The Luke Skywalker of A New Hope gave the Star Wars Original Trilogy a particular flavor. He was a farmboy, a kind, nonthreatening hero with inner strength, just as liable to ask “What’s that flashing?” as to destroy a Death Star.
The Luke Skywalker of Heir to the Jedi is someone different: more observant, more didactic and clinical. Luke’s early, lonely Jedi training threads throughout the story. Author Kevin Hearne skillfully shows what Luke might have thought and misunderstood about the Jedi based on his only source of information, Ben Kenobi. The story is simplistic and at times, cliched, though, with an awkwardness that feels unintentional, not like a conscious characterization of the narrow worldview of the boy from Tatooine. At times, I was lulled into being entertained, as the plot jerked from one adventure to another.
Luke and Nakari, a Rebel operative, are tasked with finding Drusil, an alien mathematician. The Rebellion has agreed to help Drusil free her family from the Empire if she provides them information that can help crack Imperial codes, but first Luke and Nakari must help Nakari’s father, an eccentric, wealthy entrepreneur, find out what happened to a missing survey team.
By the numbers, Heir to the Jedi has an impressive amount of varied characters. Nakari is a black woman, and many significant characters are female. Nakari’s father has a distinct, goofy personality. Drusil, the Givin mathematician, has unique strengths and an engaging, consistent cultural perspective reflected in the equations decorating the chapter numbers.
It isn’t a good thing that most of the characters sound like the mathematically precise Givin, though. Both dialogue and Luke’s thoughts sound clinical: “All I can do is set him on a pedestal.” There is a clarity to Luke that feels unreal, since his thoughts sound more like diagnosis than natural processes. At one point he thinks, “I was smitten.”
The first-person perspective is a rarity in Star Wars, and it doesn’t establish a strong voice for Luke here. Instead, the story seems at times to be almost epistolary, with Luke addressing an invisible reader to explain the workings of a stun blaster or his own mindset. The reader’s role as student or therapist never becomes significant, though, making the first-person perspective feel extraneous. Fight scenes are choppy and full of digressions, and the gory violence made more alarming by its lack of heft.
The first chapter exhibits the book’s weaknesses right away, but also provides the best character moments for Luke. He is at his kindest in the beginning, before people start handing him weapons (and, eventually, everyone does). The book escapes the trap of forcing Luke to immediately think his female co-star is beautiful, and instead, he ogles her starship. After that, though, came the first big disconnect for me. When he finds out that Nakari hails from an Outer Rim desert planet, he’s fascinated, even though Tatooine in A New Hope bored him.
Nakari comes from a transparently familiar background and is set up as an obvious parallel for Luke. She’s a more accomplished person, having joined the Rebellion as a sharpshooter while still under the protective umbrella of her father’s company, and having once slain a krayt dragon. She sees her starship from the same perspective as Luke: “She clearly understood why ships were important: They take you away from the desert, even if it’s for just a little while.” The connection is made through shared understanding, but not shared dislike, emphasizing Luke’s escape from Tatooine rather than his anger about having grown up in the middle of nowhere.
And that is in-character for him: he does not tend to anger. The problem is that the prose gets to the heart of Luke’s early story too bluntly. For that reason, the book might be a good one for younger fan or for those new to Star Wars. It clearly lays out Luke’s motives, as well as the workings of the Star Wars universe. For fans who have seen the movies even once, the repetition feels unnecessarily simplistic and plodding.
The book tries to put a unique stamp on Luke’s characterization: one of the better examples is a sentence in which Luke thinks that, as a Tatooine boy, he isn’t used to seeing so many city lights. Other references are clumsy: Luke wonders aloud to himself what happened to the power converters he was supposed to pick up from Tosche Station. It could be funny and clever, but there are enough references elsewhere to notable, oft-quoted scenes from A New Hope that instead it comes off as an unintentionally corny, immersion-breaking wink instead. Heir to the Jedi is afflicted with fictional characters’ tendencies to have perfect memories of the same things the fans do.
One place in which this was not the case was the book’s treatment of Leia. She briefly serves as an advisor to Luke and always seems to have her own concerns and missions. She also has one of the best lines in the book: “When you get betrayed, it’s never by someone who looks like Vader.”
Likewise, Luke shows his mother’s heritage by being as good at diplomacy as Leia. His diplomatic missions are generally easy, and maybe that’s part of Luke’s worth as a diplomat: his earnestness, his trustworthiness, the value of his name as a representative of the Rebellion. Maybe that is why people hand him weapons without fear.
Nakari and Drusil are set up as the friends who help Luke understand the Force in Obi-Wan’s absence, and that growth is the most powerful part of the book. Luke’s discovery that the Force can be used for telekinesis – something never shown in A New Hope – was clever and memorable. It was also plagued with silliness, as Luke focuses on moving a wet noodle.
In general, the prose is awkward and bland, the finale tiresome and predictable. There is a general stereotype that tie-in novels are simplistic, adolescent, and cliched. While some franchise novels have been excellent, Heir to the Jedi does nothing to disprove that.