Star Wars: The High Republic will launch its third wave in January. The High Republic‘s stories reach back into Star Wars‘ past. They explore an era centuries before the events of the prequel trilogy. The Jedi of this time fought the Nihil, anarchistic marauders causing all sorts of troubles. It seems they largely defeated the Nihil. But have they? In Justina Ireland’s Star Wars: The High Republic: Mission to Disaster, the Nihil return. They attack a peaceful outpost, kidnapping Avon Starros. Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh and her Padawan, Imri Cantaros, must figure out where the Nihil have taken their friend. Nerdist has the first chapter from Mission to Disaster to share with you today.

Vernestra is one of the youngest Jedi Knights. In the past, that’s meant she’s doubted herself and dismissed her instincts. But she’s figuring it out. Author Justina Ireland tells Nerdist via email, “I think we’re all a work in progress until we aren’t (death!), and Vernestra is no different. The more time she spends with others the more she learns about herself and the harder she works to be a better Jedi, and I really think that’s something awesome.”

Ireland continues, “We don’t always get to see Jedi working to be better people in addition to saving the galaxy, and that’s something I think really shines in the High Republic. All of these Jedi are still striving to reach an ideal that maybe falls a little beyond their current abilities, but instead of saying ‘LOL…whatever’ they work harder, self-reflect and change tactics. They do all of the things we should want our heroes to do. Vernestra is no different. Her missteps are learning opportunities, and she is a much better Jedi now than when we met her in A Test of Courage.”

We believe in you, Vern.

Two Jedi swinging lightsabers on the cover of Star Wars: The High Republic Mission to Disaster
Disney Lucasfilm Press

And as for Avon… well, we believe in her too. She faces danger in the hands of the Nihil. But luckily, she’s spent enough time around Vern to learn. Ireland says, “Avon is more like Vernestra than she thinks, and we’re going to see that Avon’s time with the Jedi on Wevo has made her even more resourceful than she was in the past. This story is sort of a turning point for Avon. She’s growing up, and she is going to have to understand that the galaxy as she sees it and understands it is maybe a little more complex than even she realizes. It’s going to be a hard next few years for Avon, and her friendship with Vernestra is going to be more important than either of them realize.”

Speaking of Avon, let’s get into chapter one of Mission to Disaster!

Avon Starros did not bounce. The only daughter of Senator Ghirra Starros and youngest member of the illustrious Starros Clan of Hosnian Prime did not jump for joy or leap in excitement. She was, in a word, a scientist.

But Avon found herself bouncing down the hallway all the same.

“Really? Today? I can finally try synthesizing a Starros crystal today?” Avon said, following her mentor, Professor Glenna Kip, toward the lab in Port Haileap. The outpost wasn’t much more than a rest stop for the ships going to and returning from the farthest edges of the galaxy, but it was also home to the research lab of Professor Kip, a well-known scientist.

“Yes, today,” Professor Kip said, a smile splitting the silver-lined green of her face. “You can prepare your samples, and we’ll get to it after the midday meal.”

“Yes! Thank you, Professor Kip. I’m going to go get everything ready now, and I’ll see you after lunch.”

Avon hustled down the hallway toward the lab. After months spent memorizing the basic structure of kyber crystal molecules, analyzing the atoms, and testing energy refraction and the like, Avon was finally about to do the one thing she had wanted to do from the first moment she had stolen Padawan Imri Cantaros’s broken lightsaber: make a reproduction of a kyber crystal.

The construction of the lightsaber seemed relatively straightforward, and Avon couldn’t help wondering if it was possible that maybe the kyber crystals could be used for different applications. After all, she had no use for a laser sword—she was a scientist, not a Jedi—but it would be nice if perhaps there was some way to use a kyber’s focusing abilities to harness the ambient energy of space.

With so much random radiation and the like just floating around, could they somehow duplicate the kyber’s structure to direct that energy to power entire planets?

Avon thought so, even if no one else did.

