Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights: Heirs of the Force Review (Unread 032)

In my anticipation for the latest Star Wars theatrical release, I’ve been exploring the Expanded Universe. This might seem a little odd to some people after Disney’s announcement that the EU is no longer canon, but that doesn’t matter to be one bit. I’ve read enough novels and comics that are part of the EU to know that it’s a pretty incredible fictional universe to explore. It can match, scene for scene, the enjoyment to be had from the Star Wars films and it often does that by exploring some pretty ludicrous ideas. It’s sometimes beautiful, scary, uplifting, exciting, funny, embarrassing, action packed, and it’s just about everything you could ever ask for from genre literature. I believe that whatever descriptive word you can think of it can be applied to stories set in the EU. It’s a large, inexplicably complicated, occasionally messy shared universe continuation (and, uh further prequelization) of the Star Wars films.

It’s much more than just tie-in media. These novels and comics aren’t just a collection of one-off stories that don’t really matter. They’re not stories that occur between the stories we already know from the movies (though they are that, too). The Expanded Universe is really well named because it does what the title suggests. It expands everything you know about Star Wars and in just about every direction possible. This brings us to Heirs of the Force.

While reading the second volume of the ThrawnTrilogy by Timothy Zahn I realized that one part of the story just wasn’t moving forward as quickly as I wanted it to. After learning that Leia was pregnant with twins, twins who would undoubtedly be strong with the Force, I realized I had to know their story. I had to read about them right now. As anybody familiar with the EU will know, Jaina and Jacen Solo are a pretty big deal in the EU. Their stories have been told in dozens of novels and, from what the internet tells me, it’s often been ridiculous and very enjoyable. I wanted to get in on that action right away and though I’m sure baby Jaina and Jacen are really adorable, I wanted to read some stories where they actually get to do things. Since I’m reading my Star Wars fiction in no real order whatsoever, I decided to pick up the first volume in the young adult Young Jedi Knights series by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. Much to my disappointment, the Solo twins don’t really do much. Like, at all.

At the time of the Young Jedi Knights series, Luke Skywalker teaches young students the way of the Force at his Jedi academy on Yavin 4. Now that they’re old enough, the Solo twins, Jaina and Jacen, are students at the academy. There they spend their days doing whatever the hell they want and occasionally practicing how to lift small objects with the Force. Mostly, they’re out exploring the jungles and having fun with their respective pastimes. For Jaina, that means being the best damn mechanic a fourteen year old girl can be and for Jacen it involves going on nature walks and taking care of his miniature zoo.

At the start of the book Han and Chewbacca visit the kids to drop off a new student, Lowbacca, Chewie’s nephew. As a going-away-to-Jedi-school present, Chewie gives Lowie a small space shuttle of his own: a T-23 Skyhopper. Jaina is instantly jealous but it subsides quickly when Lowie lets her tinker around with it. The group, along with Tenel Ka, a Force witch from Dathomir, become fast friends and spend their days in the jungle fixing a TIE fighter Lowie found. Jedi school is kind of the best. Until you get attacked by the lunatic pilot of the TIE fighter you found. He’s been stuck on Yavin 4 since the first Death Star was destroyed and he’s anxious to get home. But first, he’ll need to coerce a couple of teens to finish fixing his broken TIE fighter and install a hyperdrive.

As you can see Heirs of the Force has a pretty ridiculous plot. It’s quite thin and it doesn’t hold up at all. The moment you start to think about it the bigger the plot holes become. Is this really the first time someone encounters the TIE fighter? Or better yet, the pilot? How has he not even tried to find the Jedi temple? It was certainly an easily identifiable landmark during the Battle of Yavin. The pilot could have easily seen it while crash landing from space. Twenty years is an awfully long time to hold a grudge, too. He’s been indoctrinated by the Empire a little too effectively.

I have a feeling that this book has established a trend for the rest of the series. It goes a little like this: Solo twins and friends go on an adventure, adventure turns sour, don’t worry these kids are super cool and very gifted all in their own way. They’re a great bunch of friends and they know how to apply team work to succeed and survive their misadventures. The end. By the way, Jedi school is the best and uncle Luke is so powerful, guys. I’m going to be a bad ass Jedi someday too. Maybe in the next book.

I’m just glad the characters aren’t swinging around lightsabers yet. A look at the title of the fourth volume confirms that will be happening soon enough and I’m feeling a little nervous all of a sudden. 

It’s not surprising that this book doesn’t have much of a plot. As the first volume in a series targeted at preteens, it makes sense that the focus is on introducing the characters. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s unfortunate that it wasn’t done with the help of an actual story. The book is short and has a large font which means the whole thing is over in under an hour. The short length actually makes it easier to forgive the book’s flaws. It also makes me look forward to the next one because I’m hoping an actual story will emerge. A story in which the characters, who have been introduced to death, can finally do something aside from hanging out and tinkering with a TIE fighter they found in the jungle. I’m also hoping we get to explore Tenel Ka a bit more. I was definitively intrigued by her character once we got to know her a little towards the end of the book. She’s the tough silent type and I look forward to seeing her interact a little more with the rest of the group.

If you’re looking for a quick read set in the Star Wars universe, then you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for gripping action, for character development, for the Star Wars equivalent of a Harry Potter book, you should keep on looking.

Since a lot of the main characters from these books play larger roles in the New Jedi Order series it felt like a good idea to read these books first. We’ll see how long I can keep it up. I guess it’s kind of cute and pretty harmless, but I wanted more from this book. Since The only two plot elements that are not directly related to introducing what I’m guessing will be the five main characters of the Young Jedi Knights series was the terrible plot with the TIE fighter and some really bad, wishy-washy teaching from Jedi Master Luke. I think I’ll stick around for a few more books. They don’t require any effort from me as a reader and they work well enough as a palette cleanser from the slightly longer (read: normal) length novels. It was a relaxing read. I recognize that I’m not the target audience for this series and the first book is clearly meant to introduce the main characters and not worry about doing anything beyond that. Oddly, this unsatisfying structure for the first volume managed to make me curious for the next volume. Maybe this one will have a story! Let’s find out. 

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