Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Between Books - Star Wars: The Living Force

Book cover for Star Wars: The Living Force showing the 12 Jedi Masters including Yoda and Mace Windu.

The Star Wars literary world has recently moved us from one prequel, The High Republic, to another. It’s been 25 years since Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. This prequel was criticized by fans and general audiences, much like I feel about The High Republic. But now, decades later and after stories like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, this period is beloved by many fans.

Star Wars: The Living Force by John Jackson Miller is two storylines that merge together in an action-packed conclusion. In the first storyline, the Jedi find themselves closing outposts as trade and population centers move in the galaxy. With those movements, crime fills the vacuum. The Jedi Council decides to leave their temple before closing the beloved outpost on the planet Kween in The Slice region of the galaxy. Many Masters have a history with this location, and they realize that the criminal element has increased as Jedi outposts nearby close. The Jedi Council Master plan to hold a session in person on the planet and celebrate publicly the history and legacy of the outpost. Readers follow the members of the Jedi Council as they interact with the citizens of Kween and follow the Force’s urgings to aid groups and individuals. The second storyline follows Jedi Master Depa Billaba who has gone undercover into a criminal ring to help one young girl escape a life of crime. Master Mace Windu, her former Master, stops on his way to Kween to ensure she makes the meeting and if needed provides aid. Both stories meet on Kween as all 12 Masters influence the book’s conclusion.

John Jackson Miller knows science fiction and Star Wars. He has written several prose Star Wars books, though he had taken a decade's leave from this universe…with him writing some Star Trek books during that time. He has written even more Star Wars comic tales, especially for the Dark Horse era. So while we honestly won’t get many revelations, he weaves a tale that will keep the reader’s attention as someone who has completed the assignment before. While it’s not a full-on giant battle piece, I think he does a good job of showing the personal failure of the Jedi Council. They had removed themselves from the people. So to the people, they were merely rumors. And for the Jedi Council, the needs of the people were abstract. They have lost connection with the reality of the galaxy. For me, this shows how a Sith Lord could manipulate a galaxy Jedi leadership knew nothing about in a practical way.

Miller also allows us to use familiar mental images and a hook to bring in readers of other Star Wars media. First, most moviegoers have seen the majority of Masters on the screen. So we have general images for most of them. Miller is then able to use his space to give us a story that we never knew and lacks conflict with other stories as most of them are enigmas to us. Let us also not forget we have Yoda as a Master, who is very active in this book and invites us to get to know the others better, and their faults. Along with him we also get Mace Windu though his interactions with the other Masters are limited. Second, we have a halo effect for Master Billaba. She is the Master of a character not found here, Kanan Jarrus. I personally think that Jarrus may be one of the most effective Jedi found in Star Wars stories, and definitely, he is beloved. Billaba has been seen just a little bit in comics and television. This story allows us to see her in more fullness and we want to see her personality in view. While she challenges herself to help just one person, we can see a moral compass that she passed down to Jarrus. 

Star Wars: The Living Force by John Jackson Miller is refreshing. It is a standalone story, that has a clear beginning and end that really only needs the basic understanding of the prequel trilogies. One can get in, enjoy, and move on to their next read. I think the publishing program can use a little more of this, a stand-alone adventure that serves to just provide adventure while also reinforcing the action we saw on the screen.


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