Making Rhommamool Great Again: Meaningless Reviews from a Galaxy Even Further Away

Before Disney rebooted the Star Wars Universe, there were a bunch of dog-eared paperbacks describing the adventures of Luke, Leia, Han, etc in the years following the events of the movies. This is a review of one of these stories, which is itself one of nineteen in a series. For the rationale behind such an ill-advised quest, click here. In this edition, we begin our saga in a galaxy far, far away, and find that something is rotten in the state of the New Republic.

A word about the links: I use the official Star Wars wiki, which is called — wait for it — Wookieepedia, to source this information. Be forewarned, everything on the wiki is approximately fifty thousand words longer than War and Peace.

New York Times Bestsellers can be edgy too, guys

What is This Story Called?

The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime (1998)

Can you summarize the plot in 140 characters or less?

Who’s In This?

The original crew of characters from the movies are automatically included unless otherwise stated. The characters listed below are post-movie inventions that are featured in some way to this particular story.

New Republic (The Good Guys)

Anakin Solo: Third child of Han and Leia, Anakin is fifteen at the outset of the invasion. He’s pretty much the only Jedi who understands the risk posed by the Yuuzhan Vong, and one of the few Jedi who is not hung up on philosophical issues in the first half of the series. In Vector Prime, however, he’s mostly an afterthought, with one crucial exception (more on that in a second).

Jacen Solo: second oldest of the Solo Children (by a few minutes) and one of the two Solo Twins, Jacen is Luke’s protege. He’s also, for vast swaths of the series, the absolute most annoying character in the whole thing. Jacen is an idealist and a philosopher, two things that make him largely passive against the Yuuzhan Vong and holier-than-thou towards most of his fellow Jedi. Vector Prime wastes no time working on these two attitudes.

A brief description of Jacen Solo

Jaina Solo: The other one of the Solo Twins, and eldest of the group, Jaina inherited Han’s piloting skills and is generally in line with the Leia/Padme/Rey/Lady-from-Rogue-One school of female characters (more on that later). Like Anakin, Jaina’s part in Vector Prime is relatively limited.

Kyp Durron: One of the first new Jedi, Kyp is the leader of a particular kind of Jedi. He’s not exactly an antagonistic presence, but is usually involved in the escalation of situations, especially in the first half of the series. Basically, Kyp serves as a vessel by which the plot can develop.

Mara Jade Skywalker: Jedi, former assassin, Luke Skywalker’s wife. At the opening of The New Jedi Order, she is sick with a mysterious illness.

Danni Quee: A scientist at a remote outpost whose mission it is to monitor for extragalactic life as part of a wider scientific origin. Danni is one of the main characters of Vector Prime and shows up in important places throughout the rest of the series.

Yuuzhan Vong (the bad guys)

Nom Anor: Oh man. Nom Anor is an executor of the Yuuzhan Vong, which means that he is tasked with sabotaging and diverting the attention of the New Republic in order to facilitate the invasion. He’s a troll, a schemer, an imposter, wholly self-interested. I’m just going to get this out of my system and point out that he’s Donald Trump (Not actually going to let this comparison drop). Easily the most compelling character in the whole series. Vector Prime gets right to the character.

Yomin Carr: An agent of Nom Anor, tasked with the sabotage of Danni Quee’s outpost and the destruction of Belkadan (more on that below).

That’s about it as far as it goes for Yuuzhan Vong at this point in the story, as the invasion is only just beginning.

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Notable Things That Happen in this Installment:

Yomin Carr fantasizes about fighting a space Jaguar, which is cool, and also brutally murders fifteen people, which is decidedly less cool. It’s pretty rough, actually.

We’re introduced to the Yuuzhan Vong, who prize the concept of pain, mutilate themselves in the name of their gods, are brave to the point of suicide in battle, and are packing advanced biotech. All of their tech, in fact, is alive — from the ships they use to their weaponry. As a result, they view the machinery of the New Republic as an abomination. It’s pretty gonzo, and takes the series in some fun places, I think.

Jacen and Anakin get in a couple of arguments, all waaaaaay too long, about the nature of the Force. Jacen is wary of using the Force without considering EVERY possible facet and consequence of it first, and seems to view it as an intimate companion, whereas Anakin views it as a tactical advantage and little more than a tool. It’s a recurring theme in the first half of the series, and boy, does it get tiresome.

The nature of the Jedi as a group is fleshed out. They are a disparate group, and several of the members are decidedly loose cannons. Kyp Durron and the Jedi that follow him are particularly over-zealous in their pursuit of adventure and justice, and as a result, everyone in Durron’s squadron save him are killed in the first skirmish with the Yuuzhan Vong, which is an event that plays out with depressing regularity in the series. Durron escapes though, and sets up the first showdown between the forces of the New Republic and the Vong.

Danni Quee is taken hostage, and displays a cool head under duress, and is eventually liberated by Jacen, at which point it’s revealed that she’s Force-sensitive. Putting aside the fact that Force-Sensitive could be the alternate name of Tumblr, and that she’s kind of a Mary Sue, Danni is emblematic of Star Wars’ treatment of female characters. She’s tough and Stoic, but she’s still a damsel, a trope that’s annoyingly prevalent in the universe and one that is used far too frequently in these stories. Danni’s arc does improve as the series progresses.

Jaina breaks records, fucks shit up, and fights with her mom. She’s the best.

