Review- The High Republic: The Rising Storm

This review will discuss major spoilers for The High Republic: The Rising Storm

Star Wars The High Republic: The Rising Storm was an exercise of processing grief while reading a well-written novel in a franchise I love. It challenged me in a way that I haven’t felt for some time in Star Wars. Cavan Scott never pulled his punches putting the characters and audience through the continued emotional roller coaster that the High Republic has been so far. He picked up where Charles Soule left off in Light of the Jedi, both bringing awesome stories in a new era of a galaxy far, far away.

And I struggled horribly with this book. It was to the point where I debated whether or not I wanted to continue reading The High Republic. I left The Rising Storm drained and hopeless, the final moments leaving me sobbing in my bed. It wasn’t until days later after reading and listening to some thoughtful reviews that I started thinking clearly about the novel.

I realized my animosity towards the book was my own fault.

In the weeks leading up to the release of The Rising Storm, we had two family emergencies right in a row. Going into the novel, I was mentally exhausted and emotionally raw. Then, a couple of days after I began reading it, I suddenly had a friend pass away. The Rising Storm’s brutal second half started hitting me way harder than it probably should have. And with that final chapter, I lost my favorite High Republic character in such a horrible way while still grieving my real-life friend’s passing. I found myself in a dark place.

Processing The Rising Storm has become an exercise in separating grief from critical thinking. I kept asking myself, “Is this book good or bad? Do I hate it because of my own emotional baggage? Do I actually hate it when it’s filled with so many characters I love in one of the most progressive periods of Star Wars ever created? What do I actually feel about this novel?”

This book also has a lot of things I personally don’t like in any media. I’m not a fan of overly violent things. Crushes are my phobia way to die so reading about Republic Fair citizens constantly dying that way made me physically nauseous at times. I found myself lying awake late at night churning those horrors in my brain. It was the same feeling I got after playing the psychological horror game Doki Doki Literature Club where I didn’t sleep well for two days afterward.

None of this is the fault of the book though. I had to hold myself accountable with my own emotions, at times feeling like Cohmac or Orla from Into the Dark wanting to grieve when I needed to think critically. I told myself it’s not like Cavan Scott set out to write a book to maliciously hurt me as he twirled an oversize comedic mustache and cackled behind his laptop. At no point did he ever go, “TODAY I WILL WRITE A PASSAGE WITH THE INTENT TO HARM HOPE MULLINAX! MUHAHAHA!” I needed to separate myself and my emotions to actually look at the text for what it is.

I feel like I am finally in a good place to do it. But for probably the first time ever on this site, I’m offering a preface to my review:

Take my criticism with a grain of salt and know I was grieving when reading this novel. I will never be able to fully separate my emotions from this book. What is happening in our lives dictates how we perceive something and absolutely impacts our reading and viewing of it. For example, my co-podcaster passed away days before The Force Awakens came out. That movie will always be tied to my friend Shaun Engle for me. Now, the same goes for The Rising Storm and my friend Gwen.

Onto the review…

I love when Star Wars is morally messy, and Cavan Scott can make some morally messy Star Wars. What’s great about The Rising Storm is how the moral grey is presented in the entire narrative. Even the villains, the Nihil, have a point where the Republic is invading their chunk of space. By making the characters so complicated and allowing them to disagree with each other, it makes for an incredibly interesting story.

Tia Toon was a surprise favorite of mine. He’s a politician who disagrees with Chancellor Lina Soh and her Great Works. I laughed every time he entered a room with the politicians and Jedi. You could absolutely hear them all mentally go “UGH, THIS GUY!” At no point is Toon presented as a villain. He’s an antagonist to what our main characters are trying to accomplish. Toon, Lina Soh, and the Jedi all want the same thing. They simply disagree politically with how it should be done. I love the complicated politics of Star Wars, so Toon was a standout.

