Thu
Apr 24 2014 9:00am

The Best Star Wars Book, or the Best Star Wars Novel? Stackpole’s I, Jedi

Star Wars I Jedi Micheal Stackpole Today, I doubt anybody would let Michael A. Stackpole get away with what he did in 1998. If you were to ask me, right now in 2014, what I thought of a Star Wars novel written in the first person featuring a character who never appears in any of the novels movies, running through a plot which retcons events of beloved novels from a few years before, I’d say there’s zero market for such a book.

I, Jedi is a niche inside of a niche inside of niche, which is actually why it’s wonderful. And though it might not be the best Star Wars book of them all, it is easily the best Star Wars novel.

With the first X-Wing book—Rogue SquadronI mentioned the very reasonable concern someone might have that these books are nothing more than marketing tie-ins to create more interest in popular video games. And while the Star Wars expanded universe certainly is guilty of creating a few characters and storylines which seem designed only to get certain people to buy toys and trading cards (Dash Rendar?) I think I, Jedi firmly establishes Stackpole’s Corran Horn as his own kind of literary hero. Sure, Corran is derivative of some sort of ex-space cop character who blends both the jaded qualities of Han Solo with the good-heartedness of Luke Skywalker, but hey, you knew this was derivative because it’s a Star Wars novel.

What do these kinds of novels have going against them when placed under the tweedy microscope of “serious” literary criticism? Everything! Novels which take place in an established pop-media universe are occasionally seen as decent science fiction novels, but few literary critics would touch a Star Wars book—of any kind—with even a crappy toy lightsaber. But if a tie-in media book is a like a fighter pilot with one purpose, then a tie-in media novel that tries to be something more is like... an aspiring Jedi!

Michael A. Stackpole’s I, Jedi is the only (ONLY!) Star Wars novel to be written in a first-person character perspective. According to Stackpole’s preface, he also wrote this novel in the span of one-month. Take that, NanoWrimo! This point-of-view flip does our narrator Corran Horn nothing but favors as we finally get to know this guy the way we never thought we could. It also makes I, Jedi feel important and urgent and bizarrely more cinematic than any of its third-person compatriots. Whether we’re talking about The Hunger Games or the original Sherlock Holmes stories or Moby Dick, sometimes the easiest way to get us into a story is to bring us as close to the character as possible.

The plot of I, Jedi is also compelling as hell. While a good deal of the middle portion of the novel is a straight-up sideways sequel retcon thingamabob to Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy Trilogy, the initial set up involves pretty solid personal stakes for Corran Horn. His wife Mirax has gone missing on a convert smuggling mission for the New Republic, which is a real drag for Corran because he’s just convinced himself how much he’s down with starting a family with her!

With Horn, Stackpole created a fantastic sort of unlikely action-adventure hero: someone who is in their early thirties who is trying to make good life decisions. Corran Horn is supposed to be about Luke Skywalker’s age, meaning we’re not dealing with someone who is a wide-eyed youth, but instead a grown-up with grown-up problems. I know most of us don’t have to worry about a Star Destroyer landing on our apartment (remember Dark Empire? Apparently Mirax and Corran’s house got smooshed) but it is notable that there’s nothing young, sexy, or rebellious about Corran at this point. He’s a regular guy who wants to start a family and possibly get a better job (Jedi), even though the one he has is pretty good (Rogue Squadron).

Corran’s decision to join Luke’s Jedi Academy—and in essence, insinuate himself into a series of books in which he didn’t originally appear—does come across as a little cheap. But because this novel is in such dangerous territory with the fans already by being in such a unique format for a Star Wars book, I almost view the previously established events as a kind of anchor Stackpole is using to make everybody happy. And though I’ve mentioned it before, you’ve really got to hand it to all of these EU writers for at least trying to make all the continuity of the previously established stories make a little bit of sense. In I, Jedi, Stackpole manages to reconcile numerous storylines for the Rouge Squadron comics, mention Dark Empire, totally sync up with The Thrawn Trilogy, and of course, continue storylines he himself originated with the X-Wing books.

Did Corran Horn deserve his own unique Star Wars book? Was his story interesting enough? Was his character unique enough, different enough from other Star Wars characters to get his own special literary moment? Not at all, but that’s exactly why he’s a perfect choice for the subject of a novel. A novel is novel because it’s novel, meaning different. The universe of Star Wars is populated by archetypes and clichés, which is part of why it’s so deliciously derivative. Being excitingly cliché is part of what makes Star Wars Star Wars, but for one moment Michael A. Stackpole decided this world could be something more, something more normal, and relatable. Explosions and cloned emperors and spirits of dark Jedi are all good and fun, but what if it was a regular person battling all of that? What if it was you? I, Jedi comes the closest to answering those questions of possibly any Star Wars expanded universe thing, ever.

