Review of Karen Traviss’s Imperial Commando 501st Star Wars Novel:
The recent Star Wars novel by Karen Traviss, Imperial Commando: 501st , is the first of a planned series of five books, but is preceded by four Republic Commando books, which contain the same basic characters. None of this I knew when I visited my local Borders Bookstore and picked up a paperback copy of Imperial Commando: 501st. You see, this was my first Star Wars novel, and I just did not know any better! I probably should have started with the first Republic Commando book, but then I would have missed all the fun figuring out which character was which, (a real trick, since at least half the major characters are clones), and what the back story was all about. And what a back story that is!
Without giving away too much of the plotline, let’s just say that anyone who enjoys the Star Wars milieu will get a kick out of this book, though if you are a fan of the Jedi (or the Sith), you may come away a bit angry. You see, the heroes of this book (and the whole Commando series) are not the fancy light-saber waving, Force-using, robe-wearing Jedi, but the identical, Jangoistic (if you get that pun, you are a true SW fan!) clone troopers and commandos who fight the Republic’s, and later, the Empire’s, wars.
Traviss puts the emphasis on the clones, their interesting psychology, and the diverse cultures that they inherited based on where their training sergeants came from. One particular aspect of the book I enjoyed was the emphasis on the home life, and the “family” feeling that the clones had for one another. I had to look up a few Star Wars terms and races online (Mandalorians?) to get the drift on a few items, but I also discovered that Traviss is in the center of some controversy surrounding the attitudes many of the clones and others in the book feel toward the Jedi. As everyone who knows anything about Star Wars knows, the Jedi are not only central to the Star Wars movies, but are the heroes (and at least one major villain), of the whole movie series. Not so in Imperial Commando: 501st. The clones and their allies see the Jedi as a power-hungry, child-stealing cult who raise the young Jedi children to live a life of monkish asceticism while training them to be killers and to use the Force to secretly control the Republic from behind the scenes. From what I can gather from the internet insults directed at Karen Traviss, many of the pro-Jedi fans see her as messing around with Star Wars canon, which of course, is a big no-no.
I don’t see it that way at all. I believe that Traviss is presenting these books with the clones as the central characters. Thus, the first-person narratives of the clones and their allies of course come with a pro-clone and, logically, an anti-Jedi point of view. It makes sense that the clone troopers see themselves as genetically-engineered slaves sold by the Kaminoans who created them, and bought by the Jedi who used them in the Republic’s wars; wars, it should be mentioned, that resulted in many clone trooper deaths. If the Jedi bought you and your brothers, and sent you off to war because you had been programmed to fight and they had PAID cold, hard cash for the right to own you, wouldn’t you be a tad miffed at the whole Jedi mystique?
Overall, I truly enjoyed Imperial Commando: 501st. Karen Traviss has a good, character-driven writing style which helps give the main characters, Niner, Darman, Skirata, Fi, Ordo, and the others, bring a sense of humanity to the white-armored stormtroopers of Star Wars mythology. I am going back to start the first book in the Republic Commando series to meet these very human characters from the beginning, and to gain a greater appreciation for the Mandalorian and Clone viewpoint of those pesky Jedi.
May the Force Clone Troopers be with you!