Set 200 years before the start of the Skywalker Saga, the multi-media publishing line of the High Republic takes the Star Wars universe to a time of expansion for the Republic as they explore and begin settling the Outer Rim of the galaxy for the first time and encounter a whole new group of threats in the Nihil, a gang of space pirates and marauders with access to hyperspace technology beyond what anyone else is capable of.
The latest chapter in the ongoing High Republic era, Tempest Runner explores the past and future of Lourna Dee, one of the leaders of the Nihil in an all new format, the audio drama. Picking up where previous High Republic novels The Rising Storm and Out of the Shadows left her, Tempest Runner builds on a character that had been set up in such an interesting way over the previous books and leaves her as one of my favourite characters in this entire High Republic era.
Tempest Runner follows two narrative threads as we learn the past of Lourna Dee and what drove her from a rich daughter of a Twi’lek colony leader to one of the Nihil’s deadliest members and also continue her journey from the end of the The Rising Storm as she finds herself the most wanted person in the galaxy, believed to be the leader of the Nihil. It strikes a strong balance between the two threads, giving each plenty of time to shine. Lourna’s background features several jumps as we go through the key moments of her life that define who she becomes but it’s all woven together very well and easy to follow. Jessica Almasy, the voice of Lourna Dee herself, does a great job of growing Lourna’s voice throughout the different time periods which helps separate the younger Lourna in flashbacks from the more grizzled Lourna in the “present” day.
There’s always a challenge when characters make the jump from being featured solely in comics and books to being played by real people. You build up that voice in your head for what a character sounds like and it can be difficult when that idea doesn’t match with what you hear. But the cast of Tempest Runner absolutely nails it. Every returning character feels like they’ve jumped right off the page. While a couple of line deliveries felt a little off, for the most part the acting itself was brilliant and really brings the characters alive. Special mention to Marc Thompson who returns as Marchion Ro from his role in the High Republic audiobooks who is an absolutely perfect Marchion. He balances the terrifying gravitas that Ro has while still capturing that calm, calculating demeanor. Although Marchion’s role isn’t large, it’s a performance that will be stuck in my head any time I read the character from now on.
Tempest Runner is a real culmination of Lourna Dee’s journey so far. Both The Rising Storm and Into the Dark from the second High Republic wave set up Lourna in such an interesting place, and this is the real pay off for that. We also get brief appearances by a variety of characters from the greater High Republic world, including the Marvel comic series also written by Cavan Scott. Although reading any of the previous High Republic books wouldn’t be essential, this audio drama would be pretty confusing without at least a basic knowledge of the era, it’s larger cast and especially the Nihil themselves.
Being a story built almost entirely by a cast of villains, it’s good to see Tempest Runner avoid a lot of tropes with Lourna Dee. While she may be a character with many relatable aspects the story doesn’t shy away from her being an awful person. What we get is the believable downfall of someone who was dealt one too many bad hands, but who still makes the wrong choices at every opportunity. She’s easy to root for while still not being exactly likeable and a great addition to the Star Wars universe. We also meet several new characters in Tempest Runner as well as the recurring ones. My personal favourite being Ola Hest, a character who I could only describe as a space gangster with a voice by Orlagh Cassidy that is reminiscent of esteemed character actress Margo Martindale who I would love to see in other High Republic projects in the future.
A real strength of this project is the production design. Sound is a key aspect to really capture that Star Wars feel and with a soundtrack mostly composed of the music by John Williams from previous Star Wars movies and fantastic sound effects, Tempest Runner is able to nail that vibe perfectly. Close your eyes and you could feel like you’re just watching a new Star Wars film. The action is vibrant and exciting despite a lack of any visual fights thanks to the great action effects and the general background effects used also add a lot to the story being told. The production shows just how much Tempest Runner benefits from being an audio drama instead of just another novel.
As my first foray into the Star Wars audio dramas, I’ll admit to being a bit apprehensive when Tempest Runner was first announced. I often find it difficult to focus on things like podcasts when there’s no visual medium to go along with it. But Tempest Runner had me engrossed from start to finish. Although not necessarily essential to the larger story being built in the High Republic universe, it’s a fascinating look at one of the era’s most interesting characters and helps fill in some gaps in the larger ongoing story. I’d highly recommend it to any fans of the other High Republic books, although I worry it would be a confusing place to start for people new to the era.