The new Star Wars canon continues to expand with Kevin Hearne’s debut Star Wars novel, Heir to the Jedi on sale from Del Rey on March 3, 2015.
Heir to the Jedi is set between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and explores the character of Luke Skywalker in what is a period of major transition for the character. From Farmboy to hero who saved the galaxy from the Death Star, from moisture farmer to novice Jedi, and from boy to man.
When first announced two of the big selling points for me was that we were getting another Luke focused novel and that it was going to be told in the first-person. The last truly Luke focused book we got, Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor was a very strong book by Matthew Stover. The only other first-person Star Wars novel is I, Jedi by Michael Stackpole, which still stands as one of my favorite Star Wars novels. Couple these two facts with the authors rather entertaining personality on social media and I was rather excited to sit down with this new adventure.
What Hearne crafts in this novel is a story on a very personal level for Luke. I think it is rather brave for an author in his first Star Wars novel to focus on a smaller character driven story instead of the grander galactic conflict. super-weapons, Sith Lords, massive invasions are sexy stories, simple missions with small casts are often less so.
The plot of the novel is made up of a series of small missions leading to the main mission described in the publisher’s summary as the liberation of, “A brilliant alien cryptographer renowned for her ability to breach even the most advanced communications systems is being detained by Imperial agents determined to exploit her exceptional talents for the Empire’s purposes. But the prospective spy’s sympathies lie with the Rebels, and she’s willing to join their effort in exchange for being reunited with her family.”
There is a relatively small cast of named characters in the book with a large number of nameless background players rotating across the stage. The co-lead in this book is a new creation of Hearne’s Nakari Kelen, the daughter of a biotech mogul, slugthrower sniper, and captain of a rather sleek customized space yacht.
As a reader I quickly began to enjoy Nakari Kelen and her eccentric father Fayet. It doesn’t take much to pique my interest in a strong female character, but when Hearne reintroduced the Expanded Universe weapon the slugthrower as Nakari’s go to weapon he had me hooked. I try not to read other reviewers opinions on novels before I formulate my own because I don’t want to subconsciously lift any of their ideas or opinions, but I have the feeling that much criticism will be centered around Nakari in the end of the novel. A criticism I can sympathize with but chalk it up totally to an authors discretion. My biggest problem with Nakari is that her relationship with Luke in the novel seems to free of conflict.
Now since this is a novel told from Luke’s perspective and his feelings on Nakari are clearly biased, it is not surprising that the Nakari we see may be the idealized version of who she actually is. The problem is that while we go from adventure to adventure with Luke and Nakari, there is a certain sense of conflict that I found lacking from the novel. A little friction between the characters would have gone a long way for me to make the relationship feel more grounded.
While I am on the topic of conflict, this novel presents us with a number of threats but no main antagonist. Our heroes are only as large as the villains they overcome. One of the issues with a first-person novel is that it limits what you can do as a storyteller because we can only know what Luke knows and we can only see what Luke sees. This prevents us from getting the typical storytelling structure we get in Star Wars novels where we cut from the heroes to the villains and back again. As a result we have largely nameless and for the reader disposable opponents for Luke and Nakari to attempt to overcome. This leads me to feel that the conflicts are rather minor and the stakes small at various points in the story.
In terms of stakes the main plot revolves on the liberation of Drusil Bephorin from Imperial custody. While we get some idea of Drusil’s true value towards the end, I think that a stronger showing of her abilities earlier in the book would have made me buy into her value as an asset and raised the emotional stakes for her rescue. Instead I feel that we got a very smart alien without a ton of personality and questionable impact to the larger galactic civil war.
I have read the novel twice now and I am still not sure what I think of how Hearne captured Luke’s voice in this novel. We have the restlessness and impatience that we see in Luke from time to time, the good-natured innocence and honesty that are at the core of the character, but the internal monologues that we read in the book don’t always sound like how I would expect Luke to think.
There are some things in this novel that Hearne does particularly well and that I thoroughly enjoyed. There is a section of the novel that has a very sci-fi/horror vibe to it that I had a ton of fun reading.
There are actually a ton of little moments for Luke that are building blocks and could become pivotal moments for his development in the future. Telekinesis, lightsaber construction, the Dark Side, attachment and his relationship with his father are all significant issues that Hearne explores in new and interesting ways. It is particularly interesting how Hearne uses Luke’s interactions with non-Force users in the novel to give Luke a better understanding of the Force.
I absolutely loved the scene with Luke dissecting a lightsaber and hope we continue to see the growth of his lightsaber knowledge in stories leading up to Return of the Jedi.
While I spoke earlier about the fact that I didn’t feel that the Luke and Nakari relationship had enough conflict in it, I did enjoy many of the scenes between these two characters and think that she is one of the stronger and more interesting characters created in the new canon.
On balance I enjoyed Heir to the Jedi for the foundation blocks it laid for Luke’s character development and the introduction of Nakari, but I feel that in using the first-person perspective we got stuck too much in Luke’s inner thoughts and not enough on his recounting of action and adventure.
For more information and to see an excerpt from the novel visit RandomHouse.com
Author’s Note: An advance review copy was provided by Del Rey for the purposes of this review.