Since GalaxyFarAway just recently (March 2000) interviewed the author of The Black Fleet Crisis Trilogy, let's cover these three novels all at once. (Read the Interview)
It is 16 years after Star Wars: A New Hope (12 years after the Emperor's demise in Return of the Jedi). Most of the remnants of the old Empire have been defeated and the New Republic has settled into a semi-complacent bureaucracy with Princess Leia as its President. More and more, the politicians and nay-sayers are questioning the expense of maintaining a strong military, and many seem to forget the trials so recently passed through on the way to this stability, or the need for vigilance to maintain it.
Into this lazy political infighting, steps the Yevetha, an advanced race once subjugated by the Empire, now seemingly seeking a peaceful co-existence with the New Republic, but whose motives are immediately guarded and suspect. Are the prolonged negotiations their leader, Nil Spaar, engages in with Princess Leia merely a delaying tactic in preparation for something sinister? The Yevetha suffered mightily at the hands of their Imperial over-lords, but is Leia being blinded by sympathy for a fellow victim of Imperial excess? To whose advice should Leia hearken…? Admirals and Generals who have a vested interest in the upkeep of a strong fighting force, or Senators from worlds tired of contributing credits to the fleet's upkeep, and leery of any centralized power seated on Palpatine's former ruling planet?
Meanwhile, several other plot lines begin sending threads weaving out from Coruscant:
Luke, in the midst of a meditative retreat (a remove quite vexing to his friends and family, in fact), encounters a woman, Akanah, who claims to know something of Luke and Leia's mother. She convinces Luke to accompany her in her search for the lost people amongst whom Luke's mother is supposedly hiding.
At the same time, Lando Calrissian, Lobot (Lando's cyborg administrator from Bespin), and the droids R2D2 & C3P0, are enjoined by New Republic military intelligence to co-ordinate with a task force investigating a mysterious "ghost ship" found roaming in the less-frequented recesses of the galaxy. Is its purpose benign? Does it possess untold weaponry and nefarious intent?
And Chewbacca is off with the Millennium Falcon to visit his family on Kashyyyk.
Book Two picks up on all story lines pretty much right where Book One left off. The Yevetha become more and more aggressive in their aims… no more uncertainty as to which side of the good-guy/bad-guy fence they're on now, and Princess Leia must deal with the Yevetha encroachment on the one hand, and juggle politicians trying to unseat her on the other.
Luke continues his travels with Akanah in search of the people she calls the Fallanassi, who may or may not know something of Luke and Leia's mother. As their journey progresses, Luke finds that he must unlearn some of his assumptions about the Force specifically and the universe in general, all the while trying to determine if Akanah can be trusted.
Lando, Lobot, R2D2, and C3P0 are now trapped aboard the ghost ship. As they struggle to survive, they work to figure out the ship's secrets: Is it sentient? Is it friendly? Who built it and sent it out to wander the galaxy? What is its purpose? How do they get off?
And Han, as Leia's eyes-and-ears with the New Republic Fleet, undertakes a dangerous mission as a spy in the heart of Yevethan Space.
An interesting side-note: Unlike almost all the other Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, Shield of Lies is written almost like three separate novellas… starting with a "Lando" segment, then a "Luke" segment, and lastly, a "Leia" segment. Each segment consists of a very strong, and at this juncture in the trilogy, mostly unconnected plot allowed to stand alone in its third of the book.
And now it all comes together.
The Yevetha are really, really nasty pieces of work, and now there is absolutely no doubt. The Empire's occupation may have given them some cause for paranoia as a species, but they have over-reacted in a seriously vicious and xenophobic manner. With Han Solo being held captive by the Yevetha, Leia is forced to choose between her duty as President of the New Republic and her love for her husband. And even as she makes the traumatic choice of Republic over family, political maneuvering in the Senate calls her loyalties into question, and voices are raised demanding her resignation.
Meanwhile, Luke is still wandering the galaxy with the woman, Akanah, in search of the race of people known as the Fallanassi, who might harbor or know of Luke & Leia's mother. Their wanderings draw them into the main story-line as their search brings them to the heart of the Korrnacht Cluster… home of the Yevetha.
Chewbacca, off on Kashyyyk to participate in his son's coming-of-age ceremony, hears of Han's capture, and races with the Millennium Falcon (loaned to him in Book One) into the main plot in an effort to rescue Han.
Lando Calrissian, still trapped on board the mystery ship with Lobot, R2D2, & C3P0, races against time and stray Imperials to figure out the ship's purpose and protect its powers and secrets from those who would use them for ill.
WORDS OF WISDOM
The Black Fleet Crisis
Trilogy is a very
intense read, especially Book Three, Tyrant's Test. As with most
of the trilogies in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, it takes some time
warming up, but that is not necessarily a negative. It allows room for
author Michael P. Kube-McDowell to swim in the deep end with plot, character,
and situation detail, which makes for a nicely rich reading experience.
