Matthew Stover’s Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor succeeds by knowing exactly what it is. From the title alone we get the feeling that this is space opera with an emphasis on the operatic, with larger-than-life heroes and villains. It’s a battle between capital-letter Dark and Light, but Stover manages to also inject a human element, as well as a sharply satirical one that I couldn’t help but see as poking fun at the expanded universe itself.
Stover did the same in Revenge of the Sith, penning one of the greatest Star Wars books on the shelf by realizing that having a script in front of him meant he could focus on form and characters. Stover wasn’t lazy: he doubled his efforts, spinning both Anakin and Obi-Wan ever so slightly to make more convincing heroes than the movies themselves seemed to contain. His prose in both books flows well and can be dense in the best of ways, making rugged asteroid fields and monstrous possessed stormtroopers feel real with the proper placement of just a few words. Freed of a script, Stover does some of his best fight choreography in Shadows Of Mindor, featuring brutal brawls with everything from lightsabers to bare teeth and nails.
The closing and opening scenes serve as a framing device to show a Luke Skywalker searching for truth about himself, and unwilling to let that truth be hidden under a good story. This is where Shadows of Mindor contains its most pointed jabs at the Expanded Universe, from an aghast Luke telling an investigator that people are “making things up” about him, to his protestation that he “doesn’t even like red-heads”. Whether the farm boy raised on tales of Jedi and space warriors would be just a bit tempted to believe his own myth is a question the closing scene avoids: throughout the book Luke is shy and humble, if not from a natural aptitude for humility than because of Yoda’s teachings and his experiences in the recent Galactic Civil War.
It’s a bit surprising when Stover takes a page out of Michael Reaves’ book to introduce Nick, a character of his own making from the Star Wars novel Shatterpoint that took itself so seriously (and portrayed war very well). But Nick fits in, and I was happy to see him. Not knowing whether the events of Mindor are largely fabricated events and Nick is actually somewhere else or – more likely on Haruun Kal – dead, is part of the appeal.
But what about the bulk of the book, between the opening and closing dialogues? Does it work as a straight-up story? Partially. After a slow start featuring Rogue Squadron and that classic Star Wars combination of witty banter and chopped-off hands, we get to Luke, Han, and Leia acting a lot like they do in the original trilogy. The characterization is often spot-on, and the casual tone of the dialogue helps: the three of them stop to talk about opinions and money in between missions. Stover makes a Star Wars universe that feels real, while keeping – in Shadows of Mindor, anyway – a sense of fun. It’s not a bloodless book, but the antagonists are larger-than-life and built literally out of stone. The masked villain Shadowspawn is a vehicle for interesting concepts – his desire to become Luke Skywalker (or a Luke Skywalker figure) plays well into the overarching theme of the see-sawing relationship between light and dark.
Some parts do fall flat: whether it was meant to make a point about the unlikeliness of heroes or not, R2-D2 performing some of the more important acts of the novel fell flat to me. The tough Jedi, even in pastiche, is more appealing to me than the cute, accidentally deadly droid. (Stover’s usually not so sentimental to the mechanical guys: in Revenge of the Sith he ascribed half of R2’s first-act battle tactics to Obi-Wan.) The climactic battle feels pretty short and sterile for being built up as a tragic massacre. A lot of the tragedy takes place inside Luke’s head, and seems to affect him more than it does the families of the people he’s killed. A longer denouement to show the personal and political fallout would be nice.
However, the lack of denouement and emotional closure is a flaw that Luke himself picks out in
the closing act. It’s hard to catch Shadows of Mindor out on flaws it hasn’t caught itself on. Existing somewhere between action story and pastiche, it entertains as well as making the reader think. I could praise every Stover book and story that comes out, and this one is no exception. The reader just has to go into it knowing what it is.
Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader are dead. The Empire has been toppled by the triumphant Rebel Alliance, and the New Republic is ascendant. But the struggle against the dark side and the Sith Order is not over. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, and their faithful comrades have had little time to savor victory before being called on to defend the newly liberated galaxy.
Powerful remnants of the vanquished Empire, hungry for retaliation, are still at large, committing acts of piracy, terrorism, and wholesale slaughter against the worlds of the fledgling New Republic. The most deadly of these, a ruthless legion of black-armored Stormtroopers, do the brutal bidding of the newly risen warlord Shadowspawn. Striking from a strategically advantageous base on the planet Mindor, they are waging a campaign of plunder and destruction, demolishing order and security across the galaxy–and breeding fears of an Imperial resurgence. Another reign of darkness beneath the boot-heel of Sith despotism is something General Luke Skywalker cannot, and will not, risk.
Mobilizing the ace fighters of Rogue Squadron–along with the trusty Chewbacca, See-Threepio, and Artoo-Detoo–Luke, Han, and Leia set out to take the battle to the enemy and neutralize the threat before it’s too late. But their imminent attack on Mindor will be playing directly into the hands of their cunning new adversary. Lord Shadowspawn is no freshly anointed Sith Chieftain but in fact a vicious former Imperial Intelligence officer–and Prophet of the Dark Side. The Emperor’s death has paved the way for Shadowspawn’s return from exile in the Outer Rim, and mastery of ancient Sith knowledge and modern technology has given him the capability to mount the ultimate power play for galaxy wide dominion. Dark prophecy has foretold that only one obstacle stands in his way, and he is ready–even eager–for the confrontation.
All the classic heroes, all the explosive action and adventure, all the unparalleled excitement of Star Wars come breathlessly alive as the adventures of Luke Skywalker continue.