Fatal Faves: Children of the Jedi

You want Star Wars? I got you, fam.

You want some primo Star Wars? I got you, fam.

So, this is my thinkpiece on why Bloodline is the greate– nahhhh, let’s talk about Children of the Jedi.

Picture yourself on the Internet, and try to imagine that everyone hates something that you love and hold dear. I know, unthinkable of, right? That kind of online hate? Who would do that? So you won’t believe how offended I was when Mike said that this new section, Fatal Faves, was going to spotlight indefensible areas and works of the Star Wars universe that we still love anyway, because fuck it. Because honestly, I feel like I’ve been defending Children of the Jedi for the last twenty years in a pretty badass lonely crusade, like some long-haired Toshiro Mifune ronin or some overweight Leonidas yelling “Roganda!!!!” before charging alone against the masses of the haters. So yes, I’ll say it here: I love Children of the Jedi and I don’t hate myself for it. Not most of the time. Sometimes. Only when it gets dark.

In this fandom saying that you love Children of the Jedi is like playing a selection of the best moments of RuPaul’s Drag Race before a Westboro Baptist Church congregation. If you admit that you drink the Kool-Aid of the Eye of Palpatine, you are hated by the Legends fans, you are also hated by the movie purists, hell, you are probably hated by people that have never read a Star Wars book but just found out that the book has a tuberculous plant called topato and a pet called pittin. “What’s wrong with you, freak!? Didn’t you recently throw a fit over the use of stupid words like flimsiplast instead of human words like paper? Why don’t you go back to your stupid continent? God, I’m a staunch Hilary supporter, but I’m voting Drumpf just to see you walled out of my country!”

This was my Wookieepedia userpage ten years ago. I'm 4REAL.

This was my Wookieepedia userpage ten years ago. I’m 4REAL.

Honestly, I’m still stumped as to why the rest of the world doesn’t love this novel. I think one of the reasons I’ve always been willing to defend this beautiful and glorious (yes, glorious) book is that it probably was the last book that I really enjoyed before leaving the Expanded Universe forever for the first time. Leaving aside roleplaying games and videogames, my teenage era as a Star Wars consumer started with a borrowed, heavily-battered copy of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, then moved on to the Thrawn trilogy, and then climbed up the Bantam era until I got to Darksaber, the iceberg that sunk my Titanic, where I stopped and decided I was never ever going to spend another penny on Star Wars novels (if all these names tell you nothing, congrats, you are not old). So I guess that’s how Children of the Jedi became the most recent reminder that Star Wars could be cool.

See, when I first read it I knew it was a standalone. I wasn’t expecting galaxy-changing events. I knew it was going to be low-key and feature personal stakes instead of, dunno, whatever the hell the Jedi Academy trilogy tried to portray. I was expecting, basically, a bottle episode and that’s exactly what I got. And I loved it! I loved the suspense, I loved the setting, I loved how badass Luke and Leia were when terribly disadvantaged (Luke crippled and sick, Leia alone in a hostile world) and faced with the worst possible situations. Children of the Jedi became one of my favorite books; and not only mine, also my friends’! Characters, places, and plot points from this book appeared in our roleplaying games for years, and we felt slightly cheated on when we found out that Mara Jade was going to be the chosen one in the game of The Jedi Bachelor. I clearly remember the face of one of my best friends when he found about it, looking at the rest of us taken aback, and saying “but… what about Callista?”. Poor guy. If only he had known what the Internet said about Callista

When I first got online, eager to share my love of all things Star Wars, I found out two things about my position in the larger fandom: that my status as a WEG encyclopedia made me part of a select group of elite superfans that rarely dared mingle with the masses and only to impart wisdom (“Ganner Rhysode would have… Control 3D” “All hail!”) and that my unconditional love for Barbara Hambly’s book made me a laughingstock prone to be the target of the weekly e-stoning. I couldn’t understand it: why did you hate something that I cherished!? Were you not gasping when the diabolical plan of the Ismarens was first revealed? Were you not moved by Callista’s sacrifice and by her lover’s foul betrayal? Were you not thrilled when Han and Chewie fought for their lives against a mass of subhuman monstrosities in the catacombs under Plett’s house? Were you not amused when the aliens aboard the Eye of Palpatine played an affectionate parody of the Star Trek bridge? No!? Who the hell were you and what was wrong with you?

