TFN Review: Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
Eric Carrasco's Take
[Note: this review is spoiler-free. For more analysis on the plot and relationships, see Adam’s spoilery, deeper dive, below.]
Kevin Hearne's Heir To The Jedi takes Luke Skywalker's first-person POV, and on the surface, looks as if it's launching this new continuity with a daring voice. I enjoy Star Wars books that take those chances. I'm on record as loving Stackpole's first person I, Jedi and the second-person passages in Stover's Revenge of the Sith novelization. Problem is, first person is very difficult to pull off. While the form is en vogue in the YA world, there's a barrier-of-entry to this book—a jarring style that distracts the reader. Much of the magic of Star Wars is in the textures of its used-Universe, and internal monologue leaves out a lot of sensory detail.
I also don't envy Hearne's task. Getting into the mindset of one of the most significant heroes in pop culture can't be easy. It's Luke Skywalker! Much of the world feels some sense of ownership over him, and his inner life has gone largely unexplored. Those are daunting hurdles.
The story is simple, though possibly hamstrung by behind-the-scenes movement (Heir was originally intended as the third book in the Empire and Rebellion series). As a result, it doesn't set out to blaze any trails. Luke meets a new love-interest, Nakari Kelen, a crack shot with a slugthrower and the pilot of a beautiful cruiser: The Desert Jewel. Together, they (and R2) attempt a dangerous extraction—tasked with delivering a Givin code breaker from Imperial custody and getting her to Rebel hands.
There are good moments, particularly with the Givin herself, Drusil, who steals the show. Near the end of the novel, for instance, she does something very cool with a navicomputer in a truly original and well-worked scene. The best parts of the book are just that: math.
It's on the spiritual end that it ultimately disappoints. In his author's note, Hearne mentions his fascination with an iconic moment in Empire Strikes Back: Luke Force-pulling his lightsbaber from the ice. Until that point in the films, we haven't seen a Jedi do anything like it, and we're left wondering how Luke even learned that telekinesis was part of the Jedi's bag of tricks. Here, Hearne sets out to answer that question. It's an exciting mission statement with a lot of potential, but on a storytelling level, Heir misses that mark.
If you were among the crowd who disliked the way Midichlorians drained some of the mysticism from The Force, prepare for an equally analytical view. It's no accident, and it's an interesting take; Hearne clearly intends for Luke to grapple with cosmic ideas and frame them in ways a farmboy would understand. That makes sense, and I actually like the idea that the scientific and the mystic can co-exist and needn't contradict one another, but as readers, we're way ahead of Luke. We know The Force can choke people from light years away and lift X-Wings from swamps, so when Luke reaches out to move a noodle with his mind (yes, a noodle) there is no new insight and no narrative tension. In fact, it's as if the novel deliberately searched for the least visual, least thrilling ways to show Luke's metaphysical journey. Not in an interesting Zen way. That simplicity might have worked. Here, Luke's Jedi training is so disconnected from the plot that it feels like an afterthought. None of his breakthroughs with The Force are a direct result of the story, his romance with Nakari (she just gives him a couple of pep talks), or even an instinctual drive in the face of danger. Luke comments at one point that his father's lightsaber is one of his only clues as he delves into the mysteries of the Jedi. He's afraid to open the hilt, lest he break it and find himself unable to repair it. That's a fantastic dilemma. But if you're assuming that in a tense moment, Luke will open Anakin's saber, risking his greatest possession because his Jedi training is that important to him, you're wrong. Instead, Luke runs into a Rodian willing to give him a burner lightsaber for experimentation. If you're expecting Luke to use telekinesis on the delicate crystals and circuitry of his father's weapon, you're wrong. As mentioned above, Luke is all about noodles.
