'Star Wars: The High Republic' Is A Promising Expansion Of The Universe And A Must-Read For Fans Old And New

Star Wars: The High Republic is the bold new transmedia initiative from Lucasfilm that takes Star Wars hundreds of years into the past. Set a couple of centuries before the events of The Phantom Menace, The High Republic shows us a Republic and Jedi Order at the height of their power. The Republic is expanding its reach into the Outer Rim with the Starlight Beacon, a sort of Watchtower for the Jedi Order to keep their eye on the furthest fringes of the known galaxy.Each of the initial novels deal with a catastrophe in hyperspace, a cataclysmic event that sets the Republic and the Jedi against the Nihil, a mysterious group with even more mysterious motives. And each of those books, Star Wars: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, Star Wars: A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland, and Star Wars: Into the Dark by Claudia Gray, suggests that this new era of the Star Wars universe will be one worth exploring.

A New (Older) Universe

The Jedi in this era are much more religious and don't have things as well figured out — not that they had them well-figured out by the time of the prequels, anyway. However, they definitely feel like an older version of the monastic order we've come to know so much. The Republic in this era is definitely in an expanding mood. Is it colonial? Or is it more cooperative? It feels like the latter, but time will tell. By the time of The Phantom Menace, we know that Republic doesn't exist out in the fringes of space, so what happens to the help they're trying to provide the Outer Rim?It feels like the tail end of The High Republic will likely address losing that foothold in the Outer Rim to the Nihil, to the Hutts, or to any other form of the Underworld. Since the Nihil don't exist in our known timeline of the canon, it will be interesting to see what happens to them. The Nihil have already been mentioned in the comics, though, most recently in the pages of Doctor Aphra. But they're spoken of in the extreme past tense.It will be doubly interesting to see how Acolyte, the series by Leslye Headland, will affect this end. That show is described as "a mystery-thriller that will take the audience into a galaxy of shadowy secrets and emerging dark side powers in the final days of the High Republic era."Could the Nihil give way to something more powerful? Only time will tell.We received advanced copies of the first three books in the new initiative and are able to give brief spoiler-free thoughts on them in advance of diving into them in more detail as they're released over the course of 2021.

The Light of the Jedi

We start with Charles Soule's The Light of the Jedi. This first novel kicks off the major conflict between the Jedi and the Nihil and shows us a galaxy that is a proto-version of the one we're used to. Sure, the Jedi work with the Republic, but it's a little bit more frontier than that. Jedi masters wear tabards and their sabers have crossguards and they seem more like Paladins in a D&D game or marshals at the edge of the frontier than the version of Jedi we know best. It's like the Jedi in the wild-west and it's refreshing and compulsively readable.The book follows a number of Jedi, including Avar Kriss, Bell Zettifer, Loden Greatstorm, and others. The cast is varied and interesting and the Nihil are more of a threat than I would have guessed. The Nihil will, however, have to evolve if they want to compete with the Jedi as a threat. Further books in the series begin to add to that promise.The book is sharply written and intensely enjoyable, though I have one quibble about the structure and the timeline. I'll talk more about it in my more detailed spoiler-filled review in January, but trying to reconcile the events pulled me out of the book more than a couple of times. Although I can tell the change in structure was clearly intended to aid in the pacing, I'm not sure it works.Light of the Jedi raises many intriguing questions and does an excellent job of re-establishing something that is so familiar to all of us, yet so far away from anything we really know. There are definitely some constants that ground us, though. Yoda does get mentioned, but he's not the only cameo from a long-lived member of the Jedi Order. And there are families involved that have long reaches into the history of the galaxy. Most notably in this novel, it's the San Tekkas. Lor San Tekka was the character played by Max Von Sydow in The Force Awakens and his forebears play a part in the politics of the galaxy.Charles Soule was the right choice to kick off the era and set the table for the drama to come. Light of the Jedi comes out January 5, 2021.

A Test of Courage

Justina Ireland's book, A Test of Courage, is a short delight. It tells the tale of Vernestra Rwoh, a Mirialan Jedi Knight who is only 16 years old. She's one of the youngest Jedi in recent memory to take the trials and she's doing her best to find her way in the galaxy all by herself. On one of her first missions, she's assigned to supervise a 12-year-old named Avon Starros. (Yes, that Starros.) Thanks to the Nihil, things go wrong and she finds herself shepherding a padawan who has lost his master and two other kids on a distant planet.It's a wonderful book with a lot of heart and Ireland's writing just feels right for Star Wars and this story in particular. Vernestra and the padawan, Imri, play off each other wonderfully and I think Star Wars fans who might be prone to dismiss the books for younger readers would be making a mistake in overlooking this one. I would recommend reading it after you read Light of the Jedi, though. All of the events that take place and the background on the Nihil and names dropped throughout will make a lot more sense and it will heighten the stakes of the book.Of the three books, this might be my favorite. It was a breezy read, but it just felt like the comfort food that a Star Wars adventure ought to provide, nailing the right tone in every way.A Test of Courage comes out on the same day as Light of the Jedi, but be sure you read it second.

Into the Dark

The darkest of the three books might be Claudia Gray's Into the Dark. This is a tense novel featuring some terrifying elements and a step toward seeing the dark side at work in the galaxy. It revolves around a 17-year-old Padawan named Reath Silas, a bookworm who spends all his free time in the Jedi Archives. When his master informs him that they'll be taking a mission to crew the Starlight Beacon on the frontier of space, he's none too pleased. Despite his misgivings, Reath boards a shifty transport alongside three other Jedi and they set out for the frontier. Unfortunately, because of the emergences affecting hyperspace, they're waylaid at a remote, abandoned outpost that they believe was created by Amaxine Warriors. They're not the only ones, either. Many ships are dumped out of hyperspace and take to the aged station for protection. But the station contains a dark secret and the Jedi are out of their element.This book is excellent. Claudia Gray's Star Wars work is famously of high quality and this book keeps her reputation spotless. It not only gives you a lot of characters to love (especially Geode), but it raises the stakes on the entire High Republic era. It hints at the machinations of the dark side, past and present, and gives us completely absurd ideas and moments that made me feel like I was reading a Star Wars book from the '80s in the best ways.Again, this is a book you'll want to read after you dive into Light of the Jedi. Characters and events from that book get mentioned here. It's all meaningful. Everything really does build from the foundation Light of the Jedi creates.Into the Dark comes out February 2, 2021.

The Future

There is a lot more from The High Republic era on the horizon. As we mentioned, the newly announced Disney+ series Acolyte will take place at the end of The High Republic and dabble in the dark side. There are comic series from both Marvel and IDW. And more books are on the way, too. Cavan Scott was just announced for the adult novel follow up to Charles Soule's book with The Rising Storm. The High Republic has even taken a step into the VR space with the first story in the Tales From Galaxy's Edge series.They're definitely setting up a lot of content spread across every medium they have. Would a movie be so far off?