t’s been quite the year for Cavan Scott. Long known as a staple of Star Wars literature, Scott has ascended to another level in 2021 by putting out a truly breathtaking amount of work. Most of these new additions to the Canon have arrived through the High Republic initiative from his groundbreaking novel The Rising Storm to his monthly wonder with Ario Anindito and Georges Jeanty, Star Wars: The High Republic from Marvel.
These stories have told tales of Jedi warriors, everyday heroes, and of course...dastardly villains.
Tempest Runner, the first fully produced audio drama of The High Republic era, falls distinctly in the latter category. Within these auditory pages, Scott spins the story of Lourna Dee, the feared Twi’lek leader of the Nihil (well...according to the Republic, that is). Lourna’s story is one of rises, falls, betrayals, and sacrifices, and once again Scott is able to create an intriguing protagonist out of a villain somewhat ignored by previous material.
See Dooku: Jedi Lost for his first experience doing so...and quite marvelously, we might add.
Tempest Runner plunges the High Republic into the fastest rising medium in Star Wars by creating a vibrant group of characters that cast a brand new light on one of the most multifaceted leaders we’ll see for years to come.
Whether it’s because of their propensity for accessing multiple time periods or the excitement of casting the official voice for a fictional character’s entire life, audio dramas in Star Wars appear to have a knack for origin stories. Like Dooku: Jedi Lost before it, Tempest Runner introduces the lifelong journey of Lourna Dee from Twi’lek royalty to malicious Nihil leader through a number of frame stories, flashbacks, and present day events that all lead to Lourna’s eventual evolution.
Throughout the roughly six-hour drama (if you’re a 1x-speed listener, that is), Lourna’s story comes to us through a number of conversations had between various figures in her life. The story of her fall to the Republic is conveyed through a conversation between two unlikely allies in an offworld cantina. Her struggles on her homeworld trickle out of conversations Lourna endures with Gar Tarfin, Starlight Beacon’s head of security. And even more of her history is vibrantly exposed through Lourna’s mandated sessions with Councilor Wittick aboard the prison ship Restitution.
Weaving Lourna’s triumphs and failures through so many different methods of flashback and exposition is assuredly a choice that most highlights the strength of the format, but due to the sheer amount of characters and story threads introduced in Tempest Runner, it can occasionally be difficult to follow without a tangible reference guide in front of you.
However, despite the occasional confusion when it comes to time placement or character names, Tempest Runner’s plot is perhaps the most successful audio drama thus far in terms of stakes, because Lourna’s story is still being told.
Whereas Dooku: Jedi Lost tells the story of a character whose fate had already been sealed by the hand of Anakin Skywalker and Doctor Aphra reframed narratives already explored in the Marvel comics, Tempest Runner adds a level of mystery to each interaction, because everything in the High Republic is still...well...new. We don’t know which characters will survive. We don’t know which alliances will endure.
And neither does Lourna.
This level of uncertainty in Lourna’s path not only allows her to evolve into the untrusting, vicious leader we meet in Light of the Jedi, but it also allows us as listeners to fully buy into the evident dangers in every scene. We can allow ourselves to fall in love with characters as they float into our ears, but every moment must be cherished, because we don’t know what’s coming around the next corner.
One of the most wonderful features of the audio drama medium is the employment of a full complement of voice actors to fill out the universe of the story. While the Star Wars literature world is composed of some wonderfully talented voice actors that are capable of crafting entire audio landscapes by themselves, there’s something special about hearing a massive group come together to plunge you right in the middle of the galaxy.
While we’ll focus on the power and specifics of individual performances later on, the importance of the full cast is key in understanding the vibrancy of the characters created by Scott for Tempest Runner. Scott’s prowess for creating memorable players on the Star Wars board is well known, but hearing them come alive throughout Tempest Runner is a special treat.
Chief among these characters is unsurprisingly Lourna Dee, played with venomous expertise by Jessica Almasy. Throughout the last wave and a half of the High Republic, Lourna has provided support and the occasional challenge to the machinations of Marchion Ro, but throughout Tempest Runner, she elevates herself into the pantheon of villains scattered throughout this era.
Despite her occasional blips of brutality featured in Runner, however, Lourna’s brightest moments in this drama are those of vulnerability and connection. While the introductory battle between the Republic and her Tempest may showcase the most recognizable version of Lourna Dee, the Lourna that slowly opens herself up to newfound friends and even potential allies paints a far more intriguing picture of a character you can’t help but root for until the final minute passes.
Two players that slowly widdle down the harsh exterior that Lourna most effectively are Dan Bittner’s Councilor Wittick and Tara Sands’s Sestin. While Lourna’s past indiscretions and heavy resistance to any kind of aid plague the beginnings of both relationships, watching Lourna arduously allow these two to penetrate her exterior transforms the character in a way that you never could expect outside of this project.
Aside from Lourna’s commanding presence that takes over the vast majority of the drama, some of the surprising standouts were those of the Jedi! Perhaps it’s the previous relationships forged through the brilliance of previous High Republic projects, but the few Jedi that appear throughout Tempest Runner set my heart aflutter. Hearing characters that previously appeared solely within novels and comics is a practically giddy experience, and it speaks wonderfully to the skill of the writers across the initiative that the appearance of characters less than a year old can elicit so much joy.
Finally, despite the wonderful complexity of Lourna Dee and some secondary protagonists that surround her, this audio drama does suffer just a bit from an overabundance of new people with slightly similar voices in a multitude of time periods. On more than one occasion, it’s easy to misunderstand which time period you’re in, which set of alliances need to be focused on, and which member of a particular species is meant to be speaking.