The plot, meanwhile, comes together like a mission from the old LucasArts Yoda Stories game. We need a fast ship to extract Drusil. The Desert Jewel will work, but she'll need upgrades that will cost X-amount. If we do a favor for a minor character, he will give us the credits to upgrade. It's repetitive and feels unimportant. Perhaps because of this, there's little emotional impact during the climax, and the final battle itself is so small that it must be an average Monday for the son of Skywalker.
Hearne goes out of his way to make Luke relatable (witness as he struggles with a coffee maker!) and since the book is written at a level beginning readers won't struggle with, kids will likely enjoy it. That said, it's ostensibly for adults, for whom the simple prose might be grating, and Younglings might need parental guidance during scenes in the Fex system, (inhabited by brain-drilling monsters) and in the dark and violent finale.
Overall, Heir to the Jedi feels as if it's treading the waters of continuity, waiting for the new movie's permission to take on more interesting material. It's a forgettable read, but it moves quickly, defines Hyperspace better than any other Star Wars book, and fills an interesting gap in Luke's journey. Not the strongest entry in the canon, but an interesting promise of what's to come.
Adam Nettina's Take
Kevin Hearne’s Heir to the Jedi occupies a potentially awkward corner of the Star Wars literature universe. Originally planned as the third and final novel of the now “Legends” designated Empire and Rebellion series, Hearne’s description of Luke Skywalker‘s coming of age in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back follows a similar story trajectory as Honor Among Thieves and Razor’s Edge. Yet where the two previous novels left this reader wanting greater character development—especially when it came to the supporting cast—Hearne’s is able to creatively showcase Luke during an evolution from force-sensitive farm boy to Jedi-in-training, while also building up intriguing and identifiable supporting characters.
That’s not to say Heir to the Jedi is a particularly memorable Star Wars novel. In fact, if judged against the only other two “canon” novels at the time of its publication—A New Dawn and Tarkin—then Hearne’s novel might be viewed as something of a letdown. Where those two novels effectively blazed new trails in their contribution to what we know of this brave new universe in canon, Heir to the Jedi charts a much safer approach, setting up a familiar storyline of our Rebel protagonist playing scout and spy while the Rebel Fleet hides out somewhere in the Outer Rim. In this case we’re following Luke, who opens the book with a soliloquy contemplating his struggles with the force (more on this later.) After meeting an attractive young woman named Nakari Kelen, Luke, R2-D2, and Nakari make a number of brief stops throughout the galaxy, including a visit on Rodia to purchase weapons for Nakari’s sleek ship, the Desert Jewel, as well as a horror-movie esque sideshow in the Fex system. While serving as the backdrop for a few witty exchanges between Luke and the slugthrower-wielding sniper Nakari, this galactic road-trip in mini is mostly a sideshow, worked in somewhat awkwardly to fill pages and provide explanations for a few “get out of jail free” cards the protagonists are able to use later in the novel. At best it adds a few soon-to-be-forgotten Wookieepedia entries for official canon; at worse it cheapens the experiences and story to come.
That story revolves around Luke and Nakari working to extradite a rebel sympathizer and expert cryptologist named Drusil. A Given who serves as an archetype for her species, Drusil’s a character who is hard not to like. She’s more complex than her initial reputation as a Stephen Hawking type math genius lead the reader to believe, exemplified by her motivation to see her family survive an almost certain reprisal for her escape from Imperial captivity. I enjoyed how Hearne juxtaposed but didn’t show conflict in Drusil’s reliance on math and Luke’s trust in the force. There’s a level of respect between force user and mathematician and something of an acknowledgment from both to the mystery of how the two dogmas can be reconciled. It’s a refreshing take from the often overused and superficial faith vs. science conflict that resonates in all realms of the arts, and, what’s more, an interesting contrast to the Imperial conflict between the Force against technology opposition which is evident in the famous scene between Vader and Admiral Motti in A New Hope.
