Star Wars: The High Republic: The Light of the Jedi, written by Charles Soule and published by Del Rey with cover art by Joseph Meehan is the first adult novel set in a new era for Star Wars, the High Republic. Set about 200 years before The Phantom Menace, the new novel finds the Republic on the verge of diplomatic and governing expansion into the Outer Rim, a territory of the galaxy previously excluded from the Republic’s unified vision of peace and prosperity. Starlight Beacon is set to be both a symbol and practical place of outreach, until a Great Disaster, an anomaly from hyperspace, threatens everything. The Jedi and the Republic must discover the cause of this anomaly and ensure hyperspace remains safe from it happening again, lest the people of the Outer Rim, and the Republic’s expansion there, be put in grave danger.
Light of the Jedi launches the highly anticipated High Republic publishing initiative, the first major project of Del Rey, Marvel, IDW, Disney Publishing, and other partners since the end of the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. It is also the first adult canon novel to explore an entirely new era of Star Wars. While a few previously-known characters make brief appearances, virtually nothing is known about this time period. So, unlike nearly every other Star Wars book in the canon, there is no dramatic irony or previous knowledge to draw upon to know what direction the book may go. It’s all brand new territory. Needless to say, Light of the Jedi needed to make a serious splash.
Fortunately, I would more than say it does. Light of the Jedi offers readers so much of what no other canon book really has yet: Jedi. In a time where thousands upon thousands of Jedi were active throughout the galaxy, Soule spends a lot of time illustrating the great diversity of thought among the Jedi and the different ways they understood and enacted their roles as agents of the light side of the Force. He also shows a Jedi Order somewhat different from that of the Prequel era. The Jedi here are not necessarily more monastic or less orthodox or anything like that, but it is clear from the language they use and the actions they do and do not take that the Order had some different priorities and ideals during this time.
Perhaps my favorite exploration of the Jedi though was the book’s emphasis on the unique way each and every Jedi perceived the force. For example, Jedi Master Avar Kriss conceptualizes the Force in terms of music. Meanwhile, others see an endless sea, a great storm, a tree with endless roots, or interlocking gears. All of the ways that Jedi interpret the Force in Light of the Jedi feel personal and are just so beautifully described.
The Jedi also exhibit incredible powers, some of which had me yelling out loud they were so cool. None of them feel farfetched or outside of the scope of how Star Wars fans may have imaged the Jedi capable of using the Force. Yet, I could never have imagined some of the feats the Jedi accomplish together in Light of the Jedi, or the interesting and spectacular individual powers some of the characters possess.
Among the coolest additions to the High Republic era are some of the starships and vehicles, which themselves have connections to the Force. The Jedi’s Vector starfighters are controlled by their lightsabers, which act as both key and throttle. It’s a small thing, but the concept alone struck me as very cool, and the various moments throughout the book where the Vectors get to show off are all captivating. I am also seriously looking forward to getting to see a rendition of the Vanguard/V-Wheel.
The action in Light of the Jedi is simply so well-written. The entire first part of the book was one long, incredible, non-stop action sequence that, while a tad choppy with how short the chapters are and how none of them offer more than one perspective at a time, had me completely locked in and captivated for the full third of the book it takes up.
By the end, the sequence’s conclusion was so beautifully written that it completely left me in tears with its gorgeous prose. I know I cry easily but I have never had the simple beauty of how a moment is described in a book move me as powerfully as the conclusion of the first act.
Some of the ways that Soule writes are a bit too poetic though. I had many occasions where I wanted to introduce him to the concept of a period. His sentences are occasionally twisted into strange parts of speech and forced me to reread them a few times over. I questioned whether a few were just typos before realizing they were just being poetic and then rolling my eyes.
Because the first part is such non-stop action, it didn’t leave much room to get to know the bevy of new characters. While this is a Star Wars book, there are (nearly) no familiar characters. So the fact that we never get to spend more than a few pages at time with any of the new Jedi, military folk, government officials, or otherwise made it hard to remember who was who for much of the book. I spent a lot of time on Wookieepedia attempting to parse the different characters. It also didn’t help that there were a few chapters here and there about characters whom we would never, or rarely, hear from again.
In fact, in an odd sort of way, those brief moments sometimes connected me more strongly to characters who I would never see again than some of the book’s actual main characters. They were so incredibly well-written and fleshed out that it made the stark lack of personality in some of the main characters early on more apparent. The story moves so quickly between characters in the first part that I actually couldn’t tell who was meant to be a main character, who we would only see again in other High Republic media, and who were just secondary or tertiary characters in Light of the Jedi. It took me much of the book to discern the main characters from secondary characters or characters who would appear in other High Republic stories, especially given who gets more pages about them and who is on the front cover of the book.