It had taken months to convince her mentor that a project such as a simulated kyber crystal could be useful and worthwhile, and although Professor Kip had tried over and over again to get Avon to turn her attention to the natural sciences, such as the crop yield project she was currently pursuing, Avon didn’t really care about making plants grow faster or making herds produce more off spring. She wanted to understand power, and how things like tibanna could be stretched further and more efficiently, or even replaced altogether. After all, the galaxy was expanding, and fuel would be necessary to keep supplies running to the frontier. Avon knew that because it was something her mother talked about regularly on their weekly calls.

So, after months of diagramming the crystal’s structure, making copious notes, and gathering all the relevant research available on kyber—most of it requested from the Jedi Temple on Coruscant with the help of Professor Kip—Avon was finally ready to test out her theory.

Professor Kip would not return for another hour or so, but once Avon got to the lab, she very quickly prepared it for her experiment. The kyber was nestled in its holder, and the Lonnigan duplicating apparatus was all set up. The only thing missing was Professor Kip. So Avon began skip-ping circles in the lab, waiting for her mentor to return.

Skipping was not bouncing, but it was very close.

Avon checked the time once more. Her stomach grumbled at her, and she was half considering going to grab some lunch from the noodle cart.

That was when the explosions started.

Avon ran to the door of the lab and opened it, peeking out into the rest of the Port Haileap complex. The Jedi and every Republic official lived in the compound, and there were a few rooms for transient guests, as well. But there was no good reason for any of the noise that Avon heard.

The sounds of blaster fire and far-off  explosions were growing louder, with shouting and screaming providing a background to the echoes of battle. A young Togruta ran toward Avon, the other girl’s striped head tails swinging as she moved. “Talia! What’s going on?” Avon yelled. Talia was another student of Professor Kip’s, though her interests tended more toward the plants and natural sciences that Professor Kip preferred.

“It’s the Nihil! They’re attacking Port Haileap.”

“Are you sure?” Avon asked, dread tightening her belly. The Nihil were supposed to be defeated. The Jedi and the Republic had rousted the space pirates from every single hidey-hole in the galaxy. But that seemed to be false, since someone was definitely attacking Haileap.

“I saw the Strike ships fly in,” Talia said. “They looked like Nihil.”

Avon waved Talia into the lab. “Come on, we can hide in here,” she said.

“In here?” Talia asked, sliding to a stop in front of the door to the lab. “They’ll find us.”

“Nonsense. We can hide in one of the supply cupboards.” The girls entered the lab, locking the door behind them. Along the back wall was a line of cupboards used to store the numerous items needed in a working lab, and Avon pointed to the closet on the far left of the line of doors. “You hide with the lab coats. I’ll squeeze into the droid closet. Jay-Six is on loan to Master Boffrey today, so it’s totally empty.”

Talia nodded and dashed into her spot. Avon was right behind her, but then she realized that she’d forgotten her kyber crystal, still strapped to the analysis plate of the machine.

She couldn’t leave that behind, could she?

As Avon ran toward the machine, the sounds of fighting outside of the room grew closer. In the hallway triumphant hooting and hollering echoed, and heavy foot-steps approached the lab. She had to hurry.

Avon reached into the machine and grabbed the crystal just as the door exploded inward, forcing her to duck behind the examination table to avoid the debris. Standing in the doorway was a human man, his skin pale under the blue paint smeared haphazardly across his body.

“Well, hello there, little sprout,” he said, his voice gravelly and a bit muffled by the mask he wore. Behind him purple smoke billowed, the fog of war as the Nihil called it, a gas that could confuse and was toxic to most organisms in the galaxy. The man’s mask had a rebreather attached, so there was no chance that he would inhale any of the poisonous gas, but Avon was not so prepared.

The kyber crystal in her hand, Avon looked around the lab for her options. The man blocked her one chance of escape, but there were lots of things that could be useful in the lab. She just had to come up with a logical plan of attack.

But she didn’t have the chance. The Nihil leveled his blaster and fired at Avon, the stun blast hitting her right in the chest, knocking her backward off her feet.

“Nighty night,” the Nihil said.

Star Wars: The High Republic: Mission to Disaster arrives February 1, 2022. You can place a preorder now.

Amy Ratcliffe is the Managing Editor for Nerdist and the author of A Kid’s Guide to Fandom, available now. Follow her on  Twitter and Instagram.

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