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Expanded Universe

Star Wars | Is the High Republic Already at Risk?

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On December 14th, 2019, Emperor Palpatine’s voice was broadcast across the Star Wars universe for all to hear as he announced the return of the Sith. Mentioned in the opening title crawl of Episode  IX, this lore important broadcast could only be heard by fans of the popular sci-fi franchise by logging in to the popular battle royale game Fortnite as part of a Fortnite X Star Wars event. Only later with the release of the Rise of Skywalker novelization would long time fans of the series be able to read a transcript of the speech given in the Fortnite event, with author Rae Carson tweeting that “someone else conceived it” in response to a fan asking if she had a hand in writing it herself.  

It’s no secret to long-time fans of Expanded Universe content that the order of importance in a franchise is dictated by visual media. Film, TV, and videogames will control the direct action while written content in the form of novels and comics takes a back seat. This ride in the back allows for a lot of interesting exploration of stories untold with the slight caveat of a potential retcon somewhere down the line.  

Fans of the animated Star Wars: Rebels (2014-2018) series that ran out to get their hands on a copy of the Kanan: The Last Padawan (2015-2016) comic will have experienced this first-hand. The Kanan comic, written by Greg  Weisman and illustrated by Pepe Larraz and Jacopo Camagni, explored the history of series favourite Kanan Jarrus (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr. in Rebels), revealing what happened to him when he was just a padawan as Order 66 was executed and the Jedi Order was wiped out.

Much loved among fans of the franchise, the opening of Weisman’s Kanan comics later clashed as the  2021 Star Wars: The Bad Batch series for Disney+ rewrote Kanan’s experience with Order 66 to interweave Rebels and The Bad Batch, likely in hopes of bringing Rebels fans over to the new media. 

The young Kanan Jarrus fights for his life in Star Wars: The Bad Batch ‘Aftermath’ – S1, Ep1. | Disney+, 2021.

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The Rise and Fall

But the buck doesn’t just stop with clashing events, as complete character views and opinions can be rewritten or ignored when explored within visual release media. Viewers of Rise of the Skywalker will be well aware of Poe Dameron’s blasé opinion of the franchise’s literal golden boy, C-3PO. Annoyed looks, sarcastic jokes, and the odd insult aren’t new to 3PO but what set Poe apart from others in his treatment of 3PO came three years prior in Charles Soule and Phil Noto’s Poe Dameron #9 comic (2016). As the pair worked on a mission together seeking out a droid, Poe challenged 3PO’s use of the word “master” when addressing him. 

“All that “master” stuff. Everyone knows your story. Every big event in the galactic civil war, you  were right there. You were directly involved in bringing down the empire. You and Artoo. So,  I don’t know why you’re calling me master. Why you’re calling anyone master. Seems like people  should call you that.”

Poe Dameron, Poe Dameron #9. 

Poe’s respect for 3PO and his own heritage within the Resistance painted a moral, good man that has lived and breathed the history we’ve spent generations enjoying across cinema. With Rise of the Skywalker, Poe’s background seemed to have suddenly changed to include a stint as a smuggler, giving him a much closer characterization and history to series legend Han Solo. With new problems causing page and screen to clash, a 2020 novel by Alex Segura titled Poe Dameron: Free Fall was released to smooth over the issues and explain both as true, with Poe simply having smuggled for a short time in his adolescence. 

Poe Dameron #9 by Charles Soule and Phil Noto. | Marvel, 2016.

It’s a tough job to keep track of this stuff and the Lucasfilm Story Group has the arduous task of making sure contradictions introduced in visual media can be fixed within written releases. The role of a writer in the larger Star Wars EU then seems to be that of relegation to side stories and “fixing” of continuity issues across the universe as they arise.  

Navigating the Star Wars canon from the perspective of a writer can be a scary one when the media is looked at in order of release. After the release of director Rian Johnson’s Episode VII: The Last Jedi (2017),  fan backlash seemingly caused Disney to take an immediate U-turn on the story and reintroduce several seemingly safe bets in IX. This introduced a level of whiplash that caused both detractors and fans of Last Jedi to question if there was any greater goal to the series as the Lucasfilm Story Group quickly released accompanying media to fill in the gaps.  

Discussion and exploration of the narrative shift between Last Jedi and Rise of the Skywalker could be an article in and of itself, with even casual cinemagoers being aware of the problems that arose from such a decision. The ability of fan reception to cause larger changes within the franchise has now even reached a  point of comedic mockery in popular culture. The fifth entry in the meta slasher franchise Scream (2022), released earlier this year, made fun of fan obsession and backlash by having their in-universe movie series Stab becoming critically panned after Rian Johnson directed the latest release, a direct reference to what happened with Star Wars following Last Jedi

Spectacular and subversive, Rian Johnson’s Episode VII: The Last Jedi (2017). | Lucasfilm, 2017.

Follow the Light

But while the waters were certainly murky for Lucasfilm, they worked hard to make things right with strong accompanying additions to the canon with shows like The Mandolorian and an additional season of the much-loved Clone Wars animated series, finishing a story that had remained incomplete since 2013. Alongside this, several strong writers working within the Star Wars Expanded Universe content were invited to Skywalker Ranch (the Lucasfilm offices) and given the chance to work with a blank slate. 

