It’s unfortunate, really. I had so much fun at Star Wars Celebration V with my kiddo that I actually let my guard down long enough to give another Star Wars Expanded Universe novel a try. Let me just say emphatically that the Force was not strong with this one.
I’m usually leery of anything that has more than one writer attached to it. Movies, for instance, rarely are better for having more than one screenwriter, and I think the same holds true for books. Writing, in my opinion, is not a group endeavor. There are exceptions, of course, but Steve Perry and Michael Reeves’ Death Star is not one of them.
Death Star is incredibly slow and boring. Let me just get that out of the way. Reeves and Perry introduce a whole host of characters that the reader has never heard of. Some of which fly in the face of everything we thought we knew about the prejudices of the Emperor and his military machine. Most of the characters are cardboard cut outs, but that can be overlooked. It’s Star Wars, not Steinbeck. Right?
Right. We’re dealing with archetypes in the Star Wars universe, and I’m not sure any of us uber-fans want our Star Wars characters to be too complicated. That’s part of why we escape out of the real world and into that galaxy far, far away anyway. The problem is not that the characters are boring in and of themselves. The problem is that Perry and Reaves’ sole purpose for creating these characters is to get them on board the Death Star for the final show down with the rebels. And we already know how that ends, don’t we?
The writers spend over half the book introducing said characters and getting them to the Death Star only to have them do absolutely nothing of any significance that affects the outcome of the story. (There is one exception that involves the gunner who throws the switch that blows up Alderaan, but I’ll hold that tidbit back for anyone that may read the book.)
The book sheds so little light on the big picture that in the end it seems like a wasted effort. Our time spent with Vader and Tarkin in the book is basically a rehash of everything that happened in the movie, so any chance at insight into what happened in between the scenes in Star Wars (A New Hope) is mostly wasted. There is a side story that scratches the surface of a romance between Tarkin and another character, but it is a completely lame idea that I can’t even believe was included in the story at all.
These writers, I think, are quite capable writers. So I am led to believe that the responsibility for this novel’s failure probably does not belong completely upon their shoulders. Lucasfilm is known for meddling in their licensed material and hamstringing authors to the point that they can’t be expected to produce anything other than lackluster fare. I would bet that this is what happened here. Lucas is notorious for declaring “hands off” of certain Star Wars canonical events and characters so as to save them for future television shows. The era between Episode III and IV has been pretty well locked down to protect future storylines for the “upcoming” live action television show, and I really can’t blame Lucas for that either. I just think that writing a novel about an existing event and putting so many creative restrictions on the plot is wasted effort that could have been applied elsewhere.
The book does eventually pick up speed in about the last 100 or so pages, but the effect of this is pretty artificial given that the reader is mostly encouraged by the familiarity of events that occur leading up to the end of the movie Star Wars. I plowed onward thinking, hoping, that these characters would have some saving grace, some last opportunity to make me stop next time I watch Star Wars and say’ “Hey, so that’s why such and such happened!” Unfortunately that never materialized, and when I read the last line and turned the page I was actually surprised that I had reached the end so suddenly. No fanfare. No “Aha!” moment. Just a sprint to a familiar finish and a sudden, dissatisfying, abrupt halt.
I applaud Reaves and Perry for keeping me reading, but I cannot give this novel the heaping helping of praise that the guy dressed in an Imperial officer costume gave while trying to encourage me to read Death Star as we stood at the Barnes and Noble booth in the main exhibit hall of Celebration V. It’s probably my fault, though. What kind of idiot takes seriously the recommendation of a grown man dressed in a (perfectly recreated) science fiction costume who drunkenly exclaims “I had way too many death sticks in the V.I.P. lounge today!”?
Clearly the Force wasn’t very strong with me that day.