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A novel by Jude Watson (1999, Scholastic Paperbacks)
Jedi Apprentice, Book 4
44 years before and Star Wars: A New Hope

The two Jedi oversee free elections on a planet, while trying to uncover palace plots and reconnect its people.



4 stars

Read May 11th to 12th, 2002  
    An interesting mix of intrigue and education for the main characters, as the mission depends on both of them fulfilling their parts.  This book marks the coming-of-age of their relationship -and I hope it's a turning point, as well.

Unlike the previous books, which relied on technical solutions and gadgets, this book relied solely on the quick thinking and insights of the main characters.  Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan don't spend a lot of time together in this book, and I wonder if that makes them stronger characters.

In The Hidden Past, Obi-Wan kept whining about how he was being treated by Qui-Gon, and that detracted a bit from the story.  Here, Obi-Wan is trusted with a potentially volatile situation, which gets out of hand very quickly -but Obi-Wan does a good job of solving the puzzle, right up until near the end.

The most important character development in this book is the way Obi-Wan listens to his mentor, allows the little niblets of wisdom to take root and grow.  At first he scoffs at the idea that his friend could be one of the culprits, but later, as the pieces fall into place, he realizes that they do fit.  He could be wrong, but he takes a chance, knowing that he will never be sure unless he confronts Jono Dunn (I can't help but put the last name in here -my family is now in the Star Wars universe!).  But he doesn't even have to speak his thought before he can see the confession on the face of his friend.

The mission Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan undertake is the one they were supposed to go on in the last book, before their Phindian friends took them on a detour.  I for one was glad to get rid of Guerra -Jono was a much better friend, even though he was acting under false pretenses all the while.  Perhaps some of Obi-Wan's trust and friendship wore off onto the boy, however.  The two Jedi have agreed to make sure the first ever elections on the planet Gala are free of coercion.  The King is dead, and the Queen is dying.  She wants to avoid civil war and decides that electing the next ruler is the best way to do it.  Her son, Prince Beju, resents her for his lost chance at the throne.  He takes every opportunity to humiliate her, as well as the two Jedi. 

But the Queen reveals to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan that there is another heir to the throne, and although the throne will not exist in another week, it is important that Elan be persuaded to bring her people to the voting process.  Elan was the love child between the late king and his first, illegal wife, of the hill people.  (I don't know why the Yuuzhan Vong would have the same name as somebody in this galaxy, however, as the name reappears in Hero's Trial.)

I liked the way Obi-Wan covered for his master after Qui-Gon left for the hills.  He ruffled the bed-sheets, made a head imprint on the pillow, and ate his master's food (an easy thing to do, since the Padawan is always hungry!).  Since the Jedi are forbidden from leaving the palace without supervision, and from leaving the city altogether, because of a compromise with the council, Obi-Wan has to stay on his toes, and always make excuses for his master's absence.  Since the Jedi spend a lot of time meditating, this is not too difficult. 

As soon as the Queen mentioned that she was dying, I suspected a slow poison.  It is only when Obi-Wan starts listening to the Queen that he puts the pieces together.  He takes some of the food to a person who specializes in testing chemical compositions, and finds out that a poison has indeed been introduced into her food.  Even I didn't suspect Jono in the poisoning, but when Obi-Wan realizes that Jono lived by the sea, and the poison was a natural derivative from a plant that lives near the sea, he takes his chance, and succeeds.  Jono has the simple fear of losing his prestige as a servant in the palace when the monarchy disappears.

Prince Beju's aide, the senior councilor Giba, is really pulling the authoritative strings behind the scenes, and plans to take power no matter who wins the elections.  He obviously doesn't want the monarchy to disappear, but he wants to be the one on the throne.  He hopes to be in charge of Beju if the Prince wins the elections, but has also bought his way into the main competitor, Deca Brun. 

Deca Brun is the weakest part of the story, but he ties in with the continuing theme of the rest of the series.  He is dealing with Offworld, the company run by Xanatos, Qui-Gon's former Padawan.  It is unclear why he imprisoned Obi-Wan.  It could not have been because the Jedi saw the Offworld accounts -there wasn't enough time.  I thought Jono betrayed him, but that doesn't explain why the young man helped rescue him from the freezer where he was being kept.  (I smiled when Obi-Wan used the Force to give the guard a powerful suggestion about needing to eat.)  But Jono betrays his friend Deca in the end, as well.  Thankfully, he is not punished too hard, though doubtless he will find it a wicked punishment: he is being sent back to the family farm, near the sea, to live as a normal person.

I enjoyed Obi-Wan's two visits to the substance analyzer's lab.  The man was a true geezer, an unlikely ally, but it was fun to read about the interaction between the two, especially the truth about Obi-Wan's impatience.  But it was good that with enough money, the Jedi could buy a speedy analysis. 

Obi-Wan's last part of the book comes in the form of a duel with Prince Beju.  As Obi-Wan was sneaking towards the dungeons to give the now-imprisoned Queen the antidote to her poison, the Prince stops him.  Obi-Wan uses the Prince's pride to stop him from calling the guards and joining him in a duel.  I didn't enjoy the duel much, except when Obi-Wan realized that he could use the Force to defeat the other boy without a lightsaber.  The blind senator was interesting.  I wonder if he is trained in the ways of the Force, since he could easily see what was going on, and he knew the mark of the crown was not upon the boy when inside that special chamber.

Qui-Gon, on the other hand, had an adventure without his Padawan.  As he traveled into the hills, he was attacked.  Thankfully, as he entered a series of standing stones, which made it difficult for speeder bikes to enter, another group of swoops attacked the first group.  They were not rescuing Qui-Gon, in a thankful twist, but they were defending a sacred spot from trespassers.  They try to send Qui-Gon home, but with a wound he suffered, and a harsh snowstorm approaching, they take him to their village.  There, Elan heals his wounds, but will not hear of her royal stature.  Of course, Qui-Gon's words penetrate her, but it takes an attack from Giba's army to convince her to come to the city.  But she firmly refuses to be a Princess.  Which is okay, because the monarchy will not exist after the elections. 

I liked the way they defeated the army, sinking the tanks in the snowdrifts, but even better was the way Elan rescued the soldiers from certain death.  That was part of what made her realize that she had true royalty inside her.  So she returns her prisoners, along with Qui-Gon, to the city, bringing her entire people with her to vote.  I do wonder if their names were on the polling station lists, however...

Qui-Gon learns about his legacy, that it will continue after him in Obi-Wan, who is learning, and in the peace and justice that he leaves behind.  Together, they defeated the corruption on Gala, and allowed the people to be free.  Qui-Gon realizes how powerful Obi-Wan can become, and how his Padawan is already learning much from his master.  I love it when characters grow throughout a book, naturally and progressively.  Nothing about this book is forced.  I hope the rest of the series is as interesting.


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