STAR WARS: THE HIGH REPUBLIC – THE EYE OF DARKNESS is simply a masterpiece. You NEED to read every inch of the text as closely because everything is set up like a game of Jenga. Every piece counts.
Many Star Wars fans lament the end of Legends and the 90’s style novel literature, in the vein of Timothy Zahn. While, yes Zahn has returned to Star Wars, it just isn’t with the same feel as the golden oldies. However, even though New Canon is only about a decade old, STAR WARS: THE HIGH REPUBLIC – THE EYE OF DARKNESS by George Mann is honestly one of the best Star Wars books I’ve ever read. As of now, this is the number one book of New Canon. It isn’t like me to throw out such prestige compliments for a single book, but I think Mann solved the problem of The High Republic literature being unremarkable and easy to wrap up.
The events of this book have NEVER been seen in a Star Wars adventure before. The tension and fear that the bad guys delivered are just remarkable. This book is such a treat that I NEED you to read it. So I will include minimal spoilers and no Force Facts. I couldn’t spoil a second of this.
The novel takes place a year after Starlight Beacon was destroyed in a terrorist attack (very much like 9/11) by the Nihil. A brotherhood of space pirates who are pure evil and led by the cold-hearted and mysterious Evenari, Marchion Ro. Ro has no conscience whatsoever and is determined to destroy the Jedi. At any cost. If you have been following the Phases of The High Republic (and I hope you have), Ro has a large number of horrifying creatures known as the Nameless that can suck the life out of any Jedi or Force-sensitive, leaving behind a crumbling ash husk. Even seasoned Jedi are filled with overwhelming terror when confronted by these abominations. And so far, it looks like they cannot be destroyed (at least by Force-user means.)
After Starlight Beacon crashed into the seas of Eiram, Marchion employed this incredible technology called a Stormwall. They form a barrier around entire star systems and cordons them off from visitors. Marchion effectively makes his own fiefdom (Nihil Space) and the Republic can do nothing about it because only Path hyperdrives (special Nihil hyperdrives) can penetrate it without being destroyed.
Even worse, some Jedi have been stranded in this Occlusion Zone and must hide at all costs from the Nihil. Especially as the Nameless can destroy them, regardless of their prowess as warriors or strength in the Force. The situation reminds me of the American citizens trapped in Israel by Hamas, who are holding them hostage. It is unknown if this is a coincidence, as the first phase of The High Republic very much mirrored the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, since it was written ahead of October 2023, it is indeed, likely, a coincidence. How art imitates life, no?
I want to save the plot details for your reading experience, so I will analyze the characters. George Mann has written some of the best characterizations I’ve seen in ANY book that I’ve read in quite some time. I can’t help but feel that Disney needs to continue to employ Mann, even when The High Republic initiative is over. I just felt such a visceral connection to all the characters on both ends of the spectrum of morality. From the pure-hearted Avar Kriss to the cold-blooded monster Marchion Ro, I was titillated with these characters and felt their accomplishments and failures as clearly as I would feel them if they were real. The mark of a good writer is not necessarily how the story plays out or the details. It’s super-important to write dynamic characters, and Mann hit a home run with every character.
Elzar Mann is very much an everyman who cares deeply about his friends and wants to uphold the values of the Jedi. However, he struggles with his own perceived lack of competence and his slight pull towards the dark side. He wants to be as strong and confident as his friend Stellan Gios. He feels guilt because he died at Starlight Beacon due to a split-second mistake that Elzar made in anger. Elzar tries to help the Chancellor and find ways to penetrate the Stormwall, and his frustration and guilt are very relatable.
FOR THE REPUBLIC
Chancellor Soh is also a great character. She is a strong woman who cares deeply for the Republic and is honestly, the politician that the real world needs. She is terrified of what the Nihil are doing. but she draws strength from the Jedi and listens and learns from their guidance. And she has to be strong, even in insurmountable odds and I find her resolve very uplifting.
As I said earlier, Avar Kriss is a Jedi who only does good and wants to help others. She will not kill beings unless necessary and she struggles to uphold her legendary status as the Hero of Hetzal. Especially after having prevented a catastrophe from the very first High Republic Book back in Phase I. You really can’t be more of a better Jedi than Avar. Her beauty matches her ethics. Many years ago, she and Elzar Mann agreed that due to their roles as Jedi, their friendship would not turn into something more. Boy, Anakin could’ve learned from these two!
A DARK SIDE?
Mann has expertly handled every type of personality, and as there is great light, there is also great dark. Marchio Ro is perhaps the most despicable Star Wars character I’ve ever witnessed. He may be more evil than Palpatine! Why do I say this? Let me explain. Palpatine is pure evil. But his goal of eradicating the Jedi was driven by a desire to rule. Especially as he truly believed he was smarter than the rest of the galaxy. Marchion wants none of that. He just wants chaos and bragging rights. And he has no qualms about killing anyone and there simply is no higher plan in his mind to reshape the galaxy.
He just wants to be able to say he beat the Jedi and the Republic and is content with sitting in luxury while the “citizens” of the Occlusion Zone are terrorized, starved, and tortured. There are absolutely no redeeming qualities in this individual and I hope he gets a fitting end after this project. He is trash and the Nihil are the dregs of society given both form and anonymity at the same time.
There are a bunch of other characters who are awesome as well. And the story, yeah, it doesn’t disappoint either. There is tons of action intermittent by character introspection. And the politics of the galaxy in such a way that even the harshest critics of the Prequels would find acceptable. I also must point out that the brutal failures and setbacks the characters face in their mission to win feel realistic and dark. Which is often the case in the real world. Usually, I can guess how the story will end. Mann gave us a few threads to follow. Yet I did not foresee his masterful tying up of all the threads into one singular cohesive unit. You NEED to read every inch of the text closely as everything is set up like a game of Jenga. Every piece counts.
This book was simply a masterpiece. I have almost no complaints whatsoever. If I needed to scrape the bottom of the barrel as if my life depended on it – I can only say that I would’ve liked to have seen more inner dialogue from Yoda. The role he played was exemplary but an insight into his very thoughts would have been a bonus.
STAR WARS: THE HIGH REPUBLIC – THE EYE OF DARKNESS is available to buy now.
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Max Nocerino is a regular Staff Writer for The Future of the Force. He is a passionate Star Wars fan and loves the literature of the galaxy far, far away. Follow him on Twitter where he shares his love of the Force frequently!