Sometimes, there are books that you classify as a guilty pleasure and sometimes there are books that you find yourself apologizing for every time you say that you enjoy them. In the past, the Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights books have fallen into this category for me. For those unaware: it’s a series of 14 young adult books by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta that focus on the Solo twins and their friends Tenel Ka and Lowbacca during their first few years at the Jedi Academy on Yavin 4.
From here on out, there won’t be any more apologies for liking these books. Despite clearly being written for the younger crowd, they are entertaining reads with fun plot lines and great characters. Most importantly though, they are some of the best gateways for younger fans to ease into the Expanded Universe and discover a whole new galaxy. And years later? they still have plenty of fans who look back fondly at the books. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why they’re still some of the well-creased and beloved novels on some people’s shelves.
One thing I noticed when I first wrote about the Young Jedi Knights books for the Waru Express is that everyone who commented seemed to have really connected with and loved at least one of the four main characters. For every detractor against these books, there’s at least one who read them and then started dreaming of either being one of the Solo twins or Tenel Ka or of being best friends with them. Or both. Both is good. Of course, it’s not just limited to Jaina, Jacen, and Tenel Ka. The series also featured Lowbacca (nephew to everyone’s favorite wookiee), Zekk (a street urchin who’s good friends with the Solo twins), Raynar Thul (who you really just have to experience), and Lusa (a Force user who the Solo kids met during one of the many times they were kidnapped).
One of the coolest things about the Solo twins is that they don’t fall into standard gender stereotypes. Jaina’s the one who takes after her father as not only a great pilot but also as the one who’s always tinkering with some mechanical gadget while Jacen has an affinity for animals and has more pets than he can always keep track of. Anderson and Moesta are both well aware of what they’re doing here too. In the first book, Heirs of the Force, Han arrives on Yavin 4 with presents in hand for the twins: a hyperdrive and a bunch of flowers. The twins don’t even pause to think before reaching for their intended present with glee. (The flowers are food for one of Jacen’s pets, in case you were wondering.)
All of these teenagers have their strengths and they all have their weaknesses. No one is portrayed as being anything close to perfect and neither is anyone really shown as being useless. (Okay, so maybe Raynar is super annoying during the first arc but look at all that character development he goes through in arc two!) The best part is that even though they’re often put in tough situations and have to make decisions like mature adults, they never stop feeling like actual teenagers. It’s a huge part of what made them so relatable to so many people.
I also have to put out that this is one of the few positive portrayals of a disabled character in science-fiction/fantasy that I can think of much less in just the Star Wars universe. In Lightsabers, Tenel Ka loses her left arm above the elbow in a training accident and chooses not to be fitted with a prosthetic. The next several books show Tenel Ka learning to adjust to having only one hand. It is a process that is always treated respectfully and none of her friends ever treat her as if she is worth less or unable to be useful. Occasionally one of the twins or Lowbacca might offer her assistance but it’s never done condescendingly. (I’ll insist that one of the cutest scenes in the books is when young Anakin Solo helps her figure out a way for Tenel Ka to continue to do her hair in warrior braids with just one hand.) She is always shown as being capable and that is beyond fantastic.
The Plot lines
Sure they were a bit cheesy at times and occasionally felt a little bit recycled but they always felt like Star Wars. A fight against an evil Imperial faction and a bunch of dark siders? Sounds right on par to me. And have you seen this fandom and how much they love their bounty hunters? Throw in a three book arc about Black Sun and you’ve covered all the basics. The plots were very much a product of the Bantam Era but they stay fun and age appropriate and they also allow the characters to grow throughout. Perhaps the most obvious case of character growth is that of Raynar Thul because he certainly doesn’t get to become more than the annoyingly bratty rich kid without the Diversity Alliance/Emperor’s Plague plot line.
The plots also always very much felt a part of the grander Star Wars universe. The first book was published in 1995 and was the farthest thing into the timeline at the time. It’s actually quite amusing to look back and see how Anderson and Moesta skirted around different plot points from novels earlier in the timeline without contradicting or spoiling anything. (Hearing the story from KJA about Mara will never stop being funny. The short version is that he knew Mara and Luke would get married but kept a straight face throughout the series and never gave it away.) While some things did require some executive handwaving and retconning to work with the grander picture, it doesn’t feel jarring or like these books take place in an alternate universe.
Not to be confused with the overarching Second Imperium or bounty hunter plot lines, the stories and character arcs for the main characters often strongly resonated with readers. In particular, Lightsabers, the fourth book in the series stands out as not only being a great Young Jedi Knights book but also a great Star Wars book in general. There are great lessons within it for starters: don’t be overconfident in your own abilities, challenges can be overcome no matter how great they might seem, and that you don’t have to define yourself as simply one thing. By the end of the book, Tenel Ka has learned from her initial rushed mistake and has built a lightsaber that is not only better constructed but is also a tangible symbol of she has come to accept that she is both a warrior of Dathomir and the princess of Hapes. For me, Lightsabers is one of those books that I can read over and over again and never tire of it.
Zekk is one of the characters who gets to go through an interesting development arc. He starts as a street rat who’s been befriended by the twins. Due to a series of poorly timed circumstances, he ends up being recruited by the evil Shadow Academy to become a Dark Jedi. When the Shadow Academy is defeated in their all out attack on the Jedi Academy, he’s not simply killed or tossed out on his own but is rather given a chance to start a new. He takes his time and works towards redemption throughout the next arc until he agrees that he’s worthy of a place in the Jedi Academy.
At the end of the day though? What really makes these books so great is that they are fun. They’re fun books that are easy reads that set up the next generation of Jedi Knights. They gave us characters that many of us felt we could relate to and they gave us characters that many of us grew up along side of. Some bad things might have happened to them over those two years but they all ultimately emerged from it stronger. Things might’ve gone to hell in a handbasket for almost all of them over the next decade or two but we’ll always have these books.
So thank you to Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta for writing such fun Star Wars books with such great characters that so many of us related to and cared about deeply. The Star Wars galaxy and my bookshelf are better places for them.