Book Review: Dark Journey

Part One – Spoiler Free Review

Jaina, Jaina, Jaina! That’s all anyone ever talks about is Jaina! And that’s more or less what Dark Journey is all about: Jaina Solo. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Let me begin by saying that if you’ve yet to read Star by Star, you should most certainly pick it up before reading Dark Journey. While I actually found Dark Journey to be a better novel than Star by Star, events in the latter absolutely rely on the former novel.

The book picks up literally right where Star by Star left off. I won’t go into details here in part one, for you people who haven’t read the book yet; part two will delve more deeply into the plot. Overall, this book was much better than I had anticipated. All things considered, I believe that Elaine Cunningham did an excellent job forwarding the New Jedi Order.

This book was a nice change of pace from some of the previous in the series, as events unfold slowly, and do not spread all over the galaxy. In fact, there are very few events of consequence take place. The story dwells mostly on the characters, and has a good balance, but with just a bit too much Jaina. Overall though, Cunningham did a great job frolicking in the Star Wars universe.

I can’t really give a rough description of events, since it would reveal way too much of the plot, which really has to be read through without spoilers. I can say that many of the scenes are quite touching, emotionally, and one gut-wrenching scene comes to mind. The novel is full of many memorable quotes, some bringing back the flavor of the original trilogy. I will say that Jag Fel makes his reappearance, and gets a tad more character depth, though not enough to please this fan. I would have liked to see a little more into his mind, but I guess I’ll have to wait until further installments come out. Oh well. One possibly major event that occurs will either outrage, or entice fans to keep reading. The item in question is written in very well, and will make even the most casual fan take notice. But be aware when you read: not everything is as it seems; don’t go jumping to conclusions.

Cunningham does a wonderful job of expanding lightly on some events that occurred in Star by Star, and heavily on others. Jaina’s character development was interesting in the least, and seeing how people around her reacted showed a lot about her in general.

As with all books, there are always a few minor points that should be addressed. The first half of this book was quite good; certainly better than the second half. I noticed very few repeating phrases, and the wording seldom became annoying. Strangely enough, I don’t remember reading a single “this one” (if you’ve read my comments in the 2001 Year in Review, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Overall, the only word I grew tired of was when people thought in ‘accord’. There was also one minor point where a message was supposed to be relayed and never was, at least not in the events outlined in this novel. The only reason it bothered me was that the message was a very powerful one, and I felt its missing presence when I closed the book after reading the final page.

I would certainly recommend this book to any reader of the New Jedi Order, though without reading Star by Star, many of the events and emotions will not register properly. But this is a worthy addition to e series which has captivated Expanded Universe fans for over two years, and will set the stage for some more interesting novels. Readers should be pleased and hopefully thoughtful after finishing this book.

Part Two – Spoilers Present

Now, this portion of my review, as has become my custom will contain my thoughts on the actual events in the novel, in varying degrees of detail. This portion of the review is really for people that want to know my opinion of the book, and who have already read Dark Journey.

I will go through the book, more or less, chapter by chapter, pointing out memorable events as they occurred.

Chapter 2 / pg. 9

First of all, there were some awesome lines in the book. The first three words of Chapter 2 are “Anakin is dead”. It sure sets the mood quickly, doesn’t it? This reinforces what happened in Star by Star, and brings back some of the events into the readers mind.

Chapter 4 / pg. 36

Kyp’s change in attitude is quite interesting. After strong use of the Force, resulting in the death of several wing-mates, his attitude suddenly shifts. Suddenly, he’s questioning much of what he’s been doing since the start of the War. This is interesting to note, and much of the rest of the book will concentrate on a change in Kyp Durron.

Chapter 6 / pg. 52

Jag Fel is finally reintroduced, and some light gets shed on this character. We learn about his two siblings, who were sent to war and died. Though, if memory serves correctly, there was a minor discrepancy later on in the book, when Jag tells Jaina that he lost two brothers to war: one sibling was male, the other female, according to Baron Fel’s ruminations in this chapter.

