Sunday, February 5, 2012
Dark Apprentice: The Review
This is the second book in the Jedi Academy trilogy. Luke has his first group of Jedi trainees on Yavin 4, Leia is still being overworked as a politician, and Han is… well, Han is mostly being Han.
The book opens with Luke on Yavin 4, ready to start teaching the potential Jedi. It seems like a huge responsibility to take on, especially from someone who if you think about it didn’t have a ton of Jedi training, but then again, he’s probably the most qualified to do this, right? Luke also remembers back to when Leia had given him, Han and Chewie medals. Wait, Chewie? Chewie didn’t get a medal! Luke seems to have a conveniently different memory of these events.
Meanwhile, Leia and Ackbar are headed for some negotiations on the planet Vortex. Mon Mothma had been offering her duties from afar but had called upon Leia more and more lately, as much as Leia did not enjoy constantly being pulled away from her family. What else is new?
But things don’t go so well, and Admiral Ackbar is losing control of the B-wing, spiraling toward the planet surface. There is a lot of time to try and fix things, but for whatever reason, he is unable to regain control, and in a last-ditch effort he ejects Leia out of the passenger side to safety while he crashes to the planet below. Much worse though is that he crashes into many Vors, the planet’s native species, killing quite a few. Poor Leia is left to watch this through tears.
And this time while Leia is going through some rough stuff, Han is the one having fun. He and Kyp are turbo-skiing. It’s exactly what it sounds like. So they decide to race down the snowy mountain on the Coruscant polar caps. It’s kind of nice to see Han off having fun almost like a normal person, even if this person he's with isn’t a member of his own family.
At the end of the run, which was fairly death-defying and seems as though it ended in a tie, Kyp tells Han that he’s ready to go and train as a Jedi. You can tell that Han is going to miss having him around, but he knows it’s what’s best. Then he gets a message relayed to him from Mon Mothma telling him about Leia’s crash. He gets ready to leave immediately. That’s the Han we know and love.
Han goes and gets the kids, who are playing in the snow with Threepio (I’ll give this one an okay; skiing while your two-year olds are with a babysitter is kind of normal, and at least he brought them with him instead of leaving them home) and tells them they have to head home. Once he gets back to the repair bays, for some reason Lando is making some modifications to the Falcon with Chewie. Okay, that’s kind of weird to be doing that to someone else’s ship.
Then when Han gets there they get into this big argument over Han maybe having cheated when he won the ship in the first place. This matter of honor makes Han decide to… play Lando for the Falcon again. Huh? Why would he bet a ship that is his outright? What has he got to gain in this? It makes no sense. So they play sabacc while Threepio is there to monitor and randomly changes the rules throughout the game. This is apparently one way of playing. Does anyone else just completely zone out when reading about sabacc games? I really don’t care about the specifics of the game, I just need to know who wins.
Anyway, the game progresses and Han pretty much has it in the bag until just before he wins, the rules change again, and it causes Han’s score to plummet and Lando’s so soar. Lando wins. Han is of course furious and mentions something about how Leia was in trouble and Lando says he doesn’t have to give the ship up if Leia is in trouble, but to Han a bet is a bet, and he is already working to transfer ownership and says that someone else is going to have to pick up Leia. I know Han is reckless and often doesn’t think things through, but why in the world would he bet the Falcon like that? And especially right when he was going to get Leia? When Lando put the Falcon up when Han originally won it, Han had something of equal value against it. What incentive does Han have to bet his everything against nothing? Ugh.
Next we get to Admiral Daala, who has taken her Star Destroyers out of the Maw and is ready to have some good old fashioned Imperial fun. They intercept a Corellian Corvette and interrogate the Sullustan pilot. Turns out he is delivering supplies to the refugees of Eol Sha who are now starting over a new colony on Dantooine. Daala decides this would make a great first target even though it is too remote for an effective demonstration. Yes, she says that, just like her… blech, lover. They had to go and explicitly mention it again. I lost my appetite in the first book, I don’t need it again.
Luke is busy introducing his new Jedi students to what they will be learning. You get the impression he’s kind of making it up as he goes along, but at least he seems to realize that as well. Gantoris had been hearing voices in his head from a dark man. When he first met Luke, he was afraid he was that dark man, but decided that he meant him no harm. But the man is still speaking to him and somehow he learns how to construct a lightsaber through more than one jewel, giving him more control over it.
