When Jedi Rael Averross, a former student of Dooku, requests the assistance of the Jedi Council with a political dispute, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi travel to the royal court of Pijal, for what may very well be their final mission together. What should be a simple assignment quickly becomes clouded by deceit, and by visions of violent disaster that take hold of Qui-Gon's mind. As Qui-Gon's faith in prophecy grows, Obi-Wan's faith in him is tested—just as a threat surfaces that will demand that Master and apprentice come together as never before or be divided forever.
“We don’t choose the light because we want to win, we choose it because it is the light”
-Rael Averross, Jedi Master
This quote from Claudia Gray’s new book, “Star Wars: Master & Apprentice”, which is a paraphrase from a longer passage delivered by Qui-Gon Jinn, really gets to the heart of matter. Like any good book there is more than one theme to explore, but in this case the predominant one is choice. And if she’s majoring in choice, then I would say faith and fundamental truths would be the runner’s up.
Jinn’s utterance of these words to friend and fellow Jedi Master Rael Averross earlier in the book come at a pivotal moment for them both and were profound. They spoke of faith, faith in oneself, faith in something greater, and perfectly encapsulate this story. How the decisions we make affect and determine outcomes is not something we may always understand, but ultimately, we are who we choose to be, good or bad.
And as much as this book is about Jinn, Kenobi, the prophecies, and hyperspace routes, it’s also really about the lure of the dark side and how dangerous paths present themselves in some of the most obvious, and not so obvious manners.
These themes and this timeline are very fertile fields for someone with Gray’s abilities, and beyond the customary vernacular and idioms, she writes “Star Wars” I think better than just about anybody. Her books have now stretched across the entire spectrum of modern eras and have managed to capture the imagination of a wide range of fans, both young and old. So, when she was given the greenlight to write a Qui-Gon Jinn story set before the events in The Phantom Menace, well, I’m sure it was a good day in the Gray house.
So, what is the result of all this buildup? Would Gray continue her winning streak of writing gems such as Lost Stars, Bloodline, and Leia: Princess of Alderaan? The answer is a loud, definitive, and resounding yes. Gray has not only written her finest novel to date in my opinion, but certainly one of the finest canon novels as well, maybe the finest. I’m not necessarily biased or predisposed to love Gray’s work, I like what I like, but there’s something special here and she now takes up three spots in my top 5 canon list.
But, let’s get to the book itself and why it’s so special. What is “Master & Apprentice” about? Here is the simple explanation of the plot, provided mostly by the publisher…
We find Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his 17-year-old padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi on Teth, making their escape after dealing with Wanbo the Hutt, more directly though with his majordomo, Thurible. After having been together now for a few years, Jinn and Kenobi are still working out the kinks between them, both stylistically and philosophically. Jinn’s live in the moment, adapt or die credo clashes with his younger padawan’s by the book, follow the mandate to the letter mentality. While they manage to find a way to survive, both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan question their own fortitudes and whether they are best suited for each other, or someone else. Self-doubt creeps its ugly head out repeatedly throughout this novel.
This close examination of their relationship both as master/apprentice and as friends is a comforting presence throughout the book and provides a basis for many of the emotional stumbles and soaring victories. And while Gray provides us with a fresh angle and tighter lens than we’re used to, it’s also familiar and oddly comforting. We know these characters very well and of course are in on the take when it comes to their outcomes so there’s a certain sadness to this book, an eventuality that hangs over it like a cloud. These are our friends, we love them, and by exploring this part of their lives when they were younger and more and malleable, is just a reminder of the pain that lies ahead.
Many of the foibles and quirks that are still present in The Phantom Menace eight years later are dealt with head-on in this book. This is a duo very much at odds with one another on a great many issues, some vitally important, some less so. They are occasionally out-of-step with one another in battle, disagree on the interpretation of the Jedi code often, and spend probably way too much time second guessing their own limitations and being overly critical of themselves.
It’s a thorough examination of the complex and sometimes enigmatic relationship between a Jedi Master and his or her padawan learner. In fact, it’s a stripping down of one of the most famous partnerships in Star Wars history. Both characters are exposed in ways never seen before, especially Jinn who is struggling through a bout of insecurity at a time when he needs to be his most confident. He’s facing tough decisions that will greatly affect the both forever.
