The third and final book of “Phase 1” of the High Republic series arrived and certainly put their best “Empire Strikes Back” foot forward in giving the villains a big win and leaving things a little grim for our heroes. I can say that without spoilers due to the title of the book and all the cover art / posters that have been going around showing Starlight Beacon burning and crashing kind of giving that impression before reading it… Let’s take a look at “Star Wars does a disaster movie” shall we?
Time and again, the vicious raiders known as the Nihil have sought to bring the golden age of the High Republic to a fiery end. Time and again, the High Republic has emerged battered and weary, but victorious thank to its Jedi protectors—and there is no monument to their cause grander than the Starlight Beacon.
Hanging like a jewel in the Outer Rim, the Beacon embodies the High Republic at the apex of its aspirations: a hub of culture and knowledge, a bright torch against the darkness of the unknown, and an extended hand of welcome to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. As survivors and refugees flee the Nihil’s attacks, the Beacon and its crew stand ready to shelter and heal.
The grateful Knights and Padawans of the Jedi Order stationed there finally have a chance to recover—from the pain of their injuries and the grief of their losses. But the storm they thought had passed still rages; they are simply caught in its eye. Marchion Ro, the true mastermind of the Nihil, is preparing his most daring attack yet—one designed to snuff out the light of the Jedi.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
A simple but effective cover… Certainly less spoilery than the others!
Now I described this book as a Star Wars disaster movie and that’s what it is (well, except a book rather than a movie…) as a quarter of the way in Starlight Beacon is bombed from within by a group of Nihil infiltrators so dedicated to their leader Marchion Ro that they’re happy to go down with the station as it slowly crashes into the planet below. I think the star of the show this time round has to be Elzar Mann, the Jedi who during the attack on the Republic Fair in the previous book touched the Darkside of the force to help out. He begins this story training with Jedi Wayseeker Orla Jareni in ways to calm himself and reconnect with the Force after he had cut himself off from it in order to do no more harm. Eventually he feels more comfortable but still cuts himself off until he feels ready, so the two Jedi, along with a trio of space travellers who operate “The Vessel” a… vessel that’s used to transport Jedi to and from Starlight Beacon (and that has appeared in High Republic material I’ve not read, but once again the ship’s crew are introduced well here without prior knowledge). Upon returning to Starlight they start to sense something is amiss and that’s thanks to the Nihil invaders having brought on board a creature that has the same deadly, Force-consuming and Jedi calcifying powers as the “Great Leveller” that killed Loden Greatstorm in the previous book and it begins corrupting the Jedi’s connection to the Force (and therefore their ability to sense danger coming…)
Elzar meets his old buddy Stellan Gios and finds out he’s replaced their other old friend (and someone Elzar clearly cares for more deeply than Jedi should care for) Avar Kriss as head of Starlight Beacon. Soon the Beacon is attacked from within and we spend many, many chapters with Jedi running around trying to find ways to stop the Beacon from crashing and/or save as many people on board as possible. As Jedi start getting turned to dust thanks to the mysterious Leveller-like creature, including Orla Jareni, Stellan is eventually attacked by it and although he escapes (barely) he’s left severally mentally shaken leading to Elzar reconnecting to the Force and taking charge.
The Collector’s Edition wrap-around. Fair to say: a lot more spoilery!
Elzar eventually heads down to where the space station’s thrusters are in order to try and kick-start them and he finds two young girls who were believed to be ex-Nihil and assumes they’re responsible for everything so he jumps out and slices one of them clean in half… then finds out that while their souls are far from clean they were actually trying to start the thrusters themselves in order to save their own lives, and by killing her mid-action he misses his window to start the thrusters and stop Starlight from crashing. Elzar had once again misused his powers due to emotions clouding his actions. Stellan soon arrives and sends Elzar to the last few people and an escape pod and then stays behind to manually direct the thrusters so Starlight at least crashes into the ocean rather than a city, at the cost of his life. Elzar reunites with Avar on the planet’s surface and it’s quite clear that things won’t be the same for them going forward after the death of their friend. I’m really interested to see where this is going, Elzar is like a “what if?” of Anakin if he was supported with his anger issues rather than shunned. It’ll will be fun to see what happens there.
