With a backlog of recorded episodes and episodes to record very soon, 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 thereafter on the podcast. (In the case of minor releases, that discussion may be kept for a Year in Review series of episodes.)
Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka (hardbcak, 2015)
On Force Friday, Star Wars fans were introduced to Greg Rucka, author of Smuggler’s Run (which I recently reviewed). Just a few days later, Rucka’s Shattered Empire began with its first issue from Marvel Comics. He is quickly becoming a mainstay of publishing surrounding The Force Awakens. On the same day as the film’s release, a third Rucka release (if you’ll pardon the alliteration) hit the shelves: Before the Awakening.
Before the Awakening is precisely what its name suggests: a set of stories taking place prior to The Force Awakens, featuring the three major film characters on its cover. The book features the stories of FN-2187 (“Finn”), Rey, and Poe Dameron in the days and months leading up to the film. It does so with varying degrees of success, though none failing to fit the bill.
Finn’s story follows the stormtrooper through the latter parts of his training, giving us a glimpse into his struggles with empathy vs. duty. While the attack on Jakku in the opening of The Force Awakens is indeed his first mission as a true, full-fledged stormtrooper, this was not (as reviews of the film often blast) an “out of nowhere” change for the character. His struggles began earlier, and the strike at the village of Tuanul in the film is simply the last (and most egregious) straw for the character. The insight into the character here should be enough to silence many of the naysayers about the speed of the character’s change of heart in the film.
Rey’s story spans a matter of months, as the scavenger on Jakku makes an impressive find and works with two marginally-trustworthy “friends” to make the most of that find. Unlike Finn’s story (and Poe’s, discussed in a moment), this story does not feel like it is leading directly into the film. Instead, it feels like a throwaway story sometime in the year prior to the film that serves as a means of providing us with more details about Rey, including where she developed some of her piloting skills (something else negative reviews of TFA tend to target). It is mildly enlightening, but not nearly as much so as Finn’s adventure, which clocks in at about twenty pages shorter than Rey’s.
By far the longest of the three stories in Before the Awakening (clocking in at about double the length of Finn’s tale) is the backstory of Poe Dameron. Spanning months like Rey’s outing, Poe’s adventure follows him in Rapier Squadron on missions for the New Republic and provides the “origin story” for how he becomes a pilot for Leia Organa’s Resistance. Moreover, it leads directly into Poe’s mission in the opening minutes of The Force Awakens. It is by far the most interesting of the three stories in the anthology, and we learn enough about Poe and the relationship between the Republic and the Resistance to, again, help silence some of those arguing that the relationship is unclear.
Ironically, this book does not carry the The Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens product line label, but it is the book that exemplifies that concept leaps and bounds more than any of the products that actuallly do bear that moniker. This is what people reading the “journey to” line actually expected to read.
Before the Awakening is a must-read for fans of The Force Awakens. You could almost skip Rey’s story and feel as though you missed very little, but the Finn and Poe tales provide enough detail and backstory to making this a “young adult” book that adult fans should definitely check out.
Recommended for: Those interested in the backstories of Finn and Poe from The Force Awakens. (Oh, and Rey a little too.)
Not recommended for: Those expecting huge revelations about Rey. Those are almost certainly being held back for future films.
I purchased a copy of this book at release, though Disney Lucasfilm Press later provided a copy for review.