It was also interesting to note the way they brought Jag Fel back into the mix, where nearly two pages of text, referring to his character go by without actually saying his name. It heightens the amount of mystery this character warrants, and is probably the reason that very little light is shed on him throughout the rest of the story.

Chapter 9 / pg. 96

Jacen’s death begins. This is very intriguing, and continues to be until the very last line of the book, leaving us with a small mystery. The whole death sequence for Jacen was, I felt very shallow, and way too drawn out to be authentic. If this death is indeed staged, and to become a part of very important future events, as I believe it will, then this was done remarkably well. Cunningham should be commended on handling the so-called ‘death’ with such vague writing. Jaina did not even feel Jacen’s death through the Force directly, but by the feelings of others around her. Leia felt him, but still believes him alive, even though everyone else proclaims him dead. If this death is indeed authentic, and Jacen has perished, then I will be unutterably disappointed in the writing of it, unless future authors happen to change my opinion. But I am of the opinion that Jacen is NOT dead, and that Jaina will find this out sometime later in the series.

Chapter 14 / pg. 144

The scenes where Jaina and her parents reunite are quite touching. Leia is denying Jacen’s death, and Jaina is quite surprised by that. One of my more favorite scenes was when Leia meets up with Jaina on Hapes, and Leia sees Anakin’s sheet-covered body. Jaina says “We brought Anakin with us.” That scene was very emotional; rousing the feelings I felt when Chewbacca died all over again. During Star by Star, when Anakin died, I felt very detached, and was disappointed with the way the other characters dealt with his death. After reading these parts in Dark Journey, I was much more satisfied with the story overall. These people were dealing with his death the way most real people do.

Chapter 17 / pg. 175

Anakin’s funeral begins: In a manner that is very much like Qui-Gon’s funeral in The Phantom Menace, Anakin’s body is burned, as friends and loved ones stand by. I felt this was another very emotional scene, especially when Han stepped forward, saying “Anakin saved my life”, and making final amends for his actions after Chewbacca’s death. This hit very true to home, in what fathers and sons go through, always wondering how they stood with each other upon ones’ death.

I did have a few problems with this scene though. The funeral felt somewhat rushed, and rather impromptu, as Jaina had to be rushed in by Kyp Durron. The speeches were great, even if the small boy who looked like Anakin seemed enormously out of place. However, I wanted to hear more speeches. Luke Skywalker, who was present, was not given a speech, or at least not one that made it into the book. Jaina’s attention wandered during the ceremony, and so, many speeches were lost. At the very least, I would have expected Leia or Jaina to try making a speech, but break down before completing it. That would have made for a much more heart-wrenching scene, I think.

On page 176, I also had a huge problem with Tahiri’s speech. I still stand by the fact that I don’t like how her handling of Anakin’s death is being done. Sure, she’s young, and unsure of how she felt about him, but she should have at least voiced her feelings in some form or another by now about Anakin’s death. Not only was she romantically involved, albeit slightly with him, but she was also the closest in the Force anyone could be with Anakin.

One thing that I DID like about the funeral is that it should quash any rumors about Anakin returning to life. Many fans have been speculating in forums, etc. that he would be back in some fashion. I for one have never believed it, and felt the speculation to be absolutely ridiculous. I am relieved that by burning his body, the possibility of him returning to LIFE has been reduced virtually to nothing. I certainly hope that those people hoping for his return realize this. What people should realize about deaths in the Star Wars universe is that they are final. Chewbacca has not returned, and will not, despite people’s belief otherwise. In fact, when you look back, seldom has a character actually returned from the dead. Grand Admiral Thrawn did not actually return to life, nor did Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, or Qui-Gon Jinn. Sure, maybe some of them returned in spirit somehow, but not in actual form. Personally, I would be fairly surprised not to see Anakin’s spirit return, based on the events in his death. But I imagine we won’t see something like that occur until after Episode II comes out, and we get the real reason that some Jedi disappear, and some don’t.

