This review contains *MAJOR SPOILERS*. If you want less spoilers, check out my other review here.
Look, we’ve all been joking since the beginning that The High Republic was going to make us hurt. With this many characters we’ve grown to love facing wholly unprecedented threats, it was only a matter of time before those threats struck home and caused pain.
But damn. Damn. This one was painful.
I’m not going to lie, this one hurt more than I thought it would. And it took a while to even come around to writing this because my grief over the events of the book absolutely clouded my objectivity and judgement. If you’ve heard me grieve over Star Wars before, I feel the need to point out that this isn’t like that time. I did not dislike this book. There was a lot about it that I did enjoy, even though it ABSOLUTELY broke my heart.
But I’m here, I’m calm, I’ve vented and cried, and I’m finally ready to talk. This is The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray.
Months after the Republic Fair disaster on Valo, the Jedi are trying to get things back to normal. Or most of them, anyway. Stellan Gios has assumed control of the Starlight Beacon while former marshall Avar Kriss hunts down Lourna Dee, whom she and the others believe to be the Eye of the Nihil. Elzar Mann is on a meditative retreat with Orla Jareni as his guide, looking to find a way and balance the Force within himself after he pulled from the Dark Side on Valo. Padawans Bell Zettifar and Burryaga are aboard the beacon as well, trying to help with the reconstruction effort on Eiram in the company of their masters Indeera Stokes and Nib Aseek.
Meanwhile actual Eye of the Nihil, Marchion Ro is putting plans into motion to make the Republic really sit up and listen. Coordinated attacks across the galaxy – and as far from the Starlight as possible – means that the Republics resources are spread thin. And therefor unable to respond to the call for help when Nihil agents infiltrate the space station, set off a bomb and send it crashing down to Eiram. Also on board the Starlight, alongside the agents, is the mysterious Leveler, the weapon Marchion deploys that is turning Force users to dust.
4 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. Marchion F*cks, and he does it well
Yep we’re kicking things off on a shallow note, but let me have this, OK?
Despite the fan fiction being some of the horniest and wide-ranging I’ve seen in any fandom, Star Wars books don’t generally contain sex. There are references to it here and there. Lost Stars (and possibly Crash of Fate, if I’m remembering correctly) do that YA thing where it fades to black and picks up after. The Rising Storm did the same to hilarious effect, giving us Elzar “Multiple Acts” Mann (yes that’s not the actual line, but that’s his nickname dammit) looking for his pants in the middle of a disaster.
The Fallen Star continues in this noble tradition, with a twist so delightful that it took a minute for the full implications of what was happening to even register with me. We’ve known since Light of the Jedi that the Nihil had a spy within the Senate. The Fallen Star casually drops the knowledge that this spy was Senator Ghirra Starros before immediately making it clear that she and Marchion Ro are boning on the side.
While Marchion’s aide Thaya notes that he is obviously playing Ghirra, and is not actually all that emotionally invested in their…relationship?…the man is also so good in bed that it literally knocks Ghirra out for hours. HOURS.
I don’t often get lightheaded with joy, but this was one of those times, not to mention a welcome reprieve from the tension that floods the rest of the book.
If The Rising Storm gave us Elzar “Multiple Acts” Mann, then The Fallen Star gave us Marchion “Enthusiastic Reunion” Ro.
2. The Interconnectivity
Overall, a feature of The High Republic has been the interconnectivity of the stories. It’s certainly not unique to The Fallen Star. But up until now they’ve existed in realms separate enough that the references to other stories were vague enough that they could slide past with little more than a Leonardo Dicaprio-style point.
But here, they are instrumental to the story. The crew of The Vessel, from Gray’s Into the Dark play key roles in the action, as do Nan and Chancey Yarrow who appear in Out of the Shadows. Avar’s entire absence from the Starlight is due to events in the Marvel run, and Stellan’s encounter with the Leveler triggers something in him that we first see in the Trail of Shadows comics. Not to mention characters from all across the initiative that get a passing mention here and there.
I enjoy this kind of interconnectivity, honestly, because this is what I do with Star Wars stories anyway. I try and make them fit together, and see who could have interacted with who at what point.
I will say, however, while this was a highlight for me personally, I do wonder if readers unfamiliar with the other stories felt left behind or in need of a crash course during or after the book. I know a friend mentioned that she followed just fine and is now interested in reading the comics for herself, which is encouraging.
Though I enjoyed seeing everything come together like this in theory, there was an issue – in my opinion – with the execution, which I will get into below.
3. The Titanic Vibes
A great architectural marvel, set adrift and meant to herald a great golden age suddenly splitting in two, killing thousands and plunging the rest into freezing water? The captain going down with said vessel *sob*? Now where have I heard that one before?
With the Starlight Beacon being the symbol of achievement (or hubris, depending on who you ask), it was only a matter of time before that was challenged in the most brutal way possible. Rather than an iceberg though, the splitting in two of the Starlight is far more deliberate – but no less devastating (also the fact that it broke in half cannot be a coincidence).
The novel is relentless, with everyone trying to patch things up as they go just to survive a little longer. The first half of Titanic (the 1997 movie) is more historical romance, while the second half is the disaster film. The Fallen Star is disaster film from almost the word go. It’s not the disaster film vibe that I enjoyed so much (I actually would have preferred a longer, slower-burn beginning), but rather the visuals it conjured up. There is something beautifully tragic about the Starlight falling apart from the inside, taking all its potential with it.
