The New Rebellion (Kristine Kathryn Rusch)
The New Rebellion is a standalone novel set roughly a decade and a half after Return of the Jedi. In it, the fledgling New Republic is threatened by a deranged Force sensitive, sending our heroes off on yet another desperate mission to save the galaxy from the clutches of evil. With a tired premise, bland characterizations, and terrible writing that draws too much from familiar scenes and dialogue from the original trilogy of movies, this is a book that can be safely skipped.
The New Rebellion hinges mostly around the villainous Kueller and his devious plan to take control of the New Republic, and therefore the galaxy. Our heroes must first uncover his identity and then face off in the customary climactic battle, all while he continues to wreck havoc with his machinations. Unfortunately, his plan is so stupid that most of the smaller elements that go into building up to the final battle are tainted as a result. His plan to discredit Leia is truly awful as it relies on getting people to buy the idea that Han Solo, Leia's wife and notable galactic hero, could have attempted to bomb the Senate building while Leia was inside. Because it is important to the plot, the required characters end up buying this contrivance and the book therefore drops all pretense at reality.
Of course, it only gets worse. Kueller's plot is fairly vague to begin with but it seems to involve the belief that if he can only kill or turn Luke and disgrace Leia, he will be able to take control of the New Republic and lord over the rest of the galaxy. Of course, he doesn't factor in any other force sensitive beings, least of all Leia's three children, nor the formidable New Republic army that is more than a match for his own, which is easily duped by a small task force lead by Wedge Antilles. Much of his plan also relies on an easily disabled explosive device that our heroes sniff out quite casually and which has no impact on anybody. Kueller is the definition of an insubstantial villain as pretty much every success he has relies on people being idiots or established characters acting oddly.
There are a few silver linings to be found. Han's quest takes him to a series of asteroids known as the Skips where he tries to piece together a last request by an old smuggler friend. This puts him in contact with many of his old smuggler buddies and eventually leads us on a rather enjoyable swashbuckling tale that was enjoyable sci-fi pulp. Sweetening the pot is Lando Calrissian's appearance here, where he foregoes much of his usual charm in favor of a more subdued and introspective characterization. Han's reasons for going to the Skips may be on the dubious side in relation to the overall story, but there are quite a few enjoyable moments that come out of this and anything that helps to distract from Kueller's awful plotting is quite welcome in my book.
The best sub plot is surprisingly that which involves the droids. Their mission to discover and stop the sabotage of New Republic equipment is by far the most riveting and important thing that happens in this book. Sure, mechanic and focal point of view character Cole Fardreamer doesn't have much of a role despite all the time we spend with him, but this was a fantastic way to get the droids involved. This adventure reminded me quite a bit of the Droids comic series from the 90s, so if you enjoyed that then you will find at least one part of this book not to hate.
The worst thing you can say about this book is that it changes basically nothing in the Star Wars mythos. Nobody important dies or is even seriously threatened with death, the landscape of the New Republic is unaltered by the events, no one develops as a character, and the one major change that occurs roughly halfway through the book is written out of importance during the conclusion. Books with no bearing on a greater continuity can be just fine, see Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, but to do that they must also be entertaining to read, which this book was far from.
While pretty much every important character from the films makes an appearance here, there is very little of substance for any of them, so I will just do a quick rundown of these guys:
Lando: A surprisingly solid character in this book. I loved his regrets concerning Bespin and his subsequent motivation to redeem himself by helping Han and friends as much as possible. It may not be the most surprising or groundbreaking characterization, but I liked it even though his suave side does fall by the wayside a bit in order to focus on this new internal conflict.
Han, Chewie: A fairly standard characterization, Chewie has a handful of really funny scenes and Han is his usual wisecracking self. Could've done for a bit more character development with Han, but that holds true for everyone in this book. Hollow but not insulting sums it up fairly well.
Leia: Total disaster. She is stuck in a terrible plot to begin with but she handles it with lots of crying and random attacks on mostly innocent people. Her irrational hate towards those who served in the Imperial bureaucracy is particularly puzzling as the Rebellion has welcomed scores of Imperial defectors in the past and she has had no problem with them. Besides, as one senator even points out, Leia once served on the Imperial senate herself. Even with the Imperials in the New Republic government there isn't any cause for her to so vehemently oppose them given what we know about her character. She is too diplomatic and tolerant to go around campaigning for people to be thrown out based on past affiliations.
Luke: Much like Han, he doesn't get a ton of development and everything we see is pretty much par for the course. Fans of Luke as an overpowered Jedi warrior will love this portrayal as it is less about him as a teacher and leader and more focused on his extensive Force abilities and abundant combat skills.
There are a handful of original characters central to this book, and they don't fare much better. Cole Fardreamer is a terrible knockoff of Luke Skywalker, from being born on the same planet, to having the same four letter first name compound word last name combination as the iconic protagonist. His role in the story could have been cut out and replaced solely by R2 and 3P0's efforts and little would have been lost. In the same vein, Kueller is a tepid mixture of the Emperor and Darth Vader. He wears a fearsome looking mask and has awesome saber skills like Vader, and has ridiculous plans to master the galaxy like Palpatine. He also uses fear to keep the troops in line and isn't above executing someone for failure. His plan was terrible and his character was exactly as unimaginative as Cole. This book suffers direly from taking too much from the films, and these two are just a few more examples of this fatal flaw.
What really stands out with the prose in New Rebellion is that it is just about as barebones and lifeless as many of the characters. Showing and not telling is a basic rule of thumb for writing most fiction, although there are cases where telling works reasonably well, but in this book we get far too many examples of generic phrases like "Leia was sad" or "Luke was afraid": choppy, simplistic little sentences that add little to either character and substitute genuine growth and emotion for cheap window dressing.
Another problem is with both the dialogue and the action. This goes hand and hand with the plot somewhat, but the author borrows so much from the original trilogy that it barely even qualifies as an original novel. Characters will randomly reminisce about events from the movies, especially Luke when he remembers the teachings of Yoda and Obi-Wan. It doesn't end there though, as many characters will repeat lines that they originally spoke in the films or slight variations thereof. Nothing too crazy, just the same annoying catchphrases we have heard over and over again, but it is the idea that kills it. Of course, there are also the many similar situations written into this book: Luke fights a furry version of a rancor, Han points his gun at a guy from underneath a table, Force sensitive characters feel the sudden death of millions from light years away, Luke desperately tries to turn someone who has gone bad back to the light side, and the climactic sequence consists of a huge space battle and intense showdown occurring simultaneously. I'd like to think of Star Wars as being serious franchise that is mature enough to not just become an endless stream of knock offs and parodies of the films, but this book seemed intent on proving me wrong in that regard.
The New Rebellion is short on positives and extremely tall on things that simply don't work. Whether it is the lifeless characterizations of Leia and Luke, or the even less interesting prose that attempts to capture it all, this book is the epitome of a half baked shared universe tie in. Throw in a convoluted and barely thought out scheme for the villain and far too many scenes that ape famous moments from the movies, and you have a recipe for a bona fide disaster.