In the nearly 50 years Star Wars books have existed, few have taken the kinds of risks Sam Maggs takes with Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars. Each risk pays off, resulting in one of the most satisfying novels ever set in this universe.
At first glance, a Star Wars book about characters originating from a video game may not seem promising to the masses. Many fans still don’t know there are canon tie-in books with the Electronic Arts Star Wars: Battlefront games. The story of Cal Kestis resonated with audiences enough to warrant a second game, however–but before that, the first game’s characters needed a little more time to grow.
One dangerous piece of stealth technology, a rogue stormtrooper, and one queer romance later, Cal, Cere, and the rest of the crew are ready for another game. But the book knows it’s more than time-filling prose. It didn’t have to go this hard. But it did. And the journey is beyond worth the ride.
A Masterclass in Character Development
While Jedi: Fallen Order takes place five years after the events of Revenge of the Sith, the book Battle Scars is somewhat more ambiguously wedged between that game and its forthcoming sequel Jedi: Survivor. The front cover of the book specifies the story occurs “in the years before” Survivor, set 10 years after ROTS.
As the opening of Battle Scars unfolds, the author paints the crew of the Stinger Mantis as a strong band of rebels who have grown comfortable in their routines. Though they strike the enemy where it hurts and vow to do what they can to protect the galaxy, their risks are calculated. They have an end goal, but their exact paths to achieving it remain unclear.
Star Wars books don’t often supplement video game franchises, but Fallen Order’s characters needed a space to evolve further before Survivor‘s release in April. A book full of beloved characters many fans are already at least somewhat familiar with could have felt like an advertisement for another yet-to-be-released story. It could have read like a book that tried too hard to be a game. It could have produced two-dimensional characters that couldn’t level up outside of a game that hasn’t been released yet.
But Random House Worlds (previously Del Rey Books) chose the perfect person for the job. Thus, none of the above proved accurate, and even the highest expectations going into the story weren’t high enough.
Sam Maggs Draws From All Her Writing Experience
The author didn’t enter this arena solely with an affinity for these characters and story – though that certainly helps bring the book’s events to life. Maggs also comes from the video game development world, working full-time as a professional writer in the industry.
This is why reading Battle Scars feels like sitting on the couch watching someone else play a video game–except it’s way more fun than that. The action, the dialogue, and the environment wash over the senses in increasing intensity page by page, though the reader doesn’t have to navigate the perils of making sure they hit the controller buttons in the correct order to avoid virtual death a dozen times over.
Even though the book feels like a video game at many points throughout, it’s also able to achieve something a game cannot. In its quieter moments, the book is able to dive deep inside different characters’ heads, showing the story’s events from varying perspectives and how each individual feels the weight and impact of each moment.
Fallen Order tells a great story – but it’s still a game that shows its storytelling limitations like any other. Maggs saw an opportunity to take what the previous story left to be desired and use it to her advantage. Greez’s life-altering pivotal moment in Battle Scars especially plays to Maggs’ strengths as a storyteller. A game might show a soft side of this rough character when warranted, but can’t let it linger. A book can show Greeze grieving and let the consequences of that emotion stick around.
Read Battle Scars – Even If You’ve Never Played a Star Wars Video Game
Not everyone is a gamer – and it would be both unfair and unwise for a book publisher to expect its audience to know every detail of a game like Fallen Order before picking up one of its products. Battle Scars had no choice but to lay out the most important story details readers needed to know or had forgotten since their last game playthrough.
Thankfully, Maggs is a skilled storyteller. The moments she’s reminding or informing readers what happened in Fallen Order are quick, seamless, and impactful. Every time Cal or Merrin remembers a moment from the game, it simultaneously puts that detail at the front of the reader’s mind and provides a foundation to further develop the character in question.
Cal isn’t just reminiscing on his last run-in with an Inquisitor to bring the audience up to speed; he’s also still mentally struggling to prepare for future encounters, an important aspect of his character. Merrin isn’t simply telling the reader she’s having a hard time using her magic; that hurdle will stick with her throughout the book and is vital to her growth by the end of it.
If you’ve played Fallen Order, you might recognize and appreciate the small details Maggs includes in her prose honoring the game from which she’s building her story. But the book refrains from punishing the reader who doesn’t want to experience the game firsthand. Exposition can be difficult to execute skillfully, especially in Star Wars. Maggs, however, is an expert.
Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars is a book that brilliantly balances its action-adventure label with its attention to emotional detail. It’s fast and fun when it needs to be, but it also takes extra care in its slower, more delicate moments to prioritize its emphasis on grief, trauma, and the many consequences of sacrifice.
It embodies everything that makes a Star Wars story authentic. It pilots the reader through disheartening moments but sends them off with a small sense of hope. It broadcasts the dangers of greed while also illuminating the surefire power of friendship.
But Battle Scars also stands out in its effort to embed survival in its motif of sacrifice, in the way it shows that forging one’s own path doesn’t always require walking away from the people that make you feel meaningful. The book does not shy away from its true agenda: To ensure its characters reflect both the good and sinister sides of humanity. No one is perfect. No one consistently does the right th ing or does something for the right reasons. Everyone hurts. Anyone can end up on the wrong side of a war.
But in the end, it’s the trust one has in themselves that heals even the deepest wounds.
Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars hits the shelves on Tuesday, March 7.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.