All the previous characters became way more complicated which is such a strength of this book. Where Light of the Jedi was a whirlwind adventure to kick off the High Republic, The Rising Storm lets us sit with these people to explore them more. The introduction of Lina’s son, Kitrep Soh, gave so much more insight on the Chancellor while adding another LGBTQIA+ character to the fabric of Star Wars. Getting to explore Elzar Mann with the full introduction of Stellan Gios was a true delight. Their bromance is fantastic, playing so well with each other while hitting those classic Anakin and Obi-Wan beats. I’m also here for Elzar being a hopeless romantic. Give me more Jedi that bones. Elzar and Rael Averross would have gotten along swimmingly.

It was also fun after having these novels and comics for a few months to see them come together in one story. As a big fan of Daniel José Older’s High Republic Adventures comics, I was delighted to see Buckets of Blood himself, Torban Buck, Zeen, and Lula pop up even if it was brief. Those moments are where canon really sings for me and it shows how well these creators truly work together. It’s not always perfect (I’ll get to my criticisms about Marchion Ro in a moment), but these moments are fantastic when they do.

I loved seeing how much time we spent with the inner workings of the Nihil too. The Rising Storm made me incredibly excited for Lourna Dee’s audio drama out later this year because Scott teased so many interesting character beats with her. She’s such a fascinating person, walking the line between Pan and Marchion while playing them. She’s one of the most intriguing characters in this era.

There were so many standout newcomers as well. Ty Yorrick is fantastic. I can’t wait to get her entire story of how she somehow trained as a Jedi padawan and yet, no one knows who or where she came from. I’m here for sassy and possibly a bit queer sword for hire. OrbaLin had a fantastic full introduction too. I’m loving all these badass nerds the High Republic is giving us with Reath, Cohmac, and now OrbaLin joining their ranks. It makes me imagine a young Jocasta Nu devouring their heroic tales and seeing herself in them.

The Republic Fair is a location that gives me everything I love in this galaxy. It might sound silly, but things like fairs, concerts, and parties really make Star Wars jive for me. Maybe because it connects it to our real world. When I watched the Martez Sisters arc in Clone Wars, I had a moment going, “They’re in a laundromat!” and it made me ridiculously happy. I want more normal people things like watching Bolo-ball, listening to music, and having news reports. The Republic Fair gave me so much of that with its news crews, entertainment, and food descriptions. It truly felt alive.

And sure, there were some plot tells mixed in. When Elzar went to the Fair’s zoo and pretty much said, “Wow! This place is filled with super dangerous animals! I sure hope none of them get out and eat people,” I just had to cackle in delight. Because of course the animals were going to get out at some point. It built the tension nicely leaving me wondering when it would happen. This was some really fun writing.

Finally, Ember the Charhound continues to be the best girl. She is Star Wars’ #1 doggo, and I want all the plushies of her.

To me, The Rising Storm is a tale of two halves. The first half felt so Star Wars to me. It sang and moved gracefully through so many different perspectives but never felt like characters were lost in the mix. Scott’s writing is beautiful in that way.

The second half felt like Game of Thrones and Friday the 13th had a hope-sucking, brutal lovechild. And again, as I move into some criticisms, keep in mind I was grieving as I read it.

As a proud Marchion Ho, this book left me really hating Marchion. Yes, he brutally killed my favorite character (more on that in a minute), but Scott’s writing didn’t quite connect for me the same way Charles Soule or Daniel José Older’s take on the character did. Soule’s Marchion really felt like a mastermind with a multistep long game. He had backup plans for his backup plans. He felt like he was on the same level as Thrawn with his machinations. Older’s Marchion in The High Republic Adventure comics, while written for a younger audience, still felt like he had that air to him while masterfully playing everyone around him. Even when his back was against the wall, he already planned escape routes and knew who to manipulate.

I didn’t get this from Scott’s Marchion. Where the other two writers handled him like he was a mastermind, Scott’s Marchion felt way too reactionary as opposed to setting the big plans into motion. He also read like a petulant teenager, stamping his foot at his father’s legacy and wanting it to be just his way. It felt like he was barely keeping the Nihil together with wishes and duct tape. For example, Marchion seemed caught off guard when Pan and Lourna turned on him. But Scott writes that Marchion was expecting the betrayal, and he was still caught off guard by it. This is confusing writing.

