hen Lucasfilm first announced The High Republic initiative, one of the tentpoles of the entire operation was its accessibility for every audience. After all, Star Wars is for everyone. No matter your reading preferences, you should be able to enjoy this new era of your favorite galaxy.
So there’s an adult novel.
There’s a young adult novel.
There’s a Marvel comic book.
There’s an IDW comic book.
And there’s a middle-grade novel written by Justina Ireland. It’s called A Test of Courage, and it stars the only Jedi Knight to ever pass her trials at age 15. It’s a wonderfully fun adventure featuring lessons in loss, balance, friendship, and avoiding the pull of the Dark Side even when all hope seems lost.
A Test of Courage starts with a crew of old allies and new friends making their way out to the recently finished Starlight Beacon. This group includes Vernestra Rwoh, the aforementioned Jedi Knight, Avon Starros, a technical prodigy who takes special pride in reprogramming her trusty protector droid J-6, Imri Cantaros, a startlingly empathic Jedi Padawan under the tutelage of the benevolent Master Douglas, and Honesty Weft, a Dalnan ambassador’s son eager to discover his own path in the universe.
Quite the band of misfits, isn’t it?
Early on in Ireland’s tale, our heroes are the victims of malicious sabotage courtesy of the Nihil, a band of cruel pirates who we first met back in Charles Soule’s Light of the Jedi (which we do recommend reading before this book). Before they know it, the newly-minted Knight and her companions are caught in a struggle for their very existence. After losing more than they ever thought possible in the space of mere minutes, they crash-land on a distant moon in a system foreign to all those aboard.
It is through their struggles on this moon that Ireland crafts the lessons and adventures that compose the majority of A Test of Courage. As the book is written with a special gaze toward those in middle grades, the pages are ripe with themes and revelations that are sure to guide younger readers toward the better parts of humanity.
Chief among these lessons is the ability to carry on in the face of unimaginable grief.
Without spoiling too many specifics, every character in the book suffers an intense loss during the story’s inciting incident, and Ireland crafts a unique response to that sadness for each character.
Vernestra maintains her composure as a leader no matter the hardships she faces, and her steadfast example helps give those around her permission to falter as they need. Imri’s struggle leans dangerously toward anger at the injustice the universe is inflicting upon him and his friends. His overindulgence with his empathic abilities make him particularly vulnerable to the allure of the Dark Side.
Younger readers of Star Wars novels are undoubtedly living through times of occasional sorrow themselves. Witnessing so many different types of crisis response through the lens of heroic Jedi is invaluable to their ability to process traumatic events.
After all, if even Jedi can lose themselves in the face of a really bad day...how can you blame yourself for doing the same?
Aside from the intensely important themes Ireland spreads throughout the book, A Test of Courage also provides a fantastically enjoyable Star Wars story. A veteran of other adventure titles like Lando’s Luck and Spark of the Resistance, Ireland is no stranger to Star Wars lore, wonderfully silly humor, and edge-of-your-seat action. Courage continues that tradition beautifully.
Unique wildlife and fauna on a brand-new planet? It’s in here.
Insight into the Force and all its intricacies? Also check.
The re-canonization of the lightsaber WHIP?! Oh yes...oh yes indeed.
This ability to balance the important lessons younger readers need with the pure, adrenalized fun Star Wars can provide to readers of all ages proves why Ireland has quickly become one of the go-to names in Star Wars publishing. She was a unanimously lauded choice as one of the architects of The High Republic.
And what does an architect have to do at the beginning of each new project? Lay a foundation. And that’s exactly what Ireland does throughout A Test of Courage. Aside from introducing us to a cascade of fun, fleshed-out characters like Vernestra, Avon, Imri, and Honesty, she teaches us how the young Jedi in this era operate when there are no adults to show them the way.
They are strong.
They are wise.
They may falter, but they will always rise.
These are the heroes The High Republic promised us, and these are the heroes our world needs now more than ever. Grief is natural, and tragedy may always find us. But the truest test is the courage to take the next step forward.
And if you need a helping hand along the way, there will always be a Jedi, a tinkerer, or a wayward son there to get you right back on your path. The test of courage is never undertaken alone, because after all...we are all the Republic.