Saturday, September 28, 2013

Star Wars: The Old Republic: The Lost Suns review

    I am of two minds about Star Wars: The Old Republic: The Lost Suns. On one hand, it is a perfectly serviceable Star Wars story. There's the Sith, they've built a nasty superweapon, and we have a hero with an interesting problem out to stop it. Unfortunately, the story is so dreadfully conventional I'm not sure I can rate it highly.

    What do I mean about conventional? Part of the appeal of The Old Republic is the fact the lines are a bit blurrier than normal. The Sith Empire has individuals who are motivated by the fact the Republic attempted to commit genocide against them millennia ago and believe they would do the same again given half the chance (they're right).

    The Republic includes people who believe there's no method too horrible for opposing the Sith. Yet, at the end of the day, the Sith are a "might makes right" dictatorship while the Republic is a democracy. It's genuine moral ambiguity without being contrived.

    Unfortunately, that moral ambiguity is completely absent from The Lost Suns. Jedi and Republic=Good. Sith and Empire=Evil. The Sith are building a bunch of superweapons and our heroes have to stop them. This isn't a bad story, really, but it is such a well-trod story that I find myself disappointed. Both The Threat of Peace and Blood of the Empire managed to nicely display the moral ambiguity of the setting without diluting either the Jedi and Sith's well-established roles.

    I perhaps am being too harsh on this particular point but even if the Sith and Imperials are evil, the least they could be is interesting evil. Darth Mekhis is a wicked Sith who wants to build a bunch of evil stuff and that's the extent of her characterization. Oh and she's a member of the Dark Council. I love the fact there's a Sith female main villain, I do. It's part of why I liked Kreia. However, that is not a substitute for personality.

    The only real meat to the story lies in the character of Theron Shan. The son of Jedi Grandmaster Satele Shan, he was raised as a Jedi Knight from birth only to discover as an adult he was insensitive to the Force. In short, his entire childhood was essentially wasted.

    We get a sense of Theron's determination in the fact he decided to become a Republic SIS (their CIA-equivalent) instead but that's about the extent of Theron's characterization. It's not so much that Theron is a flat-character but he keeps to himself enough that we never really bond with him the way we've done with other characters.

    Oddly, my favorite character in the book is Jedi Master Ngani Zho. I enjoyed him consistently throughout the book and wished he would appear in other stories. Even then, there was a disconnect as the book depicted a Jedi Master living as a homeless person bumming rides from one side of the galaxy to the next as something we're supposed to find disturbing. Except, well, Jedi Masters do that sort of stuff all the time. Up until the halfway point of the novel I wasn't aware there was a problem with Master Zho's behavior.

    My least favorite character from the book, however, was undoubtedly Teff'ith. I can't point to anything specific about her but I have never wanted a Star Wars character to die in a manner as horribly as I did her. Everything about her set my teeth on edge and while I have disliked characters before, her sheer unnecessary-ness to the narrative made me despise her. These feelings were not improved by a likable character being removed in favor of her. In a very real way, Teff'ith is my Jar Jar or Ken Palpatine.

    Even the ending felt emotionally unsatisfying. We have a chance to have Theron confront the person who set him on his life's path, the person who shaped his entire existence, and devoted about ninety-percent of his existence to a cause which wasn't his own. He has absolutely nothing to say to this person. This is meant to be meaningful and profound but, frankly, isn't very good drama.

    The Lost Suns isn't bad but it sure as hell isn't good. It's quite possibly the most generic Star Wars story ever told. Even the relatively original idea of being the non-Force Sensitive son of an extremely powerful Jedi gets glossed over. Any angst Theron might have experienced about the subject he's outgrown years ago. It's just not very dramatic and everyone feels like they're characters in a paint-by-the-numbers Star Wars story. The only thing we're missing is some droid comic relief and that would have actually made the story better.


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