AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
2.8 out of 5
Star Wars: Rebel Force - Firefight
0 ABY. Rebel Force book four. Luke Skywalker leads a mission to investigate an Imperial research facility on Kamino but he and the pilots under his command, including Han Solo and Chewbacca, soon find themselves confronted by a deadly group of mercenaries who have been hired by the Imperial assassin X-7.
Where the previous books of this series have just been unremarkable, this one is a mess. Not a chapter goes by without Wheeler trying to cram in some new, and often ill-fitting, plot element. First there's the mercenaries but then they're replaced by cloned monsters which are, in turn, replaced by Imperial reinforcements. None of these elements is ever explored enough to give it any real credibility and often the things that happen are completely illogical. The best example of this is where Div refuses to harm Luke or Han when he's got them at blaster point because he was hired to kill them in a dogfight. Its a transparent ploy to allow the enemies to become all friendly, which has no internal credibility for the plot or the characters.
As for Div, the return of another character from Jude Watson's books (his full name is Lune Divinian) should be a good thing, but its handled very badly. It is particularly weak when compared with Ferus Olin's return in book two.
The more familiar characters, such as Luke and Han, are given very cliched and unimaginative roles to play and here Han is actually pretty annoying. Its a sad day when you say that of a character as great as Han freaking Solo.
The truth is that this book feels very much like pure filler, having little effect on the over-arching plot of the Rebel Force series and having nothing in it in terms of characters or plot points to recommend it. Wheeler will really have to pull something out of the bag if he's to make the rest of this series worth reading.
Followed by 'Rebel Force: Trapped'.
1 out of 5
Star Wars: Rebel Force - Hostage
0 ABY. Book two of the Rebel Force series. Princess Leia and her friends travel to the planet Delaya where they attempt to help the survivors of the destruction of Alderaan, but there are some who hold the Princess herself responsible for the Death Star destroying their homeworld.
As with the previous book in the series, the adventures of Han, Luke and Leia are nothing remarkable to write home about. It was interesting to see Leia face Alderaanians who hate her but she never actually gets to make a speech defending her role in the Rebellion, which seems like a missed opportunity for a character who's supposed to be a charismatic orator. Even X-7 fails to be much a benefit to this book, more or less just hanging around and dragging his mission out for another book (or more).
The big redeeming factor for this book is the character of Fess Ilee, a sycophant from Bail Organa's court whom Leia despises. However, and this may seem like a spoiler but its covered pretty early on in the book, Fess turns out to be a man named Ferus Olin. I was a big fan of Jude Watson's books for the most part and Ferus' adventures in the Jedi Quest and Last of the Jedi series' were very compelling. Here we get to pick up with the character twenty years later and learn that he has been secretly guarding Leia in a nice parallel of Obi-Wan's role on Tatooine with Luke. Ferus' inner turmoil over whether he should reveal his Jedi nature to Luke and Leia and perhaps even train them makes for very interesting and compelling reading.
One final positive point in this book's favour is that the prologue features a conversation between Yoda and the ghostly Obi-Wan in which we finally get some explanation why Obi-Wan waits three years, until 'The Empire Strikes Back', before he tells Luke "You will go to the Dagobah system...".
Followed by 'Rebel Force: Renegade'
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Rebel Force - Renegade
Book three of the series, set 0 ABY. When Luke Skywalker is almost killed in an assassination attempt the blame falls on Han Solo who flees back to his old life as a smuggler. Meanwhile Luke and Leia go into hiding on Tatooine until the assassin can be unmasked.
I've never been a fan of 'accused of a crime they didn't commit' storylines (with the exceptions of 'The A-Team' and 'The Fugitive'!) so I wasn't thrilled to see Han in the frame for trying to kill Luke. Writers seem to think that these sort of plotlines create a sense of tension, but the truth is that they actually create a sense of frustration. We know Han's innocent, so really we're just marking time until that's proved. The one redeeming factor to this story element in this book is that, despite not understanding why he runs away, neither Luke nor Leia really ever consider Han guilty, trusting their friend exactly the way they should do.
The other major element to this book which is something of a two-edged sword is the fact much of it is set on Tatooine. The problem with the desert planet is that, despite supposedly being a total backwater, every Star Wars storyline swings by there sooner or later and, frankly, its become something of a cliche. However, since Tatooine was our first introduction to the Star Wars galaxy in 'A New Hope', there's is something comfortably homely about it. Anyone who's returned to where they grew up after a significant time away will also be able to connect with Luke's feelings of both being glad to see familiar faces but also the feeling of having moved on from that stage of his life.
