Star Wars: Republic Commando: Hard Contact
I love Karen Traviss’ writing style and I am a huge fan of the Star Wars books she has written featuring Mandalorians. She offers great insight into the mysterious clan of warriors and gives them a more human side than previous Star Wars writers. So, when I discovered that Karen Traviss was involved in writing a series of novels devoted to the exploits of the Clone Troopers, I knew I would want to check them out, starting with the first novel in the series, Star Wars: Republic Commando: Hard Contact.
In Hard Contact, we meet Omega Squad, a unit comprised of four clone trooper commandos - Darman, Niner, Fi and Atin - who are the sole survivors of four units sent into Geonosis during the early stages of the Clone Wars. Each soldier has issues of his own, but all share the survivor’s guilt of being the only man in his unit to make it out alive. Unfortunately, there will be no time for grieving - Omega Squad has already been assigned another mission.
They are being sent to Qiilura where information gleaned by the Jedi on-planet has revealed a team of Separatist scientists are working on a nanovirus aimed at wiping out the entire Clone Army of the Republic. Omega Squad’s mission is to destroy the virus, capture the lead scientist and bring her back alive - no easy task since the location of the lab is under the protection of a ruthless Mandalorian mercenary named Ghez Hokan.
The first bit of bad luck begins when their insertion becomes something less than stealth. Taking a hit from one of the bird indigenous to the planet, the squad’s insertion unit crash lands on the planet. Desperate to save as much ordinance as possible, Darman remains with the vessel as long as possible while the others evacuate midair. So, not only are the citizens of Qiilura alert to their arrival on planet, but now it appears that they unit has been separated. On top of that, when Darman happens upon a Jedi Padawan who has avoided capture at the hands of Hokan’s thugs, he learns that the squad’s intel is offline.
Can Omega Squad, with the help of a shape shifter and a Jedi Padawan with low self-esteem, pull off a nearly impossible mission for the Republic while still keeping their unit intact?
Inspired by the first person shooter video game, Star Wars: Republic Commando from LucasArts and Activision, Hard Contact takes the game a step further by focusing on certain commandos who survived the assault on Geonosis. Prior to reading Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Pengalan Tradeoff, Clone Troopers were just nameless troopers who bore the same face as Jango Fett, had number assignations and were loyal to the Republic without question. It was in that story that these warriors were given nicknames and we learned that no two Clones were completely alike. Giving them names made them somewhat unique, but allowing readers to discover the emotional and behavioral differences of the troopers made them individuals we could care about.
I was happy to see that Karen Traviss had decided to do the same thing in her story. For instance, we learn that Atin has a harder time dealing with loss thanks to having been the only survivor of two squads prior to Omega. He is also a bit different in that his trainer was Walon Vou whereas Fi, Niner and Darman were trained by Kal Skirata. Although both were Mandalorian mercenaries, they had vastly different training styles and techniques.
At the time of this novel, the Clone Army is a recent addition to the Republic. Jedi are not used to working with them and the public at large is not used to seeing them. Thus, it was interesting to see the reactions of the Jedi and the public to the clones and that of the clones to those around them. When Jedi Padawan Etain Tur-Mukan first senses Darman on the planet Qiilura, she senses a 10-year-old child. Since the Clone Trooper Commandos are bred and trained for harsh combat and look like adults, it is hard to remember that they have been bred through accelerated growth. Karen Traviss’ portrayal of these relatively young commandos is that of a youth hungry for knowledge and new experiences as witnessed when the commandos try new foods or new experiences, such as being close to a woman for the first time. It brings home the plight of these soldiers who have relatively short lives due to both their growth rate and the fact that they are seen as an expendable source of infantry.
I also enjoyed the comparisons made between Clone training and Jedi training. While the Clones are trained using actual life and death situations, the Jedi are trained in a rather safe environment. However, their upbringing is somewhat similar. Clones know that they come from the genetic material of Jango Fett, but there is no real mother or father figure for them other than their trainers. Their fellow clones are their brothers and sisters. It is much the same for the Jedi who are usually taken from their parents long before they can grow attached to them. Their father or mother figures are their Jedi teachers and their fellow Padawans become their family. However, while Clones are bred to be detached, Jedi must learn that detachment. It was truly interesting to read Karen Traviss’ take on the differences and similarities between Clones and Jedi.
I also found the idea of a Mandalorian adversary rather interesting. The Clones themselves are from Mandalorian genes and have been trained by Mandalorian commanders. For a Mandalorian who fairly idolized Jango Fett to have to fight his Clones was quite a challenge. For these Clones who knew that they were fighting someone who their genetic father may have felt a kinship to was rather interesting.
As always with any book by Karen Traviss, I was completely absorbed with the novel after the first chapter and loathe to put the book down until I reached its climax. To say that Traviss is a gifted storyteller with a special aptitude when it comes to Madalorians and Clones would be an understatement. Hard Contact was an incredibly enjoyable action-filled novel and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the Republic Commando series.