This is the first mega-series attempted in the Star Wars universe, and the 19-book saga has been pulled off with amazing skill, guided admirably by Shelly Shapiro (Editorial Director, Del Rey Books) Sue Rostini (Managing Editor, LucasFilm) and Lucy Wilson (Director of Publishing Lucasfilm), and written by some of Science Fiction's leading lights. [See comments for full, chronological list of novels & authors.]
Set 25 years after Star Wars IV: A New Hope
, the series covers the invasion of the Star Wars galaxy by the Yuuzhan Vong - a brutal, warlike and somewhat sado-masochistic race bent on subjugating the entire galaxy and ridding it of technology. The invasion begins in Vector Prime
(R.A. Salvatore), setting the scene for the greater Vong conquest of the galaxy; focussing on the advance force
s - specifically, Nom Anor, a firebrand sent to sow discord among the newly formed and still-fragile New Republic.
While the series is thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding to read, the task of reading all 19 in a row could be tiring at times. While the writing throughout was of a very high standard, there are only so many ways one can write about X-wings dogfighting with coralskippers (the Yuuzhan Vong's living ships). I found myself skimming over a number of battles just to get back to the main plot and storyline.
The characters we all know from the movies are still around, with much of the storyline focussing on the effect of the invasion and ensuing slaughter on the Solo family: in the novels following The Return Of The Jedi
, Han Solo marries Princess Leia, and they have three kids - Jacen and Jaina (twins) and Anakin. Predictably, all three are strong in the force, and their development as characters underpins most of the story arc - especially that of Jacen. All three characters are very well portrayed for the most part, and you start to love them as much as Han and Chewbacca - each is very different from the other, with military-minded Jaina, introspective (and often annoyingly preachy and sanctimonious) Jacen, and impetuous and highly skilled Anakin.
The rest of the cast is made up of such a panoply of characters and races that describing them all here would be a vast undertaking. Needless to say, there are some integral characters that you see develop throughout the series, adding further layers to the story, giving it more political and emotional depth.
Two significant characters are killed off during the series, in order to provide impetus and motivation for much of the second half of the series, creating a darker feel to the Star Wars universe - something that in previous books was usually dispensed with in order to keep the
fanboys happy. One death in particular caused so much anger among the die-hard fans that the author responsible (R.A. Salvatore) received numerous deaththreats! (And people thought Trekkies were a difficult bunch!)
There are lulls in the action of the series, and some books appear to go off on tangents that are welcomed as a breather from the constant toing-and-froing between the New Republic and Yuuzhan Vong. Some of the novels are less satisfying than others (Kathy Tyers' Balance Point
, for example), while others exceed expectations. Dark Journey
(Elaine Cunningham) and Traitor
(Matthew Stover) were rather disappointing, not to mention lacking in some areas of continuity; namely everyone's amazing abilities when they get particularly desperate and succumb rather easily to the Dark Side - some of the stuff they are able to do is supposedly extremely difficult to learn... (not to mention their rather simple returns to the light). These are, however, minor quibbles.
A short overview of the better/most significant moments:Vector Prime
– The Yuuzhan Vong invade with a bang; the most surprising event is the death of a major character beloved of many. Sets the dark, more adult atmosphere for the series, and
introduces us to major characters that effect the whole story arc or at least significant portions of it. Excellently written, too.Star By Star
by Troy Denning – a long, if sometimes muddled instalment, it contains some major plot points and significant events that set the scene for the second half of the series. With the invaders obsessed with eliminating the Jedi, which they perceive to be their true enemy as well as arch-heretics, the next generation of Jedi embark on a perilous quest (naturally) to seek out and destroy the nest of Yuuzhan Vong-created Jedi killers (“voxyn”), recently employed to help the enemy’s anti-Jedi pogrom.Edge of Victory I & II
, by Greg Keyes - quicker reads, and far more action-packed than the preceeding Balance
Point, these novels were especially gripping. Conquest
sees the younger Jedi battling for their planet (they're all taught on Yavin 4, where the 2nd Death Star was destroyed) as well as one of their member being implanted with Yuuzhan Vong memories (Tahiri, the jedi in question, forms the backbone of some major plot points from this point on). Rebirth
sees Luke Skywalker and some friends infiltrating the Yuuzhan Vong's newly-acquired capital world, only to be confronted by a renegade, dark jedi - this actually seemed rather out of
place, but the descriptions of the altered world and Luke's adventures on it were so well written it is easy to forgive the somewhat bizarre events that take place.Force Heretic Trilogy
) by Shane Dix & Sean Williams - these detail the quest for a living planet that proves integral to the events of The Unifying Force
(James Luceno), which brings the series to an explosive and rivetting finale. Although the style of writing was at times annoying (no chapters, and the story jumps every 2-3 pages between the main areas of action, which made it frustrating as you can overdose on cliffhangers!), the story itself is excellent, mixing past events from throughout the Star Wars universe (the books and Episodes I, II and III) with more information about the Yuuzhan Vong culture.The Unifying Force
finishes off the series with aplomb and fails to disappoint. Every aspect of the series is wrapped up, with mysteries
solved, characters finish their various personal journies (be it Jacen's spiritual journey, or Nom Anor's... well, his life...), and the war between the Yuuzhan Vong and the New Republic (by now renamed the Galactic Alliance, because the New Republic fell apart quite spectacularly) comes to a close. There are a few surprises (look out for Onimi, the Yuuzhan Vong Supreme Overlord's jester/familiar) and a satisfying end to the saga.
Another great science-fiction epic, it is well worth reading. I'd recommend breaking it up by occasionally reading something else, but on the whole, this is an excellent series, adding depth and character to an already highly developed science fiction universe. It might be tempting to skip books which, I suppose, would be okay, but as the 19 volumes essentially make up one extremely-long novel, I would advise sticking with the whole series - without reading them all, you won't receive as complete a picture as needed. Also, as each book contains exciting moments, you'd miss out on a lot of the fun.