Jedi Masters battle space pirates in new 'Star Wars' novel 'The Living Force' (exclusive excerpt)

illustrations from a book cover, showing six star wars characters against a yellow-sky backdrop
Portion of the cover for "Star Wars: The Living Force." (Image credit: Random House Worlds)

"Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" celebrates its 25th anniversary on May 19, so prequel fans will soon be steeped to the eyebrows in memories of midichlorians, trade federations, pod racers, Shmi, Darth Maul, rolling droidekas and the silly shuffling gate of a goofy, lop-eared Gungan named Jar Jar Binks.

To help celebrate the momentous "Star Wars" occasion, Random House Worlds is releasing "Star Wars: The Living Force" from New York Times bestselling author John Jackson Miller on April 9. 

The new novel is a sprawling 432-page prelude to the big party. It serves as a nostalgic primer for the anniversary screenings and watch parties sure to spring up, and we've got an exclusive chapter excerpt to share to start kicking things off.

Related: George Lucas' 'Star Wars: The Phantom Menace' 20th anniversary message to fans

Cover art for "Star Wars: The Living Force." (Image credit: Random House Worlds)

Here's the official synopsis:

"In the year before 'The Phantom Menace,' Yoda, Mace Windu, and the entire Jedi Council confront a galaxy on the brink of change.

"The Jedi have always traveled the stars, defending peace and justice across the galaxy. But the galaxy is changing, and the Jedi Order along with it. More and more, the Order finds itself focused on the future of the Republic, secluded on Coruscant, where the twelve members of the Jedi Council weigh crises on a galactic scale.

"As yet another Jedi Outpost left over from the Republic’s golden age is set to be decommissioned on the planet Kwenn, Qui-Gon Jinn challenges the Council about the Order’s increasing isolation. Mace Windu suggests a bold response: All twelve Jedi Masters will embark on a goodwill mission to help the planet and to remind the people of the galaxy that the Jedi remain as stalwart and present as they have been across the ages.

"But the arrival of the Jedi leadership is not seen by all as a cause for celebration. In the increasing absence of the Jedi, warring pirate factions have infested the sector. To maintain their dominance, the pirates unite, intent on assassinating the Council members. And they're willing to destroy countless innocent lives to secure their power.

"Cut off from Coruscant, the Jedi Masters must reckon with an unwelcome truth: While no one thinks more about the future than the Jedi Council, nobody needs their help more than those living in the present."

Miller is a prolific novelist plying his trade in numerous creative arenas, most notably as the author of "Star Wars: Kenobi," "Star Wars: A New Dawn," "Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith," "Star Wars: Knight Errant," and Marvel's "Star Wars Legends: The Old Republic." His distinguished work in the comic book industry includes headlining gigs within the worlds of "Star Trek," "Battlestar Galactica," "Halo," "Iron Man," "Mass Effect," and "Planet of the Apes."

Related: Best sci-fi books: modern masterpieces & all-time classics

Promo art for "Star Wars: The Living Force." (Image credit: Random House Worlds)

Here's our exclusive excerpt for John Jackson Miller's "Star Wars: The Living Force." 

After collecting intel on increasingly severe pirate activity in a desperate part of the galaxy, Jedi Master Depa Billaba goes undercover to investigate, operating under a secret identity, the thief known as "Hotwire." As she works to infiltrate the pirate gangs, she meets a young thief named Kylah.

Where is that girl?

Depa Billaba didn't know the answer, but it was far from the only question on her mind. The impromptu Jedi Council meeting had given her a lot more to think about. It was the first time she’d ever attended one while seated in the cargo area of a speeder truck. At least now she was in the front seat, though she was still in the dark, both literally and figuratively.

The Slice extended inward from Hutt space, stretching along the trade routes toward the Core like a dagger pointed at the heart of the galaxy. No sensible Hutt would act directly in the region, but all the local privateers seemed to be auditioning for jobs with them, banking on a future without the Republic and the Jedi to interfere. The Hutts were inevitable, the thinking went. It was just a matter of time before the gangs in the region became their subsidiaries.

But tantalizing intel had been developed by a student Depa had once tutored, the late, lamented Xaran Raal. One pirate band in the region alone had no ties to the Hutts at all, overt or otherwise: the Riftwalkers. The newest and, from all reports, the most intrepid of the gangs, led by someone called Zilastra. Most in the local underworld knew her name, if little beyond that — other than that she played for keeps, while also reportedly playing a blisteringly good game of sabacc. 

