Jedi Apprentice Reread 1 — The Rising Force

JA 1 Rising_Force_coverThe Jedi Apprentice books hold a special place in my heart.

Released between 1999 and 2002, the series is comprised of eighteen regular books and two “special edition” books chronicling Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon’s adventures and relationship from its start until shortly before The Phantom Menace.  While I was already a big fan of Star Wars by the time the first one came out and had already been introduced to the Expanded Universe through reference books like the Essential Guide to Characters, the Jedi Apprentice books were the first Star Wars novels I read and, more than that, they were some of the first books that got me excited about reading.

While later the post-Return of the Jedi books became my main focus of interest is the Expanded Universe, this series and its characters remain very important to me. As this series now falls under the Legends banner and a new trilogy of Star Wars films looms on the horizon, it’s been over a decade since I last picked up a Jedi Apprentice book and my perspective has changed quite a bit in those years.

It seems about time I reread these books and see how well they hold up.

Jedi Apprentice, book 1 — The Rising Force, by David Wolverton

In which the Jedi Council should not be in charge of children and Qui-Gon totally rides a dragon

First thing of note about this book: while Jedi Apprentice and its follow-ups are mostly known as the work of Jude Watson, it was David Wolverton, the author who brought the world The Courtship of Princess Leia, who wrote this first book and launched the series.

The books begins with twelve-year-old Obi-Wan practice-dueling another boy named Bruck, who is almost as much a bully as his name is terrible. Obi-Wan beats him soundly with his practice lightsaber, which doesn’t cut through flesh but instead causes burns that often require the aid of a healer– what the heck, Jedi Council, why do you think this is okay? I’d get it if the practice duels resulting in mild stinging or something, but you’re having young children give each other second-degree burns. What is wrong with you?

Anyway, Bruck is a jerk who gave Obi-Wan the nickname “Oafy-Wan” because Obi-Wan is a large and clumsy kid who’s still growing into his Ewan McGregor-ness, but Obi-Wan manages to keep his cool and soundly defeats Bruck despite his taunts about how Obi-Wan will be forced to leave the Temple in a month when he turns thirteen because if you aren’t chosen by a Knight to be a Padawan by the time you turn thirteen, you are deemed too old and what the hell. Who thought that was a good idea? Who thought they could determine a child’s strengths, a child’s potential, a child’s entire future, when they are thirteen years old? And in such a sloppy, arbitrary way. There is no way that this is a healthy way for these superpower-possessing kids to grow up, especially since it implies that the ones who don’t get to be knights were deemed “unworthy” and that the other Force-related callings are somehow inferior.

Yoda calls the fight so that they can prepare for tomorrow, when a Jedi Knight will come through seeking a Padawan. Yoda then leaves, leaving Obi-Wan, who apparently has trouble controlling his anger, and Bruck, who holds grudges and is really clearly very angry and upset about his defeat, alone in the practice room with their practice lightsabers that cause burns because clearly nothing could possibly go wrong with this and did I mention that the Jedi Council is terrible at handling children?

Predictably, Bruck starts a fight, and both of them end up beat up and covered in burns. But while Obi-Wan goes back to his room to tend his wounds, Bruck continues being a jerk and goes to the healers, pretending to be more hurt than he really is and just saying Obi-Wan’s name before pretending to faint, because he, too, has realized that the Jedi Order is filled with people who have no idea how to deal with children and has realized that someone who is both a Jedi Master and a healer will none-the-less completely fail to see through his ruse.

Shortly thereafter, Obi-Wan receives notice that he’ll be shipped off to a nowhere planet called Bandomeer in the morning to join the Agricultural Corps, the most looked-down upon of the branches of the Jedi, because he let his anger get the better of him and beat up Bruck and I sigh for so many reasons. In the Agricultural Corps, he’ll help to tend sick plants, which honestly sound like a pretty cool and useful application of the Force. What a bummer that that occupation is apparently looked so far down upon and is used as punishment.

Yoda convinces the Council to allow Obi-Wan to fight in front of Qui-Gon, thus giving him one last chance to be chosen as a Padawan.  By determining that Bruck started the fight. By asking a droid who was there. Which they apparently didn’t do to begin with. And they still don’t punish Bruck at all. Because the Council has no idea what it’s doing.

Obi-Wan and Bruck have a rematch with Qui-Gon looking on and Obi-Wan wins yet again, but Qui-Gon refuses to train him because he is too quick to anger and could turn to the Dark Side. Heartbroken, Obi-Wan leaves for Bandomeer, which–surprise!–is also where Qui-Gon’s heading, by request of the Senate.

Obi-Wan arrives at the ship to Bandomeer and is almost immediately knocked-out by a Hutt. It turns out that nearly everyone on the ship besides him is a member of one of two rival mining corporations who have claimed different parts of the ship as their own. Because what better way to send a sheltered twelve-year-old to a dangerous planet than in a ship that has been divided between what are practically two rival gangs, with no guidance or supervision?

He awakens to find himself being tended by members of the Arcona Mineral Harvest Corporation and learns that the one who knocked him out is a member of Offworld Mining, a large and ruthless corporation that has no qualms against bullying and killing that will be important later. Some Arconans and Qui-Gon visit him and Qui-Gon warns him not to take any rash actions against Offworld. So naturally, when it turns out that some of the Arconan equipment has been sabotage, Obi-Wan and his new Arconan friend Si Treemba sneak over to the Offworld side of the ship to investigate. Si Treemba is captured and when Obi-Wan helps him, Offworld comes to believe that the Jedi are there to assist Arcona Mining against them.

Meanwhile, Qui-Gon senses when Obi-Wan is in danger, which confuses him as usually one only shares such a connection with another Jedi with whom they share a close bond. Hmm, I wonder what this could mean?