Gantoris is angry that Luke won’t teach him more because he knows that he is the best student so he doesn’t want to wait. Basically, this was when I realized that there was a reason I had no recollection of Gantoris. He’s probably not gonna be around very long…
Admiral Ackbar is undergoing a hearing to determine what should happen to him after the crash. It is assumed to be pilot error, and having already felt terrible about the death and destruction he caused, he offers his resignation and decides to leave.
This guy named Terpfen was the one who said it was pilot error, and after he leaves the meeting he contacts Ambassador Furgan. Remember him? He was that guy in the last book who hates the New Republic and threw that drink in Mon Mothma’s face. Turns out they set Ackbar up and the ship was rigged to crash. Even worse, it seems Furgan’s ultimate goal is to kidnap Anakin Solo. Everyone always wants to get those Solo kids.
Back on Yavin 4, there is more trouble with Gantoris. He decides to challenge Luke to a lightsaber duel, not so much to kill him, but mostly due to impatience at not being taught that much yet and he just wants to spar. Luke senses a lot of anger in Gantoris, and he basically seems to be trying to not get caught up enough to injure him, but only to disarm him, which of course he eventually does, but not without a lot of struggle first.
There is a meeting in which it is decided that the Sun Crusher needs to be destroyed. Kyp agrees with this, Qwi Xux agrees with this, and she and Wedge also seem to be noticing each other. At the same meeting Chewie requests that they go back to the Maw to rescue a large group of Wookiee slaves. It’s nice to see Chewie stepping up for a cause of his own.
Daala makes it to Dantooine and destroys the entire colony with absolutely no trouble. Then Luke gets a vision of what he thinks is his father, but it turns out it is the same dark man who has been plaguing Gantoris. Once Luke figures this out, the dark man goes back to Gantoris and tells him of the destruction on Dantooine. This angers him greatly because those were his people that were refugees. He gets lured into a fight and winds up incinerated. Like I said, I knew there was a reason I didn’t remember that guy. Luke and the other students find his remains and Luke simply says, “Beware the dark side.”
Now we go back to Admiral Ackbar, who is on his way home but decides to make one last stop at Anoth to see Anakin. Ackbar was instrumental in hiding him and he has a connection with the children. It’s very sweet and sad when he goes to see Winter and Anakin, but then some questions come up for me. I guess maybe I understand hiding the kids… maybe. Let’s just say they need to for argument’s sake. Is it really safe to leave Anakin all alone with just Winter to protect him? I mean, no offense to Winter or anything, but it would seem to me it might be wiser to have like, a few soldiers or something. It just seems weird that Winter is all alone on this remote planet with Anakin. Very strange way to grow up.
Anyway, Winter asks if Ackbar wants to stay there with them, and to be honest I got this really uncomfortable and creepy vibe like she was coming onto him or something. I get that in Star Wars there are all sorts of species and sometimes they go outside their own to find mates. But I mean, in most cases it’s more like a different color skin, or maybe a Twi’lek with those things growing out of their heads but a near-human body, but a giant fish? Maybe I’m reading too much into that. Anyway, thankfully he declines and goes on his way.
Han finally has to say goodbye to Kyp and afterwards heads to have a drink alone, but he runs into Lando. Lando tries to make nice after getting the Falcon but they are interrupted by a visit from some redhead named Mara Jade. The encounter is slightly amusing as Lando starts… well, being all Lando with her, and she just completely ignores him and says what she needs to say to Han, telling him of her intention to go and train with Luke. She also tells him the bad news about Dantooine. Lando still thinks he has a chance with her.
Back at the Solo household, we finally get a nice, normal little family scene. Well, Leia comes home late, but Han held dinner and was waiting for her with the twins. At least it is indicated that Leia enjoys this kind of thing even if she is constantly pulled away from it.
But she treasured the scant quiet times she managed to steal with Han and the twins. It seemed ages since she had been able to visit baby Anakin, though Han himself had accompanied Winter twice in the last two months.
They actually get to sit down to a nice dinner and Han even puts on some music, so they at least get to enjoy it for a little while.
It was not intended to be a romantic dinner with two-and-a-half-year-old twins banging their silverware and demanding constant attention--but Leia didn't mind. Han had done his best to commemorate dinner as a family.
