Starting off 2021 is The High Republic, a new era in the Star Wars universe. The High Republic is a multimedia project that spans novels, comics, and even a new Disney+ television show. The first story to start this project off is Charles Soule’s The Light of the Jedi, set approximately 200 years before The Phantom Menace.
The galaxy is in a time of peace, vaguely mentioned wars of the past are distant memories and the Republic is set to improve contact, relations, and travel with the Outer Rim, a part of the galaxy that is currently like the “wild west”. In order to introduce this expansion of the Republic, Chancellor Lina Soh is ready to open the Starlight Beacon, essentially a hub for increased communication with the Outer Rim. Unfortunately, there is a major hyperspace accident that puts everything that Lina Soh worked for into peril, setting events into motion that may endanger the Republic itself.
As a kickoff book, The Light of the Jedi does a phenomenal job of wrapping the reader into the story. I am immediately intrigued to what is going on and how this accident, seen in the very first chapter of the story, impacts the galaxy as a whole. If you want to go in completely blind, I will give my brief overview of the story, then I will note when I start to get mildly spoilery. However, even in the spoilery section I won’t give any of the big plot points away, so that you may enjoy the story as I had.
Looking at the story as a whole, it feels very much like how the New Jedi Order (NJO) was introduced into the Legends continuity over 20 years ago. At the time of the NJO, the galaxy was dealing with intergalactic invaders that somehow were not felt in the Force and eschewed technology to the point that everything they used was grown. Although the High Republic feels like how the NJO started, the antagonists, the Nihil (pronounced like ‘Nile’), are nothing like the Vong.
The High Republic, like the NJO, is an overarching story taking place through multiple pieces of media that are bound to have a major impact on the movies as we know them. The bad guys, the Nihil, are appropriately mysterious and have “powers” that we don’t quite understand at this time, with a leadership that is also rather mysterious. Within this story, many questions are brought up with very few of them being answered. It is assumed that the payoff will be coming in some future story.
The Light of the Jedi gives us Star Wars readers something we have been craving since canon was rebooted back in 2014, and even beyond that: a story with a major event in it. Legends novels seemed riddled with galaxy-shattering events and mass destruction weapons of the week, to the point that readers were getting rather put off with the constant danger the Big Three (Han, Luke, and Leia) were put in. However, since Disney took over, most of the books have tended towards character studies with very few galactic shattering events occurring. (The big exception being the Battle of Jakku, seen in the Aftermath trilogy). And this time, readers have been put off by the lack of danger in the books. The High Republic starts us off with an event seems to have consequences for the characters, with the hope of future events big and small not normally seen in Disney’s Star Wars prose fiction.
The author, Charles Soule, is very well known in the Star Wars mythos as having written several comic series including Lando, Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, The Rise of Kylo Ren, and Poe Dameron, among several others. What he hasn’t done in Star Wars, up until this point, was write a full length novel. So how did his writing fare at the new medium? The writing itself is very good; Soule seems to have a shorter sentence flow, which causes the reader to read the story faster. This is something that I also noticed in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath novels, but it was a style that many people did not appreciate. For me, it worked well in this context. You want a writing style that is fast-paced to match the fast-paced story.
My biggest complaint for Light of the Jedi is the shear number of new characters that we are introduced to. Set 200 years before the movies, there are essentially three characters that I recognized in the book from any materials prior to this, and all three of them play background characters, at least in this story. Although, they do have the potential to become bigger players in other stories within The High Republic era.
But the problem with so many characters, and so much going on, is that each chapter of the book bounces around between parallel storylines. And as the reader bounces between storylines, it is very difficult to keep straight what is going on and whose story we are now following. This is most noticeable in Part 1 of the book, which is all about the disaster and the immediate impact of that, but it is a recurrent problem throughout the story.
Now for the minor spoilery parts:
The story starts with an incident in hyperspace, where a cargo ship traveling through hyperspace is forced to adjust its course, causing the ship to break up. This then proceeds to produce a shotgun type effect as pieces of that ship appear out of hyperspace throughout the region, bombarding planets with debris traveling at near light-speed. While trying to reduce the impacts of this space debris, the Republic and the Jedi must also find out what had caused the accident in the first place.
In walk the Nihil, a group of pirates and marauders who take advantage of the situation. This is a mysterious group led by the “Eye”, Marchion Ro, who doesn’t seem to have as much power over the Nihil as it is initially presented. This is a group that is evolving throughout the book and one that I can’t wait to see where they go from here. Unlike the Yuuzhan Vong of The New Jedi Order, the Nihil don’t seem to have it all together. They are not a cohesive unit. They have their own infightings and problems, and that makes them more “real”; more relatable. The writers took the idea of the Yuuzhan Vong, and dialed them back to a group that is still evil, but understandably evil in our own world. And one that still has tons to grow and become an even bigger threat that I am sure they are to become.
Out of all of the many characters we got, the heroes still feel like they have a long way to go to get to the level of interest for me that the Nihil got. This is likely because we got so many new characters that they didn’t get the time to shine as much as the villains. Out of all of the “good guy” characters introduced, the ones that interested me to most were Loden Greatstorm and his padawan, Bell Zettifar, Avar Kriss, and Elzar Mann. I can see these characters being taken in very interesting places in future stories and I can’t wait.
Overall, I would say that this is a fantastic kickoff to a whole new era of Star Wars storytelling. The villains are definitely intriguing and the I am curious to where the heroes go from here. I am also hoping for more in-depth views of the Jedi, since they might have been given a bit of short shrift in this book in favor of the event narrative. But this book gives us the one thing that most of the new canon books have been in short supply of: a major galactic event, and that, in and of itself, makes this a must read.
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