Rising Storm and author Cavan Scott pick up where Light of the Jedi and Charles Soule left off in Wave one, continuing some character’s storylines while introducing new characters to the chaos. Soule is sitting Wave Two out, likely focusing on The War of the Bounty Hunter Marvel comics series (another publishing initiative under Disney). Scott, who has been writing Marvel’s The High Republic comics focusing on newly Knighted Keeve Trennis, Jedi Masters Avar Kriss and Sskeer, and the Drengir gets to switch gears to focus on the Nihil. Even with the absence of Avar Kriss, there are plenty of characters for Scott to manage. And, for the most part, he succeeds. Rising Storm is true to its namesake as the reader is waiting with increasing anxiety and tension for the storm to center its eye right on our Jedi heroes. As with most Star Wars stories, Scott balances war and politics with some elements shining brighter than others.
We are still in Phase One, so there is still a great deal of setup these novels have to do with conflicts within the Republic and the Nihil. Because of this, we spend most of the first half meeting a lot of new characters. The “opening crawl” presents the state of the galaxy: the Drengir have spread and have conquered whole planets while the Nihil are quietly regrouping unbeknown to the Jedi. Meanwhile, Chancellor Lena Soh is getting ready to open the most recent symbol of the expanding Republic, The Republic Fair in Lonisa City on the planet Valo. There is a lot of contention within the Senate on Republic resources going towards the Fair instead of defense post-The Great Disaster, but we’ll get more into that in “The In-Between” discussion.
And The Great Disaster feels like it is in the rearview for Soh and the Jedi as they believe they have defeated most of the Nihil, not realizing the severity of the threat that looms over them. Marchion Ro has just acquired the last piece for his mysterious weapon but faces internal challenges to his leadership. He sees the Republic Fair as an opportunity to solidify loyalty and a distraction, so he sends the Nihil to Lonisa City to wreak havoc. The first act consumes 51% of the novel, then the story accelerates from 1 to 100 in mere sentences once the attack starts. And the action, death, and tragedy doesn’t stop until the last, chilling sentence.
There are so many POV changes that things can slow down if you don’t particularly care about the character, but most actions have immediate consequences. If you compare a traditional three-act story structure with Rising Storm, instead of a roller coaster, it would look more like an accelerated drop ride. The second act just starts, and the third act is left hanging a little unfinished, mostly setting up for Wave Three. Politics takes up most of the first and third act and, while elements were intriguing, the politicians overall were not engaging enough to keep my mind wandering in the first half. But let’s get into the characters that populate Rising Storm.
There are too many characters in the novel to discuss all of them, so we will focus solely on the Let’s first discuss the heroes we have met before. Elzar Mann, still haunted by his disturbing vision at the end of Light of the Jedi, is in charge of Fair security and is stationed at the Jedi Temple on Valo. Perhaps due to his fear of losing those close to him like Avar, Mann has opened himself up to distraction, flirting, and engaging in a relationship with Valo Fair Coordinator, Samera Ra-oon (so close to being Samera Racoon). These have serious consequences and lead Mann to struggle with the dark side throughout the novel. Then there is Bell Zettifar, who might be the heart of the story and still dealing with the loss of Loden Greatstorm. He is beginning to accept that his former Master is gone when he faces a near-death experience from a Nihil attack on Cyclor at the beginning of the novel. His journey throughout is equally inspiring and heartbreaking, and the last chapter makes you wonder what the force, and the High Republic team, have in store for this young Jedi. Indira Stokes, as Bell’s new Master, has more to do here than she did in Light of the Jedi. Her framing of taking a life to protect others is compelling, and I hope she continues to have a significant part to play in future novels. Porter Engle also appears briefly and proves his fierceness (still waiting for a Porter Engle comic series).
In old Star Wars EU, a Jedi like Elzar Mann would be a prime candidate to fall to the dark side, but there is a little more complexity to his development in Rising Storm. He is not the first Jedi to briefly use the dark side (Padawan Imri was in A Test of Courage), but we see what a High Republic Jedi Master can do with dark side powers in an intense encounter with the Nihil.
As for new characters, we meet the third member of the Jedi Superteam mentioned in Light of the Jedi, Stellan Gios. Gios seems to be the middle ground between Avar’s devotion to the Jedi Order and “light and life” and Elzar Mann’s struggles with the dark visions and unJedi behavior. He knows something is going on with his friend but can only do so much because he has to play politician to Chancellor Soh’s contingent group of Senator attendees to the Fair. Gios, who favors teaching and is not as battle-ready as a Jedi Master should be, gets a wake-up call when he has to battle the Nihil. For a Master who has spent his life being a peacekeeper, he is hesitant for the Jedi to transition into soldiers. While the Nihil tested Mann’s ability to control his anger, they also tested Gios’s ability to control his fear.