I love just normal little moments for them. I mean, they can’t be like this all the time, but it’s nice to know it happens at least sometimes. The twins act like toddlers would act, saying they don’t like their food and mostly driving Threepio crazy as he tries to calm them but Han and Leia seem to just think it’s cute.
Throughout this scene there is a lot of talk of the twins’ Force abilities and how they have already learned to do quite a bit. Unfortunately, this scene, as so many others like it, is interrupted when someone comes to the door to tell Leia she is needed immediately by Mon Mothma. Han is annoyed but barely does anything as he is used to this sort of thing. The poor twins are crying because Jaina broke a plate, and quite possibly also because Mommy is leaving again.
This at least prompts Leia to think to herself that it is time to set some ground rules (finally!) so she isn’t so constantly taken out of her real life to deal with the needs of the New Republic. She makes it to see Mon Mothma, who she realizes looks gravely ill. Apparently the reason she had been pushing so much responsibility on Leia is because she’s dying, and nobody can figure out how to cure her. Don’t you hate it when you’re mad at someone and they ruin it by being near death?
Leia wasn’t gone for very long, so Han hadn’t even put the kids to bed yet when she returns. It does say that he was mad but he played with the twins and sought solace in their company. Aw, I can see Han playing with his kids and it taking his mind off anything that was bothering him.
Threepio was giving the twins a bath… again. Okay, once again, why does Threepio have to do everything? It’s like those people who have nannies except the mom doesn’t work. If you’re away and need a babysitter, fine, but if you’re there, why do you let the droid take care of all of this? Rant over…
Han can tell Leia is upset and is surprised to see her back so soon. She explains the predicament and of course he is sympathetic. Poor Leia is basically trapped because with Mon Mothma so sick and Admiral Ackbar resigned, it’s like the fate of the New Republic rests in her hands. She decides she has to go and find Admiral Ackbar and convince him to come back. Which is good because Han does not like the idea of her being gone all the time again.
Her face was pale and as beautiful as he had ever seen it. He remembered her staring at him on Cloud City just before Darth Vader had plunged him into the carbon-freeze chamber. Han had spent months locked in a frozen non-existence with only her words "I love you" ringing in his mind.
I like that little paragraph. After Leia says she has to go find Ackbar, Threepio comes out of the ‘fresher holding towels while two naked children run laughing to their bedroom. Threepio tells them it’s time for their bedtime story and offers to tell them one, but Han says he wants to read them one. Finally they want to do something normal parents do for their kids.
Han lets them choose, and they pick “The Little Lost Bantha Cub” which Han is so unsurprised to hear that he already has it called up. At least this implies he knows his children at least a little. Thus begins an adorable little scene where Han reads the kids a story while Leia looks on, smiling at the whole scene. I know we talk about being able to “hear” the lines being said by the characters and how some of them just don’t work. For some reason I had absolutely no trouble hearing Han’s voice in my head as he softly read this story to his kids – and much of the dialogue of him reading the actual story is in there. It’s very nice to see him just being a dad. Then, after they hug and kiss them goodnight and leave the room, we get this nice little bit:
Leia smiled and held Han's arm, hugging him. She kissed him on the cheek. "You're a good daddy, Han."
He blushed, but didn't disagree with her.
Aw, see? Every once in a while they do something right. Of course, immediately after that Leia is gone again. Well, first they send the Sun Crusher off into oblivion and then Kyp finally gets to Yavin 4 and then we go back to Leia, who is on Mon Calamari to find Ackbar. She meets up with another of his kind, a female named Cilghal, who agrees to help her as nobody knows exactly where he has gone. But there are basically these oysters or clams who work as surveillance and can tell them anything that is happening.
After an arduous underwater journey, Ackbar is shocked to see Leia there. She pleads with him to come back, but he says his people need him more, not to mention the shame of what happened in the crash. He does at least let them come with him at one point, and tangled in the seaweed they come across what Leia realizes is an Imperial probe droid, dormant and probably having been there for years. It surprises them though when it activates and eventually self destructs, just like the one on Hoth. This is alarming, but they agree that since it is so old then probably nobody would hear from whatever signal it sent out.
