When examining a work whose mythology is an expansive as Star Wars, it almost becomes a historiographical investigation as opposed to a literary one. Between the films, the television series, the dozens of books and the hundreds of comics, piecing together where the various stories fit into the grand historical narratives and the requisite contributions made by each author, follows a very similar pattern to the works of historians organizing and analyzing various historical texts in order to understand the broader trends. This principle is upheld with any truly large body of work, regardless of whether or not the history it chronicles – as with Star Wars – is ultimately fictitious.
The editors and publishers of various Star Wars products have embraced even this historiographical paradigm. With the Battle of Yavin, the concluding event of the first released film, taken as a mean event in the Star Wars Universe, fans of the novels and comics are able to trace to the exact year where the various stories take place. To add to this much needed organization, the resulting corpus has even been broken up into various eras to make accessing them and understanding the intertextual relationships easier for both the casual fan and the hardcore completest. As a result, there are some fans who attempt the keep up with all the books being published in the genre, while others specialize, like historians, to specific eras, such as the time of the Old Republic, or the era of the Empire.
Understanding this framework is key to truly appreciating Dark Horse’s latest contribution to the Star Wars canon, Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi. This series takes place 36,000 years before the Battle of Yavin and explores the origins of the Jedi in an era before hyperspace travel and the founding of the Old Republic. This series, which even reads like a historical chronicle and has very little actual dialogue, focuses on seven large temple-shaped ships that travel the galaxy in search of force-sensitive races, who are taken to the center of the universe to learn the ways of the Je’daii.
Depending on how one engages with the story, Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi will either be replete with significance or an uninteresting adventure that takes the reader thousands of years from the characters and events that made them love Geroge Lucas’s vision in the first place. Those who are more concerned with drama and novelty may not find this new series particularly compelling. In may ways issue may seem like previous tales dressed in new skins; there are the Je’daii warriors and an evil Empire that they are being into conflict with. Not exactly untrodden narrative landscape.
But for those readers who have passionately and studiously attempted to chronicle and follow the series in all its forms, Dawn of the Jedi is not just a good read, but a necessary one. One that provides important background information, and whose seemingly clichéd affectations actually reveal the cyclical nature of a well-developed mythology.
Historical events examined from a broad perspective often trace periods of cohesion to entropy, expansion and contraction, rises and falls. While some examine the events of the world through the lens of uninterrupted progress, others see, like Oswald Spengler, an episodic movement more like that represented in the natural world with its seasons or with the very movement and convolutions of the cosmos. Stepping back to a macro perspective one sees these movements in the iterations of the Star Wars universe.
The first storylines, particularly the films, chronicle the fall of the Old Republic, the Empire, and then with its defeat, the New Republic. As the story advanced following the Vong War – a war against an alien race from beyond the known universe – there was a subsequent movement towards unity. From disharmony and polarization comes order and a unification of the two extremes.
So if the overarching mythos begins with division and moves towards synthesis, it forces out attention inevitably backwards and demands that there must have been a previous era of balance and harmony that proceeds all that has been encountered before. Dawn of the Jedi is this era.
The entire storyline is premised on the idea that unlike later iterations of the Jedi, these force wielders attempt to maintain a balance between the light and dark sides of the force. There is no Jedi/Sith division, there is instead an understanding that both sides have strength and weaknesses and that an excess of either energy can be harmful. Consequently, this period of balance nicely sets the stage for all that is to come thousands of years in the future as it will no doubt include the sundering of the Je’daii and the perhaps even the origins of the Sith.
This concept of balance and harmonious coexistence between light and dark, functions as a necessary extension of the mythology of the Force with its allusions and references to Eastern philosophy. Not only does it fit into the narrative, but it also is readily acceptable to the reader who is used to this recurring trope throughout out society, whether in politics, spirituality, or even pop culture.
Ultimately it is too early to early to tell how effective of a story Dawn of the Jedi will be. As with any first issue the emphasis of this particular book was on setup and exposition and so a full appraisal cannot accurately be made. However, when shifting perspectives slightly from the book as a story to the book as a historical artifact, as lore, then its significance is revealed. Dawn of the Jedi is as much a product of historical forces as it is one of editorial and creative decisions. Its necessity was foreshadowed by all that has come before, and its very existence is a testament to the continuing ubiquity of one of our greatest cultural institutions.