Luke and Ben seemed to have abandoned their mission to uncover the murky truth of Jacen’s turn to the Dark Side during the third FOTJ book, Abyss, when a weird new tribe of Sith caught their attention. In Backlash, the adventure continues.
Luke’s on the prowl, metaphorically sniffing out Vestara Kai like some crazy bad ass Jedi hunting dog. With his blood splattered on her person after a lightsaber battle that ended with the death of her Master, Vestara is unaware she’s even being tracked, but you can bet she’s looking for a place to hide. Ben, aware of his father’s exhaustion and despite Luke’s protests, elicits the help of the Jedi via an encrypted, sneaky, and very under-the-radar message intended to make absolutely clear it isn’t Luke who’s asking (which would violate the terms of his parole.) Eager to help and reminding us the “good thing about the Solos and Skywalkers” is they “never run out of things to do” (p. 6), Han and Leia pack Allana and her pet nexu aboard the Falcon and head to the place Luke and Ben guess is the most likely location Vestara would land: Dathomir. And here, ladies and gentlemen, is where the fun begins. What follows is a witty and wild adventure in which Daala realizes she’s in over her head, Han gets a flamethrower, and a nexu manages to elicit more pathos out of me than Allana ever will.
Now that there’s more time between FOTJ releases, the page count per book can go up and fans like me can feel we’ve bought something worth the cover price. Let me make this clear: the extra pages were not only needed, but they’re everything that made Backlash read like a complete installment in the series rather than a rushed addition or afterthought. Every success reveals a new failure though and unfortunately, no matter how much I’m enjoying this series, something went wrong.
To be fair, there are many things going on behind the scenes that have affected FOTJ. One of those is the release of the Lost Tribe of the Sith books as e-books. Sure, they’re free, but they’re e-books. I don’t know about you, but I hate e-books. Sitting to read in front of my computer for extended periods of time isn’t as easy as sitting with a physical book. There’s considerably less eyestrain; not all of us can afford fancy e-book readers with e-ink (or to keep printing each story). Some of the plot in those books, which I still haven’t and refuse to read until they’re in print, would, I hear, have helped clear up some of my confusion over the latest band of Sith apparently no one’s ever run into before. With the release of Crosscurrent, I finally got a lot more information and backstory that I really should have gotten before I read the first FOTJ book, Outcast. It might be too much to ask for books to be released chronologically, but it would have been really, really helpful.
I bring this up because suddenly Zekk’s madly in love with someone named Taryn. I was as baffled as everyone else–when did this happen? I can only guess, after a kind fan suggested, theirs was a romance forced to bloom behind the scenes, after Blood Oath was canceled. Honestly, though? I think these kind of ‘surprise!’ revelations lose any real relevance when they come out like this, especially because Zekk played a larger role in LOTF and has since then suddenly dropped out of existence. His return is lukewarm, unexplained, and unfortunate in execution. Allston, to his credit, was doing the best he could. It’s not his fault Blood Oath was cancelled, and I’m sure at some point, if it wasn’t him who corralled Zekk back into the narrative, it’d just be another author. Kudos to you, Allston, for taking the bullet.
Now that Zekk’s back, I couldn’t really understand his role in Backlash. Luke and Ben have made it on planet and are tracking Vestara when they run across a clan of Witches and a little bit of trouble; Han and Leia are off to investigate when they leave Allana in the Falcon with the droids and nexu; Zekk and Taryn are supposed to be watching the kid, but fail to intervene or even notice when Allana successfully outmaneuvers 3-PO (we all know how hard that is) and sneaks off to rescue Artoo. He shoots something once (I think) and is never brought to task for her being scared half to death and the nexu getting a concussion. Someone please correct me and point out where I misread Zekk’s actual involvement. I’m not above being corrected, I’m just confused.
Zekk and Allana aside, the return to Dathomir was, surprisingly, most of what made this book so much fun for me. Since Luke’s last visit, the Dathomir Witches have evolved a little and emancipated their men – they can leave clans, form others, own property, vote, and wear pants, too. There were many jibes at the expense of traditional Dathomiri gender roles made even more entertaining when the gang is politically caught up in the elaborate process of the joining of two mutually exclusive, gender-polarized clans in the one thing that I never knew was missing from Star Wars: Dathomir Olympics. It’s about as backwater as you’d expect: rock throwing, sharp shooting, wrestling – you get the idea. There’s even medals; Han wants to make his into coasters. Dathomir’s also famous for rancors and darned if there isn’t an influx of them and some skirmishes that bring to memory Luke’s caged battle with Jabba’s wee baby pit monster. Delicate political negotiations aside, the diversions of the games was a great balance to Ben’s investigation into Vestara’s real motive.
We also get to meet some new and interesting characters. In particular, I’ve grown fond of Dyon – a Force-sensitive and unsuccessful Jedi candidate Ben hires for the cause at 5 credits, apparently the going rate for Jedi. Dyon is the little character that could – the type we don’t see enough of in a world saturated with familiar heroes and villains.
Speaking of villains, Allston’s portrayal of Daala has turned into a bit of a caricature of the stiff woman we’ve come to know and expect. At times it seemed she was making fun of herself, but perhaps it’s just Allston’s characteristic touch of humor that unclenched the Chief of State and finally started letting her realize just how big a can of worms she’s unleashed. Although, if you ask me, “policing” the Jedi is not the same thing as sending Mandos in for guerrilla attacks when no one’s looking and causing hundreds of thousands of credits worth in damage. She needs a dictionary as much as everyone else needs more ginko bilboba in their diet.
Everyone (Han, Leia, Jaina, Jag) is not only surprised when there’s a Mando attack, but act as if it didn’t just happen in Abyss or as if Wyn didn’t try to warn them about it through Fel, who as we all know by now, failed miserably at being the good guy by not passing along the information to everyone who should have found out about it sooner rather than later. The powerful dynamic and tension created from that misstep in the last book is gone from Backlash. Jaina and Jag are, blessedly, hardly ever front and center, which I’m glad for, not caring for either as a character and being lukewarm at best to their relationship. Unfortunately, there’s bound to be more Jag with the direction the plot is going, but I’ll deal with that when it comes.
Overall, Backlash was just as good, in my opinion, as Abyss, but a little less weird. I really love that Luke’s not allowed to do any important Jedi-related activities. It’s as if the entirety of Star Wars has said, “Enough. You’ve been sitting at a desk and meditating too long on the academic abstractions of the Force. Time to go out, play with a lightsaber, and have some fun.” Really, I can’t be the only one that misses Luke going out to take care of business when he’s been acting like the Grand Master mentor figure for so long. The story is definitely picking up and moving along, even though it took the gang an entire book to figure out if Vestara was really “evil” or not. Their doubt made way for some entertaining distractions, sleuthing, and allowed a couple of backwater no-fame secondary and tertiary characters shine like only Allston can make them. Dyon and Tarth, here’s looking at you, kids.
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