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Suvudu Gateway Series: Jump Into The EU With Republic Commando: Hard Contact


Suvudu Gateway Series: Jump Into The EU With Republic Commando: Hard Contact

With the fifth season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars premiering in just a few months, now is a great time to familiarize yourself with the highly-trained, intensely-loyal brotherhood that is the Galactic Republic’s clone army. One of the things that The Clone Wars has done really well is portray the clones as individuals, erasing the common misconception, created by Attack of the Clones, that these soldiers are as identical in personality as they are in DNA. In fact, some notable clones –– like Commander Cody and Captain Rex –– have even begun sporting unique haircuts on the show.

The animated series’ push to get viewers to recognize the diversity in the clone ranks has an obvious storytelling reward: the more we view the clones as unique human beings instead of disposable warrior-servants, the greater the impact their deaths may have at the end of an episode or a story arc. This strategy of “humanizing” and diversifying the clones did not begin with The Clone Wars –– the show is similar in this respect to an earlier four-book Expanded Universe novel series called Republic Commando, written by Karen Traviss.

The first book in the series, Hard Contact, gave clone troopers an unprecedented amount of attention and exposition. The book, based on the video game Republic Commando, quickly become a favorite book among clone enthusiasts whose interest in the Grand Army of the Republic had been whet by Episode II and sustained by a 2003 Cartoon Network micro-series. The next Cartoon Network series about the clones was still four years away, but in the meantime, trooper fans had Hard Contact.

Before I explain why you might want to start your EU adventure with Republic Commando: Hard Contact, here are some key details about the book.

Republic: Commando: Hard Contact by Karen Traviss

Released in paperback on October 26, 2004, with cover art by Greg Knight

Set in the Clone Wars era, 22 years BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin, the destruction of the Death Star as seen in the original film)

Characters

Publisher’s synopsis

As the Clone Wars rage, victory or defeat lies in the hands of elite squads that take on the toughest assignments in the galaxy–stone-cold soldiers who go where no one else would, to do what no one else could. . . .

On a mission to sabotage a chemical weapon research facility on a Separatist-held planet, four clone troopers operate under the very noses of their enemies. The commandos are outnumbered and outgunned, deep behind enemy lines with no backup–and working with strangers instead of trusted teammates. Matters don’t improve when Darman, the squad’s demolitions expert, gets separated from the others during planetfall. Even Darman’s apparent good luck in meeting an inexperienced Padawan vanishes once Etain admits to her woeful inexperience.

For the separated clone commandos and stranded Jedi, a long, dangerous journey lies ahead, through hostile territory brimming with Trandoshan slavers, Separatists, and suspicious natives. A single misstep could mean discovery . . . and death. It’s a virtual suicide mission for anyone–anyone except Republic Commandos.

Why is this a good gateway book? Why does it “matter” to Star Wars?

One thing that becomes clear while reading Republic Commando: Hard Contact is that its author, Karen Traviss, feels great sympathy for the clones due to their murky legal status within the Republic, their thankless and perilous missions, and their unenviable social standing. Traviss imbues her writing with equal parts sympathy and pride, as she depicts brave clone troopers overcoming odds both in battle and everyday life. Hard Contact is certainly an action novel, one that looks at the grittier side of the Clone Wars, but it’s no less a human story because of that action focus.

Each of the clones in Omega Squad, whose exploits form part of the Republic Commando series’ ongoing narrative, has a unique and engaging personality. The role that each squad member plays on the team shapes that clone’s personality: demolitions expert Darman (RC-1136) is unshakably calm, while medic and sniper Fi (RC-8015) is the group’s comedian. The squad dynamic that develops in Hard Contact continues throughout the rest of the series, meaning that, if you enjoy the rapport between these soldiers, there’s plenty more of it in the subsequent books.

There’s also plenty more of that clone dynamic in the TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. While a TV audience never translates directly to a literary audience, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of what makes The Clone Wars unique and compelling also exists in Hard Contact. This is a great book to read if you enjoyed the TCW episodes “Rookies”, “Clone Cadets,” and “ARC Troopers.” The antics and exploits of Omega Squad (and, later in this book series, Delta Squad) are cut from the same narrative cloth as the adventures of Domino Squad in The Clone Wars.

What really sets Hard Contact apart from the rest of the Clone Wars-era EU novels is that Traviss’ sympathetic writing takes readers behind the helmet and explores the personal struggles and triumphs of men who appear to be identical to one another. As you read this book, you’ll find yourself appreciating the clones’ battlefield work more and more, because you’ll also understand what else they’re going through. It’s easy to forget that, in addition to being born-and-bred soldiers, the members of the clone army are also sentient adult human males with hobbies, passions, frustrations, nervous habits, phobias, and other unique traits. The grittiness of Hard Contact’s plot leads the clones into tactical and emotional predicaments, and the way they balance their duty and their emotions reveals a lot about them as people, not just warriors.

