Bringing the Fate of the Jedi series to a close, Apocalypse carries a heavy burden of expectations. Troy Denning’s previous series-ending novel, Invincible, suffered criticism for short-changing closure on story and character arcs from Legacy of the Force in favor of setting up plot elements for the next series. The eight prior books of Fate of the Jedi have struggled through pacing problems, inconsistent characterization, thematic flaws, and several midstream story arc redesigns. Apprehension more than excitement has preceded the ninth book’s release.
The good news is that, for the most part, Apocalypse succeeds as a Star Wars novel on its own merits and as a fitting conclusion to the Fate of the Jedi series. Denning’s skill at the craft of writing has long placed him among the very best writers in the Expanded Universe stable, and he clearly pulled out all the stops for Apocalypse. The prose is crisp and clean, the use of point of view is effective and at times devious, and with only a few brief exceptions the plot drives forward with the pace of an action-intense Star Wars movie.
Most importantly, Denning ensures that the characterizations are accurate, vivid, and carefully executed. The heroes and villains ring true to their core personalities, without the moments of illogical decision-making or out-of-character actions that have intermittently plagued the series. The Jedi are heroes unafraid to face down impossible odds, rather than victims of circumstance, and they rely on their friends and allies to chart a course toward victory. At times Denning has been criticized for writing Luke Skywalker with a morally compromised edge, but in Apocalypse we see a wiser, calmer Grand Master much more in the vein of his one-time mentor Yoda. With the inclusion of Jaina in a series of scenes with Luke and Ben, Denning finds a voice for the characters that shifts away from the isolated father-son relationship to an engaging camaraderie with echoes of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Anakin. And the book also does a great job letting the female characters showcase their physical and emotional fortitude, and gives them some of the novel’s best kick-butt scenes.
For all its strengths, Apocalypse cannot escape some of the flaws endemic to the weaknesses of the Fate of the Jedi series as a whole. The book finally includes scenes that allow Abeloth, the series’ Big Bad, to make some sense to the reader and that explain some of the plotlines that previously felt repetitive. While the revelations are appreciated, they might have been more effective earlier in the series, building dramatic tension by giving the reader more insight into the enemy’s frightening threat than the characters had. Similarly, the series has struggled to find an appropriate role for eight-year-old Allana, alternating between Han and Leia inexplicably endangering the granddaughter they are supposed to safeguarding on the one hand, and Allana having a maturity of personality or deed simply implausible for a third-grader on the other. Although Denning writes some great scenes for her in the book, he cannot solve the story design problem posed by her age. Fortunately, Apocalypse is a strong enough book on its own to allow most of these series flaws to fade into the background.
Ultimately, Apocalypse probably is, along with Outcast, one of the best two books in the Fate of the Jedi series. Although the series has not particularly lived up to its initial billing as “lighter” than the preceding ones, Apocalypse reflects that Denning has genuinely listened to fan feedback on both his own writing and the series as a whole. With so many plot elements and dark themes to resolve, the book nevertheless delivers a finale that brings closure to the Fate of the Jedi series without either leaving too many loose ends or tying down too many plot threads for future novels. Above all, Apocalypse draws to a close with a hopeful ending reminiscent of A New Hope, reminding us all of one of the most important themes of Star Wars.
The publisher provided FANgirl Blog a review copy of this book.