A Review of ‘Light of The Jedi’ by Charles Soule

Spoilers Below! You’ve been warned. Also, all reviews are subjective. My opinions are my own.

This book was fun! While it certainly had it’s flaws, overall this is a warm-hearted book which improved my mood just by reading it. Also the audiobook was fantastic. It had sound effects for battle, lasers, space travel and the rest. Additionally the narrator himself did a lot of work giving voice to the various characters. The narrator was a great actor who brought character to a bunch of characters who would otherwise be kinda bland. The audiobook was so good I think it’s probably the go-to format to read this story.

CONCEPT AND EXECUTION

This book’s concept was: Big Calamity in the Star Wars Universe, which can only be solved by teamwork between the Jedi and the Republic. The Calamity was caused by some Anarchist Rebels. As concepts go, I think it was a bit meh. There is nothing about this story pitch which really grabs you and forces you to read it. The concept promises Jedi being Jedi and the Republic being the Republic, and that’s it.

But none of that matters. When it comes to books, execution is everything. ‘Light of the Jedi’ was executed better than I expected. I was not expecting to be really gripped by this book, but the book’s fast pacing for the first 1/3 really did a good job of bringing me into the story. The author took the somewhat mediocre concept and really created an investing story about it.

Could the story have had a better concept and execution? Yes. The concept sets the story up and makes promises which need to be paid off by the execution. I felt that in this case the somewhat meh concept held back the talented author from writing a better book. If the author used a more ambitious concept, he could have executed upon an even better book.

(NOTE: this is a franchise book, so I suspect that to some extent this story was outlined to death by a committee in Disney HQ. The author did the best with what he was working with.)

Overall, I give the story’s Concept and Execution a rating of: (B+)


CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERIZATION:

I like to think of all books as being three-legged stools, propped up by legs of Characterization, Pacing and Plot. A good book needs all three legs to be successful. If a book is so poorly paced that the reader gets bored or confused, the book is unsuccessful. If the plot is convoluted or completely missing, the book will probably be unsuccessful. The ‘characterization’ leg of the stool was a bit wobbly for this book.

This book suffered from mediocre characterization. The root of this mediocre characterization comes from the overabundance of POV (aka Point of View) protagonists and antagonists.

  • We had three antagonists: the Eye, the Crazy Guy, and the Competent Lady. These three characters were probably the best characterized characters in the entire book, in that they had somewhat fleshed out personalities.
  • We had a TON of protagonist POVs. We had a human Jedi Padawan, his Jedi Knight master, an elderly swordsman Jedi, a Jedi Navigator Captain, a Twilek Jedi, a wookie Jedi, the wookie’s Jedi Knight master, a human science genius, a human Republic space captain, four human Alderaan settlers… and on and on. I’m probably forgetting like eight or more characters.
  • Simply put, there were just too many characters. Because there were too many characters, the author never got the chance to fully paint out the personalities of all of them.
    • To explain my difficulty, in this book a protagonist would be the POV character for maybe two or three scenes, and then we’d never get another scene from their perspective again. Why give someone a POV scene when they’re barely in the book at all?
    • There’s an old truthism in writing: kill your darlings. If you can combine multiple characters into one, you should combine those characters into one. It is better to have one strong character than three or four mediocre characters. And then you combine two or three strong characters to create one STRONG character. This book was filled with some darlings who needed murdering.
      • Example: have you read anything in the Kingkiller Chronicles? Kvothe is the protagonist, and he is what I like to call a Stinky Cheese Character. Love Kvothe or hate Kvothe, you go away from reading ‘The Name of the Wind’ remembering Kvothe. That is because Kvothe is a STRONG character, with full characterization and depth of personality. If NotW had multiple mediocre protagonists, it would have been bad. Having one, STRONG character carries the story.
  • This book reminded me of one of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe’s ‘Avengers’ movies, when all the heroes get together and fight.
    • Those movies worked because each of the protagonists received many hours of characterization in prior movies. It didn’t matter that none of them got much characterization in the big team-up movie because all of them were already fully fleshed-out characters.
    • That strategy doesn’t work here because this is the first book in the series. All of these characters are blank slates. You can’t have a team-up book as the first book in your series, because having one blank slate talking to another blank slate leaves the reader with little to work with.
  • Now, truth be told none of the characters were bad, they were just unexciting. The Jedi behaved as you’d expect Jedi to behave. The politicians behaved like politicians, soldiers like soldiers, yada yada. This was a Star Wars book, and the characters felt like Star Wars characters.
    • I liked how the different Jedi were Jedi in different ways. The different Jedi treated the Force differently; one used the Force like a musician composes music, while another uses the Force in such a way that she is better able to interact with machinery, while a third approaches the Force in a completely non-traditional way, trying to accomplish ‘impossible’ things through magic.
    • Additionally, credit where it’s due: the author clearly did the first steps in adding personality to the different characters. Reading this book, I got the faintest feelings of who the different characters were: I knew one Jedi had a sense of humor, while another was a sleeping dragon (usually calm, but prone to fits of righteous wrath).
    • But overall, these hints of personality wasn’t enough. These people needed to be fleshed out more, and to spend more time in the narrative sun. I am being dead serious when I say that any one of these characters had the potential to carry an entire story on their own, they just needed an entire book about only them for it to work. Charles Soule is potentially a talented author characterization wise; this format just didn’t work.
  • The villains are mustache twirlers.
    • I complain about this a lot in my reviews so I’m not going to go in deep here, but simply put the villains were suuuper evil, to the point of being cliche. On one hand, evil villains are traditional in Star Wars. On the other hand, some of the best villains in storytelling aren’t evil for the sake of being evil.
    • While the Nihil were best written characters in this book, they were still a bit dull.
  • Just going off the ‘text’ of the story, I’d probably give this book a (D) for characterization. HOWEVER, I listened to the audiobook. The narrator Marc Thompson and his team at Random House REALLY picked up this book on their backs and carried it. I’m giving it a (C+) due to their efforts
    • Thompson gave each character a unique voice, and the production team gave the alien characters voice-modulation to suit their alien-ness. Because of their efforts, I was able to tell apart the different Jedi and antagonists. I don’t remember any of their names, but I do remember their voices, and by remembering their voices I can remember what makes each of their personalities distinct.
    • You know how in some movies, an actor can take a boring character and make them entertaining? Thompson was able to do that with a lot of the different characters in this book.
    • Seriously, if you want tor read this book, check out the audio version of this. This is one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to.

