Because I write fiction, I don’t write autobiography, and to me they are very different things. The first-person narrative is a very intimate thing, but you are not addressing other people as ‘I’ – you are inhabiting that ‘I.’
To date, only one other Star Wars novel (I, Jedi) has portrayed the galaxy far, far away in first person. First person narratives can be some of the trickiest to accomplish, as it requires the author to become a character on such an intimate level. They can also, if executed correctly, give the most rewarding experience to the reader. Kevin Hearne masterfully achieved this goal in Heir to the Jedi, providing the galaxy with the most insightful and profound chronicle inside the head of Luke Skywalker to date.
Almost forty years has passed since we were first introduced to the farm boy destined for greatness. Over that time period, countless books and comics have attempted to capture a true representation of Luke Skywalker, to varying degrees of success. I for one, was somewhat cautious when I read the publisher’s summary for Heir to the Jedi, as I felt it was something that had been covered ad nauseam.
Not only does the book focus on the early exploits of Luke, it also falls into the one of the most compact time periods in the Star Wars chronology: between Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The three years that sets these two movies apart, according to the in-universe calendar, are easily the busiest in the Star Wars Universe. Fans can read over ten adult novels, twenty young-adult books, and forty comic book series that span this era. Granted, none of those books are part of the current canon, but they are still there, imprinted onto the fans memories.
All of these factors put a high level of expectations on Heir to the Jedi. In order to set itself apart from the masses, as well as blaze forward as part of the new canon, Heir would have to more than just live. It would have to jump off the pages and shoot first, startling the readers from their stupor. Heir would be tasked with showing us something we had yet to see. It to be au courant. Let’s see how it did.
Our story starts off shortly after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope and in the time before the current Star Wars series by Marvel Comics. The Battle of Yavin and the utter destruction of the Death Star are still fresh on everyone’s minds. Luke’s success as the legendary pilot who took down the Death Star has brought him some fame, but thankfully hasn’t had any long term affects on his ego. Luke is on a trip to Rodia, on a mission to open up a smuggling supply line with a local company there called Utheel Outfitters. Utheel is described as manufacturing “everything from stealth armor to big-game grenade launchers.” It’s a valuable asset to a fledgling rebellion to be sure.
Within the first ten pages, we are introduced to Luke’s primary love interest for the duration of this book: Nakari Kelen. Nakari is fresh recruitment of the Rebel Alliance and the owner of Luke’s transportation, the Desert Jewel. She also is the daughter the affluent owner of Kelen Biolabs, another company that is flirting with supporting the rebels.
One of the true strongpoints of the first-person perspective shines through early on, in the first couple chapters. We see Luke attempting to utilize a new Force technique and we are truly able to see thing’s from Luke’s point of view. He knows he is severely undertrained and naive. He knows that he is truly in a dire position, trying to piece together what little Obi-Wan Kenobi told him before he died. Before attempting to use the Force, Luke narrates, “Before I began, I gave myself permission to fail. It was to be my first try, after all, and there was no use in getting upset or even angry at myself if I didn’t succeed right away.” We truly see Kearne’s brilliance early on, here. We see Luke struggle internally, about how one could be seduced by the Dark Side. I am able to relate to Luke here, as he struggles with the questions I myself struggled with as a much younger man. The fact that Kearne is able to use Luke Skywalker to connect me, the reader, is truly a work of art.
“The brains had been completely removed from the victims.”
As the book progresses, we get a pretty good ratio of inner dialogue to action. While we get a really good look at what Luke is going through, it never seems to get in the way or hold up the action. When we get our first alien animal introduced to us, it’s done in a way that still seems fresh and new, even in a galaxy that seems to have shown us it all before. The Fexian Skullborers (Yes, that is really what they are called!) are wildly ferocious predators that are able to camouflage themselves to a near-invisible state. They then pounce down upon the victims and proceed to drill through their victims skull and drink their brains.
While many characters such as Han Solo and Chewbacca are absent from the novel, we do get a pretty good foil for Luke in this book. Perhaps the most interesting of all is the Givin cryptologist, Drusil Bephorin, that the central plot circles around. A math-based species, the Givin are highly intelligent and Drusil even more so. One things readers might notice early on in the book are the subtle mathematical equations and formulas that circle the heading of each chapter page. We find out their purpose as we learn the Givin are prone to greeting each other with math problems.
