Happy Star Wars day! Yes, we’re just about still on May 4th here in the UK, so what better way to celebrate than with a look at the first novel in the High Republic series, Light of the Jedi? What better way, indeed.
The High Republic era is a new departure for Star Wars storytelling, taking place in the centuries prior to The Phantom Menace. Crucially, this time period is now the oldest canon storytelling there is – forget about Knights of the Old Republic, forget about Tales of the Jedi, forget about the Darth Bane trilogy. None of that happened. The oldest we go now is here, 232 years before the Battle of Yavin. It’s a point that I need to reiterate, as it’s something that I constantly had to remind myself of while reading it.
The story is basically quite straightforward, following a group of marauders from the Outer Rim, the Nihil, who are able to travel through hyperspace using random “paths” as opposed to the established hyperlanes. It turns out that these paths are divined by an elderly member of the San Tekka clan, who is somehow able to see her way through hyperspace from one destination to another. She is kept alive for the express purpose of furthering the reaving of the Nihil, and her efforts are put to such devious uses by Marchion Ro, the so-called Eye of the Nihil.
During a raid, one of the Nihil ships gets in the way of the freighter Legacy Run, and the two collide; the Legacy Run, already an old vessel, breaks apart, and random parts of the ship come out of hyperspace, mostly over the agri-world of Hetzal Prime. A group of Jedi are nearby, seeing to the final preparations for the opening of the Starlight Beacon, an effort by Supreme Chancellor Lina Soh to reach out to the Outer Rim Territories and provide aid and cultural support. The Jedi begin a rescue operation to make sure the people of Hetzal Prime are safe, and launch an investigation into what happened.
The basic plot plays out much as you’d expect, with political infighting among the Nihil as Marchion Ro consolidates his power, and the Jedi managing to save the day with getting to the bottom of what happened, helping to defeat a portion of the Nihil fleet (though everyone involved thinks the Nihil were wiped out in their entirety). In some respects, it’s quite a “safe” plotline – there’s a disaster, but the Jedi help to save they day, although the big baddie hasn’t been completely vanquished so that we have fodder for more in the series. It’s a tried-and-tested formula for Star Wars (and others) to use.
I think what impressed me most about this book was the feel of it, though. It was a constant gripe for me about the Darth Bane novels taking place 1000 years before A New Hope, and yet they felt no different in time to the prequel trilogy. Light of the Jedi feels like it is a story that is set decades before The Phantom Menace, maybe even the centuries that it actually purports to be. The Outer Rim is an unknown, frontier section of the galaxy, and there are still people going out there as prospectors, to escape the drudgery of the Core and strike out on their own. The Starlight Beacon is an attempt to make the Territories feel a part of the Republic, something that – even though Shmi basically says as much in Episode I – I’d never thought would be needed.
The importance of hyperspace, and the idea of finding new routes to connect worlds, is a big part of the story, and I was a little bit overjoyed when it turned out that the San Tekkas are involved here. Lor San Tekka is, of course, quite an enigmatic figure in the lore, considering such a brief appearance at the start of Episode VII, and clearly his family has something of a celebrity standing in the galaxy, based on their history of hyperspace prospecting. The scions of the dynasty here are Marlowe and Vellis, a gay couple that doesn’t entirely feel forced into the narrative – I mean, why wouldn’t they be? They live on Naboo, in the Lake Country, so there are tantalizing glimpses here of a link to Padmé, and thus Leia – something so small, for sure, but I really hope that we can explore this link in greater depth as the canon is fleshed out further.
The Jedi are sort of informally led by Avar Kriss, the blonde front-and-centre on the cover. She’s an intriguing character, said to experience the Force as a song. Her friend Elzar Mann sees it as a bottomless ocean. The way that the Jedi are said to feel, and use, the Force throughout the book does put that sort of distance between this and the movies, as it feels like an age of experimentation and so on. The Jedi Council is a thing, and the Temple on Coruscant is there, but it just feels older, somehow. Elzar Mann is renowned among the Jedi for his unorthodox uses of the Force, as he attempts to discover new ways and techniques. It’s a bit vague, though he is credited with coming up with the Jedi Mind Trick (referred to as the Mind Touch in the book). It’s intriguing, as it seems like the Jedi are still learning the depths of their powers.
However, it’s not all new though. Yarael Poof has a fairly big role as a diplomat in the book, and both Oppo Rancisis and Yoda have speaking parts. Of course, Yoda would be a sprightly 600 year old here, and he’s currently on a sabbatical from the Temple, so I guess things are wide open on what we can expect to see here as the series continues!
As the first book in the multi-platform High Republic series, I thought this was a truly great introduction to the era. There is a lot going on, and it’s very interesting to see how things are different, and yet not that far away from the Star Wars that we know. We do have some establishment of what’s going on in the galaxy, but I think this has a lot of potential to be grown as time goes on. There are novels across the adult, young adult and younger readers branches, as well as an ongoing comics series that I’m aware of so far, and they apparently all intersect with one another to varying degrees. The YA novel Into the Dark features the padawan Raeth Silas, who is mentioned in passing by his master Jora Malli in this book. The Jedi “prodigy” Vernestra Rwoh shows up for the Starlight Beacon dedication ceremony, fresh from her adventures in A Test of Courage, the middle grade novel. All of these books came out in January, and it seems to be the case that July is the next major cavalcade of novels is due, including the sequel to this, The Rising Storm.
I cannot wait!