Every once in a while, a Star Wars book comes along that not only reinforces my passion for the genre, but also makes me look at my own life in a new way. The journeys taken by the characters illuminate struggles and pathways in my day to day, and as I finish the last page, I feel fulfilled by the story and inspired to apply the lessons of the book in any way that I can.
More often than not, these books are written by Claudia Gray.
And one of these books is Master & Apprentice.
The fact that we are living in a time when Claudia Gray is writing Star Wars books makes me feel luckier than I care to explain, and that sentiment was reinforced tenfold when I finished the first Canonical tale of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Gray is simultaneously expanding the Star Wars timeline and breathing new life into already vibrant characters. Her work leaves me yearning for more in a way that doesn’t diminish the power of her stories, but rather enhances them beyond measure.
Taking place seven years before The Phantom Menace, Master & Apprentice opens by showing us what we’ve known to be a loving relationship at its deepest point of fracture. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have evidently experienced a rough tenure in their history as Master and Apprentice, to the point where Qui-Gon is unsure that he is fit to continue his pupil’s training. The two appear diametrically opposed when it comes to their philosophies about the Jedi Order, and that fundamental disagreement immediately sets the two men on opposing paths.
Obi-Wan stresses the importance of adhering to the tenants of the Order while Qui-Gon wishes to be more rebellious and flexible when it comes to the Council’s decisions, and at the start of the novel, both men fear that this impasse will ultimately tear them apart. Knowing the ultimate fate of both Master and Apprentice does not diminish the importance of this fear, because Gray allows the stakes of such a decision to palpably affect Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan...and therefore, if affects us as readers. Emotional connection and empathetic cost has always been key to Gray’s additions to Star Wars, and Master & Apprentice continues that work beautifully.
The degree of the emotional rift between the two is put to the test early on when Qui-Gon receives possibly the most unorthodox offer of his life: to join the Jedi Council. Later in the book, we discover that the decision to nominate Qui-Gon was not unanimous, but Qui-Gon wonders if the Council’s willingness to reach out to a Master who has challenged them on so many occasions could lead to a future where the Jedi leadership could be more open to discussion rather than adherence to strict dogma. Although the honor of a lifetime, the acceptance of such a title would come with a significant cost: the continual training of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The weight of this potential loss weighs heavily on Qui-Gon throughout the book, but the Council’s offer also begs more questions that are being found more and more within the realm of Star Wars, as a whole. What is the purpose of the Jedi? Does allegiance to the Republic outweigh the value of all life? Are the Jedi truly following the will of the Force? These questions and more plague Qui-Gon’s mind as he travels with his apprentice to planet Pijal where he is told to ensure the signing of a new treaty alongside an old friend.
The mission to the palace on Pijal introduces us to a host of new characters including Princess Fanry, Captain Deren, and Rael Averross. Rael serves as the lord regent of the planet until Fanry, currently fourteen, can assume the throne as monarch, and he also holds the distinction of being both a Jedi Knight and a former Padawan of Qui-Gon’s Master, Dooku. Rael and Qui-Gon’s relationship was formed years earlier during the latter’s apprenticeship, but throughout the book, we see Rael serve as somewhat of a warning to Qui-Gon as it relates to his current path.
While still technically a member of the Jedi Order, Rael dismisses all of its lavishness and a large amount of its traditions. His quarters and his appearance share the same roguishly unkempt aesthetic, and even though his methods appear initially effective, his general disregard for the Jedi and borderline obsession with the protection of the princess give Qui-Gon pause in relation to his own struggles. We learn that Rael was the Jedi who first inspired Qui-Gon’s interest in the prophecies of the Ancient Jedi Masters, and after he experiences his own terrifying vision about the upcoming coronation ceremony, Qui-Gon can’t help but feel that the Force is trying to tell him something with deadly consequences. This leads to Qui-Gon's intense fascination with the Jedi prophecies reawakening and allows us to understand why the idea of Chosen One consumed him so entirely in The Phantom Menace--a prophecy that we also get to read in its entirety.
However, moreso than the actual content of the prophecies, I was deeply intrigued by Qui-Gon's foundational belief in them. At the start of the story, he stresses the metaphorical nature of prophecy to Obi-Wan as he pontificates on the idea that prophecy is not necessarily important because of its ability to accurately predict the future. Rather, its importance lies in what its interpretation can say about the interpreter, himself.
Do you see this prophecy surrounding you even now? Is it coming in your future? Why? Why not? These are the questions that dissect the consciousness, and the information found therein, Qui-Gon believes, is far more important than fortune telling.
And yet, as the prophecies appear to reveal themselves through Qui-Gon's circumstances, their literal meanings become more and more enticing to the Jedi Master. His journey of belief is ever flowing as the events surrounding him illuminate the words of the ancient Jedi, and by the end of the book, his unshakable belief in Anakin during The Phantom Menace makes perfect sense.
