Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

Star Wars: Master & Apprentice is a new book written by Claudia Gray.  It features Qui-Gon Jinn and his relatively recently appointed Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  As you’ve probably guessed, it takes place before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

I looked forward to reading this book for two reasons.  The first is that Qui-Gon Jinn is a fairly enigmatic figure in the Star Wars mythology.  I haven’t seen much of him in other books, graphic novels, cartoons, or movies.  I felt excited not only to learn more about him as a person, but to also examine his dynamic with Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The second reason is that I enjoy Cladia Gray’s Star Wars voice.  Her novel, Star Wars: Lost Stars, remains one of my all-time favorite Star Wars stories due not only to its unique characters but also because it connects seamlessly to major Star Wars events.  True, I didn’t find her two Princess Leia books as engaging, but I hoped Master & Apprentice would recapture the magic of Lost Stars.

Unfortunately, Master & Apprentice suffered the same fate as those other two Star Wars books featuring Princess Leia in that it gets far too bogged down in political complexities without any actual character growth or revelations occurring.

It started off on a good note.  Several references were made to Count Dooku which led us to believe he could make an appearance in this novel, especially because Dooku trained both Qui-Gon and a newly revealed Jedi named Rael Averross.  Rael is older than Qui-Gon, so it’s initially interesting to see that new side of Master Jinn.  There are also ample teases that Darth Maul could be working from the shadows.  This would make perfect sense as he’s later revealed to be the Phantom Menace.

Furthermore, early on in the book, Qui-Gon is invited to join the Jedi Council, which would mean he would have to relinquish his role as teacher to Obi-Wan.  Obi-Wan feels betrayed by this possibility, which further damages their already-strained relationship.  In this book, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon rarely see eye-to-eye on much of anything and are typically not on the same page.  I found this refreshing, though, to be honest, it is not especially innovative compared to other Master/Padawan duos that we’ve encountered.

So, as you can see, there is a great deal of rich character conflict available for exploration in Master & Apprentice.  Sadly, most of it falls by the wayside in favor of a political story pertaining to a child about to be named Queen and her connection to an intergalactic corporation hoping to gain control of a hyperspace corridor.

Frankly, I found the first two hundred pages of the novel a little uneventful.  Things started heating up for the last one hundred and thirty pages, but, in the end, nothing substantial happens to our favorite characters.  They are primed and ready for The Phantom Menace, but, other than improved communication skills, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are basically unchanged.

More often than not, this seems to be a theme in the Star Wars novels that I’ve read.  They delve far too much into political intrigue without any serious ramifications to the characters we care about.  Lost Stars proved special in that it created two brand new characters, made them important to us, mixed them in with major beats from the Star Wars movies, and then sent them through some serious character development.

Master & Apprentice had wonderful potential.  Acknowledging Dooku was really cool, but it went nowhere.  We really didn’t get that much of a better feel for Qui-Gon than we do in The Phantom Menace.  Obi-Wan is also virtually the same as he’s depicted in The Phantom Menace.  Rael seemed like an important addition, but even he remained unchanged by story’s end.  And those hints at Darth Maul?  Nothing came of them.  I hope that’s not a spoiler, but I don’t want you to be disappointed.

I really get the feeling that the authors of these books are being hamstrung by a corporate influence.  While they create complicated conflict, in the end, none of it really matters to the overall Star Wars story that we know and love.  Perhaps it’s just me, but if these books don’t somehow improve upon the characters or events that draw us to them, then what is the point of their existence?

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Star Wars: Leia by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

Claudia Gray completely won me over with Lost Stars, so I’ll read anything written by her now if it pertains to Star Wars.  I initially felt a little strange as a forty-year-old man reading a book about a sixteen-year-old princess, but because it’s Leia, I forged ahead.  I mean, after all, she is one of the best characters in the Star Wars mythology.

Gray sets this book slightly before Rogue One.  Leia must go through a rite of passage in order to proclaim her readiness to one day be queen, and so she declares three challenges to overcome.  She’s also serving as a junior member of the Senate.  Finally, she’s got a bit of a love story too involving another junior senator.

But, none of that is what this book is really about.  This book is all about establishing Leia as one of the galaxy’s greatest freedom fighters.  You’ll witness her slowly discover her parents’ role with the upstart Rebels, and you’ll finally get to know Bail and Breha Organa as the heroes they are.  This is the first time I ever really cared about Bail, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Breha, her adopted mother, depicted before.  Furthermore, you’ll realize Alderaan was not quite the random target we all believed.

There are some truly tense moments, like when one person in particular seems to recognize Leia’s genetics.  We have appearances by Mon Mothma, Grand Moff Tarkin, the planet Naboo, Wedge Antilles, C3PO, R2D2, and even a reference to Obi Wan Kenobi himself.  The Emperor is a constant presence, and that presence is stifling as his grip tightens across the galaxy.

Ever wonder why a princess is able to handle a blaster so well?  How she can adapt to any environment?  Why she’s just so damn tough!  This book answers all of that.

We even learn specifically why the Organa’s adopted to begin with.

