T

he galaxy, once at peace, is changing.

The Great Disaster -- which has left millions dead and droves of others displaced and devastated -- has set the entire Jedi Order on high alert.

While the completion of Starlight Beacon promises hope and unity across worlds, there are dark forces at play within the shadows. They could be space pirates. They could be sentient demon plants. Why not both?

Claudia Gray has become a familiar name among Star Wars book enthusiasts over the past five years. Each of her novels have featured a variety of characters and themes -- and have taken place at different points along the Canon timeline. But she has yet to tell a story revolving around a group of Jedi whose grand plans suddenly  derail after hyperspace as we know it breaks apart.

Until now.

Into the Dark is the third Star Wars novel set in The High Republic era following Charles Soule and Justina Ireland’s tales of The Great Disaster and those it impacted. We were expecting unforgettable characters. We were expecting some kind of jaw-dropping plot twist.

We might have even expected evil vegetation, let’s be honest.

And yet, somehow, our expectations were still blown completely out of the stars.

Plot

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Jedi Padawan Reath Silas isn’t sure if he’s ready for an adventure. Yet he finds himself boarding a small ship en-route to might-as-well-be-nowhere instead of remaining in the Jedi Archives where he feels most at home.

From the book’s opening paragraphs, Gray proves her finesse in the art of immediately making you care about characters you’ve just met. Knowing some of them may die -- this is Star Wars, after all, notorious for this sort of thing -- you continue turning pages.

You need to know what happens to your new best friends.

The High Republic: Into the Dark cover collage courtesy of Youtinii
Image Credit: Youtini

Like other stories The High Republic has offered up thus far, Into the Dark begins with its characters embarking on a straightforward journey to the Starlight Beacon dedication ceremony and immediately descends into chaos.

From the moment of The Great Disaster onward, the book’s characters face constant uncertainty, curiosity, and turmoil. Companions are lost, creepy artifacts are found. Will you ever figure out if Geode is actually alive or not? The anticipation reigns supreme.

This story converges with many others at its endpoint as the galaxy celebrates the official opening of Starlight Beacon. But the events that lead up to this moment from these characters’ perspective raise essential questions about the future of the Jedi Order and those who have dedicated their lives to serving it.

And of course, the epilogue tagged onto the end of it all really makes you wish the gaps between these stories were much, much smaller. These epilogues don’t disappoint.

Characters

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One of the most effective ways to write a good “Jedi story” is to give each primary character something they are terrified of losing. 

As soon as you tear that one thing from their grasp, your Jedi story becomes a relatable story about fear and hopelessness that also happens to feature someone who can lift rocks and wield a laser sword.

Main protagonist Reath Silas -- determined to live a life surrounded by books (can relate) -- suffers loss after devastating loss, pushing him to question his purpose in the Jedi Order and forcing him to come to terms with his relationship to fear and the future.

Padawan Reath Silas courtesy of StarWars.com
Image Credit: StarWars.com

Similar to Master & Apprentice, Gray uses her tried-and-true method here of mirroring different characters’ internal and external conflicts while keeping their roles and personalities separate and unique. Orla Jareni, like Silas, struggles to determine her true place in the galaxy, for the one thing she’s convinced she has always wanted may not be the path the Force wills her to take.

From characters we only get to spend a short time with to those who appear in nearly every chapter, the cast of Into the Dark has paved the way for a handful of additional stories that could continue well beyond the moment this one ends. We’ve only mentioned two of them in detail -- there are so many more you’re going to meet and immediately love!

Originality

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Gray is no stranger to character creation within the Star Wars universe. In addition to fleshing out long-time favorites such as Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Leia Organa, she’s also responsible for introducing readers to Thane and Ciena of Lost Stars fame. That book and its main protagonists remain near the top of Youtini’s all-time favorite original Star Wars stories.

So it’s no surprise -- but still impressive all the same -- that this veteran Canon storyteller saw the creation of yet another original narrative as a challenge and absolutely crushed it.

Not only did we meet an entire cast of new Jedi -- plus a few pilots and what can best be described as a sentient rock -- but we also came face-to-face with a new species of plant. It’s important to mention that these plants can speak, wield weapons, and are not friendly.

The Drengir courtesy of StarWars.com
Image Credit: StarWars.com

Writing

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If you’re going to write a Star War, you first must master the art of the Star Wars story.

You begin with a character about to embark on a journey, sprinkle in a conflict, assemble a group of heroes to overcome it, remember to insert your pew-pews accordingly, and boom. Star Wars!

Gray is a true master in this regard, but she has advanced far beyond the basics. Her characters are flawed, but likable enough that you want to see them grow. Her conflicts have high stakes but are slow to grow -- and there is always a twist with such worthy payoff that you can’t even be mad you didn’t see it coming … with Gray, you usually don’t.

It’s never been clearer that Claudia Gray just gets Star Wars. It’s enough of a task to write a novel in itself, even more so to write one set in a galaxy far, far away. Once again, she was able to tell a captivating story filled with fast-paced action, slower heartfelt moments, and references to past material so subtle that even I’m probably going to have to go back and give it a second read just to catch them all.

Entertainment

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There are many ways a book can establish itself as a page-turner -- an element of mystery; an unexpected plot twist; rapid-fire one-liners, just to name a few. It may not surprise you that Into the Dark nails each of these elements and more.

Gray balances humor, heartbreak, and tension so seamlessly that you barely notice when you’ve shifted from one tone to the next. The story’s quick pacing never pulls you too far in one direction, its jokes hit at just the right moments, and just when you think you might want to put the book down to recover from something sad, the story takes yet another turn … and suddenly it’s 2 a.m. and oops you’re still reading.

Our Verdict

Though we had no doubt Gray would deliver her usual promise of a stellar read with this title, the stakes for any High Republic novel are higher than usual.

The stories of The High Republic have to succeed not only in providing new material Star Wars fans have never experienced before -- they also have to simultaneously make these stories feel like Star Wars.

The way Gray expertly balances the two has sent our expectations for the rest of The High Republic higher than they’ve ever been, and it’s a good thing this is only her first of more to come.

What’s next for Claudia Gray? We don’t know! No, really. While her fellow High Republic co-authors have all been able to announce upcoming projects within this initiative, she has only been able to say she’s working on “something.” Something she can’t talk about … yet.

It’s fine. We’ll wait.

Waiting for new Star Wars books, after all, usually pays off quite nicely, don’t you think?

For more news on The High Republic and Into the Dark check out our exclusive interview with Claudia Gray! Now available wherever you get your podcasts!

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Meg is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. She lives in Illinois with her dog and medal-worthy book collection, and believes any conversation in which Star Wars references are applicable is one worth having.

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