“Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” novel review round-up

I couldn’t take a Star Wars themed photo without including my baby boy.

So, in the lead up to The Rise of Skywalker (a movie I’m not discussing here) I decided to read the novels listed as ‘Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’: Resistance Reborn, Force Collector, Spark of the Resistance and Choose Your Destiny: A Finn & Poe Adventure.

There’s a couple more on the list: The Rise of Skywalker expanded novelisation and Allegiance. The Rise of Skywalker novelisation by Rae Carson is out in just a week or two, and I can’t wait to read it. I haven’t read Allegiance, a graphic novel collection, but Jemma reviewed it here and I love her review so if you’re interested, click through!

On to my reviews!

Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse

Resistance Reborn cover image

“Finn stepped forward immediately. “Used to be a stormtrooper, but now I’m rebel scum,” he said, pressing a fist over his heart. “Until the end.”

“My point,” Poe said, turning back to Agoyo, “is that many of us have dubious beginnings, but it is how we end that counts.”

“My father was Darth Vader,” Leia said, pitching her voice so that it rang out clearly through the room, “Is there anyone who wants to question my loyalty to the Resistance?”

Rating: 4 stars!

The plot:

After the events of The Last Jedi, the Resistance lies in ruins. They escaped from Crait with a handful of wounded heroes and the ships that had been away during the events of the movie. Finn, Poe, Rose and Rey are renowned, and none more so than Chewbacca and General Leia Organa, but names no longer carry the weight that they once did and Leia’s call for aid is still unanswered. The shadow of the First Order stretches over the galaxy, from Ryloth to Corellia and those willing and brave enough to face their darkness are scattered across planets and isolated. The Resistance must seek leaders to spread their message of hope, including those who once helped a rebellion topple and empire. Battles are fought, alliances built from the ground up as the Resistance is reborn.

What did I think?

The biggest thing that jumped out to me in this book was the character development. It’s hard in tie-in novels, particularly those set between a movie and its sequel because you can’t change too much of significance without either the book or the movie being made incoherent by the next movie release. Resistance Reborn, in my opinion, handled it really well. I’d definitely call this a Poe Dameron novel. It covers a few different characters, but his development arc is the one that really draws you in, and it’s the one that ties this book to both The Last Jedi and to Rise of Skywalker. Rey is a minor character in this novel, but I’m happy with that. The movies tell Rey’s story, so it’s nice to see the people of the Resistance that we miss in the movies.

The main plot of this book is simple enough, as I’d expect from a novel tying in two movies, and its simplicity is beautiful because it lets the characters really shine. The Resistance needs support, and is looking for leaders to help turn more and more people to their cause. But the allies Leia was expecting to find are silent or missing, so Poe is on a mission to find out what’s happened to them. But Poe, brilliant Poe, is still reeling from The Last Jedi. He’s learning to take responsibility for his actions, and the way his decision led to a lot of deaths during the attack on the Dreadnought. It’s about Poe learning to process his grief, and how his found-family within the Resistance can help him with that.

Throughout the book we see lots of familiar names drawn from different parts of the Star Wars canon, but we see new characters too. Bless Rebecca Roanhorse for all of her additions, honestly. Teza especially, delights. She’s a woc, an ex-Imperial warlord turned Black Squadron bad-ass, and I love her. Roanhorse also wrote the existing characters really, really well. Poe felt perfectly written (I could hear Oscar Isaac in my head, I swear) and the strength she gave Leia in her writing was beautiful. It was perfectly Leia.

There were a few fleeting FinnPoe moments that I thoroughly enjoyed, but, well. We knew we weren’t going to get much from the franchise in this regard, so I’ll take what I can get. There’s a conversation about Finn’s ‘just friends’ that makes me laugh every time I think about it.

Goodreads / Amazon (not-affiliated) / Waterstones / The Book Depository

Force Collector by Kevin Shinick

Force Collector cover image

“You said you could see the past when you touched things. You didn’t say anything about falling to the ground, screaming.”

