THE FALLEN STAR by Claudia Gray

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.


MIDNIGHT HORIZON by Daniel José Older

Midnight Horizon
(Star Wars — The High Republic)
By Daniel José Older
Disney-Lucasfilm Press — February 2022
ISBN: 9781368057288
— Hardcover — 496 pp.


Set two centuries before the events of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, The High Republic media series has depicted the Republic and the Jedi try to deal with fighting off a mysterious new enemy called the Nihil amid their attempted expansion of Republican ideals toward the Outer Rim.

Within the different types of media, I only care about the novels, and I expected the series to simply consist of a trilogy of adult novels and a trilogy of young adult novels, but apparently this is only the start of an ongoing thing. This third young adult novel Midnight Horizon takes place roughly concurrently with the events of the third adult novel The Fallen Star (which I’m reading now.)

[As an aside, I don’t understand the whole young adult marketing at all, particularly for media tie-ins like this. They don’t seem very distinguishable from an adult novel to me – having more teen Padawans appearing as the protagonists does not inherently make something ‘young adult’. And I wonder how much the readership really divides along age lines between the two types of novel – if at all?]

If you haven’t read the previous novels yet, you should start there. While the specifics of Midnight Horizon are a self-contained story, the broader strokes of galactic conflict and history between many characters can only be appreciated or followed with the context of previous stories.

Two Jedi Masters, Cohmac Vitus and Kantam Sy travel to Corellia to investigate mysterious attacks on the planet’s upper class that may be linked to the Nihil, as part of the new active efforts of the Jedi to try and stamp out the terrorist raider threat. With them in Coronet City are Padawans Reath Silas and Ram Jomaram, and local help in the form of a young woman named Crash who leads a gang of bodyguards for the Corellian elite.

The High Republic has been a series of ups and downs for me, sometimes being riveting thrills and other times a stew pot of mediocrity. Midnight Horizon felt similar, compressed into one story. The start of the novel begins with an attack and mystery that feels promising, but soon the story languishes in slow build up that focuses more on interactions between the Jedis. The end finally picks up, considerably bolstered by the appearance (finally) of Yoda, whose name has been merely teased throughout earlier novels. Flashback scenes with Yoda earlier in the novel are also bright spots.

This overall arch of Midnight Horizon is actually not any different from all the other Star Wars novels, the middle portions are built on slower moments of character interactions, their emotions and their growth. So why was I bored so much by it here, while I enjoyed it elsewhere? I think the answer simply comes down to my appreciation of the writing style of the author. Older’s style is just not for me.

I previously read Older’s Star Wars novel that coincided with that terrible Solo: A Star Wars Adventure film. I chalked up my disinterest in that novel to the fact that I really couldn’t stand Solo or its characters. I now see it’s not just that. Older returns in Midnight Horizon to that world of Solo by setting this novel on Corellia, and I won’t deny his strengths at working in that world – or in serving as an overall story architect for The High Republic. But, both novels also have a distinctive voice that feels extremely off for the setting, too emulative of modern English, particularly with phrasing or adding slang that make it more like teenagers are speaking. There are moments where it feels cutesy, and cutesy is not something that for me fits with Star Wars.

This negative becomes augmented by the molding of Midnight Horizon to a “young adult” market (so I guess that wasn’t totally an aside above.) Older’s style that grated at me felt worst with scenes and points of view of the Padawans or Crash. The parts more focused on the Jedi Masters simply felt better, not drawing me out of the story and universe.

If you’re reading The High Republic series, this is certainly enjoyable enough to warrant reading, even if Older’s style doesn’t match your tastes. If you have no qualms with his style, you’ll probably love this novel. If you haven’t read The High Republic, but are a Star Wars fan, it’s a series worth looking into, better than most of the novels that were released alongside the latest film trilogy, with a large cast of new, interesting characters. Just start with the first books that set it up so well.


