“The Nihil have given the castoffs and losers of the galaxy a home. They’ve given people with nothing something, and that is a very powerful thing. Are they bad? Of course.
But they’re bad because it’s all a lie based around violence.”
Ireland, Justina. The High Republic: Out of the Shadows.
At the beginning of 2021, Star Wars: The High Republic Publishing Initiative officially launched with Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule and A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland. The inciting incident was a galactic crisis known as The Great Disaster, which introduced the threat of the Nihil and started to test a Jedi Order who, for so long, had been at peace. The Light of the Jedi was a thrilling kick-off to the High Republic era as it introduced Jedi and characters to fall in love with only to kill some of them off immediately. The opening chapter set the tone for a high-stakes series of stories throughout the year. Having lived in the Skywalker Saga for so long, you become familiar with the players and how their stories end (and many stories recycle the same character journeys). So it is refreshing to read about a new era and wonder who is going to die (and who might turn to the dark side).
The disaster hovering over Wave Two is the Nihil attack on the Republic Fair, which plays out in horror in The Rising Storm, is complemented in the middle-grade Race to Crashpoint Tower, and the ramifications continue in the YA novel Out of the Shadows.
As we inch closer to Wave Three, let us look at two major themes of Wave Two:
Unity vs. Isolationism
This is a continuing theme from Wave One that focuses on the general ideas and philosophies of the Jedi versus the Nihil. Wave Two begins to examine those philosophies and challenge them. The Rising Storm has small triumphs amid many tragedies within the united front of the Republic and the isolation of the Nihil. And it further explores the politics within the Jedi Order, which is experiencing both.
Chancellor Lina Soh sees the Republic Fair as a cultural exchange showcase, representing what the Republic can provide the Outer Rim worlds: a connection, not just with each other, but to something greater. It is the equivalent of the Wild West in the Star Wars universe as hyperspace lanes are being explored and mapped, connecting more worlds, and allowing for more convenient travel to and from the Core worlds. Naturally, the Republic and Soh, based on Coruscant in the heart of the galaxy, would see this as an opportunity to expand Republic values to the Outer Worlds. Does it feel like a positive way of saying colonization? Yes, but it is established in Light of the Jedi that Lina Soh genuinely believes that the Republic can make lives better in the Outer Rim. But to sell this idea, Soh and the Republic must package it in things like the saying “We Are All the Republic.”
The Nihil are people who have been hurt and, at the basic level, hurt people hurt people. And at the top, bad faith individuals take advantage of that hurt for their own selfish purposes. It should not be surprising that the leader of an entity built on selfishness is selfish. In the beginning chapters of The Rising Storm, Marchion Ro lures a Force-sensitive Nihil member to a trap, testing his weapon we learn later is called the Leveler. He does this by appealing to a sense of unity within the Nihil and loyalty to himself. It is also not a coincidence that this Nihil, Udi, has father issues similar to Marchion Ro.
And the Nihil do not encourage long-term loyalty, just temporary loyalty through fear and hatred. The Nihil have been built up as the big bad for the Jedi Order, but it is also possible that the Nihil, who we know are no longer threats by the time of the Prequel Trilogy, might implode on themselves. Slowly, their leadership is wavering and losing people, whether through violence or the lure of other opportunities like Nan leaving to work with the Graf family.
Marchion Ro is perhaps the most isolated individual in The High Republic. He has no real friends, trusts no one, and operates in secret, constantly showing a different face depending on what he needs to achieve. And he never gets his hands dirty in Nihil battles, only his own. When he is on the brink of being overthrown as the Nihil leader by Pan Eyta, he deflects by convincing the Nihil that Lina Soh and the Republic are their true enemies, inciting the attack on the Republic Fair. The truest sense of self we get from him is when he releases the Leveler on Loden and Bell. When he sees their resilience and hears his father’s voice taunting him, there is jealousy and hatred so ugly that you get a sense you are seeing Ro’s lowest point as well.
The Jedi Order
But the isolation is not relegated to the Nihil. The Jedi Order is an entity built on peace and has thousands of Jedi working together across the galaxy. But even that connection is not enough for Jedi when faced with traumatic events. And most of these Jedi have never had to fight before the Nihil announced themselves as a threat with The Great Disaster. Bell Zettifor lost his Master, slowly built himself back by rising to help during the Republic Fair attack, found his Master, and lost him again. Elzar Mann keeps having dark visions of Jedi dying and internalizes his fears. Both Zettifor and Mann reach a low point at the end of The Rising Storm, but they have an open connection to avoid struggling alone (Indeera Stokes and Stellan Gios for Bell and Ty Yorrick with Mann).
Ty Yorrick, a saber for hire and former Padawan, is on Valo to guard cargo for a scientist meeting with a Senator. When Stellan, Elzar, and Bell meet her, Stellan wonders who she is (why Ty left the Order and under what circumstances are still partially a mystery going into Wave Three). The Jedi Order immortalize Knights who leave in Corridor of the Lost in the Great Temple, and expulsions are so rare he would have heard of her. Her identity has been erased from Jedi history, and she is completely isolated from the Order. While it is not a part of the discussion (but still a part of Wave Two), her comic series The Monster of Temple Peak hints at the event that started her path of pulling away from the Order. She later connects with Elzar Mann and the Padawan Ram Jomaram during the battle with the Nihil. Speaking of the latter, Ram just wants to spend his days repairing machines at the Jedi Outpost and staying on Valo. Even though he is a Jedi, he does not desire to venture out into the galaxy. This changes when his homeworld gets attacked by the Nihil and the Drengir, and Ram must team up with Padawan Lula Talisola and Force-sensitive Zeen Mrala to fight both groups. The connections he makes through Race to Crashpoint Tower inspire Ram to be more involved with the Jedi Order and, the next time we see him, he is on adventures with Lula and Zeen in The High Republic Adventures.
