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REVIEW: Cavan Scott shows the human side of the Jedi and Star Wars with "The Rising Storm"



"We are living creatures in the Force, with everything that brings. Joy, affection, and, yes, grief. Experiencing such emotions is part of life. It is light...But while we experience such emotions, we should never let them rule us. A Jedi is the master of their emotions, never a slave."


To me, this quote best exemplifies what Cavan Scott gets right about the Star Wars universe with The Rising Storm. It is something George Lucas himself toyed with in the prequel trilogy, something shown in glimpses during the original trilogy, and something largely absent from the sequel trilogy. Emotions, as any human understands them, are complicated, tempting, overpowering, and in some cases all-consuming.


I've been on something of a Star Wars novel kick recently. I kicked off 2022 by tearing into the Darth Bane trilogy by Drew Karpyshyn, received the latest Thrawn novel as a Christmas gift, and still have Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber on my shelf, ready to read. Yet, it seems fitting that within 48 hours of putting down Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil, capping off a trilogy of books so steeped in the connections between the Force and emotion, that the next book I cracked open was this one.


There is a great juxtaposition to be found, and one that perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy between the Jedi and Sith. In the Bane trilogy, emotions are fuel, they are power. Bane leans on emotions to strengthen him, heal him, deriving power and strength through the fear and pain he imposes on others, as well as himself. I'm reminded of the finale to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where Kylo hammers his wounded side, drawing strength and imposing his will over the Force through his pain.


Meanwhile, with The Rising Storm, we have the Jedi who shroud themselves in emotion, not allowing emotion to fully flow through them. They are not twisting them to impose will on the Force like the Sith do, but using those emotions to commune with the Force. You control the emotions, not the Force. You are a vessel, and not a master. This has always been the way of Star Wars, and this dichotomy, but what Cavan Scott does is explore the inherent weakness beings have to emotion.


Many of us at different times have tried to suppress our emotions, force them into a shoebox placed on a shelf in our mind because they are too painful or distracting for the task at hand, or for existence itself. Yet those emotions do not stay silent. They fester, growing in size and strength while locked away in that shoebox, until they spring forth anew. This is something Cavan Scott explores beautifully in his novel, providing a great entry into the High Republic era, where the cracks begin to show in Soh's grip on the galaxy, and the whole series takes its dramatic turn.


Now, with that out of the way, let's get to the meat of the review.


*WARNING: SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.*





The Good: The Inherent Humanity of Emotion, and the Attack on Valo

So yeah, I waxed poetic quite a bit off the top about how Cavan Scott explores emotion for the Jedi, and the implications it has on their sense of honor, duty, and humanity. Nowhere is this more clear than his handling of Elzar Mann.


Elzar is in a difficult spot. Rocked by what he saw in his vision on the Starlight Beacon, and slowly falling apart as a result. He has already been introduced as someone who has in the past pushed the envelope for the Jedi Order, particularly where attachments are concerned, and in the current work, Scott pushes this even further.


His wounds around Avar Kriss -- the spurning of his advances on Starlight, the memory of their prior relationship as padawans, and the pain he feels around the weakening of their bond -- are fresh. Though not explicitly stated, you get the sense he is backsliding from a broken heart. He longs for her presence, feeling pain and anger when she doesn't arrive on Valo with the rest of the Jedi. Then he covers over these feelings, seeking the attention and affection of another. He has lost control over his emotions, becoming driven by them to a point even his best friend cannot ignore. This culminates in the fear of every Jedi, the one thing they are warned of comes as a consequence of unfettered emotion.


A path to the dark side, which comes at one of many false crescendos to the story, in the heat of the Nihil attack on Valo.


On that note, my GOODNESS the Attack on Valo in glorious. Cavan Scott perfectly captures the chaos of a surprise attack within the Star Wars universe. From the opening moments to the end, it is visceral. Characters, happily going about their time at the Republic Fair, watching Nihil ships appear on the horizon, the buzzing of engines zipping overhead as lazers lance the ground, flames erupting, debris sent flying, the crush of bodies, and the ever swarming noxious gas sent down by the Nihil. All of it seen from the perspective of those on the ground, rife with the deep emotional waves that only Jedi can detect, creates an atmosphere of sheer terror.


The perspectives shift to show the utter chaos of the situation, from Bell trying to save people from a sinking ship, to Stellan Gios doin his utmost to keep the Chancellor and her staff alive while he's worn down slowly by a Nihil onslaught, to Elzar Mann disoriented and struggling with trauma and fear, trying to help as many people as possible, then Rhil, a regular person amongst space wizards, trying to live long enough to get a message out to the broader galaxy for aide. My eyes were locked on the page, the attack ebbing and flowing, the strain and pain of the situation evident from the first word to the last. It was stressful. It was painful. It was hopeless. It was glorious.


