Book Review – The Jedi Council Takes Center Stage in the Pre-Prequel Novel “Star Wars: The Living Force”

Next month will see the release of the new novel from Random House Worlds and Lucasfilm Publishing, Star Wars: The Living Force by John Jackson Miller. I received an early copy of the digital file to read, and below is my (mostly spoiler-free) review of this latest exciting installment in the ever-growing Star Wars saga.

Every Star Wars fan has a general understanding of the concept of the Jedi High Council. First seen in Episode I – The Phantom Menace, this group of a dozen Jedi Masters govern the Jedi Order and determine the path that this mystical sect of space-faring, Force-wielding warrior-monks will take as they continue to defend peace and justice across the galaxy. And while the individual members of the Jedi Council have popped up in stories here and there, we haven’t yet had an adventure centered entirely around them as a group. Enter The Living Force, the new Star Wars novel by John Jackson Miller, who previously gave us the Knights of the Old Republic comics, the Lost Tribe of the Sith collection of short stories, and two other acclaimed novels– Star Wars: Kenobi (in the Legends timeline) and Star Wars: A New Dawn (set in the current canon).

The Living Force is set just prior to the events of the prequel trilogy, and thus the makeup of the Jedi Council is the same as we saw in The Phantom Menace: there’s Yoda and Yaddle, Mace Windu, the Keldor Plo Koon, human (and former Padawan of Windu’s) Depa Billaba, Iridonian Zabrak Eeth Koth, Quermian Yarael Poof, Tholothian Adi Gallia, Thisspiasian Oppo Rancisis, Lanniek Even Piell, Iktotchi Saesee Tiin, and Cerean Ki-Adi-Mundi. Some have been more heavily featured than others in Star Wars lore through the years, but they all get their time to shine in this novel. Though the story starts with two perhaps more familiar faces– Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (who, as we know, never fulfills his potential in joining the Jedi Council) and his Padawan learner Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan thwart the hijacking of a commercial spacecraft, and in doing so alert the Jedi Council to a possible deficiency in Jedi presence along an especially dangerous sector of the galaxy known as the Slice. This spurs Qui-Gon to present a challenge to the Council– one that echoes a line we hear him deliver in The Phantom Menace about being “mindful of the Living Force”– inspiring to go out into the Slice and interact with the many beings who reside there, particularly on an off-the-beaten-path planet called Kwenn (this name having been borrowed from Legends), which is home to a Jedi outpost in danger of being shuttered for good. That’s the setup, and the rest of the narrative is about the trials and tribulations that the various Council members encounter on Kwenn and beyond– with Billaba going undercover among the crew of the main antagonist: a merciless pirate leader named Zilastra who harbors a lifelong vendetta against the Jedi.

First off, I will say that it’s wonderful getting to know all these characters better than I did before. I mean, outside of Yoda and Mace Windu (and more recently Yaddle) there aren’t many members of this Council who have had special attention paid to them in this way. This book also addresses a number of interesting questions about the Jedi Order’s role in the galaxy during this period right before the fall of the Republic– both in terms of what they see as their responsibilities and what the citizenry expects from them. That being said, I do also feel like this novel, which is ostensibly targeted at adult Star Wars fans, is written more toward a young-adult or even middle-grade reading level. That’s part of an alarming pattern that I’ve noticed among recent Star Wars books– they seem to skew younger and younger, especially when compared with Legends novels by the same authors.

I know Miller is capable of writing for adults– I’ve read and enjoyed some of his previous work in A Galaxy Far, Far Away. But I can’t help but worry that either the powers that be at Lucasfilm or his publisher (or both) are guiding him to dumb things down a bit for us– leading to some broadly obvious, on-the-nose writing, short, staccato paragraphs and chapter lengths, and banal, trite dialogue– which would be an awful shame. Because The Living Force does have the bones of a really solid Star Wars story, and instead the final product comes across as just okay. With the focus of this franchise turning back toward the pre-Empire Jedi Order between this novel and the pending release of The Acolyte TV series, I’d like to hope that Lucasfilm is still willing to let smart Star Wars stories for grownups get out there. Sadly I didn’t walk away feeling like this was one of them. However, it might serve as a great entry point for younger fans to learn all about the Jedi High Council.

Star Wars: The Living Force will be released on Tuesday, April 9th, but is available for pre-order right now.

Mike Celestino
Mike serves as Laughing Place's lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly "Who's the Bossk?" Star Wars podcast. He's been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.