REVIEW: Jedi Academy #2: Return of the Padawan
Jedi Academy #2: Return of the Padawan
By Jeffrey Brown
Scholastic, 176 Pages, $12.99
Jeffrey Brown is an incredibly entertaining storyteller and I fell in love with his Darth Vader and Son when I it was pointed out to me in a museum gift shop. Apparently, Scholastic and Lucasfilm love him, too, because they have recruited him to challenge The Diary of a Wimpy Kid with Jedi Academy a series of book presuming the trials and tribulations of middle school is the same in a galaxy far, far away.
Undiscerning young readers (this is aimed at readers 8-12) fell in love with the first volume and this month we see the release of the second installment. The main character is underdog Roan Novachez, who wants to be a pilot but his natural talent with The Force led him to be diverted to the Jedi Academy, taught by no less than Yoda himself.
While certain universal truths are here: unrequited crushes, rivals, bullies, challenging teachers, and mystery meat for lunch, the book is too thinly disguised. As a result, we have the equivalent of Facebook, Parent/Teacher conferences and genuine soccer. Everyone involved seems to have forgotten Star Wars is basically a space fantasy set nowhere near Earth and deal with archetypes not inside jokes.
The sheer joyful humor found in his single panel gags is absent here as Roan goes from mishap to mishap. Apparently, Yoda and his teachers know the reality of each incident but he is never vindicated in the eyes of his peers. As a result, the special quality that got him recruited to the Academy is absent. There are plenty of teaching moments throughout the story, which is mostly about his second year and attempting to master the flying simulator. The pressure of following in his father’s pilot footsteps is pretty much gone in this sequel so it has more to do with staying out of trouble.
Brown’s art style is appealing and the black and white page designs are nicely varied, switching from sequential panels to narrative. However, it also feels like he was handed a checklist of familiar visual elements to include to remind one and all this was really a Star Wars story. Wookiee? Check. Hoth? Check. And so on.
What could have been a refreshing, enchanting story set in a well-known universe is merely a watered down Wimpy Kid knockoff. It is hard to say how much of this is Brown’s limitations from Scholastic and/or Lucasfilm or his own shortcomings. But, as long as these sell, we will no doubt follow Roan through the remainder of middle school until he how somehow saves the universe.