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Book Review: Star Wars: Jedi Search by Kevin J. Anderson

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And here we have another promise kept, readers! Today I will be reviewing Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Search. The first in a trilogy focusing on the founding of Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy on Yavin IV, there will be some Warnings for Younger Readers below. I don’t think they are particularly big red flags myself now, but I remember being very sensitive about the content of the books I read as a 10-15 year old. Because of that, I might not have read this novel when I was that age.

This leads me to note that, while Jedi Search might be the type of book a child in this age range would decide to avoid reading at the moment, they might want to keep it in mind for a future date. Speaking from experience, this writer knows that after a while young readers build up defense mechanisms which allow them to enjoy stories that contain mild to middling unpleasant content. What would have scandalized my fourteen year old mind doesn’t elicit a blink from me now. This will likely be the case for most other young readers at some point; as we learn more about the light and shadow battling for dominance in the real world, the unpleasantness we find in fictional fare becomes less shocking for us.

With this caveat stated, let’s turn to Jedi Search itself. The story starts out with Han Solo and Chewbacca heading to Kessel on a diplomatic mission. In order to keep the valuable spice produced on the planetoid from being sold to all and sundry (plus the Empire), the government wants to bring Kessel into the New Republic. And because Han used to smuggle spice between Kessel and Nar Shaddaa, it makes perfect sense to appoint him the official envoy to whatever hegemony has set up shop on Kessel since the war finally ended.

Han’s not exactly thrilled to be going back to Kessel. Last time he was there, he picked up a spice shipment for Jabba the Hutt, then had to dump it when he couldn’t escape an Imperial patrol. The alien who ran Kessel at the time, a Rybet named Moruth Doole, was the one who handed the spice over to Han. Privately, Solo suspects the alien double-crossed him and Jabba by calling the Imperials. It was rumored that Doole curried favor with both the Empire and the crime lords in this way; he provided both the smugglers and the Imperials with the valuable spice, sometimes by betraying the smugglers to the Imps. This way he earned money on the spice and the smugglers, since the Empire would pay him for handing over wanted criminals.

No one ever proved this, however. It’s all just speculation. And Han figures enough time has passed that Doole – if he’s still in charge of the mines – will be happy to talk about setting up a similar sort of arrangement with the New Republic. The guy’s a business man, after all; the only thing he cares about is lining his pockets. Why should he care who is paying him?

It’s a reasonable assumption. But Doole isn’t a particularly reasonable alien. No sooner does Solo hail Kessel with his diplomatic message than fighters are scrambled to attack the Millennium Falcon. Han and Chewie do their best to escape, but it’s no good. They are brought down and captured by Moruth Doole’s pirate forces, which he established after the fall of the Empire to help him keep control of Kessel once he and the nastier prisoners took over the mines.

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And he is really mad at Han.

See, it turns out that when Han dumped that load of spice, he wasn’t the only one the Hutt put a price on. Doole got one, too. Except that in his case, Jabba didn’t put a bounty on him; he set a death mark on the Rybet. As a result Doole had to dodge several murder attempts, one of which left him nearly blind. Determined to have his revenge and frightened by Solo’s thoughtless threats of official reprisal from the New Republic if he and Chewie aren’t released immediately, Doole decides to imprison the two in the spice mines.

Back on Coruscant, Leia and Mon Mothma are busy trying to get the planet Carida to join the New Republic. Their efforts are hampered by the Caridans themselves, who are still pro-Imperial. Carida used to be the home of the Imperial Naval Academy, and there’s a determined Imperial power structure still in place there. This means that the Caridan ambassador can throw tantrums and force concessions on the Republic government without fearing reprisal from his own administration. Eventually, though, he runs out of excuses to cause delays and has to agree to visit the New Republic – where he actually manages to become an even bigger pain in the neck.

On top of this, Jaina and Jacen – who are now two years old – are due to re-join their parents in a few days/weeks (I can’t remember which now). Having spent the first two years of their life in a protected location under Winter’s care, the twins were hidden in order to protect them from the Dark Side and the Empire. But their time of hiding is finally at an end, so Leia’s preparing to welcome them home at the same time she’s dealing with politics and missing Han.

Meanwhile, Luke makes a speech to the New Republic Senate asking for permission to officially restart the Jedi Order. After the assembly gives him their full-throated approval, he sets off to track down a few thin leads he has on some possible Force-sensitives. The first of these Force-sensitives – Gantoris – is the leader of some survivors from a crash on the dying world of Eol Sha. It takes quite a bit of work to recruit Gantoris because he is proud, independent, and he claims to have seen “a dark man” in his dreams who leads him to his own destruction. Gantoris thinks Luke is that man, and so he has the Jedi work to prove that his intentions aren’t evil.

