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A novel by Dave Wolverton (1999, Scholastic Paperbacks)
Jedi Apprentice, book 1
44 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

Obi Wan Kenobi learns how to use the Force without anger as he travels aboard a divided ship with Qui-Gon Jinn.



3 stars

Read on November 5th, 2001  
    A very good start to the Jedi Apprentice series. This book was well written, and contained some really insightful lessons for Obi-Wan. Unfortunately, it also contained some strangely heroic feats that I cannot quite accept from the characters involved.

The first third of the book was very intriguing, very thoughtful. I loved the way Obi-Wan and his nemesis at the Jedi Temple fought, and how Obi-Wan was able to fight better when he calmed down. And yet he looked too far into the future, and let his fears grip him. When Bruck taunts him about not becoming a Jedi Knight, he takes the bait and is lured into another fight. 

What I don't understand is how Bruck could fake the hurts that he had. Wouldn't the Jedi sense him lying, just to get to Obi-Wan? Why did Yoda have to rely on a droid for that?

Obi-Wan desperately wants to become a Padawan learner, and Qui-Gon is his last chance, because at the age of thirteen, he will be sent from the Temple to lead his own life. He will become a farmer, not a Knight. And his hopes and desires are brought crashing down when Qui-Gon refuses to take him. Qui-Gon himself is suffering, because he lost a student to the Dark Side of the Force. Since then, he has refused to take any Padawan at all.

By coincidence (or plot convenience, but it's too early in this series to start with that -I'll settle for convenience), Qui-Gon is being sent by the Senate to the same planet that the Jedi Council sent Obi-Wan, Bandomeer. The rest of the book, which is not as good as the beginning, takes place on the ship that takes them there.

The ship is divided into two mining groups. One is controlled by the Hutts with slaves and henchmen, and the others by a human who hires Arconans, a group of peaceful beings who are good at tunneling. The two groups hate each other, and the Hutts scheme to get the Arconans as slaves. Only the presence of the Jedi Knight and the Jedi student keep tensions from boiling over. Unfortunately, Obi-Wan tries to impress Qui-Gon. When some equipment is sabotaged, he befriends an Arconan (who thinks Obi-Wan is a hero for surviving an encounter with the Hutt Grelb), and they go off in search of the missing parts. This leads to the Arconan, Si Treemba, being captured by the Hutts, and being tortured. Obi-Wan rescues him, but in doing so has threatened the fragile peace on board the ship. 

As much as I didn't like the plot device of the dactyl, the essential food ingredient for Arconans and equivalent to water for humans, it is probably the most realistic technical point the book describes. Without the dactyl, the Arconans will die. It seems like a plot convenience, because they are so easy to control. But there must be certain dietary components that come only from their planet, and which would have to be transported everywhere they go. It just makes it easier for stories that most species in the galaxy don't have this requirement. I do think, however, that spraying salt on the Arconans making them deplete their dactyl store is a bit much. And what of the salty air when they land on the planet? Did that make their state worse? The story doesn't say. I also don't like the fact that they had barely backpacks full of the stuff. For hundreds of miners? Sure, Jemba the Hutt had more of the stuff with him, but he would have hidden most of it, which was an amount that Qui-Gon could fit into a sack, and kept only a sample with him.

Jemba is the leader of the Hutts here, and he gets to steal the dactyl as revenge for Obi-Wan's attack after pirates attack the transport. Qui-Gon fights the pirates, as do the Hutts, and Obi-Wan saves them by piloting the ship when its crew was killed. He fires proton torpedoes, destroying several pirate ships (way too easily, I think), and rips the docking ports from the boarding party. Unfortunately, the pirate leader uses the sudden pressure loss to inflict a deep wound in Qui-Gon. The pirate fight was not really interesting... but it moves the plot forward. Since everybody is busy with the wounded, and the Jedi are out of commission for the moment, Jemba gets his revenge. 

