Two Jedi Go On a Mission of Mercy In This Star Wars: The High Republic Preview

Two Jedi Go On a Mission of Mercy In This Star Wars: The High Republic Preview

It’s a big day for Star Wars’ prequel-prequel era. As The Acolyte prepares to drop on Disney+ today, it’s not the only big event for the High Republic era to deal with this, as the transmedia publishing initiative’s latest novel prepares to hit shelves—and we’ve got a look inside.

Tessa Gratton’s Temptation of the Force is the latest chapter of The High Republic’s third climactic phase—as the Jedi and the Republic grapple with the bold attacks of Marchion Ro and his piratical Nihil, after they’ve used devastating technology known as the Stormwall to cut off a whole section of the galaxy—an occlusion zone trapping helpless worlds while the Nihil raid and plunder, and a zone that continues to grow across the galaxy as Ro expands the Stormwall further and further. As handfuls manage to escape the chaos from within, and old friends reunited, the Jedi are ready to strike back—and save as many worlds as they can from the horrors of the Stormwall.

Image: Penguin Random House

But before we get into all the lightsaber swinging and Nihil-fighting—and whatever comes of the reunion of Jedi Masters Avar Kriss and Elzar Mann after they spent a year separated by the Stormwall—io9 has your first look at a mission of mercy, rather than dutiful combat. Read on for an exclusive excerpt from Temptation of the Force below, as Jedi Knights Bell Zettifar and the wookiee Burryaga—big week for wookiee Jedi!—survey the planet Oanne, on the edge of the Stormwall, and try to figure out what they can do to save its people from being caught up in Ro’s chaos… among other things.

If you’d prefer to hear the snippet, we’ve also got this exclusive preview of the Temptation of the Force audiobook, read by Marc Thompson!

Star Wars: The Temptation of the Force Exclusive Audiobook Excerpt

Excerpted with permission of Penguin Random House Audio from Star Wars: Temptation of the Force by Tessa Gratton; Read by Marc Thompson © 2024, Tessa Gratton, ℗ Penguin Random House, LLC.

Burryaga and Bell had been on Oanne for three days, alongside a preliminary evacuation team with the Republic Defense Coalition. Oanne was the only inhabited world in its system, mostly left alone to exist and provide certain Republic interests with a particular fungus that grew on the roots of the planet’s geriatric nativity trees and could be used as a very efficient electroconductor that didn’t leave a traceable signature. A few generations ago, the Republic had made a trade deal with the Elia-An colonies, welcoming them into the Republic. In return the Elia-An had asked for scientists to help them understand the symbiotic gestation they shared with their nativity trees and attempt to form alternative arrangements for offworld travel. There were files and files of information Burry had scanned on his way to Oanne, gathered especially by a Ho’Din specialist. But nobody had successfully created an artificial or even temporary natal chamber for the Elia-An that mimicked their nativity trees well enough for the people to reproduce.

Therein lay the problem facing the RDC and Jedi: Oanne was extremely near to the Stormwall’s current border, and there was every likelihood of Marchion Ro expanding the border again soon—in the haphazard, unpredictable way he’d taken to doing since Master Avar Kriss’s escape. Oanne would be consumed. The Elia-An faced a choice: remain and be occupied or massacred by the Nihil, or leave their homeworld.

Bell was determined to convince them they must leave, and he was sure that it would only be temporary. Burry was less certain.

“The Nihil might set fire to your forests, that’s true,” Bell said with a frown. “But if you’re here, you’ll die, too. If you evacuate with us, you have a chance.”

“Doesn’t the Republic want us for our—” The translator droid stumbled over the name of the fungus.

Burry didn’t need to hear it. “No,” he said sharply in An-An, startling everyone.

Bell slid him a surprised look, but the medicine artist tilted her head to look up and up at Burry.

Burry met her vivid-green gaze. The bristles along her neck rippled, shimmering green-blue to blue-green.

Gently, Bell said, “Maybe it’s true the Republic wants your mushrooms, but not me and Burryaga. We want to keep you safe.”

“Our forest can’t leave,” the medicine artist said to Burry, her trill and growls both soft and pretty.