Things got so bad that, the first time I proudly admitted in the Jedi Council Forums that yes, I unironically loved Children of the Jedi, I immediately got a quiet private message that said something like: “hey, I saw that you said that you liked COTJ, so here’s the link to a private EZBoard where we discuss this book, like I had just been invited to the fucking Illuminati or to some secret society of Satanist perverts that needed secrecy to perform their revolting rituals, probably involving the sacrifice of pittens on a mindrock altar (I never joined that website, but the person that send me that message is still a good friend –one with good taste to match).

So here I’m going to do the unthinkable. I’m going to defend Children of the Jedi, and I’m not going to find any shame in doing it. Hey, you, I see you chuckling and rolling your eyes over there: shut up, no one likes you, your mom lied to you, you are not special, you are evil, mediocre evil, not even quality evil, you are the DiGiorno of evil! First of all: Belsavis. The humid, mist-surrounded town of Plawal, a lonely spot of civilization hidden in a volcanic valley in the middle of a massive glacial world made me feel oppressively isolated in a way that Hoth or Tatooine never managed to do. To this day, I close my eyes and I can imagine the town hidden by massive snow storms that threaten to shred approaching ships apart. I can feel the humid air and smell the sulphur from the volcanic vents. I can picture the modest houses built all over the sides of the narrow valley. I can imagine the mysterious Jedi ruins still showing the wounds of the Emperor’s purge. And I can feel the blood pumping when I think of the massive network of underground tunnels, the dark alleys where the murderous kretch insects breed, and the filthiest and seediest cantinas that side of the Outer Rim. Belsavis is one of the best and most carefully detailed settings the Star Wars galaxy has to offer.

There's not much CotJ art around so, uh, here's the cover in Spanish.

There’s not much CotJ art around so,
uh, here’s the cover in Spanish.

And of course, there’s Leia. Children of the Jedi was the best Leia novel until Bloodline was published a couple of weeks ago and everyone went ga-ga over it; don’t get me wrong, it is the best Leia book ever, but you can actually very easily see Bloodline!Leia as an aged COTJ!Leia. Leia in Children of the Jedi is brave yet compassionate and has a resolve of steel: not only do we see her outsmart her insidious enemies, but we see her in situations as memorable as her braving the cold wilderness of Belsavis in a tiny tractor driving towards a certain death because she knows the New Republic could be in danger or facing a lightsaber-wielding enemy without flinching. It’s not an accident that a large chunk of Leia’s background in the EU came from this book. Leia’s aunts? Here. Her childhood pets? Here. The courtly intrigues she witnessed as a teenager? Here too. This was the first book to actually care about Leia and to make her be something other than “that girl that goes with Threepio on boring ambassadorial missions”.

And what about the negative points? Well, just Google the name of the book and I bet you can find a few thinkpieces on blogs called things like MidiChlorianReview or BadBookWiki, articles with names like Is Children of the Jedi Responsible for The Hated EU Reboot or Of Pittins and Topatoes: Why The Reboot Was a Good Idea. I’m just going to say that I don’t really mind the parts that people say they hate. Yeah, the Luke storyline was weaker and there were cheesy parts all over, but so what? This is Star Wars, not War and Peace. The Thrawn books had small rodents with freezing sticks, and Traitor had a massive brain in a cave. Again: this is Star Wars, where jock pilots have sex with massive otters and where Ackbar and Winter were seriously pushed as “a thing”. Cheese is a given. Mara and Lando spending the night together? They are adults, aren’t they? The Eye of Palpatine itself? I’d rather have a reasonable turbolaser platform than another World Devastator, Galaxy Gun, Moon Liquifier or Supercluster Eviscerator. I didn’t mind that Luke fell in love with a Jedi spirit trapped in a computer, because I really got to know Callista through the book and I really liked her character. Okay, said spirit hijacking the body of a padawan made things a bit weird, yes… but it’s not even close to as weird as Luke having to look at Leia every single time they met and think “yeppp, my twin sister kissed me in the mouth and I have to say that I enjoyed it”. He had to be used to that ick in his love life! I didn’t mind that the prequel trilogy had “decanonized” the possibility of Jedi being married and having children. So what? It’s not like the book was called The Biological Children of the Married Jedi!

