The HoloFiles

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: The High Republic – Temptation of the Force

By George & Josh Bate

Temptation of the Force review

Just as the High Republic era makes its live-action debut in Star Wars: The Acolyte, a new story set during this luminous period of the Star Wars timeline debuts. Star Wars: The High Republic – Temptation of the Force, a new adult novel by Tessa Gratton, continues the sprawling narrative of the High Republic publishing initiative with a tale full of romance, suspense, drama, and world-building.

The High Republic: Temptation of the Force picks up after the events of George Mann’s The High Republic: The Eye of Darkness and various other High Republic Phase III stories. The conflict between the Jedi and the Nihil rampages on as the Nihil continue to uphold the Stormwall, an impenetrable barrier that has cut off a section of the galaxy from the rest of the galaxy. Jedi Masters Avar Kriss and Elzar Mann are finally reunited after Avar managed to escape the Occlusion Zone in The High Republic: The Eye of Darkness. Reunited, the two continue their battle against the Nihil, while also tackling their strong feelings for one another. Meanwhile, a mysterious blight has appeared, infected and destroying everything in its path. As Jedi Knights Bell Zettifar and Burryaga look into the blight, so does the Nihil’s leader Marchion Ro, who hopes to use the blight as another weapon to wield against the Jedi.

With such sprawling stories featuring so many characters, one of the best elements of the High Republic adult novels has been the authors’ willingness to center the stories around a single event. For the first High Republic novel Light of the Jedi, this single event was the Hyperspace Disaster. Each subsequent novel similarly grounded its narrative around a core event, whether it be the attack on the Republic Fair or the destruction of Starlight Beacon. Temptation of the Force follows this pattern, although diverges from it in several key ways.

While each of the previous High Republic adult novels have revolved around a distinct event, the event that Temptation of the Force is focused on is essentially an extension of what the previous adult novel, The High Republic: The Eye of Darkness, centered around. This single event is the Occlusion Zone, as the Nihil attempt to maintain the Stormwall and the Jedi try to destroy it. In this sense, Temptation of the Force feels more like a direct sequel to The Eye of Darkness than most other High Republic adult novels have felt in comparison to their predecessor. Obviously, the different adult novels continue plot threads and character arcs from their predecessors, but there tends to be a clear divide between books given their attention on differing key events. Akin to the relationship between The High Republic: Convergence and The High Republic: Cataclysm, however, Temptation of the Force feels more like a sequel to The Eye of Darkness than previous novels in this series have.

Temptation of the Force builds upon The Eye of Darkness with stronger writing, tighter storytelling, and more emotive character moments. All of the different plot threads and character arcs seldom feel overwhelming, as each piece contributes significantly to the broader narrative. 

However, there can be a few too many characters to keep track of. This does not prove problematic if one has read a solid amount of High Republic stories beforehand. But, if one has only read the adult High Republic novels, Temptation of the Force can feel like you’re missing out a bit on characters’ backgrounds. becomes problematic when the novel focuses on characters who have been developed

Nonetheless, unlike several other High Republic novels that had variability in interest across different characters and plots, such variability is not evident in Gratton’s novel. There isn’t a particular side plot that slows the book down or a certain character that is markedly less interesting to follow than others. As such, Temptation of the Force consistently entertains with very few, if any, periods of stagnation.

The emotional heart of the novel is the relationship between Avar Kriss and Elzar Mann. The Eye of Darkness concluded with the two Jedi, separated by the impenetrable Stormwall, finally reunited. And Temptation of the Force takes this newfound reunion and runs with it. Like The Eye of Darkness, Gratton’s novel positions Avar Kriss as one of the core characters, which is in contrast to the Phase I adult novels that saw Avar play a more distant role. More than ever, the reader is given an opportunity to dive into the psyche and heart of Avar Kriss, which enables an exploration of the effects of fame and expectation on a Jedi that have not been previously examined in Star Wars in such a manner. 

Similarly, the focus on Avar Kriss and Elzar Mann also fosters an exploration of romance and attachment in a manner distinct from previous Star Wars stories. Romance and attachment were key themes in the prequel trilogy that played integral roles in Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader and the subsequent fall of the Jedi Order. Here, there is a different perspective on attachment, one that more aligns with what one would expect from the Jedi as opposed to the rigid and dogmatic view of attachment they endorse in the prequels. Highlighting the extent to which the Jedi lost and distorted their core values by the time of the prequels, the novel’s focus on attachment and romance proves to be one of the more interesting elements.

