The Potential of Star Wars: The High Republic

Now that the saga is complete, The High Republic publishing initiative could fully unlock the potential of the franchise.

With ‘The Skywalker Saga’ concluded (for the third time), the future of Star Wars on the big screen is a mystery. After a short break, the galaxy far, far away is set to return to the big screen with some unknown tale in December of 2022 but the films are only one part of the continuing expansive franchise. As well as getting numerous television series, both live-action and animated, on Disney+ over the coming years, just last week we learnt of the new publishing initiative that promises to transport us to a brand-new era of Star Wars storytelling. Across both comics and novels from five writers, Star Wars: The High Republic will weave a tale set 200 years before The Phantom Menace when the Jedi were in their prime.

The narrative was devised by an unprecedented writers’ room and has been in in development for years, something usually only granted to film and television projects and not for the publishing arm of the series. Since the new canon was established in 2014, the books and comics have been little but ancillary stories to the saga taking place onscreen but now they can take centre stage and create their own characters and worlds in a unique time period. While the classic Star Wars balancing act of new and old will no doubt continue with The High Republic series, I think this bold step for the franchise is brimming with potential.

The High Republic will offer us a look at the Jedi Order at its height, finally giving us what Obi-Wan described in A New Hope back in 1977 rather than the flawed order of the prequels. As a child of the prequels I don’t mean that as a criticism. I think what Lucas did – or at least attempted to do – with the Jedi in the prequels is fascinating, and was greater explored in The Clone Wars animated series. They had grown arrogant, become entwined with politics, followed their rules to an inhumane level and were forced to become generals in a war rather than peacekeepers. Their fall is engaging storytelling but now we’ll finally witness the Jedi at their most powerful and noble.

The Jedi of the period are guardians of peace watching over the galaxy, styled as “Jedi Knights of the Round Table”. They’ll be more powerful in the Force than any we’ve encountered before because by the time of the prequels, as a result of their own hubris, lack of spirituality and Sidious’s influence, their ability to use the Force had diminished. I expect not only new abilities but also just a greater connection with the all-encompassing energy field. While I hope we get plenty of exploration into this version of the Jedi, I imagine that the series will eventually chart the Order’s fall into what they become by the time of the prequels, maybe with them becoming involved with the senate. The Jedi follow a religion and, unlike what we see 200 years later, I think there will be a definite separation between church and state.

I was surprised to learn of the time period of The High Republic during the reveal last week because all the rumours, of which most of the information turned out to be correct, placed the series as being set around 400 years before the chronological beginning of ‘The Skywalker Saga’. Instead the new stories will take place just two centuries before and this seems almost too close in time to The Phantom Menace. The state of the galaxy is supposed to be very different to what we’ve previously seen, with the Outer Rim being a wild frontier region that hasn’t been greatly explored and the Republic (800 years old at this point) still growing. This should be a large step forward for the franchise but I feel the reluctance to leave the known era of Star Wars too far behind could cause problems. I think 400 years seems like the better call but the status quo of the galaxy sounds fascinating no matter when it’s set. I guess I prefer 200 years before to the 2000 years before of The Old Republic which always seemed like too great a distance in time, particularly considering the little change in technology between that and the core saga.

The first book, titled ‘Light of the Jedi’ by Charles Soule, is set to begin with something known as “The Great Disaster” which will pull our new Jedi characters out of hyperspace and into danger. Whether hyperspace is ‘turned off’ for a considerable amount of time, as intriguing and bizarre as that sounds, isn’t currently known. What is known is that the villains of the book and comics series are the Nihal (pronounced Nile). They are Viking-style marauders who raid star systems and reject the Republic’s rule, depicted in concept art as a haphazard group of numerous species. They sound like very refreshing baddies for the franchise after the First Order being nothing but a resurgent Empire in the now-concluded sequel trilogy. This is a time of peace for the galaxy – we know from the films that no large-scale conflict took place for a thousand years before The Clone Wars – and so the Nihal sound like a good choice to bring chaos to the galaxy without a huge war.

While the Nihal are the primary villains, it does beg to question of where the Sith are at this moment in time. The wars between the Jedi and Sith have long since ended and the dark side users are in hiding after enacting the ‘Rule of Two’. I imagine, whether it’s in the first phase of The High Republic or much later, we’ll meet the two remaining Sith characters eventually. The Jedi have to believe them long since dead until the events of The Phantom Menace so they can’t come into contact with one another unless said Jedi dies before informing the council. However, there is a weird kink in the canon where Yoda knows about the ‘Rule of Two’ in that first prequel even though the rule was created after the Sith went into hiding. I imagine one of the books or comics will attempt to answer this lingering question and have Yoda, or the Jedi at large, find out about that important Sith mantra without discovering the Sith themselves. Maybe they could be hiding on Exogol or even be running the Nihal from the shadows. Either way, I can’t see there being many lightsaber fights during this time, unless a fallen Jedi becomes an antagonist.

