Review: The Force Unleashed II by Sean Williams

The following review was written by Lord Iurus of, where he maintains an ongoing look back at the Expanded Universe, “A Long Time Ago”, as well as providing Spoiler Free reviews a week before most major Star Wars releases, in addition to the other reviews found at his blog.  The original review was posted here.

“A Jedi can sometimes sense visions of the future.” “Have you ever done this before?” “I’ve never been a Jedi before.”

I’m sitting here in an underground bunker on Malastare. The Hutts are ticked off.

Not my fault they left a copy of The Force Unleashed II lying around where I could find it. Seriously. That’s just poor planning. Never mind how they got it; I’m sure Jabba had a few precogs on his payroll.

Or, maybe he didn’t. Maybe Durg- no, no. Okay, well, maybe the copy I stole is a fraud. Or, maybe they just stole it. I’m not asking; I’m just reviewing. Until the bounty hunters get here.

The Force Unleashed II, as I expected, starts off noticeably different from the trailers. It’s not like it’s a completely different story or anything, but it was pretty obvious watching the trailers that it simply didn’t work that way. The idea of Darth Vader leaving even a paltry imitation of the original Starkiller to be killed by a few squads of Stormtroopers and not even checking to see if they finished the job didn’t even sound realistic. It was just dramatic. I don’t fault LucasArts for releasing it, though, even if my preferences would have leaned more toward something true to the story.

The novel starts off in a dreadful fashion- not the content or the plot so much, but simply the manner. When you’re stopping in mid-read to check whether or not the book you’re reading is actually a game manual, there’s something wrong. Four out of five scenes featuring Starkiller, I could clearly and I would think pretty precisely (as far as that goes without having actually played the game) detail the type of scene one would play in a video game. I know I often approve of a story with a character fills the roll of a “level boss”, but think of how irritated you would be if your Rocky novelization included a Punch Out-esque depiction of punching the enemy in the face, wailing on his stomach, and then repeating. Yes, including the repeating.

That’s how the writing feels like- as if every scene included from the video game (because I do not believe every one was any more than every scene from the original was in the novel) wants you to make out the game mechanics possible to create a backrocket bootleg of the game. You know, considering how the first game went over on PS2, that’s not such a bad idea…

“You steal from the Hutts, and now you consider a career in bootlegging,” a familiar voice calls out above me. “Not exactly where I would have started, in your position. Then again, I wouldn’t be in your position.”

Kriff. I levitate a pile of crates into the place of the blast door the bounty hunter had sawed through. Never mind what kind of bounty hunter could get through that blast door. Not interested in sticking around to ask how. I’m moving.

One thing Sith in the modern era could never be faulted with, however, is planning. “How far down does the rabbit hole go,” you ask? I’m not entirely sure, but the Smeerp hole goes pretty far down. Though I think the fourth bunker gets kind of redundant.

Anyway, where was I?

Just as this novel starts to feel particularly irredeemable, we get a scene that can’t possibly have a place in the video game. At least, if this game is like anything I’ve come to expect. To use a Star Wars example, let’s say A New Hope is a movie about Luke Skywalker. That’s an oversimplification, sure, but it’s true. But there are cutscenes with Vader and Tarkin, including meetings that Luke will never get the chance to see; nor will he meet the vast majority of the attendees of the meeting. Once the first Act is complete, and Luke and Han have saved Leia, of course, we cut out the “frivolous” scenes with the unnecessary Tarkin, but in the Act I, they’re quite present.

The extra scenes are nice, and it’s largely through this sub-plot where TFU II starts to display its other strengths over the original. Clearly, Sean Williams either wished to remind us that he didn’t start off writing video game novelizations- or, at least, that he wants to write something else. The Expanded Universe features relatively heavily in this film, with an emphasis on a certain Bantam series that readers of Williams’s earliest Star Wars works might be able to identify.

While I’m praising this book, want to take a guess at what’s not in it? I probably can’t say much- spilling the details would have that bounty hunter knocking at your door, too- but if you try to think back and figure out one of the things I hated most about the first book, you’d be pretty crinking close.

On top of all that, there are a few good lines, playing as so many novels successfully do off of well known classics, but the two areas where The Force Unleashed II truly shines are the action sequences (other than the issues I mentioned earlier) and the psychological battle between Starkiller and Vader. If this novel is anything to go off of, the pre-rendered scenes in The Force Unleashed on PS3 will be kriffing spectacular. As for Vader and Starkiller, remember the psychological warfare that went on once Starkiller arrived on the Death Star? Well, that continues, except to a much greater degree. It didn’t succeed in changing my opinions of what Vader was doing, but it was still pretty obvious the effect it was having on Starkiller himself.

