About the Author:
James Luceno is a New York Times bestselling author and lives with his wife in Annapolis, Maryland, USA.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
4.1 out of 5
Star Wars: Catalyst
22 - 17 BBY. Annoyingly this book was marketed as 'A Prequel to Rogue One', but it actually came out before the movie. Someone needs to explain to LucasBooks the difference between a prequel and a prelude. Idiots. IDIOTS! ...Sorry. Anyway, this prelude to the movie 'Rogue One' (novelised by Alexander Freed) begins in the early days of the Clone Wars and runs through into the beginnings of Emperor Palpatine's domination of the galaxy. It follows brilliant scientist Galen Erso and his explorer wife Lyra as they are drawn ever deeper into the web of military engineer Orson Krennic, an old friend of Galen's. A peaceful man, Galen studies kyber crystals and their potential for energy production, however, Krennic sees Galen's research as the key to the development of a terrifying new weapon; the Death Star.
Sadly, this isn't one of Luceno's better books. Don't get me wrong, it's well-written and engaging, but lacks a number of elements that made some of his other works great. Perhaps it is because I'm comparing it to other books that I didn't enjoy it so much. Novels like 'Cloak of Deception', 'Labyrinth of Evil' and the excellent 'Darth Plagueis' did an amazing job of having compelling and dynamic stories of their own whilst simulaneously weaving together other elements of the Star Wars mythos and, ultimately, enhancing the story of the movies they tie-in to. Here, however, the core story is decidedly undramatic, evil Disney's canon reboot means that there's little for Luceno to link it to and really it doesn't reveal much about the backstory of 'Rogue One' that isn't easily extrapolated from what's in the film.
I have to say I did enjoy the concept of seeing how a pacifist scientist can be led by his own desire for research into becoming complicit in the creation of a terrible weapon; it's a theme with many real-world parallels. I also enjoyed reading the reactions of observer characters spanning events such as the Clone Wars, the destruction of the Jedi Order and the rise of the Empire. For me, the big stumbling block was Orson Krennic. He is so transparently manipulative that it stretches credibility to believe that anyone is taken in by him at all and yet the context of the book tries to portray him as a master manipulator. Grand Admiral Thrawn, he ain't.
Not a bad book, but far from Luceno's best. I'm about to go straight on and start reading the 'Rogue One' novelisation, so it will be interesting to see if 'Catalyst' acquires deeper significance retroactively.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Cloak Of Deception
A prequel to 'The Phantom Menace' (which is, of course, itself a prequel), set 33 BBY. Political turmoil engulfs the Republic and a trade summit is called at the urging of Senator Palpatine. However, a group of pirates and terrorists threaten the summit and Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi must disobey the wishes of the Jedi Council to prevent disaster.
Luceno is a true master at weaving the disparate strands of the Expanded Universe together whilst still maintaining a strong narrative of his own. The story of Qui-Gon's quest and the political manoeuvring would be enough to make a good book on i's own, but Luceno doesn't stop there. There are too many cameo appearances to count, but a few are; Jorus C'baoth (the Jedi whose mad clone threatens Luke in the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn), Darsha Assant and Anoon Bondara (from Michael Reaves' 'Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter'), Vergere (from the New Jedi Order series) and Sate Pestage (who becomes Emperor in the X-Wing comics).
One of the best prequel-era novels.
Followed by Reaves' 'Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter'.
5 out of 5
Star Wars: Dark Lord - The Rise Of Darth Vader
19 BBY. When combined with 'Labyrinth Of Evil' and the 'Revenge Of The Sith' novelisation (by Matthew Stover), this book becomes the concluding part of a loose trilogy which tells the story of the end of the Clone Wars, the fall of Anakin and the consolidation of the Empire.
This book can be divided into roughly three parts. The first is set within the timeframe of Episode III and features a brilliantly written Republic assault on a Separatist homeworld. During the battle, however, the Jedi there are caught in Order 66. This becomes the book's best moment, when a squad of Clone Commandos refuses the Order and springs an ambush on a group of clones intent on killing the Jedi. The story's second phase features the Jedi attempting to escape the Empire's grasp and gather their scattered brethren, whilst Darth Vader tries to adapt to his new role as the Emperor's emissary. The final section of the book is the best overall as the Jedi gather on Kashyyyk and Vader leads an attack intended to destroy them and enslave the Wookiees (to be used in constructing the Death Star). The Battle of Kashyyyk portrayed here is far better than the one we saw in 'Revenge Of The Sith', not least for the lightsaber duel between Master Roan Shryne and Vader amidst a rain of debris and turbolaser fire. Chewbacca fans, like myself, will be glad to see him in action again, I daresay.
