Review: The Jedi are not heroes in dark but satisfying Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade

Rise of the Red Blade. Image courtesy
Rise of the Red Blade. Image courtesy /

In the newest adult Star Wars novel by Delilah S. Dawson, Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade will make you happy to see the destruction of the Jedi Order.

Rise of the Red Blade is one of the boldest and darkest entries in Star Wars publishing yet. It offers heartbreaking yet illuminating perspectives of the Clone Wars, the Jedi Order’s suppressive religious dogma, and Order 66. This thrilling and introspective novel is clearly written for the biggest fans of the prequel era, especially those who question the righteousness and arrogance of the Jedi during this period.

Iskat Akaris is the star of Rise of the Red Blade. Starting as a Padawan to Master Sember Vey, Iskat is nearly a pariah amongst her peers. She struggles with control and inner peace, and as a youngling, her emotions exploded and caused a column to fall on and gravely injure another young Jedi.

Iskat carries around guilt and anxiety because of this incident as well as fear and frustration with her master and other older Jedi because of their insistence on controlling her inner chaos and suppressing her feelings with meditation and repetition of the Jedi Code.

Iskat is also a red-skinned alien with two hearts who doesn’t know where she comes from. She’s never seen another person like her and doesn’t know her planet’s or people’s names. From Iskat’s perspective, her Jedi peers fear her and her master and older Jedi are all cold and unapproachable.

Then the Clone Wars erupt after the Battle of Geonosis – in this book, depicted as an intense, chaotic, and violent warfare that results in the deaths of far too many Jedi. Iskat and a bunch of other Padawans are then hastily turned into Jedi Knights and generals, sent on missions with little intel and clone troopers under their command.

When Iskat is sidelined after her first mission, her distrust and confusion with the Jedi Order grows and grows as the years of war drag on. Without giving too much away, Order 66 happens and Iskat is given a chance at the type of freedom and answers she’s sought all of her life – by joining the Inquisitors.

Surprisingly, the bulk of the novel is spent with Iskat during the Clone Wars (about two-thirds). The last third is all about post-Order 66 and her induction into the new Iquisitorious – a group of dark side users who served Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious and Darth Vader during the time of the Empire. The Inquisitors’ main job was the hunt down Jedi who escaped being killed during Order 66.

Spending more time during the Clone Wars in a novel with “Inquisitor” in the title is far from a bad thing. Rise of the Red Blade’s goal is to show why a Jedi would fall to the dark side and become a Jedi hunter.

The book answers this question with memorable and devastating moments, ones that show just how badly the Order failed Jedi like Iskat and Anakin Skywalker. Even when Iskat is at her most rageful and violent, you can’t help but empathize with her (sometimes murderous) actions.

Author Dawson has a penchant for writing multi-layered, sympathetic “villains,” and Rise of the Red Blade is no different. Iskat is relatable right from page one, and that relatability keeps growing even through her Inquisitor days.

Iskat’s fall to the dark side isn’t as dramatic as Anakin’s. Rather, it’s a continuous buildup of experiences, failures, and feelings that lead to a pivotal but not overly climactic moment during a seemingly ordinary mission.

While Star Wars fans know that many of the Inquisitors (like Trilla/Second Sister from Jedi: Fallen Order) were tortured and brainwashed into the dark side, Iskat is one of the few who needed very little coaxing. Her life with the Jedi was more than enough to convince her to embrace the freedom offered by the destruction of the Order.

Dawson’s newest book absolutely shines in its character work and action scenes, as well as plenty of Easter egg moments and alternative perspective parallels to other Star Wars media like Attack of the Clones, Mike Chen’s Brotherhood, and Revenge of the Sith.

Iskat herself, and fellow former Jedi turned Inquisitor Tualon, are actually characters plucked from the pages of Darth Vader (2017), specifically issues 19 and 20. Fans of Vader’s interactions with the Inquisitors will be pleased with the last part of the book.

Speaking of, the novel has a tangible tonal shift in its last quarter or so. There are times when it feels like reading an entirely different story, but Dawson still manages to keep the pacing steady and focused on Iskat’s journey amid a few jarring time jumps.

The only complaint I have with the book is a minor one – I wanted more with Inquisitor Iskat. And I definitely wanted more with Iskat and Tualon in their new toxic but intoxicating relationship.

Still, Rise of the Red Blade is a red-hot piece of Star Wars storytelling, and contains some of the most important messages for its prequel era – the destruction of the Jedi Order was largely to blame on the Jedi themselves and their inability to see past their own hubris. The Jedi are not the heroes in this story, and many actively do irreparable harm to young people like Iskat.

George Lucas’s Star Wars has always been a fantastical fight of good vs. evil. But stories like Rise of the Red Blade and Dawson’s Phasma show the blurry lines between what constitutes a “good guy” and a “bad guy.”

Combine that with Dawson’s strong writing and command of multifaceted women who behave badly, and Rise of the Red Blade is one of the best Star Wars books – stories – we’ve gotten in the last decade.

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Star Wars: Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade by Delilah S. Dawson is available now from Random House Worlds.