The Jedi Path by Dan Wallace – Book Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius returns to the Galaxy Far, Far Away once more to take a look at The Jedi Path by Daniel Wallace.
“A brilliant starting place for any fan hungering to learn more of the Jedi Order” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
As many will know from the news surrounding the upcoming Star Wars sequel films, large chunks of the Expanded Universe is to be effectively swept away. Decades of stories, developments, ideas and lore are just going to be retconned into oblivion with directors pretending they never happened. While this has been met with some rejoicing, those celebrating the most only seem to be remembering the worst elements of this universe such as Darksaber or The Jedi Academy trilogy. No mention is given to the great stories which earned so much support from fans or even just how heavily fleshed out many otherwise vague organisations became. This is one of the big examples of just how beneficial that universe was.
Rather than a story in of itself, The Jedi Path is a surviving document covering many elements of the Old Republic era Jedi Order, originally owned by Yoda himself. Having passed through many hands since then, the introductory page notes it was recovered from the ruins of Byss and added to the archives of the New Jedi Order. What follows is a brief look into the initial elements of the old Order, ranging from the manifestations of the Force to lightsaber styles and even the various paths following knighthood.
While the book itself does not go truly in-depth with many subjects, even effectively skimming through a fair number with little more than paragraphs, this somewhat plays to its advantage. Anyone wanting to know truly expansive information on the Order or their many details could find an overwhelming degree of information on Wookieepedia. Emphasis on overwhelming as there are pages upon pages of information which can easily swamp anyone wanting to get into the universe. This is instead written effectively as an introduction. It brings up many ideas, covers them briefly but with enough satisfying information to make the reader understand the concepts. If they want to know more that can easily be found, but the book itself serves as a fantastic starting point in this respect. This is even commented upon in-universe with Luke’s introduction commenting that many holocrons cover such information in much greater detail. It’s a big universe, and that much is made very clear.
To help assist this without bogging down the book covering every single detail, brief mentions and tributes are made to various events and concepts within the universe. The Army of Light, the Jedi military from the Sith Wars, is mentioned despite being long disbanded by this point. Images of the Chu’unthor are used when discussing the idea of Praxium ships, with both Yoda and Luke leaving notes commenting upon the vessel’s fate. Despite this being effectively the cut down guide to the order, you’re never left with the impression that the universe itself is ridiculously small. That for every subject, there is a much bigger story behind it.
The actual subjects themselves are often quite interesting when surrounding the order, and go into certain details people would usually be unaware of. The fate of Jedi who fail in their trials, the Dark Side organisations besides the Sith themselves, the Three Pillars precepts which serve as the early Code, all are present. As with everything else here, it is informing the reader of just how in-depth the universe truly is and it works extremely well. What definitely assists this in many respects is the presentation, by having various different hands authoring the book’s different sections. There is no single in-universe author covering the book’s every topic and instead various different hands, which helps in passing on the idea this is a work from a bigger organisation.
The presentation atop this is also truly grand. Along with the exceptional art, a standard for most things Star Wars, the book’s rough pages and minor details go a great length to quickly impress upon the reader its importance and age. However, it’s also at this point that a number of flaws do unfortunately begin to appear.
In a move which seems to have been inspired by Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the many students who held this book have written minor notes and details in the columns. While this is a nice touch of realism initially, it doesn’t take long to realise this is very out of place. Books like this in the universe have long been abandoned in favour of a digital format, and anything as old as this should have been handed with much more care. It’s an essential part of their history, so while you might be occasionally smirking at seeing a young Kenobi or Dooku’s remarks in the column, if you’re familiar with the universe this can be very off-putting.
Still, this is only a minor qualm and nothing major. At least until you open the book and see one other person who put their name in the cover and left a few notes – Palpatine.
Yes, the scourge of the Jedi himself apparently took ownership of this book after the destruction of the order and decided to go through making minor notes. Rather than just destroying it as he did with many others, he simply instead scored out certain details and left it unmolested. This is behaviour which is questionable to say the least and unfortunately turns the book’s existence into a plot hole.
Ignoring that for the moment, the writing itself does also skim a number of subjects far too quickly. Most notably are the species and races, both widespread fauna and sentient beings. At points it’s a little too vague, and feels so lacking as to not be worth really adding. If the sections had been removed, it would have only freed up space to expand upon certain other details.
However, its biggest failing is that this isn’t played straight-faced enough. Both Xenology and the Colonial Marines Technical Manual worked because they played themselves with utter seriousness and sincerity. While The Jedi Path isn’t constantly winking at the reader, certain writing styles and details feel jarring or out of place. Jedi Sniper for example is supposedly a rank, which sounds more like a video game mook than a serious position. It never goes too far with this, but it’s still a disappointment that the book did not shape itself up for some better presentation at points.
Despite these problems however, this is a genuinely great book. For someone with knowledge of the universe it makes for light reading, and for those new to anything beyond the films it’s a great introduction. It’s hardly on par with the Essential Guides nor quite as in-depth, but it’s hard to fail The Jedi Path for what it is. Both as a bittersweet reminder of just what is to soon be rendered non-existent and a great lore tome, you should look to get this one.