Vernestra Rwoh’s lightsaber in Star Wars: The High Republic seems innocuous, but the modifications made to her blade raise deep questions.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Star Wars: The High Republic: A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland, on sale now.
In Star Wars: The High Republic: A Test of Courage, the first junior novel in the Star Wars: The High Republic subseries, Vernestra Rwoh has a secret: she has modified her lightsaber. With a twist of the lightsaber’s front ring, she can transform her blade into a whip. While this modification might seem innocuous, there are hints that Vernestra’s lightsaber might symbolize more indecision within her than she cares to admit.
Vernestra’s modification of her lightsaber and her proficiency with the lightwhip indicate that she is a Jedi prodigy. She passed the trials at age fifteen and embarking on her first solo mission at age sixteen. She initially is tasked with guarding Avon Starros, the technologically brilliant daughter of a Republic senator, alongside J-6, a bodyguard droid repurposed as a protocol droid. After the Nihil sabotage their ship on the way to the Starlight Beacon, Vernestra also becomes responsible for the safety of Imri Cantaros, a Jedi Padawan, and Honesty Weft, the son of an ambassador from Dalna. Her lightsaber’s lightwhip mode does not become necessary until after the group lands their escape shuttle on a moon with a jungle-like forest. While the lightwhip may be one of the deadliest forms of the lightsaber, she mainly uses her lightwhip in practical matters rather than combat.
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Before the beginning of the novel, Vernestra adds the lightwhip mode to her lightsaber after receiving a push from the Force to transform her lightsaber into “something strange.” She completes the modifications in a single night without consulting anything other than the Force. Vernestra claims she is confident that the changes to her lightsaber are what the Force wants from her, but her actions contradict that confidence. Most importantly, Vernestra keeps the new mode of her lightsaber a secret from everyone.
In an interview with Nerdist.com, author Justina Ireland revealed, “Vernestra is deeply conventional for a Jedi. She doesn’t question the wisdom of the Force, and by extension, the Order.” However, her modifications to her lightsaber show a different side to Vernestra — one that she is not quite ready to acknowledge. Ireland continues to state that Vernestra “feels some bit of conflict over her weapon, and at some point she may have to reconcile the handiness of such a weapon with the expectations of the order.” While her lightsaber represents her strong connection with the force and her technical ability, she also fears that her lightwhip will be judged by the other Jedi because it goes outside of the conventions that Vernestra holds so dear.
Vernestra believes that the force guided her to create these modifications in anticipation of the Nihil attack, but some doubt still plagues her. After she reflects on modifying her lightsaber, she begins to worry that learning about the modifications might lead Imri astray. Her fears about Imri falling to the dark side are not just tied to her lightsaber. Imri also is grieving the loss of his Jedi Master, Douglas and his empathic abilities make it harder for him to control his feelings and his indecisiveness. Even so, the fact that she views the lightwhip mode of her lightsaber as a potential dark side temptation seems significant, especially since, at least on the surface, a lightsaber’s form and function seem to have no inherent ties to good or evil deeds. Other Jedi in the Order use unconventional weapons, so Vernestra’s unorthodox blade is not entirely out of place.
The real unspoken reason why Vernestra views her lightsaber as a potential temptation becomes apparent after she reveals the lightwhip mode to her small group. While at first Imri seems to not judge the weapon, he still immediately connects the lightwhip to another group: the Nightsisters of Dathomir. The Nightsisters, while not Sith, use the dark side of the Force in their magic, but neither Imri nor Vernestra acknowledge that Nightsisters believe in a balance of power rather than purely embracing the dark side. Vernestra instead counters Imri’s observation with evidence that Jedi from the past also used Lightwhips as weapons. She tries to frame her modification as following in the traditions of the Jedi, but she does not reconcile this tradition with her decision to keep the lightwhip a secret.
Overall, Vernestra’s lightsaber might truly be merely the will of the Force guiding her on her path. The Nightsisters might just be an easter egg or a red herring. Still, Justina Ireland creates enough of a subtle mystery about Vernestra’s lightsaber modifications to hypothesize that the Force might have been preparing Vernestra for a future trial. Even though Vernestra is not ready to fully rebel against convention yet, her lightsaber foreshadows that she may begin to question the Jedi Order in the future.
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