It’s ages since we’ve had a compelling story set during the Prequel Trilogy. As Disney and Lucasfilm have focused on the Sequels and nostalgia for the Original Trilogy, it’s sometimes felt like the Prequels had been left by the wayside. Claudia Gray’s Master & Apprentice captures much of what made me fall in love with this era of Star Wars saga 20 years ago this month (hint: it’s not the acting). Gray is easily the strongest writers currently working in the Star Wars canon. She manages to imbue Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi with a depth only hinted at in The Phantom Menace.
*** Mild Spoilers below ***
As the title suggests, Master & Apprentice is a story about the relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. The story takes place shortly after Obi-Wan becomes Qui-Gon’s padawan, and their relationship is… awkward. The two have very different personalities and have difficulty working together on missions. In fact, Obi-Wan suspects that Master Yoda assigned him to the rebellious Jedi master so that Obi-Wan’s instinct to rebel against authority would lead him to conformity with the Jedi Code. This is an interesting insight into Obi-Wan: his identity was formed in part by reacting against Qui-Gon. I appreciate that the story doesn’t end with either Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan changing who they are to fit the other. Instead, they learn to accept and even appreciate the idiosyncrasies of the other.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan go to the planet Pijal to oversee a political transition. The Pijal government plans to implement political reforms to democratize the political system, but the government signed an agreement with the Czerka Corporation permitting the use of slavery. As in TPM, the Jedi Council refuses to act. As Qui-Gon learns more about the political situation, he’s forced to decide how much to intervene to correct local injustices. The book positions Count Dooku and Rael Averross, the Jedi regent of Pijal, as counterpoints to Qui-Gon. Dooku represents the risk of a Jedi abandoning the political system and seeking change from the outside. Averross represents the risk of being so enmeshed in a political system that you stop seeing the injustice around you. Needless to say, Qui-Gon ultimately finds a resolution by following the will of the Force. This type of political intrigue and moral ambiguity help make the Prequels feel relevant even 20 years after the release of TPM.
I also appreciate that the book picks up the issue of slavery in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Although slavery was mentioned in the Original Trilogy, TPM brought it to the center of the narrative with Anakin Skywalker’s origin story on Tatooine. Anakin’s promise to return to Tatooine to free the slaves seemed to foreshadow future developments, and I’ve always been disappointed that the later Prequel movies never continued that plot thread. Master & Apprentice at least provides more context for Qui-Gon’s decision to try to win Anakin’s freedom.
I had one small issue with the book. Near the beginning, Qui-Gon is offered a seat on the Jedi Council. Obviously, he ultimately rejects the offer because he isn’t on the Council in TPM. Even so, I was never convinced the Council would promote a Jedi as rebellious as Qui-Gon. This also seems to contradict The Phantom Menace, particularly the line when Obi-Wan Kenobi says, “Master, you could be sitting on the Council by now if you would just follow the code.” This setup does provide some interesting character conflict between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, so I was willing to go along with it for the purposes of the book.
I definitely recommend Master & Apprentice to fans of the Prequel era. This book is a good example of why I hope Lucasfilm doesn’t forget about the Prequels as it moves into other eras of Star Wars. I would love to see more adventures set at the twilight of the Republic.