By George Bate
The High Republic era launched with a bang, with a new comic series and childrens, middle-grade, and YA books all debuting simultaneously. However, amidst this welcomed array of new Star Wars content, perhaps the most anticipated of the bunch was The High Republic: Light of the Jedi, an adult novel written by Star Wars veteran Charles Soule. Despite a somewhat disjointed, overwhelming beginning act, Light of the Jedi finds its footing as the narrative progresses, culminating in a thoroughly entertaining, emotionally resonant kick-off to the High Republic era.
Two hundred years prior to The Phantom Menace, a disaster occurs in hyperspace that sparks the series of High Republic projects we’ve gotten so far. In an event known as the Great Disaster, a freight transporter called The Legacy Run is destroyed while traveling through hyperspace, causing fragments of the wreckage to be dispersed randomly and disruptively throughout the galaxy. Being protectors and guardians of peace, the Jedi of the High Republic are sent to the site of the wreckage and tasked with rescuing survivors and preventing further destruction. Soon enough, the Jedi find themselves caught in the middle of a mystery involving the Nihil, an insidious crew of space pirates, that threatens the Republic and the entire galaxy.
It’s hard to become immersed within the High Republic publishing initiative without being reminded of the MCU (in a very good way). Although the Marvel Cinematic Universe has its critics, Kevin Feige and company have been universally praised for creating a brilliantly interconnected series of stories spanning various movies and shows. Light of the Jedi and the other High Republic projects really evoke the best of the MCU in that, as a reader, you feel as if you’re being thrown into this grand, interweaving segment of the galaxy. This involves characters from and events occurring in Light of the Jedi being integral to other projects, and vice versa. This sort of interconnectivity elevates Light of the Jedi in feeling as if we’re just getting our feet wet into something really vast.
Charles Soule expertly navigates Light of the Jedi and clearly shows why he was the perfect choice to spearhead this new era. Soule has always had a great knack for dialogue and this skill is on full display in this High Republic novel, with the banter and rapport between different Jedi being a particular highlight. Each Jedi feels like a truly distinct character with unique personality features and characteristics. Soule definitely draws upon some of the post-Return of the Jedi content in Legends when writing his new collection of Jedi characters. The unique Force connections and aesthetics of each Jedi evoke some of the highlights from Legends in a positive way. A lot has been made of Avar Kriss, the shining light of this new era, but various other new characters in the novel are just as interesting and had us eager to see more of them.
Soule also strikes a great balance between world-building and story-telling, something that we pinpointed as a potential criticism in some of the other High Republic projects so far. We’ve loved everything we’ve read in this new era so far, but found some of the world-building to be a little lightweight, making the distinctiveness of the High Republic era a little ambiguous. Soule subverts these issues in avoiding dense paragraphs of exposition and, instead, building out this new era of the Star Wars universe with interesting character moments, dialogue, and references. A particular reference to The Force Awakens was a personal favorite.
Despite striking such a great balance overall, the first act of the novel can be a little jarring. So many new names are thrown around so quickly that it can be difficult to get a grip on who’s who and what’s going on exactly. This issue is ameliorated as the novel progresses, however, as we see more of these characters and come to realize that they are surely to play larger parts in subsequent projects. In fact, the novel adopts an interesting structure in thrusting readers in the midst of a chaotic, climatic event, only to slow down considerably and become more personable as the chapters progress. I commend Soule for this bold structure to the High Republic’s leading book, although it doesn’t always pay off.
It was also somewhat difficult to get a good grip on the Nihil, the antagonists of the novel. The stakes of the Great Disaster seem, well, great. But, it may take some getting used to the Nihil. It’s questionable, at this point, to conceive of how the Jedi Order at the peak of their power would be greatly threatened by this band of pirates. However, this may be the point. Ben Kenobi stated in A New Hope that the Jedi were guardians of the peace for thousands of generations before their downfall, implying that any threats prior to The Phantom Menace aren’t that monumental.
Beyond a somewhat rocky start, Charles Soule delivers an enthralling introductory installment into the High Republic era. Full of interesting new characters and a mysterious overarching conflict, Light of the Jedi excels in almost every department and sets the stage nicely for what’s to come.
Image courtesy of Del Rey Books