Star Wars is fascinated with the downfall of the Jedi Order right now. The High Republic transmedia effort has seen the Jedi’s apex challenged; the 25th anniversary of the prequel era’s beginnings in The Phantom Menace is on the way; and soon The Acolyte will show the rise of darkness. But another trend in examining the Order’s inevitable doom? Pirates. So many space pirates.

Piracy and the Jedi go hand in hand—it’s long been an established part of Star Wars worldbuilding that there was a time Jedi would be regularly protecting the fringes of the Republic from piratical threats, and how the Republic’s increasing corruption saw its interests draw further and further inwards to the core systems, abandoning people in the rim worlds to the grip of crime and piracy. Hell, even the main villains of the High Republic, the Nihil, are pirates! Star Wars, it loves itself a pirate.

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Image: Penguin Random House

So then, it’s perhaps fitting that in the franchise’s latest novel—John Jackson Miller’s The Living Force, set in the few years before the events of The Phantom Menace—finds its foes in a few more pirates: the mysterious Zilastra and her Riftwalkers. A new group formed out of the myriad factions vying for control of the Outer Rim while a recalcitrant Republic pulls back from policing the distant hyperspace routes and worlds at its edge—and a Jedi Order all too willing to join them in retreat—the Riftwalkers and their Nautolan leader are but the latest threat among many at the Republic’s fringe… and as you can see in our exclusive preview of The Living Force below, they mean business.

You can’t have a meeting of the minds if nobody attending has one.

Zilastra had coined the saying early in her career, and it had come in handy far too many times in the decade since. But this was the first time she’d thought of it in the middle of a firefight.

Blaster shots sizzled through the air in the corridor of the freighter Morleen, bright lines never to be crossed. Even peeking around the corner was death. All Zilastra could see from her side passage was the opening across the hall, where her second-in-command had just noticed her arrival. A Feeorin, Burlug had head-tendrils like hers; his were blue, while hers were Nautolan green. But he was a much bigger target. Burlug yelled over the incoming fire, “Stay back, Zil!”

“Luggy, what’s the story?”

“Tal and Krins got it. Our surprise guest popped ’em as soon as they started to parlay.”

“Saves me from killing them,” Zilastra replied. So much for trying for a peaceful meeting. Her anger grew. A boarding action, in my own port. What a mess!

Intake was one of the simplest tasks her crew was expected to handle. In the safety of one of her own landing facilities on Keldooine, newly captured spaceships got the once-over. Valuable cargoes were located and removed, while another team evaluated the vessel’s condition using a checklist that would have been the envy of any Republic bureaucrat.

Before all that could happen, however, the ship had to be secured. Capturing and rerouting a large vessel was a hectic affair, and rarely was there time to clear all the occupants while in flight. That tended to just be a formality once in port, where the numbers favored her forces. From there, it progressed as it had since the dawn of piracy. Most captured crewmembers tended to switch sides without much fuss. Joining up was better than unemployment—or a violent death. Even presumably loyal captains of commercial liners would flip once a little pressure was applied.

But owners of independent freighters like the Morleen were a different breed: protective of their vessels, and even more in love with their own stories of themselves. One legend-in-his-own-mind after another had refused to give up the ship, some hiding in the ductwork for days, waiting their chance to get taken down by her forces.

Or to do a little damage of their own.

With shots continuing to crackle past, Zilastra adjusted her gloves first, and then drew her blasters. Thermal detonators would be of no use—they’d damage the freighter. And a gas bomb would simply mean an even longer delay before intake could begin. No, this would have to be done the hard way, before—

The shots stopped.

Burlug looked back at her. “Don’t. It’s a trap.”

“You think?”

She heard the cockpit door close—and seconds later the low thrum of the freighter’s engines starting. The owner’s still trying to save the damn ship!

Fortunately, there was an option Zilastra had ignored while all the shooting was going on: the intercom, on the wall beside her. She holstered one of her blasters and activated the communications device. “Hey, listen. Up in the cockpit.”

Static. Then a husky voice. “I’m not talking to you. Get off my ship!”

“Yeah, I hear that a lot. I’m Zilastra.”

A pause. Then the speaker sounded. “You’re Zilastra? Of the Riftwalkers?”

“I’m glad you’ve heard of me. That means you know what I’ll do.”

Silence followed. Burlug shook his head. “I don’t think—”

Wait, Zilastra mouthed. It usually took ten seconds.

The freighter owner was ready in five. “Let me keep the Morleen.

“The what?”

“This ship. It’s mine. Just take the cargo.”

Zilastra had heard that one before, too. “What are you carrying?”

“Tanks of industrial acid. Four million liters, bound for Introsphere on Gorse.”

Ehh. Zilastra’s green mouth crinkled.

Still, the engines were really starting to rev. She toggled the intercom. “Okay, you’re in luck. We happen to have a buyer for that right here on Keldooine.”


