Even though Star Wars has one of the most iconic villains in Darth Vader, the backstory of the Sith Lord has been built up over the past 20 years. Starting with the Prequel Trilogy, Anakin Skywalker’s journey has continued with animated shows, comics, and soon Disney Plus shows. But Darth Vader has been one of the few exceptions in Star Wars as a big bad with whom you can empathize while being terrified of simultaneously.
Emperor Palpatine/ Darth Sideous is just a big bad, Darth Maul is partly sympathetic but also crazy, and Kylo Ren comes across as an angry kid. Sure, these can be LIKEABLE villains, but can you actually sympathize with them? Sure Sauron is the most powerful villain in The Lord of the Rings, but can anyone argue that he is a better antagonist than Gollum?
It would be nice to have the main antagonist of a Star Wars saga who is bad, likable, and sympathetic for a new generation of fans outside of the Original Trilogy. And The High Republic has secondary antagonists, like Lourna Dee, who fit the bill but, ultimately, the one calling the shots is Marchion Ro.
Phase One has now come to an end, and The High Republic villain has pushed the Jedi towards their breaking point. But, ultimately, Marchion Ro is turning out to be a disappointing antagonist.
This is my opinion after six novels, 25+ comics, and two manga from The High Republic, culminating in the two-issue comic, Eye of the Storm, that gives insight to Marchion Ro.
Marchion Ro Has Won Every Single Battle He’s Waged
Sometimes, a villain is more interesting if they occasionally take a loss. Even Palpatine, when he was Chancellor lost a vote he considered crucial to his plans due to Senator Amidala’s resilience. It was a great moment in The Clone Wars where even he recognized the power of Amidala’s political prowess. It made Chancellor Palpatine a more interesting villain, in my opinion than Emperor Palpatine.
Marchion Ro has yet to have a humbling moment, he’s just full of win. In Light of the Jedi, he orchestrated The Great Disaster, manipulated one Tempest Runner into a suicide battle with the Republic, and manipulated another into kidnapping a Jedi Master. In The Rising Storm, he manipulated more Nihil into attacking the Republic Fair to divert attention from the source of the paths. The closest he has come was in The Rising Storm when he saw Loden and Bell together again before releasing the Nameless on Loden. I am hoping this moment of vulnerability will pay off in Phase Three, particularly with Bell Zettifor’s character arc.
Marchion Ro’s Motivation is Just Ego
Ro certainly has the capacity for evil, and that is the problem. He has too much capacity. There is no question in a situation that he will always do the right thing for himself at the expense of others. Part of the excitement with complex villains is not knowing which way the wind will turn with them. They can do the right thing sometimes but often do the wrong thing. This is usually driven by motivation, often love, hatred, or power.
Through all the horrible things he has done and deaths he’s caused, all signs pointed to Marchion’s deep-seated hatred of the Jedi. Set up in Light of the Jedi, the hatred felt tied to his species, which was a mystery until Eye of the Storm. Add his connection to The Elders of the Path, who view Jedi and Force-users as abominations. It is possible this is still the case and that his species has something to do with the creation of The Elders of the Path. But a key comic frame in Eye of the Storm #2 suggests that it is pure ego:
Ro admits that he thinks that he is the only one that matters and does not want to participate in a galaxy where he takes orders from anyone.
More Intriguing Antagonists Have Been Introduced
It does not help Marchion Ro that many serving under him within the Nihil are just disenfranchised citizens of the galaxy. Yes, this ties into our real-world past and present with egotistical/sociopathic leaders marching their soldiers off a cliff. I am not saying that it is not realistic, it is just boring.
I was not the biggest fan of the audio exclusive Tempest Runner but the story succeeded in making Lourna Dee a sympathetic villain. Different from how other Nihil are portrayed (lost souls looking for a sense of unity no matter how cutthroat the company). Lourna’s sympathy comes through her trauma of being betrayed by someone she loved.
The Graf Family’s motivations are strictly business. They are in a battle of hyperspace ownership with another family, and working with the Nihil is a means to win the war with the San Tekkas. War is devastating for many, but it is also profitable for other groups and the Grafs are one faction of that group (scientists like Zadina Mkampa are another). And then there is the Republic and the Jedi Order, both situated on Coruscant, the heart of the Core worlds. It was mentioned in both Out of the Shadows and Midnight Horizon that people living in the Core worlds view the Nihil as an Outer Rim problem and are complacent and ignorant of the threat. This extends to Republic Senators and Jedi who are not living the day-to-day in the Outer Rim worlds and why there is a fracture happening within the Order.
And most of these have taken a back seat to Marchion Ro, who does not seem to have a weakness or area of vulnerability.
Phase Two and Three can still reveal more to this story to make Marchion Ro more complex. I have faith that there is more to his story than meets the eye (wink, wink). However, after Phase One, Ro is out of place in a field of more compelling antagonists like Lourna Dee, The Path of the Elders, the Graf family, and even elements of the Jedi and Republic. Hopefully, the High Republic team can make Marchion Ro worthy of the time we have invested in him.