Once again I really liked Bell Zettifar and was happy to see him mentally recovered after his encounter with the Leveller and losing his old Master. He still isn’t fully on-board with his new Master Indeera Stokes but when she is attacked by the Leveller-like creature Bell’s desperation to not lose another master is well played, as is his support of Wookie Jedi Burryaga when he loses his Master. Bell manages to arrange for Starlight’s medical wing to be evacuated before it reached planetfall and stayes with the comatose Indeera and his “Charhound” Ember while the Beacon crashes, eventually finding out the Burryaga was seemingly killed by some deadly creatures called Rathtars that were smuggled on-board. After believing Loden dead at the end of Book 1 only to find him alive at the end of Book 2, Bell isn’t convinced Burryaga is dead until he sees a body, something I’m in agreement with as Burryaga was carried away rather than visibly killed, so… We’ll see!
I liked the crew of the Vessel as well. Leox Gyasi is a bit of a Han Solo-like rogue, Affie Hollow is a kind-hearted young kid who is extremely dedicated to her ship, and their navigator Geode constantly got a laugh out of me. His race is made of stone and at no point does he speak, instead his emotions are conveyed through prose like “his expressionless face showed how determined he was” and that kind of thing (just well written and timed perfectly). There was a good tease that Leox got sucked out of an airlock and gave his life to give Affie and Geode a change to escape but he later turns up on the Planet having parachuted to safety thanks to Starlight already being in the planet’s atmosphere by that point. I’m happy to see this trio again down the line. Finally Marchion Ro was a fun villain once again as he finally reveals himself to the Jedi and the Republic at large via a video where he claims to have the whole Galaxy in the palm of his hand, though I will admit his role was sadly reduced to observer of the event in a few brief moments rather than anything substantial, but that will just make his downfall all the sweeter.
The “End of Phase 1” overall poster. Very fun, looking forward to the comic half as well!
While “Disaster movie on a crashing space station” sounds great I will admit a lot of chapters of the gathered Jedi having to overcome a new issue that’s presented itself as the Beacon got ever closer to the planet started to get old quite quickly, as a slow reader just reading roughly two chapters before bed every night, it was a good two weeks of “the Beacon is nearly approaching the planet” before it finally did and some big things began to happen. The last few chapters are really good, but it sure took its sweet time getting there. The book also has a few brief scenes of Avar Kriss and her quest to take down Lourna Dee that will be shown in the High Republic comics and this was the first time where the book didn’t feel so stand-alone any more. Admittedly the High Republic comics are the other part of the era I regular keep up with some it’s fine for me, but I do feel sorry for non-comic fans (in more ways than one!)
Also, while not the book’s fault and therefore isn’t counted towards the score, can I just say that the next Phase of High Republic being set 250 years into the past is a bit of a bummer. I have complete faith that there is a thematic reason for it and by the end of Phase 3 I’ll look back at all three Phases of High Republic storytelling and give it a round of applause, but having to wait a good two years or so before finding out what’s next for Elzar, Avar, Bell and Marchion Ro is more than a little annoying. If they did a Prequel Trilogy thing and set it back when Elzar, Avar and Stellan were Padawans that would at least still be interesting and feel connected, rather than doing another complete reset of the cast and time period . Ah well, again, I’m sure it’ll be good…
The Fallen Star ends the first phase of the High Republic storyline on a major win for Marchion Ro and his Nihil and a major blackeye for the Jedi and the Republic. While it didn’t blow me away as much as the previous two books thanks to a middle that felt very much like it was stalling for time, it was still a good read and really makes me want to read Phase 3 in 2024 or whenever it launches…