Back in the mid-90s, before the prequels emerged, Star Wars novels were where fans went to continue spending time in a galaxy far, far away. Video games and comic books often expanded the lore of the Star Wars universe at the time too, though it was in the novels that the adventures of the main cast of the movies continued beyond Return of the Jedi.

It was in the world of video games that a true multimedia initiative started back then too, with Nintendo 64 game Shadows of the Empire showcasing the period between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, which was expanded upon even further with a tie-in novel, a comic book mini-series, a toy line and even its own orchestral soundtrack. It was a hugely ambitious undertaking.

Essentially, Shadows of the Empire was a movie without a movie.

That’s almost what The High Republic feels like; it’s a series set hundreds of years before the Star Wars prequels, with stories unfolding in novels, comic books, volumes of manga and short stories in Star Wars Insider magazine. Each tale is part of a larger tapestry, exploring and filling in the details of a period of Star Wars history that’s never been looked at before.

In this first book, we’re thrust headlong into an intergalactic crisis, with a deep space accident somehow causing debris to emerge at different places and times across the galaxy. The Jedi, intergalactic peacekeepers, are dispatched to try and save as many lives as possible.

Despite this deepening crisis, the universe has seen a time of relative stability, peace and exploration – and The Starlight Beacon, a huge space station that will stand as a powerful symbol of hope and cooperation, is about to be opened.

Behind the issues with the ’emergences’, as they’re known, there’s a looming threat – a collective of outlaws known as the Nihil, who are somehow able to manipulate and even bypass hyperspace lanes.

Their machinations will set them on a collision course with the Jedi, but what it is that the Nihil really want?

Despite being set a few hundred years before The Phantom Menace, one or two of the cast members we either see or are mentioned are still alive during the events of the movies – but for the most part, the featured era allows for an entirely new cast of characters.

There’s an awful lot to get to know – and the Jedi themselves are a much more heroically portrayed and proactive organisation than we’re perhaps used to.

Despite this adventurous, almost romantic portrayal of the Jedi at the absolute height of their powers – along with genuinely poetic, beautiful descriptions of the way they sense and manipulate the Force – there’s a surprisingly hard edge to Light of the Jedi, in the form of the Nihil.

It’s surprisingly violent at times, with short, sharp shocks of gore – which is highly effective when contrasted against the derring do and heroism of the Jedi’s adventures.

And wow, do we get a lot of action here – the entire first act of the book is taken up with the Jedi struggling to deal with the Emergences; it’s a fantastic way to introduce some serious high stakes and to demonstrate just how our brilliantly diverse cast of Jedi look to handle the situation.

Being set so far back in the Star Wars timeline means that Light of the Jedi avoids the problem of knowing exactly how everything will unfold and who will survive too; it’s a problem that is all too obvious in stories such as Brotherhood, a prequel-era novel that I reviewed recently and found to be pretty pointless and dreadfully dull.

Light of the Jedi is far from dull; introducing us to an unfamiliar time period in a galaxy full of familiar species (and the odd familiar face too), with an appealing, interesting cast of characters on both the heroic and outright villainous sides.

Though it essentially lays the groundwork for the stories to come, it’s to writer George Soule’s credit that it never feels as if we’re just reading an expository chapter of a larger story.

It’s a big, galaxy spanning adventure that ends with a couple of seriously thrilling cliffhangers – and it’s an absolutely superb jaunt into the history of the Star Wars universe.

If The High Republic universe can continue with this level of quality throughout its numerous tie-ins, this should be a period of the Star Wars saga that will be a joy to visit every single time.

You can buy Light of the Jedi from Amazon here.

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