Jedi twists - New book explores the Star Wars universe 200 years earlier

Star Wars: The High Republic – Light of the Jedi is the new first novel – the toe in the water of what Lucasfilm hopes will become an entirely separate Star Wars narrative.

A Star Wars fan dressed in costume as Darth Vader (photo credit: REUTERS/CLODAGH KILCOYNE)
A Star Wars fan dressed in costume as Darth Vader
Someone must leap into the abyss.
And that someone is Charles Soule, son of Milwaukee and Grand Rapids, now keeper of the Jedi. Picture a job you wouldn’t want under any circumstance – say, presidential social-media consultant, Chicago Bears quarterback, cesspool scrubber – and Soule has you beat: He was tasked with (shudder) introducing a completely fresh storyline to the Star Wars universe.
Meaning, no Luke, no Rey, no Han, no Leia, no Mandalorian, no Baby Yoda.
Soule is no monster, but rather, a fine writer, a brand name in comic books, author of well-received science-fiction novels, and now part of a small team hired by Lucasfilm to (cough) boldly go where few have gone before: To a galaxy where no one has ever heard of a Darth Vader, Darth Maul, Darth Sidious, Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker or Rey Skywalker. 
Star Wars: The High Republic – Light of the Jedi is the new first novel – the toe in the water of what Lucasfilm hopes will become an entirely separate Star Wars narrative/revenue stream spanning decades, leading to movies, TV shows, Legos, breakfast cereals and so on. Soule, 46, just happened to be the tip of that light saber. So far, so good. If Amazon is any measure, Light of the Jedi just debuted behind Barack Obama’s blockbuster memoir. We spoke with Soule the other day. The following is an edited version of a longer conversation
‘Light of the Jedi’ takes place 200 years before the ‘Star Wars’ we all know. Handling that long narrative expanse, while simultaneously fitting it into a larger, well-known ‘Star Wars’ world, did you ever find yourself seeing this in terms of real-world history?
I did. The time period I’m writing the High Republic is basically early 1960s America. Meaning, the election of Kennedy right up to his assassination. I won’t be disingenuous and say this was true for everyone in America then, but there was a period, after we won World War II when the world was being divided up and we got our share of tribute and treasure. We were rich. It’s how we built the interstate highway system and many things. We came off a decade of stability, and had a young vibrant administration – cute kids, beautiful wife, handsome leader – that wanted to land on the moon by the end of the decade. Which, considering where the space program was, seemed impossible. But we did it. It was a time when America was willing to do things that seemed impossible.
Thinking of this book as the early 1960s also fits pretty well into George Lucas’s initial vision of the first ‘Star Wars’ movie as a loose metaphor for the Vietnam War, with vast empires carrying unlimited resources being humbled by scrappy bands of rebel armies.
Absolutely, that’s true. There is nothing wrong with optimism, but there is also a certain reality, and by the end of (the 1960s), America was in a vastly different place.
It reads like the Cold War. There’s a refrain in ‘Light of the Jedi’ about a galaxy mostly at peace — basically, it’s a good time for the universe. But it is ‘Star WARS,’ so we know it doesn’t last for these well-meaning people in tan robes.
The Jedi don’t have a role in galactic governance, they just help with what they can get their arms around. But because of who they are, it creates ripples. The version of the Jedi in this book, they are sure of purpose, they know what is right. They understand the galaxy is complicated but feel they bring justice – they bring light. Which also means they don’t worry about trade disputes, or hyperspace routes, or negotiating treaties.
How much carte blanche do you have inventing for ‘Star Wars’?
I was part of a group of five writers hired by Lucasfilm to create this era, and each contributed different things. It was called Project Luminous, which comes from the Yoda line: “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” The whole point was to do things that were free, not tied to the story we have seen from Star Wars for 40 years. We adore those stories – Rogue One, The Mandalorian, A New Hope – but we also wanted to do something where if a character shows up, you don’t know their birth and death already. The audience doesn’t know where these new stories or characters will go. We wanted there to be possibility and novelty – but also, not so much novelty that it’s not recognizably Star Wars. Which is incredibly difficult, which means you have to ask: What does Star Wars feel like? What do we have to have? What can we repurpose? On top of that, this novel here has to be a fun read, and be self-contained and act as the first step in a massive multi-year interconnected story.
Give me a specific example of the difficulty.
Well, for instance, every character is new. Yoda gets a couple references, there are people on the Jedi Council who aficionados would remember, but really, the only (character) most people know is Yoda. You think of the Big Bads of Star Wars, you think of Darth Vader, then arguably Palpatine, then Darth Maul, Kylo Ren. You think of boogeymen who captured imaginations. I had to create a Big Bad who, by the end of this book, is different but also gives you that whoa. Because every story we write for this project will be compared to our memories of Star Wars.
Who then decides what ‘Star Wars’ is in the High Republic storyline?
Ideally, the five authors who are part of this. We work with the Lucasfilm story group, which is a brain trust with good story sense and the knowledge of everything that has happened and everything that is going to happen. But generally speaking, some of us have multiple Ph.D.s in Star Wars and we wouldn’t have these jobs without that innate compass.  
(Chicago Tribune/TNS)
By Charles Soule
Del Ray
400 pages; $28.99