This review of Star Wars: Rebel Rising contains minor spoilers.
There’s a sense of wonder, and dread, as you make your way through the opening chapters of Beth Revis‘ finely crafted and exquisitely paced story of Jyn Erso that plays out through the pages of Star Wars: Rebel Rising.
The wonder is the amazing facet of seeing how Jyn Erso became the woman that we, as Star Wars fans, experienced on the silver screen amid the kinetic action and brisk storytelling of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The dread is knowing that her fate is sealed and that her life, with so much potential and promise, was cut short. Yet, more importantly, its knowing that Erso as a character is finite. This makes Revis’ prequel-style account of Erso so engaging and, in fact, so dramatic.
The book is fast-paced, leap frogging from the present — that is Erso imprisoned on Wobani and, before that, her time on Lah’Mu, where we’re first introduced to her in the film — and to the past, notably the events that bore out in the novel Rogue One: Catalyst. What’s telling through the pages of Rebel Rising is the training she’s given by Saw, from basic tactics to hand-to-hand combat and more. More devastating, is her realization that Saw is a brutal man, made hard by loss both familial and friendly.
It’s an odd juxtaposition, given we know that Erso is not as cold-hearted as Saw is, at least in the Rogue One film, but it helps paint a better portrait of her as not just a person longing for her family, but as someone who does believe in a cause, albeit with some pragmatic hesitation.
Revis captures the nuances of Jyn in ways that we’d be hard pressed to know in the film. That’s no easy thing, given the character’s Rogue One origins have cemented her in the head canon of various fans and viewers. Still, in taking a deep dive with in Jyn, Revis breathes life into the character, flaws and all, to give us someone who is very much like us: Complex, convoluted, driven, rigid, but not entirely, in their ways, ideals and leanings.
Still, Rebel Rising is, at its core, a character-driven story. Jyn is the subject, but its her interactions with others throughout its pages that propel the story forward and, to an extent, Jyn’s personage, too. She is, after all, just a teenage girl, albeit one who has been on guerrilla raids and fought the Empire on its turf.
Revis’ handling of Jyn as she emerges into adulthood is deftly written and handled adroitly, never succumbing to the constraints of myopic coming-of-age tropes. The author has also helped to elaborate on the daily grind of life in a galaxy far, far away, with mentions of bureaucracy, employment woes and family life all weaving in and out of the ongoing story to provide a background that is redolent of contemporary life today no matter where on earth a reader may reside.
There is a palpable heartbreak in this novel. It expands at a slow yet steady pace. That heartbreak is not just the rise of the Empire around Jyn and those who pass in and out of her life, but within Jyn herself.
In one scene, on Wobani, in the fourth month of her incarceration, her cellmate has lost hope. Jyn, confronted with the chance to offer words of comfort and succor finds she has none to give. She’s become Saw. She’s become lost herself. That’s among the most piercing scenes in Revis’ story. It hurts. It stings. It’s hard. We know it’s not going to hold, though. Still, in doing this, Revis added more life and context and balance to Jyn than we’ve previously known.
This is why Rebel Rising is such an important piece of Star Wars lore. It’s piercing in its portrayal of what drives someone, with nothing left to lose, to lose, rediscover, lose and embrace again that fledgling flame of hope.
My rating: 4.5/5