Star Wars: Yoda: Dark Rendezvous (Sean Stewart)
The plot centers around Yoda's relationship with his former padawan, Count Dooku. Dooku offers an opportunity for peace talks, but only if Yoda will be the Republic's diplomat. Yoda spends time reflecting on his relationship with his former apprentice, and debating whether or not he should go. He eventually decides to risk it, but before Yoda sets out on his mission, we are introduced to his companions. Scout, a scrappy apprentice with only a slight affinity for the force, is the best and most developed of the bunch. Nearly sent to the Agricultural Corps., Scout wins an annual tournament among the apprentices in what is one of the most brilliant sequences in the book. Her resourcefulness immediately endears her to the reader, and sets her up as a good companion for Yoda.
The middle portion of the book drags a bit in comparison to the emotionally charged, intense scenes in the rising action. It features the group's travel adventures en route, and for the most part this just concerns how inconvenienced they are. Long lines, confusing directions, and trying to smuggle Yoda in an R2 unit casing are just three of the "challenges" in this portion of the book. They also interact quite a bit, but none of the interaction develops the characters, and in fact most of it is quite boring. Things pick up a bit with an excellent fight scene that does a good job of highlighting Yoda's tremendous ability in the force, it also develops his companions in ways that the previous one hundred or so pages failed to do.
The conclusion of the book is fantastic, solely because of the interaction between Yoda and Dooku. Yoda attempts to convert Dooku back to the light side, and nearly succeeds, but Dooku's fear of Sidious ultimately outweighs his love of Yoda. Not only does this interaction give Dooku a tremendous amount of depth, it is also a very tense scene even though the end result is already known. My only complaint with it is that Dooku's exit was all too similar to that in Attack Of The Clones. Scout and Whie also have a good scene here in a showdown with Ventress, but it pales in comparison to Yoda's storyline. It successfully fulfills Whie's storyline, but Ventress came across a bit of a cackling, stereotypical villain during this scene, smugly monologuing while her victims struggle to get out of the situation.
Overall, the plot is simple but effective at its most basic level, the extra padding and unnecessary conflicts in the middle portion of the book could've easily been omitted to make for a more concise, momentous novel.
Dark Rendezvous takes a very interesting approach to building Yoda's character. Instead of being told primarily through Yoda's eyes, and building his character in the traditional manner, this novel is primarily told through Dooku, Scout, and Whie's point of view. Memories and reflections of these characters, in addition to Yoda's interaction with them and various other characters such as Jai Maruk, Maks Leem, and Mace Windu build Yoda's legendary teacher persona. Yoda's impish, comic relief side also comes through quite a bit in this novel. Examples include the repeated references to Yoda's love of disgusting food, his temper that manifests itself only in the most harmless of ways, and his small stature.
As mentioned before, Dark Rendezvous does a great job of getting into Dooku's head. Dooku comes across as more sympathetic than he has in anything I've read to date, feeling some measure of guilt over his role in creating galactic strife, and paralyzing fear of Sidious. This is probably my favorite characterization of Dooku to date because he actually comes across as human The epilogue, in which he realizes that everyone he has ever known now despises him, is a great conclusion to the book, and the perfect way to cap off his characterization here. Ventress too has some good character moments, such as when she reflects her role in Dooku's schemes and her dwindling importance. Overall though, her character is plagued by the over dramatic, smug antics in both the spaceport battle, and conclusion of the novel.
Scout's role in the tournament immediately endears her to the reader, and from there she develops nicely, but doesn't really show the same creativity and desperation in any of the following scenes. She conquers her lack of confidence, and matures over the course of the novel. Her character is easily the strongest companion featured here. Whie never grabs interest in the way that Scout does in that opening scene, and by the end of the novel he is almost annoying because of his constant whining about the loss of his master, the lure of his homeworld, and his force visions. Maks Leem is a sympathetic but ultimately two dimensional character, and Jai Maruk doesn't show much in the way of character untill shortly before he exits the story.
The characterization is handled very adeptly here, and I enjoyed the way the author brought Yoda's character to life by showing how he has impacted the lives of his students and friends, and by alluding to both his serious, sullen character frequently seen in the Prequels, and the mischievous old hermit seen in the Original Trilogy.
The author does a great job of putting his style on the story. The writing style takes a very humorous tone in many places, creating an enjoyable contrast with the mostly darker tones at play in the premise of the novel. Besides the quirkiness in Yoda's character, the author also uses a species of sarcastic aliens, a Yoda impersonator, and incompetent security cameras to effectively add comedy to the novel.
As far as more basic things are concerned, the author does a great job of describing people and places, and the action sequences, though few and far between, are executed very well. Dialogue is also good, except for Ventress's overdone ranting in places, and rare bungling of Yoda's speaking mannerisms.
Even with a middle section that fails to inspire, Yoda: Dark Rendezvous is an excellent novel because of its commendable job in exploring the characters of Yoda and Dooku, and for the unique and enjoyable writing style. Recommended.