Star Wars doesn’t exactly have a brilliant track record with prequels.

George Lucas’ space saga has been one of the most enduring franchises in popular culture for good reason: it pioneered the sci-fi genre, and introduced characters who remain just as relevant and engaging today as they were over forty years ago. Yet many fans were left with a sour taste after his prequel trilogy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, citing it as too cheesy, and too polished compared to the original trilogy. Since then, of course, fans have warmed to the prequel trilogy with a tinge of nostalgia, and additional material like The Clone Wars and Rogue One have meant that, alongside the frosty reception to 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker, the past of the Star Wars saga is now far more interesting than the future.

That’s where Light of the Jedi comes in. Set two centuries before the adventures of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, it’s set to kickstart the new multimedia project, The High Republic – a deep-dive into the pinnacle of the Republic, spanning novels, children’s books and comics – and to that end, it does a fantastic job. Author Charles Soule not only sets up a riveting new era for Star Wars, but does so with a story that is engrossing, lively, and truly enhances the saga.

Light of the Jedi takes place 232 years before Luke Skywalker takes down the Death Star in A New Hope, and fittingly, it’s a very different time in the saga. The Republic is headed by Chancellor Lina Soh, a spritely and ambitious young leader, whose main ambition is to link the Republic to the Outer Rim worlds with the Starlight Beacon, a hub akin to the ISS that will increase communication and collaboration across the galaxy. Yet this is all put on hold when a grave accident takes place: the freighter Legacy Run is torn apart in a hyperspace crash, causing the entire Republic to become splintered, and a dark, secret enemy to rise up, requiring the Jedi to get to the bottom of it…

And these aren’t like any Jedi you’ve seen before. There’s mention of some familiar characters, but Soule takes inspiration from George Lucas in A New Hope, and slams readers into a dizzying and immersive universe, with a vast array of personalities. Just like the 1977 original, Light of the Jedi throws you in at the deep end, starting in the midst of what is later termed the Legacy Run disaster, with an array of rollicking sequences where the scale of the incident is conveyed in a very tender, human manner.

Yet more than just establishing a landscape wherein Star Wars action can take place, Light of the Jedi creates an astonishingly deep and engaging world, that’s wholly distinct from what we’ve seen before. The era before the prequels is one well-explored in out-of-canon Legends content – games like Knights of the Old Republic have thrived in a pre-prequel setting – but Soule does something totally new here. The world of The High Republic takes the political edge of Lucas’ prequels but makes it so much more engaging, and fulfils every Star Wars fan’s dream of seeing the Jedi at their utter crescendo.

And the Jedi are, unsurprisingly, one of the book’s most successful aspects. Soule opts not for one protagonist, instead introduced a wildly diverse array of Jedi, from the experienced yet secretive Avar Kriss to the ostentatious Elzar Mann. This reviewer’s personal favourite Jedi-Padawan duo is Twi’lek Loden Greatstorm and his Padawan Bell Zettifar, whose relationship mirrors the early interactions between Obi-Wan and Anakin. Soule clearly has great affection for these characters – even Burryaga, a Wookiee who can only be understood by his Master, gets a chapter of self-introspection – and his clear adoration for the Jedi and the Force shines through in the action.

Yes, Soule uses the Force in his writing in a way you’ll never have seen before in Star Wars media. It expands upon the notion of an ‘invisible phenomenon’, explaining that each Jedi feels the force as a completely unique concept, with beautiful prose dedicated to describing how they all harness it. This also allows for new Force uses to come into play, with Avar Kriss notably uniting a legion of Jedi through the Force in the splendid opening sequence, which summarises just how much of a triumph the Jedi are in this book. It’s an era where they’re at their peak, and Soule celebrates that excellently.

Yet no Jedi would be complete without a mysterious evil adversary. Without getting into too much detail, as the book does a great job of dripfeeding readers information about them, the Nihil are a group of enemies unlike anything we’ve really seen in Star Wars before: maniacal, unhinged, almost cultist, without the clear morals and code that the Sith possess. The Nihil especially come into their own in the book’s final hundred pages or so, with some fascinating twists and turns that’ll spin your perception of them on its head, and sets up a really exciting follow-up, due for release this July.

It cannot be understated how much Light of the Jedi does to expand the Star Wars universe in new and innovative ways. The period before the Skywalker saga is one of the most interesting and under-explored in the franchise’s history, and with this book a period of expansion gets underway in excellent fashion. Soule outlines a varied and unique group of new Jedi that will be fascinating to follow, and proves that Star Wars prequels can be a lot more than what we’ve seen before. It’s a very exciting time to be a Star Wars fan – The High Republic is here, and it promises a lot of exciting new adventures to come.