Friday, November 4, 2011

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil

Labyrinth of Evil (James Luceno)


Plot

Labyrinthf of Evil is the prequel to Revenge of the Sith. It concerns Obi-Wan and Anakin's efforts to capture Darth Sidious and end the war. A minor sub plot concerns the growing political unrest on Coruscant, and the details of Palpatine's capture are made clear.

The simple plot starts off very strong. Obi-Wan and Anakin invade the Seperatist stronghold of Cato Neimoidia, and after a fantastic string of battle scenes detailing the capture of Nute Gunray's fortress, they come upon his mechno-chair, left behind during the fighting. Their inspection of the mechno-chair will kick start the quest to find Sidious, and a similar format will be repeated for the rest of this plotline. Obi-Wan and Anakin receive a lead, pursue it, fight/survive a trap/protect an informant, and learn of the next lead. Though it feels very formulaic by the end of the novel, it does allow for some splendid action scenes, including a chase involving futuristic snow mobiles.

Wedged in between the main plot of revealing Sidious are some scenes between Bail Organa and the fellow rebels. This sub plot doesn't go anywhere in this book, and in fact it is barely featured in the theatrical release of Revenge of the Sith. These sections could be viewed as heavy handed allusions to real world events at that time. Palpatine continues to collect more and more power in order to better "protect" people against terrorists. He also refers to a trio of Separatist worlds as the "Triad of Evil". I'm all for political allegory and real world connections in literature, but here it comes across as somewhat forced and unintelligent. This whole section could've been scrapped without lessening the quality of the book.

The focus of the novel shifts in the final third as Palpatine enacts his plan to escape the Jedi's investigation. This culminates in an epic battle on Coruscant. This ongoing siege has so many positive aspects, from its use of Jedi bit players (Shaak Ti and Stass Allie) to the overall quality of the action scenes, but arguably its most positive feature is the excuse to more extensively characterize General Grievous. This is the best Grievous looks in the Clone Wars, and one of the few occasions where the character actually does come off as a brilliant general.

The result of the Coruscant battle is that Obi-Wan and Anakin's plot is shoved to the side, and in fact the last thing they do in this novel is attempt to confront Dooku on the world of Tythe. This is a rather lukewarm encounter, as Anakin randomly causes the ceiling to collapse on everybody, and Dooku escapes without being challenged by the Jedi.

A more significant flaw is that the audience knows the identity of Sidious already. Though this is something that could be argued in nearly every prequel novel, it is especially detrimental here. It sucks almost all of the tension out of the chase - you know they won't find him, and the real question is only how close they come. The answer is fairly close, but it is rendered irrelevant by the Jedi's seeming unwillingness to accuse Palpatine of anything. They keep insinuating that it is someone close to Palpatine, or one of his inner circle, but they dismiss the idea that it could actually be Palpatine himself. This is utterly ridiculous and completely out of character for the Jedi.

The plot has several stand out moments, and in fact the premise would be fantastic if Sidious wasn't revealed long to the audience long before the book's release, but this lack of suspense, and the pointless sub plot concerning the senators, greatly hurts the otherwise excellent story.

Characterization

As previously mentioned, this book features easily the most in depth look at Grievous in the EU. Besides learning of his origins (which, while suitably tragic, are far too similar to those of just about every comic book villain ever), we are shown his exceptional ability as a duelist and tactician. Unlike in ROTS, where he is reduced to a bumbling henchman, and nearly every other work of the Clone Wars, where he is soundly defeated time and again by the Jedi, Grievous actually comes across as impressive here.

Anakin and Obi-Wan have a great rapport here.The relationship between the two is coming to a conclusion here, and the last scene between them prior to the end of the book is one of the most melancholy in the entire EU. This is one of the few times a novel focuses on their relationship during the Clone Wars (only other time that comes to mind is the Gambit duology) and this is a significant improvement over the petty bickering and constant arguing seen in those books.

Dooku and Sidious are featured prominently as well. Both of these characters are given effective characterizations that manage to build on everything featured at that time. Dooku's disdain of Grievous and Darth Maul are particularly interesting, as is his firm belief that he is destined to oversee the end of the Clone Wars. They are secondary villains in comparison to Grievous, but their time on screen is enjoyable and insightful.

Mace Windu is given a very subdued but effective characterization. It is very consistent with what we saw in Shatterpoint, and helps establish a bit of consistency with his constantly overshadowed character. The original characters presented here are nothing special, they serve their purpose in the story and little more.

Overall the uniformly great characterization does for the novel what the flawed plot didn't. Read this for one last look at the Obi-Wan and Anakin partnership if nothing else. Grievous fans will also want to check this book out.

Prose

One of the most significant aspects of the author's prose is the constant allusions to prior events in the EU, and detailed descriptions and backstories of even more minute characters. This is a rather divisive issue, but it comes across very well here. Tying everything together lends a much needed cohesiveness to the jumbled Clone Wars EU. EVERYTHING is referenced here, from the 2003 TV show, to the Quinlan Vos comics, to the previous novels. One crucial element of the backstory provided here is the history of the clone army. This novel provides the history of the creation of the army by Syfo-Dyas, one of the most mysterious aspects of Star Wars.

Where this concept falls a bit short is in the descriptions of common vehicles and technology. The author often spends a paragraph or more detailing what a droideka or super battle droid looks like, and it serves no real purpose and simply bogs down the pace. Descriptions of ARC-170s and V-Wings were more important at the time, but even these have aged poorly as both craft were prominently featured in the Revenge of the Sith movie.

The other aspects of the novel are adequate. The dialogue is spot on, particularly the banter between Obi-Wan and Anakin. The language as a whole is above average, though not exceptional. The action scenes are cinematic and extremely well done. A train fight between Windu and Grievous is the standout from a writing standpoint, and a space battle is expertly used to show Grievous' deep disrespect for life.

A large part of the writing here is the continuity tie ins and descriptions. Whether or not you want to hear about everything Clone Wars related in this one novel factors heavily into how much you will enjoy the prose.

Conclusion

The plot isn't the best, but the excellent characterization, exciting action scenes, and rare sense of cohesiveness make for a good read. For maximum effect, read the Revenge of the Sith novelization immediately after completing this book.

Final Score

86/100

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