Biweekly Book Review: Stories of Jedi and Sith

Jedi? Sith? Freaky Force Stuff? You know that’s exactly what I come to Star Wars for. So when they announced an anthology in the vein of Stories of Light and Dark with all new stories, one of which would be about Rey, who honestly should be at the heart of more stories?

It might be basic to say that at the heart of it all the Force users are my favourite part of Star Wars, but they are – in my opinion – the ones most ripe for angst. It goes beyond general life angst, its the kind brought on by a power larger than you can comprehend filling every part of your being. So how did these stories stack up? Let’s take a look at Stories of Jedi and Sith.

The Story That Got Me Through The High Republic Drought: What a Jedi Makes by Michael Kogge

Coming to this story, based solely on title and the (gorgeous) illustration by Jake Bartok, I went ahead and assumed this would be a Yoda story. And the little Jedi master is still present in this story, but not only is he not really the focus, but also the story is set in the High Republic era?? (Pre-Hyperspace Disaster too, which means Stellan Gios is still alive and kicking).

The focus, instead, is Lohim, a young boy from the lower levels of Coruscant who is determined to make it to the Jedi temple and train as one of the fabled warrior monks. Now, the fact that he might not be able to wield the force at a level required of someone his age is a minor concern at best. The one thing getting in his way is Reina, an actual Jedi apprentice, desperate to stop this interloper from joining her order, since in her view he lacks the necessary qualifications.

Besides being an opportunity to spend a little time in the High Republic era a few months earlier than expected, it opens up some really interesting possibilities. We learn by the end that not everyone trained at the Temple pursues the knight avenue, and that there are a variety of Force sensitive individuals with a variety of vocations. I hope we get to explore this side a little more in the High Republic stories going forward, as well as checking in with Reina and Lohim.

The Story That Appealed to My Jedi Apprentice Side: Resolve by Alex Segura

Despite the name, the Jedi Apprentice series is equal parts about Obi-Wan Kenobi and his master Qui-Gon Jinn. Sometimes they adventure together, sometimes they do so separately. It also often takes on a “case of the week” type approach, with the duo travelling to various worlds to see about solving political strife.

As of writing this, I am halfway through the series, and the Qui-Gon-centric “Resolve” made me feel like I hadn’t missed a beat. Like with that series, the actual plot of this story is fairly simple, with Qui-Gon on a mission to retrieve a missing apprentice and see if they would still like to remain in the Jedi Order. But part of what makes this story so special is the near-singular focus on Qui-Gon, without any other Jedi’s methods detracting from his.

Qui-Gon Jinn is the great presence that looms over the prequel trilogy era. He is the galaxy’s biggest “What If”. What if he had trained Anakin while Obi-Wan went on to do his own thing? What if Anakin and Obi-Wan still ended up a duo, but with Qui-Gon there to guide them? Any Star Wars fan who enjoys engaging with this era definitely has questions of their own like this, but for all that Qui-Gon is such a looming figure, we don’t have a ton of canon material about him. And what we do have (with the exception of Master and Apprentice) is seeing him through someone else’s eyes. This story lets him stand fully on his own.

The Story That Proved We Need Several Brotherhood Sequels: The Eye of the Beholder by Sarwat Chadda

Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi are the heroes of the Clone Wars. On the holonet, throughout the galaxy, everyone knows their name. Two starfighters, just two, because two are enough and all that.

The Clone Wars devoted a lot of time to their partnership during the war, as did Mike Chen’s Brotherhood. But if “The Eye of the Beholder” is anything to go by, I would be very happy with several more stories that follow them around, and give more insight into how they became the heroes we know them to be.

“The Eye of the Beholder” follows sibling duo Zohra and Dumuz on the world of Devalok, which has been torn apart by war. They’ve been separated from their parents, and despair of surviving when the Separatist army comes and destroys the last of their rations. Enter two Jedi heroes, Anakin and Obi-Wan, who rescue the children and try to reunite them with their parents.

