Reading Star Wars: Into the Void

Star Wars’ Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void is a very interesting book. Also a very confusing book. It’s not a bad Star Wars novel – but its portrayal of the early version of Jedi Knights is not what I was expecting.

As planned, I’ve embarked upon my journey of reading through the Star Wars Universe in chronological order — meaning that I’ve started with the one of the more recent books to be published, Tim Lebbon‘s Into the Void. It steps back 25,000 years before the Battle of Yavin to the distant beginnings of the Star Wars saga. The events take place long, long ago in a system that’s literally far, far away — before the Knights of the Old Republic; the purge of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant; the long years of Palpatine’s Empire; and the rise of Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa Solo and Han Solo to save the Universe, craft the New Republic and restore the Jedi Knights in time to fight the Yuuzhon Vong and witness the Fall of yet another Skywalker.

Into the Void is intended to explain the origins of the Jedi, who in these early days are known as the Je’Daii. And that’s where my problems with the book began.

As is my practice, a spoiler alert here.

If you haven’t yet read the book, and don’t want any surprises, go no further. Here be large draigons of spoilers.

My issues with the book start with the fact that it just drops you into this prehistoric period of the Force.

With just about any other book in the Star Wars saga, there are enough points of commonality with the movies and other novels that you can figure out what’s going on. Jedi hold to the lightside of the Force, Sith to the darkside. Lightsabers shine red for the Darksiders and other colors (usually blue and green) for the Knights. The same planets, species, governmental structures and criminal gangs tend to show up, in one guise or another, on a regular basis. There is a rough sort of continuity (we won’t discuss the inconsistencies of that alleged continuity here) from book to movie to book. But those constants have to do with the known Star Wars Universe. Into the Void reverts to a time before there was a united government known as the Republic and deals with one very narrow and restricted subsection of space populated by the ancestors of a few of the more common species.

Unfortunately, the book was written as if it were any other entry into the Star Wars Universe, as though the reader would have already seen the people, planets, terms and situations in other books and could therefore just dive into the story. And that’s very definitely not the case here, or at least it wasn’t for me.

There were a number of plot and setting points, both key to the story and part of the background, that were unexplained in this book, and that slowed down my reading. It’s hard to enjoy a novel when you have to stop, frequently, to either reread a paragraph and figure out its meaning, or else run a search to look up a term. Two quick examples:

Ashla and Bogan. Ashla is the lightside of the Force, Bogan the darkside. But the way those names and/or terms were used was confusing – until about halfway into the story, when someone mentioned a stay on Bogan. There are, it seems, two moons that orbit the planet Typhon that are also known as Ashla and Bogan.

Tho Yor. There are frequent references to the Tho Yor, who apparently brought the Force users of various species who became the Je’Daii to this system. But it’s not clear at first if the Tho Yor are a species, an organization, or a ship. A huge ‘Thank You’ to the tireless workers of Wookiepedia, which explained that the Tho Yor were nine, possibly sentient, ships that brought the Dai Bendu monks and a variety of Force sensitives to the planet Tython.

I deliberately didn’t read the comic insert midway through the book, so as to keep in flow with the novel. I’ve been told by the helpful people at my local comic stores that I really should have read the comics first, as they provide a much more detailed written and pictographic explanation of this time period that helps you get oriented before tackling the novel (and presumably the novel’s forthcoming successors).

I’ve added reading the comics to my list, but the lack of clear settings and relationships was not the biggest problem I had with Into the Void. That problem – was the Je’Daii, themselves.

Almost from the start, I couldn’t seem to like Lanoree, the ‘heroine’. She’s the Je’Daii Ranger trying to stop the destruction of the system by her brother, who ‘failed out’ of Je’Daii training and faked his own death to run off and search for a way to escape from the system and push out into the wider Universe.

After reading the book a second time, I decided that I really, really didn’t like any of the Je’Daii. They came off as cold individuals interested only in their narrow viewpoint of life. While they ostensibly protect the harmony of the Tython system, and are supposed to mediate disputes and stop criminal activities, the Je’Daii seem to be remarkably inconsistent and ineffective at these goals. Crime is rampant. The Je’Daii stop certain events, like the development of weapons, only to then engage the very people they’ve stopped to make weapons for the Je’Daii. There are planets and places mentioned where even the Je’Dai do not dare to go. And lastly, there’s the Je’Daii ‘exploration’ of the Force.

The Masters and Rangers did things that can be seen as morally questionable — highly morally questionable. A number of them are involved in something called the ‘Alchemy of the Flesh’, including Lanoree, who’s grown a brainless (she hopes) fleshly object from her own cells as an experiment on her ship. And there was the whole matter of the balance between the Light (Ashla) and the Dark (Bogan) side of the Force. The characters are supposed to remain balanced between these two extremes. Yet, I kept feeling as if the Je’Daii were a lot farther into the Darkside of the Force than they realized. Certainly Lanoree experienced a number of instances where she seemed to be ‘tempted’ – and while she remained convinced she had not Fallen, I can’t help but wonder whether she, and her Masters, are merely deluding themselves.

In the course of pursuing her brother, Lanoree kills people, a lot of people, without much concern about her actions or her motivations. Someone presents an obstacle to her search, she talks to them only long enough to get herself into a strategic position, then pulls her sword and beheads that person. She literally is involved in the destruction of an entire city – and while that action was planned by her brother, she does nothing to assist the people of the dying city, choosing instead to run past them and continue her pursuit of her brother. Perhaps there was nothing she could have done – but in contrasting the events in this book with later novels, I think the Jedi Knights of later times would have at least tried to mitigate the chaos and death caused by their actions.

Had I read the comics beforehand, I might have enjoyed Into the Void more. I’m told that the characters of the comics are closer to the Star Wars Jedi we’ve come to know from the movies and earlier books. After I get through a few more of the novels, I plan to go back and read the comics, then reread Into the Void, and see if my opinions have changed.

In the end, as I said, it’s not a bad book, but it’s definitely not one that I would reread for fun or list as a personal Star Wars favorite.

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