Author: Sean Stewart
Length: 329 pages
EE Critic Score: 9/10
Yoda: Dark Rendezvous is a Star Wars novel published in 2004. Set during the Clone Wars, it focuses on an arranged meeting between Jedi Master Yoda and Count Dooku to discuss an end to the war. Along with Yoda come two young Jedi: one a striver with little innate Force ability, the other a gifted student whose life thus far eerily matches Dooku's own. The book was released as part of the post-New Jedi Order publishing initiative focused on complementing the Prequel Trilogy, specifically telling stories set between Episode II and the then-upcoming Episode III. Many elements of those books and comics were later disrupted by The Clone Wars TV series, even before the Disney de-canonization of all Star Wars Expanded Universe material. The book was written by the Texas-born Canadian speculative fiction author Sean Stewart and is the only book Stewart ever wrote for Star Wars.
Years into the Clone Wars, Jedi Knight Jai Maruk escapes from a deadly attack by the Separatist assassin Asajj Ventress and subsequent CIS captivity with a message to Yoda from Count Dooku, asking for a secret meeting at Dooku's headquarters on the world of Vjun, regarding ending the war. The meeting must be kept secret from the Republic and the Separatists alike, as the Republic would seize the opportunity to attack Dooku and elements within the Separatists would deem Dooku a traitor; it seems Dooku is offering to defect and return to the Jedi Order. But Vjun is deep in Separatist territory, and the Jedi fear it is a trap.
Willing to take a risk to end the war, Yoda embarks for Vjun. As cover, an actor famous for portraying Yoda is hired as a decoy and is publicly sent on an "undisclosed mission", while Yoda himself travels disguised as an astromech droid owned by a "family" composed of four other Jedi: Maruk; Jedi Master Maks Leem, a Temple instructor and veteran of the Battle of Geonosis; Leem's padawan Whie, a gifted young Jedi with a distressing talent for seeing his own future in his dreams; and Tallisibeth "Scout" Enwandung-Esterhazy, an orphaned Padawan of somewhat marginal Force talent whom Yoda had recently assigned to Maruk following a hard-won surprise victory in a student dueling tournament.
The decoy Yoda is captured in an attack by Asajj Ventress, who, angered at having been tricked by the ploy, stages the aftermath to suggest Yoda had been killed. The news gets back to Chancellor Palpatine, who immediately confers with Mace Windu. Master Windu, without revealing Yoda's true whereabouts, simply states that he does not believe Yoda has truly been killed. Palpatine nonetheless requests that Windu act in Yoda's stead until more can be determined.
While in transit aboard a passenger ship, Whie and Scout are approached by a pair of droids, Solis and Fidelis. The droids are from Vjun; Fidelis is a servant of House Maltreaux, who built the castle where Dooku is awaiting them, while Solis served another house, who all died in a fit of madness that beset Vjun's nobility. Fidelis tells Whie that he is the heir to House Malreaux, who was given up to the Jedi after his father's death by his distraught and drunken mother. She has regretted doing so ever since and sent Fidelis to watch over him from afar at the Temple. Whie initially doesn't believe Fidelis, nor does he think his life before the Jedi matters now.
Because they've been watching Whie, the droids recognize the others as Jedi, and quickly also realize that their astromech is Yoda. Solis, who has developed a self-centered personality in the absence of anyone to serve, tips off Ventress to Yoda's location. Ventress and a squad of assassin droids ambush the Jedi while they are on layover at a spaceport. Maruk and Leem are killed, but Yoda, along with the two Padawans, escapes, aided by the Yoda-double actor.
Yoda, Scout, Whie, and Fidelis arrive on Vjun. Whie feels especially strong in the Force there; even Scout seems less challenged in her abilities. Yoda warms them that Vjun is steeped in the Dark Side.
Fidelis guides the Jedi into Chateau Malreaux through some hidden tunnels, wherein they find the remains of Malreaux family members killed in the madness, including children.
