Book Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Expanded Edition

Cover Art: Andree Wallin. (C) 2020 Random House/Del Rey Books & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On March 17, Del Rey Books (an imprint of Random House based in New York) published Rae Carlson’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Expanded Edition, a novelization of Star Wars: Episode IX The Rise of Skywalker, the last installment of the Skywalker Saga. Published nearly 44 years after Alan Dean Foster’s Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, the novel concludes the story arcs of Rey, the scavenger girl-turned-Jedi trainee and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, the heir to the Skywalker bloodline who was seduced by the Dark Side and is obsessed with finishing what his grandfather, Anakin Skywalker, started when he became the evil Sith Lord Darth Vader.

Set 35 years after the events of the original Star Wars film from 1977 and roughly one year after the Battle of Crait (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker depicts that galaxy far, far away once again embroiled in conflict. As the brief prologue – which is lifted straight from the film’s title crawl written by director J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio – declares:

The dead speak! The galaxy has heard a mysterious broadcast, a threat of REVENGE in the sinister voice of the late EMPEROR PALPATINE.

GENERAL LEIA ORGANA dispatches secret agents to gather intelligence, while REY, the last hope of the Jedi, trains for battle against the diabolical FIRST ORDER.

Meanwhile, Supreme Leader KYLO REN rages in search of the phantom Emperor, determined to destroy any threat to his power….

Like her fellow Sequel Trilogy authors Alan Dean Foster (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Jason Fry (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Carson takes a short detour in the narrative before jumping into the film’s opening. The first chapter is set on the lush jungle moon of Ajan Kloss, where Leia Skywalker Organa is training Rey in the ways of the Force. Here, we learn that this is the place where the Princess of Alderaan trained as a Jedi with her twin brother Luke (who called Ajan Kloss “Nice Dagobah,” in reference to the boggy planet where he’d trained as a Jedi with Jedi Master Yoda over three decades before).

In this first chapter, Carson delves into the thoughts of Leia and Rey as the girl from the desert world Jakku undergoes the rigors of training as a Jedi Knight under the tutelage of someone who ended her formal training as a result of her vision of the future.

As Rey tries – and fails – to connect through the Force with “those who have come before,” she asks Leia about her decision to not follow her brother’s – and her father Anakin’s – footsteps as a fully-trained Jedi Knight:

She didn’t want to admit she was failing, so instead she said, “Why did you stop training with Luke?” Her words came out too harsh, almost as a challenge.

Leia took it in stride. “Another life called to me.”

Eyes still closed, Rey asked, “How did you know?”

“A feeling. Visions. Of serving the galaxy in other ways.”

“But how did you know these visions were true?” Rey pressed.

“I knew.” She heard the smile in Leia’s voice.

Rey didn’t understand how Leia could be so sure. Of anything.

“I treasured each moment I spent with my brother,” Leia added. “The things he taught me…I use them every day. Once you touch the Force, it’s part of which you always. Over the years,I continued to learn, to grow. There were times on the Senate floor when the meditations I’d practiced with Luke were the only thing that kept me from causing a galactic incident.”

Rey frowned. Leia didn’t need patience. She could have made anyone do anything she wanted, with the power of the Force. Surely she’d been tempted?

“Was Luke angry? When you quit?” She hoped Leia noticed that she could talk and float at the same time. That was progress, right?

Leia paused to consider. “He was disappointed. But he understood. I think he held out hope that I’d return to it someday.”

Rey almost laughed. “He should have known better.” Once Leia made a decision, it was for keeps.

“I gave him my lightsaber to convince him otherwise.Told him to pass it on to a promising student someday.” But Leia’s voice had gone tight. Rey sensed she was holding something back.

“Where’s your lightsaber now?”

“No idea. Now stop trying to distract me,” Leia said. “Reach out.”

In this chapter, Carson gives us Rey’s insights and suppositions as to why training with a Master who isn’t Obi-Wan Kenobi or Luke Skywalker – Jedi Masters whose pupils fell to the Dark Side – is an advantage rather than a weakness. She also uses Rey’s growing connection to the Force to show glimpses of a nightmarish notion: something more wicked than either Kylo Ren or his late Master, Supreme Leader Snoke is making its presence known to Rey, calling to the darkness she fears lies inside her. She doesn’t know what it is, but the Force shows her brief images of something monstrous that she can’t quite understand:

The monolith shifted. Became a giant face of stone, cloaked in evil…

No, not a stone at all. A form of something, part human, part machine, with tubes stretching away from it like tentacles, all filled with a strange liquid. Was this creature alive? Or was it –

Flashes of Luke’s face. Then Kylo’s. Han Solo, his hand against Kylo’s cheek. A young woman in a hood. A freighter flying away from Jakku….

