At age 50, author Kevin Shinick (Chewie and the Porgs) is a true-blue, start-to-finish, child of the 80’s. And like everyone else at that time, including myself, was witness to a pretty great decade as far as representation of the teenage condition was concerned. The decade was dominated by a sort of Hughes-esque concept of the tremendous highs and cavernous lows of what it was like to navigate those important years in a young adult’s life.
Friendship, first loves, a call to adventure, and identity are common themes that you’ll find in many teenage flicks. And as such, a direct line can be drawn from the subject matter to the age and experience of the protagonist, these are prevalent themes in most any young adult novel as well.
In the case of “Star Wars: Force Collector”, a YA novel set just before The Force Awakens, we meet restless teenager Karr Nuq Sin, who is about to experience all these and more in this important but fun new Star Wars adventure.
Here’s the publisher's summary…
Karr is a teenage boy like many others in the galaxy, but he has a secret: when he touches certain objects, he gets visions of people he doesn't know and places he's never been.
Karr's grandmother is convinced the visions come from the Force. But are there any Jedi left to guide Karr in the use of his abilities?
Accompanied by Maize, the unpredictable new girl at school, and RZ-7, Karr's droid companion, he sets off into the larger galaxy to find the truth. His adventures will take him from Utapau to Jakku to Takodana and beyond as he learns more about the Jedi than he could have expected…and about his own place in the Force.
Karr is a troubled teen who doesn’t really “fit in”. He doesn’t have any friends, doesn’t like school, doesn’t have a girlfriend, gets bullied, and is for the most part considered an outcast. In fact, in many ways, there’s nothing unique about Karr and his high-school experience. After all, we’ve all known a “Karr” in our lives, heck; some of us have even been “Karr” at some point, or at least could relate to that feeling of isolation.
But, for the sake of this story, there is one thing that makes Karr unique, one thing that makes him stand out among his peers. You see, ever since the age of thirteen, whenever Karr touches certain objects with his bare hands, he sees the history of that object unfold in front of him.
This ability, which has side-effects including blurred visions, headaches, and seizures, is known as “psychometry”, and in the world of Star Wars is traditionally thought of as Force ability. Now, no one, including his parents, sees his seizures and headaches as anything other than a disability, let alone a Jedi trait. Yet Karr is convinced that not only is this gift a Force power, but that he’s destined to be a Jedi. To those around him, this is no more than a fool’s hope, with an emphasis on fool.
The closest person in Karr’s life, other than his repurposed medical droid RZ-7, is his grandmother J’Hara. She is the only one that believes he is attuned to the Force and not only encourages and looks to help him understand it, but learn to control it as well. Her own relationship with the Force stems from a place of faith and blind obedience, rather than a physical or rational understanding. It’s spiritual for her, personal. Karr’s parents on the other hand, not so much.
They believe his headaches and seizures are the result of a brain condition or some other ailment and run him through a battery of tests. These examinations of course don’t provide any clues; all they accomplish is demoralizing Karr and pushing him further and further away. Yet, he remains steadfast and is convinced his path is set.
Something that’s working against Karr is the fact that at this time, in this part of the galaxy, the Jedi are mostly seen as traitors and malcontents who turned their backs on the Republic. Some question if they ever existed at all, with most folks having never seen or met a Jedi in person.
Still, thanks to J’Hara, Karr is convinced and has turned into a collector of sorts, seeking out relics that will provide some clues as to their fate. What he values most, is finding Jedi artifacts, but those are of course hard to come by and usually too steep.
After an incident at school involving a bully Besalisk named Royke, Karr is sent to the headmaster’s office where he meets a Mirialan named Maize. She’s new at school and has a rap sheet a mile long. This rebellious streak is due to indifference at home from her parents, one an important First Order officer who travels a lot, the other, an apathetic housewife who is feeling a little underappreciated and broodmare-ish.
Karr does manage to capture her imagination however, even though they are opposites in many ways. Fortunately for him, they do share a few commonalities, and it’s not superfluous stuff, its meaningful important things that most teenagers strive for, to be seen, and to be heard.
Maize is cynical, slightly nihilistic, and rebellious, whereas Karr is optimistic, sweet, and idealistic, but they both feel misunderstood by the adults in their lives, so naturally they have an affinity for one another. And while they have a playful, sometimes flirtatious relationship, Shinick wisely keeps things in their proper place. Karr needs to walk before he can run so there’s no sense in pretending that he’s something he’s not.
One decision that caused a bit of a head scratcher on first read was Kevin’s decision to have Maize leave the journey by the second planet, Jakku. And while I found it a little puzzling at first, you’ll learn as I did, that as the story unfolds it begins to make sense. This is Karr’s journey to make, and Maize makes her contributions in her own important way.
So, even though Maize thinks Karr is nuts and doesn’t believe the Jedi even existed, they hit it off right away. He even has her over to show off his collection, something he’s proud of, and tries to explain his strange visions to her. And although she’s witnessed one of his seizures and blackouts earlier at school, she isn’t quite sure what to believe.
