Cal Kestis and the crew of the Stinger Mantis are symbols for everyone who wants to resist the Empire. Together, they give people around the galaxy hope while hurting the Empire one mission at a time. Before they can take on their biggest mission yet in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, though, they must first take on a threat that will put both their skills and bond to the test in Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars, an action-packed novel from Sam Maggs that sets up the second game from Respawn. While in review it’s not a must-read entry in the Star Wars expanded universe, Jedi: Battle Scars adds depth to the central characters from the games. It got me nicely invested in both the characters and the story while also making me look forward to Star Wars Jedi: Survivor more than I already was.
A Grizzled Crew Takes on a Critical Mission
It’s been years since their fateful confrontation with Darth Vader at the end of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and Cal Kestis and the crew of the Stinger Mantis have settled into a routine of taking jobs that strike out against the Empire. Think of them as sort of a galactic A-Team at this point: They each have strengths and different perspectives, and that results in their having a standard and successful procedure for approaching different jobs.
That monotony is broken on the first mission of Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars, when Merrin encounters a stormtrooper wanting to defect while the crew is trying to escape from a mission against the Haxion Brood syndicate. The decision to welcome Fret on board the Stinger Mantis sets a new adventure into motion while also forcing the crew to each face and deal with trauma from their past.
Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars Is a Change of Pace
Longtime fans of Star Wars Expanded Universe novels might find Sam Maggs’ writing in Battle Scars a little jarring at first, especially if you’ve read any of the High Republic novels recently. But that’s not to say that the writing is bad — it isn’t. It’s just different. Maggs tailors the writing style to match the storytelling we got in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
The dialogue and banter in Battle Scars made me feel like I was reading the novelization of video game action, which, when you think about it, is exactly what it should be. The writing is definitely lighter, and the pace is much faster than in many High Republic novels. But Battle Scars very much reads like a literary version of a video game, and that makes it fit into this arc incredibly well.
A Crew in Peril
The main characters from Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order are all back in Battle Scars, and readers will enjoy the additional depth we get that video game narratives often don’t allow for. Cal, the definite centerpiece of Fallen Order, is still a focal point in Battle Scars, but the story is more of an ensemble cast, which is nice. In Battle Scars, the team of Greez, Cere, Merrin, Cal, and BD-1 is presented as more of a Star Wars version of Guardians of the Galaxy than we ever saw in Fallen Order.
In Fallen Order, the characters on board the Stinger Mantis were just getting to know each other. Now, they’ve been together for years and know each other well. At least, they thought they did. Novels can typically explore things like exposition and motive much better than video games can, and Maggs does an excellent job of that in Battle Scars. While the action scenes are familiar to anyone who has played Fallen Order, Battle Scars allows us to see the crew realizing that they aren’t all fighting for the same reasons, ultimately questioning what their place in the universe is.
Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars’ story is so fast-paced and crisp — the hardcover book clocks in at only 273 pages — that the amount of character development in the novel is impressive. While Cal is still trying to find his place and ultimately keep the peace on the rest of the Mantis team, Cere continues to struggle with her pull to the Dark Side and her wishes to rebuild the Jedi Order. Greez, meanwhile, continues to struggle with trauma from the past, his gambling addiction, and ultimately his issues with trust.
Merrin, the newest member of the crew, is still finding her own place in the galaxy after the childhood trauma she experienced on Dathomir at the hands of the Empire. For our favorite Nightsister, Battle Scars is largely a journey of self-discovery and exploration. For readers, that includes learning that Merrin is pansexual as we see her in some downright steamy scenes with Fret. At the same time, she clearly has deep affection for Cal as well. Merrin exploring her sexuality in Battle Scars was an element that Sam Maggs very much wanted to include in the novel, and it does a lot to humanize a character that was previously mysterious and deeply powerful.
A Powerful and Familiar Villain
Opposing the crew of the Stinger Mantis is a familiar foe for fans of Star Wars: Rebels or Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Fifth Brother in the Inquisitorius takes center stage as the primary villain of the story in Battle Scars, presumably setting the stage for what will take place in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor later this year.
In Fallen Order, the Second Sister had a deeply personal story in relation to the Stinger Mantis crew and was fueled by that history in her pursuit of Cal Kestis throughout the game. Fans who have seen Rebels or Obi-Wan Kenobi know that the Fifth Brother has a history of not getting along with other Inquisitors, and his mission is much more driven by personal glory in order to stand out from his peers.
Although he doesn’t encounter the crew of the Stinger Mantis until the second half of Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars, the impact of the Fifth Brother is felt almost immediately with actions that have tremendous effect on the team. Furthermore, his pursuit of Cal and his team throughout the third act adds a nice level of tension onto their race to complete their mission.
We Need More BD-1
As a fan of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, my one disappointment with Battle Scars is that we don’t get a lot of BD-1 in the story. He’s there and his presence is often felt, but he feels like more of an add-on in Battle Scars rather than a full part of the team. It’s a selfish request, since BD-1 is my favorite character in Fallen Order and my favorite droid in Star Wars. However, it’s really difficult to write for droids that don’t speak Basic in Star Wars novels. With such a fast-paced story, it’s understandable that Maggs didn’t include more BD-1 in the tale.
The Review Verdict on Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars
While you don’t need to read Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars to understand Star Wars Jedi: Survivor — you should anyway. There are a few events in Battle Scars that will definitely be a bit confusing in Survivor if you haven’t read the book, but they won’t in any way take away from your experience in the game. However, if you enjoyed the characters in Fallen Order and want to know more about them before you play Survivor, Sam Maggs has crafted a fast, action-packed story that is true to the characters but makes them each so much more than they were in Fallen Order. If you like the story of this crew, I can’t recommend this story enough.
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