Watching the two Jedis chaotic, quippy battle style through someone else’s eyes was extremely amusing, but more to the point, I love that it never felt unnatural. They aren’t unnaturally heroic or ridiculous, but they felt so much like themselves, even through the eyes of another that you get the sense that this is who they always are and always would have been had…you know…certain Sith Lords not gotten their way in the end.

The Story We Need More Of: A Jedi’s Duty by Karen Strong

Poor Barriss Offee. She had a compelling arc in The Clone Wars but not nearly enough time dedicated to showing how she got there in the first place. How does a stellar Jedi apprentice go from excelling to such disillusionment that she plants a bomb in the Jedi temple?

“A Jedi’s Duty” hints at the beginnings of that, with Barriss recovering from the outbreak of the Clone Wars on Geonosis, and the outbreak of a smaller war inside of her, where she knows her duty is to serve the order and her master, but doesn’t feel that the Jedi have any place in war.

While the story follows several members of the order reminding her of her duty and of the nuance that comes with serving in a war, by the end of the story, it doesn’t feel as if she’s reached any kind of emotionally satisfying closure for herself. It still feels as if she is performing a duty in spite of her own instincts, which those who have seen the Clone Wars know is truer than she’d like to admit.

The Story I Wouldn’t Have Cared Much About Last Year: Worthless by Deliliah S. Dawson

Let me clarify and say that I would have cared about this story in the sense that I care about any Star Wars story as part of the larger myth. But in early 2021, I didn’t have strong opinions on Asajj Ventress, and I didn’t have strong attachments to the Clone Troopers.

Oh, how times change.

The story places Asajj and a clone by the name of Doc trapped in a crevasse on a jungle planet, and forced to work together to fight their way out. Resentments rise to the surface as Asajj views them as a mere cog in the Republic’s war machine while she can’t (or perhaps won’t) recognize that she holds a similar status among the Separatists.

But the thing about Asajj is that she is angry, and she is in pain, but she isn’t utterly without heart or empathy. It’s a delicious kind of frustrating to watch someone like that dance on the line of changing their life for the better (for their own sake and not for someone else) and not quite managing to do it because they aren’t ready just yet.

The Story That Hit the Angst Factor Just Right: The Ghosts of Maul by Michael Moreci

Oh, Maul. You broody, angsty, angry boy. It’s not exactly the most original sentiment to say that what makes Maul fascinating is the sheer depth of his inner rage and pain. What started off as a one-dimensional, albeit very cool-looking, villain slowly but surely became one of Star Wars’s great tragedies, and “The Ghosts of Maul” adds right into that noble tradition.

As the title suggests, the story follows Maul on a quest for purpose and power after being abandoned by everything and everyone he once thought gave him that purpose and power. However, upon his arrival to a Sith Castle on the desolate world of Damanos, he finds he is far from alone. Instead he is visited by the ghosts of Savage Opress (squee), General Grievous, and Qui-Gon Jinn. Though he didn’t suffer the same failure at each of their hands, he still does see them as contributing somehow to his own weakness and downfall.

I loved this one because I am just a constant sucker for a story where a person is forced to face a literal manifestation of their past, and to confront the pain that goes with it. Obi-Wan Kenobi did this beautifully in the series (though with a slightly different approach), and this story does as well. And because copies of this book were available at Celebration before Obi-Wan Kenobi technically premiered, Maul can take comfort knowing that Kenobi didn’t beat him to it.

The Story That Went As Expected: Blood Moon Uprising by Vera Strange

There’s only so much that can be done with a Vader story that doesn’t make it feel as if it’s been done before. And plot wise, this story did feel like a Vader adventure we had already seen. He has arrived on a new planet, he is checking out rumours of some kind of beast stalking and killing the Imperials working there, and he goes to investigate.

