Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars Has The Feel Of A Video Game

Spoilers for "Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars" by Sam Maggs follow.

The last video game tie-in "Star Wars" gave us was the inherently readable "Star Wars: Battlefront II: Inferno Squad," so I was excited to get my hands on the latest, "Star Warrs Jedi: Battle Scars." It promises to lead into the game "Star Wars Jedi: Survivor," which comes out in late April of this year.

The sequel/prequel book picks up a few years after the events of the imminently playable "Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order," and follows the crew of the Mantis Cal Kestis, Cere, Dreez, and Merrin — as they continue to bring the fight to the Empire. After a botched mission, they pick up a Stormtrooper trying to defect away from the Empire with a terrible secret. There's a secret technology called the Shroud that has the ability to make someone virtually invisible to their enemies. If it were to fall into the hands of the Empire, the consequences would be disastrous, but for the nascent Rebellion, it could be the boon they need. Unfortunately, the Inquisitors, led by the Fifth Brother, are sent to collect the data as well.

This puts the crew of the Mantis and the Inquisitors barreling toward each other for an explosive confrontation.

Merrin's relationship

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is the relationship between Merrin, the Nightsister of Dathomir who joined the Mantis crew during the events of the first game, and Fret, the mysterious new Stormtrooper character. The two of them have an instant chemistry that is undeniable and a pleasure to wade through, giving us the steamiest romance "Star Wars" has had on the page — maybe ever. The two women seem inexplicably drawn to each other and the initial phases of their relationship drive the early book the jealousy and distrust that stems between the two of them later in the novel forces the reader to flip pages faster and faster, hoping that things will turn out well.

There's an element of "Casablanca" to their relationship, too, and it makes the story pulse with life. Merrin falls for Fret completely, but her ex-lover comes onto the scene with all the force of Ilsa Lund arriving into Rick's cafe, tearing something up inside her. It's really terrific to read it as it unfolds and if there's one element you need to read the book for, it's this. But that's not the only reason you'll want to pick this up.

The feel of the game

For better and for worse, the book feels very much like playing the video game it's based on. I could very much feel like I was playing the battles, especially when we were in Cal Kestis's point of view. It's obvious Sam Maggs did her homework and understands the mechanics of the game thoroughly. It has the pace of the game, too, mirroring the structure of its story where you fight, reassemble on the ship, have a cut scene where the crew talks about what's going on over the holotable, and choose their next destination.

It's quite thrilling, actually. Unfortunately, some of those touchstones in the game don't actually feel like they work narratively. It's no fault of Sam Maggs or anyone else, it's just the way a game like this translates. Most specifically and glaringly, it's Cal's use of the stim-injections. In the game, having BD-1 toss him vials of stims makes sense to give gamers the ability to heal themselves during the course of a battle. In the narrative of the book, it seems more like Cal Kestis is some sort of drug addict, snapping his fingers to get drugs from his droid every time he gets tired.

It was one aspect of the game they probably could have left out and no one would have noticed. Having said that, it's still faithful to all the other aspects.

Details to watch out for

Sam Maggs seems to be a fan of really obscure details and alien species from the "Star Wars" universe. For one, the defecting Stormtrooper, Fret, is a Keshiri, which first appeared in John Jackson Miller's "Lost Tribe of the Sith" stories. They were pink or purple near-humans and considered incredibly attractive to humans. Or, in this case, Dathomiris. The other major new character in the book was identified as a bird-like Omwati. Fans of the old expanded universe will recognize them from Kevin J. Anderson's work and the character Qwi Xux, who used to be Wedge Antilles' girlfriend. Chuck Wendig canonized them in passing in the new canon, but Maggs gives them the spotlight in this book.

The prison where the data is being held is Murkhana, which was a prison James Luceno created for the book "Tarkin."

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that we are able to finally get some more details about The Fifth Brother and his pivot to the dark side and the Inquisitorius. He first appeared in "Star Wars Rebels" and made the jump to the "Obi-Wan Kenobi" TV show. This book reveals that he's from the planet Artemesium and was taken from his family there by the Jedi at an early age. He watched the Jedi collude with the senate as the senate voted to strip Artemsium for resources, causing the start of his disillusion with the Jedi.

The final accounting

More than anything, this book is a fun ride. It has a brisk pace that feels very much like the video game that inspired it, and that's not a bad thing at all. Having played the game so much, and knowing the voices of the characters, it's apparent that Maggs has played a lot because she captured their voices magnificently.

I also wonder how much of this book is predicated on gameplay we'll get to see in the next game. Getting into Merrin's head and seeing her abilities from her perspective makes me hope we'll get to play some levels from her perspective as well. And it certainly bridges some explanations of why we're seeing some characters in different states. Greez in particular goes through some physical transformations in this book that explain his new look in the game and it's worth reading for that.

If you were a fan of the video game, this book is going to hit all the right cylinders for you. If you skipped the games, there's nothing vital to the canon or the overarching story of "Star Wars" that you're going to miss by not reading the book. You will, however, miss what is just a really great yarn. Maggs is a strong writer and the story is incredibly compelling. Read it. If you like it, give the game a try. It's terrific, too.

"Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars" is available now wherever you buy books.