Claudia Gray, Justina Ireland, Daniel José Older, Cavan Scott, and Charles Soule were to take on  “Project Luminous”, later renamed Star Wars: The High Republic. A corner of the Star Wars canon that was yet untouched in Disney’s new timeline, for them to work in freely.  

Since the release of Disney’s Sequel Trilogy, large, worlds-changing events had previously been tied closely to visual media, but in the world of The High Republic, the stakes could rise. Set 200 years prior to the events of the Skywalker Saga, a whole new cast of main characters were introduced to carry this era forward. The only notable character fans would recognize came in the form of a younger, 700-year-old Yoda that already maintained a high rank within the Jedi Order at that time, mostly away from our core cast who worked in the outer reaches of space. The main group would focus on issues in the Outer Rim and report back to the Starlight Beacon, a space station built as a base for Jedi to introduce themselves to the larger world. 

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With an entirely new cast and the freedom to write without boundaries, Charles Soule was in line to write the first novel of this new era, The Light of the Jedi (2021). In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Soule said: “The structure of the novel is unusual, in some ways, but I got that from the  Star Wars films, really.” 

Beginning the book with a near cataclysmic event, readers were introduced to the High Republic era with a bang. The Legacy Run, a ship traveling through hyperspace, encounters a mysterious vessel in their path and quickly reacts by trying to steer themselves away from impact. While successfully dodging the ship, the Legacy Run is pulled apart at lightspeed. This sends debris, some carrying passengers of the Legacy Run, hurtling towards a nearby system, Hetzal.  

This is the Great Disaster, an event so large that the first three novels in The High Republic era focus on characters reacting to it and finding their own place within the Outer Rim in the aftermath. Soule chose to spend the first third of this debut novel jumping between characters as they try to save the Hetzal system, and the passengers stuck aboard the debris.  

Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, the opening part of the High Republic saga. | Del Rey, 2021.

Charles said to The Hollywood Reporter: “The “Great Disaster” that opens Light of the Jedi is one of those [events] … the idea of having a lot of people involved in one event operates on a galactic scale seemed very appealing. I could introduce a large cast in a very organic way, in various locations from the highest level of galactic government to the “Jedi on the street” as they responded to the disaster.” 

As a reader, Light of the Jedi is employing cinematic techniques to introduce you to a whole cast of characters as they take care of smaller tasks in the larger picture of the Great Disaster. Jumping around for character introductions and their role within the Jedi Order, the opening hundred pages lock readers in with narrative finesse. 

If you’re a fan of the Star Wars Legends media – as the pre-Disney Expanded Universe is branded – Dark Horse Comics’ Tales of the Jedi is what you’re looking at here with The High Republic. But while The Old Republic era of the Legends focused on a Jedi vs Sith dynamic, The High Republic exists within a time of peace, where the Sith no longer seems to exist. 

Introducing, Marchion Ro. A villain built for a stage comprising novels, comics, audiobooks, and more to come. With the vision of a cinematic story spanning a whole era, Marchion gets to begin as a  meek but brilliant mind as you follow his story in tandem with the Jedi, using his strategic skills and brutal disdain for those around him to become something akin to a willing Ender Wiggin from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (1985) novel. 

What’s being achieved with The High Republic era right now is the peak of what could be possible within an expanded universe if all creative minds involved worked together to create a cohesive vision with no single overruling format. Characters from the children’s novels even get promoted to the YA novels as they age into more mature missions. 

With the first “phase” of The High Republic era coming to completion, a second is about to begin that is set to go further back in time. Of the three phases planned, it’s uncertain if we will be returning to the present era for a final epic to this trilogy but as things currently stand, the series is a testament to what can be achieved in longform narrative storytelling. 

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The Coming Darkness

Disney and Lucasfilm are not unaware of what they’ve got here and so expansion into visual media is  already on the horizon. Star Wars: Acolyte is an upcoming Disney+ show focusing on the Dark Side’s emergence towards the end of the High Republic era while Star Wars: Eclipse is an upcoming  narrative driven game from Quantic Dream set in the same era.  

There’s no telling what these projects will bring to The High Republic, if they will converge or divert  from what has been set up so far. While Acolyte remains a mystery, the announcement of Eclipse at the Video Game Awards was met with concern among fans and gamers after seeing that the project was being run by David Cage, a divisive game designer who is reported to have made sexist and  homophobic comments in the past.  

Similarly, the announcement was met with silence from the core High Republic writers too, with Cavan Scott cryptically tweeting the day following:

“Always remember to concentrate your energies on the things you can control or influence, not those that you can’t. The latter will happen in spite of  you. The former will happen because of you.” 

Cavan Scott, via Twitter

While the future of The High Republic looks uncertain as new projects come to the forefront, a focus on the present may be what fans need. Strong narrative storytelling within a universe recently thought to be out of plots beyond the Skywalker bloodline is breathing new life and excitement into the hearts of readers willing to pick it up and see what’s being achieved on a scale that we may never see again.

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Ell Twine is a professional screenwriter that loves to discuss narrative storytelling across all forms of media. Based in London, Ell works as a freelance journalist and runs her own website where she writes storytelling essays and reviews in the interest of other writers.

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