And that’s pretty novel.


Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com

31 comments
Colin R
1. Colin R
I guess I'm an outlier, but I was thoroughly unimpressed with this book when I read it. Which admittedly, was over a decade ago.

I've got a bias against first-person narrative that isn't used well. Star Wars, to me, seems like entirely the wrong genre for the style--first-person narrative is generally one that either is deeply introspective, where the internal world of the character is more important than the external action; or it is intentionally being used to restrict the viewpoint that an omniscient narrator brings, either because the story is supposed to be mysterious to both the protagonist and the reader, or because the protagonist's honesty and objectivity is supposed to be questionable.

I didn't get any of that out of this book. It's a straightforward Space Opera story, just told from a different perspective. And the perspective is one of a character I just don't find very interesting.
Chris Nelly
2. Aeryl
This is the ONLY Corran Horn solo novel I've read, as I skipped the rest of the Rogue Squadron series(and boy did that leave me confused in the NJO series), and it was good. It kinda makes the Jedi Academy trilogy better, and it has Mara, and Mara makes everything better.
Colin R
3. Theo16
Definitely my favorite Star Wars book, but it's been a while. The thing that mostly sticks out looking back is that I was thrilled that even some in-universe characters thought the Kevin Anderson books sucked.
Adam Bodestyne
4. thanners
Definitely been a long time since I read this book, but I seem to recall feeling somehow annoyed by his sneaky insertion into other places, while ultimately enjoying the novel.
Anthony Pero
5. anthonypero
I hated the novel, due to my bias against first-person narratives. To date, the only first person narratives I actually enjoyed was the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey
Colin R
6. swtorlp.weebly.com
I wonder if Italian reader would ever see a translation of it or if we could just read in english.

It's not a problem for me to read in english, but I'd like to share book and make other read it and a lot of my friends don't like to read in english.
Colin R
7. KatherineW
This is one of my favourite Star Wars novels.

In the first place, I enjoy Coran as a character in it, for one particular reason that the first-person perspective facilitates: he's introspective. He doesn't just do things, he thinks about why he does them and puts effort into understanding the emotions and lines of thought that have sent him down particular paths. And sometimes he's wrong despite his introspection, and doesn't realize it until later in the book. He's able to recognize his personality flaws, and still be influenced by them, but realize (sometimes belatedly) that he's being influenced by them. He feels like a actual person trying to figure out what's best to do.

I like the retcon of some parts of the Jedi Academy trilogy because the Jedi Academy trilogy is pretty terrible, and the retcon is effective in pointing out some of its problems (and particular, in casting a light on Kyp's culpability for his actions, and Luke's errors as a teacher). And it doesn't make the mistake of trying to make Corran central to the Academy plot - he only has a minor role in foiling Exar Kun, but that role is a major part of Corran's personal story and development as a Jedi.

His challenges in trying to maintain a cover among the pirates are well-written, and his antics on Courkrous - where he's basically being Space Batman - are fun to read. "Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot", indeed.
Chris Hawks
8. SaltManZ
"featuring a character who never appears in any of the novels"
I'm...not entirely sure what you mean by this? He appeared in 5 of the X-Wing novels prior to I, Jedi. And tons of them afterward.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
9. Lisamarie
I caught that too, I assume he meant 'movies'.

