Tatooine Ghost by Troy Denning (2003, Del Rey)
In The Truce at Bakura (which I reviewed way back in June), Anakin Skywalker makes a postmortem appearance to Leia and asks her forgiveness for all of the horrible atrocities he committed as Darth Vader. Unlike the saintly Luke Skywalker of Return of the Jedi, a furious Leia refuses to grant that forgiveness. She cannot separate the contrite Anakin from the evil he has since renounced. Anakin’s spirit departs, hoping that one day Leia can let go of her hatred and resentment. It’s easily the most powerful passage in the novel.
Tatooine Ghost, published a full decade later, directly addresses Leia’s daddy issues and attempts to bridge the “classic” expanded universe with the events of the prequels, two of which had been released by the time of this book’s publication. A mission to recover an Alderaanian moss painting that also happens to contain the code key to a secret New Republic communication network takes Leia, Han, Chewie, and Threepio to Tatooine, where the painting is being auctioned off. When Imperials show up at the auction and the proverbial shit hits the fan, none other than a grown-up Kitster yanks the painting right off the auction block and makes off with it.
You remember Kitster, right? He was one of Anakin’s friends from The Phantom Menace. Also appearing is the stocky Rodian known as Wald. Both appear to have grown up to be less annoying in this book than they were in the movie.
The action of the book has our heroes racing against the Imperials to track down Kitster and the painting, but the novel’s most important element is not tied directly to that plot. While briefly staying at the old Lars homestead (now owned by the Darklighters), Leia is given an old video diary belonging to Shmi Skywalker that she had intended to give to her son, but never got the chance. Through Shmi’s entries, Leia begins to understand Anakin Skywalker’s humanity, and while there is no official pronouncement of forgiveness, Leia is clearly letting go of her grudge by the end of this book.
Before I say anything else about Tatooine Ghost, I have to get something off my chest that’s been bothering me about it. In the first few chapters, when Leia and Han are undercover at the auction, it is heavily implied that the fact that Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are one in the same is common knowledge. The big question (which a little internet research showed me I’m far from alone in asking) is: When the hell did this happen? Certainly, there is no way that Vader’s identity was widely known during the original trilogy, because—unless “Skywalker” is the Star Wars universe equivalent to “Smith,” “Jones,” or “Rodriguez”—the possibility of Luke and Vader being related would have come up at some point before the events of The Empire Strikes Back.
If we assume, then, that this knowledge came out sometime after the death of the Emperor, any contradiction with the films is eliminated, but if this was publicly revealed by either Luke, Leia, the New Republic media, or some combination of those three, that’s one hell of a thing to not have a book about. Wouldn’t that have some impact on Luke and Leia’s image as heroes of the Rebellion? Something that, I don’t know, should maybe be addressed somehow? Ugh.
This irritating continuity conundrum notwithstanding (and it really is only an obsessive fanboy’s complaint [I suppose]), Tatooine Ghost is actually quite good. This comes as a relief for me, since Troy Denning has a number of Star Wars novels under his belt that rivals Timothy Zahn. The most notable thing here is that Denning really knows how to write Han and Leia. Their marital arguments over whether or not to have children ring true to character dynamics present in the movies, without merely aping scenes from Empire. Denning’s ability to write these characters shines the brightest in “Corphelion Interlude,” a sweet, romantic five-page short story about the Solos’ honeymoon that serves as a prologue of sorts for this novel. The driving force of the book, Leia’s struggle to cope with her family history, is emotionally effective, and many passages are tinged with a bittersweet, sepia-toned nostalgia that really appealed to me. Genuinely touching moments abound, including the book’s last few paragraphs.
Also included here is A Forest Apart, a short story/novella previously published in e-book form, also by Troy Denning.
This story features Chewbacca as its main character, along with his wife and son, who you may remember from that timeless classic, The Star Wars Holiday Special. When some Imperial agents ‘jack an important datapad from Han and Leia’s apartment, Chewie’s son brashly takes off after the thief, triggering a chase through several levels of Coruscant’s endless urban sprawl.
It’s cool to see Chewbacca at the forefront of the action, but this one didn’t do much for me. Denning isn’t bad at working with these characters, but the by-the-numbers plot simply did not succeed in holding my interest. As has been my experience with most of these e-book publications so far, there’s nothing terrible about it, but there’s nothing terribly memorable, either.