….in a bedroom far, far away (not that far, definitely in the Seattle area), 10 or 11-year-old me discovered the Star Wars novels. By that point, I was well well versed with the ways of the Force. I couldn’t tell you, dear readers, when I first saw the original Star Wars trilogy because I don’t remember. It’s always been a part of my life. But the novels were new to me. I found a copy of “Heir to the Empire” by Timothy Zahn at the local library and lost my head with excitement that there were NOVELS about STAR WARS! I blew threw them happily until I got to the Young Jedi Knights series by Kevin J. Anderson. Here, I took a moment to pause. I read the first two books quickly enough, and enjoyed them just fine. Then I got to “Lightsabers”. It’s the story of the young Jedi students at Luke’s academy learning to make their own lightsabers. One particularly independent student, Tenel Ka, constructs her lightsaber wrong and it blows up. Her arm is damaged beyond repair and is amputated.
Now, we get to the point of this post. The reason I am such a strong reader is because I had a lot of downtime as a child and teenager. I was born with a rare spinal birth defect, and as a result had a whole ton of surgery to correct issues that sprang up. While recovering from those operations, I got very bored with television and found books to be quite comforting. Most characters were courageous and conquering quests, hunting down bad guys, and winning the love of their life. The one thing I almost never came across was a heroine (or hero) who was disabled in some way. Someone who reflected the way I felt and who possibly looked like me.
Until Tenel Ka. She was truly the first disabled character I read about who went through a very genuine, organic mourning period after losing her arm before *spoiler alert* leaving the comfort of her bedroom and going back to the Jedi Academy to resume her studies. I had never read anything like it, and I reread that book until it was in tatters.
Some books now have characters with special needs, but usually the book is all about the disability. Same with television and movies. Many are inspirational and show the characters overcoming huge odds. The reason I love “Lightsabers” and the rest of the Young Jedi Knights series is Tenel Ka constantly works, in small ways, to adapt to her missing limb. It’s not a huge part of the series, just the one book is dedicated to her accident and subsequent recovery. But Anderson constantly drops in small details that illuminate how Tenel Ka is doing, and how she is finding ways to use just one arm and still be a total badass Jedi.
The purpose of this post grew after I unearthed my Star Wars novels from the garage last weekend and found a new, special place for them in our house. I want Bookstore Baby to have the chance to see them and read them, if he wants, in the future. I would love to see more novels with characters like Tenel Ka. Overcoming odds, but also quietly, daily adapting. So, writers near and far, let’s see what you can do with a premise like that!