INTO THE DARK (Star Wars — The High Republic) by Claudia Gray

Into the Dark
(Star Wars — The High Republic)
By Claudia Gray
Del Rey Books — February 2021
ISBN: 9781368057288
— Hardcover — 425 pp.


Set concurrently to events in the High Republic novel Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, Claudia Gray’s new YA novel Into the Dark expands readers’ introduction to details of this Star Wars period, but works equally well as a stand alone adventure. Those who’ve already read some of Gray’s canon Star Wars novels know her reputation for penning some great ones, whether marketed for the general adult (e.g. Master & Apprentice) or young adult (e.g. Leia: Princess of Alderaan). For any new Star Wars readers, you could start out with anything by her, including this exciting new release.

With the opening of the Republic’s Starlight Beacon station in the ‘wilds’ of the Outer Rim, Jedi long-based in the Temple on the Republic capital of Coruscant feel the Force guiding them to new opportunities and needs at that galactic edge. When Jedi Padawan Reath Silas learns that his master, Jora Malli, is one of those who will be leaving the comfort and calm of the Temple for the chaos and unknown of the Outer Rim for a posting at the station, he meets the development with worry and disappointment. A historian and bookworm, Reath has gravitated toward more academic Jedi pursuits, spending time in the library where others maximize lightsaber training and seek more extroverted action. But, Master Jora reminds her apprentice that Jedi must seek balance in all things, and push themselves through the difficulties of doing things they feel naturally disinclined toward or fear. That is, of course, except the Dark Side of the Force.

Reluctantly, Reath agrees, and promises to push himself toward being a better Jedi; be better attuned to the Force like those Masters he looks up to. Three of these Jedi join Reath on an Outer Rim based transport hired to take them to the Starlight Beacon dedication, where Jora already has arrived. Dez Rydan was Jora’s first Padawan, and the Knight is now already a legend to Reath, representing the dashing skills at adventure that elude him. Orla Jareni has just declared herself a Wayseeker, given official leave to operate outside of the Jedi Council’s purview to discover her place in the Force. Third is Cohmac Vitus, a respected Jedi with scholarly specializations into folklore that match Reath’s interests.

The transport taking the Jedi is a cargo ship blandly named the Vessel, run by the Byne Guild, an organization based in the outer reaches where Starlight Beacon is located. The motley crew consists of an eccentric trio: captain Leox Gyasi, an affable low-key guy who is protective of his crew; co-pilot Affie Hollow, a teenager whose parents died while in Guild employ, and who was then taken in by the leader of the Byne Guild; navigator Geode, who is a Vinitian appearing to be nothing more than a featureless, immobile, mute, rock.

Soon after departing Coruscant via hyperspace, the “Great Disaster” that features in Light of the Jedi occurs. The occupants of the Vessel suddenly find themselves surrounded in hyperspace by dangerous debris that looks frighteningly similar to the Byne Guild flagship the Legacy Run. This supposedly impossible hyperspace encounter is worsened by the fact that hyperspace itself seems tumultuous and wrong. Expert maneuvers by Affie and Geode allow the Vessel to leave hyperspace. The crew and their Jedi passengers find themselves in the middle of empty space, at a location that was in the Vessel’s computer for inexplicable reasons given its lack of planets or features. All they find is an abandoned station, whose architecture reminds Cohmac and Reath of a long-vanished people. Left stranded and unable to reenter hyperspace until the mysterious disaster can be dealt with and travel is again ‘assured’ safe, the Legacy occupants join the crews of other ships stranded in this location to board the station and investigate.

There they find a jungle of plants, cared for and protected by an army of droids. Stopping other crews from plundering the station and infighting, the Jedi try to keep the peace and manage the unexpected situation. However, they also sense something off, something of the Dark Side. Dark visions of violence seem to warn them of a danger there, and this seems tied to a group of small idols they discover, items they speculate may somehow have been imbued with power of the Sith, or worse.

