The High Republic feels like Star Wars unchained. Set 200 years before The Phantom Menace, the earliest movie in the timeline, the project combining novels, children's books and comics is untethered from the Skywalker Saga. There are no whiny Chosen Ones, scheming Sith Lords or angry wannabe Darth Vaders creating a sense of dark inevitability.
Instead, we get Jedi at the height of their power -- including a 700-year-old Yoda -- protecting an uncorrupted Galactic Republic as it expands into the Outer Rim.
"We had to make sure the timing would be right for it," Michael Siglain, Lucasfilm Publishing creative director, told me via Zoom last month. "Once we were nearing the end of the sequel trilogy, that's when we were given the green light. Let's go explore and see what we can do that is going to be big, bold and unexpected."
The Jedi of the High Republic are a bunch of awesome space wizards bringing justice with the Force, and it feels like they're having fun every step of the way.
"For them, the Jedi Order has been around for thousands of years. They have no concept that there's ever going to be anyone who's going to be able to stand up to them," Cavan Scott, author of Marvel's High Republic comic series, said. "It gives them confidence. They are competent people at this point. And the people who are pushing out onto the frontier know that the Jedi are going to be there with them."
Since Jedi are basically superheroes, they need intense baddies to battle. The Nihil are Outer Rim marauders similar to the War Boys in Mad Max: Fury Road -- scary bringers of chaos serving shadowy leaders. They can access unknown paths through hyperspace and pop up anywhere, making them a new kind of threat.
This era will also be featured in The Acolyte, Leslye Headland's upcoming Disney Plus series about "shadowy secrets and emerging dark-side powers."
"While we can't speak for the filmmakers about the new series, I can tell you we are all very excited that The Acolyte is set in the final days of The High Republic," Siglain said of the show, which doesn't yet have a release date. "It's been so exciting for these authors to work with Story Group to contribute to this vast era through the books and comics."
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I read the first batch of these new stories before The High Republic kicked off on Tuesday, and they were a super exciting introduction to a new era in a galaxy far, far away.
The lack of familiar characters (aside from some older Jedi) adds a delightful danger to each story. Like peak Game of Thrones, there's a sense that anyone could die or be taken captive at any moment -- it's quite refreshing after years of Star Wars novels and comics where I know all the iconic characters are going to make it through unscathed.
In a roundtable-style Zoom interview, I got to talk to the authors of each book and comic about what it was like to shape a new generation of Star Wars adventures, heroes and villains.
Light of the Jedi
If you're looking for a jumping-on point for The High Republic, Charles Soule's adult novel is it. Light of the Jedi brings us into this era as an incident known as the Great Disaster threatens worlds throughout the galaxy, Jedi engage in awesome acts of derring-do to save lives and the Nihil emerge from the shadows. I asked Soule how his novel, which came out Tuesday, sets up this era.
"You get a sense of exactly where the Republic, the Jedi Order and the Nihil are, how the Jedi operated communities with the outposts on far-flung planets," he said. "It seemed important to give readers a very diverse slate of Jedi types and approaches to the Force. And Republic people, settlers and explorers, because Star Wars is a galaxy that includes all kinds of different people."
Though the novel features an ensemble cast, Jedi Master Avar Kriss (the cover star) stands out because she interprets the Force as symphony -- a cool, fresh approach to the energy field that binds all living beings. It also results in some spectacular displays of Jedi power.
"She can almost hear the voices of the other Jedi and connect them all in a kind of a musical way," Soule said of Kriss. "That seemed like it would be a good way to get a lot of character viewpoints in one place. In Light of the Jedi, part of that story is the Jedi realizing that the song is not quite as beautiful as they perhaps thought it was."
This story is suitably epic, with the Great Disaster feeling like a pivotal moment in history on the scale of the Death Star's destruction in A New Hope. You'll certainly root for these new Jedi -- I'm already a huge Avar Kriss fan -- and they have a fascinating nemesis in the Nihil.
You can read the first eight chapters of the novel online for free, and there's a fancy special edition available too. The next adult novel will be Cavan Scott 's The Rising Storm, arriving July 6.