Yoda senses that Dooku's invitation was indeed a trap, and he ducks away from the group to take an alternate route. Whie, Scout, and Fidelis run into Ventress, mirroring one of Whie's dreams. Ventress mind-wipes Fidelis and goads the two padawans, playing on their anger at her for killing their masters and on Whie's unadmitted infatuation with Scout to try to turn them to the Dark Side. Whie worries that he may fall, if not then, then later, because of a dream where he was killed by a Jedi lightsaber. But that same dream gives Whie the courage to fight back against Ventress; she is not a Jedi, so she can't be the one to kill him. Whie and Scout are soon joined by Solis, whom Ventress refused to pay in full for tipping her off about Yoda. Thus, seeking revenge on Ventress and having second thoughts about leaving Scout to die, Solis has returned to Vjun. Ventress destroys the droid, but Whie and Scout escape.
News of the attack on the spaceport lets the Galaxy know that Yoda is still alive. Palpatine comes to Windu requesting that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, who had just completed their last assigned mission, be sent to meet up with Yoda and fill in for Maruk and Leem. The two arrive on Vjun in time to run into Ventress as she pursues Whie and Scout.
Yoda climbs the outside of Chateau Malreaux, coming into Dooku's chamber through the window. There he also finds Whie's mother, a mildly psychotic woman who's been serving Dooku through housework and unsolicited augury. Yoda and Dooku debate whether the Light Side or the Dark Side is more powerful. As a concluding argument, Yoda challenges Dooku to call on the Dark Side to produce a rose, as the Light Side does without prompting. Dooku is unable to do so, and he seems stirred until news reaches him of Kenobi and Skywalker's arrival. His heart hardened by jealousy towards who he sees as his replacements in Yoda's esteem, Dooku flees, distracting Yoda by throwing Lady Malreaux out the window and calling down an orbital strike on the castle.
Yoda is able to save the lady and deflect the missile. Whie and his mother meet and find that they are strangers to each other. Whie goes with the Jedi, saying he has no home on Vjun, though he can no longer accept the Temple as his only home either. Yoda says that, wherever they may physically be, a Jedi's home is found in the Force.
You might ask what made me decide to review this nearly-twenty-year-old book all of a sudden now. Well, back in my review of Tales of the Jedi, when I was mentioning the relative lack of storytelling about Dooku, I mentioned this book as among the few Dooku stories out there. But I really only knew that by reputation; I'd never read it myself. So I put it on my short list of books to read and maybe look at for RC. Now that I've read it, I'm giving it a full review. This is one of the better, more underappreciated Star Wars books out there.
Part of the reason I think this book gets overlooked is that it came out of the "Clone Wars Publishing Initiative", a cross-media release of storytelling published between the releases of Attack of the Clones in 2002 and Revenge of the Sith in 2005 and focussed on the in-universe time period between those two films. It was a spawning ground of a lot of cult-classic Star Wars stuff; the Gendy Tartovsky Clone Wars animated series, Matthew Stover's Shatterpoint, and Karen Traviss's Republic Commando books (and the associated video game) all came out of the initiative. But none of those were as big a deal as the films at the time, and book fans were more excited about the finale of New Jedi Order, which remains that time's more remembered publishing initiative. Yoda: Dark Rendezvous was part of a film tie-in wave, not part of a bigger series, and not by a known Star Wars author, so it didn't stay on people's radar very long after its release. A few years later, the Dave Filoni Clone Wars started chipping away at the validity of EU stories like this one, and a few years after that, the Disney buyout of Lucasfilm saw the entire Expanded Universe de-canonized. That all meant that the book got even less enticing as the years went on. A big change came recently, though, when Yoda: Dark Rendezvous got included alongside the likes of Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, Karpyshyn's Darth Bane trilogy, and Stackpole's X-Wing series as part of a collection of "Essential Legends" books published by Del Rey. That's what put it back on my radar, and that probably put it back on a lot of other people's radar. So consider this a review of a recent re-release, rather than just of an old book.
Yoda: Dark Rendezvous is, indeed, a book about Yoda, moreso than any other Star Wars book out there. A Yoda book was apparently the only book Stewart was willing to write for Star Wars. Yoda generally serves as a supporting character, and is essentially never a perspective character, even in this book. He's rarely a main character, but that's what Stewart wanted. Stewart's take on the character is a really spot-on balance between the rather grouchy, busy-minded leader of the Jedi depicted in the Prequels and the wise but whimsical mystic Yoda was first introduced as in Episode V. The core of the character, that Stewart realized and centered this story on, is that Yoda is a teacher. In his conversation with Dooku at the end of the book, Yoda says that he teaches "like drunkards drink". To write a book about Yoda, Stewart wrote a book about Yoda's students, as the three other main characters are.
