Spoiler Talk: Justina Ireland Shines a Light on Out of the Shadows

The author goes deep with StarWars.com about her new book and continuation of the High Republic series.

Spoiler warning: This article discusses details and plot points from Star Wars: The High Republic: Out of the Shadows.

Justina IrelandJustina Ireland’s Star Wars: The High Republic: Out of the Shadows debuted last month, marking the second release in a new wave of High Republic stories. This young adult novel brings back some familiar faces like master-Padawan duo Vernestra Rwoh and Imri Cantaros, but also introduces new characters into the era like protagonist Sylvestri Yarrow. Before the Republic can even catch a break following the tragedy at the Republic Fair, the Nihil are once again up to no good — this time with a gravity well projector. After Sylvestri and her crew of the Switchback are yanked out of hyperspace and forced to abandon ship, Syl inadvertently uncovers that the Nihil are creating a superweapon and worse, her thought-to-be-dead mother is the lead scientist on the project. Now that we’ve had some time to read and think about Out of the Shadows, StarWars.com spoke with Justina Ireland for a spoiler-filled dive into all the mischief and deceit in her new book. (If you’ve yet to read Out of the Shadows, feel free to check out StarWars.com’s spoiler-free kickoff interview with Ireland.)

StarWars.com: Let’s get into the spoilers of Out of the Shadows. Right out of the gate, the book opens with Sylvestri Yarrow and her crew of the Switchback being pulled out of hyperspace and having to abandon ship. Talk to me about writing that sequence.

Justina Ireland: I always know that if you’re going to introduce a new character in Star Wars, you do it up front. There’s nothing more jarring than being two-thirds through a book and someone’s like, “New character!” So, let’s just start with our regular ol’ human pilot. I’ve always been fascinated with this idea of gravity well projectors that can kick a ship out of hyperspace. You have to assume that anything the Empire did in the original trilogy had to have been in research for years. Maybe millennia. Because that’s how our world works. Cell phones didn’t just start with a cell phone. It’s not like someone one day was like, “Y’know what’d be great? A way to talk [that fits] in your pocket!” And then — cell phones! We had old-school phones, rotary phones, and then we went to digital phones and it was really exciting when people did call forwarding, and you could do two-line calling. And then eventually we got to cell phones. So I’ve always wondered what the baby steps were that the Empire took to get to things like the Death Star or gravity well projectors. Or even the tracking technology we see [the First Order use] in the sequel trilogy.

Sylverstri Yarrow concept art

That was really where I wanted to start. I thought, “What would be more jarring to a pilot than being kicked out of hyperspace?” Because everything they know about hyperspace is like, “You’re in a time and space bubble of you. When you come out, you’re in real space but when you’re in hyperspace, nothing can touch you.” If you’re already having a bad day, like Sylvestri was, and something that’s supposed to be impossible does happen, you’re just like, “What the hell?!” I wanted to start with that high tension, high anxiety moment with Syl. That, for her, is the inciting incident. That’s what sets her off on her journey. It just happens that we get that in the prologue, so everybody knows she’s going to be here, she’s going to be part of the story. It’s not just going to be another Vernestra Rwoh and Imri story.

StarWars.com: The opening immediately brings forward the mystery of the novel which is: what is happening in this sector of space? How is this happening? And for those who’ve read Out of the Shadows, we know that Tempest Runner Lourna Dee has facilitated the creation of this superweapon called the “Gravity’s Heart.” Talk readers through Lourna Dee’s mischievousness in this book.

Justina Ireland: Yeah, it’s like plots on plots on plots. [Laughs] Lourna Dee’s not dumb. She’s a survivor. Even though Marchion Ro might be thinking four steps forward, Lourna Dee is thinking 10 steps ahead. If you like Lourna Dee in Out of the Shadows, you really have to pick up Cav [Scott]’s Tempest Runner audio. We talked about the storytelling there — and even when I was writing Out of the Shadows, we were talking back and forth about Lourna Dee and what was going on in The Rising Storm.

