As the world prepared for the arrival of The Force Awakens, and a whole new generations of Star Wars movies, three middle grade novels were dropped as part of the “Journey to…” publishing program. Though the movies were set to introduce us to a whole new generation of characters, the books are centred around the heroes of the Original Trilogy, with Luke, Han and Leia each getting a book of their own.
Interestingly, each of them is presented as a tale being told to someone else, to that new generation we were supposed to be meeting shortly. The three of them are heroes and legends in their own right, both in our world and the one they live in. Let’s dive in. *Spoilers Below*
The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry
After the Battle of Yavin, when Luke harnessed the Force long enough to fire a torpedo down the Death Star exhaust shaft, the budding Jedi finds himself wanting to learn more about his abilities.
Visions from the Force lead him to the world of Devaronn, a planet under Imperial occupation and the home of an ancient Jedi temple. A cottage industry has sprung up on Devaronn, where tourists come to hunt in the forests, led by guides who may or may not rip them off and abandon them at any time. Luke initially accepts an offer from a young girl, Farnay, to be his guide to the Jedi temple, which is off-limits thanks to Imperial restriction. He changes his mind and takes on an adult guide to lead him there instead, one the little girl knows to be a crook.
Luke, however is successfully led to the temple where he discovers ancient secrets of the Force and more successfully learns how to harness his abilities, particularly skills with a lightsaber.
You know me. You know I like some good freaky Force stuff. And though the book wasn’t particularly freaky, there was plenty of Force stuff.
I imagine it isn’t easy to have a Luke Skywalker adventure like this, since he spends so much time on his own learning about the Force. Fry cleverly gives him R2 and 3P0 to talk to at least, but how does one learn the Force if there is no one there to teach you?
No I am not about to go into a rant about Jedi training, don’t worry. That activates my fight or flight these days.
I do like that the book strikes a nice balance between recollections of Ben Kenobi’s lessons as well as Luke’s own intuition. Force visions play into it a bit, yes, but they aren’t the primary method by which Luke develops his skills. Given the young age of the target reader, I think it’s a great lesson for them, to rely on their own knowledge, yes, but to not discount what they were taught and to try and apply it to new problems.
C-3P0 is telling the story of the book, and is described in the prologue as having a red arm. This shows that there is zero crossover between the target reader for this book, and the people who watched the trailer back in the day and speculated that 3P0 had gone Sith or something.
Something that is almost certainly a bumble bee lands on Luke’s hand while he’s at the temple. But because this is Star Wars and we have to rename everything, the little bug is renamed “the sap drinker”. It even has a stinger! Come on, now.
The end of this book set up a sequel story of some kind, with Jessika Pava, Resistance pilot to whom C-3P0 is telling the story, asking whatever happened to Farnay, the little girl who tried to help them. 3P0 says that they met her again as an adult, but that’s a story for another time. As far as I know she hasn’t popped again since, so what gives 3P0? Is this another comic book thing?
Smuggler’s Run by Greg Rucka
After the Battle of Yavin, the Rebellion is trying to figure out their next steps. But they’ve currently got a bigger problem. Their special squad, called the Shrikes, was ambushed by the Empire, with only the leader Ematt making it out alive. He is the only one who knows the locations of potential future Rebel bases, and if the Empire catches him, they’ll be able to torture it all out of him.
In hot pursuit of Ematt is Commander Alecia Beck, from the Imperial Security Bureau. As far as bad guys go, Beck looks extremely cool, with a long scar down her face and a glowing red eye. Since she’s alive by the end of the book I can only hope she comes back later.
When Han arrives on Cyrkon, he immediately runs afoul of bounty hunters from his past, some sent by Jabba the Hutt, because of course he does. What follows is a fairly standard search and rescue mission full of adventure and betrayal.
I said in my last 3 part review that I loved Pirate’s Price because it was Han Solo through someone else’s eyes. While that premise doesn’t totally work here, I did find myself missing that extra layer to the character. Because Han Solo played straight is always kind of the same each time. Gunslinger, fast-talking, can get out of anything. Plus there’s a decided lack of tension because The Empire Strikes Back is still a couple of years away from the events of this book, so we know he’s going to stick around. That’s not to say this is a bad book. Just a…familiar one.
Also, towards the end of the book, they tie it in to the Force Awakens so explicitly I actually made a noise when it clicked for me. Han Solo is the one telling the story, at a cantina, to a table full of rougher types. Right at the end he correctly identifies them as members of the Irving Boys, the Guavians or as working for Ducain. All names I recognized from the scene aboard his freighter in The Force Awakens when a whole bunch of names are being thrown around (no Kanjiklub though).I suppose this was the “hint” in the book for Episode 7, as each book in this series promises. But because I’ve seen it so many times, seeing the names spelled out like that was pretty jarring.
Chewie has blue eyes apparently? Who knew? (Everyone but me, probably)
Also, Chewie already has a medal from the Battle of Yavin. He’s holding it at the beginning of this book. I feel weirdly vindicated.
This one, like the Luke story, ALSO ends on the ambiguous note of a potential sequel. When asked what happened to Alecia Beck, Han simply says that that’s for next time. What’s with all the next times, tell me now!!
Moving Target by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry
Jumping ahead in the timeline a bit to between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, it’s time for Princess Leia to have an adventure of her own. After suffering losses at the Battle of Hoth and barely slipping out of the Empire’s grip on Cloud City, Leia and the rest of the Rebellion are on the run. With Luke hiding from the Empire on a different vessel and occupied with his own Jedi training, Leia is left alone to consider next steps both in terms of the Rebellion and in terms of what she herself wants (remember, Han is frozen in carbonate by this point).
But she doesn’t have too much time to dwell on her feelings. She has her duty to the cause. The Rebellion has received word that the empire is building a second Death Star over Endor and they need time to amass a fleet without being seen. They propose that beacons broadcasting messages the Empire can already decrypt be placed far from where they actually want to build their fleet, calling for any ships willing to help to meet nearby, to draw Imperial attention. Since Princess Leia is a high value target, she volunteers to go place the beacons herself with a team, to ensure that’s where their attention stays. She embarks on the mission with her small crew, wrestling with the knowledge of how important her job is, but also the immorality of asking people to meet up somewhere where they are likely to die.
Of the three books in this “series”, I liked this one the best. The stakes felt a lot higher, because they weren’t personal physical stakes. There’s no life-or-death tension for any of these characters, we know they’ll be in the next movie. But this one instead gives Leia personal moral stakes, because she knows she is asking people to give their lives for the cause, while also knowing she’s leading them to almost certain death. The mission is so top secret, half her crew doesn’t even know about it, meaning she doesn’t even have the benefit of a team all reassuring her that she’s doing the right thing. There was real tension for me in wondering whether she was actually going to go all the way through with the plan, and I was not disappointed in the outcome.
I loved the different environments of the worlds they visit to place beacons on. My personal favourite was the beach/touristy world of Sesid, first of all because we don’t usually see leisure environments in Star Wars, and second of all because when they need to buy disguises, Nien Nunb suggests Leia wear a brown bikini with gold trim (which sounds an awful lot like a certain gold bikini). For the record, she hates the idea.
Lokmarcha, one member of Leia’s crew, and the most military/hardline of them all, is of the opinion that all Imperials should face war criminal charges at the end of it all. Even the ones working at desks doing menial jobs. And if that isn’t the most dudebro internet troll thing I’ve ever heard in a work of fiction, I don’t know what is.