Nom Anor disguises himself as a high prophet and forms a religion on a planet called Rhommamool (A name which I imagine was randomly generated by a machine that George Lucas built for just such a purpose and keeps in a closet at Skywalker Ranch) based around the purging of technology and the stirring of tensions between the Rhommamoolians and the neighboring planet of Osarian. He promises a return to “simpler times,” rails against “false and unnatural confederations,” and other catchphrases straight out of the 2016 Populist Uprising playbook. One of the more harrowing scenes in the book details a roundup of every Droid on the planet and the public execution of them for Nom Anor’s pleasure, or as The New York Times in 2016 might have described it, “Mr. Anor stirred up populist, anti-android sentiments in a fiery speech in which he promised to ‘Make Rhommamool Great again.’”

Of course, all of this is a ruse. Nom Anor incites a nuclear war between the two planets and manages to destroy a New Republic cruiser in the process, effectively distracting the forces of the New Republic from the events occurring along the outer rim. Then he’s gone.

Lando Calrissian is in this one, running a slightly less than aboveboard mining colony on the outskirts of the galaxy. The Solo family pays him a visit, and as so often happens when a Solo is involved, Lando’s enterprise is soon endangered.

Anakin comes up with the plan to destroy the Yuuzhan Vong headquarters and is active in the quest to save a bunch of people from dying, two early examples of where his character is heading in the series

I feel like there’s one other thing that happens in this one, now what was it that I’m forgetting here, oh wait, that’s right: CHEWBACCA DIES.

Long before television adapted a policy of “no character is safe,” in the summer of 1997, the writers brainstorming what eventually became The New Jedi Order decided that one of the major characters in the universe was going to die, to show that the stakes were real. The writers decided on Chewbacca. And so, a little more than halfway through Vector Prime, Chewie meets his end trying to save the citizens of a doomed world. It’s a well written scene, and does the Wookie justice.

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The Jar Jar Binks Memorial Award for Worst New Addition to The Galaxy:

There have been a few, ahem, missteps in Star Wars’ history, from ill-conceived characters to incoherent events. I am pleased to report that this tradition was carried on in The New Jedi Order. We’re in Jar Jar Binks/Holiday Special territory here, folks.

Vector Prime is mostly okay in this regard, and the New Jedi Order as a whole is far less awful than the majority of the stories that proceeded the series. Indeed, most of the examples I’m going to use in this space were likely introduced in previous stories. Is that entirely fair? No. But it’s my review, so…

There is a decisive space battle at the end of the novel, as is befitting any Star Wars story. The motley array of forces led by Luke have located the Yuuzhan Vong headquarters, located on a small planet that is mostly ice. Luke and company use ships that are huge mirrors to focus the condensation of the planet back on itself, which freezes the core solid and shatters it into a million pieces. That’s a real thing that happens. The plan works. It’s dumb and I feel bad.

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Death Star Watch:

Welcome to Death Star Watch, in which we keep track of the number of planets destroyed over the course of the series

Vector Prime has not one, not two, but three different planets destroyed, doubling up on one of the signature moments from the original Star Wars, presaging the attitude of The Force Awakens, which was that a plot point is not the same if it happens at a greater frequency.

Both planets fall victim to the advanced biotechnology of the Yuuzhan Vong, but in wildly different ways. The first planet, Belkadan is overrun with genetically engineered beetles, which causes the atmosphere of that planet to lapse into a runaway greenhouse effect, turning the planet into Venus.

Now, this is admittedly ridiculous, until you realize the Rocky Mountain Pine Beetle alone has destroyed 70,000 square miles of forest over the past decade, which has effectively wiped out 70,000 square miles of carbon dioxide scrubbers, and termites are responsible for 20 million tons of methane a year. And those are just normal insects doing normal insect things.

[Takes shaky drag of cigarette, laughs nervously]

Everything is FINE.

The second planet, Sernpidal, is destroyed when its moon is pulled down on it by a creature that is basically a mollusk that can control gravity. This is objectively stupid and I cannot defend it. Also, this is where Chewie dies. RIP.

The third planet, as stated above, meets an even dumber fate. It’s evaporated out of existence.

Pictured: The Destruction of Sernpidal/Concept art for a prog metal group called “The Borg” ()

Death Star Count for Vector Prime: 3

Death Star Count for The New Jedi Order: 3

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Closing thoughts/Should I read this part of the series?

The author of Vector Prime, R.A. Salvatore, received death threats from fans after the death of Chewie. This was and should still be considered abhorrent behavior. That said, in 2016, this response has become, if not commonplace, certainly (and sadly) less shocking than it did in 1999. Part of the reason for this is the way that the internet allows communities of fans to interact more closely with the culture, but it also opens the creators and people involved for more direct abuse. While (to my knowledge, and the research I conducted) John Boyega never received death threats, he did receive a lot of racist abuse from people online upset that there was a black stormtrooper. He dealt with it about as well as I could imagine, but the episode plays as a continuation of this same dark underside of fandom, one that’s only grown more acceptable in the intervening years.

Vector Prime is mostly enjoyable and well written, but it suffers from being the first of nineteen novels. The full scope of the coming war has not yet been revealed, and the novel, while embracing the darker tone the writers’ had planned, still feels stuck in the expanded universe of the nineties — safe, too comic, too rah rah, and more than a little disjointed as the characters just keep scrambling around from place to place. I’d say skip it.

This has been Meaningless Reviews in a Galaxy Even Further away, In which I read through the entirety of The New Jedi Order and write about it.

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