I also think it’s really cool to see how families that are very wealthy don’t necessarily have clean hands. That was part of the storytelling. I was like, “Who’s going to fund this superweapon?” When I was a kid watching G.I. Joe, I was like, “Where is Cobra getting all his money from?” They’re always like, “This doomsday device uses lava and ice crystal and deep-sea water, and we’re going to destroy cities and turn them into miniatures!” And I was like, “Cool… Who’s paying those scientists? ‘Cause they gotta eat.” So, that was part of the thing — who does Lourna know? What are her connections? Who is she? I know who she is because Cav and I talked about it, but this is kind of the beginning of, “What is Lourna Dee about?” Because in Light of the Jedi, she’s just kind of there in the background. She’s kind of that chick. And now it’s like, “Oh, Lourna Dee is making moves and that’s really cool.” And I really wanted to have this — it’s not even a prototype, it’s like a proto-prototype — of something we’re going to see later in the storytelling.

StarWars.com: In relation to the Gravity’s Heart, the devastating part is that Chancey Yarrow — Syl’s thought-to-be-dead mother — is actually working with the Nihil to create this machine. Why did she opt to fake her death instead of inviting Syl along from the beginning? Do you think if she had invited Syl along from the beginning things would’ve gone differently, or did Chancey know she had to fake her death to get away with it?

Justina Ireland: I think Chancey knows her daughter well enough that Syl — for all her lapses in judgement — would never willingly join with the Nihil. It’s really why it’s important to have Nan’s point of view in the story as well, because what drives someone to hitch their wagon to that star? Especially when the star is murdering, pillaging, and leaving everywhere you go in a smoldering ruin. It’s like, what makes you think, “Yeah, that’s the group I’m going to hang out with!” So, I think for Chancey, it was really about trying to give Syl the opportunity to see this is how bad it is when you’re by yourself and trying to make a go of it. Now [Syl] knows [Chancey’s] not exactly happy to be [with the Nihil], but, “you can come hang out and do this as well –there’s opportunity here.” Of course, Syl’s going to say no because she’s not a monster.

There’s also that weird thing where you don’t necessarily see your parents as adults until you’re an adult, and a lot of it is questioning their choices. Right? It’s the circle of life. When I got older, I started questioning my parent’s choices. When my daughter gets older, she’ll start questioning my choices. And I think that’s how you make your own identity, and for Syl a lot of it is stepping away from what her mother has done and what her mother has built and asking, “What does she know? What did she know? What was purposeful? And what’s a lie? And how much is her just saying this because it’s the convenient thing to say?”

StarWars.com: Another driving factor of the book is Vernestra’s visions she experiences in hyperspace. We know she used to have them in the past, and now they’ve returned. Can you walk readers through how these visions work and what they ultimately mean in the context of Out of the Shadows?

Justina Ireland: For Vernestra, when she was younger as a Padawan she had these hyperspace visions. If you’re like me, if I get on a train, I’m probably going to nod off. In a train, in a car, I always feel a little sleepy — kind of get that weird state of not quite sleeping, not quite awake. For Vernestra, when she hits that when she’s in hyperspace, she starts to have these visions. I wanted to play around with this idea that perhaps hyperspace is another aspect of the Force. But I also didn’t want it to be that didactic.

Vernestra "Vern" Rwoh

Everyone’s always like, “Vern’s a prodigy!” But what makes her special? What makes her different? What did Stellan see in her to have her elevated so early that maybe we haven’t seen yet? So, for Vernestra, these hyperspace visions are something she doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable with because it is so weird. Jedi have visions, Jedi have a little bit of premonitions, they have feelings, instincts, and all these sorts of things. Imri has this great kind of emotional radar or emotional sensitivity. And for Vernestra, she doesn’t like [her ability] because it’s not like the straight and narrow Jedi way of life. It kind of falls a little bit in this gray area. Yoda says, “if you have visions of the future, don’t look at them because it’s the dark side. It’s just the dark side.” And so, I wanted to play with this idea of like, “What do visions mean to the Jedi and the Jedi Order?” And I feel like that should be personal. Some Jedi have visions and are like, “Woo! Now I know where I’m going, I know what I’m going to do — this is great.” I feel like a character like Elzar, when he has a vision, he’s like, “Let me dig into these. This is amazing. I’m going to live my life by these visions.” It’s kind of like how some people are like, “I love astrology!” and others are like, “It’s all bull crap.” So I wanted to give Vernestra that learning curve because we’ve all had that thing that we used to do when we were younger — like baton twirling. No one twirls batons anymore but when I was a kid, I was like, really into baton twirling and I could throw it up and catch it behind my back, and all that kind of stuff. And so, every now and again I’ll see someone baton twirling in like a marching band and think, “Wow, I should try that again.” And it’s like, “Why would I do that? I don’t need to.” But I wanted [the hyperspace visions] to have that for Vernestra because I wanted it to show how she’s grown since she was a Padawan. She used to have these visions that used to be a big deal for Stellan and he would be like, “Yeah, you should try to work on them and strengthen them.” And Vernestra’s like, “I don’t want to do that.” Now, here she is and they’re unavoidable. So, for her — she believes in the Force and she’s guided by the Force in a way that a lot of Jedi maybe aren’t. Like, she’s just really, really into the Force. She’s like, “If the Force was a kpop band, I’d be all about it.” [Laughs]

