Star Wars The High Republic has been marketed as one of the most ambitious publishing initiatives since the reveal at Star Wars Celebration Chicago in April 2019. Earlier this week, the team behind The High Republic gave us a sense of just how ambitious: more novels, a graphic novel, a manga, and three total phases. This made Charles Soule’s Light of the Jedi even more of a must-read and put a lot of pressure on him to deliver. And he delivers in every way that matters. As an avid reader who came into Star Wars through the novels, it is exciting to see so many Star Wars fans buying and reading a Star Wars book. There is a lot to talk about, so let’s get into it.
**Minor spoilers for Light of the Jedi**
Light of the Jedi is essentially the story of a catastrophic event that occurs and the politics and investigation that follows. The story structure is broken up into three parts: The Great Disaster, The Paths, and The Storm. The Great Disaster takes up the majority of the novel, which kicks off by introducing us to Captain Hedda Casset and her flagship The Legacy Run. We get a portrayal of Casset as a well-trained commander who understands and takes seriously her responsibilities as the leader of a ship transporting people and cargo to new lives in the Outer Rim. And then her ship runs into something along the hyperspace route. Casset and her team try to maneuver around it but fail. The bridge rips open and the last line of the first chapter reads “Hedda Casset died, not knowing if she had saved anyone at all.” This somberness pretty much sets the tone for the first three chapters as many parts of the ship are then thrust out into different parts of the hyperspace route, mainly in the Hetzel system. And so, the race is on to stop as many disasters (in the novel they are called Emergences) and save as many lives as possible. Each chapter in Part One starts with a countdown to impact, and we don’t know what exactly that the impact is until the last few chapters as the Jedi work to stop it from happening. Part Two: The Paths follows various Jedi Masters, Knights, and Padawans as well as Republic officials as they investigate what happened to The Legacy.
During this section, we also get the perspective of the main antagonists for, what I’m guessing, is most of The High Republic (or at least through Phase One). The Nihil’s storyline takes place in the Outer Rim and in No Space, which basically means an unknown area of space from where they are headquartered. We also get a sense of their motivations and an understanding of how big of a threat they are to the Republic. Speaking of the Republic, there is a lot of expansion and growth happening as more worlds are joining the Republic and the Outer Rim is the “Wild West” of the galaxy. As the Republic pushes out further into the Outer Rim, Supreme Chancellor Lina Soh sees the newly completed station, the Starlight Beacon, as the greatest part of her legacy. A space station that will be a representation of the Republic in the Outer Rim and will act as many things: an embassy, a projection of security, the largest contingency of Jedi outside of Coruscant, a communications relay, a state of the art medical facility, and much more. It will be the ultimate navigation guide for ships traveling to and within the Outer Rim and The Great Disaster threatens its’ opening. Therefore, the Jedi are given another timeline: 30 days, which is when the Starlight Beacon will hold its opening ceremony. And, as is true in the real world, when a politician’s legacy is on the line, dates and deadlines become a little more unyielding. This leads into Part Three: The Storm and to a few confrontations across the galaxy, in space, and on planets. There is a resolution of sorts, but the ending definitely exudes the kind of dread that comes when you know that the heroes are dealing with a villain that they don’t even remotely understand. But the reader does, which is always more interesting to have more information than the heroes of what they are up against. Soule does, however, keep a few secrets in his pocket about the antagonist to be revealed in other novels. Overall, the story is a tense and engaging one even though many things are happening all at the same time (especially in the first part). I love the structure and breaking it down into three parts, especially for readers who like to go back and reread sections and there are definitely seeds planted in this novel that will come into play down the road.
There are a lot of characters in this novel, and as you are reading it does get a bit overwhelming. Luckily, however (or maybe unluckily) some of them get killed off so by the end you have a clear picture of who the main players will be moving forward even if you don’t get much time with some of them in this particular story. For the sake of my sanity, I will focus on the main characters of this novel.
The first Jedi we hear is Jedi Master Avar Kriss. She is the blonde female front and center on the cover of the novel and is also the central point of communication for the Jedi during The Great Disaster. Her Force skills are most impressive but the character presented outside of that is, unfortunately, a little flat. And she is the Jedi that we get the most time with so it is odd but, as I said, there are a lot of characters so it is not a glaring weakness but Kriss could use more character development in future novels. Her friendship with Elzar Mann is endearing as they seem to be opposites, with Kriss being more of a by-the-book Jedi whereas Mann experiments with Force techniques which might have prevented his elevation to Master like his friends Kriss and Stellan Gios (who is mentioned in this novel but we do not get his perspective). Avar Kriss is great at sensing emotions and Mann is great at reading people…so the perfect team leading the investigation of The Great Disaster. It is also made clear that, if they were not Jedi, they would be more than friends and I am sure those feelings will be explored later as well. We meet Master Loden Greatstorm and his Padawan Bell Zettifar as they help get evacuees off Hetzel Prime and later try to thwart a kidnapping attempt by the Nihil. Greatstorm and Zettifar’s relationship is the most explored in this novel and, without spoilers, could be a beloved Jedi/Padawan relationship up there with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Bell also has the best character arc out of all the heroes in the novel as he is tested, both in his skillset during a dire moment in the story, and in his attachment to his Master.