Depa had committed to remedy that lack of information. There was no question of a single Jedi, even a member of the Jedi Council, bringing a multiplanet operation like the Riftwalkers to justice. But the leader of such a group could not remain a cipher. Maz Kanata, who had ruled from her castle for centuries, had shown that a pirate state was not always the worst neighbor to have. Whether a "Queen Zilastra" would be another Maz was in the vital security interests of the Republic to know. 

And Depa's best connection to find out was twelve years old. And running late. 

Where is she? Depa checked the vehicle’s monitors for the umpteenth time before deciding to stand outside the vehicle. This must be what it’s like to be a parent waiting to pick up a child. 

Then again, the trash-filled backstreet outside the spaceport after midnight was no educational institution, and Kylah was no student — unless larceny was the subject. And the blaster shots Depa now heard signaled that school was still in session. 

"Hotwire!" Kylah yelled. 

Depa saw the girl dashing toward her through the darkness, a big bundle in her hands. Behind her, the alley was lit with red searchlights emanating from the bodies of at least half a dozen droids. They were private patrol units — light on intelligence, heavy on aggression. They shouted in unison, their voices amplified: "Halt, thief!" 

Depa had her blaster out in an instant. The droids disregarded her warning shots, charging ahead while a frantic Kylah raced for the speeder truck. 

Knowing that using her lightsaber would blow her cover, Depa reached out through the Force and brought a wave of abandoned shipping containers into the droids’ paths behind Kylah. The girl didn’t see the feat, but did benefit from it, reaching the hovertruck just as Depa opened its passenger door. 

Kylah shouted, "Go, go, go!" 

"Get down!" Depa yelled. Blaster shots peppered the side of the closed door, which Kylah shrank behind. The Jedi herself was already on the move, making for the driver’s side. Within seconds, the speeder was in motion. 

"Look out!" Kylah yelled as two of the droids blocked their path. 

"Hang on," Depa shouted. Gripping the control yoke, she plowed the vehicle right through the attackers. Red lights pinwheeled as the droids went flying noisily end-over-end. Blaster shots continued to strike the vehicle’s frame — but from behind, as she gunned it forward. 

Doubled over the large cloth sack she was carrying, Kylah cheered. "Whee! That was fun!" 

"Not the word I’d use." Depa accelerated until she could no longer see the droids behind her. "We're clear," she announced. 

The girl looked up — and smiled. "Home. No running lights." 

"Got it." Depa took a breath. Squinting in the darkness, she regarded the bundle in Kylah’s lap. "Get what you were looking for?"

"You don’t need to know." 

Depa straightened. "Whatever you say." 

As the vehicle drove farther from the spaceport, Kylah relaxed — and said a lot more. "I was perfect." 

"You were?" 

"Going in is never a problem. I wait until dark and hop over a fence. Then I shimmy up this post with a rotating security cam—" 

"You climb a post with a cam on it?" 

"Isn’t it great?" Kylah practically bounced in the seat, pleased with her cleverness. “Just below the cam I can hop onto this roof nearby—where there’s a vent that’s about this size.” With her hands, she traced a shape that wasn’t much larger than the sack she was holding. "I slide down, and I'm inside." 

"And you came out with that." 

"Yeah, but I can only grab one in a trip, and there's only ten minutes each day when I can get in the stockroom, during the shift change." 

"Looks like they noticed this time." 

"Only on the way out. As long as I can keep getting in, we’re in business." 

Unsure what the business was, Depa eyed the sack. "Must be worth a lot."

Kylah laughed. "That, you really don’t need to know." 

"You're the boss." 

In the days since Depa’s arrival on Keldooine, the Jedi had insinuated herself into the life of the largest megalopolis. Finding a way into its burgeoning underworld hadn’t been easy. Competition among various pirate bands had driven all of them into defensive stances, making them paranoid about newcomers. Posing as a speeder thief for hire had gotten her no ins at all. The only thing close to a break had come from her chance rescue of a child on the street being chased by bandits. Realizing Kylah was a courier for the Riftwalkers, Depa had made herself indispensable as driver and bodyguard, to the point where Kylah offered to share her hovel with the woman she called Hotwire. 

