Biweekly Book Review: Star Wars Hunters: Battle for the Arena

This one was a baffling one. Announced around the time of the video game (which was so long ago I struggle to remember exactly when it was), Star Wars Hunters: Battle for the Arena got pushed back so many times, with Disney so hush about its existence I began to think it didn’t exist.

And then suddenly…there it was. Hitting shelves on the same day as the other Star Wars story based on a book, Jedi: Battle Scars. Only Hunters hit the shelves with no fanfare. I can’t imagine why, as overall it’s really not a bad book. It’s fun even! Head scratchers aside, let’s take a look at this truly hidden gem: Star Wars Hunters: Battle for the Arena by Mark Oshiro.

*Spoilers below*

The Story

The story follows Rieve, a Force sensitive young woman on the run from her past. She ends up on Vesparaa, a planet cast in perpetual twilight which is home to the Hunters, a group of fighters who wage war in the arena for the entertainment of others, in a sort of WWE deal where they have specific personas, costumes, trainers, and the works.

There, she is given a Sith Lord persona to lean into and assigned to a team, but fighting well with others doesn’t come easily to Rieve, who is used to having to take care of things for herself. Making things worse is the looming threat of a shadowy figure from her past, who if he shows up could ruin everything Rieve has built for herself

What Worked For Me

I am a sucker for a good tragic backstory, and Rieve has a good tragic backstory. Someone who has great Jedi potential but was born too late to train at the temple, and so must deal with a late Empire/early New Republic government on Corellia. Star Wars doesn’t shy away, especially recently, from how rough every day people have it and this was no exception.

The unexpected highlight of the book for me (unexpected because this is a book for middle grade readers) was the dynamic between Rieve and her trainer Rothwell. Initially I thought they had a fun flirty dynamic, and I was surprised the book was willing to go there. Come to find out Rothwell is the shadowy man Rieve is trying to avoid and…

I get that the book was going for a “oh no, her friend betrayed her”

Reader, I shipped it even harder after that. Them trying to kill each other? Yes please, this is exactly my shit and written for me specifically. We’re never going to see the two characters again, but imagine if we did…imagine the possibilities.

What Didn’t Work For Me

Honestly, the weakest parts of Hunters were the parts that felt beholden to the video game. I imagine it would have gone over a lot smoother if I had actually played the game, and had some sense of what Oshiro was talking about when describing the arena, or the training pods or any of the battle terrains. But the problem is I haven’t played the game…because it’s not out yet. I can imagine them wanting to release the two together but as it stands, the tie-ins to the game that I imagine were mandated for Oshiro to include wind up making parts of the book feel like an inside joke we haven’t been let in on. And I know it’s not poor description because I’ve played enough video games in general to know what it sounds like when someone is describing them to me.

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