Dooku, in this book, doesn't differ greatly from the Dooku we've seen in later Canon stories. His backstory is hinted at, and it's actually quite a bit like the story told in Dooku: Jedi Lost. He is a broadly less tragic villain here; that goes back to the way the Separatist movement as a whole was re-framed in The Clone Wars and onward as a genuine political reform movement rather than the astroturfed plutocracy presented here and in the Prequels. Dooku interacts some with Yoda toward the end, but honestly we see more of the character in his interactions with Asajj Ventress, who notes, correctly, that Sidious will throw Dooku under the bus by the end of the war and who offers to help him take Sidious down in exchange for being made a full Sith. Dooku doesn't take her up on this, of course, though I wonder why not, since he does agree with her appraisal of Sidious.
The issue with coming to this book for its Dooku content is that, while Stewart had a lot of interesting ideas about the character, those ideas have been expanded upon in later works, which renders his story here a bit redundant. Abandonment issues are a big there; in a flashback, a young Dooku comments to Yoda that "every Jedi is a child his parents decided they could live without". (I'm sure that provided Cavan Scott with a jumping-off point when he wrote Dooku's Canon origin as having been rejected by his father as an infant.) It was clever here the way Sidious plays on that weakness by sending Obi-Wan and Anakin to Vjun to remind Dooku that Yoda had also moved on, in a way, from an ersatz parent-child relationship. (Actually, that's a point that gets muddled a bit by one of the more weirdly stupid parts of the old EU: even though Yoda calls Dooku "my old Padawan" in Attack of the Clones, books released afterward had Dooku learn under a guy named Thane Cerulean instead, for some reason. Cerulean gets name-dropped in this book, but otherwise, Stewart ignores him and shows Dooku and Yoda in a sort of unofficial Master and Apprentice relationship. Like I said, weirdly stupid.)
Dooku is well characterized here, with a lot being done to differentiate his motivations from Vader's, which was an important step in making him his own character and not just an element of foreshadowing showing how Sidious could turn a great Jedi. But further steps in characterizing Dooku have been taken since.
Among people who actually have read this book, the main complaint seems to be that it doesn't really focus on Yoda & Dooku as much as it does on Whie and Scout. I agree with the observation, though not with the critique. Yes, the book could be more about Yoda than it is; by rights, the book should just be called Dark Rendezvous, although that title had probably already been taken by some romance novel. It could have been from Yoda's perspective and featured fewer scenes that Yoda wasn't present for. But, the thing is, Yoda's a rather static character through the Clone Wars. His big change comes in Revenge of the Sith where he realizes that he and the Jedi Order had misplaced their focus during the war. Up until that point, and even afterwards as much as circumstances would allow, Yoda made himself the embodiment of Jedi tradition, a source of constancy through the generations of Jedi whom he taught. Featuring some young Jedi learning from Yoda is thus the better way to feature Yoda himself. Whie and Scout get to have character development and a story where they change and grow, and Yoda gets to factor into that story while remaining consistent himself.
Whie Malreaux is very deliberately written to be similar to Dooku at that age. He's gifted in the Force, the scion of a wealthy family, and, for much of the book, he's torn between contentment with life as a Jedi and Clls to leave the Order and return home. His story, of a star pupil struggling to succeed in the world outside the classroom, stands out as unique among a sea of Padawan coming-of-age tales, and probably resonates with a lot of readers. I especially liked this scene between him and Maruk
Some of the furious energy was draining slowly from Whie’s tense body. His shoulders relaxed, and his arms fell to his sides. “I always thought I was a good person,” he said quietly. “I could never see the point of…stealing food from the kitchen. Or cheating on exams. I was a good boy,” Whie said heavily. “I thought that was the same as virtue.”
“Amazing how easy it is to resist other people’s temptations, isn’t it?” Jai said dryly.
Scot is a contrast to Whie. She comes from a poor family eager to get rid of an extra mouth when the Jedi found her. She has already had a Master, who died and left her back at the Temple, training as a warrior in hopes of proving herself worthy of a new master. In some ways, she seems like a counterpart to Asajj Ventress.
