Simple Jack, Sith Lord: Meaningless Reviews in a Galaxy Even Further Away

Before the prequels, before Jar Jar, long before Rey and Kylo Ren, George Lucas kept the nerds satisfied by keeping the story of Luke and Leia and Han going in the pages of books and comics, all of which was negated when Disney purchased the franchise in 2012. This is a meaningless review of not one but two of these stories, themselves part of a larger run comprised of nineteen novels. For a full explanation of this review series, click here. All previous installments can be found here.

In this installment, The New Republic gets crafty….

For the first and last time since I’ve started this project, I am going to write one of these reviews to include both novels in yet another duology.

The reasoning behind this is twofold. First, the story in this one is a lot more compact across the two books than some of the other stories have been, and second, I’m on a wholly self imposed schedule. Doing both of these novels at the same time will allow me to finish on time.

So, the duology is called Enemy Lines, undoubtedly borrowing its title from the all time greatest Owen Wilson movie ever made. Part one is called Rebel Dream, part two is called Rebel Stand. Both are by Aaron Allston, and were published in March and May of 2002, respectively.

I have exactly two unambiguously nice things to say about this duology, and so I’m just going to say them now.

The tone of this story is much lighter and far more comedic than the previous two stories, which is a welcome relief from all the grimness of purpose.

Allston made his name in the expanded universe by writing the character of Wedge, and it shows. Few writers in the series have the familiarity with a character that Allston does with the fictional general, and Wedge’s turn here is a bright one indeed.

Okay, I was nice. Now for the bad news: This duology is ludicrous and bad.

Allston’s writing style can be most charitably described as “pulpy,” a style heavy on action and sex (there’s the most explicit stuff in the series by far in these two books) and very light on stakes, philosophy, or characterization. This style works great if you’re trying to write a gruff, sordid story of a private detective in the thirties with a name like Dick Lanternjaw, but far less so when you are in the middle of a nineteen book series with established characters.

What it means in this context is that all the characters are flattened and warped, largely disregarding or superseding or straight up ignoring the changes in the characters or the background characterization that had been wrought by other authors in the series.

Luke Skywalker, to this point in the story a Jedi Dorkboi extraordinaire, suddenly, and without any real reason, transforms into a wisecracking, ass kicking dynamo. Lando Calrissian also undergoes a similar transition, and now that I think about it, so does Han, and Leia, and pretty much everyone else.

All of this is to say that the two stories feel utterly disconnected from everything else in the series, and as a result (if memory serves), the events of these two novels are largely forgotten in the rest of the series. Let’s get to the roasting, shall we?


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Cast: Links attached to character names are all from Wookiepeedia, the worst named but most exhaustive of all our Star Wars resources. As always, asterisks denote characters I have already referenced or described.

The New Republic & Jedi:

Luke Skywalker

Mara Jade Skywalker*

Jaina Solo*

Kyp Durron*

Wedge Antilles*

Lando Calrissian:

This is the most direct gif I could find of Lando’s personality

Jagged Fel*

Han & Leia Solo

Yuuzhan Vong:

Czulkang Lah: Former warmaster for the Yuuzhan Vong, now an instructor of Yuuzhan Vong warrior cadets, and Tsavong Lah’s pappy. He’s old, very very old. Tasked by the warmaster to deal with General Anitlles and his ragtag gang of misfit heroes.

Tsavong Lah:* Now with even more gross rotting arm action!

Nen Yim:* The heretical shaper now under the supervision of Tsavong’s boss, Supreme Overlord Shimrra (who we haven’t yet met in these reviews), working on some new tech for the aliens.

Other

Viqi Shesh: Everyone’s favorite traitorous senator, who was trapped on Coruscant when it fell and rounded up by the Yuuzhan Vong.

Irek Ismaren: An individual with extreme dark side force talent, rumored to have been Emperor Palpatine’s son (he isn’t) and one that hasn’t been seen for about thirteen years of expanded universe time (he was fifteen at the last encounter).

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The main thread of the story has to do with Wedge accepting command of the New Republic forces on Borleias, which is in Yuuzhan Vong territory. He’s tasked with holding it against Czulkang Lah using the remains of his fleet group from the battle of Coruscant, which means it’s essentially a suicide mission.

The B plot in this one is of Luke’s vision of dark side power unleashed on Coruscant, and his travels undercover there to uncover it and stop it.

The (extremely) C plot is some tedious stuff with Han and Leia that I’m not going to bother with.

Stuff that is merely ludicrous

  • Rogue Squadron, the most infamous and highly skilled starfighter pilot group in the entire galaxy, is run by and for frat bros. Here’s a sample bit of dialogue from the leader of that group:
“Rogue Squadron to Borleias. We kicked your butt twenty years ago. Now we’re back to do it again.”

Snappy stuff! Once they have landed on Borleias — sorry, kicked Borleias’s butt — they immediately begin brewing the cosmic version of toilet hooch and rig up makeshift hottubs using fuel reactors.

