To celebrate the upcoming debut of his new book, kicking off the Lucasfilm publishing initiative, Charles Soule tells StarWars.com about his favorite new characters and how writing is akin to tapping into the Force.
As we prepare to enter a new era of Star Wars storytelling with Star Wars: The High Republic, StarWars.com sits down with the five authors -- Charles Soule, Justina Ireland, Claudia Gray, Daniel José Older, and Cavan Scott -- penning the first round of books and comics. “The Makers of Star Wars: The High Republic” will run weekly through the end of the year to celebrate the January 2021 launch of the storytelling epic.
Spoiler warning: The article contains plot details from Light of the Jedi.
“We are all the Republic.” It’s a phrase that echoes through Charles Soule’s new novel, Light of the Jedi, available for pre-order now and hitting bookshelves January 5, 2021. The tale serves as an introduction into the heyday of the Jedi Order, some 200 years before the events in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Yet it feels as relevant today as it might to someone in a galaxy far, far away.
And beyond this unifying rallying cry is an immersive new era ripe for exploration, when Jedi Knights uphold peace and justice in a galaxy experiencing a kind of tranquility as they pioneer the Outer Rim.
That is, until disaster strikes. Although concept art hints at a gilded age of finery and nobility -- when grandeur was no delusion -- from the first chapter, Soule’s story is an intense reckoning amid The Great Disaster. New characters are introduced, their lives and hopes laid out for readers, only to be dashed in the next sentence as the system-wide emergency takes shape. And through it all, the Jedi emerge as heroic as the stories of old, courageous individuals rushing into the fray, prepared to do whatever it takes to bring some semblance of calm back to every last corner of their beloved galaxy.
Recently, StarWars.com sat down with Soule to discuss the extraordinary opening sequence to his new novel, how life in 2020 impacted his writing, and what he hopes readers will take away from their first foray into The High Republic.
StarWars.com: There’s a purposeful composition to the storytelling, an ebb and flow, serenity and pure chaos. You’ve got these lovely scenes of bucolic normalcy and then absolute terror, and it just kind of builds as you pull together this picture for the readers of the anomaly and what it means and what it is. Why take this approach to introducing this new era?
Charles Soule: The Great Disaster is the first real introduction the readership and the fandom is going to get to The High Republic. It's an opportunity for great heroism or for ordinary people to step up. People really expose who they are and systems really expose how well they work in the time of crisis, as we’re seeing now in a time of crisis in the real world. And it’s funny because I wrote this...I finished it largely before these times and I did a substantial revision during the quarantine. But most of the ideas in terms of the big plotting stuff all came before coronavirus. I don’t want to spoil too much about what happens in The Great Disaster sequence, but it’s long. It’s a third of the book. It’s well over 100 pages of material based on this one event and how it affects a group of people in one particular system where it hits with most of its impact, the Hetzel system in the Outer Rim…and even though Hetzel is isolated -- it’s important but it’s isolated -- when it’s in danger, people from all over the galaxy try to help. And so I thought that was a way to show the interconnectedness of The High Republic era. The fact that systems exist to help when a system is in trouble.
There’s a phrase that echoes throughout the book, which is, “We are all the Republic.” And that is basically the motto of the High Republic in this era. Chancellor Lina Soh runs the Republic and that is her motto that has become kind of omnipresent throughout the galaxy. And it’s something that people take very seriously. The Jedi take it seriously. The Republic takes it seriously. And the individuals on the planets take it seriously. So I just wanted to show what that would mean. Because that really sets the tone for everything. In a galaxy where people really can say that and believe that, that’s united in that way around a principle idea, and when bad stuff starts to happen, the strength of that idea gets tested.
StarWars.com: It’s funny that you mention that you wrote this pre-pandemic, because when I was reading it in the midst of 2020, I was wondering… Do you think some of those elements and the constraints of COVID, in general -- all of us being a lot more sedentary, introverted, and sequestered -- do you think that had an impact on the changes you made in revisions?
Charles Soule: I think it is impossible to believe that this year has not had a significant impact on every creative person’s work whether they acknowledge it and believe it, or not. For me, there are elements in the book that people will not believe that I had in the book before quarantine! But they were there. And they’re based on the way systems and governments and institutions respond to disasters. So it’s not surprising that those things would happen but I do think they will resonate much more strongly because of the shared experience literally everyone around the world is having. If there’s ever a time to think, “We are all the Republic,” we’re all human beings and we all have the same strengths and weaknesses… The main threat in Light of the Jedi is not a virus, but it is certainly something that can pop up anywhere, at any time and be very dangerous. And so people take actions to try to protect themselves from it and, you know, as they said, I wish this had never happened to the world. But I’m hopeful that when people read Light of the Jedi on January 5 that they will find themes that will be resonant because of the time in which it’s coming out and because of the time in which it was written.
