Star Wars Publishing Is Taking An Exciting Plunge Into The Unknown
In 2013, Disney and Lucasfilm restarted the Star Wars universe, leaving only the six films and The Clone Wars television series (2008-2020) as canon. All other Star Wars material were labeled as “Legends” and shifted into their own separate universe. This decision gave Disney and Lucasfilm a vast storytelling canvas that left the studios unburden by some of the expectations and restrictions that had developed with more than forty years of books, comics, and video games.
One of the promises Lucasfilm made when discussing the 2013 canon reset was to give “maximum creative freedom” to storyteller. Lucasfilm has ultimately struggled to remain true to this promise for a variety of reasons. While there has been a host of new Star Wars novels, television shows, and films, many of these projects ultimately tread familiar ground by focusing on the time periods and characters familiar to longtime fans. In the mid 2010s, If a book did not synergize with the ongoing sequel trilogy (2015-2019), then the novel or comic likely focused on character present in original Star Wars trilogy or prequels. While many of these stories are excellent, they do not embody the concept of “maximum creative freedom” that Lucasfilm boldly proclaimed during the continuity reset.
After years of struggling to find deliver more ambitious projects, 2020 and 2021 became the years that Star Wars publishing finally seemed to stretch itself beyond the familiar. Two crucial projects, The High Republic and The Ascendancy Trilogy, set the stage for massive expansions to the Star Wars universe. The High Republic, a enormous multi-book project, envisions a completely new era within the Galaxy Far Far Away; a past unburdened by previous Star Wars storytelling. Similarly, The Ascendancy Trilogy challenged its audience by focusing on unexplored regions of the galaxy, introducing new alien species, and exploring a dense political structure of the Chiss people. Taken together, these two projects illustrate that Star Wars is finally delivering on its promise of “maximum creative freedom” that Lucasfilm discussed in 2014, as well as providing diverse reading options for Star Wars fans.
The High Republic Dives Into The Past
Currently set two hundred years before Episode I – The Phantom Menace, The High Republic is one of Lucasfilm’s most ambitious publishing initiatives. Originally codenamed “Project Luminous,” The High Republic initiative is made up of “multiple voices in adult and young adult novels, children’s books, and comics” (Star Wars.com). With novels and comics written by a talented group of authors including Charles Soule, Daniel Jose Older, Claudia Gray, and Justina Ireland, The High Republic is the most diverse Star Wars project yet. In an interview for Star Wars.com, Lucasfilm Publishing creative director Michael Siglain, describes the The High Republic project as “a massive story, told across multiple formats over multiple years, for every type of fan”. This ambition stands in contrast to the previous Lucasfilm publishing novels, which were largely relegated to telling stories that fill in the gaps for films and television shows.
One of the key goals of The High Republic is to depict a wild galaxy that is quite different from the one seen in Episodes I-IX. Unlike in the films, where much of the galaxy has been settled and explored, The High Republic era is a time of “galactic expansion in the Outer Rim,” where the galaxy is a far less connected place. Exploration is a core connective theme across The High Republic‘s middle grades, young adult, and adult content. Many of the protagonists of The High Republic novels and comics are setting foot on unknown or unfamiliar frontiers, or they are coming into contact with new worlds and cultures. Key adult novels like Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule and The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott explore a Galactic Republic that still confronting the question of how to integrate the Outer Rim into its society and politics.
Another goal of The High Republic is to highlight the Jedi Order “at their zenith,” with the Jedi Order acting as “true guardians of peace and justice” (Star Wars.com). So far, the team of writers have succeed in depicting the Jedi Order as a organization that is far more adventurous than the order seen in the prequel era. Characters like Elzar Mann, who struggles with the dark side of the Force, are foils for Anakin Skywalker and his destructive journey in the prequel films. Mann’s struggle with the dark side and Jedi life are treat with more compassion and openness than Anakin’s, which is a sign of how different the Jedi Order is two hundred years before Anakin’s time. One of the biggest new additions to Star Wars lore is the vivid ways that Jedi of The High Republic perceive and connect with the Force. The Force manifests itself in far more individualized ways for Jedi of this era. The unique connection that each Jedi has with the Force fosters more diverse ways of understanding the galaxy. For example, Jedi Master Avar Kriss, one of the key protagonists of the flagship High Republic novel Light of the Jedi, understands the Force as music; a vast symphony that connects the universe.
In addition to the distinct ideology of the Jedi during this era, The High Republic also introduces two intriguing new antagonists: the Nihil and the Drengir. The Nihil are ruthless bands of marauders who wish to cause chaos across the galaxy. Loosely lead by the mysterious and Machiavellian Marchion Ro, The Nihil use advanced knowledge of Hyper Space routes to attack vulnerable planets and systems. A massive group of interconnected clans and gangs, the Nihil are more erratic and chaotic than organized military forces like The Separatists or The Empire. In deep contrast to the Nihil, the monstrous Drengir are a plant-like carnivorous hive-mind with the ability to infect its victims. Stealthy introduced in Claudia Gray’s excellent young adult novel Into The Dark, the Drengir have the ability to regenerate quickly. This power help makes the Drengir a potent enemies for the Jedi and Republic. While the Sith may be lurking somewhere unseen in The High Republic era, the Nihil and Drengir have helped set the stories of The High Republic apart from the other Star Wars stories.
