Welcome to the Multiversity Star Wars Book Club! Based on a conversation in the Multiversity Slack, editors Matt Garcia and Brian Salvatore decided to start up this column, where we will be reading and discussing a Star Wars every month or so. So come, enter the ancient library and join us!
Matt: Hey Brian. It’s been a while, huh?
Brian: Matt Garcia? Matt. Now there’s a name I’ve not heard in a long, long time. A long time.
Matt: I know that I needed to take a couple steps back from Star Wars after Solo. Not because I wasn’t loving it or anything, but because I knew I would be in danger of burning out if I kept going so hard and so fast. (I did watch Last Jedi like five times though, and love it more every time.) But then, the Rise of Skywalker trailer came out, and well . . . there was an awakening.
The latest offering from Claudia Gray takes place in the Republic era. As far as I know, it’s the first of the current canon’s pre-prequel offerings. I’m not sure if LucasFilm plans to start expanding into the deeper history of the Star Wars universe or if Gray simply wanted to write a book about Qui-Gon and young Obi-Wan, but here we are.
Master & Apprentice finds Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan sent to a planet to help negotiate a regime change. The ruler of the planet is this 14-year-old girl and, with her coronation, she plans to turn her role into a more ceremonial title. This would inevitably allow the Czerka Corporation — who are building a new hyperspace lane — more influence in the local government. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s relationship, meanwhile, seems to be coming apart. They aren’t on the same wave-length and clearly don’t understand how they were paired together. This isn’t helped by Qui-Gon’s recent invitation to the Jedi Council.
So, what did you think, overall, of Master & Apprentice?
Brian: Overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I liked a number of elements a lot, though it did that thing that all media around The Phantom Menace does: it contradicts other canon, in seemingly easy to avoid situations.
Let’s start with Qui-Gon, a character that seems like one of the biggest missed opportunities in the entire Star Wars canon. For the two-ish hours we spend with him in The Phantom Menace, he seems like a free thinker, a true believer, and a compassionate person. Unlike the Jedi Council, he’s the rare prequel Jedi who doesn’t appear ineffectual. This book doesn’t reveal all that much in terms of ‘secrets’ about Qui-Gon, save for one I want to get to later, but rather deepens the character by doubling down on all of those qualities I mentioned earlier.
He’s driven by the Force, far more than he is by the Jedi Council, and his compassion shows itself in unexpected ways. I think I have a fuller picture of who Qui-Gon is and, perhaps most importantly, I want more stories about him.
What did you think about Qui-Gon here?
Matt: Last time I watched Phantom Menace, I just remember thinking, “Wow. So much of this would have gone a lot better if Qui-Gon thought for a fucking second.” He’s like Tony Stark in that movie: when something doesn’t work, he tries that same thing again but harder. (Except, things get worse for him.) Much of what I liked about him stemmed from Liam Neeson’s inherent charisma.
In this book, I saw a lot more of the qualities you mentioned. I appreciated his time to assess the situation, to process new information, and factor in a point-of-view other than his own. I liked that he doubted his every action and decision. That being said, this rift between him and Obi-Wan felt . . . forced. Like you said, there’s something inconsistent about the characterizations from the prequel eras and I guess I felt it most here with Kenobi. Gray goes out of her way near the end to show how Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon ended up with a strong bond, et cetera et cetera, but I think Obi-Wan was presented in a manner that only served the Qui-Gon arc.Continued below
So, I guess what part of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s relationship worked for you? What part, if any, struck you as off or odd?
Brian: There were bits of the relationship that felt “honest” to what we have seen before, and I think that Gray did a nice job establishing why each would have some sort of issue with the other. I think, as you said, some of the conflict felt a little over the top and fabricated, but no more fabricated than a lot of the prequel era drama.
Qui-Gon is a character that he just so poorly used in The Phantom Menace that I think I was partly reacting to just seeing him used in ways that aren’t incredibly reductive or poorly thought out.
Obi-Wan is a tougher character to write here, in part because there is so much we already know about him, and so Gray has to write new stuff, but not stuff that will contradict or change too much of what we’ve seen, especially when factoring in 6 seasons of The Clone Wars, which introduce things like…well I’m not going to spoil that. But you get a pretty full picture of him between the prequels and that series, so Gray is left leaning on “young” stereotypes like impatience, because she can’t really introduce too many new traits without it feeling forced.
This, much like Gray’s Leia, Princess of Alderaan, spends a lot of time with the role of a young leader, and the various customs on these different planets. What did you think about the time spent in the politics of Pijal?
Matt: Qui-Gon Jinn. Just another of the many elements used poorly in The Phantom Menace.
Anyway, I thought the royal political element was fine. It tied the story together, brought all the pieces into the mix. The ritual stuff felt like it could have been part of Leia, Princess of Alderaan, and you could kind of see where the twists were coming from. For the most part, it felt like setup to me. Now that I think about it, I remember slogging through the first 100 pages, while the back two-thirds went by in a flash.
