Review – Fate of the Jedi: Conviction

A funny and rather unexpected thing happened while trudging through the latest entry in a series of Star Wars Expanded Universe novels that haven’t exactly jumped out and grabbed my attention. Somewhere in the middle of reading through Aaron Allston’s Conviction (the seventh entry in the much maligned Fate of the Jedi series), I realized I was feeling a strange sensation. I was having fun with this book. Now, that’s not entirely unusual, I wouldn’t be an EU reader if I didn’t manage to derive some kind of fun from every novel I pick up.

No, I was having a lot of fun with this.

Those who know me are aware that I’ve been somewhat nonplussed with the state of the Star Wars EU since the end of the New Jedi Order series. The latest arc of plots, which I dub the Troy Denning era, has left me a bit apathetic about the state of Star Wars as a whole. For the most part, I just haven’t read anything during this stretch of time that gives me much in the way of thoughts and feelings. Plots have been perhaps too dark and edgy for this universe, liberties have been taken with characterization to facilitate said dark and edgy plots plots. In other words, the Star Wars novels during really have, at times, not felt like Star Wars. From the Dark Nest trilogy onward, it feels like something got lost in translation.

That rambling exposition out of the way, I have to give credit where credit is sorely due. Aaron Allston’s Conviction is one of the most thematically and tonally correct Star Wars novels in years.

If you haven’t read an Allston novel before, you should probably be aware that he plays the humor card as well as any writer in the EU. Conviction packs the humor in, but it doesn’t stop there. There’s action, there’s drama. Speaking strictly in terms of tone, this is probably the most well balanced novel of the last seven or eight years. You’re going to get a bit of everything in this book. But enough with the setup and me padding this review’s word count. Let’s get on with it.

Plot

Like the other entries into Fate of the Jedi, there’s three distinct plots going on. First up, we’ve got the continuing adventures of Luke, Ben, and Vestara. In this installment, they’re heading to Nam Chorios. Now, if you’re like me and have read Planet of Twilight, your first thought at hearing this was “Oh crap no.” And then you may have thrown up at being forced to recall the lovely critters known as the drochs.

The second plot centers on Coruscant, Tahiri Veila’s trial and the Jedi Council’s battle with Chief of State Daala. We don’t see much of the judicial proceedings itself in this novel, with Allston instead choosing to focus on getting into Tahiri’s head before and after the verdict are given. A bit more page time is focused on the feud between the Council and Daala, ultimately resulting in the latter’s ouster from office.

The final subplotplot focuses on the slavery subject that’s been running in the background throughout this series. Here’s where Allston focuses on Han, Leia, and Allana. Without giving too much up, the Solo clan is dispatched to work out a treaty on Klatooine. One thing leads to another, and as a result, Tenel Ka makes an appearance.

The strongest of these elements is the Luke/Ben/Ves adventure. Allston clearly is comfortable writing the three of them and it really comes off in the dialogue in particular. Likewise, the subplot on Klatooine also is a joy to read simply because of the characters involved and Allston’s grasp on them. In these areas, you get the feeling that he’s letting the characters dictate the plot rather than forcing the characters to fit a pre-designed story. These parts of the book were genuinely fun to read.

Of course, that isn’t to say the book is flawless. Like the rest of the series, the Coruscant plotlines drag what would otherwise be a great book down to merely being a very good one. Allston still has to contend with some plot setups that were broken to begin with. The feud between Daala and the Jedi seems to be having the opposite effect on the reader. It’s a bit of a case of Strawman Has A Point. Daala not giving the Council exactly what they want? Well instead of diplomacy, we’ll just coup the Chief of State! Now that’s the sort of level-headed thing the Jedi are known for.

The Tahiri trial came off surprisingly well in this book. Perhaps Allston realized that this had been one of the weakest portions of the series to this point, so he took a rather interesting approach. He had most of it take place off-stage and chose instead to deal with the consequences. This was a great decision on his part. No over-the-top drama, just some character introspection. In typical Allston fashion, he took a tricky and perhaps ineffective plot device and made something workable out of it.

In all, the good outweighed the bad. Allston made the most of the weaker parts of the pre-established plot and knocked the rest out of the park.

Characterization

This is where Conviction really shines.

Throughout the Dark Nest through Fate of the Jedi era, fans have noted some strange choices in regards to characterization. We’ve had everything from Morally Ambiguous Luke Skywalker to Politically Inept Leia.

Let’s start off by looking at the Big Three. For the first time all series and in years, Luke Skywalker felt right. There was a bit of the old farmboy swagger in him and he was back to his “I’m going to find the good in you whether you like it or not” persona. Leia’s back playing the role of crafty, cunning politician, and Han is once more the witty and daring smuggler. These three characters finally resembled the characters we saw in the original trilogy. For that, Allston deserves a lot of credit.

Ben and Vestara come off quite well in this novel to boot. Whereas we’ve seen them played off as perhaps a bit too angsty and shallow int he past, they’ve got some depth in this book. Ben is smart and genuinely funny. The introspection done with Ves in the letters to her father is nothing short of brilliant.

Something that has flown under the sensors of other reviewers but I want to take a moment to highlight is Allston’s work in introducing new characters that the EU can use moving forward. One particularly noteworthy example is Seha Dorvald. In Conviction, she’s been elevated to the rank of Jedi Knight and is serving under Octa Ramis. What’s rather enjoyable is that in her brief time on-page, Allston shows off a good amount of her personality. She’s smart, she’s snarky. She’s (and this seems to be a general theme of this review) fun.

For those of you still keeping score on the Jaina Solo Love Polygon of Doom, she’s back together with Jag and the two appear to have come to an understanding. There wasn’t too much between them in this book, but what was there was adorable.

Was Fate of the Jedi: Conviction a perfect book? No, it was still weighted down by some plot elements that I’m not quite sure work. I could have done without the Jedi Council plot. That said, this was a book that was genuinely fun and enjoyable to read. It’s been a long time since I picked up a book from the primary series that I’ve had a hard time putting down. The good elements of this novel far outweighed the bad.

For Aaron Allston, he leaves the megaseries format on a high note. This was his best novel since the Enemy Lines duology and a clear demonstration that he’s still got the spark that made him one of the most beloved writers in all of the EU. Conviction should leave readers incredibly hopeful for his upcoming Wraith Squadron novel, Mercy Kill.

While I fear that the conclusion of this series is downhill from here, I think it’s best to just pause and enjoy what we had in this book. On its own merits, Conviction was a thoroughly enjoyable book that was an absolute delight for this post NJO skeptic to read. If the series thus far has turned you off to this book, I implore you to give it a shot. To echo what I’ve been saying this entire review, Conviction was fun.

Frankly, we haven’t had enough fun in the EU lately.

Score: A very respectable 4/5

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