Hard as it may be to believe, not every kid in the Star Wars universe wants to grow up to be a Jedi. Roan, the protagonist of Jeffrey Brown's Jedi Academy, just wants to be a starfighter pilot. But after he's rejected from pilot school, he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to Jedi Academy, and starts keeping a visual diary of his Force-filled first year.
Brown has already shown a loving irreverence for Star Wars with his books Darth Vader and Son and Vader's Little Princess. Following along that same irreverence, Jedi Academy is an Earthican school story told through the lens of Star Wars. Roan is an aspiring pilot from Tatooine (roughly 200 years before the events of A New Hope) who comes from a long line of starfighter pilots. So when he's rejected from pilot school, he thinks his life is pretty much over, and resigns himself to spending his middle school years learning how to farm in the desert. Then a surprising letter arrives from Master Yoda (700 years young) inviting him to attend Jedi Academy instead.
Most Jedi younglings begin their training when they're barely out of diapers, so Roan is the new kid at a school that almost never sees new kids his age. He's well behind his classmates—especially when it comes to that pesky "lifting things with the Force" business—and wonders if there's been some grave mistake. He spends the next several months making friends, dealing with bullies, and trying to figure out his role in the galaxy.
In a lot of ways, Roan's version of Jedi Academy looks like your average middle school. Roan has to take math and literature classes, participates in a science fair, works for the school newspaper, and gets caught up in the drama of student council elections. Heck, his Wookiee gym teacher even wears a sweat band around her head. (To keep the hair out of her…hair?) But even though Jedi Academy is clearly aimed at kids Roan's age, some who may have only a passing familiarity with Star Wars, Brown fills it with winks and nods (and a few digs) at the land of Lucas. Sometimes the combinations are seriously inspired, such as when one student decides to do his science fair project on the environmental impact of Jedi using the Force near rivers. And Brown clearly has special affection for Yoda, who is as baffling to Roan as he is wise.
Jedi Academy is a fun volume for anyone who appreciates a bit of silliness in their Star Wars, but it has a message for school-age kids as well. It's gratifying to see that Roan sometimes succeeds because of, rather than in spite of, a childhood on Tatooine, and that his artistic ability is highly valued amongst his peers. And it's a reminder that even when our lives don't go the way we planned, we can discover strengths we didn't even know we possessed.