Star Wars: The Clone Wars
by Karen Traviss
Cover Artist: Front: John Van Fleet/Back: ©Lucasfilm Ltd.
Review by Andrew Brooks
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345508980
Date: 26 July 2008 List Price $20.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Star Wars is back on the big screen this summer with the animated feature The Clone Wars and Karen Traviss, one of several writers working on the current EU (Expanded Universe) series for Del Rey, has been given the task of writing the movie novelization. Writing a novelization is not something I envy fiction writers their--essentially having to kowtow to the screenwriter's idea, while also fleshing out those details that may or may not lay on the editing room floor by the time the film has seen its final cut. The author of the book is often handcuffed by this and most movie novelizations amount to little more than dialogue and action with zero character development.
In The Clone Wars this mostly holds true, although Traviss does manage to infuse life and dimension into a few of the main point-of-view characters, as well as the plot which only serves to set-up light saber duels and lots of explosions. I know, I know. This is Star Wars and that's part of what Star Wars fans (of which I am one) expect and crave. But the main story here is seriously Star Wars Lite, with little of the epic feel one usually associates with that galaxy far, far...you know the rest. After reading this book and researching the actual movie (thank Yoda for youtube), I'm of the opinion that as far as advancing the whole Star Wars mythos is concerned Traviss' book has more to offer. My opinion may change after seeing the film but, seeing as how this is the novelization and that the main story arc here follows the film, that seems unlikely. The Clone Wars is a book based on a movie that appears to be primarily directed at kids and toy companies, but give Traviss some credit; she manages to make the main story arc somewhat interesting.
Taking place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the novel opens with Obi-wan Kenobi and Chosen One Anakin Skywalker engaging Separatists forces on the planet Christophsis. As I imagine the film will, the book jumps right into the action as the two Jedi fight wave after wave of droids alongside Clone-trooper Rex-a character rumored to be in the forthcoming Clone Wars TV series. Rex is a character that Traviss gets right, and that's hardly a surprise considering her work in the Republic Commando series. This was the lone bright spot in the book, as I felt that Traviss really attempted to get the reader in Rex's head, to show a Clone-trooper as more than the sum of his cool armor and droid destroying ways. She's accomplished this with the Clone-troopers in the past and she does that here. As his fellow Clones are all but decimated, there's real concern on Rex's part. That's not usually the case with Star Wars, unless were talking main characters. It will be interesting to see if this element, the most interesting part of the novel, is included in the film. Probably not, but for me it was the only thing that kept The Clone Wars from being just a highly detailed script.
Not to say that I don't enjoy reading about Anakin and Obi-wan, but Anakin's character is mostly where we left him at the end of Attack of the Clones, and Obi-wan is practically non-existant. Anakin is still grieving for his mother, upset that the Jedi with all their power and influence didn't even attempt to save her; his attempts to come to terms with their inaction make up a good chunk of his internal dialogue throughout. This is all the more painful for him considering they are now sacrificing Clones trying to save Jabba the Hutt's son. You read that right.
The reason for the Jedi getting into this whole mess is explained, but the main story line did nothing for me and came off as sort of ridiculous. I'm sure the idea of a kidnapped baby Hutt, spitting up on people and looking cute in the film's trailer (if the plush toy isn't out as I write this someone should be fired), sounded like a great plot device in the early drafts but the scenes with little Rotta were cringe inducing. The set up is that the Jedi must rescue Baby Jabba in order for Papa Jabba to provide a map of some hidden hyperspace lanes to the Republic. If the little one dies then the map goes to the Separatists, represented in this novel mainly by Dooku and Ventress, both of who are paper-thin characters here. Traviss does attempt to give us a glimpse as to what makes them tick, but I suspect she had her hands tied as those tidbits could be possible TV episode fodder and so probably off limits. Here's what I got: Dooku's upset over something in his past and hates the Jedi and their arrogant ways. Ditto Ventress. Again, most of the characters in this book are merely set-ups for the action. You decide if that's all you're looking for or not.
Do the Jedi save Rotta, gain the hyperspace maps and set things in motion for the future series? You'll have to read the book to get the answers to the first two, but it's a resounding no on the last question. We've been here before, haven't we? I know the purpose of a series, the fun of the EU, is to read more adventures in our favorite universe, but it's starting to feel stale. Especially with the franchise revisiting the Clone Wars period. I'm not looking for much, maybe just a little something new, a little advancement of the mythos, a new character that doesn't come off as a (no pun intended) clone of previous Star Wars heroes. Maybe Rex will be that hero, but I have my doubts. I love the EU, have since Zahn wrote his trilogy in the early nineties, but the love is fading for old-timers like me.
Perhaps Lucas knows this, perhaps that's what's up with the animated installment coming out this summer, the Disney princess/Jedi apprentice and the cute little 'ol Hutt baby. Perhaps, like Lucas has stated adamantly, Star Wars is for the kids. I'm cool with that on some levels, and I know the Legacy of the Force series did get pretty gritty, but I think the writers involved in the EU can do better. The problem, as with The Clone Wars is that the Lucas Empire keeps them in check. I respect that, it's the man's sandbox, his ball to take home if he wants to. But if Star Wars fans can expect the kinds of stories found in The Clone Wars and recent other EU works you can count this fan out.
I know this review has turned into a short commentary of the EU, but I think The Clone Wars illustrates my point. Traviss did considerably well, given what she had to work with, but there's not enough story to make this book a read unless you just have to read everything related to Star Wars. There are too many great science fiction and fantasy novels out there right now, including Traviss' non-Star Wars books, that deserve your attention and get none of the kind of hype Clone Wars and other Star Wars books in general do. Visit those worlds instead because there's nothing new here.