Note: I rate these books based on the standard of their category (middle-grade, YA, adult). While lines can blur between middle-grade and YA, and YA and adult, I do not hold one to unrealistic standards as there are core differences based on target audiences.
Daniel José Older’s Race to Crashpoint Tower happens simultaneously with Cavan Scott’s Rising Storm, thus interweaving with events and characters. A middle-grade novel living in the same space as an adult novel presents challenges, but Older handles them adequately.
An apt title, Race to Crashpoint Tower revolves around a race to Crashpoint Tower (well, the tower at Crashpoint Peak). While meditating in a repair garage, Padawan Ram Jomaram is informed by his droid, V-18, that Valo’s comms tower is glitching. The droid could not find any other Jedi to help, so he came to Ram as a last resort. With no one else around to investigate, Ram, V-18, and two Bronbaks (gremlin-like sentients) working in the garage set out towards Crashpoint Tower.
Meanwhile, Padawan Lula Talisola and her force-sensitive friend Zeen, return to the latter’s homeworld of Trymant IV to speak with an elder of Zeen’s former clan (the same group it appears that Marchion Ro’s family was a part of) who are hostile to the Jedi. When Lula, Zeen, and Jedi Knight Vernestra Rhow get a signal from Ram’s base on Valo, they head that way to investigate. Rhow tells Lula and Zeen to find and assist whoever sent the signal.
Ram and his friends quickly figure out that the Nihil are responsible for the communication disruption. With the help of Lula and Zeen, they must hold off the marauders to reach the tower and repair communications. And there are stumbling blocks along the way, both predictable and surprising.
Ram and Lula are the two perspectives we follow through the novel and, while both are Padawans, they represent the lifestyle diversity of the Jedi Order in the High Republic. Ram is stationed on Valo and is a Valo citizen. Lula Tallisola is stationed on a Jedi Cruiser and has already traveled the galaxy and has more experience (though still very little) fighting the Nihil.
Some of the dialogue in Race to Crashpoint Tower feels junior, even for a middle-grade novel. And there are colloquialisms similar to Rian Johnson’s telephone jokes from The Last Jedi that feel out of place in Star Wars. Zeen saying “…I roll with Lula and her crew” took me out of the story for a minute. This might not be all on Older, but the dialogue of the Drengir seemed extra silly.
There are also a few inconsistencies regarding the Nihil threat level with Rising Storm. A middle-grade is not going to put the protagonists in similar situations as an adult novel, but having Nihil be intimidated by a Padawan drawing her lightsaber in this book when other Nihil charge straight towards Jedi Masters in Rising Storm is jarring. A better alternative conflict was having the Padawans fending off dangerous zoo animals that escaped during the Nihil attack.
The story is more simplistic than the galactic politics and carnage presented in Rising Storm, but you still feel the impact through Ram and Lula’s journey and how they process what is happening on Valo. As more mass tragedies (human-made or natural disasters) happen, books like Race to Crashpoint Tower can double as entertainment and processing tools for young readers.
Race to Crashpoint Tower had even fewer POVs than A Test of Courage. The latter, while concentrating on Vernestra and Imri, had three additional POVs (Avon Starros, Honesty Weft, and a few Nihil).
There are still other characters that appear, but Ram and Lula are the focus, and both have an idea of the ideal Jedi they want to become. Ram is content to spend his days repairing things and staying on Valo. Lula is pretty straightforward, at least for a young Padawan: she wants to be the greatest Jedi of all time, which is what a child would write in their essay on what they want to be when they grow up before the complications and realities of life hit. And for these Padawans, the realities are horrific. A mass tragedy occurs, and both Padawans have to reevaluate their paths.
Compared with Older’s The High Republic Adventures, Lula’s feelings about Zeen are more conflicted. She is jealous of Zeen’s natural abilities in the force and is constantly comparing herself to the achievements of other Jedi. But she is also attached to Zeen and struggles to balance her attachments (“I’m like…just a big huge ball of attachments!” is one of the most relatable things said by a Padawan). Vernestra Rhow councils Lula with a lesson in balance, and saving a friend versus saving a stranger, and Lula admires her certainty, wondering if she will ever feel that assured about anything. These challenges are put to the test later in the novel in interesting ways, and I wonder how soon Lula’s growth will be reflected in The High Republic Adventures.
Ram is an introvert and does not want to stray too far from his comfort zone, which is also relatable. He can understand the mechanics of most devices and fix them (or break them), and his skills prove effective towards fighting the Nihil and Drengir. Besides Lula, Ram meets Ty Yorrick, who made her debut in Rising Storm. Like Zeen, Ty is force-sensitive but not a Jedi, though she does carry a lightsaber and trained as a Jedi at some point. Ram is more open-minded about trusting Ty, since he has not met many other Force users, besides the other Jedi in his temple. Lula, however, is skeptical, reflecting her experience in the field, but perhaps a more rigid view of what makes a Jedi a Jedi. But Ram understands that every decision they make is a crucial piece in the whole, and they can make good of a horrible situation. Ram has one of the most unique abilities shown in The High Republic and, wherever he ends up post-Republic Fair, his progression could be invaluable for the Jedi.
It would have been nice to have Zeen Mrala’s perspective, but I suspect the young force-sensitive will get her own story. Having been a member of the Elders of the Path, a religious group against force-users, and of which Marchion Ro’s family were members, her story is too rich with potential for Older not to explore.
“You must see the whole for the whole,” Master Kunpar had told Ram so, so many times, “and each part for the role it plays—not for what you want it to be, not for what you fear it to be. Just for what it is.”Daniel José Older. The High Republic: Race to Crashpoint Tower. Disney Book Group.
For a middle-grade novel meant for ages 8 – 12, the metaphor in Race to Crashpoint Tower of parts of a whole is genius. And having a Jedi that uses that thinking to find an alternative way to solve a Drengir problem is perfect for young readers.
Ram also uses the Force to take apart the mechanics of a Nihil ship (which may or may not be similar to Jedi using the Force to crush mechanical things like droids). But his Force skill is similar to Anakin Skywalker’s skillset and I wonder if there will be a name for Ram’s specialties in future content.
The adult novels seem to be getting all the attention, but The High Republic middle-grade novels have succeeded in developing younger High Republic characters who have already graduated to YA (Vernestra and Imri) or have moved from the comics (Lula and Zeen). It is almost guaranteed that we will read about Ram, Lula, and Zeen in other novels/comics (Older is writing the YA novel in Wave 3, Midnight Horizon). But perhaps the next middle-grade can focus on other Padawans whom we have met briefly in comics and novels. The Adventures of Farzala and Qort sounds intriguing.