Commentary: Kirr Mistwelder’s Review of The Force Unleashed II Novel

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Today I do something a little different- instead of commenting on one of my own reviews, or even a review from Man in Black Reviews, I’m commenting on Kirr Mistwelder’s review of The Force Unleashed II by Sean Williams.

I highly -HIGHLY- enjoyed The Force Unleashed II novelization by Sean Williams. It continues to be a bit like a dog in a china shop, bumping carelessly into the shelves and wobbling the continuity dishes, but never smashing through them like a bull might do – just showing, similar to The Clone Wars, that it doesn’t care what may have already been established. I still think (just like in the original The Force Unleashed novelization) that this book is hampered by the fact that it’s adapting a videogame – it appears to never stray far from the story the game tells (though I’m curious if the game goes back and forth between Starkiller and Juno the way the book does). At the same time, this story feels a little less like videogame levels with bosses at the end of the stage. There are a couple of spots like that, but less than the first book…

Basically… I doubt the game is going to have as much back and forth.  It’s possible, and if they’re pushing more toward the “cinematic” feel of the game (in my mind, I’m playing Final Fantasy VII)  it could certainly happen.  Actually, the best chance they have to accomplish their goals is to add things like that- they’re not going to make the game feel more free-roaming, certainly, so they might as well make it feel like those storybook games you play in elementary school (except better).

I doubt I have to summarize much about the opening of this book – it comes at least partially from the game trailers I suspect we’ve all seen. Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice is back – despite his seeming death at the end of the first book/game. Vader tells him he’s a clone of the original, and the only way to surpass his predecessor is to overcome his weaknesses – especially his love of Juno. But when Starkiller won’t even kill a robot-likeness of her, Vader orders his destruction. Instead Starkiller escapes, and the hunt is on to retrieve him.

According to people who’ve played the demo to TFU II (Review coming Thursday), this essential plot point is essentially negated.  I don’t want to ruin Jammies’ review out loud, but… this whole point is fucked up.  Stupidity on behalf of… someone.  Blackman?  Someone else?

The story switches back and forth (mostly) between following Juno’s adventures with the Rebel Alliance (fighting in a few skirmishes, some space-bound, some planet-bound) and Starkiller’s attempts to track her down. Juno can’t seem to get on with her life, despite his death having been 6-months earlier (and them never sharing more than just a single kiss) – yet she feels like she lost the one true person meant for her, so now she’s buried herself in her work. Starkiller meanwhile knows that the Alliance won’t trust him when he comes looking for Juno, he’ll be seen as an Imperial plant – and that’s assuming he can figure out where she is.

I have to say, if I didn’t know the context, this would seem pretty harsh.  The amount of sexual contact isn’t a very good indicator of emotion, nor is six months that tremendously long to get over a serious relationship (considering that Juno isn’t exactly weeping and staring at the wall all night at this point)

unleashed_fettIt’s a little ridiculous that the entire Imperial Navy can’t find the Rebel fleet – but Boba Fett and his commandoes have no problem tracking them down, then lying in wait for Starkiller to show up (because Boba wasn’t hired to go after the Rebels, just Starkiller). It would have made far more sense for Vader to “allowed” Starkiller to escape, knowing he would seek out Juno – and put Boba on his trail so that Boba could tell the Imperial Navy where the Rebel fleet was hiding.

That’s simple enough to get around, I think.  After all, Boba Fett is one ninja. The Empire is many.

That said, Boba’s scene raiding Juno’s ship, capturing her, with Starkiller trying to catch them was similar to the big “Vader throws Starkiller out the window” scene in the first book. It’s a really cool sequence – the big climax of the middle act of the book. Boba is much more like his appearances in the movies, there’s very little to tie him to the greater EU in TFUII – which is probably good news for those who aren’t big fans of the character – and for those who do enjoy his appearances, it may not be too deep, but then what did you expect in TFUII?

I very much enjoyed Fett’s novel appearances.  They were very in character, because they were so simple.  The comic, however… well, from what little I’ve seen, is much more complex, and much more questionable in terms of Fett’s past characterization.

I pretty much bought the love story angle between Starkiller and Juno – it was played up much more in The Force Unleashed graphic novel than I remember it being in the original novelization – but ultimately it’s just something you have to “go with” in this book. I actually liked how the reader is getting introduced to some new faces in the Rebel Alliance, between Juno, her commanding officer – then there’s Garm Bel Iblis and returning Rahm Kota, as well as Berkelium Shire. Heck, we got more characterization out of Mon Mothma in TFUII than we’ve had in pretty much any other EU appearance of hers I can think of – and she’s not necessarily “right” about how the Rebellion should function – it’s a nice bit of background that adds to what we already know about Garm’s break from the Alliance.

You know, I didn’t think about this at first, but Kirr is 100% right.  All of this that we knew of… it had only been alluded to.  Now we’re seeing it, and through the eyes of a character whose role is almost like a prelude to Rogue Squadron (in that she alternates between almost Admiral-level importance and regular duties as a Captain)

I’m not sure about Juno as role model for Leia (and frankly, I think that was Juno’s thoughts we were hearing there, not Leia’s) – I found it more likely that Leia saw Juno as a friend in the Rebellion, someone almost her own age. At first I was annoyed at Wedge’s very minor first words (something about “we’re getting slaughtered here” and a general telling him not to panic – Wedge panic?!?) – but I decided that since this book takes place prior to ANH still (hence Wedge is probably a green recruit still) I was willing to overlook it – and later use of him in the book more than makes up for it. I also think they missed a nice opportunity to use Targeter (Winter) as Juno’s contact at Dac (instead of Bail). I thought the Yoda stuff actually worked really well.