It took me awhile to get into Into the Dark, and for awhile I wondered if this would be the first Star Wars novel by Claudia Gray that I would find middling. Mostly this is because it takes time to get elements of the plot going, and even once stranded upon the strange garden station, the true trajectory of things makes it somewhat hard to find footing and become invested. Within that first third of the novel, everything involves Gray’s establishment of the characters, and building the themes of the novel. I guess I didn’t quite take to the characters at first, particularly Reath. Earnest and well-intentioned, his fresh naïveté make him so unlike other Jedi I’ve encountered/read, even if a Padawan. As he grew, and I kept reading, I began to appreciate this much more.

By the middle of the book I was firmly hooked, and the revelations of its close tie together the themes of the novel so well, while also tying the plot into the grander picture of The High Republic and its Nihil adversaries introduced in Light of the Jedi. The characters all grew on me, particularly the crew of the Vessel. We got a rock with Geode, but the absurdity of the character and the symbolic physical nature of Geode’s steadfastness and resilience just puts a smile of joy and chuckles on the reader’s face. Affie bears similarity to Reath in her ethics, but unlike him has the experiences of a hard life, and far less trust. They are able to learn from one another. Leox serves as a guardian for Affie, but really more of a mentor, guiding her to independence, but also realizing that he in turn can learn a lot from her and begin to follow her inherent leadership. He also seems like a Star Wars version of “The Dude” from the Coen Brothers The Big Lebowski. Complete with “medicinal” Spice.

The relationship between Leox and Affie is very much one of Master and Apprentice, a ‘secular’ parallel to the Jedi relationship that Jora and Reath have. And the health of those mentorships contrasts with the more exploitative one that Affie has with the leader of the Byne Guild. (Or another I shouldn’t say more on.) Gray has already written a novel titled Master and Apprentice about Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. But this novel could equally be titled the same, for it continues and expands those themes in fascinating ways then both within the Jedi Order and outside perspectives of the Vessel crew and also (as we eventually learn) the Nihil.

Reath may be Padawan to Jora, but he equally looks to the examples and strengths of the other Jedi he travels with. And he begins to also see their weaknesses and where they themselves struggle with dedicating themselves to the Force or the Jedi ways just as much as Reath does. As a Wayseeker, Orla very obviously exists as a questioning, uncertain soul, despite being an adult. But she also has shared a past traumatic mission with Cohmac, and these events continue to weigh on them – particularly Cohmac. (Aside: The reader learns more about this backstory through a series of passages spread through the novel that are given in flashback. They connect to the present plot, but overall I found this organization of this backstory to be intrusive, and the only part of Into the Dark that I never ended up appreciating.) Dez also expresses doubts and challenges that he still faces. Through them all Reath learns beyond his idealistic foundation that he began upon, and the uncertainty of reality both eases his feelings of guilt over his own struggles and gives him a sense of shared experience to fight for helping not just non-Jedi others, but also his fellow adherents.

Several times the various Jedi wonder how good it is that the Order completely eschews the Dark Side while striving to keep balance in all other things. Does this make the dangers of the Dark Side even worse? Does it leave them more vulnerable? Yet, the dangers of it now also seem all too clear and real as they discover more on the station, and are met with catastrophe and painful loss.

Into the Dark really delves into Good/Bad and Master/Apprentice dichotomies so well, and on so many levels. On the one hand the novel is an entertaining Star Wars adventure with a teen character coming-of-age that sets it in that YA fold. But underneath that is so much more complexity, not just of plot, but of these basic themes that make the Star Wars universe so effective and endearing.


LIGHT OF THE JEDI (Star Wars — The High Republic) by Charles Soule

Light of the Jedi
(Star Wars — The High Republic)
By Charles Soule
Del Rey Books — January 2021
ISBN: 9780593157718
— Hardcover — 380 pp.


Today is John Williams’ birthday, so it seems fitting to review a Star Wars book on it while listening to the soundtrack of The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve managed to keep up with reading almost every canon Star Wars novel released to-date. I just have Zahn’s latest “Thrawn” novel not yet gotten to. So I know that, as the novels of old were, the new canon novels are a mixed bag. Some have been amazing, many have been good to okay, and a few have been disappointments. But as Star Wars, I’ve enjoyed them all.

