Star Wars: The High Republic: Midnight Horizon by D. J. Older is a book of two very different halves. Just when the reader may be lulled by a ponderous and unfocused start into thinking that the Star Wars: The High Republic initiative may finally have its first unambiguous dud, the book is rescued by a character-focused final act that immensely enrichens this era of a Galaxy Far, Far Away.
This Young Adult novel occupies a tricky place within the increasingly sprawling High Republic line, which chronicles the adventures of the Jedi Knights two centuries before the Star Wars saga. While earlier media has dealt with the war between the Jedi and their sinister Nihil enemies in the galaxy’s Outer Rim fringes, Midnight Horizon spends the vast majority of its time on the Core world of Corellia, familiar to fans from the opening scenes of Solo: A Star Wars Story. As a small group of Jedi investigate a number of seemingly minor disturbances with local help, it soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems, and even the glittering Core is not as distant from the war, or the Nihil, as its sheltered inhabitants believe.
By this point, the full extent of The High Republic’s increasingly elaborate interconnectivity is clear. Midnight Horizon certainly weaves in threads and individuals from numerous earlier books, most notably the character of Reath Silas, protagonist of the line’s two prior YA books Into The Dark and Out of the Shadows. Its real function, however, is as the de facto finale of Older’s own High Republic Adventures IDW comic series. Readers who have not been following the saga of Lula Talisola and Zeen Mrala there will likely find themselves lost here, particularly in the early stages when the book goes out of its way to tie up various loose ends from its comics predecessor, not all of which receive further payoff in these pages.
And those early stages are often rough indeed. In a now-familiar problem for the line, Midnight Horizon lacks focus throughout its first half, moving awkwardly between a dizzying range of character perspectives. Unfortunately, early glimpses at established characters like Reath or Zeen tend to be brief and unfulfilling, recapping their stories to date without contributing anything fresh. On the other hand, the extensive space devoted to the brand-new character of Crash, an unorthodox Corellian ‘businesswoman’, is badly squandered. While Crash herself shows flashes of promise, the machinations around her gang and the underbelly of Corellian politics quickly become tedious and contribute to a lethargic sense of pacing which is only worsened by the book’s considerable length. After almost 250 pages of this, readers could be forgiven for fearing that the High Republic’s consistent record of producing highly readable books seemed destined to fall at the final hurdle of its first phase.
A little after the halfway point, however, something strange happens. Subtly rather than all at once, Midnight Horizon shifts gears as though to tackle each of its earlier problems one by one. A gradual sense of focus is restored as the number of perspectives is both pared down and better distributed, correcting the imbalances of prior chapters. The greatest beneficiaries are the established characters, who settle into a set of entertaining dynamics that allow Older to brilliantly play off the characters of other authors, notably Reath and his Jedi Master Cohmac Vitus, against his own stalwarts Ram Jomaram and Kantam Sy. Indeed, the latter in particular may be the book’s greatest breakthrough character. After spending their prior existence as an entertaining but peripheral character in Older’s High Republic Adventures, their background is fully set out in a series of poignant and memorable flashbacks which tie beautifully into the book’s core themes. This is only the starkest of Midnight Horizon’s multiple character successes; virtually all of the main players enjoy standout scenes in the climactic chapters, and fans of Zeen and Reath, in particular, will find reasons for appreciation – and emotion.
This book also deserves special mention for its effective representation, including a non-binary lead and the further development of a prominent, gorgeously-written same-sex romance heavily seeded in prior stories. This inclusivity has become a welcome hallmark of the entire High Republic line, and it can only be hoped that Star Wars on the screen will take a lead from the publishing arm so that it can become a new normal for the franchise as a whole and no longer needs to be singled out for praise.
All of this leaves Midnight Horizon in a peculiar place. The plodding opening chapters show the High Republic at its worst; demanding a high level of engagement without bothering to earn it, and endlessly throwing more new things at the reader while refusing to develop what has already been created. Yet just when it’s tempting to write the whole book off, Older’s undeniable skill at character-writing first salvages the book and then improbably leads it to soar enough to match the High Republic at its best. The result is undoubtedly a disjointed affair, but it’s one that ultimately rewards the reader patient enough to stick with it.