The last novel released in the buildup to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was Force Collector by Kevin Shinick. Although I originally thought Kevin Shinick was a newcomer to the Star Wars franchise, I was very wrong. He has been working in Star Wars media for a while, including the second two Robot Chicken Star Wars specials, and the rather recent children’s book Chewie and the Porgs. And although Chewie and the Porgs was not a terribly long book (I think it took me less than 10 minutes to read), it was a cute story about what Chewie was doing during his time on Ahch-To during The Last Jedi. Kevin Shinick also happens to be an Emmy Award winner, of which the cover of the book is not shy to promote, for his work on Robot Chicken.
With all his work on Star Wars prior to Force Collector, I would still consider him a newcomer to the more long-form, “serious” fiction that we get with our novel-length stories (these include both Del Rey’s adult geared novels and the Disney-Lucasfilm Press Young Adult geared novels, of which this is one). The release of Force Collector was in conjunction with the “Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” publishing line of comics and books. The story, though, is set prior to The Force Awakens and is only really tangentially associated with The Rise of Skywalker. However, you could also say that for nearly all of the “Journey to…” books and comics that Disney had released for sequel trilogy.
Force Collector is about a 17-year old Force sensitive boy named Karr Nuq Sin during a time when the Jedi have faded from memory and become nothing more than myths and legends. Karr’s Force talents have manifested themselves as psychometry, the ability to see an object’s history by touching it. A power that is much more well known for the Jedi Quinlan Vos, especially within his Legends stories. However, without the ability to control his powers, or even understand them, Karr has taken precautions against touching anything that he doesn’t want by wearing a pair of gloves made by his grandmother.
Karr’s story kicks off while sitting in the headmaster’s office, awaiting his punishment for a schoolyard altercation, where he meets a female Mirialan named Maize Raynshi. Maize is the daughter of a First Order officer, who doesn’t believe that the Jedi were real or that even the Force is real — a sentiment that is far too common during this time period. The two become fast friends with their trio capped off by the droid, RZ-7. RZ-7 is a droid built by Karr using a medical droid casing, however it has no real medical programming.
The worst part about Karr’s Force powers is how they manifest themselves. They give him terrible headaches, causing him to yell out in pain and faint whenever he touches nearly anything. While unconscious, Karr will then have a dream, or vision, about what the object had seen. Usually the dreams are murky at best, with few memorable details. However over the course of the story, Karr begins to get a grip on his powers and the visions improve with fewer negative effects.
After meeting Maize, and having some personal issues they need to work out, they decide to run away by stealing Maize’s father’s ship and traveling the galaxy looking for Jedi materials for Karr to touch. Although they could essentially go anywhere in the galaxy, they end up going to several locales that moviegoers might be familiar with. Their travels take them to some prequel locations, like Utapau and Sifo Dias’ crashed shuttle, as well as some sequel trilogy locations including Jakuu, Batuu (the Galaxy’s Edge planet), and Kijimi (from The Rise of Skywalker).
All through their travels, we learn a lot more about Karr and Maize, as well as the history of the Jedi Order through Karr’s eyes. It is an interesting way to learn the history of the Jedi, with the reader having known so much from “first hand” appearances of them. But it gives you a great insight into the galaxy as a whole during the sequel trilogy and how the Jedi are viewed. Karr also echoes Rey for a lot of the story, with his story morphing from a drive to discover the history of the Jedi to trying to discover his own story and where he fits into everything.
Prior to the last section of the book, I was moderately lukewarm on the story. It was fun, and there were some decent new reveals, specifically about Sifo Dias, but nothing that really gripped me. The final part of the story really brought it back for me, though. I won’t give any spoilers, but the last part really wrapped up Karr’s entire arc within the story into a neat little bow.
Maize could be summed up as a “military brat”, who gets shipped from world to world. She has become essentially a loner. Even after getting shipped from world to world, her father is frequently shipped off elsewhere for months to years at a time and her mother has turned inward to cope with it, leaving Maize to fend for herself. She is also half human and half Mirialan, which is an issue for her in the story. And it is a story that is somewhat dealt with but probably not to the extent it should have been. She is definitely cynical, but she is also desperate for a friend, whom she finds in Karr. Through the course of the story, she grows as a person and finds herself in the process, and from her self-healing she is able to help heal her broken family.
I think the biggest surprise I got from this story was the First Order itself. Although the First Order is still played up as the “bad guys” at times, they aren’t really the bad guys of the story (there are no real bad guys in the story). And Maize’s father actually sides with them towards the climax of the story. At this point he seemed less like a “First Order officer” and more like a father just wanting to help out his daughter. He is probably one of the few First Order people I can remember who isn’t 100% evil (obviously not including Finn).
The story also takes some interesting turns. The most interesting is the repeated mentioning of Tatooine, and then the eventual decision to not visit the planet. The reasons for not visiting are apparent in the story, and they make sense, but why keep bringing it up, along with a mystery of what could this planet be, if you aren’t going to go there? It feels like a storyline that got dropped somewhere along the way. Breadcrumbs leading to Tatooine, only to end up chasing a different loaf of bread. Clearly, should there be a sequel to Force Collector, then one of the places he HAS to go is Tatooine after the buildup here.
Kevin Shinick’s writing style flows rather well, and his pacing of the story works. It is a “young adult” novel and therefore the “stakes” of the story are much less. But even then, it is a story about self-discovery. There aren’t usually large stakes in those type of stories anyway. Kevin’s writing style also fits the audiobook format well. The audiobook was read by Euan Morton, who has a great Scottish accent that is fun to listen to. Within Star Wars, Euan has played some roles in Dooku: Jedi Lost and in the Doctor Aphra audiodrama, as well as having done the narration of the audiobook for Tarkin. So this is clearly not his first rodeo, and he is a fun presence that fits this novel well.
Overall, I would say that this is a pleasant story. It’s a nice warm bath that you can soak in and enjoy. It’s not a big stakes type of story, and while that can be a good thing, it can also be a bad thing. There is nothing about this story that forces you to read it, but if you want to read it, it is rather enjoyable. It is a story about self discovery, and even though the story visits several movie locales, it only really has one movie character make a brief cameo. It feels like a story that is trying to stand on its own, and largely succeeds, but still needs the movies as a crutch. All in all, I would definitely be interested to see where Karr and Maize go from here and how, if they ever do, come in contact with Rey.