LIGHT OF THE JEDI (Star Wars: The High Republic)
Charles Soule (charlessoule.com)
Del Rey (penguin.co.uk)
An unheard-of tragedy in hyperspace destroys a starship carrying thousands of Republic citizens to their new homes in the Outer Rim, and raining deadly shrapnel on various star systems. As the Republic and the Jedi struggle to stop these deadly missiles and save millions of lives, a sinister force lurks in the background, a group of bandits and opportunist criminals who call themselves the Nihil. But behind the Nihil is a man who wants much more, a man with a much more sinister agenda than disrupting the Republic’s affairs for his own profit. The question is can the Republic stop him with the help of the infamous Force users, the Jedi?
Welcome to Star Wars: The High Republic. Set some 200 years before the beginning of The Skywalker Saga, this series of books and comics is set to shine a light on the Jedi at the height of their power and influence. In many ways this is the Jedi that many people expected to encounter in George Lucas’ oft-maligned prequel trilogy. The 200-year gap goes some way towards ensuring that we’re unlikely to see much (if any) crossover with the Star Wars film universe (with some notable exceptions) leaving the creative talent free to concentrate on defining this historical era that has yet to be touched upon in the new canon, and the characters, worlds and technologies that populate it.
“We are all the Republic.”
In his opening novel, Light of the Jedi, Charles Soule – who has previously written for the galaxy far, far away in the form of the ongoing Marvel Comics series – does some work to set the scene. Led by Chancellor Lina Soh, the Republic has begun to expand into the Outer Rim, bringing much-needed civilisation to a dark and often violent backwater. Preaching a message of unity Lina Soh already has her sights set on her “Great Works”, the legacy she will leave behind. “We are all the Republic” is the constant refrain, and to reinforce this the massive space station Starlight Beacon has just completed construction, bringing the light of the Republic to the Outer Rim territories. Alongside the Republic, as fans will expect, stand the Jedi, part of the overall body, though autonomous in every other way. The Jedi are peacekeepers, bound to assist those in need by the vows they take and the sacred bond with the Force that they enjoy. Unlike many other Star Wars stories concerned with the Jedi which tend to focus on a master and an apprentice, this first book introduces us to a whole swathe of characters – not all of whom will reach it to the end of the novel – and shows us them working together to solve the problems they face.
With the new era comes a host of brand new characters for us to take into our homes and our hearts, as is always the way with this creative universe. Interestingly, with the new (old) Jedi comes a whole new set of abilities, smashing the boundaries of what we thought we knew the Force was capable of. Here’s Avar Kriss, a human with the ability to create a sort of network within a large group of Jedi, to direct them in battle, or allow them to work in harmony with everyone else in whatever they are doing. Porter Engle can calm with a single touch, while Burrayaga, a Wookiee padawan, can sense the emotions of those around him and beyond. Vast numbers of Jedi of course means a much greater variety of species involved, and here we meet Trandoshan, Ithorian and Twi’lek Jedi, to name but a few, as well as a few familiar names, in the form of long-lived characters such as Yarael Poof and Yoda, who is sadly absent throughout, despite a handful of mentions. Expect to see more of him, possibly, in the books aimed at a younger audience, as he seems to be off working with younglings.
Putting us inside the heads of some of these Jedi, Soule gives us what is probably the first real first-hand glimpse of what the Force is, and how each Jedi sees it in their own unique ways: as an all-encompassing network, a vast seascape, and so on. While the iconic lightsaber remains a big part of the Jedi arsenal, the Jedi of the High Republic era also have access to a wide range of technology that has largely disappeared by the time of the Skywalker Saga. Chief amongst this is the Vector, a one- or two-person spacecraft with a weapons system keyed on the lightsaber, meaning that only Jedi can use them, and they are forced to consider their actions while in control of the craft.
Light of the Jedi is an excellent introduction to this new era. Staying true to the heart of Star Wars while introducing enough new features to amaze and surprise long-time (and often hardcore) fans is a fine line for any writer. Soule stays away from the classic Good vs Evil arc that we often expect from a Star Wars story and instead opts for shades of gray. There is no Sith Lord lurking in the background here (at least not yet) and for much of the novel’s length the Nihil are a band of petty criminals and pirates looking to make a fortune by concentrating on the areas that an all-encompassing Republic will inevitably miss. That said, Marchion Ro, the Eye of the Nihil obviously has bigger plans, and is definitely one to watch.
It’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan. We haven’t had it his good since the 1980s, what with the success of The Mandalorian and the many in-development film and television projects that that success has spawned. Now we have the High Republic which gives us a glimpse at an era we have yet to see within the new Disney canon. Despite a few structural issues that were more irritating than anything else, Light of the Jedi is a thrilling and engaging addition to the Star Wars universe. Providing a glimpse at the Jedi Order at the height of its strength, Soule also manages to focus in on some of the individuals, and gives us plenty of reason to keep coming back for more. Due to last for the next handful of years, look for the High Republic to span adult and middle-grade novels, ongoing comics series and much more. It’s a must for all Star Wars fans and this is one reader who can’t wait to get his hands on the next instalment, in whatever format it comes!