She's also very similar, in both character and appearance, to Etain Tur-Mukan, the main Jedi character of the Republic Commando novels, something Traviss made a nod to when she features Scout in Imperial Commando. Legends books and comics featured a real glut of red-haired, green-eyed Jedi women for some reason, but even beyond, almost the only difference between these two is age.
Scout's story is frontloaded in the book, and it's honestly my favorite part. The apprentice tournament was something straight out of a Jude Watson book, but written at a higher level and given space to breathe. The way it plays out is unpredictable and exciting, and the ending scene where Scout is told she's been apprenticed to Meruk was the best Yoda scene in a book full of great Yoda scenes:
Scout stared. All her life, it seemed, she had been trying not to let Master Yoda down. Clearly they all expected her to bubble with joy, but instead her eyes grew hot and filled with tears.
“What’s wrong?” Jai Maruk said. He turned to Yoda, mystified. “Why isn’t she happy?”
“She will be,” Master Yoda said. “A band around her heart has there been, years on years. And now she feels it loose, and the blood running back into her heart: stings it does!”
“Yes!” Scout cried between sniffles. “Yes, exactly!…How did you know?”
Yoda scrambled up onto the bed and sat beside her, letting his little legs dangle in space. His ears perked. “Secret, shall I tell you?” He leaned in close, so she could feel his whiskers rasping against her face. “Grand Master of Jedi Order am I!” he said loudly right in her ear. “Won this job in a raffle I did, think you?” He snuffed and waved his stubby fingers in the air. “How did you know, how did you know, Master Yoda?” he said mincingly, followed by another snort. “Master Yoda knows these things. His job it is.”
One complaint I do have about the padawan's stories is that they don't really run through the whole book. Scout's story is more-or-less wrapped up by the time the mission to Vjun launches, while Whie, despite being in the beginning of the book, doesn't do much until the mission is underway and he encounters Solis and Fidelis. The start of the mission really sees Scout and Whie trade positions as protagonist and supporting character, and while this doesn't not work it makes the book a little weird to look back on.
Actually, another thing I'd like to note is that this is a Clone Wars novel without any clones. This story is solely focused on the world of the Jedi. As weird as that seems now, that was standard for pre-Filoni Clone Wars stuff, and especially for pre-Ep. III Clone Wars stuff. Clones weren't really major characters outside of the Republic Commando series and a few other things; the clones in the MedStar books didn't even have nicknames, just their CT- numbers. The lack of clones made this an interesting story to come back to.
Having judged the book, I'd like to indulge a bit in judging the cover. It's bad, in a very specific way that some Star Wars books of the era were bad. It's an ugly Photoshop mash-up of production stills from Attack of the Clones. Yoda's looking off to the right, standing in some non-descript hallway slanted like the lair of a '60s Batman villain, although much of the hallway is cut away to reveal an aerial view of the towers where Padmé Amidala's apartment was. (Padmé does not feature in this book to any meaningful degree.) Purple planets loom improbably close above. And out of the middle of it all, Count Dooku stares at the viewer, looking as troubled and confused as we are.
Sadly, this sort of thing is par for the course when it came to 2000s-era Star Wars books, especially those that feature characters from the films. Mostly these seem to be the work of one Steven D. Anderson, who really pioneered this photo-collage style not just for novels but also in the covers for the New Essential Guides reference series. I'll admit that not all of his covers were bad; his best is the cover for James Luceno's Labyrinth of Evil, but a lot of them were more on this book's level. At least this one's better than the one for Alan Dean Foster's The Approaching Storm, featuring Luminara Unduli as the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz.
When they re-released it in the "Essential Legends Collection", Del Rey commissioned new cover art. This is just a painting of Yoda, which fits the book, albeit a little generically. Still, if I had to pick, I'd try to get the newer release for the better cover.
Recommendation & Rating
Yoda: Dark Rendezvous is not the best Star Wars book I've read but it deserves better than to be lost in the pile of mid-2000s Prequel tie-ins. While the story isn't the most thrilling or meaningful, the character work really is excellent. If you've gone the last nigh-twenty years without reading it, I don't know if I'd say you should read this right away, but if you, like me, got burnt out on The High Republic novels and wonder what a book where different Jedi characters all feel like different people would be like, this would be a good place to start.
/10 — Without significant negative worth. Able to be recommended to the interested without reservation.