Bonus Star Wars book review! This week’s random pick falls somewhere between Chuck Wendig’s recent book for the new movies, and Timothy Zahn’s no-longer-canon trilogy from the 90’s. Greg Bear released this one in 2000 as a follow-up to The Phantom Menace, a film which I’m sure a lot of people wish wasn’t canon anymore.
Star Wars: Rogue Planet follows Obi-Wan and Anakin as they travel to the mysterious planet of Zonama Sekot, rumored source of ships which may be the fastest in the galaxy, and which also may be alive.
The chapters in this book alternate between the Jedi and a splinter group of the Republic lead by Commander Tarkin. Tarkin’s old friend Raith Sienar has been trying to send someone to Zonama Sekot to buy (also “make” and possibly “grow”) one of their fantastical ships so he can reverse-engineer more of them, or at least sell it to the highest bidder. Tarkin is clawing his way up the ladder (and helping to reshape the Republic into a “humans first” government) so he bullies Sienar into going along with his own plans to…subjugate the planet? Destroy it? It’s not entirely clear. Tarkin and Sienar are both awful people (although I liked Sienar’s hobby of collecting beautifully failed technology), and they don’t trust each other at all, so between their plots and counter plots and back-stabbing, I could never really get a handle on their motivations.
The sections with Anakin and Obi-Wan were a chance to show the relationship between the two, and to try to bridge the gap between the child from The Phantom Menace and Darth Vader. Greg Bear mentions in the author’s note that while he wishes Lucas had started Anakin’s story a little further on in his development (me: “Right?!”), there was still enough in Anakin’s short history to make for a troubled character. You don’t just shake off the experience of being a slave; Anakin is still very touchy about his past, and about having to leave his mother behind in slavery (something which I don’t think has ever been explained properly). He’s also just discovering his own talents, and finding that he has more untapped power with the Force than any other Jedi, along with being the Chosen One. And he’s twelve years old. He has a terrifying amount of power that he can’t control, and he can’t even begin to understand what his destiny means.
Obi-Wan obviously cares a lot about his Padawan, and the two have the potential here to make for a great team. But when Qui-Gon died Obi-Wan had to become a Jedi and take on an apprentice much sooner than he ever thought he’d have to. He has no idea if he’s good enough to train someone with Anakin’s potential, or with Anakin’s impulsiveness and need for adventure. He’s also started hearing what sounds like Qui-Gon’s voice, and he’s having to wonder if he misses his former master enough to start imagining his ghost talking to him.
But the place where this book really shines, and my also my reason for picking it up in the first place, is Greg Bear’s talent for creating strange and beautiful settings. An alien world in Bear’s universe isn’t just going to be Earth with flying cars, and aliens aren’t going to just be people with pointed ears; everything is going to be different.
The opening chapter has Anakin joining an illicit flying race in an underground garbage pit on Coruscant. The garbage pit in question is as large as an arena, and it’s where dangerous/radioactive garbage is packed into canisters and loaded into a revolving canon which fires them into orbit. The racers tearing around the open space on motorized gliders, the lightning and ion trails from the forcefields, the unpredictable volleys of bus-sized canisters exploding out from the cannon; it’s an epic scene,and Bear manages to explain all of it mid-action without bogging down the chapters with a wall of text.
The captain of the ship that takes Anakin and Obi-Wan to Zonama Sekot is an alien who’s relatives are also his ship mates, and some of his actual mates, and also his willing food (although not all of them are food; that wouldn’t be polite). An assassin who goes after Anakin is from a race known for their beautiful carvings, although they feel that assassination is a higher art than sculpture. And Zonama Sekot itself is a world where everything on the surface, the ships, the buildings, even the materials used to make furniture, is alive. The author goes into fascinating detail about the entire process for Anakin and Obi-Wan to be chosen by their “seed partners” and then shape the raw materials so that Anakin will be the pilot of a living, sentient ship that will be bonded as a life-long companion to the young Padawan…
…yeah, you’ve probably guessed that this won’t last past the end of the book. We all knew, just by the fact that this is a prequel to the original Star Wars movies, that Anakin will have a tragic story. This is destined be just one more loss leading up to the angry teenager who’s tired of losing everyone he loves in Attack of the Clones. But it’s a beautiful, strange story nonetheless, and Greg Bear did an excellent job of writing a book based on what must have been very little information about what was going to be going on with Anakin by Episode Two.