Until the very end, Gray used that political plot more as the backdrop. I think her real interest was in exploring how the Czerka Corporation was about to keep and hold slaves. It was here the book was at its angriest and most powerful. And it also presents a fairly true view of what modern slavery looks like. Like, Master & Apprentice has its villains, sure, but nothing as cruel or vindictive as the Czerka Corporation.
How well do you think the book balanced its politics and themes with its characters and their motivations?
Brian: In a bubble, fairly well. Aside from the twist with the Princess/Queen at the end of the book, each character had a pretty clear set of goals to accomplish, and nothing that happened really pulled them away from their core motivations. I think that it presented the Jedi as uncomfortable with absolute power (which, if you recall, fits their ‘Only the Sith speak in absolutes’ mantra), and showed some very natural motivations for the various characters, but I want to especially focus on the somewhat laissez faire attitude that lots of these characters have towards Czerka.
As you said, this is a relatively modern understanding of slavery, and it is something that many people choose to not think about and compartmentalize. The book does a nice job of showing both sides of that; both the malaise that has set in about what Czerka does, and also the violent anger that true understanding of their organization can elicit.
From that perspective, I think the political stuff worked really well. I didn’t care so much about the Pijal politics, if only because the princess wasn’t given enough time to really develop on her own as a character. The character from Pijal that was given the most time is Rael Averross, the Jedi who slain his padawan when she was possessed by an enemy. I have a lot of thoughts about Rael and the Jedi in general in this book, but why don’t you go first.Continued below
Matt: So much of post-Original Trilogy material seems to have been determined on undermining the sanctity of the Jedi. Gray only has a few scenes that take place in the Temple, but you can see how they’re coming apart and undermining themselves. The slow deliberations. The cozying up galactic leaders.
Re Rael: I thought he made a good foil for Qui-Gon, like a warning about what would happen if he went too far. He sort of disappears in the middle of the novel but his turmoil and inner conflict constantly hover over his decisions. I’m curious to know your thoughts about him, how he hit you, y’know?
Brian: It’s funny that you read it that way, with more undermining of the Jedi. I took it almost the exact opposite way; everything post-Prequels has been giving us a sense of the Jedi not as a monolithic force, but as a collection of flawed creatures. Qui-Gon is referenced to have had a love interest here, something strictly forbidden, and we see that Rael is a bit of a player in that regard, too. But we also see Rael as someone who very much has attachments, and is more interested in the Force than being a Jedi.
That sounds a lot more like Luke, and a lot more like Yoda and Obi-Wan when we first meet them. Sure, they want to train Luke to be a Jedi, but only really because that word means good Force user. Concerns are dropped in terms of being ‘too old to train’ for Luke, and he’s never given a single midichlorian test or anything else. The Jedi, the sterile folks living a lushly comfortable life in the galaxy’s busiest metropolis, have given way to people more in tune with their feelings, and working through them to do greatness, instead of subjugating them for fear of being too emotional.
I know I’m talking about two timelines, years apart, but we see the seeds for all of that here. Dooku trained Rael and Qui-Gon, who trained Obi-Wan, who trained Luke. The lineage of Luke as a Jedi, with all due respect to his bloodline, begins with a future Sith and features some very unconventional thinkers.
The other thing I wanted to bring up was about the idea of Qui-Gon joining the Jedi Council. This is especially interesting because I just rewatched The Phantom Menace for the first episode of Force Ghost, Coast to Coast, Season 3 (dropping Friday, bay bay), and there’s a line that Obi-Wan says which amounts to “Q-G, if you weren’t such a rebel, you’d be on the Jedi Council.” It seems odd to me that there would be a book in the Star Wars canon that would seemingly contradict a line of dialogue in one of the films. I know this is nitpicky and weird, but this seems significant to me: Qui-Gon has so little canon material around him, that it seems that Gray would’ve carefully studied said material before writing this. Unless there is a planned middle story where that invitation is rescinded, it seems like sloppy storytelling to me.
Anything else to add?
Matt: I’ve always seen the movies as the highest canon. The TV shows are a step down, followed by the novels, then probably the comics and video games. I wonder if part of the struggle of writing these is having to find a way to balance that characterization with what the narrative needs. Maybe Gray just hoped we’d all forgotten that line, since Phantom Menace is so bad, so very bad.
A stray thought real quick: I liked Rahara, the former slave girl. I found myself sort of bummed and worried when she was captured again by Czerka. Like, it seemed destined to happen, but Gray had woven such a fun narrative by that point I was nonetheless invested.
Brian: Yeah, I think Rahara and Pax were underused, in a good way. They added some flavor to the story, as well as some emotional heft in Rahara’s case, but were never in danger of overpowering the main story. I also liked the fake Kyber crystals, a thread picked up (sort of) in James Luceno’s Catalyst: A Rogue One Prequel, where there are attempts to replicate Kyber.Continued below
Overall, I liked this novel, and it has me excited for Dooku: Lost Jedi, the new audio-only novel by Cavan Scott that also features Rael.
Until next time, May the Force be with you.