Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule is the first novel of The High Republic, a multimedia series of stories set in the Star Wars universe, 200 years before Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It is a time of great prosperity for the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. New systems are regularly coming into the fold and the Republic is looking to expand their outreach to the more overlooked corners of the galaxy. Central to this cause is Starlight Beacon, a new space station located in the Outer Rim territories that will soon act as a prominent Jedi outpost, safe haven, and literal beacon to aid travelers as they navigate these dangerous regions.
All is not as well as it seems in the galaxy, however, as a seemingly freak accident in hyperspace has caused massive pieces of debris to enter the Hetzal system, travelling at near light speed and threatening death and destruction to anything in their path. With billions of lives on the line, only a contingent of Jedi and the fleet of the Republic Defense Coalition have a chance of mitigating this great disaster. As more and more systems eventually come under threat as well, attention turns to an infamous group of marauders known as the Nihil, who pose a greater threat than the Republic and the Jedi could possibly imagine.
As the inaugural tale of the High Republic era, this novel had a lot on its plate, needing to introduce a new time period in the history in a well-established franchise, including new characters, political context, settings, and adversaries to be faced. I must say, starting everything off with a literal bang—as the transport ship the Legacy Run breaks apart in hyperspace and threatens billions of lives—was a great way to dive head first into this shiny, new era. Once the stakes were made clear, it was all too easy for Soule to usher in a swath of characters eager to respond to the crisis, including Jedi, members of the Republic fleet, and the Chancellor of the Republic herself, the driving force behind many of the Republic’s great endeavours.
From the bridges of command ships, to the cockpits of starfighters, to boots on the ground aiding with evacuation, we are shown these people tackling the crisis on many fronts, establishing that this novel is much more concerned with an ensemble cast than any central character. Though we are introduced to many new faces and names who share in the spotlight, each were made appreciably memorable with the varying amounts of time they have on the page. There are some who get more focus than others, like Jedi Master Avar Kriss, whose unique Force ability was crucial to coordinating efforts, or Padawan learner Bell Zettifar and his Master Loden Greatstorm, who worked planetside to aid people on the ground directly, but so many among these heroes are given a chance to shine as point-of-view characters that none of them dominated focus of the text.
This all worked really well toward building out a world and time period that we’re only just getting to know, serving as a great launching off point for the story line of this “multimedia project”. Some enjoyably obvious seeds have been planted for character development in future stories too, such as the clear romantic undercurrent to the relationship between two Jedi Masters who, for now, do not let their history compromise their principles. I also loved that with the mass introduction of so many new characters, the book took the time to establish that nobody is really safe. More than a few perspective characters surprisingly met their end in this novel, one having particular ripples among the Jedi, and yet another is left in a precarious position. No longer beholden to the original saga, characters could meet any manner of fate, and I am here for it.
The only issue I had with this explosive “Great Disaster”, as it becomes known in the text, was that it was a little too drawn out. In fact, for a while I thought that the entire novel might be these characters continuously reacting to this escalating crisis. In a way, it is, as more emergence of debris is a problem throughout the whole book, but the initial incident reaches a conclusion before it all ran out of steam for me. Most of it I was on board for, but some accounts of people dealing with the crisis felt superfluous, ultimately serving as side-stories that didn’t contribute to the greater narrative of the novel. One most particularly felt needless to me, as the characters that survived putting out their particular, figurative fire, didn’t have a meaningful role in the rest of the book, nor did their rescue have a noticeable impact on the rest of the narrative.
What I really loved from this book was, though, the particular attention paid to the villains, whom actually see more character development in this story than the heroes do. The Nihil are a ragtag collective of marauders, using unique hyperdrive technology that gives them an edge over their victims during raids. There are three distinct leaders with their own bands, and at the centre of it all a man named Marchion Ro, or “the Eye”, who provides the Paths that allow the Nihil to navigate in unique ways. When first introduced they seemed nothing more than they were, crude and violent marauders with little ambition. The way that Ro orchestrates events, reshaping the Nihil into something more, was simply awesome and I can’t wait to behold his grander plan, as he will no doubt clash with the Jedi and Republic again in the future.
Another nagging problem I had was actually with one of my favourite plot lines in the book. A more down to earth story (depicted in the featured image), has Bell Zettifar, his Master, and other Jedi back at their planetary outpost, responding to a local cry for help: a small group of Nihil marauders are trying to kidnap a family living on their own on the frontier. It felt like a callback to the very inspirations for Star Wars, evoking themes from the Western genre of life on the frontier and noble lawmen in pursuit of criminals, mounting a daring rescue. There’s even a legendary old Master in their midst, of great reputation and renown.
Problem is, this story was woven throughout the rest of the plot lines in the book, which involved politics, space battles, and technical developments that would have at least taken place over the course of days, if not weeks. This story on the frontier clearly happens over the course of an afternoon, however, yet somehow it intersects with the greater story by the end. The timeline just didn’t make sense to me. I can ultimately shrug it off, as everything was otherwise well written and resonated with me, but the issue still glares at me enough to remark upon it.
A few hiccups notwithstanding, Light of the Jedi was an excellent introduction to this new and exciting era of Star Wars. A wonderfully varied cast is introduced that I cannot wait to see more of in future stories, but it never felt like the book was holding out on me either, telling a compelling story on its own that lays the groundwork for more in the future. It’s refreshingly separated from the Skywalker saga we know and love, but not too far removed that it feels divorced from it entirely. This is highly recommended as a jumping on point for those looking to get into Star Wars books but daunted by the existing library, as well as fans eager for more in the galaxy far, far away.
My Rating: 4 out of 5