Book Review–Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi, a new canon novel

Heir to the Jedi Star Wars cover

This week will see the release of the third novel in the new Expanded Universe of Star Wars under Disney ownership, with Kevin Hearne’s Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi.  As with the first new canon novel Star Wars: A New Dawn, (previously reviewed here at the title carries some secondary meaning.  The first major tie-in novel years after Return of the Jedi was Timothy Zahn’s successful Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, and there is a certain subtle nostalgia element to the similar title here.  The novel recounts some solo missions by Luke Skywalker after he destroys the Death Star at the end of A New Hope, and it is all told by Hearne in the first person voice.

Telling a story from the first person viewpoint takes some real mastery, and if not done right it can result in some clunky storytelling issues.  Telling a story from the mind of a key character like Luke Skywalker brings with it its own problems.  The biggest is that everyone who grew up with Luke has their own view of what makes the character tick, and giving readers a canon view–a “this is the right and only view of Luke”–perspective makes it easy to throw off a segment of readers.  Although I think Heir to the Jedi will certainly appeal to a new generation of readers, particularly those who have not read several of the newly labeled Legends novels, Hearne gives us a Luke that is not altogether that likeable, smart, or savvy a hero as you might hope for.

This may be because Luke is too close to being that whiny farmboy in A New Hope.  It could be because he has no mentor now that Obi-Wan is dead.  Too many times I had to ask myself, “would Luke really say or think that?” or “Would Luke act that way?”  As an example, by the events of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke seems to have a real friendship with astromech droid R2-D2.  Yet here, he seems to treat R2 like an appliance or a tool, albeit a valuable one.  I had similar issues in the seventh Harry Potter novel with Harry’s response to the death of his owl Hedwig–Harry barely seemed to react at all, despite his earlier devotion to his good feathered friend.  I didn’t see the same camaraderie here between Luke and R2 as we find in The Empire Strikes Back.  And choices of American words as opposed to George Lucas’s more British dialect in the films like Luke choosing to eat a “cookie” vs. the British “biscuit” stopped me a few times, too.

Examples of the first-person construction foible of “too much telling, not enough showing” result in an abundance of dialogue to explain away those events that happen outside the eyesight of Luke in the novel.  Action that occurs is often abrupt, and it’s hard not to wish Luke was instead operating with our familiar cast of characters.  We see Princess Leia and Admiral Ackbar, who set Luke on his missions, but only briefly.  Luke is someone who is better for his friendships.  Without them his actions don’t always seem quite right–for example, Luke does not seem very conscientious about killing.  He seems singularly focused on his absent father and a vague desire to be a Jedi based on the snippets learned from Obi-Wan.

Heir to the Jedi cover art

Then there’s the elephant in the room: the fact that our heroes are rebels–terrorists.  After Luke takes a rebel fighter and destroys an entire space station under the established power–under the Empire–Skywalker becomes a household word across the galaxy.  Why?  Is that very smart?  We know Vader knows who he is in The Empire Strikes Back, but I’d always assumed that was after some digging on the part of the Empire.  Why didn’t the rebels keep his name secret?  Or if it is important for future canon planning, why was it important to divulge?  John Jackson Miller’s Star Wars: A New Dawn seemed to better address the handling of the rebels vs. the Empire as a good vs. evil proposition.

Luke seems to already be a hero and leader at the beginning of Heir to the Jedi.  He was a farmboy only yesterday, and is much in need of some type of interim mentor to get him from the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.  If these events are happening right after A New Hope, then that also means Luke can’t yet be that knowledgeable about what makes Han Solo tick, enough to liken the actions of others to him so frequently.  We need to know more of how Luke got from there to here.

The novel being a solo character story raises a concern over one-shot movies being planned by Disney to focus on single characters like Han Solo or Boba Fett.  Just like I don’t want to see a movie about the backstory of Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name,” I don’t think everything that would happen in the past to any fully realized character is something that would be worthy of its own story.  It’s exactly the problem that plagued the Star Wars prequels–nothing was left to the imagination and we were force fed all there was to learn about Darth Vader’s past.  And unfortunately, Heir to the Jedi has more in common with the vision of the Star Wars universe in the prequels than in the original trilogy–too many plot points around business dealings and corporations instead of a more powerful theme like a group in power tormenting an oppressed minority, the theme that made us cheer on the rebels in the first place.

That said, solo stories can be good.  Take the second book in the new Star Wars canon, for example, Tarkin, reviewed last year here at  Author James Luceno really fleshed out a character that we barely saw onscreen.  It may be Luke is too big–and too important to the Star Wars mythos–to carry forward a story that isn’t critical to the future of the character as seen in the fifth and sixth film episodes.  Because other writers aren’t confined to the limitations of writing between two events like episodes four and five as Hearne was here, the greater freedom may have allowed the former Expanded Universe stories that took place after Return of the Jedi to be so much easier to digest.

A year ago I interviewed author Tim Lebbon here at on his novel Alien: Out of the Shadows, which took place between the first two Alien movies.  He was allowed to wake up Ellen Ripley from a deep sleep and use her in his story, despite that seeming impossible for anyone who has seen the films.  As preposterous as the premise might have been, the result was a far more exciting an entertaining romp for the hero of the franchise.  Clearly Hearne was not given much room to budge outside the few missions allowed of Luke in his novel, and a few new characters that seem unlikely to carry on beyond his story.  So it is difficult to feel a lot is at stake here.

As part of the new Star Wars canon, you’ll want to read Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi to keep up with the series, and fans of Luke will want to find out for themselves whether this is the Luke they know and love.  Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi is available for pre-order now at here, with a release date of March 2015.  You can read a sampler of the novel here.

C.J. Bunce

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