Overall, whilst not an objectionable book by any standards, this and the other books of this series so far feel like they're just ticking over, rather than taking the Star Wars franchise for a proper run.
Followed by 'Rebel Force: Firefight'
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Rebel Force - Target
The first book of the young adult Rebel Force series, set 0 ABY. The familiar heroes of the Rebellion (Luke, Han, Leia et al) are sent on a mission to Muunilinst to secure the Rebel Alliance's funding but they have been targeted by a ruthless and expert Imperial assassin who has been tasked with hunting down the pilot responsible for destroying the Death Star.
I'm not a fan of the 'shortly after the destruction of the Death Star' period in that a) it's a timeframe far too crowded with EU stories and b) no real character development can happen for the likes of Luke, Leia and Han, since their main development occurs three years later in 'The Empire Strikes Back'. These problems hold true with this story and we're once again exposed to a bitchy Leia, a clumsy and naieve Luke and a Han who's always halfway out the door of the 'crazy Rebellion'. Yawn. They're also sent on another dime-a-dozen mission which will have no far-reaching consequences for the Star Wars saga as a whole.
The author does come up with the interesting idea of having Luke enter a Podrace, which I found fascinating at first but which soon proves to be entirely without drama. It would've been better if Threepio hadn't been cut off before he could recount the story of the one other human who ever won a Podrace and then have Luke deal with the legacy of that.
It's not all bad though. With X-7, Wheeler has created a genuinely interesting antagonist; a soulless assassin who gains the trust of the Rebels in order to evaluate and manipulate them. His cold-hearted efficiency in pursuing his mission put me very much in mind of Boba Fett, one of my favourite Star Wars characters.
Followed by 'Rebel Force: Hostage'.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Rebel Force - Trapped
Book five of six, set 0 ABY. Luke and the mercenary pilot Div are saved from Imperials by the mysterious Ferus Olin, who also has a plan to strike back against the Empire by turning the assassin X-7 to their cause.
Originally I really liked the idea of picking up characters from Jude Watson's prequel-era stories during the classic-era but I have to say that, at this point, it's not working out too well. The problem is that Wheeler has to carefully contrive to keep all of the backstory of those characters away from Luke, Han and Leia or it will upset the contemporary continuity. That means that we get Lune Divinian and Ferus Olin, two men who trained to be Jedi, not being allowed to talk about being Jedi or doing anything particularly Jedi-like, even when the main character of these stories, Luke, is the future hope for the Jedi and who is actively seeking to learn more about them. The internal logic of keeping everything from Luke and Leia is far too thin and, sadly, what this means is that these prequel-era characters should never have been reintroduced in the first place.
I did have high hopes for the plan to subvert X-7 by convincing him that he is, in fact, Trever Flume from the 'Last of the Jedi' series but even this comes off as feeling forced and unsatisfying. We never do get to learn the truth of the assassin's past and, whilst this is clearly a deliberate choice by the author, it leaves his story feeling incomplete in a way that I don't think was necessary or beneficial.
Overall, whilst better than 'Firefight', this book isn't great.
Followed by 'Rebel Force: Uprising'.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Rebel Force - Uprising
0 ABY. The sixth and final book of the series. Here former Imperial Commander Rezi Soresh hatches a plot to get revenge against all those who have thwarted him; the Rebellion, Darth Vader and, of course, Luke Skywalker. When Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie fall afoul of Soresh, Div and Ferus Olin finally embrace their Jedi pasts and rush to the rescue.
Remarkably, this book turns this rather lacklustre series around at the last minute, being both an enjoyable adventure and a satisfying read. I think where it really excels is when, with the heroes of the movies out of action, Div and Ferus have to take centre stage. I couldn't help but feel that this series would have been better by far if it had entirely been about these prequel-era characters trying to get by in the rebellion era. As I mentioned above, both of these characters, sidelined by the Rebel Alliance, decide to take matters into their own hands in a suitably Jedi-like way. The final scene of Ferus' storyline was particularly satisfying to read, having followed the character since his appearances in Jude Watson's Jedi Quest books.
Added to this, is the fact that Han, Luke and Leia also manage to rise above their usual cliched roles and actually become engaging protagonists for the first time in the series. I particularly liked the counterpoint of having Luke develop some hard edges whilst Han's noticibly soften (particularly in regard to a certain Princess).
It comes too little too late for this book to redeem the Rebel Force series but, taken on its own, it is nevertheless an enjoyable read.
4 out of 5