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Labyrinth of Evil, by James Luceno
Genre: Star Wars
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2005
Review Posted: 3/18/2008
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10

Labyrinth of Evil, by James Luceno

Book Review by David Roy

Have you read this book?

Labyrinth of Evil is James Luceno's lead-in to the Star Wars movie "Revenge of the Sith". It's so much of a lead-in that the book literally ends where the movie begins, setting up and beginning the huge battle that takes up the first half hour or so of the movie. In it, we see even further the beginnings of Anakin Skywalker's eventual fall from grace with the Force. It is quite a good book, too, with only one major problem with it that brings a full star off of my rating (though you may not have a problem with it).

The book begins in the middle of another large battle on the planet Cato Neimodia, the home of some of the senior Trade Federation members (those who are seen in the first two movies). Anakin and his former Master and now partner, Obi-Wan Kenobi, are leading a Republic force in an effort to capture them as part of the huge war with the Galactic Separatists that has been raging for the last couple of years. While they don't capture the Trade Federation leaders, the leaders do leave behind something interesting in their haste to get away: a mechno-chair that is the means by which they communicate with the cyborg leader General Grievous and the man behind all of this, Darth Sidious. The chair, and the secrets it reveals, leads Anakin and Obi-Wan all over the galaxy in an attempt to finally track Sidious down. But Sidious may already be on Coruscant, the Republic homeworld, and he may have links high up in the Imperial Senate. Meanwhile, both the Jedi Council and a group of senators have great misgivings about Chancellor Palpatine and the power he's amassed because of this war. But will the war come to Coruscant before they can convince Palpatine to call a halt to it?

This is good stuff, with lots of cool Star Wars action. There's just one problem. There were a few grumblings about Revenge of the Sith being anti-George Bush, though the movie was generic enough that those references could easily be seen as just a reference to an evil man, the man we know becomes the Emperor, amassing power in his own right. Labyrinth of Evil, however, takes it a couple steps further, with at least two blatant references that completely threw me out of the book. The first was a reference to three planets that we've never heard of (unless they were in previous books, but we never hear of them again after this reference), which Palpatine calls a "Triad of Evil," and the other is a reference to "Homeworld Security." There is also a later chapter that reads as more political tract than it does a Star Wars story. I prefer my real-world allegories oblique, not like a sledgehammer to the head.

The main problem with this is that it taints the rest of the political story, which I probably would have found even more interesting if I wasn't looking for more veiled references to real life. Bail Organa actually has a personality, and he showcases it here (unlike in the movie). He and his group of senators try desperately to make Palpatine see reason, but they are pretty much brushed off. I loved the scene where Palpatine's advisor "loses" their appointment with him, and Bail says that they will wait for him at his secretary's desk. He is also very good during the attack on Coruscant. Padme, unfortunately, doesn't rise too much above her portrayal in the movie, playing second fiddle to Bail in the Loyalist (that's what they call themselves) meetings and spending the rest of her time pining for Anakin.

So with the political story having some good things and one very bad, how was Anakin's, and the rest of the Jedi, story? This is where Luceno really kicked it into high gear. Anakin and Obi-Wan are going all over the galaxy in a search for Count Dooku, the Sith apprentice to Darth Sidious. There is a great deal of starship combat with Anakin and Obi-Wan piloting their starfighters against the droid forces. While Luceno isn't as good with this, he's much better than he was in his "New Jedi Order" books (at least the first two). When our heroes get down on the ground, however, things really take off. The action scenes sizzle, the banter between Anakin and Obi-Wan is first-rate, and we see some great indications of how Anakin will eventually fall, letting his anger get ahead of him during some of the fights. His love of Padme makes it even worse for him, and his conversations with Palpatine carry great foreboding. I do wish I had read this before seeing the movie, but those conversations actually bore a lot of weight when you know how Palpatine is manipulating him.

The other Jedi and villains are also well done, though it can be really hard and annoying to actually read Yoda's dialogue (hearing it is hard enough). I especially enjoyed seeing some of Dooku's thoughts on Anakin and on his master, and on Yoda as he thinks about the Force and what it means to him. Just when Dooku's musings (or any of the other Jedi characters) started to get old, Luceno would kick in something else, making the pacing of the book quite good. We also get a lot of good background on General Grievous, which is nice too.

Labyrinth of Evil makes a wonderful prequel to "Revenge of the Sith", and I'm really glad Lucasfilm decided to do things this way. The movie was already long enough as it was, and this book provides a lot of good backstory that isn't necessary to enjoy the movie, but is still very interesting. Thankfully, Luceno also makes it a wonderful adventure story. Take out the political rants, and you easily have a five-star book. As it is, it's still a great read.
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