Note: this review contains spoilers for the book, Before The Awakening.
With a new era in Star Wars entertainment comes the inevitable new literature that help flesh out the ever-expanding array of characters in the Star Wars universe. The first of these, Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Before The Awakening is along a similar vein to the three titles released by Disney Publishing on Force Friday (Smuggler’s Run, Moving Target, & The Weapon of a Jedi); they are YA novels written at a very high level, with a lot of material in roughly 230 pages or less. Before The Awakening, written by Greg Rucka, with illustrations by Phil Noto, is a hip, interesting start to this new sojourn in The Force Awakens literature, and is well worth your time.
The novel is more of an anthology, broken down into three separate stories: Finn, Rey, and Poe. This organic path to the first prose in The Force Awakens era essentially takes the three new heroes of the Resistance, and places them right before the events of the new film. At first, I was not entirely sure that there was much that would bring insight into these new characters, without stepping on the film. However, that proves to be untrue, as the lens for each hero reinforces, as well as brings to light (pun intended) what makes each of these characters so compelling.With the comic series, Shattered Empire, Rucka had proven he has the writing chops for the Star Wars franchise, and he brings his considerable talents to this new core of characters as well.
The first story focuses on FN-2187, or as filmgoers learn early on, Finn. While the least reflective of the three stories, it still manages to give us some more information of what motivates Finn. The majority of the story revolves around Finn’s training, as well as that of the stormtroopers as a whole. It reminded me a bit of the Zare Leonis books by Jason Fry, since we learn so much about the behind the scenes of the Empire (or, in this case, the First Order).
We learn that Finn is amongst the most talented combatants and strategists in the First Order’s stormtrooper battalion, and that he excels in simulation, but is much more reticent to engage in real combat. This is not due to a lack of bravery, but more to a burgeoning code of ethics that he can not quite makes sense of. The training session he undergoes with his peers (including a few recognizable personalities from The Force Awakens) add a bit more punch to the film, and create just enough nuance to have you thinking about Finn’s encounters with stormtroopers in The Force Awakens in a more compelling way. The scene of Finn’s conversion in the movie will have a bit more pathos, once you’ve read his section in Before The Awakening.
Rey was the character I was most intrigued by, particularly in regards to this book, as it was unclear how much backstory could be had on her. Clearly, she is the centerpiece of The Force Awakens, and it seemed that when we met her in the film, that was all the information we were going to get, as far as what led her to Jakku. However, Before The Awakening has an excellent story that, while it has a sense of adventure and scope, is really more introspective than one might expect. As a character arc, this was my favorite of the three.
We learn how Rey became such a strong pilot, and also see a bit more of how she survives on Jakku, as well as what the other denizens of the planet think about her. She is lonely, but not without resources, and her ability to adapt, survive, and thrive is on display here. As this particular anthology was reaching its end, I was concerned that the story would not match up with The Force Awakens, but it absolutely does, and makes for a bit of a tear jerker. Of the three characters, she is the most compelling in The Force Awakens, and that holds true here as well.
However, that’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had with everyone’s favorite new ace pilot, Poe Dameron. His story felt much like the classic X-Wing books of Expanded Universe fame, and gives a bit more insight into the psyche of Poe. The film gave us just a glimpse of his bravado, and Rucka adds quite a bit more, making him a bit more three dimensional than we were tantalized with in The Force Awakens. His sense of duty and loyalty are inspiring, and readers get to see much more evidence as to his status as the best pilot in the Resistance.
The best part of this story, for me anyway, is that it gives much more detail into the political scope of the galaxy, and after reading this, it makes much more sense where the New Republic, Resistance, and First Order fit in the current state of the Star Wars galaxy. Making things even more interesting, we get to see how Poe is recruited into the Resistance, and get immediate information on where the map to Luke Skywalker came from. This was welcome information, and bridges the book and the film beautifully.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Before The Awakening is an excellent precursor to The Force Awakens and creates another layer to these brand new characters that helps flesh them out. While there are various degrees of exacting detail into the psyche of Finn, Rey, and Poe, the nuance that isThe Force Awakens is still there, in proportion to how much should be revealed before viewing the film. It is a nice companion piece that will compliment your Star Wars library, and help add some dimension into who these characters are. At 224 pages, it’s a quick read, and will certainly leave you wanting more Star Wars from the pen of Greg Rucka.
4 out of 5
Note: A big thank you to Disney Lucasfilm Press for providing an advanced copy to review.Powered by Sidelines