Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Death Star

Death Star
Michael Reaves, Steve Perry © 2007
Random House, New York
363 pages.

"That's no moon. That's a space station." - Obi-Wan Kenobi, A New Hope

The Death Star. It dominated the first Star Wars movie. Its destruction at Yavin, in the Star Wars chronology, is of pivotal importance for fans -- events are dated as being "Before the Battle of Yavin". We see the Death Star for the "first time" in Attack of the Clones, when the Genosian admiral displayed a holographic image of it to Count Dooku. At the end of Revenge of the Sith, Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine stand before the skeleton framework of the Death Star. This book begins nearly two decades later. The Death Star, rapidly approaching completion, has drawn many different characters to it -- almost all of them by the will of the Emperor. In its opening chapters, we meet:
  • Atour Riten, an apolitical librarian assigned to the station.
  • Ratua, a convicted smuggler with the ability to photosynthesize who sneaks on board the station while trying to escape a prison planet.
  • Uli Divini, a surgeon assigned to the statio.
  • Nova Stihl, an imperial guardsman and student of philosophy.
  • Tenn Graneet, a gunner whose abilities are rewarded with a post manning the Superlaser.
  • Villian Dance, an Imperial TIE fighter
  • Roothes, a Twi'Lek bartender
  • and Teela Kaarz, an architect and an imperial prisoner.
All of their lives are drawn together at the Death Star, intersecting those of Darth Vader's, Grand Moff Tarkin's, Admiral Motti, and countless others. All the ones mentioned (excluding Motti) are viewpoint characters. The novel is split into two parts: "Construction", detailing how the various characters lives drew them to the Death Star and telling their story during its final days of completion, and "Shakedown", telling the story of the characters as the events of A New Hope unfold around them -- until the very end, when the Death Star meets its fiery end. "Shakedown" thus tells us the story of A New Hope from the perspective of Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin.

Vader smiled under his helmet as a file of stormtroopers arrived with Leia Organa in tow. It was reported that she had shot a trooper before they stunned her. It was hard to think of her showing such bravery -- she was so young, so beautiful, dressed in that simple white gown. She reminded him very much of...

No. He would not allow that thought.

She glared at him, managing to look disdainful even though her hands were cuffed. "Darth Vader," she said, making no effort to hide her contempt. "Only you could be so bold. The Imperial Senate will not sit still for this -- when they hear you've attacked a diplomatic --"

He cut her off. "Don't act so surprised, Your Highness. You weren't on any mercy mission this time."



(Click to see the scene on YouTube.) The book is dominated by the pre-A New Hope section, which was fine by me. I found the story quite interesting, especially the characterization -- I think it is well done. The last chapter -- detailing what happens to the various characters in the last moments before the station is destroyed -- jumps around a bit, but not too much. The authors work their characters into the story. The helmeted, anonymous gunner who receives the order to fire the superlaser on Alderaan and the expressionless guard in the conference room, as well as so many others, are given personalities -- becoming more than just floating heads in the background.

Tenn felt sweat dripping down his neck, under that blasted helmet. He looked at the timer. 00:58:57.

He pulled the lever. [...]

The superlaser beam lanced from the focusing point above the dish.

The image of Alderaan on the screen was struck by the green ray.

It took no more than an instant. [...] Alderaan exploded into a fiery ball of eye-smiting light almost instantaneously, and a planar ring of energy reflux -- the "shadow" of a hyperspace ripple -- spread rapidly outward.

The timer read: 00:59:10.

So little time. So much damage. It was incredible.

[...] Billions of lives snuffed out. Just like that.

There was no sense of triumph in it, none. He had not destroyed a Rebel base or a military target. Instead, a planet full of unarmed civilians had been...extinguished.
And he had done it.

It made him feel sick.


The book also tells the story of the characters we don't get to see -- the civilian cantine barkeeps, the common soldiery. The authors have these characters interact with one another, establish relationships, develop patterns. It's an enjoyable story, and all the while their story is happening as imperial troopers are searching Tatooine for the droids, driving Luke and Obi-Wan off the planet and to the remains of Alderaan, to the Death Star. The authors weave all of these stories together into one cohesive story, one I found interesting until the last. It was worth my while in reading.

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