Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Moving Target Review

At the end of my last Star Wars book review I'd mentioned there was another book on the way. The plan was to continue working through the young adult Journey To the Force Awakens series with the Princess Lea installment, Moving Target. While waiting for it to be delivered something happened; Carrie Fisher sadly passed over the Christmas holiday soon followed by her mother Debbie Reynolds. It was yet another another loss of pop culture icons at a time when there are far too few caring or interesting people to fill their shoes. Suddenly what I was expecting to be a fairly light bit of reading turned into a mini memorial for someone who was on our television almost weekly during my childhood.
Let's face it, most of the appeal of Star Wars doesn't come from being well-developed so much as being fun personalities performed by likable individuals. What's Han Solo without the arrogant swagger of a good performer? or Lando without the balls out charm of Billy Dee? Carrie Fisher always seemed like a pretty honest and relatable person, which helped sell the idea that so many placed their trust in this grumpy princess. Carrie always reminded me of different relatives which is largely why I was never a fan of the metal bikini outfit, but that's another story.

Given Carrie Fisher's death, both today's Moving Target is unfairly burdened with the challenge of paying extra respect to this character as it is one of only two Lea focused novels within the new continuity thus far. I'm happy to report it's mostly successful in giving the princess a fine adventure away from the rest of her usual cohorts, though naturally it's not without a few missteps.

The setting is in-between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Recent events have left the rebel alliance in a rut when reports begin to pour in about the creation of yet another Death Star. Plans are in place to gather the remnants of the rebel fleet in order to take on this new threat only there are concerns of putting their eggs in one basket where the Empire could easily take them out in one fatal blow. Lea makes a plan to use herself as a decoy, taking a small team to the opposite end of the galaxy to set up communication buoys with insecure codes in the hopes of drawing the empire's attention away from the gathering rebel fleet.

Accompanying Lea on her mission are Nein Nunb, that little odd guy who co-piloted the Falcon with Lando. Apparently he was friends with Lea for quite some time which makes this book a nice glimpse into the character as something more than set dressing. Also along for the ride are bleeding heat imperial defector Kidi, nervous engineer Antrot, and battled hardened soldier Lokmarcha. As yo might expect given the brief page count, none of these new additions are very well developed but in true Star Wars fashion, each is broadly drawn enough to be fun additions.
What's more important, given her being the main character, is whether the authors effectively captured Lea's voice. I'd say they succeeded about 75% of the time. There were scenes where she seemed a little too weak to be the proud leader we've watched for years. That being said, there are still plenty of moments where you understand how this girl can gather so many people to her cause, and in those moments, the book really shines.

More so than most books we've covered so far, this one actually does a good job of staying on point. It doesn't take terribly long for Lea to set her mission in motion and traveling around to get the empire's attention allows for changes in setting without ruining the pacing.
Beyond that I was also surprised by how dark this one got despite being part of a young-adult series. The other two entries we've covered from this line mostly kept things pretty clean whereas this includes a bit more death and destruction. The emerging theme throughout the story is Lea regretting her plan as she learns to balance her responsibility towards the alliance with her duty towards friends and comrades. Part of that lesson involves losing a few friends along the way which I didn't see coming in novel geared towards such a young audience.

Of course it's not all good stuff here. Similar to the other books in this line, the villains are a bit flat. A bigger problem however is there are multiple sequences where the writing just isn't gripping enough to keep you engaged. Generally this happens during the action beats which lead to me blanking out on a few scenes and having to reread portions. It's less of a problem later on when the stakes get a little higher, but action honestly the strong suite for this writing duo.

One issue is the brief appearance of Luke. Early in the book he still hasn't separated from the rebels in order to continue his Jedi training or create his new green lightsaber. Lea's mission doesn't take very long and by the end of the story she's ready to head to Jabba's palace. I guess that means Luke took maybe one week to become a light and dark side using bad ass with a fresh lightsaber. Truthfully, this isn't these authors fault so much as something the story group should have planed for in advance.

Moving on to the rankings, I think this one will just edge out Smuggler's Run. There's an added level of depth on display here that helps it outrank the straightforward fun of that Han Solo adventure.
1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Ashoka by E. K. Johnston
4. Tarkin by James Luceno
5. Moving Targer by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
6. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
7. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
8. Aftermath by Chruck Wendig
  1. The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

While Carrie Fisher may be gone, it's good to see there are writers out there with the ability to translate her presence from the screen to the page, insuring a sort of immortality. Currently I'm halfway through what will be the tenth book in this article series, after that I may turn to Bloodline, the other Lea focused tale penned by Claudia Gray, a woman who's sat comfortably atop the rankings for quite some time now. Will she knock another one outta the park? Stay tuned to find out.

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