THOUGHTS IN SPACE
THOUGHTS IN SPACE
My how Star Wars has changed.
Back in June of 1995, a new Star Wars juvenile book series was launched by Kevin J. Anderson and his wife, Rebecca Moesta: Star Wars Young Jedi Knights Book 1: Heirs of the Force.
Although I was not a huge fan of Anderson's other Star Wars writing, what with the yokel characterization and campy plots, I was an obsessed Star Wars fan and a voracious reader, so, reflexively, into my brain Book 1 went, along with most of the books that followed.
I stumbled across the book recently while unpacking, and seeing it gave me considerable pause. Sure, thanks to the Disney era of the Star Wars franchise, this "sequel" continuity no longer exists. But, a book can't be wiped out, and I wondered, as a die-hard fan irritated by Disney’s sequel take, and as a father looking to get his own voracious reader into the world of Star Wars, how well, if at all, does this book stand up?
Turns out - yes, very much so.
The plot is about what you would expect. Twenty-three years after the events of A New Hope, Luke Skywalker has started a new Jedi Knight Academy on Yavin 4, the moon housing the secret Rebel base that launched the attack that resulted in the destruction of the first Death Start. Han and Leia’s two teenage kids, Jacen and Jaina, are students at the Academy and they, along with a friend named Tenel Ka, are excited when their father stops by for a visit and a deliveries Chewbacca’s nephew, Lowbacca, to the Academy. The group of young teenagers get along famously and before long are involved in some hijinks in the jungle surrounding the Academy involving a wrecked TIE Fighter and a mysterious figure.
If it sounds like the set-up to a bad after school special, that’s because it is – complete with ridiculous dialog, references to “funny” moments in the original trilogy, and a C-3PO version of Dr. Theopolis (Bee dee Bee dee - look it up, kids). Although not the worst thing I read in my “youth,” I recall not being enthused with it back in 1995. The paper-thin plot and repetitive identifying character traits were rough, but, again, it was Star Wars so I slogged through it.
As an adult, I can’t say my critical reaction differs much. The kids have no real personality beyond two-dimensional sketches of Jaina is a tom boy and Jacen is a quiet animal lover who cracks bad jokes. I can now see that the plot is akin to a Hardy Boys mystery where the kids’ collective curiosity gets them into trouble, and so they have to band together, and bond, in order to save each other and the day. Pretty mundane stuff that doesn't add much to the characters or the Star Wars universe at large (although, this changed in later years the characters grew up and had MAJOR impacts across the now defunct Star Wars Expanded Universe).
But, again, as an adult, while reading this, I realized that I am not the intended audience. And from the perspective of an eight-year-old, or older, I can see how this book, and the series, would be a blast. Kids exploring the world around them and earning each other’s trust, learning how to be responsible on their own, facing danger together – the stuff of classic juvenile fiction. Sure, the writing is crackerjack thin, but if Harry Potter taught us nothing else it is that excellent prose is not always required to have a rip-roaring yarn for kids.
But the true gem of this book is that it is leaps and bounds better than what has replaced it; the recycled, tired stories that the franchise is cranking out via the Rebels cartoon, The Force Awakens, and Rogue One. Unlike the current crop of stories, Heirs of the Force doesn’t rest on the original trilogy franchise, merely uses it as a springboard to tell its own story, and for that it is was well worth the read.
Which leaves me a bit shocked. For as much as I recall disliking this book, clearly time has healed all wounds, and I look forward to sharing the book with my son.
If you have a child who might be a budding fan, or is a fan, I highly encourage you to track down an inexpensive (used) copy on Amazon or eBay and blast off to a bygone era of ... better Star Wars.