The Saga Continues is a post series that explores the Star Wars new canon. Servants of the Empire is a four-book middle-grade Star Wars Rebels tie-in series by Jason Fry that follows Zare Leonis along with his girlfriend Merei, and their parents and friends on the planet Lothal.
Fans of Star Wars Rebels will probably recognize the name Zare Leonis. Zare appeared in two episodes of the show, primarily in “Breaking Ranks” where he helped Ezra (using the name Dev Morgan) escape from the Academy for Young Imperials on Lothal along with a fellow Force sensitive cadet. Zare opted to stay behind in order to infiltrate the Empire from the inside and discover what had happened to his sister Dhara.
The Servants of the Empire series begins over a year before that episode. Initially, Zare and his family are loyal Imperial subjects with both he and his sister excited to join the ranks of the Imperial Army. However, once Dhara goes missing, Zare learns that the Empire is lying to his family and are keeping Dhara’s location a secret. Zare soon begins to see the Empire for what it really is when he witnesses atrocities on Lothal and begins to understand that the news is keeping the real truth under wraps. He decides to go undercover as an Imperial cadet in the hopes of discovering where his sister is being held and eventually rescuing her. Later in the series, Zare discovers that his sister is being held on the planet Arkanis—home to an officer training academy for teenage cadets. Zare is eventually transferred there, with him believing that he has earned the transfer through excellent service while in reality, the Inquisitor has initiated the transfer in the belief that Zare may lead him to Ezra Bridger.
Over the course of the four Servants of the Empire books, Zare undergoes a significant character shift. We see him move from an idealistic kid who believes in the Empire as a force for good to a jaded teenager who feels alone in knowing the truth behind the propaganda. As he continues his Imperial training, Zare finds himself facing many moral challenges. He begins to question at what point he is doing more harm than good by keeping up his pretense of a good cadet, and worrying if he will end up playing the part so well that he forgets it’s all an act. As Zare’s training continues through the books, we get an insight into how the Empire breeds loyalty into its troops and the challenges they are faced with in order to prove their commitment to the Empire and its methods; by the time Zare begins officer training, these drills begin to have horrifying real-world consequences.
Merei becomes increasingly important as the series progresses too, moving from just being Zare’s girlfriend to become a main character with her own storyline separate from Zare. She enters the Vocational School for Institutional Security on Lothal where she improves her already impressive slicing (hacking) skills and uses her newfound abilities to snoop around classified Imperial computer files, helping Zare track down his sister. However, she soon finds herself in danger and at the mercy of a local crime syndicate. I was pleased that it was down to Merei to extract herself from this dangerous situation—there’s no rescuing the damsel in distress here—but the consequences of her plan were shocking for a middle-grade novel.
One thing I found particularly interesting about this series was that the leader of the Academy on Arkanis was none other than Brendol Hux—father of General Armitage Hux. The novel Phasma explores Brendol’s backstory in some detail, specifically his plans to educate First Order troops from the earliest possible age and his formation of troop training for even the youngest children. Servants of The Empire shows us that Brendol was already thinking along these lines and starting to put his plans into motion long before the First Order even came into existence. It also links Brendol and the First Order to the Inquisitors through the sinister Project Harvester.
Servants of the Empire is technically a middle-grade series but I would advise approaching it with more caution than usual for this level. Although the first book of the series—Edge of the Galaxy—will be suitable for nearly everyone, the books become darker and scarier as they progress and by the final book of the series—The Secret Academy—it was tackling themes more suited to YA and even adult Star Wars novels. These books do not shy away from the harsher elements of the Empire and tackle subjects including torture, brainwashing, and death in many forms—including the execution and murder of teens.
For more mature readers, this is a fantastic series that will work wonders at bridging the gap between the Star Wars younger readers stories and those aimed at adults, but I would strongly advise reading the series yourself before handing them over to younger children.