Star Wars: Master & Apprentice Review

Claudia Gray's latest Star Wars novel, Master & Apprentice, explores the relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Our review...

Star Wars: Master and Apprentice Review

Although Claudia Gray’s new Star Wars novel, Master & Apprentice, is the first of a new crop of Prequel stories, it feels regressive. Gray previously penned Bloodline, one of the most well-crafted Star Wars books of the new canon, but Master & Apprentice can’t compete with Bloodline’s tense reveals. Instead, it’s flat, even as it investigates some big topics like Jedi prophecy. 

In the book, which is set many years before The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are sent to negotiate a treaty on the planet Pijal. It might be their last mission together since Qui-Gon has been invited to join the Jedi Council, where he will not be able to train an individual apprentice. They’re joined by two jewel thieves, Rahara and Pax, as well as Rael, a rough-around-the-edges Jedi.

Instead of elevating what existed in the Prequels, Master & Apprentice leans into the worst things about them: unexciting political ideas delivered in talky bursts of stiff dialogue. Characters’ modes of speaking are distinct enough, but what they have to say feels empty.

This may be because the characters don’t really like one another. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon clash in The Phantom Menace, with Obi-Wan a stuffy skeptic to Qui-Gon’s free-wheeling belief in prophecy. But they at least seem to be loyal to one another. Obi-Wan wants to remain Qui-Gon’s apprentice in Master & Apprentice, but we never really see why: the two don’t get along, and there is no threatening alternative if they don’t stay together.

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Further Reading: Why Star Wars Episode IX Shouldn’t Change Rey’s Origin

In the Legends canon Jude Watson Jedi Apprentice series, Obi-Wan was on the verge of being removed from the Jedi Order proper and made a farmer in the AgriCorps, generally considered both an honor and a life sentence for weak Force users. There’s no such tension here. I was not convinced that staying with Qui-Gon was best for him. Overall, it feels like this Obi-Wan exists in a vacuum. His friends are mentioned, but never detailed. The novel never effectively establishes what he has to lose before he heads off to Pijal. 

Perhaps Obi-Wan is too stuffy to feel deeply about the Jedi Order, but the relationship between Qui-Gon and Count Dooku is just as bloodless. There’s some irony in knowing Dooku’s eventual turn to the dark side, and some weight to Qui-Gon’s rather desperate younger-sibling type friendship with Rael, but too much is told without being shown. It’s one of those cases in which I kept begging for the characters to just talk to one another honestly. 

That brings us to one of the book’s biggest problems: the side characters. Rael is a Jedi who, the book bluntly states, “had never given a damn about etiquette.” We know this because he wears ragged clothes, races for fun, and sleeps with a woman — all shortcuts that don’t get deeper than the general idea of a “rogue with a tragic past.”

Further Reading: What the Emperor’s Return Means for Rey in Star Wars Episode IX

To be fair, it would be difficult for any side characters to compete with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, especially when the other contestant is Pax, a jewel smuggler raised by protocol droids. It isn’t as funny as it sounds and probably would have been better played for laughs. Instead, an attempt at pathos falls flat while Pax intentionally antagonizes his lone crewmate because he’s used to being the center of the universe.

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As is the case with the Jedi, it’s hard to care about these people when I’m not convinced they care about each other. Why is the relationship between Pax and his copilot Rahara worth saving if they’re obviously so dysfunctional? There’s something to be said here for how emotionally distant people, many of whom are part of the Jedi Order, create these snappish, mistrusting relationships. But the book’s tone doesn’t treat this as a tragedy. 

The book has technical problems, too. In some scenes, it is difficult to tell how many people are supposed to be present. Locations are introduced but only described chapters later. During an action scene, two paragraphs go by with hardly a verb.

Further Reading: Star Wars Episode IX Will Be the Last Star Wars Movie for a While

Master & Apprentice might have something substantial to say about slavery in the galaxy far, far away. Rahara is a former slave. It slowly dawns on the Jedi that they shouldn’t be helping the princess who tacitly condones Czerka Corporation’s trade in people. Like Padmé’s work in Queen’s Shadow, it’s nice to see characters decisively try to solve this problem instead of just letting it lurk on planets like Tatooine. But Rahara has so little to do in the story, and the character’s political message is, like the Prequels’, a bit muddled. 

There’s also an interesting conversation about freedom and the Jedi: “It’s very hard for most of us to determine whether we choose [being Jedi] freely, being raised as we were,”  one says. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon both push back against their mentors, which calls ahead to Anakin. Another strength is in Obi-Wan’s perspective on the world as compared to what we know is coming for him. He thinks lightsaber duels are so rare as to be almost an absurd idea, a great observation that casts the duels in The Phantom Menace in a slightly different light. 

With the Prequel story and its marketing push long over, the new canon books that deal with that era are free to dive directly into the corruption of the Old Republic Jedi Order in their own way. But Master & Apprentice is set too early, or commits too much to its unappealing characters, to dig into those ideas. At best, it parallels them. The intrigue and warm characters of Bloodline are nowhere to be found here.

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I wanted to root for this book. If I squint, I can see the merit in its prickly relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon’s changing attitude towards prophecy. But nearly everything in between falls flat. Try Bloodline instead.

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Megan Crouse writes about Star Wars and pop culture for StarWars.com, Star Wars Insider, and Den of Geek. Read more of her work here. Find her on Twitter @blogfullofwords.

Rating:

2 out of 5