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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The Case For Boba Fett’s Life

I’d like to talk about that one character’s surprise return in the new season of The Mandalorian.

No, not that one.

No, not that other one. The one in the premiere.

No, not that one, the other one in the premiere.

Heh. Anyway, Boba Fett. I think a lot of people, especially those whom you might call the core Mandalorian fanbase, see the nineties Expanded Universe as Boba Fett’s golden age—a time when the mainstream sensibilities of the Star Wars franchise, in both comics and prose, aligned perfectly with Boba’s gritty, amoral vibe in the original trilogy, and thus a slew of gritty, amoral content was released—famously including his resurrection from the sarlacc pit, but much of it set during the Empire’s reign, giving him no shortage of killable adversaries. Boba had no confirmed origin, no character arc, and frankly, no personality. He simply was.

I came into Star Wars at the peak of that era. I read all those stories, and they were mostly decent enough—I think the tone worked better in comics than in prose, but as part of the tapestry of what Star Wars was at the time I had no objection to them. But I don’t think I’d have called myself a Boba Fett fan.

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Poe Dameron: Free Fall and Star Wars’ Evolving Relationship With Criminality

The final third of this piece contains spoilers for Poe Dameron: Free Fall. If you’d like to avoid them, stop when you see Babu Frik.

Governing an entire galaxy isn’t easy. As initially conceived, government in Star Wars was despotic and militaristic and led by people with magical powers—and even then, with no civil liberties or red tape to hold the Empire back, small pockets of rebellion were still able to slip through their fingers over and over, to say nothing of run-of-the-mill criminals like Han Solo.

As conceived, though, that was a good thing. The Empire was bad, so breaking its rules was justified, or at least a lesser concern to the good guys than what the Empire itself was up to. Even in the prequel era, the Old Republic is already riddled with corruption, and morality is often in conflict with the law our heroes are still desperately clinging to.

The sequels, then, were our first opportunity to experience a fundamentally righteous, if imperfect, galactic government—for about seventy minutes, anyway. Then it explodes.

But there’s a generation or so prior to that where even Luke Skywalker at his most cynical concedes that the galaxy was in balance, and a whole crop of younger characters managed to grow up with little to no awareness of how hard-fought that balance had been. For now, at least, that peacetime generation is unique in the canon, and crafting good, old-fashioned Star Wars adventures with them isn’t quite as easy as it used to be.

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The Saga Concludes – The Minority Report, Year Five

Welcome, one and all, to the final Minority Report, my annual(ish) update on diversity in Star Wars’ screen and printed content. As discussed in my last report, I’ve reached the conclusion that this new era of the franchise has brought us to a point where it’s better that the raw numbers, which have been my bailiwick for more than ten years now, take a backseat and that representation—what types of characters we’re seeing and how they’re used—becomes the primary focus of these conversations. While I still plan on running said numbers for my own edification, I’m going to refrain from these regular updates and save my commentary for when and if something really noteworthy happens.

I first took on this project way back in the days of the Expanded Universe, where most new characters were coming from books and their demographics were both more uniform and harder to notice; now that movies and television are steering the ship, Star Wars has responded to this increased scrutiny with a boatload of new female characters, characters of color, and even a small but not insignificant population of queer and nonbinary characters. But while the weight of focus has shifted drastically away from the usual parade of white guys, there’s still a lot to discuss about exactly how characters like Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, Holdo, Val, and L3-37 are used, how they intersect, and what messages their stories are sending.

The thing about that, though, is that I see my own role in those conversations to be much more that of a listener—and ideally, a promoter of great voices from within the relevant communities here at this blog. When I started tracking diversity it felt like no one else was paying attention to it at all (at least in the not-very-diverse forums I was hanging around in back then), so having real numbers to throw around was my way of holding up a flashing neon “PROBLEM” sign. Now that diversity and representation are a huge, flourishing topic of discussion, I see how much I still had to learn, and while I still believe sheer volume is a big part of the solution, this is about much more than which types of people we see walking by in the background and who they happen to be kissing.

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What Jedi: Fallen Order Could Have Learned From The Rise of Skywalker

Early on in The Rise of Skywalker, Rey does something I’ve wanted to see in a Star Wars film for ages. For at least the seventh time in nine episodes, our heroes are confronted not by a villain, but by a wild animal. We’re not privy to its exact emotional state, but context suggests it’s protecting its territory, or traumatized, or just plain hungry. It’s also, to one degree or another, scary-looking: this isn’t just an animal, we’re expected to understand, it’s a monster.

And in six of the nine episodes, the heroes fight the monster, either killing it or distracting it or driving it off. This type of scene is just one of those things Star Wars does—like Threepio telling you the odds or someone having a bad feeling about this, a monster fight is how the screenplay lets you know this is a Star Wars movie. Old adventure serials loved that shit: the dianoga and the wampa and the rancor were George Lucas emulating the spirit of a guy in a lizard costume wrestling with Flash Gordon, and while few would call those scenes the films’ best material, they’ve never demanded any deeper consideration than that.1

But then, in this episode, the hero has a different idea. She passes her already-ignited lightsaber to Finn, walks slowly to the big snake-worm-thing, and uses the Force to heal a wound in its side. Not just the Force, but the Force of her own life—instead of killing an injured creature, the quick and easy path, she gives a little of herself to it, and in so doing saves all involved.

This is who Rey is, who she’s always been. To my mind it’s why she can get angry in a fight, more visibly angry than Luke ever got, and never let it consume her. Empathy isn’t something she has to stop and center herself to achieve, or have rubbed in her face by her father’s robot arm, it’s her baseline. Like so much in Rise, I go back and forth on whether the filmmakers intended this reading or just stumbled onto it while setting up some things that happen later in the movie, but hell if it doesn’t work. And what made it especially satisfying for me personally was its timely, if coincidental, refutation of Jedi: Fallen Order.

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  1. Not that that stops us. []