Adventures on Kashyyyk! Did you have any idea that Wookiee coming-of-age rights would be so perilous? We figure we probably should have guessed—you don’t get to be as rocking as Chewbacca without going through it.
This week’s Young Jedi Knight reread is Darkest Knight! If you’re groaning at the word play, we’re not surprised, though the title is apt in this case. We get to meet Lowie’s sister in this one, and see exactly how Zekk is doing with that dark side scholarship he signed up for. Carnivorous plants are forthcoming.
Lowie and his friends heads home for the sake of Sirrakuk, his little sister—she’s about to endure her coming of age ceremony. For Wookiees, this means venturing into the underlevels of their homeworld Kashyyyk to complete a dangerous feat. Lowbacca was something of an overachiever that time around; he harvested fibers of the syren plant, a dangerous and carnivorous form of wildlife. His sister wants to do the same, and so does a friend of hers, Raabakyysh. Unfortunately, Raaba attempts this first and disappears. She is presumed dead.
Unbeknownst to Lowie and the crew, Zekk just happens to be heading up a mission for the Shadow Academy on the Wookiee homeworld. Zekk is going to raid a computer factory (how Kashyyyk is an ideal environment to have tech factories on, we had best not consider) for the Academy’s new fleet. See, Zekk recently killed Tamith Kai’s apprentice and earned himself the title of Darkest Knight as Brakiss’ right hand. But only if he can complete this mission and prove himself worthy.
The result has Zekk and the Nightsisters clashing with Jacen, Jaina, Tenel Ka, Sirrakuk, and Lowie in the dangerous underlevels. Jaina and Zekk go head to head, but Zekk cannot bring himself to harm her. Instead, he warns her of what is coming; the Shadow Academy is planning to attack the Jedi Praxeum shortly. During the skirmish, one of the Nightsisters is killed.
Lowie and his sister are dealing with Nightsister Vonnda Ra when they come across the syren plant. Vonnda Ra and Sirrakuk are both eaten alive by the thing, but Lowie pulls his sister back out, though not before she has the chance to harvest the fibers she intended to get for her coming of age passage. Now the young Jedi must head back to the Praxeum and prepare for the upcoming battle.
I’d forgotten how incredibly sexist this is—so here’s a Nightsister named Tamith Kai, who’s been using the Force forever, acting as Brakiss’ second as Shadow Academy recruitment starts. But Zekk has passed some training exercises and murdered an apprentice, so he gets the “Darkest Knight” title and the role of right hand. Brakiss, you’re a jerk. And also an idiot because one of the main reasons your whole ploy goes to pot is that you make this kid your second in command rather than people who have been using the Dark Side their entire lives.
You could actually make a really interesting in-universe argument for how badly both the Jedi and the Sith treat/view the Nightsisters. There’s a direct line that can be drawn between this and how “witches” have been viewed in our own history, so you can assume that some of this is absolutely intentional. Which really just makes me wish they went into it more. I kept hoping over the course of these books that Tamith Kai would eventually just take Brakiss out.
We’ve got the beginning of all this longing angst that goes down between Zekk and Jaina in their first fight. So very tragedy! This was really fun/horrible as a kid reader. It was everything you wanted out of your teen drama, like the soapy tv shows kids were watching in the 90s, but with more lightsabers! Of course Zekk can’t hurt Jaina. Too many feelings. I never enjoyed Dawson’s Creek or 90210, but I ate this stuff up like soft serve ice cream.
The view into Wookiee culture is fun on this one, even if it does feel a little rote to give them these I’m-the-toughest coming of age tests. On the other hand, I remember being completely captivated by the idea of living on a planet where you occupied a certain stratosphere because everything below it was MADE OF DEATH. Sort of like what would happen if it were easy for humans to delve to the deepest parts of the ocean. Really not a good idea to go down there.
The only problem with this installment is that it’s so obviously set-up for the big showdown coming in the next book—Praxeum versus Shadow! Yavin 4 fight! Explosion time! Once you see that outline, it becomes pretty hard to care about the specifics of this tale, particularly the goofy raid of the computer factory, which is so arbitrary you can see the puppet strings from space.
Hey Darkest Knight, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish, but Junior Jedi Knights (Anakin Solo’s young-readers equivalent to YJK) did a better job with the whole “Jedi trainees travel to exotic world for coming-of-age ceremony” trope. Upon my first and even second reads, I cared more about Anakin’s mermaid friend going all Finding Nemo than I did about Lowbacca’s sister’s spirit quest.
Ditto to Emily’s “puppet strings from space” line—this is so clearly a placeholder book, that you have to wonder why it made sense to publish it. We already knew that Zekk was the Shadow Academy’s star pupil that but even all the gold stars couldn’t stop him from longing for Jaina, so the one-two punch of his “Darkest Knight” promotion and his inability to hurt Jaina don’t land.
I don’t mean to sound so dismissive of this book, but it just felt as if the writers were stretching out the events into an extra adventure without anything of worth actually happening. Sure, it was freaky as hell when Vonnda Ra got eaten alive by the syren plant… but even the conclusion of that subplot, with Sirrakuk getting her syren fibers, seems pat. (Also, way to copy your brother’s coming-of-age ceremony.)
In writing this, I’ve realized part of what really grated on me about Darkest Knight: It’s ostensibly Lowie’s book, but he doesn’t get to be the star. This is especially tough coming off Lightsabers, where Tenel Ka redefined herself three times over. In Darkest Knight, Lowie—and the Solo twins, those hangers-on—are on Kashyyyk only briefly when trouble starts and they have to investigate. Instead of the Praxeum trainees swooping in to save the day, why not have had a book that better explores what it means to be a Force-sensitive Wookiee? Or how frustrating it is to have to communicate with your friends through a tiny, prissy droid communicator?
Yes, I know that Lowie gets his time to shine when the next arc starts up with all the Diversity Alliance ruckus. And yet, even that didn’t get me as invested in his character development as when he flirted with the dark side in Shadow Academy by getting dangerously angry during indoctrination. That rage gets smothered in subsequent books, almost as if it had never existed. Like the layers of Kashyyyk, there was a lot of depth for the writers to plumb, but for the most part, Lowie ends up feeling like a Chewbacca substitute.
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.