We’ve got some generational repetition going down this week on the Young Jedi Knights Reread! Which is just as well, because we’re pretty sure you’re not a Solo until someone in Mandalorian combat armor has chased you down.
Notice we didn’t say Boba Fett. (Spoiler: the authors wanted it to be Boba Fett. Additional spoiler: it’s not Boba Fett.) But it’s pretty darn close—how close? You’re going to have to read along to find out! It’s not Gregor the Clone Trooper. We’re sad about that, but mostly because Gregor was the man.
By the way, did you ever wonder what became of Leia’s destroyed homeworld? You’re in luck because Shards of Alderaan is here to let us in on some secrets.
There’s this kid at the Academy that our crew don’t exactly get along with because he’s sort of rich and petty and thinks he’s a way better Jedi student than he is. (Think Draco Malfoy and Gilderoy Lockhart sort of smashed together, but less mean.) His name’s Raynar Thul, and in the last book, Zekk knocked him down a peg by showing him up. Now Han shows up at the Jedi Praxeum with Anakin Solo (Anakin has always had major puzzle skills, so he’s the perfect kid to help reconstruct the temple), and Han has some bad news—Raynar’s papa, Bornan Thul, has been kidnapped.
The good news is that Han is looking for him! And also that Leia’s birthday is coming up, and she’s going to come to Yavin 4 to spend it with her family! The Solo twins decide that they’d like to get a special gift for their mother this year, and ask for permission to head to “the Graveyard,” where the space rock rubble of Alderaan resides. They get permission, load up on Tenel Ka’s shiny new ship the Rock Dragon (conveniently just gifted from her royal parents), and head off.
They find Leia some space metal that used to be part of Alderaan’s core and cut out the perfect present. Then they make to leave and immediately fall under attack, forcing the kiddies to hide the Rock Dragon inside an asteroid to make repairs. Their pursuer collapses the asteroid cave around them, then plunders their databanks for info on Bornan Thul. EmTeeDee hacks the ship back to get info on Bornan, and it turns out that the one who put out the bounty on Thul was Nolaa Tarkona, a Twi’lek who was set to meet Bornan for political talks before his disappearance.
Oh, and their attacker identifies himself as Boba Fett. Only it’s not Boba Fett—it’s his daughter Ailyn Vel.
Vel had gotten the Solo’s transmission confused and assumed they had Thul. Upon realizing that they don’t (but Han Solo likely has info on his whereabouts), she plans to use them as bait to trap their father and grill him for information. The kids eventually blast their way out of the cave-in (they’re a resourceful lot) and warn their dad of the trap via transmission. Vel is going to blow them out of the sky for it when Zekk shows up in the Lightning Rod—Peckham’s old ship that he’s apparently decided to keep—and chases her off. Zekk lets his old buddies know that he’s a bounty hunter now! And he’s gonna look for Thul too. Guess that’s better than the dark side?
Han arrives and tows his kids off. They all get together for Leia’s birthday and mom loves her special gift.
I’m going to start with what may be my favorite unintentional error in a Star Wars book ever: it’s Leia’s birthday. Leia has a twin. Her twin lives on the planet where she’s going to visit her family on her birthday. Luke’s hanging around. He’s smiling at Leia’s party. No one says a word about his birthday. Do Jedi not get birthdays? WHY DOES NO ONE GIVE LUKE A PRESENT, SOMEONE BUY HIM SOME POWER CONVERTERS.
I love the Fett family. I love the fact that Ailyn ends up chasing those Solo kids just like her dad chased Han. Honestly, the real reason I love it is that it has nothing to do with family enmity—she just ends up needing info from them, like bounty hunters often do. Which also makes sense since, at this point in time, Ailyn doesn’t exactly have a snuggly relationship with her dad. In fact, she never really does. (That’s down to her daughter, Mirta Gev, who bonds with good ol’ grandpa.) Mostly, I love the fact that it’s never difficult for Ailyn to pose as her dad, because she’s just that good.
This is a great big book of setup, and as such, you have to buy certain things. Like the fact that no one has ever had the thought to bring Leia a piece of Alderaan rubble as a memento. Like the idea that Han would be tracking Bornan Thul when he’s a very important person in his own right. I understand the Bornan is an important guy too, but you’re telling me the New Republic doesn’t have people who do this for a living, who track down hostages and police things? They have to get General Solo out of bed for this?
Then there’s Zekk’s new choice to become a bounty hunter, which always struck me as unbearably sad. It has that “Prince Zuko working in a tea shop” vibe about it; Zekk’s looking for a lifeline and this is the only thing he can manage, and it’s not even very good. Having some Force-sensitivity is nice, but just waking up one day and saying Hey I’m A Bounty Hunter does not a skill set make. Ailyn at least comes by the trade honestly, since she’s got two hunters for parents.
I do appreciate that we get to know Raynar better as these books progress, that they take the time to humanize a braggart kid and make him into something more. That doesn’t mean that Raynar wasn’t irritating as all get out in the first arc, but as a pretense of getting to know someone, having your father turn up missing is a pretty helpful turn of events. It does lead to some attention from Solos and Friends, so we’ll see more of that to come.
Oh, and don’t forget Nolaa Tarkona. Yeah, she’s a peach.
I’m not sure which was a cheesier choice for YJK: to resurrect original Star Wars characters to go after the Solos, or to bring back their offspring to bully the twins. Shards of Alderaan sees the introduction of Ailyn Vel, Boba Fett’s daughter*, and of course later there’s my favorite bitchy girl of the EU, Anja Gallandro. If you’re going with the latter, it is an interesting choice, as it shows that not everyone lives happily ever after in the Star Wars universe: Plenty of folks got screwed over by the New Republic, and Jacen and Jaina make fitting (and sometimes deserving) scapegoats.
(*Of course, my nerd-brain is now pondering if clones are able to have genetically non-identical children, and all of the identity issues wrapped up in this. Yes, I know YJK preceded Attack of the Clones. But I would have loved to see someone jump on this idea once Jango Fett and the clones were canon.)
It’s also fitting that we encounter all of these daddy issues on the literal graveyard of Leia’s lost home planet. It’s a good reminder that the twins’ parents Went Through Some Shit when they were just a bit older than them—that they sacrificed entire planets to give their children (relatively) safe lives.
Though let’s also talk about the fact that studying at the Jedi Praxeum sounds like the most chill individualized study program ever. Want to go GemDiving? Just practice your Force levitation and do a few lightsaber exercises, and that’ll totally count toward academic credit. Venturing into the shards of a broken planet to get a souvenir for Mother’s Day? Yeah, that’s a Jedi training exercise. Maybe. Sort of.
To that end, I would’ve liked to see the YJK series better tackle the twins’ perspective of their parents. Because a huge part of adolescence is discovering that your seemingly perfect—or at least, boring—parents actually have their own fears, baggage, and petty issues to deal with, that they’ve been hiding while they raised you to be more well-adjusted than they are. Why didn’t we have books where Jacen and Jaina actually took the time to learn more about their parents’ triumphs and failings before they came into the picture? Hell, same for Tenel Ka with Teneniel Djo and Isolder! She must be fascinated by her parents’ dynamic and what an unusual couple they make.
Shards of Alderaan got me thinking moreso than other YJK books, and yet it still didn’t have that memorable of a plot—just a lot of missed plot opportunities floating around like planetary rubble.
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.