Top Shelf: Shatterpoint

Shatterpoint, hailing from the era of prequel Photoshop-collage covers that had actual effort put into them

I can remember when I first read from Shatterpoint. It was a preview, in the back of Force Heretic: Refugee, for the first-ever Clone Wars book. At the time, my enthusiasm for Star Wars was at a low ebb; I’m not sure it was for any particular reason, but I had been sustaining an all-consuming fandom for six years, and The New Jedi Order had been dominating the Expanded Universe for years and changing the universe in ways I wasn’t sure I was ready for and was mired in the particularly dull Force Heretic Trilogy. I was just starting to get a little burnt out and needed a breath of fresh air. That Shatterpoint preview was it.

Immediately, the prose was punchy, atmospheric — it radiated attitude. As I read, Mace Windu — a guy we had seen in the movies but didn’t know that much about — landed on his homeworld, a new planet that leapt from the page with unique character, a jungle world so rancid its cities must live under sterilization fields. Then the action hit. Windu, naked after going through the probiotic showers required after arrival, finds a couple thugs harassing the other naked travelers in the locker room, stealing their valuables. Coldly, indifferent to the vulnerability of his nudity, Windu tough-talks the thugs, a supremely confident badass warning off weaklings he doesn’t want to bother with — but kind of does. When they go for him, he knocks them senseless in a vivid, expert action scene. It turns out they’re the local cops; that’s the kind of world this is. Windu goes on to meet his Republic contact; on the street, they’re caught up in some sort of riot, a fast-expanding street battle, and she’s hit with a blaster bolt. As Windu kneels over her, trying to help her, the local militia come up.

The militia behind him clattered to a stop. “You! Korno! Stand away from that woman!”

He glanced back. Six of them. Firing stance. The lightpole at their backs haloed black shadow across their faces. Plasma-charred muzzles stared at him. “This woman is wounded. Badly. Without medical attention, she will die.”

“You’re no doctor,” one said, and shot him.

End preview. I can still remember reading that, and thinking, “Now that’s a Star Wars book!” Atmosphere, action, creativity, a hardboiled pulp attitude. It felt invigoratingly fresh, but completely recognizable as a classic Star Wars adventure. With just a few pages, my excitement was back.

Exciting my fifteen-year-old self, though, isn’t the only reason why Shatterpoint deserves to be recognized as one of the best works of the Expanded Universe. Sure, Matthew Stover’s extraordinary prose and hardboiled attitude are worlds beyond most of the writing for Star Wars novels, but the book has far more going for it than punchy action, innovative worldbuilding, and atmosphere to spare. Stover — the best writer ever to have worked in Star Wars — puts his prose to work giving great depth to his story, a brutal descent into the jungle-madness of war modeled on Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now.

Kar Vastor, one of the most distinctive and effective villains in the Expanded Universe

As Mace Windu travels his rotten, racially-warring, deadly homeworld, he is confronted with the savagery of war, the ugliness of racism, and the animal brutality of man in the literal and metaphorical jungle. Windu’s mission is to extract his former Padawan and surrogate daughter, Jedi Council member Depa Billaba, after she suffers a breakdown while leading a group of guerrillas against the planet’s Separatist administration. She has given in to the dark side, succumbing to the raw savagery of war, and Windu, whose unique style of combat forces him to walk the edge of darkness, is constantly confronted with the risk of doing the same. The main villain, though, is not Billaba, but her right-hand man Kar Vastor, a powerful Force-sensitive shaman whose animalistic nature embodies the darkness of the jungle.

Windu, who defines himself as an agent of civilization, struggles to keep his soul in a book that alternates between tightly written third-person prose and short first-person segments, allowing for one of the deepest, most effective character portraits in the Expanded Universe. As a result of the depth with which Stover plumbs Windu’s character, the novel is able to tackle deep themes about the philosophy of Force use, the nature of evil, and the way war impacts the psyche and society. In Shatterpoint, the dark side is not simply some grandiose temptation to galactic domination; it is despair, frustration, compromise, a surrender of self-control to base passion, an abandonment of mankind’s higher capacities in favor of indulging its lowest, lurking nature. As a result, Shatterpoint is one of the Expanded Universe’s most thoughtful and powerful works, a genuine piece of literature, and one of the definitive studies of what it means to be a Jedi.

Windu with allies Chalk and Nick Rostu

That doesn’t mean, though, that Shatterpoint is a tedious, pretentious, depressing tome. Stover has mastered weaving literary depth with high-octane, asskicking action-adventure. His action scenes are some of the best in the business — clear, vivid, inventive, and crackling with visceral danger. And Shatterpoint is full of action scenes, set off by Stover’s hardboiled prose; it’s perfectly capable of being enjoyed on the level of pulp adventure as well as that of quality literature. Stover also livens the book up with humor, bouncing the hilarious, irrepressible, smartass sidekick Nick Rostu off Windu’s stoic, deadpan-witty badass demeanor. It’s a book that’s dark and serious, but also fun in the best Star Wars tradition. Everything comes together in a perfectly balanced package that’s among the very best works the Expanded Universe has ever put out.

If you’re interested in high-quality Star Wars literature, you need to read Shatterpoint. If you’re interested in Force philosophy and what it means to be a Jedi, you need to read Shatterpoint. If you want to know more about Mace Windu, you need to read Shatterpoint. If you want a great war story, you need to read Shatterpoint. If you want to read the work of the best author to work the Star Wars beat, you need to read Shatterpoint. If you’re just looking for something to read, you need to read Shatterpoint.

You need to read Shatterpoint.

4 comments

  1. Ben Crofts Ben Crofts says:

    AND it beats the hell out of Traitor!

    Seriously. People were going on about Traitor in 2003, then Shatterpoint came out and it’s: OK, now I see why you were rating this guy so highly!

    But it’s not just that – Shatterpoint is the high point of the ‘reality of war’ exploration, it’s where people started to realise they don’t actually want to go down this path all the time and if Stover isn’t doing the writing it could be really, really crap.

    It’s also where we get the first indication of the true nature of the Clone Wars, years before ROTS was probably even written!

    So yeah, more than deserves its rep!

    • Nothing beats Traitor.

      • Matthew the Hutt says:

        Shatterpoint really does. It is literally the only thing in the Clone Wars “Legends EU” that I can recommend unconditionally

      • Ben Crofts Ben Crofts says:

        Oh, Shatterpoint does. It beats Traitor until it’s raw, bloody and bawling in a corner. Hell, I’d place Shatterpoint above RotS and Mindor for Stover’s SW work.

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