This was the first Star Wars expanded universe book I ever read, and as mediocre as it is, it’s primarily responsible for my obsession with Star Wars (and the EU) throughout my last two years of high school. Simply by existing, it was awesome back then. There was MORE STORY after the movies. More OFFICIAL STORY. Now, though, I have higher standards. It was fun to revisit this book that I liked when I was sixteen, again, mostly because it existed, but nostalgia was really the only reason I had any fun reading it this second time around.
Jedi Search is the first book by Kevin J. Anderson, professional fanfic writer, in his Jedi Academy trilogy, which picks up after Timothy Zahn’s much much much much better Thrawn trilogy. Ostensibly, it’s about Luke taking charge and forming a new Jedi Academy, recruiting and searching for new Jedi across the galaxy to come to his new school and reboot the Jedi order. Of course, the situation is also complicated by the presence of the obligatory frustrated Remnant of the Defeated Empire character, who is much better served in the Thrawn trilogy than here. Here we’ve got Admiral Daala, a prodigy who’s been sequestered in a top secret black hole cluster for ten years doing research for the Empire, and she and her installation have no idea what’s been going on in the outside world. Then there’s a third plot with Han and Chewie and Kessel that seems designed solely to bring in a key character, but it ends up feeling shoehorned in and coincidental. (Cool that we finally get to visit Kessel, though.) Meanwhile all this is happening, Leia is busy having a mental breakdown about Han and her children, all the while stuff seems to be falling apart.
My main frustration with KJA as a writer is that he’s all ideas, no execution. He had all the bones of a fun Star Wars story here, but the way he writes it just ruins the whole thing. His dialogue is cheesy and not lifelike at all, his character work is disgraceful, and most of the time character actions occur because something needs to happen in the plot rather than because it’s something that character would organically do. Many of the developments are insulting to me as a human person, as a Star Wars fan, and as a woman (most of these insults occur in the second two books). He also wastes SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES in his stories, and the way he develops his initially cool story falls flat, and yes, turns stupid. This book is the best of the series solely because all of that potential is still there, but by books two and three, it’s piddled off, like a bad puppy on your favorite rug.
But even by the end of this book, you can see the potential dying. Let’s break it down by the four plot points I mentioned above:
The supposed Jedi search: This book is supposed to feature Luke and Co. searching for Jedi, but there is basically none of that actually happening. Lando is wasted on the stupidest plot of all time, finding himself searching for a potential Jedi while attending Umgullian blob races. Yes, blob races. And the guy doesn’t even turn out to be a Jedi. At least thirty pages full of complete waste of time. Luke only finds three himself. And he doesn’t even have to work very hard to do it. It’s not satisfying on a story level at all. (Not to mention it’s apparent while reading these scenes that KJA has no idea how to write Luke as a competent Jedi Master. His Luke can’t even figure out how to sense life signs or take a quick walk across lava. It’s horribly frustrating.) But bottom line: the book is called “Jedi Search,” and approximately only 15% is spent doing that. But thanks for misleading me, I guess.
Admiral Daala and the Empire: Admiral Daala could have been such a good character. A woman admiral in a notoriously sexist institution like the Empire . . . that could have been good. A leader who has been out of the loop for ten years and the universe has moved on without her . . . could have been good. A sudden influx of Imperial troops and power revives the efforts of the dying Empire . . . could have been good. But none of it was. Daala’s characterization was almost exclusively focused on her obsession with Grand Moff Tarkin, who was her mentor, and as she notes almost every time she remembers him, “her lover” as well. Which is icky in the book, and icky on the part of the author. Also, for a supposed military genius, Daala is a moron. She is not good at her job. Lastly, the idea of Maw Installation being hidden in the black hole cluster is good if you don’t think about it, but doesn’t hold up even remotely if you do. The time dilation from being near one black hole, let alone a cluster of them, would make every event in this book impossible. Lazy science is lazy.
Han/Chewie/Kessel: The Kessel stuff surprisingly delivers. We get Han and Chewie being captured by an old frenemy and forced to become slaves in the spice mines of Kessel, and upon escaping are forced into an even more terrifying situation in the black hole cluster. It’s terrifying, and there be monsters down there. But it also seems like this entire story was developed solely so Han could meet Kyp Durron and bring him into the fold. It is HIGHLY coincidental that Han should meet one of the few Force-sensitive beings left in the universe just in time to bring him in to Luke’s Jedi Academy. I suppose you could hand-wave that away by saying the Force works in mysterious ways, but Anderson doesn’t even bother to do that! Lazy. (The bad guy at Kessel is gross, and not in a fun way, either. Like, raping women and eating his own children gross. Blurg.)
Leia and the Jedi twins: As for Leia, she gets the worst from KJA. He doesn’t get her. At all. KJA’s Leia is a nagging worrywart, whose achievements as a statesman are completely undercut by her unreasonable anger at Han for not being there when their twins return from their two year exile. This is dumb for two reasons: 1) KJA’s insistence that Jedi children be isolated for the first two years of their lives is BULLSHIT. He pulled it out of his bum for dramatic purposes. It makes zero sense in the Star Wars universe. And 2) Leia would NOT be mad at Han for not being there, and she wouldn’t be making comments all the time about him being unreliable and off to sow his wild oats. Those shouldn’t even be issues in their marriage. Leia trusts Han. Han is dependable. Her first assumption should have been that something was wrong and to go looking for him, but KJA needed her in Coruscant, not off on a rescue mission, so instead she acts like a moron. The stuff where she deals with all the diplomatic stuff was harmless, but not exactly thrilling. It’s mostly set-up for the next two books.
Seriously, don’t bother reading this series unless you are a EU completist. If you’re reading it for nostalgia purposes, you’ll just be disappointed. There are so many other books, so many other Star Wars books specifically, that you would do better to spend your time on.