Ascension is the second to the last in the Fate of the Jedi series. It picks up where Conviction left off: the Jedi coup that brought down Chief of State Natasi Daala has left a large hole temporarily filled by Wynn Dorvan, Senator Haydnat Treen, and Saba Sebatyne. This triumvirate, an emergency leadership put in place during a rough transition of power, was not meant to last long. Encouraged by the revolutionary group Freedom Flight and the efforts of the peaceful rebel leader Rokari Kem of Qaas, planets across the galaxy are abolishing slavery and clamoring to join the Galactic Alliance. In the midst of political meetings discussing which planets are ready to join, political rivals seeking to take power for themselves begin making plans that could have large repercussions for these mostly non-human worlds.
When I said this novel picks up where Conviction left off, I kind of lied. Golden doesn’t immediately start with the plot to overthrow Daala or Luke’s mission to discover why Jacen went to the dark side. In a slightly jarring move, we are instead thrust into Thav, the capitol city of Kesh, Sith planet extraordinaire. Of immediate concern to the Lost Tribe is Abeloth. Do they join her or do they try to conquer her and use the ridiculously massive power she wields for their own sinister purposes? This becomes a major plot point in a novel that attempts to cultivate several different subplots together, but not always successfully.
The relationship between Ben and Vestara is one of these. The moment where Vestara decides to become a Jedi seems inconsistent with how she has been characterized until that point. I had a difficult time believing not that she could turn good, but the speed at which she decided to do so considering how slowly her character has grown over this series. Juxtapose her decision at the end of the novel (which I won’t spoil) against the teary, orphaned girl at the mercy of Ben’s sympathies and one begins to wonder if that is the ultimate goal for Vestara: if she really is just another throwaway Sith or if her indecision is meant to create tension in a lackluster, unbelievable romance. Jaina comparing their relationship to Anakin and Tahiri didn’t help matters—I didn’t believe that romantic pairing either. If I could suspend my disbelief about Vestara’s initial change of heart (deciding to become a Jedi), I could appreciate the internal struggle she has throughout the remainder of the book. It’s that struggle that I thought Golden captured very well at times. The problem with this and other plot points is, I think, problematic of the series as a whole.
As Luke points out to Vestara, “the galaxy is old, and there are only so many stories in it.” (page 155, hardcover.) When I finished reading this book, I set it down and used the timeline at the beginning to count from memory the number of Star Wars novels I’ve read. Including Ascension, I’ve read (more or less) 120 Star Wars novels. That’s a lot of tie-in material, folks. I’ve been at it for fourteen years, though. And over the course of those fourteen years and 120 books I’ve come to realize there are only so many times our heroes can go through the same things. Fate of the Jedi tried to, like Legacy of the Force and New Jedi Order, do something drastically different: place these familiar characters in more unusually radical situations than what we are used to reading and seeing how they and the galaxy are affected. Unfortunately I think Fate of the Jedi suffers from too many Big Things Happening, spread throughout too many novels and too many writers. There is the Lost Tribe plot, the burgeoning second (third? fourth?) Empire plot, Luke’s war crime penance, Han and Leia babysitting, anti-Jedi sentiment, the rebellion of enslaved worlds—nothing that would seem like a lot or uninteresting (except Allana), but when spread between three writers and nine books, I found myself feeling like I’d lost some important character development or plot resolution for the sake of simply moving the plot forward unevenly. Throw in even more subplots relevant to this particular installment and the novel becomes even more convoluted.
There are parts of what Christie Golden brings to Star Wars that I like. Perceptively making in-text decisions that an anti-alien, misogynistic character would probably assume a representative of a group of people is a male (using male referents such as “he,” “him,” and “his” before belatedly considering “she?”) because he unconsciously prefers to see that gender in a position of power is astute. I also believed Vestara had a difficult time ameliorating her upbringing with her decision to become a Jedi. She’s supposed to struggle. It’s not easy. And Golden makes it look hard, for the most part. Padnel Ovin’s reaction to realizing he’s been elected as a puppet leader is completely in keeping with the character we’ve seen so far: he’s a fighter and he’s not going to let himself be pushed around. Albeit, when he does see something wrong (Leia being imprisoned on ridiculous charges,) it takes him awhile to do something other than be angry at having to follow rules. For a controversial terrorist leader who isn’t used to following rules, it’s believable, but not for someone who sees a friend being done a supreme wrong. Thaal is a pretty ruthless guy who helps execute what I think is the first non-sacrificial suicide I’ve read in a Star Wars novel. Thaal scared me a little and that, from Golden, I liked.
But this is the eighth book in a nine book series. Things need to start wrapping up. And they do, albeit quickly and sometimes off the page (Lord Vol.) Luke needs to come back to Coruscant, the Jedi need to have at it with the Sith, Abeloth needs to die, and folks need to stop trying to bring back Palpatine’s Empire. The pacing of this series and the prolonged plot lines make what resolutions we do get in Ascension seem abrupt and truncated. When Lando is suddenly there at Han’s side I couldn’t help but wonder, did I miss a mention of him earlier or was he just thrown in to resolve the prison break quickly? Drikl Lecersen just kind of disappears; the Imperial fleet is still barricaded behind rocks. I like to imagine they’re still there, frozen in action until I pick up Apocalypse.
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