Finally, when Karr’s parents arrange to have him sent away to school to learn the family trade, which is sewing, and Maize’s father is being reassigned, they make a bold decision. They decide to take off, runaway where they can’t be ruled over by parents and teachers. Only trouble is, they don’t know where to go, but Karr has an idea. He suggests going to Utapau, the site of a famous battle during the Clone Wars and a likely target rich environment for Jedi artifacts. She still thinks its nuts but offers no alternatives so off to Utapau they go!
A quick side note. When Maize and Karr take off on their adventure in her dad’s ship, the Avadora, if Bruce Springsteen doesn’t pop into your head then you’ve got problems. “We gotta get out while we're young…” or “…you ain't a beauty but hey you're alright.” are two suggestions. Trust me.
So, as the summary suggests, they take off on an adventure, going to a few mostly known planets including Jakku and Takodana, meeting strange characters along the way, some familiar, some not.
And if you thought that chasing Jedi artifacts around the galaxy would allow the author to take us on an Easter-Egg filled romp, you’d be right. Each stop gives Karr further insight into the legacy of the Jedi all while adding to his ever-growing collection of trinkets, each one providing just enough fodder to continue.
On one such stop, they go to the Oba Diah moon where they encounter what appears to be the final resting place of a well-known Jedi. I won’t say who, but they find his holodisk among some wreckage and see a recording of his final moments before crashing. For us, we get to hear the final words of a well-known fallen Jedi who played a vital role in the Clone Wars, for Karr, this is the first time he’s seen or heard a Jedi outside of his visions. If you thought he was determined before, buckle up.
This book aims to please, there can be no questioning that, and you can see Kevin even showing some restraint with regards to the bigger picture stuff. Indeed, after speaking with him, he confirmed my suspicions that many parts were removed to what would become the final draft. He gives us just enough to push Karr out the door, just enough to keep him trudging on, then just enough to bring him home. It’s a bare bone “hero’s journey” and while you might be thinking that means “boring” or “predictable”, it’s neither of those two things.
And the reason for that is simple; Karr and Maize are two genuinely crafted leads who are appealing on a basic level. As I suggested earlier, we all know a Karr, Maize, or both, and perhaps you yourself fit into one of those roles. But if not, and you balked at predefinition growing up, then surely there are inherent traits that you can relate to.
No longer self-contained stories, Star Wars books nowadays are expected to be two things at once and this one succeeds not only on the back of its protagonist, but as a worthwhile addition to the “Star Wars” mythos. Being part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” series, you’d expect nostalgia. Even within the framework of this novel, Karr’s entire existence is predicated on learning a general purview of the Jedi order. And Kevin accomplishes this by giving us a window into our past, present, and future, all at once.
One obvious example, and the books most cinematic sequence, comes after Karr's visit to Dok-Ondar’s “Den of Antiquities” at Black Spire Outpost on Batuu. The Ithorian collector presents to him a unique Jedi artifact, one that gives Karr a glimpse at a possible future outcome, a dark premonition that shakes Karr to the core. As payment for this offering, Karr must take a package to Takodana and deliver it to the one and only Maz Kanata.
In this era, the person who fills the role as the Mentor/Sage archetype time and time again, certainly when it comes to the Force, is Maz Kanata. So, when Karr goes to Takodana to deliver the package, the castle picks up on this unique presence, this attuned being, and reverberates loudly. To anyone else, silence, to Karr, the drums are banging.
Since nothing gets by Maz, she recognizes this unique ability in Karr right away and brings him to her office to deliver a little lesson in balance. To do this, she grabs one of her trinkets for Karr to touch, to see how developed his skills are, and if he’s able to control them.
She presents to him Yavin Medal of Bravery that she says belonged to someone very special. The trouble is, when Karr touches it and sees the original owner of the medal, it’s not who Maz was told owned it. In fact, the medal which she thought once belonged to Han Solo and was used to clear his bar tab, belonged to Luke Skywalker, given to him by Princess Leia of Alderaan.
Maz is more upset with herself for trusting the legendary smuggler than the man himself, but once she calms down, she understands that Karr is the real deal and is ready for the next step.
“And the whole galaxy exploded behind his eyes.”
So, after that little test, Maz reveals that the package from Dok wasn’t meant for her, it was for Karr, and that Dok was more “on the ball” than either of them had realized. She pulls out a gold-plated left-arm that had once belonged to a protocol droid, and although it’s never specifically stated, it belonged to C-3PO.
The reason why Threepio’s arm was red in The Force Awakens and what happened to his original arm was revealed in a Marvel one-shot special, “C-3PO 1: The Phantom Limb” In that issue we learn that a thidaxx rips off Threepio’s left-arm and the protocol droid replaces it with the arm of a fallen droid who helped him survive an otherwise perilous situation.
So, in the book, when Maz says, “…how Dok-Ondar retrieved it from the belly of the beast that swallowed it is beyond me”, it’s the “Phantom Limb” incident she’s referring to.
Anyways, you can imagine the things Threepio has laid witness to and when Karr places his bare hands on the limb, he’s taken on a cosmic journey unlike anything him or anyone else has seen, ever.
