Allies is the anticipated middle book of the nine-part Fate of the Jedi series. After Legacy of the Force’s sacrificial book five, it should come as no surprise if fans approached this book with some trepidation. The central book in the series undeniably serves as the pivot where everything begins to shift, and so all that follows will rely on selling the certain misery that befalls our favorite characters. Unfortunately, Allies fails to build on the strong elements of Omen or eliminate its shortcomings. The gravity of the book’s location within the series only amplifies the weak points, and as a long-time fan of the EU I closed the book feeling unsatisfied and disheartened. As a consumer, I’m wondering if it’s worth the $27 for the next book when this one was so poorly done. As a fan, I’m wondering who exactly is driving this bus?
To the reader, the craft of writing should be transparent. It can enhance the book, such as Stover’s beautiful prose, the subtle weaving of Denning’s narrative, or Allston’s gritty action. It should never distract by tearing the reader out of the reading experience. This book is riddled with typos, misspelled and inconsistent character names, odd point-of-view choices and odder random POV shifts, poor sentence and paragraph construction, and dissociative construction of dialogue.
In stark contrast to the deliberate, sometimes devious, use of POV by Allston and Denning, I get the impression that Golden put little thought or strategy into her selection of POV characters for most scenes. Most importantly, the author apparently forgot the Golden Rule of POV choice: only write from the POV of a child or a droid if you are certain it won’t come off as corny. Told from her POV, Allana’s discovery of Luke’s collaboration with the Sith reduces this book to the tone and mentality of a Young Reader’s novel in the midst of storytelling choices that strive for a more adult audience.
Random POV shifts reveal an inability to tell even a simple scene from a single character’s perspective. The author uses other characters, often just for a second, to get a point across; other times, there’s a wholesale head-jump in the middle of a scene without any line break or other indication of an intentional decision. Unlike Denning’s use of several non-demarcated POV shifts during the Mara’s funeral scene in Inferno, Golden’s serve no apparent narrative purpose other than to reveal the thoughts of a different character. There is a time and a place to break the rules. I got the sense Golden was trying to stretch her writing craft by emulating other authors, when she should have been focusing on the basics.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the weak sentence and paragraph construction that riddles this book. While some scenes flowed beautifully, truly stilted and awkward writing runs amuck. In my opinion, this occurs when the author was unclear on the characters, what she wanted from a scene other than serving some broader series checklist, and/or how a scene molded into the EU as a whole.
The best example is the first appearance of Lando Calrissian. The characterization of our swash-buckling capitalist was flat, the dialogue mind-numbing, and the narrative choppy. The editors should have sent the scene back with instructions to watch the Lando scenes in ESB and RotJ a few more times, rework the text, and only then resubmit with a better product. In addition to flat characterization, the scene suffered from poor construction of the dialogue itself. Separately, either one can jerk the reader from the story; combined, they become a sloppy mess of alphanumeric sludge through which the reader must trudge to turn the page.
Generally, dialogue in this book is indescribably poor. Beats meant to indicate a speaker were misplaced into the wrong paragraph. Other times, the beats were unnecessary, overemphasizing a point the dialogue already had made. Many of the conversations read as if the words had flowed from the author’s head onto the page with no careful scrutiny after the fact. It was as if time had run out and the reader is left with the initial braindump of a scene. Polish was severely lacking.
There are so many other weak scenes in this book that I can’t elaborate on them all. Dyon’s breakdown into madness is pitifully underwritten when read against similar scenes from Denning and Allston. The ultimate showdown in Sacrifice between Mara and Jacen was a breathtaking battle to the end; the showdown in Allies was anticlimactic in a way that I have yet been able to express to other fans. It tried to be Stoveresque and mystical, and ended up just being over before it started.
So why exactly does writing craft matter? There are marginal writers who can tell a good story. In this case, Golden did craft a few scenes that were good, even great. To the author’s credit, most of the scenes with Tahiri are well-done, and the character-building around several original characters were good. So it’s not as though the author isn’t capable of writing a quality scene or exploring a character’s motivations. The overall weak writing craft in Allies suggests two things: first, a failure to do her homework before outlining or writing the story, and second, sloppiness in the actual execution of the writing itself.
Unfortunately there isn’t much of a story in Allies, and as a reader, I’m left wondering if enough time wasn’t given to the art of thinking through the story. The overarching tale of Luke and Ben’s odyssey, which she inartfully calls just that in a piece of dialogue, flails about trying to beat the reader over the head to establish two groups: the new Sith, who aren’t the Rule of Two Sith, and then the Jedi, especially Luke and Ben. Many of these establishing scenes could have been combined or eliminated entirely. A couple scenes are enough to make the point; anything more is amateurish and betrays a fear that the reader won’t grasp the point unless it’s belabored into oblivion.