Overall, I give the story’s Characterization a rating of: (C+)


PACING AND STRUCTURE

The first 1/3 of the story was a fast paced, all-hands-on-deck effort by the protagonists teaming up to save a planetary system from annihilation. I’ve never read anything like that, and I liked it. The middle 1/3 was a winding series of events of the Nihil anarchist gang attacking people, while the heroes come to the rescue and try desperate plan after desperate plan to track down the Nihil. The pacing in this act was moderately fast, but felt perfect as I read it. The final 1/3 was the protagonists at last hunting down the Nihil and destroying them. The pacing in this act felt fast, but not as fast as that in the first act.

Overall, I’d say the pacing in this book was it’s strongest feature.

Now let’s talk about structure. I think the structure this book follows the closest is the 3 Act Format.

Act 1: The Status Quo, and Why It Changes

  • The first part of Act 1 is introducing the Status Quo.
    • In Light of the Jedi, the Status Quo phase of the story is very brief. It is everything between the beginning of the book and the destruction of the ship.
  • The Status Quo phase of Act 1 ends with the Inciting Incident, halfway through the Act.
    • The Inciting Incident in this book is the destruction of the ship, triggering the calamity which is the main driver of the plot.
    • The Nihil are indirectly responsible for the calamity, but this is a secret.
  • Act 1 ends with Plot Point 1
    • Plot Point 1 is the heroes successful saving the star system after the calamity, and discovering that some of the ship fragments are still occupied by living people… aka potential witnesses to the Nihil’s secret..

Act 2: Conflict and a State of Flux

  • Act 2 begins with Plot Point 1
    • The heroes save potential witnesses from a ship fragment, and they learn from one of the survivors that the Nihil were in the area at the time of the spaceship crash.
    • Additionally we’re finally introduced to the Nihil properly. We learn about the Eye and the three Tempests which make up their organization.
  • It reaches it’s tension climax at the Midpoint Climax
    • The climax of tension in the middle of the book is when the settler family are taken captive by the Nihil, and the Jedi have to save them.
  • It ends with Plot Point 2
    • Plot Point 2 is when the Republic uses SCIENCE! and droid engineering to reverse engineer the calamity, and discover the location of the Nihil.

Act 3: Climax and Resolution

  • Act 3 begins with Plot Point 2
    • With the knowledge of the Nihil’s location in hand, the Republic organizes a counter-strike.
  • It reaches it’s tension climax with the Ending Climax
    • The ending climax is when the Republic and Nihil fleets face off.
  • Act 3 Ends with the book ending
    • The Nihil are defeated and hiding, and the Jedi and Republic stand triumphant. The Status Quo is re-asserted.

I’m not much of a fan of the 3 act format. Simply put, it’s very basic. However due to the overabundance of POV characters, I can see why it was necessary to use it. The 3 Act Format is the most commonly applicable format to most stories. It works here, but it’s nothing special. A good author can use a storytelling structure to show off their writing skills, and tell a more complex story. But I’m not going to deduct points just because I’m a picky.

Overall, I give the story’s Pacing and Structure: (B+)


PLOT AND STAKES AND TENSION

The plot, as I mentioned in the Concept section above, was a bit uninspired. However it accomplished what it set out to do, in telling an enjoyable story. The plot did it’s job of keeping the story propelled in a forwards direction without ever being repetitive or listless.

