Michael A. Stackpole.
I can’t play around with this one. I believe right here, this book is the greatest Star Wars novel ever written, and Michael A. Stackpole carried it off. One of the last realcanon novels set in the New Republic before the prequels came out, it is absolutely unique as the only first person Star Wars book. And while I normally detest first person as a form of lazy writing, this is one novel where it elevates and enhances the plot.
With your patience, one last stylistic detail before I move on to the plot. I complained about the Jedi Academy trilogy because there just wasn’t enough material for three books; for whatever reason (aka profits), Anderson had to split the story into three books that contained a good hundred and more pages of filler. I, Jedi contains two distinct sections, but without the tired insistence on its being stretched into a trilogy, the book boasts a taut narrative without an ounce of flab.
The year is 01149 — aka, ten years after the rebellion’s victory at Yavin 4. The heroes of Rogue Squadron are hard at work cleaning up the mess created by the Emperor Reborn (Dark Empire I), and Corran Horn is with them hotly in pursuit of an ex-moff pirate warlord — or more accurately, war lady, the very beautiful and deadly Leona Tavira.
Who is Corran Horn, you may want to know? Well, he is one of the most compelling expanded universe characters ever written. Stackpole has fleshed out Corellia, Han Solo’s homeworld, into a real, breathing place, and emerging from its rich culture is Corran Horn: we first met him as a brash Rogue Squadron pilot in the X-Wing series. Before that, he was a veteran officer of the Corellian investigatory police, CorSec (Corellian Security), making him an amalgamation of the best elements of every cop show and fighter jock movie ever made. He narrates the story of his most important adventure with a clear, honest, self-aware voice. You’ve heard of unreliable narrators, but Corran is the most reliable, scouring his emotions and laying them bare to himself and his audience without flinching.
Here’s the story. While shaking up with pirates, Corran is wrestling a stronger foe: his wife wants to have kids. Mrs. Horn — that is, Mirax, the daughter of renown smuggler Booster Terrik — is a cunning intel operative who goes missing on a covert op against this lady warlord Rogue Squadron is trying to track down.
In fact, she goes so thoroughly missing that her Force-attuned but untrained husband begins to forget who she is. The first chapters of the book touch slyly on the events we’ve already seen in Jedi Search, culminating with Corran taking on the name of a Jedi ancestor and going undercover as a trainee in Luke Skywalker’s training academy for Jedi. Here, the book parallels Dark Apprentice, but there’s no lazy cut and paste of a plot we’ve already seen. Instead, man-on-the-scene Mr. CorSec investigates the strange and tragic happenings in the school and takes on Exar Kun himself in the background of what we’ve already seen in Anderson’s novels.
In the second half of the book, Horn leaves the Jedi academy to go undercover with the pirates who can hopefully lead him to his wife. Mysteries abound there — like how the Invids can predict the New Republic’s moves, and what Tavira’s hints about Force users portends. And while Corran has the discipline to take his investigation slowly, not running half-cocked at anything that might put his wife more at risk, there is a time limit. She can’t survive indefinitely, even if the Invids initially wanted her alive. And the closer Corran gets, well, the higher the risk becomes.
I love this book. I can still remember the first time I read the first page: we were at the Springfield mall and it was on a stack of new hardback books. I was young enough that it never occurred to me to enter a store to buy anything, so there wasn’t the slightest inclination to purchase in my head when I picked it up and read the opening paragraphs. Just because patience is a virtue doesn’t make impatience a vice, from the second page, has stuck in my head ever since. Some months later, I took it as a book on tape on our trip to Yellowstone in September 1998. At first I was put off by its first person narration, but everything about this undercover cop, fighter pilot, Jedi just hooked me heart, line, and sinker. I loved that the so-beloved Trilogy characters make only cameo appearances.
And now, over 15 years and some eight readings later, I appreciate even more about Stackpole’s style and grace. I also love the somewhat elevated nature of the book: many Star Wars books are all about the plot, the what-happens-next, but in many respects I, Jedi (a call back to the Richard Graves’ I, Claudius, almost certainly) is a more cerebral novel. It is about identity and decision, growth and heritage, maturity and inheritance. The characters are rich, the situation a thrilling backdrop, and the examination of the far, far away galaxy’s current events and politics logical and believable.
So, thank you, Michael A. Stackpole, for this book, which I enjoy reading more every time I read it — and as for the rest of you, get yourself a copy if you don’t already have one. Enjoy it for the first time or the fifty-first, because it will always deliver.