It’s time for the Very Special Episode of the Young Jedi Knight books. It is also, unfortunately, the final installment of this series. Natalie and I are going to miss looking back on these weirdly formative adventures with all of you. They were a significant part of our childhood, and a funny corner of the Star Wars universe before everything went all… dark and stormy with the New Jedi Order.
So we finish on Crisis at Crystal Reef! Jacen still looks like Jonathan Taylor Thomas on the cover (seriously, what is going on?) and we’re going to be spending some time in the spice mines of Kessel (though he won’t be smashed into anything). People will get trapped in ice caps, but emerge much sooner than Captain America or Aang did in their respective narratives.
Anja Gallandro is very addicted to andris spice, no matter how much she may deny it. Eventually she runs out of her choice drug and decides to steal Zekk’s ship to get more of it. Unsurprisingly, her first stop is the spice mines of Kessel. Luke gives his li’l Jedi crew a mandate to retrieve Anja and help her out with that spice habit. Luke believes in the power of redemption, as we all know; he’s like Batman that way.
It would seem that in his many business dealings, Lando flat out purchased the spice mines a decade ago? He also installed his old Battle of Endor buddy, Nien Nunb, as the administrator. Nunb was responsible for making the drug mining operation a bit more respectable, i.e. making sure the workforce no longer relied on slave labor. He’s still in charge, but there have been assassination attempts on him, indicating that someone is trying to take over the operation. Anja is nowhere to be found, apparently having fled for Mon Calamari for unknown reasons. Jaina and Lowie stay on Kessel to protect Nunb, while Zekk, Tenel Ka, and Jacen track down their missing pal.
Cilghal (the Mon Calamari Jedi/senator) gets word from the kids and starts inquiries of her own at home before their arrival. She tracks Zekk’s ship to Crystal Reef, which is a resort city, and they find out that Anja is trying to get her hands on a submarine-type vehicle. They approach her in hopes that she’ll clue them into her jaunt, and she relents: Anja admits her addiction and that she had been working for Czethros—that bad bounty hunter who hates Han, like all the other bounty hunters in the galaxy—and the Black Sun. She tells them that she realized she had been used by them, and that it wasn’t right to hate the Solo family. She was planning to destroy a large cache of spice that Czethros has stored under a Mon Calamari ice cap.
In the meantime, Jaina and Lowie have to protect Nien Nunb from Czethros as he tries to take over Kessel. The guy is trying to strengthen the Black Sun by taking over various major galactic institutions, but Jaina and Lowie put a stop to his whole evil scheme by being generally awesome. Czethros sees the writing on the wall and jumps into a big bucket o’ carbonite.
Jacen, Tenel Ka, and Zekk join Anja on her trip, get harassed by a Great Arctic Skra’akan, and end up trapped in an ice cap for their trouble. At this point, Anja begins going through withdrawal. Luckily, Cilghal is on hand to help; she’s got super Jedi healing powers and pulls the toxins right out of Anja. After she’s doing better, the crew have enough time to break out of the ice cap, and get Zekk’s ship back to him.
The kids get back to Yavin 4, and Jacen gives Tenel Ka a pretty and pricey necklace, so it seems that he’s over his brief infatuation with Anja. The kids and their friends—Raynar, Lusa and Anja—are honored for their recent services to the New Republic. Anja takes a job with Lando, and the young Jedi wonder about their place in the future.
Not quite sure how an ice cap on Mon Calamari is an ideal location for a spice cache. It’s a horribly convenient plot device—thank goodness the spice is here so we can have access to the one adult Jedi known for healing abilities and fix our friend Anja’s addiction problem! Which unfortunately skips over the reality of withdrawal and the cyclical nature of addiction. It’s too bad that after starting out so promisingly with Anja’s arc, it’s so simply solved.
On the other hand, it’s nice that the adults don’t tell the teens to give up on their friend. Most guardians are worried over the security of their own kids and understandably want them to stay away from bad influences. Here, we get Luke insisting that the young Jedi believe in their friend’s ability to recover. Because Luke is the best. Yeah, I know, we’re here to talk about the kiddies, but reading these books always left me thinking about how great it would be to have Luke Skywalker for a family member. As if I didn’t love him enough already.
Why does Lando own the spice mines?! I need more information on this anyhow; the idea of the New Republic allowing the continued manufacture of spice instead of trying to crack down on production is interesting. How do they handle drug abuse in the Star Wars universe? Is it uncontrollable? Is it looked down on, but less likely to get you in legal trouble? Han running spice as a smuggler suggests it’s a high form of contraband, but who the heck regulates it? Are there spice cops? Who do they answer to? So many questions, I want a television series about spice cops now.
