This article contains spoilers for Doctor Aphra #6, by Alyssa Wong, Ray-Anthony Height, Robert Gill, and Victor Olazaba.
Star Wars may have just revealed the secret that brought an end to the High Republic Era. The future of the Star Wars franchise lies in the past, in a bold new transmedia initiative that will explore the High Republic Era. Set 200 years before the events of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, this was something of a golden age for both the Old Republic and the Jedi.
The story will kick off in the books, with Charles Soule’s Light of the Jedi and Justina Ireland’s A Test of Courage releasing on January 5. The Jedi will be called upon to help with the Great Disaster, a catastrophe on the Outer Rim that is caused when a freighter breaks up in hyperspace. Although details are unclear, it appears this is no natural event, but rather has been caused by a race known as the Nihil. These are the villains of the High Republic saga, and they’ve been described as reckless and lawless “Space Vikings” who are powerful enough to make even well-trained Jedi afraid.
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But why are the Nihil so dangerous? And could they actually be the proximate cause of the Republic’s decline? Star Wars has recently offered some important clues that hint why they could be so dangerous – and how their emergence could have threatened the entire Republic.
The Secret Lies In The Nihil’s Hyperspace Technology
Lucasfilm is still being pretty secretive about the Nihil, but from the outset they’ve confirmed they use hyperspace in a manner that’s seriously dangerous. This naturally raised eyebrows among long-term Star Wars fans, because in general hyperspace is simply seen as a way of getting from A to B. Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi demonstrated that it was possible to use lightspeed jumps as a weapon in the Holdo Maneuver, though, which raised the possibility there were other ways to weaponize it. More recently, Lucasfilm published the first eight chapters of Light of the Jedi on the Penguin Random House website, giving readers an idea of the sheer scale of the Great Disaster. Significantly, it was caused by a hyperspace anomaly of some sort.
The Great Disaster was caused when a star freighter, the Legacy Run, came close to colliding with something in hyperspace. Captain Hedda Casset was off-bridge when the alarms began to ring, and she rushed to the bridge, noting as she looked out the window that something was wrong with hyperspace. “Through the front viewport, the swirls of hyperspace looked off, somehow,” Hedda noted. “Maybe it was the emergency lighting, but they had a . . . reddish tinge. They looked . . . sickly.” And then, to her horror, she learned the navicomputer was recording an enormous mass in hyperspace, dead ahead. The Legacy Run broke apart as she tried to avoid this impossible presence in hyperspace. Fragments of the ship emerged suddenly in realspace, moving at light-speed, destroying anything they impacted – and wreaking havoc on inhabited planets. The Jedi rushed to the scene to help, initially aware only of the distress calls from doomed worlds being pummeled by the pieces. It’s reasonable to assume the hyperspace anomaly was caused by the Nihil, even if they aren’t seen in the excerpt. But how do they manipulate hyperspace in such an unusual way?
An important clue is offered in Doctor Aphra #6, by Alyssa Wong, Ray-Anthony Height, Robert Gill, and Victor Olazaba. There, archaeologist/adventurer Doctor Aphra is forced to hunt down a Nihil artifact by Domina Tagge, head of the Tagge Corporation. One of Tagge’s rivals, De’rruyet Industries, has reportedly acquired a piece of Nihil technology called a “Path Engine.” “Beol De’rruyet claims this artifact holds the key to a long lost, incredibly fast method of lightspeed travel,” Tagge explained. “And he’s found a way to replicate it. If that’s true, it could completely change the galactic economy… or end the war once and for all.” As far as Tagge is concerned, she cannot allow that to happen. If the Path Engine is everything Tagge fears, then it may well be the reason the Nihil are so dangerous.
The Path Engine Could Be The Key To Understanding The Nihil
Neither Domina Tagge nor Doctor Aphra discuss exactly how the Path Engine works, but it is possible to make an educated guess based on our prior understanding of hyperspace. This is essentially another plane of reality, one where the laws of physics operate differently, and by accessing hyperspace, a spaceship can move at a phenomenal speed. There is, however, a relationship between hyperspace and the real world, because ships can be forced out of hyperspace by large gravitational bodies such as planets and star-systems. That’s why the trip from Tatooine to Alderaan in Star Wars took 16 hours, with the 10,000 light year journey extended because the Millennium Falcon had to navigate an unusual route.
There is only really one way to speed up hyperspace travel in the manner Domina Tagge alludes to; by manipulating the nature of hyperspace, moving the mass shadows out of the way so as to be able to fly in a straight line. This would fit perfectly with the Great Disaster, because on that occasion the Nihil’s Path Engine could simply have moved a gravitational mass shadow into a major trade route, forcing Hedda Casset to desperately attempt to avoid it. Indeed, the strange, sickly appearance of hyperspace could well have been a consequence of this process.
This Would Explain Why The Nihil Threatened The Entire Galaxy
If this theory is correct, then the Nihil’s technology is the real threat to galactic peace. The entire galaxy’s economy has been shaped around hyperspace travel, with most trade occurring via hyperspace lanes that are known to be free of gravitic disruption. The Nihil’s Path Engine technology would risk these hyperspace lanes, because any one of them could become impassible at a moment’s notice, resulting in further catastrophes. Worse still, if this technology was ever acquired by the Republic (or, centuries later, by the Empire), the galactic economy would collapse. Planets that had flourished because they were well-placed near prominent hyperspace lanes would suddenly be impoverished, because those trade routes were no longer needed. The Galactic Core would lose its position of political dominance, because people could travel with such ease at such speed.
The Republic would want all trace of this technology to be destroyed. However willing the Jedi would be to oppose a group of “Space Vikings,” they would object to possible genocide. This potential conflict of interest could well be what forced the Jedi to become bound to the Republic, too closely tied to galactic politics, and even based on Coruscant. And so the Nihil inadvertently caused the slow decline of the Jedi Order, making it vulnerable to the manipulations of a certain Chancellor Palpatine some 200 years later.
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