“I didn’t? Well, sometimes I fall to the ground, screaming. Now you know.”

Rating: 4 stars!

The plot:

Karr Nuq Sin is a restless teenager at an ordinary school on a boring middle-of-nowhere planet. But he knows there’s something different about him. His grandmother says he has the Force, his parents worry he’s just ill. When his new, rich and a little weird friend offers him the adventure of a lifetime he knows he has to take it. It might be the only chance he gets to find out how he’s connected to the fabled Jedi and what the Force has in store for him – before he’s destined to spend his life at trade school learning to sew.

What did I think?

For some reason I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one? I have literally no idea how I got that into my head, but I put it off for a while, before realising my deadline for this post was creeping up on me. And then I read it in one sitting. Because it was really, really good. So. Kudos for being an idiot past-me, we could have read this excellent book ages ago.

This isn’t a high-action Star Wars novel, and I actually really loved that. As much as I love wild Star Wars action, it was nice to see what the world would be like for “normal” people living on planets that weren’t being torn apart by Jedi or Sith. It was also really refreshing to see a Force sensitive individual who wasn’t a Jedi, because they’re few and far between in the novels that I’ve read – and basically non-existent in the movies.

The story doesn’t depend on you having read any other Star Wars novels, so it’s actually probably a really good intro story for someone who’s seen the movies and wants to read more. I started reading them pretty recently, and one of the things I struggled with with the first few Star Wars novels I read was that they’d mention characters and places that I just had absolutely no reference for. Force Collector is about a teenage boy chasing down Jedi artefacts, and as a result he’s following the mythos around great Jedi heroes like Kenobi and Skywalker. It touches in on the prequels and original series at points, while also exploring familiar sites amongst new ones.

The first few chapters were… weird. They were kind of like Harry Potter/Star Wars fanfiction, but once I’d settled into who Karr was and what his quest was going to be, I bought into the world. I’m basically just pretending that there wasn’t a few weird scenes set in calculus classes and a very American high school. We don’t study calculus in secondary schools in the UK so I struggled to imagine them learning it in space.

I also thought the friendship between Karr and Maize would have benefitted from being a longer term friendship. I get the appeal of having our characters meet in the beginning of the book, and introducing Karr and Maize was a great way to explain Karr’s Force powers and his relationship with his grandmother. But then they went from zero to 100 in a really weird way. Who runs away with someone they met an hour ago? I think if they’d met at the beginning of the school year, and were tentative friends becoming closer, it would have felt more authentic. I did love their relationship after that point. It was very wholesome, and I loved the way they supported each other and helped each other out.

I really enjoyed Force Collector, and would highly recommend it, especially as a part of the ‘Journey to the Rise of Skywalker’ series.

Goodreads / Amazon (not-affiliated) / Waterstones / The Book Depository

Spark of the Resistance by Justina Ireland

Rating: 2 stars!

Spark of the Resistance cover image

The plot:

Rey, Poe and Rose respond to a distress call from an isolated planet, Minfar. When they get there, they find an underground colony hiding from the power of the First Order, and rumours of a weapon that can turn minds under its control. They can’t allow the First Order to get their hands on it, but should they destroy it or should they use it for their cause?

What did I think?

One of the main things that stuck with me with this book is that it felt like a side-quest. That’s the case with a lot of Star Wars novels, to keep the movie canon coherent, but where Resistance Reborn (above) handled it well, this one just felt like nothing happened? The plot was fine, I guess, but there wasn’t any development. No background development, no First Order development, and definitely no character development. Honestly? It annoyed the shit out of me.

This is supposed to bridge the gap between The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker. Not that you’d know that until page 141 of this 224 page book. Two thirds of the way in before there’s any acknowledgement! At all! References to The Last Jedi are so infrequent I actually kept track. It happened three times. Three. Page 141, page 179 and page 203. Honestly, if Rose wasn’t one of the main characters in this story I would genuinely insist that this book was set after The Force Awakens and had been mislabelled. Especially when they talked about expecting back up – the point of The Last Jedi’s ending was that they were all alone. Who is this back up?

