Return Of The Padawan (Jedi Academy #2), by Jeffrey Brown
Those who are familiar with the narrative arc of the Star Wars triology (or of most genuine trilogies in general) will be familiar with the U-shaped melodrama that tends to make the second episode the darkest. And so it is here. Admittedly, things do not get too dark, but this particular episode finds Roan a seventh grader (this must be remembered when judging the emotional maturity, or lack thereof, he shows here) and dealing with what might be kindly judged a fairly emo period. Roan finds himself somewhat estranged and cut off from his friends, in large part due to his own moodiness, and even finds himself flirting with the dark side as at least some of the people who associate that way within Roan’s classes are trying to appeal to him and be a bit less cruel. It is rather humorous, and telling, that the author connects those who are mean-spirited bullies as well as those who are inclined to being smooth-talking politicians with the dark side, which would seem to indicate both a particularly rich sense of justice as well as a certain amount of negative experience with that sort of student in one’s own experience.
The plot of this particular graphic novel is somewhat episodic. Roan starts out enthusiastic about the year, but we know (because of our familiarity with the U-shaped structure of melodrama appropriate for hormonal preteens) that this happiness will not last. And it doesn’t. Roan finds piloting ships (even in simulator) to be far more difficult than he thought, and that results in him being frustrated and rather down, since his life goal is to become a pilot. Likewise, his association with some of the bad kids leads him to get into trouble at certain points because of guilt by association and the less than entirely upright way he goes about trying to fix problems. Of course, since this story is not a particularly dark one, the tone never gets too dark. If Roan is tempted to be a bit interested in the dark side, he does not seem to want to be evil or vicious to others as much as be cool. And if the book doesn’t show the best year ever, it does show Roan growing up and making some decisions as to how he will live his life that will likely have repercussions for many years to come, perhaps even the rest of his life.
In reading this particular book, it is important to remember that Roan is only portrayed as a twelve year old here, and not one who is particularly mature on an emotional level. Roan’s ups and downs are perhaps somewhat typical of the artistic temperament in an age where such mood fluctuations are not flattened with psychoactive drugs but are rather channeled towards working on interpersonal communication and the development of useful skills. There are some genuine moments of humor and insight here, whether we are looking at Roan’s awkward attempts at flirtation with Gaiana and her own dealing with the health of her father, and his response to that knowledge, or whether we are looking at the way that the Galactic Senate is far more concerned about its own comfort than it is about the way that people are dealing with life among the ordinary people of their planets. And in this book we can get the sense that Roan is learning a lot, not merely intellectual matters but also how to become a more mature person, lessons that hopefully some of the younger (and not-so-young) readers will take to heart in their own moral and emotional development.