Let’s Talk About The High Republic’s Republic Problem

This piece contains spoilers for the second wave of The High Republic,
including major spoilers for Out of the Shadows.

I’ve spent a lot of time defending Light of the Jedi over the past few months.

Not so much the book itself—most of the people I’ve spoken with were at least satisfied with it if not blown away—but specifically its tone where the Republic is concerned. In going quite so far out of its way to underline that this was a new! era! of optimism and belief in the government and people working together and so on and so forth, it’s fair to say that it ended up with a bit of a, um, West Wing problem. Watching people of good faith and peak competence run a government can be quite stirring if you’re prepared to take that premise at face value—but for a lot of people, simply being told that Lina Soh is a good chancellor just isn’t enough.

Especially not when the government she runs, stronger than Valorum’s though it may be, still plainly has its problems. How could a strong, benevolent chancellor cooperate with groups like the Byne Guild that thrive on indentured servitude? How could she not see how nakedly propagandistic a lavish Republic Fair would appear to people barely scraping by on the Rim, people too preoccupied with murderous raiders to worry about their planet getting its own Biscuit Baron? Worse, how could she not see how appealing a target that fair would be to those same raiders?

I gave Charles Soule a lot of leeway where Light‘s tone was concerned because it had a unique role as the first novel of a huge new initiative—the nonstop recitations of “we are all the Republic” made me think less of The West Wing than of Han Solo ruminating on the death of Chewbacca in Vector Prime:

“They had been living on the very edge of disaster for so very long, fighting battles, literally, for decades, running from bounty hunters and assassins. (…) So many times, it seemed, one or more of them should have died.

And yet, in a strange way, that close flirting with death had only made Han think them all the more invulnerable. They could dodge any blaster, or piggyback on the side of an asteroid, or climb out a garbage chute, or…

But not anymore. Now now. The bubble of security was gone, so suddenly, blown apart by a diving moon.

(…) to Han Solo, the galaxy suddenly seemed a more dangerous place by far.”

Light is a strong book on its own terms, don’t get me wrong—but like Vector before it, it’s also a marketing exercise. It’s a flashing neon sign signaling to new or lapsed readers that THIS IS DIFFERENT FROM ALL THOSE OTHER STAR WARS BOOKS, AND HERE’S HOW.

I do think the High Republic creative team recognized how that was going to come across to some people, just like I think they recognized that the Republic Fair was also going to smack of colonialism to a lot of people. But while Cavan Scott’s The Rising Storm makes a point of demonstrating Soh’s willingness to roll up her sleeves and risk her own safety in the name of those oft-repeated ideals, I’m starting to think it’s a mistake to dwell on her at all.

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The Rising Storm’s Republic Fair: Concept Versus Execution

Wave two of the High Republic series revolves around the centerpiece of the Republic Fair, modeled on the 18th-to-20th century concept of the World’s Fair. In real life, these fairs were huge expositions designed to showcase the wonders of science, technology, and the globe in an era where most of the population could only see the rest of the world through illustrations in books. Star Wars often uses the design vocabulary of real-world history and times gone past, and the world’s fair concept fits right into the idea of the Republic of yesteryear, full of innovation and optimism.

The opening wave of The High Republic showed us that despite appearances, all isn’t right with the galaxy. The second wave of novels shows us that the galaxy’s troubles are just beginning – the Republic and Jedi may blaze with light and life, but trouble is on the horizon. Cavan Scott’s The Rising Storm may just as easily have been named Before the Storm, had that name not already been taken by an existing Star Wars Legends novel.

The Rising Storm is all about the Republic Fair. Personally, I think the Republic Fair is a great concept – both in-universe and out-of-universe. In-universe, Chancellor Lina Soh has a pretty wonderful idea to unify the galaxy and showcase the benefits of the shared galactic government through a showcase of shared science and culture – but was this really the right time? Out-of-universe, putting the real-world idea of a global exposition into Star Wars was an inspired idea – but is the idea used to its full potential?

I think the answer is “mostly”, but there are some avenues I wish the story had explored to make the High Republic setting seem more interesting. The in-universe shortcomings of the fair – that it might not be the best time – are actually great for the story! But there are some ideas that aren’t raised in-universe, which makes me a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Republic Fair is a marvelous idea and I enjoyed The Rising Storm for the most part! My excitement is just tempered slightly by roads not trodden that would have made better use of the High Republic – and I won’t beat around the bush, it has a lot to do with the fact that the real-life World’s Fairs were also in the shadow of a gilded age of industry and colonialism and we see little sign of that in The Rising Storm. Maybe that’s not the story they set out to tell – but it’s an unfortunate omission.

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Victory’s Price: Deromanticizing the War Hero

The intro is spoiler-free, but there will be MAJOR SPOILERS after the cut.

When Alphabet Squadron was first announced, we expected it to be like the old X-Wing series from the Expanded Universe. We quickly learned that while Alexander Freed was inspired by those novels, his story would not follow the familiar pilot story arc that we had come to expect. The third and final novel in the trilogy, Victory’s Price, completes the arc of the trilogy and shows that Alexander Freed is not afraid to deromanticize the type of military sci-fi that has been part of the Star Wars DNA since the very beginning.

