By Jason Fry (Author), Jean-Paul Balmet (Illustrator)
Age Range: 8 to 12 years
Grade Level: 3 to 7
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press (October 21, 2014)
Book Description: Zare Leonis seems destined to become a poster boy for the Empire. His sister Dhara has been accepted into the esteemed Imperial Academy on Lothal and Zare is confident he’ll join her in a year’s time. But a year can bring plenty of unwelcome changes. Not only does he begin to uncover the Empire’s destructive plans for Lothal and the livelihood of its people, but his unease hits home when Dhara goes mysteriously missing. Zare is forced to question everything and rethink what it means to be a good servant of the Empire. This first book in an original series gives readers an insider’s look into a different part of the world of Star Wars Rebels.
What to Expect: Sports, Friendships, Family Relationships, Action
Source: Early copy purchased at NYCC 2014
The story of young Zare Leonis first takes shape in Jason Fry’s Servants of the Empire: Edge of the Galaxy, a junior novel and prequel to the episode “Breaking Ranks” in the animated series Star Wars Rebels. The first installment in a series of three books, the novel follows Zare in his first year at AppSci, where he takes up the role as center striker for the school’s grav-ball team, the SaberCats. He befriends Merei Spanjaf, an excellent grav-ball kicker and data security hacker, and Beck Ollet, the son of jogan orchard farmers. Zare’s older sister, Dhara Leonis, attends the Imperial Academy, where she trains to become an Imperial Officer. Zare is desperate to join her at the Academy, but soon experiences a series of events that forces him to question the Empire entirely.
Throughout the novel, Zare and the SaberCats play several grav-ball matches, a familiar game in the Star Wars universe with new rules conceived by the author. Because of that focus, independent readers in sports seeking to expand reading lists will find this book on par with their interests. Even if you’re not a sports enthusiast, the book contains other elements (action, romance, etc.) that make it a compelling story.
As someone who relies on visuals to properly carry out the story in my mind, my only wish was that the book had a drawing or sketch of the grav-ball grid along with terms and instructions on how to play. Readers can find such material at the official Star Wars site, but a brief page at the front or back of the book would be most beneficial for younger readers attempting to grasp the motions of the game.
Grav-ball also provides a platform for Fry to introduce themes of discrimination against alien species, a common Imperial practice throughout the Empire’s rise to power. The ruthlessness of the Empire also exists outside of the playing field, where farm lands that once thrived became areas for mining, damaging the local ecosystem on Lothal. Fry delicately touches on these heavy themes witnessed through Zare’s perspective and successfully continues the world building introduced in Star Wars Rebels.
Unlike the series, however, Fry showed an aspect of the stormtroopers that we have yet to see (and I truly appreciate that, since the series portrays them as incompetent and a source of humor). Albeit brief, stormtrooper training is described as intense. Essentially, cadets are broken down and built back up again. Zare observes the results of that transformation firsthand, and it helps reinforce that stormtroopers are fearsome soldiers.
The relatable emotions of the characters make for a believable and refreshing story. You feel Zare’s anger when the athletic director informs him of a roster change, you pick up on Merei’s worry and fear that something bad could happen to her friends, and you want nothing more than to rebel against the Empire along with Beck because of what they’re doing to Lothal. Fry created the first successful Star Wars sports novel with intriguing characters that complement the protagonists and events established in Star Wars Rebels.
I highly recommend that fans of the animated series purchase a copy of Servants of the Empire: Edge of the Galaxy prior to watching “Breaking Ranks” on November 3, 2014. Zare’s background as an immigrant to Lothal, his contributions as a team player in grav-ball, his growing awareness of the Empire around him, and Dhara’s mysterious disappearance from the Academy all lead Zare to become the character we will see in the series. It’s an origin story not to be missed!