Publisher: Random House Audio (Audiobook – 5 January 2021)
Series: Star Wars – The High Republic
Length: 13 hours and 35 minutes
My Rating: 4.5 out 5 stars
Boldly venture into a bright new era of the Star Wars universe as acclaimed science fiction author Charles Soule introduces the first entry in the High Republic multimedia publishing project, Light of the Jedi.
We are all the Republic!
Two hundred years before the events of The Phantom Menace and the Skywalker Saga, the Republic was at its absolute height in influence, technology and culture, in a period of time known as the High Republic. With the glorious Jedi Order leading the charge, nothing seems capable of slowing down the inevitable expansion of the Republic, especially with the creation of the Starlight Beacon, a vast space station designed to bring Republic influence to the darkest corners of the Outer Rim.
However, all it takes is one event to threaten everything. In the depths of hyperspace, tragedy strikes when the transport ship Legacy Run, taking settlers to the Outer Rim, encounters something while travelling at light speed and is torn apart. Shortly after, in the agricultural system of Hetzal, chunks of the ship emerge from hyperspace at incredible speeds and begin to rain down across the systems, planets and moons in an extinction-level event. Disaster is only partially averted by the arrival of the Jedi, who work tirelessly and valiantly in an effort to save as many lives as possible.
As more pieces of debris begin to strike other systems within the Republic and the Chancellor initiates a hyperspace blockade, the Jedi are tasked with determining the origin of the crashed ship before more tragedies can occur. As the Jedi, led by Master Avar Kriss, begin to investigate, they quickly determine that a mysterious new party has taken a twisted interest in the disaster, the Nihil. The Nihil are a group of ruthless and chaotic raiders with dark secrets and a sinister origin, who appear out of nowhere and take what they want. Armed with unique technology and abilities, the Nihil are about to engage in a deadly campaign against the Republic and the Jedi which the galaxy may never recover from.
I think it is fair to say that the High Republic is off to a smashing start with this exciting and captivating novel. The High Republic is an intriguing new publishing campaign that aims to present a bold new era of Star Wars tie-in fiction. Set around 200 years before the events of the earliest Star Wars film, the High Republic will consist of a series of connected novels, including adult, young adult and young reader books, as well as several comics, manga and audiobooks, all set in the same period of Star Wars history, with a whole new range of different characters and storylines. The High Republic project has been in the works for some time, with several of the best Star Wars tie-in fiction authors banding together to come up with the overarching story and universe. These various storylines are likely going to lead into some form of movie of television series in the future, especially after the success of shows like The Mandalorian, representing a whole new creative frontier for these amazing authors.
The subject of this review is Light of the Jedi, the first book in the High Republic range, which introduces readers to this fascinating time period in the Star Wars universe. This essential introductory novel was written by the extremely talented Charles Soule, who is one of the main creative voices of this project. Soule is a fantastic author who, in addition to writing several cool science fiction novels, is probably best known for his work in the comic book world, having authored a number of major series, such as Thunderbolts vol. 2, She-Hulk vol. 3, Death of Wolverine, and Daredevil vol. 5, just to name a few. I personally know Soule best from his various Star Wars comics, including the very cool Poe Dameron series, The Rise of Kylo Ren miniseries and his current run on the main Star Wars series (I really need to review the first volume of that). My favourite of Soule’s Star Wars comics is the exceptional Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith series, which followed Darth Vader in the immediate aftermath of his turn to the dark side. This was a deeply impressive series (check out my reviews for Volume 2: Legacy’s End and Volume 3: The Burning Seas, the latter of which was one of my favourite releases of 2018), with some captivating and clever storylines, and it easily one of my favourite Star Wars comics of all time. As a result, I have been eagerly awaiting this impressive author’s first Star Wars novel, and Light of the Jedi did not disappoint as Soule created a fantastic and epic tale that I really enjoyed.
