Crystal Anne With An E comes to us from a sunny clime, though she is an indoor cat that prefers to remain pale. She is an autism consultant by day, and recently completed a degree in information science, mostly because she could and it was fun. She likes to read (obviously), watch TV while cross-stitching something geeky, play video games, beg her plants not to die in the hell heat of summer, and walk while listening to podcasts that likely involve some sort of murder.
So, the season of Star Wars is upon us again. The Grogu merchandise is plentiful, and sexy Obi-Wan shall soon grace our screens. This also means that, yes, Claudia Gray blessed us with a new Star Wars book, The Fallen Star, her second contribution to the ongoing multimedia project The High Republic.
You don’t have to read the entire High Republic series for The Fallen Star to make sense (I personally have not), but if you’re a completist, go nuts, because there’s a lot of fun in there. I will say that there is a bit of “what happened where to who now?” if you have not, but my brain tends to accept that and work around it, probably because I read series out of order frequently (it’s a problem). Information about past events is woven into the story without seeming info-dumpy, so again, even if you did not read all of the prior books, you will probably have a decent idea of what happened.
If someone were to ask me what this book was about and tell me to keep it short, I would simply respond “Titanic in space.” It is a bit of a simplification, but the second half of this book goes full-on disaster epic, and very effectively so.
As the book opens, the Jedi are feeling fairly good, as they believe that they have cornered and bested the shadowy threat that has threaded through this series, a group known as the Nihil. The Nihil want to rule the Outer Rim of the Republic, have no qualms about murdering everyone in their path, and begun as time goes on, have to resemble a cult. leader, Marchion Ro, is charismatic and cunning, and uses the fanatical behaviors of several of his followers to his advantage. That skill in using people is what will ultimately lead to him being able to engineer an event which he will prove the Nihil’s dominance of The Outer Rim planets: the destruction of the Outer Rim space station The Starlight Beacon.
Without saying too much (because I want you to read the book), this book shows us both how dedicated the Jedi are to their missions, and how catastrophic they can find it when stripped of their power. As part of the sabotage, a creature is released on the station that renders the Jedi nearly powerless. The Jedi affected feel paralyzing fear and disorientation when in the presence of the creature, who ultimately uses that sense of disorientation to kill several Jedi.
The ones still alive are left to cope with feeling cut off from the Force. Some react by searching for the source of the problem, while others are left with a feeling of emotional paralysis: they literally cannot figure out how to function without their connection to the Force. The character least affected is Elzar Mann (a Jedi that has appeared in several of the High Republic stories), who is afforded some resistance due to the fact that he has been battling his tendency to access the Dark Side and thus intentionally cuts himself off from the Force much of the time.
Another interesting aspect of this book is that it gives us a very solid example of being able to “look for the helpers” when dealing with a disaster. One Padawan, Bell Zettifer, remains in the infirmary watching over his injured Master, and figures out how to separate the infirmary from the rest of the station and save the patients. The governors of the planet that is endangered by the station’s impending crash are tasked with trying to both move their people out of the trajectory and send help to those evacuating the station. The Jedi help organize shipping and non-military pilots so they can get as many people out of the station as possible, even as they are grappling with the sabotage intended to keep people on it and maximize the death toll.
As always, Gray’s characters tend to be my favorite things about her writing. Despite the fact that there are many, they have distinct characteristics so that the reader isn’t going “Wait, who again?” Since my sweet nerd baby Reath Silas was not in this one (he’s mentioned in passing, but does not appear), I had to find new favorite characters.
Fortunately, Geode, the Vintian who is an icon, a moment, and a legend, and also appears to be nothing so much as a sentient rock, does appear. He flirts, he intimidates, he’s protective of his boss, Affie (another one who also appeared in Into the Darkand we’ll get back to her in a second).
Do I know how he’s doing any of this, given that he’s a rock and we never hear or see him speak? Not remotely.
Do I want to read these books from his perspective? Absolutely.
It’s a smiling rock. Get it?
I also enjoyed spending more time with Burryaga, a sweet, eager Padawan learner that is the first Wookiee Jedi that I’ve come across. Burryaga is thoughtful, helpful, brave, and a straight-up cinnamon roll. He puts himself on the line for others, and is one of the most empathetic Jedi I’ve ever seen as a character. I love him to death.
It was nice seeing Affie Hollow again as well, now an experienced ship captain. She’s grown up some since I last saw her, which makes sense, as she is now out on her own, without the safety net of her mother’s guild behind her. She is still flying with Leox Gyasi and Geode, and while she is very collaborative in how she runs her ship, when the time comes to captain up, she does so without hesitation.
As much as I loved the characters, I really wish that I had liked the story more. The pacing felt off to me, since not a lot happened right up until the attack on the station, and it felt a bit like wheels spinning to my brain. Also, at least one of the villain characters felt somewhat extraneous. He could have been cut out of the story altogether and it wouldn’t have made much difference, other than the fact that his death was kind of funny (pro-tip: don’t try to shoot Vintians). These are minor quibbles, and nowhere near being deal-breakers, because of how much I love the characters in the story.
I have to say (and I believe I’ve said it before), but it’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan. Lego Skywalker Saga is out for Switch, Ewan McGregor’s ridiculously handsome face will be on my screen again in just over a month, and The Mandalorian just finished filming its 3rd season.
“Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”
May The Force Be With You.