The Clone Wars has often been described as “Star Wars meets Band of Brothers.” While that’s true, the same applies to an even greater degree to the events of Hard Contact. The camaraderie, loyalty, and brotherly love that close-knit clones have for each other can be explored with greater detail and deliberation in a novel than it can in a twenty-two minute episode of television. As such, Omega Squad’s brotherhood, its place in the Grand Army of the Republic, and its members’ feelings about their unique status in the galaxy all receive considerable attention in Hard Contact. The way that different squads interact will give you insight into the mechanics of the GAR, insight that will no doubt enhance your TCW viewing experience.

Unlike The Clone Wars, however, Hard Contact involves no established characters. Instead, it focuses on the kinds of stories that don’t make HoloNet News headlines: the missions of secret commando units who strike behind enemy lines. That said, the book does feature familiar organizations of the era, including the Jedi Order. A number of Jedi are present in the novel, and several of them go on to become major characters as the Republic Commando books and the clones’ lives unfold. In addition to expounding on the lives and top-secret jobs of Republic commando squads, Hard Contact and its sequels excel at depicting the everyday perspective on the events of the war. One key component of this depiction is how civilians and clone troopers view the Jedi Knights and their super-powered role in the conflict. (As you might imagine, highly-trained warriors and mystically-guided monks won’t always get along on the battlefield, while the Order’s inscrutable, holier-than-thou attitude tends to rub “civvies” the wrong way.)

Part of what makes The Clone Wars TV series so great is its focus on the clones, but this focus exists in the Expanded Universe as well. If TCW episodes like Season 3’s “Clone Cadets” left you wanting more of that brothers-in-arms narrative, Hard Contact is a great place to start your EU experience.

Hard_Contact_Trevas

Star Wars: Republic Commando: Hard Contact: The first meeting between clone Darman and Jedi Etain Tur-Makan as he returns her lightsaber he’s just plucked from the river. Painted by Chris Trevas for the upcoming book, Star Wars: The Essential Reader’s Companion.


Eric Geller is a junior political science major from Washington, D.C., whose interests include technology, journalism, and of course Star Wars. He reviews The Clone Wars TV series and manages social media for Star Wars fan site TheForce.Net.


21 Responses to “Suvudu Gateway Series: Jump Into The EU With Republic Commando: Hard Contact”

  1. Eddie says:

    “The Clone Wars has often been described as “Star Wars meets Band of Brothers.””

    If Band of Brothers was a terrible children’s cartoon, this would be an apt comparison. But it’s not, which is probably why I’ve never seen anyone reach to make this comparison before now.

  2. Es says:

    Hahahaha

    Spot on

  3. The Railway Man says:

    No, I wouldn’t agree that this is a suitable starting-off point. Far, far too much Mandalorian worship and outright Jedi hatred.

  4. M. L. Martin says:

    Railway Man–Well, in fairness, that doesn’t really kick in until the second book. But I do prefer Star Wars novels to be written by people who actually like Star Wars. ;)

  5. The Railway Man says:

    Fair point; I concede! And agree.

  6. Trent Taylor says:

    -Sees recommendation of Karen Traviss book and mentions Clone Wars-
    -Looks down to comment for Clone Wars haters, Karen Traviss haters and a few fans-
    Yup! All there. It is extraordinarily easy to predict Star Wars fans when your involved in the community.
    Great review Eric, certainly true. Now, when are we getting a Republic Commando squad on The Clone Wars…

  7. Eric Geller says:

    Well, Delta Squad made a brief appearance at the beginning of Season 3 Episode 12, “Witches of the Mist.” They brought the bodies of Savage Opress’ first Jedi victims back to Coruscant.

  8. Ben says:

    Wow, where did that picture of Darman and Etain come from?

  9. Ben says:

    Oh I see… “Painted by Chris Trevas for the upcoming book, Star Wars: The Essential Reader’s Companion.”

  10. Glenn says:

    While they are certainly great books, a very good story and a very detailed background you have to add a few negatives to the story (which, amusingly, seem to be connected). The first is that the overal story never was finished. You can find the reason(s) all across the internets. It is very annoying to get into a story where you never hear the conclusion of. You get a somewhat hinted conclusion when you get quite a few books further into star wars (legacy of the force) but you never really get to know what happened to all the characters introduced in this 5 book story arc. The second reason, which is also the reason why Travis never concluded the story arc, is that the background of mandalorians on The Clone Wars doesn’t correspond with the background in the books. Which is a damn shame if you ask me. I far more liked the background from travis.
    You can say Travis had too much mando-love in her books but what writer doesn’t like his characters more? I see allston always writing about the fleet or Wedge antilles. While I concede that it isn’t alwyas necesary to include the mando’s in all her books (looking at legacy of the force) I do not hate it. Mando’s don’t like jedi’s and I feel it is part of the feeling I should get when I read a book about them.

    All in all, while they are great books, I do not know if you should recommend them to newcommers, certainly not when reffering to the clone wars that much.

    (still great write up!)

  11. Es says:

    @Trent Taylor: You expect people to be touchy feely about things they don’t like?

