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Star Wars: The High Republic is arguably the most ambitious publishing projects that Lucasfilm has embarked on to date, even surpassing previous multi-title/multimedia projects like 1996’s Shadows of the Empire or The New Jedi Order series in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Set at least a hundred and fifty years before the prequels, the High Republic is an era of the galaxy we haven’t seen and the story spans across a number of different printed media. The core story runs through adult, young adult, and middle-grade novels, but we’ve also had a number of comic books, plus bespoke audio dramas, and more.
With Young Jedi Adventures, debuting May 4th, the High Republic era gets its first on-screen treatment. That animated series, aimed at young children, tells the story of Jedi younglings training and learning lessons of kindness in this era. On the other end of the spectrum, the High Republic Era will give us Leslye Headland’s live-action The Acolyte, a more mature show that will delve into the users of the Dark Side in this period of the timeline. With so many High Republic books and stories already released, we figured it would help to have a primer into what makes this corner of Star Wars unique and worth your time. (Spoilers follow for some already-released High Republic stories, naturally)
The first thing you’ll notice about the High Republic era is that things don’t work like we know them to in the years of the Skywalker Saga. For one, the galaxy is a much smaller place. The Outer Rim is more of a backwater, rarely visited by the Republic or the Jedi. It’s like the old American West and the frontier of the galaxy, giving the whole setting a vibe that crosses westerns of the setting with the medieval and feudal trappings of the Jedi. Communication is a little more complicated, which is why the Starlight Beacon is such an important lynchpin in the galaxy. It’s a communications beacon also built to house the Jedi and keep the far reaches of the galaxy in communication with the core.
The other thing that’s a lot more complicated is hyperspace travel. Folks in the High Republic aren’t able to calculate hyperspace routes to the level Han Solo can in A New Hope. No, they have to stick to well-traveled routes, making travel across the galaxy a lot more difficult.
This is but the backdrop for the turmoil that is about to engulf the Jedi and the Republic, taking the first harried steps that will eventually lead to the fall of the Jedi.
The first phase of The High Republic began with Charles Soule’s novel Light of the Jedi. It set the scene of this unexplored part of the history of Star Wars and introduced us to many Jedi. More and more writers added to the story until we were able to piece together a picture of what was going on. As the Jedi were gearing up to celebrate the opening of the Starlight Beacon, a great catastrophe occurred in hyperspace. Something destroyed a massive ship traveling through hyperspace and the debris of the wreckage is scattered across the galaxy, causing what could be extinction-level events in a number of worlds. The Jedi raced to help where they could, but they discovered another threat in the galaxy, operating secretly and traveling across hidden hyperspace paths. These pirates were known as the Nihil and they would be the greatest threat the Jedi and the Republic had faced in a long, long time.
Phase One culminated in the Nihil’s destruction of Starlight Beacon, which was so integral, considering it served as both a combination communications relay and Jedi Temple. It’s a devastating blow and leaves the characters in a dark place that’s yet to be resolved.
Who are the Nihil? They’re a group of pirates led by an Evereni named Marchion Ro, who was known as the “Eye of the Nihil.” Upon his ship, the Gaze Electric, he commanded his group of marauding pirates that were structured into Tempests. Each Tempest was led by a Tempest Runner (like Lourna Dee) and they had smaller units below them. They traveled through the secret parts of the hyperspace lanes using “paths.” These secret paths were provided to them by Marchion Ro, who held a dark secret about where he got them. Many years prior, his family had taken a Force-user and savant of hyperspace prisoner and used her to generate these paths.
With this secret, they led the Nihil across the far edges of the galaxy, marauding and taking what they wanted from whoever they saw fit.
They wore elaborate, terrifying masks, and developed a nasty reputation. It was a mishap with their paths that led to the great hyperspace cataclysm that Light of the Jedi documented, and that put them firmly on the radar of the Jedi. And that’s why they struck back, destroying the Starlight Beacon. And that’s as far as we know about the ongoing story at this point, since Phase Two turns the clock backward even further.
Phase Two brings us back another century or more in the timeline, to an even more peaceful, pastoral era of the Star Wars timeline. But this is where the flowers of trouble that blossom in Phase One were planted. In this part of the timeline, communication is even more difficult and communications teams act like a sort of Star Wars version of the Pony Express. Hyperspace prospectors can hit it rich finding the right paths through different parts of the galaxy. Everything’s a little older and a little more distant.
