We recently chatted with Justina Ireland about Star Wars: The High Republic – Mission to Disaster, the response to the publishing initiative, and what fans can expect.
Star Wars’ ambitious publishing initiative closes out its first Phase with the third wave of The High Republic stories. As it winds down and prepares for the next Phase of stories (starting in October), I recently had the chance to talk with Justina Ireland, author and key member of The High Republic storytelling team.
Coming off the incredible Out of the Shadows Young Adult novel from the previous wave, this time around Justina is tackling the middle-grade book, Mission to Disaster. While it’s set in the time just before the events of Fallen Star, it tells an engaging story with Vernestra and her Padawan Imri, that fills in some crucial gaps.
Technically speaking, Mission to Disaster was hit with a delay of its physical release (thanks to shortages and supply issues), but a digital copy is available for readers now, which is exactly what we spoke about first. So if you’re looking to go into the story completely blind, you might wait a bit, though I’m not really giving out any big spoilers.
All you really need to know is the book’s cover synopsis:
Centuries before the events of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, in the era of the glorious High Republic, the Jedi are the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy! The Jedi think the dreaded Nihil marauders have been all but defeated. Their leader is on the run and their numbers have dwindled. Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh hopes this means she will finally have time to really train her Padawan, Imri Cantaros—but reports of a Nihil attack on Port Haileap soon dash those hopes. For not only have the Nihil attacked the peaceful outpost, they have abducted Vernestra and Imri’s friend, Avon Starros. The two Jedi set off for Port Haileap, determined to figure out where the Nihil have taken their friend. Meanwhile, Avon must put her smarts and skills to the ultimate test as she fights for survival among the Nihil—and uncovers a sinister plan. Can Vernestra and Imri find their friend before disaster strikes?
By returning to Port Haileap, and reuniting Vernestra and Avon, you yourself have sort of come full circle in this first phase of The High Republic, starting with A Test of Courage. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you look back at the past few years?
Justina Ireland: I should’ve scheduled more naps [hahahahaha]!
A lot has obviously happened since we first met Vern and Avon, they’re both a couple years older, a couple years wiser, a couple years more experienced. What would say has changed the most about each of them?
Justina: I think for Vernestra she is definitely a little less uptight and has a different point of view about just what it means to be a Jedi. For Avon, she still has a lot of growing up to do despite being super smart, and we’re going to see that first hand. And it won’t be easy.
It’s interesting, and a little disconcerting frankly, that you place Avon back in a similar situation of being kidnapped, something that happened to her at a young age. What can you tell us about how this current Avon deals with that, and how did that influence you when it came to writing her this time around?
Justina: I think our traumas and fears tend to reappear in our lives again and again, and part of becoming an adult is learning how to work through the things that hurt us the most deeply. Sure we aren’t all kidnapped (that’s a bit extreme), but sometimes we choose friends who mistreat us or lead us down terrible paths and the like. Taking the lessons we learn the first time around and applying them to similar situations is how we make good choices. So I wanted to do that with Avon, let her take the things she’s learned from a previous terrible experience and use them to survive again.
I think one of the most important things fiction does for us is give us a safe space to experience awful things, sort of a vaccination for the trauma of real life, and for Avon we see that terrible things happen, but through our resilience we can survive them, and maybe even learn something valuable from them. I think that’s a lesson we all need to learn and be reminded of every now and again: we can survive this and come out stronger on the other side.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t pry any information out of Justina regarding the next phase of The High Republic (though there are some hints about it in Mission to Disaster), but we did discuss her thoughts and process on the first Phase of the publishing initiative.
With this being the final wave of books in the first phase, what was it like trying to bring certain elements to a “conclusion?”
Justina: A huge relief! [Laughs] This is the culmination of a lot of work, and the fact that people have really embraced the High Republic and have stuck with us through a year of very intense storytelling is a blessing. I am thankful every single day that I have the best job in the world.
You all have been developing these stories for years, so what’s been the best part of seeing fans react to the first Phase?
Justina: I think the response is what we’d hoped it would be, but the thing that has really stood out is the way people have come together and found new communities because of this initiative. Building a nice little space of positivity in Star Wars is not easy and I’m glad we’ve done that. Fandom should be fun, not a battlefield.
Was there anything you were hoping to touch on in this Phase that were ultimately scrapped?
Justina: Probably, but I can’t think what they were at this point. That’s the writing process, though: not all of your darlings make it to the end (sentence, idea, and/or character-wise).
Throughout this phase, and presumably the next one, you’ve jumped back and forth between Middle-Grade and Young Adult books. Is there any change in the process on how you approach these different reading levels?
Justina: Absolutely not. A well-written story is a well written story. The audience might be different, and the length and depth as well, but I tend to visualize all of my stories the exact same way. It’s only the depth of discussion and description on the page that changes, and that’s something that happens in revisions.
One thing is always clear every time we’ve chatted with a High Republic author…they all are having a blast and loving it. It’s great to see that passion and storytelling carry over into all aspect of this bold publishing endeavor, and I’m glad Justina took the time to deal with us.
Star Wars: The High Republic – Mission to Disaster launches on March 1, 2022.