So I wanted to show what it’s like when a Jedi’s a little out of their comfort zone. But also, the visions push her in a direction she normally wouldn’t take. And I think that’s important for someone who’s already good at something, who knows the rights and the wrongs, and where to thread the needle. It’s really important for them to be outside their comfort zone because that’s when we grow. When we get out of our comfort zone, that’s when we start to grow and change. And for Vernestra, these hyperspace visions really kind of force her to think, “Maybe this isn’t a bad thing. Maybe this wasn’t a bad thing ever. Maybe it’s just a thing I need to understand a little more and use when I think it’s appropriate.”

StarWars.com: Something you were kind of getting at was in relation to the end of the novel. Mari San Tekka provides Vern with a location that Vern decides to keep to herself. She doesn’t share it with the Jedi Council in her briefing and I’m kind of wondering — a couple of Jedi express throughout the book that Vern is young. Do you think that played into why she didn’t tell the Council about this location she was given? 

Justina Ireland: Yeah, I think that a lot of it is sometimes you have a gut feeling like, “I don’t know, I’m just going to sit on this until I know what it means.” I think for Vernestra — she’s about a year or so into her knighthood — I think she realizes now that being a Jedi Knight is not the end. It was a goal. She achieved it. But it’s not the end. It’s only the beginning. I think especially when she had those interactions with Stellan, she doesn’t tell him about her lightwhip either. And I think for her it’s more about — Stellan was her master and he taught her how to be a Jedi, but now she’s learning there are other ways to be a Jedi and she’s worried that maybe she’s going to disappoint him. But she’s also trying to figure out her own place in the Order. She has that conversation with Cohmac where he’s like, “No one’s done you any favors by making you a Knight this young. Like, do you understand how hard it is to be a Jedi?” And she’s like, “Well yeah, of course.” And he’s like, “No, but you’re going to learn, and you’re going to learn that with your Padawan.” And so, for [Vernestra], I think it’s a moment where she’s like, “Yeah I made it and I’m here… What the hell do I do now?” And I think for her it’s about how to be the Jedi she wants to be, while serving the Force and the Order. Because the Force and the Order are not necessarily the same thing. The Order is made up of flawed individuals and the Force is the Force and it doesn’t care. [Laughs] So for Vernestra, she’s like, “I really like the Force and I want to serve the Force well, but does that always mean going along with what the Order tells me?” And I think that’s her arc in Out of the Shadows and I think that’s where we’re going to see her continue to go, and continue to question things and have to try and reconcile who she wants to be as a Jedi in light of the Force and the Order.

Hulu. Disney+, ESPN+ logos
Epic Stories. Tons of TV. Live Sports.

StarWars.com: Shifting characters, Xylan Graf might be the most annoying person I’ve ever read. [Laughs] He irritated me so much but in such a good way, you wrote him so well. How was it writing that character who’s so steeped in arrogance?

Justina Ireland: Have you ever met somebody that’s never had to worry about money? They’re not like regular people. [Laughs] I know a lot of people who think Schitt’s Creek is really funny but that’s real. [Laughs] I’ve never met anybody that rich, but I’ve met people who have grown up with money and continue to have money. The kind of people who are like, “Well, why wouldn’t you just go to Harvard? Why would you want to go to a state school?” And you’re like, “Who just goes to Harvard? That’s not how it works.” [Laughs] And so I wanted to show that there are these people in the galaxy who are so completely untouched by reality — or at least the reality for most of the other characters — that you’re just like, “What’re you doing?” And [Xylan’s] like, “Oh, this is my tower. Why would I listen to somebody? Why would I follow rules? Rules don’t apply to me, I have money.” I thought it was a lot of fun to write that character because we don’t always get to see the really annoying rich person in Star Wars.

