Lucasfilm has announced a new storytelling era for the Star Wars universe: “The High Republic”. In near future, we can expect books and graphic novels - and later possibly more - set in this never-before-visited era. That is, 200 years before Episode I: The Phantom Menace, when the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order are at their zenith.
Jedi of the Round Table vs. Space Vikings
Pablo Hidalgo of the creative team spoke about something akin to the “Jedi Knights of the Round Table”, which is what the initial core group of characters - eventually expanding - should be like. At the same time, there was talk about exploring the frontiers of the Republic-controlled space that are protected by Jedi who are “more of the Texas Ranger type”. It seems that Lucasfilm wants to (again, after The Mandalorian) partly draw on the nostalgia for the original Star Wars film with Tatooine and its shabby denizens (Han Solo, Luke and Obi-Wan included).
The preparation involved brainstorming of many SW writers and creators. The team even had Ian McKay, the artist behind the design of Darth Maul, make designs for the main Jedi characters.
The basic idea of the High Republic saga should revolve around fighting against the enemy that comes from the Republic’s wild frontier. The designers showed a couple of images of armoured alien-looking villains. The core group of enemies is called “The Nihil” and they were likened to “space Vikings”, plundering and pillaging where the Republic’s law does not reach.
So Why This New Direction?
It is clear that Lucasfilm has found itself in a spot where it needs to figure out what to do. The sequel trilogy was a success with part of the audience, but apparently not enough to make committing to storytelling in the sequel era a sure bet.
So Lucasfilm opted for testing new, uncharted waters. The advantages are obvious. You can have lots of Jedi. You have complete freedom to build the world from scratch. You can show something that has not been showed before at all, unlike if you for example decided to set the story between episodes I and II or right after episode VI. On top of that, you can still include familiar elements like younger Yoda, younger Maz Kanata and possibly baby Chewbacca (yes, I am thinking about the success of The Mandalorian and wondering how much calculated this setting is).
But No Sith - Or…?
There is only one major restriction: the fact that the Sith have to be absent from the story. As we know, their reappearance in The Phantom Menace was a surprise for the Jedi. In Episode I, the Council claims that the Sith had been extinct for a thousand years. Since The High Republic is set only 200 years before The Phantom Menace, the Sith have to remain extinct - at least officially.
There may be one way around this. For instance a story from the Sith point of view could focus on this need for secrecy. We could follow a Sith apprentice embarking on some missions for their master, sometimes also encountering Jedi and killing them in ways that do not raise suspicion. Such a story could prove an interesting challenge as well as give the writers clear boundaries - which might be a good thing. Restriction breeds creativity.
However, what has been revealed so far points to the direction that the Sith should rather not be involved at all, and that might actually be a good thing. Not everything needs to be tied to the Sith. If The Nihil prove to be respectable villains of their own kind, we might finally see some variety in the Star Wars universe - something Lucasfilm has not been very good in providing so far, I must say.
Different Kind of Nostalgia
This also brings me to voice my fear over drawing too heavily on the “Wild West Tatooine nostalgia”. Personally, I have nothing against nostalgia, however I think that all the latest films and series have been already milking it a lot (especially The Mandalorian) and Star Wars should be also about something else. Especially if we consider that this is the “High Republic”, one would rather expect the high technology and prequel vibes. Evil can lurk even in the bright centre of the universe, after all.
This may be a good time to say that Lucasfilm needs to stop being afraid of drawing on the prequels. Besides, even prequels have their hardcore fans who feel nostagia for them. And it is not like that retreating into the safe shell of the old trilogy is a solution to everything. It isn’t something you can keep doing all the time without wearing it out.
I would personally be excited for stories and even films about “Jedi Knights of the Round Table”. We are going to wait for a long time until it reaches the stage that we can expect anything big, however. For now, we can wait until August 2020 for the first novels and comics from the High Republic era.