The High Republic – Justina Ireland Talks ‘A Test of Courage’ with Polygon
Last month Lucasfilm officially revealed Star Wars: The High Republic at a special event at Walt Disney Studios in California. That event was just enough to whet our appetites for the exciting new era ahead, but it also left us hungry for more. Whilst we’ll have to wait for the series launch in August for all the major details, author Justina Ireland recently sat down with Polygon to discuss The High Republic and her new novel A Test of Courage.
In the wide ranging interview Justina touches on everything from creating new characters to working with concept artists, to develop the look of this previously untouched era of Star Wars history, to what a novel can do that a film cannot. I’d strongly encourage you to read the full interview but here are just a few of the highlights.
On bringing something new to Star Wars:
“I think when you’re talking about something like Star Wars that’s already pretty massive, you really have to ask, ‘What haven’t we seen? What haven’t we talked about?’ And so it was really exciting for me to explore the past and the history of stuff we’ve seen in the films, what we know to be the lore now. We had the Expanded Universe, and a lot of that has gone away and people have been upset about that, but I do think it’s great to have the opportunity to say ‘Ok, this is new ground, how do we interpret this time period?’ And have something that actually is going to feed into the modern canon as well … I’m always interested in the past and what happened before to make things the way they are in the modern era. So to me Star Wars history is perfectly my jam.”
On the advantages a novel can have over a movie:
“I think doing this as a book is pretty exciting because there’s no budget on books, right? You can make it as bananas as you want to, and you don’t have to try to backdoor your way into some CGI. You can just write CGI set pieces.”
“There’s a moment [in Phantom Menace] where Qui-Gon leaves Shmi enslaved and takes Anakin and everyone’s kind of like… how can you be a great Jedi, a morally good force in the galaxy, if you’re willing to turn a blind eye to some sort of injustice like that? And those are the questions I think a lot of us want to talk about in our storytelling … The books give us a little more leeway to do that storytelling, we get a little more nuance on the page than we would get necessarily in a minute of screen time.”
On the Jedi in this era:
“We haven’t really seen the Jedi being awesome. We’ve heard a lot about them being awesome, especially in A New Hope, but even in the prequels, Episodes I through III, they’re kind of… a little jerky, right? They’re kind of on their way down. So it’s gonna be exciting to see something we haven’t seen before.
I think a lot of what we’ve seen is a comparison to Camelot …. even in Camelot there were problems … Even in the Camelot of King Arthur, you still have factions that were very unhappy with what was going on. So I do think, even in something that’s considered a time of peace and stability, there’s always going to be those factions who are unhappy whether it’s because of inequality, or if it’s because of a perceived slight, or whatever it happens to be.”
On when A Test of Courage takes place:
“It’s sort of the same time period [as Charles Soule’s Light of the Jedi ]. I think Charles’ book covers a longer time period than mine, I can you, in book time, my story is only like a couple of weeks. But as far as overall story time, it takes place in concert as Charles’ book. Everyone is kind of reeling from the same event.”
On creating new characters:
“Everything was done from scratch. I created characters for both Lando’s Luck and Spark of Resistance, but this was the first time where all the characters that are on my page are characters that I came up with myself. Some of them are characters that you’ll see in other media that other creators on the initiative came up up with. But I could also say: ‘Ok, who do I want to think about? Who are the people who populate this galaxy that should have their story told? Ok. I have this person, like, what would their journey look like? What are the questions and challenges that they’re going to have?'”
“For middle-grade, we always want to ask that question: Where do I fit into my family? And so, I really wanted to tell a story about found family, and what it means to belong in this great magnificent galaxy, and just be a kid.”
“We went back and forth a lot with concept artists … [Disney Publishing’s Mike Siglain] would ask us to do little just character sketches – pretty similar to what you would do for art notes on covers of books.
We also had to do that with the aesthetics of the time period … all the ships everything in Star Wars are dingy and old and broken down, because that’s what happens when you’re at war for like 30 years … We started talking about like that golden age sci-fi like the ’50s and ’60s and the sleek lines of a shiny spaceship. If this is a time of great peace, then we’re going to meet the Republic and inventors and the people who populate the world and who are building new cool stuff.”
On Vernestra Rwoh:
“Vernestra’s 16, so she’s probably on the older end for middle-grade … But Vernestra has a challenge, in that she is a full Jedi. She’s very young: most 16-year-olds in the Jedi Order are padawans still. She took her testing early, so she’s a bit of a prodigy. She doesn’t know anybody else who is as young as she is so she kind of sticks out, and that gives her her own sort of challenges to deal with. So how is she a Jedi Knight in this order that is being led by amazing Jedi? In her time period, of course they have the lore of the earlier Jedi, so she has that reference. So how does she fit into that space when she’s supposed to be acting like an adult for the most part, but she’s still, age-wise, a kid? It’s really that push pull of that for her. Like what does that mean for her to be a Jedi?”
On the Nihil:
“With the Nihil, who are these Space Pirates, marauders, and are kind of just wrecking havoc in different parts of the galaxy, you do have a chance to encapsulate smaller storytelling. Sometimes the point of the story is just survival. Or sometimes the point of the story is: How is this one character going to react to this very enclosed event? … It’s not necessarily this battle for the light side of the Force versus the dark side before, it’s literally survival, and it’s literally ‘How do we survive in a world where people are going to show up and basically f*** s*** up?’ That lends itself to different types of storytelling.”
Star Wars: The High Republic begins with Charles Soules’ Light of the Jedi on August 25. A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland is due for release September 8. You can read the full interview at Polygon.