Luckily, this problem has been easily solved in the past by the offering of script books for those who want to dive deeper or are unable to enjoy auditory Star Wars media, so fingers crossed that the tradition continues with Tempest Runner.
Since the inception of The High Republic that was somehow less than one year ago, the Nihil have uniformly been presented as bloodthirsty villains. Chaos reigns within their ranks. Innocents tremble before their might.
And when they ride the storm...well...it can get pretty out of hand.
So when the first audio drama of the initiative promised to focus on one of their leaders, there were questions about how Tempest Runner could change the very nature of the group.
Will this change the Nihil forever?
Will Lourna Dee even make sense anymore?
Will I actually care about a character who has caused so much pain?
In a word. Yes.
Tempest Runner provides a beautifully original storytelling space that simultaneously borrows classic Star Wars concepts like the prison ship featured in stories like Death Troopers and Doctor Aphra (2016) and introduces brand-new facets of preexisting factions like the Nihil and the Republic. Throughout this story, we learn not only about Lourna Dee’s rise to power, but also about the inner workings of the Republic’s military, prison complex, and systemic makeup. Using an audio drama to explore this type of universal expansion is a brilliant move by Scott, and it is an opportunity not afforded to previous dramas in the same way due to their placement into previously cemented areas of Star Wars lore.
Upon the completion of Tempest Runner, it is clear that the Nihil will be forever changed by the character that Lourna becomes, but the details remain mysterious enough to keep us on our toes for years to come.
During our review for The Rising Storm, we praised Cavan Scott’s ability to sculpt narrative, create unforgettable character moments, and expand the Star Wars galaxy with every new project. Those skills are once more on display in Tempest Runner as the intimate moments of reflection experienced by Lourna pack just as big a punch as the action-packed sequences that bookend the piece.
What differs from Scott’s previous High Republic work, however, is the stellar cast of voice actors previously mentioned. Fourteen different talents provide the vocal landscape scattered across the six hours of Tempest Runner, and as a team, we generally agree that this is the highest quality of performance we have yet to see in a Star Wars audio drama!
As said above, the unquestionable star of the show is Jessica Almasy’s Lourna Dee. Almasy imbues Lourna with her trademark viciousness, but she also infuses Dee’s trials with an unexpected level of uncertainty and unshielded exposure. This addition to Lourna’s toolbox of character creation allows her to transcend the descriptor of simple villain to become a complex cutthroat who maintains her malicious abilities within a web of occasional morality.
Other standout performances arrive courtesy of of DanBittner’s Councilor Wittick, Sullivan Jones’s Bala, Jonathan Davis’s Asgar Ro, Saskia Maarveld’s Avar Kriss, and the return of Marc Thompson’s Pan Eyta & Marchion Ro from previous High Republic projects. While some of these characters feature for an astoundingly small amount of time, their presence is felt long after their departure due to the magnetic choices that are made with vocal quality, delivery, and intention.
Nonetheless, the trials of the overabundance of new characters spoken about earlier makes itself known within the performances as well -- particularly in the case of January LaVoy’s Tasia. While the character is expertly written, and the performance is definitionally well done, the similarity in vocal pattern and dialect between Lourna Dee and Tasia make it quite difficult to ascertain with Twi’lek is speaking at any given moment, and when there are flashbacks to other Twi’leks interacting with Lourna, a similar issue arises.
This slight confusion also appears later on in the story as alliances and betrayals become more important to the central narrative, and it can take a few rewinds to remember which voice belongs to which character and whose team they are currently on.
Previously, members of our community have discussed their enjoyment in relistening to the audio dramas while following along in printed script books, and if that publishing tradition is upheld a few months after Tempest Runner’s release, that could be extraordinarily helpful in relieving this confusion.
Star Wars audio dramas are perhaps the closest we get to reliving the ravenous excitement of a film or show without transferring to a visual medium. The spectacular production values alongside the ridiculously talented voice cast work together to create a product that is wholeheartedly Star Wars and is even the favorite storytelling medium for many of our team members.
Tempest Runner proves that the folks at Penguin Random House Audio are learning more and more with every release, because even though the previous audio drama entries were a ton of fun on their own, Tempest raises the bar even higher. The ship battles are booming, the individual fights are brutal, and the environmental effects are so immersing, you’ll swear you have to check your phone to make sure you didn’t start watching a show by mistake.
There remains something so addictive about this format where the production just sinks its teeth in and refuses to let go. There’s an entire group of people walking you through a full life of a character you need to know more about, and before you know it, it’s over.
If anything, Tempest Runner’s entertainment level is most evident by the fact that it probably could have been a bit longer. More time with the characters may not only have provided more exhilarating moments of adventure and tension, but also given more context for each new character to avoid the earlier moments of confusion.
Regardless, the pure amount of fun had from start to finish proves that audio drama will continue to be one of the most vibrant and enjoyable methods of Star Wars storytelling, and we can’t wait for Cavan to continue penning them for years to come.
Tempest Runner continues the possibly unstoppable hype train of the High Republic as it barrels toward the end of its first year. By fleshing out one of the premier antagonists of one of the saga’s most infamous groups, Cavan Scott ensures that readers and listeners will never be quite so hasty to write off future villains without a second glance.
Despite the occasional uncertainty in time periods and vocal similarities that pop up throughout the project, Tempest Runner’s dedication to its brilliantly performed protagonist keeps the listener grounded in a story we never knew we needed until we had it.
All hail the High Republic. And all hail the one...the only...Lourna. Dee.