If you’re a diehard Star Wars fan, you might have heard of the High Republic initiative. If you’re not up to speed with Star Wars books and comics, though, that might just sound like gibberish. Whether you’re a casual fan just getting into the extended universe or a mega-fan who hasn’t taken the plunge into the High Republic era yet, this article is for you.
The High Republic is a publishing initiative from Lucasfilm with stories that take place 200 years before the start of The Phantom Menace. This period of time isn’t related to the Skywalker Saga, with the only recognizable figure in the current wave of High Republic books being Yoda. This gives the era its own distinctive feel and allows it to exist as a standalone, disconnected from the movies and not bound by preexisting plot points that it has to tiptoe around.
Today, we’re taking a look at the High Republic era and why it’s some of the most exciting Star Wars content you can check out right now. If you’re looking for a deep, engrossing sci-fi story, the High Republic is perfect for you, and this article will get you started in the right direction.
Entries and Reading Order
The High Republic era is currently comprised of several books and comics, with many of the novels aimed at younger readers. Some are written for middle-grade readers, while others are young adult novels. They’re all quite good, but these are mainly spin-offs of the main narrative and older readers can comfortably stick to the “primary” books and comics.
The first entry in the High Republic era of storytelling is Light of the Jedi, a novel by Charles Soule. If that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because of Soule’s work with DC and Marvel Comics. Soule has penned numerous comics over the years, including Star Wars: Lando and Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren. He’s one of the main stewards of the High Republic era, and Light of the Jedi serves as an excellent introduction to the brighter, more optimistic period of galactic history.
The first volume of the Star Wars: The High Republic (2021) comic series serves as a sequel to Light of the Jedi, following many of the same characters in ongoing stories. The next mainline entry, Rising Storm, continues the story from the comic series as well as Light of the Jedi. The second volume of the comic then serves as the narrative bridge to the third core novel, The Fallen Star, which rounds out the current wave of storytelling in the era.
There’s More to This Universe Than Luke Skywalker
When audiences first met Luke Skywalker in 1977, they also learned about the mysterious Jedi Order at the same time he did. Old Ben Kenobi gave a short explanation regarding the Jedi Knights, saying they upheld order and justice in the Republic for thousands of years. However, the prequel trilogy didn’t show an order of noble knights, but an aging institution so weighed down by red tape that it couldn’t save a few slaves from a backwater desert planet.
The High Republic offers a chance to show off the Jedi that Obi-Wan wistfully recalled in A New Hope. Unlike the stuffy, stilted politicians Anakin met in The Phantom Menace, the Jedi of the High Republic era are selfless heroes who put their lives on the line to preserve life. They’re never bogged down in political discussions; they simply spring into action to defend innocent people.
The era’s storytelling is all the more compelling due to its strong characters. The Jedi are inspiring and heroic, and the villains are truly loathsome. While the Sith spend most of their time hiding in the shadows during the main Star Wars films, the High Republic’s monstrous Nihil antagonists are bold enough to attack the Republic in the open.
The era of the High Republic is largely defined by the numerous heroic Jedi Knights who populate the galaxy. Yoda, who was still ancient even 200 years ago, is the only returning face in the Jedi Order, but fans have quickly grown to love the other Jedi Knights introduced in this era. The Jedi Master Avar Kriss is a particular standout, with her unique interpretation of the Force imagining the mystical energy as a song that surrounds all living things.
Similarly, fans have gravitated toward the unorthodox hero Stellan Gios, one of Avar’s closest friends and a masterful swordsman. He wields a bizarre blue lightsaber with a cross-guard, which resembles a more purposefully designed version of Kylo Ren’s distinctive red lightsaber from The Force Awakens. Gios and Avar, along with their ally Elzar Mann, are some of the foremost Jedi Masters of the High Republic era and serve as superheroic role models to the Padawans of the setting.
One such Padawan, Bell Zettifar, plays a major role in helping resolve some of the crises that face the Jedi Order. Zettifar’s personal journey in overcoming his fears makes him one of the most relatable Star Wars characters since Luke Skywalker. Likewise, Padawan Keeve Trennis, the protagonist of the High Republic comic series, is another compelling point-of-view character. Her sparse Jedi training allows her to serve as the audience’s eyes when masters like Kriss and Gios cross swords with terrifying villains.
Heroes are only as good as the villains they face, and the Nihil don’t disappoint in that regard. Star Wars mega-fans already know that the Sith were largely dormant for hundreds of years before the events of The Phantom Menace, which means that the red lightsaber-wielding counterparts to the Jedi can’t really serve their usual role as antagonists during the High Republic era. Instead, an anarchistic band of space Vikings called the Nihil fills in for the conspicuously absent Sith.
The Nihil offers another fascinating foil for the steadfast Jedi Order. While the Sith are also religious zealots who follow a strict code of conduct, brutal though it may be, the Nihil have no such hang-ups. They’re dangerous barbarians who live for the thrill of destroying their opponents, no matter what tactics they need to employ. They’ll use dirty tricks like nerve gas, bio-weapons, and terrorist attacks to destabilize the Republic, and they’ll even target civilians just to undermine the Jedi.
The Nihil is led by a mysterious man named Marchion Ro, who seemingly has a deeper connection to the Jedi Order than the Nihil wants to let on. His eerie presence helps build a sense of looming dread as the High Republic barrels along on a collision course with the Prequel era, with readers fully aware that this glittering age of plenty will soon give way to the fall of the Republic.
Why It Works
The High Republic is such a refreshing change of pace for Star Wars. While the sequel trilogy moved the story forward, other properties like The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi circle back around and explore eras that have already been covered by the movies.
Although these shows are great fun, they’re constrained by the existence of stories that take place later in the timeline. Obi-Wan might boast some impressive fights between the title character and Darth Vader, but there’s inherently no tension involved. You know both characters will be alive and well by the time A New Hope starts.
Stories set in the High Republic era generally don’t have this problem. The books and comics are free to introduce countless new Jedi and Nihil to fight for the soul of the galaxy, and audiences will have no clue what their ultimate fates will be. Outside of Yoda, any of the Jedi in the books could meet a terrible fate at the hands of the Nihil–or a traitorous fellow Jedi. The High Republic has the luxury of being able to surprise readers with new plot twists in a way that other Star Wars shows and books simply can’t.
The Future (Well, Past) Is Bright
While the first phase of the High Republic wrapped up in March of this year, its second phase will kick off in October with the launch of another volume of the comic series. Now is a perfect time to get caught up with the main storyline before Lucasfilm rewinds the story another 150 years at the start of the second phase.
The High Republic era is mainly confined to books and comics for now, outside of some potential nods in the third season of The Mandalorian or the upcoming Ahsoka series. However, fans would be wise to start brushing up on the era’s ins and outs before The Acolyte starts streaming on Disney+. That series will take place near the end of the High Republic era, roughly 80 years before the start of The Phantom Menace.
Some fans have speculated that The Acolyte could serve as the finale to the High Republic initiative, closing that era of storytelling after several years of books and comics. In addition, the upcoming video game Star Wars: Ecplise will also take place in this era, so fans will have more High Republic content to look forward to very soon!