So…. This book.
For the second installation of the “Callista Trilogy,” it was decided that Kevin J. Anderson would write a novel that played alongside his recent Jedi Academy Trilogy, and also continued on from the events in Children of the Jedi. Hambly and Anderson worked together carefully to assure that everything merged, especially since Hambly was set to write the third novel in this progression.
Spoiler alert: These books do not go together. These books are tonally divergent as komodo dragons and toy poodles. But… things explode? There are more secondary characters to kill off? We revisit lots of places you might recognize?
Luke has that new girlfriend, Callista, remember? The one who used to be trapped in a computer, and can no longer use the Force? They go on a journey to try and rediscover her abilities, which leads to a very dramatic opener—Luke revisits Obi-Wan’s old hut on Tatooine and makes a plea to Ben’s ghost to help him. He even uses Leia’s tried and true phrasing: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” It’s all very sad and there are probably tiny violins playing in the distance because we all know the universe doesn’t really care about Luke’s problems.
Luke and Han find out that Durga the Hutt (who has taken over in Jabba’s place on Tatooine and also has control over the Black Sun these days), is planning to take a vacation on Coruscant, where he will steal the plans to the Death Star’s laser—why these are still lying around anywhere, let alone easily accessible we will never understand—and hand them over to the space station’s original designer, Bevel Lemelisk. Then Durga can have a shiny Death Star-type thing for his own and extort money from planets and star systems. This is actually kind of a better plan than the Empire had, so good for him.
In case you are confused: EVERYONE AND THEIR STEPMOM BUILT THE DEATH STAR. I’m serious. This spherical boat has been attributed to every single minor random character you can conceive of, and then attributed over again due to the prequels. There is Daala’s installation where it was developed, and also Grand Moff Tarkin’s meddling, and poor Qwi Xux’s brainwashed science-y contributions along with her cohorts, and then there’s the Geonosians from Attack of the Clones who magically have the plans in the first place because George Lucas can’t not explain things that no one cares about, but hell, let’s definitely not forget THIS RANDOM LOSER, who was also apparently helping the whole time. Look, it’s a big ship, so I’m sure lots of people had a hand in it, but with this many cooks in the kitchen? No wonder some poorly-placed exhaust port was all it took to make it go boom.
Sorry. I’m okay now.
It wouldn’t actually be that irritating, except for the fact that all of these people are always alive, running around, and in the exact place they need to be to cause maximum damage any time conflict is required.
Anywho, Luke continues on his Let’s Find Obi-Wan’s Ghost hike, which leads to Dagobah and then a Hoth romp that is patently ridiculous, involves refuges for some reason, and lets him re-encounter the Wampa he so rudely de-armed in Empire Strikes Back. It serves only to get himself and Callista stranded in the Hoth asteroid belt, conveniently the exact place where the new Death Star is being built. Only this time, the design will be streamlined, cylindrical, leading to its brand new christening: Darksaber.
That ringing silence you hear is me emphatically not applauding.
But wait, there’s a B plot! Admiral Daala is trying to corral the remnants of the Empire (they are literally never done fighting remnants of the Empire, this is the whole reason the Yuuzhan Vong invasion had to be a thing in the New Jedi Order series, because it’s just remnants of British naval officers snarking at each other in bad hats for decades), and for some reason Kyp Durron and Dorsk 81 are nearby! Dorsk recently left his home world of clones, Khomm, because they were expecting him to fold into clone rank and not be a Jedi there, which was boring and un-fun to him. This suits Kyp fine because he needs a friend to help him cause trouble—basically the only thing Kyp Durron does well. Well, that and genocide. (Yes, I know, I’m so sorry, I tried to stop myself from going there, but you know how it is.)
Because Daala sees Dorsk 81, she decides that she should target his people on her List of Planets That Require Blowing Up For Me to Achieve Galactic Domination ploy. This is also a super-specially idiotic move because anyone who has done a Wikipedia-level Google search on Dorsk’s home planet knows that his people are not even a zero threat level. They are a negative threat level. If they had a threat level color code, it would be Transparently Invisible. (Yet they are somehow a society of clones in a galaxy that’s weird about cloning, but I guess that’s what you get when you create a society of clones before the Clone Wars have been properly fleshed out in the films.) The attack on Khomm is devastating. It’s actually pretty depressing.