There’s the hill I’m apparently going to die on, too, which is that kids can have a little violence in their books. The Star Wars movies are violent. People die, people get hit with blasters and don’t get up again. If a kid can watch a movie in which Poe Dameron explodes a TIE fighter with the pilot still inside, they can read a book in which Poe Dameron blasts someone in a fire fight. There’s a point in this book where Poe knocked someone out in the middle of combat and stopped to disable their blaster. Who the hell has time for that during a fire fight. It was so ridiculous it knocked me right out of the book for a minute. I wrote in my notes that I could let this go, but since then I’ve read other kids books that have handled violence really well, and you know what? I can’t let this go. This avoiding violence to the point of pantomimery shit is so annoying, and it does not tonally match a series where several characters get their HANDS CUT OFF at all.

It’s not just the violence that is massively oversimplified. I fully believe that children can understand morally grey characters. One of the major themes in Star Wars is the dark and the light and the space in between. Redemption, and forgiveness. So why is this book so black and white? Rey coming out of The Last Jedi is a conflicted character. She saw light in Ben Solo, and darkness in Kylo Ren and she’s coming to terms with them. So whyyyy the hellll does she sound like Rey from The Force Awakens in this book? She talks about him like he’s a monster, and like she’s only ever heard rumours of him. Where is the woman who threw hands with Luke Skywalker halfway through The Last Jedi? I would just love some character complexity, and it felt like the character development in this book was going backwards. Treating kids like they can’t understand complexities in character motivations is pretty patronising. Poe felt out of character for most of the book too, and there was no mention of where Finn was or why he wasn’t there. I’m not convinced he was even mentioned during the story.

The plot was fine, and I’m sure children would probably still enjoy this, but honestly? Buy them a better Star Wars story, they deserve it.

Goodreads / Amazon (not-affiliated) / Waterstones / The Book Depository

A Finn & Poe Adventure by Cavan Scott

Rating: 3 stars!

The plot:

Finn and Poe’s routine mission to collect more bacta for the Resistance turns into a chaotic adventure. Even more chaotic depending on the choices you make, some leading to great endings and some leading to terrible ones.

What did I think?

This was a fun little story. It took me about an hour to get through to the ‘best’ ending but there was definitely a loop of bad endings I got caught in because I cannot resist any option that sounds like I’m going to meet my boy, Kylo Ren so one path I knew only ended in disaster. I enjoyed it anyway. Either way, this is a very fun kid’s book. It’s simplified, and everything is very much ‘set to stun’. I know that this is very much aimed at children, so Disney wanted to key down the violence a lot, but there’s no combat in this book that works. Ninety percent of combat choices lead to bad endings, and while I understand that it just doesn’t mesh with the actual Star Wars movies. It’s a similar criticism as I had for Spark of the Resistance, where Disney obviously wanted it to be ‘family friendly’ but the movies are family friendly, and they don’t have the same level of cartoonish nobody-ever-gets-hurt violence. It just feels particularly baby-ish even for a middle-grade book.

Still, I bet kids would get a lot of enjoyment out of playing through and trying to find the good endings (I found two, and I think that’s all of them but I might be wrong). I did find that, especially at the beginning, I hit a LOT of bad endings in a short space of time. Some kids might find that frustrating (I’m 22 and it was starting to wear THIN) but once I was past the first section of the book and into the main storyline it slowed down a bit and I found a lot more enjoyable when I wasn’t backtracking all the time.

The illustrations are amazing though, and I loved those as an addition to the story. Particularly one of an incredibly grumpy looking Kylo Ren. The large illustrations added detail and broke up the blocks of text nicely, as well as seeming to cue you that you were on the right path.

Despite my criticisms, I did enjoy this and I’m looking forward to Han & Chewie and Luke & Leia when those show up next year at some point.

Goodreads / Amazon (not-affiliated)

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