Given that Rael's initial training and friendship led Qui-Gon down the road of his future obsession, Qui-Gon's conversations with and about Rael enlighten us beautifully about his ever evolving thoughts about the Force and its disciples. When Obi-Wan questions Qui-Gon about a dreadful sin in Rael’s past, the Padawan recites his Master’s lesson with one of the most striking passages in the book.
“People are more than their worst act,” Obi-Wan recited. It was something Qui-Gon had said to him many times, which at last seemed to be sinking in. “At least, most people. And they are also more than the worst thing ever done to them.”
Qui-Gon never fails to remind his apprentice of the importance of each individual life, and that lesson becomes even more important when the two are faced with the evil of the Czerka Corporation.
Mostly recognizable from their appearance in the Knights of the Old Republic video game series, the Czerka Corporation is front and center in this novel as they attempt to further their parasitic relationship with the people of Pijal. While Czerka has held power over the people of Pijal for years (including the detrimental enslavement of thousands of people), the new Republic-supported treaty would enhance that power without any hope of future salvation for those abused by their methods.
Qui-Gon is faced with the reality of this treaty’s effects after meeting two other main players in the story: Pax Maripher, a jewel-thief raised by protocol droids, and Rahara Wick, his partner and escaped Czerka slave. Despite initially enlisting their help in order to protect the princess and the signing of the treaty from terrorists, Qui-Gon’s missions alongside the disreputables illuminates him to the cold truth of Czerka’s activity in the sector. This realization forces the Jedi Master to withdraw his support from the treaty and furthers the wedge between himself and Obi-Wan and even the Jedi Council, itself.
Once this division is made, Qui-Gon is forced to navigate the political landscape of Pijal in a way very reminiscent of Ned Stark in King's Landing. Though technically invited as a friend and colleague, his moral stances lie in direct opposition to the will of those in power, and the shadow of that authority is never truly escaped.
This fracture additionally leads to what I found to be the defining argument of this book. Is a Jedi beholden to the will of the Republic, the Council, the people, or the Force? Facing horrors like those imposed by Czerka expose Qui-Gon’s feelings madly in this regard as he passionately attempts to convince Obi-Wan of the error in the Council’s judgement. To Qui-Gon, the Jedi are sacrificing the well being of the people in favor of the will of corporations and business, and through the fog of duty and dogma, they have stopped listening to the will of the Force.
Qui-Gon’s anger over this comes to its height during a discussion with Yoda where he accuses the Jedi of inaction, thereby relegating the slaves of Czerka to a lifetime of suffering. Yoda’s retort raises the importance of the hyperpace corridor the treaty will provide and the ease of life it will bring to a number of other planets. The conversation argues the larger macrocosm against the individual life, and it is an argument that can be seen through the prequels, the Clone Wars, and all the way through the destruction of the Jedi. Are the Jedi the servants of the people or soldiers of the Republic?
Gray masterfully weaves these philosophical dilemmas through the political landscape of Pijal and the wrought personal relationships between the main cast in a way that is so enticing and thought provoking that the biological need for sleep and food were the only ways I let this book leave my hands as I was reading. By the end, I felt as though I had learned not only the latest story of the Star Wars canon, but also the importance of listening to the life surrounding me. All life. Always.
While I could wax poetic about the further intricacies of the plot of Master & Apprentice or my favorite character traits found in Pax, Rahara, Fanry, and Halin, I would much rather simply tell you to read this book. Now.
FINAL STAFF THOUGHTS:
- The decision to rank Master & Apprentice in the top echelon of Canon books was unanimous. The lowest ranking among staff members was 9/10.
- Claudia Gray's dialogue work, particularly relating to Qui-Gon, was exemplary. Liam Neeson's voice practically rang in our ears the entire time.
- Qui-Gon's continual butting of heads with the Jedi Council furthers all of our beliefs that he would have been the perfect Master for Anakin.
- Obi-Wan's transition from a Padawan who loves flying to the Jedi who hates it was both a fun Easter Egg and a fantastic piece of character evolution.
- "I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me." When you've read it, you'll know.
- "Up the hell, he should shut." Our new favorite insult.
- The way that Claudia Gray writes the Force, itself, and creates new lore for the EU (technology, mysticism, etc.) is unparalleled.
- The idea of Obi-Wan being too old when he comes to the Jedi at 3 really puts the fear of Anakin being a 9 year old into perspective. A small tidbit that shows us just how far Qui-Gon was willing to go in his belief of the prophecy.
- This is a book that we'll be discussing, rereading, and lauding for years to come.
With that, I’ll leave you with possibly the most powerful phrase I’ve read in my history of Star Wars literature. Thank you, Claudia Gray. Thank you for Master & Apprentice.
“It matters,” Qui-Gon said quietly. “It matters which side we choose. Even if there will never be more light than darkness. Even if there can be no more joy in the galaxy than there is pain. For every action we undertake, for every word we speak, for every life we touch--it matters. I don’t turn toward the light because it means someday I’ll ‘win’ some sort of cosmic game. I turn toward it because it is the light.”