With The High Republic set just 200 years before the saga, I imagine the writers will find it hard to resist the temptation of including some known characters in the series. I know I wouldn’t be able to resist and I don’t think they have to, just as long as the new characters take centre stage. The books and comics should first establish new Jedi before relying on older characters and only introduce them once a stable foothold has been secured. Yoda is the obvious choice for inclusion and at the young age of 700 could be a different figure than he was in the films. Maybe he’s not on the council yet and is more impulsive than the ultimately wise character he becomes. I hope the under-served Yaddle isn’t forgotten about either. Tera Sinube is one of my favourite supporting characters from The Clone Wars and in the show he’s an ancient and very slow Jedi who spends his time in the library having retired from his role on the council. What a fantastic opportunity to see a younger version of this character, maybe even as the head of the council grooming Yoda to take his place. It’s not just Jedi either who could appear. Maz Kanata is over 1000 years old and I’d love to see one of the new Jedi characters visit her castle in seek of advice.

It’s not just known characters that could appear but planets too. Again, I want new worlds to take centre stage but I’d love to see Ilum appear to add another chapter to its rich history from sacred site of the Jedi to Starkiller Base. Other Jedi worlds like Jedha would be neat to see but I imagine 200 years is too close to Rogue One to have the world look any different; the statues will likely already be being consumed by the sand. Coruscant sounds like a given but I wonder if the planet-wide city will be quite so large. Maybe the crime-ridden level 1313 from The Clone Wars and the cancelled game is at this point in time much shallower and less shady. And while I want Star Wars to move away from Tatooine, I can’t help but feel the urge to revisit that desert planet. With the Outer Rim a kind of wild west frontier at this point in time, I’d love to see the first colony set up on Tatooine, maybe Mos Espa, and have the new settlers get into conflict with the native Tusken Raiders creating the conflict between them that continues on until we see them in The Mandalorian.

The one detail that got me the most excited from the reveal, and the recent comics that have been setting up the era, is the mention of a space station: The Starlight Beacon. One such comic went out of its way to describe the station and its purpose in glorious detail:

“In the days of the High Republic, the galaxy was not as settled as it is now. Areas like the Outer Rim were dangerous, hard to navigate. So, the people of that time built a huge space station at great effort and expense and placed it in the center of the dark zones. It sent out a signal that acted as a sort of beacon, helping travelers find their way. They gave that station an inspiring name, fitting its purpose.”

Not a weapon of mass destruction like the Death Star but instead a waystation and hub of activity in the dangerous Outer Rim frontier, Starlight Beacon sounds like the perfect setting for some awesome stories. I want it to be ‘Star Wars: Deep Space Nine’. A diverse group of settlers run the station which acts as a frontier town and they have to manage the huge amount of arrivals and departures of every type of alien and creed in the galaxy. Jedi will have to dock and refuel; bounty hunters use the station to find work; criminals make deals in the shadier sections and these villainous Nihal try to secure it for their own nefarious purposes. The nature of its existence naturally brings together so many interesting characters and potential stories and those that live and work on the station are fascinating too. They’d be a Quark/Al Swearengen figure running a classic Star Wars cantina, engineers keeping the station running and management trying to contain the huge amounts of visitors, maybe complete with a few spies among the ranks for the different factions. There’s so much potential with this new era and creating a hub where everything that’s new and familiar in The High Republic can intermix and crash into each other is genius. The stories are endless and while the era is currently being contained to books and comics, I would love to see an animated series set on the Starlight Beacon.

While I’ve enjoyed many of the new canon books and comics over the last few years, it’s wonderful to see the publishing side of Star Wars move on from filling in the gaps of the film saga and create its own playground to tell new stories. The time period is closer to the films than expected but the storytelling potential of The High Republic is vast. The titular galactic political body hasn’t grown to the galaxy-spanning behemoth we know it becomes and the Jedi find themselves as true guardians of peace and justice, stopping evil in all its forms out in the wild frontier of the Outer Rim while the Sith no doubt plot for their eventual rise. It feels good to move away from Skywalkers and Palpatines and onto new tales that will hopefully still capture the magic of Star Wars while staking a new claim in the expanding franchise. It’s early days but I think the future is bright for Lucasfilm publishing and The High Republic, and I hope it only marks the beginning of moving onto new stories and eras of Star Wars to fully unlock the potential the franchise has to offer.

Are you excited for this new era of not only the Star Wars timeline but also storytelling in the franchise? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.

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