So yeah, I’m completely happy with my memories of Children of the Jedi. I know that, whenever I go back home, I can talk to my lifelong friends, open a few beers and spend the night looking at the stars and sharing our fond memories of Callista and Master Plett and the Senex Lords without any of the background noise from the Internet. We can open a beer and call it the apex of the Bantam era without flinching. Yet… I guess I have something to confess. Since I first saw the online hate, I have refused to read it again. Because, what if I’m wrong? What if the masses (the mobs!) are right and I only like it because I’m ignoring all of the ridiculous parts of it? What if I only defend it because I’m hard-headed as hell? No, no, no, that can’t be. Can it? No! It’s not true! And even if it was, I don’t care! Today I make a stand, I call the legions of silent fans of Children of the Jedi to say “enough!” and join me in the comments! Just say it loud: I love Children of the Jedi and I’m proud!

7 comments

  1. Eric J Brown says:

    The book is well written – a bit sci-fi heavy for my taste. I didn’t care for the Villian, and the Zork style romance wigged me out. Of course, some of my disdain for Callista is that I am utterly pro-Mara Jade.

    If you search for “EU, Bad, and Ugly Children of the Jedi” you should be able to find a review I wrote of it. Gave it a B-

    • B-. I’ll take it.

      • Eric Brown says:

        It is one of the better *written* books of the entire EU book run (legends and current). Technically fantastic. It’s one of those books that I can completely understand someone loving — and I can understand others mocking and not liking.

  2. This book is my all-time fave. It doesn’t hurt that it was my first as well.

  3. I have all of the EU books with the exception of Ruins of Dantooine. I read most of them in one sitting and took them all as they were. Most I enjoyed, a couple were meh and one particular trilogy made me question my sanity ( I’m looking at you Dark Nest). Children of the Jedi filled a need at the time of more Star Wars. My overriding memory is the Luke/Callista relationship that got really whacky in more recent times but fleshed him out a bit more than farm boy made good.

    Not being an Internet fanboy I take every Star Wars novel as it comes and try and enjoy them for what they are, popcorn for the mind. Long live Legends and all of the crazy novels that it produced.

    PS. I was there for a movie called Star Wars in the 70’s as a teenager and may be a bit senile and one eyed.

  4. John says:

    I only read this book for the first time a few years ago – I’d missed it when I first read through Bantam Legends in the early 2000s. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed its treatment of the Jedi – I think that Hambly does a good job of capturing the sort of mystery that surrounded the Jedi prior to the Prequels. I wish someone would write more about the old Jedi Order of the ’90s – from things like Children of the Jedi or the Tales of the Jedi comics – when all Jedi Masters were these mysterious dudes hiding out in remote locations, and to become a Jedi you had to go climb a mountain or something to find them. The super-structured Order of the Prequels is fine as far as it goes, but making every incarnation of the Jedi like that closes off so much story space…

  5. Jon Sutton says:

    I just recently re-read it for the first time in 19 years, and actually enjoyed it a lot more than I figured I would. There’s something to be said about revisiting a book decades later, when you are different as a person and have some life experience under your belt and appreciate certain things more. Hambly’s prose comes off as beautifully rendered, detailed, and romantic, and the world-building aspects of Belsavis, Ithor, and the Eye of Palpatine are super-detailed and visual. It’s very heavy on that “Star Wars feeling” that the original trilogy conveys. B+

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