Why Star Wars: The New Jedi Order Is Still Important
Den of Geek takes a look back at the Star Wars: The New Jedi Order book series. Here's why it's still important.
Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for the Star Wars: The New Jedi Order series of novels.
Aliens invisible to the Force invade the galaxy with living weapons in The New Jedi Order, a colorful 19-book series that pushed the Star Wars universe out even further past the Original Trilogy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Especially with the Sequel Trilogy on the horizon, I wanted to take another deep dive into what was one of my favorite series as a teenager and re-read the books, finishing roughly one per month and blogging along the way. If I timed it right, I would finish well before The Force Awakens turned the Star Wars universe upside down. As it happened, I finished about the same time that Star Wars: Aftermath hit shelves, starting the story that would effectively replace the Legends universe.
I encountered The New Jedi Order soon after I saw the Star Wars films for the first time, meaning that the two were always strongly connected in my mind. Some people criticize the series for being too odd or too big, for giving so many different authors different parts of one big story. It worked for me when I was a teenager, though, and, with some exceptions, it works just as well now.
I started my re-read at the beginning with Vector Prime, creating my first blog post about the series on Dec. 14, 2013. About a year and a half later, I’ve read them all, not counting spin-off short stories and e-book exclusives. (If you can find the Emissary of the Void short story series from Star Wars Insider, check those out.)
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If you’re completely unfamiliar with the story, the basic premise is that the Yuuzhan Vong, pain-worshipping aliens from outside the galaxy, attack the New Republic. Along the way, Luke’s Jedi Order, including Han and Leia’s children Jaina, Jacen, and Anakin, is stretched thin and characters from a lot of other Star Wars books recur, although they’re established well enough that newcomers should be able to acclimate to them quite quickly.
Sometimes NJO even seems like a fond nod at the earlier Legends books, giving more gravitas to characters that were part of previous stories, particularly Kyp Durron, Ganner Rhysode, and Corran Horn. Malinza Thanas, the daughter of Gaeriel Captison from The Truce at Bakura, becomes tangled up in Jaina Solo’s adventures. Centerpoint Station, originally portrayed in the Corellian Trilogy, is a key part of both the war effort and Anakin and Jacen Solo’s development as people. The series also ties back to the Prequel Era. The novel Rogue Planet tells of Obi-Wan and Anakin encountering Zonama Sekot, the key to saving the galaxy in NJO.
Luke Skywalker himself is a critical character in the series, but not an incredibly active one. More often than fighting, he debates with his nephew Jacen about whether or not to use the Force to fight. His characterization is sometimes wildly undecided, perhaps due to the different authors contributing to the series. The most dramatic example of this is in the Enemy Lines duology, both by Aaron Alston (X-Wing series): while in the first book Luke silently judges young pilots for their inexperience, in the second he feels guilty for sending untested young people into battle. He and his wife Mara Jade have their own side plots, but are largely mentor figures to others, except when Mara is struck with a deadly disease. The Aaron Alston books are generally very strong, and include delightful scenes such as Mara singing a creepy, minor key version of a children’s song in order to comfort her strung-out strike team.
Han Solo has his own demons to cope with throughout the series, primarily the deaths of both Chewbacca, who is crushed by a moon in the very first book, and his youngest son Anakin, who sacrifices himself to save the rest of the members of a doomed Republic task force. The early books of the series give us Han on the run from his pain, although of course trouble follows him across the galaxy in the Agents of Chaos duology and he is quickly thrust back into the war.
Leia, like many of the books prior to NJO, plays the role of matriarch, as much a leader of her family as her brother Luke. We see her try to desperately save the New Republic from its inevitable self-destruction. Leia’s role in Star Wars has always been two-fold: as a gun-toting freedom fighter and a political powerhouse, and this is all on show in this series.
The New Jedi Order explored the Force in a different way than ever before, explaining exactly why the Yuuzhan Vong aren’t connected to the Force and introducing some bizarre, memorable new ideas. For example, it is explained in one instance late in the series that the Force used Jacen Solo as a conduit to defeat a major antagonist, suggesting that this mystical power could in turn use organic beings as puppets. This Force isn’t exactly the same as the one overseen by mysterious beings in The Clone Wars, although for a while, those two ideas existed in roughly the same universe.
