Monday, November 1, 2010

Reading Recommendation: Star Wars Republic Commando: Order 66

Be warned, the following review contains minor spoilers for the entire Star Wars Republic Commando series as well as some major spoilers for the film Star Wars Revenge of the Sith.  
Now you know. 

Ooh look, a pretty picture of space, because, you know, spoiler space...

I'm not going to lie to you, folks.  Karen Traviss' Order 66 was a brutal read.  Don't get me wrong, it is a fantastic book, but it kept me on tenterhooks pretty much the entire time I was reading.  Throughout much of the book, it seemed like things were going far too well for Kal Skirata and his ragtag band of misfits.  Even events that could have easily sent everything into a tailspin managed to resolve themselves quickly and quietly, and for the most part, with no one worse for the wear.  So I spent a very lot of this read waiting for the other shoe(s) to drop.  I kept thinking to myself, Something has to go wrong now, because if it doesn't, then when things do go south they are going to be very bad indeed.  I was not wrong.

The previous books in the series have primarily served to build up Kal Skirata's clan, while showing us a pretty decent behind the scenes view of the events of the Clone Wars.  The movies are more or less told from the point of view of the Jedi, and this series is told from the point of view of the clones and the "regular" people.  Throughout the series Kal and his Null ARC troopers (and to a lesser extent the rest of his adopted clan) slowly come to the realization that too much about the war doesn't make sense.  Let's go down the list:
  1. While the Separatists have been a credible threat for quite some time, there wasn't really enough indication ten years before the war broke out that such an event would indeed happen, yet someone commissioned the clones ten years before the battle at Geonosis.  
  2. The mystery of who actually commissioned the clone army or why is never resolved by the Jedi Council or the Senate.  Sure, with hindsight, we can assume Palpatine was behind it, but no one actually figures that out until after he shows his true Sithy colors and declares Empire.
  3. Even if everyone decided they were fine not knowing why the army was commissioned in the first place, surely the Treasury would be asking how the heck the army was paid for, but it isn't.
  4. The timing of the war breaking out just as the first batch of clones is ready is awfully convenient.
  5. The Separatists don't have anywhere near the number of droids that the Republic is claiming they have.  They are a threat, but not quite the imminent threat that the propaganda is making them out to be.
  6. The war is being fought in a way that both spreads the Republic forces out as thinly as possible and keeps it going for much longer than is necessary.  A change in tactics could have ended it in much sooner than three years.
  7. Every Jedi general or commander has a clone aide, usually an ARC trooper or a commando, at all times.  Presumably this is for the protection of the leaders of the war effort, but Jedi are more than capable of defending themselves and this seems like a big waste of a lot of highly trained clones.  
  8. The fact that the Jedi--a peace-keeping, generally non-violent group--are put in charge of the clone army at all should be a BIG red flag.
  9. New (and secret) clone-growing facilities have been set up on Coruscant and one of its moons, using the quick-grow technology of some of Kamino's rivals in the cloning industry.  But absolutely no one is announcing that reinforcement troops are soon to come--a fact that would not only greatly boost the waning morale of the existing clones, but would also do a great deal to reassure the people of the Republic.  
  10. Also, since Jango Fett died at Geonosis, the new clones are being grown from second generation source material, instead of Jango himself.  The Kaminoans refused to use second generation source material because they found it produced inferior "product" with a much shorter lifespan than the original clones.  While the original clones are considered "expendable," the new ones will be "disposable."
  11. A new fleet of warships is being built but also kept secret from the Senate, the Jedi Order, and the GAR.  It is scheduled for completion in a very specific timeframe, even though it was commissioned in plenty of time to be completed well before that date.
These are just some of the inconsistencies and worrying facts that Kal and his crew have dredged up over the course of the series.  Perhaps one or two of these items on its own isn't enough to suggest that something is very very wrong, but altogether, they point to this war having been engineered for a very specific purpose and conducted to last for a very specific period of time.  They also suggest that something very big is coming up and give Kal a pretty good idea of when it will happen.  With all of this information, plus the growing realization that, short lifespan or not, the Republic has made no provisions for the clones after the war is over, Kal decides that it is time for his family to cut and run.  He has been setting up a refuge on Mandalore and has been putting together a very thorough research database on cloning so that the right scientist can use the information to stop the clones' accelerated aging.  All he has to do is put everything in motion.

The book starts out pretty much right after the end of True Colors, but then makes several jumps forward in time to align with the events of Revenge of the Sith.  I don't think I had ever realized that the movie takes place over the course of only a few days.  Just as Kal is getting ready to send out the call for everyone to rendezvous on Coruscant and then hightail it to Mandalore, the Separatist siege of Coruscant begins.  In some ways, this serves as a lucky break for the Skirata clan, because it results in Omega Squad being called back to the planet from deployment elsewhere--something Kal was trying to work out how to do.  And the added chaos gives his people a much better chance to move around unseen by the Chancellor's security forces, who are now looking for Kal.

