Star Wars: Dooku: Jedi Lost – Starring Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Pete Bradbury, Jonathan Davis, Neil Hellegers, Sean Kenin, January LeVoy, Saskia Maarleveld, Carol Monda, Robert Petkoff, Rebecca Soler & Marc Thompson & Written by Cavan Scott – Download (Penguin Random House)
The thing that all the Star Wars movies seem determined to prove is that families are… complicated.
While the original trilogy focused on the redemption of a deadbeat dad by an arguably overneedy son, the prequel trilogy brought three distinctly above-average sub-villains to the fore while the emperor was busy becoming emperor and while young Anakin was working out his curiously dadless state and his need to hold the women in his life away from even the notion of death.
Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku, in the movies, was never terribly well-backstoried. Powerful, Qui-Gon’s erstwhile master, oh and by the way, HERE’S CHRISTOPHER LEE AS AN ARISTOCRATIC SITH LORD! Prepare to lose your minds at will. And people did – it’s Christopher freaking Lee as Star Wars Dracula, for Yoda’s sake, what’s not to freak about?
Now along comes Cavan Scott – a writer who knows his geekdom inside out – to add what is essentially an origin trilogy’s worth (6.5 hours) of audio flesh to Dooku’s bones.
You know you want to hear that.
Dooku has, it turns out, a complex family history, and like many male would-be Sith we could name, he has significant daddy issues, and (as it turns out) significant brother and sister issues too.
He also has a burning urge to be good, both as a Jedi and as a (ahem) force in the galaxy. He’s powerful, impatient, initially reckless and inclined to show off, but an ill-advised extended connection with his sister drags him into a more involved perspective on galactic politics than the Jedi Council would want. Ultimately, the man who would be Count must face the tipping-point of his destiny, and choose his path.
Of course, going in with prior knowledge of the movies and the title blows any mystery about WHAT he chooses, but how he gets there remains a story of several long missions, episodes and focuses – not for nothing do we say Scott’s written an origin trilogy in one book. There’s young Dooku, padawan Dooku, active Jedi Master Dooku, would-be Count Dooku, and then the Dooku you really want to hear – Heartless Bastard Dooku, if you like – towards the end.
Several great characters are key to moving us through the course of Dooku’s life here – the way into the narrative is initially through the thoughts and actions of Dooku’s padawan, Asajj Ventress, played with an almost spiderlike intensity by Orlagh Cassidy. A younger Yoda is here, played like a more sprightly Franz Oz by Marc Thompson, along with a young Qui-Gon – of all the voices, it’s perhaps Jonathan Davis’ Qui-Gon that takes you most by surprise, doing what Ewan McGregor did for Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan – being the voice that would grow into the character with which we are familiar.
You get to know more about Dooku’s (at this point) firm friend Sipho-Dyas too, no Jedi-slouch in his own right, though prone to crippling empathy – a fact which is reasonably important in driving some of the sub-plots in this novel.
Most of all though, your focus is on Dooku the child, the man, the Jedi, and eventually, conclusively, the Sith. Euan Morton as Dooku, while rarely sounding like a voice that will become Christopher Lee (because to be fair, who on earth would?), delivers with absolute conviction the mindset of the character at its various points, so he ‘becomes’ the Dooku you want in your mind, free of the weight of imitation of Lee, free to move and feel and be the star of his own life story without that feeling of ‘inevitably’ becoming the Lee character.
There are a number of different voices and methods by which Dooku’s history is revealed to us in this audiobook, from Asajj’s own memories of him, to the would-be Count’s journal, to recollections and replays of holo-letters, so we get a sense of him from several perspectives, all playing in a kind of harmony to give us a rounded view of him.
Dooku’s journey to the Dark Side is not as oddly straightforward as Annakin Skywalker’s will later be, and the lack of that sense of inevitability makes you empathise with Dooku more than you ever do with wunderkind Anakin. Young Dooku is taken as an infant to train as a Jedi – he has little or no memory of his home or family, and only finds out who they are while on a pre-padawan trip to his home world. There, he has unscheduled adventures that put him in touch with not only the sister he never knew he had, but also some ancient forces of darkness. It’s also there that his impetuous, show-off nature surges to the fore, and is publicly, crushingly, exposed for the first time.
From there we make the first of a few time jumps involved in helping us navigate from one ‘version’ of Dooku to another. His time as Yoda’s padawan is particularly well-covered, and again we see the impatience and the Force-strength growing in him almost equally – his plan to make Master Yoda notice him is destructive and petty, rather than patient and diligent. Jump again and we find a Dooku growing bored of his responsibilities as a Jedi diplomat on behalf of a social status quo which people on many ‘fly-over’ planets feel ignores their concerns. Stretch on from there and find a Dooku willing to resign his lightsaber and get actively involved in the politics of his planet. These jumps are strung together with sense and sensitivity though, so, as could hardly really be said for the gap between Anakin’s first and second movies, here, you feel entirely able to chart the evolution of the man Dooku becomes, as it happens. The interesting thing about which is that his turning to the Dark Side never feels inevitable – and that Yoda and the Jedi Council feel complacent, powerful, used to their own authority. They sound like French aristocrats before the Revolution, unaware of what was coming their way.
The difference between Dooku’s evolution and Anakin’s is that Dooku’s makes a far broader political and conscience-driven sense, for all when you come right down to it, he’s as primally driven by family matters as Anakin, and Luke, and Kylo Ren would be in their journey through the Force. His forbidden familial connections keep Dooku from the kind of ‘elite’ detachment espoused by the Jedi, and make him feel for the plight of the ignored, the voiceless and the little people of a galactic power that sees them all too often as simply figures in its calculus. It’s a Dooku we can understand, and also a Dooku that makes more sense of him training the always unconventional Qui-Gon than the movies allowed. His frustration and impatience is with systems of government that leave people unprotected, marginalised, written off, and in a slightly creepy parallel to the rise of populist rulers in our societies, Dooku becomes a beacon of hope to those who feel unrepresented by the Senate and ignored by the Jedi. The aristocrat as man of the little people is a story that resonates uncomfortably in our times. The key here though is that you never especially feel Dooku’s all bad, never that he’s totally turned until the very last minutes, when he could be said to have his ‘Anakin and the younglings’ moment.
The production values here are astronomically high, to the extent that it actually feels more like an audio play with a full cast, rather than strictly an audiobook. The sound effects are on point, and there are music cues that will stand the hairs on the back of your neck upright. The appearance of well-known characters adds richness and resonance to the galaxy here and Scott’s writing, along with excellent performances, particularly from Euan Morton in the lead role, make this probably a more widely fan-satisfying origin trilogy than Anakin’s, despite mystifyingly including another competitive space-NASCAR race, complete with annoying commentator. Spoiler – it doesn’t work any better in audio.
But ultimately, space-NASCAR aside, Dooku: Jedi Lost gets a big hell to the yes from us. Shove in your shopping basket and learn the backstory of one of the prequel trilogy’s best and previously most underwritten villains, underwritten no more. Tony Fyler