*** This post includes minor spoilers for Light of the Jedi***
The High Republic is here!
The first three books of the massive new publishing initiative were released earlier this week, as well as the first comic. I’ll be reviewing all of them, but we begin today with the novel that kicks everything off, Light of the Jedi, by Charles Soule.
And let me just say this: I had very high expectations for The High Republic, and this book was even better than I hoped. It might just be one of my favorite Star Wars books ever, period.
It’s not spoiling things to say that this book begins with the Great Disaster, since we all knew that was coming. This is the event that kicks off this storytelling era, and it is a huge hyperspace disaster that reigns destruction across the galaxy, shuts down the hyperspace lanes, and leads to mysterious discoveries. All of this is brilliantly told by Soule. The first several chapters introduce you to a number of new characters, some of whom are killed before long, and really pulls you in emotionally to the looming disaster. And Soule expertly plays up the mystery, giving the reader just enough to know what’s going on and stay intrigued, but we’re learning things along with the characters in this story. Some of the mysteries aren’t fully resolved until the end of the book, while others linger even at the conclusion. But it’s a thrilling story that immediately grabs you and pulls you into this brand new era, with brand new characters.
Considering all of that, it’s hard to overestimate the amount of storytelling weight that Charles Soule is pulling in just this one novel. These are characters we have never seen or heard from before. A few familiar Jedi masters appear, as Yarael Poof and Oppo Ranscisis are on the Council, while Yoda has taken a temporary leave from the Council to train younglings. But none of these three Jedi are major players in the book whatsoever. There’s just enough familiarity with the galaxy to remind you that this is, in fact, the same universe we’re familiar with, and Star Wars fans will recognize a lot of names and references that may stick out. But there’s also plenty going on here, often very subtly, to remind us that this is a brand new era, set 200 years before The Phantom Menace. Many of these may be easy to miss, but if you’re specifically looking for them, they’re literally all over the place. Soule doesn’t bear the weight of establishing this era by himself, since there’s a team of writers and books, but for most of us this will be our first foray into the High Republic. And if that’s the case, then Soule proves himself more than up to the task. He establishes things spectacularly.
And that includes, of course, the Jedi. They are major players in this story, especially a handful in particular – like Avar Kriss, Loden Greatstorm, Bell Zettifar, Elzar Mann, and others. Jedi like Burryaga will likely endear themselves to fans instantly, as do so many others. Again, Soule expertly weaves all of these brand new Jedi together to tell a compelling story, and it’s also very interesting to read about how each of these Jedi views the Force differently – including some stunning displays of Force prowess that turns the tide of certain encounters.
This is the Jedi in their prime, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. The Sith are in hiding, only referenced twice. The galaxy is at peace, and in a time of great expansion under the watchful leadership of Supreme Chancellor Lina Soh.
So Soule tells a thrilling story even with the galaxy not at war, and that’s through the true mystery and intrigue of the Great Disaster, as well as the introduction of a new kind of villain: the Nihil. We learn more and more about them and how they work as the book goes on, and Marchion Ro in particular stands out as a tremendous villain, with nefarious and hidden motives, a mysterious backstory, and some dark deeds. He’s another new character who is instantly compelling.
This book serves as a perfect kick-off to The High Republic era, setting in place so many of the characters and events that will be picked up on by the other authors. But this book also stands by itself perfectly, a tall task considering all the worldbuilding Soule had to do, and that this is just the beginning. So understandably not all of the story threads are resolved here, and so you’ll leave the book with plenty of questions and dying to learn more, but that’s the way a good book with a planned sequel does it. This story stands really well by itself and isn’t just an introduction to the galaxy.
And it’s probably one of my all-time favorite Star Wars books. It’s surprisingly heartbreaking and sad and tragic, but I suppose maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at that given the focus on the Great Disaster. It’s dark at places, particularly when it comes to the Nihil. The mystery flows throughout the whole story. There’s tons of stuff that I’m wondering now and can’t wait to find out. But amidst all of this, there’s hope. There’s hope because of the Jedi, the light of the galaxy. But there’s also hope because the leadership of the Republic, the Jedi, the people, all believe in good. The refrain, “We are all the Republic,” echoes throughout these pages, reminding everyone in the galaxy that they are not forgotten and that they matter. As we read of Chancellor Soh near the end of the book,
“But the key was this – and Chancellor Soh believed it to her very soul, and had made it the cornerstone of her entire government: You could not solve those problems individually. It was ridiculous to even try. What you could do, however, was make the various peoples of this high era of the Galactic Republic see one another as people. As brothers and sisters and cousins and friends, or if nothing else, just as colleagues in the shared goal of building a galaxy that welcomed all, heard all, and did its best to avoid hurting anyone. Truly tried its best. If you could make that happen, then problems didn’t have to be solved. Many would solve themselves, because people believed in the Republic more than they believed in their own goals, and would be open to that magical word – compromise.”
There’s no doubt about it: the Republic is rocked in this story, and great heartbreak and loss ensues. There is much that could cause fear in a person – maybe even in a Jedi. But there’s hope that stands like a beacon of starlight amidst the dark clouds of the galaxy, because people believe in the Republic, and because of the Jedi.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s already one of my favorite Star Wars books ever, and it’s the perfect start to this brand new era of Star Wars storytelling, the High Republic.
My grade: 10/10