I’ve found myself in a bit of a Star Wars phase again when it comes to reading. A few months ago I read Shadows of the Empire for the first time, even though I’ve played through the Nintendo 64 game a dozen times and a few weeks ago, I finished up Alphabet Squadron of the new canon.
I confessed in that review that I really went to the library to get my hands on what I’ll be reviewing today, Claudia Gray’s new novel in this Disney Star Wars canon, Master & Apprentice. I bring up Alphabet Squadron here because I will cite a few issues I had with that novel here again with Master & Apprentice. Reading them back to back was interesting, not because they are connected chronologically, but because I felt they did similar things; one satisfying, and the other not. I’ll talk more about that in a little while.
Master & Apprentice follows Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi during part of their time together before the events of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Qui-Gon has just been offered a position on the Jedi council which means that his apprentice, Obi-Wan, would be shipped off to a different master if the invitation is accepted. Internal conflict plagues Qui-Gon as he attempts to internalize the decision to find more who he is, what his role is and what will happen to Obi-Wan.
While mulling over his decision, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are sent to a distant planet, Pijal, to help usher in a new hyperspace trade route that requires the Pijal governments full cooperation to move forward. Overseeing the Pijal child-queen and government for nearly a decade is Jedi Rael Aveross, previous apprentice to Count Dooku (as was Qui-Gon). While on Pijal, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan uncover a larger plan at work that can only be worked through with both Master & Apprentice.
An unfortunate aspect of prequel related storytelling with characters whom we know is that the mystery of certain questions loses its luster. In Episodes I-III, fans of Star Wars weren’t asking “who is Darth Sidious?” because we all knew it was Palpatine.
We know right away that Qui-Gon chooses to not join the Jedi Council. We know as much because Qui-Gon isn’t on the Council in The Phantom Menace after Master & Apprentice takes place. If that mystery is gone, the why has to work overtime to replace it. Instead of asking ‘Does Qui-Gon accept the invitation to be on the Jedi Council?,’ we need to shift to ‘Why is Qui-Gon refusing the invitation to be on the Jedi Council?’ or something similar to that. With that in mind, I would say that Claudia Gray succeeds. Knowing the end of Qui-Gon’s journey and ultimately what he decides to do does not take away anything from why he chooses the oath that he does.
The journey of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan really is the heart of this story, and where most of my interest lied when I heard about the novel. Obi-Wan is rash, literal and inexperienced while Qui-Gon is critical but understanding. There are many times where you will feel these qualities come out as the novel progresses. Gray, at multiple points, will detail out an interaction between both Jedi, then give you the perspective of that story beat from each Jedi, showing you how different Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan really are for each other. With these differences, always lingering is Obi-Wan’s need to please his master, and Qui-Gon’s desire not to fail his apprentice.
In my review of Alphabet Squadron, I went off on a bit of a tangent in regards to forcing a story to fit into the greater universe that is Star Wars when it didn’t feel necessary. Certain characters from previous TV shows appear, seemingly just because of name recognition and coincidence. One film character in particular is name dropped as being a main motivator for a protagonists actions, when apparently a speech that character made in one of the films was recorded, and spread across the galaxy. It felt forced instead of organic.
Master & Apprentice has these moments as well, some that made me cringe a bit, but others that felt welcomed.
If you’re familiar with The Phantom Menace, you’ll remember that Qui-Gon lets prophecies hold a lot of weight in his decision making. The decision to take Anakin along is based on the prophecy of the chosen one that will bring balance to the force. Qui-Gon wanted to bring him along, even though he was historically old to begin his training, and was eventually granted that wish in death when his last words were pleading with Obi-Wan to train the boy.
Belief in Jedi prophecy is a large part of who Qui-Gon is at this point in his life. Throughout his life as an apprentice to Count Dooku, and now as a Jedi master to Obi-Wan, he battles with wanting to believe them, or cast them off as being the path towards the dark side. This gets especially more interesting when we have moments of young Qui-Gon and Dooku conversing with one another about this very issue. Knowing the path that Dooku takes, they were always fun passages to read.
Qui-Gon’s question of whether or not he should give credence to Jedi prophecies is tackled head on in Master & Apprentice. The direct result of how the novel concludes shapes why Qui-Gon made the decision he made with Anakin in The Phantom Menace.
The difference here is that Claudia Gray writes Qui-Gon in a way that makes that belief in prophecy feel organic. It’s a part of Qui-Gon. It plays an integral role in this story and in future stories. If this aspect was in Alphabet Squadron, Qui-Gon would have found the Jedi prophecy about the chosen one, recited it word for word, and said something like “oh that’s interesting, maybe I’ll come back to this in the near future.”
The point being, Master & Apprentice expands on Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s characters in a natural, organic way that feels welcoming, and is interesting to read.
There are topics discussed that I appreciated as a long time Star Wars fan. The prophecy of the chosen one that will bring balance to the force has always been one for me. Balance doesn’t mean that light succeeds, or darkness fails, it means we’re back to even ground. Before The Last Jedi, it seemed as if this topic wasn’t really discussed as much. Here, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gone talk plainly about this prophecy.
I know I haven’t spoken much about the other Jedi who was introduced, Rael Aveross, or the overarching mission, or mystery, happening on Pijal. The thing is, the other characters are also well written, believable and interesting. Aside from what felt like a very quick resolution to the story in the last thirty or so pages, I don’t have any complaints in that regard. My focus on Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan is just as much of a compliment to Claudia Gray in my eyes as focusing on that aspect of the story.
Star Wars fans will enjoy the expanded knowledge of both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Additionally, content around Dooku, the Jedi Council and the Jedi prophecies was also interesting for me to read. Overall, Claudia Gray continues to deliver fun reads based in the Star Wars universe.