You never quite know what the Nihil will do next. Pirates fueled by greed and debauchery, Marchion Ro shaped them from a loose network of ships to an organized fighting force. Using their spacecraft’s unique Path engines, they can appear unexpectedly out of hyperspace like a monster lurking in the walls. And at the top of that monstrous pecking order is the Eye himself, Marchion Ro. As the villain at the dark heart of the High Republic era, Ro is one of the answers to the question of “What scares a Jedi?” Although not a Force user himself, his intelligence and ruthlessness make him a formidable foe — one worth noting, as it’s Halloween season.
Like Darth Vader or Count Dooku before him, Marchion Ro is a commander of armies. By the end of Star Wars: The High Republic: Light of the Jedi, the Nihil are newly unified around Ro, focused on him instead of his remaining lieutenants. He paints his face with blood in a dramatic gesture he knows full well is a symbol more important than his actual actions. Before, they were a ragtag collection of pirates who came to him for access to hyperspace Paths, the shortcuts through the galaxy that give the Nihil their predatory advantage. After, they see Marchion as more than a figurehead holding the key to the map: instead, he’s a deadly force in his own right, who shapes the Nihil raiders according to his will.
Some of that intimidation factor comes from his appearance alone. His furs, armor, and the helmet with the swirling symbol of the storm right make him look the part of a galactic pirate lord. So do the places from which he holds court, like his flagship the Gaze Electric or the Great Hall of the Nihil, with its dramatic ceiling of vacuum shielding making it appear to be open to space.
Ro knows fakery can work as well as real plans, as it did when he tricked Loden Greatstorm into responding to a false distress call. However, he can also be a vicious fighter. Even though he isn’t a mean he sometimes can fight like one. Using Loden Greatstorm’s lightsaber, he survived an attack by a terrifying cobonica creature, cutting his way out of the monster’s stomach.. Like Kylo Ren, he can turn from calm to violent at a moment’s notice. And he’s willing to leave his own people to die, as he does to Lourna Dee.
At the same time as he may appear erratic from the outside, he’s also intelligent. Like Emperor Palpatine, Ro always has a plan, and one that may be hidden from even his closest officers, the Tempest Runners. He despises “selfishness, fear, and weakness” and believes that anyone showing them deserves to be culled from the Nihil — or from the galaxy — for their failure. Even Mari San Tekka, to whom he shows some gentleness, is not safe from his belief that cruelty is the most effective way to get ahead in the galaxy. His intelligence isn’t calculating in the same way Palpatine’s is; he’s more improvisatory. As he tells Loden Greatstorm: “You want my grand plan, Jedi? I don’t do that. Plans can fail, at any step along the way. I have a goal, and goals can be achieved in any number of ways.” But at the same time, Marchion needs to strategize both to keep the combative Nihil together and to keep the Jedi on the back foot.
Ro’s cruelty contrasts with a surprising sense of sympathy. He speaks kindly to Mari San Tekka, who’s too confused to know she’s being held captive by pirates instead of doing the hyperspace exploration with which she filled the rest of her life. As portrayed in the audio drama Star Wars: The High Republic: Tempest Runner, his voice is surprisingly soft and youthful. However, he’s more ruthless than he sounds, and does not factor mercy in to his orders — not in terms of his enemies, and often not in terms of his allies, either. Like everything involving the Nihil, he injects a little bit of chaos into any situation.
His interactions with Mari San Tekka are some of the most chilling. She’s ancient, and kept alive only by medical machinery that Marchion also uses to give her painful shocks. Essentially torturing her to keep her conscious, he feels no remorse except to think, “He wished she weren’t making him do it.” Marchion also adds torture to his repertoire when he captures Loden Greatstorm. By surrounding the Jedi with tortured prisoners, he keeps the Force too turbulent for Loden to use it to escape. His conversations with Loden are some of the most chilling in High Republic storytelling.
Lastly, one of the most frightening scenes in High Republic tales comes from what Marchion unleashes in Star Wars: The High Republic: The Rising Storm. The Leveler, a mysterious creature of unknown power, can confound Jedi and turn living beings to stone. The determination with which Marchion lets the Leveler free, despite knowing his own father flinched from the creature, is chilling and entertaining. Ro appears to have some kind of history with or spiritual belief in the Leveler, intoning, “Balance will come,” like a ritual in its presence. But it’s a belief and a history he’s willing to exploit and ruin; after all, he killed Dis, the guide who brought him to the Leveler.
Marchion has some of the elements that make for a classic Star Wars villain: an iconic helmet, a unique weapon in his artifacts that unleash the Leveler, and cruelty to both the heroes and villains of the story. While much is still unknown about his history, he’s climbing the ranks of Star Wars horror.
Visit Lucasfilm’s official hub for all things Star Wars: The High Republic at StarWars.com/TheHighRepublic.
Megan Crouse’s work has appeared in Den of Geek, FangirlBlog, and Star Wars Insider. She podcasts on Western Reaches and Blaster Canon and can be found on Twitter at @blogfullofwords.
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