The Light of the Jedi, first in the new “High Republic” series set generations before events in the Prequel movies, stands among the the best and most satisfying of the canon novels to-date. It features decent characterization, mysteries, and plenty of action. The novel reads like Soule had a blast writing it, and its pacing ranks as some of the most steady that Star Wars fiction has offered.

For any who haven’t already heard about this, or looked into the plot, it takes place at a time of galactic peace and prosperity for the Republic and strong numbers among the Jedi. The pride and ambition of the Republic to improve the lives of planets beyond the galactic core and mid-rim leads to a project to build an outer-rim station staffed by Republic and Jedi representatives that can then be close on-hand to help with strengthening distant ties to the Coruscant capital.

Amid this hopeful time where all confidently assert “We are all the Republic” in patriotic solidarity, a disaster suddenly emerges from Hyperspace. Fragments of a ship destroyed in hyperspace exit out into real space in seemingly random spaces and times, heading uncontrollably, at phenomenal speed, towards populated systems. One fragment crashing into the right planet or moon, could cause the loss of billions of sentient lives.

A concept and technology understood by relatively few, but the utter foundation for the galactic republic to actually be in contact, Hyperspace, is something that everyone relies upon and trusts. Most don’t understand the math or theory, but those who do claim that this kind of accident should not be possible. Yet, the disaster the Republic suddenly faces demonstrates otherwise.

Jedi and Republic forces posted in the outer rim respond to the first ’emergence’ of these fragments, trying to save as many as they can. In the aftermath, all groups begin to try to investigate the nature of the disaster – an accident, or something planned?

In the meantime, a group of outer-rim pirates with a reputation for almost supernatural terror continue their criminal activities while also trying to capitalize on the chaos and uncertainty surrounding these emergences. The group calls themselves the Nihil, and they stand for an almost anarchic freedom from the brand of freedom that the Republic gospel spreads. Though relatively small-time, with activities limited to the outer-rim, they have an edge on their prey, knowledge of transport paths between space that the Republic, and the hyperdrive system, is ignorant.

The investigations of the Jedi and the Republic, while trying to avert further emergence disasters, brings them into direct contact with the activities of the Nihil, as this group of pirates also goes through a transition under its relatively new leadership.

I knew next to nothing of the plot of this book when going into it. I assume like everything Star Wars, this “High Republic” concept is being linked into multiple multimedia formats, but I only read the novels. I also haven’t read much of the older Star Wars “Legends” that were published before, so if this era was covered then, I have no idea if characters reappear now in canon. The only thing I knew about Light of the Jedi beyond its cover was when roughly it took place, and that the new ‘Big Bad’ for the series was apparently marauder pirates.

My first though was: “Pirates? Really? That’s the big threat?” Then: “Well, at least they aren’t doing the big Empire and Sith concept all over again.” When I saw the corny name of the nihilist group, I also thought: “Well, Star Wars was never really about subtlety in names.” I’d still rather them have a different name, but in this novel the Nihil become something far more than marauders, and their mysterious, sinister leader is definitely intriguing. By novel’s end we still have lots of questions as to his history and motivations, and I am definitely intrigued.

With short chapters, Light of the Jedi hops from scene to scene among protagonists and antagonists with seamless flow, revealing twists, turns, and discoveries to characters and readers alike all along the way. Soule makes the enemies interesting, and some of them even sympathetic or at least comprehensible despite the horrors they commit. Meanwhile, he rapidly draws readers into empathetic support of the Jedi and Republic individuals who are trying so hard to preserve life, to keep the light of Republic ideals shining amid threats. It becomes heart-wrenching as characters you like and would love to see develop, in an instant, die.