It also was the first time so far that it felt like there was a disconnect between the authors. It’s going to happen with so many people writing the same characters. And granted, we still know so little about Marchion that maybe he is a long-term planner and a whiny brat. Both of these can be true. It just didn’t work for me here. If Scott’s Marchion came first, he’s a perfectly good villain. He writes Marchion nauseatingly brutal, crafty, and measured. It just happened that Soule’s Marchion came first where, to me, he felt like a Moriarty type to the Republic heroes. Here, The Rising Storm really made me hate this bratty take on the character which makes me a sad Marchion Ho. He went from mysterious man to man child. I hope in the next book, these two versions can come together and smooth out for me.

Here’s where I have to check myself though. Does my view of Marchion come from my grieving? Because I have to address the Loden in the room.

Final warning for massive spoilers for The Rising Storm.

Artwork by @yalakiart on Twitter

Loden Greatstorm quickly became one of my all-time favorite Star Wars characters in Light of the Jedi. He represented so much hope that was needed after such a brutal year with the pandemic. He was funny, open, and loving. The swagger that man had radiated off the page. Even in captivity, he cared about the prisoners around him before himself. He was the best of the Jedi.

Loden’s murder on the last page felt needlessly cruel. It made me wonder so many things about this novel, this era of storytelling, and myself. I couldn’t tell if this book was actually brilliantly written or if the shock value was numbing my criticism for it. Art should make you feel things. Curled up in my bed sobbing over Loden’s death, I was certainly feeling grief thus the art succeeded. Right? Or was I still mourning my friend who had passed days prior? Those lines got horribly blurred and it might never get fully worked out in my head.

I laid in my bed that night until 3am thinking about Loden and why exactly it hurt me so deeply. It would have impacted me regardless as it’s never easy to lose a favorite character in any media. But was it hitting me harder because I was mourning a person in my real life?

The next day, I discussed the lead up and death beat by beat with my co-podcaster who doesn’t read the books. When I finished, he went quiet for a moment before saying, “That’s really sadistic.” I did the same thing with my roommate who is not a Star Wars fan at all. Her face scrunched up and she said, “Wow, I’m glad Star Trek doesn’t do stuff like that. That’s just cruel.”

It hit me then why Loden’s death impacted me the way it did. To me, the words “cruel” and “sadistic” don’t feel like Star Wars.

Star Wars at its core has always been about hope. Even in the darkest middle chapters or the lowest moments, there’s hope. Everyone dies in Rogue One, but we end with Leia holding the Death Star plans. In Revenge of the Sith, the Jedi are gone and the Empire is rising, but we still end with Luke and Leia safe. At the end of Clone Wars, Ahsoka and Rex bury their fallen friends. Vader is there, but he looks up and sees Morai flying overhead as a symbol of the Light Side. The Broom Boy in the final moments of The Last Jedi! Time and again, there is always a glimmer of the Light Side, a peek of hope even in the darkest moments.

The Rising Storm didn’t do that. It set up the moment where Bell sensed Loden. Loden felt his padawan and found the strength to fight back. He continued to be the best of the Jedi too. After a year of torture, he didn’t slay Marchion in revenge or hate. Master and padawan were reunited together. I could practically hear Kevin Kiner’s music in my head as the scene played out. After the brutality of the Republic Fair, which at times felt like many lines crossed, at least there would be hope. The Republic lost so much and failed its people with Lina Soh’s folly, but at least Loden would be rescued as a small but important victory.

Then it was ripped away. Loden was turned to stone as he was filled with fear in his final moments and murdered on the last page. The last page of a Star Wars book.

Artwork by @yalakiart on Twitter

This feels like a novel written for those fans who want to see Anakin slaughtering younglings, was one of my first thoughts when I put the book down. I still feel that way. Those asshole fans would ADORE this novel with its limbs flying off citizens, crushes of people falling to their deaths, and Loden’s brutal murder. This wasn’t Star Wars. It was Game of Thrones. It was Friday the 13th where you think Alice is safe and she gets ripped under the water by Jason at the last moment. She wakes up knowing he’s still out there.