The pilot that played the role of Ackbar in this battle (“sound the retreat!”) was referred to as “Antilles”.  There are two pilots named “Antilles” in the Rebel Alliance as of the Battle of Yavin, are there not?

I think I much prefer Kirr’s look at the Juno-Leia dynamic.  This is one of the two things about Leia that just stood out to me as completely ridiculous moments.  The other was Leia (who likes nice men), talking about having a scoundrel on the side.

The Winter comment is very true.  In fact, I’m surprised that Williams didn’t think of that, though I think I understand why.  While Winter is well known (and from the X-Wing books), more readers are likely to be interested in Bail Organa’s role in the last days of his life than Winter’s mid-career adventures.

I… can’t agree about Yoda. It felt incredibly forced to me. Sure, what he did was believable for his character (although the fact that he made no effort to guide Starkiller at all is a little out of character), but everything, from the way he voice Shaak Ti’s lines in the trailer to the fact that he exists for a 30 second cameo in a scene that is comparable to scenes that were cut out of the original novel, screams “Yoda only existed to get us that much more money!”

On the other hand, I thought the PROXY stuff didn’t work well at all. I have no idea what was going on with him, nor what the story was trying to say about him. I think the ending was a HUGE missed opportunity. PROXY gets back his primary programming (which he’s been looking to regain through the whole story) – we’re reminded in a scene that PROXY’s primary programming was to kill Starkiller. Starkiller saw in a vision that one of his clones kills him – but he has avoided that by killling all the clones. PERFECT opportunity to have PROXY finally achieve his goal, disguised as Starkiller to kill him on the ship at the end, free Vader and one of them kill Juno as well. This story practically begged for a tragic ending, and instead we get a completely open ending, where too many things are left unresolved, for the obviously planned TFUIII – which looks like it’s never going to happen. Again, here’s where I feel like Sean Williams was hampered by the needs of the videogame – and based on what we’ve seen happen with Republic Commando, I’m sure we’ll never get resolution to this story via book form unless a sequel game ever gets greenlit.

I didn’t feel this way about PROXY- or rather, I did, but in a different way.  I felt all along like it was something that wouldn’t get any resolution until the third book.  Part of this is because I didn’t even realize it was supposed to be a relevant plot until past the halfway mark of the book- I just thought it was a random loose end from the damage he received in the first book.

tfuiiThe big finale is a huge showpiece in the novel, taking place on Kamino and tying up nicely what I’d consider a bit of a loose end in the EU. If Kamino is so damn important in The Clone Wars, how come it’s never a part of the movies/EU starting with ANH? The answer – the Rebels took that shit out in one of their first major raids on the Empire. They sink the whole damn city, destroying it’s clone making facilities and (hopefully) any Starkiller genetic material as well. Here the reader gets to go from navy vessel warfare, to starfighter dogfighting, to lightsaber dueling – ending with Starkiller facing his “master” once again. This finale is a major part of the end of the novel, stretching for chapters, and you’ll be glad it did. I especially enjoyed Starkiller fighting off the hordes of his own clones, like a scene out of The Matrix Reloaded.

This was just too meta for me to really get into it.  This is probably one of the most heavy areas of the book when it comes to, as Jammies said “watching a friend play a video game”.  Wave after wave, each one slightly more difficult to defeat and requiring a slightly different strategy that’s spelled out for you almost the way the strategy guide would.  It was also breezed through almost as quickly as the actual fight would be in the game, which made it a little hard to take seriously (one minute, he’s pondering the philosophy of genocide, the next it’s “better them than me, BOOM, Bitch!”).

While the story played up the question of “who is THIS Starkiller – clone or original” – they never answered that question. As Iurus alluded to, WAY too many questions left open at the end of this book/story – obviously intended for a TFUIII that now seems unlikely to come. Vader in Alliance custody. Starkiller’s identity. Again, a better ending (not Sean Williams fault) should have tied up both these plots – for instance with Proxy killing Starkilller, Vader escaping, and Starkiller in his moment of death asking Juno to call him Galen – as he finally accepts who he really was.

One of the complaints about the first game that hits me harder here.  Darth Vader.  Could have been killed.  By the Rebels.  Before A New Hope.

And for the Galen thing, let me quote my own review (which I’ll be commenting on soon enough):

While I’m praising this book, want to take a guess at what’s not in it? I probably can’t say much- spilling the details would have that bounty hunter knocking at your door, too- but if you try to think back and figure out one of the things I hated most about the first book, you’d be pretty crinking close.Yet ultimately, I was really entertained by this book. The story really had me from the first page, and I just had a heck of a time reading it. Now I’ll admit, I recall enjoying TFU pretty well too (though I also remember liking TCW novelization more than TFU – I read them both around the same time) – and I’d definitely say I liked TFUII more than the original. This is one of those high-octane books, where the action rarely lets up and the reader is brought along on the ride. It’s not a deep story, but as I said at the very start of this review – it is a whole lot of fun, and I certainly recommend it.

I hope you guys found this interesting- this is what resulted when Kirr asked me for my own thoughts on the novel during a discussion of his review (and yes, I have full permission to reproduce his review in this way).  Comments on my own review coming up, have a good week!

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One thought on “Commentary: Kirr Mistwelder’s Review of The Force Unleashed II Novel

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