Out of the four books announced by Del Rey in 2014 as being the first of a new timeline of official Star Wars canon, perhaps none of them were as much anticipated as Heir to the Jedi, written by newcomer to the Star Wars literature franchise, Kevin Hearne. Featuring Luke Skywalker in a first-person narrative, Heir to the Jedi is only the second first-person Star Wars novel, coming after the 1995 release I, Jedi by Michael Stackpole. Being that it is also officially canon, Heir had the potential to be a revolutionary read, and in the above ways it was. For me, however, the overall effect was something less than revolutionary. In fact, it rather bordered on mediocrity.
This review is meant to be spoiler-free, so I won’t be making direct references to scenes or page numbers.
Beginning with the characters, I have to say that the most interesting character was not Luke Skywalker, which is a problem given that this is supposed to be his story, told through his perspective. I felt that Luke lacked inner conflict, and that therefore made him boring and too “good,” so to speak. He met every challenge with an optimism and patience that honestly frustrated me, simply because the result was so uninteresting. But, this may not be the fault of anyone who might take on the mantle of writing Luke. Heir to the Jedi takes place shortly after A New Hope, before the events of the Marvel Star Wars comic series, and we know that at this point, there isn’t much going on in Luke’s life. He’s had time to get over the deaths of his aunt and uncle and Ben. He hasn’t gone through the difficulty of training to be a Jedi. In addition, he doesn’t know the true identity of his father. As a result of all of this, he also hasn’t had a real brush with the dark side yet. Another result is that there are many ways in which he is still untested. My point is that Luke is by nature uninteresting at this juncture in his life. However, I do maintain that inner conflict could have been added in natural ways, just to give the character more depth. Without this depth, the narrative falls into the dumb farmboy framework, with Luke occasionally saying goofy or childish things that come off as being more silly than charming.
As to the supporting cast, which included a dark-skinned sniper named Nakari and a mathematics and probability expert called Drusil Bephorin, there were some hits and misses. I enjoyed Drusil a lot. Because her whole alien culture revolves around mathematics, and because of her own special genius for the subject, she has the ability to make predictions of future events based on statistics and probabilities that are impressively accurate. Considering that, and the cultural nuances that really fleshed her out both as a character and a member of the Givin species (an alien people new to the Star Wars universe, to my knowledge), she became a clever and interesting creation. Nakari, on the other hand, left me with mixed feelings. I liked her as a character, but I felt that she was a bit overdone. Jason Ward really captured what I was feeling about her in his review, though I couldn’t label those feelings on my own. It felt like that, in order to make Nakari more interesting, she was given quirks, such as a weird family and a mischievous, talkative nature that were both, I felt, a bit overplayed. With one or both of these sides to her character toned down, she would have been more delightful than flawed (there is also something that I disliked in the way she was treated in the story, but readers will have to discover that for themselves).
The issue of overplay came up for me in another area that was both connected to and outside of Nakari. That was the area of humor. In some places, it was well-done and therefore funny, but in others it felt forced. I realize that we need humor in Star Wars; that’s one of the things that makes Star Wars Star Wars, honestly, is its ability to make us laugh. The thing is, the humor in Star Wars is generally subtle. In Heir to the Jedi, not all of the humor was subtle; in fact, quite a bit of it was painfully obvious, so much so that it took me out of the story a little bit.
The story is yet another area with which I had some concerns. The story lacks good structure and the right amount of conflict. A lot happens, and yet very little of what happens in the first third or half of the story really has any bearing on the rest of the book. Interesting discoveries are made, intriguing planets are visited, but none of it seems to matter to the grand scheme of the book, making me question why these discoveries and planets were figured into the story at all. The amount of conflict is dangerously low, making the story boring at times. Every time the protagonists get into a dangerous situation, they seem to get out of it largely unscathed. The sense of danger inherent in the situation doesn’t really linger too long; it happens, they experience it (briefly), and then they move on without having really lost anything. Again, the problem with this is the lack of conflict, which can (and did) lead to boredom for the reader.
I talked about wondering why some things were a part of the story at all. The answer, I think, lies in the purpose of this novel, which was to show how Luke advanced in his Force abilities from only being able to sense things he can’t see in A New Hope to levitating a lightsaber out of the snow in The Empire Strikes Back. It was also meant to explain, I think, how it was that Luke learned how to construct the new lightsaber that we see in Return of the Jedi. The problem is, this purpose isn’t really suited to a full-length novel. It could have been easily explained through a short story, which, given its length, would have allowed for tighter conflict and/or the focus of the story to be placed solely on Luke’s progress in the Force, thereby eliminating any unnecessary plot points. But still, I don’t really know why it had to be shown how Luke progressed in the Force between Episodes IV and V, at least through a full-length novel, because when we see Luke using the Force in Episode V, he can only barely use it to levitate his lightsaber. It doesn’t make sense to me, to base an entire novel’s overall importance in the official canon on so slight an accomplishment. Instead of explaining how he progressed, it merely raised the question for me of why he didn’t progress further in the interim between the films, especially given something that Drusil says in Heir to the Jedi in a remark about the Force. There were a lot of threads, both within the book and connected to the films, that didn’t really weave together in a cohesive way for me, and that goes for all of the book’s elements that I’ve discussed so far.
As you can see, I experienced a lot of issues with this novel. Perhaps some of them are founded, and perhaps some of them are more nitpicky; you as the reader can decide that when you read Heir to the Jedi for yourself. But, of course, I am neither an author nor a publisher. I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes at Del Rey or Hearne’s desk. I do know that Heir to the Jedi was planned early on, along with Marsha Wells’ Razor’s Edge, which focused on Leia Organa. Razor’s Edge and its sequel Honor Among Thieves, featuring Han Solo as the main protagonist, were released before Del Rey announced the new line of canon novels, rendering Edge and Thieves as Legends of the Expanded Universe. Heir to the Jedi, being the third book in the series, may only have been trying to live up to Legends standards in focusing on plot elements that don’t have a huge overall effect on the Star Wars saga as a whole. We will probably never know.
But just because I didn’t enjoy this book as much as, say, Tarkin or A New Dawn, doesn’t mean that no one else will. There were a couple of moments in Heir to the Jedi that I enjoyed. Drusil, as I mentioned earlier, was fun to read about. As a whole, however, I can’t view it as a great success.
I would like to thank my esteemed blog boss, Jason Ward, for his awesome review that helped me to formulate some of my own opinions concerning this book. I would also like to thank The Nerfherder, @nerfherderblog on Twitter, for discussing Heir to the Jedi with me and helping me to clarify my thoughts on the subject. J
Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne is hitting bookstores and digital shelves TODAY!