Read an excerpt of Ken Liu's The Legends of Luke Skywalker novel

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Luke Skywalker will once again be taking center stage in the Star Wars saga when The Last Jedi hits theaters on Dec. 15. Before then, however, a new book from acclaimed sci-fi author Ken Liu is taking an in-depth look at the Jedi hero, chronicling his life and all of the mystery surrounding it.

The middle-grade novel The Legends of Luke Skywalker is a collection of six stories told by the young crew members on a spaceship, around the time of the events of The Last Jedi. The heroic actions of Luke Skywalker have spread throughout the galaxy, but along the way, they’ve become more legend than fact.

“It’s interesting to think about Luke as a character in the Star Wars universe because to many of us, he is this great Jedi, the hero of the saga, but to most of the galaxy, he was a figure of legend,” Liu tells EW. “Most people have not met Luke. They don’t know what he’s really like. And like any kind of celebrity, tons of legends and stories would spring up about him around the galaxy. He’s a symbol for many people, even as he was this hero going on his own journey. So I thought it’d be interesting to try to write a book of stories about Luke that would treat him as a figure of legend.”

EW has an excerpt of one of those legends below, as a starship crew member tells a story she heard from an Imperial officer. According to that officer, Luke Skywalker may have played a key role in the Battle of Jakku…

Excerpt from The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu

The species-specific expressions of disbelief had been growing steadily on the faces of the deckhands as they watched Dwoogan efficiently wipe up the galley counter while recounting her tale. When she was finally done, a wave of riotous shouts broke out.

“Oh, come on! That’s ridiculous!”

“Redy doesn’t know what she’s talking about!”

“TWWWWEEEEE! THPFFFFTTTT WEEEEE!”

“Who was that man in the hood?”

Dwoogan rinsed out the washcloth in the sink, chuckling the whole while.

“You asked for a story,” she said. “Don’t blame the teller if the story isn’t quite what you were expecting.”

“But . . . but . . .” Teal, who had made it back in time to catch most of Dwoogan’s story, struggled to find words. “Redy thinks everything the New Republic has been saying is a lie!”

“Every story is true to the teller,” said Dwoogan. “That doesn’t mean they’re all equally true in the larger sense. The only way to tell what is true in the grand scheme of things is to listen to lots of stories.”

“Hearing stories you don’t like can be a good thing. It reminds you that not everyone thinks alike,” said Ulina. “The Empire wanted everyone to think alike, remember? In fact, Luke and the heroes of the New Republic fought so that people like Redy can tell their stories without fearing for their lives. She might be fined for being an unlicensed engineer, but the authorities won’t ever jail her for her stories. That’s a good thing.”

The deckhands pondered this.

Ulina was about to tell everyone to head to their bunks when G’kolu piped up: “I wonder what an Imperial soldier would think of Luke Skywalker.”

Tyra looked uncomfortable at this. She had always seemed to be extra wary of New Republic customs officials and safety inspectors whenever the Wayward Current was in dock, preferring to stay out of sight. Though it was the rule among the deckhands not to pry into each other’s pasts, a few suspected that her family had some kind of connection with the Empire. Several deckhands glanced at Tyra curiously, but the girl avoided their eyes.

Dwoogan broke in smoothly. “Ha, they’ve got some fun tales. You just have to get them real drunk first. They’re not all bad sorts. Some of them fought for the Empire because they weren’t told any other stories.”

Tyra said nothing, but she gave Dwoogan a grateful smile as the other deckhands seized on the opening the cook had provided.

“Tell us a story from an Imperial!”

“Tell us!”

“Yeah!”

Dwoogan nodded at Ulina. “Ask your third mate. She used to help Imperials who wanted to get out of that life find jobs with smuggling crews.”

The deckhands turned to Ulina with even more awe and admiration in their eyes.

