Star Wars: Into the Dark by Claudia Gray

This review was brought to you in high-definition and surround sound by Crystal Anne with An E. Crystal is a Hufflepuff who works as an autism consultant by day and goes to Library School at night. She reads a lot, she cross-stitches a lot, and is always ready to make someone a reading list.

NB: This book is currently .99 digitally for May the 4th!

Guess who’s back? This time with bonus Grogu gifs!

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Obviously, after spewing rainbows all over Claudia Gray and her forays into Star Wars before, I had to come back after reading her new entry in the Star Wars universe, Star Wars-The High Republic: Into the Dark. This one is her contribution to a recently launched series that takes place approximately 200 years before the birth of Anakin Skywalker, at the height of the Galactic Republic. The books span across target age groups, and revolve around the building of a space station whose purpose is to improve contact and resource-sharing to some of the outer rim planets, as a disaster takes place prior to the opening of the station. Behind that disaster is a looming threat that would disrupt all of this for their own gain. The Jedi are highly involved, acting as diplomats, protectors, explorers, and guardians, both of planets and of government officials, those of planets and those of the Republic itself.

I have read three books in the series thus far, Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland, and this latest one. My understanding is that more stories from additional authors are coming, and the series will include comics. I don’t necessarily think that you need to read all of them, but Light of the Jedi in particular kind of sets the stage for all of the other ones (and it’s a good book).

As usual, the characters remain one of my favorite things. They are often engaging and original, and act in ways that show off their nobility without it seeming preachy. At the same time, there are often flaws, and they make mistakes, but make effort to both learn from errors and mitigate the damage that can be done. In this particular outing, we get introduced to a kind of Jedi, that, frankly, I just don’t feel like we’ve seen enough of: a nerd Jedi.

Our main character in this one is Reath Silas, a Padawan who has just been told by his master that they are headed out into what basically amounts to the final frontier…

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Dean Winchester from Supernatural winks at you holding a cup of coffee

I couldn’t resist that one, and I regret nothing.

Back to our baby Reath. He’s a nerd. He’s a bookworm. He has absolutely no interest in visiting, spending time in, or being anywhere near some backwater planet somewhere off the galactic grid.

It is evidently something of a rite of passage for the Padawans to spend some time off adventuring, getting into scrapes, and spending time on other planets with other cultures. While Reath does enjoy learning about other cultures, especially when it comes to their history and archaic languages, he would prefer to be doing it on Coruscant, poring through the Jedi Archives like the master archiver he has every intention of becoming and reading their scrolls in the hidey-hole he has fashioned for himself within the Jedi Temple.

In addition, while Reath is competent, he struggles with the more physical aspects of being a Jedi that, in his mind, seem to come naturally to the others. He struggles with calming his mind (which admittedly, has to be hard to do when “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE” is repeating itself in there) has not figured out how to make the Mind Trick work for him, and is not a natural lightsaber fighter. That said, he compensates by practicing more and harder than those around him. In one particularly amusing scene, a bad guy vastly underestimates what Reath is capable of, and is deeply surprised when he loses a hand.

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characters from THE OFFICE say BIG MISTAKE. HUGE ending with Mindy Kaling nodding at the camera

That said, Reath is still a kid. He makes mistakes, and due to a certain naivete caused by spending more time reading about rather than learning from people, he has a tendency to be easily deceived. However, he learns from those mistakes, and while he does gain much-needed experience and perspective, he doesn’t lose his sense of compassion in the process.

In addition, we also get to see two other Jedi who are experiencing some struggles with the Force. One of them, Cohmac Vitus, is still dealing with unresolved grief and trauma from the loss of his Master many years prior. He constantly questions the validity of the Jedi training that suppresses their emotions, rather than moving through those emotions and learning to manage them. The problems with the Jedi and how they were trained that eventually led to the downfall of Anakin Skywalker 200 years later were not new. They could and should have been dealt with, but even at the height of their powers, the Jedi were already showing signs of being resistant to change, and that lack of recognition of what their training could do to the more vulnerable among them would eventually lead to their destruction. As with Leia: Princess of Alderaan, the things that the reader knows about the future deepen the story.

The other major Jedi character that we meet is Orla Jareni. Orla has recently declared herself a Wayseeker, a Jedi who has chosen to operate without the authority of the High Council. She, like Cohmac, is experiencing some conflict with the way that the Jedi operate, and wants to take a different approach to learning the ways of The Force. In order to do so, she needs to reject some of the more strict mandates of the Order itself. I enjoyed her curiosity, and her care for Cohmac, as she is sensitive to the sadness and rage that he feels. I haven’t spent a great deal of time with Ahsoka Tanoh yet (the husband and I started The Clone Wars TV show last year), but Orla strikes me as a precursor.

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Ahsoka from The Mandalorian hands Mando a spear and nods in acceptance as she lets go

In addition to the Jedi, the cast of characters includes Affie, a young woman training to pilot a ship and take over her mother’s trade guild. Affie is especially interesting, in that the events of the book test her moral code, and she finds herself in the position of having to take a stand against a trade practice that revolts her, even though it will put her in direct opposition to her adoptive mother. There’s also Geode, a highly skilled ship navigator, easily the calmest, most-chill character in the story. Geode is a Vintian, which means basically, Geode looks and acts like a big rock.

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Korg from Thor 3 says I'm made of rocks as you can see but don't let that intimidate you

One of the things that I enjoyed most was the range of races and sexualities in the book, which were introduced with very little fanfare. It’s a big galaxy, so of course there should be diversity in it. One of the queens is married to another woman, and Leox Gyasi, the shrewd, calm, slightly-high captain of the cleverly-named spaceship Vessel, is asexual.

If I had any struggles, it was the pacing, which felt inconsistent at times, but spending time with the characters made up for it. Inconsistent pacing tends to be, for me, a factor that can make me less engaged in the story itself. While I enjoyed the characters a great deal, it felt like I was more there for them than I was the story. In addition, there were certain mythologies within the Star Wars universe that were hinted at, but not really fleshed out as much as I would have liked. I allow that there may not have been as much time spent on this type of world-building since we’re already in a well-established story universe, but I still think there was more story to be told there, and Reath seems an obvious character to engage with that info, given his interest in history and artifacts.

I also think I would have preferred a more compelling villain. There is one there, but we didn’t really get to spend enough time with that person BEING the villain. That said, based on the ending, I don’t believe that person’s story is remotely over. In any case, am I going to read the next book? Uh, yeah, I will always put Claudia Gray Star Wars in my eyeballs.

So until the next time I can go visit a galaxy far, far away, May the Force Be With You.

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grogu reaches for a small winged creature

Grade: Nice solid B.

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