If your idea of the Jedi from the prequel trilogy amounts to lots of standing and sitting, prepare yourself, as the first adult novel in the High Republic publishing initiative from Lucasfilm looks to recreate the Jedi in a new light, so to speak. We were given access to the first three novels in this new era to review. Light of the Jedi, written by Star Wars comic veteran Charles Soule, is set some 200 years before the events of The Phantom Menance and starts with such intensity that you’d swear that the beginning of the book was the end. Within the high stakes and lightning-quick developments, we see how the Jedi operated in their prime and see the advent of a new threat to the galaxy.
I particularly enjoyed the first act of this novel, which takes place over the course of a few hours. It’s lightning-fast and there’s a sense of urgency and intensity that really hooks you in early. On the Hetzal System, an alarm is triggered, and it’s revealed that debris is hurtling towards the planet and its moons at near-light speed, with hours until impact. Minster Ecka issues a system-wide alert and pleads for help from any nearby system. By chance, a republic cruiser housing hundreds of Jedi, The Third Horizon, was nearby after they attended the dedication of the Starlight Beacon, a new space station that will link the Outer Rim territories to the core worlds, while also serving as a waystation and Jedi Temple.
Each chapter in this act opens with how much time is left until the system is utterly decimated and Soule has written the story with little in the way of downtime. Instead, he gives us a lot of new characters to meet in this crisis and we bounce between the likes of Avar Kriss aboard the ship to Jedi Master Loden Greatstorm on the ground with his padawan, Bell Zettifar and three Jedi aboard tiny starships around the planet, the Duros Te’Ami, the Ithorian Mikkel Sutmani and the Wookie Burryaga Agaburry, just to name a few. As you can see, the Jedi are plentiful and diverse in this era. They all feel distinct from one and other and interesting in their own like. The story is quite the busy one and there’s no set protagonist; instead, we bounce from one point of view character to another. It can be a lot, especially at first, but this is the first step in a new chapter after all. Thankfully, there’s enough time to flesh these characters out enough that we care about them, but overall this is a plot-heavy book, not one moved by its characters, which there are many.
The Jedi in particular here feel incredibly powerful. Some of the things they do are unimaginable, but this is the Jedi in their prime, without being clouded by the Dark Side like the in the prequels. But unlike the prequels, the Jedi here aren’t warriors or generals: they’re peacekeepers first and highly spiritual ones at that. A lightsaber is a tool, not a weapon, and the taking of life is very much a last resort. When the Jedi arrive on the scene, it feels like a big deal, as the sense of professionalism and trust in each other permeates throughout the writing. These Jedi are so intuned with the Force that they don’t even need to communicate reactions or directions to each other. They can fly their small ships, called Vectors, together as a swarm (often compared to leaves or flower petals in the wind), without the fear of collision. Likewise, some of the powers and feats they perform over the course of the book are awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping and there’s often a comparison to nature when talking about them, whether it be an ocean or a field etc. One Jedi even sees the Force as music.
While we’re introduced to a big cast of new Jedi, we get a decent amount of time with the new enemies of the High Republic era, The Nihil. They’re described as space pirates and marauders and I think comparing them to Vikings is fair. They have their own great hall full of tables and plunder, pillage, kill and take to their heart’s content. But what separates them from regular old scum and villainy? Why are they such a threat to the Jedi and the Republic? That, you’ll have to find out for yourselves, but the Nihil culture and characters, particularly their leader Marchion Ro, are fresh, layered and brutal and by the end of the book, I was left entranced and wanting more.
Because the events of this book and the other High Republic stories are so far removed from the films, it feels like a blank slate where the authors and Lucasfilm were able to paint a brand new canvas that carries weight. It’s absolutely fascinating that this brand new era of Star Wars is making its debut in books and comics, as opposed to a movie or show. The Republic is also an interesting entity in the novel. “We are all the Republic” is a mantra that’s repeated a lot in the book in the face of peace and expansion into the Outer Rim. But there are those who see the Republic as a controlling force, taking away freedoms. We know that the Republic has no presence in the Outer Rim by the time the events of Episode I play out, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the wildly ambitious plan that is the Starlight Beacon.
If there’s one thing I would recommend to Del Rey in the future, and this is a minor thing, but I think opening the book with a dramatis personae (akin to the old Legends novels), would be beneficial, as to have an easy to resource to remind readers what species all these new characters are. Too often I was trying to imagine what a few of these Jedi or Nihil characters looked like and I couldn’t just jump back to a designated page to remind myself. These are all new characters, so being able to familiarize ourselves with them easier would be a great asset.
Light of the Jedi is a high stake, adrenaline-inducing thrill ride that’s a welcome change for Star Wars. It feels like a movie but in book form. It has weight, stakes and brand new characters that will likely become fan favourites for some time. This is only the first book in the first phase of this new publishing initiative and I can’t wait to jump back into it in summer 2021. Star Wars has a bright, new frontier to explore and you should definitely go along for the ride.
Light of the Jedi will be available on January 5th, 2021. Also, there’s going to be a livestream event on January 4th on YouTube and starwars.com, where “fans can look forward to fresh insights into the characters and events of The High Republic, along with new announcements and reveals of what’s to come.”
Check out our review of Star Wars The High Republic: A Test of Courage.
Check out our review of Star Wars The High Republic: Into the Dark.