Anyway, I love that - the Star Wars universe is a big place! And I think it's cool to see events and characters from a different perspective. Even though I don't like every single new Star Wars book that comes out, I love that there are all sorts of types of books and genres within the Star Wars EU. Even if the events are just other novels, not necessarily the movies. (I still love the Anderson novels - they are so much of a core of what I think of the Star Wars canon is in terms of the characters and worldbuilding, even if they are bad. I will probably never re read them because I don't want to realize how bad they are, haha).
Colin R
10. Stefan (Civilian Reader)
I read this when it first came out in paperback in the UK (I think - it's been a while). Loved it. At the time, I was going on a SW novel-reading binge, and basically caught up. Loved a lot of the pre-New Jedi Order novels. Everything since has been... middling, on average. With some stand-outs. The long, 18-, 9-, and 9-book story-arcs were kind of exhausting, and felt seriously drawn out. Think I'll have to go back and do a re-read of some of my favourites from the earlier part of the timeline (Kevin J Anderson's, Tim Zahn's, etc.).
Jonah Feldman
11. relogical
This book should be terrible. Corran is a massive Mary Sue- he's a fighter pilot, AND a detective, AND a Jedi, AND he hijacks the plot of the Jedi Academy Trilogy to make it about him. And yet Stackpole's take is smarter, while only taking up half the book's length. The second half, IIRC, is pretty strong too, though I assume the backstory involving the Sith cult defeated by Corran's grandfather and a guy who's probably Obi-Wan during the Clone Wars has been bulldozed by prequel canon.
Dave Thompson
12. DKT
Yeah, I really should read this one day. I avoided it at the time because the X-Wing books felt like video game tie-ins of a movie tie-ins, but I've heard so much about it since then.
Colin R
13. Graham Warnken
For my money, the only two Star Wars novels that could be considered literature—not that I like to divide between "true literature" and other stuff, but most SF tie-ins are most definitely not literary—are Stover's novelization of ROTS, which blows the film out of the water and actually makes sense, and his New Jedi Order novel Traitor. God damn those are good books.
Colin R
14. Cybersnark
For an interesting perspective, I actually think I, Jedi is the book that most captured my experience of Star Wars --I didn't actually grow up on the movies (they had come and gone by the time I was old enough to care) or the EU (Zahn's books didn't come out 'til I was 11), but on the RPG, which was all about immersion and playing "bit part" realism among a galaxy where there were no Jedi or Sith (aside from that one heavy-breathing game-breaker) to decide everyone's fate.

(It was D6, so we didn't even have "classes" and "levels" to impose structure. The player characters and the NPCs used the exact same ruleset --meaning that just one overly-lucky stormtrooper could potentially kill the whole party, Narrative Immunity be damned.)

Corran's (mis)adventures read like a really well-run one-player RPG module; the kind of "tutorial" adventure that would run through a sourcebook (on how to be a Jedi, in this case).
Colin R
15. Seanathin23
I remember picking this up in paperback at a Wal-Mart back when it came out souly on Michael Stackpole's name being on the cover. I had loved the X-Wing books and this looked cool. Two weeks later I shoved the book into my bestfriend's hand and I would say we both rate it close to the top of Star War's novels, maybe just under the Thrawn Trilogy.
James Kane
16. Jtk317
Haven't read it in a few years but I can easily say this is the one SW novel I've reread the most times. I found the idea of a Jedi that isn't a paragon of virtue while simultaneously not bordering on Sith-dom to be compelling. The normalcy of his concerns in contrast to the world/galaxy spanning consequences of his choices give credence to the idea that lesser known characters are just as influential as the frontmen/women in the SW universe even if that influence is less easily detected initially.
Colin R
17. deepelemblues
When I first read I, Jedi, and for many of the subsequent re-readings I didn't really like it - so much stuff happens, suddenly Corran is the secret hero who really saved Luke Skywalker and the Jedi Academy - but looking back on it, the way Anderson had the jedi trainees band together seemed incomplete. Maybe Corran shouldn't have been so prominent but the role he played was needed. And Luke Skywalker actually getting his identity and philosophy challenged? Now that was fresh.

Other important characters in the EU get their emotion and their character development and all that, but I think I, Jedi, is the only EU novel where you get a nearly full immersion into the Star Wars universe from the seediest cantinas to the halls of power on Coruscant. Corran is a hero but he's also an ordinary, if extremely talented, guy. I never felt like Corran was just the guy we were following through the space opera. He's the most real person to me in the EU, except maybe for Wedge.

This depth is also more present in the X-Wing series in general over the rest of the EU I think other than Zahn's novels, and that is why they are my favorite out of the EU stories. The characters are more important than the opening crawl. The movies and most of the books are to me the little more than giving us the details of that iconic intro, as if if each the books had such a crawl (which also revealed the ending), you wouldn't learn much more actually reading through. Not so with the Thrawn and X-Wing novels.
James Brewer
18. RudyRalishaz
Oh I positively loathed this novel when it came out. I was deep in the Star Wars books at the time and to me it felt like Stackpole was trying to one up Anderson, and by extension Luke. It felt (and still does) lazy to just piggy back your story on an already established storyline that I enjoyed. While my anger has cooled since then, and I still enjoy the X-Wing books this was a real damper on my Star Wars book experience at the time.