This is another excellent book by Luceno, second only to 'The Unifying Force' really, which ends the transition from the irritating and emotional Anakin Skywalker to the dark and menacing Vader that we see in the classic trilogy. My only problem with the book was that it didn't have as many EU references as I've come to expect from Luceno, but hey, you can't have everything.
Followed by John Jackson Miller's 'Kenobi'.
5 out of 5
Star Wars: Darth Plagueis
Set across more than thirty years leading up to 'The Phantom Menace', this book tells the story of the rise and fall of the titular character. It begins during his apprenticeship to Darth Tenebrous, continues through his recruitment of the powerful young politician Palpatine and builds towards the moment with Plagueis and Sidious put their plans for galactic domination into final motion. Throughout it all, Plagueis endeavours to understand the midi-chlorians in the hopes of not only creating life, but of granting himself immortality.
For anyone who is a fan of the machinations of the Sith, this is essential reading. No book written to date has done a better job of getting under the skin of these mysterious Dark Lords, revealing their fears, ambitions and their triumphs. Also, this book isn't just about Plagueis of course; it also tells the story of the apprenticeship and rise of Darth Sidious. To begin with Sidious' subservient role was uncomfortable to me, being used to him being the main villain behind every plot, but in the climax of this book he more than makes up for it.
As ever Luceno's original story is interwoven with details linking it to the larger Star Wars mythos, be it the inclusion of Jedi Masters Dooku and Sifo-Dyas or the strong links to other prequel era novels such as Michael Reaves' 'Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter' or Luceno's own 'Cloak of Deception'.
If you want the full story of the plots that lead to the Sith's return in Episode I, then this is the book for you. If you want a book that explores the Jedi's dark side nemeses, then this is the book for you. If you just want what may be the best Star Wars novel written, then this is the book for you.
5 out of 5
Star Wars: Labyrinth Of Evil
19 BBY, the prelude to 'Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith'. Luceno once again works his magic at tying together the various threads of the franchise. This book serves as a summing up of all of the events of the prequels and the Clone Wars, as well as driving on towards the final phase of the story of the fall of Anakin Skywalker.
The story involves the Jedi finding clues to the mysterious Sith Lord Darth Sidious and through this story, all the remaining pieces of the puzzle fall into place for the unmasking of Sidious in Episode III (as if we didn't already know it's Palpatine!). It is this mission that Anakin and Obi-Wan embark on and gives us a good understanding of their much changed characters and relationship (Obi-Wan is on the Jedi Council, whilst Anakin is now a Knight - not to mention a borderline psychotic).
I enjoyed the fact that we also get to experience events from the point of view of the villains who've been kept fairly secretive thus far, Dooku and General Grievous. Throughout the story Luceno weaves in subtle references to the rest of the EU, as well as explaining some of the mysteries of Episodes I and II.
The book's final third involves the Separatist attack on Coruscant, which is where 'Revenge of the Sith' begins. A great book for fans, but also anyone wanting a bit of background to the final Star Wars prequel.
Followed by Matthew Stover's 'Episode III: Revenge of the Sith'.
5 out of 5
Star Wars: Millennium Falcon
Set 43 ABY, between the Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi series. Han, Leia and their granddaughter Allana embark on a quest to discover the lost history of the Millennium Falcon. Meanwhile, one of the Falcon's previous pilots awakes from a coma and begins attempting to track its history from the opposite end.
More or less commissioned to give Luceno something to do whilst LucasBooks put 'Darth Plagueis' on hold (how lucky are we that they eventually decided to continue with that book?), this is a rare misstep for the author. The simple truth is that this book is both boring and pointless. We don't actually learn anything about the ship's history which is of any real significance and, ultimately, the core mystery behind its mission after Episode III turns out to be not only a total anticlimax but also an incomplete one.
Where Luceno is usually a master at gathering together other stories of the Expanded Universe, very little of that happens here and you can't help but feel that, until Lando got his hands on it, the Falcon didn't really do anything that's worth reading about.
Add to those problems the fact that there are scenes which are little more than a shameless advert for the Fate of the Jedi series, as well as making one of the main characters a sweet little girl and you're left with a book which will disappoint anyone who's familiar with Luceno's other work. Really, for me (and I'm a HUGE Star Wars and Luceno fan), this book was a total waste of time.
Followed by Aaron Allston's 'Fate of the Jedi: Outcast'.