Finally, a burning voice in her head, as clear and unbearable as a desert storm: “Exegol.”

It is in Chapter Two of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker that the novel depicts the scene that opens Episode IX: Supreme Leader Kylo Ren and a mixed array of First Order stormtroopers and Kylo’s own Knights of Ren are slaughtering a group of colonists in one of the few “cool” areas of Mustafar – the lava world where a young Darth Vader was maimed by his friend and former Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in a fateful lightsaber duel half a century before. Kylo Ren’s grandfather barely survived then, kept alive by Emperor Palpatine’s Sith powers and his strong will to survive. Here, on Mustafar, are the ruins of Vader’s castle – as well as a Sith Wayfinder that will lead the man once known as Ben Solo to Exegol, an uncharted world in the Unknown Regions.

Victorious at last and with the Wayfinder in his grasp, Kylo Ren flies his advanced TIE Whisper (Carson, inexplicably, uses a lower case “w” whenever she names Kylo’s personal fighter in the text.) on a long journey to find “the Phantom Emperor,” who was reportedly killed by none other than Vader himself in his throne room aboard the second Death Star at the Battle of Endor all those years ago,

Much to Kylo’s dismay, the broadcast that shocked the galaxy and all the rumors that Palpatine – the architect of the Jedi Order’s demise and the rise of the Galactic Empire that Kylo’s parents and Uncle Luke helped destroy somehow survived. On Exegol, which is populated by millions of Palpatine loyalists who call themselves the Sith Eternal, Sheev Palpatine, also known as Darth Sidious, informs Kylo that it was he who was behind the creation of the First Order, the existence of Snoke, and Ben Solo’s tumble from the light into darkness. As Palpatine says to a stunned Kylo: “My boy, I have been every voice you have heard inside your head.”

Knowing that Kylo is obsessed by the quest for ultimate control of the galaxy, Palpatine makes a Faustian offer: The Emperor is willing to let the heir to Vader’s legacy rule a new Empire in exchange for one thing: Kylo must kill Rey, the last hope of the Jedi.

Over the next 16 chapters, Rae Carson follows the intertwined paths of Kylo Ren and Rey in a gripping adventure that spans the galaxy and sees heroes from two generations’ worth of stories – including Resistance X-wing ace Poe Dameron, former First Order stormtrooper Finn (FN-2187), Chewbacca the Wookiee, Rose Tico, Leia Organa, Temmin “Snap” Wexley, Maz Kanata, Lando Calrissian, Wedge Antilles, R2-D2, C-3PO, and new allies Jannah, Babu Frik, and Zorii Bliss – joining forces one last time in a do-or-die battle against a reborn Palpatine and his so-called Final Order.

Witness the epic final chapter of the Skywalker saga with the official novelization of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, including expanded scenes and additional content not seen in theaters!

The Resistance has been reborn. The spark of rebellion is rekindling across the galaxy. But although Rey and her fellow heroes are back in the fight, the war against the First Order, now led by Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, is far from over.

Rey, Finn, Poe, and the Resistance must embark on the most perilous adventure they have ever faced. And this time, they’re facing it together. With the help of old friends, new allies, and the mysterious guidance of the Force, the story that began in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and continued in Star Wars: The Last Jedi reaches an astounding conclusion.
– Publisher’s dust jacket blurb

My Take

When George Lucas was in the midst of making Star Wars back in 1976 (it would not be known as Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope until 1981), Lucasfilm Ltd. wasn’t as prominent as it is now.

Most studios, including 20th Century Fox (the studio that financed Star Wars) believed that science fiction and fantasy films had little to no audience appeal.

Based on this premise, Fox executives eagerly signed away the marketing and licensing rights to “The Star Wars Corporation,” which would later be folded into Lucasfilm itself.