Though Star Wars is largely space fantasy, World War II-inspired flight sequences and especially the books and comics have drawn on swashbuckling military sci-fi themes too. Pilots are heroic rule-breakers and soldiers are valorous and noble. Even the bad guys are heroic and noble, but they’re just too darn loyal to evil politicians and wizards who misuse their talents. Freed engages with these ideas and does something different, but not just because his story subverts our expectations for the sake of surprise. No, instead, his books – especially Victory’s Price – expose traditional war story ideals to critique, delivering a more nuanced vision of war.

There are still heroes and villains, but war is brutal and traumatic. As the title makes clear: victory in war has a price, and the price is borne not just by those who didn’t make it, but by those who did. Freed isn’t the first Star Wars author to focus on the human element of warfare: the late Aaron Allston (it still hurts to write that) was exceptional at showing how characters cope with the traumas of war and deal with the personal costs of a lifetime of fighting, albeit interlaced with his trademark humor and kind storytelling. But Victory’s Price really eschews the triumphalism of space adventure, or exposes it as hollow. Many of us read the Wilfred Owen poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” in school, contrasting the “noble” language of Horace’s pro-war ode with the empty horror of the first World War – Victory’s Price reminded me strongly of that poem.

As for the Empire? The honorable soldiers, long suffering under a regime unworthy of them, no longer exist. Victory’s Price is an incredibly timely novel about what it means to sell your soul in service to evil, what brings people to do these things, and what society should do about it afterwards. Alexander Freed writes about Imperials with nuance but without getting stuck in the rut of grey moral relativism. This novel doesn’t spoon-feed or preach to the reader, but instead asks them to think and engage with deep questions. There aren’t any easy answers, but the reader who engages with Victory’s Price will find that it shines with moral clarity even underneath the blood and muck of war.

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Better Heroes, or Simpler Problems? – Taking Stock of The High Republic So Far

While this site has a content tag named “Reviews” and articles are regularly added to it, I try not to publish actual book reviews here. There’s value in being able to present our immediate reactions to a new work—often but not always the same week it’s released, when interest is at its peak—and if you’re among the people who might specifically seek out those reactions, well, who am I to disappoint you?

But what I try to do here, rather than just jump at every sudden noise, is to always keep the big picture in mind. There are plenty of fans out there whose judgment is at least as good as ours and will gladly tell you whether a new book is good or not, so if we’re going to build an entire piece around one particular story the ideal is to discuss what it says about the franchise as a whole, or its real-life context, or where it falls in the history of stories like it, or the previous work of that author, or something beyond just “is it good?”

This goes extra for stories by authors who have already proven themselves to more or less know what they’re doing, which is where The High Republic comes in. Before we knew anything else about it, we knew it was being shaped and guided by Charles Soule, Claudia Gray, Justina Ireland, Daniel José Older, and Cavan Scott, and for me at least, that came with a certain degree of trust. So I’m not going to be reviewing any of the High Republic books that were released over the last couple months—Light of the Jedi by Soule, A Test of Courage by Ireland, and Into the Dark by Gray—because for my money those author credits speak for themselves. What I’d like to talk about here is, how well does this first wave of stories set itself apart from existing “Old Republic” content, and how might things develop from here?

To that end I’m going to revisit some of the creators’ own words over the last year and see how things are shaping up not on the books’ own terms (they’re good, if you were still wondering) but on how they stack up to those early promises and mission statements.

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How Lucasfilm Games Can Be a New Era For Everyone

After eight years and five new games, the divisive era of EA Star Wars exclusivity has come to its conclusion. On January 11th, Disney signaled a change, launching the “Lucasfilm Games” brand, and promising “a new and unprecedented era of creativity”. Two days later Ubisoft announced a new open-world Star Wars game was in development, confirming that EA’s grip on Star Wars gaming had ended. The death of EA’s monopoly was long awaited and long called for by fans and prominent gaming personalities. The EA era wasn’t necessarily awful, or even a failure, but it was limited in its offerings. 

With their Star Wars titles, EA chased trends and the lowest common denominator. Their flagship entry was Battlefront, which chased the success of Call of Duty, and attempted to revive the glory of Pandemic Studios’ beloved LucasArts-era shooters of the same name. Instead they became mired in controversy over loot boxes and season passes. Battlefront 2 finally found a true audience years later, only to have support cut off shortly after the release of The Rise of Skywalker. Many fans had called for more story from their Star Wars games, so EA responded with Jedi: Fallen Order, a Dark Souls/Tomb Raider hybrid. Fallen Order received acclaim, and with the following year’s Squadrons, EA responded by attempting to serve another audience: fans who love flying.

Fallen Order and Squadrons were steps in the right direction. Attempting to appeal to more than just the most mainstream shooter fans, EA realized there were other audiences out there. Yet both were bound by the paradigms of mainstream, Triple-A studio gaming. With a new frontier on the horizon and the opening up of the Star Wars license, perhaps there is the potential for more?

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