Review of Justina Ireland’s Star Wars: The High Republic – Mission to Disaster
Set 200 years before the Skywalker Saga, The High Republic takes the Star Wars universe to a time of expansion as the Republic and Jedi journey into the Outer Rim and come face to face with the villainous Nihil, a gang of marauders determined to plunder the galaxy and eradicate the Jedi Order.
Mission to Disaster by Justina Ireland is the third middle-grade book in the line so far, and the final one in the first phase of the High Republic. Thanks to a paper shortage Mission to Disaster was unfortunately delayed from releasing alongside The Fallen Star to being the last book released in the wave. As a result, it’s easy to view this book as some sort of finale/epilogue to Fallen Star, especially considering the possible connections based on the events of the book, but Mission to Disaster is set prior to both Fallen Star and Midnight Horizon, and is largely unconnected to either. It’s very much a sequel to Wave 1’s A Test of Courage, also by Justina Ireland, and to a lesser degree Wave 2’s Out of the Shadows which both starred young Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh and her padawan Imri Cantaros. Also returning is Avon Starros, the daughter of a republic Senator who Vernestra bonded with when their ship crashed in A Test of Courage.
I think Mission to Disaster is a book hurt by factors outside of its control. As a standalone entry to the High Republic, it’s a fun time with some of my favorite characters in this era. But as a part of the final wave of this phase of the High Republic, especially considering the news that the next phase will be a prequel, there’s an expectation for this book to be a grand finale for Vernestra’s journey so far, and in this regard, it fails to deliver. It’s a fun Jedi vs Nihil story, but an ultimately inessential entry to the larger High Republic story. Out of the Shadows set Vernestra up for something big in the future, but don’t expect any pay-off to her mysterious Path just yet. However, if you enjoyed these characters in A Test of Courage then it’s a must-read as Vern and Imri continue to grow as young Jedi. It’s a character-driven story, as opposed to some large space-station destroying climax.
Mission to Disasters’ biggest issue is one I’ve found persistent in a lot of Justina Ireland’s writing, a lack of urgency for its story to progress. Centering around the kidnapping of Avon Staros by the Nihil as Vernestra goes to rescue her, it never feels like there’s any real rush for her to get there. And sure, this is a kids book and we don’t want the younger audience to think one of the leads is about to be murdered, but at the same time, I don’t see it being a book that can hold a child’s attention, because it certainly didn’t hold mine. Vernestras constant distractions and side quests until she stumbles onto leads just don’t make an overly compelling story. It’s a book I always enjoyed while reading, but I never felt a real urge to pick it back up again once I stopped.
Ireland’s greatest writing strength remains her characters. While Vernestra and Imri still get plenty of time to shine, the real star of Mission to Disaster is Avon. The “child genius” trope can often prove annoying, and that was something Avon slightly fell into in her last appearance, but Ireland shows how the events of a Test of Courage changed Avon into someone full of heart to balance it out. She’s also a great window into some delightful nonsense Star Wars science which is always fun to explore.
As we now build towards Phase 2 of The High Republic set a further 150 years in the past, you may have heard that Mission to Disaster has several teases of what’s to come in the line’s future/past. And while there are plenty of hints to a mysterious past on Dalna with the Jedi and its residents, these teases are far too vague to be anything more than frustrating. It feels like a JJ Abrams mystery box, creating a puzzle and deciding on its solution later.
I’m no stranger to integrated marketing in my Star Wars. It’s a franchise that persists mostly to sell toys, and as someone with A LOT of Star Wars toys, that’s really not an issue with me. But as Disney launches its big “Halcyon Legacy” interactive hotel, some of the cross-promotion here is a little rough and lacking in any sort of subtlety. The hotel isn’t even open yet and I’m already sick of characters telling me how incredible it is as it plays integral roles in several Star Wars moments (including Han and Leia’s wedding!). It’s a small section of the book, and less a complaint on Mission to Disaster itself than the overall approach to the Halcyon, but I found myself audibly groaning every time it appeared.
Overall, Mission to Disaster is a fun, if light, continuation of Vernestra Rwoh’s journey that fans of Justina Ireland’s previous High Republic work are sure to love, while those who haven’t read those will probably get little from it.