Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule
Book 1 of Star Wars: The High Republic
Set 200 years before the prequel trilogy of movies, this is the introduction to an era of the Star Wars galaxy when the Republic and Jedi were still at their peak. A devastating crisis in the hyperspace lanes leads to a blockade of much of the Outer Rim, and the introduction of a new enemy in the form of marauders and pirates known as the Nihil.
Accessible and better-written than most Star Wars novels. Feels like it could stand as a popular sci-fi novel even without its Star Wars license. Felt like a new story set in the Star Wars galaxy, instead of just a rehash/repetition of things we’ve already seen, as so much of the tie-in fiction — Soules’s Star Wars comics in particular, in my opinion — tends to be. Pretty good at plotting and pacing, jumping between vantage points of heroes and villains in multiple parallel storylines without being confusing. Based on some of the Goodreads comments, it managed to piss off a lot of long-winded nerds who are now complaining about “diversity,” and it is always a delight to see them angry.
Too many characters and storylines. Kept stopping just short of establishing real depth or complexity to any of its characters, clearly because they were intended to have their own spin-off stories in comics or other novels. Seems very much like setting up a franchise, as opposed to telling its own story. Guilty of the “crisis inflation” that The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker used to ratchet up the tension; I think the total death toll of this novel is something like a billion? There’s a weird lack of genuine tension throughout — one particularly dramatic scene involves figuring out how to cool an overheating computer network. Finally, “feels like Star Wars” is extremely subjective, but to me at least, the Nihil felt too much like Mad Max, and other semi-spoilery plot elements felt too much like Dune.
I love Star Wars but have a very low tolerance for Star Wars novels, so it says a lot that I found this one was so engaging, and it never had me wanting to throw it across the room. Still, I wish it had been less of a franchise launch and more of a novel, a smaller, much more focused story that hinted at a larger Galaxy. There’s so much potential here, and it could’ve benefitted from more restraint, hinting at the stories yet to come (like the first movie’s “You fought in the Clone Wars?”) instead of giving us the entire outline.