Jason Fry’s latest novel, Servants of the Empire I: Edge of the Galaxy, tells the story of a promising young student destined for the Imperial Academy and his disillusionment with the Imperial system that has brought him and his family such success. It is a prequel story to the Rebels episode “Breaking Ranks,” though it can be enjoyed by those who have not seen even a single episode of the show. What makes the story interesting is that the main character, Zare Leonis, makes for a fairly good proxy for a middle-class or even an upper-middle class audience. He is basically a scholarship student, a star athlete who has a galaxy of opportunities open to him if he just works hard enough: and yet he ends up glimpsing the sinister shadow behind the glorious Imperial façade. He is not a Jedi, alien, or orphan: his family does pretty well for itself, but the Empire is still a danger to him and those he loves. It’s that angle and how it’s developed that makes this story worth reading for any Star Wars fan, even one with little interest in the show it ties into.
Let’s address a couple potential concerns before we dive into the review: first, it’s a tie-in novel for a kid’s show that’s listed as suitable for grades 3 to 7. We’ve already discussed how this makes good reading independent of the show, but it also makes good reading for an older audience because of the mature and deft way that the themes are handled. The only difference between this novel and an adult novel is the complexity of the sentence structure (expect fewer subordinate clauses) and word choice. The ideas and themes are not simplified. This means that young readers might learn a thing or two from this Star Wars story, but that older readers can get drawn in and may entirely forget who the intended audience is. Stories about youngsters learning to question authority are common, but this story handles the causes and consequences of such questioning with uncommon skill. It treats the subject with the weight it deserves, instead of trivializing.
The second concern is continuity: it reads just like any other Star Wars story, with a familiar setting and with familiar word-building. We had originally considered discussing this in our review, but coming up with a list of things that are still canon makes it seem as if that was the main purpose of the new novels, as reference material. As with A New Dawn, Edge of the Galaxy is a story that stands on its own that also happens to be good with continuity.