While the Star Wars prequels may have had a bit of a critical reappraisal in recent years, it’s hard to argue that their depiction of the Jedi isn’t still pretty disappointing.
After decades of teases and hints, the prequels were supposed to show us what the Jedi Order was really capable of, revealing the platonic ideal that Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker was trying to revive – but instead fans were greeted by a band of chin-stroking, officious monks whose only real role in the story was to foreshadow their own demise.
Not quite the heroic pacifists most were hoping for – and as the sequel movies showed Luke’s plans to restore the Jedi crumble, fans would be forgiven for giving up on seeing “real” Jedi after all.
Still, in recent years projects like the Clone Wars animated series and various video games have filled in the blanks a little more for what the Order was and could be again – and now a new multimedia project from LucasFilm, dubbed The High Republic, finally threads the needle to give us the version of the Jedi Knights fans had been hoping for.
Or at least it does based on Charles Soule’s first book for the spin-off project, titled Light of the Jedi. Set hundreds of years before the events of The Phantom Menace when the Jedi were at the height of their powers and the Sith were all but eradicated, the book creates a more positive, forward-thinking universe – almost Star Trek like – where the needs of the many definitely outweigh the needs of the few.
And from the start, Soule’s book really leans into the idealised vision of the Jedi plenty of fans would have once imagined. After a series of chapters filled with death and destruction (this book has quite a lot of death, be warned) the Jedi burst onto the scene characterised explicitly as “hope”, wearing stunning white robes (a ceremonial uniform they happened to be wearing at a nearby event) that presents them as an even more romanticised version of themselves.
Heroic and self-sacrificial, these Jedi save lives, work against impossible odds and perform incredible feats with the Force (no spoilers, but one triumph is particularly notable) as they try to navigate a near-cataclysmic event – the sort of deep-space disaster that requires more subtle saves than decapitating a few battle droids with a lightsaber.
Later, as the book continues we see Jedi engaged in other adventures, battling to save kidnapped settlers on the galactic frontier (in what feels a little like an episode of Firefly, in a good way) while their fellows continue to investigate a shadowy conspiracy.
While you’d be forgiven for struggling to keep all the new Jedi characters in your mind’s eye at once – Avar Kriss, Te-Ami, Bell, Sskeer, Jora Malli, Elzar and Loden Greatstorm to name but a few – they’re united in their commitment and belief in the Republic and the Jedi Order, and their desire to protect innocents. They may have some minor philosophical differences – how much or how best to use the Force, the Jedi’s role in interplanetary conflict and so on – but they’re more like the disagreements of colleagues, rather than the ritualised shame and doubt cast on various characters in the Star Wars prequels.
Really it’s a fun book that created a version of the Jedi I want to hear more about – and even if I do know it’ll all come crashing down eventually when Anakin Skywalker wanders into the Coruscant Temple, it’s still an intriguing world to explore.
From the sounds of it, the High Republic – which officially spans books, comics and magazines, and is rumoured to have an animated series in the pipeline – is just getting started. And to slightly paraphrase its official tagline, the Jedi are already lighting the way for it to be one of the more engaging Star Wars projects in recent years.