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Star Wars(r) Death Star by Michael Reaves
Review by Drew Bittner
Del Rey Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345477422
Date: 16 October 2007 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

From "Clerks":
Dante: My friend here is trying to convince me that any independent contractors working on the uncompleted Death Star were innocent victims when it was destroyed by the Rebels.
-courtesy IMDB

Kevin Smith wonders (at length) about the moral culpability of those who worked on the Death Star without being Imperial stormtroopers or the like. Well, it's a question worth asking... and Michael Reaves and Steve Perry give answering it a shot in Star Wars: Death Star, the story of the doomed battle station and a handful of those aboard during her short but exciting career.

Broken down into three segments, Death Star follows a group of diverse characters from construction through the Battle of Yavin. The readers get to meet:

    Vil Dance, TIE fighter pilot, who learns that fighting the Rebels isn't as thrilling as he'd thought it'd be;

    Teela Kaarz, political prisoner and unwilling assistant architect for the Death Star, who finds a very important flaw in the plans;

    Memah Roothes, Twi'lek bar owner on Coruscant, who takes an Imperial contract to run a cantina in a very unusual location;

    Sgt. Nova Stihl, prison guard on the world of Despayre, whose martial artistry cannot overcome the nightmares of destruction that plague him;

    Ratua, an amazingly resourceful smuggler and con man;

    Tenn Granett, gunnery officer extraordinaire, who can hit anything and now has a chance to use the biggest gun ever built;

    Atour Riten, archivist and hacker, who realizes the scope of the Emperor's ambition with this new world-killer;

    and Dr. Uli Divini (from Reaves' and Perry's Star Wars: Medstar duology), war-weary and burned out, newly assigned to the Empire's newest superweapon.

All these characters and more find themselves lured into the Death Star's gravity. While their individual dramas play out, newly minted Grand Moff Tarkin deals with matters political, military and personal (the last in the form of Admiral Daala, his love interest) and Darth Vader quells sabotage and confronts a plucky princess.

Oh yes, the events of Star Wars: A New Hope are the backbone of this novel, as each incident is shown in a novel light. Key moments from the movie are shown (and expanded upon) in intriguing fashion, giving more context for how they fit into the larger narrative. This adds greater depth to both Tarkin and Vader, in particular, making them more complex and fascinating characters as they (mostly) overcome serious challenges.

The novel also gives a different perspective on the final lightsaber duel between Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, as well as the Battle of Yavin. These key scenes are shown from Vader's point of view... and his reactions are not entirely what one would expect.

It's a bit like watching Titanic, in that one knows how this story must end. However, just like Cameron's epic about the doomed ocean liner, there are a lot of stories to be told. A Rebel attack on the incomplete Death Star, the first test-firing of the superlaser, the moral qualms suffered by many over what the Death Star does at Alderaan... all of this works into a richly imagined and masterfully executed look "behind the scenes" or (perhaps) a more Imperial-centric version of New Hope.

Princess Leia shows up for more than her confrontations with Vader and Tarkin; she has a moment with Dr. Divini that is pivotal in more than one sense. And a wild-eyed spacer with a Wookiee partner makes a brief but exciting cameo.

Fans of Star Wars especially will not want to miss this read. Reaves and Perry dig into the world of the Death Star, creating an entire city in space (did anyone know the Death Star had parks? Cantinas? Unwholesome entertainment sanctioned by the Empire?). They also create characters who inhabit this battle station, challenged by the realization of what their work enables and struggling to find their own answers--or at least, a way to live with themselves.

It's deep philosophical terrain for a fast-paced action/adventure novel, but Reaves and Perry deliver in spades.

Strongly recommended.

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