Audiobook Review: “Dooku: Jedi Lost” is a Whirlwind Backstory

Audiobook Review: “Dooku: Jedi Lost” is a Whirlwind Backstory

For a guy who was reportedly miffed at being immediately cut out of major franchise decisions after selling the Star Wars universe to Disney, George Lucas must be feeling pretty vindicated these days. Disney opted to preserve Lucas’s controversial prequels as canon, and they’ve been pouring storytelling resources into developing the characters and situations from those films.

Fans apparently have an appetite for it: the recent Master & Apprentice, about the relationship between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, debuted at number five on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list. Now even the stagy Count Dooku is getting his due, in a new audio exclusive written by Cavan Scott, veteran of numerous radio plays in the Doctor Who universe.

Dooku: Jedi Lost is nothing if not ambitious. In about six and a half hours — just over half the length of the Master & Apprentice audiobook, for comparison — Scott zips through essentially the entire biography of the character played by Christopher Lee in the prequels. (The matter of mocking Dooku’s less-than-imposing name, which has become a sort of running gag in franchise media, gets taken care of early on.)

Even though these productions now go by the more precise name of “audio originals” rather than “radio plays,” there’s always a sense of throwback to shows like this. In the absence of a traditional narrator, characters exchange dialogue that’s conspicuously informative regarding what they’re doing and seeing, as music and effects roil in the background.

Scott punches up the sense of space opera in this episodic, sometimes almost chaotically eventful narrative. Dooku and his associates get themselves into one wild scenario after another, from dodging entire flying cities coming in for crash landings to mind-melding with a long-slumbering underground beast with great metaphorical significance for Dooku’s Force journey.

That journey takes him from a childhood as a “youngling” in the Jedi Temple (an experience with strong echoes of life at Hogwarts) to a successful career as a Jedi knight and, ultimately, master. By the end of the story, we learn how Dooku ended up bailing from the Jedi Order to assume his hereditary position on Serenno — a planet named after his family, who regard the Force-sensitive Dooku as a black sheep.

There likely won’t be quite as much of an audience for this story as for the related Master & Apprentice (characters including Qui-Gon and the laconic Rael Averross overlap between the two tales). Despite getting to face his former master in Yoda’s first-ever lightsaber combat scene, Dooku is by far the least distinctive villain in the prequels.

Except for the basic fact that he’s a former Jedi, not much of this backstory is hinted at in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, where he’s just the public-facing evil old guy standing in for his hidden master Darth Sidious. Much of the fan investment in the character comes from his starring role in the Clone Wars TV series.

Significantly, there’s no Sidious seducing Dooku in Jedi Lost. Instead, Scott establishes the Count as increasingly frustrated with an order bound by internal and external politics. Dooku’s disillusionment, we learn, was exacerbated by his continued relationship with his family, particularly his sister back on Serenno. Unable to renounce a personal stake in their fate, Dooku chafes at the official Jedi policy of detachment.

(Maybe the tastiest morsel of backstory involves Sifo Dyas, a mysterious name mentioned in Attack of the Clones; he turns out to be one of Dooku’s fellow Jedi trainees, prone to ominous premonitions.)

The whole story is told in flashback from the cusp of the Clone Wars era, as Dooku educates his new associate Asajj Ventress (Orlagh Cassidy) about his history. The emerging assassin’s three-pack-a-day voice can be trying as an audio experience, and the story of her developing relationship with Dooku tends to crowd an already overstuffed narrative.

The fact that so many of the core characters here are new adds to the challenge of following the action: the likes of Yoda (an expert Marc Thompson) and Qui-Gon (Master & Apprentice narrator Jonathan Davis) are easy to pick out, but it’s not always so easy to tell the young Dooku (Euan Morton) from his schoolmates.

Jedi Lost is at its best during showpiece sequences like a speeder race on Coruscant, where Dooku’s surprised to discover his own brother is one of the competitors. The audio producers conjure a rich atmosphere there, and at a Serenno festival Dooku attends as a boy — as a nifty Easter egg, listen for the strains of a Star Wars hit song that Lucas himself tried to cut from canon.

There’s also an impressive sequence involving Dooku’s dive into the dark side, courtesy of a kind of psychoactive moss. As voices past and future ricochet through his consciousness, he has a sort of dark side wet dream that gets him out of the jam but takes him a step away from the light. In the end, maybe all he really wanted was just a little privacy.

Jay Gabler