Star Wars: Tatooine Ghost (Troy Denning)
A bridge novel that seeks to tie elements of the prequel trilogy to the ever expanding world of the post-Return of the Jedi universe, Tatooine Ghost tells the story of Leia's discovery of Anakin's former life. Along the way she meets many of his old acquaintances and comes across a very important item that gives us a look into one of the most overlooked characters in the Star Wars movies. Sound good? I agree, unfortunately this wasn't enough for the publisher/author/whoever, so we are subjected to yet another awful plot device and tons of needless violence. This book is an exercise in what happens when you feel like you have to cater to the lowest common denominator, and as a result it manages to disappoint in most areas.
While I loved the premise of Leia going back to Tatooine to wrestle with her concept of her father and meeting people who actually lived with him and knew the hopeful child we saw ever so briefly in the Phantom Menace, the excuse to get her back to the place where it all started is very weak. Once again, Leia and Han find themselves doing special ops grunt work despite their privileged position in the New Republic government. They are tasked with finding an old moss painting that has a secret Alliance spy code in it. Of course, because it is Star Wars, two things happen to give this story a needlessly trumped up sense of importance: Leia has a special connection to the portrait, and the Imperials are actively seeking it. This really doesn't make any sense, because not only are they extremely valuable, but they are also very visible public figures that would be easily recognized and therefore hardly suitable for spy work. This alone was enough to strain my suspension of disbelief, and it doesn't help when they spend a significant portion of the opening quarter of the book in stupid disguises.
My main problem with this book would be how disjointed the two conflicts are: on one hand you have this extremely urgent struggle to find this rare painting and recover it to maintain the integrity of a spy network. We spend most of the book following this conflict and it tends to drive the pacing, giving us lots of action in the usual Star Wars vein. On the other hand we have this much slower story of Leia rediscovering her past that hardly seems appropriate as she is trying to rush to achieve her goals. Mixed signals are very much present in this book, and it doesn't help that the driving plot doesn't seem to have been thought out much at all.
Characterization focuses mostly on the relationship between Leia and Han and Leia's private thoughts as the story plays out. This intimate focus at once keeps the novel from totally failing but also gives it a distressing identity crisis. Leia's inner conflict is continued from the novel The Truce at Bakura, as she is initially extremely hostile towards the idea of Anakin as anything less than the worst monster in the galaxy. Throughout her journey, she is conveniently forced to go to many locales from his past and learn about the people that lived or worked there and their views on Anakin. These include the Lars homestead, the old podracing arena, Obi-Wan's house, and the Tusken raider encampment where Shmi was killed. Leia's development concerning her attitude towards her father is quite interesting, and it is heartwarming to watch her discover her grandmother and connect to her struggles. This may not be a definitive characterization of Leia because it does leave out some of her more important qualities, but it is certainly a very good one that manages to strike mostly new ground for this iconic character.
While on one hand it is a character study for Leia, the other side of this book as a action driven thriller, is very much neglected. We have absolutely nothing in the way of an identifiable antagonist, and other characters (like Han) that would add much needed depth are only hastily conveyed. C-3P0 and Chewie are just along for the ride and the author seems to regard them as little more than nuisances, keeping them out of the action as much as possible. Kitster is an intriguing character if only to see how his life turned out post Anakin, but we don't get nearly enough time with him. In fact, the only character other than Leia who seems to thrive is Shmi. We learn quite a bit about her struggles after Anakin's departure and her life on the Lars homestead. Like the opening scenes of the Attack of the Clones novelization, this is a great look into a very important character, even if it doesn't give us too much in the way of new facets to her personality.
Despite the fact that this is structured as a fairly basic good vs. bad novel with lots of action, I found myself very bored by the middle of this book. There is very little sense of urgency as the Imperials are always portrayed as being somewhat incompetent and at least one step behind even with all their funding and resources. There are a few strong action sequences, but more often than not I found myself bored and wanting to skip ahead to the next scene where Leia learns more about Shmi. I'm also not thrilled with the setting. While it was something of a needed evil for this premise, haven't we seen enough of Tatooine, and more specifically, of the many locations visited in this book? There are a few new locales, but for the most part it is stuff we saw in the movies, which tends to deprive us of any type of exoticism, which is something that many Star Wars stories have done fantastically.
Tatooine Ghost is a novel with immense promise that manages to hogtie itself with an uncomfortable amount of repetitive ideas that had no place in something that could have been a truly character driven novel. Instead of getting an intimate character study of Leia, her relationship with Han, and her struggles to accept her father, we get yet another ridiculous Rebellion vs. Empire story that feels like it has little purpose in the overall Star Wars mythos, doubly so at the point on the timeline at which this book is set. There are enough poignant moments to prevent it from being a complete disaster, but truly going out on a limb could have propelled this book to a very comfortable position in my top ten.