Light of the Jedi is in many ways a triumph, but unlike the powerful Jedi knights and masters among its many, many characters, is somewhat unfocused.
Needless to say, SPOILERS abound.
Novelist Charles Soule, well-regarded for his outstanding run on the Darth Vader comic book series (and other excellent work at Marvel, including a She-Hulk series), begins Light of the Jedi with an impressive gambit. The first hundred pages, more or less, are devoted to an interplanetary disaster unfolding minute by minute. There has never been anything like this in Star Wars fiction.
This opening salvo, which depicts the catastrophic breakup of the cargo ship Legacy Run at light speed, follows the fragments as they exit hyperspace across the Outer Rim. These fragments, some as small as pellets and some as big as houses, rain devastation in many systems, with the primary point of concern being Heztal.
The first third of the book has the feel of a Tom Clancy techno-thriller or similar disaster novel that is a race against time with multiple points of view. It’s very unique for Star Wars and the galactic scope provides a huge canvas for Soule to introduce many of the concepts and the characters of the High Republic.
And there are many. The Great Disaster scatters Legacy Run ship fragments across the Outer Rim and the book, ultimately, is also scattered. Countless characters are introduced, including several Jedi, and the book has no real main character or anchor. You could argue it’s Avar Kriss, a Jedi Knight of immense grace and power.
Kriss is responsible for some of the most unique and fascinating uses of the Force ever displayed in Star Wars fiction. Her deep connection to the Force allows her to essentially use it like a cloud-computer system, connecting to other Jedi and harnessing their power in unison.
For me, the exploration of the Force and the Jedi at this juncture in Star Wars history is the most fascinating thing about the novel. Much of the galactic landscape is similar, at least to the prequels. That is welcome and worth exploring further, but not as dramatically different as one might have expected.
The Jedi are though, especially in their use of the Force. Soule is outstanding in his depiction of the Jedi, far more powerful than any we have ever seen in canon before (with the exception perhaps of their cartoony prowess in the Clone Wars animated series, but even so). They also interact with their starships and other vehicles – including one that is effectively a tank – in ways we’ve never seen before.
These are the most toyetic of any Jedi we’ve ever seen and Hasbro would get a lot of mileage out of minting all of these characters and their gear in plastic. As superheroic as they are though, a great deal of focus is still placed on their philosophy and personal relationship to the Force. It’s different for each one of the Jedi in the book.
Less impressive are the Nihil. The villains of the High Republic are essentially pirates and raiders, with little to distinguish them from any other group like this in Star Wars. Their method of attack is interesting, and so is how it ties into larger lore (it has to do with the San Tekka family) but they made little impression.
The Great Disaster exposes their pillaging of the Outer Rim, and their inventive use of Paths. These Paths are pathways through space that don’t involve normal or hyperspace. Their connection to the disaster, and where the conflict is headed, is fairly obvious and not entirely satisfying.
Far more impressive is Soule’s effortless skipping around the galaxy, visiting new locales like Heztal, and revisiting established ones like Coruscant. The prequels get a lot of connective tissue here, including in the form of specific characters. Not only is Yoda referenced, but other prequel Jedi have speaking cameos.
Light of the Jedi functions essentially as a primer to the entire High Republic concept. The book introduces a host of characters and concepts that will surely get more detailed investigation as the series progresses. Within that context, it works extremely well. As a novel, less so.
The book lacks a center of gravity. Avar Kriss comes the closest, but the book never settles down. After the initial disaster, the investigation begins. Different branches cast out across the galaxy, involving even more characters. Some of them are very interesting. Ember will surely be a fan favorite, with the charhound playing a prominent role in the first real confrontation between the Jedi and Nihil on Elphrona.
Some of the most compelling characters emerge in the Elphrona section, all of them Jedi. Porter Engle, Loden Greatstorm, and in a brief, single chapter, Ultident Margona – just ‘Dent’ to her Nihil friends – all beg for more investigation than they got.
Surely they will, but the High Republic era isn’t that unfamiliar to long-time Star Wars fans. Lightsabers are lightsabers, blasters are blasters, and political machinations and political machinations. Same as it ever was, in some ways. Engaging new characters might have been a better way to attract new readers.
The Starlight Beacon, given an enormous amount of hype before the launch of the book, gets even more within it. The initial Republic outpost in the Outer Rim is referenced over and over, often repetitiously, without making an appearance until deep into the novel.
The final chapters feel very much like the beginning of a novel, not the end, which contributes to the imbalance in the narrative. Of course, Light of the Jedi is just the beginning, but it reads like a pilot script for a television series, being all set up for what looks to be a very long run.
Overall, the book is a thrilling action-adventure and Easter egg filled introduction to an exciting new era in Star Wars. As a standalone novel, it doesn’t always work. Soule is an excellent writer with a gift for dropping the reader into an infinite array of situations and getting right down to the point.
Overall, it’s well worth a read and promises amazing things to come.
- Oppo Rancsis and Yarael Poof make cameos, as part of the Jedi Council.
- No mention of Yaddle.
- Yoda is on a sabbatical, and about a mysterious mission. His place on the council for the moment is taken by a Mon Calamari Jedi, Ephru Shinn. Yoda does make an appearance – fleetingly – at the christening of the Starlight Beacon in the final pages of the book.
- The council features a Grandmaster, Lahru, which I believe is the first time this honorific has been used in canon for the Jedi Order.
- Avar Kriss and fellow Jedi Elzar Mann seem destined to become star crossed lovers, if they’re not already.