By Ryder Windham
Age Range: 8 to 12 years
Grade Level: 3 to 7
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press (August 5, 2014)
Book Description: Fourteen year-old Ezra Bridger lives alone on the Outer Rim planet of Lothal. He fends for himself by picking up odd jobs and hustling the unsuspecting Stormtrooper. But when Arena Day arrives–an underground tournament where mighty beasts battle to the finish and all the swindlers, gamblers, and no-gooders come from all corners of the planet to make a profit–Ezra is whisked into an unlikely partnership with the fearsome bounty hunter Bossk and enmeshed in a high-stakes chase against an endless fleet of troopers. Ezra isn’t willing to trust anyone, but he soon learns that surviving doesn’t always mean just fending for himself.
What to Expect: Action, Adventure, Friendship, Minor violence, Humor
Star Wars Rebels: Ezra’s Gamble is a 160-page junior novel that tells the exciting story of Ezra Bridger on the planet Lothal prior to meeting the rebel crew and the main cast of the highly anticipated animated series coming in October. Ryder Windham, who has written over 60 Star Wars books, knows how to expertly handle this audience, finding ways to keep readers entertained with an original story while harkening back to the essence that is Star Wars. For example, for independent readers who cannot fully grasp John Jackson Miller’s Star Wars: A New Dawn just yet, a prequel novel featuring Rebels’ characters Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla, this junior novel offers this particular age group a similar adventure with all the traditional Star Wars elements. Ezra Bridger, the young con artist, finds himself in an unlikely partnership with a highly skilled and reputable bounty hunter, Bossk, who lands on Lothal to acquire his next target.
We last saw Bossk in the Emmy Award winning animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. There, he worked with young Boba Fett, so it was a delight to see the bounty hunter in collaboration with young Ezra Bridger on a wild chase throughout Lothal. The setting itself very much reminded me of Mos Eisley on Tatooine from Star Wars: A New Hope because we see a variety of aliens, many of which reside in Star Wars Legends–a reservoir of Star Wars stories which expand upon the films. Windham consciously brought that diversity into the novel and that helped in giving the story the traditional Star Wars feeling that most fans crave. For newly independent readers not familiar with that feeling or looking to incorporate that classic Star Wars in storybook form, this novel certainly opens up a whole new galaxy of wonders while still being modern for this generation.
The references to Star Wars: A New Hope are very much present in the novel with quotes such as “I have a bad feeling about this” and “What a piece of junk!” Such instances were neither forced nor thrown about without care, and instead, each reference made me laugh and remember the point in time when those quotes were used in the movies by the iconic characters that we’ve come to know and love over the decades. The story definitely echoed all the humorous and adventurous aspects that were laid out in the old trilogy, while at the same time, depicting an original set of circumstances and events on a new planet with new characters. As with any adventure, especially with a bounty hunter, there is sure to be violence along the way. The violence featured in the movies and in Star Wars: The Clone Wars is scaled down in this junior novel. Fighting and using weapons do occur throughout the story, but mostly done in self-defense, making it a safe and enjoyable book.
Finally, the novel does a superb job in tying Ezra’s unforgettable experience with Bossk and his future with Kanan and the other rebels. It builds on the excitement currently brewing for the new series, which will open as a one-hour special on the Disney Channel and continue as an original series on Disney XD. Young girls and boys who were fans of Star Wars: The Clone Wars will enjoy this book and easily transition into Star Wars Rebels, which takes place several years after the events in The Clone Wars. If the reader finds that this original fiction leaves them hungry for more Star Wars, Jason Fry’s Servants of the Empire junior novel series debuts on October 21, 2014.