Just under a year ago, readers were treated to a new Luke Skywalker adventure, notably the first entry for characters from the Original Trilogy in the new Star Wars Expanded Universe. Written by Kevin Hearne, a bestselling author of the Iron Druid Chronicles, Heir to the Jedi, was also the first entry in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, new or old, to adopt the first person perspective. Readers enter the mind of Skywalker for an adventure that cuts across planets and moons, involves a bit of romance, and a desperate mission to retrieve one of the galaxy’s top cryptographers. At a glance, it sounds like an interesting adventure, but unfortunately, in execution, Heir to the Jedi fails to rise above a mediocre telling.
Set shortly after the Battle of Yavin, Luke Skywalker is presented as an earnest member of the Rebel Alliance and a Force sensitive hungry to learn more about the ways of the Force and what it means to be a Jedi. His companion for much of the story is the heiress to a giant pharmaceutical corporation, Nakari Kelen. Nakari is developed enough to avoid a label of ‘literary manic pixie dream girl’ but as summed up at the end of the novel, she serves as a means to encourage Luke to continue with his experimentation in using the Force and as a conduit through which to come to terms with the terrible losses he’s been dealt with from Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death to his aunt and uncle and so on. She’s there to help him move forward in his life. She’s also a love interest, but the romantic aspect of her relationship to Luke is only slowly developed to blossom in the last few chapters of Heir to the Jedi. This is not a bad thing. Unfortunately, she suffers somewhat from the same problem that Luke actually suffers from, a lack of distinct identity.
Both characters are outlined with motivations for why they do what they do, but there is something indistinct about how Hearne depicts those identities on the page which feels frustratingly just out of grasp of the reader. It is in this regard that the decision to write Luke as the first person narrator of the story was clearly a poor one. Few, if any, of the characters of the Star Wars galaxy is as well-known and depicted as much as Luke Skywalker. He is our point of view character in the original film, his adventure from the sands of Tatooine guiding us through the story from nobody to hero at the end. It’s safe to say that a lot of fans have a very clear picture of Luke in their minds when watching or reading about the hero of Yavin. Choosing to go inside the mind of that hero, explore his thoughts, feelings, and reactions from that perspective places an even heavier emphasis on making sure to come as close to the popular perception of Luke Skywalker as possible. The Luke Skywalker that Herne presents simply does not conform enough, at least to our reader’s perspective, and so the result is approximately 300 pages of engaging with someone trying their best to impersonate one of the most beloved Star Wars characters.
As noted before, it’s an indistinct impersonation, one that at times seems close to the mark and at other times feels just off in one manner or another. The problem is conflated with a desire to over explain simple events in the novel, such as a decision to leave R2-D2 behind at another location, or almost methodically noting a morning routine. A lot of these situations would have been much easier to summarize or even gloss over in a third person telling. Notably, in the action sequences, be it Luke at the controls of an outfitted space yacht or guiding another character through dark sewage tunnels, Hearne manages to avoid this problem, perhaps because action calls for focused and direct writing. Ultimately, Luke Skywalker as a narrator to his own adventure comes across as a bit boring.
The failure to establish Luke and Nakari as distinct characters, the problem harming the former more than the latter, is disappointing because at times, Hearne reveals he can create interesting and unique characters. An example of this is the Given cryptographer, Drusil. Hearne explores her uniqueness not just as an alien, but as someone gifted with an analytical mind that rivals an astromech. In Heir to the Jedi, it is the aliens who emerge as the best characters, if only perhaps because their alien nature naturally allows them to stand out. From Rodians to Kupohans, the alien races and their worlds turn out to be much more interesting comparatively to our main characters. They make the galaxy feel like something new and just waiting to be explored, which runs into direct contrast with several odd decisions by Hearne in terms of words used.
“…as sheer as a negligee.” “…then say, (p+l)(a+n) = pa + pn + la + ln.” “Wait. Don’t you get it?” “Get what?” “I foiled your plan!” Throughout Heir to the Jedi are sprinkled what in gaming settings or fantasy sections words or phrases that come across as out of genre or out of context, with the previous quotations as examples. These ‘nuggets’ (readers will get the joke) are highlighted because they are the words that our narrator, Luke, chooses to use. Obviously, it’s quite possible that negligee-like clothes exist in our Star Wars universe, but that’s a very specific word, for example, which references something in our world. Likewise, something like the FOIL strategy of solving quadratic equations might exist in the universe, but this is a straight up math joke from our world. The word ‘algebra’ is used repeatedly, which in a story about a teenage girl with a vampire boyfriend in high school would make sense, but not in Star Wars. In opposition as to why many read Star Wars, to explore something mysterious, adventurous, and unknown, Heir to the Jedi is weighed down from time to time with the wonderfully mundane.
One final problem with the novel is its title, Heir to the Jedi. Luke’s fascination and focus on becoming a Jedi, to living up to the legacy of his father, never quite feels as if it’s given the amount of time and attention such a theme should carry. It would be unfair to say Luke doesn’t explore his future as a Jedi, as he visits a Jedi’s tomb, breaks a lightsaber, and manages to Force move noodles about, among a few conversations with others about the Force (the one with Drusil is well done). A shorter book, The Weapon of a Jedi, by Jason Fry, which is a young adult novel, manages to concentrate much better on Luke’s inquisitiveness and efforts toward becoming a Jedi. When we see the title with ‘Jedi’ included in it, there’s a presumption that a major emphasis will be placed upon the Force and Luke’s journey toward becoming a member of that nearly extinct order. In this case, the matter arises, but in the lulls of the novel, not necessarily presented as major moments. The result is again disappointing.
Heir to the Jedi, by Kevin Hearne, is not a terrible novel, but it repeatedly fails to rise to the level that a premiere addition to the new Expanded Universe should have been. Against the other publications, such as A New Dawn, Tarkin, and others, it is lacking. The decision to choose a first person narrative, coupled with a lack of restraint for explaining every little detail, and the just enough abundance of ‘real world’ references, undermine what could have been a much better story. For those who must read every new addition to the new Expanded Universe, then they might be able to find satisfaction in scratching a line through Heir to the Jedi off their list. For those who are looking for a fun, adventurous Luke Skywalker story, they are better off simply reading a synopsis of the novel and looking elsewhere.