While the beginning of the novel was very similar to the original, the final Act is where these positives really shine. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the novel at times, encountering many of the negatives that I’ll be mentioning in a minute, but all in all convinced that this was pretty much the same book as the original. The last quarter of the book, though, I read in one sitting- it ended strong. At least, as strong as a book written with a sequel in plans that was later canceled could be, anyway. Cue 501st.

The positives aren’t all there is to this book, however. While the strengths are stronger than the original, there were also a number of weaknesses that couldn’t help but to bring the novel down. Character traits, both those established in the films (ever hear anybody in the Empire’s upper class say the word “stuff”?) and those established in The Force Unleashed, saw changes. We’re led to believe that an important character in the films was reduced to a mindstate reminiscent of a Kevin J. Anderson novel, while Juno… well, Juno (and Starkiller, to a lesser extent) suffers from the simplification that comes in a sequel. Have you ever experienced a sequel or a spin-off in which the characters have been amplified, becoming more experienced, more skilled- even in retrospect- and moved up the ranks? In many cases, TFU II included, the original character is often diluted. In this case, Juno the pilot was forgotten, and she was replaced with Juno the Rebel. She’s not a bad character, but not one with the same characteristics either- and I don’t just mean natural forward growth.

While I’m referring to common mistakes, my next criticism is more of a common Star Wars trope than anything else. I’m not a fan of historical villains repenting and changing sides. This isn’t exactly realistic in most examples, and at its worst (like in this novel), it has no purpose other than a cameo. If you want to cameo someone like that, why not show them in their original capacity? The whole point of the Star Wars redemption theme is that it happens rarely, and takes tremendous character to pull off- the average dupe isn’t always going to fall in this category.

Other than the outstanding characterization of a new (for TFU) villain and Vader, whom the creative team have had more experience with by now, the dialogue is no better than the first edition. I mentioned some characterization issues earlier- what I’m referring to here is more of the issue that I mentioned in the first review: the dialogue falls just short of what I feel the characters would actually say. Oh, and narrators writing anything other than a pilot-centric novel should not be allowed to say “delta vee” to refer to a change in velocity. And nobody should ever make certain other references.

Of course, what would a The Force Unleashed review be without criticisms of things that the author in question had no control over? There were a few missed opportunities here, things that weren’t necessary but would have elicited more of a fan response than the inclusion of a certain Quarren did. Darth Vader again suffers the fate of a recurring villain- he’s long since stopped being the omnipotent foe and become a Worf (Strangely enough, there is no specific trope on tvtropes to combine Villain Decay and The Worf Effect). There’s also a certain character who appears for no reason than to legitimately put him in a trailer; one of this character’s roles in the trailer is actually played by another Jedi Master in-story. This results in an even more superfluous cameos than the rest, one that may be remedied in the game by adding repeat visits, similar to the Jedi Temple missions in the original game.

All together, The Force Unleashed II is basically a different item on the same menu that provided The Force Unleashed. It caters to slightly different tastes, but when you put it all together, it’s the McChicken to TFU’s McDouble. Other than a hilarious moment where a main character declares that a major scene in The Force Unleashed was lazily written (the second time that Sean Williams has subtly trashed the first book), there’s not much to set this book apart from the original. I would recommend to anybody who enjoyed the original, or at least didn’t mind its drawbacks, as you’re likely to find this a superior product.

I hear an explosion, and look up. Sithspawn- there goes another layer of my bunker. I scramble to my feet, but Boba Fett is already behind me.

“Let me go! I must find Sith Jammies!” Fett was silent, which I could only assume was a malevolent attempt to destroy the connection Jammies and I had. “I’m deeply in love with her!”

Fett tipped his expressionless helmet quizzically to the left. “Since when?” he asked.

How could he be so callous? “Since the first review! It was obvious!”

“Actually, you barely-”

“We had a deep romantic plot, it was there for anybody to see it! You just want to keep us apart!”

“There wasn’t any such plot. That doesn’t matter, though, because you’re coming with me”. Fett fired his grappling hook at me, which I allowed to wrap around a Force shield.

Every review has a beginning.

As I sit here, I mull over the situation with my one companion. Yes, I have a companion. I hold it in my hands, staring blankly from time to time, and then go back to reading. My companion is a novel: The Force Unleashed by Sean Williams, an adaptation of the script by Haden Blackman. It is through this novel that my fate will be decided.

