Welcome back to the Biweekly Book Review, and more importantly, welcome to the High Republic, brand-new era of storytelling set some 200 years before The Phantom Menace!
If I was excited for this new publishing program before, purely because it meant more books to read, it’s nothing compared to how pumped I am now that I’ve actually started reading it. So let’s dive right in with the first story: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule.
Light of the Jedi has the thankless task of not only setting up and executing the story of this book specifically, but also for the High Republic era as a whole. Yes, technically the first book in each series can be read in any order, but for those looking to read all of them, this is the one that sets up the world. Not to mention the catalyst for the events of the entire High Republic series of stories happens here.
A ship called the Legacy Run is destroyed by an unknown entity somewhere in hyperspace, an event which becomes known as “The Great Disaster”. An odd enough occurrence on its own. But the ensuing destruction is also causing untold chaos in the Outer Rim as chunks of the ship fall out of hyperspace at random intervals and at such high velocity that they destroy anything and everything they come into contact with.
The Outer Rim system of Hetzal receives the first several pieces of debris and is faced with total destruction. Fortunately a group of Jedi are close enough to aid them. Led by Master Avar Kriss, they manage to avert disaster for the most part, but then find themselves wrapped up in the Republic investigation into what exactly happened.
Meanwhile, in an obscure corner of the Outer Rim, a threat is emerging, in the form of ruthless marauders known as the Nihil. They don’t fight for the Republic, or the Sith, or any larger entity. They are only out for themselves, and they resent the encroachment of the Republic on their territory. They seek to use the chaos caused by the Great Disaster to their own advantage. However their leader Marchion Ro has reasons of his own for getting involved.
5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. The Jedi at their peak
The Jedi are a strange bunch. But I love them so much. Some people in this fandom are pilot people, or Empire people, or smuggler people. I am a Jedi person.
The tragedy of the prequel trilogy is that you get shades of who the Jedi are, and who they used to be, particularly in The Phantom Menace. Though they never dive into it, you get a sense of the long history, of the dynamics of the Jedi order. You get the sense that they used to be great, all while you watch their world crumble around them.
This is them pre-crumble. When the whole galaxy knows who they are. When they are operating at their very peak, not stretched thin and exhausted by war. The High Republic is going to feature them prominently and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t plant seeds for their inevitable fall. We already see shades of it, in the way the Republic relies on them so heavily for their investigation.
The new era of Jedi stories also means a lot of new (well, “new”) tech we haven’t experienced before. My personal favourite is the Jedi star fighters. Not because I’ve suddenly started caring about starships, but because they’re actually powered, at least in part, by the lightsaber of the Jedi piloting it.
2. Avar Kriss + Elzar Mann 4ever
My poor, romantic shipper heart never stood a chance with these two.
They’re old friends, they apparently used to be a thing when they were Padawans, and they both secretly want to retire with the other one to a quiet retreat on Naboo.
You know what really gets me here? The pining. The fact that they clearly clearly still want to be together but can’t because of their Jedi vows.
Beyond that personal connection, they also have a special connection within the Force. Though Avar is already hyperaware of others in the Force, more than we’ve seen in a character before, the connection she shares with Elzar feels different. They are very connected to each other, it doesn’t feel as one sided as it does between Avar and the other Jedi.
It feels, in short, like a dyad.
Which got me thinking, if Rey and Ben are the dyad “unseen for generations”, are Avar and Elzar the last dyad people are aware of? I’d say 250 years qualifies as a few generations.
It also has me wondering if the key to a dyad is a strong connection between the individuals in question. Not just a bond, but actual love. Though it’s romantic in these instances (fight me, I don’t care, it’s romantic for both pairs), I don’t think that always needs to be the case. The love between friends, between Master and Apprentice could probably also foster this kind of bond…if they weren’t so determined to nip any and all attachment in the bud.
3. The Nihil
According to every High Republic author: “The Nihil are bad. Really bad. The literal worst. Absolute bad guys.”
I love them. No one is surprised.
They have a cool, pseudo-punk aesthetic, their meeting place is a platform in the middle of space with invisible walls, they look out only for themselves. They are, in short, as chaotic and unpredictable as the storms they name their hierarchy system after.
While a large chunk of the book painted them as unpredictable and without morals, this takes a turn towards the end when we finally get a chance to hear about the larger state of the galaxy from their point of view.
