Picking up one year after the fall of Starlight Beacon, Star Wars: The Eye of Darkness by George Mann finds the galaxy in chaos as the impassable Nihil Stormwall splits the galaxy apart, preventing the Republic access or communication to the many systems trapped under Nihil control. The Republic desperately attempts to breach the wall while a handful of Jedi operate within, and the Nihil work to strengthen their grip on the galaxy.
While I understand the decision to try and follow the OT->PT->ST framework of Star Wars with The High Republic Phase 2 set in the past, it certainly drained a lot of momentum from the line. With Phase 1, the spread of the Nihil threat felt real and terrifying, constantly leaving me desperate for the next chapter in this saga. Phase 2 slowed this down, disconnecting from the main plot for a prequel story and telling a slower unraveling of the mystery of the Nihil’s origins and purpose. And as a big Phase 1 fan, that slowdown was enough to knock me off the line for a while, not catching up with Phase 2 until Star Wars Celebration and the feral energy of a room full of High Republic fans got me excited again. And so, ushering in Phase 3, Eye of Darkness is faced with the difficult task of recapturing this momentum and driving the Nihil conflict toward its conclusion.
The biggest issue Eye of Darkness faces is one I don’t blame on the book itself but the larger High Republic story, the Stormwall. Launched by the Nihil in the Eye of the Storm Marvel miniseries at the very end of Phase 1, it’s unique in the larger “Star Wars superweapon” gallery in that it doesn’t destroy but prevents entry and communication to a large section of the Galaxy. Picking up almost a year later – it’s difficult to find that feeling of isolation when we spend the book bouncing between the two sides of the Stormwall. We experience this isolation primarily through Elzar Mann and Avar Kriss, separated and constantly on each other’s minds, having had no sign of life from the other since the wall went up. But this concern feels lessened when we just spent the last chapter with the person who could be dead.
So much of the focus is on our Jedi heroes, hopping from planet to planet trying to save the day, that little time is spent on the regular people suffering under the Nihil’s oppression, and the reader is mostly only told how bad things are, never shown. This leaves the threat of the Stormwall underwhelming, and I never felt the same level of urgency to bypass it that the characters do. The time skip also feels like an area that should’ve been explored further, and perhaps the other books isolated within the Occlusion Zone releasing later should’ve been released first so as to give more narrative weight to the many attempts to take the Stormwall down.
One of Eye of Darkness‘s greatest strengths and weaknesses is its cohesion with the High Republic initiative as a whole. Mann does an impressive job bridging the two previous phases in ways that make Phase 2 feel more essential than it may have seemed at first, but these many callbacks can feel, at times, heavy-handed in an attempt to recap those other stories to newer readers. While casual High Republic fans who may not have read everything should have no problem picking up key details they might have missed, I can imagine a new reader would feel very lost. While Phase 1 and 2 were incredibly accessible, I would not recommend Eye of Darkness as someone’s first High Republic story. One of the most important stories for this book seems to be the Marvel Shadows of Starlight miniseries, which is particularly strange since only half of it will have published by the time Eye of Darkness is. Several important reveals are thrown out very casually here, and having read only the first issue of Shadows of Starlight at the time of writing this, it’s clear that mini is the reason why.
The book shines when following Avar Kriss and Elzar Mann, separated by the Stormwall and desperate to find a way back to each other while dealing with the tragic loss of Stellan Gios. The two ground the book, and when focused on the pair, it’s an absolute delight. Elzar especially is my favourite part of the book as he struggles to be more like Stellan in his absence. The other focus characters feel very underdeveloped in comparison however – Bell Zettifar especially has a sizable number of viewpoint chapters without having any real impact on the story or much of a character arc and seems to be there largely to react to events.
Entering into this Phase I hoped to see a larger focus on the Nihil and Marchion Ro himself as their motives and origins become a little clearer. But despite the title and cover of the book, Marchion’s role is minimal, which leads to a bigger problem, the Nihil itself. While the Nihil started as interesting villains and a very different approach to your usual Star Wars antagonist, the mystique around them and their long-term goals is beginning to wear thin.
The mystery around Marchion started as compelling, but as we enter the final Phase, the lack of a clear goal or plan from him is losing its charm. The vague threats and speeches can only take a villain so far without any sign of an actual direction. Mann attempts to use Gira Starros as a viewpoint character for the Nihil as a relative outsider to the group, but she has little interaction with them outside of Marchion, and mostly serves as a sounding board for his vague threats to the galaxy and a way to emphasize the lack of purpose in the Nihil.
Overall, Eye of Darkness is a flawed but deeply enjoyable start to Phase 3 that doesn’t quite bring back the momentum the line had up to The Fallen Star. While it may not fully win over any remaining doubters of the 3 Phase structure, the larger shape of the High Republic is becoming clearer. Despite my criticisms, Eye of Darkness is a book I struggled to put down once I started, and highly recommend to fans of the era.