The High Republic initiative in the Star Wars Expanded Universe is the most profound and personal story we’ve seen in over 45 years of the legendary franchise. When contemplating why these stories and characters resonate so much, I’m constantly drawn back to one thought: The lack of the Sith has made the High Republic an incredibly compelling Star Wars story.
Throughout the decades we’ve had Star Wars as part of our lives, we’ve been offered a relatively binary struggle between good and evil. There is nuance, sure, but the Sith and Jedi are ultimately two sides of the same coin. They can only be defeated by the other. It’s the same problem that Superman has: the amount of invulnerability he has makes him less compelling. The High Republic erases this problem by giving the Jedi a non-Sith enemy, resulting in a Jedi Order that is more vulnerable and human and average citizens of the galaxy that emerge as the real heroes.
The Best Villains Aren’t Monsters
Okay, so I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead. I know, some of the later seasons haven’t been quite as good, but I still like the show and think it tackles many things about humanity. The best episodes and story arcs often occur when the villains are people rather than the zombies themselves. Human enemies are always the most terrifying, whether the Governor, Negan, or any other human threat.
While monsters like Zombies are more on the nature side of the nature vs. nurture debate, human characters that commit despicable acts force us to look in the mirror and ask if we could ever be driven to such actions. In the case of Star Wars, the Sith make choices that result in their turn to the Dark Side, but their immense power is such that most people can’t place themselves in their shoes. It’s easy to see the Sith as pure evil because they have power we can’t comprehend.
The Nihil, however, do not. Instead, they are beings from all walks of life who have chosen this path due to a hatred of the Republic and the Jedi that has festered in their past experiences. They seek freedom from the perceived tyranny of an organized society. To them, Starlight Beacon is an invasion of their way of life.
The Nihil forces us to ask the same question we often ask in our world: what happened to cause these people to become so driven by hate that they would do the things they do? Readers have to consider whether they would make the same choices if they had lived the same life. That type of villain is always more terrifying than the powerful monster.
The Sith, by comparison, are boring.
The Stakes Are Different, But Still High
If the High Republic features villains that are ordinary beings who have been driven to do evil, it also offers heroes from all walks of life, fighting for different reasons.
So much of the story of Star Wars revolves around the battle between the most powerful forces on the sides of good and evil that we forget the universe is full of people just living their lives. Rarely do we see the ways that the conflict affects them, and even more rarely do we see stories focused on them. When we do, it’s because an average person is learning that they have this power that makes them more relevant in the Star Wars universe, like Rey or Luke.
More recently, entries like Andor have done an excellent job of showing the real impact of the conflict on everyday people living in the galaxy. The High Republic initiative is no different. In Phase 2, the most compelling and inspirational characters are those with no Force abilities.
In Path of Deceit, Marda Ro is so driven by blind faith and loyalty that she cannot see the corruption of everything around her. As a reader, I want to see what happens when she realizes that everything she knows is a facade. At the other end of the spectrum, Xiri and Phan-tu may come from royalty, but in Convergence, they both take heroic and dangerous steps to carve out a peace that has eluded their worlds for generations. In doing so, they connect with the people they are trying desperately to help.
Keth Cerapath embodies the journey of the average citizen more than almost any other character. Keth wants his life to be more than it is, and he yearns for a story he can be a part of. He works at the Church of the Force, but he cares about his droid P3-7A and his friends, whom he spends time with at Enlightenment. In The Battle of Jedha, Keth is thrust into the heart of the investigation into an assassination attempt, and he experiences more danger the more the plot unfolds.
Sacrifice is More Powerful in the High Republic
In the end, Keth gives his life to protect Silandra Sho. As she holds him to comfort him, she applauds his willingness to do anything to preserve the peace conference. However, he replies that he didn’t do it for that – instead, he wanted to stop them from hurting her, his friend.
This is one of the most powerful moments in Phase 2. But it also demonstrates why people fight. Often, it’s not for a higher cause. Instead, it’s for their family and friends to protect what they have and care about.
By making the enemy hate and fear rather than a powerful monster, the fight is everyones. Not just for those who have that power or stand to gain it. The Nihil attacks people in their homes, and a generational war has shaped the values of every citizen of Eiram and E’ronoh. When the threat is everywhere around you, there’s more to fight for.
As a result, the most extraordinary heroism in the High Republic comes from those who have never held a lightsaber.
Star Wars The High Republic is available now and you can find a High Republic reading list here to help you get started.
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