Ulina’s glowing eye patch shifted through a range of hues, from deep turquoise to brilliant vermillion, as she pondered the request. “Uniforms can be deceiving— both to the wearers and to those looking at them. Many of the stories I know aren’t safe to share. The New Republic may have forgiven those who took off their Imperial uniforms, but there are still some who have not.”

The deckhands looked thoughtful. Certainly they all had secrets that they didn’t want the others to know; it was why they had chosen or been swept into this life beyond the law. Tyra bit her bottom lip and nodded almost imperceptibly.

Ulina looked at Tyra. Abruptly, she asked, “You’ve been to Jakku, right?”

Surprised, Tyra locked eyes with Ulina. “My family are scavengers, and I was there with them for a while.” She swallowed. “We . . . we couldn’t get other jobs.”

“Did you see the starship graveyard?” asked Ulina.

Tyra’s eyes lit up. “Oh, yes. The wrecks were magnificent. My grandmother used to take me to where she—to explore the officers’ quarters on some of the big destroyers.”

“So let me tell you a story about Luke Skywalker and the starship graveyard.”

“I didn’t know he was on Jakku!”

“Well, you’ll see. The story I’m about to tell you has been passed from teller to teller across many smuggling crews. The original teller was someone who fought for the Emperor. . . .”

Ulina’s voice changed, and even her face seemed to take on the appearance of another as she began to recount the tale from the perspective of its first teller.

THE STARSHIP GRAVEYARD

I lived under the glorious reign of Emperor Palpatine. I lived to see the New Republic’s petty leaders squabble over the ashes of a once-great galaxy. I lived, but my comrades died.

The Battle of Jakku is celebrated today as the final defeat of the Galactic Empire, but for me, it was both my first and last tour of duty as a gunner aboard a Star Destroyer in the Imperial Navy. I was a young man of twenty, dedicated to the Emperor’s cause of bringing order to the galaxy.

The life of a gunner is one of endless waiting punctuated by flashes of terror.

Waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting . . . my fingers tense over the console, heart pounding, sweat dripping . . . there, flashing streaks over the starboard bow! Target, track, fire! Waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting . . . the voice of the computer echoing around the vast bridge as banks of consoles blinked in the semidarkness under the stars, illuminating terrified faces, each as young as mine.

Green as I was, even I knew the battle wasn’t going well.

The Empire had gathered practically every capital ship into orbit around Jakku, and the rebels, bent on chaos and disruption, had converged to the same corner of space with their ragtag fleet. This was to be a textbook grand battle, a confrontation between the good of order and the evil of anarchy.

True to our commitment to discipline, the Imperial ships fell into neat ranks and tight formations. True to their despicable worship of chaos, the rebels followed no code of tactics or rules of engagement. They swept around our flanks, skimmed over our blind spots, refused to engage us head-on.

A series of explosions against the bridge. Bright lights blinded us momentarily. We were hit. Hard.

The deck lurched, men and women spilled out of their chairs, the viewscreens and windows tilted and jumped crazily, showing glimpses of wildly spinning stars and the long glowing arc of the desert planet below us.

“Losing altitude,” intoned the computer. Klaxons blared. “Velocity vectors incompatible with stable orbit.”

We were falling toward the planet, unable to climb out of the deadly trap of its gravity well.

My crewmates and I struggled up as the deck stabilized and officers barked orders. Outside the windows, we could see the massive bow start to glow orange from friction against the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

The deck buckled again, and we screamed and tumbled back down.

My head struck a console as I fell, and blood streamed down my face, blurring my vision. Through the haze of blood and sweat and terror, I saw a glowing hologram rotating over the console.

MOST WANTED: LUKE SKYALKER, JEDI WAR CRIMINAL, EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.

The internal channel broadcasting the holo was dedicated to showing the likenesses and crimes of the most dangerous rebels. In regular operation, the channel had the effect of raising our alertness against rebel infiltration. But now, as I lay on the ground, it was terrifying to see the image of this hooded Jedi terrorist slowly spinning against the stars, looming over me like a sneering monster.

