(Originally written 3/13/12, updated 4/4/12)
The long-awaited Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse finally is on bookshelves, wrapping up the nine-book tale and marking the end of the megaseries approach in the Expanded Universe. Does it stack up with the rest of the series? Is it a satisfying conclusion?
Be forewarned, spoilers loom below the cut.
This was something that was hit-and-miss throughout the book. There is no denying that Troy Denning can craft a very vivid lightsaber battle, but sometimes the action sequences in Apocalypse drag on for too long. I’m aware that this is an odd statement coming from me, because I adore action in EU novels. In this book, however, it’s a 50/50 proposition. Around half of the action scenes are effective, but the other half tend to outstay their welcome and become rather muddled and clunky. At its worst, portions of the action feel almost like a video game is being narrated to the reader.
There were complaints early on in Fate of the Jedi’s run that the books were too short. Apocalypse, by contrast, almost feels too long and drawn out. A big part of that problem are action sequences that go on for a few pages too many. The action scenes that work do an admirable job. The ones that don’t could have benefited by being more concise.
On Bazel Warv’s Death
I’ve ranted about this subject on the podcast before, but it feels like there’s a death quota that authors are trying to hit these days. Right or wrong, the author that sticks out in my head in this regard is Troy Denning. Whenever a big character kicks the bucket in this era, I assume that Denning was involved. This, of course, is silly because plenty of authors have killed off important characters (Traviss and Mara say hello), but it was a concern I had in the back of my head going in. I was actually dreading Apocalypse because I had it in the back of my mind that some major player was going to kick the bucket. Mercifully, that didn’t happen this time around, but there was one death worth discussing here: Bazel Warv.
I’m of two mindsets for this one. On the one hand, it was very much a Rhysode-esque going out in a blaze of glory death, and when those are executed well it’s a sight to behold. Thankfully, this one was. Beautifully written, did a marvelous job drawing an emotional reaction from me, and in a vacuum was very well done. On the other hand, when I apply the context of the current state of the Expanded Universe, I waver a bit on how much I like it. I think I’d enjoy it more if the available talent pool wasn’t so thinned out. While Denning and Allston have introduced some interesting new Jedi to the era, I still don’t think we’ve had enough of a concerted character-building effort.
Rambling point, while Warv’s death was very well done, I am bummed out that he’s gone because I felt he was one of a small pool of younger characters with the potential to contribute beyond Fate of the Jedi.
On the Mortis tie-in
The Mortis connection is something that’s going to generate a stark divide among readers. For me, I couldn’t help but feel it was a clumsy addition to Apocalypse. I don’t necessarily disagree with tying together the continuity between eras, but the way it was done in Apocalypse felt particularly clunky. Rather than feeling that this was a seamless part of the story, I got the impression that it was more tacked on than anything else. Too much of a nudge-nudge “Hey Clone Wars fans, remember this? Now it’s in a book! Isn’t that exciting?” feel and was the one time I can say that Apocalypse went overboard with the non-action narrative.
While on the topic of the non-action narrative, all of the Mortis discussions in this book led to some of the clunkier prose I’ve run into during this series’ run. The purpose of Mortis, its inhabitants, and Abeloth were discussed on the Killik homeworld with Raynar and company. All of those details were then re-discussed on Coruscant almost word-for-word with the rest of the Council. Like the action, it’s another case where the fat needs to be trimmed in order to keep the narrative’s pace moving along. If the details have been explained to the reader that explicitly once already, there’s no need to run through the play-by-play again. Summarize if you must. Glossing over the rehash and move onto the “what do we do with this information?” discussion would have greatly improved the flow. When I say that the Mortis connection was clunky, I mean that both in a narrative and a prose sense.
If this continuity tie-in was pre-planned, it probably should have been introduced in Conviction, if not sooner, and slowly built up for the sake of overall series pacing. Dropping this so late in the game felt rather gimmicky. If this wasn’t pre-planned and was a late addition to the series, I think they would have been better excluding it from Fate of the Jedi and making it the central premise of a later series. That would, at the very least, temporarily create the illusion that Abeloth had been fully defeated in Apocalypse and provide for a bit more of an emotionally satisfying conclusion.
I do worry that the creative forces at Del Rey might be playing with fire by tying one of the most important subplots in the series (and moving forward as you’ll see below) into a piece of Clone Wars plot that has been intentionally left vague to this point. We’ve seen in the past how the show can cause continuity issues ranging from moderately confusing to grave, the ill-fated Republic Commando series being perhaps the best example of this. The Mortis connection has the potential to overshadow even that dustup. If Lucas, Filloni, and writers with TCW decide to revisit this subject in the future, the effect it could have on the post-FotJ Expanded Universe could create a lot of headaches for fans and a continuity disaster that would put the RepCom dust-up to shame.
Long story short on this, however, is that your mileage may vary. If you’re not a fan of The Clone Wars, this probably isn’t going to do much for you and very well could make little to no sense. Even if you are a fan of TCW, the way it was dropped into the story could feel off-putting for how clunky and tacked-on it was.