StarWars.com: Totally. And it was so nice to see him in comparison to Syl who’s on the complete opposite spectrum of [Xylan], and her just being like, “What?!” [Laughs] 

Justina Ireland: [Laughs] She’s like, “What is happening here? I just want something to eat and you bring me these plates of tiny little nothings.” Also, that scene is totally based on a time when I went to a gastro-pub with some friends who were like, “We should try these!” And it was one of the most expensive meals I’ve ever had, and I was still hungry when I left. I was like, “There was no food! We paid for food and it never showed up!” [Laughs]

StarWars.com: Continuing with characters, was there a character that you were most excited to write? And in contrast to that, which character was the most difficult to write?

Justina Ireland: I’m always excited to write any character, honestly. I’m always excited to write Star Wars. But it’s also the hardest thing ever because you don’t want to screw it up. Full stop. If it’s something you love, you don’t want to put out a crappy character.

I was also really excited to write something on Coruscant — I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of Coruscant yet in The High Republic. I was someone who saw the prequel trilogy in theaters as a grown person. When I saw [Coruscant] I was like, “What is this place?” I’m used to like, Tatooine and Dagobah and Hoth. And all of a sudden, it’s like, Coruscant. Seeing it was so much different than reading about it or how you imagined it in your brain. And when I was writing this book, I wanted to populate [Coruscant] with people who had differing opinions and had all kinds of different experiences. But I don’t think I was excited about anything other than writing the book.

Star Wars: The High Republic concept art - Marchion Ro

The hardest character to write was actually Mari San Tekka because she doesn’t really get a lot of lines. [Laughs] The Nihil’s like, “Live in the pod and give us the paths,” and she’s like, “Okay.” But it’s like, she’s got to be somebody. Who was she? How did she end up here? She’s being tortured for these paths by Marchion Ro but why would she go along with it? Why has she been with the Nihil for so long? And trying to seed that backstory was really important because it kind of gives us an idea of just how terrible the Nihil really are. Like, someone in Marchion Ro’s family kidnapped a young child and then kept them in captivity until they were an old woman. That’s pretty messed up. And so, I think it was really important to do her story arc justice because we don’t necessarily dig into bad things or hard conversations in Star Wars because we’re more about talking about good things and having fun. But it’s also important to respect what those stories have set up. And I think for her — I hope at some point we do some storytelling where we get some of her point of view because the things that she can do are amazing but she gets no voice, and she has no agency and that’s upsetting and unfortunate. So that was really the hardest character for me. I was like, “I just want to give her a happy ending.” And sometimes just dying is the happiest ending you can give a character.

StarWars.com: Shifting a little bit, there’s a bit of romance in the air in Out of the Shadows. Reath in particular is going through it — he had a crush on Nan who turned out to be a Nihil, and now, I think I’m detecting a bit of a crush on Vernestra. Can you talk about that?

Justina Ireland: Poor Reath. He’s like, “I like people. And I want them to like me. And I wish that they weren’t all either a Jedi or terrible.” [Laughs] I think it’s one of the important things about the Jedi in this time period — they expect Padawans to have crushes, they expect them to have these little romances and it’s fine. We’re not to the Jedi yet who are like, “No attachments! Don’t look at anybody!” It’s really about serving the Force and being the best Jedi that you can. And I think sometimes that means — we all want to have emotional connections. Even people who are aromantic still want to have emotional connections with other people — it doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship. But, for Reath, he really wants to have a romance. He’s like, “I just want to meet a nice girl and maybe have coffee and talk about cool stuff.” He just wants to have like, a good hang out. But yeah, I feel like it’s a very authentic thing. Even when you’re in a work situation, sometimes you have those soft feelings for another person. Even if they’re not appropriate feelings, you still have them and you just have to deal with them. And it was really fun to write Reath like, “Hey, Vernestra,” and she’s like, “Hey.” [Laughs] She’s like, “You’re such a great friend.” And he’s like, “Oh.” And Imri’s shaking his head, “No. Bro, it’s not going so well.” [Laughs]

StarWars.com: We can’t talk about romance without talking about Sylvestri and Jordanna. We learn that the two had a relationship on Tiikae that ended when Syl left and Jordanna denied leaving with her when Syl asked. What was keeping Jordanna on Tiikae and how do you think the story would’ve played out differently if Jordanna had originally joined Syl?