The Ascendancy Trilogy Explores A Weirder, Wider Universe
Much like The High Republic, The Ascendancy Trilogy has proven to be an ambitious and unorthodox Star Wars project. The Ascendancy Trilogy explores the rise of brilliant Chiss tactician Mitth’raw’nuruodo, known more commonly as Thrawn, who has been hugely popular in the Stars Wars extended universe since his debut in 1991’s Heir To The Empire. The trilogy is written by Thrawn creator Timothy Zahn, who also wrote a three Thrawn novels when the iconic character was reintroduced in the animated show Star War Rebels. The Ascendancy Trilogy consists of Chaos Rising, Greater Good, and Lesser Evil, which were released between September 2020 or November 2021. Unlike Zahn’s previous canon Thrawn novels (Thrawn, Thrawn: Alliances, and Thrawn: Treason), which were all completed as separate projects, Zahn’s latest project was developed as a trilogy. This means that there are characters and story arcs that develop smoothly over the course of three books.
The Ascendancy Trilogy is set outside of the known galaxy, something that the current canon has largely avoid thus far. The trilogy takes place in the Unknown Regions, an area that is “chaotic, uncharted, and near impassable, possessing hidden secrets” (Zahn). Because of its place on the edge of the galaxy, the Unknown Regions (known as “The Chaos” by those who inhabit it) is largely “unaffected by the rise and fall of the Galactic Republic” (Liptak). While the trilogy focuses on the Chiss, a race of blue-skinned humanoids who serve as the central power within the region, the trilogy also introduces readers to a diverse group of alien species with distinct political and moral outlooks.
One of the core concepts that sets The Ascendancy Trilogy apart from other Star Wars content is the sheer complexity of Chiss society and politics. The complexity of Chiss culture, including its fluctuating and nuanced naming conventions, has proven to be divisive among reader and reviewers, but this structure also defines key character relationships and plot points within the trilogy. The Chiss Ascendancy consists of a vast network of “families”, which serve more as political organizations than true families. Individuals within the key Chiss families like the Mith and Irizi rise and fall based on family politics and their wider achievements. Overall, the elaborate nature of Chiss culture makes the trilogy a more cerebral read than many of the fast paced Star Wars novels.
The Ascendancy Trilogy details the rise of future Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn, who received an ominous name drop in Season 2 of The Mandalorian, but it also introduces a vast array of Chiss characters and other alien species. The trilogy builds off ideas first presented in Thrawn: Alliances and Thrawn: Treason, though it is not necessary to read any previous Thrawn novels to understand the narrative. Skywalkers, young Chiss girls who use the Force (called the “Third Sight” by the Chiss) to navigate ships through the turbulent Unknown Region, are a key part of the trilogy. Jixtus, the shadowy antagonist of the trilogy who sows chaos across the Unknown Region, is a member of The Grysks species. These ruthless, conquest-obsessed aliens were key threats in Thrawn: Alliances and Thrawn: Treason. This set of heroes and villains feel vastly different from the Jedi or Sith, which helps the trilogy carve out its own identity.
In addition to the new time periods and areas explored, The High Republic and The Ascendancy Trilogy also fit into a variety of genres as well. Claudia Gray’s young adult novel Into The Dark taps into the horror genre with its abandoned space station and monstrous plant monsters. The core adult High Republic novels Light of the Jedi, The Gathering Storm, and The Fallen Star are high octane thrill rides that pay tribute to the disaster and thriller genres. Finally, The Ascendancy Trilogy delivers a strong dose of political intrigue as its characters struggle to navigate the complexities of Chiss social structure.
Overall, it is a great time for new or returning fans to explore Star Wars novels and comics. With The High Republic and The Ascendancy Trilogy, Stars Wars writers are exploring exciting stories filled with new characters and unique worlds. With diverse sets of characters and narratives that buck some of Star Wars‘ long held traditions, these stories set a new high watermark for Star Wars publishing. Whether you enjoy middle grade novels, young adult novels, comics, or more traditional Star Wars novels, there is something available for every reader.
“The Legendary Star Wars Expanded Universe Turns a New Page.” StarWars.com, https://www.starwars.com/news/the-legendary-star-wars-expanded-universe-turns-a-new-page.
“The High Republic.” StarWars.com, https://www.starwars.com/news/star-wars-the-high-republic.
Brooks, Dan. “The High Republic Interview.” StarWars.com, 21 Dec. 2020, https://www.starwars.com/news/star-wars-the-high-republic-interview.
Liptak, Andrew. “Timothy Zahn Has Returned to Thrawn.” Polygon, Polygon, 3 Sept. 2020, https://www.polygon.com/star-wars/2020/9/3/21408128/star-wars-books-thrawn-ascendency-chaos-rising-timothy-zahn-interview-thrawn-trilogy.
Patches, Matt. “Timothy Zahn Prepares Us for the End of the Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy Trilogy.” Polygon, Polygon, 9 Nov. 2021, https://www.polygon.com/22770279/star-wars-thrawn-ascendancy-book-3-lesser-evil-timothy-zahn-interview-excerpt.
Zahn, Timothy. Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising. Del Rey, 2020.
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