Star Wars: Light of the Jedi

This review will touch on some plot points that some readers may not want to know in advance. So consider this a minor spoiler warning.

Written by Charles Soule, the new novel Star Wars: The High Republic – Light of the Jedi kicks off the entire transmedia experience known as The High Republic. Set a couple of hundred years before the events of The Phantom Menace, the entire High Republic era is designed to give us a view of a more frontier-like galaxy, and of Jedi who are at the height of their powers before the decay and destruction of the Skywalker Saga. 

The initial wave of novels begin with a central conflict that is established in this first book. There is a disaster in hyperspace. A ship called The Legacy Run suffers a catastrophe and breaks up into hundreds of pieces. The resulting wreckage slips out of hyperspace seemingly at random, causing destruction everywhere in its wake. Of course, the Jedi are called in to help mitigate the disaster and they get into more than they bargained for. Hyperspace lanes are closed until the cause of the accident can be determined, and the opening of the Jedi’s Starlight Beacon is delayed. The Starlight Beacon itself is an outpost in the Outer Rim where the Jedi can be stationed to expand the influence and justice of the Republic to those territories on the frontier of space.

But there’s more at work than the Jedi yet understand. The Nihil, a pack of pirates who operate with impunity in the Outer Rim, are the dominating force in this region of the galaxy. They seem like something out of stories to scare children, but they have a secret that lets them use hyperspace in ways others don’t understand. 

As the Republic throws all of its resources to unraveling these mysteries and the Jedi work to protect the residents from further damage from the Legacy Run disaster, the Nihil are forced into a decisive battle against the Jedi.

What Worked

Charles Soule cuts a very fun, well-thought out yarn – he is the perfect choice to kick off this era. The stakes and status quo of the universe are laid out plainly, the technology is walked back sufficiently, and hyperspace travel is treated with an awe and wonder that we haven’t really seen since Luke Skywalker’s first trip with it in A New Hope.

We also see a lot of great stuff with the Jedi that makes their fall in two centuries feel like it may or may not have been inevitable. And the different personalities of Jedi we see are a welcome break. For those looking for a taste of the old Legends books where Luke had trained dozens and dozens of Jedi in the new order as they went around completing missions, this will definitely scratch that itch.

The Nihil are actually more interesting than I initially gave them credit for. At the beginning of the book, they’re spoken of much like the Reavers in Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe, but they’re much more complicated. The group is led by Marchion Ro, self-styled “Eye of the Nihil,” who is barely holding onto his power. If he doesn’t play his cards exactly right, he’ll lose everything. That makes the Nihil both dangerous and desperate. But thanks to his machinations and maneuvering, he gives the Jedi a fight they do not expect.

It all leads to an ending that reminded me of The Phantom Menace, with its false promise of hope, and I’m here for it.

What Didn’t Work as Much

The chief complaint I have about this book is its timeline. Dramatically, it makes a lot of sense, but the execution of it leaves a lot to be desired. In the book, there is one scenario that plays out in slow motion, taking the chase of a few hours and playing it over the weeks and weeks in which the rest of the novel takes place. Sort of like a novelized version of Dunkirk. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work. It dragged me out of the story since there was no acknowledgment that this was what was happening, before, during, or after. You’re able to read a few pieces of it thinking that it’s moving along at the same pace of the story, but as you get further on, it becomes more and more apparent that it’s impossible to have worked like that. It’s not inherently a bad choice and I can see why the decision was made, but it’s not nearly as coherent as one would hope. Some sort of time stamp would have helped, especially with how certain story threads wrap up.

The other big thing that needs to be amped up is the threat of the Nihil. Right now, the Nihil are a threat based on the fact that no one really knows about them. But the enterprise of piracy they’re engaged in seems like something a few Jedi could clear up easily. When the entire Jedi Order is aimed at them, it seems like they don’t have a chance.

Ultimately, these are minor quibbles for such a great book.

Stuff to Watch Out For

One of the biggest surprises and connections to the future of the galaxy is the San Tekka technological dynasty. Fans will recognize the name San Tekka as belonging to Lor San Tekka, the character portrayed by Max Von Sydow in The Force Awakens. This character has appeared in the comics as well, but we haven’t learned much about his family. Now we know that the San Tekkas had a stake in technology and hyperspace mapping. And the characters we get here from that line are a gay couple from Naboo to boot. 

There were more cameos in the book than I expected. Chief among them are Yoda (who is mentioned more than he appears) and Yarael Poof, the Quermian Jedi master who serves on the Jedi Council in the prequel era. I’m sure there will be more long-lived and recognizable Jedi that pop-up in the future. It will also be interesting to see if characters from this era will pop up later. This book shows that Twi-leks are very long-lived and could conceivably bridge that gap. And Burryaga, the Wookiee padawan in this series, is young enough that he’d only be a little older than Chewbacca was in A New Hope when the prequel era rolls around.

The most interesting thing about the book to watch out for, I think, is how the Jedi are working to tame the Outer Rim and bring it into the Republic. This is something that we can guess goes horribly wrong, based on what we know about the rest of the Star Wars timeline. By the time of The Phantom Menace, Shmi Skywalker confidently claims that the Republic simply doesn’t exist in the Outer Rim. Their laws mean nothing and they’ve barely heard of the Jedi. The Starlight Beacon might be the Jedi and the Republic’s last big push to get into the Outer Rim, which is why it makes even more sense that people living in places like Jakku or Tatooine would have never heard of a Jedi.

What the future holds for this era is doubly exciting, knowing that we’re getting a TV series set at the end of it. Leslye Headland’s Disney+ series Acolyte will cap off the events of this era and that means it will be epic enough to warrant a live action component. And it also promises to introduce more of the Dark Side, which is something there isn’t much of in this book.

Coda

Soule has such a distinct voice, one that is very clean and exciting to read. His previous non-Star Wars novels, Anyone and The Oracle Yearare terrific and seeing him step from Star Wars comic books (where he is prolific at this point) to novels is a gift to all of us. 

This is a great kick-off to an all new era of Star Wars and I can’t wait to read more.

***

Star Wars: The High Republic – Light of the Jedi is available now.

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