The settlers in the Outer Rim are infringing on their territory, because their very presence necessitates a larger Republic presence as well. In the eyes of the Nihil, they aren’t settlers, they’re colonizers.
We get some more – but not much – detail on this from Marchion Ro, the Eye of the Nihil who has a particular issue with the Republic. But regardless, once it’s phrased this way, it’s hard not to see where they’re coming from.
They existed in their own corner of space, and in comes the Republic with their aggressive colonization masked as expansion and their space station and their Jedi and their “Great Works” trying to unite everyone.
Whether everyone likes it or not.
4. Marchion Ro
Really. A dark, broody boy in a mask. And y’all thought I wouldn’t instantly fall in love.
Better yet, a broody boy with a past. His true name is a mystery. His motivations are a mystery. Everything about his history is totally unknown.
I can’t get enough.
Marchion is the “Eye” of the Nihil. The Eye of the storm, so to speak, which is appropriate considering how calm he remains through everything he commands the Nihil to do.
He is the one who guides them through the Paths in space that allow for fast travel. He has no real love for those under his authority. He plays them against each other and uses them to achieve his own ends.
They really almost had me. They tried to convince me this guy was no good. Then they had to go give him a mysterious vendetta against the Republic in the last few pages. They gave him angst, and I gave him my heart.
5. New Era, New Possibilities
I touch on this elsewhere, so I won’t spend too much time on it now. But I love that this is an entirely new era where we don’t have any preexisting thoughts or feelings about anything in particular. Though the concepts of the world as a whole are familiar, the details and the reality of how the world works is all new. Though we have some idea of how things will turn out down the line, by going back 200 years, we know that whatever it is Palpatine schemes will have no bearing on any of the characters in this book (except Yoda, I guess. He makes a cameo).
Of most interest to me is the Republic and its influence on the galaxy as a whole. the Chancellor is very concerned with the Great Works that will form a part of her legacy. So much so that she builds the Starlight Beacon station in the Outer Rim to act as a relay point for settlers going out to colonize the area, completely disregarding groups like the Nihil that live there already. I almost wonder if the chancellor will turn out to be a “villain” in the end. I just don’t trust her. She’s the human embodiment of a red flag, and I can’t explain it.
I also love that there’s no existing story telling me if I’m right or not. They can make Palpatine all nice and stuff in The Phantom Menace, but the audience already knows they can’t trust him. Are they preparing to pull the rug out from under us here too?
6. The info dump to end all info dumps
So if you think my story summary was vague, that’s because it absolutely is. Like I said off the top, this book had the thankless task of setting up the entire world. It’s not like with any other Star Wars book, where we drop in with some vague idea of who the characters are, or what the world looks like at that time. We are starting totally fresh. With absolutely no familiar frame of reference beyond broad concepts, Charles Soule has to introduce us to an entirely new cast, to the world they live in, and to the plot of the book all in one go.
With that in mind, the first part of this book is such a rapid-fire info dump that I found myself wishing I had flashcards on each page so I could keep track of the new characters. Fortunately, the locations remain fairly fixed so I didn’t have to keep track of those too. This isn’t really a fault of this book in particular, and I think it was handled better than I expected. It was just…a lot.
Random Thoughts and Lingering Questions
There are romance novels in canon. Like actual Jedi-centric romances with lightsaber duels “meant to represent something else the characters would rather be doing” and I have never needed anything more.
A standout in this book is how each Jedi perceives the Force differently. Avar Kriss hears it as music, Elzar Mann experiences it as a sea. It’s not the same thing to every single person, which makes sense and now I’ll be retroactively trying to assign “Force perceptions” to every Jedi we’ve ever met.
Avar Kriss’ kyber crystal is a white one that she took from a Sith staff and healed. Where is that story, I would like to see it. Or at least, I would like to know if this is going to come into play later. I love the notion of healing kyber crystals.
Based on concept art, I’d kind of expected Stellan Gios to play a larger role in this book. I understand now that there just wasn’t the space, and he’ll instead take a central role in the next Del Rey (adult) novel. He’s got such Obi Wan crossed with knight-in-shining-armour vibes based on the concept art and I love him already.
What is this purple rod Marchion has? Elzar has a vision right at the end of the book that seems to indicate it’ll play a larger part in the conflict down the road so I’m curious to see.