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Luke eventually does gain his trust. Unfortunately, he does so with some very flashy displays of his Force powers. Promising to send a ship to take the few remaining colonists from the dying world, Luke sets off to find his second potential student.

This time the possible Jedi he’s looking for is an older man named Streen, who lives in Bespin’s Cloud City. Streen’s aware he’s got a special ability, but he doesn’t know how to control it. This means he senses people all the time, so for years he has lived in seclusion high above the City. Here he avoids the pain and embarrassment sensing others’ emotions causes him and them. Luke promises to help him “stop sensing people all the time” but finds that, since neither of his prospective students is happy in a crowd, he needs to set up shop in a place that’s unpopulated. So he heads back to Corsucant to ask for Leia’s help locating a world where he can train new Jedi in peace.

Meanwhile, Han and Chewie are trying to figure out a way to survive the mines and to escape them. In the process, they make friends with a kid named Kyp Durron. The son of political dissidents the Empire imprisoned, Kyp and his parents were sent to Kessel when he was eight years old. His fourteen year old brother, Zeth, was forcibly conscripted into the Imperial Navy and sent to Carida.

New Jedi Order – Mr. Rhapsodist

Kyp Durron

You would think that this would be as bad as it got for Kyp, but it actually gets worse. His parents were killed by smugglers in the mines before his eyes, leaving him utterly alone in the dark, surrounded by very unfriendly people. When Doole re-took control of the planetoid from the Empire and set out to become the sole proprietor of Kessel, he “forgot” to free Kyp (and probably several others). They have been used as slaves in the mines ever since.

With Kyp’s help, Han and Chewie finally manage to escape Kessel. In the process they learn that the boy is Force-sensitive and received some rudimentary training in the ways of the Force from the Jedi crone Vima-Da-Boda. Chased toward the Maw, a cluster of black holes between Nar Shaddaa and Kessel, the three have to dive straight into the gravitational maelstrom to escape Doole’s forces, relying on Kyp’s Force-sensitivity to safely pilot their pilfered ship. The harebrained scheme works…

…But it also lands them smack dab in the middle of a secret Imperial installation run by Admiral Daala.

And that’s all the plot spoilers you are getting, readers! Personally, I find Kevin J. Anderson’s style annoying, although he is not so bad when he’s writing the Young Jedi Knights series. But when he’s writing for Han, Leia, and Luke, I want to reach through the book and shake him.

Part of the reason his depiction of Luke annoys me is due to the fact that Jedi Search takes place after the Emperor Reborn story arc. In the old EU Palpatine discovered how to avoid becoming one with the Dark Side of the Force immediately after death. Maintaining a toe-hold in the physical realm, he eventually put his spirit into a clone body and tried to rebuild the Empire. When the Emperor “returned” and began wrecking the fragile New Republic, Luke stupidly decided that the best way to stop him was to pretend to join the Dark Side.

The result is obvious in Search. Luke pulls in his Jedi hopefuls by speaking of teaching them about power and by showing off his own abilities in the Force. His wanton use of power is terrifying; the Force is a Jedi’s ally, not his/her servant. Luke’s dabbling in the Dark Side, however well-intentioned, taints a lot of his actions going forward here and in other books. This led to some very big, very bad consequences for the new Jedi, the Republic, and Luke in particular during the old EU. Reading this book, I can see why Zahn took every opportunity in Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future to verbally slap Luke upside the head for his poor choices (and possibly Anderson and other EU authors as well).

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In regards to Leia and Han, in my opinion Anderson doesn’t let Leia seriously worry about her husband for at least half the book. Instead, he leaves her convinced that Han is using his assignment to visit Kessel as a chance to goof off, completely forgetting that their twins will be coming home soon. Anderson lets this attitude of hers persist for far too long, in my opinion; the fact that Han was overdue to report back to Coruscant at least via holocomm should have told Leia that something was wrong within a few days. Instead, it takes getting hung up on by Doole, plus a couple of more days/weeks (I’m not sure which it is now) of communications’ silence for her to realize that Han’s in trouble.

On the bright side, Han came through this story pretty well. Since he’s stuck on Kessel the day that Jaina and Jacen arrive on Coruscant to stay, his frustration and anger at missing their return makes him attack the guards. His action is not that of a man frantic to escape an unjust situation but of a desperate father who wants to go home to see and hold his children. It’s a very touching, realistic moment, and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the book.

Despite Anderson’s limitations as an author, he does tell a good story. He also ably presents us with the newest Imperial antagonist, Admiral Natasi Daala. Hidden by Grand Moff Tarkin in the Maw for eleven years to protect the installation where the Death Star and other super weapons were designed, she’s a hard, nasty woman. She was probably like this in her early life, but her years of training at the Caridan Academy only made matters worse. In the old EU the Imperial military was virulently anti-alien; it was only a little less anti-woman. Daala is the only known female admiral in the Imperial fleet in the old EU – and her appointment was a secret one.