This trilogy is chock-full of "real universe" minutiae, from Luke and
Akanah's waiting in line for a starship parking space (when Luke doesn't
want to reveal his identity), to Coruscant slang based on Imperial City
politics as perceived by the common folk, to the rescue from Jabba's palace…
galactic history and film history… played out nightly for entertainment
at a remote planet tourist-trap. (Instead of Star Wars comes to Disney,
it's Disney in the EU! Very droll.) The books indulge too in the time
afforded a trilogy to play out some lovely scenes of daily drama…. Han
& Leia having a nice mom-and-dad-with-the-kids dinner, Luke tinkering
with a ship engine for "therapy"… and also some great moments of self-discovery
and growth… Luke and Leia painfully confronting their divergent lives,
C3P0 (yes, really) questioning Lobot (yes, really again)
about the definition of sentience.
The Black Fleet Crisis Trilogy is a very intense read, especially Book Three, Tyrant's Test. As with most of the trilogies in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, it takes some time warming up, but that is not necessarily a negative. It allows room for author Michael P. Kube-McDowell to swim in the deep end with plot, character, and situation detail, which makes for a nicely rich reading experience. This trilogy is chock-full of "real universe" minutiae, from Luke and Akanah's waiting in line for a starship parking space (when Luke doesn't want to reveal his identity), to Coruscant slang based on Imperial City politics as perceived by the common folk, to the rescue from Jabba's palace… galactic history and film history… played out nightly for entertainment at a remote planet tourist-trap. (Instead of Star Wars comes to Disney, it's Disney in the EU! Very droll.) The books indulge too in the time afforded a trilogy to play out some lovely scenes of daily drama…. Han & Leia having a nice mom-and-dad-with-the-kids dinner, Luke tinkering with a ship engine for "therapy"… and also some great moments of self-discovery and growth… Luke and Leia painfully confronting their divergent lives, C3P0 (yes, really) questioning Lobot (yes, really again) about the definition of sentience.
These novels have a lot of that sort of philosophizing. There are some very interesting theories on Luke and the Force, and a possible rationale for Obi-Wan and Yoda's inability to deal with Vader and Palpatine. There is a lovely bit of insight into the simple struggle to stay on the light side of the Force amidst the confusing chaos of daily life, and how the struggle isn't always about huge, dark influences, but often just about distracting human frailty. There are also some resonant reflections on the destruction of the first Death Star and the effect of its destruction on Luke. In fact, Luke probably travels the furthest in this trilogy. He starts Book One, Before the Storm, as a sort of depressed monk, and through the course of the saga, gets to lighten up, gets to display some actual dry wit, and is allowed to have several very human revelations about his life-path, about the repercussions of the loss of his mother, the ripples of time and aging, the effects on his actions, and attitudes of a universe looking to him with enormous expectations and need.
There are plenty of action sequences too, and Michael Kube-McDowell handles them excellently. He really seems to have done his military strategy homework. And the Yevetha are fabulous bad guys. One of the primary criteria for rating these books is the potency of the threat posed by the nemesis-du-jour. The Yevetha, and especially their leader, Nil Spaar, are ruthless, vicious, xenophobic, brutal creations. Their threat feels very real, and thus the suspense of this trilogy is intense.
There are, however, a couple of weaknesses in the writing, all the more noticeable because so much is so right with these books. Kube-McDowell introduces a plethora of species and characters, and he often does so with little or no physical description. As a result, most of Leia's scenes, with her poorly-defined aides, and her under-developed fellow politicos, feel a bit distancing. Many of the EU authors have maintained some continuity with one another's Senators and Coruscant support-personnel; this has given heft and resonance to the New Republic's on-going struggle to move from an insurgency to a legitimate government. In this trilogy, with so many new players, it is difficult to keep track of all them, and since they are not well differentiated the reader doesn't end up caring about them or their scenes. And thus, Leia ends up with the "short end of the stick" when it comes to character growth or completely believable drama. Kube-McDowell also throws a lot of new species into the hopper, and again, without any descriptions or defining characteristics, they end up being more an extraneous distraction, then the added flavoring intended.
On the character-depiction front, there are some plusses and minuses. Akanah, Luke's travelling companion, is not an enjoyable creation. The supposed eventual chemistry between them never rings true, and there were several times on their journey when using the Force to have her killed would have been considered justifiable homicide by even the Jedi Council. (But Luke's not like that, more is the pity….). But the plucky Polneye pilot Plat Mallar goes into the plus column, movingly displaying the wrenching emotions of heroism in "the trenches". And as for the film personae, it is marvelous to see Lobot in action and his and Lando's scenes are a lot of fun. Even C3P0, who can be intensely annoying, has some great business, while still staying true to form. There is also some wonderful stuff for Chewbacca and his family, and I especially like the Wookies speaking in a sort of "surtitles", instead of always having someone translate for them. Occasionally, Leia comes across as a wee bit shrill, but the balancing act she must execute between political factions, military strategists, and family obligations throughout most of this saga excuses a lot of that. Han is very well-written throughout… he gets several touching, rich moments, in fact… and many of the film-originated supporting players, such as Admiral Ackbar, and Mon Mothma have some nice business.
The Black Fleet Crisis Trilogy is among the best that the EU has to offer. The Yevetha are despicable, juicy inventions, and the multi-layered story line is thoroughly involving. I have read this trilogy several times, and each time I am grabbed by a different thread in the tapestry: the Lando ghost-ship thread; Luke's search for family and direction; Han's heroism; Leia's political and personal battle. Taken as a whole, this saga casts a real emotional spell. Enjoy!