Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #63: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

I don't want to claim that every idea will be exploited until it dies of overexposure -- there clearly are creators who can resist the siren song of money and end projects that they're passionate about -- but when a corporation owns something, you can be sure there will be more of that thing as long as the corporation can find any people to buy it. And those line extensions can get pretty odd and baroque as time goes on and the corporation either loosens up or gets more desperate.

But that does mean that, along the way, you can get some neat, interesting work, and that's a nice bonus to the endless flow of customer-fulfilling product.

Star Wars is a giant money-making machine more than a story -- it's been that since at least 1990, when the "Extended Universe" really kicked into high gear, though you could make a case for the point when the '70s toy line started to feature background characters, if you were so inclined -- but that means that it doesn't have to be coherent anymore. There can be the regular Star Wars things -- the movies and the more obvious novels and comics based on them -- and then the weird sidebar projects swooping around the edges of that, heading off into stranger territory.

Jeffrey Brown is the latest creator to find an unlikely home in Star Wars: he almost did a Google Doodle four years ago, which, in a strangely inevitable fashion, led to his gift book Vader and Son, a collection of single-panel gags about our favorite Darth and his travails parenting an energetic young Luke. (Yes, totally out of canon. That's the point.) It was a success, so a year later came Vader's Little Princess, the same thing done in drag.

And now, since people are still excited about the fusion of Brown's indy-comics sensibility and the shards of a big space opera universe, he's back with a full-length graphic novel set in the Star Wars universe: Jedi Academy, which could just possibly be in continuity but is more fun if it isn't. Tattooine youth Roan Novachez just wants to go to Pilot Academy for middle school, just like his older brother Davin. But he's rejected, and is just resigning himself to the horrors of Tattooine Agricultural Academy when he gets a letter from Principal Mar inviting him to enroll at Jedi Academy on Coruscant.

Of course he does, and of course post-Wimpy Kid hijinks ensue, with the friendly kids, the mean kids, grumpy and strange teachers, Roan's very author-insert love for drawing and cartoons, and his required incompetence at all things Force-related until the big moment at the end. And so his first year at Jedi Academy is eventful and amusing, and the reader wonders if Roan will be back for a second year. (I can't find any solid plans to that effect, but I have to assume that Lucasfilm's new Disney overlords won't leave any money on the table if they can possibly avoid it.)

Jedi Academy is product, and even more obviously product than Brown's first two Star Wars books. But it's also more deeply a Jeffrey Brown book, about the life and foibles and worries of an everyman, so it's paradoxically more personal at the same time. A lot of kids will love this book, and that's no bad thing, either. But don't be surprised when Star Wars next develops a Dork Diaries, or a planet of cute ponies, or something else to draw in the next adjacent audience.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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