I will say, this might have hit even harder if I had read the Star Wars Insider short stories set on board the space station, but as of writing this I haven’t had the chance. Consider this a formal appeal to Del Rey to bind them all together in a print edition please and thanks.
4. Genuinely Scary Atmosphere
Knowing this was the adult book in the final wave of Phase 1, and knowing that not everyone was making it out alive was enough to make me nervous. Even after I got my hands on the book I was too scared to start it, preferring to live in blissful ignorance.
Then once I started, the terror started early and stayed throughout. Marchion Ro’s two part plan to destabilize the station and eliminate the Jedi in the process is some of the scariest shit Star Wars has done in the new canon. I think my hands were shaking throughout. Appropriate, I guess, since the Leveler feeds off the fear of the Jedi.
Each of these disasters feeds off the other. As they think they’ve found a solution to a physical problem with the station, another Jedi is picked off by the Leveler. And the body count is high, all things considered. Early on, a new, likeable Jedi character named Regald Coll is killed, followed shortly by Orla Jareni, Nib Asseek, and to my devastation Stellan Gios. Indeera Stokes is nearly killed as well but manages to survive (at least for now). Burryaga is also allegedly dead, but somehow I don’t think he is. I need something to cling to in these dark times.
5. Physical Peril vs. Emotional Beats
This is where we get right down to my major issue with The Fallen Star, and that is the fact that the danger and peril surrounding the characters detracted from time we could have spent with them.
I’ve already said that the book feels like – and essentially acts as – the finale for the first wave, even though I know we have two more books coming out still. But the adult books feel like the major set piece for each wave. So with that in mind, it is a lot of loose ends to tie up before we jump 150 years further back into the past. Assuming Phase 2 runs as long as Phase 1 did, we won’t be returning to this point in the timeline for a couple of years. That’s not so bad if you think about it in film terms. It’s actually quite standard. But knowing that we’ll have possibly at least nine books between now and then? I would have liked to spend more time with the characters we’ve already come to love before I have to say goodbye to them for a while.
There are a lot of small beats that I think could have benefited from slowing down and letting the proverbial wine breathe a little. Giving the Vessel crew time to interact with each other, and with Bell and Burry for instance. Letting the older Jedi act like the friends we are constantly told they are. Hell, even starting the book 100 pages earlier on Eiram so we can watch them do what they do best before disaster strikes. But two instances really jump out at me with this.
Early on, Stellan hints to Elzar that he and Orla have some kind of contentious past, and that Stellan will fill Elzar in on it later. Of course, the “later” is famous last words for someone who isn’t going to make it out of the book. But Orla dies in this book as well. Meaning we might not ever get that story, or if we do it won’t be for a while yet.
Most glaring, however, is the time we get with our trio: Avar, Elzar, Stellan. We’re told constantly, across several stories that the three of them grew up together, the best of friends. We speculated on what the tension would be like when Elzar and Avar became an item. Stellan and Avar hardly act like friends anymore, and we wondered what that was all about. Professional disagreements, sure, but for it to get that tense?
It just seems like such a shame that we hit this point, and never actually saw the three of them together. The lack of resolution is probably going to drive Avar and Elzar forward, but if Stellan is so important to them that they refer to him as their “polestar”, I wish we had a chance to see them all interacting.
RIP Stellan Gios
Look, I knew this was coming.
A full month before I read the book, I collaborated on this piece outlining who we thought would live and die in wave 3 and I said that one of my most likely candidates to not make it out alive was Stellan Gios. It was all there, from the way he appeared in what seemed like all the comics, and the manga, and was the focus of two of the books, and was in the Life Day Treasury. We got a whole lot of Stellan in a short amount of time.
I wasn’t shocked. But that didn’t mean I was ready.
From a storytelling standpoint, I see why Stellan had to be the one to go. Avar bears the guilt (possibly, we didn’t get much time with her) of their friendship having disintegrated with no hope of making it right. Vernestra – when she does find out – will have to come to terms with her only parental figure dying when she probably needs him the most. And then there’s Elzar. Elzar whose rash actions led to Stellan having no choice but to take control of the ship. For a man already on the verge of falling to darkness, this is a heavy load to bear.
Stellan was the pillar supporting several principal characters. As Avar and Elzar put it, he was their polestar. Narratively, his death puts them all in a much darker place than they were at the start of the book (where things were already pretty dark to begin with).
But on a personal level, I still grieve the loss. Apart from Marchion Ro, Stellan was my favourite character in The High Republic. I projected a lot of myself onto him, I think, because aspects of our personality are very similar. He is the parent friend and the grown-up gifted kid. He was painted heavily as the perfect Republic poster boy, but that always weighed very heavily on him in private. In public he did his best to embrace it. He projected a vision of perfection that we will never see challenged, and I wish we had. My regret now is that unless we get some kind of pre-Light of the Jedi novel, I’m never going to get to know why he was the way he was. Sure, Phase 2 is set prior to Phase 1, but its a century and a half earlier. Unless they plan to cover the entire time period, it’s likely not meeting up with these characters as Padawans, or even young Knights.
Then again, I have no way of knowing for sure.
Maybe we’ll see him pop up again. It would hurt, but I would welcome it all the same, if only to get to know him better. If not, then we’ll always have Wave Two.
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