Review: Star Wars: Tempest Runner audio drama delves into what makes a Nihil

Star Wars: The High Republic: Tempest Runner. Photo:
Star Wars: The High Republic: Tempest Runner. Photo: /

Another month, another new Star Wars High Republic book to gush about. This one, an audio drama from breaker-of-hearts Cavan Scott and focused on the ruthless and fascinating Nihil, Lourna Dee. Star Wars: Tempest Runner is available now from wherever you get your audiobook fix.

Author Scott is no stranger to Star Wars audio dramas about villains, as he penned the illuminating script for 2019’s Dooku: Jedi Lost. Scott brings the same depth and seamless dialogue to the captivating character study of Lourna Dee (voiced by Jessica Almasy), the supposed “Eye” of the Nihil (according to the Republic), but in reality a multifaceted, merciless Tempest Runner.

Tempest Runner weaves Lourna’s story through the fabric of the darker sides of the Republic, exploring the rise and fall and rise again of the Twi’lek’s notorious empire. The audio drama is Lourna’s origin story told through flashbacks as she’s interrogated and interviewed by several Republic officials after a failed mission left her imprisoned and her Tempest in ruins.

Tempest Runner chronicles events immediately after the Jedi’s epic battles against the spreading Drengir (see Scott’s The High Republic Marvel comic series) and the horrifying destruction of the Republic Fair on Valo (see Scott’s The Rising Storm adult novel), but this time told from Lourna’s perspective along with a few other Nihil. While it doesn’t necessarily push the overall High Republic story forward, it showcases a fascinating dive into the world of the ruthless space pirates that fans have been clamoring for since being introduced to the Nihil back in Light of the Jedi (Charles Soule).

It comes as no surprise that Lourna’s life story is a tragic one, marked by underestimation, misunderstanding, tragedy and betrayal. Lourna is the most sadistic of the Nihil Tempest Runners, but up until now, we didn’t have an answer as to why. Through flashbacks, present-day events and other short, framed stories, we learn what makes Lourna tick — showing her fraught journey from being royalty on her home planet of Aeloth and a heartbreaking betrayal to her enslavement, rescue by the Jedi, working for the Republic, honing her brutal fighting skills in Outer Rim cantinas and generally running from her past and toward a chaotic future with the Nihil.

As the section titles explain, Lourna’s life has been marked by remembrance, recriminations, revenge and eventual renewal. Tempest Runner begins in present-day on the High Republic timeline, kicking off the story with a former Nihil recalling the tale of how Lourna ended up in the clutches of the Republic, imprisoned aboard the Restitution. Through conversations with members of her Tempest, we hear how merciless and commanding Lourna really is. And through a brief exchange with Marchion Ro (Marc Thompson), we learn just how much Lourna hates being told what to do, how to do it and being interrupted.

We hear much of her history through conversations with Starlight Beacon’s head of security and through interviews with Councilor Wittick (Dan Bittner) aboard the Restitution. The most enthralling scenes come in flashbacks to Lourna’s promotion in the Nihil by previous Eye Asgar Ro (Jonathan Davis), who tells her she’s his “greatest work.” These scenes offer a glimpse into the violent anarchism of the Nihil along with an interesting take on how the rest of the space pirates feel about the current Eye Marchion Ro.

The thread connecting Lourna’s past, present and future is her use of different names and identities. While she’s used the name of her brother and the name “Sal” to survive an academy and her imprisonment by the Republic, she’s imbued her true name, Lourna Dee, with respect and fear. After a life of being undervalued, manipulated, betrayed and underestimated, Lourna is a woman scorned who now demands terror-backed obedience.

Despite her trauma and subsequent evolution into the ruthless Tempest Runner she is now, her desire for revenge and retribution are relatable and sometimes worthy of admiration. Her intensity and growth into power echoes that of Asajj Ventress (The Clone Wars), finally adding another vicious female villain to Star Wars’ repertoire.

While the overall story of Tempest Runner is gratifying and Scott’s talents at writing immersive dialogue are on full display, the audio drama format can be tough to follow along with, especially for those who may have auditory differences or who just don’t often consume audiobooks. Past audio dramas have later produced an accompanying script book with more narration details, and fans continue to hope that Tempest Runner’s script will be released sooner rather than next year.

Tempest Runner is made easier to digest with a full cast cranking out some of the most captivating voice work along with incredible audio production and sound effects. Like other Star Wars audio dramas, Tempest Runner is quite literally like a short television series in your ears. At a little more than six hours in length, Tempest Runner is a low-stakes investment of time, but one that pays off quickly with a fascinating, in-depth study of a key antagonist in the High Republic era.

While fans have looked forward to every new High Republic offering, the hype for a Lourna Dee-focused story may not have been as high because of her short appearances in previous novels. It turns out, readers may also have underestimated Lourna’s importance and impact in the High Republic in favor of focusing on the machinations and motivations of Marchion Ro. Tempest Runner proves our assumptions about Lourna wrong, gifting us with a story we didn’t know we needed but now can’t imagine living without.

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Star Wars: The High Republic: Tempest Runner is available now from Penguin Random House Audio. It’s written by Cavan Scott and features the voice talents of Jessica Almasy, Dan Bittner, Orlagh Cassidy, Sullivan Jones, January Lavoy, Kathleen McInerney, Tara Sands, Vikas Adam, Jonathan Davis, Neil Hellegers, Saskia Maarleveld, Soneela Nankani, Marc Thompson and Shannon Tyo.