Wednesday, February 28

Review: ‘Escape from Valo’ Delivers a Delightful Tale of Perseverance and Finding Your Inner Light

Ram Jomaram is front and center in Escape from Valo. The novel serves as the kickoff for Phase 3 of the High Republic’s middle-grade series. While some may steer clear of the books for younger children, I find them delightful. Star Wars is and always should be for everyone, and it’s refreshing to sit back and enjoy a book I know that students I teach at school may relate to, and bask in some of the child-like wonder that exists in each of these stories.


I found Escape from Valo allowed me to do exactly this. How could it not when it features a superstar team-up?! Daniel José Older and Alyssa Wong pack a powerful punch and deliver another wonderful addition to the High Republic era in Escape from Valo. I will keep much of this review mostly spoiler-free in hopes you will pick it up on Tuesday, January 30! We will dive into all of the fascinating dynamics at play!


They thrust Ram into a leadership role he is unaccustomed to. Throughout previous stories, Ram has been the follower and had more experienced, or naturally inclined, leaders to rely on. That’s not to say Ram has never been a leader to this point, but he hasn’t consistently dealt with the burden of being or feeling directly responsible for individuals in his care. He has had Jedi like Reath or Lula to look up to, and characters like Zeen come in and take the spotlight. They are gone now, and it’s now his turn.


Mild spoilers ahead!


Escape from Valo
Escape From Valo Cover


All of this changes in Escape From Valo. He is leading a resistance movement on his home planet of Valo, which is trapped in the Nihil Occlusion Zone. His resistance is pretty much just a resistance of one. That soon changes when Rma discovers three Jedi younglings who’ve been fighting for survival after the rest of the Order on Valo are massacred. Suddenly, our friend Ram, who loves to tinker with machines and is comfortable out of the spotlight, is thrust into a caretaker and mentorship role. He reluctantly allows the young Gavi, Kildo, and Tep Tep to enter his little rebel crew, but has many reservations about allowing them to fight back with him. Forcing Ram into this position was a wonderful next step for Ram to take on his journey, and I am glad the authors went there.


A delightful touch was Ram’s adoption of the name of the Scarlet Skull for his uprising. If you recall, In one of Daniel José Older’s previous novels, Midnight Horizon (which is amazing, by the way), Ram and his friend Reath were disguised as Scarlet Skulls to attempt to scare people into believing the highly feared group of assassins had returned. Of course, the name of the Scarlet Skulls may send some confusion and fear the Nihil’s way, but it was also his way of holding onto hope that his friends were still alive and they would hear his broadcasts. Yes, Ram broadcasts a message to the stars each night, hoping that someone out there is listening. He has no idea if his friends are out there or if they have all perished. Something beautiful about Ram, though, is his persistent spirit of hope. He wears it like armor even though all of the lights of hope around him seem to have been extinguished.


Ram takes the lead in Escape from Valo
Ram Jomaram Concept Art


Throughout the novel, Ram must balance his desire to free Valo from Nihil rule, escape Valo, and keep a close watch and care over the children he is honor-bound to care for. All of this while just being a teenager. Sometimes, I really wish the kids could just be kids, but that wouldn’t be a Star Wars story now, would it? Ram handles all of it as gracefully as he can and leads the group in his special way. He inspires the kids as they look up to him as this magnificent Padawan who has been at the center of some of the most famous clashes with the Nihil. All of the younglings want to be Padawans just like him someday. He is both their mentor, hero, and older brother, all at the same time. It’s a heavy burden for one so young, but Ram meets the challenge head-on.


In Ram’s three youngling friends, we have a unique group of kids: Gavi, Tep Tep, and Kildo. Let’s start with Gavi. All of the younglings have experienced some traumatic events no child should ever witness, but Gavi has it a bit different. He has a unique perception of the Force. He sees it as a giant tapestry of interwoven threads. The threads of his friends appear brighter and clearer than all the others. Each one has a specific color. However, his ability to commune, use, and meditate in the Force has been disrupted due to the events that have transpired. He dares not to tell everyone else. He doesn’t want any of them to think poorly of him or even feel sorry for him.


There’s been no time to process what happened either, as each day has been a struggle simply to survive. While balancing an already massive plate, he has another issue at hand. He has been repairing a shuttle that crash-landed on the planet. None of the others know about it but him. The goal, of course, is to repair it to make an escape attempt. Unfortunately, there is a slight problem for when that day comes. The shuttle can only carry one or two at best. Someone would be left behind.


