Chad Bearden's Reviews > Order 66:

Order 66 by Karen Traviss
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Oct 05, 08

bookshelves: star-wars-novels
Read in September, 2008

If you're not a Star Wars nerd, then don't even bother reading this review. In it, I will be writing under the premise that the Star Wars novels are something to be taken seriously. They're not, of course (supposed to be taken seriously, that is), but when reading guilty pleasure fare such as the "Republic Commando" series, it is best to heed the advice of Roger Ebert, who states that when criticizing something, you should judge it based not on what it is about, but how it is about it. And though the topic of this book (clone troopers raised to be perfect soldiers looking for love and freedom in a galaxy at war) is a bit silly, Karen Traviss treats her subjects most seriousl, writing a damned good novel about a rather silly premise. If you're not a Star Wars nerd, you may not be able to get past that premise. But if you are willing to judge it on its own terms, this is a novel definitely to be absorbed and enjoyed.

So, the review.

To begin with, I've always felt that Star Wars novels are at their best when they shuffle the main cast off to the sidelines and focus on secondary and even tertiary characters (what's the word for the fourth level?) Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are interesting characters to an extent, but the stakes are never very high. Back when Bantam was still publishing the EU books (that's 'Extended Universe' for the uninitiated), I felt guilty reading them not because I was indulging in geeky fun, but because I was paying Hardback Novel prices for crappy cookie-cutter stories where nothing of any import happened.

With the exception of the original two EU series (Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, and Anderson's Jedi Academy trilogy), my favorite stuff was the X-Wing series. Michael Stackpole took background character, mixed them with a handful of original creations, then turned them loose in the Star Wars universe. THAT was interesting.

Karen Traviss has a similar remit with her "Republic Commando" series, and she does an equally entertaining job. Actually, maybe a better job, because not only does she create a basket-full of new interesting characters, she also fleshes out and makes rather compelling the backgrounds and personalities of Clone Troopers, giving them their own unique little society; she explores (here as well as in her contributions to the recent "New Jedi Order" novels) Mandalorian society, and practically builds an entire world around their mercenary culture; and she establishes a rather credible and sad series of events that would lead to Clone Troopers suddenly, and without question murdering their Jedi generals. And the kicker? She does this with characters based on a video-game!

I'm one of the few who actually enjoyed the majority of the Star Wars movie prequels, but there were tons of places where George Lucas skimped on cause & effect storytelling in order to give us big plot twists and shocking turns-of-event. With the "Republic Commando" series, and particularly with "Order 66", Traviss fills in a lot of those gaps, and in my opinion, provides four novels that actually enhance the films. Yes, I said it: these books actually make watching the movies more enjoyable.

The above comments could be read as a review of the series as a whole, but there are particular things about "Order 66" which should probably be mentioned.

For example: Traviss's decision to not actualy mention the eponymous contingency plan until well past the half-way point in the book. A part of my brain was wondering if there were any Star Wars fans out there being massively disappointed with a novel named after a huge turning point in Episode III that didn't seem all that concerned for several hundred pages with mentioning said turning point.

You see, Traviss hasn't set out to write a novel about big action set pieces and explosions and wars and battles. Though all of that is in the background, she is far more interested in writing intimate studies of a few of her characters. Most of the individual members of Omega and Delta squads are pretty thin on character, but the few she singles out (Etain, Darman, Fi, Skirata, Jusik, and even a little of Scorch and Vau) are so well drawn that when things go south in the book's finale, its surprisingly heartbreaking to see everyone put throught he wringer.

And as for the finale, it works so well because Traviss takes such care to keep contigency order #66 under wraps until very late in the game. If you've seen the movie, then you already know what is going to happen. So instead of simply indulging in the obvious melodrama that Order 66 could bring about, Traviss lets her readers watch the cast go through their lives, naively planning their futures and exploring their new freedoms, while you, the reader, cringe since you know that everything is going to end in catastrophe. It was a subtle choice I honestly didn't expect to find in a Star Wars book.

I've read almost every Star Wars novel written, and I've never had any urge to read the non Star Wars stuff by any of the EU authors. I hear Kevin J. Anderson and James Luceno and Michael Stackpole have written all sorts of other great sci-fi. But frankly, I don't care. The Republic Commando series actually has me wondering if maybe it would be worth my time to go check out some other Karen Traviss works. I'm honestly that impressed with her writing.

If you're a fan of the EU, don't miss this series. Karen Traviss has easily written the best Star Wars books of the last ten years.
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message 1: by Michael (new)

Michael Great review. I did enjoy this series but found Travis's comments a bit too opinionated at times. Her moral equivalency arguments with jedi and Sith never sat well with me. Anyway, though the prequel s h ad their problems I felt episode 3 was near perfect (minus some bad acting/dialog). So seeing a book that explores that awesome moment in time sounds great. I think I'll go back and give this one a go thanks to your review.


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