Audiobook Review: Fatal Fair Jars Jedi in “Star Wars: The High Republic: The Rising Storm”
The tragedy of Chancellor Lina Soh is that for all her hard-earned wisdom, for all the stalwart support of the Jedi Council, she’s ultimately trying to bring peace and prosperity to a galaxy at the core of a franchise called Star Wars. It’s hardly a spoiler to say that the noble Dagheean is on a quixotic quest.
Wait…did someone say “quest”? 501st Legion, assemble! There’s nothing Star Wars fans love more than a quest you have a bad feeling about, and accordingly they’ve been responding with continuing enthusiasm to the High Republic publishing project, a multi-year, multi-platform storytelling initiative meant to carve new territory that’s chronologically distant from the recently-concluded Skywalker Saga.
It’s an exciting investment in Star Wars writers and readers, seeming recognition that even a fleet of planet-killing starships rising up through the surface of a stormy planet won’t generate anything more than a yawn if it feels like a cheap trick rather than the organic outgrowth of a longstanding storyline. The High Republic books and comics have generally been satisfying, but thus far there’s been a perhaps unavoidable sense of uphill push: there’s a lot of scene to set, and Charles Soule’s Light of the Jedi felt busy with exposition.
Those of us who’ve been soldiering through, however, now arrive fully ready for Cavan Scott’s epic The Rising Storm, which picks up about where Light of the Jedi left off and chronicles the latest of Soh’s noble-minded Great Works. With Starlight Beacon lit, Soh’s Galactic Republic turns to its interstellar version of a world’s fair, with dozens of floating islands showcasing many races’ riches. What could go wrong?
The genius of Rising Storm is that it places the beloved tropes of the Star Wars saga within the even sturdier framework of a disaster movie. Granted, Rising Storm is a novel rather than a film, but a certain cinematic sweep comes with the territory, and the typically rich audiobook production enhances the effect — with A-list narrator Marc Thompson exerting characteristically herculean efforts to distinguish the story’s various alien voices.
As the Jedi fight to keep the fair afloat, Scott wraps readers (and listeners) into the backstage backstabbing among the piratical Nihil, whose moody leader Marchion Ro is working to secure an unprecedented anti-Jedi technology. Among the galactic elite, Soh is facing a political challenge from a pesky Sullustan senator who thinks it’s come time to mount a Republic defense force.
If the word “Sullustan” doesn’t immediately call to mind the multi-joweled appearance of Lando’s Return of the Jedi copilot, get ready to hit Wookiepedia with a fair amount of frequency while you make your way through Rising Storm. The High Republic authors take for granted that you know the names of all the notable species spotted in the Star Wars series — and even some that aren’t so notable, such as the diminutive Chadra-Fan. (That batlike species’s number include a sadistic physician employed by the Nihil to torture captives.)
The Jedi characters have now settled in enough to develop some relationships that register; most notably, the friendship between the deliberate Stellan Gios and the swaggering Elzar Mann. Scott makes their comradeship distinctly redolent of the love-hate relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in the Clone Wars era: a complementary contrast between poise and passion. The highly competent Republic Fair administrator Samera Ra-oon, whose accent indicates a terrestrial origin somewhere northwest of Birmingham, chooses the latter.
With welcome inclusiveness and swashbuckling gusto, Scott does for the High Republic what The Empire Strikes Back did for the original Star Wars series: pushing the frontiers of a fantastic world while wrapping fans into the story with evolving relationships and tantalizingly ominous portents. It’s the best High Republic book yet.