t’s hard to believe that The High Republic has only been in our lives for a single year. Already, characters like Avar, Bell, Keeve, and Stellan feel like friends we’ve known for decades, because the quality and sheer volume of stories we’ve gotten about them has been so immense.
From the undying hope of Light of the Jedi to the somber losses of The Rising Storm, Phase One of The High Republic put us through an emotional battlefield throughout 2021, and as dawn breaks on the first days of 2022, Claudia Gray has arrived to land the final blow.
Leading up to the release, fans have been wildly speculating on the level of psychological turmoil that waits within the pages of The Fallen Star. Even the official marketing channels have been filled with images of potential death and destruction – so far as to make an alternate cover for the title that showcases a burning Starlight Beacon.
While promises of chaos and calamity may have previewed the book’s release, after finishing The Fallen Star, it could be argued that the warnings of destruction may not have gone far enough.
The Fallen Star ends the initial trilogy of The High Republic’s groundbreaking initiative by presenting the most visceral and heartbreaking story we’ve seen thus far that may also be the crowning achievement in Claudia Gray’s lauded career.
Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of The High Republic’s first phase has been the sheer amount of characters that have been introduced. Every story has featured a robust cast of memorable Jedi, Nihil, pilots, and politicians, and as the scope of the ensemble has grown throughout the first three waves, so has the scope of the narrative.
With The Fallen Star, Claudia Gray was tasked with concocting a plot that would tie together all of the strands woven throughout the first year of the era’s storytelling, and somehow, she was able to do so by focusing almost every major player on one main event: the fall of Starlight Beacon.
Normally, we would be quite averse to talking about such story specifics in a review, but luckily, this event is stated directly in the title of the book and has been revealed in every single piece of promotional artwork (including the cover itself). The decision to center the entire book around this singular event allows Gray to explore the individual reactions of every person we’ve met along the way.
How will Stellan handle the chaos?
Will Elzar be able to silence his demons?
Just how delighted is Marchion Ro?
As the book evolves from a tension filled opening climb to a climactic ride of stress and panic, Gray lets the events and reveals flow through the characters, and the result connects you to each individual character in ways that are far more visceral than the era’s previous entries.
Naturally, the intended destruction of the Beacon is accompanied by a number of other distressing factors to further complicate the efforts of our main heroes. The horrendous shadows that have been looming over the Jedi are as dark as ever, the fallout from the Byne Guild’s disintegration rears its nasty head, and the strained relationships of the heralded Jedi Order get pushed even further to their respective breaking points.
All of these points of tension along with Gray’s constantly alternating points of view create the most aerobically intense book in the history of Star Wars publishing. Never before had I found myself so physically affected by a story’s passages, and although the beginning of the book may seem to adopt a slower pace than its predecessor’s, the unfiltered turmoil of the latter half takes the story in a direction readers will not soon forget.
Upon finishing the book and taking moments to steady your breath and attempt reflection, it becomes clear that every moment in The Fallen Star builds upon those that came before to create a devastating conclusion to The High Republic’s first phase.
From Lost Stars to Bloodline and beyond, Claudia Gray has been a staple of character creation, description, and evolution in the Star Wars universe. Her characters are infused with so much depth and life that they feel like old friends experiencing adventures you’ve merely forgotten about, and that skill has brought folks like Thane Kyrell, Ransolm Casterfo, and most recently the crew of The Vessel to the forefront of fans’ hearts.
The Fallen Star recognizes that magnificent talent of Gray’s but takes it one step further by solidifying her mastery of exploring partnerships amongst her cast. The most impressive pairings amongst the teams thrust together in the book are the lifelong friends, Elzar Mann and Stellan Gios and the burgeoning companionship discovered between Bell Zettifar and Burryaga. Despite being surrounded by the most horrifying of situations, both of these partnerships find time to connect and reflect on the respective traumas that have led them here.
This is most evident in the scenes between Elzar and Stellan. During the previous High Republic novels, we have heard about the strength of their bond throughout the years, and near the end of The Rising Storm, this comes to fruition as Elzar reaches out for aid after possibly the darkest moment of his life. However, The Fallen Star finally gifts Stellan and Elzar time to establish them as the strongest bonded brothers we have yet to see in Star Wars.
Claudia Gray crafts conversations of vulnerability, fear, compassion, and dedication between the two men to sculpt a friendship that no longer lives in the memories of the past, but is beautifully evident in the events of the present.
Burryaga and Bell represent the other side of the companionship coin by showcasing the wholesome joy of newly connected friends. Although the two have spent relatively little time together over the past year of stories, every scene they have within Starlight Beacon reinforces how lovely it can be when two pure souls find each other. They console each other, make each other laugh, and help both themselves and the reader escape from the overwhelming sense of despair for the briefest of moments.
After all, what are friends other than providers of joy and comfort amongst the storm?
Aside from these four standouts, Claudia Gray does a phenomenal job of showcasing a vast amount of characters we’ve met since last January. Readers that may not have given in fully to the conceit of the non-Jedi stars of Into the Dark or Out of the Shadows will be pleasantly surprised to witness the increased complexity of folks like Geode, Affie, and Leox within Star as their brand of comedy mixes effortlessly with grave reality.
