The last Young Adult novel of phase 1 of The High Republic is out now. Midnight Horizon by Daniel José Older follows a few of our favourite heroes from the era as they investigate Nihil presence on the core world of Corellia. It’s the culmination of storytelling for both the line of Young Adult novels and Older’s other work in the era, primarily The High Republic Adventures. It’s fun, exhilirating, emotional. It’s got great representation, with several people of colour in key roles, the most LGBTQIA+ characters in any Star Wars book so far (7!), a nonbinary character who gets fleshed out with flashbacks and a love interest, and Ram, who should really resonate with neurodivergent readers.
I absolutely recommend picking this book up as soon as you can. It’s one of my favourites in years. Possibly ever, depending on how I feel after the recency bias fades. There’s a lot to love, and a lot to talk about.
But I’m here for one thing today, and that’s to sing the praise of one character in particular. Zeen Mrala, introduced a year ago in The High Republic Adventures #1, is the absolute pinnacle of LGBTQIA+ representation in my book.
You see, the Star Wars galaxy may be filled with war and strife, but you’ll never find its characters be bigoted in the ways our Earth humans are. No transphobia, no ableism, no racism, no sexism, and no homophobia. Marginalized people are for the most part just allowed to be, and that’s both refreshing and empowering to see.
But sadly, our marginalization is also an essential part of us, and through the use of metaphor, we find other characters to identify with. That’s partly why people feel so strongly about queer and/or POC-coded aliens – their treatment reflects directly on the treatment of people in real life.
DJ Older knows this, and so he found a perfect metaphor. Because while she’s never been taken in by the Jedi, Zeen does have a strong connection to the Force. It’s always been part of her, something she can draw power from, something to be celebrated.
But the Elders of her tribe on Trymant IV don’t agree. They think the Force is something to be feared. And so Zeen has to hide that vital, intrinsic part of her away.
As a nonbinary dude with a female partner, I have the privilege of my queerness not always being visible. Like Zeen, I can hide that part of myself and live my life among others who would hate me for it. And I have. But sometimes disaster strikes and you find yourself outed, just like Zeen has to out herself at the end of the first issue. Things get tense, and her best friend, feeling betrayed, starts to resent her for being who she is. But luckily, she finds a new home among the first people who truly accept all of her – the Jedi. It’s empowering in a way that just seeing queer people kick ass in a story could never be, because the story actually celebrates her other-ness.
I resonate with it a lot due to my queerness, but Zeen’s story is meant to parallel a lot of different things. Hopefully marginalized people from all walks of life can find strength in Zeen’s journey to embrace herself, and her subsequent adoption into a found family that celebrates the parts of her she’s had to hide. DM’ing with Daniel about Zeen’s story, he had this to say:
Daniel José Older: The backstory with that cult is really about so many things, but I love that it clicks so well with her queerness. One influence was also friends who grew up in households that for any number of reasons wouldn’t let them be their full selves, so they knew they had powers they couldn’t use. But yeah, passing, racially, is there too in ways. And the hell of your community wanting you to lessen yourself for them. And the heaven of finding people who aren’t that.
Minor spoilers for Midnight Horizon after this paragraph
Of course, metaphor is one thing. Actually canonically doing LGBTQIA+ representation is another entirely, something where many media unfortunately still struggle. Not Daniel, though. Introduced alongside Zeen in THRA +1 is Lula Talisola, a prodigal Jedi Padawan who quickly becomes Zeen’s new best friend. Throughout the comic’s run, they grow closer and closer, until finally in THRA #12, we get undeniable confirmation of their attraction to each other, and they even use the L word (love, of course). The marriage of Zeen’s canonical queerness and her ongoing journey towards self acceptance is what really makes her click for me. A combination that’s very rarely seen in a franchise like Star Wars.
I warned you, minor spoiler time!
So now, Midnight Horizon has arrived, giving us a bigger look inside of Zeen’s mind as one of our POV characters. All the time the comic spent setting up her queerness – both metaphorical and canonical – doubly pays off here. There’s maybe half a dozen Zeen chapters in the book, and all of them made me well up. It’s just a constant barrage of cuteness from her feelings about Lula, angst about what their relationship would mean for both of them in their Jedi community, and empowerment from her standing up to her oppressor. Between bouts of normal ass-kicking, of course.
The highlight for me was chapter 23, wherein she finally confronts her childhood friend turned evil, Krix Kamarat. It’s a chapter I keep coming back to over and over again. In fact, when my physical copy arrives I’m sticking a bookmark in there and never removing it. This passage especially encompasses everything about why I love Zeen so much.
“You said something to me once,” Zeen said as he caught
his breath, still shaken from his own admission. “When you
were trying to get me to run away with you. You said I could
just stop using the Force and it would go away. And we could
be normal.” She shook her head, suddenly calmer than she’d
felt in weeks, if not months. “But that’s what I’d been doing
my whole life. Hoping the power inside me would go away.
Lessening myself for others. For you.” The word came out like
a curse. “Wishing I was normal. I’m so, so glad I found people
who love me for who I am and not for some version of myself
that had to be lesser to make them comfortable.”
The story of Zeen Mrala is the story of finding yourself, embracing them, and never letting go. A true inspiration to us all, and an all-time great Star Wars Character. Queen Zeen, we love you.