen Solo is being held captive and tortured daily by the Vong, but then remembers that he can talk to animals… and that everything the Yuuzhan Vong use for technology is based on living creatures. He makes friends with said biotech and proves he’s a Skywalker by kicking ass, taking names, and getting over his philosophical issues in a very mature fashion.
Destiny’s Way, by Walter Jon Williams
We get our first real glimpse of the Yuuzhan Vong leader, Supreme Overlord Shimrra, along with the first definitive victory by the New Republic. Jacen is reunited with his family, his mentor Vergere is enigmatic for a while before she sacrifices herself for him in the final battle, and Jaina proves herself a Jedi when she duels and kills Warmaster Tsavong Lah. Also, the New Republic makes a hilariously bad (and pointless) name change, now calling itself the “Galactic Federation of Free Alliances” or the Galactic Alliance for short.
Force Heretic I: Remnant, by Sean Williams and Shane Dix
Luke Skywalker leads an expedition for the long-lost planet of Zonama Sekot, which may hold the key to defeating the Vong. Han, Leia, Jaina, and Tahiri go on their own trip, trying to check in on those important allies trapped behind enemy lines, but Tahiri has a major freak-out as her Yuuzhan Vong persona resurfaces at the worst possible time (Hey, look! It’s dramatic tension!)
Force Heretic II: Refugee, by Sean Williams and Shane Dix
Luke and Company go further into the Unknown Regions, where at one point they actually try looking up Zonama Sekot in the Chiss library (Rhapsodist Note: Just a reminder to please support your local Expeditionary Library, because reading brings knowledge and Knowledge is Power!). Meanwhile, the Solos and Tahiri visit the remote world of Bakura, where a different alien race is trying to invade: the Ssi-Ruuk, first introduced in Truce of Bakura. However, their invasion is easier to put down thanks to a slave revolt, but Tahiri’s Vong psychosis puts her into a dramatic coma!
Force Heretic III: Reunion, by Sean Williams and Shane Dix
Zonama Sekot is found, and because it has its own giant hyperdrive (just go with it), it decides to come along with the Skywalkers to help out in the war. Han and Leia repair a communications port after the galaxywide HoloNet suddenly goes out, while Jaina helps Tahiri integrate her Yuuzhan Vong self with her original personality. So all the dramatic tension is over… FOR NOW!
The Final Prophecy, by Greg Keyes
Tahiri and Corran Horn infiltrate Coruscant (which is surprisingly easy given that it’s the enemy capital and all) on the pretext of helping a Yuuzhan Vong defector escape. However, the defector turns out to be Nom Anor, the savvy and charismatic enemy spy who helped engineer the entire invasion in the very first book. Everyone is then shocked (shocked, I tell you!) that he turns traitor and tries to get his people to bombard Zonama Sekot with a virus.
The Unifying Force, by James Luceno
The Battle of
Endor Coruscant takes place as the Alliance beats back the Vong with a little help from the Ewoks Shamed Ones. Climatic battle ensues. Luke Jacen faces the evil Emperor Supreme Overlord and rejects the temptation of the dark side, saving both his sister Leia Jaina and the galaxy. The End.
Final Verdict: This series was ambitious for its scale and its direction… and both those counts, I think it flopped. Granted, it has some decent plots and characters (the best of which were in Matt Stover’s Traitor), but there’s no consistency in the character arcs, a lot of the deaths and development are for shock value, and some of the moral dilemmas being posed are a bit artificial. I give this series something like three out of five stars, which is very good considered how I feel about its successors, Dark Nest and Legacy of the Force, which I’ll be reviewing next week.
Bibliography: Salvatore, R.A. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Vector Prime. New York: Del Rey, 1999.
Stackpole, Michael A. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Dark Tide I: Onslaught. New York: Del Rey, 2000.
Stackpole, Michael A. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Dark Tide II: Ruin. New York: Del Rey, 2000.
Luceno, James. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Agents of Chaos: Hero‘s Trial. New York: Del Rey, 2000.
Luceno, James. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Agents of Chaos: Jedi Eclipse. New York: Del Rey, 2000.
Tyers, Kathy. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Balance Point. New York: Del Rey, 2000.
Keyes, Greg. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Edge of Victory I: Conquest. New York: Del Rey, 2001.
Keyes, Greg. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Edge of Victory II: Rebirth. New York: Del Rey, 2001.
Denning, Troy. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Star By Star. New York: Del Rey, 2001.
Cunningham, Elaine. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Dark Journey. New York: Del Rey, 2002.
Allston, Aaron. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream. New York: Del Rey, 2002.
Allston, Aaron. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Enemy Lines II: Rebel Stand. New York: Del Rey, 2002.
Stover, Matthew. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Traitor. New York: Del Rey, 2002.
Williams, Walter Jon. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Destiny‘s Way. New York: Del Rey, 2002.
Dix, Shane. Williams, Sean. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Force Heretic I: Remnant. New York: Del Rey, 2003.
Dix, Shane. Williams, Sean. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Force Heretic II: Refugee. New York: Del Rey, 2003.
Dix, Shane. Williams, Sean. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: Force Heretic III: Reunion. New York: Del Rey, 2003.
Keyes, Greg. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: The Final Prophecy. New York: Del Rey, 2003.
Luceno, James. Star Wars: New Jedi Order: The Unifying Force. New York: Del Rey, 2003.