Review: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule
Light of the Jedi is the first book that kick-starts Project Luminous, a series of interconnected novels and comics focused on the High Republic, a period set two hundred years before the Star Wars movies. This novel brings new villains and a different perspective on the Jedi and the Republic. The plot revolves around the Great Disaster, a sudden and dangerous event that threatens several inhabited worlds in the galaxy. Is this book worth your time? Here is my review. There will be spoilers ahead!
Legends: the old Star Wars continuity that existed before Disney purchased the franchise. It is currently inactive.
Overall, I think this is a solid first entry into the High Republic. This is the first time since Disney bought Star Wars where writers are truly free to explore other periods of the galaxy and come up with original stories that matter. In this case, the book introduces us to the Great Disaster, an event that refers to the sudden disruption of hyperspace travel, the alternative dimension that enables light-speed transportation across the galaxy. Theoretically impossible, the author shows us how the new antagonists, the Nihil, have control of a secret technology that allows them to travel in hyperspace in ways not see before. The Great Disaster is precisely triggered when a vessel transporting colonists to the Outer Rim, the frontier of the galaxy, tries to evade a Nihil ship that suddenly appears in the middle of the hyperspace lane. The commander of the transport tries to dodge the Nihil ship, but the effort tears apart the vessel, killing the crew instantly. The rest of the vessel breaks into different parts that exit hyperspace at different times and at high speeds. The result are fragments of the ship appearing in different inhabited solar systems and in a collision course with moons, planets, and stars. This event affects hyperspace traffic throughout the galaxy with ships being pulled out of it. The ensuing chaos leads to an emergency operation planned by the Republic and the Jedi to try to stop the most immediate threats, the destruction of inhabited planets, and to figure out who is behind these attacks. In short, with some exceptions, the Jedi and the Republic save the day though with several casualties on their side. This is the overarching plot of the book. It succeeds in presenting a new threat in a compelling way. What about the main characters and their factions?
The Jedi are presented in this novel at the pinnacle of their power. A strong order of thousands that immediately assist the Republic and dispatch its members to help in rescue missions. They dress with very ornamented clothing and pilot elegant ships. They exude wealth and prestige in the sense of an aristocracy. This is an already important contrast with the more sober spirit of the Jedi of the Prequels. One thing I really liked is the ubiquitous presence of the members of this Order throughout the book. Several Jedi are introduced, most with minor roles, some die right away. But the reader gets a feeling of their overwhelming numbers and the high stakes in every mission. Other reviews have criticized the lack of development of some characters. I do not feel the same way since the Jedi that matter in the plot get the attention required. Notable Jedi from the Prequels make brief appearances like Yarael Poof, Oppo Rancisis and Yoda, all Council members and in active service roughly two hundred years before the movies. Of the new protagonists, Elzar Mann, Loden Greatstorm and Porter Engle captured my interest, presenting compelling backgrounds and skills. However, of the bunch, Avar Kriss steals the show. The female Jedi becomes the main protagonist and hero of the Republic by coordinating the rescuing missions in one of the most afflicted systems, Hetzal Prime. A welcoming nod to the Old Legends continuity, Avar makes use of a remarkable Jedi technique that allows her to guide their Jedi colleagues through the Force as a united front. This form of “battle meditation” proves crucial in the rescuing missions and in the battles against the Nihil. Finally, Soule introduces the reader to the new starfighters piloted by the Jedi, the Vectors. They are very versatile and sleek ships that can only be activated by using the Jedi’s lightsaber as a key. The diversity of skills, personalities, vehicles, and approaches to the Force make the Jedi of the High Republic an extraordinary organization.
The Republic is also presented in a good light, as an able and functioning government working on behalf of the people. There is little parallel to the rotten state it has become by the time of the Prequels. The supreme chancellor at the time, Lina Soh, seeks to expand and integrate the galaxy into the Republic. To that end during her term, the chancellor embarks into an ambitious project of public works. Called the Great Works, many of these projects have the purpose of improving the infrastructure of the galaxy. Most prominent among them is Starlight Beacon, a hub at the frontier of known space that serves as a military base, hospital facility, headquarters of Republic agencies and the Jedi, and a communications station. Ideas like the Great Works made me think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration. There are some parallels between Soh’s administration and the spirit of the New Deal in the book. The Republic bureaucracy is also shown as competent with the Secretary of Transportation playing a key role in facilitating all the resources necessary to address the Great Disaster. The novel constantly reminds its audience that the events are happening at the fringes of the galaxy, in the less developed areas. Words such as colonists and frontier inevitable evoke connections to the idea of Westward Expansion that led the United States to continental dominance. I do not know whether the author is conscious or not about these historical tropes, but they seem very clear to me.
Finally, the villains. The Nihil are a band of marauders, common criminals united by a mysterious leader called Marchion Ro. He is the one in possession of hyperspace technologies that allow his forces to reappear and disappear at will in hyperspace and to map secret routes throughout the galaxy. There is definitely more to the background and intentions of this character that we will discover in subsequent books. As antagonists the Nihil might be simple and unimportant, but I think what makes them unique is the technology in their power and the ways they used it. A thing I like about them is that they do not seem to answer to anyone else but themselves. In fact, they practice some sort of anarchism that rejects any form of authority and values freedom above all. Hopefully, they will not become subordinates of bigger factions such as the Hutts, the Mandalorians, or the Sith Order for example. Speaking of the Sith, it is too early to tell whether they are involved with any of these events. I would be disappointed if they end up being the main antagonists, but I would be surprised if during the course of Project Luminous we do not hear anything from them. At this point in time, they are operating in the shadows, forgotten by the Jedi and the Republic. Let’s see how Soule and his colleagues handle them.
If you are a casual fan only interested in the movies or TV shows this book might not be for you. Eventually you will be introduced to this era through the upcoming Star Wars TV show the Acolyte set at the end of the period known as the High Republic. If you want a bit more and are excited about exploring a new era not tied to the Skywalker Saga, then this is your opportunity. One final word. I am happy about Project Luminous and I have faith in the final outcome. Expanding the Star Wars universe has always been the work of novels and books. They kept Star Wars interesting and alive between the Old Trilogy and the Prequels. They do the heavy-lifting and the world building that then is exploited and presented in movies and TV shows. Think of the Mandalorian TV show and the many references it has to Legends or to the current continuity. Or look at the animated shows like the Clone Wars and Rebels that provide the background and context necessary for the live action appearances of fantastic characters such as Bo Katan or Ashoka. For many viewers, the Mandalorian served as their first introduction to these characters. But they have been around for at least a decade now thanks to the work of the expanded universe through its different branches, whether in the form books, novels, games, or TV shows. To conclude, after years of waiting, the new Disney continuity is coming to life on its own, without the limitations established by George Lucas’ original work. Only time will tell if this new continuity can match in quality and depth the stories told in Legends.