At the heart of this great novel is an exciting and compelling narrative that takes the reader on a wild adventure into the depths of Star Wars space and beyond. Soule presents a brilliant multifaceted tale in Light of the Jedi, told from the perspective of a huge number of different characters, each of whom add some fantastic perspectives to the wider narrative. This novel has an amazing start, with the first third of Light of the Jedi showing the cataclysmic event that rocks the galaxy and the subsequent attempts to avert it in great detail. This entire first part of the book is pretty fantastic, filled with destruction, heroics and amazing character introductions, all of which is overlayed to a countdown clock that hints at a bigger and more destructive event to come. I really enjoyed this fast-paced and intense start to the book, especially as Soule adds in some fantastically written action-packed scenes, loaded with some dramatic and tragic moments, setting up the novel’s subsequent story perfectly. The rest of the book splits into several separate but related storylines that show the aftermath of the opening chaos, introduces and highlights the overall antagonists of the book, and expands on the introduced characters. All of the storylines featured in this part of the book are extremely interesting and compelling, presenting several unique adventures with some excellent twists, while also examining cool aspects of the Star Wars universe. The huge range of storylines and character arcs complement each other really well, producing a balanced and captivating tale that comes together extremely well in the end. All of this leads up to an epic conclusion that not only serves as a great ending to the various storylines featured in Light of the Jedi but which also sets up some intriguing storylines for the future High Republic novels.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this book is the huge extensions that Soule, and the associated High Republic creative brain trust, made to the Star Wars universe. The High Republic period, as portrayed in this novel, is a gleaming beacon of civilisation and democracy, where unity and positivity run rampant, especially with their near-religious catchphrase of “We are all the Republic”. Light of the Jedi serves as the perfect introduction to this period, and Soule does an amazing job exploring all the key aspects of it, including the technology, the set-up, the significant figures and the major differences between this period and future eras of the Republic that readers are more familiar with. I liked the overall setting of this version of the Star Wars universe, especially as it has a very distinctive frontier feel to it, with people moving out from the settled core of the Republic and encountering some of the hidden and malicious dangers in the less settled regions. There is also something shiny and exquisite about a lot of inclusions in this book, and I particularly liked all the depictions of the spaceships and technology featured. This historical Republic is definitely at a high-point of culture and technology, and as such this book is loaded with a ton of elegant and beautiful battleships, which sound so much more impressive than rougher technology featured even in the prequel films.
I also appreciated the way in which the author portrays people having a general sense of naivety throughout the Republic, as they all believe that everything is peaceful and nice. This will no doubt change in future entries in the series, and it will be interesting to see if this peaceful version of the Republic starts to go downhill a bit as a result of the events featured within this series. For me though, one of the highlights of Light of the Jedi had to be the titular Jedi. The Jedi featured in the High Republic series are at the height of their power and majesty, and they prove to be a very impressive bunch in their white and gold robes. There is a really fascinating collection of unique Jedi throughout the novel, and it looks like Soule attempted to feature Jedi of nearly every Star Wars species he could think of. The thing that really stood out to me were all the cool Jedi powers that they had, as the Jedi characters in this novel were doing a ton of amazing force techniques that none of the characters featured in the films seemed possible of doing. All of this was really cool to see, and I think that Soule and Light of the Jedi did an amazing job of introducing this impressive setting.
Another very intriguing inclusion is the Nihil. The Nihil, who are set to be the main antagonists of the entire High Republic range, are a group of ultra-violent raiders who live by a simple code of taking what they want, when they want, and are massively opposed the ideas of law and order imposed by the Republic and the Jedi. Soule does an amazing job introducing these antagonists in Light of the Jedi, with their first scene showing them coming out of nowhere and brutally pillaging a fleet of ships. There was something particularly savage and intense with this first sequence, and I was getting serious Mad Max or Firefly Reaver vibes in the way that they attacked, using harpoons and vicious boarding tactics. The author continues to expand on these antagonists throughout the course of the book, and the reader is given a solid idea of their structure, tactics, history and general mindset, as a number of chapters are told from their perspective. The Nihil have some very interesting and unique characteristics to them, and there is a certain Viking theme to them, especially with their storm motif. I loved the portrayal of them throughout the book, and this group of mask-wearing, savage aliens really left an impression on me, especially with their gas-based weapons, under-handed battle tactics (there is one particularly awesome sequence around that) and unique hyperspace technology. I was slightly worried that the Nihil were going to simply be portrayed as a group of common raiders throughout the course of this series, and it appeared at times within Light of the Jedi that this is what was going to happen. However, this was a bit of clever misdirection from Soule, who produced a very compelling and well-written story arc around these antagonists that really sets them up as a major deadly force in the Star Wars universe. A lot of this menace is due to the many cool hints and reveals about the Nihil’s hidden secrets throughout the course of the story, especially surrounding Nihil’s mysterious leader, the Eye, and I look forward to unravelling them in future entries in this series.
Soule introduces a large range of compelling characters in Light of the Jedi, including a range of intriguing new Jedi. Due to the author going for a mass perspective story, this novel really does not have a main character; instead Soule splits the tale across many characters, each of whom have their own unique storylines and arcs. I have to admit that before reading this novel I was slightly concerned that the High Republic series would have a bit of a hard time gaining traction with characters, as the only figure from the films to actually be alive at this point is Yoda (and apparently Yarael Poof, who I mostly recognise from a fun Robot Chicken sketch). However, I quite enjoyed a lot of the characters featured within this book and I appreciated the way that Soule was able to build them up into compelling and unique individuals within the series of shorter story arcs that they had.
