The New Jedi Order: Dark Tide
By Michael A. Stackpole
25 years after ANH
* * * 1/2

Dark Tide: Onslaught and Dark Tide: Ruin are the second and third books in a 5-year story arc introducing a new threat to the Star Wars Universe that comes from beyond the galactic rim.


Dark Tide: Onslaught picks up right after the first New Jedi Order book, Vector Prime. It boasts a large cast of characters, spread out on a multitude of playing stages. In an effort to learn more about this new nemesis… the Yuuzhan Vong… the key players are sent on a variety of missions in the vicinity of the Vong invasion corridor: Luke Skywalker and Jacen Solo head back to Belkadan, where the Vong first made their presence known, Leia, Jaina Solo, and Belkadan scientist Danni Quee go to Agamar seeking Agamarian help in sheltering fleeing refugees, Rogue Squadron, with Gavin Darklighter in command, patrols areas likely to provide practice in engaging the Vong in combat, Corran Horn and fellow Jedi Ganner Rhysode investigate some possibly missing students on a planet situated in the path of the Vong, and Mara Jade Skywalker and Anakin Solo head for Dantooine where Mara intends to gain Force-provided strength to fight off her mysterious disease.

Dark Tide: Ruin offers more of the same. This time, Jacen Solo joins Corran Horn and Ganner Rhysode on a mission to scope-out Vong activity on the planet Garqi, Jaina Solo, now a pilot in Rogue Squadron, gets into the thick of the battles against the Vong, Camaasi Senator Elegos A'Kla undertakes a dangerous ambassadorial assignment to meet directly with the Vong leaders, Luke and Anakin Solo chase after a renegade Jedi, and Leia heads to what remains of Imperial space, meeting with Admiral Gilad Pellaeon to seek Imperial aid in fighting the Yuuzhan Vong.

Throughout the Dark Tide duology run layers of political infighting on both sides of this smoldering conflagration. The New Republic government begins with their heads in the sand regarding the approaching danger the Vong presents, and when the threat can longer be denied, begins to look for scapegoats and expedient back-door egress. The Jedi, once the protectors of the galaxy, are increasingly branded as out-of-control, glory-seeking mercenaries, dissent over the Jedi place in the scheme of things causing fractious fissures within the New Republic just when unity is so desperately needed. The Yuuzhan Vong, as well, have sparring factions jockeying for control of the invasion. Unfortunately for the good guys, the Vong's more totalitarian governing style makes internal dissent less disruptive for them than it is for the Republic, who might end up tearing themselves apart long before the Yuuzhan Vong ever make their way to Coruscant.




The Dark Tide duology is a big leap up from the hideously awful Vector Prime. Michael Stackpole is among the best authors on the Star Wars Expanded Universe roster, and he goes a long way toward beginning the salvage process necessitated by the woeful first misstep of Vector Prime which began this ambitious New Jedi Order 5-year series. These two books have a wonderful mix of action and introspection; the characters grow and learn from immersion in both, and the readers gain insight as they do. Stackpole writes battle sequences flawlessly, and there are several space and land clashes in both books which are delineated in clean, clear, exciting prose. Stackpole also juggles the multiple plot elements and locale artfully, building suspense as the stories progress. On the contemplative side of the equation, the protagonists have been cleverly positioned on varied sides in the debate over the role of the Jedi in the galaxy, and on their wielding of their Force-given powers, and positioned in such a way as to make better defined and more multi-dimensional the characters within the heated discussions, as well as to provide stimulating food-for-thought for the reader. These philosophical contests are especially fascinating as they delve into the functions of the Jedi through history, and in how the universe has changed, perhaps in ways that dramatically alter the part that should be played by the Jedi Order in the complicated age of the New Republic.

All that stated, this is not the author's finest hour. It is very tough to escape the nagging intrusiveness of how over-done and derivative are the Yuuzhan Vong as primary foes. Did none of the New Jedi Order strategists read Michael Kube-Mcdowell's excellent Black Fleet Crisis trilogy? The alien scourge in those books, the Yevetha, are so similar to the Vong they could be siblings. And the Yevetha came first, so the Vong end up feeling like poor cousins. For the New Jedi Order to sustain dramatic tension over its 5 year story arc, the crisis posed, the danger represented by the Vong needs to be on a bigger scale than anything confronted previously by our heroes. The Yuuzhan Vong so far are cardboard cut-out bad guys. They are constantly spouting xenophobic, militaristic, posturing, quasi-ritualistic rhetoric at each other and at the reader. It is numbing, repetitive, and cartoonish. Also problematic is the decision to have Han Solo fall so completely to pieces over Chewbacca's demise, and thus have Han missing-in-action for the early works of the NJO. That Han is so out-of-it, and that we see so little of Leia's reaction to Han's decline, and that what snippets we get of Han are only by way of reactions from the Solo kids, somehow makes this development in Han's story feel like the writing-committee choice it was, as opposed to an organic development for the character of Han Solo.

Neither of the above concerns can be laid solely at Michael Stackpole's feet. Obviously there is a larger saga being constructed and he is simply filling in his niche. Where the author can be held accountable for any failings of these novels, is in some of the less fleshed-out components that he brings to the party. Normally, the political machinations in the EU are some of the most intriguing elements in these books, and in past efforts Stackpole has been one of the best at developing this segment of the Star Wars literature universe. But here, there is a stridency to the responses from the New Republic heirarchy that does not remotely ring true. It is over-wrought and simplistic, and feels forced by externally driven plot design, instead of motivated by "real-world" multi-faceted intrigues. It is also rather risky on Stackpole's part to relegate the film heroes to such peripheral roles in these books. Ordinarily, in a Stackpole work, this wouldn't be a problem, since he has created quite a few wonderful characters…Corran Horn, most notable among them…who can easily carry the story burden. In this duology for some reason, Stackpole is not up to his usual standard. New players created here don't have the heft or definition required to make the tale resonant. We never know them well enough to care about them or to care about action that is filtered through their less-than-three-dimensional eyes.

All that said, a Michael Stackpole bad-day-at-the-office is a good day for most other writers. The action sequences are quite thrilling, and the over-all story thru-line, despite the melodramatic portions involving Chief of State Borsk Fey'la and his cronies, is compelling. These two novels are so head-and-shoulders in quality above the lamentable Vector Prime, that there is now hope for the progression of this exciting New Jedi Order saga. In the opening page of Dark Tide II: Ruin there is a very moving dedication from Michael Stackpole to the passion and devotion of Star Wars fans; here's hoping that the Yuuzhan Vong develop into more layered adversaries, that Mara recovers from her wasting illness and goes back to the take-no-guff chick we love, that Han sobers up and joins back in the fun, and that Michael Stackpole gets invited to play in the EU sand-box numerous times in the future…and soon!