“Darkness will ever be a part of me… it will be a part of every Jedi, of every living thing. To acknowledge the darkness is to know the darkness. To know the darkness is to begin to control it.”

In this third entry of the new High Republic timeline, taking place centuries before the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi et al., Star Wars goes really dark. The previous two entries in this book series, Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm, weren’t exactly brisk affairs – dealing with terrorist plots, a seemingly relentless enemy, and the ideological desecration of the once-alluring Jedi order. But The Fallen Star, the first in this series written by esteemed Star Wars scribe Claudia Gray, takes things up a notch.

Set not long after the Grand Fair disaster on the planet Valo, the High Republic is seeming to bounce back, with an intergalactic Starlight Express functioning as this universe’s equivalent to the ISS. A mobile, Jedi-packed hub of all things righteous and just, it’s the symbol of hope for all across the galaxy – until masked villain Marchion Ro and his cultish Nihil followers step in. As familiar Jedi like Stellan Gios, Elzar Mann, and Bell Zettifar roam Starlight’s corridors, disaster strikes – and a race against time ensues to prevent a catastrophic collision with the planet Eiram.

What follows is another epic-scale Star Wars adventure, with the Jedi once more thrust into the spotlight to prevent a catastrophe waiting to happen. Luckily it doesn’t retread the same footsteps as Cavan Scott’s The Rising Storm, opting for a more claustrophobic style of adventure, with the Jedi and inhabitants of Starlight Express confined to a very small station. It’s almost akin to some Alien literature, like Out of the Shadows, where everything feels so close, and so contained. Gray sets these characters up in one single location, forced to resolve it without any help from outside – and that’s no easy feat.

In fact, The Fallen Star lets us see just how fallible the Jedi can be. It’s a trope that Star Wars media has examined for decades, but very rarely do we see the Jedi as conflicted, unassured, and downright arrogant as we do here. It’s best shown through Elzar Mann, the loveable rogue of the Jedi Order who has one of the book’s best arcs. Battling with temptations of the dark side, a third-act decision he takes has huge ramifications on his trajectory, and it’s handled really well.

But arguably The Rising Storm‘s best asset is the horror motifs and iconography it toys with. The Nihil, having placed saboteurs within Starlight, have unleashed a hidden, shadow being able to mask the Jedi’s connection to the force, and it makes for some really atmospheric sequences. If Light of the Jedi was a celebration of their link to the Force, this is the complete opposite: most Jedi have totally clouded judgement, and a gnawing, inevitable feeling of their connection weakening. This sludgy, eerie presence, capable of causing hallucations and even killing, is one of the book’s best-kept secrets. Gray never quite reveals the secret behind it – and while some may see that as narratively unsatisfying, it leaves one hell of a secret for later instalments to unpack.

One of the things these High Republic novels have done best is introducing, and balancing, a vast roster of brand-new characters. Star Wars fans only accustomed to the movies will be blown away by how much self-contained lore and characterisation exists within these books, and Gray continues the mantle by constantly giving characters a justification for their place within the pages. Bell Zettifar and the Wookiee Burryaga once again cement themselves as fan-favourites, and the introduction of new characters like the stoner-lite Leox Gyasi help keep the cast fresh. Without characters this engaging, it would be easier to critique the plot’s similar thesis to The Rising Storm – but when Gray uses them to such effect, it’s hard to complain.

The Fallen Star, for those precise reasons, is simply a must-read for those already introduced to High Republic continuity. This third entry goes darker and more grave than ever before, and some of the character arcs and decisions here are enough to keep any avid readers hooked. Yes, it is on paper a rather similar setup to the previous novel, but the places that Gray takes these characters and ideas is so fresh, and downright dour, that it secures this continuity’s place as one of the saga’s most consistently gripping offshoots.

★★★½

Star Wars: The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray is out now from Del Rey Books.