The Old Republic setting provides a unique opportunity for Star Wars storytelling. Set against the backdrop of a cold war between Jedi/Republic and the Sith, authors can play both sides off of the other in a time of tenuous peace. Most other times in Legends the Jedi and the Sith are aware of one another pretty much go down like Mace Windu marching on Palpatine’s office. In order words, this is one of the only settings where both Jedi and Sith have to play nice and smile at each other instead of immediately going for the lightsabers.
Welcome to Legends of the Hydian Way, the chronicle of my attempt to read through and review all the novels that make up mainline Legends canon in chronological order. May the Force be with me
Today, we’re tackling The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams. I’ll say up front I was glad to finally see a book in this series step up and take full advantage of the promise of the Cold War. It tells a very unique story among Legends canon of intrigue, statecraft, and ultimately enemies having to work together, albeit poorly, to stop a threat too big for either alone.
Our novel opens with privateer captain Jet Nebula (even other characters remark on his odd name) stopping an unknown ship called the Cinzia, which self-destructs rather than be captured. What he finds in the wreckage he takes back to his bosses in the Hutt Cartel, who contact both the Republic and the Sith Empire (still Vitiate’s one) with offers to sell it at auction. What is being sold is secret, but the Hutts gurantee it will be worth their time.
As befits such a political novel, there are a lot of characters in Fatal Alliance. For brevity’s sake I’m only going to focus on the people who have the most impact on the overall story for this review. On one side we have Eldon Ax, Sith Apprentice. Ax learns early in the story that The Cinzia is a ship built by her mother, escaped droidmaker Lema Xandret. Xandret attempted to flee the Empire to prevent Ax (real name Cinzia) from being taken to become a Sith. She failed, and has harbored a deep hatred for the Sith ever since. Ax is tasked by her master Darth Chratis to find Xandret and administer appropriate punishment (death, obviously.)
Meanwhile, Padawan Shigar Konshi and ex-spec ops trooper Larin Moxla catch the thread of the Cinzia from a Mandalorian on Coruscant called Dao Stryver. The Jedi council tasks Shigar with attending the auction on Hutta to determine if the Cinzia’s cargo is worth having. Larin, who is feeling purposeless in her life post-military, tags along.
Also going to Hutta is Republic Envoy Ula Vii, who is feeling pretty conflicted because he’s actually an Imperial informant who never wanted to be sent out into the field. Ula finds himself in the strange position of wanting to betray the Republic and sabotage the auction, but always being surrounded by loyal guards protecting him, and preventing him from having any privacy to send a message.
As everyone arrives on Hutta for the auction, it becomes clear that none of the parties involved are actually interesting in bidding and that everyone just wants to break in and steal the Cinzia’s cargo. Inside the vault, Ax squares off against Shigar and Dao Stryver while Larin and Ula arrive with the Hutt guards. All are surprised when the vault opens from the inside and a group of killer droids burst out and start shooting.
The droids, dubbed hexes by Ula due to the shape of their bodies, prove difficult to destroy and highly adaptable, requiring new strategies to confront (almost like the Borg from Trek, but definitely distinct enough to be their own unique thing). The hexes are destroyed, but in the chaos Dao Stryver makes off with the cargo, which turns out to have been the Cinzia’s navicomputer. This computer reveals the location of a previously unknown, resource rich world. Ax steals a hex’s body and flees the planet, hoping to use a droid tech to divine the location of the machine’s origins while Shigar uses a fragment of one and a Force ability of his to do the same.
This leads all parties involved to a world orbiting a black hole, dubbed “Sebaddon.” Upon arrival, the Republic fleet is assaulted by thousands of hexes while no reply to hails comes from the planet beyond a repeated cry of “We do not recognize your authority!” A similar fate befalls the Sith fleet when it arrives shortly thereafter. Battered, both sides receive a message from Dao Stryver, proposing they all meet. At the meeting, Stryver reveals that Lema Xandret is more than likely dead, and that all of Sebaddon is run by hexes, multiplying constantly and able to self-replicate. He says that if they are not stopped here, the hexes could very well overrun the whole galaxy before either Sith or Jedi could stop them. Ula Vii, due to his status as Republic Envoy, is able to get a private meeting with Darth Chratis and reveal his double-agent status. This finally convinces the Sith to agree to a temporary alliance to stop the hexes.
