From the very first page, Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars leaps into action. Propelled through a focused plot with plenty of sarcastic undertones, the story kicks off from the ending of Jedi: Fallen Order and rebounds readers for the upcoming sequel in Jedi: Survivor (to be released on April 28, 2023).
The novel is a layered expansion of the video game characters, providing depth and foibles to every member of the Stinger Mantis. Of course there’s Cal Kestis, the hero and thorn in the side of the Empire. His Jedi mentor Cere Junda, who walks a thin line between light and dark. Their wise-cracking, four-armed pilot, Greez Dritus, and everybody’s favorite Dathomir witch, Merrin, who struggles mightily for a new source to her powers.
The group, naturally, wouldn’t be complete without BD-1 (Buddy) or a new mission to undertake. This comes in the form of a defecting Stormtrooper with a shady past. And an important objective. To retrieve and protect an item known only as the Shroud. It’s a unique object, one that could tip the balance of power entirely in the Empire’s favor. Or, could be used as a source of hope for a fledgling rebellion.
The only problem for the crew of the Mantis — can the trooper be trusted? Are they walking into a trap or is their intel any good? It’s a mystery, one that unravels hand in hand with the action as the crew travels from Hosnian Prime to the prison world of Murkhana for retrieval.
Along the way their histories begin to catch up with them, revealing battle scars. Some of these scars are defining while others threaten to overwhelm. For the Jedi, their deadly confrontations with Second Sister and Darth Vader at the end of Fallen Order come into play. They cloud Cal’s and Cere’s decisions, forcing them to realize that who they are as Jedi will always be challenged. And that the Order they once belonged to may not survive them into future generations.
For Merrin, the difficulties are more primal. Her magical abilities are hampered and can only be revived through a personal connection. A connection that complicates the mission and very nearly tears the group apart. Even Greez is affected, his body damaged and for reasons that will distance him from the rest of the crew now and possibly forever.
Piece By Piece
No plan survives an encounter with the Empire and that’s doubly true for schemes devised aboard the Mantis. From the start, their efforts unravel. They’re forced to scramble and improvise. Yet, despite the complications in obtaining the Shroud, they do what comes natural.
Rallying around one another, they unite when it matters most, fending off enemies at every turn. This is critical because when an Inquisitor enters the picture, he brings along plenty of Purge Troopers to make matters worse. It’s an edgy encounter, these scenes pitting good versus evil, and it features a fantastic lightsaber duel. While the action unfolds from multiple perspectives, it’s so well-written that nothing feels out of place or jarring.
At least, not to us readers. For Cal, the episode dredges up buried emotions — his past failures and the fall of his previous master. The duel causes our hero to reinterpret his motivations. It forces him to realize that his measure for success shouldn’t be in wins and losses but in doing service to the Light. That the answers and path forward shouldn’t be quick. That it takes time going step by step and taking life one piece at a time.
As Cal’s former master mentored him whenever he acted impetuously — having him dissemble and then reassemble his lightsaber in painstaking order — the only way to the end is piece by piece. There are no shortcuts. Goals can’t be cheated. They can only be achieved through patience and deliberation. And trusting in what’s been taught.
Sarcastic To The End
Sam Magg’s writing is at its best when nothing is completely serious. Full of acerbic quips, she gives our heroes plenty of ammunition to keep things moving and to lighten the moments that veer into darkness. But there are times when doubt and suspicion come to the forefront, when the crew’s snarkiness is used as a weapon. It’s in these scenes that the story elevates, allowing the characters to rise above the plot. It’s when we glimpse into something more than just a tie-in novel. When we understand that this book can stand on its own. That it can spawn a series unanchored from the game.
One of those moments sees Cal using his Force power of psychometry to gain insight about the trooper they’re harboring. And even more about the Shroud. It’s a reflective point, one that has Cal questioning the motivations of everyone around him. Not to mention his own. He reexamines his feelings about the crew and what they’ve been doing the past few years. It has him searching for a way forward, one in which the Mantis won’t just survive but thrive.
While there isn’t a single catalyzing moment for Cal — nothing like Luke staring at twin suns or Ezra speaking to a Loth Wolf — there is a return to form. Cal is a shiny object. He’s a distraction who allows his crew to get away. Cal isn’t a symbol. He’s a weapon. And while he begins to see his purpose as something greater, the transformation isn’t complete. It’s still a work in progress. One step and piece at a time.
Reviewing Jedi: Battle Scars
Witty, snappy, and above all else entertaining, Jedi: Battle Scars is a fun, wonderful read. While it’s shorter than most Star Wars novels and doesn’t provide the usual wider view of the universe, its focus and detachment is a welcomed surprise. Jedi: Battle Scars is the kind of novel that knows its place and doesn’t attempt to be fancy. Instead, it gives readers what’s been advertised — a good, uplifting romp.
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