You know when you have that one friend who is really great, but they hang out with some bad people and kind of get brainwashed into wanting to kill you and your other friends? No? Man, those young Jedi do. And worst of all, that one really cool friend is a giant Wookiee. Not the sort of person you want off your side in a galactic crisis.
But don’t worry because everything will be alright by the end of Jedi Bounty! Sort of? Maybe? At least we’ll get a glimpse of that Diversity Alliance operation. There are drugs involved, so maybe that will smooth things over… actually, considering the effects of spice, probably not.
So Lowie’s on Ryloth with his sis and Raaba, getting all brainwashed by the Diversity Alliance club, probably because they’ve got a fancy minibar or something. See, this group of aliens believes that humanity has a lot to answer for—and they plan to make them pay. The DA mines valuable ryll spice on Ryloth to pay for the organization’s operations, then hires bounty hunters to nab anyone who tries to defect. (You’d think that Lowie would realize that any organization that won’t let you leave is probably a little bit sketch.)
Jacen, Jaina, Tenel Ka, and Raynar decide to go check it out alone; they don’t want to tell a grown up and start a galactic incident before they have a better idea of what’s going on. So they sneak onto Ryloth and immediately get found by Nolaa Tarkona’s second and security chief, Hovrak. Then they get taken before the big wig lady herself, which might have been fine, but Raaba’s there too and she gives their identities away. After all, they’d be pretty valuable hostages, right?
Tarkona apparently doesn’t care about that, and she sends the kiddies to mine spice below. Lucky for them, Lowie discovers that his friends have been imprisoned and abruptly sees that this is not a club he wants to be a part of (even if their minibar is still awesome). He goes looking for them, disguised as a guard because he is better at espionage. There is a reunion and a discussion about how to break out. While Lowie’s going to grab his sister, Jaina is forced to cause a cave-in that results in her and Raynar being separated from Jacen and Tenel Ka. If we had a nickel for every time Jacen and the princess of Hapes ended up stuck on these little missions together, we’d have so many nickels.
Everyone heads out to the surface of the planet, hoping to regroup eventually. Of course, Ryloth is a planet of extreme temperatures (there is just one temperate zone running in a long strip around the planet, and they emerge outside of it), so Jacen and Tenel Ka have to share body heat and a long talk in the bitter cold. They end up finding the Twi’lek leader that Tarkona deposed, and decide to take him along. Lowie and his sister pick them up while Luke, Lusa, and Zekk thankfully swoop in to nab Raynar and Jaina.
They head back to Coruscant to recover. Leia learns what a real threat the DA is and starts diverting resources toward stopping it, once Zekk reveals the plan he discovered; the Diversity Alliance plans to release a plague that will kill off all humans in the galaxy.
So… what’s up with Nolaa Tarkona looking like Bib Fortuna on the cover? It actually reads horribly, the more I think of it; practically every female Twi’lek we see in Star Wars media looks like a supermodel (which is its own serious problem), but the minute it’s a female Twi’lek who cares about equal treatment for non-humans, she’s painted to look like a male Twi’lek? I’m assuming this wasn’t intentional—it’s likely that the cover artist simply used a picture of Fortuna for reference—but it’s still sort of baffling.
Okay, I understand that the DA are zealots of the highest degree, but they are making the choice to wipe out humanity for crimes specifically committed by the Empire. Not the New Republic, or even the Old Republic—the Empire, full stop. Which is no longer in power. Which definitely did not stand for all humans in the galaxy. I just sort of wish the rhetoric here was given some specificity. I can buy that the Diversity Alliance could get other aliens pulling for them, but they’d have to give this whole thing a narrative spin. Perhaps the idea that the humans who lived under the Empire never attempted to speak up at the ill-treatment of other beings? Give me something.
I have a soft spot for this book for two reasons. Number one is easily one of my favorite fanfic prompts: Oh no! It’s cold! We must huddle together for warmth! And then Tenel Ka and Jacen have to do it, and it’s just so ridiculous and everything my teenaged heart loved. (I think an episode of The X-Files is to blame for this? The one where Mulder and Scully get trapped in a scary forest overnight?)
The second reason is that Ryloth’s habitat issues, specifically the need to run across a planet with horrible temperatures and scary storms, was also a part of The Chronicles of Riddick with that Crematoria planet and their crazy prison breakout, and no one can stop me from loving that movie, so you’ll just have to accept that these two things go hand in hand in my brain.
I really do love whenever Luke has to jump in there at the end with a few of the kids and save their behinds. It’s like Han and Leia have just been waiting for the point when they’d ship off to Jedi school and then everything they did would be Luke’s problem.
Reading this series as a kid, the Diversity Alliance arc was the second most compelling (my favorite arc is yet to come) because of its members’ unabashed anti-Human sentiment. It was a valuable lesson for someone who, obviously, most identified with the Human characters in the EU. Because as much as the Star Wars universe allows for a wide variety of fascinating aliens—and I had The Essential Guide to Characters, which I pored over weekly—they were always (with the exception of Chewbacca) minor players, more window dressing than actual enactors of change. Part of Tarkona’s aim was to poach members from planets who recalled harsh Imperial rule—and why shouldn’t she? When we recall Imperial scenes from the movies, it’s all Humans and a few droids; the only aliens are the bounty hunters.
And yet, Emily makes the keen point that the DA and other fringe groups erroneously ascribe the Empire’s sins to the New Republic. Did they not read the history books? (Well, according to our theory, most citizens of the Star Wars galaxy can’t actually read.) But I guess, when you’re still living in Coruscant’s underworld, Mon Mothma isn’t that much more comforting than the Emperor.
I always believed that the primary reason that Lowie relocated his entire family to join the DA was because he was hot for Raaba. And why not? Unlike Nolaa Tarkona rendered as Bib Fortuna, Raaba actually looks like a female Wookiee on the book cover. And she’s badass, what with her scars and armbands. She and Lowie probably could’ve had a dark, emotionally fraught tete-a-tete, like some of the more dramatic high school relationships we’d rather forget. In fact, Lowie and Jacen probably could’ve bonded over their affinity for strong warrior women.
Speaking of... Jacen and Tenel Ka! You saucy kids. And yet, it stays oh-so-tame for the young readers. (Part of why I would later love finding The New Jedi Order and seeing these two finally consummate an attraction they’d had since they were adolescents.) I wonder, had YJK been written in today’s more lax, open-minded atmosphere, if we would’ve seen the young Jedi trainees’ hormones surge a bit more. We probably also would have an LGBT+ character, but ah well.
Ditto on Luke swooping in all deus ex machina to haul the Solo twins out of whatever hole they’ve dug themselves into. (Aaand now I want to see an Uncle Luke animated series with young Luke chasing after the Solos as toddlers as Jaina Force-levitates his lightsaber and Jacen tries to ride on top of Artoo’s head .) You also have to wonder what goes through the minds of the other Jedi Praxeum kids Luke brings with him. On the one hand, they’re probably all, “Yay, field trip!” but they’re likely also throwing major shade, thinking, “Those Solos, always getting themselves sold into slavery in the spice mines. Probably just do it for attention.”
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.