As he goes about the business of following his mandate (with some difficulty), guiding Obi-Wan, and trying to decipher a strange dream he had, we are brought back in time to when he was just an apprentice himself. And this is where the book really breaks down Jinn’s characterization and we learn the roots of his fascination with the Jedi texts and prophecies. We learn that it was the combination of Rael and Count Dooku that led him down this obsessive path, although each one had entirely different motivations for introducing Jinn to the world of the mystics.
But these flashbacks don’t hijack anything and serve the story entirely, helping us understand Jinn in ways never thought possible. For the first time we go inside the mind of someone who for the most part speaks very little, and when he does speak it’s usually convoluted and metaphorical, a source of great frustration for Obi-Wan. Their constant back and forth highlights both Qui-Gon’s frustrations with Obi-Wan’s inability to understand the Living Force, and Kenobi’s frustrations with Jinn’s not-so-clear instructions.
And while this duo does carry most of the weight, Gray also uses the opportunity to dig into the equally compelling yet mostly unexplored relationship between Jinn and his former Master, Count Dooku. This is also where we meet troublesome Jedi Rael Averross, who himself was a former padawan of Dooku and expands our knowledge on the student/teacher relationship even further still. It’s at this point you start to think that if the Jedi Academy taught “Master/Padawan Dynamics 101”, Gray would be the professor.
This is an incredibly deep dive into this strange relationship which is less an exchange of ideas and Jedi principles and more of a who fits best with who. There are no perfect teachers as there are no perfect students, but I would say these two come dangerously close and that much is iterated later in the book. After Jinn has refused the offer to join the council, he asked Kenobi if he wouldn’t mind keeping him as his master, to which Obi-Wan replies, “…I wouldn’t learn nearly as much from someone who always agreed with me.”
So, you see, despite their differences, they are suited for each other in ways not always so obvious. Another example of this in the book which leads to yet another great exchange, is a reoccurring issue for Kenobi who is forever frustrated that Jinn won’t let him advance beyond basic forms in his lightsaber training. He’s a ball of confusion and irritated that other students have already moved on to higher forms while he gets left behind. Worst of all, Jinn doesn’t seem to want to answer to it and dodges the question for the most part.
Finally, near the end, when both are near their breaking point and their relationship seems past the point of it being mendable, Jinn explains why. I won’t spoil it but it’s so beautifully written that you’ll weep and again shows how different these two are, yet perfectly suited for each other. I’ve mentioned this book not only makes the prequels better, but all of Star Wars. This exchange and Jinn’s philosophy behind his decisions to hold Obi-Wan back, is one of the reasons why.
And so, while so much of the book does look at their relationship, how a 17-year-old Kenobi copes with clearly being on the path to becoming one of the greats, it’s Jinn who does the heavy lifting in the book.
He’s going through what can only be described as a mid-life crisis as he’s juggling many balls. He’s reexamining his belief in the living force and the mystical side of their strange ability as visions of future events disrupt his sleep. This again, brings up memories from the past as we learn so much about his relationship with Dooku and in turn his complicated relationship with the Jedi Council, and the prophecies as well.
In the middle of all this self-doubt, Qui-Gon is offered a seat on the Jedi Council, replacing Jedi Master Poli Dapatian who is near retirement. Given the difficulties he’s had with the council, this comes as a surprise to him, albeit a pleasant one. He chooses to view this offer as a sign that the council is willing to adapt to a changing galaxy and that he can be an agent of even more change still. It’s also a dispassionate convenience to be able to assign Obi-Wan Kenobi a new, more suitable Master Jedi.
So much of what happens here plants the seeds for what’s to come in the coming years as “the chosen one” is discussed. Of course, Anakin Skywalker hasn’t been discovered yet, the term “chosen one” is very undefined at this point, but since we are privy to how this all turns out, the tone in our mind is an ominous one, not a hopeful one.
Since this is the earliest and most thorough examination of Obi-Wan yet, Gray has a lot of fun with the Stewjon native who eventually becomes one of the most powerful Jedi ever. Many of Kenobi’s isms and abilities that are on full display in the prequels, his disdain for flying, his comfortability riding a veractyl, and his aversion to overly formal settings, all get the origin treatment. But Gray isn’t merely checking boxes here, rather she’s simply having some fun with a character that means so much to so many. She writes him so well in fact, that I would love to see her take on a Kenobi novel one day.