The two characters that did stand out the most were Master Jedi Avar Kriss and Padawan Bell Zetifar. Master Kriss, aside from her incredible and gorgeously written Force powers, interests me because she starts the book seemingly stoic. You would mistake her for the ideal Jedi who bears no emotions and is guided only by the will of the Force. However, as the story progresses, you start to see small hints of how perhaps she does not meet these ideals after all, especially as her connections with fellow Jedi Stellan Gios and Elzar Mann become apparent.
Zetifar on the other hand excites me because he strikes me as having the same sort of aloofness that I love in Anakin Skywalker, as well a relationship with his master Loden Greatstorm that could one day rival that of Anakin and Obi-Wan. Plus, he has a pet dog that breaths fire, a charhound named Ember, so, how can you not love him?
One thing Light of the Jedi suffers from is a severe exposition dumping problem. There were so many times throughout the book where a character just explains outright in explicit detail something so obvious to the person they’re speaking to and in such unrealistic detail. For example, at one point a character seeks out an explanation about certain aspects of hyperspace from the galaxy’s foremost hyperspace expert only to proceed to explains how hyperspace works to them themself. And then point out “as you already know.” I absolutely appreciate that Light of the Jedi may be some folks’ first Star Wars book and certain concepts, especially hyperspace given its prominent role in the book, deserve an explanation. But this type of raw and clunky exposition happens many times throughout the book, taking me out every single time.
It did also take me out of the story, at first, whenever familiar names would be mentioned. Some of the very oldest members of the Jedi Order from the Prequel Era were certainly around during the High Republic in various roles. While it certainly makes sense that some of them would have roles to play in this story, it still always felt odd when absolutely nothing else about the plot of the book was remotely familiar.
A similar feeling occurred when familiar planet names were constantly name-dropped. In a galaxy filled with thousands of inhabited planets, especially with so much of the book’s focus on the Outer Rim, it just feels weird to have the same 25 or so that we already know from previous Star Wars stories happen to be the ones involved in the story. The Core and even some Mid-Rim planets are one thing, but the Outer Rim ones just get to feeling uncanny eventually. Sometimes these name drops served as little nods to readers of the vast library of canon Star Wars books, like when Eriadu comes into play or the constant civic strife on Mon Calamari, but still, it felt like a bit much with how often it happened.
Lastly, the Republic’s quest to expand into the Outer Rim and its slogan “We are all the Republic” are pretty uncomfortable. I’m sure that the huge colonialism vibes it gives me are intentional, and that future stories will continue to explore this. However, I wish that the book’s villains, the Nihil, expressed a more direct contempt for the colonialism and forced assimilation the Republic seems to be really into. It’s not that they don’t hold contempt for the Republic’s expanding into their home, but it comes more from a selfish place of wanting to continue to get rich raiding people than it does from anything deeper. Not that everything needs to be deep all the time, or that every villain needs grander plans than self-preservation, but it does make the Nihil a whole lot less sympathetic.
And they kind of need the sympathy at times to keep me interested in them, at least for a lot of the book. The Nihil have a big Mad Max: Fury Road vibe to them and while their structure as an organization is compelling and their leaders, many of whom I feel like I came to know more about as characters than any of the heroes are rather interesting, they ultimately left me questioning whether they could sustain an entire series as its villains. At least for most of the book.
While by the end of the book I can see how they might be able to hold my attention as big bads beyond a single book, their one-note story of self-enrichment just doesn’t jive with how I pre-conceive Star Wars big bads. Maybe that’s just on me for having pre-conceptions in the first place, and only time will tell. The end of Light of the Jedi does set up the potential that by book two, the Nihil will have some new motivations revealed. Regardless, their relationship to hyperspace is so interesting and I absolutely cannot wait to continue exploring that as the series continues.
Despite these nitpicks, Light of the Jedi is a fantastic introduction to the High Republic. While I wish that I knew some of its characters better for having finished it, I am excited by just how many characters I will hopefully have the opportunity to meet and come to adore as I read the rest of the first wave of High Republic content and anticipate the next wave this summer. The Jedi are as powerful and interesting as ever, the era is ripe for exploration, the burgeoning themes are titillating, and the set pieces all fit excellently. I am more than looking forward to continuing to explore the High Republic.
Star Wars: The High Republic: Light of the Jedi is available on January 5th wherever books are sold.
Star Wars: The High Republic: Light of the Jedi
Light of the Jedi is a fantastic introduction to the High Republic. While I wish that I knew some of its characters better for having finished it, I am excited by just how many characters I will hopefully have the opportunity to meet and come to adore as I read the rest of the first wave of High Republic content and anticipate the next wave this summer. The Jedi are as powerful and interesting as ever, the era is ripe for exploration, the burgeoning themes are titillating, and the set pieces all fit excellently. I am more than looking forward to continuing to explore the High Republic.