  12. Tony says:

    Well, I agree this is a gateway book because you don’t need to read any other book to enjoy it. If I remember correctly the ground rules set in the first of this series of articles only single or duo logy books were to be considered. That ground rule lead me to believe this article is treating this book as a single book and not as the first of a 5 book series (The authors refer to it as a 4 book series because the fifth book change the title from Republic Commando to Imperial Commando). This book is written as if it was going to be a single book only, not a series. Say what you will about the series not been compleated taken as a single book Hard Contact is a decent Gateway Book.

  13. Eric Geller says:

    Tony: Just to be clear, no such rule about series length was established.

  14. Cody O says:

    “If Band of Brothers was a terrible children’s cartoon”

    Eddie,
    You are either a terrible parent or haven’t been watching the last two seasons or so of the CW. Dark, sometimes complicated storylines (Mortis), violence (clone being shot in the fact at point blank range), multiple clone deaths, etc. It may have begun more children friendly, but is no longer so. I’m tired of people who have written off the CW after watching one season, then try to discuss it intelligently when they have no clue what they are talking about. Also, what makes it “terrible”? Sure some episodes are far better than others, but can someone actually give me an example of a consistent short-coming in the series that makes it “terrible”?

  15. Sam Hoszwa says:

    Cody O- The Clone Wars are terrible because they have thrown out existing Clone Wars canon, quite possibly even this very novel. Great books like Shatterpoint and Jedi Trial are now considered “obsolete” because of the new Clone Wars. Video games too like the original The Clone Wars game (which had a great story but lackluster graphics, I will admit) and Republic Commando also have the potential to be thrown out in favor of the new Clone Wars.
    I for one abhor the Clone Wars TV series, even though I have watched every season and every episode. I still can’t find a reason to like it. Oh, and by the way, Karen Traviss did not want to write a second Imperial Commando novel because the Clone Wars had caused too many conflicts in the canon and she did not want to deal with them.

  16. Cody O says:

    Sam,
    The fact that it screws with EU canon does irk me as well, but that has no bearing on the story telling, animation, character design, etc. of the CW. All of which I enjoy for the most part (despite the occasional episode that goes astray). Who rightly decides what is “canon”? I have read almost every novel published and screwing with the canon pisses me off, but I’m still waiting for a good explanation of why the overall quality of the show is “terrible”? Shatterpoint and Jedi Trial were okay, but I can’t say they really stand out to me (like Zahn’s work or Rogue Squadron series) and I’ve read them (Clone Wars novels) both within the last couple of years. I just hope at the end of the day they don’t “reboot” Star Wars EU…since that seems to be the fad with famous Hollywood franchises (Spiderman, Batman, Star Trek, etc).

  17. Cody O says:

    Sam,
    Stepping on canonical toes does not make a work “terrible” as it has no bearing on the quality of the story telling, character design, animation, etc. Being a reader of practically every SW novel the screwing with canon and pissing off Traviss is frustrating, but I don’t see how it makes the CW show “terrible”. What makes Shatterpoint and Jedi Trial “great” because I have read them both recently and can’t say they really standout to me? I remember them being enjoyable reads but not even in the same galaxy as a book considered “great” by the masses such as Heir to the Empire.

  18. Cody O says:

    Sam,
    Stepping on canonical toes does not make a work “terrible” as it has no bearing on the quality of the story telling, character design, animation, etc. Being a reader of practically every SW novel the screwing with canon and pissing off Traviss is frustrating, but I don’t see how it makes the CW show “terrible”. What makes Shatterpoint and Jedi Trial “great” because I have read them both recently and can’t say they really standout to me? I remember them being enjoyable reads but not even in the same galaxy as a book considered “great” by the masses such as Heir to the Empire

  19. Tony says:

    Eric Geller says:

    Tony: Just to be clear, no such rule about series length was established.

    I stand corrected. I got my articles mixed up. The “only-single-and-duology rule” was on an article just before this series of articles started. I thought it was part of this series. The article listed many books instead of focusing on one like this article.

    I still like this series even if it has not been finished. I hope the series continues once The Clone Wars TV show is over.

  20. Tony says:

    Sorry Eric I was confusing you with Tricia Barr. She wrote: “My selections come in part from my own sensibilities, but all of these books are well regarded by a broad spectrum of fans. I’ve also found that one-shots or duologies are much less imposing as a place to begin.” on her April 27, 2012 article.

  21. JGM Doc Tore says:

    Well, if you ask me, if you want readers to be future Republic Commando Book addicts, just tell them there’s a chance that during the 5-book series, a clone will be a father and his child might be force-sensitive. Though I know it’s not a teaser but more like a spoiler, let’s see if they can’t resist finding out if I’m pulling their leg or if what I’m saying is true. There’s even a chance that IF a child would be conceived, will he/she be more of a Jedi or a Commando? Will he go back to his roots in his genetic grandfather’s home planet and become the next Mandalore? Let’s see if they can resist that!!! Then again, I might just be dreaming this all up and nothing of it is true!?!?!

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