Hey there, Star Wars fans! This Expanded Universe reread is going to go a little differently from the others. See, Emmet Asher-Perrin and Natalie Zutter have spent an inadvisable amount of time in Brooklyn bars discussing their childhoods reading Star Wars books… and how prominently the Young Jedi Knights series featured in that. (Both of them dressed up as Tenel Ka when they were small, and believe that this says something about them personally. They do not know what. No, you can’t see the pictures. Well… maybe.)
For those who may be unaware, the Young Jedi Knights series was concerned with the training and hijinks of Han and Leia’s twins, Jacen and Jaina, and their cadre of friends. There were lessons! Friendships! Drama! Teenage romance! Lots of puns and questionable humor! And these were the first books to feature the Solo twins slightly older and more competent. So there’s that.
So we’re going to start at the beginning with Heirs of the Force!
Here’s the format—We’ll give a basic summary and then each give our reactions to the book. There might be occasional abuse of all caps. Nothing approaching sanity, at least.
Jacen and Jaina are now old enough to study at the Jedi Praxeum full time with their Uncle Luke. (We will never get tired of referring to him as Uncle Luke, by the way.) They’ve been on Yavin 4 for a few weeks when Han drops by to bring gifts and a new student; it’s Lowbacca, Chewie’s nephew. They give “Lowie” a skyhopper of his very own to explore the planet with, and mini-translator droid called Em Teedee. (Basically Threepio as a fanny pack.) They become all fast friends along with a student named Tenel Ka—a largely humorless warrior girl who wears lizard skins.
Lowie takes a joyride in the T-23 Skyhopper and spots something shiny in a tree. He goes back to the school and asks his friends to return with him and explore. They end up finding the wrecked remnants of an old TIE fighter, leftover from the Battle of Yavin. Jaina wants to fix it up, especially since her dad brought her an old hyperdrive to tinker with. The whole group set themselves to the task—it’s a good bonding exercise, after all.
What the kids don’t know is that the TIE fighter’s original pilot, Qorl, is still alive. And he’s spent all this time waiting for the chance to return to the Empire. Jacen accidentally discovers the guy’s home and goes back to warn his compatriots, but Qorl comes at them with a blaster and kidnaps the lot.
Except for Lowie. He escapes in the sky hopper, but it gets damaged by Qorl’s blaster fire. Lowie has to land before he reaches the academy. After that, Em Teedee falls off his belt and ends up with a pack of woolamanders. No one can understand Lowie at school because he doesn’t have his translator, but Han and Chewie are luckily nearby, checking out Lando’s GemDiver Station on Yavin. (This will be important later.) Han rushes back to the moon.
Tenel Ka also manages to breaks away. She gets to defeat some battle hydras, then finds Em Teedee, and gets back to the school. Yes, she is usually always this proficient. It’s pretty cool.
Qorl orders the twins to keep repairing his fighter so he can return to the Empire. He has no idea of what’s happened since his exile and assumes that the Rebel Alliance didn’t win, of course. He gets into his fighter and plans to destroy the school before he leaves, but the Solo twins were smart enough to not repair his laser cannons. The Falcon has arrived and chases Qorl away from the planet, but he engages the hyperdrive and disappears. Jain helps Lowie repair the skyhopper, and the kids wonder what’s going to become of Qorl.
I took one look at the back copy and was suddenly awash in nostalgia: “When the Empire died, they were born—a new hope for the New Republic.” I cannot possibly guess at how many times I read that sentence over and over.
There were some missteps made, in my opinion, in the transition between these novels and the New Jedi Order series. But it is interesting to see the twins’ personalities at the age of fourteen, and know now where that will lead. Early teenaged Jaina is practically a carbon copy of her dad, with a hint of Leia feistiness thrown in. Jacen… well, who can say where Jacen comes from? He’s got some of Luke’s qualities, but his penchant for keeping wild animals and that unbelievably groan-worthy sense of humor are all his own. It oddly works out in the EU’s favor—in some ways, Jacen descent into the Dark Side years later is probably more the journey Lucas had intended for Anakin Skywalker. Proof that someone who seems so benign and sweet can still be capable of incredible evil.