Loose Ends and Unanswered Questions
Heading into the final novel in the series, expectations were high that questions would be answered and subplots would be tied up. Many fans (including myself) were concerned with Apocalypse based upon the concluding entries of the last two series, Dark Nest and Legacy of the Force. Unfortunately like its predecessors, this novel falls well short of expectations due to loose ends. There are entirely too many plot points that go unaddressed or, worse, are merely hand-waved away. Those hoping for more information about Jacen’s journey are going to have to settle for a vague explanation that he had a vision that didn’t sit right with him and that was the catalyst for the events of Legacy of the Force. For a piece of the plot that was played up so much early on, the resolution was rather hollow.
In addition, nothing really happens with Daala other than she loses a bid to become the Imperial Remnant Head of State. Nary a word is said about her after that. Boba Fett has a few moments but it’s still unclear if he’ll ever be able to return to Mandalore. The slave rebellions are still ongoing, the unification summit has no resolution and the Galaxy is still fragmented. Vestara is last seen traveling on her own (which is probably a topic for a full-length post by itself) and no longer affiliated with the Skywalkers. It’s still unclear if Allana will be going home any time soon or if she’s still stuck with Han and Leia.
Perhaps the biggest letdown involves Abeloth, who is kind-of-sort-of defeated but at the end of the day is still looming out in the Galaxy. After nine books, I expected something more for the Big Bad’s fate. Even Legacy of the Force, for all its faults, ended with the reader knowing definitively what was going on with the villain. Abeloth still out in the wild isn’t necessarily bad, but leaving her fate that vague with all of the other unfinished subplots left me rather disappointed. Perhaps if the issues described above had been resolved more definitively, the lack of resolution with Abeloth would have felt more acceptable. As the book is constructed, however, it’s simply the most glaring example of Apocalypse being too open-ended for its own good.
I had a chat on Twitter with Pete Morrison of Lightsaber Rattling about twenty minutes before I sat down to write this and he helped me frame exactly what bothered me about Apocalypse. There are so many loose ends that it’s going to require a number of follow-up novels to wrap things up. You would have hoped that the final entry of a nine book series would have been able to provide a good deal more closure than what we were ultimately given.
When all is said and done, it may have actually created more questions than it answered and underscored the lack of cohesion in the series as a whole. Admittedly, I can understand why Denning and the editors felt the need to go this open-ended path. In his words, it was to “open up a whole new boatload of story telling possibilities for the EU,” but at the end of a nine book series, there needs to be more emotional closure than what was given. Once again, I’m at the conclusion of a megaseries and asking myself what was really accomplished. While we at least wrapped up Jaina’s long and sordid love polygon of doom definitively, there was precious little in the way of resolution. If anything, the long overdue marriage of Jaina and Jag only served to mask the novel’s inability to provide conclusions to entirely too many threads.
The Bottom Line
While I’ve been critical of this book, I don’t want people to think that it’s a terrible novel. It’s acceptable, though perhaps erring slightly towards mediocre. Fans of wall-to-wall action, a staple of Troy Denning entries in the EU, will find stuff to enjoy. The Jedi kick butt, get into beautifully choreographed fights, and have the Big Damn Heroes moments we’ve come to expect from just about every book he writes. Unfortunately, other fans who are searching for more of a character focus rather than action will find themselves skimming through a number of pages due to the sequences going on for a few pages longer than they perhaps should.
The longer I’ve had to think about Apocalypse, the more I realize that my problem with it was that it was a lot of flash but not enough substance. It simply didn’t feel like a solid conclusion to Fate of the Jedi and various arcs that started way back in Dark Nest. While there are interesting continuity nods to other eras, it didn’t quite succeed at wrapping up a number of subplots that had been introduced over the last several years.
While Apocalypse is a bit more satisfying than Invincible was, it still falls into similar traps of not dealing with enough of the questions it set out to answer and dropping bombshells that have no hope of being resolved in the span of a single novel. Throughout, I had to wonder if the creative staff would have been better off introducing some elements such as the Mortis connection in a future novel rather than shoehorn it into this one (or exclude it all together as to not risk continuity disasters down the line). The scope for Fate of the Jedi was already ambitious. Adding that element in at this point felt like a questionable narrative decision. At the very least, it was more than they could chew in a single novel.
In the end, it falls well short of other Expanded Universe novels that have served as the wrap-ups to their respective series. Those hoping for more of a Unifying Force type of conclusion (like I was) will come away disappointed. What Apocalypse did well was overshadowed by the loose ends it left. At some point, efforts need to be made to wrap up subplots and failing to do more of that diminishes the effectiveness of what was marketed as a thrilling conclusion. Denning got the thrilling part down for the most part. Conclusion? Not so much.
Bottom line, Apocalypse is a book that delivers on the promise of non-stop action. Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to the billing of being a satisfying closer, feeling more like a book that should have been used in the middle of a nine novel series rather than at the very end.
I give Apocalypse a 2/5