– Non-Spoiler Review –
(This article is written by Chris Wermeskerch and it’s his first post as a contributor for the Manor! Tell him we’re happy to serve his kind in the Star Wars fan-site community over on Twitter: @ChrisWerms)
The Adventures in Wild Space books, by Cavan Scott, are a series of children’s novels produced, somewhat inexplicably, only for international audiences. The series, set in the Dark Times (between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope), focuses on Milo and Lina Graf, the two young children of galactic cartographers exploring Wild Space and the Unknown Regions. On an adventure to a new world, the children find their parents have been taken by the Empire and mount a rescue mission to get them back.
The series is available for Americans on Amazon (sometimes), but are they worth the read? When I first found out about the books, I pre-ordered them without thinking much about them. When the release date passed, I was confused that I didn’t see any shipping updates. Turns out Amazon doesn’t (and didn’t) sell all of these firsthand: they were third-hand sellers who didn’t have them on hand to ship on release date, either. I bought mine from Amazon.ca (high shipping included). I’ve noticed since I bought my copies that some are appearing on Prime now, and that the third and fourth books seem to pop up every once in a while as available on Prime. If you’re an American looking to buy these for you or your young ones, expect to pay a bit more in shipping.
The extra shipping rates might put the price above what you are comfortable paying, especially without Amazon Prime shipping rates. Most books of comparable size, the Servants of the Empire series, for example, are about ten pages longer for a dollar less and are found in most book stores. Even without the shipping, these books are already more expensive than most. This is unfortunate for American children and collectors who may not be able to read these due to the slight premium they demand.
The first book, The Escape, is almost harder to obtain than the regular books in the series – if you can believe it. It was available exclusively as a World Book Day promotion where kids would get some tokens at school, each token worth a pound, and could trade them for some books at their local bookstores. Because of that, these books run on a much more limited scale. If you’re interested, you should probably go ahead and buy it now and not expect to pay the single pound that British children paid. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have such promotions in the States, but it is exciting for other young audiences.
Another potentially confusing aspect of the book is that it is set apart from the rest of the series physically and story-wise. This book is a prelude to the rest of the series: it’s not the same size as the next two. The book clocks in with about half as many pages and is physically half the size of the other two books. It’s like owning every James Bond movie on DVD with a black cover and Skyfall being released with a white DVD case: it’ll drive you insane.
The Escape isn’t counted as anything like “Book One” on listings, but it does contain the beginning of the narrative of the series as a whole. For example, the story of the parents being kidnapped take place in this book (spoiler alert!). The first regular book of the series, The Snare, kicks off after the events of The Escape. The way these books are organized is more confusing than it should be, but I will say this: completists of the canon would need this book, and those who want the full story need this book as well. If you are buying the series to get your children into Star Wars and want to get them the full story, don’t discount this book because of its size, release, or absence in the series listing.
In terms of the plot, the book presents an interesting angle for Star Wars. It follows a family whose main goal is to make a living, and a hefty profit, by exploring the galaxy and mapping out new planets. There are some new tools introduced in the books that give cartography a Star Wars spin: for example, a 3-D printer that makes copies of the terrain and surroundings. This new angle is a fun, and interesting and legit, reason to explore Wild Space. It’s not a story set in Wild Space for the novelty of a fresh setting, but has a great reason to explore new territory in canon without much contrivance. The canon has been exploring Wild Space a bit more, with little fanfare until now, by showing us Lira San (from Rebels), Mortis and Teth (from The Clone Wars), and the system Indoumodo (from Ultimate Star Wars). Unless you knew that these planets were in Wild Space, the only one that you would know is “different” from a Core World was Lira San because of the difficulty the Ghost crew had in reaching the planet. I think making this book about explorers was a great idea, and it captures a feeling a lot of Star Wars fans have: we’d be just as keen to explore the whole galaxy as the Graf family is, so we can live vicariously through them. Unfortunately, this new planet goes unnamed – causing the family to consider naming the planet after themselves – and goes a little bit underdeveloped. It would be cool to see this planet fleshed out a bit more, but for the young audience I think the descriptions were plenty to get their imaginations going.
Away from the big picture, the plot of The Escape itself is mildly interesting as well. As the kids are away exploring this new planet on their own and getting into trouble with its creaturely inhabitants, the parents are confronted by a cartel of Imperials who demand their maps for free. The parents don’t want to give their maps away for free, but are strong armed by the Imperials into giving them over. The children hear about this and find themselves in their first encounter with the Imperials, one which I won’t go into much detail here. It’s a brief interaction – they always are in a 96 page book – so too many details would give away the plot. The evil of the Empire is not sugar coated for young audiences: Korda explicitly tells his troopers to kill the children if they see them!
It’ll be interesting to see if the Imperial interest in exploration is played out more in the series. The canon has been developing a lot about the Empire’s need for materials between the conflicts on Shu-Torun (in the Darth Vader comic series), Lothal, and Geonosis (both in the Rebels series) that are all related to Imperial expansion and the growing need for materials. It’s interesting to see the canon become so interested in maps lately, as I wonder if the Graf family maps might influence some maps later in the canon… These small connections are able to tie the books into the larger Star Wars canon without getting tied down by much outside material. (That being said, the series is still entirely accessible to the newest fan. Other than the movies, there’s no need to read any other material before starting this series. You might want to check out Wookieepedia for species names pretty frequently, though.)
