I cannot believe how close we are to The Force Awakens. I’ve gone dark on several of my usual social media platforms to avoid spoilers, which should help me get this project finished before I see the movie.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this here yet, but Luke Skywalker is my favorite character in the entire Star Wars franchise. It doesn’t often happen that way, that the main hero in a given story is actually my favorite character. I tend to gravitate towards the plucky side-kick, the action girl, or even the villain more often than not. So today, I have two very different novels from two different literary continuities to compare.
In Kevin Hearne’s Heir to the Jedi, the first Death Star has been destroyed, but Luke Skywalker is not yet comfortable with his role as a leader. Also he’s just had his only mentor, Obiwan Kenobi, violently taken from him, and that’s left him unmoored and unsure how to pursue his ambitions of becoming a Jedi. So he spends some time working on his meditation techniques and trying to be useful to the Rebellion any way he can.
Matthew Stover’s Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor takes place after Return of the Jedi, with Luke going through an identity crisis as the universe tries to exalt him as their hero. He’s deeply uncomfortable in the spotlight, and with his responsibilities as a newly appointed general. Not to mention there is a lot of faulty speculation going around about what really happened to both Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader.
These are two different approaches to the same character, told in two different continuities, with two different goals for how to reveal and expand on Luke’s position as a hero. The results are, perhaps unsurprisingly, mixed. . .
Heir to the Jedi was originally going to be part of a trilogy in the old Extended Universe called The Empire and Rebellion, with each volume focusing on the three main characters of the original movies. All three take place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. At the last minute, Heir to the Jedi was folded into the new canon. Also, this book is the first one I’ve encountered in this project so far that’s written in the first person point of view, which means you hear it in Luke’s “voice” as he’s telling the story.
On a technical level, this book is fine. It’s an episodic series of unconnected adventures only loosely related to the overarching plot, and the main thread is about Luke learning how to fine-tune his meditation and get in contact with the Force more effectively. There are several independent story arcs that get just enough plot rolling to be interesting, but then they end and you’re on to something else. I haven’t read the other two books in the Empire and Rebellion sequence, and I have no idea what may have been changed between conception and publication, but this one has a rushed, uneven quality to it that makes me wonder if Hearne had to scrap and rewrite his plot.
The problem is one of tone. This incarnation of Skywalker comes across like a whiny teenager trying to fit in and failing, which on some level makes sense, but doesn’t gel with the character development he went through in the first movie. Additionally, Hearne’s style of storytelling is fairly typical of Urban Fantasy–a blend of contemporary pop-culture slang with an otherworldly setting. This style worked great in Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles series and would be perfectly fitting in a twenty-minutes-into-the-future sci-fi setting like The Fifth Element or Guardians of the Galaxy. However, this breezy, hip phrasing and word choice just feels off for Star Wars, and for Luke as a character.
Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, on the other hand, is the kind of pulpy, action-packed romp I’ve come to expect from classic space operas. The Empire is defeated, but not gone, and the remnants of its supporters are more than willing to complicate things for the New Republic. Also, you have to remember that while Luke is responsible for the deaths of both Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine to a certain extent, he didn’t actually kill either of them, and feels burdened with guilt for losing the only father he’s ever had. He can’t really talk to anyone about these feelings, since they wouldn’t understand how important it was to him to turn Vader back to the good side, and only about three people in the universe know Vader used to be Anakin Skywalker.
This leads to some misunderstandings on both sides, including a Dark Force user calling himself Lord Shadowspawn, who has gotten the idea that Luke should be the new Emperor, and so would like to take over his mind and rule the Empire in Palpatine’s place. Shadowspawn is also incredibly theatrical and hammy, using holographic videos (this universe’s version of action movies) as his main inspiration in designing both his outfits and headquarters. It’s all very Conan-meets-Indiana Jones, and awesome in spite–or perhaps because–of its over-the-top absurdity.
The only issue I had with this one is it’s difficult to walk into without any background. There are many references not just to the events in the movies, but in the other books in the old EU. If you haven’t read Kathy Tyers’ The Truce at Bakura, for example, some of the characters and locations mentioned here won’t make any sense. However, this is the same Matthew Stover who wrote the novelization for Revenge of the Sith, which has become my favorite Star Wars book, and he keeps you glued to the page. One of Stover’s greatest strengths as a writer is building a lot of suspense and anticipation despite telling the audience almost on the first page exactly how it’s going to end. He opens the novel with a disturbing scene of Luke, more haggard and exhausted-looking than we’ve ever seen him, begging a New Republic investigator to hold him accountable for the deaths of some thousands of innocent people. And that’s it–that’s all the context we get before going back in time to before these deaths occurred. The rest of the book is spent finding out exactly what Luke did, and the suspense is terrific.
Overall, I prefer Stover’s approach. His book feels like a complete story on its own, rather than a stopover on the way to another adventure. While I don’t want to speculate too much, I am anxious to see what’s really happened to Luke Skywalker in the time after Return of the Jedi.
Next time, for my final entry: Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig