Star Wars: The High Republic – Midnight Horizon | Book Review

Midnight Horizon

Daniel José Older has us looking inward as he helps close out Phase One of Star Wars: The High Republic with one of the best and most soul-searching books to date; Midnight Horizon.

Centuries before the events of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, in the era of the glorious High Republic, the Jedi are the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy!


After a series of staggering losses, the Republic seems to finally have the villainous Nihil marauders on the run, and it looks like there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Until word comes of a suspected Nihil attack on the industrial cosmopolitan world of Corellia, right in the Galactic Core.

Sent to investigate are Jedi Masters Cohmac Vitus and Kantam Sy, along with Padawans Reath Silas and Ram Jomaram, all fighting their own private battles after months of unrelenting danger. On Corellia, Reath and Ram encounter a brazen young security specialist named Crash, whose friend was one of the victims of the Nihil attack, and they team up with her to infiltrate Corellia’s elite while the Masters pursue more diplomatic avenues. But going undercover with Crash is more dangerous than anyone expected, even as Ram pulls in his friend Zeen to help with an elaborate ruse involving a galactic pop star.

But what they uncover on Corellia turns out to be just one part of a greater plan, one that could lead the Jedi to their most stunning defeat yet….

Book Review 

For Daniel José Older’s final kick at The High Republic can book-wise (I’m assuming), he doesn’t stray too far from his comfort zone, turning in what essentially is a YA comic book with Star Wars: Midnight Horizon. If you’ve read his IDW run up to issue #12, and his middle grade book Race to Crashpoint Tower, then the measure and dramatis personae should be familiar as this book, more or less, puts a cap on that run. And because each entry and wave all connect to a broader High Republic scheme, you should be conversant with what’s going on…assuming you’ve kept up. Fortunately for me, Daniel’s IDW run is the one I’ve kept up with so characters like Zeen Mrala and Lula Talisola have become not only familiar, but anticipated.

Yes, I’ve become attached to this particular group, a list which could also include Ram Jomaram, Vernestra Rwoh, Reath Silas, and a few non-Jedi supporting characters. While heavies such as Avar Kriss, Sskeer, and Elzar Mann get cosplayed, this younger group is over here, providing what I think is the substance. The reason I believe is simple; the senior staff really doesn’t look and act that much different from the Jedi we’ve grown up with, do they? They mostly walk the same, talk the same, and swing the old stick the same. But these emotional adolescents on the other hand—these still fresh young minds and critical thinkers—provide so many more amazing opportunities to question some of the more reticent ideas of the Jedi. But we’ll get to that in a second.

“…but there was no way the Nihil were on Corellia—that was an Outer Rim problem.”

As you should know by now, the reason the Nihil are so effective is because they don’t follow the “rules.” You know, those guiding principles and basic decorum we all are supposed to follow, etiquette. They are unpredictable. Like a newbie Texas hold’em player at a table full of old pros, they are chaos creators. And so, imagine their surprise, the fine shipbuilding folks of Corellia, when the Nihil leave the cozy confines of the Outer Rim and head to the Core. And the reason they chose Corellia has something to do with what’s happening across all of Wave 3, the destruction of the Starlight Beacon, but that won’t be revealed here. Their mere presence gets the brass’s attention, and like a moth to a flame, they send some reliable space wizards to check it out. In reality, they are spread pretty thin, and they pointed to whomever was in the room. What they didn’t know, what they couldn’t know at the time, is they were sending this foursome into a bit of hornet’s nest, dropping them into a sinister plot meant to further destabilize the Republic and drop some serious Nihil-bombs.

That’s the basic idea here in Midnight Horizon, that’s the reason we get to spend some time on a planet mostly known for its kickass shipbuilding. And not merely content to give us more of the same, Daniel takes full advantage of the opportunity to splash a bit of color on an otherwise drab environment, and he does so to great effect here. He makes Corellia, Coronet City in particular, more dynamic than ever showing both the gusto and the grime of its upper and lower corridors.

Leading the way is Alys “Crash” Ongwa, a legacy who runs the Supreme Coronet City Diplomat Protection Agency, and who is front and center for most of the action. Daniel does a nice job here giving us just enough detail on the need-to-knows, delivering an efficient albeit enthusiastic round of cloak-and-dagger meets Mission Impossible. He also takes the opportunity to give us some delicious new details about one of the city’s more recognizable denizens, the Grindilad. Yes, that weird worm from Solo: A Star Wars story, like most every other Star Wars species that gets a talking role, has been given the full-treatment. And if you trust anything I’m going to say in this review, it’s that you’ll absolutely love Grindilads going forward.

Crash is very much in the thick of things here, and along with the rest of her team, including her droid 10-K8, and an on again/off again relationship with a Taymar pop-singer named Svi’no Atchapat, gives us that weighted interest that is so, so important in Star Wars, someone to route for. Because like another more famous future former resident, she’s resourceful, smart, tough but tender, and has that roguish quality that makes you fall for them instantly, even if they did elbow Leia out of the way on Hoth. Indeed, anytime Crash is on the page, the book elevates itself emotionally and dramatically, as she is our wayfarer through the dangers of Coronet City, both above and below ground. And this is to say nothing of the political thriller side of things, as some would use the Nihil and this opportunity to increase their share hold on Corellia.

Throughout this first phase, the Jedi have hummed along, collecting assets and non-Jedi valuable allies along the way, and Crash appears to be one of them. My hope is that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Ms. Ongwa, she’s just too much fun to dump and run. As for the Jedi, post-traumatic stress is permeating throughout the ranks as the past year(s) has been a challenging one, and this group is personally reeling from both recent and past events.

For characters such as Master Chomac Vitus (enigmatic as ever) and his Padawan Reath Silas (charming as ever), they are still very much affected by past events, even as recent as what happened on the Amaxine Station in Claudia Gray’s Into the Dark. As much as I would love to talk about what Chomac in particular is struggling with, that would reveal too much about not only this book, but The Fallen Star (another Gray novel) as well, so, no dice. Reath, who’s been turning into a Jedi Knight before our very eyes, is still his biggest obstacle when it comes to upgrading his business card. The Master’s think he’s ready, his fellow Padawans think he’s ready, and we think he’s ready, but does he?

As for Master Kantam Sy, their woes go back further, something we learn in a series of flashbacks, in a heartwarming story about Kantam falling in love with a circus performer named Aytar, and how they first met their future Padawan, Lula. It’s a beautifully told bit of backstory, one that would normally make for a nice story in its own right, rather than how it’s handled here, which is more of a footnote really. But it is an all-encompassing one and I’m grateful for what little we got.

If you liked Ram “Wizard” Jomaram before this book, you’ll fucking love him after. He’s not immune to tumult however, and if Reath’s problem is that he feels too much, Ram’s is the opposite, he feels stodgy by comparison. Ever since the events on his home world of Valo, and throughout the course of year, he finds himself lacking the appropriate emotion suitable for the situation, he’s dispassionate. But, in the interim, things are looking up as leaving for Corellia is providing just what the doctor ordered, a little freedom of movement and a chance to fulfill a lifelong gearhead dream of visiting the galaxy’s most famous shipbuilding milieu.

Daniel has some of his greatest hits along for the ride, with Master Torban “Buckets of Blood” Buck even making an appearance. Torban’s presence prompts a funny scene involving nicknames, a bit of a running gag throughout the book. But as I mentioned earlier, with this book putting a pin in his run (along with The High Republic Adventures #13), Older is having a broader conversation with us about a great many things, part of which includes the always complicated aspect of falling in love. And if there’s a Don Quixote-esque figure in the Luminous Five, someone waving the chivalry flag high and mighty, it’s Mr. Older. And as someone who reads a lot of YA, a lot of stories involving young love, I’m here to say, that when it comes to Star Wars publishing anyways, he has no equal, and this brings us to Zeen and Lula.

I don’t recall the last time I cried reading a Star Wars book, but there’s a scene between Zeen and Lula that made me put the book down and take a moment. It’s that good. I hate to sound like a broken record, but if you’ve invested time in this particular run by Older, I suspect you’ll feel the same way about this agape romance.

I’m not going to rehash their journey so far, but both have come a long way since their first encounter on Trymant IV in The High Republic Adventures #1. They’re burgeoning relationship is of course fraught and problematic by those bullish Jedi standards, something I’ll get to in one second, and the decision that awaits them, should they both survive, is going to be a difficult one by any measure. Lula in particular is a dedicated and keen student of the Force, and whose career is on the rise, something that requires a fair bit of implicit faith, discipline, and self-control. As for Zeen, she’s still not technically a Jedi, but it’s not a spoiler to say that a decision will have to be made soonish, and it looks as though certain events will expediently and unfortunately force her hand. Listen, this little group of friends is great (I haven’t forgot about Qort and Farzala Tarabal), but Lula and Zeen’s stars shine just a little brighter, and they’ve rightfully earned Daniel’s most precious words.

Of course, one of the keys to good YA is a sense of youthful expression, exuberance, and Daniel knows these waters, not only having written in them before, but displaying that kind of charisma himself. He knows very well that life, like using the Force, is full of stages and you must learn to walk before you can run, so writing Padawan learners is second nature to him. He’s done it very well in the past, and he does so again here. And let’s not forget, Padawans are great storytelling tools, not only reminding us that being a Jedi can be a shit ton of fun, but also that children, CHILDREN, are sometimes thrust into situations not entirely ideal, like say, war. This furthers one of the overall concepts we’ve seen in The High Republic, the implication that cool as it may seem, the Jedi path isn’t for everyone. Also, that they are sometimes fallible, they are not always sheep, and occasionally, they think for themselves…they ponder, they question, they even fall in love.

Listen, when it comes to Jedi idolatry, I lean Barriss Offee. Not as a chaos agent necessarily, but more as a check and balance on a group of space monks that tend to get complacent and puffed up. Characters like Wayseeker Orla Jareni are a spark, a revelation for me, showing us that being a Jedi is, or can be, a bimodal deal, rather than binary one. Of course, that comes with a bit of mutual understanding that the tether is retracting, and that choosing a path that leads away from the Temple, isn’t a reductive one, or that leads to the Dark Side. This leads us to Yoda.

It’s not a spoiler to say that even in his absence, Yoda’s shadow looms large, and his influence is felt. This is another carryover, where the Master Jedi took a more journeyman approach, choosing to spend time with younglings, but finds himself on the wrong side of being present and accounted for. In one of Midnight Horizon’s more meaningful passages, he appears in one of those Katnam flashbacks I mentioned earlier, admittedly revealing a side of the old Master we haven’t seen very much of, a side I liked very much.

Listen, I love Yoda, we all love Yoda, but he’s a Jedi adulator, an ideologue, and as someone who doesn’t adhere to any type of theocracy, this is something that frustrates me on occasion. The reason is there are instances when Yoda uses his intellect and influence to keep a durable headcount, ensuring the survival of the Order through propagation and indoctrination, even if it’s maybe against a particular Force user’s best interest. That’s why, again, I like characters like Orla, and Barriss, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Ahsoka Tano, critical thinkers who challenge the Jedi way of life, and view it as it should be seen, as a spectrum, not a rigid set of tenets that confuses self-control with purpose. But I’m not going to come down too hard on Yoda, and contrary to what I just said, his holy greenness is one of my all-time favorite Star Wars characters, has been since I first laid eyes on him in 1980 (I’m old).

So, what’s the bottom line?

As is most often the case, I don’t believe this puffed-up review delves too far past Daniel’s intentions, looking for something nonexistent, which is to say, not at all. And that’s mostly because my lack of self-importance wouldn’t allow for such a thing to happen, and also fully admitting I routinely miss out on hidden meanings. But, because Daniel has no need for emotional dishonesty, nor is there any evidence he’s being asked to be sneaky, I believe what’s on the page in Midnight Horizon, particularly the third act, is very purposeful, meaningful, and impassioned work. It’s at times both heartwarming and expository, both impulsive and heedful, but always deliberately so. This comes through in the relationships between these particular Master/Padawan combinations for sure, both past and present. I don’t know what the Jedi concept for “soul-gazing” is, but this energy connection is on full display, and not just with Jedi, but non-Jedi as well. Pretty good stuff.

As far as reading order in concerned, I would say the wave three order should be Mission to Disaster, The Fallen Star, and then Midnight Horizon. The disaster we’ve all heard about is certainly addressed here, more the focal point of The Fallen Star, but there are small details that are better served by reading them in that order. This isn’t even a hot take I’d imagine, problematic release schedule notwithstanding.

Yes, as The High Republic machine chugs along, the reading list will only get longer and longer, so the mountain of “must-reads” any potential new reader faces is beginning to get daunting. For those of us who are caught up, this book rewards that effort I believe. Because of Midnight Horizon’s relationship with previous titles, it has an incapacity to stand apart from everything else the way an Out of the Shadows does for example, but Older injects more than enough flourish and newness, that I think most will find unique. And I’ve only skimmed the surface here with this non-spoiler review; this book has a ton of wonderful insight, interesting philosophical conundrums, explosive action, and LOTS of humor including some undercover/disguise gags that are laugh out loud hilarious.

Finally, I have to say that as a former SPCA Investigator, and a Star Wars fan who always thought creatures got the short-end, Chief Inspector Deemus Abrus of the Coronet City Chapter of the Galactic Society of Creature Enthusiasts is ray of sunshine, and I thank Daniel for that. She is a character after my own heart.

So, there you go, that’s as spoilery as I’m going to get here. All that’s left to say I suppose is…

…for light and life!

To order a copy of Star Wars: Midnight Horizon, click HERE!

Jacket illustrated by Cristiano Spadoni, Ornella Savarese, and Gregor Krysinski.

About the Author:

Daniel José Older, a lead story architect for Star Wars: The High Republic, is the New York Times best-selling author of the upcoming Young Adult fantasy novel Ballad & Dagger (book 1 of the Outlaw Saints series), the sci-fi adventure Flood City, the monthly comic series The High Republic Adventures. His other books include the historical fantasy series Dactyl Hill Squad, The Book of Lost Saints, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, Star Wars: Last Shot, and the Young Adult series the Shadowshaper Cypher, including Shadowshaper, which was named one of the best fantasy books of all time by TIME magazine and one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read. He won the International Latino Book Award and has been nominated for the Kirkus Prize, The World Fantasy Award, the Andre Norton Award, the Locus, and the Mythopoeic Award. He co-wrote the upcoming graphic novel Death’s Day.

*All images courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm Publishing.

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