Republic Commando: True Colors

July 11, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

colorsRepublic Commando: True Colors by Karen Traviss

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I’ve already noted that I’m reading all of the Star Wars Expanded Universe books in chronological order. I figured it would be the best approach, story-wise, but it makes things weird as I get into the Clone Wars. So much was written about them since Lucas opted not to tell that story himself, and the books overlap so much that it’s hard to keep them all straight. Karen Traviss’ Republic Commando novels are a prime example, since they technically fall at different points across the timeline, even though they were written to focus on the same group of characters.

What sets Traviss’ novels apart from the other EU novels is her resistance to Jedi worship. I can see why readers like to read about the Jedi — they represent an ideal, someone who can judge through logic and wisdom without emotion getting in the way — but where other writers view them as confident and secure, Traviss portrays them as arrogant and distant. It’s almost like she’s writing the Jedi to represent the worst of societal privilege. What Jedi she does use in her stories don’t exist elsewhere in the EU, are morally ambiguous to the extent that their loyalties lie with the clone troopers they command, and don’t care that they could be kicked out of the Order for it. When she does refer to the other, more well-known Jedi, it’s in passing, and usually with a hint of disdain. Oddly, I appreciate the viewpoint, and find the stories much more interesting because of it.

The bulk of True Colors is centered around the teams searching for Ko Sai, the Kaminoan who engineered the clone army. Omega Team is searching in the hopes that she can tell them how to reverse the gene that forces the clones to age at twice the rate of other humans; Delta Team is searching by the order of Chancellor Palpatine. The two teams never quite wind up going head-to-head in the story, but that potential conflict carries much of the plot.

I still struggle to keep up with the characters (there are a lot of them in here), and I had initially chalked it up to my not being attentive enough, but while reading True Colors I realized it’s more than that: all of these characters sound the same. It doesn’t matter if they’re Jedi, clones, commanders, or even the antagonists; they all have the same voice. They all have different motivations, and are individual characters, but when they talk, they may as well be the same person. It’s hard to differentiate between who’s talking without paying close attention to character names with the dialogue, and that’s where I lose focus.

Another annoyance of the book (and the others in her series) is her use of swear words that aren’t real expletives. “Fierfek” is one; “osik” is another. I get that these novels are intended to be for all ages, but when it’s clear from the context of the usage, in addition to the narrative translating the words for us, it feels disingenuous to me. Han famously said “I’ll see you in Hell!”, so why shy away from using stronger language in these novels? The books are already gritty, much grittier than the rest of the stories in the universe; why not take it all the way?

On the other hand, I like the way Traviss uses this book as a means to start cracking the subterfuge of Palpatine and his scheme. This is the first book that has a character questioning the methods of the war, and investigating it enough to start thinking that something isn’t right about it. It’s too early in the EU to think that this is going to be the break, where someone realizes that it’s part of a grand scheme to take over the universe, but it’s nice to see these hints along the way. We even see some foreshadowing to the story of the original trilogy of movies, which I like.

Traviss continues to examine what it means to be a clone, ordered and paid for, as opposed to a person, and I haven’t tired of it yet. This time, she takes it a step further by having part of the story be about one of the Omega team suffer from an injury that puts him into a coma. The rest of the team comes to realize just how expendable they are when they have to fight and threaten the medical team to treat Fi like any other patient. The medical team’s response is “I’m only following orders.” I’ve seen some criticism of her novels being little more than Mandalorian worship, but I think those readers are missing the point of her books.

I still find Traviss’ books (so far) to be the best in the series so far. Zahn’s would take a close second, and I can see others arguing that Zahn’s should take priority, but Traviss’ books feel more significant, at least as far as their themes go. It seems that fans of the EU dislike these books (and, unfortunately, her), but I like them because they’re different from the rest.

Unfortunate Musical Connection: “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper

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