I feel as though the story’s stakes needed to be increased a little.

  • We were told again and again that the Hyperspace Blockade was a major problem- however there is another trueism in writing that you should ‘show, not tell.’ I wanted the Jedi/a politician have to go take part in putting down a rebellion caused by the Hyperspace Blockade. That would have upped the stakes and made it more real.
  • However early on the author did an excellent job of making the stakes seem real. As an example, when he had the Jedi go down to the planet’s surface and help people evacuate before it was going to be destroyed, the author showed the desperation of the natives and their desire to not die. That desperation upped the stakes.
  • Finally, I wanted the Nihil to have more of a plan.
    • They were somewhat listless antagonists, propelled from storybeat to storybeat by the actions of the Jedi. This is strange, because in most books the antagonists are active while the protagonists are passive.
    • If the Nihil were more active- for example having a storyline involving ‘If the Jedi do not stop us by X date, then the Nihil will destroy the Republic’ – they would have seemed like more of a legitimate threat. As it is, the Nihil spent the entire story seeming weak and passive.
    • The exception to this was the Crazy Nihil, who was constantly going out and doing things. He was good. I only wished he posed more of a threat throughout the story, maybe killing a Jedi or two.

The book’s tension was EXCELLENT in the beginning, when the planetary solar system was on the verge of being destroyed. The tension was released at the end of Act 1 when the heroes saved the solar system. However the author did a good job of regularly upping the stakes by having the Nihil going out there, causing crimes and breaking things. Upping the stakes in this way upped the tension.

Overall, I give the story’s Plot: (A-)


EMOTIONAL RESONANCE AND EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT

Reading this book made me feel happy. I wasn’t particularly emotionally invested in any of the characters or plot arcs, but the positive attitudes of all the heroes was a nice change of pace after 2020.

Overall, I give the story’s Emotional Resonance: (B)


EVERYTHING ELSE (SETTING, WORLDBUILDING, TONE, PROSE AND THEME)

Tone wise, the book was a fun bit of popcorn storytelling which kept me occupied for a few days. I found it to be well worth my time. It didn’t pretend to be anything other than what it was; a good time.

The setting was standard Star Wars, with a focus on space combat. I have to say that space combat doesn’t work as well in text as it does on the big screen, but the author nonetheless did a fine job even so. I would have preferred if the author stuck to one planet and really fleshed it out instead of planet hopping, but planet hopping is a bit of a thing in Star Wars so I’m quibbling over something which is unfair to quibble over.

The author did a pretty good job of expanding into new worldbuilding areas. As far as I know, this is the first time the Nihil have appeared in the canon. They’re neat villains, but they need a bit more work for them to become truly fascinating.

The prose was unexceptional. It was workmanly simple (which is a good thing), but also at times had interesting descriptions of a planet or species. I need to see more by this author before I can pass judgement.

The book’s theme was (solidarity and conformity) vs (independence). The theme played out fairly well on a meta level- the Republic (an organization based on the idea of solidarity) and the Jedi (people big into conformity and solidarity) had to work together to triumph over the Nihil (a gang obsessed with impulse and doing whatever they want). The heroes won because the enemy wasn’t able to plan and coordinate properly, as you’d expect to happen given the circumstances.

Could the theme have been better applied? Yes. The theme wasn’t integrated into any of the personal journeys of the Jedi. This made the theme feel rather tacked on. If you go in expecting KOTOR2, you’re going to be disappointed.

And my final quibble: the author for some reason kept referencing Yoda again and again. Why? He wasn’t a character in this book (except for 1 paragraph at the end). By referencing him again and again I thought he would show up, but he never did. The book would have been better without him, until that scene at the end where he would have been a nice Easter egg.

I give Everything Else: (B-)


SUMMARY

I enjoyed this book for exactly what it was- a light, popcorn read. This book is a fast paced romp across the stars, and if you get caught up in the action it’s a quick read. The characters are bland, but in the audiobook version that’s offset by the narrator doing a good job voice acting. The characters NEED more stories to fully flesh them out. The first 1/3 is the best part of the story. The final 2/3s aren’t bad, but they don’t match up to the excellence promised by that first third.

Go in expecting to turn off your brain and have a good time. This was a satisfying read. If you’re a fan of Star Wars, check it out.


STARS: 3 OUT OF 5 STARS (5 Stars=Perfect, 4 Stars=Great, 3 Stars=Good, 2 Stars=Fun but Flawed, 1 Star=Not Recommended)

JUDGEMENT: Good book all around. Never bad, but also never fantastic. I’ll read more in the series. Listen to the audiobook.

Overall Rating: Recommended (How I Rate Books)


Goodreads

Genres/Tagwords: Fantasy, sci fi, space opera, Star Wars

Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:


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A Literary Discussion of ‘The Rage of Dragons’ by Evan Winter

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