Guest Review: The Jedi Academy Trilogy Vol. 1: Jedi Search by Kevin J. Anderson

Book Review The Jedi Academy Trilogy Vol. 1 Jedi Search by Kevin J Anderson

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3/5 Rancors – Kevin J. Anderson played a prominent role in the Star Wars Expanded Universe for a few years in the mid-1990s. His projects included the Tales of the Jedi comics published by Dark Horse, the Illustrated Guide to the Star Wars Universe, editorial and authorial duties on three Tales collections, various youth-oriented fiction, and a few of the adult novels. Jedi Search was his first book in the Jedi Academy Trilogy, set after the pivotal events of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy and the Dark Empire comic series. This trilogy typifies many of the characteristics often associated with the 90s Bantam Spectra era of Star Wars publishing, following the main movie characters as they battle a newly emerged ex-Imperial leader and throwing a new super weapon or two into the mix.

This first part of the trilogy opens with the New Republic in the process of re-claiming Coruscant after the recent Imperial reoccupation. It’s interesting how openly the book ties to the Dark Empire comics series in some of the early scenes. Readers who stick only to the books will be quite confused when things such as the Emperor’s resurrection and Luke Skywalker’s fall to the dark side are mentioned. For my part, I applaud the inclusion of story points from multiple media in these books. Star Wars is unusual in that there is a concerted effort to create a single unified chronology where everything is at one level of canon or another.

Han and Chewbacca are sent on a mission to Kessel to negotiate a possible alliance when their plans go awry and they find themselves enslaved to work the spice mines. They meet Kyp Durron, a teen with untrained Force potential who will go on to be an enduring figure of the later Expanded Universe. Kessel is evocatively portrayed, especially the chilling lightless mines and the monsters that lurk within. Later in the book our heroes find themselves in the Maw, an old Imperial research facility hidden by a veritable nest of black holes. The primary new Imperial adversary for this trilogy, Admiral Daala, is in charge of the facility and is shocked to discover the Emperor is dead and the galaxy has a new order. Kudos for coming up with this facility and the plot device of its isolation. It brings a realistic new threat to the galaxy in the wake of classic ones such as Thrawn and the resurrected Emperor.

Not so realistic is the new super weapon in development. Subtly named the Sun Crusher, it’s a small fighter-size craft capable of sending a star into supernova phase and thereby destroying entire solar systems. It’s a massive reach in believability to accept the Death Star required such a massive scale to house a planet-destroying weapon but only a few years later this dinky little craft can do so much more. Held in reserve is also a prototype Death Star, mentioned but not used in the plot of this particular volume.

Luke spends this book laying the foundations for his new Jedi Academy. His first step is finding quality candidates, so he embarks on the titular Jedi search. Two encounters are depicted in detail. The first, on a wasteland of a mining planet with a leader named Gantoris, is not well executed. Gantoris puts Luke through a series of life-threatening and cruel tests to ascertain if he will allow himself to be trained. This has the effect of making Luke’s character very weak and in no way do I accept Luke would permit Gantoris the latitude he does here. The second, with a gas miner named Streen on the fringes of Bespin, is much better: interesting setting, good new character, and believable actions.

This book is a rapid read. Scenes are brisk and there is never much of a lull between action sequences. Anderson writes in a plain-spoken, easily digestible manner and keeps the pace fluid. The two major storylines come together at the end in a big, if tactically unsound, space battle. Where the book struggles most is in accurately characterizing the familiar cast from the films and in relying too much on super weapons and thinly developed new villains. The events of this trilogy are too big to ignore if you’re interested in understanding the larger Expanded Universe, but expect a fairly light, brisk read that probably won’t leave a strong impact on you.

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4/5 Rancors – Jedi Search by Kevin J. Anderson is Volume 1 of The Jedi Academy Trilogy. The series is set in a time when the Republic is still fighting scattered forces of the old Empire. Leia and Han have three kids with the twins Jacen and Jaina making an appearance in this book. Leia is completely swamped with her responsibilities as the chief diplomat for the Republic but still tries to find time to be a mother to the twins when they are brought to Coruscant. Han spends most of the book with Chewbacca on what was supposed to be a diplomatic mission to Kessel but turns out to be much more than that. Luke’s primary focus in the tale is to reestablish the Jedi Order by finding new potential Jedi and establishing a Jedi academy for their training.

On the whole, I very much enjoyed the book. In the early stages, several different paths of the story are set up. I especially enjoyed a scene where Luke surveys the towers of Coruscant from a shuttle-landing platform while he is biding his time until he walks into the assembly chamber of the New Republic Senate and requests permission to address the assembled delegates. He approaches them with the need to find new Jedi, recreate the Order, and establish an academy. He receives official permission from the Senate to proceed. The concept of actually finding potential new Jedi was fascinating. Luke could get a very good idea of the potential by doing a type of mind meld with individuals. However, you clearly just can’t walk up to random individuals on the street and test them for awareness of the Force. He establishes parameters and enlists the invaluable aid of R2-D2 and C-3PO to search through vast databases to find possible Jedi candidates. Then we are able to follow Luke as he heads off to check out potential new Jedi face to face. Luke goes through his own ordeal in investigating Gantoris before determining that he is an acceptable Jedi candidate. The ordeal is presented in such a way as to make Luke appear to be weak and indecisive. The session with Gantoris was difficult to accept. Luke’s meeting on Bespin with Streen, the second candidate, is much better done. All of this makes you appreciate what a difficult task a search for new Jedi would be.

In the meantime, Han and Chewie arrive at Kessel only to receive an extremely rude welcome and end up working as slaves in the spice mines. Not a good place to be. They manage to make their escape along with Kyp Durron, a fellow prisoner. In their frenzied efforts to escape the planet they end up forced to navigate into the dreaded black holes of the Maw. They succeed in that through the efforts of Kyp only to end up at a secret Imperial base with four Super Destroyers. The base was established under the orders of Grand Moff Tarkin and has been hidden away for ten years under the leadership of Admiral Daala. Her orders were to stay in place and continue their scientific research on a new super weapon until they were told otherwise. No news has come in or gone out during the entire time the base has been in place. The action from this point is pretty much nonstop and involves most of our favorite heroes. I also love the idea of a secret base.

Mr. Anderson also introduces us early in the book to one of the most unforgettable droids ever, a walking factory described as a construction droid. These droids are 40 stories tall, have thousands of articulated arms, and are responsible for the demolition of much of Coruscant that has been destroyed during various battles. The droids wade into derelict buildings, take them apart, absorb all of the wreckage, and then divide it into useful materials and junk. If the droid is shut down, it takes three days to fire it up again. I just love the idea of a 40-story droid.

The only part of the book that I really had any trouble with was the Umgullian blob races. Yes, that’s right – blobs racing around an obstacle. The blob races tie in with the plot OK, but there has to have been a better way. It’s as if Mr. Anderson decided his story needed some comic relief.

Jedi Search is well worth reading but could have been even better with some strengthening in a few places.

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