My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Heir to the Jedi is an entertaining, swashbuckling adventure romp narrated in first-person perspective by Luke Skywalker himself. The simplest plot summary would be that sometime after the Battle of Yavin, Luke is assigned an extraction mission to free a highly skilled slicer and mathematical genius from the hands of the Empire. The narrative is not exceptionally deep, but there are a lot of twists and turns appropriate for the sort of serial pop adventures this novel emulates, and so that plot synopsis is a gross understatement–and it skips the first quarter of the book! In fact, there are many missions and side adventures and battles, many interesting aliens and allies and starships, and the plot from start to finish is a lot more sinuous than I would have expected, especially given the simplistic earnestness of the narration.
I think the first-person narrative works great (it’s too bad it’s rare in Star Wars; I’m not sure there are any other examples besides I, Jedi, which I also mostly enjoyed). It feels like Luke’s voice–still young, still insecure and inexperienced, but having been shaped by his adventures, his successes, and his losses. I think, though I am not sure, that this is a novel aimed at adult readers, but its vocabulary feels a little middle-grade; I can’t complain, though, because it makes for a light, brisk, action-packed read, and it fits the aw-shucks farmboy sincerity of Luke during the early stages of his efforts against the Empire.
There’s actually a better way to frame the narrative of the book, keeping in mind the focus of the narrator: this is really Luke recounting his relationship with Nakari Kelen, the beautiful heir to a biotech entrepreneur, an expert sharpshooter, and a newly declared Rebel. Nakari is charming, and between her flirty banter with Luke and their effectiveness together in tough situations, it’s easy to see why they both quickly fall for each other over their adventures together. And it’s cool to see another woman of color added to the Star Wars galaxy, especially as such a clear hero and protagonist.
I actually liked most of the new characters introduced by this book–especially Nakari and her father Fayet, the Givin slicer Drusil Bephorin, the Rodian weapons dealer and Jedi fan Taneetch Soonta, and the Kupohan spies Sakhet and Azzur Nessin. Even minor Empire Strikes Back character Bren Derlin gets some extra characterization. I also feel like Kevin Hearne has a brilliance for describing aliens and making them feel alien; they had particular behaviors, personality quirks, and cultural oddities that made them act as believably strange as they apparently looked. This was as true for the more well-known aliens like Rodians as it was for newcomers like the Kupohans.
I don’t have a lot more to say, and the few criticisms I have contain spoilers. The only “criticism” I can offer that doesn’t spoil anything is that this story is very much so a one-off, with fairly low stakes. With post-Yavin Luke as the protagonist, there’s very little of event that could happen. We know that Luke cannot learn much more about being a Jedi and cannot learn anything more about his family history. We know that Luke cannot die or sustain any particularly serious injuries (the hand in Episode V must surely be Luke’s first prosthetic). And we know that the Alliance and Empire will not have any major changes in status as a result of this novel. Luke has some adventures and completes his mission. The end. Unlike many of the other new canon novels, it does not really explore anything of significance that adds to the film saga (other than seeing how Luke develops his Force powers a little further). Frankly, it feels like a story that would work better in the ongoing Marvel comics and maybe steps on the toes of that space given the overlapping timelines being covered. Given that this was apparently a third book in a trio of novels meant to highlight the heroes of the original films, which was later separated and released as a stand-alone in the new canon, this oddity of tone and setting really is not that surprising. It’s not even really a bad thing; it didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the book at all. But it’s something to be noted.
Okay, so spoilers follow. Stop now if you’d like to read this book without any spoilers.
My biggest complaint with the book is that Nakari is killed in the last pages. We don’t even directly witness her death, though Luke senses it. And afterward, Luke is given time to mourn, which is an interesting moment that we don’t get to see very often, but that same moment also gets used as a sort of plot device, to give Luke the opportunity to feel and resist the Dark Side (thus already making different choices than his father would make) and to allow Luke to mourn the others he’s lost. It’s true that he hasn’t had a real moment to grieve over Owen and Beru, Ben, or Biggs, but it lessens the significance of Nakari’s own death–even though she seems to be Luke’s first real love, even if he never got the chance to tell her exactly that–and feels a little weird that this woman’s death ultimately becomes about other people. Nakari was such a great character, and especially as one of the few women of color, it was uncomfortable and disappointing to have her killed off. I get that Luke seems to be single by Episode V, but we could still have Luke have a relationship, lose some of his retroactively creepy fascination with Leia, and be alone again by that film even without actually killing his love interest. Relationships end all the time, and many of them amicably. It might have been more interesting to see Luke have even more time to pursue a relationship with Nakari, only for them both to realize that they weren’t right for each other or had conflicting objectives or couldn’t pursue their feelings in a time of war. Maybe that’s too much for one book. But Nakari could’ve been floating around at the end of this book, to have that relationship developed further in other stories.
And while this book was originally going to be part of the old EU, I guess, it’s still more than a little frustrating to see that Luke’s luck with ladies appears to be returning with the new canon. A lot of women Luke loved had tragic ends in the old canon. It’s a little ridiculous, and I hope we don’t see that repeated. I don’t see exactly why writers love to write Luke into romantic relationships that usually go no further than earnest confessions and chaste kissing before writing out the love interest; if he is to be monastic and more or less virginal, why not let that be Luke’s choice? After all, in The Force Awakens, Luke made the choice to go into isolation. Maybe he’s always felt the need to create distance from other people?
Really, besides that, I don’t have any particular complaints. Well, okay, I have one last, tiny complaint, which may be a misunderstanding on my part. In the final battle against half a dozen bounty hunters, one bounty hunter rides a swoop book. He is described as “a human with goggles strapped to his head, a dark cloak streaming behind him” (247). He is the only one on a swoop bike and is shot off by Nakari. Several pages on, he’s become “the Dressellian whom Nakari had shot off the swoop bike” (261). Super-minor apparent continuity error, but a jarring one–Dressellians are humanoid, I suppose, but definitely not so near-human as to be easily confused.
This is a fun, but not vitally important, Star Wars story. Its quick pacing, great characters, and genuine voice all make a compelling argument for reading, even if it’s not the sort of story that sends ripples out into the broader galaxy.