Star Wars’ High Republic era is meant to be defined by the apex of institutions that we have, for most of Star Wars’ recent storytelling (cinematic or otherwise), seen in great decline. The Skywalker Saga laid the frayed Republic low twice, and the Jedi Order was all but stamped out, with only the hints of its return left lingering by the saga’s end. But it’s presenting that apex by introducing a sense of failure.
If The Light of the Jedi and its fellow novels and comics in the first wave of Star Wars: The High Republic focused more on the nobility of this more civilized age, its second phase — spearheaded by Cavan Scott’s novel The Rising Storm — begins to throw things into immediate disarray that, in a lot of ways, feels much more like the Star Wars we’ve seen before.
By the end of Rising Storm, the Republic’s grand efforts to host a unifying fair on the planet Valo turned catastrophic. There are thousands dead in the wake of an assault by the piratical Nihil, who are now essentially in open conflict with the Republic and with Jedi dragged into the crossfire. The Jedi are given dark visions of a terrible new foe beyond the Nihil or the plant-hivemind Drengir that has wrapped up so many of their number in the Outer Rim, halting the Republic’s plans for expansion into new territory. Even factions of the Senate have begun to grow untrusting of relying on the Jedi, and perhaps on each other, as threats inside and out begin to show that the ideals held dear by the Republic’s greatest advocates are simply that: ideals rather than practical solutions in a galaxy suddenly wracked by chaos.
It’s an interesting turn, especially as The High Republic was introduced — and distanced from the Star Wars storytelling before it — by defining itself around an idea of conflict that was less about lightsaber battles and spaceships exploding, and more about philosophical debates and humanitarian struggles. But even as The Rising Storm sets the stage for darker chapters to come, one of its central characters’ struggles reflects on a Jedi Order that is infinitely more open-minded, loving, and enlightened than the order we meet in the prequel trilogy: Elzar Mann, introduced in Charles Soule’s The Light of the Jedi through the perspective of one of his closest friends in the Jedi Order, Avar Kriss.
While Kriss has become something of an icon among the Jedi and the Republic agents they liaise with — the closest thing the Jedi of this era have to a public figure, almost a celebrity — Elzar, both in his relationship to Avar and the order at large, is defined by his unorthodoxy. His views of connecting to the Force and exploring that connection brush against the status quo, positioning him as an outsider. His willingness to bite a thumb in the face of council authority holds back his vast talents to rise through the ranks and become a Master himself. Most interestingly of all, we learn that Avar and Elzar were once romantically entangled as Padawans — breaking off their relationship as they become Jedi Knights, even if it’s left clear that the emotions connecting them still run very deep… especially for Elzar.
At the end of Light, Elzar receives a horrifying vision of an untold threat from the Dark Side, and it’s the trauma from this vision that we see him deal with throughout The Rising Storm. His brush with the Dark Side becomes an undercurrent he has to deal with as the Nihil wage war on the Republic Fair, but also something he tackles in ways that make Elzar a Jedi far more “human” than we’re used to. We see him get angry, we see him be impulsive. We do indeed, at one point, see him give in to temptations that would shock even the least conservative Jedi of the prequel trilogies. Having been assigned to the order’s outpost on Valo to oversee construction of the fair, Elzar falls for and eventually sleeps with a young Valon administrator named Samera Ra-oon. However, their romance is cut short by the Nihil attack. Elzar acknowledges that all these feelings he has, good or ill, are not necessarily becoming of a typical Jedi, but he equally acknowledges that he is human, and that the order’s view of cutting off all kinds of attachment is flawed.
That humanity becomes especially interesting when, shortly after waking up in bed with Samera, the Nihil attack occurs. He’s left on the back foot and in a moment of emotional compromise that, filled with the anger of the slaughter, he uses to reach out into the Dark Side. He utilises its power to hurl the massive floating islands hosting the fair in an attack to blunt at least some of the Nihil’s attempts to butcher civilians fleeing. If Elzar were a Jedi in the time of the order’s true decline in the prequel trilogy, this would be a moment of massive failure for him. He’d see it as an act of giving in to an impulse, no matter how fleeting, damning himself forever — as would the rest of his friends and allies within the temple. That Elzar, and his weird ideas, his unwillingness to cut himself off and follow the rules, laid his own sinister bed and lay in it. We know this because, well, it’s what Anakin Skywalker goes through hundreds of years later when presented with a similar scenario. In that case, it was compounded even further when the fear of his reprisal sees Anakin hide his struggles with his emotions, and the fallout of those struggles, from everyone but his wife — who also has to be kept secret, because, y’know, the Jedi Order would hate that too.
But one of the most fascinating moments in The Rising Storm comes in two pieces of introspection. Instead of choosing to hide what he did — or claim to not understand what he tapped into — Elzar makes a promise to himself to report himself to the Jedi (and his friend on the council Stellan Gios, in particular) to explain. Secondly, when he does so, Stellan doesn’t chide Elzar for what he did, or treat him as some heretic destined to fall to the ways of the ancient Sith or something… instead, he accepts that the moment has passed, and what Elzar needs isn’t punishment for a sin but help and reconciliation, and a chance to understand what he went through. Before the events of Rising Storm’s climax get in the way, Stellan ponders taking Elzar to a spiritual retreat on Jedha, partially as vacation for the two old friends rocked by recent events, but also offering a chance for the Jedi to explore his feelings in a way that is healthy for a Jedi and healthy for who he is as a person beyond the order. At no point is there talk of a potential reprisal, or casting Elzar out from his recently-earned title of Jedi Master, or out of the order completely. Nor is his scenario treated as alien or unusual. It’s just… a Jedi thing to have moments when you stumble, and your friends help you pick yourself back up again, to help understand what happened.
It’s the compassion the Jedi of the High Republic has that makes this era of Star Wars feel so much more like a reflection of the Jedi’s apex rather than as grandmasters of power force abilities or deadly lightsaber combatants. It’s a small, but incredibly effective moral contrast to the Jedi we’ve seen in the Star Wars movies — and a compelling reminder of why that order found itself where it did.