Phase II of The High Republic has been filled with questions. What is the Path of the Open Hand? How do these events tie into the larger narrative of Phase I? What is The Mother’s grand plan?
But, perhaps the most important question has been: why did we jump back in time in the first place?
Phase I of The High Republic introduced some of the most memorable characters that Star Wars publishing has ever seen, and their adventures launched a publishing initiative that has all but taken over the Star Wars book community ever since. While Phase II has had its share of successful endeavors and intriguing new players, the elusive highs of Phase I haven’t quite been met.
However, Lydia Kang’s Cataclysm rectifies that feeling by presenting a thrilling adventure that ties together all of the previous threads of the conflict between the Jedi and the Path. Kang’s masterful use of mystery saddled with her ability to simultaneously enthrall and entertain creates what is easily the best entry in the second Phase and one of the best books in the entire High Republic.
Cataclysm begins by picking up the pieces of the galaxy that were shattered within the pages of Zoraida Córdova’s Convergence and George Mann’s The Battle of Jedha. The fragile peace between the war torn nations of Eiram and E’ronoh threatens to fracture once again at the briefest whisper of conflict, and fresh off of their chaotic adventures on Jedha, the Path of the Open Hand has regrouped at their compound on Dalna to launch their next move.
Amidst these larger storylines are entwined some of our favorite characters like the newlyweds Xiri A’lbaran and Phan-tu Zenn, the hopeful Wayseeker Gella Nattai, the morosely conflicted Chancellor Kyong Greylark, and her imprisoned yet consistently roguish son, Axel. All of these major players join a rather massive ensemble cast to write the next chapter in a conflict that will define the future of hyperspace travel and perhaps the very freedom of the Force itself.
Cataclysm’s early scenes rely heavily on the slow buildup of tension and intrigue which is brilliantly concocted by Kang’s pen. By constantly switching points of view between various groups of characters, Kang is able to fully express just how uneasy everyone is with the unrest that has filtered throughout the galaxy, and the second a perceived attack is thrust into the mix…chaos reigns.
While not necessarily the most surprising or shocking plot Star Wars has ever seen, the events and actions within Cataclysm’s plot excel because of their phenomenal pacing and execution. As each divergent puzzle piece begins to align, the grand scheme of the Path begins to take shape in a way that feels almost inevitable both to the reader and characters alike. Some of the previous criticism of Phase II has lied in the questionable importance of some of the major titles and events, but Cataclysm pulls on every string that came before to showcase just how crucial every step has been.
By weaving the political unrest the Path has sprinkled throughout their trials with the unbridled heroism of the Jedi, Kang harkens back to the massive strengths of Phase I that made the High Republic such a massive success in the first place. The result is a book that contains some of the most exciting moments we’ve seen in the entire era as well as one of the best final acts a Star Wars book has seen in years.
Phase II of The High Republic has consistently introduced vibrant characters outside the Jedi Order in an effort to broaden the scope of the galaxy and tell stories outside the glittering halls of the Jedi Temple. The people of Eiram and E’ronoh, in addition to the acolytes of the Path of the Open Hand, have taken center stage in the previous wave; and while their time in the spotlight has certainly been engaging…there’s nothing quite like the Jedi taking control once more.
The aforementioned protagonists of previous Phase II entries all have their time to shine within Cataclysm’s many set pieces, but the unabashedly heroic Jedi of The High Republic are the real stars of the show, and they radiate gloriously with the power of light and life. Creighton Sun, Aida Forte, Gella Nattai, and Yaddle are all particular standouts, as is Kang’s original and incredibly lovable creation, Orin Darhga. Each of these Jedi feel more fleshed out than ever as they respond to the…well…cataclysmic events of the book with humanity, bravery, and nobility. Regardless of the point of view during any single chapter, the pages fly by as Kang’s ability to swap between their respective voices proves to be as effortless as it is effective.
And come on…all Yaddle is good Yaddle.