The newest younglings in Escape from Valo
Image From Star From left to right: Kildo, Tep Tep, and Gavi


The thought of leaving his friends, Tep Tep and especially Kildo, makes him sick. Young Gavi’s heart is torn in two. He wants to be a Jedi, and being a Jedi means having the ability to let go of attachments. On the other hand, he wants to be with Kildo. His feelings for him are stronger than any he’s felt before. Part of his journey is learning how to navigate both paths. In many ways, Gavi is the heart of this story. It’s as much about him finding his thread in the Force again as it is about anything else. I love his arc from start to finish.


Next are the Alcedians: Kildo and Tep Tep. I love these little ones. Kildo is the star of the show. He’s someone that people naturally gravitate towards. In addition to being a bit of a rebel, he is as brave as they come. He has a natural connection to the Force that comes easy to him. Any mischief he gets into is easily overlooked because of that connection and his cleverness. One can easily see why Gavi is so attached to him. Kildo’s natural connection to the Force allows him to sense things others don’t and feel out the truth.


Now, there’s Tep Tep. I promise you will instantly adore Tep Tep, who is completely the opposite of Kildo. She is shy and nervous around others at first. She also has an incredible connection to animals. Think Ezra Bridger connection times 100. Her ability to connect with creatures has allowed the group to stay in the abandoned and overrun Valo Zoo. Seriously, everyone, she is hugging Acklays like they are puppy dogs. Her spirit and innocence round out the group quite well. Altogether, with Ram as their leader, they pose a massive threat to the bumbling Nihil leadership on Valo.


This is an Acklay. This is what Tep Tep would call a cuddly friend.


There are two more quick pieces to the puzzle to place before we get out of here. The first is young Zyle. They are the child of one of the notorious pirates in the sector. The group is not affiliated with the Nihil but has a working relationship with them. At first, you may resent them for that, but ultimately, pirates have to make a living, too. How else could they survive at this point if they were to openly oppose the Nihil? At the moment, the Nihil are the powers that be, but don’t fool yourselves. Zyle’s group of pirates have no love for the evil Nihil.


Zyle is eager to prove themself. They are still left behind for important missions and aren’t allowed to take part in any of the more dangerous tasks that need doing. Couple that with someone who has no qualms about breaking some rules, can charm everyone around them, and is willing to take risks, and you have the perfect candidate for another spot within our merry band of Scarlet Skull rebels on Valo.


Zyle heard aboard a Nihil ship about a valuable transport sunk in a lake near Valo’s capital city. Naturally, this meant they needed to steal a shuttle and get to Valo ASAP. While on Valo, Zyle plans to only be in this for themself, but of course, makes some close friends along the way. Zyle also adds a wonderful level of comedic relief from some of the heavier moments. For a middle-grade novel, Zyle seems like the perfect character to have.


Lastly, there’s Driggit. A native Valo now turned Nihil operative; she carries perhaps the heaviest burden of any character. Before the Nihil came, Driggit was best friends with Gavi and the other younglings. They would sneak her into the Temple, and she would sneak them out into the city. She was the fourth thread in the friend circle that burned brightest to Gavi for a time. All of that changed when Driggit joined forces with the Nihil.


Niv Drendow debuts in phase 3 of the High Republic
Niv Drendow Arpuk, an underling to Baron Boolan and the upcoming villain in Escape from Valo


Driggit joined with the Nihil out of necessity. She believed her Jedi friends were dead, and the only way to ensure her family and the others she loved stayed safe was to serve the pirate-occupying force. Of course, her fellow citizens view her as a dangerous traitor, but it is a price she is willing to pay to keep her family safe and sound. Like many Star Wars characters before her, Driggit will ultimately be confronted with a life-altering choice.


Daniel José Older and Alyssa Wong do not disappoint with this ultra-powerful author team-up. The two craft a wonderful tale aimed at middle school kids but make it suitable for those of any age. I think we all must allow ourselves to open up to being a kid again from time to time. Engage with these stories through the lenses of the kids the books are trying to reach and our adult lens. It might just offer up new perspectives you didn’t think were there.


Escae from Valo was a tasteful treat from start to finish. It shines bright with characters who will pull at your heart. It’s a tale that could cause both tears of pain and joy to rain down with several fist pumps along the way. I continue to love my journey with Ram Jomaram. He’s a character I didn’t immediately gravitate toward but has grown on me every time I read. Escape from Valo wasn’t my favorite High Republic story, but it has its place on everyone’s shelves. Grab your copy as soon as you can.


Rating: 7.5/10


The High Republic: Escape from Valo releases Tuesday, January 30 wherever books are sold and is available for pre-order now. A special thank you to Disney-Lucasfilm Press for the copy used in this review!


Finding ways to nonchalantly incorporate Star Wars quotes into 8th grade classroom, Tyler lives and breathes Star Wars. His morning tradition is sending the latest number in the countdown for different Star Wars projects and loves engaging in uplifting Star Wars dialogue. If you are passionate about Star Wars you can follow him on Twitter at TyBrad5.