Harkening back to the origins of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor departs from the seriousness and melodrama that have plagued the more recent Expanded Universe publications in favour of a fun-filled rip-roaring good time in the galaxy far far away… mostly.
Taking place six months after the Battle of Endor, Matthew Stover’s latest contribution to the Star Wars cannon attempts to recapture the fun and youthfulness of the original trilogy, and for the most part, succeeds. Instead of trying to be a great work of fiction by delving into the darkest recesses of the human psyche, and over analyzing the ethics of using the force, Mindor is true to the essence that was Star Wars; a futuristic, extra-galactic offspring of a space-opera and a western. If anything, this is the book’s greatest strength. Rather than trying to be something it is not, and suffering from the identity crises that has consumed both the Legacy and the Fate of the Jedi series, Mindor accepts that it is Star Wars, and revels in it. This may mean that the novel doesn’t have the depth of a great work of fiction, and will undoubtedly not be the greatest prose you have ever read, but at the same time, it doesn’t spread a novel or two’s worth of action over nine books.
Besides, the seeming simplicity of the plot doesn’t belie the fact that the novel is fairly well written, and has one of the best villains since Grand Admiral Thrawn. In addition, Mindor still manages to achieve a level of depth through a subplot that focuses on Luke Skywalker’s loss of innocence as he struggles to find the place of a Jedi in a galaxy that tends to be a darker than the average shade of grey. In a sense, it is the last grasp of the naive farmboy introduced in Episode IV, as he comes of age and embraces his destiny. All in all it is a fun, well conceived adventure that still manages to get serious, but not so serious as to stagnate in its own melodrama.
Sadly, the novel is not without its faults. Although Stover’s characterisations are some of the best in the EU (on occasion he even surpasses Timothy Zahn in this regard), at times, mainly with Han, he losses his way. For the most part Luke, Leia, and Lando are spot on, while Stover’s C-3PO may be even better than Anthony Daniels’. However, at times Han Solo went from being the cocky scoundrel of the movies to a practically unrecognizable character. Worse, voices have been given to both R2-D2, and Chewbacca, creating dialogue that is interspersed with ‘Arrowrowr Reghar’s’ and ‘Bleep Bloop Bleep’s’ that would be out of place in a novel for pre-teens. On the whole, the characterisation is one of the novel’s strong points, its just sad to see it fall apart so badly 10% of the time.
Stover’s prose suffers in a similar fashion. Most of the novel flows well and is both engaging, and exiting. However, at times, such as the second half of chapter two, the whole narrative falls apart. In a way it captures the essence of a movie too well and feels more like a script or screenplay than like a novel. Not to mention that many of the problems with characterization previously mentioned pop up in scores at this point in the narrative. Then, for another chapter or so at the halfway point, the story grinds to a standstill and becomes incredibly boring and repetitive. The ship is eventually righted, but once again this problem should have been easily avoidable with a good editor able to correct the glaringly obvious missteps in what was otherwise a better than average narrative.
The only true weakness in the novel is the Shadowspawn/Blackhole plot involving the transfer of consciousness through the force. In my opinion, the over reliance on super weapons/borderline ridiculous force powers instead of creating well conceived antagonists has been one the main detriments of the Star Wars franchise. Shawdowspawn/Blackhole is a brilliant tactician and a powerful force user, who may have been capable of being in the same league as Darth Vader or Thrawn as one the franchises best villains. He does not need a ridiculous and unoriginal transference of consciousness plot to make him more compelling, in fact, he would be more compelling if he simply relied on mind control and/or brainwashing. It just requires too great a suspension of disbelief, especially when Blackhole fails to effect it. Twice. An occurrence within the narrative itself that alludes to its implausibility, as well as its ineffectiveness as a plot device.
It was disappointing to see these relatively minor transgressions derail what is, for the most part, an enjoyable, well written adventure. Yes its refusal to pretend to more than simply a Star Wars novel prevents it from ever being great literature, but were it not for those gaffes, it could at least have been considered a superior work. However, said gaffes are just too numerous to ignore, degrading Mindor’s status to simply one of the better Star Wars books. It may not measure up to Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, and isn’t at the level of Stover’s other Expanded Universe contributions, namely Traitor, but its does manage to capture the essence of Star Wars (which is saying a lot) and is very good… if only 80% of the time…