If there is in fact one area where I thought the novel shined, it was in the treatment of how Luke perceives and utilizes the force. His opening soliloquy is but a snapshot of many philosophical asides Hearne paints in Luke’s head throughout the work, which showcase both the virgin-to-the-galaxy young man (wondering if intelligence can be gained from, say, sucking a human being’s brain from his or her skull) and the truly contemplative Jedi-to-be. We’ve seen uncertain Luke renditions before in the Original Trilogy Era, but there is something altogether likable and especially identifiable for the reader in Luke’s struggle to know the Force as not just something which comes to him unconsciously in times of great need or stress, but it conscious practice. Perhaps it is the vehicle Hearne uses to show Luke’s evolution of conscious Force use—moving noodles with his mind—or perhaps it’s just that the author has chosen to highlight an element of inherent human restlessness which often comes with trying too hard at anything. But the Luke which Hearne gives thought to is one no other author seems to have captured in such human terms.
The problem ,though, is that the character can be inconstant, and with the novel written in a first person point-of-view (POV) from the eyes of Luke, there are more than a few passages which struggle to maintain their pace and perspective because of a confusion in tense. There were passages which came across as overly diary-like in their description, with Luke recounting a past event in the present tense, as if he was looking back at something which had happened, yet not doing so in the past perfect tense. The flaw in POV is especially difficult to overcome for the first third of the book, owing, I suspect, to the particularly slow developing main plot.
In spite of the sometimes distractingly difficult to read POV inconsistencies, I can’t say I disliked Heir to the Jedi. Hearne really has a great sense of not only characters and their personalities, but how they affect one another. Nakari and Luke’s relationship grows throughout the novel, culminating in Luke’s admission that she’s “good” for him. Both Nakari and Drusil are in fact good for Luke, whose self-confidence and uncertainty with the force are eventually overcome—at least in part—due to their encouragement and words of wisdom. Ironic coming from an overly sarcastic sniper and an exoskeletoned mathematician, but no less enjoyable for the reader to experience. In addition to the strong characters, Hearne shows a great use of spatial awareness and descriptive force in his space combat scenes. While the odds of attacking and destroying an Imperial Interdictor cruiser with a ship the size of the Desert Jewel are probably quite small, Hearne renders the scene of Luke scoring a decisive kill with vivid imagery and strategic authority.
All that being said, I thought the novel ended on an unfortunate note which betrays its altogether limited aims and contribution to greater Star Wars story. While I can admire authors who are able to kill their own characters, I wasn’t a fan of the rushed sequence in which Nakari dies, nor was I a fan of the decision to give her the axe. Perhaps I read too much into it, but by having Nakari die, Hearne (or Lucas Books or whomever) is denying future books the chance to expound on Luke’s relationship with her, not to mention develop her into an asset for the rebellion. In that way she echoes any of the other expendable characters from the Empire and Rebellion series, and leads me to question if any of the characters or events from Heir to the Jedi will be picked up on by future novels, comics, or other avenues of Star Wars universe. That Luke’s reaction seemed incomplete and rushed doesn’t suggest otherwise.
If no man is an island, then no Star Wars novel can be properly judged on its own. Indeed, it may take subsequent mining of the original trilogy era for Heir to the Jedi to resonate as a contribution to Star Wars canon. For now it remains an enjoyable, albeit slow-starting read, which capitalized on an intrinsic desire I think most readers have to want to like the barely-old-enough-to-drink Luke Skywalker, farmboy awkwardness and all. Nevertheless, it struggles with POV, and doesn’t hit the blockbuster reset button on the original trilogy era some fans may have hoped for. Failing to deliver a gripping, galaxy-effecting storyline fans of the now-Legends era material will be drawn to, it’s success ultimately will come down to how much the individual reader enjoys Luke Skywalker character arcs.
3/26 - Keira Knightley
3/27 - Julian Glover
3/30 - Matt Doran
3/31 - Ewan McGregor
4/3 - Ben Mendelsohn
4/5 - Phil Brown
4/6 - Billy Dee Williams
4/6 - John Ratzenberger