To celebrate the next wave of stories set during the prime of the Jedi, five StarWars.com writers sit down to talk about how The High Republic is changing their fandom.
On the Comlink is a feature in which StarWars.com writers hop on a call (virtual or old fashioned) and discuss a specific Star Wars topic. In this installment to celebrate the release of even more books from Star Wars: The High Republic, Emily Shkoukani, Kelly Knox, Amy Richau, Megan Crouse, and James Floyd talk about how the new characters and fresh take on the Jedi Order in its prime has shifted the way they look at the galaxy far, far away.
Emily Shkoukani: Good to see you all. I don't think I've actually met all of you before, but I've probably seen you on Twitter so it's great to put faces to names. The topic for today's conversation is, "Has The High Republic changed how you see the Star Wars galaxy?" So let's go ahead and Kelly, do you want to kick it off.
Kelly Knox: Of course! I mean, the quick and easy answer is yes, of course, it's altered how I see the galaxy. I like to think when a lot of people saw A New Hope for the first time -- I think the quote that gets tossed around is that it was a very lived-in, used galaxy -- and we really never knew who was doing all the things in the galaxy. Now, with The High Republic, we see who those people are and I think that's part of why I enjoy it so much. Also, I have a new appreciation for hyperspace, and hyperspace lanes, and how those came to be. I will never not think of it when I see a ship jump to hyperspace again.
Emily Shkoukani: For sure. James, how about you?
James Floyd: Yeah, I think it's definitely changed how I see Star Wars, mainly because we have the sense that the Republic was around for generations and it seemed very, very stable -- that chancellors come and go, the Jedi do their thing, but here we have not just one crisis, but two different crises happening. And things are tough, the Jedi are getting pulled in directions that they aren't quite ready to go [in]. They're trying with Starlight Beacon, but the Republic is not as robust as we thought it was, they're still growing and they're still having growing pains and there's still people out there that are not part of the Republic. It kind of shattered my illusion of the Republic being this nice, long-lasting, stable government.
Emily Shkoukani: Yeah, totally. Amy, any thoughts?
Amy Richau: Yeah, I was impressed by how vast the narrative is and I really love seeing so many different kinds of Jedi in so many different stages of their journey. Seeing someone who feels like they're losing their connection to the Force, like Orla deciding to be a Wayseeker. I think that she's probably my favorite character because I'm just really intrigued by where that storyline will go. And I agree, I never really thought about hyperspace very much. Now I think about it all the time, and I'm like, “Well, of course, it's like before they had Wi-Fi!” It's like they have dial up. Everything is just much more challenging. So I find that very fascinating, too, because hyperspace travel is something I completely took for granted for, you know, my entire life, as long as I've been watching Star Wars.
Megan Crouse: Thinking of hyperspace as the faster-than-light travel version of dial up is very funny and very frightening, so thank you for that. And to continue to bounce off of what Amy said, for me, I would say it's not so much a change as an addition in terms of the development and the purpose of the Jedi. We see a lot of Jedi with different abilities and different specialties. They seem far more open to different ways of looking at the Force than the ones we have in the prequels. And in particular, I think of Avar feeling the Force through music. I think of Elzar feeling it through kind of experimentation and tinkering and trying to play with it as if it's a machine almost. And there's a part in Light of the Jedi where Jora Malli is listening to the Council and she's saying that there are so many ways to interpret the will of the Force. The Council is always asking, what does it mean to take direction from the Force or to listen to it? And Jora finds that a little impatient because she believes that basically anything that a Jedi feels is connected to the light side is the right thing to do. But for me, I felt that that was a really good illustration of how in this period, the Jedi have a lot of room for competing philosophies and schools like very specific heresies and dogmas within the Order that has maybe been, like, funneled a little bit by the time of the prequels.
