Conflict is at the very heart of Star Wars. Light vs. Dark. Good vs. Evil. Empire vs. Rebellion. So many of the stories we have seen woven throughout its world are rooted in the very idea of combat and war. It’s in the name! So in order to do something radically different for The High Republic, its creative team had an idea: what if the major crisis that breaks out in these stories wasn’t a problem that could be solved with a lightsaber swing?
While there are traditionally antagonistic factions in Star Wars: The High Republic, the biggest crisis that permeates throughout the first few stories in this new era is something that becomes known as the Great Disaster: starships breaking up mid-hyperspace jump, their debris turning into powerful FTL meteor strikes that can re-enter normal space anywhere and anytime across a hyperspace lane, wreaking cataclysmic destruction on countless planets.
This isn’t just disaster on a scale unlike anything we’ve seen in Star Wars before—even with planet killers like the Death Star and Starkiller Base in the movies—but it presents a situation for the Jedi heroes of The High Republic, one that cannot be solved either with diplomacy or the blade of a laser sword. It can’t even really be solved with the Force alone, either: Padawans, Knights, and Masters alike must no longer be keepers of the peace, but medics and disaster relief experts, the ultimate expression of the Jedi Order’s compassion instead of its martial strength.
Above all for the writers behind these first stories in the setting, it was an idea that was much more interesting to explore than a traditional interstellar conflict. “I feel very strongly about this particular point—want to speak to it. I think we’re seeing this now in the world we’re living in, which is that disasters are large scale catastrophes test systems,” Light of the Jedi author Charles Soule told io9 over Zoom in a recent press day for Star Wars: The High Republic. “The way you can see the strength of a system, a government, a society—of its tools against the scope and scale of that catastrophe is to throw a disaster at it. So, the point of Light of the Jedi, in many ways, is to introduce the High Republic to a readership, to an audience. To show what it is capable of when it’s at its height, and when things get really bad, here’s how it solves problems.”
The Great Disaster represents a level of crisis management for the Republic and the Jedi alike, one that forms a major basis for the main book in the first wave of High Republic fiction, Soule’s Light of the Jedi. But it’s made so challenging because the threat is existential and intangible, in such a manner that every facet of a Jedi’s training is tested.
“Through this one event, Jedi can solve problems—sometimes with laser swords—but also with the Force and discussion and many other ways of handling problems. We’ve all seen how the Republic solved it, which is pretty key. They take actions through government and resources they have to reduce the effect of the Great Disaster that emerges through a large swath of the Outer Rim,” Soule continued. “Through this sequence, which is the whole first third of Light of the Jedi, you get to see all of these different segments of society from individuals to galactic governments responding to this disaster, trying to save as many lives as possible. In a hundred page sequence, you get a really good sense of what this galaxy is capable of and the choices it likes to make. That’s why we started there, and I think it works well in achieving that goal.”
It’s not really a spoiler to say that the Republic and the Jedi meet the ramifications of the Great Disaster head-on—otherwise, it’d be a pretty short story that suddenly lays this “peak era” for these two establishments low. However, in what it means to see these institutions succeed in triaging the fallout of the Great Disaster, there’s a sense of hope. “I think that speaks to something that’s so cool about this whole initiative, which is we’re so used to science-fiction—especially in YA—of thinking how bad things can go wrong, right? That’s what we know about sci-fi,” Daniel José Older, the writer of IDW’s High Republic Adventures comic, added. “It’s rare we get to use science-fiction to imagine how things can work really well. That’s not to say it’s without conflict, because, as we’re learning increasingly, we know how bad things can get even when they’re done really well. But for once, we’re getting to see good governing and an amazing world that functions on so many levels—instead of a Republic that lives up to its promise of being a doomed, corrupt enterprise.”
It’s a move that keeps the conflict that is inherent to a setting like Star Wars, but reframes it in such a way that it brings a new perspective to the kinds of problems the galaxy far, far away’s heroes are confronted with. “You can also say that any science-fiction or fantasy book or movie—Star Wars very much included the wonder of what is possible doesn’t work if something isn’t possible. Otherwise, it just becomes very convenient and without tension. You have to have those limits,” Claudia Gray, author of Into the Dark, concluded. “You have to have those things all the powers or technology of your heroes are not going to be able to overcome. Because, otherwise, it all goes very flat, I think. Even at this apex point of the Jedi and Republic, there has to be something really, really difficult [for them to overcome].”
Star Wars: The High Republic begins with the release of Light of the Jedi and A Test of Courage on January 5, 2021, with Marvel’s Star Wars: The High Republic #1 on January 6, 2021. Into the Dark and IDW’s Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures #1 will release on February 2, 2021, and February 3, 2021, respectively.
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