By George Bate
There’s a moment with Jedi fighting for light and life as guardians of the peace in The High Republic: Cataclysm (well, admittedly, far more than just a single moment) that feels as if you are experiencing a Star Wars film for the first time. If one has reservations about diving into the High Republic era of books and comics, fleeting exposure to Lydia Kang’s new novel will quell this hesitation and have you eager to make a journey to your nearest book store or comic store.
Lydia Kang’s new Star Wars adult novel The High Republic: Cataclysm follows The High Republic: Convergence and continues the story of the Jedi’s confrontation with the Path of the Open Hand cult. The tenuous peace treaty between warring planets Eiram and E’ronoh has been fractured following disaster on the planet Jedha. As the Jedi begin to suspect members of the Path of the Open Hand cult were behind this disaster, various Jedi are dispatched on different and, eventually, interweaving missions that all converge on the planet Dalna.
The High Republic: Cataclysm is set 382 years before the Battle of Yavin depicted in A New Hope and, like its fellow High Republic stories, focuses on an era of relative peace in which the Republic is expanding and the Jedi are thriving. Cataclysm is a direct sequel to Convergence by Zoraida Córdova and The Battle of Jedha by George Mann, with plot points from these stories providing an integral foundation for the events that unfold in Kang’s novel. Although other works like Path of Deceit by Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland and The High Republic comic series by Cavan Scott complement Cataclysm well, the only necessary reading ahead of time are Córdova and Mann’s stories.
Similar to the other adult High Republic novels to date (Light of the Jedi, The Rising Storm, The Fallen Star, and Convergence), Cataclysm adopts an ensemble approach to storytelling. Rather than a single main character or even a small collective like in the Skywalker Saga films, Cataclysm is sprawling. One chapter may catch the reader up with Princess Xiri of E’ronoh and Phan-tu of Eiram as they desperately try to hold onto the hope for peace between their warring planets, while the next chapter focuses on Master Creighton Sun and Aida Forte as they look into the Path of the Open Hand and the next chapter shifts gears to Chancellor Greylark reeling from the betrayal of her son Axel. For some, this sprawling storytelling approach with a vast number of central characters could be overwhelming at first, but author Kang carefully navigates the different characters and stories to tell a cohesive and followable tale.
In previous High Republic novels, this approach led to some character arcs and stories being more interesting than others, yet this is not the case in Cataclysm. Kang expertly manages to intermittently follow different characters and keep the reader engaged in the present chapter while anxiously awaiting what other characters are up to simultaneously. For instance, Yaddle and a Jedi youngling under her protection Chippa are so enjoyable and endearing, while serving an integral function in the overarching plot. When a chapter with Yaddle and Chippa concludes, the reader is not left with a sense of relief that the story has moved on from those characters nor annoyance that these characters may be absent for a few chapters. Instead, Kang seamlessly connects the different characters from chapter to chapter, never leaving any behind and always taking the time to give them distinct character arcs.
In a similar vein, Kang further develops the character arcs established in Convergence and The Battle of Jedha. Gella Nattai and Axel Greylark, who were front and center of Convergence but took a backseat in The Battle of Jedha, feature prominently in Cataclysm as the book focuses on the aftermath of their decisions in the Eiram and E’ronoh conflict.
Akin to the other High Republic adult novels, Cataclysm revolves around a single event. In Light of the Jedi, it was the Hyperspace Disaster. In The Rising Storm, it was the Republic Fair on Valo. In The Fallen Star, it was the destruction of Starlight Beacon. In Convergence, it was the wedding of Xiri and Phan-tu. In The Battle of Jedha, it was…the battle of Jedha. And now, in Cataclysm, it is a showdown between the Jedi and the Path of the Open Hand on Dalna. This means that all the seemingly disparate plot threads in Kang’s novel eventually converge for a stunning third act full of drama and trauma.
If there’s any critique of Cataclysm, it’s with the novel’s handling of the antagonists. The Path of the Open Hand, a cult who worship the Force and denounce the Jedi for using the Force, remain a fascinating and complex group of antagonists, at war with the Jedi both philosophically and, eventually, physically. The Mother, the nebulous leader of the Path of the Open Hand, features in a minor role in Cataclysm, although her presence looms large. Instead, much of the villainous presence is made up by Binnot Ullo, a menacing villain and interesting complement to Axel Greylark. Unfortunately, Cataclysm leaves the Mother behind in this story, meaning the leader of the Path is strangely absent from the third act’s proceedings. And, unlike other High Republic novels, there is little tease as to what is to come from the villainous side of things. The Path of the Open Hand represents such an interesting foe for the Jedi and the Republic, but those may wish to read the likes of Path of Deceit or Path of Vengeance to dive deeper into the cult.
The High Republic: Cataclysm affirms what many Star Wars fans have known for a while – the High Republic era of novels and comics is absolutely necessary reading. Lydia Kang steps in for the latest adult novel in this era, a sprawling ensemble piece that pits the Jedi against the Path of the Open Hand cult. The chapters flow seamlessly and each and every of the novel’s (many) characters are given unique and fleshed-out character arcs, making it difficult to identify any weak links among the characters. Axel Greylark continues to be one of the more intriguing characters of the High Republic era, while the array of Jedi on display (including Yaddle!) are so much fun to spend time with. Cataclysm will elicit laughs and tears in about equal measure and, although the resolution of the villains’ plot is somewhat unsatisfying, there is no doubt Kang has crafted a fantastic piece of Star Wars storytelling.