Star Wars: Shatterpoint by Matthew Stover (Del Rey)
I In his essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," T.S. Eliot writes that "In English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence." Indeed, contemporary fiction is mired in both an inability to reinvent itself and a chronic failure to establish a tradition on which to base itself (and, therefore, to evolve from). It is for this reason that literature needs more works such as Matthew Stover's brilliant new novel, Star Wars: Shatterpoint.

Shatterpoint follows Jedi Master Mace Windu as he travels to the planet of Haruun Kal to track down a rogue Jedi. Stover picks up the story threads from George Lucas' popular film series, tangentially extrapolating upon the Joseph Campbell-inspired narratives in a way that would make Jacques Derrida proud.

But Stover's tapestry is dependent upon both his keen eye towards Lucas' imagined universe and Stover's own realist tendencies. As Henry James writes in "The Art of Fiction," "The air of reality seems to me to be the supreme virtue of a novel--the merit on which all its other meritsÉ helplessly and submissively depend." Indeed, how much more realistic can a phrase be than when Windu threatens an adversary thusly: "'Want to be impressed?' Mace said. 'Let's see the impression my boot makes on your face.'"

Stover is not content with wry one-liners, however. Witness the dialogue Windu has with a group of thugs who have cornered him:

"You are better prepared than most." Mace balanced his lightsaber on his palm. "But like all those others, you've forgotten the only piece of equipment that would actually do you any good."

"Yeah? What's that?"

Mace's voice went cold, and his eyes went colder. "An ambulance."

That discourse is also notable for being the first mention of an ambulance anywhere in the Star Wars canon (!). Stover challenges scholars everywhere to start asking the tough questions: "Are there ambulances in the Star Wars universe?" and, "If so, why haven't they been referenced before?" And, perhaps most importantly: "Do these ambulances fly, like Han Solo's Millennium Falcon, or do they hover, like Luke Skywalker's landspeeder?"

In "What Is an Author," Michel Foucault points out that "Clearly, in undertaking an internal and architectonic analysis of a work... suspicions arise concerning the absolute nature and creative role of the subject." Therefore, the reader is forced to ask about Windu's "true" role, and Stover's answer does not disappoint. When Windu realizes that the Republic's foe, the Confederacy of Independent Systems, is fallible, he shows his "absolute nature and creative role": "We are going to beat them," Windu intones, "like a rented gong."

But in Lucas' (or is it Stover's?) post-Attack of the Clones galaxy, victory, safety and stability are no longer presumed, leaving Windu and the rest of the venerable (or is that vulnerable?) Jedi questioning their place in the galaxy, and finding their only answer is a pragmatic nihilism: "What we thought was the Great Peace of the Republic was only a dream from which our galaxy has now awakened," realizes Windu. "I doubt we'll ever fall back into any dream like that again."

Stover's limning of Windu's conscious Jedi thoughts and his sub-conscious desires brings to mind an inquiry from "On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry" by Carl Gustav Jung: "Is there any evidence for the supposition that a poet, despite his self-awareness, may be taken captive by his work?"

In other words, is Windu (i.e., the poet) taken captive by his work (i.e., that of being a Jedi Master)? Shatterpoint repeatedly flirts with answering that question, such when Windu encounters corrupt police at Pelek Baw spaceport:

The big man flexed his hands. "What are you supposed to be, then?"

"I'm a prophet." Mace lowered his voice as though sharing a secret. "I can see the futureÉ"

"Sure you can." He set his stubble-smeared jaw and showed jagged yellow teeth. "What do you see?"

"You," Mace said. "Bleeding."

That's not unlike the state that Stover leaves his reader in--gasping for air with enormous realizations in their mind, even as their heart flutters with the joyous sensation of at long last having encountered daring, insightful new fiction. Throughout, Windu looms, his taciturn, Hemingway-esque character serving as the club that Stover uses to beat the reader into a new era of fiction--beat them, in fact, like they were a rented gong. ERIK HENRIKSEN