Written by: Kevin Hearne
Published by: Arrow
Chronology Placement: Set a few weeks after the events of “A New Hope”
Synopsis: Luke Skywalker scored a game-changing victory for the Rebel Alliance by destroying the Death Star. So who better to execute a daring new offensive against the Empire? The mission: liberate a brilliant alien code-breaker who’s fallen into Imperial hands – before her captors can exploit her talents for their own sinister purposes. Challenged by the Empire’s ruthless agents, death-dealing enemy battleships, merciless bounty hunters, and monstrous brain-eating parasites, Luke plunges into the high-stakes operation – and his abilities as a rebel fighter and would-be Jedi are pushed to the limit. If ever he needed the wisdom of Obi-Wan Kenobi to guide him, it’s now. But Luke will have to rely on himself, his friends, and his own burgeoning relationship with the Force to survive.
Heir to the Jedi is an unusual addition to the Star Wars novel range in that it is told entirely from a first-person perspective, giving readers an unprecedented view into the thoughts of Luke Skywalker. Set a few weeks after the events of “A New Hope”, this is a Luke Skywalker filled with doubt about his role as a Jedi and insecurities over his future without Obi-Wan Kenobi to guide him. There is a tremendous about of character growth between the Luke of “A New Hope” and the Luke of “The Empire Strikes Back” and this novel seeks to explore Luke’s transition into a fully-fledged member of the Rebel Alliance. With his thoughts transparent to the reader, Luke often regresses back into his whiny teenager mode from Tatooine, which sometimes feels at odds with the more confident view of the character seen in the sequels, however it does serve to bridge the gap between the two versions of the character.
Given his own mission to complete following the destruction of the Death Star, Luke is eager to prove himself more than a “one-trick pony”, although he feels adrift without a mentor in the ways of the Force. Luke’s mission, and the novel itself, feels structured like a video-game at times with plenty of fetch side-quests and “boss battles” to diversify the narrative. It results in a surprisingly eclectic tale, with elements of a heist movie, alien horror and space opera mixed into one. Author Kevin Hearne packs a lot into the story and as a result it feels that some of the sub-plots get left by the wayside, such as the discovery of a new lightsaber and the deadly alien brain borers.
One area where the novel shines is in Luke’s solo efforts to learn more about the Force; we witness his first experiments with using the Force to move objects – something he uses to save his life in the Wampa Cave in “The Empire Strikes Back”. We also see him attempt to reconstruct a broken lightsaber – a task usually given to a Padawan to signify their graduation to Jedi status. It is quite enjoyable to see Luke learn about elements of the Jedi that the audience ourselves have discovered through the prequels, and it helps contextualise his journey prior to his training on Dagobah.
Aside from the core mission to rescue the Givin cryptologist, the novel also focuses on the burgeoning relationship between Luke and his companion Nakari Kelen. Nakari is a well-written character, encouraging Luke in his pursuit of Jedi prowess and also possessing a self-assured cockiness to rival Han Solo. The romance between the two brings out the more embarrassing elements of the novel as Luke is extremely goofy when it comes to interacting with women, and there is even a discussion about his feelings towards Leia – obviously, before he finds out he is related to her. While Luke’s teenage angst over his attraction to Nakari is an awkward read in its own right, I found it even more cringe-worthy because Luke is treated asexual in the films, devoting himself to the Jedi order. Guess he didn’t get the memo about Jedi and romantic relationships…
Another highlight of the novel comes from the thrilling bounty hunter battle at its climax where a shocking moment occurs and Luke feels his first pull from the Dark Side. It’s an interesting sequence as Luke briefly considers surrendering himself to the anger and rage that would empower him to defeat his enemies. Hearne also acknowledges the tragedies that Luke has experienced throughout “A New Hope”, giving him the opportunity to grieve for the losses of his aunt and uncle, Obi-Wan and even Biggs. It is in sequences like these that the first-person narrative really comes into play and we get a true understanding of the character’s mind set.
Heir to the Jedi succeeds in giving us a new perspective on Luke Skywalker, especially during this seldom-explored period of his life between movies. A curious mish-mash of the needy teenage farm-boy and the confident pilot who can bullseye womp rats in his T-16, this is a Luke Skywalker at the beginning of his quest for self-discovery that will eventually lead him to a duel with Darth Vader in Cloud City. While the first-person narrative may be divisive for some, I found it suited the story well and I got comfortable with Luke’s voice throughout the book. As one of the first novels set within the new canon, Heir to the Jedi sets the foundations for the adventures set in the three year gap between “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” – a period that would be later explored more in-depth by the excellent Marvel Comics series.