Unbound Worlds 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.