Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars Review – Finding Love Amongst the Scars
Title: Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars
Author: Sam Maggs
Release Date: 3/7/23
Publisher: Random House Worlds
Battle Scars is impossible to discuss without spoiling every major plot twist from Jedi: Fallen Order. You have been warned.
Respawn Entertainment’s Jedi: Fallen Order is, thus far, the only product of the EA/Disney Star Wars partnership to be mainly focused on a single-player narrative experience. Telling the story of Cal Kestis, a Jedi Padawan who escaped his former clone allies during Order 66 and went into hiding, it revitalized the Star Wars IP’s video game branch to the tune of twelve million copies sold, so obviously, a sequel was inevitable.
But when Jedi: Survivor was revealed, with a much older Cal all over the promotional material, it was clear that time had passed since the last time we saw the Mantis crew. The team was still together but much more seasoned – and weathered- than before.
While it, of course, doesn’t cover everything that happened, Jedi: Battle Scars, from author Sam Maggs, serves as a check-in for this crew before their next huge adventure and a look into their most noteworthy journey between the two games. To quickly summarize how we last saw the group: after the last of the Dathomirian Nightsisters, Merrin, was convinced to leave her dead homeworld and join the fight against the Empire, the team infiltrated the Fortress Inquisitorius.
The Holocron they had been searching for since near the beginning of Cal’s quest, containing a list of Force-sensitive children, had been taken by the Second Sister, a powerful Inquisitor who had previously been Jedi Master Cere’s Padawan named Trilla.
The group managed to recover the Holocron, but Cal was forced into lethal combat with Trilla and rescued by Cere, who was nearly able to reconnect with her former student before Darth Vader appeared and murdered the Inquisitor. Cere told Cal to return to the ship without her and tapped into the seductive power of the dark side of the Force to survive the fight against Vader.
Cere managed to make it back to the ship but had lost some of her faith in herself in the process, and the group realized that the Holocron would continue to be a target for the Empire. If the Sith could find a list of Force-sensitive individuals, they would either scour the Galaxy to slaughter them, or worse, recruit them to their cause and reinforce the power of the Empire. So they destroyed the Holocron and, with it, any real hope they had of re-establishing the Jedi Order.
Battle Scars picks up several years later. The team is still intact, and many details from Fallen Order are lovingly referenced in its establishing moments. The plants that Cal helped Greez find and the bogling the ship picked up if you came across it are still here, Cal still sleeps in the engine room with his workbench, and all in all, not much has changed. We pick up in medias res as the Mantis crew are being pursued by bounty hunters, and after Cal and Merrin take out a cantina full of hunters and stormtroopers (demonstrating the teamwork they’ve honed in the years since they met), Merrin meets a stormtrooper during her escape that begs the Nightsister to take her with them.
This stormtrooper introduces herself as Fret, an Imperial defector in the making, who has heard the stories of the legendary Mantis and its efforts to take on the Empire. While we don’t get Fret’s point of view in the book (which switches back and forth between the main members of the crew, mostly Cal and Merrin), we do get Merrin’s, whose reaction sets the tone for the rest of the book. Merrin immediately and strongly develops a belligerent sexual tension with Fret that quickly becomes resolved and becomes romantic infatuation as the two interact more.
Merrin and Fret’s whirlwind romance is one of the significant throughlines of Battle Scars, and while I have issues with some elements of their relationship (put a pin in that), their chemistry and physical interaction are entirely believable. Author Maggs is openly a lesbian who has committed herself to improving queer representation in anything she writes, and Merrin’s bisexuality comes across as completely natural in her capable hands.
We only get a few descriptions of other sexual interests Merrin has taken in the few years since Fallen Order. Still, the been-there-done-that vibe with which her sexuality is handled is commendable and precisely what I want to see out of this kind of representation. Nobody treats her queerness as notable, which makes a lot of sense in the current Star Wars book-verse where qualms about sexuality are basically nowhere to be seen. Star Wars has been gay for years, and I’m hopeful that that translates onto the screen in Survivor now that we have the chance to see it here.
The other major part of the story kicks in when Merrin and Fret escape onto the ship, with four-armed Latero pilot Greez immediately becoming hostile toward the woman in the stormtrooper outfit. As Fret explains her purpose, it becomes pretty clear that no two members of the Mantis crew are truly on the same page as each other regarding what their goals are as a team, and they’ve made a concerted effort not to talk about it, lest their peaceful found-family atmosphere be shattered.
Merrin is starting to become more violent as her desire to avenge her planet can’t be satisfied (a paradox she is well aware of), Cere has moved on from wanting to restore the Order to wanting to preserve its legacy, Greez is following Cere because he feels indebted to her, and Cal still wants to bring down the Empire (which he’s also aware he can’t currently do). While they clearly love each other as a team and family, the growing resentment in the air is evident both to them and the reader.
This theme of proper communication weaves its way through the whole book, as teammates lash out at each other during plot twists or test each other’s emotional boundaries during more quiet moments. Everyone on the team is very aware that Fret is not all that she seems. Yet, their totally different suggestions for handling it cause them to clash multiple times, testing the limits of this seemingly-disparate group.
Cal may be the de facto leader, but he can’t wrangle everyone’s emotions when he’s learning how to handle his own feelings. It’s a very effective, Guardians of the Galaxy-esque group dynamic that makes Greez and Cere especially more effective characters than they were in Fallen Order, where both largely took a backseat to the action until it was narratively convenient for them to appear.
A few elements drag the book back down a bit, though, the first of which is, unfortunately, Merrin and Fret’s relationship. The two of them spend a few heated days together in Merrin’s room while the ship is in hyperspace. While it is somewhat understandable for Merrin to interpret this as the beginning of a committed partnership due to her lack of experience, it comes across as a bit strange for Fret to also be taking things equally seriously.
They’ve known each other for very little time, and Merrin spends all of it very aware that Fret is deceiving her somehow, but her dead-serious internal monologue can come across as a bit juvenile. Nevertheless, Merrin gets a wonderful character arc where she re-ignites her passion and starts to get her dark-sided magick back, though it does come at the expense of her being obsessed with Fret the whole time the reader is in her head.
The other, more minor issue is that only one thing in Battle Scars happens that will definitely be relevant in Survivor. I don’t want to use the term “filler” because we haven’t seen much of these characters, and it really does flesh them all out a lot more than Fallen Order did. However, the status quo is mostly restored by the end of the book. It’s nice to see the family back together and much stronger than they started, yet with the weight that Respawn Entertainment seems to be placing on this book, I was hoping for a more dramatic change to reward readers.
This is by no means a scathing indictment, though. Jedi: Battle Scars is yet another great tie-in book to the modern SW-game-verse (in which I also heavily recommend Alexander Freed’s Twilight Company, the novel released alongside Battlefront (2015)) and, while it may be inessential to the overall plot of Survivor, it is absolutely crucial in better understanding the game’s cast. It gives the Mantis crew exactly the depth I thought they were lacking in Fallen Order, and if I wasn’t excited for Survivor before finishing it, I sure as sand am now.
Check out our preview for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and our latest coverage.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor will launch for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and PC on April 28, 2023.
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