Emily Shkoukani: Yeah, I agree. We're getting that, like, transition of when people start having different perspectives of the Jedi and how they function. But yeah, you bring up a really good point and that's one of the things that I wanted to talk about: the differences that we're seeing between the Jedi of the High Republic versus the prequels. Because those are our two only bases that we have of how the Jedi Order function right now -- it's the High Republic as we're seeing it in their golden age and in the prequels, where they're arguably a little questionable in their actions. [Laughs]
Megan Crouse: [Laughs] Yes. So exactly as you said, the Jedi of the prequel era are falling and fallen and part of that is because of Palpatine, and part of that might be due to an institutional problem. And so when I think of the Jedi of the prequels now, I think of that arc in The Clone Wars with Trace and Rafa Martez. After crashing through their apartment, the Jedi there kind of said like, “Thoughts and prayers to you,” and then left them homeless. So I think the Jedi then were not as focused on individual people, whereas in the High Republic we see this all over the place with the emergence as we see Jedi trying to rescue individuals. Another place I think is a direct contrast to the prequels in this way is Lula and Zeen in [IDW Publishing’s comic] The High Republic Adventures, where Lula brings Zeen back to the Jedi temple with her instead of leaving her behind. And this is a little different because she's Force sensitive, but it shows this care that Lula has for individual people that I think is a good contrast there.
James Floyd: One of the things we see there that is so different about the Jedi is that the Jedi Masters are debating the future for Zeen and one of them just says, “Hey, ask Zeen what she wants to do.” And then that just seems very not the Jedi of the prequel era, and then afterwards it's like, “Ask the other kids because they're all her friends.” So it's very refreshing to see that and it's a big change.
Kelly Knox: There seems to be a lot more warmth to the Jedi of this era. Master Yoda shows up at the door with pastries, which is just so incredibly cute because you probably would never have seen that in the prequel era. We know how he is with food in The Empire Strikes Back. I love the warmth that they show there. They joke. Estala Maru on the Starlight Beacon, he's sarcastic. They have so much more room to be themselves in this era that it makes it feel very different from the more emotionless Jedi of the prequels.
Amy Richau: I love that you have a Jedi, Reath, who like, the last thing he wants to do is be in a lightsaber battle. Basically, he just wants to be in the library. I used to be a film archivist and so I'm like, “Oh yeah, that's me.” Like, if I was a Jedi, I think I would be Jocasta Nu. Hopefully a little bit nicer. Maybe not so cranky. But that's who I would be. So it was great to see that and I look forward to meeting more Jedi librarians and archivists and, you know, I love all the artifacts, like the talk of the hidden artifacts. Every time the word artifact comes up in a Star Wars story I'm like, “Excuse me, what was that? Tell me more!"
Emily Shkoukani: That brings up another question. What were your expectations before you started reading The High Republic? What were your expectations of the Jedi or anything else that comes up? Like, obviously, the Jedi are the prominent focus of The High Republic. This is them in their glory days. Were your expectations, I guess, fulfilled with what we see in The High Republic, or were they completely different?
Amy Richau: I think I expected it to be more like the Jedi against something else, like immediately, because I think I'm so used to like, there has to be some sort of huge battle right away. And obviously there's the Nihil, that are like the threat that's kind of coming, but it's more of a slow creeping threat than something already established. And it's not like, “Oh, the Sith are back.” And so I think that that's what I was kind of assuming at the very, very beginning.
I was wanting to love it as a Star Wars fan. Like, I go in wanting and expecting to love it, but I really loved it even more than I thought. And I think it's just because of how it's all of these huge cinematic moments, like in Light of the Jedi with the horses, and the racing and escape, you know, like chasing after the family. You have all these epic moments and space battles that I can see in my head that come to life. But then there are also these quiet moments, especially with the kids who are just like…they're having tiny Jedi angst. And you just feel so bad! That’s so relatable. Even though they're in this fantasy, space-opera world, what they are feeling…I get it. So I think it's a really interesting balance of huge, epic stuff and really small, meaningful moments.
Emily Shkoukani: Yeah, I agree. Like for me, when we were first discussing these ideas, of course, everyone was always like, all right, get out all the lightsabers. Let's show off all the battle tactics that they have. But this is the Jedi at their height so we have to step back and think, do they go for their lightsaber immediately if they're the peacekeepers? Like, we have to really think about what that means. And while lightsabers are frickin’ cool, what do you use them for in a time of peace? Now reading the books, it's such a peaceful and wholesome time -- of course there's obviously conflict going on -- but you can kind of see the reminiscence of even like, the politics of the prequels happening in the High Republic. It's been really cool to see it come to life.
