Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void review

    I think Dawn of the Jedi is the most interesting thing to happen to Star Wars in years. For the longest time, I actually considered the Jedi story well to be tapped. It wasn't so much I'd gotten sick of the Jedi Knighthood, it's that I'd gotten sick of certain kinds of stories. The Jedi Knights, IMHO, had degenerated to something of a joke. Fans have referred to the New Jedi Order as the Justice League of the GFFA, which is not that far from the truth. For a long time now, the Jedi have been more about waving lightsabers than displaying wisdom.

    Kathy Tyers mentioned that she wasn't allowed to use the term 'soul' when writing the New Jedi Order. It's an odd thing but symptomatic of what I consider to be a larger issue: the people behind Star Wars don't want to get beyond escapist fair. Religion is a heavy topic for people in their reading and very easy to offend people. Never mind that Star Wars is all about religion. Well, religion, samurai, smugglers, Space Nazis, and pew-pew.  

    Dawn of the Jedi brings a lot of the mysticism back to the Jedi Knighthood by dumping us in a time when all of the questions regarding the Force weren't answered. The comic book series is wonderful and I recommend everyone pick up the trades. There is a truly staggering number of Jedi characters with my favorite being a cocky ladies man Jedi (who just happens to be a member of the Sith race).

    Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void chronicles Je’daii Ranger Lanoree Brock and her assignment to track down her missing-presumed dead brother Dal. Dal has gotten it into his head he has found a hypergate and that will end the Je'daii's ten-thousand year imprisonment in the Tython system. Without access to hyperdrive, the hundreds of races populating the Jed'aii's home system are stuck in the system they were dumped in by a mysterious godlike race. Just the very fact this story is restricted to one (admittedly well-populated) solar system is kind of interesting. It forces the author to develop the location, which he does with aplomb.

    The depiction of the Jed'aii is fascinating because they don't seek to become one with the Light Side. This version of the Jedi Knighthood practices the philosophy of Balance--neither leaning too close to the Dark Side or the Light. It results in a very interesting sort of Jedi Order, one unafraid to laugh and aware that people get killed during wartime. They're serene and dangerous in equal parts.

    It also means the Jed'aii protagonist is free to be less than perfect. Lanoree has some serious character flaws despite being devoted to law and justice, primarily her arrogance and willingness to cross  ethical boundaries in the name of science. She's also fairly ruthless and a bit of a hermit, which adds character to an order which has been rather monolithic for a while.

    The book doesn't quite reach its full potential, however, because well--it's kind of boring. Dal's plan to open a hypergate is said to be potentially world-threatening but our heroes don't know this for sure. It's not until the end of the book we get any real sense of threat from our villains. For the majority of the book, we're just getting the story of a woman troubled by the fact she's being forced to hunt down her brother. Which is fine, really, but not the sort of thing you expect from a Star Wars novel. I would have tightened up the plot and added higher stakes.

    Really, the best moments in Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void are the flashback sequences to Lanoree and Dal's Jed'aii training. We get a sense of how Jedi are trained in the distant past and it's very different from both the Yavin IV Praxeum and Coruscant Temple. For one, it's done by multiple masters and involves lengthy journey between distant temples. Members of the Jed'aii Order have to really work to become knights and that's fine by me.

    We also get a reason for why the Jedi Knighthood is so leery about force-sensitive bloodlines. Jedi Knights exert heavy pressure on their kids to join the family business and this can breed incredible resentment. Resentment capable of corrupting an otherwise normal boy into becoming a lunatic.

    In a weird way, Dal's reaction to Jedi training reminded me of boot camp in Full Metal Jacket. He's not cut out for being a Jed'aii and any objective observer could see that. Hell, all they'd have to do is ask him and he'd tell you he doesn't want anything to do with the Force. Because he's the son of two Jed'aii, though, their order's masters keep training him.

    Unfortunately, the book drags when it should be picking up steam. The cult of the Stargazers never really appears as a major threat to the Jed'aii or Tython as a whole. Even their big moment seems oddly glossed over, less important than the struggle between siblings. The fact the Stargazers have a reasonable goal and are just stuck with an insane leader undermines their menace. If future books make use of the group, I hope they get a bit more bite.

    In conclusion, the Dawn of the Jedi time period is quite exciting and Into the Void has some some really good character scenes. Unfortunately, the book isn't very exciting. It's far from the worst Star Wars book I've read but I think I would have preferred to read about the sibling's conflict in a book with more pew-pew and less brooding.

    My .02.


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