The Fallen Star
(Star Wars — The High Republic)
By Claudia Gray
Disney-Lucasfilm Press — January 2022
ISBN: 9780593355398 — Hardcover — 345 pp.
Like the Marvel Cinematic Universe it owns, Disney is putting out its media series of Star Wars: The High Republic series in phases. Along with Midnight Horizon (which I recently reviewed here) The Fallen Star represents the end of Phase I for the novels. I only read the adult and YA novels, so have no knowledge of any of the other entries in the series, such as the comics.
Set roughly two centuries prior to the events of The Phantom Menace, the series has so far been an overall success, exceeding many of the other canon novels that directly tie to the film series or Skywalker saga. A cast of characters who (apart from Yoda) are completely new, has been refreshing. And the antagonist of Marchion Ro has been more compelling than I initially expected, making the otherwise routine scum and villainy of the Nihil more palatable.
The Fallen Star succeeds as a very exciting, fast paced Star Wars adventure that nicely brings some aspects (and characters) of The High Republic to a close, while setting things up for hopefully even better things to come for readers. Nonetheless, it’s not without its flaws, which mostly come from the series set up, rather than the writing of Claudia Gray. Gray continues to be one of the best, if not the best, writer in the Star Wars canon, able to make even dispiriting tragedy and cookie-cutter series architecture into irresistible written gold.
If you haven’t read the previous novels in the series, then The Fallen Star is not worth your time. It might still be comprehensible as self-contained story, but the resonance of the characters and reader connections to them would be lost. If you’ve started the series, well, you should definitely continue at least through this one. If you really love Star Wars, and haven’t started the series, then these are among the best of the novels to delve into. You’ll probably be setting yourself up for continuing reading into Phase 2 to satisfy curiosity and in craving more closure.
[I’m done with Marvel movies, Avengers Endgame was a perfect spot to cry “Uncle!” The last Star Wars movies pretty much did the same for me (and there’s no way I’m giving Disney money for Disney+) but I’m continuing with the novels at least for the time being. The recent move from Del Rey publishing to Disney Books directly has me questioning how long until I quit these too.]
It’s right there in the title, but The Fallen Star chronicles the sabotage and destruction of Starlight Beacon by the Nihil, that shining symbol of hope that the Republic and the Jedi have brought to the Outer Rim. Marchion Ro has sent a small group of Nihil on a suicide mission to infiltrate the base and initiate a series of failures that will bring the station to absolute destruction. To cloud this nefarious scheme from the Jedi and reduce their chance of dealing with the cascading problems that will arise, Ro has sent the Leveler there as well, hidden on a cargo ship. (The Leveler being a creature, first appearing in the previous book, that can block/dull the Force-sensitive from accessing/feeling the Force.)
As Jedi Master Avar Kriss is off hunting for Lorna Dee (mistakenly identified as the Nihil leader) Jedi Master Stellan Gios is left in charge of Starlight Beacon to deal with the unprecedented attack. Among those there with him to help are talented Padawan Bell Zettifar and Jedi Master Elzar Mann, who has willingly distanced himself from the Force due to succumbing to the pull of the Dark Side during the climax of the previous novel. Meanwhile, some former Nihil from previous novels are also held prisoner on the station, brought by a heroic crew that includes a sentient rock named Geode as navigator.
The humor from Geode works well amid all the disaster and death of Jedi as the villains’ plan succeeds. But the real emotional core of the novel is in the ever hopeful and brave Bell, who makes clear with his actions here that he is more of a Jedi Knight now than a Padawan. Elzar Mann’s philosophical crises also remain engaging, particular with the separation he now has with the Force, as well as from Kriss and the severely compromised Gios. Bell in particular symbolizes how to fight through disaster to preserve every little shard and life possible. His process of moving on from the loss of his mentor (and the potential loss here of the replacement) makes him particularly suited to rise to the occasion and show the others how to continue fighting for Light.
Gray adapts just the right tone to make things dour, heartwarming, painful, and hopeful all when required. And she structures the novel well with a brisk pacing that still gives brief moments of emotional respite. This makes the novel entertaining and engaging despite the flaws in the story for me.
Those flaws are largely two frustrations. First, we have here yet another story/situation where the hubris of the Jedi is there downfall. The leveler helps, but Ro’s ability to get that creature in with Nihil members to cause havoc first comes down to the Jedi’s blindness and assumptions. It’s far too familiar to the prequel trilogy in tone, and it would be really nice to see Jedi that aren’t so collectively smug and ignorant for once. Secondly, the Leveler comes off as a glaring plot contrivance just to weaken the Jedi in a profound new way that miraculously has never cropped up before. The series is built on a certain amount of conceptual laziness, not unlike much of the sequel film trilogy, but at least Gray can make that engaging.