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Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

September 7, 2015


I listened to this as an audiobook and still felt like I had to explain it or make excuses to the people around me. I have no excuse, really. Like most dudes my age, I’m a Star Wars nerd (maybe an 7.5 out of 10). And, despite the incredible crappiness of the last three movies, I still feel like a little boy on Christmas Eve when I see trailers for the new movies (watch the trailer below, and if you don’t at least get a little goose-bumpy when you see Han Solo and Chewy, you should go see a doctor). Fast Company recently had a timeline of the Star Wars canon (the movies, books, games, graphic novels where the story actually counts in the broader Star Wars universe). Lords of the Sith appeared on there between the third and fourth movies (the last crappy one and the original, 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope). It has Darth Vader on the cover and sounded cool.

Taking it for what it is, it’s decently entertaining. Darth Vader and the Emperor are lured into a trap set by a band of rebels. The rebels manage to blow up Vader’s star destroyer, forcing the two Sith lords to evacuate to the planet Ryloth, home to all kinds of treacherous fauna, where they are hunted by the rebels. There are a few fun scenes and a nice, sinister dynamic between Vader and the Emperor (we find out that the traditional end of a relationship between a Sith lord and his pupil is for the pupil to kill the master). And one of the rebels, a vengeful female Twi’lek* named Isval, is pretty bad-ass.
*According to the Wookiepedia, Twi’leks (pronounced /’twilɛk/ or /’twaɪlɛk/), sometimes referred to disparagingly as ‘Tail-heads’, were an omnivorous humanoid species originating from the planet Ryloth. They tended to eat cultivated molds, fungi, and rycrit meat. Their distinctive features included colorful skin, which varied in pigment from individual to individual, and a pair of shapely prehensile tentacles that grew from the base of their skulls. The tentacles, called ‘brain-tails,’ ‘lekku,’ or ‘tchun-tchin,’ were advanced organs used for communication and cognitive functions.” That snake-headed dude who whispers into Jabba’s ear in Return of the Jedi and the girl who falls down Jabba’s trap door and gets eaten by the Rancor in the basement are both Twi’lek, I believe.

The writing is what you might expect in a Star Wars book. It moves along at a decent clip. What bugged me most is that Vader and the Emperor do too many things that seem out of character. In an early scene, Vader ejects from his fighter and uses the force to fly through space and and board a rebel ship. And he and the Emperor do a lot of sprinting, propelled by the Force. I imagined a high-speed Benny Hill kind of thing. It’s pretty silly and dumb. Vader doesn’t run. The whole slow, plodding walk is part of his bad-assery. It was like the part in the new movies when we see R2D2 flying around with jets on his feet. I’m sure it was supposed be a cool surprise, but I was like WTF? R2 doesn’t have rockets on his feet. Vader doesn’t fly through space. And he certainly doesn’t sprint.

There was also what I call the Boba Fett Paradox.™ You realize, as you learn more about a cool character, that part of what makes them cool is the mystery. You want to discover more about them, but that discovery diminishes them. Definitely in effect here.

Another quibble: do we need to be reminded with everything that Vader does that it is “augmented by the Force?” He runs, propelled by the Force. Jumps, augmented by the Force. Uses the Force to choke people. Throws these giant bug creatures around using the Force. I think we’re all well enough versed in how the Force works to not need reminding every time it’s used.

Finally, there’s this weird, heavy-handed political theme that is inserted a few times. The rebels remind themselves that they are “freedom fighters, not terrorists.” It not only feels anachronistic (of 2015, “not a long, long time ago”) but it’s never really explored. And although there’s a little moral ambiguity with the characters, it’s pretty clear who the bad guys are (hint: the ones wearing all black). This is not a galaxy of subtlety.

But whatever. You can’t really complain about the processed sugar in your cotton candy. And I will say, as an audiobook, the production on this was excellent. Music and sound effects are used sparingly, but to great effect. It is still awesome to hear the sound of a light saber.

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