e are so back.
It’s been 679 days since we witnessed the destruction of Starlight Beacon and we last checked in on the intrepid heroes of The High Republic’s first phase. The Fallen Star ended with a shock to the system of fan favorites like Avar Kriss, Elzar Mann, and Bell Zettifar, and for almost two years, their fate was shrouded in mystery as the initiative turned its focus to The Path of the Open Hand, The Battle of Jedha, and The Nameless.
But after all this time, one question rises above all others. Was it worth the wait?
The answer is an emphatic yes.
George Mann’s The Eye of Darkness kicks off the third phase of The High Republic in sensational fashion by thrusting its returning cast into a dystopian galaxy full of fear and adversity at the feet of the malicious Marchion Ro. Through an unforgiving narrative of political strife, personal turmoil, and thrilling military heroics, Mann welcomes us back to The High Republic with a book worthy of the hype that’s been building for years.
Picking up one year after the destruction of Starlight Beacon, The Eye of Darkness wastes no time informing the audience about just how dark the galaxy has become. The Nihil have erected an impenetrable Stormwall that effectively splits the galaxy in half, and several Jedi have been trapped in this new Occlusion Zone for months without any hope of rescue or reunion.
The Occlusion Zone acts as a sort of Confederacy for the Nihil. Marchion Ro has effectively created a separate universal body that is ruled solely by his laws and whims, and Mann pulls no punches in his descriptions of the horrors that face those trapped within.
Questions of how to circumvent the Stormwall to unify the galaxy once more drive the majority of the book’s story. By using a multitude of characters to showcase the near impossibility of this challenge, Mann is able to present a story that is simultaneously intimate and grand in scope. Each faction has their own battlefield on which to fight, and the consistent swapping of POVs drives home just how important every element is to the overall cause.
Lina Soh and Ghirra Starros match wits in the political realm as they argue the legitimacy of the growing Nihil empire.
Elzar Mann wrestles with his desire to save those he loves and his duties as a Jedi Master.
Avar Kriss must make use of an entirely new set of skills as she finds herself cut off from every resource she once took for granted.
The brutality of this newly bisected galaxy rears its head within all of these exchanges and many more, yet Mann never lets the reader lose sight of the glorious light that shines through every shadow. This is, after all, the Golden Age of the Jedi, and they are determined to exploit every crack within the armor of the Nihil that may lead to their eventual unraveling.
Can you ever really go home again?
Yes. Yes you absolutely can.
Despite the wealth of new characters introduced throughout Phase 2, the return of the Phase 1 characters is easily a highlight of The Eye of Darkness. Although they have all been further sculpted by the subsequent year following The Fallen Star, their trademark personalities once more leap off the page to create some of the most vibrant and engaging characters in the Star Wars galaxy.
Mann fully embraces his chance to kick off this Phase of the initiative by writing an astonishing amount of characters into The Eye of Darkness. While this can occasionally lead to a bit of confusion when it comes to the sheer volume of background characters to track, this choice excels in helping the story feel truly galactic in scope.
Amongst this mass, however, there are unquestionable standouts that use Mann’s pages to stake their case as leaders of Phase 3 going forward. Elzar Mann and Lina Soh command some of the most exciting scenes in the entire book despite their lack of traditional action storytelling. Mann and Soh are not fighting the Nihli with blades and blasters but rather with biting wit and fascinating tactical strategy. While the pair shared precious little screen time before this entry into the saga, we can only hope there are many, many more scenes between them coming down the pipeline as Elzar can still present a bit too morose when left to scenes of his own.
Avar Kriss and Marchion Ro also returned to their places of honor in The High Republic pantheon by proving once more why they have been the figureheads of the Jedi and Nihil since the beginning. Avar’s sense of loneliness and separation is crushing as she attempts to navigate her escape for The Occlusion Zone, and somehow, Ro’s machinations against the Jedi and the Republic are more terrifying than ever. His blind hatred somehow finds vision in the precise nature of his larger plan, and the results hit just as hard as the first husk The Nameless ever made.
Alongside these stars are the returning star of The Blade, Porter Engle, reminding us of the validity of his namesake and Ghirra Starros as she tries to discover the final shreds of legitimacy she can possibly attribute to her family’s legacy.
While the majority of the new villains and supporting cast members can’t quite live up to these legends, their power alone is enough to bring the excitement of The High Republic back to its peak.
Star Wars is a better place when George Mann is writing it.
Previous fans of Mann’s work within a galaxy far, far away know that Mann is an expert of flow. From Myths & Legends to Quest for the Hidden City, his works have always done an exemplary job of carrying the reader through the story so well that it appears effortless.
The Eye of Darkness may be the best example of that skillset thus far in Mann’s career. By combining the technical elements of short chapters and constantly shifting POVs with the artistic elements evident in his mastery of rhythm, pace, and structure, Mann has created yet another story that catapults the reader through the narrative with marvelous efficiency.
When constructing the story of The Eye of Darkness, Mann strikes a wonderful balance between his smooth and readable style and the deep, heartbreaking subject matter that the story requires. His mastery of tone depending on the needs of the scene is evident throughout the book, but this is never more prevalent than Mann’s unfailing ability to convey fear.
Horror, desperation, and longing all pair together quite consistently throughout this book, and Mann’s history with spooky tales and legends comes full circle every time he is forced to write about the bone chilling terror that flows from the seat of Marchion Ro. Pair this talent with earnestly organic sprinklings of moments from Phase 2, and Mann has composed a book that not only starts Phase 3 with a bang but also proves to be the shining beacon of his career thus far.
When the first phase of The High Republic was released, it set a new standard for the Star Wars publishing industry. The books introduced new characters, new planets, and new mythology for a universe fans had known about for decades, and all of this brand new lore set us on a brand new path of discovery and wonder.
They were also just really fun to read.
The Eye of Darkness recaptures that initial magic by offering a book that is breathtakingly fun to read while also containing some of the darkest and soulsucking moments the initiative has seen thus far.
While some previous books have presented their entertainment value within the guise of action, intrigue, or shock, The Eye of Darkness rises to another level because it combines all of those factors together into one fantastic package. Politics, Apocalyptic Horror, Triumph, Defeat, Love. Combining all of these tones could have been a recipe for a jumbled disaster, but thanks to Mann’s ingenuity, they instead provide a sense of entertaining wonder in a vast amount of flavors.
That being said…the action is phenomenal. The magic of The High Republic lies in its embrace of endless possibility. Phase 1 had Jedi riding dragons! Remember that? DRAGONS! The Eye of Darkness reignites that sense of pure fantastical excitement as Mann choreographs some of the most fun (and occasionally devastating) action scenes he’s ever created. Pair that with our favorite returning characters experiencing actual stakes and internal conflict, and the result is a riveting adventure that will demand you stay up that extra hour just to reach the last page.
The Eye of Darkness is a massive swing by one of the best writers that Star Wars has to offer. While the sheer amount of characters and story beats may be a little overwhelming for some, the grand, emotionally driven journey taken by the returning protagonists of Phase 1 sets a tremendously high bar for the final phase of the ambitious initiative.
The Eye of Darkness is available now wherever books are sold and on Audible where it is narrated by Marc Thompson.