This January, fans of a galaxy far, far away will get to visit a longer time ago with the launch of Star Wars: The High Republic — a publishing program that spans multiple publishers and multiple mediums, set in an era that predates even the prequel movie trilogy and shows the Jedi at the height of their powers.
The High Republic begins with Star Wars: Light of the Jedi, a prose novel published by Del Rey and written by someone familiar to fans of the franchise: Charles Soule, who’s been writing Star Wars comic books for Marvel for the past five years, including his current tenure on the core series.
It’s the first Star Wars novel from Soule, and one that has to introduce readers to a number of new worlds, literally and figuratively — which, of course, makes it an ideal opportunity for Soule to get very ambitious indeed. “It’s a disaster movie; it’s a mystery; it’s a race-against-time-team-on-a-mission story,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
That’s not all Soule revealed about Light of the Jedi, The High Republic and building a whole new era of Star Wars. Keep reading to find out much more — including some teases about just what kind of threat faced the galaxy in the days before the Galactic Empire.
You’ve got the first of the High Republic projects to be released — something that, it’s fair to say, fans will have been eagerly awaiting for more than a year by the time it’ll come out. Is that an exciting feeling, or simply a terrifying one?
Can’t it be both? Light of the Jedi will finally open the doors to the Star Wars: The High Republic for Star Wars fans — it’s the first huge piece of the actual story my High Republic collaborators and I have been building for years. A lot of the teases and such that have been released so far are focused on the character designs or the state of the galaxy … but I can tell you that we’ve all spent most of our time on the story itself. Light of the Jedi, Into the Dark, Test of Courage, the Marvel and IDW comic series … they’re really what The High Republic is. It’s an amazing new time period for Star Wars, but it’s the story that will get fans hooked.
And so, having the responsibility of introducing that story with the first novel out of the gate … I’m thrilled that I got the opportunity, and I took it very seriously. The scope of Light of the Jedi, and the fact that so much is sort of keyed to it … I’m obviously aware of all of that, and knew it when I took the job. Is it a little intimidating? Sure. But I really think it inspired me to work at my highest level. I’m very proud of the book, and I can’t wait to see what people think.
How did you get involved in what was once called Project Luminous? You’ve been working on Star Wars projects at Marvel for some time; was it as simple as, you were an experienced hand in this property and Lucasfilm knew you had the goods to help build a new wing onto the property?
That’s basically it — I’d been working on Star Wars comics for Marvel for several years when I was approached by Michael Siglain [creative director at Lucasfilm Publishing] to be part of what was known at the time as “Project Luminous.” I started with the Lando miniseries in 2015 [with] art by Alex Maleev, and had done a number of other well-received books along the way — and I’m still doing it; I’m writing the primary Star Wars comic for Marvel at the moment.
At any rate, Mike was building a group of five writers to help put together what became The High Republic, and I was just lucky to get the call. The writers are all pretty different — I’m not Justina Ireland, and Daniel José Older isn’t Cavan Scott or Claudia Gray — but Mike was really smart in bringing together a group that could use our individual points of view on Star Wars to build out a really fleshed-out new era in The High Republic.
Was the aim of Project Luminous always The High Republic? As in, was the intent always to build a narrative in the past of the movies and rest of the franchise that exists? Was there any discussion about doing so in a space — no pun intended — far from the action in the rest of the series but the same timeline, or even in the future of Star Wars?
The High Republic was an idea that emerged from some massive story retreats that took place at Skywalker Ranch with the five writers, Lucasfilm Story Group, editors and execs in the early days of what we then called “Project Luminous.” Our mandate was always to create a massive new chapter in Star Wars history, able to be told across multiple publishers and mediums, with something for everyone … from casual fans to the sort of person who knows Jabba the Hutt’s uncle’s name — that would be Ziro.
We needed to make something authentically Star Wars but also brand new and fresh. It was a challenge. We had a lot of ideas on the table, and ended up settling on the High Republic era in part because it allowed us our own corner of the galaxy, where we could use established continuity to some degree if we needed or wanted to, but could also do entirely new things. The elements of the story include bits from literally everyone’s pitches, which is a good thing — from characters to vehicles to creatures, we all were able to contribute our own ideas.
As far as, was there discussion of other approaches — absolutely! We talked about everything. Nothing was off the table. It was a blast. But I’m not going to lay any of that out here — we’re keeping a lot of those ideas in our back pockets for future storytelling in the publishing space, whether in The High Republic or elsewhere.
What was the world-building like inside the writers room for The High Republic? We’ve not really had a lot of insight into the nuts and (restraining) bolts of the thing, in large part because the details of The High Republic have been kept under wraps. Was there much agreement about the decisions made, or fierce battles? Did everything fall into place, or did the nature of the room allow for each individual writer to make significant structural decisions in their own individual project?
When it all began, as Luminous, the project kicked off with the very basic question: “What would you like to see in Star Wars?” As I said, nothing was off the table — and with so many creatives and stakeholders involved, there were many, many points of view, and every voice was heard.
One of the things I remember clearly was a moment early in the first day of the first in-person meeting when the curtain was pulled back on more or less everything Star Wars had in serious development at that point across their portfolio. That stuff was and remains top secret, and learning about all of it felt very much like, “OK, we’ve made it.” The fact that this was happening at Skywalker Ranch didn’t hurt, either. We needed all of that information so we could understand the guardrails around what was already in development, but it was still pretty incredible.