Like I said, because of the unexplored nature of this point in the timeline, Gray gets to introduce a ton of new characters that will play a role in this story. Characters such as Supreme Chancellor Kirames Kaj, Jedi Master Poli Dapatian, Pijal natives Captain Deren and Crowne Princess Fanray, and rare gem thieves Pax Maripher and Rahara Wick.
Gray, as always, does a great job of seamlessly interweaving new characters with old, and it doesn’t take long before they feel familiar. She has an uncanny ability to help you create a mental image of these fresh faces right away, and by the end they fit in naturally with the mainstays. Part of her gift is that she spends the exactly appropriate amount of time introducing us to the key players who will play a role in the events to come, determining the fate of each other’s lives. We learn the most about them through interactions with other characters once the story gets going, this serves two purposes. It keeps the story moving and the pace tight for one, but it also gives a better idea of who these people are.
She makes use of her time better than most and fits in a remarkable amount of character detail through dialogue and conversation. Gray’s books do tend to spend more time with characters conversing rather than using descriptive passages to tell her story. For example, rather than describe the palace on Pijal in her own words, she has the characters do it out loud for her. It’s a preference the reader will have to choose, but Gray’s style isn’t meant for trades or comic books, something she herself has stated. The good news is that during Celebration she indicated that her next project is a graphic novel, but comic writers should be fearful if she ever decides to tackle that medium head-on.
But, as far as new characters, none play more of a pivotal role than Jedi Master and former Count Dooku apprentice, Rael Averross. Averross is the catalyst for all of this and has a complicated backstory as well, the effects of which steer him through life like a compass. In fact, in a book crammed full of interesting characters, Rael proves to be the most interesting in my opinion and Gray has done marvelous work with this character.
And his final appearance in the book is so well crafted and so well written, you’ll want more of him soon. The reason is that after some very tough lessons learned and some even greater losses incurred, Rael realizes for himself the importance of making the right choices, and his heart and faith were on the mend from there. This is where the “choosing the light” quote from Qui-Gon really grabs a hold of you and takes effect. So, I’m dying to see a reinvigorated Rael, out there doing what Jedi do best.
This book’s composition is straightforward as far as the plot is concerned and it continuously moves forward at a steady pace, creating intrigue along the way. Political espionage and terrorism, hyperspace lanes and trade routes, traditional monarchical upheaval, a cirque-de-soleil rebel cell, it’s all here for the digesting and none of it is ham-fisted or un-intelligent, and none of it derails the path Jinn and Kenobi are on. All of it, from the look of Pijal, to the natives, to their strange encounters on the moon, is all meant to test the will of the force and the bond between a Master and their apprentice.
I’m just scratching the surface with this review as the book is full to the brim of exposition and world-building. Cavan Scott’s audio book “Dooku: Jedi Lost” will explore some similar themes and characters, but from a different point of view, so the two together should provide us with a very clear picture of the Dooku/Jinn relationship and that important section of the timeline.
I haven’t even mentioned how much I loved Thurible, Wanbo the Hutt’s majordomo, or kohlen crystals ability to block lightsabers, or how Gray uses the term “crëche-mates” better than anybody, giving us our most detailed look yet at the youngling’s life inside the Jedi Academy. This book is a page-by-page reminder that Gray is a true believer, and that she’s out to make us all believers as well. I must imagine that the Lucasfilm story group calls an emergency meeting every time she hands in an outline.
It’s been a while since I’ve read her masterpiece “Lost Stars” so a re-read is due, but I think it’s safe to say “Master & Apprentice” is my new favorite Claudia Gray novel and one of my favorite canon novels ever.
In the end the book jumps ahead in the timeline eight years, at an all-too familiar event, the funeral of Qui-Gon Jinn. Kenobi is alone in the shrine with his friend for the last time, moments before the Jedi Master is to be burned in accordance with Jedi tradition. Even there at the end, Kenobi felt he had let his master down, thinking it should have been himself, not Jinn, who was slain by a Sith. He makes an oath that it would be the last time he would ever again disappoint his Master.
And despite everything, even his own misgivings about a young boy named Skywalker being the chosen one, Kenobi made a promise, he made a choice.
Looking at Qui-Gon’s face for the last time, Obi-Wan whispered, “I choose to believe”
-Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Padawan
This is a must read.
"Star Wars: Master & Apprentice" is written by Claudia Gray and published by Del Rey Books.
Art by Jama Jurabaev
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