This interest is largely down to the strong writing that brings Avar Kriss and Elzar Mann’s relationship to life. The sparks certainly fly between these characters as their chemistry intensifies and intimate feelings toward one another blossom, so much so that the relationship between Avar and Elzar is up there with Kanan and Hera’s as one of the strongest romantic relationships in recent Star Wars stories.

Another light side character worth noting is Burryaga, who continues to be one of the High Republic’s most compelling characters. The ever-endearing Wookiee Jedi has experienced his fair share of trauma across previous stories and Temptation of the Force, perhaps more than ever, gives the reader a glimpse into the effects of this trauma. Gratton’s writing often positions the reader inside the mind of Burry, tapping the audience into the character’s empathy, brotherhood with Bell Zettifar, and wholesome worldview. 

It’s not just the light side characters that compel in Temptation of the Force. Gratton’s novel features arguably the most well-rounded and unnerving portrayal of the Nihil yet with three distinct antagonists – Marchion Ro, Ghirra Starros, and General Viess. At the top of the pyramid is Marchion Ro, who is more unhinged and unpredictable than ever. The extremely methodical and meticulous villain has evolved in recent stories to become an even more complex antagonist than he once was. Plagued by hallucinations and isolated in his pursuit of knowledge about the Blight, Ro captivates in a striking manner that affirms his status as one of Star Wars’ most iconic villains ever.

The villainy of Marchion Ro is contrasted with a different flavor of villainy in Ghirra Starros. The former Republic senator now serves Marchion Ro and the Nihil and represents a less animalistic, more organized and professional version of the Nihil. Ghirra harbors similar complexity to her leader Ro, but is all-together different villain. Her fractured relationship with her daughter is explored in the novel, as is the unique role she plays in legitimizing the Nihil in negotiations with the Republic.

The third head of this trifecta of Nihil villains is General Viess, who continues to be pitted against the seasoned Jedi Master Porter Engle (also known as the Blade of Bardotta). The battle between Viess and Porter is the novel’s most personal conflict given its the culmination of various stories about this relationship across different High Republic novels. With several dramatic and goosebumps-inducing confrontations and a truly unpredictable twist, the conflict between Viess and Porter ends up being one of the novel’s most intriguing and dramatic elements.

Gratton’s writing style warrants considerable praise here. The author avoids bogging down her writing with unnecessary details or heavy exposition, instead crafting a novel that flows so organically. The writing manages to explore complex emotions and multi-layered stories, while never feeling unapproachable or convoluted. Ultimately, the only downside of the writing is some missteps with pacing as the novel seems to have a climax-worthy moment around the halfway mark, before losing momentum until the grand finale. This issue aside, Temptation of the Force triumphs with excellent authorship that allows the reader to deeply empathize with a range of characters and follow a multi-faceted story without feeling overwhelmed.

VERDICT:

The High Republic: Temptation of the Force continues Phase III of the High Republic with a sprawling story centered around the destruction of Stormwall and the emergence of a mysterious blight. Feeling more like a direct sequel to its predecessor than most High Republic adult novels do, Tessa Gratton’s book features strong, empathic writing that offers insightful glimpses into the minds of various characters. On the light side, the primary area of focus is the relationship between Avar Kriss and Elzar Mann, which continues to heat up and is now among our favorite Star Wars romances in recent years. Burryaga proves yet again why he is one of the most interesting High Republic characters as Gratton beautifully depicts the character’s trauma, continued struggles, and wholesome nature. The novel also impresses with a trifecta of villains, all of whom represent different villainous sides of the Nihil. Although the novel stumbles with its pacing and occasionally overwhelms with a few too many characters to keep track of, The High Republic: Temptation of the Force is yet another strong Star Wars novel, one that shows that even when the High Republic era is beginning to be explored in live-action with The Acolyte, there are still plenty of brilliant stories to tell here in novels.

Star Wars: The High Republic – Temptation of the Force by Tessa Gratton is available June 11, 2024.

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