It’s obvious by the lack of any solid storylines beyond the odyssey that this middle book is mostly operating as a means to establish the next books in the series. I’ve complained previously that the books increasingly fail to stand on their own; FotJ is too much of a series, and not enough about writing books that can actually be read and enjoyed on their own merits. Despite its frequent shortcomings in interconnectivity between the books, the LotF books existed as distinct tales within the broader scope of Jacen’s fall. Each book had a beginning, middle and end – a journey. Not so with Allies.
Of all the plots, Tahiri’s is probably the best, and I can accept the cliffhanger courtroom scene because the character actually does complete an arc within this book. By contrast, the siege on the Jedi Temple wasted all its great potential, right down to the woeful reduction of Han and Leia to literal mouseketeers. Han and Leia’s role begs the question if Golden actually read Allston’s prior book. Lando’s appearance seems to be an attempt to draw our favorite scoundrel into a similar ESB role while paying homage to the older EU. But I’m still not sure why they needed the Rockhound, since the Sith-Jedi alliance took off from Klatooine without it, and we never got the sense that the Skywalkers and Khais would all be dead if it weren’t for Lando’s one-of-a-kind ship to protect them. What was the point? The entire Lando storyline felt contrived.
Another storyline more or less dropped is the Imperial conspiracy on Coruscant. A couple scenes in Allies might be meant to tie back to that arc, but they are too far-removed and too obscurely written to elicit any sense of dread the way Allston’s scenes with Treen and Lecersen did. Sometimes a story is better served by doing more with less, but in Allies this lack of interconnecting threads with a previous book fails to weave the arcs into the overall FotJ tale. A series should increasingly ramp up the reader’s trepidation with multiple threats to the health and welfare of the heroes. This book removes any sense of imminent doom.
The book is an eclectic mix of scenes that apparently are meant to set up future books. The specific lack of polish suggests the author spent little time scrutinizing the final product; so too the storytelling suggests the author spent little time pondering the strength of specific plot choices. Unfortunately, weak plots generally don’t hold up in the wash nearly as well as shortfalls in the writing craft itself. The holes in the story were so abundant I began to wonder if Han and Leia weren’t using this book as the cheese to bait their Temple-raiding rodents.
This is highlighted by the Klatooine tribunal, which plays like a set of marks on the author’s to do list: Get Jaina off Coruscant, check. Show that Lando has integrity, check. Show that Jaina puts doing what’s right ahead of personal interest, check. Considering the impulsiveness and emotional panic that drove Jaina away from Triple Zero, it’s mind-boggling that she would suddenly snap into rational, wise, Jedi Knight-as-impartial-judge mode while her uncle is still in peril, the Jedi Temple is still under siege, and she is deprived of a future she happily envisioned less than a book earlier. At the point Jaina and Lando miraculously arrive in system, almost simultaneously and just after the attack on the Fountain, the characters’ intersecting arcs jump the shark. Jaina’s rationalization to delay following her uncle relies on her need to do the right thing for an entire planet of beings and thereby suggests a serious investment of her time and careful consideration. Yet their preparation for the tribunal, the entirety of the hearing, and the judges’ deliberation is over in a matter of hours.
When Jaina finally does join her uncle, it’s clearly only to make another check on the list: Jaina has contact with the outcast Jedi Grand Master, check. While Luke rationalizes this meeting in the moment, it’s clear from other scenes neither he nor anyone else believes that Jaina’s appearance isn’t a violation the terms of his agreement. As are many of Golden’s characters in this book, Luke is continuously forced into rationalizing his choices to fit the plot, and not vice versa.
Once the Sword of the Jedi, one of the few living Jedi who has actually killed a Sith, joins her uncle’s team, she gets left up in space to look out for Ship. The rationale behind this is never explained, and the resulting Jaina/Ship space battle proves a complete waste of paper. A few pages with a Rogue Squadron worthy dogfight would have added greatly to the book, especially in light of the lack of action in the Luke/Abeloth mystic battle unfolding on the planet’s surface below. Amid that, a single paragraph could have revealed Jaina’s perspective on Luke’s utter waste of her talents. Then we reach the end of the book where, after making blatant points of showing and telling almost every character that the engagement is over, Jaina is sent home to Coruscant, thus completing the pre-Vortex checklist without giving us any actual story for her character.
