It's been more than three years since Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order's trainee Force wielder Cal Kestis and his swashbuckling buddies survived an encounter with the Sith, so the details of that video game adventure may have faded with time. With sequel Jedi: Survivor coming to PS5, Xbox Series X|S and PC in April, you might be pondering a replay of the 2019 original.
You could also check out author Sam Maggs' tie-in novel Jedi: Battle Scars, which comes out March 7 and takes place in the five-year period between the two games. The writer effortlessly reacquaints us with Cal and the rest of the Stinger Mantis crew, taking us on an intense adventure that captures the danger of living on the run from the Galactic Empire and waging a seemingly hopeless rebel campaign in the era between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.
This story follows the crew after they encounter a defecting Imperial who says she can lead them to fancy cloaking technology that would give them a major advantage over the totalitarian regime. However, following this lead represents a major risk since it's unclear if the defector is trustworthy and her mission will bring them directly into the path of a Jedi-hunting Imperial Inquisitor.
The sense of mistrust is among the tale's most engaging elements, since Maggs infuses our heroes with convincing internal conflict and reminds us of their past traumas. Each character has a distinct voice that comes to the forefront when we jump to their point of view, giving each character new dimension beyond what we saw in the game.
As the main hero of the games, Cal will be the most familiar personality to fans. This novel dives into his doubts and fears more than the game could, and exploring his unexpressed thoughts proves fascinating. Maggs nicely captures his mixture of irreverence and seriousness, along with his uncertain dynamic with his master Cere Junda. Cere herself has an intriguing arc but remains aloof for much of the tale.
Merrin, a Nightsister who joined the crew in Fallen Order, adds another wrinkle by becoming emotionally entangled with their new ally. She presents a severe exterior, but this novel places her at the center of its story and reveals a rich inner life.
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Since her Force abilities are derived from the Dark Side, this should put her at odds with the Light Side-wielding Cal. Maggs touches on this only briefly; it's disappointing that we don't dive into this dichotomy more deeply.
Offering a break from all the intensity is four-armed alien pilot Greez Dritus, whose wise-cracking tone Maggs clearly enjoys writing. You're in for a treat whenever the story jumps to his perspective, since he's so clearly exhausted with his crewmates' idealism and willingness to rush into danger.
Greez openly mistrusts the defector, making him the most pragmatic and relatable of the crew (mirroring the movies' Han Solo). He's still on board with his friends when it counts though, and his comic relief status feeds into the drama wonderfully in the novel's latter stages.
The action sequences mirror the game in a deeply satisfying way, right down to Cal's supercute droid buddy BD-1 flinging him healing stims in the longer battle sequences. However, both Cal and Merrin feel invincible as they mow down squads of stormtroopers and bounty hunter goons -- there's little sense of peril and these scenes can drag on a little. The danger comes only when they run into more intense foes, since we don't know if everyone in this novel will make it to the video game sequel.
Some of the environments our heroes explore are a little dull as well; the bases and prisons lack much color. In contrast, Maggs' descriptions of the Stinger Mantis make the ship feel incredibly homey and familiar (especially if you've played the game). We also get to see city planet Hosnian Prime long before its destruction in The Force Awakens.
Jedi: Battle Scars sends Cal and his buddies on a tense adventure and infuses them with new depth. It doesn't dive into every intriguing narrative possibility as much as it could, but it offers a way to reintroduce yourself to these rebels as Jedi: Survivor draws near.