Review: Battle for the Arena can easily stand alone as a sporty and spirited Star Wars Hunters novel

Star Wars: Hunters: Battle for the Arena. Image courtesy
Star Wars: Hunters: Battle for the Arena. Image courtesy /

With all the hype for Jedi: Battle Scars, it was easy to miss another video game tie-in novel that was released on the same day — Star Wars Hunters: Battle for the Arena. And while the game it’s based on has yet to come out, the middle-grade novel penned by Mark Oshiro has just as much action and thrills as it does world-building.

Hunters: Battle for the Arena is set some years after the Battle of Endor and the end of the Empire, following an orphaned Force-sensitive young woman named Rieve. Originally from Corellia, Rieve has bounced around because of some trauma in her past and ends up on Vespaara, where she trains to become a Hunter.

The Hunters in Balada the Hutt’s Arena are the Star Wars version of professional wrestlers. Each day there are teams masquerading as caricatures of figures in the Star Wars universe, whose tasks include fighting other teams in capture-the-flag-type game scenarios.

Rieve is tasked to play a Sith lord, while some of their teammates include Sentinel the stormtrooper, a bounty hunter, a Hunter with an outfitted droideka circa the Clone Wars, and a Jedi-coded droid named J-3DI. Their fighting arenas also include recreations of Hoth, Endor, and Tatooine, among others.

The core story follows Rieve as she struggles to find her place on Vespaara amongst her fellow Hunters. She’s the newbie, but her past experience and Force sensitivity make her a fearsome competitor.

However, Rieve has spent most of her life fighting to survive on her own, learning from a cruel galaxy not to trust anyone but herself. With a lack of familial guidance and care, as well as zero Force training, Rieve has pent-up anger and frustration that she keeps bottled up so tightly for fear of lashing out and hurting others with the literal power of her emotions.

Some of the best parts of this middle-grade novel come when Rieve finally realizes it’s possible and important to open yourself up and let others have your back. Your family — found or otherwise — is there for you on your best days and your worst. Though not a Jedi, Rieve also learns the crucial lesson of embracing, not trying to control, her emotions.

Beyond the sweet morals of the story, the other bright spots in Battle for the Arena pertain to gonkrock, basically the Star Wars version of heavy thrasher metal music. It’s Rieve’s favorite, and we need a playlist ASAP.

Then there’s J-3DI, the lightsaber-wielding droid who really does think he’s a Jedi. But for all his Jedi programming, he struggles to properly say “may the Force be with you.” Instead, we get gems like “may the Forces be around you” and “may the Force be on or around you.”

How Battle for the Arena connects to Star Wars Hunters

Without having played the game, it’s hard to say how good a job Battle for the Arena does with connecting to the universe, characters, and vibes of Star Wars Hunters. But as a standalone novel, for now, it’s a seriously fun Star Wars story with essential lessons about teamwork, found family, and embracing your own emotions.

The free-to-play combat arena game Hunters developed by Zynga was set to release in 2022 but has been pushed back several times. Currently, the game has no official release date beyond sometime in 2023. It is, however, available to play on Android devices in India, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Without the game, there’s been little to no promotion of Battle for the Arena since the book’s announcement and cover reveal over a year ago. Despite setbacks with the game’s release, Battle for the Arena still shines as a lively and fast-paced Star Wars story — perfect for new and younger readers.

In recent years, middle-grade Star Wars novels have featured some of the best stories out there. But it’s unfortunate they don’t all get the recognition they deserve. We hope that changes very soon.

Related Story. Review: Star Wars: Quest for the Hidden City is a delightfully spooky High Republic adventure. light

Star Wars Hunters: Battle for the Arena by Mark Oshiro is available now wherever you get books.

P.S. the next middle-grade Star Wars book, The High Republic: Quest for Planet X, arrives on April 4.