To quote Jonah Hill in This is the End: “Something not that chill happened.” In a lot of ways, Claudia Gray’s The Fallen Star is the end—at least, the end of the first phase of The High Republic. For the past year, the Project Luminous team has been delivering new novels and comics, creating top-notch stories and compelling characters that we couldn’t help but grow attached to. With the ominous poster that accompanied the release of The Fallen Star, death was anticipated, but the death toll was far higher than any of us could have expected.
The Fallen Star marks a pretty considerable shift in the status quo delivered in the previous adult novels. Where Light of the Jedi set the scene for the glory of the Jedi, and The Rising Storm started to chip away at their perfection, The Fallen Star delivers a pretty devastating blow to not just the Jedi Order as a whole, but to the group of Jedi that have been the central focus of the story. The stakes are significantly higher and the losses—both physically and as a crisis of faith—will undoubtedly have a long-lasting impact on the future of The High Republic. We have passed the point of no return and from this moment forward, the scene has been set.
Gray does quite well with balancing a vast array of characters and their own unique voices; switching seamlessly between world-weary Jedi Masters, victorious Nihil, and the young cast of characters that have been a guiding light throughout this first phase. Gray was tasked with quite the challenge, and she succeeds in wrapping up an entire year of multi-media publishing while setting the scene for the next author to pick up the baton.
As a warning, this review will contain spoilers from this point forward. It is nearly impossible to discuss The Fallen Star without revealing some specific details. However, I have endeavored to paint with broader strokes here and not get too deep into the minutia of the novel. Regardless, read forth at your own peril.
At the start of the novel, we are reintroduced to Elzar Mann who is still actively struggling from his brush with the dark side. While he is in a markedly better headspace thanks to Stellan Gios’ quick thinking and the assistance of Orla Jareni, Mann has not quite found his way back to stable ground. Given how things really spiral out of control for him towards the third act of the novel, including losing one of his main support systems, I’m keen to see how his journey plays out in the next phase. Perhaps we should have listened to the theories that the fallen star wasn’t just about the Starlight Beacon’s destruction, but the death of a pretty stellar Jedi.
Throughout the novel, Claudia Gray utilizes a really clever literary allusion to symbolize the relationship between Elzar Mann, Avar Kriss, and Stellan Gios. Particularly with Stellan, it is said that he saw his connection with Elzar and Avar as a constellation of stars; and in the end, Avar reflects on this by saying that he is now their polestar. It’s a beautiful, and ultimately, bittersweet comparison, given the way things work out. I’m a sucker for any comparison to celestial bodies, but at what cost?
Speaking of Elzar Mann and Avar Kriss, I’m not sure what to make of their relationship anymore. I appreciated how Claudia put to words how the Jedi—in all of their “no attachments” nonsense—have gotten away with having intimate relationships. With the devastating loss of the Starlight Beacon, it will be interesting to see if this duo will lean on each other for support and I hope it will explore where that might lead. We have seen what happens when romantically-inclined Jedi incur painful losses (looking at you Anakin Skywalker) and I really do worry that Elzar is headed down a similar path. These are some of the most engaging themes that have been explored in The High Republic and it’s fun to see these authors approach the Jedi with nuance and expose their infallibility.
Our fallen star of the Jedi is not the only casualty of this terrible attack—in fact, it would almost be easier to list off who survived the ordeal. Some of which were cut down without a lot of character work or backstory, while others, like Stellan, felt just at the beginning of their arc. Stellan in particular had such a beautiful storyline throughout The Fallen Star. He’s grappling with newfound responsibilities, trying to cope with everything he’s been through, and trying to keep it together for Avar and Elzar’s benefit. There’s some great storytelling that Gray employs as she picks at Stellan’s conflict with Avar and, in doing so, exposes some of the issues I personally have with Avar. Her actions feel led by self-righteousness, and she has been acting out both irrationally and vindictively. The wrong Jedi remained on the Starlight Beacon and I do wonder if Avar will show any sign of feeling that way in future stories or if she is too self-absorbed to see it that way.