Kal wants to get the following people to Mandalore in the first wave of "strategic withdrawal":
  1. Omega Squad, deployed off-world, but called back to Coruscant during the siege.
  2. Etain, deployed on Kashyyk.
  3. The Null ARC troopers, deployed in various places but mostly able to relocate at will.
  4. Laseema, Besany, and Kad, hidden in a safe house on Coruscant.
  5. Vau and Bardan, both able to move from world to world at will.
  6. Jilka, a colleague of Besany's, falsely arrested for treason for being in the wrong place at the wrong time--needs to be broken out of detention.
  7. Kal's biological daughter Ruu, who has been imprisoned by the Republic for supporting the Separatists.
  8. Dr. Uthan, the geneticist from way back in Hard Contact, who has been imprisoned by the Republic ever since, and who Kal thinks will be able to solve the problem of the clones' accelerated aging.
Yes, you read that correctly.  Kal and his gang have to pull off three separate prison breaks before they can leave Coruscant.  No one could ever say that Kal Skirata is not an ambitious character.  Traviss definitely knows how to keep things exciting.  In the middle of all of that, Jedi Master Mace Windu goes to confront Palpatine, causing the Chancellor to give the GAR the command to execute order 66.  In the movie it all seems so mysterious and I will admit I always wondered how that whole thing worked.  Were the clones brainwashed during training, at the Chancellor's request, so he could just say the phrase and flip the switch?  It always seemed so bizarre to me, that the clones that worked so well with the Jedi could just turn on them like that, at the drop of a hat, with no further elaboration other than to "execute order 66."  

But the truth is even more horrifying because it is so much more mundane than that.  While training on Kamino, the clones received a document called "Contingency Orders for the Grand Army of the Republic:  Order Initiation, Orders 1-150."  They had 150 orders to memorize in the event of several possible worst case scenarios.  Here is the text of Order 66, as Traviss gives it to us:

"Order 66:  In the event of Jedi officers acting against the interests of the Republic, and after receiving specific orders verified as coming directly from the Supreme Commander (Chancellor), GAR commanders will remove those officers by lethal force, and command of the GAR will revert to the Supreme Commander (Chancellor) until a new command structure is established."

Basically translated:  "The Jedi have initiated a coup, execute on sight."  Which makes sense, really, since non-Force users like clones have no way of containing rebel Jedi.  Upon hearing this order, most of the clones complied simply out of anger at a presumed betrayal by their leaders.  The clones were made to serve the Republic and to follow orders--and that they do.  What is most deeply disturbing is that, as Kal realizes toward the end of the story, Palpatine was able to engineer this army, engineer this war, and them put himself in a position to be able to use the war and the army to completely annihilate the true enemy of any Sith Lord--the Jedi Order.  That takes some serious patience and planning.

While the Nulls and Omega Squad don't comply with this order, it isn't out of any fundamental loyalty to the Jedi.  It is largely because they have other things occupying their minds--like trying to get everybody together and off of Coruscant in one piece.  They've already begun the process of desertion at this point, so the order is more of an inconvenience to them than anything else.  They wouldn't harm Bardan or Etain, of course, but then, most of them stopped classifying those two as "Jedi" long before Order 66 is given. 

In fact, at first glance, I was unpleasantly surprised by the reaction of most of the clones and other non-Jedi to the order. The more I think about it though, the more it makes perfect sense.  Fans of Star Wars have been trained to see Jedi as the pillars of light.  They are the unequivocal good guys in this universe.  But throughout the Republic Commando series, Traviss does an excellent job of showing the faults of the order.  There must be a reason, after all, that it was so easy for Palpatine to manipulate events exactly to his desires.  Like the Republic, the Jedi Order had long since begun to rot from the inside out.  So it is no wonder that the "regular people" resent the Jedi, believing them to be pompous fools trying to enforce their own two-faced form of morality upon the galaxy.  After all, they preach reverence for all life, but they lead the GAR, an army composed of slaves.  They take Force-sensitive children away from their families at a very young age and give them no choice about what to do with their lives.  While the clones may be fond of some individual Jedi, they see them as puppets of the Senate--throwing away the lives of the expendable soldiers in a war that has dragged on much longer than it should have.  We are treated to some very uncharitable characterizations of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda from the perspective of the clones.  There is some surprise when it is learned the Jedi tried to overthrow the Chancellor, but there is also belief--and very little hesitation to put the Jedi down.  It is an extremely sobering way of looking at things for someone like myself who has always been so gung-ho pro-Jedi.  But even our main characters, who know what's going on and have maybe more cause than some of the others to resent the Jedi, acknowledge that not all Jedi are bad.  The ideals they strive to meet are certainly commendable, but they seem to have ventured down the wrong path while trying to achieve their goals. 

I do want to give props to the fact that Traviss had one of her characters (Ordo, I believe) ask Jedi Master Zey a question that has been bugging me for years.  How the heck did no one in the Jedi Council realize that Chancellor Palpatine--who they all worked very closely with--was a freaking SITH?  The Jedi are always going on about being able to sense the Force in people and the strength of other Force-users.  Why did no one notice what Palpatine was?  Master Zey provides no answer to this question, of course.  I would be unsurprised to learn that perhaps Lucas just never bothered to come up with an explanation for that when he was plotting the prequels.  But it was very nice to have someone in the universe acknowledge the oddness of that slipping by unnoticed, all the same. 

While Kal does manage to get most of his family to Mandalore, they do not all make it.  Some fall, and some choose to stay behind.  There is a death that is absolutely heartbreaking.  I am not ashamed to admit I almost started bawling my eyes out when it happened.  Those that make it to the safe haven are broken, and it is quite clear to the readers, as the story closes out, that these men and women have a long way to go before they feel whole again.  There is no happy ending here.  Just a very rocky beginning.

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