Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge tie-in novel Black Spire is about good people, but, unfortunately, isn’t a very good novel.
Resistance spy Vi Moradi is on a mission for General Leia Organa: build a Resistance base on the out-of-the-way planet Batuu. If she fails, the First Order could wipe out the Resistance for good. For a book set after The Last Jedi, it reveals very little about the state of the Star Wars universe at large, instead focusing on the planet Batuu. That’s a bit underwhelming, considering the time period in which it is set. Vi is accompanied by Captain Cardinal, now going by the name Archex, a First Order stormtrooper who saw the error of his ways.
First and foremost, this is a story designed to promote and give you a tour of the Galaxy’s Edge setting. Toward the beginning, a sentence which may or may not be an intentional wink struck me: “The assignment might sound like a vacation, but I assure you it’s of vast strategic importance.” And, setting it aside from the wide world of Disney tie-ins, there is special charm to a whole book introducing you to the sights. Many of us have wanted to walk into our favorite fictional worlds at one time or another. Books like Black Spire and the young adult tie-in novel Crash of Fate allow people to do that, in a roundabout way.
Although it’s a bit distracting to know the book describes “fictional” items you can buy at theme-park brand prices, I can’t help but wonder why a novel should get more flack for it than, say, a map of the park or Star Wars Mickey Mouse ears. There is still an element of design to branded products. Holding a book to a different standard is an admirable commitment to the creative integrity of books in general, but the conversation seems watered-down in the case of Star Wars always having a churning marketing machine.
But instead of being immersed in the book and the theme park tour, I found Black Spire had some distracting flaws. I like Vi enough that I wish she was in a better book. Her tenacity and quiet bravery are refreshing traits after a handful of Star Wars books that star ex-Imperials or galactic tyrants. Unfortunately, her dialogue is stiff. The book over all feels like it was written for a younger audience, with concepts and emotions laid out so clearly as to be too blunt. Action scenes flare and die without tension. But Vi’s motivation—to find kind people she can trust—is undoubtedly charming.
Captain Cardinal in the novel Phasma was an opponent to both Vi Moradi and the First Order enforcer. His bland evil has become bland good. Vi doesn’t like this much either; she wants to be able to fight bad guys, not scout around in the middle of nowhere with one. Cardinal is described as a “good man,” but it takes a while for the book to either test that or explore it in any detail. Even when it does, I’m left scratching my head as to what his actual traits are. He’s described as smart, but never quite demonstrates it.
The plot is fast and keeps you guessing. I can imagine reading it on a trip to Disneyland, or on the shuttle between lands at Disney World. And of course, Vi needs to buy things: buy back her droid, buy local clothes, buy food. It all feels, well, Disneyish, but it’s folded into the larger story well enough. The description of the area does make Batuu feel real, as if it isn’t hemmed in by California theme parks and sculpted streets. A particularly remarkable Temple of Doom-type action scene explores the ruins in Batuu’s wilderness.
The book sums up Vi’s trouble this way: “How could she convince normal, everyday people to give up their comfort and safety to stand up against evil?” At its best, the book answers this question with characters rich in camaraderie and hope. Some of those are canonical to Galaxy’s Edge — I especially look forward to possibly meeting Savi, the Jedi-adjacent workshop owner who collects lightsaber parts. The team dynamic toward the end is fun and energetic. Zade, a cartoonishly charismatic smuggler, is a memorable character best in small doses. But the humor is very broad, and even what seems to be intended as Zade’s most serious moment is handled with atonal humor.
That group dynamic is one of the book’s great strengths, even if the seams show. It’s clear all of the characters have good reason to want to do what they’re doing, and take active steps toward it. The shadow of the First Order provides tension, especially for Cardinal. As a leader, Vi holds the team together, occasionally exuding “chipper anxiety.”
But what should be the central relationship feels like it is missing some scenes for context. Vi and Cardinal are set up as understandably wary of one another, since he once tortured her. (There’s another, surprisingly gristly, torture scene in Black Spire.) In a way, I like that Vi does not orbit around whether or not Cardinal likes her; she’s busy with her own work most of the book. It’s also nice that the story doesn’t go in an expected direction when it comes to how exactly the two of them feel about one another. But not falling into cliche does not immediately guarantee that what replaces it works as a complete story. Vi and Cardinal have an arc, but it feels like scenes from it are missing, deep conversations not built on a firm enough understanding. I’d just focus on Vi, but the novel keeps coming back to Cardinal.
Stilted dialogue, clear but tonally unexciting prose, and basic character arcs mean this doesn’t rate very highly on my list of Star Wars books. It’s a pity, because I really do love Vi.
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