Not much of a climax, but then, these books weren’t really about big explosions and unmatchable stakes. They were just about growing up, plus lightsabers. Everything these kids faced was an analog for regular-type teen problems that most of us encountered at one point or another. And the series left us with some excellent characters, from Tenel Ka to Zekk. That was always half the fun of Star Wars books, getting to meet new characters in this universe who you could grow to love the same way you did the old crew.
The New Jedi Order was on the way, and that changed the tone for the Star Wars EU entirely. I understand why a darker direction was chosen after a great deal of lighter fare, but I will always miss the goofier sides to these kids. Knowing how great everything started out for them before their whole galaxy was upheaved sort of makes these stories bittersweet. I also have certain issues with how much their personalities changed once you hit Vector Prime, but that’s a story for another time.
So that’s the Young Jedi Knight series! Natalie and I have been having far too much fun going back through these with you—really, too much fun, our email chains are hilarious. If you ever want to get drunk with us and talk about any and all Star Wars books, I can guarantee you a memorable evening.
Can we briefly touch upon how the Solo twins are rocking the wetsuits on this cover? There’s something so… secret agent about that look, that’s kind of laughable when you think of all the covert missions they went on over the course of the YJK books. In fact, didn’t it ever occur to them that they would’ve stirred up less trouble if they’d adopted some sort of disguise, instead of blundering in as Han and Leia’s easily-recognizable offspring? Imagine the shenanigans they would’ve gotten into then!
…Anyway. Also, why is Luke taking up valuable cover space when he’s hardly in the book except to congratulate them on (spoiler alert) a job well done at the end? Seeing as this is the last book, I would’ve liked to see more of (in this order) Tenel Ka, Zekk, Em TeeDee, or withdrawal!Anja again. Ah well; I guess Luke has to get some credit for keeping the twins alive, especially after their final boss battle with Czethros.
Yay for seeing Nien Nunb again! Even if it is to mostly serve as a plot device, first narrowly avoiding assassination, and then providing the exposition our trainees need to travel to Crystal Reef. Well, half of them. I know that it made for twice the number of plot threads, but it was a bummer that Jacen and Jaina hardly ever got to actually work together over the course of this series. The only time they were present at the same fight, they were dueling each other! Maybe, if their adolescence had included less splitting up and more combining their unique talents, they wouldn’t have ended up on the Anakin Solo locked in a deadly lightsaber battle.
Anja’s last-minute face-heel turn always seemed a bit contrived, especially coming before Cilghal and co. helped her kick her andris spice habit. And as cheesy as the scene with everyone joining together to help her was, it does teach a solid lesson about relying on a support group to flush out damaging behaviors.
No surprise, the actual action of ditching the andris spice and defeating Czethros—and, I’m assuming, Black Sun’s strongest arm—came out rather anticlimactic. I’m not sure what Czethros’ plan was beyond throwing himself into the vat of carbonite. If the point was to evade capture, wasn’t he just prolonging it? In fact, he’s just made it incredibly easy for them to transport him, thaw him, and take advantage of his temporary blindness and other weakness to better interrogate him. Kind of an ignominious end for a supposed criminal mastermind. Black Sun clearly hires for street smarts but not book smarts…
Then it’s time for graduation on Yavin 4! Everyone’s an apprentice now; Luke earns his cover space by showing up to help the kids move their tassels, or hold up their sabers, or whatever ceremony happens. You can imagine that a bunch of parents who were going to send their kids to Luke’s Jedi academy are now super-hesitant, considering that his current class had to endure amputation, royal conspiracies, personal betrayals, three different terrorist organizations, awkward first kisses and romantic misunderstandings, and a hell of a lot more just to move up a grade.
At this point, The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime wouldn’t come out for a year or so, so it really was emotional to say goodbye to the Solo twins and their friends for what seemed like an eternity. (Speaking of the time in-between series, I totally forgot that Jaina became Mara Jade’s apprentice. Why aren’t there more EU books about these two?!) Clearly, the books don’t hold up as well as other EU adventures. But for what they were, they succeeded in teaching key life lessons about growing apart from friends, overcoming life-changing obstacles, learning to see your parents as flawed beings, and being OK with maybe not being a special, Force-sensitive Jedi trainee and instead finding other ways to stand out as a young adult.
And rereading the books still makes me want to scrounge around in my room until I find the makings for a lightsaber.
Emily Asher-Perrin is shocked that we got all the way through this reread without discussing the fact that both she and Natalie dressed up as Tenel Ka when they were kids. 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.