Finally, we meet Burryaga Agaburry, a male Wookie Padawan, who is the only Jedi to make a very important observation regarding some of the pieces of The Legacy that are emerging from hyperspace. It is nice to finally have an active Wookie Jedi in Star Wars and getting the perspective of someone who can communicate with very few people around them. The scene where we get the most time with Burryaga is fascinating, as it conveys both his feelings of isolation within the Jedi Order due to the language barrier and his empathic Force ability to connect with strangers despite that same barrier. I know that, narratively, it is challenging to write the thoughts and communication of a Wookie, but I am glad that Star Wars is finally making an attempt.
During The Great Disaster, a convoy of freighters belonging to Garello Technologies trying to evacuate their entire company (including technology, research, and financial information) after an Emergence is attacked, suddenly by what appears to be a storm in space. All employees and their families aboard these ships are killed as the main villains, the Nihil, make their Star Wars entrance. The description of their ship caravan coming through the lighting storms as they reveal themselves is a visual I would love to see play out in theaters. There are four main players here: Pan Eyta (a Dowutin male), Kassav Milliko (a Weequay male), Lourna Dee (a female Twi’lek), and Marchion Ro (a male who knows what). Kassav, Lourna, and Pan are Tempest Runners, leaders who have their own factions and carry out their own separate raids/missions. Marchion is the Eye of the Nihil and holds power because of his knowledge of hyperspace lanes that allow the Nihil to travel at faster speeds and seemingly appear out of nowhere in front of their target. Lanes and sections of space that the Republic knows nothing about. This is a position that he inherited from his father and the other leaders seem to only tolerate him because of his galaxy wayfinding skills. Like all seemingly “weak” characters, Marchion Ro is not quite what he appears to be. Let’s just say, even the other leaders of the Nihil might have underestimated him.
Love them as you may, the Empire and Emperor were very one-dimensional in their first appearances within the original trilogy. Darth Vader was the one that got a little more complexity to his character and, because of it, became one of the most beloved villains in pop culture. Both the Empire and Emperor eventually got more context in other films and mediums but it is nice to see the complexities and layers given to the Nihil in their first appearance. I don’t think the marketing or discussions about them from the authors have done justice to the characters, but I understand not wanting to reveal too much too soon. And, even after you finish Light of the Jedi there are still plenty of secrets left to uncover about the Nihil.
Is there a Star Wars Moment?
Star Wars Moment / noun
A moment of unbridled joy that elicits one of three responses while consuming Star Wars content: cheering, crying or gaping.Credits & Canon
YES!!! There is a Star Wars moment in Light of the Jedi (there are actually a few but this is a big one). It comes near the end of Part One when time is running out to prevent an even greater disaster than everything we have already read at that point. And only the Jedi can prevent it from happening. Avar Kriss uses the Force, and her lightsaber, to communicate with all the Jedi in the Hetzel system…and then all the Jedi in the galaxy to prevent this incident. It takes a lot of energy for Kriss and all the Jedi, but it is a Star Wars Moment of “I didn’t know they could do that!” It might be one of my top five favorite Star Wars Moments across all mediums.
Favorite Thing in the Novel
I love reading a Star Wars novel in which I had no idea what was going to happen next: for the overall plot, for the heroes, and for the villains. I didn’t know if the characters that I liked would still be alive by the end of the novel. I liked the unforgiving violence, which I know sounds weird but I feel like in Star Wars films, perhaps because they are more family-oriented, audiences are prepped through visual cues and dialogue of when to expect a major character death. In Light of the Jedi, death comes without warning to some characters that you might think you have more time with, which makes for a more tense but exciting read.
Least Favorite Thing in the Novel
There are too many characters and quite a lot of setups in Light of the Jedi. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: looking at this book as the starting point in a series, some characters are introduced briefly that will likely return in more substantial roles down the line. The High Republic is a massive publishing initiative and is going to be more like long-form television shows like Battlestar Galactica or The Expanse, where characters will come and go…and come again. Not bad at all, but it still is my least favorite thing about the book.
Overall, Light of the Jedi is a top-tier Star Wars novel and one of the best adult novels in canon. It pits our Jedi heroes against impossible circumstances, compelling villains, and career politicians. The beginning of the novel starts with the line “All is well.” Not counting the Epilogue, it also ends with the line “All was well”. The former being thought by Captain Casset before her ship is ripped apart in the beginning, the latter a line bookending a conversation between two Jedi. Clearly, Soule’s intention of the change from present to past tense was not a reassurance to the readers (like the ending of Harry Potter). More like a literary cue that there are more battles to be fought in The High Republic.