Ready to find out about a special friend you never knew Jacen and Jaina had? It’s time to meet Zekk and go on vacation and all sorts of other fun stuff because the Young Jedi Knights Reread is back with The Lost Ones!
We hope you missed the Shadow Academy because they’re up to their old tricks! (Actually, they’re new tricks if we’re being real honest here, and we should be honest since the Shadow Academy is trying really hard, you guys.) Recruitment is up, or it’s about to be up by at least one. And diplomatic functions are an easy place to get made fun of, so watch out for that next time you find yourself at one.
Jaina and Jacen take their Praxeum friends on a little vacay (why it’s already time for R&R, we have no idea) to Coruscant and meet up with an old friend of the twins—Zekk, an orphan who used to live on the streets. He takes them to the undercity where he’s taken up scavenging for cool abandoned trash because sometimes there’s money in it and he doesn’t exactly have a lot of prospects. Zekk lives with an older man named Peckhum, who’s been keeping an eye on him since he lost his family. The old guy works on one of Coruscant’s Orbital Solar Energy Transfer Satellites for a living.
While Zekk is out with the Jedi-training crew, they encounter a nasty teenaged gang known as the Lost Ones. Sort of like the Lost Boys, but meaner. The twins want Zekk to attend an ambassador banquet with them, so Zekk tries to get himself some sensible clothes. When he arrives, Threepio makes him feel unfashionable because protocol droids are apparently not very good at being diplomatic? Zekk kind of makes an idiot of himself at the banquet by mistaking flowers for a salad and eating them. When he realizes his error, he understandably feels ridiculous and leaves the Imperial Palace without a word.
Then he gets kidnapped! By Tamith Kai, who has a Force-registering device on her person because how else is she supposed to recruit kiddies? She introduces Zekk to Brakiss, who tells Zekk the good news—he’s Force-sensitive! The bad news is that his life kinda sucks. The best news is the Brakiss can fix that! By teaching him how to use the Force and be cool like his friends. Those crappy friends who came back from their new school too good for him. Maybe he should just ditch those friends and realize his potential with Brakiss, who is a much cooler guy.
Zekk is not impervious to this approach.
Jacen and Jaina are worried about their buddy, since they know the party didn’t go too well for him. Then Peckhum shows up and tells them Zekk hasn’t come home, and they get more worried. Jacen and Tenel Ka go looking for him in the undercity while Lowie and Jaina help Peckhum at his satellite job, which is super convenient because it means they’re cataloging space debris around Coruscant as they go. (This is super fun for kids. It’s like surfing for Coruscant teenagers. Don’t ask.)
Jacen and Tenel Ka find Zekk trying to recruit the Lost Ones to the Second Imperium with Tamith Kai standing by and are suitably shocked. At the same time Lowie and Jaina figure out that the Shadow Academy is hiding near Coruscant, but before the New Republic Fleet can come into contact with them, the Academy is gone. They leave behind a pod with a message from Zekk for the twins; he’s joining Brakiss and will train to become s Dark Jedi.
Okay, I would like to point out that this is the beginning of Jaina’s very questionable taste in men. She has a tendency to go for bad boys, but unlike her mother puts maybe a little too much faith in guys who don’t really have Han’s secret heart of platinum? It’s a problem. (Kyp is obviously the most not okay choice here. Zekk is less surprising and more age-appropriate.)
Of course, Zekk is an interesting friend to throw into the mix for this group—the twins are pretty darn privileged given their upbringing, and it works to drive some of Zekk’s paranoia in a way that doesn’t feel far-fetched. The fact that no one notices he is Force-sensitive is a bit ridiculous, especially when you know that Luke has actively sought out recruits for a while now. No one sensed a glimmer? Nothing? Also, they never thought to maybe help their buddy out by offering him a nicer job, or some helpful tutoring? Guys, if you’re that close, you could maybe reach out a bit. I don’t care how proud Zekk is. You are making the class gap even more pronounced and it’s really uncomfortable.
Though really, the people I want to have a chat with are Zekk’s parents. Because not only is your stuff not as important as your life (they die trying to nab their furniture or something from their highly unstable planet), but dying for that definitely gives your kid a complex about how important he was to you. Also, you know, one of you could have stayed with him? Just in case the other didn’t make it? You guys are jerks.
