Graphic Novel Review

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Luke Skywalker steps aside as a new generation of Jedi take the stage

By Jason Henderson     August 16, 2000

In the Star Wars Jedi Academy trade paperback, Leviathan, writer Kevin J. Anderson asks us to follow new heroes, while the heroes we've worshipped in the past (Luke Skywalker, especially) fade to the sidelines. He's right to ask us, and the story benefits.

Nothing excites me about fictional worlds more than transition, that sense that history is moving on and mortal heroes, assuming they survive their exciting heydays, will give way to new generations. It's a concept that fans can't stop wrestling with. To pick a fanbase, there are those for whom Captain Kirk of Star Trek is forever. There is no after, and we don't care about before unless it directly impacts Kirk. The Next Generation is a deeply suspect concept, because on a commercial level it seems derivative. But I think the deeper distrust people have comes from their unwillingness to confront their own mortality. Yet the greatest stories are fraught with mortality, the sense that even if our hero deals with this problem, some day he will die.

In a good myth, we get a chance to see all the stages. We watch King Arthur born, see him seize the throne as a young man, see him grow old to become the advisor of young knights like Sir Gawain, and finally see his Ragnarok, as Arthur falls in battle, all his sins doubling back on him. Similarly, Beowulf kills Grendel, but he finally dies in battle as an old man. There's something sweet in seeing our heroes age and fade.

Can we handle it with Star Wars? It's been interesting to watch the licensed tales of the Star Wars universe that have played out across comics and books since the Great Opening of sorts that began with Timothy Zahn's novel Heir to the Empire. Many of my favorite stories have been the comics published by Dark Horse, and I've found myself enjoying the writers' use of new or minor characters to steer clear of paths already well-explored by George Lucas' films. But the most popular stories have been those that cover the major characters of the films--Luke, Han, Leia, etc. I haven't minded that, but I've been irritated when Han shows up as a special guest in a story that would best be left to the youngsters. The main problem is that, although the narratives tell us the heroes are aging, they don't really act like it.

Not so in Jedi Academy. Here, Anderson makes it plain from the first moments that Luke is our mentor, not our hero. He gives us an aging Luke who runs an academy for training young Jedi on the ruined moon of Yavin IV. When his sister, the Chief of State of the New Republic, receives word that a great beast is running amok on a distant mining colony, Luke's thoughts do not once run to, 'I'll call Han and we'll kick its Leviathan tail.' Rather, he thinks the adventure would be a learning experience for his students, and dispatches them forthwith.

Part of the conceit of the expanded Star Wars universe is that different Jedi possess different sorts of powers, so the team who end up searching out the creatures of the distant moon bear some resemblance to a standard superhero team. The leader is prize student Kyp Durron, a sensitive and broody young Jedi who Luke tells us may turn out to be the most powerful Jedi ever (somehow I hate the idea of a great hero named Kyp, but that's prejudice).

Balancing him is Kirana Ti, a feral spear-wielding wild woman who hones 'the physical side of the force,' which I think means dexterity and agility. They're joined by middle-aged student Streen, a weather witch, and a brand new student, Dorsk 82, a fearful and under-confident clone of a dead Jedi. Their adventure is straightforward and ultra-light here, but serves to introduce the characters for those who haven't seen them before.

The Leviathan itself is a neat creation that more could be done with, but I have no idea what. A great, flying beast the size of a sperm whale, the Leviathan seems to live off the collected souls of those it eats. It absorbs their knowledge, allowing it to ferret out more victims, and then lives on the energy from the souls and whatever protein the bodies may yield until more victims come along. Kyp develops a great need to free the dead, who writhe and scream in his head, but we are left a little distanced. It would have been more powerful had Kyp known someone eaten by the Leviathan. But again, the adventure here is meant to stay a little light.

I was glad to read Leviathan, chiefly for seeing what really would become of a hero like Luke. He would not have adventures forever--in time, he would pass the baton. And it is up to our storytellers to make certain that those to whom he passes it deserve it.

Trade Paperback from Dark Horse Comics. Written by Kevin J. Anderson, Pencils by Dario Carrasco, Jr. Inks by Mark Heike with Bill Black and David Jacob Beckett.


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