So, you may have heard about Star Wars: The High Republic, the new multimedia push in the Star Wars universe told across novels, comics, and more mediums. But really, what is this new setting and, more importantly, is it for you? Let’s break it down. There will be light spoilers, primarily for the novel Star Wars: Light of the Jedi.
A More Civilized Age?
Set roughly three hundred years before The Phantom Menace, The High Republic touches upon the types of adventures people enjoyed in content set before the prequels like Knights of the Old Republic and Knight Errant. The Jedi are at the height of their power, with outposts and enclaves spanning the galaxy. The Republic is a peacekeeping government, cooperating alongside planetary governments to withstand whatever troubles arise. Unfortunately for all parties, there’s little that diplomacy and kind words can do when galaxy-spanning tragedy strikes.
A single colony ship is torn to shreds while traveling through hyperspace. Fragments of the ship hurtle across the cosmos, exiting hyperspace in “Emergences” that threaten whole worlds. The Great Disaster, as it comes to be known, first scars the harvest world of Hetzal Prime, with more worlds swiftly following as the catastrophe cascades.
What at first seems like an accident is revealed to have been the scheme of the era’s current main menace, the Nihil. Rather than a traditional threat like the Sith or Empire, the Nihil are vicious marauders, stripping ships from port to stern with makeshift vessels and scavenged armaments. They wield strange technologies that grant them incredible power, even boasting a headquarters that doesn’t need walls, simply hanging in the void as a massive platform. The Nihil ensconce themselves in storm-related imagery, viewing themselves as a rolling thunder, ready to plunder the galaxy as they please.
Their horde is led by the menacing pirate lord Machrion Ro, also known as the Eye of the Nihil. A strange, towering alien, Ro is as impulsive as he is clever, like if you sprinkled just a pinch of Jack Sparrow into Darth Vader. Though Ro lacks the Force at his side, he has access to one of the greatest navigators in the history of Star Wars, Mari San Tekka. With her knowledge and his inheritance of the advanced Path engines from his forefathers, Ro can achieve seemingly impossible hyperspace jumps at any time. Ro will do whatever is necessary to see victory, even if it costs him whole fleets’ worth of Nihil to further his own ends.
Amid all this, the Republic is striving to connect with the Outer Rim territories, negotiating with more worlds to join them, both to deal with this calamity and to unify the galaxy. At the heart of this initiative is Starlight Beacon, an equal parts waystation and ersatz Jedi Temple for the Outer Rim to experience the benefits of the Galactic Core. The question is whether the Jedi, Starlight, and the Republic can weather the Nihil’s storm without losing who they are.
What Does The High Republic Mean for Star Wars?
So, what does all this have to do with the storyline at large? Currently, less than it should. The High Republic isn’t so much answering questions fans have been eagerly awaiting as it is knitting together the current canon. The new timeline has a lot of dangling elements in desperate need of connective tissue, and that’s where The High Republic is currently striving to offer something.
For example, Sana Starros was far and away one of the most successful new characters of Marvel’s Star Wars run, so we now learn her family’s history. While Sana is a smuggler of ill repute, her ancestors were senators and inventors, and High Republic is set to explore their fall from grace. One of the current lead Jedi, Keeve Trennis, is currently implied to be one of the Lost Twenty who voluntarily left the Jedi Order of their own accord, with a Master Trennis mentioned in Dooku: Jedi Lost back during the lead-up to the High Republic.
The other major impact The High Republic has is how it sets the stage for Disney’s apparent plans for resurrecting Knights of the Old Republic, with the Old Republic specifically referenced as having fallen and become ancient history by the time of the High Republic. How all that works, like if there’s some equivalent to the Ruusan Reformation, is yet to be seen.
Another priority of The High Republic has been establishing why Jedi became so stoic and hardened by the time of the Clone Wars. Here we see them relatively loose, sometimes embracing romance, multiple Padawans, and other behaviors shunned just three centuries later. Many of the Jedi in the current storylines are left to question and ponder whether the Jedi way is the right one, exploring themes such as mourning, love, overcoming trauma, and uncertain faith. Presently, this is one of the era’s greatest successes, but none of it knits together, which is The High Republic’s biggest problem.
A “Mega-Story” for Better or Worse
Like much of the new timeline, the lore and storytelling are a tad fast and loose, which has its upsides and downsides. On one hand, the relative freedom given means sweeping changes can be made without stepping on anyone’s toes. On the other, there have already been several continuity contradictions between the handful of stories published. Shifts in preview material suggests that certain story elements are still in flux, which complicates the multi-thread nature of this sort of story.
By insisting that everything ties together, there’s less a set of book and comics series and more a soup you have to manually sift through to find what you want. Some heroes will leap between authors and series at random. In other cases, interesting characters are killed off before given the chance to shine, such as Reath Silas’ master Jora, whom we barely get to know until two books after her fate is sealed. Plot revelations like Marchion Ro’s schemes aren’t privy to each storyline, meaning that for some readers, the Nihil can come across as incredibly generic techno Vikings.
The result is that the only way to appreciate the full story is to consume all the related materials, regardless of quality or intended audience. If the reward was worth it, then I’d just say wait for what you missed to go on sale to catch up. Instead, all this marketing talk seems to be just that — talk. So far, there have been two well-told stories out of the entire first wave, one of which is meant for children, which is ironic given the stories for adults have typically been more childish.
For all the money being pumped into propping up The High Republic, the quality inconsistencies and lack of a clear central thread leaves me hesitant to recommend it at this time. We’ll be receiving a second wave of stories in the summer, so it’s possible for The High Republic to turn things around. As it stands, if the promise of more Star Wars for the sake of more Star Wars is enough for you, then The High Republic is fine, but never great.
However, if you long for the days of complex moral quandaries and high-concept themes explored by heroes and villains like Darth Revan, Kreia, and Kerra Holt, then the current lineup isn’t for you. There are brief glimmers, but nothing close to that depth, not yet at least. With more time to prepare, things will hopefully crystallize into something more consistent with the next wave. Right now, unless you’re champing at the bit for any kind of new Star Wars content, you can stand to wait until these books are on discount.