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A Little Backstory
Back in April of 2019, during the Star Wars Celebration, Lucasfilm made their first official announcement about "Project Luminous." The details were incredibly vague at the time, resulting in much speculation from the Star Wars fandom about new movies, TV shows, books, comics and the like, spanning multiple different eras.
Some months later, rumors started circulating that "Project Luminous" was going to be set around a time period called the "High Republic." The name was ambiguous enough that it only fueled more speculation from the fandom. Was this related to the era of the Old Republic? Was it set after Rise of Skywalker? Somewhere in between maybe?
By the end of 2019, there was enough information in circulation that it seemed pretty certain the setting would be several hundred years prior to The Phantom Menace. The exact timeframe wasn't known, and outside of some Legends (non-canon) material, not too much had been written about the era immediately preceding the rise of the Empire. That left the storytelling angles pretty wide open, and even more speculation ensued - particularly about canon characters that might have been alive in this time period, like Yoda, Maz Kanata and Chewbacca.
The Official Announcement
At long last, Lucasfilm released an official announcement trailer this past Friday. It's embedded below, if you haven't watched it yet.
At just 4 minutes and 8 seconds, it may seem like there's little to be gleaned from the announcement. But Lucasfilm has provided a wealth of clues in the announcement video, including glances at whiteboard sessions and commentary from several Lucasfilm staff and authors involved in the project development. Coupled with a few other official details - like the synopses from High Republic book pre-orders and the short breakdown on starwars.com - we're starting to get a much better picture of what this era in the Star Wars universe will look like. But more than that, we've been offered some sneak peeks into what the Lucasfilm team is envisioning for this latest expansion of the franchise.
First things first, there are no planned films or TV series at this point. This project is heavily focused on printed materials - novels and comics. Of course, if these ventures are well received by fans, you can rest assured that Disney and Lucasfilm won't miss the opportunity to cash in on other forms of media. But printed material offers Lucasfilm the freedom to tell these stories without the practical limitations and cost investments of a major studio production. They're testing the waters, so to speak, and the response from the masses will ultimately decide how far out to sea they're willing to swim.
What is the High Republic?
Officially, the timeline of the High Republic era starts about 200 years prior to the The Phantom Menace that'd be around 232 BBY, for our fellow super Geeks out there). This is described as the "Golden Age" of the Republic. It's a period of relative peace and prosperity across the Galaxy. Threats to the Republic are primarily limited to regions outside of its borders - the Outer Rim territories and the Dark Regions, more specifically. And at least some of the storytelling is going to revolve around the Republic and Jedi efforts to maintain safety and security in those far reaches of the Galaxy.
This isn't an entirely new concept, however. The High Republic era has been mentioned in a few Star Wars publications prior to this announcement: the audiobook Dooku: Jedi Lost, Marvel's The Rise of Kylo Ren #2, Marvel's Star Wars #2 and IDW's Star Wars Adventures #30. Incidentally, all of these stories were written by Charles Soule or Cavan Scott. So the two of them have obviously been involved in this project for some time and began seeding the idea in their works.
According to the starwars.com breakdown, The Republic has recently finished construction of a massive space station called the Starlight Beacon. We understand this was accomplished with great difficulty and at great expense. It's meant to serve as a beacon for travelers in the Outer Rim (and perhaps even beyond). Believe it or not, this isn't the first time we've heard about this High Republic era project either. It was also mentioned in issue #2 of the canon Star Wars comic, written by Charles Soule.
"In the days of the High Republic, the galaxy was not as settled as it is now. Areas like the Outer Rim were dangerous, hard to navigate. So the people of that time built a huge space station at great effort and expense and placed it in the center of the dark zones. It sent out a signal that acted as a sort of beacon, helping travelers find their way. They gave that station an inspiring name, fitting its purpose." - Commander Grek, Star Wars, Issue #2
Jedi in this era are also a little different than those we've seen in other canon sources. They're not operating as clandestine elements of some grand, strategic war plan. Nor are they lone Jedi seeking the secrets of a long lost order. They're something more akin to Wild West style Rangers or Sheriffs - investigating criminal activities, making arrests and protecting people from the threats of lawless societies that surely exist at the furthest edges of a vast, interstellar Republic.
Where's the Conflict?
As far as we know, there are no galaxy-wide civil wars or major catastrophic events that impact the core worlds, like you might find an Old Republic or Skywalker saga setting. Many on social media have lambasted this decision, suggesting that stories centered around a time of peace and prosperity are not going to be very interesting. Indeed, that would be highly out of character for the franchise. It is called Star Wars, after all.
However, the lack of a major war or galaxy-wide catastrophe doesn't mean this time period is without conflict. The project contributors have created a setting where stories can be told about individual conflicts and smaller warring factions; stories about bounty hunters; and stories about jedi protecting the outer reaches of the Republic from smugglers, scoundrels, crime lords and other sorts of ne'er do wells.
Judging from the video, that's exactly what they plan to do. Executive Director at Lucasfilm Publishing, Jennifer Heddle, notes that the main villain in the time period are a group called the Nihil. For those unfamiliar, nihil happens to be the etymological Latin root for nihilism. Nihilism is the belief that both religious and moral principles should be rejected because life has no predetermined purpose. We suspect this will be a major tenet of the villainous group's beliefs; and the statement that the motto of this group is "You can't take it with you, but we can take it from you," certainly supports that suspicion.
But that's not all, folks! Right around the 3:22 mark in the video, Lucasfilm Vice President of Content & Strategy, James Waugh, talks about how the story starts with what they call "The Great Disaster." James describes it as, "a series of events that will spin the galaxy in a dangerous new direction." While the true nature of the event is not revealed, the video shows various different concept art for the Starlight Beacon the entire time he's talking. So we think there's a good chance "The Great Disaster" may have something to do with that massive space station.
