Everybody is familiar with the Star Wars movies. But the Star Wars universe is bigger than just what’s shown in nine movies. The Mandalorian and other Disney+ shows, videogames, and animated television series are all part of the larger Star Wars narrative. And Star Wars novels and comics were once the beating heart of that extended universe. For decades, they were THE only source for new Star Wars stories. After Disney took over, most of those old novels were “de-canonized” and the new novels mostly served to flesh out/make sense of the new movies. In an effort to jazz up the publishing arm, Lucasfilm has embarked upon a brand new initiative that explores a never-before-seen era of the Star Wars universe: the High Republic!
The High Republic era takes place about 200 hundred years before the events of The Phantom Menace. According to the marketing materials, the aim is to portray The Jedi and the Republic at the height of their power, when they actually (mostly) work. That’s never been portrayed before!
I thought it could be neat to get in on the ground floor of this story project. The huge amount of material in the Star Wars expanded universe intimidated me in the past. The lore seemed so complex. I had no idea where to start, what was essential for a deeper understanding, what was good, etc. It looked like a lot of work to try to figure it all out. But with this High Republic era, I didn’t have to spend years reading and spending $$$ to catch up on a bunch of canon material. I could get into the series at the very beginning!
I also believed that the Golden Age of a working Republic and a solid Jedi Order could be cool to see, like a kind of magic Star Trek.
I feared that a working Republic and a solid Jedi Order could be really boring, like regular Star Trek.
Only one way to find out! I read every High Republic release that’s come out this year.
The verdict? It ain’t boring.
The Jedi are interesting, varied individuals. They explore their feelings, they openly question teachings and directions, they wrestle with doubt, they have personality. And the stories aren’t the same ol’ repetition of a Light Side nobody fighting/redeeming a Sith Dark Lord. The whole thing feels fresh and new, while still keeping the essential vibe of Star Wars intact. As I’ll explain in more detail below, not all of the releases are absolutely fantastic. Overall, though, the High Republic era is a welcome and interesting addition to the Star Wars universe.
You don’t have to read all of the High Republic releases. My mini-reviews of each one follow, but the TLDR version is: (1) Light of the Jedi is absolutely essential, (2) A Test of Courage is very good but MIGHT not be important to later releases (3) Into the Dark ain’t great but MIGHT be important to later releases, (4) and the High Republic comic book looks like it might be essential.
Here are more details on all the stuff:
“Go Together, Part 1” (December 15, 2020), written by Charles Soule, and published in Star Wars Insider #199
A short story that introduces one of the major settings in the High Republic era – a new space station – and a couple of minor characters that show up in later books and stories. You don’t have to track this thing down in order to understand the events of Light of the Jedi (or any of the other books). It isn’t baaaad, but it feels kind of…insubstantial.
Star Wars: The High Republic – Light of the Jedi (January 5, 2021) by Charles Soule
If you only read one High Republic book, make it this one. It introduces a ton of major characters. The first part reads like a disaster movie, full of intense, pulse-pounding action and tragic sacrifice. The rest of it sets up a major antagonist featured in other High Republic stories, a kind of space viking-pirate…thing. At times, though, the novel feels a little overstuffed, straining under the weight of all the world building and character intros. It almost feels like three or four independent, shorter books Frankensteined together. But if you can get over relatively minor issues of pacing and you aren’t looking for a deep, literary character study, Light of the Jedi is a fun, epic adventure story that all fans of Star Wars should appreciate.
Star Wars: The High Republic – The Great Jedi Rescue (January 5, 2021) by Cavan Scott, published by Disney–Lucasfilm Press
This is a young reader adaptation of Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule. If you have a really young kid, it might be worth it. Otherwise, this is a definite skip because you’ve already gotten this story from Light of the Jedi.
Star Wars: The High Republic – A Test of Courage (January 5, 2021) by Justina Ireland, published by Disney–Lucasfilm Press
The novel follows a couple of young Jedi, as well as a few normal kiddos, and their struggle to survive after their ship is sabotaged. Aimed at younger readers, this book is my favorite High Republic story so far. The characters are interesting, and the pacing is tight. It’s a straightforward story, told well. It may not be as important from the perspective of canon as some of the other stuff on this list, but I highly recommend it.
Star Wars: The High Republic – Into the Dark (February 2, 2021) by Claudia Gray
This YA-oriented novel introduces another of the main High Republic antagonists: carnivorous sentient Dark Side plants.
I loved Claudia Gray’s novel about Princess Leia, so I was really excited about this one. Unfortunately, it never really clicked for me. The characters were ok, but the plotting was very predictable. I was able to predict every plot twist many chapters before the plot twisted. For an action-adventure book about magic people trapped on a space station with murder plants, I was bored way too often.
“Go Together, Part 2” (February 10, 2021), written by Charles Soule, and published in Star Wars Insider #200
This short story acts as an epilogue to Light of the Jedi. It features the same two characters from the previous installment. Again, it’s fiiine, but there’s not much to it. It reads like the equivalent of a DVD deleted scene: nice but unnecessary extra content.
Star Wars: The High Republic, an ongoing comic book by Cavan Scott with art by Ario Anindito published by Marvel Comics
The events of Light of the Jedi, A Test of Courage, and Into the Dark all happen more-or-less simultaneously. This comic book series takes place directly afterwards, and it features a young female Jedi. So far, it LOOKS like this comic series is going to serve as the “connective tissue” between the various novels. It’s well-drawn and well-written. If you wanted a really bare-bones High Republic experience, I think Light of the Jedi and this comic series would give you everything you needed in order to follow the main storyline of the era.
Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures, an ongoing comic book by Daniel José Older with art by Harvey Tolibao, and published by IDW Comics.
A comic that features the character Yoda, on sabbatical from the Jedi Council, mentoring a group of young Padawans. It seems aimed at slightly younger readers, yet it also may tie into the main storyline of the era. Only three issues have been released so far, so I can’t say how critical it is to the main storyline yet. But it features Yoda, a Big Bad from Light of the Jedi, and a very interesting dynamic between a force-sensitive child who was forced to hide her abilities because of her culture and her (former?) best friend. Fun!
“First Duty” (March 17, 2021) written by Cavan Scott, and published in Star Wars Insider #201
Another short story. It may be setting up some sort of murder mystery, but I can’t tell. The writing was pretty bad, like it was written in a hurry to meet a deadline. It could have used a few more rounds of editing. Maybe…hopefully…the next installment will be better.