May 22, 2012

[Books] Star Wars - Order 66: A Republic Commando Novel

I hate arriving late for a movie. In fact, I do my best to watch movies only from start to finish, even when watching something on a movie channel like HBO or whatever. I just hate the sense of disorientation you get as you struggle to catch up with the story and staying for the next screening just doesn't quite address the issue in the long run.

The same thing goes for books, and thus when it comes to those trilogies and continuing series of titles, I also make sure to read the whole thing from the beginning. And this is one of the rare cases that I tried to make an exeption - and it didn't help me.

Now I picked up Order 66 since it looked like a pretty interesting period in Star Wars history to explore. Plus I was also banking on the fact that even when part of an on-going series, the authors do their best to help each story stand on its own two feet without relying too much on the prior stories. I felt Michael A. Stackpole's X-Wing series of novels was a good example of this. Each book involved a series of missions that were part of a larger campaign. You could immerse yourself into the action of that one period and still get a general sense of what was going on in the overall scheme of things.

This book surprised me by how much back story was floating around given the three books prior. And thus I felt this affected my ability to enjoy the material, apart from the fact that the entire prequel era has always been rather iffy for me for a wide variety of reasons that I won't go into right now.


Synopsis: Order 66: A Republic Commando Novel is the fourth book in Karen Traviss' Republic Commando series of novels set in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, particularly in the prequel era. The whole series of novels (I surmise) follows around particular groups of clones that had been featured in other media, particularly video games. Thus we have Delta Squad and Omega Squad along with an individual known as Kal Skirata.

Clone troopers in the spotlight (FanExpo 2007,...
Clone troopers in the spotlight (FanExpo 2007, scificon 2007, Toronto, Canada). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At the core of this book is the plan set in motion by Kal Skirata and his adopted "sons" in the form of various clones from Delta and Omega Squad and the Nulls (a covert ops squad). His big plan is to find a way for all of them to desert from the Grand Army of the Republic and live independent lives on Mandalore or some other world. The clones had never been given a choice in life but to fight for the Republic after all and Skirata wanted to be able to give his sons generally normal lives.

But Skirata has also been using his resources to solve a particular mystery - why wasn't the Republic reinforcing the Grand Army with new clones? Surely the Kaminoans had created new soldiers by now and Skirata's snooping has revealed that massive amounts of funds, war material and other resources have been shifted around, but for purposes unknown. All signs point to the Chancellor having a big push in the near future and thus Skirata wants to determine when that might be so he can stage the liberation of his clone sons in time.

Now maybe on some subconscious level, knowing that most of the characters are clone troopers have somehow added to my difficulty in appreciating the story. Sure, they all have different names, but perhaps in the course of trying to visualize the story, I may have distracted myself thinking of the whole clone thing. I say this since my biggest struggle was trying to figure out who everyone was and what was going on. I didn't know off the bat who the various squads were. I couldn't keep tabs on which clone was in a relationship versus which one was on the brink of marriage. Someone had a kid. There were some Jedi helping them out too. The list goes on and on.

Then there's the whole need to use some Mandalorian dialect for almost every other word. And sorry kids, you don't get a glossary of the more common terms. You're just expected to figure out what they're saying based on context clues, or perhaps had you been reading since book one you might have been more used to the language by now. But instead of creating a unique feel and style for the story, the almost excessive usage of Mandalorian without the benefit of some form of a translation more often than not all just resulted in a bad reading experience.

And I'll admit that I expected the focus of the story to be the actual time period immediately around Order 66 and the massacre of the Jedi. Instead we come in the middle of Skirata's grand escape plan, a side quest to also find a scientist who can figure out how to undo the generic quirks that make clones grow old faster and the whole "what is Palpatine up to?" non-mystery. Oh, and we have some nominal Jedi politics thrown into the mix, some tax investigator who is also in love with a clone and all these other twisted plot hooks.

So no, I didn't really enjoy the book since more than half the time I was still feeling confused and not at all emotionally committed to wanting these characters to survive. And they do manage to stick around for the most part. And of course everything goes to Hell in a hand basket by the final act of the story. And by then I just wanted to get this all over with yet without any plans of even considering reading the three prior books.

Order 66: A Republic Commando Novel is precisely that - a novel firmly locked into a larger series of books. If you liked the other three books, then maybe this title will make more sense to you, thus allowing you to actually enjoy it. For me, I still feel that the title leaned too much on the prior ones and the author could have done more to either limit the number of characters involved in the "main" action or provided appendices and supplementary information to help readers like me. So I can only rate the book as 1.5 Mandalorian terms that just whiz over my head out of a possible 5.




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