Review: The Approaching Storm, by Alan Dean Foster

(Originally posted on Amazon 4/12/2003)

approaching storm

Alan Dean Foster is an author long connected with the Star Wars universe. After all, he ghost-wrote the original novelization (a fact which for years was pretty much an open secret in fandom), and was also responsible for Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the very first ‘original’ Star Wars novel (and to many fans a classic, even if it was superceded by The Empire Strikes Back). Foster, I understand, originally had plans to write more SW novels, but shelved them when Lucas forbad the publication of additional original novels after Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, a position which continued for some ten years. But now that the original novels are a mainstay for the Star Wars universe, Foster was invited back and has now produced his take on the ‘first’ trilogy.

Although billed as an exciting prequel to Attack of the Clones, The Approaching Storm does not fill in the gaps to that film as much as, say, Cloak of Deception does for The Phantom Menace. The story is more formulaic than original, and for that it unfortunately suffers. Obi-Wan and his Padawan Annakin meet up with another Jedi/Padawan pair, Luminara and Barriss Offee. The four of them are tasked with keeping the planet Ansion from seceding from the Republic, an event which would thereby set in motion a chain of events which would see other planets doing the same. Opposing them is a Hutt and his majordomo, while behind those two is the same shadowy galaxy-spanning conspiracy that is the backdrop for the entire first set of films.

The problem with the story is that the plot is rather more haphazard than it should be. The Jedi and their Padawans spend most of the novel journeying across Ansion in search of a band of nomads in order to promote a peace treaty between opposing factions among the planet’s population. Along the way they encounter one obstacle after another, from storms and natural predators, to double-dealing traders and tribal politics. In this way, the story is more of a quest novel than anything, with the Holy Grail being their sought-after peace treaty. But the problem with this is that at times the book seems to wander aimlessly, with the author searching for yet another challenge to pit his characters against after the previous one has been vanquished. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible way to tell a story, but as a narrative it does get awfully repetitive.

What saves the novel, though, is the heavy dose of characterization Foster provides, something for which Foster is rather good at. We learn quite a bit about Annakin and Obi-Wan, and especially about their relationship leading into Attack of the Clones. In this way we come to see even more that the coming fall of Annakin into Darth Vader is going to be an event of truly tragic proportions, as someone who is basically a good kid is forced by circumstances to be molded into something quite evil. A hint of what is to come can be found in The Approaching Storm, and it’s made even more insidious by the realization that, under the circumstance of the deteriorating Republic, there are some very sound reasons why anyone might choose the path that Annakin is destined to trod. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here… Anyway, the new Jedi/Padawan pair that Foster creates is also quite interesting, and I for one would look forward to seeing them again in another novel in the future (as Foster clearly sets up). My only real complaint here is that the nominal villains of the story, the Hutt and his majordomo, are rather lackluster and pathetic, almost tacked on as an afterthought as an excuse to send the characters gallivanting across the countryside and to literally provide fodder for Jedi lightsabers.

Foster has written better, but that isn’t to say this book is not worth your time. If you’re a fan of the first trilogy, this is an acceptable pit stop while waiting for the third film to come out.

3 Stars out of 5 Stars