The first wave of Star Wars The High Republic is coming to a close and Lucasfilm has released new information on the upcoming projects for Wave two. Many of these titles have already been revealed but now we know what major event they will revolve around post The Great Disaster: a fair celebrating the Republic that comes under attack by the Nihil. I am actually surprised with how quickly they are moving away from The Great Disaster but I am sure the repercussions will play out through the High Republic era. Looking ahead to the next wave, two specific projects stand out to me and are particularly exciting for future Star Wars canon:
As one of Marchion Ro’s most trusted allies (well, as far as Marchion trusts anyone) Lourna Dee has carved out a place for herself as a leader among the Nihil. But it’s lonely at the top, and a Tempest Runner like Lourna is always watching her back for threats—whether those threats are from the Jedi or her fellow Nihil.Summary from Starwars.com
Disney/Lucasfilm ltd started experimenting with audio-only content in 2019 with Dooku: Jedi Lost, a full cast of voices that followed Asajj Ventress as she goes on the hunt for the Count’s sister, learning about her current Master, facing her old Master, and struggling between light and dark. In 2020, it was Doctor Aphra, an audio adaptation of comic issues of Darth Vader (2015) and Star Wars (2015). The audiobook must have been successful because Lucasfilm Press is releasing the official script for the audiobook earlier this month. Audiobooks in general have surged in popularity within the past five years, increasing 16% in 2019 with sales over $1.2B per the Audio Publishers Association. During the bulk of 2020 and lockdown, sales in the UK also soared to £56m in the first half of the year, on track to beat 2019 sales. When the dust is settled and the numbers are finalized, 2020 sales will likely see another increase and, given Lucasfilm is planning its third audiobook for The High Republic, the audiobook business is good for them too.
It is interesting that the characters chosen to be the focus of the original audiobook stories are all women and are either villains or anti-heroes. In the case of Ventress, Dooku: Jedi Lost comes after the release of Dark Disciple where the former Sith apprentice redeems herself and helps the Jedi Order. Aphra operates more in the grey space of morality and cannot be pinned to one particular side. And now there is Lourna Dee: one of the Nihil leaders first introduced in Light of the Jedi. She was not happy by the end of the novel and with good reason: she and fellow Nihil leader Pan came to the realization that they had seriously underestimated Marchion Ro, the Eye of the Nihil, who had previously just been a way-finder allowing the group to travel through secret hyperspace lanes. If we do not get another novel with her perspective before Tempest Runner, this audiobook will be very revealing for the future of this character. In fact, this will be the first project that will feature the main POV from a High Republic villain (Lucasfilm is intent on keeping the mystery surrounding Marchion Ro a secret). The screenplay will be written by Cavan Scott, who also wrote Dooku: Jedi Lost and is no stranger to writing from the POV of Star Wars villains.
So what does this say about Lourna that she is getting her own audio original story? Asajj and Doctor Aphra are popular characters within the Star Wars universe, the latter even having a now long-running comic series. Like Marvel Studios with The Infinity Saga, The High Republic writing team has the entire era planned out, enough to have a Disney+ series in the wings that takes place near the end. Lourna Dee is important enough that the writing team wants readers to understand her POV for whatever the future awaits. Could she be headed towards an identity crisis in the wake of Light of the Jedi events? Is this the beginning of her possible redemption or could her path be taking an even darker turn? We will find out soon enough when Tempest Runner comes out this fall.
The Edge of Balance
In the aftermath of the Great Hyperspace Disaster, young Jedi Knight Lily Tora-Asi is assigned to help displaced civilians relocate to Banchii, a planet in the Inugg system far in the Outer Rim. While balancing the arrival of incoming settlers and teaching the Padawans on their Temple outpost, Lily must also confront an attack by the insidious Drengir and, after the events of the Republic Fair, deal with the growing threat of the Nihil. But the dangers to Lily and her Padawans are much closer than she thinks….Summary from Starswars.com
The Edge of Balance is the next project after The Tempest Runner and it is also the first original Star Wars manga. Lucasfilm has been flirting with this medium for a while, enlisting manga publishers, writers, and artists to adapt popular Star Wars content into manga (recently it has been Claudia Grey novels like Lost Stars and Leia: Princess of Alderaan) and now they are taking the leap and publishing an original.
The book will be illustrated by Mangaka Mizuki Sakakibara and Shima Shinya will co-write with Justina Ireland and will be testing the waters just like Dooku: Jedi Lost did for original audio content. If sales are strong, expect to see more original manga content within, and possibly even outside of, The High Republic.
Just like audiobooks, manga sales are at an all-time, led by popular books like My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan. Kevin Hamric, Vice President of Publishing Sales for Viz Media, stated that manga sales for the publisher saw a 70% increase in the U.S. market. Manga is a big business globally and popular books often spawn anime series (in some cases long, never-ending series). Speaking of which, Lucasfilm will also be producing anime shorts on Disney + called Star Wars Visions, working with Japanese anime studios. Further details still need to be provided but it is not hard to imagine these worlds combining eventually. By creating a popular manga series with the possibility of developing into an anime series, Star Wars can court new fans into their publishing arm, then funnel them to Disney+.
Is it possible I am reading too much into both of these projects? Yes. But with the success of wave one of The High Republic and the excitement around the upcoming Disney+ Star Wars series, Lucasfilm is firing on all cylinders (what a difference a few years can make). They are taking chances and experimenting with different mediums and it has been paying off. A successful manga series could further enhance Star Wars storytelling and expand the franchise’s reach and I can’t help but be just as excited for that as I am for the stories.