A New Journey Begins in A Test of Courage – Exclusive Excerpt and Interview

Author Justina Ireland speaks to StarWars.com about her highly-anticipated Star Wars: The High Republic book. Plus, meet teen Jedi Vernestra Rwoh and tech-wiz Avon Starros in a special preview.

As it turns out, the upcoming middle grade novel Star Wars: The High Republic: A Test of Courage may just have a secret Force power all its own.

“I think adults tend to get bogged down in our very complex yet somehow mundane daily lives, and one of the best things about kids books is we’re allowed to remember that life was once exciting and a vast, magical mystery. Especially Star Wars books!” says A Test of Courage author Justina Ireland. “Middle grade books are a great way to visit the galaxy for a little while and remember why we all fell in love with Star Wars in the first place. And for kids, it’s a place for them to interact with ideas of character and struggle without the limitations imposed by icky grown-ups.”

Coming January 5, 2021, Ireland’s A Test of Courage is one of the tentpole releases in the Star Wars: The High Republic publishing epic, which will take readers back to the peak of the Jedi Order, centuries prior to the events of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The novel follows a ragtag group of young adventurers — newly-minted teen Jedi Vernestra Rwoh, a young Padawan, audacious tech-kid Avon Starros, and the son of an ambassador – after a galaxy-wide disaster leaves them stranded on a jungle moon. When it comes to Vernestra, previously revealed in StarWars.com’s “Inside Star Wars: The High Republic series, the fledgling Jedi may represent all that is good about Jedi of the era.

“I love that Vernestra isn’t prideful, she doesn’t see herself as any kind of hero or anyone special,” Ireland says. “Rather, she believes wholeheartedly in the Order and the Force, and she believes her job in the galaxy to promote the best qualities of both by helping others and being responsible and level headed even under the worst of conditions.” And nothing tests a Jedi quite like an impulsive non-Jedi friend.

Vernestra "Vern" Rwoh

One of the stars of A Test of Courage is Avon Starros (whose last name is sure to grab the attention of Star Wars comics fans, as it reveals a relation to Han Solo’s maybe-ex Sana Starros). Avon is no Jedi, and holds a strong if occasionally contentious friendship with Vernestra. “Avon and Vernestra have an almost sisterly bond, with Vernestra being the annoying older sister who always knows the right thing to do and Avon being a little less restrained by convention and silly things like ‘rules.’ Ireland says. “This only becomes more obvious after they are marooned on a wild jungle moon with acid rain, creepy vines, and strange creatures. They really have only each other to rely on. At the end of the day they care about one another and maybe even respect each other more than they think, something that becomes even more apparent when they are forced to work together.”

In StarWars.com’s exclusive excerpt of A Test of Courage, we get a glimpse of the dynamic between Avon and Vernestra, as the latter begins a new chapter in her life. “Vernestra (sometimes Vern, much to her chagrin) is excited about going on her first real Jedi mission after being promoted to Knight a few months ago at the very tender age of 15, and even though it’s really just a glorified babysitting job she’s still excited,” Ireland says. “Because at 16 she understands that doing your best, no matter the assignment, is the most important thing and, honestly, that’s just the kind of cinnamon roll Jedi she is.”

The High Republic: A Test of Courage

“Hey, stop her!”

The sense of calm shattered and Vernestra opened her eyes to see a maintenance droid chasing a small, dark-skinned human girl riding a scoot speeder built of odds and ends. The girl’s hair framed her face in a halo of riotous curls, and she held a brightly shining power crystal in a single gloved hand. The expression of joyous triumph on her face was one that Vernestra knew all too well.

Avon Starros, daughter of Senator Ghirra Starros, was once again up to no good.

Avon had not yet seen Vernestra, and the Jedi used that to her advantage. Vernestra raised her hands, palms flat toward Avon, and pushed with the Force. The girl went flying backward off of her homemade contraption, but instead of letting her fall hard onto the deck, Vernestra kept Avon suspended in the air while the vehicle froze in the middle of the docking bay.

“Avon,” Vernestra said sweetly. “What is going on?”

Avon twisted around in midair, her happy expression souring when she spied Vernestra. “Ugh, I thought you were already on the ship.”

“No, I decided to take one last walk through the outpost before we left. I can see I am not the only one. What did you do?”

“Nothing! I didn’t do anything. By the stars, I don’t know why you always think everything is my fault, Vern.”

