Last year, I reviewed issue #1 of Marvel’s The High Republic: Trail of Shadows based on the premise set. A Jedi investigator tries to solve the major mystery surrounding The High Republic: What entity is killing Jedi and cutting off their connection to the Force?
It was a big ask for a short-run comic series to engage readers over four months with new characters. Daniel Jose Older’s Trail of Shadows does not solve the main mystery, but the two lead investigators, Jedi Emerick Caphtor and Sian Holt do acquire a significant piece of the puzzle leading into the past with Phase Two. Unfortunately, the rest of the series does not fulfill the promise of the first issue with a strange choice of POVs and a romance that does not work.
**Spoilers for Trail of Shadows and The Fallen Order**
It has been some time since Trail of Shadows #1. Emerick has gotten nowhere in his case and narrates his frustration like the protagonist in a classic film noir. Meanwhile, Sian Holt is still recovering from an attack that killed her former partner. Sian’s side job is a pianist at a nightclub (also very film noir), and a blaster injury she suffered to her hand has hindered her ability to play the same. Chancellor Lina Soh summons both to her office and informs them that Sian’s former partner, Keefar Branto, was working undercover for the Republic to get a lead on a weapon a Nihil operative is trying to sell on the black market. They believe this weapon is the same one used against Master Loden Greatstorm. Because their cases are tied, the Chancellor and Stellan Gios suggest Emerick and Sian work together.
And so, Emerick and Sian follow the trail of Arathab Fal, the Tarnab who killed Branto and attacked Sian. This leads to a trail of dead bodies in the criminal underworld and on the Nihil side as Marchion Ro seeks to silence the Nihil seller, which turns out to be Doctor Kisma Uttersond (former caretaker of Mari San Tekka).
The story also crosses with Marvel’s The High Republic as one of the attacks that occur during his investigation is against Terec (those twins can’t catch a break) and Keeve Trennis from their time with the Nihil. While hope seems fleeting with the destruction of Starlight and the losses that come with it, Emerick and Sian have a piece (literally) of the mysterious entity that has caused all this trouble for the Jedi.
Crossovers with other stories going on in The High Republic are helpful to ground readers on when Trail of Shadows takes place in the timeline (The High Republic Adventures and The Fallen Star also cross over). But there is also a lot of forgettable plot within these five issues, which is a shame because it is probably important for the next two Phases. I know monthly issues are common, but Trail of Shadows could have benefitted from a Volume release of all issues in January. Either that or the run could have worked with three or four issues.
A Jedi Investigator that adheres to the Jedi Order and a Private Investigator who plays by her own rules should have been an interesting debate on morality when searching for the truth. However, it only briefly touches upon the hypocrisies of the Order early on when Emerick and Sian meet.
Emerick and Sian also represent some classic film noir hero traits: Emerick is obsessed with a case that he cannot crack, while Sian has ties to the criminal underworld and stumbles upon a meeting that goes south and causes the death of her former partner. And while Emerick is more of a traditional hero, Sian is a combination of a hero and a femme fatale. She plays on her client’s emotions and lies about wanting to catch her former partner’s killer to the Chancellor to sell her motivation.
But all this character development gets left behind after issue #2 and we start shifting to other POVs like Uttersond (a Chadra-Fan), and another Chadra-Fan, Beesar Tal-Apurna, who is trying to track him down. Beesar’s motivations are incorporated well within the first few pages of her introduction: Her wife was killed during a battle with the Nihil and she decided to help the Republic fight them any way she can. Beesar is older, not great with technology or spying, but is taking the risk to honor her wife.
All this backstory takes place within the first three pages of issue # 3 as Beesar is observing Doctor Uttersond visiting his own family. The symbolism is quite sad and instantly makes Beesar a sympathetic character. And it is likely we will see her again in Phase Three, along with Doctor Uttersond.
But Beesar’s introduction is so good that it also throws off Emerick and Sian’s storyline, which took a leap from work colleagues to romance too quickly. Attachments for the Jedi in The High Republic era have already been defined as different than the Prequel Era (the Jedi try and resist them but they also do not outright deny them). But Emerick was painted as a by-the-book Jedi, much like Stellan Gios and a loner within the Jedi Order. He does not even have a Padawan Jedi Investigator, just his droid assistant, Cuetoo. So the romance hinted at in issue# 3, sidelined in issue#4, then established in issue #5 ended up feeling forced and unnecessary, which is right in line with most Star Wars romances. It makes me wish that their character progressions played out more like a film noir than a Star Wars story.
Familiar faces appear throughout the story, including Lina Soh, Marchion Ro, Avar Kriss, and Keeve Trennis. But we spend the most time with Stellan Gios (mainly in issues #1-3) as he and Emerick hear the same creepy lullaby when encountering The Leveler from their Jedi crèche (caretaker) when they were Younglings. While Stellan’s fate is known from The Fallen Star, another Jedi Master’s fate remains a mystery. Master Torban Buck (aka Buckets of Blood) stays on Starlight to hold off the Nihil, handing over his robes, which have The Leveler’s blood on them, to Emerick.
Even though Starlight did end up crashing, there is a chance that Torban is still alive, just like Burryaga. But we might have to wait a while to get definitive answers on both of their fates.
“Some call them the Shrii-ka-rai: Eaters of the Force. To others, they are simply the Nameless. Their mere presence causes madness, hallucinations, in Force users.”Trail of Shadows, Issue #5
We get the best image of The Leveler, which Doctor Uttersond call’s Shrii-ka-rai (a direct connection to the lullaby). And now that they have a piece of its foot, we should be getting more answers in both Phase Two and Three.
And, without a doubt, some of those answers are connected with Dalna. The planet, first introduced in A Test of Courage, is positioned to be one of the most significant locations in The High Republic. There are too many coincidences: Stellan and Emerick’s nursemaid, Ruusstha Vidryarvrikt, was from Dalna. And Stellan mentions that some areas of the archive on Dalna had been deleted. All signs point to the Shrii-ka-rai either originating from Dalna or having some history with the planet.
Given that Emerick and Sian are the closest to figuring out the mystery of the Shrii-ka-rai, will we get another Trail of Shadows run? Or will they and Beesar, show up in the next novel during this particular time (in Phase Three)? Emerick and Sian’s investigation could take them to Dalna and those missing archive files. Despite the backstory that we will likely get on some of the elements introduced in Trail of Shadows, I do hope there is still room for a little mystery.