The Young Jedi Knights reread has reached the pinnacle of its first arc! Shadow Academy vs. Jedi Praxeum—who throws down? Who rises up? Who dies on board an exploding space station? Who unexpectedly helps out? What else blows up? (That last one is actually the surprising part.)
We’re talking about Jedi Under Siege, which was the final installment of the first Young Jedi Knight arc. We’ve got young Jedi against Nightsisters, Imperials against New Republic forces, master against former apprentice. There’s a lot going on, so we’re putting on our Force-thinking caps and trying to piece it all out. Because coming of age one generation after Luke Skywalker was never going to be easy.
So, the person behind Brakiss’ whole Second Imperium campaign is the reborn Emperor himself. (We assume we’re supposed to assume another clone?) He has already arrived and insists that he has a big army of resources to attack the Jedi Praxeum, but Brakiss says no. He wants the fight to be Jedi on Jedi, to show the Dark Side conquering Luke and his school once and for all. He takes a small fleet to unbalance them, but insists that the Emperor keep his army to use against the New Republic. They disable the shield generator for Yavin 4 and stop all outgoing communication.
Luke preps his students for battle. Jacen and Peckhum (Zekk’s old guardian) head out into space to try and call for help, but are driven back down to the planet by TIE fighters. For some strange reason, Qorl, the former TIE pilot, decides to help them out. Lowie and Tenel Ka try to head off the Dark Jedi that are landing on Yavin 4, resulting in a showdown between Tenel Ka and Tamith Kai. The two battle, but the landing platform they are fighting on explodes—Tenel Ka and Lowie escape, Tamith Kai does not.
Jaina is supposed to repair the shield generator (effectively mirroring her parents actions in ROTJ), and ends up in a duel with Zekk, of course. She tries to turn him back from the Dark Side, he’s angsty and having none of it. But he does warn the Jedi not to return to the Academy. Hm…
Luke and Brakiss engage in a final showdown. Luke handily defeats his former student, but refuses to land a killing blow. As he prepares to take Brakiss into custody, the man flees back to the Shadow Academy. He sees his great victory falling apart before his eyes, watches the Emperor’s fleet getting trampled by the New Republic. He demands that the Emperor’s Guards stand aside so he can petition Palpatine for aid. Once he forces his way into the chamber, he finds out the truth—the Emperor was never resurrected. The Imperial Guard have been faking his appearances using clips from former speeches and the like in a bid for power. The guard acting as the Emperor runs before Brakiss can kill him, and set the station to self-destruct. The Shadow Academy is obliterated.
Below on the planet, Zekk realizes that his master is dead. While Brakiss had been confronting the guards, the Jedi Praxeum was detonated by explosives set by Imperials, but Zekk’s warning prevents the death of Jedi. He is knocked unconscious and the survivors begin to pick up the pieces. Everyone is battered and bruised, their temple is gone, but the Light Side has won.
This was sort of the Battle of Hogwarts before the Battles of Hogwarts existed. I mean, it is if the Battle of Hogwarts ended with the castle BLOWING UP HANG ON A SECOND.
Yeah, as a kid, this really got me—the Massassi temple that had been the home of one Rebel base and Luke’s students since the Praxeum was founded is suddenly gone. Of course, the temples on Yavin 4 don’t exactly have a happy history; they were created by the native people to appease Exar Kun, a Sith Lord who enslaved them. But that doesn’t mean that I was prepared to have the place obliterated. It hurt, reading this book. (Granted, they spend the next few books reconstructing the place, if memory serves. Still, it’s not the same.)
I’m always bugged by the fact that no one is effectively killed by another person in this book (at least, no notable characters). I understand these are meant for younger readers, but it just never came off as remotely realistic to me. These are Jedi, even if they are teens—they should have to make some tougher choices than your average kids. For Luke, it makes sense that he would never kill Brakiss, that’s basically his MO as a Jedi overall. Luke Skywalker believes that everyone is capable of reform, no matter how far down a path they’ve gone, and you do have to love him for it. But it doesn’t make sense that every one of the students would hold with that philosophy. And ultimately, Luke is wrong here—he is never able to turn Brakiss away from the Dark Side, which means that Brakiss’ death ends up a bit contrived. You need a whole giant subplot with the “Emperor” to make it work.
And what a subplot it is. It’s basically been done, for one. No one should believe the Emperor is coming back at this point, it’s already happened in seven other places. On the other hand, it does make sense of certain elements that would seem silly otherwise. For example, the Shadow Academy has this ridiculous self-destruct because the Emperor claims that he wants to make sure he can wipe out Brakiss’ crew if his Dark Side kiddies aren’t up to snuff. In the end, the truth makes this work; the Royal Guard know they can’t possibly stop a hoard of Dark Jedi should they attempt a coup or get out of control. They need to be able to push the button if their plan falls apart.
Unfortunately, Zekk’s Dark Side arc sort of fizzles. When you compare his road to, say, Kyp Durron, the whole thing seems like a light version of the same tropes. (Which makes sense, since Kyp and Zekk are both Anderson’s invention.) We’re supposed to feel a lot here because of Jaina’s attachment to him, but it just doesn’t come through. Ah well. Better luck next time, Zekk?
Diversity Alliance is coming! Do you all remember Lusa? Of course you do. This is gonna be fun.
You have to laugh at the jacket copy that warns that “whoever wins the battle will decide the fate of the galaxy”—because how does Luke’s Jedi Praxeum not triumph over the Shadow Academy? But I guess YJK’s audience was young enough that they could believe in a possible reality where the dark side reigns supreme.
Speaking of catering to a specific age range: YJK seemed pretty set on not equating defeat and death—or at least, not direct death. While Jedi Under Siege sees the payoff of several confrontations—Luke vs. Brakiss, Tenel Ka vs. Tamith Kai—they don’t seem to leave the good guys any more rattled than a typical sparring session would. Both dark Jedi conveniently die “off-screen” in explosions, rather than at a light Jedi’s hand. Sure, it would’ve been asking for a lot for fourteen-year-old Tenel Ka to take down her Nightsister foe and take on all the guilt attached to murder, but it also would have been an opportunity for more character development.
I totally forgot about the Emperor subplot—probably because, even at that point, it felt like a bad carbon copy of other stories. A few years prior to starting YJK, I read the Dark Empire comics and was terrified by the imagery of the clone of Palpatine clawing his way out of his own birth-goo to stand over dark-side Luke. So when the big reveal was that a cadre of Imperial Guards perpetuated the rumor of Palpatine’s nth resurrection to try and keep everyone in fear… Well, this plot would have been a lot more interesting in a different Star Wars book. YJK broke new ground with the Nightsisters—with the Emperor, not so much.
Let’s talk some more about the dark side. As a kid, I took umbrage with the resolution of Zekk’s plotline. We’re supposed to believe that, with the Shadow Academy literally exploded, he just reverted back to the Solos’ angsty, class-baggage-laden friend? It’s not like The Avengers, where everyone was clearly under Loki’s mind control—Zekk chose the dark side. It always felt weird to me that Luke and Co. would welcome him back with love and open arms. Rereading this arc as an adult, however, I can be a little more forgiving and see where the writers attempted for some nuance with Zekk’s leap right into a bounty hunter career. I think the later Star Wars books did a slightly better job of detailing dark side recovery, though the narratives are still pretty spotty.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the next arc, involving the Diversity Alliance. I’m hoping that after all of the external battles with the Shadow Academy, the next arc will see YJK capitalizing on what it seems to be best at—tackling internal issues through a Star Wars lens.
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.