Vector Prime is the first book in a 5-year story arc introducing a new threat to the Star Wars Universe that comes from beyond the galactic rim.
Vector Prime begins in the relative calm before the storm. In the previously released Timothy Zahn duology Specter of the Past/Vision of the Future, which was set about 5-6 years earlier, the New Republic and the remnants of the once mighty Empire finally negotiated a peace accord. Small, inter-species and inter-planetary conflicts still break out around the galaxy, but for the first time in a very long time, most of the Star Wars universe is stable. One of these smaller, brewing disagreements is threatening to stir up bigger tensions, and so, into the fray goes Leia Organa Solo, her daughter Jaina, and her now-sister-in-law, Mara Jade Skywalker, in an attempt to arbitrate a settlement between the bickering factions. Unbeknownst to the Solo/Skywalker ambassadors, many of these "little" skirmishes are actually being manipulated by the advance representatives of an invading alien race from a neighboring galaxy. Needless to say, with ulterior motives at work, the mediating process does not go well.
Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker is in the throes of his own dilemma. The good news is that the Jedi Order has begun to strengthen and grow. Luke's exhaustive searches for beings with nascent Jedi talent, and his hard work at establishing the Jedi Academy on Yavin, have finally started to pay off. There is now a healthy cadre of young Jedi available to serve the New Republic. Unfortunately, there are factions within the New Republic who aren't so sure reviving the Jedi Order is a good idea; with no governing body such as the old Jedi Council to set behavior guidelines, what is to keep these powerful Knights from operating outside the confines of Republic law? For Luke, there is a tightrope he must walk between the politicians playing the "Jedi issue" for their own ends, and the more vocal of his own Knights, who accede to his authority no more readily than they do to that of the Senate's.
All of the petty squabbles are soon to pale in comparison, however, to the enormous threat just now entering the galaxy in force. These are the Yuuzhan Vong. The Yuuzhan Vong have been fomenting trouble and gauging the lay of the land, and now they are entering the Outer Rim in potent numbers. Their technology is organically based, their weaponry is unlike anything the New Republic has ever faced, and their culture seems indifferent to killing, reveling in pain and death. Their designs are unclear, but the means to whatever their end goals might be is unrepentantly drenched in blood.
Let's not mince words here. Vector Prime is dreadful. It is a heavy-handed, sloppy, amateurish work. There are long-winded descriptive passages that repeatedly violate the creative writing 101 axiom "show me, don't tell me". Significant plot developments happen either before the book begins, or during the course of the novel yet inexplicably "off-stage". Because of these passive story-telling choices, instead of seeing the action, or of having the action honestly motivated, Salvatore is forced to give us page after page of pop-psych explanations. It's like a Star Wars book as written by John Bradshaw. Every major player has several scenes which are dramatically out of character, timeline and canon inconsistencies are rampant, and there are so many gaps in plain old logic it's not really worth listing them all. Worse still are the awkward bantering conversational sections. Meant to lighten the tone or to add human dimension, they instead read as uncomfortable and false.
The Yuuzhan Vong as protagonists are problematic as well. We've seen these guys before; the Vong are almost a carbon copy of the Yevetha from Michael Kube-McDowell's excellent Black Fleet Crisis Trilogy. Maybe because the Vong are so blatantly derivative, or maybe because Salvatore's writing is so hackneyed, but the Vong come across as Lego Land nemeses, constructed from a laundry list of scary traits. They are built with layer upon layer of self-consciously gross-out, faux evil malarkey. It's melodramatic over-kill. And it makes the Yuuzhan Vong less menacing not more, less compelling, and less able to carry the weight of the major narrative developments instigated and driven forward by their introduction to the Star Wars universe.
Unless you've been living in a box under the highway, you probably are aware of the huge, saga-shaking event that transpires in Vector Prime. If you don't know, and don't want to know before reading this book, skip ahead to the end of this review.
Still with us? Ok. Chewbacca dies. Oddly enough, despite the fairly hideous book surrounding Chewie's death, the writing in the actual scene itself is surprisingly moving. It's a bit over-wrought… and let's not even get into the science (or lack thereof) of a moon falling on a planet and the supposed only at the last minute devastation this causes…but it is not particularly over-written compared with the rest of this chest-heaving tome. It is grossly unfair that this sad-sack author gets the gift of such a Star Wars-Universe altering occurrence, and equally unjust that he gets to be at the head of the parade leading into this 5-year progression in the SW mythos. But due to fan vested interest in these characters, and to the reservoir of powerful emotions we feel for Han and Chewie and their bond, the demise itself is deeply affecting.
END OF SPOILER ALERT
In small defense of Vector Prime, there is the beginning of an intriguing on-going debate among the Jedi about their role in the galaxy and about how to utilize their powers. Jacen Solo is given the task of questioning his path, and thus the paths of his brother and sister, and by extension all the other Knights, and the conversations between Jacen and Anakin are interesting and character-enhancing. But this is way too little and way too late. Blessedly, the three New Jedi Order novels that follow Vector Prime substantially improve in quality. But this is a wretched opening chapter. Not since The Courtship of Princess Leia has opportunity been so wantonly and abjectly squandered. True completist fans of the Expanded Universe are without much recourse. This is too significant a piece of the NJO pie to skip. Read it quickly, with the thinking, feeling, reasoning part of the brain on pause; better things are to come as reward for wading through this flotsam.
In the first of the GalaxyFarAway.com
Books Features, we have an exclusive interview with the
Black Fleet Crisis Series author, Michael