However, as battle commences Ula more and more realizes that’s he’s not fighting for the Empire or for the Republic, rather that he’s consistently just been trying to arrange events to “do the right thing”. As a result, he refuses to betray the Republic and keeps the shaky alliance functioning long enough for Ax to find the true secret of Sebaddon: herself!
Actually it’s a clone of her, also called Cinzia. Apparently Lema Xandret was a bit of a control freak who couldn’t stand the idea of losing her daughter, so she cloned her and imprisoned her in a tank of unexplained Force-suppressing fluid. Clone Cinzia (I think of her as Clonezia) explains that the hexes were created to protect her mother and herself, but eventually Lema sent a ship (also called Cinzia) out into the galaxy. The hexes then considered her a threat to her own safety and rebelled, killing Lema Xandret (but somehow preserving her conciosness inside themselves).
When Clonezia begs Ax to tell her all about the world outside her tank, Xandret intervenes to stop her, and Ax smashes the tank to free her clone sister. The exposure to oxygen after so long in the tank proves fatal, but Clonezia gives Ax the key to controlling the hexes.
With Clonezia’s death, Ax uses the hexes to kill her master, Darth Chratis, and then all the droids commit mass suicide by marching into lava flows. It’s a bit of lame ending to the built up threat of the droids, but ultimately the hexes are more of a plot device than an actual villain anyway. They serve their purpose in propelling the two sides into a short lived alliance, and then depart the scene.
Both sides retire, having not really gained anything of value, but all those involved in the alliance come away changed, with new perspectives. Shigar’s time near Darth Chratis convinces him the Sith cannot simply be tolerated but must be defeated definitively. Larin realizes how important the belonging she had in the military was to her, and Ula decides that he’ll use his double agent role to protect the innocent on both sides by steering the superpowers around open war.
Ax has perhaps the most atypical ending from a Star Wars book. I was expecting to see a more standard plotline revolving around her discovering her mother and realizing that the Sith have made her a monster. Instead, her discovery of how controlling her mother was reinforces her desire for freedom through power in Sith philosophy and ends up apprenticed to a member of the Dark Council.
There’s a lot more to this book than this bare bones synopsis can cover. It’s easily twice as long as either Revan or Deceived. Much of the book reinforces the political gamesmanship and intrigue going on here, expanding on Stryver’s role and exploring Jet Nebula’s character. It’s worth a read if you like all that behind the scenes backroom sort of stuff.
So what stands out about this book compared to the others in The Old Republic series? First let’s get the negative stuff out of the way.
This is a busy book, with lots of names and agendas to keep track of. If you’re not a fan of following lots of plot threads that keep intersecting and diverging, give this one a pass. Sometimes it feels a little bit too busy for it’s own good. Particularly, the book seems to think Dao Stryver is a much more compelling character than they actually are, to the point that the big epilogue reveal is mostly that Stryver is in fact a lizard woman instead of a human male. The book appeared to think this was a major revelation, but mostly it just prompted me to say “Oh, alright then,” and move on.
The second issue with this book isn’t so much a flaw in the writing so much as it is a weird quirk of the way Legends was assembled. See, the original Star Wars came out in 1977. The first prequel movie was in 1999, and The Old Republic game came out in 2012. Technology, and our perceptions of what’s futuristic have changed a lot in the intervening 40-odd years. For a variety of reasons, in the last ten years or before the Disney buyout writers were increasingly going into the distant past of Legends to find narrative space.
The result is that in the time of the Rebellion, the Empire, Luke, and Vader technology seems to peak at lasers and droids that have to physically plug into walls to download pixelated maps. Whereas 3000-ish years before that, a disgruntled droidmaker manages to create the hexes: a massive, wirelessly networked droid intelligence hive mind capable of on-the-fly adaptation and the projection of shields capable of bending lightsabers backwards. It’s nitpicky on my part, I know, but the Republic is about to experience a 1,000 year golden age before The Phantom Menace…so how does the in-universe explanation for this degradation of technology work?
On the plus side, this is a very entertaining read. The characters are interesting and almost all of them have compelling backstories that get developed along the way. The action is present but not distracting and the schemes at work make this seem like a bizarre Star Wars game of fiasco at times.
It’s a long read by Star Wars standards, but well worth it if you’re a fan of Tom Clancy-esque cold war intrigue and a spin on Star Wars that isn’t often seen.
Next time we finish off The Old Republic series of tie-ins with The Old Republic: Annihilation.