Chapter 20 / pg. 225

Leia tells Jag Fel to relay a message to Jaina. This is the one point that I felt was not wrapped up, if you’ve read my first part of this review. The message is that Leia says, “I trust her to find her way back”. This has a couple of interesting points. Not only can you take it at face value, in that Leia is trusting Jaina to do whatever she deems necessary and actually survive, basically telling Jaina that she is an adult and her mother realizes it. It also points out the fact that Leia is very aware that Jaina is dangerously close, to the Dark Side. She trusts her to make her way back to the Light again; that’s what the statement says. But Jag never tells this to Jaina, at least not in this book, and I felt that was an oversight.

Chapter 21 / pg. 232

In this chapter, Jaina offers herself to Kyp as his apprentice. There are several scenes in the book, where this is first approached, but it is here that it becomes truth. This chapter was extremely confusing to me, however, as events are not explained clearly. They somehow move their prisoner in a “disturbing” fashion, but it is never revealed exactly what transpires. There is some understanding between Kyp and Jaina, but the reader is never informed about it. I’m hoping that this is something foreshadowing events in future novels, but somehow, I’m thinking that it was just a plain-old mistake.

Chapter 22 / pg. 243-44

This scene once again deals with Kyp’s changing viewpoints on himself, and his ideals in general. He thinks about Jaina’s sudden change, and how she is manipulating things, crossing boundaries, even he, himself is afraid to cross. He wonders if he’ll be able to stop her, when the time comes. This is interesting as it deals with Jaina turning to the Dark Side, which is portrayed very vaguely in this novel.

Chapter 28 / pg. 295-96

This scene deals with the final space battle, in which Jaina’s ‘trickster’ items force the retreat of Kahlee Lah and Harrar. It also deals with the ‘redemption’ of Jaina Solo. During the battle, Jaina falls almost completely to the Dark Side, and is nearly killed because of it. It’s eventually Kyp who helps draw her back to the Light and takes her to safety, though nearly perishing himself. This entire scene was fairly unsatisfactory to me, as Jaina’s entire foray into the Dark Side was entirely too vague and short-lived. At no point does she truly fall, and though many of her friends worry about her, they don’t voice their worries, instead always seeming ‘disturbed’. I was disturbed by this, and feel that if she’s going to fall, let her fall. It would certainly make things more interesting. It would have been interesting to see Jaina become a full-fledged Dark Jedi and fight her way to the Vong, only to be captured, and have to duel Jacen, who would have been profoundly shocked not only to have to fight his sister, but the sister who was now of the Dark Side. It could have led to the redemption of Jaina there, in the fight with Jacen. Sure, it’s cliché, but it would have read better than her short, vague fall to the Dark Side, as portrayed in Dark Journey. Nevertheless, it was still interesting, if not ultimately disappointing.

Epilogue / pg. 299

Kyp Durron’s near about-face has just about been completed by the end of the novel. He now is bent on creating a Jedi Council (sound familiar, anyone?) to bring order to the Jedi. He wants to help the Jedi come together, instead of breaking apart. This is good news, and should be interesting for development in the rest of the story arc.

Epilogue / pg. 301

The very last sentence of the book absolutely turned it into gold, in my opinion. Jacen’s death is vague, of course, and events lead the reader to believe that he is indeed still alive. In the final words of the book, Harrar is thinking about Jaina, and her mastery of tricking the Yuuzhan Vong. But it’s the last sentence that draws the reader back out. It reads: “Was it possible, he wondered, that Jacen Solo might not have survived, after all?” Based on the final page, the reader is left wondering the same thing. Is Jacen Solo dead? We can only wait until further books come out to complete the story.

– Reviewed by Bradley K. Brown