Depa parked behind it and exited, checking the alley for threats. Before she was done, Kylah bounded out. She worked a lock and let them both inside a darkened flat, abandoned by one of the many residents who had left Keldooine in a hurry. 

As she had after her other nightly forays, the girl carried her sack toward a storage room. “Back in a minute.” 

"Right." Depa locked the door behind them — and quickly slipped next to the opening Kylah had entered. 

She listened—and heard Kylah speak. "Wowee bowee zip zap shoo!" 

Depa tilted her head. It was a child’s phrase, nonsense. But then she heard a mechanical voice from the storage room. "Lock phrase initialized." A light click followed. 

There was no time to think about it. Depa quickly stepped away from the aperture and made a show of double-checking the front door. 

She looked back to see Kylah throwing the empty bag on the floor. "I’m a sweat monster. I’m going to change." 

"You have had a long day." 

After she saw Kylah disappear into her personal space, Depa crept into the storage room. The girl’s apparent prize sat upon a table: a carrying case with an emblem on its side. A chalice inside a star. 

Depa began to understand. It was from one of the passenger lines—Regal Voyager. The case had weight, she found on lifting it, but did not make noise when she shook it. It was also locked tight. She wondered about the contents. Money, gems, weapons? Or something worse?

Examining the mechanism, she understood what Kylah had just done. "Hope I get this right," she whispered, before speaking to the case itself. "Wowee bowee zip zap shoo." 

The lock clicked and the case sprang open. Depa flinched, on her guard—but there was no threat. Indeed, there was nothing inside at all. Struck curious, she lifted the container again. The heft, she realized, came from the interior plating that worked as a countermeasure against scanners.

It took no trained Jedi senses to know Kylah was almost ready to return; the girl made so much noise at home it was hard to believe she was a successful burglar—much less Depa’s best hope to connect with her quarry, the Riftwalkers. Depa quickly shut the case and exited the room. 

Kylah appeared in brighter, lighter clothes than her work garb. "Let’s go eat. They're still serving at Jammah's Place." 

"A restaurant? Kind of expensive, isn't it?" 

"You're buying. I just paid you, remember?" 

Her memory jarred, Depa nodded. "I left the money in the truck." 

"Some pro you are." Kylah laughed as she unlocked the door. "Stick with me. You’ll learn!" 

Depa watched the girl head back into the alley. That had been their dynamic: someone the age of a young Padawan, treating her as the student. But the kid's loose talk had already told Depa a lot, and she sensed that it would pay to continue playing her part. 

Closing up the flat, the Jedi noticed that a message had come in on her muted comlink while they were driving. It was from Mace— a lengthy hologram, the timecode advised. Depa decided to wait to watch it until she was alone again. Odds were it was just more about the closure of the outpost at Kwenn. That was one debate her mind was made up about. She was already seeing what life was like in a place without Jedi. Homes became hovels—and children became gangsters. 

But out here, I can do something about it. 

"You coming?" Kylah called out, already in the passenger seat and holding up Depa’s credit pouch. "Another minute and I'll start emptying this. If I don't eat it first!" 

"On my way." Depa pocketed the comlink and made for the truck.

Reprinted from "Star Wars: The Living Force" by John Jackson Miller. © 2024 by Lucasfilm Ltd. Published by Random House Worlds, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.

  • Kowalski
    I loved Star Wars as a teenager. Now, decades later, I find the franchise depressing and discouraging.

    Star Wars' many iterations tell us fantastic technological achievements and the ability to interact with other similarly intelligent species will not be enough to elevate humankind above our usual fighting for possessions, systematic injustices, large-scale warfare, genocide, corruption and of course blatantly evil rulers. In the Star Wars universe, slavery still exists, as do all varieties of criminals, outlaws and murderers, who seem to be everywhere.

    Please, don't tell me it's all set in "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" so somehow it doesn't count as a commentary on human existence. It's about US, with a small scattering of mostly one-off decorative aliens tossed in, serving mainly as helpers to the dominant population of human characters.

    The announcement of a new book which sounds to be stuck in the rut of rehashing the same old violent fantasies is not good news to me. Can we all try to envision a more hopeful future than the present we all live in?