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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks

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George Lucas finally returns to the Star Wars universe that he launched in 1977.  As promised, the current trilogy of movies will deal with Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) and his conversion to the Dark Side of the Force by the emperor.

Senator Palpatine (currently Darth Sidious and later to be the emperor) makes a grand play to increase his power in the imperial senate.  He encourages the Trade Federation to besiege his home planet.  The Jedi council dispatches a young Obi Wan Kanobi and his Jedi master to negotiate with the Trade Federation to end the blockade.  The Jedi knights are attacked and flee the planet with Queen Amidala and her entourage in tow.  Due to a malfunction of their starship, they land on Tattooine for repairs.  Here they discover young Anakin Skywalker who is a slave.  The Jedi Knights realize that Anakin is strong with the Force and could be the greatest Jedi ever.  Can they free Anakin and stop the war with the Trade Federation?

Terry Brooks does a credible job with this novel despite the obvious limitations placed on him by George Lucas.  Brooks was forced to flesh out the anemic screenplay given to him by Lucas.  Although the movie was enjoyable, I thought it was just a rehash of the original Star Wars movie.  I expected Lucas to have developed a better story in the sixteen years since Return of the Jedi was released.

Brooks writes in his usual descriptive style and adds scenes not included in the movie.  There is an additional pod race sequence in the beginning of the book that I found interesting.  Also, Darth Sidious provides background on the evil Sith lords of whom he is a follower.  The book is a fairly quick read and a must read for all Star Wars fanatics since it provides additional information not found in the movie.  If you don't consider yourself a fanatic, just watch the movie.

Hopefully, Brooks will be asked to write the next episode.  However, I would prefer to see Brooks write the book and then have Lucas develop a screenplay from it.  I believe the public would be rewarded with a much more engaging story.

Reviewed by: Alan

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Star Wars: Rogue Planet by Greg Bear

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Rogue Planet is a disappointing entry into the Star Wars universe for Greg Bear, an established writer of science fiction. It is hard to tell the extent of the constraints placed on Star Wars authors by Lucasfilm Ltd. Therefore, I am uncertain whether this lackluster volume was the result of severe creative limitations thrust upon the author or whether Bear just didn’t do his homework regarding the Star Wars genre.

The "action" in this book takes place three years after The Phantom Menace. Anakin Skywalker, now 12 years of age, is being taught the ways of the Jedi by Obi-Wan Kenobi. Anakin is struggling to suppress his fear and anger…two emotions sure to lead to the Dark Side of the Force. To provide a distraction for Anakin and a break for Obi-Wan, the two are sent on a mission to the obscure planet Zonama Sekot, producers of the fastest ships in the galaxy. Once there, they must investigate the disappearance of another Jedi sent to the planet years before. Meanwhile, sinister forces led by Commander Tarkin (yes, the same Tarkin who was the commander of the Death Star) are at work trying to undermine the stability of the Jedi council…starting with the assassination of Anakin Skywalker! Will Obi-Wan and Anakin discover the secrets of Zonama Sekot in time to defeat the evil forces arrayed against them?

The book jacket sounded like a good plot. Unfortunately, the book falls far short of the jacket in its execution. The story meanders along at a snail’s pace and Bear generates very few exciting moments. The character development of the villains is insufficient to propel them beyond cartoonish buffoons that appear anything but menacing. The story fails to shed much light on the Jedi training that Anakin is undergoing. In addition, the "big dilemma" that Anakin has with the Dark Side of the Force (he kills one of the bad guys with the Force…big deal) fails to generate any heat whatsoever. Nor does it shed any light on Anakin’s eventual turn towards the Dark Side.

So, unless you are a die hard Star Wars fan who has to read every scrap ever written about the Star Wars universe, keep your wallet in your pocket and give this yawn festival a wide berth.

Reviewed by: Alan

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