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For the Padawans
Justina Ireland's middle grade novel A Test of Courage, which hits shelves Tuesday, introduces us to newly knighted Jedi Vernestra Rwoh, who's something of a prodigy at the age of 16.
"She's got this Doogie Howser complex -- she's been promoted ahead of her peers," Ireland said of Vernestra. "But at the same time, she's still 16. She's still going through all those things that adolescents go through."
We join Vernestra on her first major mission as a Jedi, escorting 12-year-old would-be inventor Avon Starros on a journey that starts at an outpost on the galaxy's Outer Rim when some Nihil sabotage throws a spanner in the works.
"Then it becomes 'Adventures in Babysitting: Jedi space edition,'" she said. "One of the things we're careful of in writing for children: When bad things happen, we give the reader a thread of hope even when things are very dark. With adult readers we don't do that -- you're on your own."
It'll be a breezy read for adults, but Ireland brings us on an engaging adventure and Vernestra is a fun protagonist with a few awesome tricks up her sleeve. The author will continue the teen Jedi's story in young adult novel Out of the Shadows, which comes out July 27.
The author is also working with Japanese writer Shima Shinya and artist Mizuki Sakakibara on manga The Edge of Balance (which doesn't have a release date yet).
Claudia Gray's young adult novel Into the Dark, out Feb. 2, gives us a Padawan's point of view as The Great Disaster goes down. Reath Silas has been ripped from his comfortable, academic life on galactic capital Coruscant and is on his way to the frontier when the Great Disaster forces his ship to take a detour to a a creepy abandoned space station.
Reath has grown up in a galaxy at peace, unlike the Padawans we're used to from The Clone Wars era, and his master is on the Jedi Council, a position of major responsibility.
"So he sees things proceeding in a much more orderly fashion than they're going to, which is maybe something of a disappointment to Reath," Gray said of his journey. He gets an education in chaos theory."
Star Wars fans who've read Gray's other novels will know she excels at clever, fun character studies, and Into the Dark fits that mold nicely.
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Marvel Comics' ongoing High Republic series, written by Cavan Scott with art from Ario Anindito, focuses on Padawan Keeve Trennis as she struggles to understand her place in the Jedi Order.
"She views the Jedi as such a beacon of light that she's constantly trying to strive to be that and beats herself up about it," Scott said. "We see the internal dialogue of what she's thinking as she's going through all these things -- humanizing these characters, who at other times seem almost godlike."
Amid all this internal strife, Scott also promises plenty of the explosions and monsters we expect from comic books. The first issue lands on Wednesday. The writer is also working on an original graphic novel, The Monster of Temple Peak, with artist Rachael Stott (no release date on this one yet).
IDW's High Republic Adventures series, which kicks off Feb. 21, follows a group of Padawans "who are kind of on a jet gap year traveling around the galaxy with Yoda as the coolest chaperone ever," said writer Daniel José Older (who's teamed up with artist Harvey Tolibao).
The series also introduces us to a group that distrusts Jedi and the Force through the eyes of two characters -- one of whom is secretly Force-sensitive and ends up hanging out with the Padawans, while her best friend "ends up deep in the upper echelons of the Nihil," the writer noted.
"So through him, we get to see some major events that are going on for the Nihil and learn a lot about who they are, where they come from what they're about, in this very complex and messy story," Older said.
The author will tell another tale featuring Lula Talisola, a Padawan from the High Republic Adventures, in middle-grade novel Race to Crashpoint Tower, out June 29.
This era is just getting started. In a launch livestream on Monday, Lucasfilm Publishing boss Michael Siglain revealed that The High Republic will roll out on three phases over the coming years -- the first is called Light of the Jedi, followed by Quest of the Jedi and concluding with Trials of the Jedi.
Hardcore fans will likely want to devour every single page establishing this compelling new era of Jedi adventure and discover every satisfying connection, but each story is cleverly designed to work on its own. No matter what age you are and which medium you want to read in, the High Republic feels like an amazing new chapter in a galaxy far, far away and the most exciting Star Wars I've read in years.