James Floyd: I was honestly not excited when they announced The High Republic. I think I've been through other multimedia series type things before. Shadows of the Empire, way back in the ‘90s, New Jedi Order. They also tried the Dawn of the Jedi series that was a novel and some comics and that didn't quite take off. But then I got the books. The first High Republic book I actually read was The Great Jedi Rescue and then I started reading A Test of Courage and realized, “Wow, they're referencing something from this book!” The Legacy Run incident. And then I read Light of the Jedi and I'm like, “Oh, this book is also The Great Jedi Rescue,” but a lot longer, which really thrilled my daughter that we're basically reading the same book for the first part. And I was just completely 100 percent on-board, and super excited after I read the first batch of books. There are some really, really neat things. And the way that is weaving in and out and certainly having all of these great writers working together to make it weave in and out really well, really shows. So, yeah, I pretty much did a full 180. And I like it.
Emily Shkoukani: That's awesome.
Kelly Knox: I remember as soon as I heard High Republic, it made me think Old Republic. So I started picturing Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars: The Old Republic. I think I had imagined, like a group of six Jedi going around the galaxy, kind of tight and focused on maybe just a few, and then they get this, the entire High Republic, basically to get all these wonderful Jedi, but still also have room, like Amy was saying, for personal moments and personal reflections on what it was like to be a Jedi at that time. It's such a nice surprise.
Megan Crouse: I was also not expecting there to be so many characters. I knew that part of the appeal of this era was that the Jedi Order is so thriving and so big, and so there are temples on all these different planets. There's even...oh wait, that's not out yet. Uh, never mind. Spoilers! So the thing that I like about that is it was a little overwhelming at first and it may even still be a little bit overwhelming just to have so many characters. But what that is really good for is the fantasy. Like, who would I be as a Jedi? What would it be like for me to live here? And that is still one of the most powerful things in Star Wars to me, is that aspirational moment of, “What if this was a world I could step into?” And I think High Republic definitely evokes that.
Emily Shkoukani: Yeah, I completely agree. I also want to talk about the villains of The High Republic because they're so different from the typical villains that we see in Star Wars. Obviously, the trilogy deals with like, regimes and tyranny and they're these fully structured villainous movements. But in The High Republic, it's just like a band of marauders, and for some reason, they're causing all this havoc. I'm always caught off guard by what the Nihil are capable of. And we also have the Drengir which are a whole other type of villainous entities. So I'm definitely curious to hear your thoughts on the villains.
Megan Crouse: I think the Drengir are great. I think weird plant people that just want to eat humans is very scary and very weird. I look forward to seeing where else they go. The stuff in the comics where Sskeer kind of gets possessed by them was frightening.
James Floyd: Definitely.
Megan Crouse: I think we haven't yet seen the true extent of their weirdness yet.
Kelly Knox: I remember before the books came out, Cavan Scott was hinting that he was a horror fan and that that kind of played into the way he was writing for The High Republic. And I remember thinking at the time, like, “Yeah right, this is Star Wars, it won't be scary.” But the Drengir are scary. [Laughs]
Megan Crouse: Yeah, they freaked me out.
Emily Shkoukani: I call Cavan Scott our resident scary storyteller of Star Wars, because he always comes up with the most frightening things. [Laughs] Yeah. Not to, I guess, spoil anything. I'm not going to spoil anything. But The Rising Storm is a little spooky. [Laughs]
Amy Richau: You know, I was surprised. When I read Claudia Gray's book, that was the first time I had seen the Drengir and I thought they were like, super creepy. But then visually seeing them in the comics really made me think about scenes from that book, too. Give me the Nihil before the Drengir. [Laughs]
Megan Crouse: Yeah.
