Kevin Hearne’s Heir to the Jedi is the latest entry in the New Order of Star Wars fiction after Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. This is one adventure you can safely miss, however.
Set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Heir to the Jedi sends Luke Skywalker on a galaxy-spanning mission that includes shopping for weapons, scouting out a new location for a hidden base and helping a talented hacker defect from the Empire for the benefit of the Rebel Alliance. It’s a meandering tale without much focus or meaningful conflict. Things really pick up when Luke and his partner Nakari Kelen finally take their quarry into custody, but by then the book is nearly over.
Heir to the Jedi suffers mightily from the lack of a clear antagonist. Just “the Empire” doesn’t cut it, guys. Luke, still grappling with Ben Kenobi’s death, is nursing a blind hatred for Darth Vader, as is Rebel associate/rich girl Nakari, whose mother was killed for making up and singing an anti-Vader song (no joke). But the Dark Lord doesn’t appear, nor does any authority figure, really — just a faceless assortment of stormtroopers, spies, goons and bounty hunters, all of whom are neatly dispatched by our flawless heroes (and R2-D2) in due course with just a little “what’re’ya’gonna’do?” hand-wringing from Luke. Oh, there’s lots of action, but it doesn’t really satisfy. This is pantomime Star Wars.
In among the panoply of plotlines, Luke tries to improve his control over (or by?) the Force, specifically telekinesis — and usually involving food. Some interesting concepts are explored here, albeit briefly. But the focus on food is one of the most believable bits about this wet version of Young Skywalker; we hardly see any serious effects of the recent murder of his Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen, and the death in the Battle of Yavin of this childhood friend Biggs Darklighter barely rates a mention. This Luke is adept at whatever he needs whenever he needs it, and that just isn’t very interesting. That’s what Artoo is for.
At varying points the book tries to be a host of different stories, among them Alien/Aliens (a possible Rebel base turns out to be infested with brain-eating predators) and a cloak-and-dagger espionage thriller, undertaken with such skill that you’d think Luke was an old hand at this, rather than a recent farmhand. But this book doesn’t know what it wants to be. It feels like an anthology of disparate short stories masquerading as a novel, as if several aborted individual novels were gathered up and burned off at once. (In fact, Heir to the Jedi was meant originally to cap off the “Empire of Rebellion” series, a trilogy focusing in turn on Leia, Han and Luke, and seems to flail as a standalone story.) The end result doesn’t advance the core Star Wars characters at all, nor does it introduce any compelling original characters into the new all-canon Expanded Universe. The most interesting original character doesn’t even survive the adventure, and this death is so anticlimactic, as is the entire story, that it feels pointless. And maybe that’s the whole point of this New EU — don’t overshadow Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie and the droids, no matter what. But that’s just sad.
It’s not easy being so harsh on Hearne — his “Iron Druid Chronicles” is an excellent series (with a lot of local flavor that Arizona readers will appreciate) and the latest entry, Shattered, is due out in paperback March 31 — but I fear that the first-person approach to Luke Skywalker’s formative years in Heir to the Jedi just isn’t a great fit for A Galaxy Far, Far Away. Maybe there were just too many restrictions placed on this work by the powers that be, and it just feels like something really good got lost in the transition between the old “Legends” EU and the new “all-canon” literary universe. Heir to the Jedi is an enjoyable interlude, but that’s about it.