Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson: Book Review

Excerpt of the cover art of Darksaber showing Han, Luke, Leia and two Imperial Guards

After Callista was introduced in Children of the Jedi, unlike other characters who were love interests of Luke, she was not forgotten by other authors, with Kevin J. Anderson’s novel Darksaber.

Darksaber
Written by Kevin J. Anderson
Published in November 1995

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The Plot

Luke and Callista

Following the events of Children of the Jedi, Luke is attempting to help Callista recover her Jedi powers. He has traveled to numerous centers of Jedi learning to find more information, without success. After an information gathering expedition fails, Luke takes Callista on retreats to several locations where he first learned how to use the Force, ultimately leading to the two being trapped in the ruins of Echo Base, surrounded by hordes of Wampas, lead by the one whose arm Luke cut off in Empire Strikes Back. They barely escape the planet, but not before their ship is badly damaged by the Wampa, forcing Luke to call on Leia for help with the Force.

Durga the Hutt, Han, and Leia

Meanwhile, Durga the Hutt has found Bevel Leminsk, co-designer of the first and second Death Stars, in order to build him a similar weapon so he can go a campaign of extortion on a galactic scale. Several of Durga’s spies steal the Death Star plans from the Emperor’s archive on Coruscant. However, the theft (and the identity of the thieves) is soon discovered and the New Republic government launches an investigation.

Han and Leia travel to Nal Hutta in response to Durga’s own “diplomatic mission” to Coruscant – accompanied by a New Republic fleet to engage in some military maneuvers (and to discourage the Hutts from trying to murder Han and Leia). While on Nal Hutta, General Crix Madine and a small commando team plant a tracker on Durga’s personal skiff, and uses that to trace him to the construction site of his superweapon. That superweapon is a scaled-down, cylindrical version of the Death Star called the Darksaber.

Madine and his commandos infiltrate the under-construction Darksaber, only to be discovered. Madine manages to send out an emergency signal to the Republic military before being captured, tortured, and then executed.

Admiral Daala

Finally, Admiral Daala has joined forces with Vice Admiral Gilead Pellaeon to unite the squabbling Imperial forces for a campaign against the New Republic military. Daala and Pellaeon bring the various warlords together for a peace conference, and when that fails, Daala just kills them all except Pellaeon and herself (naturally) with nerve gas and then intimidates the warlords’ subordinates into following her.

Her goal is to launch a new campaign against the Republic, through a series of hit and run attacks much as Thrawn did, but intended as terror attacks, rather for the purposes of gaining resources and intelligence. The initial campaign will send one force of Star Destroyers against a number of Republic worlds, to spread the New Rep’s forces thin, while Pellaeon and Daala launch a direct assault against Yavin 4, in an effort to glass the Jedi Academy, and to destroy the base from where the Rebel Alliance launched their first major victory.

Daala’s plan is uncovered by newly minted Jedi Knights Kyp Durron and Dorsk 81, who manage to send a warning to the New Republic before returning to Yavin 4 to assist in the defense. In the process, this brings the Imperial forces to Dorsk 81’s homeworld, which is the first planet bombarded in the attack.

(Dark) Comedy of Errors

None of these things actually work out well. Over the course of Luke and Callista’s journey, Callista discovers to her horror that she can regain access to The Force… if she calls on the Dark Side. Durga’s construction crews and equipment were all sourced from the lowest bidders, so after a Republic Fleet shows up to destroy the Darksaber, and he tries to use it on them, the Darksaber fizzles, shuts down, and then floats into some asteroids to be destroyed with all aboard. Leminisk manages to escape, and is taken into custody by New Republic forces.

On Yavin 4, Dorsk 81 persuades the first class of the academy, and the current students, to use him as a conduit to push Pellaeon’s fleet away, killing Dorsk 81 in the process. However, Daala’s fleet, lead by the Super Star Destroyer Knight Hammer is not far behind. New Republic reinforcements assist in the defence of Yavin 4, but it’s a difficult fight. Ultimately, Callista finds a downed TIE Bomber that’s barely flyable, uses that to sneak aboard Daala’s ship, and then turns the weapons bays and waiting TIE Bombers on the ship into a massive bomb to destroy the ship’s engines. This sends the Super Star Destroyer plummeting into Yavin.