Jaina’s storyline is a symptom of the broader troubles that plague this book. As a character, the last of the surviving Solo-Skywalker trio has progressed as a Jedi and a master of the Force, but remains victimized by the Jedi Order and crippled emotionally, much as she has been for the better part of the last twenty or so books. Jaina is once again undermined by a misplay on her love life. Perhaps if Jaina and Jag hadn’t been down this road previously, the broken engagement would develop as one last jostling of their romance before giving Jaina some bit of happiness that Luke, Han, and Leia have all been afforded.
In Allies, Jaina regresses back into old, self-destructive habits as soon as she’s faced with a crisis. Golden falls easily into the trap of romance novel formulaic writing: first establish chemistry, then have the woman (never the man) self-destruct, then write the inevitable happy ending being achieved through a shocking turn of events that saves her from her own foolishness. This degradation of Jaina’s development as a woman harks back to the Dark Nest days, which continued to play out in various books of the LotF series. Despite the best efforts of some authors to subvert Jaina’s connection and romance with Jagged Fel, it is obvious that the powers that be have invested a lot in the character of Jagged Fel and establishing this pairing’s love and emotional connection. Likewise, so have the readers. If this is the end of Jaina and Jag, then the editors will, in book five of their second flagship series in a row, take another core group of fans of a strong female character and annihilate any reason for them to continue to spend their money on the Star Wars EU. If it’s just a head fake, it only served to irreversibly weaken Jaina’s character.
The mistake made by the series, which comes to a fandom shaking moment in this book, is a complete lack of understanding for what the fans want for Jaina. The seal on a Jaina and Jag union as the next power couple in the EU never needed to be an A-plot storyline. It’s well established how the characters feel for each other. Their best moments of the series happen in Outcast, when they act as a team resisting the powerful forces tearing at peace in the Galactic Core. There is nothing left to sell the readers on the strength of the love this couple shares with each other. The renewal of their relationship was established symbolically in Fury, and reaffirmed by outside character POV in Revelation. These elements were built on a love story that had spanned the NJO and bumped around in the Dark Nest series. It was the author of the DN series who had thrown the latest potential hydrospanner into the mix at the last possible moments of Invincible, when Jag’s ties to the Jedi camp were hastily severed to make him the head of the Empire. Allies wearily exhumes the carcass of the dead horse called JainasplittingwithJagoverduty in order to beat the poor beast one last time to the utter disservice of both characters and the fans. Jaina breaks up with Jag in the heat of a moment; or to put it plainly, she simply does this to herself, not because anything epic or mythic got in her way of happiness with Jag. And that is not Star Wars. This storytelling choice adds to a whole broader list of complaints about the LotF and FotJ architects not being able to distinguish the difference between romance and romantic love and its role in Star Wars, while now compounding this issue with negligent misuse of sexuality and gender roles.
Putting the Glass Back in the Ceiling
From the opening paragraphs of this book, the story focuses on – borrowing from the author’s terminology – the characters’ needs, which are unmistakably tied to sexuality and gender roles on a multitude of levels. This theme persists from the opening paragraphs to the end as a mechanism to drive characters and their choices.
Worse yet, the storytelling choices surrounding female characters completely fall prey to stereotypical inequities when compared to their male counterparts. A pattern emerges within Allies that undermines women, sadly at a time when the glass ceiling is being shattered in the realm of the contemporary myth. I believe the powers that be have been trying to capture a greater female audience for some time. Unfortunately the author herself is unable to escape the vortex swirling around women’s roles that has permeated the post-NJO books, and the audience is left reading about victims instead of heroes and heroines.
In scene after scene, major characters are defined by their gender, their sexuality, or both. While I agree that is inherent in who any character is, this book repeatedly boxes women into roles more suited to ancient myths and tirelessly uses sexuality to drive character choices and thereby the plot itself. To illustrate:
- Luke is seduced by Abeloth, who poses as his dead wife – in her ship, in their bed. In addition to undermining Luke’s union with Mara, Luke reads not as a sage Jedi but merely a lonely lustful man tricked by his needs. In fact, the author chooses to use Luke’s need, in an awkward bedroom scene exposition, to compel Luke to abandon Lando and head to the Maw earlier than planned. All we need to know is that he has a deep-seated urgency to stop Abeloth and resolve the continuing mental spiral of the young Jedi Knights.
- Vestara, a 16 year old, is ordered by her father to seduce Ben. I have a personal qualm about this subject matter due to the age of the character and the use of an authority figure to compel her into these actions. Even putting that aside, though, it’s not just that this storytelling choice was made, but the number of times the author chose to bring it into play – repeatedly, from multiple POVs. It suggests the choice was sadly casual, with no appreciation for the undertones of child sexual exploitation. Golden had already done a good job of establishing the characters’ motivations, which makes hashing this part out repeatedly and expressly nothing more than more gratuitous sexuality in a book laden with it.