In Rising Storm, Scott solidifies Marchion Ro as an unapologetic villain. There is no redemption for him and no attempts to build sympathy, which is refreshing. That is not to say he lacks complexity. We find out that he has major daddy issues and is more insecure than we thought. And, like a true dictator, he galvanizes his loyal followers by fueling hatred toward a single target: the Republic (more specifically Lina Soh). The way a force-sensitive Nihil is treated at the beginning of the novel draws a clear distinction between Marchion Ro and the unfortunate souls with whom he sees as temporarily useful.
In direct conflict with Ro is Pan Eyta, the intimidating Dowutin Tempest Runner. He is constantly ignoring Ro’s orders and challenges Ro’s leadership and value to the Nihil. He is also apparently impossible to kill and where he ends up at the end of Rising Storm foreshadows more internal conflicts within the Nihil and a big problem for Ro and Lourna Dee.
Speaking of the Twi’lek Tempest runner, Lourna Dee still leans heavily in the villain category, but she is also literally in between Pan and Marchion in this novel. And, while she causes problems for the Republic and Jedi, she also plays an antagonist for Ro and Eyta. It feels like Dee is at the beginning of her own journey with identity. Given that she is also getting her own audio story, there will be more to her than meets the eye and might shift into a morally grey character.
Unlike Light of the Jedi, which presented a more clear-cut hero and villain division, the Rising Storm gives us characters that lie somewhere in the middle. They are antagonists to the Jedi, but they are not necessarily villains. Ty Yorrick, a former Jedi Padawan now saber-for-hire, comes into conflict with Gios and Mann when she acts as security to shady inventor Mantessa Chekkat and her daughter Klerin. Mann and Yorrick form a connection, but she is still an anomaly for Stellan on whether she can be trusted and is one more complexity for the Order. Mantessa and Klerin also fall into this category, trying to sell a dangerous weapon to the Republic but being open to any buyer (including the Nihil). I’m sure we have not heard the last of the Chekkat family.
Sullustan Senator Tia Toom, a potential buyer for Chekkat’s invention, is trying to push a Defense Force Program in light of The Great Disaster. Arguing that the disaster should have been a wake-up call for the Republic and, instead of allocating funds for defense, are wasted on the Republic Fair. Chancellor Soh sees the Fair as a symbol of solidarity and strength, but Toon sees it as a dangerous extravagance. Toon understands the limits of the Jedi to protect the entire galaxy, while Chancellor Soh relies too heavily on the peacekeepers. Because of this, Chancellor Soh is also a morally grey character.
Yes, I am putting Lina Soh in this category between hero and villain. While she is idealistic in her pursuit of unity throughout the galaxy, she is also an ambitious politician. Soh has tied her legacy to “We Are All The Republic” and has blinded herself to the reality of the threat the Nihil pose. To quote Mayor Lionheart from Zootopia (Zootopolis in other territories), it is a “classic case of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.” She even pressures Gios to become a symbol for the attack, seeing the political opportunity at the expense of the Jedi Order’s principles.
Is there a Star Wars Moment?
Yes, but it has nothing to do with any Jedi powers or a great battle victory. It involves Stellan Gios in the aftermath of the carnage in a very vulnerable moment where it becomes clear that his beliefs have been shaken to their core. Often great Star Wars moments involve victories for our heroes with the fanfare playing, either on-screen or in our heads. But great Star Wars moments can also come in losses and tragedy.
Favorite Thing in the Novel
Scott starts to highlight the difference in how each Jedi deals with tragedy. Elzar Mann is ashamed of his struggles and feels he cannot confide in anyone, while Bell Zettifar tries to cut himself off from the force. In contrast, Stellan allows his emotions to come through and chooses not to hide them, while Indira seems to have the best way of dealing with connections and loss through the force. How these Jedi deal with tragedy should play a part in how they begin to heal and change, for better or worse.
Least Favorite Thing in the Novel
Too. Many. Characters. I am sure there is a reason why the High Republic team introduced Lina Soh’s son Kip and gave him a love interest, but it wasn’t made clear in Rising Storm and their storyline and just slows things down. Same with Republic reporter Rhil Dairo, who is only in the novel to broadcast the attack and given way more to do than is needed in an already crowded book. There is also a subplot involving the Torgrutas relationship with the Republic, which was one of the more interesting political aspects of the novel and deserved more time on the page. Hopefully, that will be explored more in future content.
Even though I did not enjoy Rising Storm as much as Light of the Jedi, the events that happened in this novel and the actions taken by the characters will be more consequential. Almost everything is out in the open as the Republic, the Jedi Order, and the Nihil all suffered tremendous losses. It is hard to believe that we are still in Phase One, and I wonder how much longer we can have these same conflicts without the story becoming drawn out.
But, this is where the importance of balance between the adult, young adult, and middle-grade novels can complement each other. Claudia Gray, who also sat out Wave Two, will return in Wave Three with the third Adult novel, The Fallen Star, which will end Phase One. Looks like the drama is just getting started for everyone in the High Republic.