Mari San Tekka, isolated and kept alive for far too long, still makes connections through the Force with Loden and Vernestra, giving them hope in the face of their own darkness. When she finally moves on to the Cosmic Force, Vernestra is there in her final moments.
Symbolism vs. Meaningful Actions
At the galactic level, the Republic Fair symbolizes what Soh feels is the best of the Republic and what she chooses to present to the Togruta and their head of state, Regasa Yovet. The Togrutas are hesitant to attend the Fair because of a recent attack on Cyclor, a planet where Republic ships are being built. Senator Tia Toon’s opinions about the extravagance of the Republic Fair do not help in swaying the Togruta’s concerns either. But the Togrutas decide to join the Republic in the end, not because of the spectacle of what the Republic Fair promises, but the Jedi and politicians’ ability to rise to the challenges of the attack. In good faith, the Togrutas not only join the Republic but give them valuable information against the Nihil.
Within the Jedi Order, these manifests between theory and practice. Indeera Stokes (who has been Bell Zettifor’s new Master) understands that sometimes taking lives to save lives is a necessary balance the Jedi face. When she is battling the Nihil in the Valo atmosphere above the Fair, she reflects on this. Indeera has found a proper, practical balance with taking lives as a Jedi. But her truth is immediately contrasted by Elzar Mann, who goes too far:
Indeera jabbed her trigger, and the marauder erupted into flame. She took no pleasure in the moment. Every death was a failure, not a victory, even as the rescued Skyhawk waggled its damaged wings in thanks.
She brought her Vector around and looked for another regret to add to her tally.
Elzar Mann didn’t think of the souls he was sending to the Force. He cut through the Nihil like a clinical instrument. He’d started by remaining true to his teaching, disarming instead of killing as a good Jedi should, but the Nihil didn’t know when to give up. He ripped the masks from their faces, taking their weapons first and then their arms, but still the brutes kept coming, fueled by bloodlust or drugs or most probably both. Elzar didn’t know, and for one terrible moment he didn’t care.
Scott, Cavan. The High Republic: The Rising Storm.
And then there is Jedi Master Stellan Gios. In a battle with a Trandoshan Nihil member, Stellan hesitates to deal a fatal blow and pay for it by endangering his life and others, specifically Chancellor Soh. Stellan is a Jedi Master who is comfortable teaching but less enthusiastic about putting that training into practice and taking lives. And reading about an accomplished Jedi Master who struggles with that is unique to the kind of characters we meet in The High Republic.
At the same time, the Jedi are stuck between playing politics and being peacekeepers. Elzar worries that the Jedi Council is starting to turn Stellan into more of a politician than a Jedi. In Out of the Shadows, Cohmac tells Vernestra that being a Jedi is “more than connecting to the Force. It’s about having an understanding of the galaxy around us.” As a Jedi that enjoys being out in the galaxy, Cohmac also has concerns about the Jedi Order being too intertwined with the Republic and does not trust politicians like Ghira Starros. He also confides to Vernestra his lack of faith in either side:
Vernestra starts to realize and reckon with the failings of the Jedi during Out of the Shadows. Still reeling from the events of both The Great Disaster and the Republic Fair, Rhow is conflicted on how to deal with the Nihil. As a Jedi who has seen firsthand what they are capable of, Vernestra feels that the Jedi should go on offense against the Nihil, seek them out and destroy them. As a young Jedi who has excelled in the teachings of the Force, she is now being driven to think like a student of war, which is where the Jedi found themselves during the Clone Wars.
But Vernestra and many other Jedi feel guilty, and with good reason. After the attack on the Republic Fair, there is anger from Outer Rim citizens that the Jedi are failing their promise to protect them from the Nihil. Jordanna Sparkburn, a San Tekka clan member and deputy on the Outer Rim world Tiikae, chalks it up to the Jedi being too removed from life outside of the Order. Because of that, they see the galaxy in terms of ideas and not actual people.
But symbols are still threats to agents of chaos like the Nihil. And the Jedi Temples and outposts being established on these Outer Rim territories are meant to be symbols of peace, but they are also the equivalent of military bases (whether the Jedi like to think of them that way or not). And it was thanks to a Jedi outpost on Valo and Ram the Jedi Padawan, that communications were restored during the attack.
The Republic and the Jedi consistently come to a gunfight with a knife. No matter how diplomatic you want to be, if your opponent follows no rules and is willing to kill anyone and everyone including themselves, one must get their hands dirty and fight back. Lina Soh’s belief that change can happen with symbolism is not entirely wrong. But she puts too much value in that symbolism and, in turn, puts thousands of lives in danger. She even uses the image of Stellan holding her unconscious body as propaganda for the Republic. Just like Avar Kriss being acclaimed “The Hero of Hetzal” from The Great Disaster, Stellan has his hero reputation from the Republic Fair attack and in Out of the Shadows, Stellan Gios continues to be used as a symbol against the Nihil.
In The High Republic and Prequel era, the Jedi are working closely with the Republic at their own expense, but they are defeated at the end of the Clone Wars because they cannot sense the danger close to them in Palpatine and Anakin. It was hard to believe watching it unfold but The High Republic has started to put into focus how the Jedi got to that point.
The Jedi struggle, not in sensing potential threats, but in choosing to actively fight them. And the leadership that moves into the Prequel era (which includes Masters Yoda and Yarael Proof) does not appear to learn the lessons that come out of this time. With Wave Three around the corner, we will see how existing themes and new ones continue to emerge within the Nihil, the Republic, and the Jedi Order.