New Jedi Order: an Overview
By: Meg Humphrey
I recently finished my first read through of the New Jedi Order. New Jedi Order is a nineteen book long series within the Star Wars Legends Universe (formerly known as the Expanded Universe) that takes place between twenty-five and twenty-nine years after the Battle of Yavin. I had read the first book, Vector Prime, when it had come out in 1999, but a certain event in the book was so upsetting to my twelve year old self that I refused to read any more of them. After picking them up fifteen years later, some parts still upset me, but there are great laughs, beautiful moments, and exciting battles in the long series.
New Jedi Order revolves around the invasion of the Yuuzhan Vong – a race of religious beings that are from outside the known galaxy who believe that conquering this new one is literally their god given right. The New Republic must battle back against their merciless army, but their greatest asset – the Jedi – are unable to feel the Yuuzhan Vong through the Force, which leaves them baffled at their course of action. It features the usual suspects: the Skywalker-Solo clan and many of the heroes, allies, smugglers, aliens, and enemies that we’ve met throughout the length of the Legends Universe. The books do a fairly good job of filling in relevant minor details so you don’t have to be well versed in previous Legends works, but some of the details will probably make more sense if you are.
This is a pretty spoiler free discussion about what makes the New Jedi Order, for better or for worse, stand out. If you haven’t read the series yet and were planning to, feel free to read ahead without worry!
New Jedi Order is by far the longest series in the Legends Universe, comprising of nineteen books and twelve authors. For me, this was a positive and negative experience. The length of the series means that many characters are fleshed out and given arcs of their own. The Yuuzhan Vong were a fully developed race with several main antagonists to follow who all had different approaches and reasons for their actions. Younger members of the Jedi Order, like Ganner Rhysode and Saba Sebatyne, started out as brief roles, but became increasingly important over the course of the series. It was more often that characters would grow and change rather than be one note stereotypes and the series felt more real because of it. The big downside, though, was that I just didn’t like the way some authors wrote. For example, the Force Heretic trilogy was difficult to get through. The authors, Shane Dix and Sean Williams, did not break up the books by chapters and in general their writing ended up feeling contrived and long winded for the sake of sounding smart. Plus, with so many authors, it’s clear that some will be better at particular things than others. Kathy Tyers and Aaron Allston are favorites when it comes to space battles so after reading works by them, others can seem mundane. It can also difficult to keep character personalities steadfast through author changes. One book would have Luke as soft, ineffectual, and weak, but in the next he would be confident and powerful. Some of it can be attributed to the storyline, but overall some authors’ representations of well established characters don’t always flow smoothly or hold up to what the reader would expect.
The Yuuzhan Vong are one of the most interesting antagonists in Star Wars. The challenges the Skywalker-Solos have had to face in the past were on a basically level playing field; despite minor surprises, everyone knew the rules and could expect certain things from the other side. The Yuuzhan Vong are playing a completely different game with their own rules in a different language. They push the Jedi to their limits like no enemy has before. They come from outside the known galaxy, a feat that everyone believed was impossible. They despise technology and see it as an affront to their Gods and believe anyone who uses technology is equally an abomination. Everything they have is made out of living organisms that have been carefully bioengineered and trained – this includes things like starships, clothing, tools, and weapons. They come into “our” galaxy believing it is their divine purpose to take over, cleanse it of heretics (basically everyone), and establish a second version of their glorious homeworld, Yuuzhan’tar. They’re zealots and extremists and few things are scarier than unshakeable believers who will do anything and everything for their cause. Their devotion to pain, their system of honor in death, and their highly developed skills and ingenuity makes them tough adversaries for the Jedi. The Yuuzhan Vong are not a people who understand compromise, so how do the Jedi find a peaceful solution or, at the very least, a way of dealing with the Yuuzhan Vong that doesn’t involve giving in to hate, anger, and aggression?
It’s inarguable that New Jedi Order is a darker and more adult series than Star Wars has experienced before (this can be good or bad depending on your tastes). The Jedi must reexamine their understanding and knowledge of the Force and what it means to be a Jedi. Who do they owe their service to? Under what circumstances is aggression allowed? Is there truly a Dark Side? If the Force exists in all things, why is it not in the Yuuzhan Vong? With so many Jedi, it’s not surprising to see a rift form between members of the order. Everyone is looking to Luke for guidance, but no matter what course he chooses, there will always be a section that disagrees. Some Jedi have military history and mindsets, others are devoted to strict non-aggression. Some Jedi are too prideful or easily lose control of their emotions. The war continuously drives them into complicated and messy scenarios. It brings out the best and worst in everyone, no matter their expertise in the Force.
Tackling New Jedi Order isn’t for every Star Wars fan. It’s long, the author changes can make whole years of storyline uninteresting, and its tone is much heavier than previous Star Wars novels. I finished the series in less than six months and am currently taking a break from any Star Wars reading because I felt emotionally drained at the end. The series is littered with inspiring, entertaining, and thoughtful moments, but it can be a chore to find them. If you’re on the fence about reading them, I would say give them a chance through Balance Point by Kathy Tyers. If you’re still not sold by then, feel free to spend your time reading books you enjoy more! Besides, they’re not canon anymore anyway.