Rae Carson, author of “Star Wars: Most Wanted” and the short story "The Red One", has returned to the Star Wars galaxy, this time delivering a slightly improved, more nuanced version of "The Rise of Skywalker”
Here’s the publisher’s summary…
The Resistance has been reborn. The spark of rebellion is rekindling across the galaxy. But although Rey and her fellow heroes are back in the fight, the war against the First Order, now led by Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, is far from over.
Rey, Finn, Poe, and the Resistance must embark on the most perilous adventure they have ever faced. And this time, they're facing it together. With the help of old friends, new allies, and the mysterious guidance of the Force, the story that began in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and continued in Star Wars: The Last Jedi reaches an astounding conclusion.
The reaction, both positive and negative, to Carson’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Expanded Edition” has little to do with her writing or the book itself. No, I think it has more to do with fan discourse and the strong reactions, again both positive and negative, to the film the book takes its cues from. And with many fans desperately hoping for some degree of assurance that their opinions of the film aren't misguided, this novel likely never stood a chance.
There’s just no question this film, perhaps more than any other, resulted in a vast and dizzying array of opinions with folks on all sides digging in. And in a month where we’re getting this novel, the film’s home release and “The Art of…” accompaniment, the online chatter is sure to heat up once again after a small lull.
These expanded novels are a real treat for me personally and I like every single one so far, in particular the last two, Jason Fry’s “The Last Jedi” and Mur Lafferty’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story” Both of course follow the scripts mostly to the letter and when given the green light from Lucasfilm to cut loose, they do so in spectacular fashion.
But I never looked to these books to improve the viewing experience for me, as I left both of those films generally satisfied with the plotting. And whether you loved or hated TROS, one thing both sides do agree on is that the film could’ve used another 30 minutes, to add some nuance and break free from the sometimes derivative or contrived nature of it.
And it’s become clear that much of the film’s finer points were being left to ancillary products, such as the Visual Dictionary, to fill in the blanks. And here we come to it at last. Carson’s “The Rise of Skywalker - Expanded Edition” is certainly in line with previous film adaptations that came before. It follows the same general scope, the same narrative shapes, and more or less the same page count (a little longer), so why the disheartened reaction then? Simply put, because it neither improves upon nor worsens the film thus leaving some folks still searching for answers.
Any fans that were looking for justification, vindication, or edification, will most likely leave empty-handed. And the simple reason for that is twofold. Number one, you’re asking too much from Rae and her novel. It’s not her or the book’s job to enhance your viewing experience of TROS. If that happens, and it does sparingly, great, but don’t go all in on that notion.
Number two, even with the additional content, most of which is good, it still doesn’t fix a few of the narrative decisions made by J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio. For me, there are still more than a few head-scratchers.
One thing that did jump out at me, after seeing it on paper, is how little dialogue there is in TROS in the first place. A lot of the dialogue takes place internally as mainstays like Leia, Rey, Poe and Hux spend a fair amount of time mulling things over.
Rae smartly doesn’t veer too far from that style, knowing it would create imbalance. She handles the internal dialogue well which is likely why she was chosen for this assignment, and like I said, there’s lots of it. And these make for some of the better moments in her book as she gets into the headspace of key players during key moments such as Rey planning her TIE Whisper jump on Passana, and Kylo Ren interrogating Chewbacca on the Steadfast.
And while these insights into the minds of the trilogy’s leads certainly add rich context, it’s mostly her examination of new characters and never produced scenes that steal the show for me.
One character I particularly enjoyed with very little screen time was Kijimi spice runner, and Poe Dameron’s ex, Zorii Bliss. Rae spends some time on Kijimi after our heroes leave, following Bliss around the streets and rooftops, planning her next move, eventually getting off planet in her Y-Wing.
And after the death of someone close to her by a Knight of Ren, we get to see the normally self-interested Bliss, make a decision to join the Resistance. We’re going to see more of her in Alex Segura’s upcoming “Poe Dameron: Free Fall” and after reading this, I can’t help but think Rae would’ve written a nice Bliss story to accompany that.
Besides character work, Carson adds some of that nuance I was talking about earlier to the story. Its effectiveness ranges from very important, to not important at all, but for me, the big stuff (Rey’s father being a clone for example), wasn’t as appealing as the little things.