Poor Lowie was transparent to me even as a kid; as a Chewbacca replacement, the poor guy could have used a little more fleshing out. His by-the-numbers Threepio cousin didn’t help much, though I can understand why they might have thought he was needed.
And then there’s Tenel Ka, in my opinion the most important new character these books brought forward. It suddenly occurs to me after all this time why I loved her so, right from the beginning; she is, essentially, an asskicking redheaded version of Spock. She provides the same balancing aspects to their little group—different cultural perspective (though that comes to the forefront much later), dry wit, and logic. Which I guess kind of makes Jaina their Kirk and Jacen their McCoy? (Lowie is obviously Scotty.)
This works for me.
Some of the conveniences in this book are plain ridiculous, and never addressed: The first one being the likelihood of Qorl crashing on Yavin 4 in the first place and never having run into students before. Are we seriously meant to believe that no one has gone exploring before these meddling kids? An explanation is attempted, but it doesn’t exactly fly.
I think my favorite thing about these books was how it suggested a very freeform sort of education for Luke’s brand of Jedi. These kids are basically free to pursue their passions as a part of their training, which is basically what we wish all school was like, right? If only.
When I think back on reading the Young Jedi Knights series, my memories start at the second book, Shadow Academy, because in it, things actually happen. More on that book (and how it plays into one of my favorite storytelling tropes) in next week’s reread. For now, let’s talk about how Heirs to the Force is to Shadow Academy as “Serenity” is to “The Train Job”: Both serve as good intros, but one unnecessarily sets up exposition while the other jumps right into the action, achieving the same effect.
But. Without “Serenity” we wouldn’t have “curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal,” so there must be some hidden gem this book added to canon. (Right?)
As official introductions to the adolescent Solo twins go, this one was pretty boring: They flout the rules of the Jedi Academy to tinker with a crashed TIE fighter from their parents’ heyday, only to get kidnapped by its crazed pilot, Qorl. Problem is, this story has absolutely no stakes: It’s the first book of the series, so of course they’re gonna come out without a scratch so they can go on to have 13 more misadventures. Hell, they got kidnapped as five-year-olds in The Crystal Star and were fine! All that Qorl’s harebrained scheme did was remind us even more of what Mary Sues the twins could be, in the wrong hands.
Speaking of—dashing off after Imperial wreckage should’ve gotten them shipped out of the Academy after a month; it’s sheer nepotism that keeps them in. Or, more likely, Luke was nervous about the Jedi Academy’s dropout rate and figured he’d risk it keeping on Leia and Han’s offspring. It’s funny, rereading these now that I know how all the shit goes down with the Solos in The New Jedi Order; in comparison, these stories truly are child’s play. But it also made me “aww” over how darn innocent they were as 14-year-olds.
The book also gives short shrift to the other major players, Lowbacca and Tenel Ka. I know this adventure was meant to introduce the main gang and lay out what each character will be known for (Lowie can fly stuff! Tenel Ka is a robot allergic to sarcasm!), but I literally could not remember any relevant details about their dynamics or the plot. Except for Lando Calrissian’s GemDiver Station. Mining for gems in Yavin’s atmosphere? That sounded rad and exactly like the kind of escapism I looked for within the YJK series, having read it as a 10-year-old Star Wars super-fan.
Don’t get me wrong: I adored Young Jedi Knights—took the books with me to the schoolyard and on cross-continental flights to see my grandparents, rereading them until their spines were cracked and until they perfectly segued into NJO in 1999. I just wish they’d had a more auspicious beginning.
Emmet Asher-Perrin is wondering what sort of weird Wookieepedia hole she will fall down if she follows through on her desire to find a picture of a woolamander. 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.