When the Star Wars saga started delving more into the grim 'n' nasty Clone Wars era, I wasn't that thrilled. I know, some bad stuff happened between the big fight scene at the end of Attack Of The Clones and the big fight scene at the start of Revenge Of The Sith — but I wasn't sure I needed to know much more than the comics and Tartakovsky cartoons had shown me. But that was before I got my hands on Karen Traviss' superb Republic Commando novels, plus her novelization of the Clone Wars movie. Now I'm a total addict — the Jedi can go sit on their light sabers for all I care, but I'm obsessed with those clones. Spoilers below.
I've watched a fair bit of the new Clone Wars TV show, but the world of the clones hasn't ever felt as real to me as it has reading Traviss' novels. In particular, her Republic Commando novels (which recently continued with Order 66) and her novelization of the Clone Wars movie are must-reads. Let's start with her Clone Wars novelization. Traviss takes a storyline that honestly didn't hold that much interest for me — Anakin and his perky apprentice have to rescue the sluggy son of Jabba The Hutt — but the novelization totally sucked me in to the story of Captain Rex and his Clone troopers under siege in an old monestary. The attention to detail, including the equipment the clones use (Heads Up Displays, Deeces, Larties, infrared display, etc.) and the tactical concerns they obsess about, makes me feel as though Traviss has spent some time fighting amongst clones. They feel real and gritty, and they don't have much time for the condescending hypocritical Jedi. But it's her Republic Commando novels where Traviss really shines, showing clones having complex lives — complex in the sense of getting married, having kids, making plans, but also in the sense of having inner conflicts and problems. Based loosely on a first-person shooter game, Traviss' novels build a set of characters that stay with you, including two lapsed (or lapsing) Jedi, who join up with a group of clone troopers that realizes the Republic and the Separatists are getting harder and harder to tell apart.
These novels, especially Order 66, contain a decent amount of action, but they're also focused more on the characters and how they react to the war getting more and more ridiculous. One of the hard things to believe about the Star Wars prequels is that nobody saw it coming — the Jedi get taken down remarkably easy. And Traviss addresses this criticism two ways: by showing all her Jedi characters increasingly blundering around with tunnel vision; and by having people remark on it. In Order 66, her heroes are investigating Chancellor Palpatine's bizarre moves, including a ridiculously expensive order for transport vehicles and a super-secret order for a huge new batch of clone troopers. They also notice that the war deployments increasingly seem to be built around getting the Jedi as isolated and cut off from each other as possible, rather than any sound military strategy. They don't know what's coming, but they know the shit is going to hit the fan, so they start making their own plans.
I love the idea of clone troopers having kids. In particular, Darman, a trooper whom we meet at the start of the first novel, Hard Contact, falls in love with a Jedi, Etain, and they have a baby. Meanwhile, another trooper, Fi, suffers brain damage in an attack and gets married to a Mandalorian woman. Yet another trooper, Ordo, marries a Treasury spy, Besany. Mandalorian marriages tend to take about thirty seconds, and usually happen right when someone is about to fly off into battle. Which only makes them more romantic somehow. (The Mandalorian warrior-mercenary culture is super important to the clones because they're trained into it, and it becomes a huge part of the novel.) I'm dying to see how it all turns out — according to Wikipedia, there are two more books in the series, one in 2009 and one in 2010. I finally have a set of characters in this new Star Wars universe who are enough like the underdogs and fighters I used to love about the original movies.