Poe thinking of his parents (Shara Bey/Kes Dameron) before leaving for Exogol, Snap Wexley hugging his wife Karé Kun, Babu Frik giving his B1 Battle droid sentience. You may think these minor superfluities trivial or insignificant, but you’d be wrong, that’s the good stuff.
And later in the book, during the battle on Exogol, Rae gives us a short but very sweet role call when the cavalry arrives. We know these ships and their crews are present and accounted for thanks to confirmed sources, but to hear them sound-off is awesome. She’s coy in some cases, like the Ghost reports in but the pilot isn’t named. Phantom Squadron is there but we don’t know exactly who’s representing them. Wedge is on the Falcon and Snap was flying his A-Wing until, well, you know.
But we do get a couple of awesome name-drops, Zay Versio for one, representing Inferno Squadron, and Kazuda Xiono (with Jarek Yeager) there with Team Fireball.
It’s already clear that most of the talk will be centered on the Rey/Kylo/Sidious storyline, and the reveals that add even more layers to this already complex and inexplicable plot. You’re going to hear a lot about clones, lineage, redemption, legacy etc. But as I said, these were the least interesting interpretations to me and I’m not ecstatic over what Carson has done with them.
For my money, the most impressive addition has to do with Leia Organa and the surreptitious conversation she has with her brother Luke throughout the novel. Their exchanges (if you can call them that) are short and really more utterances than conversations, but Carson uses beautifully unadorned language to set the tone.
Something that was explored in Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Resistance Reborn” was the exact toll Leia’s blast into space in The Last Jedi cost her. She’s never recovered, not even now, and she’s just about done, her life force just about spent.
This secret back-and-forth is indelibly sad and touching at the same time, further strengthening their brother/sister bond that quite simply no one else will ever fully understand. They both know her time is short and he’s anxious for her to join him in the ethereal plain, so she can finally be at peace, so she can finally rest.
Sensing this, Luke is after her to give in to her injuries, and to finally rest. But Leia knows it’s not time, that she still has one more thing left to do, reach her son Ben.
Luke is both beautifully compassionate and pragmatic about it, he understands the will of the Force is strong as it pulls her towards him, but ultimately he just wants his kid sister to be safe.
It’s the unfortunate death of Carrie Fisher that made scenes like this one impossible to make, but here, Carson shines and the end result is very poignant. It also adds context and depth to the final scene on Tatooine where Rey sees the Forces ghosts of Luke and Leia together for the first time.
So, in the end, what are we left with?
Carson has managed to provide nuance and context to a story that was occasionally void of such things; she should be commended, not scolded. And the truth of matter is this, by writing a superior more personal script; she’s exposed the flaws in the original. Was that her intention? Of course it wasn’t, but it happened nonetheless.
Now, I will open myself up to the idea that this was the plan all along, that Carson’s novel and other ancillaries were always meant to make Abrams and Terrio’s script more coherent, in which case this is an entirely moot point. And that will be true in some cases (the armada scene comes to mind) but not all, and not the most important story aspects.
But this isn’t a damnation of the film; it’s an examination of Carson’s novel which is a good one overall. Her writing is simple, straightforward, to the point, and as with past efforts her character work is wonderful. Where the film excels in frenetic pacing and fast-paced dialogue, Carson is able to slow things down and let characters breathe just a little.
These are the pieces I enjoyed the most, when the pace grinds to a near halt, never quite stopping, always forward moving, but a definite meditative state. In fact, I find that Carson brings a calming influence to the entire process.
But like most things, my opinion doesn’t count for much. So, if you enjoyed the film, you’ll probably really enjoy this book, and if you didn’t, well, this novel most likely won’t change that a whole lot. Rae is a great writer but this isn't her best work, and that's because she was bound to an existing story that was just too problematic in the first place. When given the opportunity to walk, she runs, but there's just not enough of those moments for me.
As always, I’m very much looking forward to speaking with Rae about her process and the additions she made. These novels often times are made by committee, so when an author does get a chance to break loose, good things usually happen. And that’s always an exciting premise in Star Wars.
Till next time...MTFBWY.
"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Expanded Edition" is published by Del Rey Books and is available now wherever books are sold!
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