Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A young man discovers that he’s destined for greater things in the galaxy, joins a mysterious, semi-religious order that act as the guardians of peace in said galaxy, and finds himself fighting an oppressive, genocidal regime bent on controlling the collective, galactic civilization. If that sounds like Star Wars, you’d be right, but it’s also the plot of comic book author Michael Moreci’s debut novel, Black Star Renegades. The book is a conspicuous tip-of-the-hat to George Lucas’ space opera franchise, and it’ll appeal to fans of Ernie Cline’s easter egg-laden novel Ready Player One.
In the book’s acknowledgements and elsewhere, Moreci recounts that his editor called him up and asked him to write a love letter to Star Wars — a pulpy, exuberant adventure that captured the spirit of the franchise. The result is a book that is recognizably inspired by Lucas’ story, but an enjoyable read in and of itself.
Black Star Renegades does just that. It opens with two brothers, Cade and Tristan, running away from a gang on the planetoid Kyysring. They’re rescued by a mysterious, sword-wielding man named Ser Jorken, a master in an order of spiritual warriors known as the Rai. He recruits them into the order, and the pair learn that one of them is destined to become the Paragon, a legendary figure who can control an unstoppable ancient weapon known as the Rokura. When they go to retrieve the Rokura a decade later, they’re attacked by agents of the evil Praxis Kingdom, who kill Tristan and leave Cade to wield the weapon and become the Paragon.
If you’ve seen Star Wars, you can probably guess where the story goes from here. Cade becomes the Rokura’s reluctant wielder, and is pursued by the Praxis and its leader, Queen Ga Halle (who, like Darth Vader, wears a suit that keeps her damaged body alive). Cade and his misfit band of friends come together to keep the Rokura out of enemy hands, and stop the Praxis’s plan to dominate the galaxy. And like Star Wars, Moreci has created a world that is ripe for further adventures, ending the book with a definite conclusion, but makes it clear that we’ll see more from these heroes again.
There’s been a small movement of self-aware genre novels in recent years. Some are directly referential, like Ernie Cline’s 1980s love letter Ready Player One or John Scalzi’s Star Trek meta-homage Redshirts. Others take on genre themes more broadly, like Lev Grossman’s nuanced fantasy series The Magicians, or his twin brother Austin Grossman’s books about superheroes and gaming, Soon I Will Be Invincible and You.
Black Star Renegades fits somewhere in the middle of these. Every page is loaded with references to Star Wars: there are world-destroying super weapons, mythical orders of warriors, exciting space battles, and plenty of wise-cracking heroes. But the book is self-aware about showing those influences while remaining entertaining in its own right. Cade and his friends rocket around the galaxy, rolling with the punches as they’re attacked by the Praxis and uncover unexpected twists that rock their worldview, such as the true origins of the Praxis Kingdom and its agents.
Moreci’s book is what I’d characterize as a sort of beach read for nerds — like Ready Player One or Andy Weir’s The Martian and Artemis. It’s a lighthearted, nostalgic novel that focuses on vibrant characters and adventure, built out of recognizable parts from the likes of Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Arthurian legend. As such, it’s a genuinely entertaining adventure that understands what people love about grand struggles between good and evil. Black Star Renegades is geek comfort food for when you want to sit back and just enjoy the ride.