I sit, alone. I read, of course. It is all that I can do- read, and wait for the mad Sith Lord to reveal what he plans to do with me. Eventually I reach the finish- the novel’s not long, but it accomplishes the linear story it’s expected to. I look up, almost expecting something to happen and, surprisingly, it does.

Lord Starthriller approaches. The lights react to his very presence, darkening the cell as he enters. There is no cell door, of course- I’m in a cage after all. The figure is imposing, but in the darkness, I cannot see his face. This seems almost by design- even his eyes, which are said to glow, can not be seen. He wears armor- or is he a robot? Truthfully, I cannot tell.

Every review has a middle.

Despite the benefits brought by the comic, some things were not delivered as well. The comic seems in some aspects to follow the non-canon story elements of the lower quality game versions, such as PROXY being aware of Vader’s past as Anakin Skywalker- a fact that raises a multitude of questions but doesn’t answer any of them. While the Shadow Guard is indeed more dramatic, you’re even more in the dark as to these shadowy assassins than you are in the text version.

Kirr: And then there’s the problem with the finale of this story – I barely remember it from the book, and it was impossible to figure out where the finale was taking place (by that I mean the battle between Vader, the Emperor, and Starkiller). I thought it was supposed to be on the Death Star, but there was a complete lack of setting the stage in the graphic novel.

Every review has an end.

“I’ll return in the sequel, I promise.” He had little difficulty wrestling the Big Bad into a corner and retrieving his weapon despite the struggle he had had with Starthriller prior to his capture. We continued to run for our ships, knowing the explosion of the Death Star would take exactly 2 minutes and 30 seconds (there was a large digital countdown for it on every wall in the station, which was handy, because otherwise they would have needed an audible countdown), and we made it to our ships just in time. I took the reviewer, who didn’t have his own ship, with me aboard the Happy Bantha while Colonel Mistwelder took his X-M.

As we left the Death Star, using our navcomputers that could only hold coordinates for one spot at a time, I could have sworn I heard a loud “NOOOOOOO” echoing through space. No, couldn’t have been…

But was that really the end?

The woman watched the Man in Black chase after Star Thriller. She had been watching him for some time from the shadows, using him to find her target. She was always in the shadows, ever careful not to be seen. Not yet anyway, she had plans for him.

No. No it wasn’t. But it should have ended.

I’m sitting here in an underground bunker on Malastare. The Hutts are pissed off.

Not my fault they left a copy of The Force Unleashed II lying around where I could find it. Seriously. That’s just poor planning. Never mind how they got it; I’m sure Jabba had a few precogs on his payroll.

Or, maybe he didn’t. Maybe Dur- no, no. Well, maybe the copy I stole is a fraud. Or, maybe they just stole it. I’m not asking; I’m just reviewing. Until the bounty hunters get here.

But it hasn’t ended. And this would be a very lazy montage ending, were it to end right here.

I don’t want Boba Fett to capture me. I have to resolve my ongoing romance plot with Sith Jammies, before the reader gets bored with it! I focus all of my power on the space behind Boba Fett. He doesn’t truly understand my power- he expects me to fight, or to run. Instead, I let it all out.

Fett turns around, shocked by my skillful display of fireworks. They go off in a rhythm- that of the Star Wars opening crawl, in fact. I’m almost entranced by this theme, and it takes willpower not to stand and wait for crawling text myself. I barely tear myself away from it, but Fett has no chance. As I escape, I see text begin to appear:

I highly -HIGHLY- enjoyed TFUII. It continues to be a bit like a dog in a china shop, bumping carelessly into the shelves and wobbling the continuity dishes, but never smashing through them like a bull might do – just showing, similar to The Clone Wars, that it doesn’t care what may have already been established. I still think (just like in the original TFU novelization) that this book is hampered by the fact that it’s adapting a videogame – it appears to never stray far from the story the game tells (though I’m curious if the game goes back and forth between Starkiller and Juno the way the book does). At the same time, this story feels a little less like videogame levels with bosses at the end of the stage. There’s a couple of spots like that, but less than the first book…

Reviews written by William Silvia Jr, James Haley and Stephen Rice 2010. Story written by William Silvia Jr 2010.The Force Unleashed, the Death Star and all other Star Wars references and quotes property LucasFilms Ltd, George Lucas and related companies. The Man in Black and Lord Starthriller copyright William Silvia Jr. Avada Kedavra emoticon property of JK Rowling. “Don’t you know anything about science” internet meme started by Lewis Lovhaug of with art property of DC Comics. Pulp Fiction clip property of Miramax Films.Snoopy property of the estate of Charles Shulz. Trailer by MizzeeOH.