While Qui-Gon is chewing Obi-Wan out for his recklessness and disobedience, pirates attack, but between Qui-Gon’s lightsaber skills and Obi-Wan’s piloting abilities, they manage to fight off and escape the pirates. Their ship, however, ends up damaged in the battle and they become stranded on an uninhabited-except-by-draigons-that-are-totally-different-from-dragons rocky island on a middle-of-nowhere planet. Asking Obi-Wan about one particularly deadly move he pulled during the battle, Qui-Gon thinks back to his not-at-all-ominously-named former apprentice Xanatos, realizing that he doesn’t let himself trust Obi-Wan because of the trust that Xanatos betrayed.

Their conversation is interrupted by Si Treemba, Obi-Wan’s Arconan friend, rushing in to tell that all the dactyl, crystals the Arconans need to survive, had been stolen by the Hutt in charge of the Offworlders. Because remember: Hutts are almost always jerks. Are there any not-jerk Hutts? I can only think of one off the top of my head.

Later while recovering from the wounds he sustained fighting the pirates, Qui-Gon glances out his window and sees a shimmer and a yellow haze around some cliffs. The next morning, the ship is evacuated to caves up in the cliffs due to the rising tide. The Hutt is upset about the evacuation and Qui-Gon realizes that the yellow haze he saw was the glow from the dactyl crystals and that the dactyl must be up in caves where he saw the shimmer, which is why the Hutt’s upset about the evacuation: he doesn’t want anyone wandering in the cliffs where they might find the dactyl.

While everyone else is evacuating, Qui-Gon climbs the cliff to where he saw the glow but one of the Hutt’s cronies spots him and takes a team of Offworlders to shoot at him as he climbs the cliff. Unfortunately for that plan, the ruckus the Offworlders’ cause attracts the attention of the dragons (let’s be real, the extra letter in “draigon” is not fooling anyone), who swoop down for an Offworld snack.

Qui-Gon manages to grab the dactyl while his attackers are preoccupied by the dragons, but one of the dragons spots him. Sensing Obi-Wan calling for help right then, Qui-Gon does the only reasonable thing: he jumps off of the cliff, lands on the back of a dragon in flight, and rides a dragon to the rescue.

Let me say that again: Qui-Gon flies on the back of a dragon to the rescue.

The only way that could be a better image would be if he posed on its gleaming silver back with his lightsaber and deflected blaster bolts on the way. Sadly, he had to cling on to the dragon’s back so as to not loose purchase, but he’s still riding a dragon to the rescue and that’s still amazing.

Qui-Gon is able to use the Force to coax the dragon into flying to the cave that Obi-Wan and the other had evacuated to, landing just in time for dozens of dragons to attack. Qui-Gon rushes to deliver the dactyl to the Arconans and Obi-Wan stays at the entrance to flight off the dragons. The Hutt crawls up to Obi-Wan and aims his blaster at him while the boy’ distracted. At that same moment, the one survivor of the group that had tried to kill Qui-Gon on the cliffs shoots at Obi-Wan, but he misses, killing the Hutt instead and accidentally saving Obi-Wan before being eaten by a dragon.

After the Hutt’s death, the remaining Offworlders and Arconans band together to fight off the dragons and after the battle, the surviving Offworlders are convinced to join Arcona Mining instead of staying with Offworld.

Qui-Gon decided to keep an eye on Obi-Wan and both of them sense that touble awaits them on Bandomeer. When their ship is repaired and they finally arrive, Qui-Gon is given a note signed by Xanatos.

Thoughts

Wow, I had forgotten how completely incompetent the Jedi Council is in this book and somehow their policies are even more nonsensical than in the movies. That’s a pretty big feat. Even setting aside the extremely questionable policy of ending eligibility for apprenticeship when a child reaches thirteen (I’m very curious about what happened to cause that rule to come to be), punishing Obi-Wan by sending him away early and not punishing Bruck even after discovering the truth of the fight between them is just baffling. Is the Jedi Council stubborn? Did they just not want to admit that they had made a mistake?

It was also baffling how incredibly sheltered the children at the Temple are. It’ implies that they never experience the world outside until their Padawans, which seems like it would cause problems when young Padawans finally go on their first missions and discover how complicated and murky the galaxy really is.

I did appreciate that they acknowledge that there are different applications for the Force other than being knights, but it was unfortunate how the Agricultural Corps was presented. I also appreciated that there was an effort to make the Arconans actually seem alien and to give them different priorities than humans by making them extremely community-focused, though I’m not sure how successful the effort was. At one point, the Arconans were contrasted with humans in that they prioritize life over freedom as opposed to the reverse, but that feels like a major oversimplification, both of human values and of the potentially-complex Arconans.

It’s also interesting to see how reckless and awkward Obi-Wan is in this book. You can tell that he has a lot of growing to do before he’s the poised knight we’re all familiar with from the films. He’s young, he’s clumsy, he’s filled with insecurity. But he doesn’t stay that way. He still has so much of his life ahead of him and so much of his potential to fulfill. I think that’s a really great thing for kids who fell like their going to be awkward misfits forever to see. Even Obi-Wan, who grows up to be Ewan McGregor and Alec Guiness, had a terrible, mocking nickname, but that didn’t determine his future.

On the whole, while this isn’t the best young readers Star Wars book I’ve ever read, it was still engaging enough for me to want to keep reading and it certainly worked to hook me into the series back when I was actually in the target demographic. And it’s not every book that you get to read about Qui-Gon riding a dragon. Despite its flaws, most of which have to do with the Jedi Council who, let’s be real, have a lot of issues anyway, this is a decent, solid book that does a great job establishing both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon’s insecurities that they must overcome.

Next time: the mysterious Xanatos enters the scene.

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