WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures: The Monster at Temple Peak #3-4, on sale now.
Throughout the Star Wars saga, a recurring theme, particularly in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series, is that evil can take many forms, through action and inaction, inspired in part by people's fear. Emperor Palpatine, for example, is far from the only evil in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, he just happens to be the one most readily, or at the highest level, capitalizing on its resident monsters. And there are many monsters in Star Wars outside of the purview of the Sith. Sometimes, though, the hunters can be the bigger threat.
The Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures: The Monster at Temple Peak miniseries seems at first to be a monster-hunting adventure, but it has evolved into an exploration of that idea of a shapeless evil. In fact, it even capitalizes on the Palpatine dynamic: that the fear of greater evil can, and usually does, inspire the worst in sentient life.
At the beginning of the miniseries, Layton Wyke brings in Ty Yorrick to stop the Gretalax -- an ostensibly monstrous beast -- from terrorizing the small community of Wyke's Town. In the finale, Ty Yorrick discovers the truth: the Gretalax is not a monster, and the true monster at Temple Peak is Layton Wyke.
There are hints that the Gretalax is not truly a monster throughout the Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures: The Monster at Temple Peak miniseries by Cavan Scott, Rachael Stott, Vita Efremova, Nicola Righi, Johanna Nattalie, Riley Farmer and Heather Antos. However, the Gretalax's more gentle nature becomes apparent in the third issue. The Gretalax saves Layton's young niece, Pela Wyke, and they also establish a psychic link through the Force with Ty. Through their connection, the Gretalax reveals the truth, which Ty confirms in the finale.
The Gretalax is technically two creatures; the Greta and the Lax. The Greta only rampaged because their mate, the Lax, was taken captive by Layton. Thus, Layton Wyke captured and attacked the Gretalax despite the fact that they are sentient creatures. His plan was similar to poachers and hunters in the real world; he wanted to lure the Gretalax out so that he could use their horns to make his people strong enough to defeat any invaders. Through her wits, Ty is able to save the Gretalax and expose Layton’s treachery.
Part of the horror of Layton's actions stems from the Gretalax's true gentle nature. Through the Force, the Gretalax has healing powers, and they are able to save Pela, despite the fact that Pela literally fell off of a mountain -- a fall that would kill most people. If Layton had approached the Gretalax peacefully, he would have gained a strong ally to keep his town safe. After his defeat, Pela makes it clear that she and the people of Wyke's Town will no longer threaten the Gretalax, and they may ally with the Gretalax in the future to keep both the Gretalax itself and their community safe in the future.
The Gretalax's tale might be part of an initiative within Star Wars media to focus more on the creatures of the galaxy. The microseries Star Wars Galaxy of Creatures also focuses on some creatures that might be deemed monstrous, such as wampas and nexu, but the series features a more nuanced portrayal of these creatures. Similarly, Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures: The Monster of Temple Peak subverts the audiences' expectations of monsters and reveals that ordinary people can be monstrous instead.
While the Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures: The Monster at Temple Peak miniseries' nuance portrayal of monstrosity seems like a side adventure in the Star Wars: The High Republic subseries, Layton Wyke’s actions are driven in part by fear of the Nihil. This does not excuse his cruelty or his actions, but it does show that the Nihil are driving seemingly average people to commit terrible acts out of fear.
Similarly, Emperor Sheev Palpatine rose to power precisely because he inspired ordinary people to support escalating cruelty due to fear. Thus, while Star Wars often focuses on the grander evil of the dark side and the Sith, Star Wars: The High Republic: The Monster at Temple Peak ultimately shows that sometimes evil can be more mundane but just as dangerous.
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