Amy Richau: Because the Nihil I feel like maybe I could strike a deal with them or something. I like how you don't really know how to feel. And you can tell from social media that fans, you know, some fans have kind of embraced the Nihil? They really want to know what the backstory is. "Who are you? Why are you like this? Why have you done that?" It's not like they're just like some big bad, like, “I'm all dressed in black and I've got a cape and I'm obviously evil.” I'm interested to see where that story goes and if I'll feel a little bit more sympathetic to them as it goes along.
James Floyd: Yeah, definitely. You know, I started off, "Oh, wow, the Nihil are really cool bad guys." And then all of a sudden it's like, “Oh, crap.” We also have the man-eating plants. And in Into the Dark when they set them up fighting each other, I'm like, “This is crazy. I'm really glad I'm not on that station.” So having these two, very different bad guy forces, it's going to be an interesting kind of push and pull, I think, that we're going to see across the galaxy. And the Nihil are a very different type of bad guy for the Republic. They're pirates. They're terrorists. They don't necessarily want to rule, they just simply want to run over and grab as much as they can. And we haven't even seen their big plan yet. What is Marchion Ro really up to? We don't know, but he's got a giant metal spider.
Emily Shkoukani: [Laughs] I think when I first saw that in The High Republic Adventures comic, I was like, “What am I looking at right now? What is this giant arachnid doing?” [Laughs] But yeah, I totally agree. And also, can I just say that the way that the Drengir speak is absolutely terrifying. The way that they're just so straight up like, “Meat.”
Kelly Knox: “Meat.” [Laughs]
Emily Shkoukani: Like, no. No, thank you. I would imagine that I would rather face a Nihil.
James Floyd: They're kind of like zombie trees.
Emily Shkoukani: Yeah, absolutely.
Kelly Knox: But they make you a zombie tree. [Laughs]
Emily Shkoukani: Yeah. I'm definitely curious about all the capabilities of the Drengir because yeah, as we said Sskeer was possessed by them. They're consuming people. But like, to what end? You know, like, do they have a plan? Is it just total domination? And the same for the Nihil, you know, it's just like, what do these things want and what is going to happen to everyone?
James Floyd: I'm never looking at broccoli the same way again. [Everyone laughs.]
Megan Crouse: They seem capable of this kind of intentional cruelty when they kidnapped…I don't remember Reath's friend's name…
James Floyd: Dez.
Megan Crouse: When they kidnapped Dez, they were keeping him as a hostage, essentially. And they have forethought. They're not just hungry all the time, but they're also hungry all the time. And the combination of those things is interesting.
Emily Shkoukani: Yeah, absolutely. And so going back to the Nihil real quick, the interesting thing that we've all noted already is their ability to use hyperspace in a very terrifying way. Like you guys have mentioned, I also did not consider the dangers of hyperspace. I knew, there have always been quotes in Star Wars of like, "Oh, you might scatter yourself across a couple systems if you do that wrong." But it's like, all right, but we haven't seen that happen. And now we have seen it happen. And, you know, I used to think hyperspace was this really magical place and it looked fun. And when you go to Galaxy's Edge and you get to pull the lever on the Millennium Falcon and you get to have that whole surreal experience, it's like, super magical. And now I'm like, “Well, I guess there are dangers to it. And I didn't consider this.” [Laughs]
Kelly Knox: [Laughs] That's another one of the things I think that's so fun about The High Republic. So often with Star Wars we know what's going to happen. And right now, we know Yoda is going to make it, but otherwise, who knows what'll happen in hyperspace or with the Drengir, and the Nihil. I love it.
Megan Crouse: Another way that it kind of changed the way that I look at Star Wars is visually. There's such a strong visual identity for the characters and the costumes in The High Republic, and it's all these golds and whites and silvers. And this made me think about how the original trilogy, of course, had that really distinct visual look of just like dust and rust and everything is janky. And then you get the prequels, which is shiny and golden. But the shiny goldenness seems a lot more gilded in relation to The High Republic. That's really when there was a sort of solidity behind it, and by the time of the prequels, that solidity is a facade. I really like the visual development. And Star Wars always has good visual storytelling, so that just continued here, and with so much art and so much like, concepting used in this, I guess, multimedia project.