- Ben’s relationship with Vestara plays out under the backdrop of the Sith conspiracy to defeat his father. Yes, the teenage hormonal attraction between the pair is a topic that is unavoidable – but the handling of it in this book is too intricately tied to the story and the characters’ motivations that their plotline becomes about nothing else. Authors writing about young Tahiri and Anakin managed to skirt the same subject matter with a deft hand and clever allusions; the readers easily filled in the blanks back then. Not to mention that twice now in the past seven books, Ben has been put in the position of saving women (not men) who have given into the dark side…
- Tahiri’s emotional exploitation is expanded and explored through cross-examination in the court room. Her sexual relationship with Caedus is the means to expose her total subjugation to the Sith Lord. The sexist double standard is never more apparent than in this scene. The authors of LotF didn’t need to show Caedus’ sexual exploits to define his character as evil. He bombed worlds; he betrayed his family. This newest revelation comes after the fact and changes nothing about how we should perceive Caedus. Instead, the storytelling choice only serves to undermine female characters – Tahiri and Tenel Ka – in one fell swoop as gullible victims of Caedus’ sexual machinations. This revelation also brings to the fore the possibility that Caedus raped Tahiri. I won’t belabor the point except to say – for the sake of the story, it just wasn’t necessary.
- Jaina uses her feminine wiles to convince Jag he should assist in obtaining counsel for Tahiri. It’s not clear if the author believes Jaina needs more than her skills in negotiation and brainpower to get what she wants, but based on the pattern of sexually motivated character choices it raises the possibility. Later in the book, apparently incapable of dealing with a crisis, she has an utterly irrational break from logic when she asks Jag for Imperial assistance in the first place, then proceeds to snap out of her panic-stricken emotional babbling long enough to decide her engagement to the Imperial Head of State is a mistake merely because she made a hasty, ill-advised appeal for his assistance. This herky-jerky in-and-out of emotional melodrama continues throughout Jaina’s remaining appearances in the book. The character’s emotional state only serves the story when it suits the author, and unfortunately just long enough to make Jaina look like an emotionally stunted player. This type of storytelling is better suited in a romance novel.
- Daala is either using Nek in the bedroom or being used. Either way it boils down to sex as a means to an end.
- Abeloth relies consistently on the fact that the character is female to advance the plot. Sure, Golden didn’t start it, but she totally buys into the premise.
Perhaps apologists can explain away one instance or another, but the problem for me as a woman is the entire context of this book taken as a whole. Female characters are repeatedly written as inferior to their male counterparts, even the minor characters:
- The “red shirt” character – Kani, known to some by the intentionally demeaning diminutive K.P. – happens to be a girl. Her nickname Kenth’s Pet only works because she’s a female character. To add insult to injury, in a vain attempt to perpetuate the running gag of Kyp being a dolt, Master Durran flippantly reveals the nickname moments before she meets her untimely demise. This whole plot point, including Durron’s repeatedly misspelled name, is proof of lazy writing, a lack of teamwork and poor editing. Two Star Wars editors and two other Star Wars authors read this manuscript, and not one of them caught this typo or challenged the premise of the gag? Only the fans and characters suffer for it. The weight of Kani’s death is lost to the eye-rolling and groans of dissatisfaction.
- The slave who needs rescue on Tatooine is a girl; the fruit vendor on Klatooine who helps himself rebel against oppression is a boy.
- The news reporter who’s led around by the nose by the anti-slavery insurgents she’s covering is a woman; the wise news anchor who anticipates the uprisings becoming big news is a man. In further proof of the author’s persistent need to bring sexuality into the story, this same female news reporter questions a slave on the required duties of his servitude, ultimately drilling down to the obligation of submitting to rape. Does it make the author’s point that slavery is horrible? Yes. Did she need to take it that far? Not at all.
I’m not suggesting that authors should have to mull over every minutiae of gender-role implications for every character they write. Absolutely not. But they do have an obligation to look at the big picture of their overall portrayals of the characters within each book and the EU as a whole. Most of all, my point is that none of this would even have come up if Golden had done a better job with the major characters and their motivations.
What is tragically lost in this series, and especially this book, is the true essence of the Star Wars contemporary myth. Instead of focusing on the epic struggle of characters in a battle between light and dark, Allies weaves a story about victimization. We are left with gullible heroes, children peddling sexual favors at the urging of parental figures, women victimized by evil men and vice versa, rape, sex as a means to an end, and self-inflicted relationship woes spelled over the course of a poorly edited book. Our heroes have been duped by plot devices and our heroines… well, none seem to be left.
The Star Wars EU doesn’t need to be brilliant, but it needs to be better than this.