Monday, October 25, 2010

Reading Recommendation: Star Wars Republic Commando: True Colors


T3M4 advises you to proceed at your own risk. 

As its title might suggest, Karen Traviss' third entry in the Republic Commando series, True Colors, is all about setting the stage for the final alliances of our various clone, Jedi, Mandalorian, and other friends from the series so far.  Those familiar with the Star Wars timeline know that at the beginning of the end of The Revenge of the Sith, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine orders the clones to assassinate, in its entirety, the Jedi Order.  Clearly, this order is going to cause a lot of problems for Kal Skirata's Null ARC Troopers, as well as his commando squads, particularly Omega Squad. 

True Colors gives us strong hints, however, that not all of the clones (or Jedi for that matter) will take this order without a fight.  Ever since meeting the six surviving clones from the Null batch at the age of two, and rescuing them from "reconditioning" (otherwise known as termination) by the Kaminoan head scientist Ko Sai, Kal Skirata has had his own agenda with regards to the clones.  In this novel we, the readers, finally get to see the entirety of that agenda, as well as read eagerly along while it begins to come to fruition.

Let me back up a little bit, because I skipped over this in my last review.  When the scientists on Kamino first started creating the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), they planned not just to clone Jango Fett, but also to tweak his DNA to make the clones a) more willing/able to work with each other (as Jango was something of a loner), and b) more obedient/loyal to their Republic masters.  The first batch of "prototype" clones was a group of twelve designated "Null" troopers.  Only half of those prototype clones survived the birthing/hatching process.  The Nulls, however, turned out to not be what the Kaminoans were looking for, and so subsequent clones were based on the next template they created.  This means that among the clones the Nulls are a bit different, both in physical appearance and in genetic traits.  

Kal arrived on Kamino when the Null clones were two years old (approximately 5 or 6 in appearance and development).  One of his first encounters on the planet, in fact, was with Ko Sai and the Nulls.  She had finally deemed them irrefutably flawed and scheduled them for reconditioning.  Kal, seeing only six very frightened little boys, stopped her from killing the children and took responsibility for them upon himself, along with the training of his batch of regular commando troopers.  He raised these boys as his own sons, and it was his interactions with them that shaped his opinions of the Kaminoans as well as his treatment of all of the commandos he trained.  The Nulls were classified as Advanced Recon Commando (ARC) troopers--though the ARC troopers from the subsequent template (the Alphas) were all trained by Jango Fett himself, and the Mandalorian mercenaries he hired (including Kal) trained the Commando troopers.  The "basic" model clone troopers were trained by a variety of soldiers, also hired by Fett, though they were not Mandalorian.

The Null ARC troopers are:  Prudii (N-5), Kom'rk (N-6), Mereel (N-7), Jaing (N-10), Ordo (N-11), and A'den (N-12).  In Triple Zero Traviss introduced Ordo and Mereel, as well as Kal's back story with the Nulls.  In True Colors we also meet A'den, though Ordo and Mereel both play very heavy roles in the story. 

There is a very very lot going on in this book, but the main plot(s) centers around the search for Ko Sai, who fled from Kamino when it was attacked by Separatists at the start of the Clone Wars.  The official line is that she died in the attack, but in truth she defected to the Separatists, and then took their money and ran.  She's been in hiding for over a year, and a lot of people are looking for her. The other Kaminoan scientists want her back because she is their best scientist (and she stole quite a bit of the cloning research when she fled).  Chancellor Palpatine wants her back ostensibly to deny her services to the Separatists and to ensure the continued development of clones for the GAR, the Separatists want their money back (and her research if they can get it), and Kal wants to find her to make her come up with a solution to the accelerated aging every clone is saddled with.

The Nulls spent the time since Geonosis doing odd jobs for Kal, technically classified as Special Operations, but really more to further his own goals of providing a solid future for his adopted sons once the war is completed.  One of those odd jobs has been tracking down Ko Sai, and in True Colors, Kal finally has a strong enough lead to actually go and look for her himself, along with the assistance of Ordo, Mereel, and, surprisingly, Walon Vau.  I say "surprisingly" because these two men do not like each other one bit.  But over the course of the novel, it becomes clear that they both resent the way the clones have been used by the Republic and want to secure the chance of a future for them.  Despite their very different approaches to training the men and to life in general, these men grow to grudgingly respect each other and recognize that they need each other to be able to do what they want to do. 

But, as I mentioned, Palpatine also wants Ko Sai found, immediately.  So he tasks Bardan Jusik and Delta Squad to find her.  Bardan, of course, is in on Kal's plans and realizes that he can't let Delta find her first.  So he works with Kal to delay Delta Squad's search, and in the end, Kal and his team do reach her first.  She is captured and taken to Mandalore, where Kal sets up facilities for her to start working on a way to end the clones' accelerated aging. 

