Biweekly Book Review: Jedi: Battle Scars

Video game books are tricky. Lore heavy as the game might be, the change in medium alone – at least in my limited experience – tends to result in a scenario where neither has quite the same tone despite both being good, and ostensibly both following the same characters. In this case, however, what we see is a novel that feels so much like a written, bound version of the game, while also amplifying just how rich the in-game story telling is. I stopped making sense a while ago, so let’s just dive into Jedi: Battle Scars by Sam Maggs.

The Story

Set somewhere in between Jedi: Fallen Order and the upcoming Jedi: Survivor, Jedi: Battle Scars follows Cal, Merrin, Cere and Greez as they stay on the run from the Empire, operating as a small rebel cell in the shadows, throwing a wrench in the works where they can.

Things change one day when, while on a mission, Merrin is approached by a stormtrooper who tells her she’s heard of the Mantis crew, and wants a way out of the Empire. She further reveals she has a way to mess things up even more significantly for them, and has a tip on a job. Despite the objections of the rest of the crew, Fret, the former Imperial, joins them on the ship, and they head out in search of The Shroud, advanced tech that could really change the game for the Empire.

Straightforward as the mission is, things are not so simple for the crew, who are all grappling with issues of their own. Merrin finds she cannot access her powers like she used to, and also that she is keeping a lot of grief buried deep down. For his part, Cal is also struggling with anger and a sense of place in the galaxy, unsure what his greater mission might even be. Together the gang goes on the hunt for the Shroud, while also trying to outrun the Inquisitorius, who are looking to do the exact same thing.

What Worked For Me

All of it.

But seriously, the whiplash between my expectations for this book and what we actually got cannot be overstated. With previous video-games-turned-books, I found things to adhere a little too closely to game mechanics (Twilight Company) or else feel so removed from the context of the game that it might as well have been about totally different people (Inferno Squadron). Not that I disliked Inferno Squadron, but there does tend to be more of an emphasis on action and pew pews in Star Wars novels aimed at adults, which is always my least favourite part, and I could only imagine what that would look like in yet another novel based on a video game.

Wow, was I wrong. Yes, there was a ton of action in this book, it is still Star Wars after all, but the way Sam Maggs writes it out, it reads every bit as straightforward and breezy as Fallen Order is to play. Not to mention the early action scenes are filled with so many little nods and references to the game mechanics, it gives those of us who’ve played the game an easy way to visualize the way Cal moves around.

By far the biggest strength, and my favourite part of the book overall, is Merrin. For those of us who wished we could play as the Nightsister during Fallen Order, if only to get to know her better, she gets just as much time in this book as Cal does. It might even be more time, but to be fair I didn’t actually sit there and count it out. Even years after joining the Mantis crew, Merrin is still dealing with the pain of leaving Dathomir, and the loss of all her fellow Nightsisters, including the one great love of her life. She gets something of a new lease on life when she meets Fret and the sparks immediately fly. And I don’t mean implied sparks that are there if you squint. I mean honest-to-goodness flirtation and some genuinely steamy moments that belong in a romance novel. It’s still fade to black, this is Star Wars after all, but it’s safe to say that as of right now, Jedi: Battle Scars is the steamiest Star Wars book out there right now.

Although really ladies? In Cal’s room?

Merrin, in her relationship with Fret, is allowed to be sad, and angry at everything she lost. This is a grief she doesn’t feel she can process in front of the rest of the crew, because they might find it too much. Thinking you might be too much for those who love you is a very relatable chord I wasn’t expecting this book to strike, and endeared me so much more to Merrin. Now I can only hope when Survivor comes out that I do get the chance to play as her.

What Didn’t Work For Me

Honestly, this book was so fun and breezy, and well-paced that even this is the most minor of complaints. But after Cal being pursued by the Inquisitors was such a big deal in Fallen Order, it didn’t feel quite as pressing here. Yes, the Fifth Brother being on their tail does add a level of urgency to their search, and their showdown with him does result in some angst and drama for the crew, but I think Cal’s more interesting conflict came from his personal struggles with what his life looks like perpetually on the run and operating just out of the Empire’s sight. I understand why this was here, of course, but I feel like it halted the angst a little bit.

Random Thoughts

I realize referring to the lump of bone in Cal’s throat as “thyroid cartilage” is needlessly complicating things, but I laughed hard at the reference to his Adam’s apple, if only because I was wondering whether the GFFA also had the story of Adam, Eve, the apple and the serpent – for legal reasons, this is a joke. I understand Maggs using the most common term for it, and appreciate her not overcomplicating things.

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