It makes up the majority of the book, but for a good reason. It shoves characters into tough situations, catapults development, realizes the threat of the Nihil while showing their innate vulnerability, and is the perfect thematic and mechanical device to show that even when the Republic is at its height, it can be brought low. This was the perfect way to turn the overall narrative of the High Republic era in a new direction, and I'm excited to see how it ripples to the Republic we know and loathe from the Clone Wars era.



The Bad: Writing Dialogue and the Boring Bits

Now, I want to make this clear. I am not attacking Cavan Scott in any way, and in no way am I saying his writing is bad. Simply, I don't really like how he writes dialogue. It's not a content issue -- the conversations themselves are meaningful, driven, emotional, and create a lot of tension and character development -- but there's simply an issue of syntax and attribution.


Perhaps it is my journalistic sensibilities shining through, but there were many times where characters were talking -- the issue being particularly pronounced when 3 or more characters were engaged in the conversations -- where I simply didn't know who said what. In my head, as I was reading, I had a particular back and forth image going, but then an attribution, or character reaction would occur and I'd be suddenly confused.


"Wait, wasn't Elzar the one talking this whole time?"

"I thought Bell said the last line. But it's actually Indeera?"


There were many variations of this but the point remains, attribution at times felt a bit muddy, and in those moments I was taken out of the story. Thankfully, though, Cavan is a fantastic writer, and it took a few words and I was right back into it.


However, I completely forgot about the attribution issue when the attack on Valo occurred. As I wrote above, this entire section of the book was a page turner, and I got so wrapped up in it, at one point my partner had to remind me that it was past 2:00 am and I needed to work in the morning.


You can probably chalk this up to The Rising Storm being the second part of a series, and Cavan Scott needing to spend time providing a level set for where characters are at, where they could go, and sowing seeds he and others will later reap, but there is the inescapable fact that some of the early chapters are a slog. The writing itself is crisp, clean, and to the point, but its more of a content issue here for me. Some parts seem overtread, while others aren't explored enough. However, this could very much be a me issue, and all gripes go out the window when you see the first ships on the Valo horizon.



The Mixed: Tia Toon and Marchion Ro

Ok, hear me out. I despised Senator Tian Toon when he showed up in the narrative. The entire story so far he'd been shown to be a pariah, a whiner, and everything we heard from the perspective of characters we trusted was that he sucked. He was disrupting what they were doing and putting a (presumed) damper on their good times.


Every time the Sullustan senator was brought up in conversation, there was venom behind every word, and Cavan Scott did a good job making you hate the guy on principle. After all, we love Stellan, Chancellor Soh, Elzar, and a host of the other characters who all agree he sucks, and it seems on the surface that he stands as a bit of an antagonistic force to them.


Then he showed up on Valo, and suddenly I got it. This is politics baby.


The beauty of democratic politics -- and something that seems to have been forgotten here in 2022 -- is that for the most part, every politician and citizen, regardless of party or political influence, is on the same side. We just have different ideas of how that should be accomplished.


Toon loves the Republic. He has unending respect for the Jedi. He just doesn't want to rely on the latter to protect the former. He's not trying to unseat anyone from power, he's not trying to dismantle or remove the Jedi from influence, he's simply trying to protect the Republic in the way he thinks is best. He also knows how to play the political game.


So by the end of the novel, I didn't like Tia Toon, but dammit did I respect him. The only reason his part of the story is in the mixed section of the review, is that I think he wasn't used enough.


Speaking of characters not used enough, did y'all also forget Marchion Ro existed for most of the book? Without the Nihil characters constantly mentioning him, I certainly would have, because outside of what occurs in the early chapters -- coincidentally the parts I was most interested in when I felt the story was slogging through its introduction -- Marchion doesn't seem to do anything.


Sure, he's not at the attack on Valo, and that event dominates most of the book. Fine. Yes, he's the Big Bad of the series, and after the conclusion we know how dangerous he is and what kind of threat he'll be in subsequent books. That's good too. It's just that, overall, his inclusion and his scenes left me kind of, "meh."


That said, I'm incredibly excited to see where his character goes. Cavan Scott did a great job at showing how far he's fallen, how dark his character has become, and just how utterly unhinged he can be. He snapped. He's broken. Something we didn't really get from the first High Republic outing. I just wish there was more done with him.



Overall

A sophomore story is always hard, it's always difficult to come in as the second man up, and be expected to perform, but I think Cavan Scott did an admirable job. If this were his second High Republic book, and he had sole -- or knowing Disney at least significantly more -- control, like the old Star Wars novel days, I think he could've shone. He's a great writer, he writes combat and action very well, and he evokes and writes emotion just as well. I just think he could've done more if the High Republic adult novels were his and not shared.


This book is a must read for Star Wars fans, and if you ever want to know how to perfectly write chaotic attacks and battles, pick this one up.



SCORE: 3.75/5


HIGHLIGHTS

  • The attack on Valo

  • Elzar Mann's development

  • All the combat scenes

  • The overwhelming power of emotions and the Force

  • That ENDING

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