The two main foils for Luke are Drusil Bephorin and Nakari Kelen. Kelen shares in a lot of Luke’s naiveté, but also pushes him to grow and advance as a Jedi and a person. They share several humorous moments together and we are able to see Luke, through his internal disquisition, gain maturity. She is also his first, true romantic interest for Luke (I think it’s wise if we all just block out any romantic feelings Luke thinks he has for Leia). It is hard to get too attached to Nakari though, as we know she doesn’t appear in any in any of the movies that follow. This I would say is the only flaw of the novel. We know Nakari is never mentioned again so her fate as Luke’s lover doesn’t look exceptional. As a foil though, I do have to admit that she is vital in carrying Luke forward, especially in the way she departs his company.
Drusil Bephorin, on the other hand, adds to Luke’s Jedi training in a surprising and capricious way, especially since she is a lambent mathematician with no knowledge of the Force. Her knowledge of probability and statistics is very impressive and she occasionally flits into the role C-3PO typically fills: informing the crew the probability of survival or evading Imperial entanglements. There is one scene in particular we get where Luke is attempting to move a placid noodle under the watchful eye of Drusil. Here is a short excerpt that shows one example of how Drusil had a lasting impression on Luke:
“You did not move the noodle with your mind. Physics prevents it, so it would be more accurate to say that you moved something else, and that moved the noodle.” The Givin had a talent for uttering sentences that altered the way I looked at a problem. Her observation made it clear that I’d been moving the Force, not the noodle, but I hadn’t perceived it that way until she said it.
We had already heard Jennifer Heddle (the Senior Editor of LucasBooks) comment on the humor in Heir, something not typical in Star Wars novels. I kept my eyes out as I read, looking for Hearne’s injection of humor and found it to be sound. One of the funniest moments I encountered was when Luke was being briefed on the Givin by Leia and Admiral Ackbar. They are explaining to a panicked Luke the custom of Givin to ask each other a math equation. Luke worries he won’t be able to answer anything beyond basic addition and subtraction. Leia reassures him the Givin have a habit of catering to humans and their lack of proficiency in math and thus will always ask a question with the answer “3.” They also warn him never to ask a Givin for an approximation, as that would be an insult, implying they are unable to come to an exact number. There is a lot more light-hearted humor like this throughout and Hearne does a decent job extrapolating the humor we saw Luke exhibit in the Original Trilogy without making it feel forced.
“I had been given little command decisions.”
Hearn also addresses Luke’s lack of experience as a freedom fighter. This is arguably Luke’s first assignment where he is calling the shots and directing the flow of action. This is a young Luke, whose only accomplishment up to this point involved a lucky shot and a design flaw. We have already seen Luke struggling with his proficiency in the Force earlier, but now we see him become afflicted with excruciating uncertainty in regards to leadership. The Luke Skywalker we meet in The Empire Strikes Back is a much more seasoned rebel, both in his Force and his ability to lead troops into battle. Hearn gives us a really good look at Luke in these areas and we see him grow in a logical manner.
One of the main complaints I had with Heir to the Jedi early on was the somewhat juvenile way in which Luke Skywalker narrates the story. His vocabulary, critical thinking skills, and overall common sense appeared to be glossed over by Hearne and were somewhat jarring. My opinion of this evolved however as I came to realize Hearne was actually quite sagacious in how he handled Luke’s narration. Luke is only eighteen at this point and has spent the majority of his life as a sheltered farm boy. It actually makes sense that he would appear slightly unintelligent to me, a twenty five year-old with a lot of life experiences. After a while, I came to realize this was actually a strength of the novel and was probably somewhat challenging for someone as intelligent as Kevin Hearn to accomplish.
Overall this is a fairly simplistic tale for Luke, as first glance anyways. The mission in and of itself isn’t all that pertinent to Luke’s overall story. Though it might sound cliche, for Heir to the Jedi, its the journey that is important; not the ending location. Hearne masterfully sculpts a section out of the Star Wars mythos. He presents a work of art that seems to pit perfectly in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, like pieces of a puzzle. He spices up the blue milk with dashes of humor and introvertism. It’s a galaxy-spanning adventure as we follow Luke from a Jedi Tomb on Rodia to battling of brain-eating monsters on an uncharted moon. This venture set out to give us a Luke-centric story shorty after A New Hope. It went above and beyond those benchmarks, giving us the first, real look inside the mind of a Jedi in despair. I highly recommend this novel.
Thank you to Alex Coumbis and Random House Publishing for providing Yoda’s News with a review copy of Heir to the Jedi, by Kevin Hearn. I give this novel 9 out of 10 stars. You can pre-order the book now at this link via Amazon.com