“I’ll give you one of the tanks. You sell it, you can find your way offworld.”

What?” The owner was clearly caught off guard. “No! I want my ship!”

“The offer stands. The Morleen is mine. You want to negotiate, next time get caught by a used starship dealer.” She listened to the engines. “If your ship clears the facility, my people will shoot it down, with me in it.”

“What? You’d really order that?”

“I thought you’d heard of me before. You’ve got ten seconds.” Zilastra snapped off the device and redrew her other blaster.

It took the owner all ten seconds to see reason. The engines died. And when the door to the cockpit slid open, the owner died, too—shot once by each of Zilastra’s blasters set to kill.

Burlug stepped out and stared at the corpse, which now rested beside the bodies of Zilastra’s two former henchmen. “Good old Zilastra. Smile and shoot.”

“She was wasting time.” Zilastra holstered her weapons. “Get her out of here.”

Nearly twice Zilastra’s weight, Burlug had no trouble at all picking up the pilot’s limp body. “Where to?”

Zilastra pointed a thumb aft. “She owns one of those acid vats in the hold. A deal’s a deal.” She glanced at the corpses of her fallen henchmen. “Them, too.”

“Got it.”

Zilastra wanted a bath, herself—if in something a lot less dangerous. Nautolans were at home near water, and while her job kept her in space, Zilastra liked a good soak. But there was more yet to do. “Luggy, where was she hiding?”

“Under the heat exchange manifold. Snuck into the cockpit past everyone.”

“Just great.” This wasn’t supposed to happen. Zilastra looked from side to side. “Where’s the kid?”

She started to reach for her comlink—and decided instead on the ship’s public address system. Her voice boomed through the halls. “Kylah Lohmata! Show yourself!

A metal bulkhead panel behind Zilastra shot outward, landing on the deck with a clang. A dark-haired human girl of twelve slipped out of a space barely a meter tall. Her face and clothing were completely covered in grease smudges—and her wide brown eyes beamed as she saluted. “Reporting, Your Majesty!”

Zilastra waved a gloved hand. “I’m not in the mood. I’ve got two dead because of a pilot we missed. Checking crawl spaces is your job!”

Kylah got to her feet. “I found something else. I knew you’d want to see it.”

“And you thought the way to reach me was to crawl here?”

“People were shooting.” Kylah lifted the panel she’d just knocked out. Like most of the corridor, it was pocked with score marks from the pilot’s blaster. The kid smiled wide. “Come on! Follow me down to the hold!”

The wiry girl dived back into the maintenance tunnel before Zilastra could grab her. Kneeling, she saw Kylah clambering like a rodent through the tunnel. Unable to fit, Zilastra shouted inside. “What’s the matter with taking the stairs?”


Seething, Zilastra heard a comment from above. “Smart kid.” The pilot’s body over his massive shoulder, Burlug snickered at his boss. “Saves her from getting chewed out. I’d follow if I could fit!”

“Get to the hold before I liquidate the lot of you.” Zilastra watched him pass and turned to follow. The long way to the hold, down the halls.

There was no place in Zilastra’s life for children of her own. It had been hard enough starting the Riftwalkers from the castoffs of the four other gangs working this sector of the Slice. Yet somehow she had become a kind of surrogate parent for Kylah. The foundling had been a stowaway on a merchant ship Zilastra had grabbed; with nowhere to go, she’d stayed on. The skinny kid’s talent at getting into places no one else could and finding things no one knew to look for had made her handy to have around.

Still, given all the would-be lieutenants wanting to impress her all the time, an incorrigible orphan made for a change of pace. Kylah was all striving, with none of the conniving. Zilastra wasn’t exactly alike in that, but she certainly knew what it was to be on her own—and she respected performance. She’d lately entrusted the stowaway with a very special project, in fact.

She was beginning to doubt the wisdom of that when she arrived in the hold. True to the late captain’s word, freestanding tanks stood in the wide area. They were bolted to the deck, and the only way to drain them was at a reservoir facility, using the proper equipment. That was why Zilastra instantly had known the prize was less than useful.

“No kid,” Burlug said. “I was sure she’d beat us here.”

Zilastra’s blood boiled. “Stowaway!

“I’m up here!” came a voice from high above.

Zilastra looked to the top of one of the tanks. Somehow, Kylah had gotten up there and was perched next to an opening in the massive container. “What’s the idea?” Zilastra asked.

“You’re going to want to see this,” Kylah said. “I’m not the only stowaway on this ship!

Reprinted from Star Wars: The Living Force by John Jackson Miller. © 2024 by Lucasfilm Ltd. Published by Random House Worlds, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Star Wars: The Living Force releases next week on April 9, and is available for pre-order now through Penguin Random House, Amazon and Bookshop

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