Star Wars: Empire (Betrayal)
Star Wars fans are in for a real treat. This story, set in the period prior to the original Star Wars film (A New Hope), explores the establishment of the Empire as it tries to crush the early flickers of rebellion. Emperor Palpatine and his Sith sidekick Darth Vader are desperately trying to eliminate the republican rebels before they have a chance to organise and offer serious resistance. Being an evil empire however, there are more than a handful of power-hungry maniacs amongst their own forces showing an unhealthy interest in seizing power for themselves.
The narrative is fast moving and crammed with plot and counter plot. The downside is that there are a lot of characters, many of which will be new to the casual reader, that it's difficult to keep up with. This isn't helped by the fact that they all wear virtually identical grey imperial uniforms. Some effort has been made to differentiate the main characters - one has red hair, another has vacuum cleaner attachments liberally sprouting from his head - but there are still some issues of confusion arising from the fact that most of the rest of them are so similar.
The star of the show is Darth Vader though. Having gone through his Anakin phase, joined the dark side and done whatever it was that ensured he'll have to dress in that black suit for the rest of his life, he hasn't yet lost his connection to his past. Mean, ruthless and desperately clever he may be, but he's portrayed here as a complex man, perhaps not yet prone to the streak of total evil we witness in the original trilogy of films. Or maybe we're just seeing his side of the story.
Despite being occasionally difficult to follow, this remains a thoroughly absorbing and entertaining work that helps knit the original trilogy to the new prequels. That there is hardly a rebel in sight, leaving the book populated by the true Star Wars anti-heroes of Vader and bounty hunter Boba Fett, removes the do-goody feeling we've had from the recent films. The magic of Star Wars is crackling throughout the book, which is more than enough to help a fan of the films overlook its minor flaws and thoroughly enjoy the read.
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Dark Horse (US)