And then Daala tries to attack the Jedi Academy, but Kyp and Dorsk are way ahead of her, and Dorsk 81 levels up to Greatest Jedi Ever in order to prevent the annihilation of all Luke’s hard work for the past year or so. He and the kiddies throw giant boulders at incoming star fighters, stop ground troops in their tracks, and generally defeat evil. Callista tries to stop Daala and her TIE bombers, and we are meant to think she went down with the Admiral’s flagship, which she doesn’t. But in order to get the Imperials off Jedi turf for good, Dorsk 81 has to pull the neatest trick of all—he gets all the students to channel their power through him and shoves Daala’s cadre of Star Destroyers out of the Yavin system with his Force brilliance.
And then he promptly dies.
It occurs to me that this might have been a better journey for Kyp—after all the screwy things that poor kid did at the behest of Exar Kun in the Jedi Academy Trilogy, this could have been the perfect cap to his tale. Had Durron died saving the lives of fellow students, put his impressive abilities to use for an ultimate good, it would have been a logical bracket to his arc. Then again, I happen to really like Punk Jedi Kyp, so I’d have been sad to lose him so quickly. On the other hand, Dorsk 81 finding himself suddenly, miraculously capable of tapping into that kind of power doesn’t sell. It comes out of nowhere. Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t cry as a kid over his death, but these days it reads a bit more hollow than it did before.
Also, Callista’s vacation to re-find her Force abilities? They don’t go so well, as I mentioned. In fact, what she discovers is worse than simply being cut off—she and Luke realize that the only way she is capable of accessing the Force is via the Dark Side. She even unleashes it aboard Daala’s ship because she just has to help. Which might have been interesting had Callista been given the time to really explore what that means and become a more important character within the Expanded Universe. There was just one problem: fans didn’t like her. But we’ll tackle that issue for the following book….
There’s a very dark subplot here where Lemelisk is concerned, but it’s awkwardly shot through with hilarity. See, when Bevel made the Death Star for Palpatine, you might recall how well that went for the Empire. The Emperor was less than giggly over that, and apparently chose to kill Lemelisk in creative ways several times, always resurrecting him in a clone body. And that’s dark and disturbing and a great illustration of how cloning could easily be abused in the Star Wars universe, sure. Now that Bevel is at it again, he’s concerned that working for Durga could result in a similar demise—unfortunately he’s building the Darksaber with subpar materials and his workforce is basically a set of hive-mind monkeys. So it’s a disaster waiting to happen and he knows it. Shouldn’t be funny, but it really is. The thing actually gets sammiched between two asteroids. Durga the Hutt’s reign (because he had one, or at least we’re told he’s totally a real problem to some people) is short-lived and painfully ineffective.
This book also has the distinction of killing off the first “good guy” with a speaking part from the films. Anderson got Lucasfilm permission to execute poor Crix Madine, who infiltrates Darksaber and essentially pulls the one screw out of a wall somewhere that’s needed to make the whole thing come crashing down. So Crix sort of dies a hero? It’s supposed to be very emotional and moving and we’re meant to feel lots of things, but it’s sort of hard to get attached to Mr. Exposition #3 from Return of the Jedi when you realize that we actually know Dorsk 81 better than him, and that’s saying something.
Dorsk 82, Dorsk 81’s clone and successor totally ends up going to the Jedi Praxeum after surviving the assault on his home world, though. That’s something, I guess. Except we never hear much about him and he eventually dies in the New Jedi Order books, so never mind, it’s awful.
And Callista leaves Luke to go find herself at the end of the book because we all know that it’s got to be easier getting your powers back far, far away from one of the most powerful Jedi in the universe, right? He had his shot, he’s clearly no help, so she’s off and away and Luke is understandably sad about that. There’s an adorable scene between Mara Jade and Callista that occurs somewhere around here, which gives you a pretty good idea of what the whole fan problem with Callista was in the first place. Mara is not jealous, per se, she’s just not quite getting what Callista is doing hanging out with farm boy. She sort of thinks the whole thing is cute and weird and a little off-putting somehow…
…aw, the beginnings of True Luff are often so benign.
So that’s the odd progression of Darksaber, and yet there’s still another tale to tell in this arc. Come back for your delicious bug-infested dessert—no, there really are giant bugs. Planet of Twilight is coming.
Emily Asher-Perrin would like to point out that it's no wonder Kyp is so messed up when pretty much everyone he takes a shine to dies. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.