Soule’s characters all also have a sort of witty charm to them, a light sense of humor or laid-back manner. From the everyday Republic heroes who speak of “those space wizards” to the Jedi on the high council, they all are very human, even the alien species. That is typical Star Wars. What is more uniquely Soule, perhaps, is that even the most stoic and rigid Jedi still have little rebellious or wry streaks to them. Those Jedi who are most outside the mold he seems to have the most love for writing.

Star Wars books aren’t always really science fiction, either. Usually they are more fantasy. Space wizard is a joke, but also kind of serious. Light of the Jedi actually does qualify to me within the speculative science fiction realm, however. The entire plot revolving around the science of how Hyperdrive works – though not explained like an issue of Analog would – gives the novel a decidedly SF feel more than other Star Wars I’ve read. In one of the more interesting scenes, a young man builds a supercomputer by connecting thousands of droids together, for the purposes of trying to analyze the emergences and predict when/where others could occur. The realization of his plans, and what he does to solve problems that arise with it (with the help of those space wizards too) reads just like a little SF short story within this Star Wars whole.

I don’t think I could’ve reasonably asked or expected more from Light of the Jedi than it delivered. I really look forward to the next book that Soule writes. (Maybe) unfortunately, the next book in the “High Republic” series will be by a different author, and Soule seems to have mostly been on the comic book front. But we will hear more from him in novels. Regardless, I am still looking forward to the follow-up novel in this storyline, with another author then I’m unfamiliar with. Claudia Gray also has a “High Republic” YA novel, coming, and I can’t imagine anything but loving that, as all her other canon work has been phenomenal.

It’s nice having a Star Wars novel set so apart from the film main line. My biggest disappointment with the canon novels has been that while they tell stories from the larger universe, those still could’ve been better connected to the actual films taking place around the same times. Particularly this is true for any of the novels taking place around the sequel trilogy. They all faltered by not being able to connect in any substantive way. With “High Republic” the only connection I had was with the mentions of beloved Yoda. Otherwise, it was a lovely playing field to allow actual new and unique stories in the expanded Star Wars universe. I still wouldn’t mind some Yoda action in there 😀


Honor Among Thieves, by James S.A. Corey

Honor Among Thieves,
by James S.A. Corey
Star WarsEmpire and Rebellion Book 2
Publisher: LucasBooks
ASIN: B00F1W0DFE
288 pages, Kindle Edition
Published March 2014
Source: NetGalley

Years upon years ago I read several of the early ‘expanded universe’ Star Wars novels, but haven’t picked up many since then. Partially this was from general disappointment and disinterest caused by the prequel films, but it also was a result of simply falling behind on the many publications that came out. For newer novels the characters now had significant history I was unfamiliar with. It just seems daunting to catch up, particularly knowing these shared universe, media-tie-in novels can be hit or miss.

What’s really nice then about this novel is that it is straight up Star Wars enjoyment that can be approached with knowing nothing more than the original movie. Additionally, although this is the second in a series, I haven’t read the first and the novel works perfectly fine as a stand-alone. The novel has few aspirations and the story has little frills. It is a simple action/spy story with a lovable feature character, Han Solo. Constrained by the existing films and novels the threats facing the characters will not appear realistic dangers at any point. Instead, the story here is about watching Han Solo thrive in those conditions that make us love him. The authors (writing under a pen name) put the most interesting touch on the novel in their writing of Solo’s thought processes, taking advantage of this point of time in the grand story as Solo begins to move from selfish, conservative scoundrel to someone who has begun to care about others and reconsider his social positions. Han rings conflicted, but true to our vision of Harrison Ford’s performance and the film directors/screen writers characterization. Finally, the novel also includes an interesting female foil for Han in the form of a character that shares a bit more personality with him than Leia, which works nicely and isn’t overworked. While this novel isn’t aiming to be a significant lot in terms of fiction or even Star Wars fiction, a ‘minor’ tale like this could easily be treated as a throwaway and go south rapidly, but instead this one is kept respectable and entertaining for an easy read for those that like Star Wars and those that particularly would look for a story set in the familiarity of this time period in the mythology.

Three Stars out of Five