Somehow, my mid-30s have become an opportunity for me to revisit what I loved as a kid — yes, partially because that’s happening for all millenials, but also because I’ve reached a point in my own development where I can see what I actually learned and gained in these stories and experiences; what I keep with me, and what I should leave behind.
I’ve already written my treatise on why Star Wars as a whole matters to me, which will be out on May 4th (of course). But there’s a part of it that I’m more excited about than almost anything else: the High Republic series of books and comics. In order to go into it, though, I’ll be in full nerd mode — so if you don’t know or care at all about Star Wars, you might want to sit this one out.
The High Republic officially began in 2021 (which sometimes I think is still the current year, such is time), telling the story of the Jedi and Galactic Republic hundreds of years before the Phantom Menace. As the name suggests, these are the Jedi at their pinnacle — which I took to mean more regulated, obedient, and powerful. How happy I was to be wrong.
The Jedi of the High Republic are cool. Their lightsabers are multicolored and highly personalized, used more as symbols of their connection to the Force than as crude weapons of war. They dress in gold and white. The literature makes a point of showing their differences. Each Jedi communes with the force in their own way: some feel it as a song, others an ocean, others a great tree. Some Jedi get to wander away from the Order to explore the galaxy in their own way, others can take years of meditation away from active service.
The Jedi love each other. They grow friendships, connections, teams and cliques. They fuck, sometimes each other, sometimes anyone else — one Jedi even takes a year off to join a circus and get super laid.
The galaxy itself fucks: characters are horny, flirty, clever. Genders and sexuality are varied and fluid, interspecies pairings are common.
I bring this up not to scandalize, but to show the energetic, creative impetus behind the initiative itself. The High Republic began with a brain trust of five authors, and they agreed on characters and arcs before anything was written, giving the initiative a shared sense of adventure and diversity. None of these characterizations or changes feel accidental — they thrive in a galaxy created by a strong community.
Oh, and the story! The villains!
The initiative is split into three Phases, structured almost as the Star Wars film trilogies are: Phase One is set about 150 years before The Phantom Menace, Phase Two jumps back in time 100 years, and Phase Three will take place a couple years after Phase One.
In Phase One, the villains are the Nihil, an aptly-named army of chaotic marauders pillaging the outer rim of the galaxy, using dangerous hyperspace technology that makes them unpredictable to the Republic, who are trying to incorporate the outer rim into their protection. The ruthlessness of the Nihil throws the Jedi off their game, putting them on the defensive, testing their resolve to be keepers of the peace. The marauders travel in haphazardly built ships, use poisoned gas to dismantle their victims, and kill each other with abandon. They are led by the cold and cruel Marchion Ro, their Eye, who is a lean bitter gray pillar of a man.
Phase Two hops back in time to a villain unlike the Nihil altogether: the Path of the Open Hand, a cult obsessed with how the force is used in the galaxy: they see any use of the force by Jedi as abuse, and have a butterfly effect theory that claim any use of the force — however benign — will be catastrophic.
The Path is brilliantly introduced through one of its most devout disciples, Marchion’s ancestor Marda Ro: a bright young woman who cares for the children of the Path, who has philosophical and flirty conversations about the force with the young Jedi she meets and falls for. Of course the Path is not all that it seems, and neither is Marda.
What binds the Path and the Nihil together, other than the Ro family, is the creature they both unleash into the galaxy: a terrifying entity known as the Nameless, or the Leveler: a being that feeds on the force and leaves its victims as crumbling husks of their own bodies, their faces frozen in a fear they cannot escape. Phase Two is almost done, and there is still no explanation for the creature, nor any means of stopping it. Any Jedi that steps in its way will be destroyed in slow, excruciating terror.
Finally, there’s the details that flesh out the galaxy in this era: the development of hyperspace routes as a galactic gold rush, the elite and quibbling families of Coruscant, the threat of man-eating plants, legends of planets made entirely of the force, a giant sentient rock.
I could go on.
The truth is that I was feeling a little let down by Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was an awful addition to the films, The Book of Boba Fett was a disappointment, I felt disconnected from the galaxy I’d grown up loving and wishing to be a part of. Even watching Rebels or the final season of Clone Wars, good as they might have been, did little to excite me. But the High Republic, with its new ideas about the Jedi and the Force, changing the structure of the galaxy, giving me new characters to know and root for. I had loved the publishing initiatives when I was younger, what is now known as Legends, and about halfway through Light of the Jedi, that feeling returned: I was back. I was home.
If you look up the High Republic on YouTube, there’s a good chance you’ll see videos begging you not to read it: it’s too woke, it’s too diverse, it’s ruining Star Wars.
I don’t know what these people think Star Wars is supposed to be; that the franchise is meant to stay in the 1980s, white and male and straight and violent. Even the Expanded Universe novels, for all their creativity, felt deliberately beholden to established limits of identity and diversity. Even if Star Wars doesn’t look or feel the way it did 30 years ago, I’m glad it’s changed. The High Republic feels like a soft reboot of lore that might have been sullied by recent movies and TV shows, and am hopeful for upcoming media to follow suit: already Ahsoka looks to bring back the momentum lost in a middling season of The Mandalorian, and the upcoming The Acolyte appears to mesh The High Republic and Andor. If nothing else, I’m grateful to have something that excites me so much as The High Republic has — if you like Star Wars you’ll probably love it, and if you don’t care for Star Wars (but still read this far), you might be pleasantly surprised.
This week I’ll also be sharing my Why I Needed essay on Star Wars. I do hope to have the time soon to write something more thoughtful and critical of the franchise as a whole; it’s far from faultless and is notorious for a toxic fandom that needs to be considered and dismantled. But imperfections are okay, and critique of things you love is needed — and now, thanks to works like The High Republic, it’s a very Star Wars thing to do.