Some of the key characters include Jedi Master Avar Kriss and Jedi Knight Elzar Mann (the two humans on the cover), powerful Jedi with unique abilities who are being set up as two of the main characters of the entire franchise. Kriss and Mann, who are lifelong friends, form an intriguing team, especially with their underlying romantic tensions that they cannot act on (Soule makes a fun joke about Jedi and their lightsabers earlier in the novel that works perfectly there). Another fantastic pair are Twi’lek Jedi Loden Greatstorm (awesome name) and his Padawan, Bell Zettifar, a more action orientated pairing who get into some scrapes throughout the novel. Loden and Bell have an excellent arc throughout the novel and I enjoyed their great master-and-apprentice relationship, which mainly consists of Loden throwing Bell off high locations for training purposes. Both characters, especially Loden, end the novel in an interesting position, and it will be very cool to see how these two characters develop and change in future entries in the series. Other highlights for me include the Trandoshan Jedi Sskeer, mainly because of his cool look and species, and the Wookiee Padawan Burryaga Agaburry, who the reader swiftly warms up to, even if he doesn’t say anything comprehensible throughout the book.
In addition to the Jedi mentioned above, I really have to highlight some of the chaotic and intense Nihil characters, who make for some great antagonists. The main one of these is the mysterious Marchion Ro, a leader and mystic of the Nihil with a hidden past and a sinister agenda who is being set up as the major villain of this franchise. Ro, is a unique new antagonist, with hints of other Star Wars villains in his inspiration (particularly Kylo Ren), who has a fun arc within Light of the Jedi, completely changing and manipulating his followers for his own betterment. I also quite liked the Tempest Runner Kassav Milliko, the drugged up, vicious and opportunistic Nihil warlord who clashes with Ro throughout the book and who serves as a major catalyst for story advancement throughout the book. All of these characters and more prove to be quite compelling to follow, and I look forward to seeing what happens to them in future entries in this overarching publishing project.
Like I do for many Star Wars novels, I ended up grabbing Light of the Jedi in its audiobook format. This proved to be a fantastic decision on my behalf, as the Light of the Jedi audiobook is really awesome, featuring the usual outstanding blend of great narration, epic music and clever sound effects to create an intense and enjoyable listening experience. It had a reasonable runtime of 13 hours and 35 minutes, which listeners should be able to get through rather quickly; I personally was able to power through it rather quickly once I really got into the fantastic story. The audiobook’s creative team did an exceptional job enhancing the story with the iconic Star Wars sound effects, and I loved the amazing ambiance that every single scene had, whether it was the sounds of destruction that occurred during a fight scene, or the simple sounds of people whispering that gave realistic life to group scenes. The Star Wars music was also on point again, and I cannot emphasise how much emotion and excitement the awesome musical scores added to each scene in the novel. For example, they expertly utilised John Williams’ tune of Anakin’s Betrayal during one particularly sudden and tragic scene, giving it an added layer of depth and despair that really struck me. Many other different and iconic Star Wars musical scores were featured at various points throughout the novel, and I quite enjoyed the inclusion of several numbers that were a little less familiar to me, and which gave this audiobook a more unique flair. Listeners will also really appreciate the cool heavy metal music that ran in the background of some of the Nihil scenes. Identified as “wreck punk” by some of the characters (apparently created by instruments made from the metal of wrecked star ships), this heavy metal music adds an additional Mad Max edge to the Nihil in battle, and I loved how the audiobook’s creators went the extra mile to make these villains even more edgy.
In addition to the excellent musical inclusions and awesome sound effects, the Light of the Jedi audiobook also featured the superb vocal talents of veteran narrator Marc Thompson. Thompson, who I recently mentioned in my review of Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising, did another fantastic job with Light of the Jedi, telling the story at a swift and enjoyable pace, while also giving voice to all the fun characters featured within the story. Each of the characters gets their own unique voice, ensuring the reader can identify who is speaking at all times. I felt that these voices fit each character perfectly, and Thompson has fun giving some of these character distinctive accents. Thompson is also able to convey an amazing amount of emotion with his tone, adding fear, suspense and anguish into both his main narration speech, as well as the voices of the various characters. This great outpouring of emotion in his dramatic voice helps to enhance several scenes, drawing listeners in with its realism and intensity. I should note that listening to the audiobook did give me a clue at a fun little twist that Soule added to the story, as you can identify who a hidden speaker is at one point via his voice, something someone reading a physical copy of the book would not get. This did not ruin the book for me in any way shape or form; indeed I kind of liked having this hint and it added a little more intrigue to the overall story. Overall, this was some exceptional voice work from Thompson, which makes this audiobook an outstanding way to check out Light of the Jedi.
Star Wars: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule is a fantastic and exciting new novel that serves as an intriguing and powerful introduction into the new High Republic range of novels and comics. Featuring an epic and action-packed narrative, some awesome new characters, and an impressive amount of universe-building, this is an incredible book that was really fun to read. Thanks to the introductory nature of the story, it is very accessible to fans with various levels of franchise knowledge, and may even prove to be a good entry point into the wonderful world of Star Wars novels. I am a little uncertain at this point how this new Star Wars franchise is going to proceed in the future and how some of the storylines will continue, but I am really looking forward to finding out. The future of Star Wars tie-in fiction leading into the High Republic looks bright, especially if we get more outstanding novels like Light of the Jedi, and this should be an interesting new chapter in Star Wars history.