Pictured: The deadliest fighting force in the New Republic
  • This novel begins with two Yuuzhan Vong pilots debating the nature of bravery, but it has the feel of two stoned freshmen arguing about whether or not God could make a burrito that was too hot for Him to eat.
  • Having seen the way the war has gone thus far, Wedge decides to throw out the existing playbook and beat the Yuuzhan Vong using unorthodox tactics, which is a very common trope in science fiction and war novels written by dudes with no combat experience, and is often successful. In reality, playing jank against an algorithm is often a losing tactic, unless you’re an idiot savant or possessed by some sort of tactical demon.
  • There’s a weird Napoleonic complex in this thing, with three different scenes of Allston going out of his way to explain the small statures of his characters, but in a way to suggest that he is extremely not bothered by it. I SAID NOT BOTHERED.
  • Viqi Shesh is trapped on Coruscant, which is currently being terraformed by the Yuuzhan Vong. Food is scarce, the survivors have largely formed cannibalistic tribes, the air is noxious and getting worse, and yet Viqi is distracted, not by any of these factors, but instead by the thought of a massage chair.

Stuff that is a little worse

  • There’s a lot of slapstick in this thing. Lando traps the head of a droid as it bounces toward him like a soccer ball at one point. There’s at least two but I think three instances of Yuuzhan Vong warriors getting punched or stabbed or otherwise harmed in the crotch, Jackass style.
  • In one of the most bizarre scenes in the entire series, Lando is sexually propositioned by a Jedi. It happens.
  • The Yuuzhan Vong are cartoonish in this thing, at one point falling for a trap that hinges upon some boxes labelled, I shit you not, “JEDI ACADEMY PROPERTY. DANGER. DO NOT OPEN.”
  • There’s a weird subplot where one of the squadron commanders at Borleias slowly loses his mind as Wedge’s convoluted plans continue to expose him to danger for reasons he can’t fathom. It’s played for laughs, like Platoon meets What about Bob.
  • Han uses the expression “Giggly War,” which even with context didn’t make a shred of sense.

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

Celebrating the best of the worst in the universe

There are more than a few possible entries in these two stories, but only one clear champion.

The prequels really went all in on the lightsaber action, going from one to two to four as the series progressed.

All well and good, right? Nothing more to see here? It’s not like there’s any conceivable way to get more than four lightsabers into someone’s grasp —

WRONG.

What you see above is Irek Ismaren. He’s 9 feet tall, courtesy of some unchecked growth hormone injections and had surgery to get lightsabers implanted in him at the wrist, elbow, and knees. It is the dumbest thing I have ever heard of. Knee Blades! The funniest thing about the picture above is that he isn’t described at all in the book as looking like that, and the artist added another set of blades for no reason at all.

No, in the book, he’s wearing a kilt and fingerless gloves, and has a shock of curly hair, which makes him sound like he’s an extra in Breaking 2: Electric Boogaloo. He’s also functionally brain dead, and cannot speak or communicate without throwing people into walls and shit. He’s the darkest timeline version of Simple Jack.

So far, this is the worst thing I’ve seen in these books by a long shot. Luke tracks him down on Coruscant and kills him, putting an end to one of the most gratuitous plotlines ever conceived.

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Cliches in a galaxy far, far away:

Reader, it is with a heavy heart that I have to inform you that after a two book absence, the repurposed idioms are back.

One is the old wartime chestnut Smoke ’em if you got ’em stripped of all its coolness, becoming Clench ’em if you got ’em, which, honestly…what does that mean? Clench what? Buttcheeks? Sphincters?

The other is the expression throwing yourself on that grenade, which becomes Throwing yourself on that thermal detonator.

[Brief pause as I push my glasses up nose using my index finger, and insert my retainer for maximum lisp]

That doesn’t even make sense! Throwing yourself on a grenade works because your body will stop the shrapnel, stopping it from killing your squadmates. Throwing yourself on a thermal detonator won’t work because it creates a sphere of incineration twelve meters across, and will destroy anything within that range, as per a description from a previous novel in the series. There is absolutely no reason that this idiom should even exist within the galaxy, for Chrissakes.

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Recommendation/Final Thoughts

The novels, like many in the series before it, take an extremely dim view of politics in general, but this one dials it up to an extreme, as it is told very heavily from the point of view of the New Republic Military. Instead of doing something interesting with that point of view, or using the characters outside of the military command structure to interrogate that belief, all our characters, from Luke to Leia — herself a diplomat and politician — simply agree that politicians are limp dick no goodniks and that the mechanisms of politics are too complex to fuck with. Here’s a sample quote:

“For the first time in years, Luke found himself facing an opponent whose very nature made him waver in courage and resolve — Bureaucracy.”

There’s plenty more where that came from, and it lends itself to the notion that all problems are better solved by shooting through them, that diplomacy always masks malicious ambition, that justice is better served from the cockpit of a fighter than through any due process. It’s far from the only bit of culture to engage in this thinking — see every movie Michael Bay has ever made — but it does reflect the general trend of the culture since 9/11. It’s a surprisingly pervasive theme that has more to do with how we find ourselves in this current political moment than I think we would like to believe.

I’ll get off my soapbox now, and leave you with the recommendation. I would say skip both of these novels, but who doesn’t love a good dumspter fire?


This has been your regular dive into some Star Wars nerdery, Meaningless Reviews in a Galaxy Even Further Away.