He offers the dactyl back if the Arconans will become his slaves. The only thing that holds them back is a plea from Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon is not impressed with Obi-Wan for jumping into the fray, for threatening Jemba, and for being so impulsive. But the plea for the Arconans to wait shows him a glimmer of what Obi-Wan is capable of. 

In The Empire Strikes Back, Obi-Wan told Yoda that he was also impulsive, quick to anger, and looking for adventure when he was young, like Luke. Here, we see how true that was! We also get to see how Yoda really did teach Obi-Wan, and that The Phantom Menace doesn't contradict this.

Obi-Wan lands the transport on the single small island of a watery planet. The air is filled with potentially dangerous draigons. The draigons ignore the intruders until the shooting starts. Then they seem to have an appetite for those energy beams. While Obi-Wan seeks to help the Arconans get to shelter, Qui-Gon climbs up to a high cave where Jemba stashed the dactyl. The Hutt henchmen shoot at him, but are taken down by the draigons. Obi-Wan faces down Jemba, while Qui-Gon jumps onto a draigon and rides it down to the cave where the Arconans are waiting and dying. 

The Arconans recover way too quickly. Several Hutts are killed in the firefight and by the draigons, including Jemba and Grelb, but the Arconans become vicious as the dactyl starts to work and they are put into a corner, and turn the tide against the draigons.

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon have a connection that they do not understand, but they are willing to let the Force decide what must be done. The miners reach a peaceful settlement with each other, and the repaired ship resumes its journey to Bandomeer. When they arrive, they find out that Qui-Gon's old Padawan, Xanatos, is the reason the Senate sent him to this planet. Wouldn't it make sense for the Jedi Council to send him, instead? It seems to be a Jedi matter. But I guess we'll have to wait for the next book to find out exactly what is wrong. 

After reading this book, I have a much better understanding of the Jedi. The Knights are not the only Jedi! If they do not become Padawans, they can still use the Force for the support of others. From this type of description, it looks like it is more difficult to fall to the Dark Side of the Force than what was given in other books and movies. It looks like the potential for turning to the Dark Side does not occur until the Padawan learner stage. But Obi-Wan still had his lightsaber, and he had a great enough Force ability to destroy dozens of draigons and dodge laser blasts. Couldn't that be put to use by the Dark Side, and then the Jedi would have a dark monster on their hands? 

The trainees are limited to the Temple for their first thirteen years, so they cannot be tempted by the Dark Side. If somebody was trained in the real world, would the potential for Dark Side corruption manifest itself at a younger age? 

I wish we knew more about the Dark Side, from official sources. Are they limited to the Sith? Does someone need to be turned to the Dark Side, or can they approach it naturally like the Light Side? I still disagree with not teaching a Force-sensitive person, but there might be more to it than we've been led to believe. Perhaps this series will explore that path, without going into huge dramatics. 

I do hope that the Jedi Council keeps tabs on all its Jedi, not just the Knights. It was never said whether Obi-Wan had to report in every few months, but I hope that would be the case. I'm going off on a tangent here... 

I think the lessons that Obi-Wan learned about hatred and the desire for revenge are worth the time devoted to them in this book. I actually liked the training in the Temple better than the actual adventure!  The author seems to have a better understanding of the Force than he did while writing The Courtship of Princess Leia. Although the killing on a massive scale of both the pirates and the draigons was brushed aside with no remorse, because these creatures were "evil" and trying to harm the innocent, Obi-Wan learned that he did not have to defend people unless they ask for it. If they cannot learn to ask for help, then he shouldn't go charging to the rescue until he knows the whole story. It is much the same lessons that Anakin Solo learned in Onslaught while talking with Mara Jade. 

For such a short book, it sure packed a lot of punch. It was very insightful, provocative in the way it deals with the budding relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and showed the virtues of patience, though Qui-Gon seems to be taking too cautious a path in dealing with Obi-Wan. I have heard that this series gets better with every book. I am looking forward to that. There is room for improvement, but this book starts it off at a high level already.


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