Putting an entire book in Luke’s first-person point of view sounded risky, but I was more than willing to give it a chance. The excerpt in the 2014 Del Rey Sampler however gave me pause about the concept and execution and I approached Heir to the Jedi with trepidation. And I was happy I did, because while Kevin Hearne’s first Star Wars novel paints a great picture of pre-Empire Strikes Back Luke, it stumbles on mostly everything else.
HttJ centers around Luke’s mission to free Drusil, a Givin hacker detained by the Empire but is sympathetic to the Rebellion’s cause, who says she’ll work for the Rebels if they can get her and her family free from the Empire. Luke borrows a yacht for incognito travel (instead of his obvious X-wing) from Nakari Kelen, a kindred spirit of sorts who ends up being his travelling companion and confidence booster where his Force skills are concerned. The overall premise is fairly interesting and it’s a good mission for the young Jedi-to-be, but its frequent stops for food and conversation muddle the pacing to the point where action scenes feel like they were added because they were needed rather than originally planned to be included. The treks to the Jedi burial site on Rodia and a planetary system newly discovered by Narkari’s father are interesting diversions, but only seem to have attacks from creatures to help liven up the proceedings so HttJ doesn’t feel like a book of just Luke and Nakari going from here to there eating nerf. Because as thankful as I was for the invisible skullborers (who make for freaky and cool adversaries) scene on Fex for breaking up the conversations, it lacked importance later on besides as a convenient trade item and felt like it just added pages to the book than anything else. With all the diversions and conversation bogging down the pacing, reaching the end of the novel will feel like you’ve been waiting a really long time just for the plot to get where you already knew it was going to end.
How we get to the end of HttJ is where it stumbles the most, and it’s due to several factors: by experiencing this tale solely through Luke we miss out on not only the thoughts and feelings from the other important characters in the piece (getting them in awkward ways instead), but Luke acts unnecessarily as an unreliable narrator in some parts, comes off as a robot in others, and the POV lends itself to a lot of clunky transitions, all of which ultimately hinders this story. The robot demeanor Luke sports mainly occurs while he’s ‘reporting’ the action sequences, which become very long paragraphs full of less than thrilling but ultimately necessary detail to understand what’s happening; they left me wondering how Luke learned half of the knowledge he seemingly suddenly has in HttJ, which he needed to have since he had to explain his surroundings due to the limited POV. And some of those explanations, like calling a ship a piece of toast or his expressive battles with noodles, were some of the odder things this book asks you take seriously as something that’s supposed to be taken humorously.
There is a fair amount of humor in HttJ hidden amongst some of the more groan inducing jokes, as Nakari and Luke have a great rapport together whether they’re in the middle of a tense battle or sharing food while they wait for ship repairs. But sometimes the humor of following Luke’s first person POV led to a few odd moments of unreliable narration, like when Luke replaces math terms Drusil is telling him literally with the word math, so a line of Drusil’s dialogue might read, “If we do the math at the math, it’ll be math,” which broke my suspension of disbelief; Stuff like that didn’t help the story nor did it add to the Luke characterization Hearne was striving for, instead making this feel like we’re reading Luke’s diary, and if it was supposed to be funny, it was too jarring to be funny. But that isn’t all the problems and oddities created by limiting the novel to Luke’s first person POV.
There was no big twist or surprise that following another POV would’ve ruined or spoiled, so I left this book wondering why we weren’t treated with the thoughts of Nakari or Drusil, the two female characters Luke spends considerable time with. I wanted to have a more nuanced insight into these new characters instead of just what Luke deduced about them from what they told him through talking. Because to convey their inner thoughts to us on how they felt about what Luke was doing, we were treated to a lot of conversations where Nakari or Drusil just told us their feelings instead of showing us. In fact, large portions of the book are spent with characters just talking and waiting for something to happen, and without having a different POV to follow it certainly feels like nothing is happening and time is wasting away. Due to all the character development through conversations there’s a lack of urgency which pervades the entire novel, taking some of the edge off the importance of the mission and when they’re being hunted later.
At the same time, I appreciate the work the first person POV does for Luke’s character. It helps set up how he began to take what little training and guidance he got from Ben and start working on it by himself, enough to pull his lightsaber out of the snow in the Wampa’s lair in ESB. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a Luke unsure of what the Force means and how to use it, having read multiple years’ worth of material with a Jedi Master Luke in it, and it was a nice change of pace. There’s not many chances for a Luke at that skill level to exist anymore, so all the time spent in his head here certainly helps give readers and fans of Luke a chance to see his innocence one last time. Towards the end Luke has a brush with the dark side for the very first time and it almost consumes him initially, and while we know it won’t, the scene was slightly more effective since his thoughts on the moment and the dark side sound a lot like how he’ll describe the cave on Dagobah before going in.
