Star Wars Beyond the Films‘ Nathan P. Butler is now posting short, non-spoiler reviews for many new releases. Spoiler-filled discussion will often follow in the weeks or months thereafter on the podcast.
Rebel Rising by Beth Revis (hardcover, 2017)
As with Guardians of the Whills, Disney Lucasfilm Press dives into providing backstories for the characters of Rogue One once again in Rebel Rising, the first Star Wars novel from Beth Revis. This 400+ page tale is the origin story of Jyn Erso, filling in the time gap between being rescued by Saw Gerrera and needing to be rescued again by the Rebels on Wobani about thirteen years later. Does the novel do its job as well as recent character origin stories from Del Rey, how does it stack up againtst Disney Lucasfilm Press’ previous full-length young adult novel (Lost Stars), and is this as essential as one might hope?
Rebel Rising has a difficult job to do. It must chronicle Jyn Erso’s time with Saw Gerrera and after, hitting key points in the character’s development to flesh out the character seen on screen, all while being sure not to contradict the various Rogue One tie-in works (e.g. The Ultimate Visual Guide). Thankfully, it does its job well, though in the process one could argue that it proves itself a bit out of place as a “young adult” novel.
The novel begins on Wobani during Jyn’s first month as an Imperial prisoner, then leaps back to 13 BBY for her rescue by Saw. The novel continues forward from there, covering about 13 years of Jyn’s life, while jumping back to Wobani every so often for a glimpse another month into her sentence. The segments in the “present” that span about six months until her rescue in Rogue One (which crosses over with the last two chapters or so of the novel) are exceptionally dark. They build an oppressive atmosphere for Jyn that lacks hope in most respects, making it clear what she has been through just prior to the film.
The bulk of the story, though, is set prior to her imprisonment. We see her relationship with Saw grow into that of a father and daughter, along with her participation and training with his partisans that see little difference between being freedon fighters and being terrorists, leading to that fateful moment mentioned in the film when Jyn is left behind.
From there, the novel tracks Jyn on her own, as she tries to make a life for herself, seeks a little bit of happiness, and eventually finds herself embroiled in the situation that lands her on Wobani. It is a difficult journey with plenty of twists and turns, though there is a sad fatalism to many of the situations, as we see Jyn heading inevitably to where we see her in the film, imprisoned and bereft of most hope.
As a study of Jyn, the novel is excellent, making her far more human than even the novelization of Rogue One managed. The story even manages to include more action and setpiece moments than Catalyst, putting it more in line with James Luceno’s Tarkin as a character-driven story that still features interesting events and often high stakes.
That said, this is a novel that probably would have made more sense as a Del Rey adult publication than a young adult novel. Granted, “young adult” novels today vary widely in content and often play to the Twilight demographic, digging into emotionally down (read: emo) topics or overtly sexual situations. Adult Star Wars novels rarely tread in the latter territory, usually assuming sexual encounters rather than dramatizing them. As such, it is a bit jarring to find Rebel Rising including sexual encounters, including the following cringe-worthy passage:
“You can do whatever you want to my body,” he said, his hooded eyes gazing up at her.
So she did.
Like in Lost Stars, the sexual content in a young adult Star Wars book is far surpassing the level of such content in more adult-targeted tales. Add to that Rebel Rising‘s references to and rather visceral demonstration of suicide, and we have a tale that, while aimed at young adults, should probably skew a bit older in that demographic than other works put out by Disney Lucasfilm Press. Both are natural to the story, yet still jarring in Star Wars, especially from DLP.
Rebel Rising is a great exploration of Jyn Erso’s life prior to Rogue One and a true must-read for fans of the film, perhaps even more so than Catalyst. That said, it might not be something all parents will prefer their children to read, so consider this review’s deviation into the elements of mature content to be an advisory to help parents make the best decision in whether (or when) children should read this. For adults, though, this is a solid work, just like Lost Stars, that deserves adult attention, despite its supposed “young” adult target audience.
Recommended for: Those interested in the essential backstory of Jyn Erso before Rogue One.
Not recommended for: Those put off by sexual or suicidal content in Star Wars or in young adult works, or those who simply didn’t enjoy Rogue One and wish to avoid the backstory of its characters.
The copy used for this review was purchased at retail.Powered by Sidelines