A much longer time ago than Star Wars fans may be used to but still in a galaxy far far away, Star Wars: The High Republic: A Test of Courage is one of the first publications in phase one of The High Republic multimedia production. Published by Disney Lucasfilm Press, A Test of Courage is written by New York Times best-selling author Justina Ireland with illustrations by Petur Antonsson. Ireland, who is no stranger to the world of Star Wars novelizations with her work on Lando’s Luck and Spark of the Resistance, brings fans a story marketed toward a middle-school-aged audience. Despite the younger audience focus, A Test of Courage is suitable for fans of all ages as the story follows a young Jedi Knight and a ragtag bunch of children following a great tragedy.
Set 200 years before the events of The Skywalker Saga, A Test of Courage opens with a prologue featuring two Nihil pirates plotting to destory the Steady Wing, a High Republic luxury liner. The Nihil are been the main villain for the High Republic and Jedi during this time period. Ireland wastes no time in letting readers know that these are not moral people. Klinith Da, a human woman, and Gwishi, a male Aqualish, disguise themselves to board the High Republic vessel bound for the dedication of the Starlight Beacon, a station designed to bring security to Outer Rim. Given the marauding nature of the Nihil, it is clear that the group does not want any more systems joining the Republic. The Nihil aim to spread fear throughout the region by planting explosives on a starship filled with high profile individuals.
Following the prologue, readers are introduced to one of those individuals, Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh. Vernestra passed her trials at only fifteen years old, which is very young even for Jedi in The Skywalker Saga era. The sixteen-year-old Mirialan first charge as a Jedi Knight is to supervise eleven-year-old Avon Starros. Daughter of a High Republic senator, Avon springs into the story as a rambunctious inventor who is clearly fond of getting into trouble with her tinkering and love of science. Avon is also accompanied by J-6, a repurposed bodyguard droid that serves as Avon’s nanny. Through some tinkering on the part of Avon, J-6 has some slight self-actualization, making her the perfect snarky protocol droid for someone as mischievous as Avon. Other main characters are introduced as the chapters progress that round out the ragtag bunch of characters on who A Test of Courage will focus.
Then there is Honesty Weft, a son of a Dalnan ambassador who is not happy to be on the trip to the dedication of the Starlight Beacon. The eleven-year-old would much rather be completing trials of his own as he hopes to pursue a career in the military. The people of Dalna rarely leave their homeworld and with the recent tragedies with ships exploding in hyperspace, Honesty is not eager to go on this adventure with his ambassador father. All of the characters in A Test of Courage are unique. What starts off as troupey characterizations—the straight and narrow one, the unruly one, the shy one, and the uncertain one—quickly gives way to interesting character dynamics later in the novel.
A Test of Courage truly begins as the Wefts, Vernestra, Avon, J-6, and other ambassadors that may possibly join the Republic are joined by Jedi Master Douglas and his padawan Imri for dinner on the Steady Wing. Imri, only a couple of years younger than Vernestra, does not have the talent of the young Mirialan Jedi Knight. But, he has Force abilities that become integral to the story. Even as a padawan, Imri seems to have an uncanny sense of perception that extends past just sensing general emotions. While we have seen different uses of the Force in other media like The Mandalorian and The Sequel Trilogy, it’s much different to read what the Jedi are experiencing during their Force usage. It adds an extra level of mystique while still explaining what it truly means to reach out with the Force.
Given the demographic of A Test of Courage, there is not a whole lot of exposition on the state of the galaxy at this time. However, it’s clear that the Nihil is a force to be reckoned with. Even with the younger audience as its demographic, author Ireland does not shy away from the kind of ruthlessness the Nihil are capable of. The marauders certainly stay true to their nature from the get-go with no real care for innocent lives. There are hints of a hierarchy that makes the Nihil we meet in A Test of Courage look like mere pawns in a much larger scheme despite the duo’s ability to destroy a High Republic spacecraft. I immediately want to know more about the threat they pose to the Jedi and the galaxy at large.
The Nihil plot appears to be successful. Vernestra, Avon, J-6, Honesty, and Imri are able to limp away in a maintenance shuttle right before from the Steady Fast explodes. Honesty’s father, Master Douglas, the other ambassadors, and all the of the crew are gone. This is where A Test of Courage begins to shine.
At only sixteen, Vernestra is the oldest of the children and must assume the role of the leader in a dire situation after the destruction of the Steady Wing. The shuttle the group escaped in is damaged. With no way to communicate, no usable hyperdrive, limited supplies, and no life signs anywhere in the area, the children are stranded and alone. Yet, despite their age, the group is far from helpless. Avon is very smart and approaches all situations with a problem-solving mentality. Imri, despite losing his master, is still a capable wielder of the Force. Honesty, despite losing his father, is trained in types of survival that not even the two Jedi can boast. And of course, they are rounded out with J-6 who doesn’t provide much comfort given her personality but is still a wealth of knowledge in her databanks. Together, the group must find their way to safety.
The rest of A Test of Courage follows the group’s attempts to be rescued and uncover the plot behind the destruction of the Steady Wing. Each chapter follows the perspective of each one main character, given the reader a deeper insight into how they are handling the situation set before them. I can certainly see many young readers seeing themselves in the characters in A Test of Courage. Further, I was surprised how deeply Ireland covered the emotions the children are feeling given the demographic of the novel. Avon dealing with being sent away from her family. Honesty losing his father and the regret that comes with his interactions before his father died. And there is Imri losing his master as a young padawan and the feelings of loss, which Star Wars fans know is never a good sign. To get through this ordeal, the children have to come together despite their differing personalities and approaches to life.
Even though the novel is aimed at a much younger audience than I am apart of, A Test of Courage is deep. Through much of A Test of Courage, each one of the main characters reflects back on the teachings of their elders and the ones they have lost. The children use these teachings to reconcile with their situation and move forward. I even highlighted in my book many of the sayings that Ireland provides because they are thought-provoking and useful. A Test of Courage quickly turns from just a Star Wars novel into one that teaches valuable lessons. This novel would be a great way for younger readers to learn lessons, from dealing with grief to problem-solving in difficult situations, to working with others who are different than you.
For older fans, there is plenty to get out of A Test of Courage. There is insight to be gained for how different the galaxy is 200 years before fans see it in The Phantom Menance. The Outer Rim is more unruly than ever. The understanding of the Force and its uses are detailed nicely. The weapons that the Jedi use in the novel are not what we are used to. Hyperspace travel is not as easy and we see why. We see how ruthless the Nihil can be even in a children’s novel. There were many times where my eyes widened at the nuggets that are dropped throughout. I am more excited than ever for The High Republic and it only took a novel written for middle schoolers to get me there.
The High Republic: A Test of Courage is available January 5, 2021 everywhere books are sold.
Star Wars: The High Republic: A Test of Courage
There were many times where my eyes widened at the nuggets that are dropped throughout. I am more excited than ever for The High Republic and it only took a novel written for middle schoolers to get me there.