One of the most critical events in the series was the formation of the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances from the remnants of the New Republic and Empire. The New Republic is portrayed as ineffectual and prone to in-fighting, the position of Chief of State open to people who would use it unwisely. The same Bothans who died to bring the Rebellion the Death Star plans are portrayed generally negatively as warmongers bent on ritual revenge. In the novel Destiny’s Way, after the New Republic gains one significant victory over the Yuuzhan Vong, the government is reorganized. It becomes the GFFA, the acronym a fun play on fans’ term for “the galaxy far, far away.”
The New Jedi Order is full of epic space battles, dramatic fight scenes, and strange aliens. Even when the series is dark – and it is dark – the characters and new sights contribute to its very Star Wars sense of wonder. The series truly spans the entire galaxy, and the beautifully illustrated maps included with the books help the reader explore along with it.
The Yuuzhan Vong themselves are frightening, equipped with oozing, moving, living weapons. Villains like the masochistic Warmaster Tsavong Lah and the brilliant deceiver Nom Anor are memorable both in their own right and as representatives of this unique, completely realized species that have their own hierarchy, religious beliefs, and customs. At times purely carnal and savage and at others so mystical in nature and method so as to lend the events of the series a surrealist tone, the Yuuzhan Vong should be ranked among the greatest villains and alien species created in the franchise.
The series also introduces a great mix of new characters with which to explore these new concepts. Vergere, a Force-sensitive alien captured by the Yuuzhan Vong, brings nuance and uncertainty to the philosophy of the Force in a way that makes both the reader and the characters think. Some of the most humorous scenes involve Saba Sebatyne, a reptilian Jedi Master, and her voracious younger relatives. Droma, an adventurous Ryn, becomes Han Solo’s co-pilot on the Falcon after the high-profile demise of Chewbacca.
A major difference between reading the series at 26 and reading it at 15 or so was my opinion of Alema, a Twi’lek Jedi who played a substantial role in NJO and the following series, Legacy of the Force. I remembered her as a stuck-up character bordering on the dark side, a prime example of the stereotype of a shallow, beautiful Twi’lek. The re-read showed a dramatic difference between what she was and what she could have been: she’s introduced as one of two sisters, who masqueraded as one human woman in order to lead a rebellion in secret. Alema’s sister is violently killed.
From there, Alema’s arc is not unlike Jaina Solo’s, as she becomes both a Jedi and an X-Wing pilot. It’s in Star by Star, one of the darkest Star Wars novels and one of the best in NJO, that Alema’s characterized as a one-dimensional part of a love triangle, jealous of Tahiri’s relationship with Anakin Solo. (For what it’s worth, Alema does go to the dark side in a later series.) Now that I’m not a teenager myself, I can see that she isn’t a bad person, just a badly treated character.
Legends & Revelations
The upcoming movies will replace what NJO once was, a gateway that opened countless new adventures for a new generation of heroes, filling up roughly the same place in the timeline, 30 years after the end of the Original Trilogy. From what we know about the Sequel Trilogy so far, it’s certain that the new Star Wars novels won’t borrow much from this series. I would be surprised and pleased if the Yuuzhan Vong appeared in the new canon, but they’re too disruptive, too emblematic of what came before. However, there might still be some similarities between NJO and the Sequel Trilogy. What if some of the new characters, bereft of last names for now, are Skywalker or Solo children? It’s a plausible assumption. If so, they might come across some of the same challenges that Jacen and Jaina did, questioning their heritage and the power and responsibility that came along with it.
I started re-reading the series for a couple of reasons. One is a bit simpler than the other. I wanted the pure entertainment of it, knew that I loved Jaina and the traumatized Jedi Tahiri and the Yuuzhan Vong scientist Nen Yim. The other motivation was more naval-gazing, perhaps more selfish. I wanted to know how my tastes had changed since I first read the series as a teenager. I wanted to know if there was any revelation to be had in it, anything that would teach me more about myself or my love for Star Wars in a way that was new, and, somehow, could serve as a springboard for whatever comes next.
There wasn’t, but the series seemed to acknowledge that, too. The Yuuzhan Vong shapers speak reverently of the Eighth Cortex, a locked repository of information that could transform their knowledge forever and grant them god-like abilities. Later in the series, Nen Yim finds out that the Eighth Cortex is empty. There is no secret weapon, no revelation to turn the tide of the war. My own relationship with fandom is like the Eighth Cortex. There isn’t any world-shaking secret in it. I just like the stories. And in reading the stories, it is affirmed that secrets aren’t the point. The cliches that say it’s about the journey and the people you meet along the way are right. I’ve had fun talking about The New Jedi Order, and with The Force Awakens just a few months away, I await the next adventure.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.