There are some moments of hope in the final act, at least where Burryaga is concerned. While the Wookiee Jedi appears to be dead, there was no body, and Bell Zetifar is determined to confirm that he is actually one with the Force before mourning his loss. While Burryaga’s fate may be unconfirmed and this cliffhanger could very easily be setting Bell up for another devastating loss, it was written in a far less definitive way than Stellan’s death. With a death toll as high as The Fallen Star’s, it’s nice to at least have one character we can hope for a miraculous survival from.
The Nihil may have a significant presence as the architects in the destruction of the Starlight Beacon, but they don’t actually appear very often in The Fallen Star. Gray makes some interesting choices with the Nihil, including developing Nan further, who she first introduced in her young adult novel Into the Dark. Rather than being an adoring and loyal follower of Marchion Ro, her story takes a new direction as a prisoner of the Republic, where she is forced to work with Chancey Yarrow to get off of the Starlight Beacon and survive the Nihil’s plot to destroy it. Her fealty to Marchion remains, but on a much more subdued level. I really liked Nan when she was first introduced and I hope she gets a chance to really shine in the upcoming novels and phases. I’m not sure if she’ll remain loyal to Marchion Ro, but it feels like she may. Star Wars only has a handful of female characters and even fewer morally grey ones, so Nan makes for a refreshing deviation from the status quo.
Speaking of Marchion Ro, I was rather intrigued by the arrangement that he has with Senator Ghirra Starros, not just because the Nihil having a spy in the Senate is fascinating, but because we get confirmation that it’s not just the Jedi getting action in The High Republic. It’s also rather indicative of where Marchion’s headspace is—he could care less about her, he only cares about power and revenge. We also see much of this relationship (if you’d call it that) through the eyes of Thaya who, in a lot of ways, fills the void left by Nan, however, she doesn’t wax and wane philosophically about Marchion’s hair and skin. I hope Thaya continues to work alongside Marchion Ro, as their dynamic was just as intriguing as his ploy with Starros.
Marchion Ro’s “screen time” in The Fallen Star may be limited in the novel, and certainly, some of his scenes felt a little surface-level in detail, but that’s likely because it’s building to something larger for him and, perhaps, it will be paid off in Charles Soule’s upcoming Eye of the Storm comic book series. This novel gave a great look at how he’s dealing with the ramifications of Lourna Dee’s mutinous actions and how he is spiraling a little to maintain control of the Nihil. Not to get to “I miss Ben Solo” on this review but Marchion Ro has a very similar vibe—he feels like a scared boy in a mask, spinning out of control as he tries to make a name for himself and prove everyone wrong. It would be endearing if he wasn’t the cause of so much death in this book.
I do think that The High Republic has made a few minor missteps, which are perhaps only blatant to readers who spend the majority of their time embedded in the fandom. The era has heralded itself as one of inclusion and representation, but the death toll in The Fallen Star primarily encompasses characters that have been pushed to the forefront because of what they represent. The crew of the Vessel nearly loses their heroic ace pilot—who is literally ace—whose fake-out death is played up for shock value and equally seems improbable. Chancey Yarrow, a triumphant Black woman in STEM is killed pretty horrifically by one of “the good guys.” And finally, we are still uncertain about the fates of Ceret and Terec—two of the three non-binary Jedi in the era—and they’ve been essentially fridged for the time being.
Obviously, a character’s identity shouldn’t be plot armor, and The Fallen Star makes it clear that no one is safe, but it still leaves me a little frustrated that these characters have been paraded in front of fans who were desperately looking to see themselves in the galaxy, only to watch their stories get cut down before they ever go anywhere. None of this feels malicious, but I do hope The High Republic continues to be mindful of these choices.
As the first in the three final installments of Phase I, The Fallen Star sets the stage for more devastation, pretty seamlessly paying off the build-up of the last two waves, and the comics, while delivering heartfelt and heartbreaking storytelling. The High Republic as a whole has been a glorious tapestry of stories, which have now been torn asunder. I look forward to seeing where the Jedi go as they shift into the Jedi Quest phase of Project Luminous, but I’m equally excited to see how Marchion Ro’s newfound power suits him. Will the power go to his head and will he be the next to fall? Ultimately we know the world state of the future of the galaxy, but there are still centuries to go and decades of mayhem to wreak in the meantime.
Star Wars: The High Republic: The Fallen Star is on bookshelves on January 4th.