Previous books of Claudia Gray’s have elevated minor characters to higher levels and have blessed us with new friends never to be forgotten, but The Fallen Star presents the strongest bonds of love and friendship her work has ever shown.
The strongest bonds are forged in fire.
There is something to be said for showing your hand at the beginning of a game.
While we customarily praise authors for their use and expansion of the Star Wars mythos when it comes to originality, Claudia Gray takes this category in a different direction by presenting a question we’ve never experienced in Star Wars literature.
What if I told you what was going to happen, but you were powerless to stop it?
The Fallen Star’s title, cover, and promotion all tell you what you need to know about the plot before the first page is read, and yet, Gray is able to fill over three hundred pages with the most affecting prose that we’ve read in years. With this type of setup, the story tells a readership that has historically been very apprehensive of spoiler-esque plot details to buckle up, because while we have an idea of the destination, we have no clue about the journey.
This approach to storytelling infuses The Fallen Star with a level of tension most reminiscent of Titanic (shoutout to our friend Laura from Force Toast: A Star Wars Happy Hour for this brilliant analogy). Even though you know the ship is going down, the drama of the film lies within the journey to that horrifying destination.
Similarly, the ultimate fate of Starlight Beacon is a catalyst for a series of crippling emotional beats that are intensely effective partially due to the false confidence instilled by us thinking we already know the story.
While The High Republic has infused the Star Wars universe with an incredible amount of new technology, characters, and planets, it takes a special level of originality to fundamentally alter how narratives are presented.
Thanks to her ever-increasing volume of work, especially in Star Wars, we have almost run out of ways to compliment the writing of Claudia Gray. Her scenes are filled with action and laughs, her characters freely explore the full range of their emotions, and every chapter she writes convinces you to read just one more.
The Fallen Star is undeniably Claudia Gray writing at her best where all of these are concerned, but it shows off her penchant for vivid emotional imagery better than any of her work thus far. While the specifics of the story are yours to discover for yourself, it’s no surprise at this point to admit that The Fallen Star is full of intense emotional discovery. Part of the beauty of The High Republic has been the willingness of the characters to open up emotionally in a way we rarely see - particularly with Jedi - but this book brings that feeling to a whole new level.
Not only is Star filled with quotes that will knock you out (and pass Corey’s grunt test if you watched The Youtinees), but it also exposes the true nature of characters that could so easily be two dimensional in the hands of a lesser team.
Marchion Ro is full of menace, but there is a deeper yearning for power and destruction.
Stellan Gios is the poster boy of the Order, but his crippling doubts threaten to crumble him at every turn.
Elzar Mann…well, Elzar Mann is fighting more than one ocean, and he’s barely keeping his head above the waves.
Gray’s writing allows us unfettered access to the most intimate moments in the lives of these characters, and more so than even the most stellar entries to come before it, The Fallen Star cements these players within your heart. You care for them. You cry with them. You love them.
Every picture may be worth a thousand words, but every word of Claudia Gray’s paints a canvas all its own.
Reading The Fallen Star is an assaulting experience. If you’ve never quite understood how certain readers can become so overcome with emotion while reading that they’ll yell, gasp, or even cry, this book may provide that level of understanding. The only similar experience that comes to mind is the feeling of adrenaline and overwhelming reaction that comes with a movie’s midnight screening.
While the book intentionally starts at a somewhat slower pace to build an extraordinary amount of narrative tension, it becomes nearly impossible to put down once the switch flips and the destruction begins. Whether it’s extra trips to the grocery store to experience just a bit more of the audiobook or leaving the light on an hour longer than you thought to squeeze in those extra chapters, The Fallen Star grips you by the throat and refuses to let go as it reveals each subsequent page.
Additionally, this project represents the best work yet for the hardest working audiobook narrator in the game, Marc Thompson. Claudia Gray’s content undoubtedly provides Marc with a rich text to play with, but he never backs down from the challenge of the work and infuses each scene with the respect and gravity that the scene requires. If you’ve never read a book while simultaneously listening to Marc’s performance, you could not pick a better time to start.
Sometimes, we conflate the meaning of entertaining with “fun,” and while the experience of witnessing The Fallen Star can’t quite be described in such a light manner…the entertainment value of having your soul wrenched from your body can’t be oversold.
Claudia Gray ends the first Phase of The High Republic with a story of connection, loss, fighting through darkness, and everything that makes up Star Wars. Joy, sorrow, comedy, tragedy, epic battles, witty remarks, unfiltered love, villainous malice, and everything between lives within the pages of The Fallen Star, and the culmination of the book’s events catapult the status of the Phase 1 trilogy to the level of masterpiece.
As we look back on 2021 and ahead to 2022, it is almost impossible to fathom the effect that this initiative has had on the Star Wars book community at large. Characters introduced just a year ago are now intertwined in the hearts and souls of readers all around the world, and The Fallen Star honors their legacy by starting off the new year with just as much promise as our 2021 Book of the Year, Light of the Jedi.
It’s far too soon to know if The Fallen Star will take next year’s title…but it’ll take quite a lot to beat it.