Wait, except they forget about Daala. Oh, that is not good news, because she gets the signal and decides that Mon Calamari will be a much better demonstration than the destruction on Dantooine. It takes almost no time for them to arrive and begin their assault. It gives Ackbar a chance to act all Admiral-y and proves even more his military genius, and Leia also notices some traits in Cilghal that lead her to believe she has Jedi potential. It also gives Admiral Ackbar a chance to say, “It’s a trap.”
The battle is thwarted when Ackbar knows that there is a hidden Star Destroyer and they manage to take it out, making Daala furious and causing her to lose. Apparently Ackbar used to work for Tarkin and knew of his military tactics.
Back at the Jedi academy Kyp is getting used to being there. Like a lot of eighteen-year olds, he seems to be impatient and thinks he knows everything. He appreciates the learning but he knows he has greater abilities than a lot of the students and he wants to learn more, faster. Well, he happens to get a visit from a dark man who promises to teach him so much more than Luke will. And he reveals himself to be the Dark Lord of the Sith, Exar Kun.
Han gets word that Leia is under attack, and as we would all expect Han to do, he immediately jumps into action. Yes, this is the Han we know and love. He rushes into their room and quickly grabs what he will need. “He pulled out a clean set of clothes, felt a startled pang as he saw Leia's garments hanging untouched in the storage unit.”
It’s okay, Han, she’ll be fine. Chewie, Threepio and the kids come running to see what the heck is going on and Han tells Chewie that Lando better have his ship ready to go. Han is still being quite frantic until Jaina speaks up.
Jaina sniffed loudly and between sobs cried out, "Where's Mommy?"
Han stopped as if hit with a stun beam. He knelt, looking into his little girl's face. He brushed aside the tears on her cheeks and placed his hands on her tiny shoulders, giving a squeeze of confidence.
"Daddy's going to rescue her," Han said.
Aw, I love that. I love that no matter how frantic, Han stops instantly when his little girl is upset. And of course that he’s going to rescue Leia. Han gets the last of his things together and tells a very upset Chewie that he needs to stay back with the kids. All right, in this case I see this as an understandable move.
"How long will you be gone, sir?" Threepio asked, trying to stop Jacen from climbing into the open closets.
"As long as it takes to rescue my wife," Han answered.
He sprinted toward the door, taking two steps before he froze. He spun around and returned to his two children. He bent down again and gathered Jacen and Jaina in a big hug. "You two behave for Chewie and Threepio. You have to watch out for each other."
"We are good," Jacen answered with a touch of indignation. At that moment the little boy looked heart-wrenchingly like Leia.
"I have recently updated my child-care programming, sir," Threepio said. "We'll have no trouble at all." The golden droid nudged the twins as he tried to usher them back to their own room. "Come, children, I will tell you an entertaining story."
Jacen and Jaina began crying again.
Han took a last longing look at the twins and then ran out of the living quarters, pausing only a moment to straighten the soft chair Chewbacca had knocked over.
Oh, poor Han forced to leave his kids. But once again I just love the little touch where he’s about to just run out of there but completely stops to come back and hug them goodbye. And Jacen and Jaina cry a lot in this book, and the last one I guess, too. Maybe that’s just regular two-year olds. But it is also a recurring joke that they cry anytime Threepio offers to tell them a story. Can you blame them?
Han goes to the Falcon and tells Lando they’re leaving right now, even though the ship is his. Lando agrees because Leia is in trouble, but he insists on driving. Han is quite anxious:
Stuck in hyperspace, Han Solo could do nothing but wait. He couldn't hurry the passage of time.
He paced around the common area, looking at the battered holographic game board and thinking of when he had first seen Artoo-Detoo playing with Chewbacca. That had been before he even met Leia, when Luke was just a wet-behind-the-ears moisture farmer and Obi-Wan Kenobi was just a crazy old man. If he had known how his life would change after that day in the Mos Eisley cantina, Han wondered if he would have taken the risk to pick up two passengers and their droids bound for Alderaan.
But then he never would have met Leia. Never married her. Never fathered three children. Never have helped defeat the Empire. Yes, he thought: despite all of the turmoil, Han would make the same choices again.
And now Leia was in great peril.
After Leia virtually ignoring the fact that Han is missing in the previous book, it is nice to see him so anxious at going off to save her. He can’t stand not getting there faster and not being there for her. Again, this is the Han we know and love.