The Jedi and the Republic work hard to establish peace on the twin planets of Eiram and E’ronoh, and are finally able to establish a tentative truce between the planets thanks to the Romeo and Juliet sort of romance between the royal children of each planet. They agree to marry each other and end the violence.
A peace treaty is brokered and the representatives of Eiram and E’renoh agree to sign it on Jedha, a neutral site familiar to fans of Star Wars. Unfortunately, all hell breaks loose, as documented in the radio drama The Battle of Jedha. A religious cult named the Path of the Open Hand bombed the proceedings and started riots on the planet. This effectively ended a chance of peace between the two planets and threatened to tear the galaxy apart.
So just who is the Path of the Open Hand? This mysterious cult is led by the charismatic Mother, and she has counseled her flock to believe that the Jedi are the enemy. “The Force will be free” is a common refrain among their adherents, as they believe any use of the Force or manipulation of it is a catastrophic abuse. Among their ranks are a pair of Evereni named Yana and Marda Ro, and they travel the galaxy aboard a familiar ship from Phase One, The Gaze Electric.
So far, as Phase Two has built up, it’s apparent that somehow the Path of the Open Hand transforms into the Nihil in some way, but at this point in the narrative, with their plans more apparent and their inexplicable involvement in these intergalactic affairs slowly coming to light, they’ve adopted the moniker the Path of the Closed Fist.
They have another secret weapon to use against their hated foes, the Jedi, and it’s a mysterious creature that feeds on the lives of Force users, turning them into ashen husks of themselves.
These creatures that feed on Force users are called Levelers. When they encounter Jedi, these monsters invoke such a sense of dread that the Jedi can barely concentrate. When they get closer still, the Leveler has a way of consuming the essence of a Jedi’s spirit, turning them into an ashy husk. It’s not just something that affects Jedi, too. Really, any user of the Force can be destroyed by a Leveler.
What exactly causes this sort of death remains a mystery of the Jedi through Phase Two. The Levelers are still under the control of Marchion Ro in the events of Phase One, and even Master Yoda investigates their terrible nature.
There are many long-lived races in the Star Wars universe and thus, there are appearances by many familiar characters (or in some cases their families) in the High Republic stories. Yoda is the most obvious and high profile example, but Yaddle is also a central player in some of the stories of the High Republic. There are appearances from other Jedi from the prequels, too, including Yarael Poof and Oppo Rancisis.
One name that plays a central part of the story is the San Tekka family. Lor San Tekka was the first San Tekka we heard of, played by Max Von Sydow in The Force Awakens, but his ancestors were vital in mapping the hyperspace lanes of the galaxy.
The Acolyte Awaits
All of this is leading toward Leslye Headland’s upcoming Disney+ series, The Acolyte. The Acolyte is billed as happening toward the end of the High Republic era and an exploration of the Dark Side. At Star Wars Celebration Europe, Headland said that she found the allure of this era of Star Wars through telling stories of the Sith and users of the Dark Side while they are decidedly the underdogs. How do they survive and begin to rebuild their power?
There’s at least one character crossing over from the rest of The High Republic and making the leap to live-action in the show via Vernestra Rwoh, a Jedi featured in Out of the Shadows, Mission to Disaster, and more. At 15 years old, she’s one of the youngest people ever made a Jedi Knight, while the actress portraying her on the show, Rebecca Henderson, is in her 40s, giving us some idea of when that show might be set in relation to the brunt of the High Republic stories.
Expected to debut in 2024, The Acolyte is mid-way through production, but in the meantime, we still have a lot more storytelling in the publishing world to get through over the next few years. And on top of that, we have the preschool-aimed Young Jedi Adventures, which will explore what training for younglings is like in this era of Star Wars, with more cameos from characters like Yoda. Following some recently released shorts, Young Jedi Adventures has now made its debut on Disney Junior and Disney+ timed to May the 4th.
On top of that, for an older crowd playing Jedi: Survivor, the story of that game — though set long after — ties directly into the High Republic, even having Cal Kestis solve a mystery that began hundreds of years prior and sensing echoes of that era in the past through objects he touches.
All of which is to say, there will be no shortage of ties to The High Republic going forward in Star Wars. It’s an integral part of the history of the galaxy and it’s clearly not going away anytime soon.
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