1 out of 5
Star Wars: Tarkin
The second book of Disney's rebooted Star Wars franchise, which would have been set 14 BBY by the old reckoning. Five years after 'Revenge of the Sith', Wilhuff Tarkin is the head of the Empire's secret Death Star project. When that project is threatened by sabotage Tarkin sets out on a mission to hunt the saboteurs, accompanied by the Sith Lord Darth Vader.
Luceno is a great writer and a credit to the Star Wars franchise but I have to say that this is one of the weakest of his books set in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. I'm not even sure it's his fault though. Where most of his previous stories used their links to the Expanded Universe to strengthen their place in the mythos and add depth and texture to the story, here Luceno is hampered by the fact that none of those stories are included in the new canon. Not even his own brilliant back-catalogue. Don't get me wrong, he does try hard to hint at those stories, but he's never allowed to fully reference them and with no links to the only other novel of the new canon published at the time, John Jackson Miller's 'A New Dawn', this book feels oddly adrift.
The other downside to this book is that the rebel saboteurs are never really developed to any great depth. We basically get their back stories and motives summed up in a single scene, but I would've preferred that they be fully fleshed-out across the course of the book, instead of being almost an afterthought.
Don't get me wrong, this is by no means a bad book. In fact the exploration of Tarkin's past, his attitudes and his motivations make for brilliant reading. What I enjoyed most, however, is the relationship between Tarkin and Vader. For a long time there has been debate among Star Wars fans about how Tarkin gets away with talking to Vader the way he does in 'A New Hope', but here we finally learn that through working together they come to respect each other as equals. So when Tarkin refers to Vader as 'my friend' in Episode IV, he means just that.
Followed by Miller's 'A New Dawn'.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order - Agents Of Chaos I: Hero's Trial
The fouth NJO book, set 25 ABY. Luceno's talent for combining a good story with plenty of familiar characters is in clear evidence here. Han Solo, broken by the loss of his best friend Chewbacca, withdraws from his family and friends. However, the return of his old friend Roa, a character from 'The Han Solo Adventures' by Brian Daley (a good friend of Luceno's), convinces Han to take up the path of the lonely rogue once more. Meanwhile, the Vong have begun a plan to infiltrate the New Republic and destroy the Jedi.
The story is exceptionally well written, particularly the creation of the new species, the Ryn, but the cameos really make the book. Look out for appearances by characters from the Corellian Trilogy, the Black Fleet Crisis Trilogy, 'The Han Solo Adventures' and even the bounty hunter Bossk (from 'The Empire Strikes Back').
Followed by 'Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse'.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order - Agents Of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse
Book five of the NJO, set 25 ABY. Han Solo and his new copilot Droma continue their search for Han's friend Roa and Droma's family, taking them through the darker side of the Star Wars galaxy.
Luceno also runs two other brilliant storylines through the book; Leia's efforts to bring the Hapans (from 'The Courtship Of Princess Leia') into the war and the mission of the Jedi Wurth Skidder, who allows himself to be captured by the Vong.
By now, Luceno has long-since proven himself to be an asset to the Star Wars franchise and this excellent novel, which adds to stories written years ago whilst moving the NJO series forward, is another great addition to the mythos.
Followed by 'Balance Point' by Kathy Tyers.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order - The Unifying Force
The 19th (!) and final NJO novel, set 29 ABY. Lucasbooks drafted in the right man for the job here. Luceno's ability to weave the Star Wars franchise together around a strong original story makes him the perfect author to wrap up the disparate threads of the NJO series. The war between the Galactic Alliance and the Yuuzhan Vong builds towards a climatic end as the intelligent planet Zonama Sekot appears in the skies over Yuuzhan'tar (formerly Coruscant).
There are several layers to this novel; the first is the smaller adventures, such as Han and Leia's mission to free Vong captives, another is the grand military picture, yet another is the finally resolved question of the Vong's origins and the final one is the Jedi's connundrum over their role in the escalating conflict.
The story and tension builds and builds and is finally unleashed in the most awesome battle in any Star Wars novel. Once again, Luceno includes plenty of treats for fans ranging from the appearance of Boba Fett and his new Mandalorian apprentices (hurrah!) to the Rothana Transport (the Republic assault ships from 'Attack Of The Clones') which participates in the onslaught against Coruscant. This is definitely the best novel in the NJO series and a strong contender for the best novel in the franchise as a whole. Essential for fans.
Followed by Troy Denning's 'Dark Nest I: The Joiner King'.
5 out of 5