(Warning: this review contains slight spoilers)
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .
A thrilling new adventure set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and—for the first time ever—written entirely from Luke Skywalker’s first-person point of view.
Luke Skywalker’s game-changing destruction of the Death Star has made him not only a hero of the Rebel Alliance but a valuable asset in the ongoing battle against the Empire. Though he’s a long way from mastering the power of the Force, there’s no denying his phenomenal skills as a pilot—and in the eyes of Rebel leaders Princess Leia Organa and Admiral Ackbar, there’s no one better qualified to carry out a daring rescue mission crucial to the Alliance cause.
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. It’s an opportunity to gain a critical edge against the Empire that’s too precious to pass up. It’s also a job that demands the element of surprise. So Luke and the ever-resourceful droid R2-D2 swap their trusty X-wing fighter for a sleek space yacht piloted by brash recruit Nakari Kelen, daughter of a biotech mogul, who’s got a score of her own to settle with the Empire.
Challenged by ruthless Imperial bodyguards, death-dealing enemy battleships, merciless bounty hunters, and monstrous brain-eating parasites, Luke plunges head-on into a high-stakes espionage operation that will push his abilities as a Rebel fighter and would-be Jedi to the limit. If ever he needed the wisdom of Obi-Wan Kenobi to shepherd him through danger, it’s now. But Luke will have to rely on himself, his friends, and his own burgeoning relationship with the Force to survive. – Publisher’s Summary
For the most part, I’m liking the new era of Star Wars literature with its focus on smaller, independent adventures instead of multi-book arcs with galaxy-changing consequences. A New Dawn was a fun introduction to Kanan and Hera and helped fuel my excitement for Star Wars Rebels while Tarkin gave me a better understanding of the Empire and how it worked. Following those, I was really looking forward to Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne, hoping for another fun adventure that helped to deepen my understanding of the Star Wars Saga and its universe. What I found was something that just fell short.
The story is told in the first person, from Luke Skywalker’s point of view. I’m generally not a fan of first person narratives. If done well, they can be an extremely rewarding experience as one becomes immersed in the psyche of the character, but that’s not what I found here. Kevin Hearne didn’t quite capture the voice of Luke Skywalker, and as a result, everything felt slightly off, with Luke being an even bigger cornball than he was in A New Hope.
As presented, this is a Luke Skywalker that is a genius at starship combat but is socially deficient. It’s as if Hearne built his entire characterization of Luke based on 1). him blowing up the Death Star, 2). the line “But I was going to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!” — which gets referenced in an eye-rolling manner, and 3). his entrance into Leia’s detention cell aboard the Death Star where he stops and stares at her. And while those are definitely all a part of what makes up Skywalker early on in his career, having him be such an amazing pilot forgets things like he needed Wedge to bail him out at the Death Star, and having him be such a goof around potential love interest Nakari Kelen ignores that given a chance, he’ll step up to bat with a girl (as he did on the Millennium Falcon following the escape from the Death Star when he says to Leia, “I care”). The film version of Luke and the book version come across as two completely different characters, and try as I might, I couldn’t envision Luke from A New Hope doing or saying most of what he does in the novel. He lacked depth and and was one dimensional, much like everything and everyone he came into contact with.
That’s certainly true of Nakari Kelen, whose primary purpose seems to be the encouraging love interest to Luke. Sure, she’s got tragedy in her past, but apart from that, she’s a little bit too perfect — she’s rich, a fighter, has a great ship, and isn’t afraid of Luke’s “Oh, golly gee. Girls!” attitude. As such, she didn’t seem real, and I tended to get antsy whenever she and Luke were “flirting.”
I also constantly felt like I was reading someone’s roleplaying game adventure, as if the author had taken notes during a gaming session with friends and written it into a novel. The first half of the book felt like grinding to get experience points and weapons upgrades, and if that sounds tedious, it read as such. It wasn’t until Luke and Nakari’s actual mission got underway that I felt l had moved out of a conversation with one of my buddies about last weekend’s D&D game and into an actual novel, but even then, Luke’s simple point of view combined with half of the dialogue in the book being characters explaining their plans in depth to each other before said plans fell to pieces left me feeling pretty “meh” about things.
That is not to say that the book was without merit. Luke does have a brush with the Dark Side towards the end that I found extremely engaging and presented in a very human manner. Being inside his head for that moment was nice and packed the kind of depth that I wish the rest of the book had possessed.
Also, Kevin Hearne writes some pretty good space battles. Sometimes in science fiction, I have a hard time visualizing the geography of action scenes, but in this case, not only could I “see” exactly what was happening, but I was completely invested in those scenes. Hearne imbued them with the right amount of tension and excitement that I tore through those pages. I’d actually kind of like to see what he could with a Star Wars novel where space combat was the focus.
Beyond that, there were also some interesting moments where Luke gains insight into Anakin Skywalker, the Clone Wars, and the mysteries of the Force that felt important, even if little else did. Throw in appearances by Orto Plutonia and jogan fruit and there were enough fan service moments that made me smile.
By the last page, Heir to the Jedi just wasn’t a very rewarding experience. It wasn’t bad, but in a lot of ways, it reminded me of the old Bantam Expanded Universe books of the 90s. It was a decent enough adventure to be on, but it could have been much better and didn’t feel necessary or like it would have any impact outside of its page count. If you’ve got some time to kill, give it a read, but if you prefer a little more “meat” with your Star Wars, you’re probably better off waiting for something else.