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Admiral Daala

As a result of this policy, Daala was mocked by the male students at the Academy and looked down upon by her male instructors. Out of pure frustration, she created an “online” persona at the Academy after graduation where she could get noticed and put her tactical skill to use. Intrigued by her suggestions and tactical prowess, Tarkin investigated. He discovered Daala’s real identity and took her under his wing – and, despite being a married man, he also took her as his lover. Locked in the Maw for eleven years since he left to command the Death Star, Daala has let her red hair grow well past regulation length, but that’s the most feminine thing about her.

This woman is nasty, readers. She strikes me as someone who has burned every emotion but fury out of her mind and body. To be frank, I think she’s nearly insane. Though tactically capable, Daala’s attacks tend to lack finesse. She charges out of the Maw like a raging tigress screaming for blood, making Governor Ahrinda Pryce look like a push over and Ysanne “Iceheart” Isard appear completely serene by comparison. This is one villainess I would not want to meet in a dark alley at night, readers. She is unpredictable, vicious, and ruthless.

Now for those Warnings for Younger Readers which were mentioned above. To be perfectly honest, I think that Jedi Search rates less than a one on the scale of objectionable content. That, however, is my voice of (relative) experience talking; young readers should judge for themselves if they are ready to read this book now or not.

With that in mind, the first thing I want to cover is the sex references in the story. There’s a point in Search where Moruth Doole goes to a private prison room in the upper levels of Kessel where he keeps a large number of female Rybet slaves. Although he regularly abuses these alien women, we don’t see him force himself on any of them, or get many details about what that would entail. He just goes in to pick one out of the group for an afternoon of “fun,” and the rest is left up to the reader’s imagination – if they let it go in that direction. I don’t, and so the scene has no bad implications for me.

Then there are Daala’s reminiscences about her relationship with Tarkin. These aren’t detailed; Anderson leaves the reader to fill in the gaps with his or her imagination, using a few words to paint a very general picture. The closest we might come to an explicit reference is a brief mention by Daala that she chose “well built and attractive” men from her Star Destroyer crews to be her bodyguards because they allow her to have sexual fantasies. This mention is one sentence in length and her bodyguards are never seen or described again, making it a bare blip on my sensitivity radar these days.

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Also, Lando appears in this novel and ends up tracking down a gambler whom Luke suspects is Force-sensitive. The man isn’t Force-sensitive, however; he is a con artist who got in deeper than he bargained on going. When a rich duchess advertised for a husband this gambler – Tymmo – rigged the lottery she was using to choose a suitor so that he could win the competition in order to marry her and retire. What he didn’t anticipate was the fact that, since her people mate for life, she’s a bit…enthusiastic in her daily gestures of affection. Tymmo eventually found he couldn’t stand her attentions, so he ran away. He mentions the duchess’ gestures of affection only in passing after Lando catches him, making them really easy to skim over.

On the gore front, this book probably rates a three for one scene. This moment comes when Moruth Doole remembers how he captured the Imperial commander of Kessel and worked him to the bone in the mines. Once the man’s spirit was broken, Doole fed the Imperial several spice worms, froze him in carbonite, and hung him on the rear wall of his office to die. It’s a pretty brief scene, but it packs an emotional punch and makes a reader dislike Moruth more than they already do.

The next most disgusting moment comes when Doole, who uses his larval offspring to process the glitterstim spice, decides to kill one of them because it’s starting to show some spirit. He can’t have a spirited young Rybet trying to oust him from power, and so he regularly murders the larvae when they begin to outgrow their usefulness. There’s also a heat absorbing monster in the book which Han, Kyp, and Chewie escape from while fleeing Kessel through the mines. It doesn’t actually chew on its prey – just spears them and drains the heat/life energy from them. So although this creature is scary, it doesn’t actually kill in a graphic manner. Rereading the book again for this review, I have to say that I actually find the concept behind the monster kind of interesting.

If I had read Jedi Search as a 10-15 year old, I’m not sure that I would have said then that these items were small potatoes in the objectionable content department. Having encountered far more precise depictions of death, dismemberment, and sex in various other works though, the brief scenes in this book no longer bother me. So if any young readers in this age group checking out this post feel that Jedi Search isn’t good for them right now, I understand completely. All I’m doing is sharing my opinion of it and suggesting that they come back to the book whenever – or if ever – they feel they can handle it.

Jedi Search isn’t this writer’s favorite original Expanded Universe novel, true. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading every now and again. If you decide to check the book out sometime, then I can tell you that it’s not bad. It’s not great, but it’s not bad.

May the Force be with you, readers!

1994 Bantam Books STAR WARS JEDI SEARCH Paperback by Kevin ...

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