It’s time to rip the adhesive bandage off of this terrible novel trilogy.
The Black Fleet Crisis: Shield of Lies
Written by Michael P. Kube-McDowell
Publication Date: December 1, 1996
Timeline: 16-17 ABY
The book returns to a more conventional, linear narrative structure, instead of splitting the story into POV sections as was done in Shield of Lies.
The book opens on Kashyyyk with Chewbacca witnessing Lumpawroo’s coming of age ceremony until he is forced to postpone it afterward comes in about Han Solo being kidnapped. As it’s implied that Solo’s kidnapping is not public knowledge, my suspicion is that this was leaked to the Wookiees by Admiral Drayson.
Meanwhile, Luke and Akanah reach the world where the Fellanassi had settled… and learn that Akanah had been lying about knowing his birth mother. He also learns the White Current, the Force Sensitive tradition practiced by the Fallanasi, allows practitioners to create powerful illusions with The Force – with them using The Force to protect their settlement and some of the local population from the Yevetha ship in orbit. Now, Luke had read up on the situation in Yevethan occupied space before they flew in (but also without knowing what had happened to Han), Luke persuades the Fallanassi that sometimes, when faced with a genocidal, fascist, expansionist society that is targeting you, pacifism and isolationism are not necessarily the best course of action.
Meanwhile, the New Republic Navy discovers one of the Imperial orbital shipyards, held by the Yevetha, and manages to destroy it. This causes Nil Spaar to lose his cool, and he retaliates by recording himself savagely beating the crap out of a defenseless Han Solo for twenty minutes, ending by saying “Leave. Koornacht. Now.” and sending that to Leia and the New Republic Council. As far as the wisdom of this… well, we have a clip:
This recording (followed by a pep-talk by Mon Mothma) is enough for Leia to sway the New Republic senate to declare war on the Yevetha.
Chewie and a team of other Wookiees, including Lumpy, successfully launch a sneak attack on the Yevethan flagship – helped by intelligence provided covertly by Admiral Drayson… and by a Fallanassi prisoner on the ship who senses them coming and uses the White Current to help cover for them.
In the final battle, the tide is turned by two factors. The first is the actions of the Fallanassi, making the New Republic fleet appear larger than it is, spreading out the Yevethan ships to compensate for the seemingly larger force. The second is a group of surviving Imperials (who didn’t appear in the previous novels), who used Slave Circuits installed on all the Imperial warships that causes them to kick off hyperspace jumps to Byss. As part of this, the lead Imperial officer dumps Nil Spoor into an escape pod and launches it while in hyperspace, sending him adrift within hyperspace for eternity.
As for Lando – it turns out the Vagabond is a genetic arc for the people of Brath Quella, to re-terraform their world after a stellar catastrophe would render it uninhabitable.
We have some legitimately good worldbuilding here.
The big stuff is related to the Wookiees, both related to the coming of age ceremony and the very considerable technological literacy of Wookiee society. On a particular note, we see one of Chewbacca’s friends giving the Falcon some much-needed upgrades so you can operate the guns from the cockpit, if necessary.
We get a better grasp of what the White Current entails, in terms of how the power is used.
We learn that if you’re in Hyperspace, and get cast off a ship, you stay in Hyperspace until something moves you out (sort of like the gates from Cowboy Bebop).
We have a rare case of getting extended sequences from Chewbacca’s perspective – something we really haven’t gotten since the Han Solo Trilogy. This includes not only internal narration from Chewbacca’s point of view, but also “subtitled” dialog between Wookiees speaking in Shyriiwook. Chewie gives his thoughts on his family, the Falcon, and Han. We even have dialog scenes where we understand what Chewie is saying, while the people he’s talking to don’t.
To give credit to Michael P. Kube-McDowell, I like how he writes Chewbacca, and I wish more people wrote him like that.
I don’t like a lot about this trilogy – I don’t like most of this trilogy. but this book did give me moments I loved. Not liked – loved. The way Chewbacca is written doesn’t make up for the edgelordism of the Yevetha, or the fact that the White Current fits poorly into a world with not just the Death Stars (plural) (not to mention the other Imperial Super-Weapons), but also where the destruction of Alderaan lead to such a pronounced physical reaction in Obi-Wan.
Still, I didn’t quite realize what earlier depictions of Chewie were missing, outside of the Han Solo Adventures, before this book. Similarly, while he isn’t a viewpoint character the way Chewie is, Lobot is much more fleshed out. I deeply wish we’d gotten a new Lando Calrissian Adventures series from Kube-McDowell.
To be clear, we’re not supposed to like the Yevetha. We’re not supposed to agree with the viewpoint of the Falanassi. But as a reader, the Yevethan society goes too far, and clashes so much with the rest of the universe to fit in well. When I’m reading a series of books that are generally based on PG or PG-13 rated films, the Yevethan attitudes of how mating works, or stuff like Yevethan eggs needing to be basted in fresh blood swings too far into Hard R territory.
Even where Splinter of the Mind’s Eye slipped into Exploitation Film violence territory, the descriptions had a level of no-budget charm to them, like the violence was written with the explicit perspective of “What violence can do on the cheap?” – we can do stormtrooper armor with mannequin parts in them with red paint on them to imply someone has had their limbs/head ripped off (so long as we don’t show the ripping). We can cut away from something being jammed in someone’s eye to show a reaction, accompanied by a sound effect. Maybe if we’re careful we can run a hose up their sleeve to their hand that is holding a prop next to their face and pump some fake blood through it. All of those generally, in context, add something to the story. The excessive edginess of the Yevethans is just gilding the lily. We know they’re genocidal expansionist fascists. You don’t need to go out of your way to make them so much eviler than the Empire.
With the Falanassi, we’re not supposed to agree with their worldview – the problem being that their worldview doesn’t quite work in context with Alec Guinness’s reaction to the destruction of Alderaan. You have a population of people who, one day, get hit with the worst mix of nausea and a heart attack that you’ve ever encountered – one that already knows to expect the worst from the Empire and is going out of their way to hide from them and their Inquisitors. It’d be one thing if their worldview was “We’ve survived this long by keeping our heads down and not rocking the boat – The Jedi kept sticking their noses in people’s business and look what happened.” But instead, they go a couple of steps too far to “Well, both sides”-ing the Rebel Alliance.
In conclusion, the entire Black Fleet Crisis trilogy is a deeply frustrating read, and I absolutely understand why we don’t get much of it in later works in the series. However, the very few parts of it that do work, work incredibly well, to the point that I wish they were emulated in later works (and even the current timeline), and the parts that don’t, while bad, aren’t boring.
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