For years now, I’ve been saying that Claudia Gray is my favorite book author currently working for Lucasfilm Publishing. Her 2016 effort Star Wars: Bloodline skillfully bridged part of the narrative gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and her equally well-received novels Star Wars: Lost Stars, Star Wars: Leia – Princess of Alderaan, and Star Wars: Master & Apprentice further cemented her status as the go-to writer for solid, well-thought-out adventures with characters both new and familiar in A Galaxy Far, Far Away. 

So when it was announced that Ms. Gray would be among the contributors to the George Lucas-founded company’s upcoming multi-platform initiative Star Wars: The High Republic, it only made me more intrigued and excited about the project. And now that I’ve had a chance to read Gray’s primary output for the launch of this undertaking, entitled Star Wars: The High Republic – Into the Dark, I can safely say that my expectations have been met with a thrilling, captivating experience that goes a long way in selling the concept of The High Republic as a whole.

Star Wars: The High Republic – Into the Dark is the third novel, both in release and sequentially by storyline, in The High Republic’s ongoing release schedule, but its early chapters actually take place just prior to the beginning of Charles Soule’s flagship title Star Wars: The High Republic – Light of the Jedi. In fact, the Great Disaster depicted in that book’s prologue takes place about forty pages into this one, so there’s a tiny bit of overlap when it comes to both stories’ timelines, but the protagonists of Into the Dark are sent off on a wildly different resultant expedition into mostly uncharted space. Our main character (pictured above) is named Reath Silas, a Padawan Learner hesitant to begin exploring the galaxy when he’s assigned to be among the Jedi presence on the soon-to-be inaugurated Starlight Beacon– sort of a giant space lighthouse in the Outer Rim. But while journeying to the beacon with three older Jedi Knights and the ragtag crew of a transport vessel, Reath finds himself and his companions unexpectedly diverted to a mysterious destination previously unknown to the Jedi Order.

The bulk of the remainder of Into the Dark takes place on an ancient and now-abandoned Amaxine space station that may be familiar to fans who are paying very close attention to recent releases in ancillary Star Wars storytelling. Stranded there with a number of other ships forced to leave hyperspace due to the above-mentioned disaster, the Jedi and their friends must forge alliances, root out any forces that may intend the other refugees harm, and investigate a mystery that promises to prove troublesome for the Republic as it attempts to expand its influence into the frontier. The back half of the novel sees our heroes going up against two separate factions of enemies, all while performing astonishing feats one would expect to see from experienced Force-users, forming bonds, and choosing paths that should reverberate through future The High Republic publications as the initiative continues to move forward. In her time writing for the beloved franchise, Gray has demonstrated her expertise at both writing established Star Wars tropes and creating her own, and that trend absolutely continues here.

We also get a series of flashbacks to a Jedi mission twenty-five years earlier, when then-Padawans Orla Jareni and Cohmac Vitus had set out on a rescue assignment into the system where the Starlight Beacon would eventually be installed. That particular quest doesn’t go quite as planned, and both would-be Knights take away different lessons from their travails, the memories of which are dredged up and re-applied to their situation in this story’s “present.” And of course this all takes place hundreds of years before the Skywalker Saga we’re all much more intimately familiar with, so it’s interesting to start drawing connections between this moment in galactic history and what we know is coming centuries down the line. In this first batch of The High Republic books, Claudia Gray and her fellow talented authors are deftly planting seeds that are sure to come to fruition the further we get into this innovative publishing project, but they’re also doing a great job of making this era feel like it has actual connective tissue to the rest of Star Wars. Into the Dark confirms that these designs are off to a compelling start and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing the rest of those plans unfold.

Star Wars: The High Republic – Into the Dark will become available on Tuesday, February 2 wherever books are sold, but is available for pre-order right now.