Jedi Academy (Jedi Academy #1), by Jeffrey Brown
In this particular volume, the first of a series, we look at the awkward experiences of middle school through the appealing perspective of one Roan Novachez, who has to deal with disappointment as well as pressure and feeling like a fish out of water. There are a great many reasons why this is relatable. For one, nearly every eleven year old in existence has felt out of place, and a great many of us feel that way on an ongoing basis long after that age. For another, the main character is not designed as someone whose achievements and interests are impossible to relate to. He is a loving brother, a generally decent person in his own mind (if not perfect), and he certainly struggles a great deal from not understanding what other people are about, and the book looks at things from his perspective so that the reader does not see what he is missing. This limited perspective helps to build up a sense of comfort with the character, and the fact that he is portrayed as a talented artist allows the writer of this book to include a great deal of art in a book that would not be present as easily otherwise.
The book itself begins with Roan’s disappointment that he will not be going to the pilot academy like he wanted, and with his uncertainty about the Jedi Academy where he feels more than a little bit behind the rest of his classmates. While his grades do not start out very good, they end up being relatively good, and he finds some friends, including the beginning of a shy courtship with Gaiana, learns how to hone and control his emerging Jedi powers, and has to deal with the unpleasant bullies in school around him. Most of what he has to deal with are things that many of the readers of this book will be able to relate to–especially those who are somewhat awkward and nerdy (I speak here from experience, obviously). Sprinkled throughout the book as well are entertaining selections from Roan’s cartoon series Ewok Pilot, which is quite hilarious and which provides some subtle commentary on Roan’s own thinking and mindset and his own somewhat bizarre sense of humor in portraying an aggressive and not very communicative ewok as a pilot learning how to cope with training and flight and combat.
The book is full of a variety of little details that make the book particularly enjoyable. For example, the classic scrolling title is portrayed on the first page of the book itself, which leads the reader to view the book as being a somewhat official part of Star Wars canon (although it is unclear if that is the case in the aftermath of the Disney purchase of Star Wars from Lucasfilms). I, for one, would have a great deal of enjoyment in seeing Roan and some of his classmates in a Star Wars film if they are portrayed with the same degree of skill and sensitivity that the author shows here. And given that like the trilogies this book is part of a trilogy of its own, one knows even after the largely positive end of this particular book that there is plenty more that Roan is going to have to endure, since Middle School is not fun for everyone. The book also allows plenty of fan service for readers to appreciate Yoda’s baffling way of communicating as well as the multicultural nature of the Galactic Republic, all of which will lead many readers to extrapolate various lessons into their lives from the subtle way that the book handles cultural communication.