Audiobook Review: Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In
Series: Star Wars Canon
Publisher: Random House Audio (April 16, 2019)
Length:11 hrs and 42 mins
Narrator: Jonathan Davis
I have been most impressed with Claudia Gray’s books in the new Star Wars canon, and I have to say, she has yet to disappoint me. Now she’s at the top of her game once again with Star Wars: Master & Apprentice, a novel set a handful of years before the events of The Phantom Menace which shines the light on 17-year-old padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi and his complicated relationship with his mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn.
When the book begins, the two Jedi have already been working together for several years, though deep down, both suspect that their current arrangement may be soon coming to an end. They are simply too different in their views of the Force, with Qui-Gon with his unconventional thinking and sometimes flagrant disregard for the Jedi Council’s advice while Obi-Wan is more of a stickler for the rules. These differences have created a tension between master and apprentice that both know can’t go on for much longer.
So when Qui-Gon is unexpected offered a seat on the Council to replace a retiring member, a part of him believes that the change may be for the best. No one would expect him to turn down such a prestigious position, and consequently, Obi-Wan can be transferred to a different master out of necessity. But before the older Jedi can make such a momentous decision, he knows he must meditate upon it, and in the meantime, he and his apprentice are dispatched to the planet of Pijal where an old acquaintance of Qui-Gon’s has requested their assistance in defusing a political situation between the royal house and their opposition.
This contact is Rael Averross, a rogue Jedi who was also a former student of Dooku, like Qui-Gon Jinn. Averross is currently serving as lord regent to Pijal’s princess, her Serene Highness Fanry, who is only fourteen years old and is heir to a throne fraught with a history of political tension. Her planet is now in a position to affect the economic futures of other worlds in the region, and a corporation called Czerka also has stakes in the new hyperspace lane venture that is being discussed. When terrorists threaten to place that all in danger, Averross decides to call upon his old friend Qui-Gon despite the two of them having drifted apart over the years, because he knows Pijal is going to need all the help it can get. The urgency of the situation also leads the Jedi to enlist the aid of a couple of jewel thieves named Rahara, an escaped slave from Czerka, and Pax, a social outcast raised by a crew of protocol droids aboard an abandoned ship. Despite their differences, our motley crew of characters must work together to protect Fanry and safeguard Pijal’s interests. Meanwhile, Qui-Gon also needs to figure out what to do with his apprentice, as well as sort out his doubts with regards to his beliefs in ancient Jedi prophecies.
For a media tie-in novel, Master & Apprentice is surprisingly complex and layered. There’s certainly a lot to unpack here, compared to some of the more recent releases in the Star Wars canon. However, the central theme of the book is undeniably the relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Gray explores this dynamic using a number of ways, including flashing back to Dooku and Qui-Gon’s time as master and apprentice to show how an individual Jedi’s views can be shaped by their style of training and instruction. It is perhaps no coincidence that both of Dooku’s students, Qui-Gon and Rael Averross, have ended up with rebellious natures, given the kind of person their teacher was and the Dark Side path he chose.
But back to the relationships between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan: in the late 90s, I started reading a series of now-Legends middle grade novels called Jedi Apprentice, the first book of which was called The Rising Force and told the story of how they became master and apprentice. As this series was marketed for children, I didn’t demand too much from it, though I do recall wishing it had been a deeper exploration of the two characters’ personalities and bond as it went along. Twenty years later, it’s like Claudia Gray has finally written the kind of story I wanted. Qui-Gon’s fear of failing his apprentice is written incredibly well, and likewise so is Obi-Wan’s struggle to understand his master and his determination not to disappoint him. It was heartbreaking to read about their anxieties, knowing that deep down, they both loved and respected each other very much.
And of course, another one of the novel’s major topics is prophecy. I mean, considering how the Jedi prophecy of the “Chosen One” was the main impetus behind Anakin Skywalker and the whole Star Wars saga, this is huge—and accordingly, Gray gives this theme the gravitas and weight it deserves. Qui-Gon’s views on prophecies, which also explained his motivations in The Phantom Menace, were addressed here in Master & Apprentice, and also sets up a number of theories for Star Wars fans to chew on with regards to the new movies.
Typical of the author’s Star Wars novels, the characterization was also done extremely well. There’s a clear emphasis on developing relationships, and there are a whole web of them here to consider. The story takes a look at both past and present, examining the relationships of multiple sets of masters and apprentices, as well as the role the Jedi Council has played in those dynamics. In addition, we have the side characters and their relationships to each other and the protagonists. Following in the footsteps of a long line of rogue Jedi in Star Wars fiction, Rael Averross’ infectious personality and emotional openness completely stole the show for me. Rahara and Pax were also a joy to read about, and their personal stories offer some commentary on darker activities that still go on in the Republic, including smuggling and slavery. And then there are the shadowy villains and other dubious organizations like Czerka and or the Opposition on Pijal, though Gray is so subtle and clever with her writing that there will be twists and surprises you won’t see coming.
Needless to say, in my eyes, Master & Apprentice is one of the new canon’s better books. Personally, I also think it’s one of Claudia Gray’s bolder Star Wars novels, where she tackles more mature themes and uses some modern vernacular and risqué language which felt a little out of place at times (keep in mind I’m talking by Star Wars standards here, and I know some people let their younger kids read Star Wars tie-ins, so reader discretion is advised). To sum things up though, I had a great time with this novel, and after reading it, I also think it would be fantastic to see more prequel or pre-prequel era Star Wars books in the future.
Audiobook Comments: I absolutely adored Jonathan Davis’ performance on the Star Wars: Master & Apprentice audiobook. He’s always been known to me as “that Star Wars narrator who can do an amazing Darth Vader voice”, but obviously he’s incredibly talented and can do a lot more than that. Short of getting Liam Neeson himself to read this book, I don’t think you could have gotten a better voice actor for Qui-Gon Jinn. Stellar performance, as always.