Champions of the Force (Kevin J. Anderson)
Champions of the Force, the third and final book in the disastrous Jedi Academy Trilogy, manages to end the series on somewhat of a high note, concluding the various sub plots with varying degrees of success. Some rather anti climactic moments taint it though, along with the absolutely ridiculous antagonists and even more dumb ideas. Happily, it doesn't rely as heavily on everyone acting stupid and out of character to advance the plot, but it is still pretty much a train wreck.
At the end of the last book, Luke was imprisoned in his own body after an attack by Exar Kun and the possessed Kyp Durron. This major development doesn't last all that long for this book though, as after an exceptionally corny speech by Leia motivates Luke's students to save him from a handful of half hearted assassination attempts by Kun, Luke is rescued in an even cheesier scene where the barely trained Jedi spout off some atrocious dialogue and banish Kun to Jedi Hell, and the major cliffhanger from the last book is completely wrapped up after about one hundred and fifty pages.
Champions of the Force makes an effort to tie up loose ends from the first book, Jedi Search, by revisiting both the Maw Installation and the spice mining operation on Kessel. The former initially starts as a simple raid conducted primarily by Wedge Antilles and Chewbacca, with C-3P0 along for the ride, but it eventually becomes the site of the book's climax. Kessel is wrapped up fairly handily, almost too easily, but it is clearly more about wrapping up Lando's need to start a new enterprise and getting rid of Moruth Doole than it is creating tension or depicting awesome action scenes.
The other major arc in this book concerns the Kyp Durron and Carida. Kyp, in a fit of ongoing rage toward the Imperial cause, moves the Sun Crusher to the Imperial stronghold of Carida and threatens obliteration of the entire planet if they don't tell him what happened to his brother. This is where the book starts to get a bit stupid, as the Imperials randomly make up a story about Kyp's brother instead of searching for the information he requested, finally deciding to actually do their homework after Kyp has already doomed the system to a fiery death. Furgan, the Caridan Ambassador infamous for throwing a drink in Mon Mothma's face in the first issue of the trilogy, then decides that losing almost his entire army in Carida's destruction is a perfect time to launch an attack on the secret world where Anakin Solo is hidden. It doesn't really make sense for him to do this at the juncture he was at, or even for him to have waited any determinate amount of time before launching the attack in the first place, but Winter fans will rejoice in the ensuing action sequence, which has the dubious distinction of being one of the best in the entire trilogy.
With the banishment of Exar Kun, Kyp sees reason and finally turns himself in. The New Republic decides that his fate should lie in the hands of his Master, Luke Skywalker, and what follows is one of the worst moments in a bad beyond words trilogy. Luke decides to give Kyp another chance by sending him to the dark temple of Exar Kun, where he will face "only what be brings with him." Of course, this is directly "inspired" by Yoda in Empire Strikes Back, with Luke even saying something to the effect of how he once had a similar test and failed. I'm all for giving Kyp another chance (or just killing him, that works too) but to do it in such an uninspired way, one that shamelessly rips from the films, is unforgivable.
The climax, much like Kyp's redemption, is a huge rip off of the movies. We are treated to yet another Death Star in construction, this one helmed by one of the worst antagonists I have ever seen in Tol Sivron (more on him later) and another desperate flight by the Millennium Falcon into the reactor in an attempt to destroy the thing, all set against a huge battle between the incessant Admiral Daala and New Republic forces led by Wedge Antilles. It is a suitably large scale finale, though with all that comes before it and the uninspired nature of the setup, it is less than impressive in execution. All in all, the plot in this book is nothing special, but thankfully nothing as bad as the previous book (even with Kyp's subplot.)
The biggest "improvement" in this book is that the characters don't have to be as unrealistic as they were in the previous novel for the plot to work. Lando's romance with Mara Jade, and his personality shift from smooth charmer to bumbling flirter, is a bit jarring, but thankfully plays little role in the actual plot. Chewie actually gets a decent sub plot during the raid on the Maw, and Wedge's horrible romantic interactions with Qwi Xux, former superweapon designer, are kept to an absolute minimum. Luke doesn't do much of anything in this book besides pardoning Kyp (something I've already discussed) and the fact that we saw so little of his teaching skills in this series is something that really bothers me. The most promising element of the book, introducing and developing a new band of Jedi Knights, falls terribly short and of the myriad of characters introduced, only the Mon Calamari healer Cilgal actually stands out and does something worthy of attaining Knight status. Everyone else is more or less along for the ride and does nothing to earn their new status. Han and Leia don't have much of a character in this book. Leia is fiercely protective of her children, as you might expect, and Han suffers some inner turmoil after Kyp falls to the dark side, but other than that these two just show up and quote lines from the movies and do whatever the plot tells them to do. Nothing as insulting as most of the character actions in Dark Apprentice, at least for the protagonists and friends. The opposing forces on the other hand...
Antagonists are, once again, totally laughable. The center of the opposition for this story is actually not Daala, but Tol Sivron. Tol is the director of the Maw Installation, and seems to be a parody of middle management types that are prone to doing things by a rigid set of rules and holding extremely long meetings with little purpose. Despite the fact that he manages to commandeer the prototype Death Star, almost all the time spent in his shoes is devoted to pointless meetings and everyone desperately trying to figure out the proper procedures. He is a truly embarrassing character that is ill deserving of all the screen time he gets in this book. Moruth Doole, Ambassador Furgan, and Exar Kun all show up briefly to oppose our heroes in their respective sub plots, but none of them make much of a mark. Doole's finale is a foregone conclusion from the very moment he is re introduced, and we spend very little time with his story arc. Likewise for Furgan, an untrained type nevertheless insistent on leading from the front, with predictably terrible results. Ancient Sith Lord Exar Kun fares a bit better than those two, but his contrivances to destroy Luke's comatose body are far fetched and needlessly complicated, and he ends up feeling more and more like a cartoon villain as time goes on. Strangely, Daala is actually the most formidable antagonist presented in Champions of the Force. Now down to one Star Destroyer, most of her might comes from the fact that she has finally seen sense about joining other Imperials, and the fact that the Rebel force she faces is toned down to a level where her lone ship actually has a chance also helps. Not a great appearance, but certainly better than the one in Dark Apprentice.
Writing doesn't suffer a dip in quality in this book, but it doesn't improve much either. The attempts at humor when describing Tol Sivron's situation are so over the top that they cease being funny and instead become a lesson in how to overplay and wring every last ounce out of what should be a small and subtle jab at the various management types the author is trying so hard to lampoon. When the characters aren't quoting lines from the movies, the dialogue is completely forced and stilted. Highlights include the young adult level discourse during the Jedi Trainee's banishment of Exar Kun, Han convincing Kyp to give up the Sun Crusher, and anything said in the Tol Sivron scenes. Repetition is a major flaw as well, with recap expanding the book by at least fifteen pages. We are treated to summaries of the previous books (reasonable but a bit overdone here,) previous chapters, and events that just happened in a style that does nothing more than insult the readership and bog down the pacing. Thankfully, we aren't subjected to too many offensive new ideas here, besides Tol Sivron, and the other facets of the writing are simplistic but adequate.
Keep in mind that even when I have been praising this book throughout the review, I only do so to point out that it is not any worse than the book that came before it. While that is true, it is still light years away from a quality read, and there is little reason for a prospective reader to slog through this brutal and excruciatingly awful trilogy. Read the first book if so inclined, then look the rest of it up on the internet. It is much better that way.