StarWars.com: To get into some of the new characters, as I was reading the first eight chapters, I realized at some point that it sort of made me feel like I was Jedi Avar Kriss. You’re showing us this disaster playing out in moments large and small and it’s very similar to the way you’re describing the way she experiences the Force, and the way she can feel all the other Jedi wherever they are. What can readers expect from Avar and the other new Jedi and Padawans they’ll meet in this story?
Charles Soule: One of the guiding principles behind the entire High Republic initiative, even back when it was still Project Luminous, was to create Star Wars that was quintessentially Star Wars but also that still felt fresh and new. And this is with respect to every element whether it’s creatures, the Republic itself, the space ships, and vehicles, and, of course the Jedi, which have been one of the most important elements of Star Wars since the beginning. This is an era that’s very stable and prosperous. There’s no galactic civil war happening. It’s a time when, thankfully, focus can be placed on development, expansion, cultural pursuits, that sort of thing. So the role of the Jedi in this era is just different. They respond to problems that sometimes are a little bit localized. They negotiate disputes. They have outposts on various planets. But, you know, they’re still the Jedi. They’re going to be very recognizable. But one of the things that we thought we’d be able to do was, in a time when there are many thousands of Jedi in the galaxy -- and they are not quite so focused on the encroaching shadow of the Sith or a civil war that’s about to break out or corruption in the senate -- we thought that we could spend time thinking about the way that they all look at and think about the Force. And Avar Kriss in particular is one of the first characters we meet doing this and she experiences the Force as basically a song, a huge symphony of voices and instruments, assonance and dissonance and all these different things. Harmony and counter harmony and all of these different things that, really, any time you look around our world you see it. You may not hear it, but life is a symphony. And so that’s how she experiences the Force.
Other characters do different things with it. You have a very cool Padawan and Master team Bell Zettifar and Loden Greatstorm, and they each have their own way of experiencing the Force. And what you come to see is that Yoda’s description of the Force as sort of this luminous web of light that connects and binds all of us, or Obi-Wan’s description, the ways we’ve heard it described are only one way to look at something that is truly a very interesting and complex and diverse thing. Just like many philosophies on Earth and religions experience spirituality in different ways, the same is obviously going to be true of the Force. So we see that explored in the book. They also have cool different lightsabers. We see them using different Force powers we haven’t really seen in a while or that are totally new. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are some really, really neat Jedi things in Light of the Jedi and across the whole High Republic initiative.
StarWars.com: Speaking of the Force and the way characters experience it, I really enjoyed your description of Bell tapping into the Force, like meditating on a flame. As the author, how did exploring a new era of Star Wars storytelling alter the way you understand the Force or how you convey it to readers?
Charles Soule: I think that one of the things that I believe is true about the Force -- to the extent that something can be true about a made-up construct -- is that it’s hard. Using the Force is challenging and you have to find your way into it and you have to find a path to connect to it. And that’s why Jedi train literally their entire lives to use it and improve their connection to it. It’s something that you have to calibrate yourself to be able to tap into. It’s out there. You’re not changing the Force by tapping into it. You have to change yourself or find your own resonant frequency within yourself that allows you to tap into what the Force is. And it’s hard. You have to be super focused. You have to become the Force to use it properly. You have to tune yourself to it. And I think that is very much like the experience of writing a novel. Because when you’re writing a book you have to completely envision a new world and then you have to inhabit that world and you have to make new people that live in that world and then you have to let those people do the things that they would do if that world were real. And it’s very, very challenging. It’s an exhausting mental discipline that I love doing, but it’s really hard. And so that’s my version of tapping into the Force, I think, is trying to write a good book.
StarWars.com: You have a very compassionate approach to the struggles that individual Jedi might have as they’re trying to maintain their grasp of the Force. I thought that was a really interesting shift in things because it feels like by the time we get to the era of the Republic and the shadow of the Sith hanging over everything from the prequel trilogy, that the Jedi are a little bit more black and white, regimented, and a little less forgiving maybe of some of those faults and trespasses. And we get a Wookiee Jedi, Burryaga, and a Duros Jedi, Te’Ami! Do you have a favorite character among the new ones?
Charles Soule: It’s really hard because I put a lot into trying to make all of these characters really interesting, unique, and relatable. Even Hedda Casset, who is the sort of older starship pilot who you meet in Chapter 1, I try to make her feel really unique and cool and special. I really like her. In terms of the Jedi, I really, really like Bell and Loden, the Padawan and Master. Of the ones we met, I’ve always loved the teacher/student dynamic that Star Wars has done so well for so long and to be able to create my own teacher/student duo was really gratifying. Avar is super cool. Burryaga is great. Just a super sensitive, huggable Wookiee Jedi is a cool thing.
