If there’s one thing I wasn’t expecting from Star Wars: The High Republic, it was “an elaborate ruse involving a galactic pop star”. Midnight Horizon, the latest novel by Daniel José Older, crosses that one off the bingo card.
I managed to catch up with Older ahead of the book’s launch this February 1, and he describes it as one of the most fun writing experiences he’s ever had. However, it also tips its Jedi heroes into a dark new era.
Older has always dreamed of working on Star Wars. In fact, he’s wanted to play in that universe since age three.
“One of my first dream jobs was to make monsters for the creature shop,” he says. “In a way, I’m totally doing that now. I don’t have the aesthetic genius or patience or glue-gun skills to actually build monsters, but creating them on the page turns out to be a whole other kind of thrill.”
The High Republic – essential info
Announced in 2020, The High Republic is a canon series of novels and comic books set hundreds of years before The Phantom Menace. The Jedi are in their prime here, but a dangerous new threat known as the Nihil are emerging to threaten that peace. An upcoming video game called Star Wars: Eclipse is set during the era, and a new TV show dubbed Star Wars: Acolyte will also explore this time period.
He got his first opportunity in 2018’s Solo tie-in book, Last Shot, and is now responsible for helping to define a series that finds itself on lists of the best Star Wars books and Star Wars gifts. Indeed, The High Republic takes us into uncharted territory; until recently, Disney’s new Star Wars novels mostly concerned themselves with bridging gaps or expanding what we’d seen before. This series changed all that by exploring events set centuries before the movies occur. Built from the ground up by a who’s who of Star Wars talent, these authors hashed out what was then called ‘Project Luminous’ at Skywalker Ranch in 2018.
“That’s the best part and the most challenging part,” Older says of the group’s work together. “I love a challenge, I think we all do, and it’s been so cool to see this story grow between us. It also really helps to have four friends doing the writing side by side. We learn from each other, and we grow as writers. Coordination is hard, of course, and it turns out it’s just as hard when it’s with yourself as it is with other writers. I had some crossover moments between the comics and Midnight Horizon and I’m still scratching my head about how it all came together – [it’s] one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a writer.”
Midnight Horizon arrives at the tail-end of the initiative’s first arc, and it follows Padawans Reath Silas and Ram Jomaram as they go undercover to thwart an attack on Han Solo’s homeworld of Corellia (albeit a few hundred years before the smuggler is born, of course). This isn’t the sort of mission we’re used to seeing from Jedi, and that was crucial to Older – for the sake of keeping things interesting, it was important that his heroes couldn’t simply lightsaber their way out of a bind.
“In some ways, you’re always trying to take your characters out of their comfort zones. For Jedi, they are these incredibly powerful, wise heroes who have trained their whole lives for all kinds of situations. That means we as writers have to be very creative and sometimes cruel when we’re building conflicts around them.”
According to Older, this is part of the reason he introduced a character called Crash. As “a chaotic and hilarious tour guide through the underbelly and upper echelons of Corellia”, they’re an unpredictable wild card to challenge the Jedi’s self-assurance. Considering how this is probably where that bonkers plot involving pop stars comes from, I’m not complaining.
Midnight Horizon arrives at the tail-end of the initiative’s first arc, but like other products from this wave of High Republic, it can stand entirely on its own despite being “very much in conversation with the other books”. A lot of this is down to the freedom Older has had in molding his own corner of the Star Wars universe.
“I felt a lot more freedom with this project because I have kind of commandeered a little corner of the galaxy to play in with these kids,” he notes. “Corellia itself is largely unknown in this era, so I got to run wild with local politics, lore, culture. [The Lucasfilm] Story Group was a big help with all that, too, but overall, it’s such a different experience from writing in the way more established era of the Skywalker Saga.”
While The High Republic started out as an optimistic look at the Jedi on top form, things seem to be taking a dark turn with the next wave of stories – the ‘light of the Jedi’ apparently goes out, and not all the characters will survive.
That unique flavor is partially due to the fact that there isn’t a movie or pre-existing plot to tie in with; there’s a sense of freedom to it. However, that isn’t to say The High Republic has shaken out exactly as was planned in 2018. While its core arc is well defined, the road there is much more nebulous.
“It’s been a great mix of knowing the larger story beats, both in the initiative, in galactic history, and for the main characters, but still having room to be fluid, improvise, see where things are going. So I’ve learned a lot about characters I didn’t expect to, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to move around within the confines of this gigantic story.”
While some would find those confines frustrating, Older has found inspiration that’s kept him going.
“I think the importance of history and worldbuilding is something I’ve always admired about Star Wars, and even more so from the inside,” he tells me. “It’s amazing to work with all these terrific creative folks who are so immersed in it, both the galactic history and the narrative history of the world itself. I really admire the love everyone at Lucasfilm has for this work.”
Speaking of which, what advice does Older have for fans hoping to become Star Wars writers themselves one day?
“I’d say to focus on storytelling chops: character development, how narratives work, worldbuilding, rather than on knowing the intricacies of the Star Wars universe itself. Of course you want to watch and read a ton of Star Wars stuff, but you’re probably already doing that. What makes Star Wars great is great storytelling, and that’s what they’re always looking for from writers.”
Star Wars The High Republic: Midnight Horizon is available now from Amazon as a hardcover book for $14.39 (opens in new tab), and it’ll launch in the UK this February 10.
Looking for more reading material? Here are the very best gaming books and the best video game art books you can add to your collection. As for something a little more fantasy-flavored, you can always check in with our guide on how to read The Witcher books.