In our humble opinion, this is where the video offers the most insights. There are three brief shots where you can see whiteboards with ideas from the collective Project Luminous group [1:16, 1:18, 1:24]. In one shot, author Justina Ireland is actively circling concepts on the board. In another, she's standing back with her arms raised and you can see some additional items on the board have been circled. The last shot seems to be a different whiteboard with some pared down creative writing concepts.
While these are only indicators, many of the circled themes seem to mesh up perfectly with narrative that Lucasfilm provided in the video. Those themes include the obvious: Jedi Heyday, The Force, Space battles, Lightsaber battles, Crime stories and No Single Character. But what's perhaps more interesting is the other items that are circled on the board, which they don't discuss in the video: Grey Jedi, Splinter group of Force users, Rival Houses and Complicated monsters. Unfortunately, we're going to have to wait to see how those as-yet-unexplained themes play out in the larger story.
On the second whiteboard at [1:24], we catch a glimpse of what appears to be the driving forces behind the author's creative concepts. To the chagrin of some fans, Diversity sits near the top of left column - notably, above Actual ending, Relatable characters, Sweeping/epic stories and Humor. And that theme is echoed again, as Representation/Diversity, under the right column. This idea also seems to borne out in the character concept art. Where groups of Human Jedi are portrayed, there appear to be a mix of Hispanic, Asian, White and Black characters.
Other items of note on the second whiteboard include Relic Hunters, University, Chaos Agents, and a handful of repeat concepts from the previous whiteboard. But the most curious entries on this board are the ones we couldn't find anywhere in the previous shots: Sith Empire and Dinosaurs!
The Geeks are really hoping the dinosaur reference is just a humorous way to refer to the large, scary sort of beasts we've seen in other franchise entries - rancors, mudhorns, acklays, reeks, nexu and the like. The last thing we want to find in a Star Wars property is a T-rex or velociraptor running around like it's Jurassic Park.
The Sith Empire entry could mean just about anything. Up until the events of The Phantom Menace, the Jedi order believed the Sith had been extinct for a thousand years. It could be interesting to see how they develop additional backstory for the Sith Empire, and explain what the few surviving Sith were up to while they lay in hiding for a millennia. Perhaps, that will be revealed somewhere along way.
Lucasfilm put together a small but impressive group of Star Wars authors for this project, including Charles Soule, Cavan Scott, Claudia Gray, Daniel José Older and Justina Ireland. All of these authors have several popular comic book publications or novels under their belt - including a few New York Times bestsellers - and most of them have authored more than one successful Star Wars work already.
Charles Soule has been writing comic book stories for a little over a decade now. He counts She-Hulk, Death of Wolverine, Hunt for Wolverine and many issues of Daredevil among his works. But he's certainly no stranger to the Star Wars franchise, having authored the Poe Dameron series, the Obi-Wan & Anakin limited series and the Darth Vader series.
Cavan Scott is also a long-time contributor to comic book series outside of Star Wars. But he's also no stranger to the franchise, having authored four of the Adventures in Wild Space young reader books, several issues of IDW's Star Wars Adventures and the miniseries Tales from Vader's Castle.
Claudia Gray (Lost Stars, Bloodline, Master & Apprentice), Daniel José Older (Last Shot) and Justina Ireland (Lando's Luck) have all penned successful novels for the Star Wars franchise, with a few of those titles making it onto the New York Times bestseller list.
But the Project Luminous cast isn't just authors. We see Pablo Hidalgo (the Executive Director in charge of continuity for Lucasfilm), Ian McCaig (the Lucasfilm artist responsible for concept design of Darth Maul), and a handful of prominent members from the Lucasfilm story team. Also shown in the video is a list of ten publishers that have signed onto the project. Virtually all of them have significant past experience with Star Wars publications. And two of the comic publishers, Marvel and IDW, have active Star Wars comics in their lineup right now.
While it may seem benign at first glance, this list of well-known publishers may offer some clues as to future plans for the High Republic project. Insight Editions, for example, has published several supplemental technical guides for Lucasfilm. Abrams has released numerous Star Wars concept art, illustration and storyboard books. DK has published many Star Wars books oriented towards children, as well as the Visual Dictionaries series for the films. And Titan Magazines is responsible for the Star Wars Insider magazine series. While there have been no other announcements that confirm this, it appears they may have a lot more than novels and comics in mind.
All of this is to say that the talent is there for a wildly successful project. And while five publications by five different authors have been announced so far, that is likely just a hint of what Lucasfilm already has planned for this project. Will we see any other famous Star Wars authors making contributions to this project? Timothy Zahn? James Lucerno? Karen Traviss? Only time will tell.
Publications Announced (so far)
The High Republic: Light of the Jedi
Release Date: August 25, 2020
Author: Charles Soule
Publisher: Del Rey
Synopsis: Two hundred years before the events of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, in the era of the glorious High Republic, the noble and wise Jedi Knights must face a frightening threat to themselves, the galaxy, and the Force itself. [Adult]
The High Republic: Into the Dark (Young Adult)
Release date: October 13, 2020
Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: Lucasfilm Press
Synopsis: Padawan Reath Silas is being sent from the cosmopolitan galactic capital of Coruscant to the undeveloped frontier—and he couldn’t be less happy about it. He’d rather stay at the Jedi Temple, studying the archives. But when the ship he’s traveling on is knocked out of hyperspace in a galactic-wide disaster, Reath finds himself at the center of the action. The Jedi and their traveling companions find refuge on what appears to be an abandoned space station. But then strange things start happening, leading the Jedi to investigate the truth behind the mysterious station, a truth that could end in tragedy. [Young Adult]