Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lords of the Sith Review

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Surprise, the Star Wars universe has another book out! Actually, by the time I finished reading Lords of the Sith, they came out with yet another book. Today I'll be focusing on three things: how good a book is it; how important it is in the Star Wars universe; and how important it is as a cultural artefact.

So, is it a good book? I enjoyed it! It had a logical plot of events, and remained focused around them. I never felt like the book was dragging on. The book switched perspectives throughout, showing the events from the point of view of all of the major characters. This was both a blessing and a curse: I found it refreshing to get in the minds of so many characters, but as a result there were almost zero surprises or plot twists.

One aspect that was a mild surprise was the fact that we finally get to see Darth Vader exercising the full extent of his power. I've always felt like Vader was overrated in pop culture, because we've never really seen him do anything really impressive. This book along with the ongoing Darth Vader comic book has rectified that issue. On the other hand, I have now come to the conclusion that Vader never got over his melodramatic teenager phase. Seriously, look at this sentence about how he felt being attacked by a predator: "None penetrated his armor, and what little pain they managed to inflict could not surpass the pain he carried always within him." And Vader isn't the only one; at one point the Emperor chooses aliases for himself and Vader, and "other than the Emperor, only Vader knew the false names were ancient Sith words that meant 'death' and 'fate.'"

My biggest criticism of the book is that it gets very repetitive in its wording. Kemp uses the same phrases multiple times to describe similar situations. For example, during a single battle scene we might get three or four instances of "Vader fell more deeply into the force." Or when describing interactions between Twi'lek, he talks about their lekku twitching in excitement or their skin darkening in embarrassment.

Another issue I had was that some of the information about events seemed inconsistent. This included things like a character being ordered to do something, but on the next page she was doing something else and a different character was doing what she had been ordered to do. Another example was the body count in Darth Vader's group. I became very confused when there was suddenly one more character alive than I expected.

On the other hand, there were some very clever moments in the book. In particular I enjoyed an insult I had never heard before: "you speak as though all your words had a serif." It's a good insult, but it's also hilariously hypocritical.

Those were all things that a general audience would care about in a book. But what about the dedicated Star Wars fan? Well, Lords of the Sith does fill in some of the large gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, showing us a resistance movement that existed before the rebellion really got started. It seems like this is a similar purpose to that of Star Wars Rebels, though the Free Ryloth movement in Lords of the Sith seems to operate on a much larger scale. I don't want to spoil anything, but they accomplish something that according to one character had never happened before. That being said, nothing that happens in this book are huge, galaxy-changing events. Think of them as B-level events.

Kemp ties things in nicely to other pieces of Star Wars lore. Cham Syndulla is a major character in Lords of the Sith; he first appeared in The Clone Wars, and his daughter Hera is one of the main characters in Rebels and A New Dawn. Darth Vader also does a lot of reflecting on his past, which we all know about very well. I appreciate these references, because they give a greater sense that all these works exist in the same universe.

And finally, how does Lords of the Sith hold up as a cultural artefact? What are the values it promotes? It is significant in that it is the first time that we get an official LGBTQ character in Star Wars canon. The presentation of this in the book was exactly as I would hope: it wasn't even presented as an issue. None of the characters in the book thought it was odd, and she was even an Imperial Moff, so we know that it isn't a controversial subject in the Star Wars universe.

Cham Syndulla is a great example of a fighter whose principles guide his actions. Far too often we see situations presented with such high stakes that everyone accepts that the ends justify the means. Sometimes they bring up the issue of "if we do this, we're as bad as the enemy!" but usually in those cases another solution presents itself. Here, Cham has to do the best with what he has. I'm really happy to see this. Next I want to see pacifism portrayed in a positive light in Star Wars.

As I said, I really enjoyed Lords of the Sith. It was funny at times, some awesome feats were performed by Vader and the Emperor, and it moves the Star Wars franchise forward in the social progressive front. It has its flaws, certainly, but the book moves fast enough that you will quickly leave any subpar sections behind for more exciting things.