Because Fox wasn’t enthusiastically marketing Star Wars, Lucas and Charles Lippincott, then Lucasfilm’s vice president for marketing and media affairs, took matters into their own to create “buzz” for the then-unfinished Star Wars among comic book fans and sci-fi aficionados. In those pre-Internet days, one sure way to do that was to release media tie-ins in advance of an upcoming film. Releasing a novelization several months in advance was one such technique.

In the 1970s, this was not unique to Star Wars. In 1969, Erich Segal turned in a screenplay to Paramount Pictures called Love Story. For some reason or other, the film took longer to make than expected,so the studio asked Segal to adapt his script into a novel. He agreed, and Love Story became a best-selling book long before it became one of the biggest box office hits of 1970.

On a similar vein, when Warner Bros. and Robert Mulligan were making the coming-of-age comedy-drama Summer of ’42, the studio (perhaps looking at the success of Love Story a year before) asked screenwriter Herman Raucher to write a novel that would be published in advance of the film’s release. The book version of Summer of ’42 also became a best-seller, and because it was so faithful to Raucher’s script, many viewers thought the film was a perfect adaptation of a literary work. (It was, of course, the other way ’round, but you know, marketing….)

Naturally, Lucas and Lippincott were aware of this marketing tactic, so they hired a young science fiction writer named Alan Dean Foster to write a novelization based on Lucas’s fourth revised draft script.

Foster was already a known commodity in the science fiction fandom, for in addition to penning his own stories, he had successfully adapted Star Trek: The Animated Series in a string of paperbacks known as the Star Trek: Logs. (Foster also penned the story “In Thy Image” for the never-produced Star Trek: Phase II television series; his basic premise later became the basis for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.)

The hardcover edition of Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker. Cover art by John Berkey. (C) 1976 Del Rey Books and 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

If you’re a Star Wars fan of a certain age, you know the rest of the story. Late in 1976, Del Rey Books published Foster’s Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker. It was credited to George Lucas, and not only did it faithfully adapt the screenplay (albeit with a few divergences here and there), but it also included a prologue (based on notes given to Foster by Lucas) that is a barebones outline for the Prequel Trilogy and introduces Emperor Palpatine as the catalyst for the Empire’s rise and the destruction of the Jedi Order.

In Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, California-born but now Arizona resident Rae Carson is the last of a series of writers who have adapted the 11 live action Star Wars films that have been released so far. By penning the novelization of Episode IX, she will be remembered for concluding not just the Prequel Trilogy’s three-book cycle (to which Alan Dean Foster contributed in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens) but the Skywalker Saga overall.

Overall, Carson does a good job of adapting the screenplay by Chris Terrio and J.J. Abrams, which itself was based on the screen story by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow with adjustments by Abrams and Terrio. In the grand tradition of Star Wars novelizations, the author deftly blends material from early versions the script and the original story treatments with some of her own bits of narrative, most of which (like the excerpt from Chapter One above) serve as exposition that helps fill in “plot holes” in the movie or foreshadow events that do appear on screen.

The quality of the writing is good. Carson is a solid professional and her prose is crisp, clear, and concise. Moreover, the basic story arcs, pacing, tone, and spirit of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker are all present in the novelization. When I read the dialogue spoken by any of the major characters, it’s not an exaggeration on my part when I say that I could hear the voices of Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaacs, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Keri Russell, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, and Ian McDiarmid.

The only complaint I have beyond Del Rey’s unnecessary labeling this book as an Expanded Edition is that it was released in March of 2020, three months after Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker‘s theatrical premiere.

I understand why The Walt Disney Company asked Del Rey and other publishers to hold off on releasing media tie-ins till after the film opened. In the age of the Internet, there will always be people who will leak spoilers even before Opening Day, thus ruining any viewer’s delight at the new film’s revelations and plot twists. So, yeah. Of course Lucasfilm and Disney have to put these holds on novelizations till after the films have left theaters and hit home media and streaming services.

But just because I understand the reason behind Disney/Lucasfilm’s scheduling of tie-in media releases, it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Overall, the novelization of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an enjoyable literary roller-coaster ride to that galaxy far, far away, full of heroes, villains, and aliens from a thousand worlds. I enjoyed it, although I wish Lucasfilm would tell the author that Kylo’s starfighter is a TIE Whisper (with a capital “W”).

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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