Briefly I’ll be discussing the biggest spoiler from the book, so skip down below to “END SPOILERS” if you don’t want it spoiled for you!
Luke’s brush with the dark side happens due to the death of Nakari in the finale’s battle scene with the bounty hunters. But the scene left me wondering: Did she really have to die? I get that its purpose was to show Luke deal with anger and not have it consume him even though he is so limited in his Force training, but couldn’t it have been done without killing off one the new female characters? There’s been a lot said over the years and a lot more recently about Star Wars, and all media, for their usage of women or lack thereof, and unfortunately Nakari’s death only continues that problem. In fact her death almost feels lazy once you start thinking of the many other ways to give Luke his brief temptation with the dark side in that final scene alone: Luke thinks he feels her die, but she actually doesn’t and he’s able to bring her back to life; Drusil is captured by a bounty hunter and Luke nearly uses his anger to get her back, but instead finds a Luke-ish way of rescuing her (bonus points for Nakari helping); heck, even Artoo’s near destruction could’ve brought him to the brink. Her death certainly doesn’t help HttJ‘s case, especially with it being an example of the tired “woman in refrigerator” trope, and felt completely unnecessary.
I can’t go this entire review without mentioning Heir to the Jedi was originally part of a loose trilogy titled Empire and Rebellion. Only the Leia novel, Razor’s Edge, released under that branding. The subsequent Han Solo novel, Honor Among Thieves (which had an awesome new female character Scarlet Hark), went without it and now Luke’s is the only one not considered Legends. The footprint of all three novels is so small and infinitesimal that it’s surprising the other two E&R novels didn’t get to be shoved up to ‘canon’ level. In the end, canon only matters as much as you want it to, and I’ll consider those previous novels (and many more like Kenobi and Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor) part of my personal canon until something contradicts them. And that’s the beauty of these stories still existing, no matter if they’re Legends or not: you can make of them what you wish. But the biggest reason I want to consider them to be at the same level of canon is that I thoroughly enjoyed them a lot more and consider HttJ to be my least favorite of the loose trilogy. It’s still a good book for what it does for Luke, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as entertaining as the others.
Here are a few other things:
- There’s nothing weirder than knowing Luke, Nakari, and billions of others listened to a song called “Vader’s Many Prosthetic Parts’” by Hakko Drazlip and the Tootle Froots.
- Major Bren Derlin, played by now prolific voice actor and Cheers star John Ratzenberger in ESB, had an expanded role throughout Legends and his stories begin to grow in the new canon here. And while I get we weren’t following his story of rescuing Drusil’s family to help give credence to Luke’s fears about Drusil being a double agent, there was never enough in the book to make it seem possible for her to be one.
- With HttJ being part of that loose trilogy, it really makes me wonder how much the Story Group had to change to fit it within canon…or if it needed any changes at all. I think a Givin would agree with me the possibility they changed a lot of material is very small.
- It’s nice to have a Luke who has heard stories about Anakin and Obi-Wan this early in the timeline instead of some 15 years after RotJ. Because no matter how much the Empire suppressed their adventures, people were still alive who lived through them and would be willing to share those stories. It wasn’t the EU/Legend’s fault for that though, but this new canon changes the way our characters perceive and know about in-universe history and I like that.
- The bounty hunter ship which Luke describes as a piece of toast…yeah, it gets eaten. Part of me laughed, but another part of me groaned. There was a lot of food humor in this book and your mileage may vary with it.
- Luke’s brush with the dark side also echoed Ezra’s thoughts on his own experience with it in the Star Wars Rebels episode “Gathering Forces.“
- Nakari’s dad came off as trying to be J.K. Simmons as played by J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man films, but it didn’t quite work for me.
- The Kupohans and their planet were really neat new additions to the GFFA.
- I did enjoy the conversation about whether the hand gesture was important or not for the Mind Trick.
- Artoo receives some fun upgrades, allowing him to continue to save everyone because they’re all incompetent compared to him.
- There might be some confusion about where HttJ stands in a timeline with the current ongoing Star Wars comic, which I certainly had after reading both, but Keavin Hearne has personally cleared everything up: HttJ then the Star Wars comic.
Heir to the Jedi might have had me groaning a lot, but it was humorous throughout and provided a unique look at Luke Skywalker that we’ve just never gotten before. It suffers however due to several factors, including sacrificing the POV’s of other interesting characters by following only Luke’s, the slow pacing thanks to a lot of long conversations, and the big spoiler I talked about above. If you’re a completionist or die-hard Luke Skywalker fan, Heir to the Jedi will still probably be on your list no matter what I say; To everyone else: approach with caution.
+ Great Luke characterization…
+ Diverse cast
– …at the expense of the other characters
– Lack of urgency
– See big spoiler section
DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book, through NetGalley, from the publisher at no charge in order to provide an early review. However, this did not affect the overall review content. All opinions are my own.
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt
Battlefront: Twilight Company
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
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