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Any new book by Claudia Gray is cause for celebration, but when it's set in the galaxy far, far away, it's time for some outright joy. Gray is one of the best authors working in the new Star Wars canon, having previously written Star Wars: Lost Stars as well as the excellent Leia-centric Star Wars: Bloodlines. She's back in a big way with a new novel called Star Wars: Master & Apprentice, and it takes us all the way back to the time before beginning of the saga… chronologically speaking, at least.
We're all super-excited for the end of the Skywalker Saga, as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker just unleashed its first teaser. The end is coming, but Gray's new book brings us back to the beginning — the book takes place before Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace. In terms of the new canon, we've never been in a period this early. The galaxy is mostly in a place of peace, and the mere notion of a real lightsaber duel is thought to be impossible. Thankfully we spend most of our time in this unfamiliar period with two very familiar characters — Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, and his padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.
They may be the titular master and apprentice of the book's title, but they are not the only characters within its pages that help us to explore that dynamic. For anyone wondering exactly how Qui-Gon became the Jedi that we met in the first prequel, or what the deal is with the prophecy of the Chosen One, this book gives those answers. Want to know what Jedi Master Dooku was like before he left the order? Readers get a fair amount of that knowledge too.
Warning: From this point on, there will be big spoilers for the book Star Wars: Master & Apprentice. By all means, read the book before reading any further.
Right off the bat, Gray puts you right in the mind of a Jedi — with Qui-Gon as well as Obi-Wan. How does it feel in there? Not great, actually. When Qui-Gon calls it "a tough life" in The Phantom Menace, he wasn't kidding. Both of these Jedi are very hard on themselves, to the point where I might suggest medication. They're not entirely different from when we meet them cinematically — Qui-Gon usually follows his own unorthodox path despite the rules, and Obi-Wan is the ultimate rule-follower, a lover of codes and guidelines. He's not even content with the rules that already exist — in more than one instance, Obi-Wan finds himself wishing that there were even more rules.
They are a mismatched pair as far as masters and apprentices go, and they both start to resent the other. This is almost always displayed in their thoughts alone, and it never goes on for long — they are quick to start shifting blame to themselves and focus on their own shortcomings. Qui-Gon keeps thinking that he should be a better master, and Obi-Wan thinks that he should be a better apprentice. Qui-Gon's nature in this book solidifies the notion that if he had become Anakin Skywalker's mentor, things would have turned out very differently — Qui-Gon's attitude is a much better match for the reckless Anakin. Oh, the fun the two of them would have had.
Aside from anger at one another, any kind of resentment is almost immediately shut down in their minds by their dogmatic Jedi training, which was drilled into them since they were incredibly young. If they start getting impatient or irritated about anyone or anything, their Jedi reflexes kick in and it's not long before they are meditating or looking to the Force to center themselves. Both men are constantly censoring their speech and their thoughts, and it's rare that they acknowledge their real feelings…unless it's in the service of properly riding a varactyl.
Because of this, things get buried, not dealt with. Everything would go a lot smoother if these two just took several hours and hashed out all of their issues. That, however, is not the way of the master and apprentice. It is not the way of the Jedi. Things fester, and it is exhausting. It's fascinating to read, but it's all based on a system of old religious codes that we know can't (and doesn't) survive.
We don't only gain insight into this pair, we also get to know a very young Qui-Gon when he first started out as an apprentice to Jedi Master Dooku. These scenes alone make the book worthwhile, though similar fears and doubts plague Qui-Gon in the past. Dooku continues to be something of an enigma, but thankfully young Qui-Gon has some help in that department.
The book introduces one of the most unusual Jedi we've ever met in the form of Rael Aveross. This is a Jedi who doesn't just ignore the rules, he's tossed every copy of the rulebook into a bonfire. He assists in the training of young Qui-Gon, but we meet him again in the story proper when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have to perform some "aggressive negotiations" on the planet Pijal.
Aveross doesn't dress like a Jedi, and he's actually Lord Regent of the planet itself. He doesn't dress like a Lord Regent, either. He still wields a lightsaber, but as far as the rumors of Jedi "celibacy" go (a lot of people in the galaxy wonder about that), he's having none of it. Attachment may be forbidden, but Aveross isn't getting attached to the local innkeeper when they hook up every so often. A Jedi who enjoys sex? Scandalous, but Aveross also never turns to the dark side. His attitude in general makes a decent case for the Jedi being allowed to blow off some sexual steam every now and then.
Following the death of his former padawan, the Jedi Council sent Aveross to Pijal to get him out of the way. The Council itself is a constant presence in the book, as one of the main inciting incidents is something that I didn't think possible — the Council extends an invitation to Qui-Gon for him to join them.