Callista tries to kill Daala, calling on the power of the Dark Side, but unfortunately, lightsabers aren’t great at blocking stun bolts, and Daala is able to escape. Callista escapes in a lifepod as well but chooses not to return to the Academy, in an attempt to find a way to restore her powers on her own.

Worldbuilding

  • We’re introduced to the planet Khomm, which is inhabited by a race of genetically engineered clones. Dorsk 81 is the 81st of his line and the first on his planet that is known to have developed Force Sensitivity.
  • We learn that Palpatine’s Soul Transference ability can be used for other people’s souls as well – and without their consent.
  • The forces of the Imperial Remnant have been somewhat re-united underneath the control of Admiral Pellaeon.

Characterization

  • Emperor Palpatine: Following the destruction of the Death Star, Palpatine had Bevel Leminsk executed repeatedly, through ever-increasing degrees of escalation.
  • Bevel Leminisk: In addition to having been killed repeatedly, apparently after the death of the Emperor ended up laying very low until he was ultimately discovered by Durga – low enough that the Emperor Reborn didn’t find him.
  • Admiral Daala: Through deception and murder re-unites the Imperial Remnant for a very brief terror campaign against various New Republic worlds. Following the campaign’s catastrophic end, she steps down, ceding command to Pellaeon.
  • Admiral Gilead Pellaeon: Pellaeon is very impressed with Daala’s strategic mind, and is willing to follow her, and tries to persuade her not to resign after her campaign fails. Has now been made commander of the Imperial Remnant.
  • Callista: Is able to tap back into the Force through the Dark Side, but is actively rejecting that option, with a small handful of exceptions.
  • General Crix Madine: Personally leads the commando mission against the Darksaber, ultimately leading to his death.

Final Thoughts

Darksaber is kind of a weird mixed bag. On first glance, Durga’s Darksaber plan is dumb and doomed to failure. That said, re-reading the book, I got the sense from the book that while Durga isn’t even remotely as competent as Palpatine was, he’s not entirely dumb either.

Pointy Haired Hutt

Durga’s bad decisions are basically written as bad corporate decisions. He lowballs contracts to save money when he doesn’t need to. He uses underqualified, easily distracted laborers without enough supervision to keep them on task and the quality of work up. In other words, he’s trying to artificially push down the bottom line of the project to increase short-term profits, something we see very often in the corporate world.

And, the thing is, if he hadn’t gotten caught, this could have at least worked for a while. The reason the Darksaber got crushed right away after the initial fizzle is because the station was trying to flee a Republic fleet. Without having been discovered, Leminisk would have been able to do proper testing, fixed any issues, and Durga’s plan would have proceeded.

Further, with Daala’s re-united Imperial Remnant, had they not picked Yavin IV as their first major target, they could have stretched out their terror campaign longer before being brought down, tying up Republic forces that could have been used against Durga.

To put things another way, I feel like this was something of the status quo of things on the periphery of the Old Republic. You’d have warlords and gangsters running their little empires and terrorizing their neighbors before the Jedi came in (possibly backed by the Republic military) to take them down.

Pulpy Flavors of Evil

Also, this story, combined with the Jedi Academy Trilogy feels like it lays out fairly well the three flavors of Evil that I think KJA perceives in the Star Wars Universe. On the one hand, you have the two sides of the evil of the Empire. There’s the bureaucratic evil represented by the Maw, who perceives the deaths of millions as beneath consideration. On the other side of that coin, there’s the fascist brutality represented by Daala, who would consider the deaths of millions itself as a weapon for greater power and control. Then, outside of that there’s Durga, who considers the deaths of millions (or the threat thereof) as a means for personal gain.

It’s a pulpy way of showing this, but Star Wars is a pulpy franchise – and if you forgot that, there are the many deaths of Bevel Leminisk, starting to being fed to carnivorous insects, and moving on to being dipped to molten metal and getting spaced.

In all, I did enjoy this book, it’s not a heavy read – and if it wasn’t for the fact that I was sticking with reading the book over my lunch breaks, I probably would have had the book done sooner.

Next up is the first of the X-Wing novels, with Rogue Squadron.

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