In the end, it’s pretty transparent why this character shows up out of the blue: it’s to make the fight against the Shadow Academy personal. It’s one thing to fight off Luke’s former student, but there was no one directly tied to the twins that would hurt them badly enough when things heated up. I remember really loving Zekk as a character when I was a kid, so it did work in their favor.
I adore Leia and Anakin’s cameos in this one, particularly watching Leia’s diplomacy at work when she has her whole family eat the flowers to assure Zekk after his mistake at the banquet. It’s so appropriate to her professional background and also to being a good mother, which she is. It’s nice having Anakin there because he’s kind of my favorite Solo kid, so I’m biased. Sorry twins. I always imagined there was a kind of loneliness for Anakin because his older siblings were twins and inclined to confide in each other, and do everything together. I wonder if it didn’t get to him sometimes, so I’m always happy when they bring him in on the fun.
Another of my favorite elements here is getting more of a chance to see the undercity. Coruscant has so many levels, so many stratospheres of society literally laid out by floors on buildings. It’s pretty mad to consider how many people must wander its streets anonymously, and how many kids like Zekk are out there. The Lost Ones themselves harken back to Lost Boys, and you have to figure that they are one example in what has to be thousands of small gangs, kids just struggling to stay alive. We know the New Republic has a lot going on for it, but don’t you sometimes wonder who was looking into those issues? The answer is, for the moment, no one. And it gives the Shadow Academy the perfect window.
Seeing as I was a tad younger than the Solo twins when I read these books, of course I always had a crush on Zekk. Even through the New Jedi Order and after Jaina married Jagged Fel, I always ‘shipped her and Zekk the hardest. He was just so angsty! The ultimate boy from the wrong side of the tracks—or, here, the wrong side of Coruscant.
Seriously, though: this character, who I imagine was created mostly as a foil to Jacen and Jaina, actually got me thinking more about The Lost Ones than I ever anticipated. I figure Emily can speak more to the class structures on Coruscant and how this book started to lay the groundwork for the planet’s place in future EU novels. My biggest takeaway, however, was in Zekk’s story. Although the way he was introduced was kind of awkward in that “oh, he’s been here the whole time” trope, he provided a worthwhile contrast.
Like I said in our reread of Heirs of the Force, the Solo twins shied dangerously close to Mary Sue status several times over the course of the YJK series. Clearly, I idolized these two as a kid, with their idyllic existence on Yavin 4 interrupted by exciting mini-adventures (kidnapping, cool! Shadow Academy, creepy!) that only reinforced how darn important they were to the galaxy. Plus, having Han and Leia for your parents must’ve been pretty great.
Then there’s Zekk, who was born on a planet that self-destructs every eight years. (If that isn’t a metaphor for an unstable childhood, I don’t know what is.) His parents died trying to recover their possessions before meeting him up in orbit, leaving him orphaned until he got picked up by the spacer Peckham.
And as much as Peckham tried to make a good life for Zekk in Coruscant’s undercity, he can’t offer him any future beyond being a trash collector. Then he hangs out with the Solos again, who are suddenly too good to chase hawk-bats and have all their dumb stories of gem-diving and almost turning to the dark side.
When Tamith Kai kidnaps Zekk and Brakiss informs him that he too is Force-sensitive… I welled up a little. Finally, Zekk has something the twins do—something you can’t buy with money or diplomacy. And then, of course, he thinks that turning to the dark side will give him an even greater edge on them.
Before the reread, I thought I remembered this book as having some big battle where Zekk gets returned to Coruscant after his brief taste of freedom. But no, the book ends with him escaping with the Shadow Academy to continue his training. Weird as it sounds, this discovery was like reading the book for the first time. My stomach dropped when Zekk left his message breaking ties with his childhood friends. Because before the Star Wars EU would write about moon/planet collisions and hive-mind aliens, sometimes it delved into totally non-sci-fi themes like class and exclusion.
Emily Asher-Perrin wants everyone to really think for a moment about just how horrifying a propaganda-spouting protocol droid would be, and then get back to her. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.
Natalie Zutter is the editor of all things geek over at Bookish. She is a playwright, foodie, and the co-creator of Leftovers, a webcomic about food trucks in the zombie apocalypse. Her writing has also appeared on Ology and Crushable. You can find her commenting on pop culture on Twitter.