StarWars.com: What more could we all want, really?
Charles Soule: I know! And he has some scenes that I think people are really going to melt over. There’s another Jedi that may be my favorite one in the whole book that you don’t meet until later named Porter Engle. He is Ikkrukkian, which [are from] a planet I made up in my Poe Dameron series. In my head he looks like an old prospector dude. He’s got lots of hair and a beard -- I think I describe him as more beard than being -- and he’s basically a cook now. He’s a guy who’s known for his recipes. But as his character is revealed you find out that he had a very different past and he’s sort of a legend within the Jedi Order. And he’s left that past behind definitively. He’s old. He’s been in all the different Jedi roles and now the only Jedi role he really wants it to be a cook. But the Force is not done with him yet and there are some really cool things that he gets to do. So he’s definitely up there. You know what they say. They’re all my children and I love them all.
StarWars.com: Can you tell us a little about the origin of the title of this book, Light of the Jedi, and what it means to you and the story?
Charles Soule: The Jedi have always been deeply associated with that word and that idea, whether it’s the fact that their weapon is made out of light -- they use lightsabers to protect peace and justice. The fact that they are considered to be guardians of the light side of the Force as opposed to the dark side, which is what the Sith work with. The fact that they consider, at least from Yoda’s teachings, that beings are luminous, that the Force gives us all an inner light. So the idea of “light of the Jedi” is kind of right there. It’s low hanging fruit. But then within the story itself we really wanted The High Republic to feel like a golden age. When you are in need, the Jedi are there. They don’t always succeed. Sometimes problems can overwhelm them. They’re still people. But they will never stop trying to help. And the idea that there’s a Force like that out there in the galaxy, literally and figuratively, that is there just to help, that’s a reassuring thing. So that’s a theme that runs throughout the book and there’s a very literal expression of it. I’m a big fan of movies that include their title in the dialogue at some point so there’s a moment in the book that directly references those four words that I think is pretty beautiful, and I look forward to people getting to [read it].
StarWars.com: Do you remember how far along you were in the process when you came up with the title?
Charles Soule: It was very, very early! There were title discussions. I could look in my notebook…I will look in my notebook!
StarWars.com: This is the one good thing about 2020. Everyone’s at home. We were talking to Ben Burtt earlier this year and he just pulled down a notebook from the production of The Empire Strikes Back and he found the answer he needed.
Charles Soule: [Paging through a notebook] There’s a page in this where I wrote tons and tons of possible titles. Ask for cover and title notes -- that was October 25 [of 2019]! Somewhere around October or November of last year is when I had it. I had the title before I wrote a word of the book. I had a very detailed story outline and so I knew the beat that was going to reference the title ahead of time.
StarWars.com: And the book is out on January 5. What are you hoping readers take away from this story once they get to read it?
Charles Soule: I’m hoping that readers love The High Republic and cannot get enough and cannot wait to read more and cannot wait to see what these characters do, all their trials and tribulations, successes and failures. I’m hoping that it really feels like Star Wars to everyone who reads it and gives people that sense of joy that all good Star Wars gives you. We’re getting it now with The Mandalorian, and I got it when I saw A New Hope for the first time. That thrilling rush of, “Oh wow, how are they going to get out of this one?” And then they do and you can’t believe it! All of the huge sort of messy wonderful stew that is Star Wars.
This is going to sound maybe a little melodramatic or emotional or whatever, but that idea that “We are all the Republic.” Those five words. I think that that’s a really important idea, especially these days. And you know if there was ever a time to hang together and help each other out it’s now. So that’s the thematic thing I hope people take away. That we are all the Republic.
StarWars.com: I love that. And I think that’s a new way of approaching that other essential bit of Star Wars, which is that, I think Star Wars always has to have some element of hope. That’s what holds it all together. No matter how bad it gets and no matter how often you think, “How are they going to get out of this one?” Somebody always has a little bit of hope. And “We are all the Republic” feels like a really eloquent way to say it. And also, we’re all in this together.
Charles Soule: Exactly. And I think a big element of hope is thinking, “I’m not alone. I don’t have to face whatever challenges I have to face all by myself.” In this time of isolation I think Star Wars is something that unifies a lot of us. It’s something we all can share and love together. And I hope that Light of the Jedi and all The High Republic will be received in that way. I really cannot wait for January 5. It feels like it’s been a long time coming.
Pre-order your copy of Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule now or pick up an exclusive special edition signed by the author, with an alternate cover designed by illustrator Jama Jurabaev, and other Star Wars: The High Republic merchandise from Out of Print the day the book is released. Sign up to receive notifications!
Visit Lucasfilm’s official hub for all things Star Wars: The High Republic at StarWars.com/TheHighRepublic.