Softening his Shyriiwook to better reflect the An-An vocalizations, Burry told her that the forest couldn’t be saved at all if the world fell to the Nihil.

The medicine artist looked sad. It wasn’t only the color of her bristles that said so: Burry could feel it radiating off her through the Force.

He glanced at Bell to see the slight pout of Bell’s lower lip that the human got whenever he almost understood a more complicated sentence of Burry’s. Bell didn’t like how much he still relied on interpreters sometimes. Bell’s reliance didn’t bother Burry, but his determination to learn filled Burry with warmth. The first time he’d realized Bell was studying Shyriiwook, Burry had burst into Bell’s little quarters and picked him up off the stool. There hadn’t been room in the bunk to twirl him around, but that didn’t stop Burry from trying. His master, Nib Assek, had made the effort for Burry so she could communicate with her Wookiee Padawan, but Bell didn’t have the same kind of impetus. Bell was just a good friend and strong Jedi who knew it showed respect and that there would always be nuances an interpreter would miss. Bell wanted to understand his friend.

The medicine artist reached out with her seven-fingered forehand—the Elia-An had an extra set of arms that were shorter with smaller claw-tipped fingers they used to hook into their nativity trees—and patted Burry’s stomach as high as she could reach. It was right above his belt, where the brown of his robes crossed. Then the medicine artist touched her own stomach over the interwoven strips of sashes that served as her clothing. She said something the interpreter droid couldn’t translate. It sounded like the Shyriiwook word for “chiming bells”: Arryssslesh.

Her name. Burry touched his stomach where she had. He answered her with his name in his native language.

“Come,” she said, waving over her shoulder as she trotted deeper into the forest.

Burry glanced down at Bell, then grabbed his friend’s elbow and hauled him up. They followed the medicine artist. The interpreter droid tromped after.

The forest thickened. This was a grove of nativity trees, which had smooth green-black bark that developed a single furrow up the center as they aged. Most here were older, parents to generations of Elia-An. Their branches spiked upward like wine flutes made of bright-blue filament, and their leaves, with the same downy feathering that covered the Elia-An, shifted in the planet’s breeze. Between the nativity trees, smaller flowering saplings grew, spreading toward one another into a lacework of milky-white branches just low enough that Burry had to duck and walk in a crouch. He tried to avoid crushing the grasses along the narrow Elia-An path, but his feet were too large. When the blades bent and broke, they smelled like spice and their nectar glimmered like star algae. It lit the forest from below, and Burry thought it was beautiful.

Beside him, Bell said, “It’s beautiful.”

Burry roared a soft agreement.

It was easy to understand why the Elia-An didn’t want to abandon their forest, even for a little while. If the Nihil came here, they’d turn it into ashes and smeared nectar.

Burry tried to let go of the anger he felt when thinking of the destructive determination of the Nihil. Better to rest in this lush forest teeming with the Force. It felt strong and connected, in the way of a healthy ecosystem. Burry, empathic as he was, sensed the emotions of the nativity trees. They were more like their sentient Elia-An counterparts than most trees Burry had encountered. He wondered if any Force users had tried to transplant the nativity trees into a starship’s arboretum. If the Force could communicate to the trees the necessity of letting go their roots here, to survive, that might be a solution.

The medicine artist brought them into a meadow filled with bright-yellow insects floating around—no, they were seeds. Or insects. Burry found himself purring slightly in amusement. It didn’t matter. Everything here was connected on more than just the level of the Force.

“Ah, um,” Bell said.

Burry glanced back. Several of the insect seeds had settled in Bell’s hair like a string of jewels. Burry laughed softly and told Bell he looked very pretty. Bell grinned. It was good to have moments like this, reminded of these pockets of peace and beauty out here next to the Stormwall. They’d spent so much time chasing and fighting, nearly dying again and again. The people here on the edges of Republic space were desperate, and Burry had let himself feel that, too. He was hyperaware of sudden changes, of the potential for everything to explode or fall apart at a moment’s notice. When he went to sleep, he always expected to be woken up with emergency alarms blaring.

