“Light of the Jedi” is set at the highest point of the pre-Clone Wars Republic. The Jedi Order are numerous, the Republic builds its Great Works, civilisation and enlightenment spreads into the Outer Rim. And then, the Great Disaster strikes.
“Light of the Jedi” is one of the stories from the High Republic multimedia project. Thus far, there have been several other novels (both adult and YA), audiobooks and comics. They are all dealing more or less with the same events and the same characters. The events revolve around the hyperspace disaster in the Hetzal system that causes millions of deaths and the subsequent raids of the Nihil, a group of barbaric “techno-pirates”.
This particular novel focusses on the Great Disaster itself and its immediate aftermath. Over one-third of the book follows various characters, Jedi Masters and Padawans, but also common pilots and Republic navy officers, as they participate on the rescue operations in the Hetzal system, and attempt to prevent the destruction of entire planets.
Charles Soule has managed to portray the disaster very vividly, almost too well perhaps. The opening chapters definitely pull you in and make you care, but they are also bound to break your heart at the losses described. Indeed, somewhere within the first ten chapters I felt that this was perhaps too grim for Star Wars. But no – the point is that in the rest of the book, the light of the Jedi shines the brighter because we have seen the disaster in its full scale.
Light Versus Darkness
The High Republic setting works with the binary opposites of light and darkness, civilisation and barbarism, mutuality and destructive selfishness. The conflict here is not that of two metaphysical orders of light and dark Force users, or of two factions within the Republic that have different views of centralism and bureaucracy. The Outer Rim represents the space where planets and people on them are far apart and alone. Meanwhile, the Republic is interconnected and full of light and building its Great Works, the wonders of the Galaxy.
The important point is that the Republic are not just playing in their little sandbox, but their new Great Works, such as the Starlight Beacon, are intended to bring the advancements to the outskirts. And the Jedi are not just a lightsaber-wielding arm of the Republic, like it is during the Clone Wars. They are here to help and they are the good guys.
It is refreshing that the authors opted out of the traditional Star Wars scheme of “the Republic is at war against X”. Inevitably, a space battle ensues at one point, and there are encounters with the Nihil, but that is not the main point. It is very clearly portrayed that the chief strength of the Jedi is in offering assistance when a disaster strikes. They are portrayed rather as a “fire brigade” than as a military.
The book, however, has its enemy, and they are the Nihil. Pirates, raiders; they were described in some of the promotional materials as “space Vikings”. One can see what the authors meant by that. The Nihil use the lawless environment of the Outer Rim and the aftermath of the disaster to raid and plunder.
Nevertheless we get to look also into the inner workings of their society (if you can call it that), with its meritocratic, free-for-all and survival-of-the-fittest dynamic.
I was a tiny bit disappointed in how the Nihil were portrayed as the story progressed. The further I read, the more the Nihil and especially their leader Marchion Ro started to fold back into the generic archetype of one evil power-hungry villain with a basic evil agenda. I don’t know if the vague hints at Marchion Ro’s beef with the Jedi and his toying with a lightsaber in one scene are going to lead to some “grand revelation”. Hopefully nothing along the lines that he was a Sith. However much I like the Sith, I think it was a good idea to keep them out of this one. They don’t have to be behind everything bad that happens in the Galaxy.
The Knights Are The Focus
The book’s atmosphere is unique especially in its take on the Jedi. Ever since Obi-Wan’s speech in A New Hope, we longed for seeing the Jedi Knights in their full strength as the shining paragons of light. The prequel era did not entirely supply that, but the High Republic era definitely does. Charles Soule took his time describing this also in visual terms. There are paragraphs devoted entirely to the beautiful and symbolic designs of Jedi starships and outfits in white and gold, and even more to their lightsabers that reflect their individual personalities.
There is no small group of main characters. Rather, there are about a dozen Jedi who each get their own space to shine. All the Masters and Padawans are introduced in such a way that makes one wish to learn more about them. Master Avar Kriss who perceives the Force as music and her experimental-bordering-on-troublemaking friend Elzar Mann, and their entirely platonic relationship that must be the best-written romance I have read in a while. The young self-doubting Padawan (there always has to be one) Bell Zettifar. And many more cool Jedi of various species (one female Duros Jedi was my personal favourite; but there is also a shy Wookiee Padawan, for example).
The only thing worth criticising in regards to characters may be a couple of painfully unoriginal “loans”. Namely one female Togruta Jedi who is slightly unorthodox and wields a white lightsaber. If the authors wanted to make a homage/ripoff of Ahsoka Tano, they could have at least changed the species or the lightsaber colour. Something similar happens in the case of a Senator’s aide who is a Chagrian that turns out to be somewhat shady (just like Palpatine’s advisor).
It is one thing to help fleshing out a character by drawing parallels to a similar one, another to simply copy and paste an existing one under a different name. To be fair towards Charles Soule, however, these characters are the creation of the whole team and he may not be personally responsible for all of them.
Charles Soule wrote the story before the Covid-19 pandemic. He mentioned this in one interview where he clarified that the events of the book are in no way inspired by the real-world events. One can see why he felt the need to say that when one reads the book. There are moments where the Senators debate how long they can afford to keep hyperlanes closed. The book’s motto “we all are the Republic” and the appeal on standing together in the face of Galaxy-spanning disaster also hit home under the circumstances. None of these moments particularly disturbed my reading experience, sometimes I felt like I could understand them better because of real-world experiences.
“Light of the Jedi” was my first proper encounter with the High Republic. Where before I had zero expectations, it managed to introduce me to an unfamiliar Star Wars era and new characters in a way that made me invested in reading about them. I believe that is the book’s chief strength. If you are looking for a (somewhat) new take on the Star Wars universe, this is the book for you. If you want to just check the High Republic setting, this is a good start. And if you are into anything that concerns the Jedi, then this is a must-read.
If you want to just check the book out, there is an free sample of the first eight chapters that was provided on starwars.com. I can only recommend trying it.