However, Vera Strange is an absolute master of Star Wars-appropriate horror. Vader might be technically safe for plot armour reasons, but that didn’t mean the story was utterly lacking in tension as he tracked down the beast for himself. And once he realized his biggest problem is actually a cadre of rebels, the focus shifts from Vader the hunted to Vader the hunter.

Vader has never been scarier than he has been in the Disney era, and “Blood Moon Uprising” is a perfect example of why.

The Story That Made Me Laugh (and Confirmed a Bunch of Stuff): Luke on the Bright Side by Sam Maggs

Luke Skywalker is a tough character for me to love. He’s fine, objectively speaking, but too many years unwittingly exposed to the ~discourse~ wherein he is taken from kinda geeky farmboy-slash-unwitting Jedi and turned into some kind of badass pew pew Force god? It’s exhausting, and by extension, I began to find him exhausting too. I would, however, read an entire Sam Maggs-written Luke Skywalker novel.

The story is set on Hoth, shortly after the rebels set up camp there. Luke is trying to be as helpful as possible, but his idea of helpful is driving fellow rebel Reyé up the wall. Not literally, of course, though that would be ideal considering the two of them have fallen into an unused tunnel and need to find a way out before they freeze.

The adventure itself is cute and funny, and Luke is every bit the awkward dork I wanted him to be. What truly elevates the story for me, however, is my absolute conviction that Luke has a crush on Reyé, and Reyé’s got one right back (not that he’d admit it, of course). I mean, come on, one does not stare at someone and daydream about how soft their hair must be unless they’d like to run their fingers through it right?

The Story That Stuck Closest to the Movies: Masters by Tessa Gratton

I am all for a brand-new story set in a familiar world, don’t get me wrong. But there is a special kind of beauty when a storyteller can take something we already know, and spin it into a tale that has us on the edge of our seats. Such is the case with Tessa Gratton’s “Masters” which follows both Yoda and Palpatine around the time of Return of the Jedi, reflecting on their pasts and their duel in Revenge of the Sith as the pieces move into place that will eventually hurtle them towards the climactic battle between Luke and the Emperor.

That’s not to say that this is a pure recitation of the familiar, not at all. We really get into both their headspaces as they prepare for Luke’s next move, with Yoda trusting in the Force to make sure things turn out alright and Palpatine trusting in his own hubris at the expense of everything else.

Tessa Gratton is set to join the High Republic writing team in Phase II, and with such an innate grasp of the Jedi and their mindset at their lowest point, it’s going to be a treat to watch her write them at their height.

The Story That Made Me Scream, Cry, and Punch the Air: Through the Turbulence by Roseanne A. Brown

Rey! It’s Rey! Rey is here, everybody! I am so starved for new Rey stories, I can’t wait for the inevitable swell we’ll get in the next few years when the supply finally catches up to the demand. When that time does come, I feel comfortable saying I’d like Roseanne A. Brown to be one of the people who gets to write Rey.

The story follows Rey and Poe on a supply run to a planet where the weather conditions are set to change for weeks on end (a regular occurrence, but the Falcon does need to get out before that happens). Their need to make a quick exit is thrown off the BB-8 is taken while they’re sitting there bickering. Now the two reluctant colleagues are forced to put aside their differences long enough to retrieve their missing friend and get out before the Falcon leaves them behind.

One thing I liked, which I had initially been worried about, was just how much time Rey spent thinking about Luke Skywalker. I was worried this would be an opportunity to try and inject some justification into certain nonsense choices. But no, when she reflects on her one-time master, it’s not through the lens of fangirl, but rather a Jedi still in over her head, and concerned she doesn’t have it in her to make a go of it. The kind of insecurity I wish she had actually been allowed to explore onscreen without attributing her good and bad side entirely to genetics (sorry, sorry, sorry, going to put a dollar in the jar).

The point is, Brown captured what makes Rey Rey, just as she is, just as she should be.

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