Bridging the gap between Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and April’s upcoming Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars by Sam Maggs follows the crew of the Mantis as they rebel against the Empire and try and find their new purpose several years after their narrow escape from Darth Vader and the Fortress Inquisitorius.
Aptly named, Jedi: Battle Scars is at its core an exploration of the traumas that have brought together the rag-tag group of Jedi, Nightsisters, droids, and four-armed monkey pilots on the Mantis. It’s a story of this found family, and how their experiences have shaped them and brought them together, allowing them all a chance to heal while also contrasting just what healing looks like to each of them. With their old mission complete, each character finally has the breathing room to ask themselves what’s next, who they’re still fighting, and why. Or if they even should.
While Cal and his experiences with Order 66 were a main focus of Jedi: Fallen Order, our experiences with him were largely from the outside, through his relationships and interactions with others. Jedi: Battle Scars provides a great opportunity to get inside Cal’s head and see how he is processing those events so many years on. It also provides a great insight into Cal’s relationship with the rest of the Mantis crew and his feelings towards each, all while he struggles to balance his love for his new family with the Jedi rules against attachment. It’s a rule many Jedi have found themselves having conflicted feelings against, and this reckoning was a real highlight of The High Republic Phase 1 for me, but Jedi: Battle Scars still approaches it in a unique and interesting way with Cal.
Cal Kestis is obviously the Mantis crew member we’re all most familiar with, but fans of the game will be delighted to know the book branches between viewpoints for Cere, Greez, and Merrin as well. Maggs has a great grasp on the voices of these characters, and Jedi: Battle Scars does a brilliant job of diving even deeper into them. As with Cal, it’s a real exploration of the various traumas that each has been through and how they have tried to cope with them. While he still remains the Mantis crew member with the least depth, it’s nice to dig into Greez and his motivations and desires especially, after his role in Fallen Order was largely comic relief.
While Cal still gets plenty of focus, the real star of the book is Merrin. The latest addition to the Mantis, we never got to spend a massive amount of time with Merrin in Jedi: Fallen Order once she joins the party. Even the Nightsisters, their culture, religion, and magick, have barely been explored by Star Wars at all. Jedi: Battle Scars may only begin to scratch the surface of the Nightsisters, but through Merrin, her powers, her longing for her lost home, and her very different relationship to the force, it makes them so much more interesting than the “magical witch” that we’ve seen before.
It’s also unique to see a Dark Side user as a good guy, and the exploration of how that fits with the usual detection of the Dark Side through a lens other than the Jedi and Sith is really interesting. While characters suffering the aftermath of the Empire is nothing new, Merrin’s loss of identity now that she’s left her home behind, and struggles to still connect with her past, is vastly different from similar stories, especially that of the Jedi.
The main plot of Jedi: Battle Scars is mostly a straightforward side story for the Mantis crew with a few twists here and there. Because of this, it can feel a little slow at the start but once Maggs establishes the characters and you can see where she’s taking them I became completely invested. It’s a very character-driven story that balances its characters well, and once that becomes clear it’s an absolute blast.
It’s worth noting that this is without a doubt the horniest piece of Star Wars media I have ever watched or read. Admittedly that’s not the highest bar, but Maggs writes desire brilliantly, and it really sells the relationship between Merrin and her new love interest. As someone who is admittedly a huge fan of the Cal/Merrin pairing, any new romance was going to be a hard sell but the chemistry is so good I had no choice but to love it. It’s also queer as hell, which is something Star Wars remains incredibly lacking in as a whole and I hope Jedi: Survivor references it so it’s not another “they’re queer but you’ll never see it on screen” situation. And for those Cal/Merrin shippers out there feeling disheartened by any of that, I assure you there are plenty of sparks flying between the pair here as well.
The one disappointing part of the book for me was one of its big draws, the Fifth Brother. His presence is minimal, and the book doesn’t do that much memorable with him. It comes close and plays around with some good ideas, especially while contrasting him with the Second Sister from Jedi: Fallen Order, but ultimately doesn’t dig deep enough to do anything interesting. Even within the confines of continuity, I can’t help but feel there was more that could’ve been done to make him a more interesting villain with a bit more depth. Even in Season 2 of Star Wars: Rebels he didn’t have a lot to him, and especially in contrast to Cal and his journey, there’s a lot of potential that feels wasted. What we get with him is good, but I can’t help but wish for more.
For fans of Jedi: Fallen Order there are plenty of Easter eggs to enjoy in the book. Even the gameplay itself gets subtle nods throughout, and although it leans a little too heavily into it at times it never gets too overbearing. While the first chapter or two might feel like the book is just typing up some loose ends from the game to clear the board for a sequel, it twists in its own direction soon enough. Jedi: Battle Scars does catch the reader up on some plot details from Jedi: Fallen Order, this serves more as a reminder than a replacement for having played the game. Without a good knowledge of Jedi: Fallen Order’s events and everything that happened to the characters in it I could definitely see unfamiliar readers having issues.
Overall, Jedi: Battle Scars is an essential read for fans of these characters that explores them all in ways the games never could. With a bit of teasing for the future and some key character developments, Jedi: Battle Scars is the perfect book to tide you over after Jedi: Survivor‘s latest delay and get you excited for what’s next while helping you to appreciate these characters’ stories both past and present just a little bit more.