Immediately, I thought of Obi-Wan's Phantom Menace line of, "If you would just follow the code, you would be on the council." Little did I know that they actually asked him to, and most of the book has Qui-Gon in the mindset that he is definitely going to join it, if only to get some attention for some of his more radical ideas for change. Joining the council would mean that Obi-Wan would need a new master, and Obi-Wan feels that this is just the opportunity Qui-Gon was waiting fo to shuck Obi's inadequate bottom off to someone else. Once again, if they just talked about it for a few hours (or saw Jedi therapists, not a real thing, should be though), there would be understanding. That damn Jedi stoicism does neither of them any favors.
Qui-Gon is just as surprised to get the offer as anyone, even more so when he finds out that Yoda himself was opposed to it. Does he end up accepting? Let me put it this way: was he sitting in that tower circle of judgment with the rest of the council in The Phantom Menace?
He ends up refusing the offer, and it has everything to do with the ancient Jedi prophecies — an old art that drew the Jedi mystics to the dark side, and thus, no longer practiced. Dooku was always very interested in them, and this was passed to Qui-Gon. He still kept a passing fancy for them as he aged (one not shared by Obi-Wan in any way), but that soon intensifies. When we get right down to it, this book is the story of how Qui-Gon Jinn became a true believer.
Some of the prophecies we read about in the book include (but are not limited to):
"She who will be born to darkness will give birth to darkness."
"When the righteous lose the light, evil once dead shall return."
"Only through sacrifice of many Jedi will the Order cleanse the sin done to the nameless."
"The danger of the past is not past, but sleeps in an egg. When the egg cracks, it will threaten the entire galaxy."
"A chosen one shall come, born of no father, and through him will ultimate balance in the force be restored."
Having seeing eight out of the nine films in the Skywalker Saga, I'd be a believer too. The first one seems to directly relate to Leia (with Anakin as her father, and Ben Solo her son), and the second brings to mind the actions of the Jedi in the Clone Wars. The Jedi believe that the Sith are a long-dead legend, but these prophecies make it clear that they're just sleeping in an egg. As for the final prophecy, well, we know what that's all about, don't we?
Qui-Gon can't get these lines out of his head, and when one of them (one not listed here) comes true as part of the story, the time of prophecy is at hand. He realizes that his destiny does not lie in the chamber of the Jedi Council, because if he were restricted there, he would not be able to delve into the truths of these prophecies. He starts the book unsure of himself and of his place in Jedi society, but by the end he has become a true follower of the Living Force. It's no surprise that he became the first Jedi to be able to manifest consciousness through the force after death.
Not joining the council also means that he can continue to mentor Obi-Wan, and their bond is proved stronger because of it. Obi-Wan might not share his master's beliefs, but he respects them. Qui-Gon all but dismisses the dogmatic "religion" of the Jedi by book's end, and has decided to embark on the spiritual path. The council may think him a zealot, but he's far wiser than they are. He sees things much clearer. He very much reminds me of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The Jedi either have to adapt, or die. The force does not belong to them. Qui-Gon no longer needs a book of rules to tell him what his next right action is.
Any daydreams that I ever had about being a Jedi were pretty much put to rest by this book — I'm no longer interested, at least in terms of the "prime" Jedi of the prequel era. (For what it's worth, they aren't calling.) We get incredible descriptions of the Temple and the variety of things that are offered there, and yeah, lightsabers and force powers are amazing. Still, a life of nothing but blindly following the rules? Keeping everything in all the time, no matter how much it wants to be set bursting forth? Following ancient laws that in no way fit the moment right in front of you? No sir. It's no wonder that Anakin chafed under the leash. I would have too, and I didn't meet Natalie Portman in a junk shop when I was nine.
There is what we think a Jedi life is, and then there's what it actually entails. There's the ideal, the legend... and then there's reality. This is a theme that runs through many storylines in the book, continually telling you that you can have all the high-minded ideals you want — you're still going to have to deal with the world as it is. Qui-Gon Jinn is a Jedi who lives in the moment, and that's probably why he's always been one of my favorites. This book really cements why that is in a most wonderful way.
Master Jinn may not care for the rules when the book begins, but by the end, he's ready to sacrifice all of them if he thinks it necessary. He has become the wandering wizard with a penchant for finding a use for every "pathetic lifeform" that stumbles across his path, and as he says to Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, he will do what he must.
If you want to truly get inside the mind of a Jedi (both code-abiding and not), then few Star Wars stories do it better than this one. I don't think that I could ever live a life with such rigorous and outdated rules as the Jedi have in this book, and this is all in so-called peacetime. This was the book that made me finally say, like Ahsoka Tano before me, "I am no Jedi."
Star Wars: Master & Apprentice is on shelves today.