At the far end of the meadow was a nativity tree so large around that six Wookiees with joined hands couldn’t quite encircle it. It had multiple seams, and around it several Elia-An sat in tiny nests of downy filaments with their eyes closed, their extra limbs raised to hook into tendrils from the tree.

“This is a Grandfather tree,” the medicine artist said via the droid. “This one no longer nurtures our fruit but helps those who wish to be parents pair with a younger tree. The memory in this Grandfather helps us locate our seed-heart.”

Burry nodded, though he didn’t understand the terms perfectly.

According to the Ho’Din scientist, the most accurate description of the relationship between the nativity trees and the Elia-An was that the people were the seeds to be cross-pollinated. The Elia-An moved from grove to grove, drifting with their communities to new trees.

“Come,” the medicine artist said again. Burry went to her, and to his surprise, she took his hand and placed it on the warm, smooth trunk of the Grandfather tree.

“We cannot leave them,” she said. The droid’s translation was emotionless, but Burry could feel the grief and certainty in Arryssslesh’s trill. He closed his eyes and leaned into the tree. The Grandfather tree was sad, too. It knew. It longed, it . . . Burry felt the pang of pride and sorrow along with something less easily definable, but Burry thought it was like a promise of letting go. As if the Grandfather wanted these Elia-An to go, to save themselves.

He knew if he said that, Arryssslesh would be even less inclined to evacuate.

She put her small seven-fingered hand over the back of Burry’s, sandwiching him between her and the tree. Burry breathed deeply, and the Force thrummed throughout him—throughout the whole forest. It felt like home to him. The Force was a galactic forest, leaves and branches and pillars and roots, the complex array of animals and vines and lichen, fungi and viruses and worms that made up the variety of the living Force. This forest, in particular, had grown in a balance. Take one part away and the others would be bereft.

The Nihil had cut off part of the galaxy from the rest with their Stormwall. If they cut through the Oanne system, Burry was not sure the Elia-An could ever recover.

They shouldn’t have to leave.

Bell stepped nearer and, asking permission with his eyes, put his own brown palm to the bark of the Grandfather tree.

Burry could feel his friend join the connection more directly.

“Is it better,” Bell asked gently, “to die together, or to live apart with the hope of regrowing?”

Tiny spots on the Grandfather tree began to glow. They lit up in sequence, one after the other, a trail of light rushing up the lines of bark like shooting stars aiming high. Burry gasped. Bell laughed.

Arryssslesh’s bristles tipped with the same light.

Burry understood. They were one. There was no such thing as apart. Not right now.

He really wanted to hug the whole tree, and so he did. He fell into the Force, into the rootwork and interlocking lace of the branches. He let himself have a moment, this moment, invited to connect with an intricate web of Force.

Something—something not too far from here—drew his attention through the layers of Force and emotion. A pull. A . . . hunger. It could be a dying nativity tree or a body of water, something slightly diseased maybe. He’d ask Arryssslesh—she would know.

But first Burryaga pushed his awareness toward it.

A harsh electronic bleep cut through his thoughts.

Burry jerked back, and Bell flailed for his comlink. “Sorry,” Bell gasped. “Sorry.” He thumbed the alert off and stepped back from the tree. “This is Bell Zettifar. What’s going—”

“Jedi!” came the tinny voice through the comlink. “You’re needed back on the Tractate. There’s a distress call from the neighboring system and we—” The comlink distorted. They were deep in the trees, after all.

In his softened Shyriiwook, Burry promised Arryssslesh that they would return, then he followed Bell’s trot away from the Grandfather tree.

“I’m sorry, can you say that again?” Bell insisted.

“It’s Drengir!”

Burry stopped in his tracks. Drengir—sentient, vicious, meat-eating plant monsters. Here. On the Stormwall border.

“Burry, come on,” Bell said, shock echoing in his voice.

They ran.

Reprinted from Star Wars: The High Republic: Temptation of the Force by Tessa Gratton. © 2024 by Lucasfilm Ltd. Published by Random House Worlds, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Star Wars: Temptation of the Force hits bookshelves next week on June 11.

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