Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Annihilation review


    Star Wars: The Old Republic: Annihilation chronicles the adventures of Theron Shan, spy and son of Jedi Grandmaster Satele Shan. Born without sensitivity to the Force, Theron Shan was still trained in Jedi techniques and uses them as a Republic spy. I didn't read the comic book mini-series which introduced him but was eager to get acquainted with the character in the novels. I'm a huge fan of Drew Karpyshyn's work and was interested in his take on the character.

    Honestly, I can't say it was all that impressive.

    If I could summarize Annihilation, I suppose I'd choose the word generic. It is very recognizably Star Wars, unfortunately it's lacking in anything which really distinguishes it from the hundreds of other works based on the franchise. There's a Big-Bad Evil Sith (double points for being a fallen Jedi and cyborg) who has a Big-Bad Evil Starship the heroes want to blow up. Theron is a scoundrel who doesn't pay much heed to the Force, he's got a Jedi Master mentor who does (double points for being the Big-Bad Evil Sith's mentor), and an even more scoundrel-like alien girl who can't speak English (or "Basic" if we're to be accurate to the setting) very well.

    There's also the fact we meet Theron's father during this book. Is he a nameless trooper that Satele Shan once loved? Some guy she shared a moment with? A fellow Jedi? An almost-as-generic Sith Lord? No, actually, he's another hero every bit as big as Satele Shan. Theron Shan is the Jacen Solo of the Old Republic era, the child of two legendary heroes. I love Star Wars to death but the 'bloodlines of awesome' thing needs to go die in a fire. I hated it in Star Wars: Legacy and I'm not too big of a fan here.

    I think part of my disappointment stems from the fact the Old Republic era promised something new to the Star Wars era. Not moral ambiguity, we got enough of that in the NJO, but nuance to the character. The Sith are fully three-dimensional characters in the Old Republic Era and the Jedi Knights are at their most flawed. The conflict is a great deal more touch and go because, as stated during the Clone Wars, there's heroes on both sides. This is a book about plucky heroes and mindlessly evil Sith which feels distinctly paint-by-the-numbers.

    Part of my problem is Theron's character irritated me. I don't mind heroes who break the rules but the easy way he coasts over his superior's orders and does whatever he wants makes him somewhat boring. There's also his stalker-like relationship with Teff'ith the Twilek. Teff'ith repeatedly makes it clear she doesn't want anything to do with Theron, only for him to ignore her wishes and stalk her around the galaxy. It's not romantic or paternal, it's just plain creepy.

    I think a big mistake of the writers and developers was to begin the Sith Empire and Old Republic war again. The Cold War was an interesting promise, forcing both Jedi and Sith to treat each other as friends or rivals rather than enemies. Breaking it out into a war again give us any new stories and just continues the cycle of murder between the two sides we've seen literally dozens of times before. A curse on Darth Baras (and the writers) for destroying an interesting premise.

    My irritation is doubled because the book hints at nuance while not really bearing it out. There's a Sith Lord on the Dark Council (whose membership now resembles a game of musical chairs) who wants to stop the in-fighting and focus on fighting the Republic. There's questions of sacrificing thousands of lives to save billions. Theron is forced into a desk job at one point, lightly punished for nearly getting a bunch of his fellow soldiers enslaved. All of this is swept under the rug for the "destroy the superweapon" plot people were tired of by the time Kevin J. Anderson created the Sun Crusher.

    Despite all this, I can't say Star Wars: Annihilation is bad. It's just disappointing. Perhaps I've read one too many books with sympathetic Imperial protagonists and was hoping for something better from the author of the Darth Bane trilogy. Darth Bane was pure evil and his Sith philosophy was too, yet you got into the head of the Dark Lord. You understood his rationale, insane as it was. Here, the Sith are just mustache-twirling bad guys who I half-expected Captain America to show up and punch. That would have made the book better. Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance wasn't perfect but gave a much more interesting look into the Sith and Imperial mindset.

    I recommend fans of the Old Republic MMORPG give it a once over but everyone else should give it a pass.

    5/10

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