I feel like the dichotomy of this particular plot point is a very important one that will have extremely far-reaching consequences.  For one thing, up until now Delta has been part of the inner circle with Kal, Vau, Omega, and the Nulls.  There have been differences of opinion, but they have been on the same side through it all, putting those differences aside to get the job done.  But from this point forward, Delta is outside the circle.  I foresee that leading to some nasty conflicts and/or some hard choices down the road.  For another thing, it has Vau actively working against Delta, and though he would never admit it, it has been made clear that they are his "boys" in the same way that Omega is to Kal.  Delta is given specific orders not to mention their assignment to Vau or to Kal.  While they have no problem keeping Kal out of the loop, it is interesting to see that, though they don't like it, they are equally willing to exclude Vau as well, because they are ordered to do so.  Kal's training methods brought up a batch of very competent commandos, but their loyalty is to him first, and then the Republic.  In Delta we see that Vau's training instilled loyalty to the Republic above all else--even if the Republic's actions aren't making any sense.

And make no mistake about it, the Republic's actions aren't making sense.  Not any more, not to anyone who is willing to look beyond the propaganda and the individual assignments to take a gander at the big picture.  The Republic is claiming that the Separatists have quadrillions of droids, but if they do, then they aren't using them--if they were, the Republic would have been overrun long before this point in the story.  The Nulls' forays into the various Separatist droid factories on sabotage missions confirm that the numbers are far less than what is being claimed.  But the leaders of the Republic military don't seem to care about this news that the enemy is much smaller than they thought.  They certainly aren't taking the advice of their generals to adjust their strategy to one that would bring about a swift end to the war based on the new and confirmed intel. 

In fact, the government seems to be doing the exact opposite, stretching their resources throughout the galaxy very dangerously and therefore stretching out the war unnecessarily.  Omega, for instance, is on an assignment during this story that they quickly realize makes no strategic sense whatsoever.  Treasury Agent Besany Wennen, who was more or less drafted into Kal's clan during their mission on Coruscant, has been doing some digging on her end of things and has made a couple of very interesting--and disturbing--discoveries.  First, it seems that the government has busily been setting up new cloning facilities on one of Coruscant's moons, but they're keeping it top secret and hiding the money trail.  Second, there is very little to no expenditure being allocated toward health care and rehabilitation for clones.  Put together an encounter of Omega's on their mission, Kal and his band realize that any clones who are too injured to be healed and put back into action immediately or at all are being euthanized.  And any clones that express a desire to leave the GAR are being executed by Covert Ops, which means it is sanctioned by the Senate.  Our motley little band is coming to the realization that something is very very wrong with the war, and that the Republic they are serving might be just as rotten as the Separatists they are fighting.

Ko Sai also reveals to Kal and Etain that the real reason she left Kamino was to get away from Chancellor Palpatine.  It seems he had been haranguing her to develop a means for him--not mankind,  not the clones, just him--to expand his life span well past that of an ordinary human.  If that isn't a sinister hint that things are in place to get much much worse, then I don't know what is. 

Adding to the growing discontent with the clones' lot in life, Darman's not the only one of his brothers who has found himself a girl.  Ordo has been seeing Besany Wennen and Atin has fallen for a Twi'lek named Laseema.  The clones who haven't found companionship outside of their brothers are looking to those who have and starting to think about what they want outside of service in the GAR.  Fi, in particular, feels the lack of a "normal" life imposed by the conditions of his creation.  The clones may have been trained only to serve in the GAR, but once exposed to the rest of the galaxy, it did not take long for many of them to realize that they are, in fact, still human men, and to crave the kind of existence, or at least choices, that other humans take for granted.  Jedi Knight Bardan Jusik is hit particularly hard by realizing his complicity in what has been done to these men, in how they are being used, and he faces a great struggle with himself over whether he still belongs in the Jedi Order at all. 

As I said, there's quite a bit going on in True Colors, and I haven't even begun to scrape the surface.  Traviss takes us into the real meat of the issues here.  The casual Star Wars fans who have seen the movies will come at this knowing all along that Palpatine is a Bad Guy, and therefore all of his calls in the war are subject to question.  We know, as the readers, that he is Up To No Good.  Traviss does an amazing job of taking that into consideration and managing to show us why Palpatine was able to pull off this grand deception.  We see these people living their lives as citizens or servants (or property) of the Republic.  We see the ideals that they want to believe they are upholding, and we see how separate from the reality of the war the Senate and the people of the Republic truly are.  And once we're sucked in, we get to ride along as a few of these people start finding the pieces and putting them together.  I am amazed by how well it is executed.  This series gets better, richer, with each new book.  Do yourself a favor and read it.

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