Kevin Hearne’s Heir to the Jedi brings a lot of firsts, as far as Star Wars novels go. It’s the first of the new canon novels to feature one of the big three characters; the first Star Wars first-person novel* to feature an actual movie character, and the first canon novel to be set after A New Hope. It’s also the first of the new novels I actually had any interest in reading.
Now, I don’t expect a Star Wars novel to rock the very galaxy, particularly when set in a movie-limited era like this one is. I wasn’t expecting a game-changing book by any means. And generally, I don’t mind a quieter story, as long as it’s an engaging one that keeps me wanting to read.
Unfortunately, Heir to the Jedi delivers an unremarkable tale that fails to make much of an impression. From the first-person conceit to the title that seems deliberately reminiscent of Heir to the Empire, it seemed to me like the book was writing several checks that it completely failed to cash.
There is a major spoiler under the cut, but it’s black-barred so you can avoid it.
The first chapter of the book is painful, both in prose and content. Luke actually wonders if he ever picked up those power convertors, and Nakari Kelen’s introduction is utterly awkward. I guess you could make the argument that Luke is awkward, but as a reader it’s just clunky. If I was coming in cold to Star Wars novels, I probably would have put it down right there.
I was wary when I found out HttJ was first-person, as I find it’s a wonderful way to highlight any flaws in characterization, something Star Wars novels have always struggled with. But Hearne’s Luke is recognizably Luke: he’s not so much bad as he is just bland. Granted, I don’t find Luke at his most interesting in this time period, but for all it’s supposed to be inside his head, I didn’t find anything new here, either. I certainly don’t feel like I got any new insight; it all feels like very well-trodden ground.
In this case, while the first-person did hurt the book, it wasn’t in the way I was expecting. If anything, as the book meandered along from set piece to set piece, I found myself wishing it had taken more inspiration from another story that managed to transcend a boxed-in position in the timeline: John Jackson Miller’s Kenobi. It may be terribly unfair to draw that comparison, but it was in the back of my head for most of the book. Like Kenobi’s Annileen, HttJ also features a number of secondary characters, and I would have liked to see more of their impressions of the situation instead of just Luke’s. I’m not chomping at the bit for the math-obsessed Given Drusuil’s perspective, but it seems like Nakari could have added a much-needed missing dimension, an outsider’s view of Instant Hero Luke that may actually be the most interesting thing about him pre-Cloud City.
That brings me to a big spoiler (Highlight to read:) Nakari dies. The Skywalker kiss of death, an EU standbye that we made a lot of fun of back in the Bantam days, wasn’t left behind: It’s alive and well and has claimed a new victim. But hey, at least she inspires Luke to move noodles. (Not a euphemism.)
Now, I can see why they would kill Nakari off: They don’t want people getting attached to a character who has a (no matter how brief) romantic entanglement with Luke, and being disappointed when it comes to nothing. But this isn’t the Bantam days: Women dying to enrich a (male) hero isn’t something taken as lightly as it used to be, so expect to see a lot about this in the coming days.
Prequel fans may be intrigued by an early bit where Luke learns a little about an Old Republic Jedi who managed to evade (if not long survive) Order 66, but I found it be pretty expected – and while there’s certainly plenty of meat on that bone, it’s not one the novel bothers to make more than a brief snack of.
On the whole, Heir to the Jedi is an unremarkable Star Wars novel that would have been better served being left back in Legends, as originally intended. If you haven’t already waded deep into the EU you may find something fresh here, but I couldn’t. HttJ may be canon, but it takes more than a label (or a lack of one) to make an engaging Star Wars novel.
* Yes, Mike Stackpole’s I, Jedi was Star Wars’ first first-person novel. Aside from that format and the word ‘Jedi’ being in the title, the two books have little in common.
Heir to the Jedi will be out in hardcover and eBook formats on March 3. A copy was provided by Del Rey for this review.