After a small pause, the Star Wars High Republic era has returned to print. We’re still in the first phase of this ambitious publishing initiative, which is set some 200 years before the events of Star Wars: The Phantom Menance. However, instead of the same authors working on sequels to their own work, the table has been shuffled, allowing the team of authors to tackle the stories set before them and put their own spin on it. First up is Star Wars The High Republic: The Rising Storm, Cavan Scott’s follow-up to Charles Soules’ excellent Light of the Jedi.
After the Great Disaster and the battles against the Nihil in that novel, Cavan Scott jumps the action forward by a year and sets most of Star Wars The High Republic: The Rising Storm against the backdrop of “The Republic Fair”, another one of Chancellor Soh’s Great Works that she hopes inspires systems far and wide to join the Republic. The Fair is very much the same as the World Fairs, and include pavillions for the arts, food, culture and technology. Many familiar faces from the previous novel return as well, including Stellan Gios, Elzar Mann, Barriyaga, Indeera and Bell Zettifar, not to mention the mysterious villain Marchion Ro, who is hellbent on preventing the Republic from showing any signs of hope or unity. Along for the ride are some new characters, including a former Jedi turned mercenary Ty Yorrick, who will feature in her own graphic novel later this year.
Cavan Scott is perhaps known to Star Wars fans for penning various graphic novels but this is his first foray into adult fiction in a galaxy far, far away (he’s penned the audio drama Dooku: Jedi Lost as well). That said, this is my first time exploring Scott’s work, who usually targets a much younger demographic with his Vader’s Castle and Star Wars Adventures works. But Scott makes the transition to adult fiction quite well and doesn’t pull any punches. This is a fairly dark book, certainly much more so than its predecessor, and that’s thanks largely to the Nihil.
While Ro and the Nihil play a large role in the story, the Drengir, a horrific plant monster first introduced in Claudia Gray’s High Republic novel Into the Dark, also have a pressence in this story. The creatures, once trapped, are now loose upon the galaxy and unleashing terror wherever they turn up, which the Republic see as the priority threat after the Nihil have decided to intentionally lay low for the last year. The group have used this time to orchestrate a devastating attack, one that’s unhinged, heinous and violent.
While Scott isn’t as kenetic a writer as Soule when it comes to the action, his novel does one up Light of the Jedi in one key area: characterization. Whereas the first novel in the High Republic franchise was heavy on the plot, The Rising Storm allows us to dive into the emotional state of many of the Jedi. To the Jedi, they’ve been living in a golden era with little to no combat save for some peace keeping duties. The Nihil are bloodthirsty and have thrown the Jedi into a new state of being. Their old philosophies of trying to preverse life-all life-are now being tested and some of the Jedi begin to yearn to kill the Nihil as they kill indiscriminately for the fun of it. One Jedi remarks that the Nihil are animals and as such, should be put down like animals. The violence is also amplied in this novel, with numerous mentions of the word “gore” and Marchion Ro crushing someone’s head with his boot. This novel is easily one of the darkest novels in the entire Star Wars canon, not only for its depiction of violence but for the feeling of hopelessness that looms over many of the heroes. It’s faciniating to see the Jedi, once so pure and confident in their abilities, become a victim of their own hubris as the Nihil attempt to destroy everything around them.
While the characterization is great in the novel, I did find that some of the sidestories didn’t engage me as much as the core stories. Ty Yorrick’s subplot was decent but not as compelling as some of the other Jedi characters and a brief subplot with the sons of the Chancellor and the mayor of the planet that’s hosting the Fair proved tedious to me. On the upside, a new character, Rhil, a journalist covering the fair and the Chancellor is much more interesting and a new Sullustan senator, Tia Toon proves to be utterly compelling despite coming off as standoffish and antagonistic as he challenges the Chancellor openly for her claims that the Republic are safe from all dangers. Like Mon Mothma post-Return of the Jedi, Chancellor Soh doesn’t believe the Republic needs a standing army as there are no clear threats, but the Nihil are proving to me much more of a threat than anyone could anticipate.
I still think these novels need a “Dramatis Personae”, much like Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn: Chaos Rising novels do, as there are so many characters in these stories that it’s not always easy to remember who everyone is or where they came from to help with the visualization of the narrative. Some stumbles narratively deter the overall tale, but The Rising Storm is an utterly facinating look at the Jedi when hope begins to fade and darkness slowly creeps back into their lives. If you enjoyed Light of the Jedi, this is a worthy follow up to that story and one that continues to make me excited for future tales in this series.
The High Republic: The Rising Storm is out on June 29th, 2021.