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A novel by Jude Watson (2002, Scholastic Paperbacks)
Jedi Apprentice, book 18
40 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

Obi-Wan takes the lead on a mission to discover the saboteurs on a planet with rigid social status.



2+ stars+

Read on January 21st, 2004  
    Obi-Wan once again takes the lead in this book, and Qui-Gon allows him the leeway, even though things start to go wrong. That's because Qui-Gon is starting to think of his Padawan as a real Jedi. It's nice to see that development in their relationship, but it seems shoehorned in, somehow. I think with Obi-Wan taking the lead while Qui-Gon was distracted, from all the way back in The Death of Hope, and especially in the last book, it should feel natural, but something is missing.

Perhaps, as I said in the last book, I am simply getting tired of this series. This book seemed like an alternate version of several of the past books, especially Defenders of the Dead and The Uncertain Path, which were specifically mentioned, and others. In those books, Obi-Wan was just learning how to be an apprentice, never mind a Jedi. Here, more than three years later, he is a strong Jedi, and can see where he went wrong in those missions. So although the situations in those books are similar to what he faces here, he himself has changed.

However, the society they were visiting was not very intriguing. Basically, it was a workaholic society, one that has been this way for many generations. Once children were old enough to work, they were put to work, all week, every week, until they retired. Then, with nothing to do, and nobody to visit them, they died.

It turns out, though, that the children are not content with this idea. They want to have some fun! And so begins a movement to try and open the eyes of the adults to the world around them, aside from work. The children are characterized by Grath, son to the Planetary Chairman Port. It seems obvious that the society does enjoy something other than simply work, if they managed to have kids. Grath has played some practical jokes, mostly in the form of work stoppages, which resulted in confusion by the adults.

It seems to me such a society as the author writes about cannot exist, at least not in a stable manner. Worse, though, she makes it seem as if they actually desire to have a real life, but cannot escape the grasp that society has on working. However, that is in contrast to their inability to cope with the shutdowns that they experience because of the children. They stand at their stations, numb, even to the point of being nauseas, or fainting. However, at the end, when they have to walk to work, many of them enjoy the sights. Shouldn't they be numb about having to walk to work, as well?

Anyway, Qui-Gon tries to reason with the Chairman, because he blames the next planet out in the system for the sabotage. Vorzyd 5 was heavily in debt for generations, but recently managed to get its act together, and paid off that debt. However, they did it through opening huge casinos, and the free spirited life they lead makes them perfect candidates for the blame by the rigid and workaholic people of Vorzyd 4. Through the whole book, the Chairman blames Vorzyd 5, and Qui-Gon doesn't even try to reason with him. Never once does Qui-Gon even ask for a rational explanation for why the Chairman thinks Vorzyd 5 would be behind the attacks.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan infiltrates the Freelies, the group of children intent on revolution. He goes to meetings, and is accepted incredibly easily. It turns out this is because Grath knows he is a Jedi, but doesn't tell anybody that he knows. He feels he will need the help of the Jedi for this revolution to succeed. However, there are others in the group, the girl Tray and the boy Flip, who think they need more than simply work stoppages to turn society around. They feel the need for violence.

Flip manages to alter the timetable for explosions that destroyed the shuttles to work, injuring and killing some adults. The destruction of public property (which Qui-Gon doesn't even object to, though he knows about it the night before) was supposed to happen in the night, before work.

The next explosion was set up in the abandoned annex to one of the main production buildings. Why they would have an annex that wasn't being used doesn't make sense, since these are especially efficient people. But this building happens to be one where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had set up a meeting between the adults and the Freelies! Coincidence? Just by the author, because Tray's retired grandmother is one of the people attending the meeting, so she feels terribly guilty about being part of it. Obi-Wan manages to send a Force message to his master, warning him, and everybody is evacuated in time. Everybody except Flip, who ends up dying.

In a happily-ever-after ending, everybody agrees that their lifestyles were too extreme, and they vow to change. I was amazed that there were no actual fainting or humming adults around, not knowing what to do with the burning wreckage. (Actually, the wreckage wasn't burning, it simply collapsed, and people were able to lift beams right away to get at Flip.)

The core of the book, though, is the relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. That is the only reason the book gets real marks, because the plot was meaningless, and the society completely unreasonable.

Obi-Wan asked to take the lead. Working on his own, he found out at the very beginning that the children were responsible for the sabotage, and planned to infiltrate their group. Against his better judgement, Qui-Gon agreed. It makes sense for Obi-Wan to take responsibility during some missions. Even when things start to go wrong, like with the shuttle explosion, Qui-Gon lets Obi-Wan try to correct it. With time and meditation, Obi-Wan figures out the right course of action. Unfortunately, both of them went to bed knowing that the shuttles would be completely destroyed in that city. This also begs the question of how the Chairman would institute changes in other cities. What kinds of reactions could he expect?

One of the problems with this series of books is that every single planet consists of one nation, with one leader. I suppose to get representation in the Senate, this is a requirement. However, we always get to see one place, be it a city or countryside, and we must assume that it is representative to the planet, and that the leaders of that city can make changes to the entire planetary population.

The cover of this book comes not from a battle between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, as we would be led to believe, but from a sparring session in the night, to clear their minds. It was a nice change of pace, too. With another eight to ten years before The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan still has some growing to do, both as a person and as a Jedi. But here he gets his first steps as a grown-up. Certainly Qui-Gon would have stepped in before things got too far out of control, but Obi-Wan managed to get the teens to talk before that happened (of course, "too far" for me was blowing up the shuttles, but not for Qui-Gon).

The writing style, as usual, was excellent. We got some background from Jocasta Nu again, and aside from that, there was no real expositionary dialog to drag the book down. The thoughts of the Jedi were clear, and I enjoyed the doubts that Obi-Wan had about his ability, about Qui-Gon's motives in allowing him to continue a course that looked likely to fail, and about his determination to bring the Feelies' point of view to the adults. The plot, however, needed some serious work.


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