What is the worst Star Wars novel? The typical opinions given in response to this question are the Jedi Prince series, The Crystal Star, and Darksaber. Of these, the latter is the only one I never previously read; all I knew about it was what I’d heard in the Counter Monkey video “The Jedi Hunter”. So, I decided I simply had to experience this for myself. Here is my review after reading Darksaber, by Kevin J. Anderson.
Luke Skywalker and Han Solo return to desert planet Tatooine so Callista can regain the Force and her link and love for Luke. Trio join Leia, Chewbacca, Artoo, Threepio, and new knights. Durga Hutt, galaxy warlord, rebuilds Death Star superweapon as Darksaber. Lovely Admiral Daala and Pellaeon, second to Thrawn, marshal Imperial forces against Jedi.
“Oh no, not another superweapon!”
– Han Solo
Yes, another superweapon. Because the first Death Star, second Death Star, prototype Death Star, Tarkin Battlestation, Galaxy Gun, Sun Crusher, and Eye of Palpatine weren’t enough. By this point in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the Empire’s insane superweapon fixation is really starting to rankle. One has to wonder how they could afford to build them – especially since, in this very book, Pellaeon says that the construction of Super Star Destroyer Executor nearly bankrupted the Empire (for reference, the Eye of Palpatine was equal in length to the Executor, and the three Death Stars were even larger). And if it strained credulity to imagine that a galaxy-spanning Empire could finance the construction of such massive and costly superweapons, it beggars belief that a single Hutt could afford to do the same. The only possible explanation is the laziness of the EU writers, who were unable to come up with a plot other than “bad guys have big gun, good guys need to blow up big gun”. It is telling, I think, that none of the best Star Wars novels involve superweapons – you never saw Thrawn touching such things, for instance.
The book’s main problem, however, is not the addition of one superweapon too many to the EU; many would argue that that particular camel’s back was already broken long before this latest straw was added. No, Darksaber’s most glaring flaw is how weirdly it is structured, the way is erratically jumps back and forth between too many different story lines. The most glaring example is when Admiral Daala sets her Star Destroyer to self-destruct, beginning a fifteen minute countdown at the end of Chapter 10. We then cut to Mara Jade telling Luke about abnormal Hutt activity, and then cut to R2-D2 and C-3PO discovering Durga stole the Death Star schematics, and then cut to Bevel Lemelisk altering the Death Star designs to produce the Darksaber, and then cut to Luke and Callista touring a comet resort, and then cut to Kyp Durron and Dorsk 81 visiting Dorsk’s family on his home planet… and then, at the beginning of Chapter 18, we cut back to Admiral Daala, with that fifteen-minute countdown still going! Cutting away for one scene might build suspense; cutting away for seven whole chapters only builds laughter, as I couldn’t help but imagine Tenn Graneet’s voice repeating “Stand by… stand by…” the entire time.
It doesn’t help matters that many of the book’s subplots are superfluous. Did we really need to see Kyp and Dorsk 81 going on a road trip to Dorsk’s home? Did we really need to have Luke go to Hoth to rescue some stranded Wampa hunters and have a rematch with the Wampa whose arm he cut off in The Empire Strikes Back? No. Such diversions add nothing at all to the plot of this book. Indeed, this book feels like at least three separate stories combined into one novel, due to the fact that the two main plotlines never actually intersect. In one plotline, you have Durga the Hutt building his Darksaber superweapon and Han and Leia trying to stop him; and in another plotline you have Daala and Pallaeon attacking Yavin 4 and the Jedi there having to defend themselves without Luke’s leadership; and in the third plotline you have Luke and Callista revisiting all the most memorable planets from the film trilogy as Callista tries to find a way to reconnect with the Force. You keep expecting that these plotlines will all somehow tie together into a single conclusion… but they never do! I don’t think Daala ever even heard about the Darksaber; it’s just pure coincidence that she happened to launch her little war at the same time. If it was indeed at the same time; as evidenced by the galaxy’s longest fifteen-minute countdown, it’s extremely ambiguous how the events of the separate plots actually chronologically stack up with one another.
With the benefit of hindsight, the Luke and Callista plotline comes off as especially pointless. It’s really weird seeing so much emphasis is put on their love being a true and destined love, with them even already planning to have children, as anyone familiar with later novels knows he actually ends up with Mara Jade instead. On the one hand, it’s not fair to hold the novel accountable for later developments; perhaps, at the time it was being written, the editorial consensus was that Mara would get paired with Lando Calrissian and Luke would eventually end up with Callista. On the other hand, I think it is still fair to criticize them for trying to squeeze it into this book, thus constantly distracting from the main plot with scenes that go nowhere and accomplish nothing in the context of the story being told, rather than giving Luke and Callista their own book where they could handle their issues while acting as proper main characters in a proper story instead of a series of persistent, irritating footnotes to the main action around Daala and Durga.
But hey, on the good side, Daala is written competently for once. You may have wondered why the synopsis describes her as “lovely”, rather than using an adjective more commonly associated with major villains: “menacing”, “devious”, “cruel”, “cunning”, or so on. That’s because previous books did not exactly treat Daala’s character with the amount of care and respect which would be appropriate for a major recurring villain. To put it bluntly, other books have her behaving in such a cartoonishly, laughably incompetent manner that the novel Death Star was eventually forced to retcon in that she sustained a head injury during a Rebel attack which addled her mind for a time. That’s right, Daala was written so badly that things reached the point where literal brain damage was the only possible way to explain her buffoonery. Happily, her intracranial swelling has subsided enough by the time of this book that she is able to behave with a modicum of dignity. She’s no Thrawn, but at least you can believe that people are capable of calling her “Admiral” while maintaining a straight face. And she gets one of the novel’s most genuinely clever moments near the end, when confronting Callista: she switches her blaster from kill to stun, realizing that a lightsaber can deflect the plasma bolts of the kill setting but cannot block the wide electrical arcs of the stun setting. I must tip my hat to her, and the author, for that.
So, in conclusion, Darksaber is overstuffed with unnecessary plotlines, riddled with cliches and logical flaws, and just generally poorly conceived and executed – like the titular weapon, it was a shoddy derivative of a better idea which was doomed from the start. But is that enough to make it the worst Star Wars novel of all time? In my opinion, no: the Dark Nest Trilogy and the Legacy of the Force series are worse. And I’ll probably eventually get around to doing reviews explaining why.
Darksaber: the best that can be said about it is that it’s not actually the literal worst.
Final Rating: 2/5