Dawn of the Jedi set a lofty goal, and only lived a short time. While it makes sense for me to review each metaseries (particularly those prior to Revenge of the Sith, which are much easier to pin down and label), Dawn of the Jedi is the one where it is absolutely possible. This is a series that consists of three comic miniseries, two short stories, and one novel, all released in the span from 2012 to 2014. All of this makes it a prime candidate for a look at the series as a whole.
Dawn of the Jedi was intended to be the first publication set prior to the start of the Republic at a time when the creators had no way of knowing that it would be among the last publications featuring the Star Wars universe as they knew it. Had there been more time, it is likely that stories about the overthrowing of the Rakata on various worlds, the unification of original hyperspace-faring races, the human-Taung wars, the story of Xim the Despot, and other topics might have been addressed in various other media.
It was also a doomed project. Not necessarily the pre-Republic era, but Dawn of the Jedi. Force Storm was the only volume released with Dark Horse having what seemed to be a stable grasp of the future at the time. By the time Prisoner of Bogan was released, the Walt Disney Corporation purchased LucasFilm and all of its subsidiaries, meaning that it was only a matter of time before Dark Horse lost its license to produce Star Wars comics to Marvel, another corporation owned by Disney. It was never a question of if Dawn of the Jedi was going to end prematurely, but how prematurely.
Depending on your point of view, Dawn of the Jedi covers just over one year, or almost eleven thousand years of story. The first issue starts well before the story proper, showing disparate races being brought together by starships that would eventually be revealed to be the creations of the Kwa. Once they’re brought together, the narration ends and we move forward to the “present day”.
The opening sequence is interesting for a few reasons. It is revealed in subsequent volumes that the Rakata’s thirst to use Kwa technology to spread the Infinite Empire is what caused the Kwa civilization to go into retreat, beginning the produce that would eventually produce the Kwi, the marginally sapient lizards that inhabit Dathomir alongside the humans in the film era. The Kwa themselves are nowhere to be seen, even though Dathomir is – along with humans, which are generally considered to be original to Coruscant.
The impression one can take from this is that the Rakata Infinite Empire is already beginning by the time of the Tho Yor, which makes sense if you consider them to be a last line of defense intended to rectify the mistake that was unleashing the Rakata on the galaxy. Whether this implies that humans were originally from Dathomir and were allowed to colonize Coruscant or vice versa is uncertain, but it is clear that the Kwa had something to do with the species being present on both planets, unless one were to add Star Wars to the list of franchises in which humans evolved independently on multiple planets, or were seeded by yet another ancient omnipotent race. Speaking of ancient omnipotent races, it is worth remarking that the Celestials – those whom the Kwa and Rakata (among others) were both said to serve around this time period – are completely unmentioned throughout the entirety of Dawn of the Jedi, almost going far enough to give the Kwa their role (the Kwa claim to have given the Rakata technology, rather than it being the result of their servitude of the Celestials).
In fact, Dawn of the Jedi probably gives more information about the Kwa than anything I have seen before, which is fitting from the team that handled Infinity Gates in Star Wars: Republic. In terms of lore, I would argue this to be the series’ greatest strength, and something from which information can be gleaned from all four major (not counting short stories) sources within the metaseries.
The second race that the series focuses on is the Rakata which, while not providing a ton of lore about, gives a very good close-up view of them. Similar to how Dawn looks at the Kwa from a distance, the Knights of the Old Republic video game looks at the Rakata from a distance, giving some insight as to their philosophy and technology based on what they left behind. In Dawn of the Jedi, the Rakata are not only contemporaries, but also the antagonists, so there is much more that can be done with them up close.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the Rakata as featured here are such a cookie-cutter race. All of the Rakata seen express a point of view are Predors, Over-Predors or Sub-Predors, meaning that they are all high caste and part of the same system. All believe only in conquest and their own superiority. There is no dissent in their opinions (other than who should be in charge) and there is not the slightest glimmer of anything that could convince such creatures to build a society. There are four Rakata with speaking lines, and three of them are killed by the others. Left to their own devices, this cannibalistic race should have murdered itself into extinction long before the Kwa or the Celestials came across them. It’s true that the Rakata we see are dramatic and formidable, and add stakes to the story, but they’re not deep enough to possibly survive in a story independent of all this. What are the Rakata that we don’t see? Do they believe that it is only right to follow the strongest, or do they do so out of terror? Why are the lower caste intentionally mutated in a manner that the Sith Lords would duplicate almost two thousand years later? Are there Rakatans that serve as intermediaries, a middle caste that interacts with the upper but is not seen as enough of a threat to constantly plan the death of? None of these questions, or the many like them that this sort of society spawns, are answered. This sort of corner-cutting, while acceptable in a single villain and his minions, is far less acceptable when that villain and his cronies are intended to be representative of an entire race.
Speaking of corner-cutting, I find myself only less comfortable with the Tho Yor’s gathering of races as time goes on. It is a very explicit way of saying “we want to portray multiple species, but have no way of doing so”. This would fit into the story much better if the Jed’aii were all descended from rebellious slaves of the Rakata, but then the story would be very different. Perhaps this is where the Celestials could have been mentioned.
As for the characters, the story has its strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately seems as if it is setting up for the First Great Schism, which took place 800-900 years later. The fact that this is completely outside of the range of this series makes it questionable, but it wouldn’t be the strangest thing that Star Wars universe has done, and could even have been setting up for a Schism series down the line. Sek’nos Rath (other than being named like a Rakata) is a very interesting character who is clearly struggling against his id throughout the series. It is only by seeing the horrors of war that he truly understands how important the balance between light and dark, id and superego, truly is, and even then he needs help sometimes. Tasha Ryo is torn between multiple responsibilities, has the one she’s chosen torn from her, and gives her life in order to be something more. Shae Koda struggles with the darkness herself, but finds herself responsible for teaching someone else about the light.
In fact, I could even forgive if history was modified to allow the First Great Schism to feature an Ashla army led by Xesh and Shae Koda against a Bogan army led by Daegen Lok and Sec’nos Rath because it would finally give these characters a chance to complete their development.
Unfortunately, like Tales of the Jedi, Dawn doesn’t give the characters enough space to really grow. Once the characters are established, plot points and set pieces are thrown at them so quickly that they may be given one line of development per issue (or less, in some cases). Thus, Rath’s development becomes so minor that it can be easily missed, and never has the chance to resolve into something. Tasha Ryo’s development happened so quickly that if they didn’t use her full name every time someone spoke with her I’d have sworn they were different people. That’s separate from Daegen Lok, who had so much of an arc between books that I would have sworn I’d missed a volume.
Dawn of the Jedi did what it set out to do, though: it set us up with proto-Jedi who had yet to split between light and dark side, who had yet to universally carry lightsabers, and had a whole new world to develop. Tython is a very interesting setting, and it certainly seems feasible that the system developed in the way it did (politically, if not geographically). A number of planets are given very distinct descriptions. The only fault I can lie on it is being too shallow for something written in 2012.