@8 SaltmanZ: I'm pretty sure that he was saying that Horn had not originally been in any of the Jedi Academy books.
Colin R
19. Colin R
There was definitely a sense at the time that there was rivalry among the Star Wars authors--that Stackpole in particularly (and Zahn to an extent) really didn't like Anderson or his books. I don't like Anderson's books either, but the man seems genial enough, and using novels to attack him just seems rude.

Anyway, this lack of cohesion is all over the Bantam-era books; it felt like authors were in competition over who got to write Luke Skywalker's "true love" (I guess they were!), and generally fill in certain gaps with their own characters. Author-favorite characters like Corran Horn and Talon Karrde were of huge importance in novels written by their creators, and summarily ignored by all the other authors.

It was a weird time.
Chris Nelly
20. Aeryl
That irritated me, as I LUV Karrde.
Colin R
22. Colin R
Karrde sort of just shows up occasionally to show the readers that the authors remember he exists, but he basically has no role in the main book line--he's too deeply entwined with Zahn's personal style.

What I love and thank Zahn most for, is that the Aing-Tii monks are sort of a big deal in the most recent novels. I don't think he actually created them, but he contributed some stories to the Darkstryder campaign series for the D6 Star Wars game. And he then drew on a lot of the material from that campaign in his Duology at the end of the Bantam era, and somehow that was enough to get some serious Aing-Tii monk coverage a decade later. I am still sad that I never successfully got a group of players to play through that campaign.

Back on topic, it's kind of weird how some characters develop. Zahn had Karrde, I guess Anderson had Kyp Durron, Stackpole had Corran Horan and... uh there were some other X-Wing people who show up who all just sort of gel together in my head as Not-Wedge.... anyway, some effort is made to make these characters Important. But the only one from that era that actually 'graduated' to being a main cast member, so to speak, was Mara Jade.

And I guess Tahiri. Man, Tahiri is a weird character.
Chris Nelly
23. Aeryl
I remember Tycho and...., ok I remember Tycho.

Now some of the Wraith Squadron people stick out, but I can't think of names.

Tahiri was supposed to the NuMara for the people who came in to the NJO from the Junior Jedi Knights series I guess, but she never gelled as well, because she remained traumatized.

I mean, even when Mara was being retraumatized by the Emporer in her dreams, she still had this tough exterior and competence. Tahiri never really had that, then she had the Vong implant, then Anakin died, then Jason started screwing with her head. Whereas Mara overcame Tahiri never has.
Colin R
24. Greg V
Colin R--

Stackpole, Anderson, Zahn, Wolverton and all of the other early EU authors are all good friends. No rivalry involved. Go read Stackpole's blog post on this at www.stormwolf.com.
David Stumme
25. grenadier
Apparently this will not be the only 1st person novel. Del Rey just announced "Heir to the Jedi", a Luke Skywalker novel set between episodes 4 and 5 that will be told from Luke's first-person perspective.
Chris Hawks
26. SaltManZ
@13: Agreed 100% about Stover. Though I did thoroughly enjoy I, Jedi, even though I hadn't (and still haven't) read any of the X-Wing novels or comics.
Chris Nelly
27. Aeryl
@26, I haven't either, but I think I need to. My faves in the NJO series were the "Rebel" series where Wedge and the rest of Rogue squadron regroup, while Luke infiltrates Coruscant with Wraith.

When they were being released I was strictly, Luke or GTFO when it came to my SW books, so I never picked them up. The preview that was released didn't make it clear that Corran had Force powers or I might have. What's a fantasy setting without wizards?
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
28. Lisamarie
I also want to echo that Stover is an amazing writer - I loved the RotJ novelization. It made me enjoy the movie even more. I have meant to pick up other books by him, but never have.
Colin R
29. Colin R
Well, my mistake then, and my apologies!
Anthony Pero
30. anthonypero
@24, @Colin R,

I'm assuming 29 is sarcasm. Because authors NEVER lie on their blogs ;)Stick to your guns, Colin, the amount of revision they did to each others work speaks more loudly than a blog post.
Alan Brown
31. AlanBrown
I didn't much care for this one, probably because I wanted the X-Wing series to be about fighter pilots, not spies and Jedis and such. But Stackpole had done a good job on the other books, so I gave it a try. I didn't much care for the way it wound itself up with the Jedi Academy story--made it less of a story that stood well on its own. Horn was just too good at too many things to really be believable. I suppose his being a Jedi would explain those talents, but that is precisely I enjoy non-Jedi characters in the Star Wars universe--they feel more real.

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