With the advanced weaponry the Star Wars universe purports, it’s really no surprise that biological warfare would have been developed and enacted to a certain degree. So… who wants to encounter that as a teenager? You probably guessed it!
It’s the Young Jedi Knights, if you’re still guessing.
That’s right, the whole Diversity Alliance debacle will come to a head right now as the kiddies encounter The Emperor’s Plague! Which sort of sounds like the worst carnival ride ever. We will not be riding in those rusty cars any time soon.
Leia gives a great big speech to the New Republic about what her kids found on Ryloth, and several non-human senators are understandably peeved that her progeny were up to all this without any kind of lawful sanction. Still, Luke’s former student and senator, Cilghal (who is helpfully also not human), suggests that the New Republic do some reconnaissance. The Senate agrees.
Zekk managed to put a tracking beacon on Bornan Thul’s ship a while back (Bornan could maybe use some pointers on hiding), and Raynar goes with him to bring his father home. The other young Jedi follow them up and find Ailyn Vel—still in papa’s armor—trying to get her hands on Thul senior. They drive her off and rescue Raynar’s dad. Unfortunately, Vel got what she came for, the entire reason that Tarkona was after Bornan in the first place; the location to the Emperor’s plague warehouse on an asteroid. Thul had been contracted as a go between to get Tarkona that information for a price, but once he’d realized what the information was, he had turned to the hills. Now, of course, the whole crew has to go head her off.
The kids smartly request New Republic reinforcements this time, then set about blowing the whole asteroid sky high. (Space high? How does that work?) Unfortunately, the Diversity Alliance fleet arrives before their backup, and the kids have to flee for a bit. Eventually the NR fleet shows and the li’l Jedi head back to set the explosives. While they’re at it, there’s a lot of smashing going on in the facility. Bornan gets hit by a human virus, and Tarkona and Raaba both get hit by something awful. Barnon loses his life, while Raaba decides to quarantine herself and Tarkona, flying them far away.
The group heads back to Coruscant to settle the situation, rooting out the true leaders of the Alliance and giving the other members a chance to rejoin the New Republic. Lusa and Zekk decide that they’re going to train as Jedi with their friends, which is the cause for much rejoicing. While taking some time out to reflect on all the crazy happenings, Jacen and Tenel Ka share a moment, and finally get a kiss in.
It’s so interesting how much time and perspective inform these narratives. If Han, Luke and Leia had been in a similar situation during their time in the Rebel Alliance, no one would have thought twice about their methods and they would have been met with cheers for their heroism. Now, there are proper government channels to contend with, there are procedures and rules. In addition, you have to assume that plenty of the senators are pissed that Leia’s kids and their friends (one of whom is a big-deal princess) simply chose to flout the law and expected forgiveness because of their familial ties.
And you know what? It’s kind of hard to argue, even if the kids are doing their best to help. They do receive an inordinate amount of privilege due to their parentage. They are Captain Kirk-ing their way out of every punishment, never expecting to answer for their actions because they know they are doing the right thing. The Senate has reason to be nervous; if this is how they act at fifteen, how bad will this be when they’re all thirty and running the place? (And since we know that the answer is “well, one of them will become terribly powerful Sith Lord”… they were kind of right to be concerned. Ouch.)
I’m not going to say that Palpatine having a plague storehouse is surprising… I am going to say that I’m surprised he didn’t make more use of its contents. As a kid, I’m pretty certain that this was my introduction to biological warfare, and it definitely made an impact. The idea of being stuck on that asteroid, knowing that a good portion of the vats surrounding you could result in certain death if they broke—that’s good horror, especially for a young audience.
Again, I wish the politics were more complicated here. They bring some of the DA members back into the New Republic, but… how many of them actually want back in? How will this affect the political landscape going forward? What does this mean for the non-human populations who are clearly still feeling oppressed? Leia’s got her work cut out for her, and we really only see smatterings of these issues in the New Jedi Order books. It’s just too interesting to let go like that.
I always felt terrible for Raynar at this point. He spends this entire arc scared for his father only to lose him at the end. And it’s not like there’s a lot of brightness in that kid’s future overall. Still, Zekk and Lusa are on board! New young Jedi friends! Frankly, I always wish that Lusa had been used more in the EU. They should have brought her in sooner! Who doesn’t want an awesome centaur-like BFF to go on adventures with? She was so boss.
And then, we get what we’ve all been waiting for—awkward teenage romance! Jacen and Tenel Ka kiiiiiiissed. I remember always appreciating that these books seemed to infuse just the right amount of this sort of thing. Kissing never seemed to be the point of the books, but there was just enough hilarious flirting to keep you interested in where those two were headed.
Say what you will about Palpatine, but he had an astonishing number of backup plans: double-u-named clones, a command lodged into Mara Jade’s brain, and now a storehouse of plagues designed for a variety of species. That in and of itself is a very cool idea, especially in space—a way to drop pieces of yourself onto various words (or asteroids) to ensure that your influence remains long after your bodily demise.
OMIGOD, PALPATINE WAS VOLDEMORT. Let’s find the rest of his Horcruxes in EU books!
…But first, more on the Emperor’s Plague and the ramifications therein. It’s weird—I had totally forgotten about how this arc worked out, but in rereading, I was suddenly seized by the same terror I had as a kid. That asteroid storehouse was one of the creepiest EU settings, because of how a wrong twitch could send a pathogen drifting into the atmosphere and kill you. Or only kill one member of your party—that was the scariest part. It was almost a Russian roulette of who would be susceptible.
I also have to give the YJK books props for ending this arc with at least three people getting infected. It’s a solid way to honor the Chekhov’s gun rule, and hammer home how everyone was in danger in that storehouse. The scene where Bornan, infected with plague, sends Raynar and the other Humans away? Definitely misted up rereading it. It seems almost ridiculous that after all this double-crossing and chasing Bornan around the galaxy, he would get struck down by an invisible plague, something he truly couldn’t outrun. It makes his decision to stay, and keep the virus from spreading, all the more impressive.
Nolaa and Raaba’s end made sense as well: Raaba has to act as the dutiful second-in-command and quarantine herself and her leader. Though she does leave Lowie with a message: “If I survive, I’ll find you.” Ahh, young love.
Speaking of…! Jacen and Tenel Ka’s first kiss. It probably would’ve happened sooner, were it not for all that Lightsabers mess. It’s such a great moment for the two of them, who are always trying to one-up each other: After he declares that nothing else could surprise him, Tenel Ka goes in for the kiss. First off—that’s great to show young female readers that, hey, you don’t always have to wait for the boy to kiss you. And second, it shows Tenel Ka’s rarely-glimpsed sense of humor. But even underneath that snarkiness, you have to imagine it took a lot for her to finally be ready (again) to be close to Jacen after the accident.
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.