Loden’s death on top of the massacre that is the Republic Fair felt too much. But I have no way of knowing if it was my grief speaking, the novel’s artwork working, or both. It was already hitting so many biases I hate. The Rising Storm continued my ongoing gripe of the High Republic that alien characters are getting killed off at a much higher rate than human characters which is not okay and a conversation for another time. Aliens, like Loden, are far more expendable than humans apparently.

And the Republic Fair is a lot. I don’t mind horror and suspense in Star Wars. Heck, if I did, I would be a hypocrite with other shows like The Owl House where I praise its handling of horror. But there is a line where it can be too much. The gore in this book made me physically ill at times. It also felt so much more personal than the previous installment.

My friend has a saying when she critiques media called “Personal Violence.” Personal violence is targeted violence on a specific character to purposely make the audience feel a certain way about them. I first heard her use this term as she described watching the Clovis arc in Clone Wars where Anakin beats the crap out of Padmé’s ex-boyfriend. That is a personal violence against Padmé by Anakin even if she’s not the one being hit that makes us feel things for her. Another example is in Star Wars Resistance when Kaz watches his planet get destroyed. Sure, we saw Hosnian Prime explode in The Force Awakens, but we didn’t know anyone from there so it’s just a bad thing that happened. The audience has an entire season to get to know Kaz, so it hits the audience so much harder knowing the pain he’s going through.

Light of the Jedi was like Hosnian Prime. The High Republic was new and exciting. Yes, characters were dying but we were still getting to know them. Now, all these months later, we’ve had more time with these people. The Rising Storm gave us more insight into the characters with a brilliant first half. It built so well on Wave One seeing characters like Vernestra, Lula, Zeen, and more make a return.

But then the personal violence begins. It’s totally fine for stories to have this means for the narrative and characters to develop. There was just a ton of it in this book for every single person. Especially Stellan and Bell, my god those poor men and what happened to them. I’m actually so scared for Bell Zettifar, a character who is just getting mentally ripped to pieces. There reaches a point where it’s too much. The Rising Storm’s use of personal violence got to be too much for my taste. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have gone into this book emotionally raw because it more than likely made the book worse for me.

Artwork by Jake Bartok

Because I never want to leave a piece of media hating it, especially Star Wars. I really love what the High Republic has done so far, but The Rising Storm left me struggling. I had a moment where I didn’t want to continue reading anymore from this era. Why do I want to read Race to Crashpoint Tower when there’s no hope? Why do I want to get to know these people when they’re going to be slaughtered? Why should I get attached to them?

While I’ve since started putting those thoughts behind me, I’m still struggling through Crashpoint Tower. Every time I pick it up, I feel the dread that The Rising Storm has put over me. I’m scared to read The High Republic Adventures comics because I truly love those kids. I want to see these padawans be okay! I don’t really want to buy Out of the Shadows and spend money on something that will make me miserable. The Rising Storm has really fucked me over.

This is a heck of a lot of “Me Problems” and no fault of the novel or Cavan Scott. If anything, he’s succeeded in his job and kudos for that. These feelings are also my own grief coming into play here. But I have to admit that the writing of The Rising Storm triggered it and put me here. I want to like this book. I do love the first half of this book. The second half left me cold though. I wouldn’t recommend it to the faint of heart or the squeamish. If people have been looking for carnage in their Star Wars, here you go! This is it!

I hate that I feel this way too. I see so many of my friends praising Scott’s work. I do praise most of it. There’s a point, though, where one too many lines get crossed. For me, there are enough negative points here that go against what I love about this franchise. I truly feel like the second half of The Rising Storm is far too unnecessarily cruel in a galaxy far, far away.

I know this era is about the downfall of the Jedi and the Republic, but here’s wishing there’s a bit of that Star Wars hope folded into the future High Republic novels.

 

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