Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: The Truce at Bakura

The Truce at Bakura (Kathy Tyers)


Plot

The Truce At Bakura begins immediately after the events of Return of the Jedi. Our heroes are dispatched to the Imperial world of Bakura in order to attempt to sway the people there to join the Rebellion, and also to investigate a strange alien force that is attacking the world. What follows is a Star Wars novel that contains some important character moments for both Luke and Leia, and competently presents a new, unique alien race.

Bakura is a new dominion of the Empire, and the Alliance, seeing an opportunity for a new ally, attempts to make nice with the native Bakuran leaders. This group is led by senators Orn Belden and Gaeriel Captison. Meanwhile, our antagonist, Nereus, is a hardcore, petty Imperial ruler of the highest order, and of course he uses all manner of underhanded stunts in order to keep Bakura under his control. This particular sub plot is a good use of Leia's diplomatic skills, and we are treated to several instances of Leia attempting to sway the Bakurans to support the Alliance. However, Nereus is far too cliche for the outcome to ever be in serious doubt. A more calculating, intelligent villain would've brought more intrigue to the whole "Imperials and Rebels work together" concept, whereas with Nereus it was pretty obvious when he would choose to strike, and how he would go about doing it.

A more interesting point in the book is the alien race, the Ssi-Ruuk. Though we never get into their heads, we are told about them through a human captive, Dev Sibwarra. Through Dev's eyes, we experience the technology, culture, and ambitions of the Ssi-Ruuk. The Ssi-Ruuk plan to "entech" Humanity to power their technology, a process that force sensitive Dev has been assisting them with ever since the Ssi-Ruuk captured him. The force blind Ssi-Ruuk are something of a precursor to the Yuuzhan Vong of New Jedi Order fame, though they never seem to present the challenge that their spiritual ancestors did. Luke defeats them fairly easily in hand to hand combat, and they don't manage to accomplish much. Outside of their exotic nature (transporting Human minds into droids, bizarre appearance, and so on) the Ssi-Ruuk are pretty mediocre antagonists.

The two central conflicts are a bit disappointing. Bakura's allegiance question is far too predictable, and the aliens are good, but not great, mostly because they don't do any real damage throughout the entire book. Fortunately, there are two more personal sub plots that pick up the slack. The first concerns the recent revelation that Leia is Darth Vader's daughter. Learning this has caused Leia to become very uncertain and angry. Throughout the book she struggles with her father's identity, and in one of the most poignant scenes, is visited by the ghost of Anakin Skywalker. This conflict is easily the most important thing to come out of the book, and it is interesting to view her reaction to the revelation in contrast to Luke's. Despite some out of character moments caused all/mostly by the stress that Vader has brought her, Leia's character is incredibly compelling here.

Luke also goes through some important developments while on Bakura. Luke is introduced to Bakuran senator Gaeriel Captison during a diplomatic dinner between the Alliance leaders and the Bakuran rulers. He is immediately struck by her, and attempts to pursue a romance. Unfortunately, her religion dislikes force sensitives, which results in some very interesting, philosophical conversations between the two. They develop a good rapport by the end of the novel, and this side element, in addition to Leia's struggle with Vader, make up for a mostly lacking main attraction.

Characterization

The characterization in The Truce At Bakura focuses mainly on Luke and Leia, though some of the original characters are well developed too. The original character that is the most effective is Dev Sibwarra. Not only does he serve as an important glimpse into Ssi-Ruuk culture, but he also struggles with his role in the Ssi-Ruuk society. As an outsider, he feels inferior to the aliens, and tries his hardest to please them. We quickly realize that his feelings of love and protection, and his need to belong with the Ssi-Ruuk, are nothing more than drug induced emotions which enable the invaders to control him. As a result, his struggle takes a more tragic turn, with the rest of his story being more about breaking his chains than trying to belong. When he finally does, it is one of the more powerful moments in the story.

Gaeriel, Luke's love interest, is the only other original character with any depth. Her religious aspect is something that isn't glimpsed often in Star Wars, and she has a compelling moral dilemma about the fate of Bakura, and whether or not she can accept a force sensitive in her life. Pter Thanas, an Imperial commander with a conscience, is an interesting character, but he isn't expanded enough to be truly complex. The other Alliance-sympathetic Bakurans are far too one dimensional, though the inclusion of characters that were 130+ years old was an interesting statement about lifespans in the universe.

As mentioned before, Luke and Leia's character development is well handled here. Leia is the accomplished diplomat struggling with a horrible revelation, while simultaneously trying to get closer to Han Solo. Luke is a fledgling Jedi trying to find love in the heart of someone that has a problem with his very essence. Luke has some impressive Jedi moments in addition to his efforts to win Gaeriel's heart, though it is clear that he isn't quite a master Jedi yet. This gels very nicely with what we know of Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi- he wasn't a fully trained Jedi, and he had much work to do before the Jedi Order could be rebuilt. Unfortunately, the other movie characters are given very little to do. Han, R2, C-3P0, and Chewie are relegated to ancillary status, and the author spends no time trying to flesh them out.

Prose

The Truce At Bakura has some great writing, though the lull in the action midway through the book is somewhat disappointing. One of the most crucial elements to the writing here are the descriptions of the Ssi-Ruuk and their technology. The Ssi-Ruuk themselves are a bit hard to believe, being described something like velociraptors. Their appearance isn't what one would expect, given the advanced technology at their disposal, but we've seen far worse. That technology is explained in a more in depth way than usual for Star Wars, detailing the process by which the Ssi-ruuk starships function and how they entech humans. It never approaches "hard sci fi" levels of explanation, but it is quite evident during Dev's scenes that the author took a more scientific approach to certain aspects of this novel.

As for the usual elements, the author does a great job of building the world of Bakura. Through tours, character histories, and briefings on the planet, our heroes learn quite a bit about the world of Bakura. The political situation feels fully realized even if the characters representing each faction aren't. Learning about Bakura's history and culture is one of the highlights of the book, it's a shame that the primary hook-Alliance and Imperials work together to fight a common foe- is so poorly done as it squanders the potential for a more compelling choice by the people of Bakura.

Action scenes in Truce at Bakura are surprisingly scarce. After an exciting, frantic initial battle with the Ssi-Ruuk, much of the middle part of the novel is talking and plotting. This isn't really a problem, except that the final battle leaves much to be desired. Luke handily dispatches the Ssi-Ruuk on board their ship, Nereus does something that was telegraphed from the beginning of the novel, and the action is blandly detailed at best. In keeping with the focus on characters prevalent throughout the novel, dialogue is pretty good and the character's thoughts, if rather simply depicted, are effective at conveying emotion.

Overall, the writing compliments what works best- the characters, and does nothing to shore up the weaker elements of the plot. The more detailed science fiction elements should be easily digestible by most.

Conclusion

An interesting premise and planet are rendered mute by poor plotting and a terrible antagonist. The Ssi-Ruuk are a decent new species, but the strength here lies in the character developments of Luke and Leia. Luke's first real romance and Leia's struggle with her heritage are the two best reasons for buying this book.

Final Score

56/100

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