He’s shown, through a series of flashes, images, pictures, and faces, nearly the entire journey of the Jedi starting with a young Anakin on Tatooine. Imagine you’re tripping on some type of hallucinogenic and someone shows you a clip show of the Skywalker Saga, that’s what Karr experienced.
It’s a pretty great sequence by Kevin and when I read the passage to Anthony Daniels in person, the longtime purveyor of all things Threepio, he got goosebumps and even a little choked up.
There’s still a problem however as the premonition he got earlier from the artifact that Dok-Ondar gave him, has him second guessing his decision to pursue the Jedi life. And after a miscommunication with Maize that leads to a run in with the First Order, Karr finally decides his little adventure is over.
It’s around this time however he learns that an important fact has been kept from him his entire life, something his parents didn’t want him to know. So, he’s heading back to Merokia armed with the knowledge he’s been desperate to find for so long and the wind in his sails. But, before he settles into life as a needle worker, he’s got one more mission to complete. And it’s one, thanks to an important final lesson from J’Hara, that will change Karr’s perspective forever and set him on the path he was always meant to take.
At this point I’ll stop recapping the book and let you, the reader, experience the ending spoiler free. It’s important you go in with as little knowledge as possible so you can fully appreciate the table Kevin has set for you. It’s a poignant and deeply moving ending that doesn’t sacrifice grace for pomp or circumstance, it merely fuses the two in harmony to convey a very broad emotional spectrum.
It’s sincere in a way many things aren’t nowadays and neatly wraps up every thread Kevin looked to pull throughout the book. Karr and Maize both learn the very valuable lesson that sometimes the things most important to you, the things that should matter the most, are right in front of you the entire time.
Indeed, the answers that Karr ultimately sought didn’t need any type of adventure to find. And while the journey did certainly prove valuable from a self-discovery standpoint, ultimately, he had everything he needed on Merokia.
But self-discovery is usually about the journey, not the destination, so, in that sense this book is really of two minds. And, it is a book after all, with a point of view, and a story to tell. And Kevin doesn’t expect your automatic adoration of his stars, he makes them earn it and they do.
Ultimately, this IS a character piece and we can’t properly discuss the book without talking about the most important relationship in the story, Karr’s connection with his grandmother, J’Hara. It’s clearly meant to mirror a master and apprentice bond as she teaches Karr many of the same lessons and espouses many of the same philosophies that a master would teach a Padawan learner. Of course, she can’t bestow on him the more practical side of the Force, certainly not any laser swordplay, but she does her best with what limited experience she has.
Her bridled patience reveals a deeper understanding simmering beneath the surface, but with Karr, she treads lightly, knowing he’s at a delicate stage, sometimes teetering on hysterical. So, she walks him through the basic tenets of the Force, ensuring he has a base to work from if he should ever find himself on his own, a valuable lesson indeed.
But this relationship is more crucial to Karr than that of a teacher of the Force, more meaningful. Karr’s only friend in life is the one he’s manufactured, Arzee, who is programmed to be Karr’s companion. Besides that, Karr has no other friends, his parents and teachers don’t understand him, heck, he barely understands himself. And the one thing that should make him special, his Force ability, is the one thing that makes him an outcast.
Because of all that, J’Hara is Karr’s entire universe, and her love, friendship, and understanding, are the most important things in the world to him. It’s a beautiful relationship that is the inspiration and backbone of this story.
So, what are we left with?
One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the lack of any real antagonist. There are no obvious bad guys accounted for in this story, at least none that prevent Karr from completing his journey in a tangible way. There are a few small roadblocks for sure, but at no point are Karr or Maize in any real danger.
The First Order isn’t the First Order quite yet and the Empire has long since vanished so it’s left to things like apathy, deceit, and antiquated beliefs to provide the obstacles which Karr must overcome. This might turn some off, the lack of a classic “good vs. evil” theme, but it’s a YA book so the stakes aren’t naturally as high.
Plus, try and remember back to when you were a teenager, the “bad guys” manifested themselves in different ways than they do later in life. Bullies, parents, teachers, that feeling of being misunderstood or not listened to at all…these are the Frank Booths’ of adolescence and that is in line with this novel.
Kevin has crafted a personal journey not only about the Force, but the people who influence and shape our entire lives. And as I mentioned several times, his grasp and understanding of the “teenage condition” and being able to apply that to an influential and fun Star Wars adventure reveals his true substance.
His writing style is more practical than clever, and he avoids irrelevancy by making real assertions, not misleading ones. This isn’t a whodunit; this is a practical application of diction that reads famously. And when your engaging in verbal warfare with Star Wars vernacular and axioms, better to let the facts speak for themselves.
How this all connect to The Rise of Skywalker; we just don’t know. There are rumors that both sides in the film are after a certain artifact; could a visit to Karr be in order to look for such a thing? Or even just the mere mention that a “Force Collector” exists on Merokia would be a nice little nod.
Is “Force Collector” a must read going into Episode IX? Probably not. Is “Force Collector” a fun read that celebrates the entire Saga as we approach its end? Yes. And that, for any other reason, is all you should need for “Force Collector” to find a place on your bookshelf.
"Star Wars: Force Collector" is published by Disney Books and is available now! Click HERE to order a copy today.
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