My heart skipped a beat as the deck lurched again. Amid the screams and a shower of sparks, peering through the hologram, I focused on the main windows of the bridge. A powerful bolt of energy arced across space to strike an Imperial Star Destroyer. The angle of the spinning Skywalker made it seem as if the hologram were floating in space, and the dazzling bolt had shot out of his fingertips.

I was not a superstitious man, but I shuddered at that horrid image.

Instantly, glowing cracks appeared in the dark gray hull, and the struck destroyer seemed to groan in pain in the silence of space.

Like an ancient ocean-going vessel taking on water, the dagger-shaped ship dipped and fell toward the surface of Jakku. Faster and faster it fell, and the gray vessel glowed red, then orange, and finally bright white as it plunged into the thick atmosphere toward its death far below.

My heart convulsed as I imagined the voices howling for mercy in that doomed ship.

Like some angry and capricious god, the hologram of the Jedi spun as two more bright streaks seemed to shoot out of him. The bolts crossed the span of bridge windows and struck two more Imperial Star Destroyers. Slowly disintegrating, the ships dove into the roiling ocean of air below like fallen Corosian phoenixes, their TIE squadrons swerving aimlessly in space, as helpless as orphaned hatchlings.

It was a sign. It was a nightmare. It had to mean something.

Beams of lightning crisscrossed the windows and ensnared more Imperial Star Destroyers. Like lassoed beasts, the graceful, dark metallic hulks buckled and strained against the tractor beams. But their struggles were useless. One by one, the ships lost their momentum, dipped, and were hurled down toward Jakku.

I did not see any rebel star cruisers that could have launched the beams. In fact, the shots all seemed to terminate in the steadily spinning hologram of the Jedi, his machine of death, that red-striped X-wing, hovering over him like a trained bird of prey or a magician’s familiar.

Carelessly, almost lazily, the hologram turned to face me, and stopped moving.

I gasped. Instead of a face I saw only a bright, featureless oval under the glowing hood. The holographic circuits sputtered and hissed, and an acrid smell filled my nostrils. Interference artifacts appeared in the projection. The hologram’s hands reached toward me, as though intent on grabbing my throat.

Before I could scream, the holographic projector failed, and the Jedi winked out of existence in a bright electronic explosion.

Behind where the hologram had been, I saw that the bridge windows were rapidly filling with expanding columns of energy.

“Shields collapsing,” intoned the computer. “Hull breach imminent. Brace for impact. Brace. Brace—”

A jolt, as though the entire Star Destroyer had been picked up by a giant hand and slammed against the ground. My teeth and bones rattled. My vision swam. My ears filled with a high-pitched, incessant drone.

The bridge went dark: the overhead lights, the viewscreens, the blinking lights on the banks of consoles, even the emergency lighting strips in the floor. All around us was the darkness of space; the faint, heartless glow of distant stars; and the dim radiance of heated, thin upper-atmosphere air against the bridge windows.

My ears popped. Then I heard the inhuman, deafening metallic roar and screech of a ship dying in space.

The gravity generators failed, and we experienced the sensation of free fall as our bodies lifted off the deck.

My crewmates and I screamed until we could not catch our breaths. The noise no longer sounded like living screams but an eerie replacement for the throbbing of the engines, which had suddenly been silenced.

The ship slowed, drifted, stopped, and then the stark, lifeless surface of Jakku swung into view, filling the windows, and we fell.

We fell.

Scrambling, shoving, kicking, somehow I made my way to one of the escape pods and strapped myself in. The only thought in my mind before I lost consciousness amid the screeching and groaning of struts and bulkheads strained to their limits was this:

We couldn’t have lost; we shouldn’t have lost; this was not a fair fight.

For more on The Legends of Luke Skywalker, read EW’s full Q&A with Liu here

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