Beyond the star power of the Jedi, however, remain two additional standout stars in Chancellor Kyong Greylark and Path agent, Binnot Ullo. While Convergence focused mainly on Chancellor Mollo, the other half of the galaxy’s greatest political duo, Kang centers her gaze on Kyong as she is forced to reckon with her role as diplomat to a faltering galaxy and mother to a fallen son. The empathy and strength Kyong exudes as she traverses her journey within Cataclysm is truly something to behold, and her evolution by the end of the novel is second to none.
Binnot, on the other hand, presents a whole new side to the depravity and vicious intensity of the Path of the Open Hand. Wholly encompassed by his need for The Mother’s approval, Binnot ascends through the ranks of High Republic adversaries as he uses whatever means possible to stop the hated Jedi once and for all.
Amidst all of these conflicting foes sits the tortured cover star himself, Axel Greylark. While his journey may be a bit more convoluted than some may like, his ever-shifting sense of morality and rampant unpredictability makes him an undeniably enjoyable wild card in every scene in which he appears.
With such a sprawling cast, it would be easy for some characters to get lost in the shuffle, and while a few names may fall to the wayside as the years go on and recollections fade, there is no question that Cataclysm boasts one of the most exciting ensembles that The High Republic has seen so far.
While Lydia Kang is no stranger to full length adult novels, Cataclysm does represent her first foray into long form Star Wars storytelling, and she absolutely nails it. She constructs her prose with perfect pacing in mind, and her style is extremely smooth and effortlessly readable throughout. Each character's voice is unique, each setting is exquisitely painted within her mind, and because her expository content is so clear, it allows later poignant lines to stand out with remarkable intention.
A majority of the characters within Cataclysm have been introduced in previous Star Wars material, but there is undeniable elevation in the status and importance of these characters within Kang’s work. Her dialogue never feels out of place when it leaves the lips of a familiar friend or a brand new addition, and more so than any other project in Phase II, Kang’s treatment of the Jedi, the Path, and their surrounding players drives home the unequivocal importance of every faction.
It’s important to note that Kang’s skill is not limited to pure character direction. She deftly and consistently builds tension at a rate that feels earned and natural as she carefully brings together every single puzzle piece before smashing the puzzle completely with the raucous compulsions of her action scenes. Add all of those elements together with a sampling of some of the most quotable lines that The High Republic has seen in quite some time, and there’s no question that Kang was the author for this job.
With all of the skill and grace that Kang brings to Cataclysm, it’s hard to imagine that this is her first Star Wars book, because it will certainly not be her last.
When a Star Wars story is firing on all cylinders, there’s seldom anything better.
Cataclysm succeeds in not only being meticulously crafted and superbly well written, but also in presenting the most fun and engaging story that The High Republic has seen since Phase I and all of Star Wars publishing has seen in quite some time. For every minute detail that Kang inserts within the book’s early portion, tense mysteries come to fruition in the later chapters. The continuous momentum that this dynamic constructs is the foundation of a thrilling ride that culminates in a positively sensational final act.
But, the climactic battle sequences are not the only source of pure entertainment value in Cataclysm: Kang also shows her unfaltering understanding of Star Wars political intrigue. As Claudia Gray showed us way back in Bloodline, sometimes an impactful decision by a political leader can elicit just as loud a cheer as the ignition of a lightsaber.
Though there are plenty of those as well, don't you worry!
Cataclysm is exciting.
Cataclysm is invigorating.
Cataclysm is the culmination of the promises that Phase II has held since its first release, but most of all…Cataclysm is really, really fun.
Heroes and villains. Triumphs and failures. Magic and mysteries. What more could you ask for?
Cataclysm begins the second Wave of the second Phase of The High Republic with as big of a bang as you could imagine. Familiar and unfamiliar faces alike bring forth a story that not only fills the reader with excitement and devastation, but also shines a revealing light of understanding and appreciation on all the stories that preceded it.
Lydia Kang celebrates the heroism of the Jedi in the face of growing darkness and doubt, and the result is a portrait of heroes we’ve known for decades doing everything they can to fight for what they hold dearest.
For each other.
For the galaxy.
For light and life.
Cataclysm is available now wherever books are sold and may be purchased on Audible where it is narrated by Marc Thompson.