But what do they decide to do to pass the time? How about sabacc again? And guess what they’re betting? Honestly, I don’t understand why they keep doing this! Except at least this time Han wins, and at one point during the game Han realizes he hasn’t thought of Leia’s desperate situation in at least fifteen seconds.
I’ll quickly mention here that Kyp is still being led by Exar Kun, and he goes and sees a statue of him on the planet. Basically Kyp thinks that he can use the dark side for good in order to fix the things that he thinks need to be fixed. It sounds a lot like what happens to Jacen later, where supposedly he has to turn Sith in order to bring balance to the Force and save everyone. We all know that never works. And it all seems kind of easy to turn Kyp so quickly, but, well, there he goes.
Back on Coruscant Threepio and Chewie decide to take the twins to the holographic zoo. Who wants to guess how this goes? They’re bored and annoyed and wind up running off and finding a turbo lift and taking it down to floor number one. Anyone who knows Coruscant knows you don’t want to go anywhere near the lower levels. In fact, normally you can’t go there and there is an access panel blocking the lower numbers, but conveniently someone had been servicing the lift and the numbers are left exposed. A lot of this is just to show the almost telepathic connection the twins share even at this young age.
Threepio and Chewie obviously freak out, and the twins are just trying to figure out what to do. I pictured it as kind of a swampy, dark alleyway with lots of trash and growths of weird plants and there are a few creatures wandering around. They go up to a few of said creatures and ask for help. The kind of adorable thing about this is that they are reciting lines from “The Little Lost Bantha Cub” so of course I think this is cute because it’s as though it’s something Han taught them that really stuck. They just keep reciting lines from the book. Though of course at some point they run into something not indifferent that says, “I’m gonna eat you” and I started to feel like I was reading Hansel and Grettel.
While they are still missing, Han and Lando make it to Mon Calamari just after Daala is forced to retreat. They land and after Han waves her over Leia pulls up on some vehicle and:
Leia leaped off the vehicle as Ackbar lashed it to a ragged stump of torn metal. She walked confidently, then ran, keeping her balance as she flung herself into Han's arms. He hugged her against his chest as he kissed her again and again. "I'm so glad you're safe!"
She looked at him. "I know."
Oh, see now they’re acting more like themselves? I love that Leia starts out by walking all normal but then just starts running and jumps into his arms. Now that is something I can definitely picture. Leia even hugs him again and says she’s glad he came. Leia thinks that this might prompt Ackbar to come back, but instead this has shown him how much his own people need him and he decides not to return. This is not good news for Leia:
Han slipped his arm around Leia's waist and squeezed her. She felt stiff and cold; he knew exactly what she was thinking. "I understand... Ackbar," Leia said, finally dropping his military title.
Han could sense her tension, knowing how the loss of Ackbar devastated her. Han gripped her shoulder, feeling iron cords of tension rippling beneath her smooth skin.
With Ackbar's refusal to return to Coruscant, and with Mon Mothma growing weaker day by day, that meant Leia had to face all the problems of the New Republic alone.
Damn it! Why does Leia always get stuck doing everything for everyone? Ugh. So back on Yavin 4 Luke and Kyp are still… struggling to meet a compromise. Mara finally shows up, although none of you Luke and Mara fans should get excited because there is no sexual tension there. She’s just kind of funny because she doesn’t really want to do this but feels she has to, and thinks it’s good that she at least brought a Jedi robe.
But poor Mara, the minute she gets there what happens? Kyp steals her ship. For some reason it bothers me that the one guy Han brought back is the guy causing all the trouble! It becomes clear that Ambassador Furgan is the reason for Mon Mothma’s illness as he is still working on his diabolical plan to kidnap Anakin. And Wedge and Qwi are off somewhere making eyes at each other.
But remember Jaina and Jacen? They’re still lost and not doing so well. They keep running into worse things and having to run but they try and be brave for each other. Threepio and Chewie get some alarms to sound and some people to help them look but of course there is no sign of the twins at the zoo. They finally get snatched up by some strange vagrants, which was sort of like a pack of hobos in tattered clothing in the depths of Coruscant. They’re scared until brought before what seems to be the leader, who instead of harming them offers them some food. And when they tell him they want to go home, once again repeating the lines from the story, it seems he is going to help them.