Vernestra gritted her teeth against the terrible nickname. Master Douglas Sunvale called her that, and while she was not about to correct a Jedi Master, she had no such qualms about correcting a girl younger than her. “Please don’t call me that.” She released her hold on the Force and let Avon fall to the ground, which was not all that far. The scoot speeder, which Avon had no doubt built from taken materials left unattended around the port, crashed into a nearby stack of shipping crates.

“You are the worst,” Avon groaned, splaying her limbs out dramatically on the ground.

“It wasn’t that far,” Vernestra said, even though it had been a bit mean to let the girl fall.

“I will take that,” the maintenance droid said, plucking the crystal from Avon’s gloved hand before stomping back the way it had come. Vernestra walked over to Avon and offered her a hand up, but the younger girl just glared at her and picked herself up on her own.

“One day, when I am the galaxy’s foremost inventor, I am going to create a device that blocks the Force,” Avon said. “And then let’s see how you like that.”

Vernestra laughed. “Avon, we’ve discussed this. The Force is all around and inside of us, as well. It isn’t like your power crystals. It’s impossible to block the Force. Also, why did you take that droid’s energy crystal?”

Avon huffed. “It’s for an experiment, and it’s not like I’m going to tell you, Jedi. I know you’ll find a way to ruin it somehow. Besides, can’t you just read my mind?” The girl crossed her arms and Vernestra sighed. She and Avon always butted heads. It wasn’t because Vernestra didn’t like the young girl. Quite the opposite—she found Avon’s many inventions and theories to be endlessly fascinating. But Avon did not like to be told no, and she had ended up in Port Haileap precisely for that reason. Her mother, Senator Ghirra Starros, had sent her there, hoping that some time spent on the edge of space would make Avon more appreciative of her life on Coruscant. All it had done was make Avon more determined to do as she pleased, which was usually inventing machines from bits of other things.

There was no real reason for Avon to accompany the delegation to Starlight and then back to Coruscant; her mother hadn’t sent for her and she had no official role on the journey, but Master Douglas, the marshal of the outpost, had asked to have Avon accompany them specifically because the Dalnan ambassador’s son was twelve, as well. He was hoping that the two would become friends and soften the Dalnans’ view of the Republic.

Vernestra was hoping so, too. Mostly because Avon needed a friend.

“Mistress Avon! You are late. If you do not get on board that ship this instant I will uncouple your linking hoses and then let’s see how well your scoot speeder runs.”

A pinkish-gold droid as tall as Vernestra stomped over to where they stood. J-6, Avon’s protocol droid, was half warden, half nanny, all attitude. She spoke like no protocol droid Vernestra had ever met, and she suspected that Avon had something of a hand in that.

Avon sighed heavily and pushed her unruly hair out of her face before walking over to her scoot speeder and righting it to climb on. “Well, looks like the jig is up. I got it, Jay-Six, no sabotage necessary. You coming, Vern? You don’t want to be late.”

Vernestra smiled and nodded. She was excited to see Starlight Beacon, even if it meant she would have to work extra hard to keep Avon out of trouble. “Let’s go.”

As they walked toward the boarding ramp for the Steady Wing, Vernestra stumbled and gasped. Avon gave her a sidelong glance. “Everything okay?”

Vernestra put a hand to her chest and looked over to where an Aqualish mechanic was tinkering with an access panel near the boarding ramp. He stared back at Vernestra with three unblinking eyes. His lower right eye was missing, and blue-tinted scar tissue occupied the space instead. There was nothing else about him that was remarkable; he wore the same orange coveralls as every other member of the docking station’s maintenance crew.

“I’m fine,” Vernestra said, finally, in answer to Avon’s query. Vernestra gave the Aqualish man a small smile, and he turned away without reaction, going back to whatever he was doing. Something about the man made Vernestra feel more alert than was necessary, a spiky sensation that she couldn’t explain. She was just nervous and excited about the mission to Starlight, since this was her first real Jedi mission and she didn’t want to mess it up. That was why she was fixating on random mechanics doing their jobs.

At least, that was what she told herself, even if she didn’t truly feel it.

Pushing the strange feeling aside, Vernestra accompanied Avon and J-6 onto the Steady Wing and tried to focus on making sure the young girl did not try to escape before departure. Vernestra had her hands full enough without seeing phantoms in every corner of the Force.

Star Wars: The High Republic: A Test of Courage arrives January 5, 2021, and is available for pre-order now.

For more on Star Wars: The High Republic, check out StarWars.com’s previous in-depth coverage:

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

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