Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Star Wars: Bloodline, by Claudia Gray

Today I'm looking at another Star Wars novel, in this case the recent book Bloodline. This is another one of the new books which is part of the new canon tied with The Force Awakens, opposed to all the old books that I read when I was a teenager and now are no longer canon and...okay so the lore's kind of become a mess but you have to expect that with a popular property that's nearly forty years old at this point.

The plot of Bloodline follows Senator Leia Organa some twenty years after the events of Return of the Jedi, and I refuse to refer to her as princess despite almost everyone doing so in the novel because: 1. The planet she was a princess of doesn't exist anymore and 2. She's going into middle age at this point, doesn't she deserve to be called Queen or Viceroy or something? I'm pretty sure Alderaan wasn't a principality. But I digress. The senate of the New Republic has split into two major factions, the Populists like Senator Organa who favor local control and are more concerned with keeping the central government from repeating the tyrannies of the Empire, and the Centrists who wish to establish a stronger central government with more authority in military and economic affairs. The dispute between the two factions has led to endless debates over points of protocol within the Senate and brought the organs of government to a grinding halt.

As a result, things are starting to break down throughout the galaxy. There is increased discontent among member worlds of the New Republic and issues such as piracy and organized crime are beginning to take their toll on local economies. Action is desperately needed and both the Centrists and Populists are intensely frustrated with the deadlock but are unwilling to compromise to create progress. When a request from an emissary of Ryloth begs the Senate to investigate growing criminal enterprises around their planet, Senator Organa and the young Centrist Senator Ransolm Casterfo volunteer to go on a senatorial investigation and soon uncover that there's far more to this spice-trading cartel than there initially appears.

Plot-wise the book helps explain the origins of the Resistance and the New Order who are the major players in The Force Awakens, as well as the split between the Resistance and the New Republic. While this answers some questions I had when I watched the movie, it does give me pause. I am largely of the opinion that a story told in a movie format should be self-contained within the movie. Now with the saga nature of the Star Wars franchise I can understand people having to watch earlier movies in the franchise to have it make sense, but at least those are within the same medium. I'm not sure how I feel about people having to read comics or books or play video games or watch tv series to find out important bits of information in movies. Especially when the book comes out some five months after the movie does.

This is a trend that's sort of been happening with the Marvel cinematic universe as well, where the movies are all getting more and more densely connected and also tied to things like the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tv series. On the one hand it's an interesting experiment in multi-media platforms to tell a much larger story in a way that I'm not sure has really been attempted before now. On the other hand, it then becomes a challenge to go read/watch/consume everything within that franchise to understand everything that's going on. Which is one of the problems I've had when I've tried to read superhero comics in the past because the crossovers mean you have to go and read a dozen different titles to understand everything going on in a plot, which I'm just not used to. So I can see how it might be fun for people with all these different stories, but I can also see how outsiders might get even more put off because of the complexity of the lore and refuse to jump in.

There are a couple of things I also just really don't understand about this book either. First is the almost ingrained antipathy sci-fi writers seem to have for governments in general and legislatures in specific. I think I really only notice it because I'm reading one of the Honor Harrington novels at the time I listened to this book (more on that later this month) and both had corrupt or incompetent politicians who just make things work. There are some decent people, but the Senate as a whole is depicted as a petty, incompetent, and constantly squabbling group that would argue over the proper seating arrangements for lunch before getting to the menu. On the one hand, it feels very much like an Articles of Confederacy situation where the New Republic is too afraid of centralizing authority because of past experiences with a centralized authority, but at the same time it feels like this has gone on for too long for nobody to do anything about it. I can understand people's frustration with government, but it still does stuff on a pretty regular basis.

The other thing that just seems really weird to me is Ransolm, who is an avid collector of Imperial war antiques, such as helmets, flags, pieces of propaganda, and so on. Senator Organa is, of course, very upset by his decision to display his collection in his office and that makes some sense. Ransolm strenuously denies that he wants the brutal tyranny of the Empire and its corruption to come back, but he says he does admire their strength and efficiency and the valor of the ordinary men and women who were fighting for a cause they believed in. Leia counters with the argument that whatever good the Empire may have done, such as coming down on pirates and smugglers, was far outweighed by the bad, including the destruction of Alderaan. And as my girlfriend said it's kind of weird that he collects this stuff. It's almost like if somebody had a collection of Nazi relics and while they deplored Hitler and the Holocaust, they admired the efficiency and strength of the Third Reich. By the narrowest definition they're not doing anything wrong, but you certainly would be looking askance at someone who talked like that. I know I would be.

Ransolm's hobby makes even less sense when his backstory is revealed and it turns out that not only did his parents work themselves to death in an Imperial labor camp on his homeworld, but he watched Darth Vader kill his own father in front of him when he was no older than six. Understandably Ransolm has some very, very good and very personal reasons to hate Palpatine and Vader. But his desire to collect Imperial artifacts makes even less sense with this backstory. You would think he'd want nothing to do with the Empire. I just can't seem to wrap my head around it.

Overall this book is okay and it's definitely better than some of the other stuff from the Expanded Universe I've let myself read over the years. I think most of the problems I have usually boil down to I learned an entirely different chronology and backstory and so I don't know how I feel about this entirely new and different canon which replaces the old canon. And if you want to know more about how the galaxy got into the mess it did right before Force Awakens, then Bloodline has answers for you.

- Kalpar

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