From there, we started building what became The High Republic — and when it ended up getting to the point where we got the actual assignments, we all pretty much got to do our own thing. There’s a lot of structure to it — we built the history of the era ahead of time, and then wove our stories within it. Light of the Jedi has to carry a lot of weight, since it’s introducing the era and a number of very significant castmembers, but every project has massive beats. There’s very much a plan, and every story big or small has a place within it.
For Star Wars fans, I think you’re probably better known as a comic writer. Was working on a Star Wars prose project different from what you’d expected, either in terms of “different from your Star Wars comic experience,” or “different from your prose experience on things like The Oracle Year”?
I’ve never done anything like The High Republic — from the writers room approach to the scope, stakes and opportunity … it’s wild. The closest analog I can think of is working on the big multi-title crossover comic stories I’ve done at Marvel and DC, but this is bigger by at least an order of magnitude. There’s also the sense that even though The High Republic is its own era, it’s part of a shared history with the entirety of Star Wars continuity, and things that happen in a different piece of Star Wars content might have a direct influence on what we can do in our stories.
As far as writing Star Wars prose specifically … I’ve written two novels (The Oracle Year and Anyone), and I’m working on my third, in addition to Light of the Jedi. It’s a job I understand. I think if there’s any significant difference, it’s just in the work this book has to do. It’s not just a fun Star Wars story — it has to wear a bunch of hats and accomplish a number of different things … but as I mentioned, I knew that going in.
Light of the Jedi has some heavy lifting to do; you’re introducing a franchise, a setting, and a number of characters that have to both be brand new and recognizably “Star Wars,” and do it all in such a way that feels organic and exciting. It’s especially surprising in the way you treat the Jedi and the Force — it feels almost close to a procedural in a lot of ways. How did you arrive at that approach, and is it a sign of how The High Republic as a whole is going to proceed?
My personal mandate for Light of the Jedi was to explore genre in a way we hadn’t directly seen in the franchise — to bring the concepts of Star Wars to places that would feel fresh and cool. It’s a disaster movie; it’s a mystery; it’s a race-against-time-team-on-a-mission story.
I also wanted to try some new things within my own novel-writing style — experiments with pace and tension and intercutting and the way secrets get revealed. The structure of the novel is unusual, in some ways, but I got that from the Star Wars films, really. If you break down Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the timeline doesn’t make a lot of sense — but it still works. Light of the Jedi has some of that going on. It’s elastic — the story can stretch and pull as needed, and then at the end, it all snaps together for what I hope is one hell of a punch.
Every one of The High Republic projects is different — they reflect the sensibilities of their authors — but they’re all part of the same larger story. What I did with Light of the Jedi isn’t what Claudia Gray did with Into the Dark, for example, but I think that’s good. Each piece of The High Republic tells its own story but is also part of the larger initiative.
In a similar “how did this come about?” vein, where did the idea come from to begin the series with a disaster that reshapes and sets everything in motion? It’s something that also redefines a lot of what people know about their surroundings, allowing for the reader to be on an equal footing in terms of knowing what’s happening as everyone else.
One of the primary concepts of The High Republic initiative is the idea that there are certain key events that happen at the “same time” across the storytelling. It’s a lot like the way the destruction of the first Death Star in Star Wars: A New Hope has been seen from endless angles since it was first depicted in the first film.
Those are all mapped out — there’s a document with all of it laid down. The “Great Disaster” that opens Light of the Jedi is one of those. I thought it would work because of the things you cited — the idea of having a lot of people involved in one event that operates on a galactic scale seemed very appealing. I could introduce a large cast in a very organic way, in various locations from the highest levels of galactic government to the “Jedi on the street” as they respond to the disaster.
Plus, it’s a chance to show heroism in many different ways. Light of the Jedi has plenty of lightsaber action, but that’s not the only way to solve problems, and you don’t need the Force to be a good person. There’s a sort of slogan that pops up in the book: “We are all the Republic,” and the Great Disaster seemed like a perfect way to reflect that idea.
What can you say to tease those curious about The High Republic as a whole, or Light of the Jedi in particular, in order to convince them to sample the book? Are there secrets to hint at, or mysterious prophecies to drop to drive fans wild?
I hope I’ve conveyed that The High Republic is a huge story, multifaceted, meticulously built to give anyone who experiences it that real deal Star Wars we all love. We’ve had some of the legends of the franchise contribute to its design and visual storytelling — Iain McCaig, the Lucasfilm Art Department and more — and the intricate details of the world-building have been given the full support and power of the mighty engine that is the Lucasfilm Story Group. A lot of people who care very much about Star Wars have been involved — and we’ve swung for the fences.
I mean, we’ve barely scratched the surface of the story here. We haven’t talked about the Nihil — the main villains of the piece, who are a group of anarchic marauders with some unique abilities that make them very powerful and very dangerous in this era. I wanted to paint them as truly frightening — the villains we’re used to seeing in Star Wars at least have some sort of loyalty to an ideology or code … the Nihil do not, except perhaps to do whatever they want whenever they want, and to destroy anyone or anything that opposes that goal. They have a deep and detailed history that will be explored throughout the initiative — the Nihil and what they get up to is one of the coolest parts of the whole thing.
It all begins with Light of the Jedi. The heroes, the villains, the worlds, the concepts, the weirdness (Ensign Peeples!), the sacrifice and heroism and tragedy and inspiration … it all starts with this book, and it goes to incredible places. The scale of this whole thing is wild. This is not small. It’s an epic, from start to finish. Can’t wait to see what folks think.
Star Wars: Light of the Jedi will be released Jan. 5, 2021.