Dawn of the Jedi: Into The Void by Tim Lebbon – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the latest Star Wars novel from Del Rey, set in the old, old era known as the Dawn of the Jedi.
“A flawed but entertaining look at the Jedi in their infancy that also promises to be quite fun overall.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
Last year saw a resurgence in my reading of novels and comics set within the galaxy far, far away. I’ve only read a handful of the books and comics, but they have served well in reminding of my love for the setting and many of the characters. I continued that earlier this month by reading the latest novel to bear the Star Wars stamp, set some 25,000 years (give or take a couple hundred) before the events of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. That puts this novel in the same timeline as John Ostrander’s Force Storm 5-issue mini-series which, IIRC, ties into the Knights of the Old Republic game. Called “Dawn of the Jedi”, this timeline is all about the origins of the Jedi, the Sith, and how the galaxy develops.
To give you a short taste of what this particular timeline is all about, in the dim mists of time, many of the races were “collected” and brought to the Tython system, deep in the Core, and there they were “dropped off”. Its all very Noah’s Ark and all. Over the years, as the mixed-race civilisation in the system evolves, the Force is eventually discovered and harnessed by those who are capable of it, and the system develops into a full-fledged galactic society, albeit cut off from everything outside. And the Jedi at this point in time are called the Je’daii.
On its own merits, the setting is an interesting one, with lots to recommend itself, and I think that Ostrander did a great job in showing off the diversity of the Je’daii in his comics. And in that context Into The Void acts as a counter-point since it is not so much about the Je’daii as it is about the Tython system as a whole. But, where the novel falls a bit flat is that the setting isn’t really explored all that well. I got more out of the comic than I did of the novel, which is kind of a first for me, I think. This remains one of the biggest flaws of the novel. Aside from the technical details about the “Dawn of the Jedi” setting, there really isn’t much that is unique about this.
Tim Lebbon offers up an almost engaging view of a system “space-locked” from the rest of the galaxy, and explores the various highs and lows of the Tython composite culture and society that has sprung up, but he never goes the full distance to really get into the setting. I didn’t actually care about the setting all that much. The kind of things that I wanted to see in the novel were mostly missing. I wanted to see an exploration of the Je’daii culture and hierarchy and organisation, but we see precious little beyond the flashbacks told from the protagonist’s POV in which she undergoes her training as a young apprentice.
To put it another way, the hooks were there, but not all of them, and very few were tantalising enough to keep me interested with the setting.
When it comes to the characters, I really liked Lanoree Brock, and her Twi’lek “sidekick” Tre Sana. There was a certain level of competence to Lanoree’s character that made her really likable. She was smart and capable, while also being fairly inquisitive about the why of what she has been ordered to do. Largely, she never questions her orders openly, but she definitely voices her doubts now and then, which made her into a character I really could behind. In a way, she was Qui-gon Jinn, just without the instinctual brashness that defined his career. The action scenes involving her were also fairly involved and detailed scenes that made it easy to visualise all of it, and that certainly seems to be one of Tim Lebbon’s strengths with respect to this novel.
However, as much as I liked Lanoree, I couldn’t get over the fact that perhaps she was played up as a damsel in distress too much. Not that there was any knight in shining armour to help her get out of whatever adverse situation she found herself in. Just that things seemed to head south for her too often, and I stress those last two words there. It reduced the impact of her agency, and that was not something that I enjoyed.
Where Tre Sana is concerned, what I enjoyed most about his character was the moral gray area that he inhabits. His mysterious past is played up too much, in terms of the frequency of which it is mentioned throughout the novel, but it also offered some up complex motivations for his actions in the novel, such as helping Lanoree in the first place, among other things. He was a character I was never sure if I should out and out cheer for, or someone I should be wary of. Normally that kind of uncertainty would have put me off the character, but with Tim Lebbon’s writing, I never went through that particular moment.
The antagonist of the novel is Lanoree’s own brother, Dalien, who is somewhat of a Je’daii reject, in that he rejected the teachings of the order and he quit himself rather than waiting for the Jedi Masters to make that decision for him. While I liked, and even appreciated his stance on the restrictions put in place by the Je’daii on all of Tython, such as the unspoken code that people should always look to Tython and not outside of it, that there was nothing of importance outside of the importance, I was never actually convinced of his reasons. He is presented as a fully-formed antagonist from the get go, someone who is just not comfortable around Je’daii at first, but then comes to harbour much, much stronger feelings against them.
If I had been made more aware, more cognisant, of just why he behaves the way he does throughout the novel, I would have appreciated his character far more. He remains a middling villain at best for me.
Now, one thing that I really liked was that the Je’daii practice a balance of the twin energies of the Force, the Light and the Dark Side both. Modern Jedi, such as we know of them from the Knights of the Old Republic era and on, are all followers of the Light Side of the Force. They are the knights in shining armour, on an eternal crusade against the monsters that are the Sith. But in Dawn of the Jedi, there are no Jedi and no Sith, there are only the Je’daii. The philosophy that a Je’daii’s entire life is a struggle to maintain that balance, that too much of one puts the user out of balance is fascinating. It harks back to the ending of Return of the Jedi and the entire subtextual premise of The Phantom Menace: A;nakin Skywalker will bring balance to the Force and he will defeat the Sith; which he does, eventually, by regaining his humanity when presented with the death of his son, and he kills the Emperor instead. Anakin Skywalker brought a precarious and unsustainable balance to the Force when he helped Darth Sidious gain power and destroy the Jedi. He corrected his mistakes by vanquishing his Master and paving the way for a new generation of Jedi, led by Luke, to take over and explore their own relations to the Force.
Endlessly fascinating, and one of the high points of the novel for sure.
The constant flashbacks give the book a bit of a weird pacing, but nothing too bad, and in the end it all boils down to the fact that I was always interested enough to continue reading, to read more of Lanoree and Tre Sana’s jaunts through the Tython system as they race to stop Dalien from enacting his plans. I would recommend it as an interesting look into the Dawn of the Jedi setting, the start of what promises to be a real fun for more authors to explore. And if Tim Lebbon is able to return, then I would love to see a sequel.
Note: This novel is graded according to a new ratings system, the details of which can be found here.