Dec 20, 2011

[Books] The Unifying Force (The New Jedi Order Book 19)

I finally did it! After years of reading the books (on and off, I admit), I finally worked my way through all 19 full novels and 3 of the ebook short stories that span The New Jedi Order series of Star Wars novels. It certainly took a lot of time and effort and quite a bit of book-hunting as well (yes, I admit I own paperback copies of all of the books) but now it's finally over.

It's kind of creepy to think that I first started reading these books in my high school / college days and only finished it now. That's quite a long period of time.

This review is primarily meant to discuss the final book in the series - The Unifying Force, although it will be inevitable that this will lead to other discussions on the series as a whole. After all, the final chapter in any extended story is meant to tie up loose ends from other parts of the series and leave us with a sense of closure at the end of things.

And to be fair, this was quite the ending. While the last few books leading up to the grand conclusion of things were rather lackluster in terms of writing and general substance, this last book felt more in tune with the rest of the series and did a fairly decent job of ending the whole story on a decent enough note.

Plus things made sense, too. And one can only imagine how difficult a challenge it is to achieve that kind of an end across so many different books as written by so many different authors.

The Unifying Force is the 19th and final book in the Star Wars New Jedi Order series of books. It was written by James Luceno, who also wrote the prior NJO books Agents of Chaos I & II.

The book picks up the story at a somewhat weird location - a Yuuzhan Vong POW camp on the planet Selvaris. While the Yuuzhan Vong don't typically take prisoners, the direction of the war has also strained their resources, making the camp a necessity. The Galactic Alliance prisoners have a tenuous peace with Malik Carr, the overseer of the prison but naturally tensions remain high. And things come to a head when a coded message comes to the prisoners through the Ryn network. Thus they execute a plan to get the message off-world to whoever would be crazy enough to mount a rescue mission, such as a maverick pilot known as Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon.

Meanwhile, the sentient world known as Zonoma Sekot continues to jump through hyperspace after Nom Anor's failed sabotage attempt during the last novel. Luke Skywalker and the other Jedi on the planet do their best to weather the stresses of a planet traveling through hyperspace while they deal with former High Priest Harrar, who somehow managed to survive Nom Anor's attempt to kill him as well. There they work together to unravel more of Zonoma Sekot's mysterious and perhaps figure out a way to win the war.

And things do come to a head in this book. Knowing that the war can swing to the advantage of either side in a heartbeat, the Yuuzhan Vong have assembled a massive armada of ships pulled from all systems that they occupy in attempt to destroy the temporary seat of government of the Galactic Alliance at Mon Calamari. And even with the support of new allies in the form of the Imperial Remnant, the Hapes Consortium and other groups, they're still massively outnumbered by the assembled Yuuzhan Vong forces at Yuuzhan'tar, formerly known as Coruscant.

The opening story arc on Selvaris definitely had strong resonance with previous POW stories I've encountered. If anything, it was definitely more like The Bridge on the River Kwai or The Great Escape versus a story like King Rat, for example. And I did enjoy how it totally broke from the previous storylines that we had been dealing with, which had gotten rather tiring in recent books.

Yuuzhan Vong
Image by GogDog via Flickr
The military side of this book was pretty good, especially for a Star Wars novel. We had a great combination of ship-to-ship action, massive fleet maneuvers and strategems, and of course some on-the-ground commando work to book. Luceno did a pretty impressive job of managing all those diverse elements and making sure we ended up with a story that still made sense from a military strategy perspective.

The Zonoma Sekot side of things was still a bit wonky and I don't think the creative team really had a good idea of what they wanted to accomplish with this living planet. While its arrival at Coruscant was pretty dramatic, for the most part it just sort of stayed on the bench in this "game" of sorts. And in the end the only role it could play well was being the continuity janitor who would clean up the loose ends at the end. Seriously.

The attempt to further refine established understanding of the Force, especially in the context of these Yuuzhan Vong who seem to be invisible or absent from the Force was pretty good, I have to admit. In pat books there was a lot of meandering philosophizing that just didn't go anywhere. But Luceno managed to bring a lot of the earlier speculations and arguments into focus and ended up with a pretty interesting view of what the Force truly is. Plus as the characters got on board with this more complete philosophy, they got to totally kick butt during combat.

I do feel a bit sad for Tahiri, who had been developing into quite the major character over the past few books only to end up in the backseat practically just watching. Sure, she participated in the final battle and did her share, but her unique dual nature as both human and Yuuzhan Vong (through Riina) didn't play as big a role as I had expected it too. And that sort of sucked, when you really think about it.

And the big twist in the end about Supreme Overload Shimrra? Well, I won't spoil it for you, but I will admit that it was decently executed, even if it had been a tad predictable to some extent.

The Unifying Force was definitely a great way to end this series and one that helped redeem some of the more shallow books that had been part of the run. I'm still glad that I took the time to read the books and I remain rather impressed with what the creative team achieved over the course of the 19 books. Thus this title fully deserves 4 somewhat silly moments of the Jedi piloting Sekotan ships rather badly out of a possible 5.

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