Threepio and Chewie finally give up and go back to Han and Leia’s to find… Han and Leia, holding their twins. The man had brought them back after having spent years in the lower levels, having no idea of the Emperor’s demise. Leia offers him a place in the New Republic but he says he is nobody up here, but down there he gets to be the king! Han and Leia wind up just glaring at Chewie and Threepio, and the twins, already totally over everything that happened, just ask for another story.
Meanwhile, Kyp takes the stolen ship to Endor to where Darth Vader was ultimately burned. He suddenly decides he is the Dark Lord of the Sith and he is responsible for solving all of the New Republic’s problems by himself. Again, this whole turn just happens so fast, I don’t know if I buy it.
Cilghal arrives on Yavin 4 and Mara is getting fed up with all of the meditating and crap instead of taking action with the Smuggler’s Alliance. Of course, her ship is still stolen and Luke finally relents and says that maybe they can find someone to shuttle her. But who wants that kind of job? Lando, of course. He comes and asks Han to borrow the Falcon. At this point I should remind you that in the last book, Lando was forced to leave his ship behind on Kessel. So it’s not a completely unreasonable request. But Han decides to go with him since he hasn’t seen Luke in a while, and at least Leia will be home to watch the kids. Come on, Han, why not just bring the whole family? But he doesn’t.
They go see Luke and he and Han have a nice little reunion, but Han is devastated when he learns the news that Kyp has gone crazy. Poor guy. And neither of them know what to do. The visit is short and they take Mara and go on their way. Oh, but how do you suppose they pass the time on the way back? They play sabacc for the Falcon again! Seriously, why?!?!? Han already has it, why is he betting it again? It makes no sense!
This time they decide is the absolute last time. I don’t know why the last time couldn’t have been the last time, but whatever. What do you suppose happens? That’s right, Lando wins. And the deal was the winner could do whatever he chose to with it. So Lando just gives it back to Han since it means more to him. I guess it’s a sweet gesture, but I still don’t understand the point of all of that. But wait, Mara witnessed it, and suddenly she thinks he’s a good guy, which Han suspects maybe was his real plan the whole time.
Qwi and Wedge are off somewhere having an Anakin and Padme-ish romance that involves a picnic. They are getting closer, although not close enough to share a room, but she winds up being attacked once she is alone and wakes up with hardly any memory. This was orchestrated by Exar Kun so she couldn’t build another super weapon.
Kyp is still up to no good. He uses the Force to bring back the Sun Crusher from its supposed last resting place, intending to use it on the Imperials. So, see, he’s using the dark side but kind of for a good reason, it’s all confusing. Kyp blows up several stars in the hopes of taking out Daala’s fleet with them, but they get to hyperspace just in time to avoid being obliterated, making it so that Kyp blew up those stars for nothing.
But in the end, Exar Kun winds up taking out Luke, and the students find his nearly lifeless body and don’t know what to do. And that is where the book ends.
Phew. I read this book pretty fast and once again it is a quick read. As long as you don’t pay much attention to the specifics of the Jedi teachings, because I just don’t really care that much about that and didn’t absorb a lot of that information. But you only care about the Han and Leia stuff, right?
Well, Han is still Han and Leia is much more Leia in this one. She is being pulled in a million directions, but she at least had decided she needs to set some boundaries. I can see her maybe getting caught up, but I can also see her not let it continue forever. I like her spending time with her family and she’s not portrayed as an incompetent mother this time. She’s not really portrayed as a competent one, either, as most of the direct parent interaction is Han with the twins. But at least it shows him as a caring, attentive father, as we all know he would be.
Based on that, my personal feeling is that it gets a 4. I was going to say 3.5 but I think it is at least as good as The Last Command and neither one of them does anything, at least regarding each other, that makes you scream, "WHAT?!?!" Han continually betting his ship, however... Well, they have nice moments with the kids, Han drops everything to rescue her, she's even happy to see him when he shows up. Not to mention the fact that they are together for way more than just one page. They still aren't together a whole lot, but when they are, it is usually very enjoyable. Well, except for the Leia running off all the time, but again, at least she's not happy about it and starts to acknowledge that it needs to be fixed!
So the Han and Leia characterizations have improved. Let's see if the trend continues in the next book.