This was not an easy review to write. Not only do I have to judge this book
as a literary interpretation of a movie I haven't yet seen, I have to do so
without major spoilers for those whose knowledge of Episode II doesn't
go beyond the recent trailers.
But anyway, here goes: if Attack of the Clones, the movie, is even half
as good as this novelization, then George Lucas just may have redeemed himself.
No, it's not perfect, but it's a lot darker, more brooding, and far more mature
than The Phantom Menace. And isn't that exactly what the fans have been
"The Dark Side clouds everything..."
George Lucas has said that the original Star Wars trilogy was about
the redemption of Darth Vader, and that this prequel trilogy is about his fall.
Unfortunately for Star Wars fans, Phantom Menace presented us
with a cute li' baby-Darth who said "yippee" and made us doubt Lucas'
sanity, much less his ability to convincingly portray the transformation of
Anakin into Vader. The novelization of Attack of the Clones, however,
makes the inevitability of his conversion to the Dark Side believable. Anakin
in Episode II is a headstrong jerk, prone to rushing into battle against
anyone he sees as a threat, or racing off because disturbing visions tell him
his loved ones are in danger (at least now we know where Luke gets it from).
Even more interestingly, he's portrayed as angrily disillusioned with the increasingly
chaotic and unjust Republic and the hidebound Jedi that are trying and failing
to hold it all together. It's all too easy to see how Anakin could have been
seduced by the Dark Side as he's portrayed here; I'm sure we all remember what
the road to hell is paved with, after all.
However, this book is not without some embarrassing flaws. I confess I haven't
read many R. A. Salvatore books, but his Dungeons and Dragons novels
seem to be popular, and I've heard good things about his Drizzt and Strahd books,
so I'm going to attribute most of these to Lucas' story (hey, it wouldn't be
Star Wars without some wince-inducingly lame plot element). The utterly
pointless and juvenile C-3PO subplot near the climax, for instance, or the way
the oddly-named Count Dooku was such a nonentity for being the major villain.
In some things it's harder to exonerate Salvatore. The sudden shifts in Anakin's
character, while believable, are too abrupt. The growing attraction between
Anakin and Amidala often verges into creepy Red Shoe Diaries territory,
instead of being sweet and ultimately tragic. The "happy family" at
the beginning of the story is a bit TOO perfect, balanced and blissful as only
fanfic (and novelization) families can be. And while the writing style is competent
and professional, it's also bland. The best thing I can really say about it
is that it didn't detract at all from my enjoyment of the story.
Episode II: A new hope?
And I most definitely enjoyed the story, not least because of its grippingly
dark tone, so totally at odds with Episode I. I quite literally read
this book in a single sitting, one Sunday afternoon, because I was so astonished
with and utterly absorbed in the often disturbing events of the plot as everything
unfolded. For instance, one of the criticisms leveled at Lucas for Phantom
Menace was that he made the main enemies in the film be non-living robots,
so the little kiddies watching the movie wouldn't be scarred when the Jedi hacked
through legions of them. Well, there's a certain scene in this book (that I
hope is in the finished film, because it's a major character and plot turning
point) that will definitely cause some scarring. Plus, we learn that the Fall
of the Republic was the responsibility of several people whom you'd least expect,
and is a much more shades-of-grey event than was hinted at before.
However, while this was a very interesting and absorbing read (despite its
flaws), my enjoyment didn't actually come from the book itself. Perhaps it's
a bit unfair, but what I REALLY enjoyed was the promise the novelization held
out. If the characters and story here are any indication, Star Wars Episode
II: Attack of the Clones will be just what we all wanted to see after the
near-travesty of The Phantom Menace. It will be action-packed, it will
be dark, it will be brutal, and it will definitely be tragic. The novelization
gives me hope. As a novel in its own right, this book is pretty good. As a sneak
peek into the next Star Wars movie, it's DAMN good.