Matthew Stover, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Century, 2005. Pp. 432. UK: ISBN 0712684271. £17.99; US: ISBN 0345428838. $25.95.

Reviewed by Jehoshaphat

A novelisation of the third episode of the Star Wars hexology, Stover has based the work on the story and screenplay by George Lucas (who requires no introduction). This episode deals with the inevitable destruction of the Jedi Order, rise of the Empire and baptism-of-fire of Darth Vader.

Episodes I and II set the political and ideological scene of the entire series, setting in motion the Clone Wars, a saga most fans will remember was first mentioned by Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Episode IV in the Late 1970s. The majority of Episode III deals with the final battles of the Clone Wars three years on, and looks at the emotional effects of this long struggle has had on the key characters and the political fibre of the Galactic Republic.

It is against this dark background that the seduction of Anakin Skywalker by the evasive Darth Sidious is set. Stover focuses on the thoughts and feelings of the young Skywalker as he revels in his superior abilities and sensitivities to the Force, while desperately hiding his forbidden marriage from his friends, peers and superiors. Anakin conceals more than just his misdemeanours his feelings are kept secret to all but one man... He is overwhelmed by terrifying, prophetic dreams, and the fear of losing those he loves: his wife, his beloved friends and mentors Obi Wan Kenobi and the sinister Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, Palpatine. When Anakin learns of wife's pregnancy, his terror and insecurity, manifested in the form of a dragon, explodes.

Discovering that the key to saving his wife and child is in the restricted histories of the heretical Sith (a group of Dark Sorcerers who are the embodiment of evil, harnessing the more powerful Dark Side of the Force) Anakin's obsessions with this knowledge are further agitated by the hinderence introduced unwittingly by his Jedi colleagues. This causes alienation from Anakin's training and duty as a Jedi, and, more worryingly, his friends — all but Palpatine...

As the book continues to its inevitable conclusion, Anakin becomes more and more a pawn of Sidious, until he eventually chooses which side he is on, and is cursed for the rest of his days by terrible wounds. His redemption, however, is not lost as one day, he fulfills his destiny, and restores order to the Force (three films and three plus books, later).

The novel has to deal with several not entirely original themes. It remains to be seen whether Lucas has done them justice or not (I am thinking: not—but this is a review of the novelisation, and not the film). Dark images are provided in an attempt to visualise Anakin's fear, frustration, and finally rage as we are taken on a voyage through his thoughts and shown his demons. We are constantly reminded of this dragon creature that embodies the knowledge that death is inevitable; it is coming to someone he loves sooner rather than later. The image of the dragon is dissapointing: a snake would have probably been more appropriate.

The Seduction and perversion of the heroic Anakin into a minion of evil is subtle and justifiable, at least to Anakin. Sidious uses the fear of losing the ones he loves to pervert Anakin, and helps to build his rage and frustration against his Jedi Masters. This seems to work reasonably well, and helps to provide a logical path to the birth of Vader. Is it desirable to have such a logical path? A tear could be shed though, as the narrative has one instance of Darth Vader trying to return to his former self, if only for the purposes of deception. When Vader proper is born, though, something interesting comes into existence from the perverted Skywalker. As he is horribly disfigured and dons the familiar mask and cloak, we can finally understand something of the beloved Darth Vader, a taste of his "twisted and evil" nature. Stover is applauded for that page and a half.

It is ultimately very difficult to feel much sympathy for Anakin. He is a cocky, arrogant brat, after all, as he was portrayed in Episode II, and seems to have failed to mature in any way. It is also difficult to get the image of Hayden Christiansen out of the mind whilst reading the book, for much the same reasons. His poor performance in Episode II will pollute any novelisation attempts of Anakin Skywalker forever. So much depends on this one character though, and Lucas just doesn't have the skill to create such a complex personality. Stover does a reasonable job of piecing together the mess of Skywalker's character.

We are also indulged in a treatment of the dangers of attachments, both from Anakin's point of view living in sin, and Kenobi's point of view, because of his attachment to Anakin (it is very difficult to see why he is so attached to the brat Skywalker, but this actually works for that very reason). Kenobi manages to shed this attachment, though, at the critical moment. This element is not overdone, and is an excellent sub-plot, especially when Anakin forgets his obsession and turns on his heavily pregnant wife.

Each section of the book has a personification of Darkness, which neither resonates with any of the narrative nor adds any of the poignancy as Anakin's life is slowly destroyed by a combination of factors. The seduction of Anakin and the betrayal he both suffers and practices is predictable and hardly entirely controversial. Tricky one that, the portrayal of darkness: best left to a licence with a degree of sophistication.

A lot of the story focuses on Skywalker, perhaps precluding the sheer number of lightsabre duels, space battles and worlds visited (including Kashyyyk, home of the Wookies, (though Stover barely dwells on this) as well as Dagobah, Alderaan, Coruscant, the Lava World of Mustafar, to name but a few). Farmiliar characters such as Bail Organa, Mon Mothma (the founders of the rebellion) and the apologetic Captain Needa, of Episode V fame, make welcome appearances. The Jedi, however, all of them, are just plain dull. With the exception of insights into Mace Windu's persona and of Yoda's realisation that he is no master but a pupil, the loss of the Jedi is not really felt at all.

It was interesting to see how the saga pans out though, and I was left with a sense of completion as the adventures came full circle, at least for me, in this novel. Shakespeare it ain't (even though it has pretentions of examining the human condition). But it is Star Wars. The Star Wars we have been waiting for, if not for the birth of Vader, but to see how the story has come around to the Trilogy we know and love from the Prequels we love to hate...

Read it. You will get more out of Episode III from this than the film will give you, methinks. (Jar Jar Binks is also only in the book for about 10 words. 11 words too many.)

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