But this book does not function as a plot check-list.  Gray has a fluid, logical story with this book.  She weaves in some great treats for fans, but they never deter or detract from the overall plot.

Leia’s love story in this book didn’t especially compel me, but even it lays the groundwork for why Han Solo would be so appealing to Leia.  Everything in this work serves a purpose.

By far, though, the book flourishes most when it addresses the birth of the Rebellion.  It does not shy away from the complexities of rebelling against authority, and it’s especially strong as the characters themselves realize no rebellion can remain bloodless.

If you’re a Star Wars fan, I think seeing the Organas, in this new light will prove fascinating.

 

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

Written by Claudia Gray, I hoped Bloodline would equal or even surpass her wonderfully engaging Star Wars book entitled Lost Stars.  I’m sorry to say that it didn’t.

Bloodline is good, but it’s not great.  It features a forty-something Senator Leia Organa.  She is nearing the end of her career as a senator, and happily so.  The New Republic has failed on many levels since its birth following the fall of the Empire, and the political gridlock has taken its toll on Organa.  She wishes nothing more than to join her husband in space while also touching base with her son, Ben, currently under Luke Skywalker’s care.  The senate is divided into two factions, which is often the cause of their chronic inaction.  Someone proposes a First Senator, a position that would ensure forward movement.  Leia fears such a title could lead to the next Emperor, and so she has no choice but to accept the nomination when her name is suggested.  Soon her bloodline is questioned, as well as her true motivations.

Up to this point, I very much enjoyed the book especially when it seemed as though I would witness the birth of the First Order, the terrible force plaguing the galaxy in The Force Awakens.   I won’t go into great detail, but the story then takes a turn as Leia goes on several adventures, none of which directly lead to anything significant.  By the end of the book, I’d lost interest because I did not get the enormous payoff I expected.

I think Bloodline differs from Lost Stars mostly because in Lost Stars Gray worked with original characters that encountered milestone events from the original trilogy.  Their story felt as though it could go anywhere and that made the characters all the more engaging.  In Bloodline, it very much seemed as though Gray had been given an edict and could not deviate far from it.  I sensed a certain constraint within the book, and once I realized it suffered from such parameters, I became disheartened.

Though Bloodline offers a glimpse at the beginnings of the First Order, it ultimately serves as nothing more than an adventure for Leia Organa.  I’ve enjoyed the YA Princess Leia book, as well as the Princess Leia graphic novel, but for a writer of Gray’s talent and stature, I expected Bloodline to be far more potent and ultimately meaningful to the Star Wars universe.

 

Lost Stars by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

I’ve read the majority of the new books and graphic novels promoted as “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and this one is, by far, my favorite.

Lost Stars accomplished something that doesn’t happen very often – I could not wait to read it.  I looked forward to getting in bed at the end of the day and diving into this one.  I love to read, don’t misunderstand, but I do so more out of habit than a daily burning passion.  Believe me, I felt authentic excitement for Lost Stars.

The story follows a man named Thane Kyrell and a woman called Ciena Ree.  Though from very different cultures upon the same planet, they befriend one another as children due to their shared passion for star ships.  In fact, after the Empire annexes their world, they cannot wait to join the Imperial Academy in order to navigate the stars.  They both believe in the law and order the Empire provides to the galaxy and want to be a part of the greatness.

Once old enough, they attend and graduate from the Imperial Academy.  Both are standouts and on the fast track to success within the Imperial Fleet.  Before long, they begin to realize their friendship may not be as simple as they thought, and each also realizes their impression of the Empire may have been incorrect.

What happens, though, when one of them decides to leave and the other wants to enact change from within?  What happens when one is a traitor and the other is an Imperial Officer?  What happens when these bitter enemies want nothing more than to save each other’s life, even when it puts them at odds with their respective affiliations?

I loved this book first and foremost because the pacing is masterful.  It starts off a little slow as we get to know the characters as youngsters, but as they age, their situations become far more complex, and by the end of the book I couldn’t read fast enough as their story reached a crescendo.  The various levels of conflict between Thane and Ciena is absolutely riveting.

Furthermore, it proved unique because it provided a previously unrealized perspective in that we see the destruction of the Death Star, the battle at Hoth, and even the conflict of Endor primarily from the Empire’s point of view.  Before this book, it never dawned on me that Luke Skywalker killed thousands of people on the Death Star when he blew it up.  I never even considered the loss of Imperial life.  Our two characters make us care about those loss upon the space station, those who they considered friends.  They make me think of the average Imperial as a person rather than a faceless, evil monster.

And that’s really the magic of Lost Stars.  It made me think about familiar things in a new light.  It made me consider duty versus loyalty.  It forced me to reflect upon the murky middle ground between good and evil.

At 551 pages, this is not a short read, but it pulls you in so fast and so deep that you won’t even mind the length.  In fact, if you’re like me, you won’t want it to end.  Thane and Ciana are now two of my favorite Star Wars characters forevermore.

… I’ll say it: I hope they adapt this book to film.  I’ll be the first in line.