This piece contains minor spoilers for The Fallen Star.
These spoilers discuss the scope of what the novel does and does not cover.
The three Del Rey novels of The High Republic’s first phase are essentially disaster films, centered around a specific Event™. Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule opens with “The Great Disaster” and the rest of the novel is about preventing the aftereffects. The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott is centered around the attack on the Republic Fair. The Fallen Star is about the Titanic-style collapse of Starlight Beacon.
However, out of all the options of disaster films to reflect upon, out of all the sub-genres and styles, what kept returning to me as a comparison was a single franchise: Jurassic Park.
Before we dive into this, let’s have some definitions of terms we’ll be using: static, dynamic, flat, and complex characters.
A static character is one that does not change over the course of a story. A dynamic character is one that changes. A flat character is one easily defined by one or two traits. A complex character is one that has layers to their portrayal.
Static does not automatically equate to flat, nor does dynamic equate to complex. For example, Elzar Mann changes over the course of the three books (dynamic) but his personality and motives are easily summarized (flat). Leox Gyasi doesn’t undergo any particular changes in his High Republic outings (static), but we are constantly peeling back layers to discover more of his character (complex).
None of these are negative terms; they simply describe the way that a character interacts with the story.
Jurassic Park, the novel by Michael Crichton, is a story with both static and flat characters. Alan Grant likes kids from the start. John Hammond is an egomaniac who dies. They, along with Ellie Sattler, Ian Malcom, the kids, and the other assorted characters arrive at the park, their personalities, skill sets, and worldviews fully-formed. Their static and flat natures are then used as a means to explore The Event™: the park’s mysteries and dangers.
This is not meant as a criticism of the story, but merely to point out that Jurassic Park is not one of Crichton’s character-focused novels. This is Light of the Jedi. This is The Rising Storm. They are idea-centric.
That’s not to say there aren’t dynamic or complex characters within either of these novels. Bell Zettifar is of course the standout of all three books, and could be argued to be the protagonist of the trilogy. But the complexities of Light and Storm are rather in The Event™, which is then explored through the personalities of the characters.
I have seen other readers comment on how small The Fallen Star feels in comparison to the previous two novels. I don’t disagree. If you read Crichton’s novel and then watch Spielberg’s Jurassic Park film, the park feels immensely smaller, the threats of the dinosaurs and the failing technology more straightforward. In part, this is due to simply to the change in medium. However, it’s also due to the change in focus.
Jurassic Park – the movie – is character-centric. The park, the events, become ways to explore the characters who have become complex and dynamic, especially Grant, Hammond, and Lex. Therefore, the scale of Jurassic Park becomes smaller, cutting out elements of The Event™ that don’t contribute to the characters’ emotional journeys.
Using flat or static characters allows for the exploration of a broader scale of events in a time- or page-efficient manner. You have more room to focus on the external worldbuilding. To write a character-centric story within the same number of pages, the scale is going to shift, whether in actuality (from a galaxy-spanning disaster to the collapse of one station) or in focus (whatever we learn about The Event™ is in support of the characters).
This is what happened to the scale of The Fallen Star. In addition to being in the smallest disaster setting of the three, The Event™ is specifically designed to target the characters within. The Jedi are trapped with something that feeds on their power, the crew of the Vessel are trapped next to someone with a very personal grudge, and the Nihil are trapped between their previous loyalties and survival instincts. As such, in addition to seeing them react to The Event™, we also spend a lot of time in each major character’s head, watching them react to their own internal lives as well.
Now, there are concerns about the interconnectivity of The High Republic. How much of it all does everyone need to read to understand the next outing in the series? How accessible is that in terms of cost? I personally cannot answer the former as I have been neck-deep in the series, but I do know that friends of mine who have focused only on specific avenues like YA or middle-grade books have been following along happily, no problem. And – like the two ongoing comic series – I feel as though these entries work in a more standalone fashion because they are all character-centric.
If we just read the Marvel run, we might miss out on the origin of the Drengrir in Into the Dark, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is what unique threats and challenges they bring specifically to the characters of the comics. Vernestra gets a few cameos, but that’s simply because they need another Jedi to fill out the space. You’re not missing anything by not knowing Vernestra’s backstory, because that’s not important to the emotional journeys of the comics’ protagonists.
Regardless of where Claudia Gray chose to focus the story of The Fallen Star, due to the nature of its place as the culmination of Phase I, I think the interconnectivity would have been an issue here. But I think the decision to shift the scale, to be smaller, to be character-centric mitigates this. We might be curious to know what happened in another part of the station, something to be covered by the comics, but that doesn’t change the fact that the characters we did spend time with received a complete story and dynamic, complex emotional journeys.
Thus far, my comparisons to Jurassic Park have been used to highlight the differences between Light, Storm, and Star. But the way that the three Del Rey novels build one atop of the other, how they compliment each other, is in pretty sharp contrast to Jurassic Park – the film series. Each new dinosaur disaster needs to be bigger in scale, grander in scope, the threats larger and louder. The High Republic Phase I trilogy instead invites us further in, to smaller and more intimate settings every time.
Throughout this Phase, we have seen the noose of our villain Marchion Ro gradually close about his primary target. In Light, the target was galactic, in Storm it was the Republic, and in Star – at last – it was the Jedi. As he has come closer to his victory, closer to revealing himself, the stakes have become more and more personal. Have more and more directly affected our protagonist Bell Zettifar.
In comparison to the previous disaster films of the Phase, this round of The High Republic ends not with a bang but with a whisper. And it feels right.