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A novel by Jude Watson (2002, Scholastic Paperbacks)
Jedi Quest, book 1
27 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

Anakin struggles to cooperate with other Padawans after they are separated from their masters while investigating a planet suffering from a bioweapon accident.




Read on February 14th, 2011  
    Anakin finally gets a story worthy of himself. I only wish the story hadn't been so sloppy, because the character work was great. If this had been Anakin's tale alone, the rating could have easily been bumped up to three stars or more.

As a young reader novel, this book does something that many of the adult novels don't do: they make the characters think and develop. Maybe this is because we are dealing with Anakin Skywalker's Padawan years, and we know that he changed from The Phantom Menace to Attack of the Clones.

The story takes place over just a couple of days, as four Jedi Master/Apprentice pairs are sent to the planet Radnor, which contains just thousands of people in two city-states. In one of those city-states, an explosion has released biological weapons into the atmosphere, devastating it. The winds on the planet have so far kept the toxins over that city, but they are about to change, bringing the toxic cloud over the second city.

Obi-Wan and Anakin are sent, along with Siri and her apprentice Ferus, Ry-Gaul and his apprentice Tru, and Soara with her new apprentice Darra. Anakin and Tru form a bond early in the novel, when they are both looking through scrap heaps for droid parts. The theme of this book is Anakin's self-centered ways, compared to the other Jedi Padawans. Anakin has a much harder time believing that others would want to help him, or do things for others. So he almost fights Tru for the droid motivator, only to discover that Tru was salvaging it for the medics. They band together to fight feral Manikons, who are very possessive of their scrap. It's unfortunate that we've not heard of this Coruscant gang before.

The story on Radnor is too obvious, but it does highlight Anakin's weakness. It's obvious to the reader that the explosion was sabotage, and it seems likely that the security force leader Galen is responsible. It's just a matter of time before the Jedi find this out. All people with the means fled the planet already, including the local government, and chaos reigns. Right from the start, a police deserter steals the Jedi shuttle! The Jedi don't even blink; they don't call the ship in orbit to tractor it or even report it or complain about it. This is sloppy on the part of the author.

The four Jedi masters go into the affected zone wearing bio-suits, where they find out they cannot leave -an oversight that, as Curi points out, the Jedi should probably have asked about. Instead of investigating the explosion, the Jedi take to wandering the streets, looking for people to bring to the medical center, where they can all die peacefully. Obi-Wan and Siri's natures, at least, dictate that they would wonder about it, and do some research -but they don't, in this novel, meaning they are pretty much a waste. Instead of asking what the ambassador from Avon wanted in return for his fleet to help offload the survivors, or getting something in writing, Obi-Wan simply agrees to the help. He didn't even notice that while he couldn't contact his Padawan one city over, the ambassador could easily contact his fleet in space, telling them to land. That should have been a major warning sign. The final insult is when they discover the person who was not contaminated. Instead of using instruments to detect the toxin, which they should have been monitoring all along, they decide to test it by allowing Curi to remove her biosuit. How long do they wait to notice symptoms? With the story as written, as far as I'm concerned, the test was not long enough before they decided it was safe, that the toxin was no longer present. Assuming the winds would actually change in 12 hours (quite an exact number), wasn't anybody monitoring the cloud and the toxins? It seems not. This was by far the sloppiest part of the book.

It's unfortunate that Obi-Wan's part of the story was so sloppy, because I really liked the struggle Anakin went through. He is used to acting on his own, giving his own orders, and taking care of himself. He's always had trouble taking instructions from Obi-Wan, learning the lesson the hard way (by making mistakes), then resenting both himself and his teacher.

Now, Anakin has to learn to cooperate with three other Padawans, one of whom he doesn't really like (because Ferus is a model Padawan), and another he doesn't think of much, because it's her first mission -she doesn't really have much input. Because they bonded in the first chapter of the book, Anakin and Tru team up. The day they arrived on Radnor, the eight Jedi stopped a violent robbery by raiders armed with battle droids. Now that they are alone, Anakin and Ferus both try to take charge. I think both win about an equal number of arguments. Ferus is more of a planner, while Anakin takes action without much thought for the long term -he likes to make things up as he goes.

Anakin decides to hot-wire one of the remaining droids, which leads them to the raiders' holdout, but it also reports them, so they have to fight their way out, while the raiders escape. They find evidence of a leak in the remaining security force, which shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Anakin and Tru then investigate the jamming purportedly caused by the toxic cloud, and discover that the cloud has nothing to do with it -the jamming is coming from space, from the Avon invasion fleet.

Overseeing the evacuation onto the Avon ships, Anakin and Tru go back to the warehouse, where they find more evidence that Galen is the leak. When they finally get his confession, he says he's being blackmailed by the Avon government.

Meanwhile, Anakin and the others now have to go save their masters, as a droid troop carrier has cornered them on their way back from the isolation zone, in a series of canyons, and has engaged them with their dozens of droids. While Ferus and Darra go help the masters, Anakin and Tru infiltrate the droid ship; and pilot it through the rock wall to save their masters.

The question is whether Anakin learned how to cooperate with the other Jedi. I think the answer is a reserved yes. He learned that others had valuable suggestions, but he often didn't really listen to them, and the results were not quick enough for him. His plans didn't always work out, too, which was nice -in fact, like at the beginning of the book, they had a tendency to backfire, though nobody got hurt because of it. But as Ferus pointed out, Anakin listened to the others when it suited his desires, not because it was the Jedi way. It's interesting that Anakin is really the model after which Luke designs his Jedi, because they do not all have to follow the same path, and can have independent spirits (which of course often gets him into trouble). I think a medium between the two would be best.

I'm happy to be back reading these young reader novels, as they are always interesting. I just wish the story had been as intelligent as the character development of the Padawans.


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