Yes, the book is over 20 years old. But someone somewhere still might want to experience it fresh. I don't recommend this, since I still have some sort of empathy for people, but still. What makes Darksaber so bad? The answer to this question is complicated, mainly because there are so many reasons.
One of those reasons is that Kevin J. Anderson has an addiction to hilariously complex plots. Another of those reasons is that it's the second book in "the Callista trilogy", Callista being one of many people doomed to be Luke Skywalker's love interest. Yet another is that the Imperial plot involves Admiral Daala, a character that forces you to think about Grand Moff Tarkin having sex.
If I have to have this image in my head, so do you. (Lucasfilm)
But mainly, what I hate most about Darksaber is the Hutt plot. Everyone writing material for Star Wars really wants to talk about Hutts because they're Star Wars' gangsters. But they are also — follow me here — giant slugs. So while they're gross and can be major problems for the heroes, they don't really strike lasting fear.
Darksaber compounds all of that by making its bad guy Durga the Hutt, who is a homicidal idiot. We literally meet him for the first time in this book as he electrocutes someone on the bridge of his ship. His whole bridge is basically a series of electric chairs. Don't work for Durga.
I don't know why anyone would work for him. It's not like the Empire where loyalty and ideology played a role. You'd have to be so desperate for a job to end up in Durga's employ.
So, when we meet Durga he's an idiot, but then we have to spend the rest of the book believing he's managing to outwit the New Republic. He kills Crix Madine. Madine wasn't an essential character, but one of the generals from Return of the Jedi dies at the hands of a screeching, incompetent Hutt. It's so embarrassing, for him and for us.
Crix Madine via Wookiepedia
Durga's plan is to salvage a bunch of information that Jabba had — necessitating that we spend the beginning of this book with Han and Luke undercover as Sand People, which is another image that makes me weep — in order to build himself a Death Star.
To that end, he manages to steal the plans for the Death Star out from under the New Republic. He's literally in a meeting with Han and Leia when this happens and he does it by allying himself with a bunch of furry aliens who look like pets but are actually a hive mind who have made a deal with Durga. Don't make deals with Durga.
In addition to the plans he's stolen, he also has Bevel Lemelisk — a solid seven on the scale of ridiculous Star Wars names — the engineer who helped build the Death Star. Lemelisk has a few issues, mainly owing to the fact that the Emperor tortured him a lot.
Actually, Lemelisk is my favourite thing about this book. Not because it's good, mind you, but because he's hilarious. You see, after the first Death Star was blown up by "a single X-wing pilot," the Emperor kills Lemelisk. Well, actually, first Lemelisk walks into the Emperor's throne room and a cage drops on him from the ceiling like it's a freaking Saturday morning cartoon and the Emperor is Skeletor or some shit. And then this exchange happens:
"Is there something further you wish to discuss with me? Another project perhaps? Anything else I can do for you?" Lemelisk swallowed again. "Yes, my servant," Palpatine said. "You may die for me." "Uh — " Lemelisk could think of nothing else to say. "I was hoping for something else, actually," he said stupidly.
"He said stupidly" should be the tagline for this book.
So the Emperor, who is less of a Sith Lord here and more of a Bond villain, releases a bunch of insects into Lemelisk's cage and the engineer is sliced to death. Then the Emperor puts his mind back into a younger clone so he can build him another Death Star. This is a skill the Emperor apparently stole from a Jedi who was "reluctant to give me thorough instruction."
It's so stupid. It's so stupid, I love it. It's kind of exactly how the Emperor is in the prequels: so over the top you have to appreciate it in a wasteland of good things. He even warns Lemelisk he doesn't want to have to think up another way to kill him!
On the other side of the scale, we have Durga, who forces Lemelisk to build him basically just the laser part of the Death Star, which he called "Darksaber" because... it's a cylinder. And they're evil. I hate this book and these people and I'm glad the thing was made with shitty craftsmanship and was destroyed when it was hit by asteroids.
YES. You read that right, this whole fucking threat was ended not by the heroism of the New Republic, but because it sucked and was crushed by asteroids. I'm so happy I had to read the whole book for that. And, again, that Crix Madine died trying to find out about that thing.
Meanwhile, Luke is taking Callista on a "greatest hits of Star Wars" trip because his girlfriend can't use the Force anymore. Callista was a Jedi during the Clone Wars, whose consciousness ended up in a computer where she first fell in love with Luke. Then it ended up in the body of one of Luke's students who died (most of Luke's students die or turn to the Dark Side, including the death of one in this book) but the transfer meant she lost her Force powers.
Which, I get is bad. But she is also alive. Be happy to not be dead. Also, don't date Luke. Luke's love interests all end up dead, evil, crazy, or some combination thereof. Don't date Luke or become his student. Callista is a love interest in the body of one of his students. She doesn't stand a chance.
Luke travels to Tatooine and then he and Callista go to Dagobah and Hoth, because those are planets in the movies — and eventually they learn that Callista can only use the Dark Side of the Force, because... reasons? They are attacked everywhere they go, by the way. Bats on Dagobah and Wampas on Hoth. When Callista eventually leaves Luke she she's it's so she can find herself, but I think it's more out of self-preservation.
And in the third plot — yes, this book has three major plots — Admiral Daala is trying to reunify what's left of the Empire. This is a pointless part of the book, only notable in that Daala works with Palleaon, reminding the reader of much better Star Wars books they could be reading.
Darksaber is just a mess. It is, I will grant it, a hilarious mess. It has all of Anderson's classic Star Wars writing in it — including a reliance on recycling places and lines from the movies for authenticity. When a book starts with Luke trying to summon Obi-Wan Kenobi by saying, "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope," and ends with him saying, "There is a lot of time in the universe, and we'll be together in time, you and I, Callista," you have to give up on Luke for a bit.
Darksaber's important lessons are: Don't work for Hutts, especially Durga. Don't let Luke be your teacher. Don't ever fall in love with him. Down all those roads lead death and madness.