In terms of the characters, it seems pretty par for the course in terms of development and unique-ness, especially for the Imperials. The Imperial, Korda, seems like a Rebels-esque Imperial in terms of generic “evilness”, with nothing except some physical features setting him apart from any other character (at least, as of this book). Stormtroopers are used very well, they’re good soldiers and are brutal in terms of how they deal with children. I would say their plan – which I won’t spoil – is more brutal than some Star Wars fiction aimed at adults.
The Graf family shows us that the galaxy has a weird relationship with the Empire before the Rebellion, which is probably the most interesting part of their characterizations. The parents and the children, who grew up in different times (the adults during the time of the Republic and the children during the Rise of the Empire), show different levels of familiarity and comfort with the Empire. As a whole, we don’t see much of the parents and their backstory isn’t developed very deeply yet. They are not rebellious, but they don’t consider themselves Imperial citizens as they don’t live in Imperial controlled space. Because of this, they won’t give away their maps for free. It seems that this book is set in a time where open rebellion still seems far off, so the book isn’t concerned with showing their relationships to larger rebellions. Milo and Lina are charming enough as children and they behave, surprisingly enough, like real children! They climb trees, run away, play with nasty animals, and bicker like small siblings usually do. I wasn’t totally in love with some of their dialogue, but I had to remember: this was written for children. (And not the way we say that Lost Stars or Moving Target were stories aimed at younger audiences, either: these are more in line with the Reader level books in terms of prose, whereas the last few examples might be aimed more at teenagers.) The kids show an interesting relationship with the Empire: having grown up only knowing Imperial rule, they don’t know any better. They think that the Empire represents the good guys, but don’t know any examples of good they’ve actually committed. Seeing the Empire kidnap their parents shocks them and makes them question everything they knew about the world.
Finally, we get introduced to CR-8R, a mismatched droid composite of a bunch of favorite droid parts like probe droids, astromech droid, and protocol pieces. This is where I become a little less objective and notice my personal feelings creep in. Crater might be one of my biggest struggles with the book so far, and it exemplifies my trouble with trying to read all of the Star Wars material so close together time-wise. As I try and read all of the material as it is released, I notice a lot of overlap between characters and descriptions. After a surge in franken-creatures and franken-droids: between Crater, Mister Bones (Aftermath), “The Face of Evil” (Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens), it seems like this mix-and-match policy is becoming a heavy feature in canon. Making it harder, Crater’s personality is almost exactly like the tutor droid from Lost Stars and Servants of the Empire. These droids were uptight, more concerned with studying and lecturing than they were with the rambunctiousness of their students. Crater is the same way: he ignores clear and present danger that the siblings encounter to start lecturing on zoology! At times, Crater lectures the children on how dangerous it is to be out and how irresponsible they are for being apart from their parents, but this happens when there is no danger. In times of actual danger, Crater lectures on the thing that puts them in danger. This seems like sloppy characterization. At least uptight Threepio could distinguish between times when his lectures would be appropriate and times when he could give (what he thought was) relevant and helpful data.
Maybe I dislike Crater because of what he represents: I’m not the target audience of every piece of Star Wars fiction. There may be overlapping characters and descriptions and themes simply because these themes overlap in entirely different genres or age-groups! The children reading the Adventures in Wild Space books probably won’t be able to enjoy Lost Stars, and meet the tutor droid, for a few years. The young audiences won’t encounter Mister Bones and Crater at the same time like I do. One of the harder things for me to accept is that this is an introductory book, and as such, should introduce the kids to all sorts of Star Wars pacing, style, and character types, even if I’ve already met them before. In terms of introducing Star Wars literature, it’s a great addition and a great starting place. An adult might have to work through their over-familiarity to enjoy it, but forgiving the book becomes easier by accepting that we aren’t the target audience.
The Escape has a general feeling of Star Wars fun without focusing much on the angst of the films. It features strange Star Wars creatures that pose as much danger as the Dianoga or Nexu, brings in some classic critters as friendly pets for the family, and uses classic designs well. Ultimately, it feels like a Star Wars book rather than a random children’s story. This book works in plenty of familiar elements without feeling too beholden to anything that has come before. Nothing about it, yet, stands out as exceptional or need to buy (or for most of us, need to import). It does, however, serve as a perfect primer for a new reader and a fun, maybe slightly superfluous, addition to the canon for older readers. It’s an excellent way to get your children interested in reading and in Star Wars….as if you needed help with that!
+ Fun story that feels like Star Wars
+ Familiar elements that don’t seem shoe-horned in to make it Star Wars
+ Good introduction to a new series
– Overly familiar elements
– Unnecessarily hard to get in America
– Could be too childish for most readers
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Battlefront: Twilight Company
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
Heir to the Jedi
CANON YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Before the Awakening