Justina Ireland: Jordanna stayed on Tiikae because she’s a San Tekka deputy, which is sort of like — if you go and settle a place, and if you stay for a certain amount of time, you’ll get a land grant. And the San Tekkas needed people to help grow food, build buildings. You need people to maintain infrastructure and you can’t do it all by yourself. So Jordanna’s job is to be the San Tekka deputy and she needs to stay [on Tiikae] because her job is there and this is what she’s doing. This is her life; this is her future. But for Syl, she’s like, “But we could go see the galaxy. That would be cool. There’s a lot of other stuff we can do instead of staying on this dusty planet.” And I think if Jordanna had left with Syl, we never would have had this story. We never would have had Chancey going to make the Gravity’s Heart, we never would have had Syl coming up against the Nihil. It would’ve been a completely different story because Syl and Jordanna probably would’ve gotten a ship much earlier or they would’ve bought the Switchback from Chancey and gone off on their own to become haulers or something. And obviously Syl would’ve never had her lapse in judgement in working with Xylan Graf if she had Jordanna there to be like, “Look, I know how rich people are because I’m a rich person and he’s a piece of crap.” [Laughs] I think that if Jordanna had been there, she would have kept Syl sane because sometimes — for me, I’ve been married a really long time and the thing I get the most out of my relationship is, my husband’s the person who does the sanity check when I’m like, “We should do this!” And he’s like, “Wait, hold up. Here’s the eight reasons why that’s a bad idea.” [Laughs] So, I think we all need those people. It doesn’t always have to be a relationship, but we all need those people who are going to push us forward in life when we don’t have the confidence to do things, or hold us back when we’re running in the wrong direction. Those are my best friendships and my best relationships. If [Syl] had Jordanna, she would have had a much straighter path to happiness.

StarWars.com: The book concludes with the revelation that Lourna Dee is amassing a plan to overthrow Eye of the Nihil, Marchion Ro. Has everything gone according to her plan so far of what we see in the novel?

Justina Ireland: I think so. I think Lourna’s plans are always flexing and changing and refining. And kind of taking that next step. I think she’s so adaptable — she’s the sleeper agent you never see coming. She’s the person who slides the knife into your back and you’re like, “What?! I thought we were friends!” And she’s like, “No, you were in my way.” [Laughs] And I think it’s pretty much going as planned. Which is why if you’re really into Lourna Dee, you have to pick up Tempest Runner. Because I think what Cav is doing with the character, and the storytelling and the direction that it goes, you get so much more out of that. Lourna Dee is making moves and Marchion better watch out.

Out of the Shadows cover

StarWars.com: Final question to wrap this up — what was your favorite scene to write from Out of the Shadows?

Justina Ireland: Probably at the end when Jordanna takes out like 20 Nihil and Vernestra’s like, “Wait, what?! Hold on, what is happening? We don’t do that!” And [Jordanna’s] like, “A dead Nihil’s the only good Nihil.” Because I think it’s too easy to get into the John Wick “more bloodshed is good” mindset when there aren’t other people in the world who are like, “No, no let’s try to find other ways to solve our problems.” Because the Jedi would never. They do have the ability to go in and just level everybody, but then they’d be Sith. [Laughs]

That scene went through so many changes and then finally, the last time through I was like, “Oh, that’s what the scene is about.” Part of writing a scene is understanding not just what the scene is about but what each character in the scene wants. And I was like, “Yeah that would make sense. Jordanna’s been on Tiikae just getting her butt handed to her by mostly the Nihil.” And Vernestra’s like, “I’m going to make good in the galaxy.” And so, you had to see this is where it could go or lead to. If people go unchecked, you will have people who just go in and just wipe everybody out. But the Jedi are really there to be a calming force. They’re there to be like, “No, we’re going to put the blasters down and everybody’s going to go to their respective corners and we’re going to figure this out.” And I think that’s a really important job that the Jedi do in this storytelling and in the galaxy as a whole — is to be that calming force that doesn’t just lead bloodshed to more bloodshed to more bloodshed.

Star Wars: The High Republic: Out of the Shadows is available now.

Visit Lucasfilm’s official hub for all things Star Wars: The High Republic at StarWars.com/TheHighRepublic.

Emily Shkoukani is a jr. creative executive at Lucasfilm who helps to maintain the lore and continuity of the Star Wars galaxy. And sometimes, they write for StarWars.com!

Site tags: #StarWarsBlog, #TheHighRepublic, #ThisWeek

TAGS: , , , ,