Does the Jyn Erso prequel novel “rise” to the occasion?
After seeing that there were some Rogue One tie-in novels coming during the course of this year, I decided to pre-order them all. Love a good Star Wars novel! These tie-ins take me back to reading the original Star Wars novel by George Lucas all those years ago, (I still have it too) and being transported to another time and place. I’ve collected many over the years ranging from the sublime (Take a bow Shadows of the Empire) to the downright awful (No names mentioned). Therefore, when I saw Rebel Rising was coming and after my self confessed love for the film, I grabbed a copy with both hands.
So, does the book live up to expectations?
Does the book sit firmly in my Top 10 Star Wars novels of all time?
Did it satisfy me?
The answer, sadly is a no.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a really good book and fills in the gap from when Jyn’s mother was murdered and her father taken by the Empire pretty nicely but, to me, it’s a slightly lost opportunity that, though satisfying in a way, is a slight letdown on what I expected.
Author Beth Revis has grabbed the mettle with both hands and crafted a novel that excites and infuriates in equal measures. Her writing style is pretty good and the descriptive narrative stands out. The author has also taken the story and led it in many good directions only to kind of abandon them to move the story forward. This could be a result of this being a young adult novel (and I’m staring 50 in the face!) and catering to their attention spans and their desire to get through a book but, to me, she has let herself down with how she rushes some of the story.
After a brief prologue at the start of the book, we come in at the start of Rogue One, 8 year old Jyn Erso sees her mother murdered on the orders of Director Krennic and her father taken away. She hides in an underground bunker from the Empire’s forces and stays there until Saw Gerrera arrives and rescues her. We all know these events from the start of the film.
After that, the story then picks up from that exact moment the film’s title came onto the screen. It tells us what happened from the moment Saw rescues Jyn from LAH’MU. How Saw took her aboard his ship and left the planet that she called home behind forever.
The story explains to us how Saw takes her to his current base of operations and gives her a room and some Nutri-milk to sustain her. This part of the story is well told and grabs the reader. It makes you want to find out how Saw, a reluctant father figure and Jyn, a scared and frightened 8 year old child manage to bond and overcome the difficulties they now face. Saw being a revolutionary and Jyn, more dangerously, the child of an Imperial Officer.
The book does the old now and then time jump scenario, we find out about how Jyn adapted to her new life in the ‘then’ interspersed with Jyn’s imprisonment (as Liana Hallik) in the ‘now’.
It is interesting to find out how Jyn learned to fight and her choice of weapons (one of which is used in the film on Jedha) and her mistrust of almost everyone she comes into contact with. We also get to learn about the brutal conditions she faces on Wobani as a prisoner of the Empire. How Jyn and the other prisoners are treated as lower than scum by the Warden and his Stormtrooper minions. This part of the book is in many ways better than the back story and is more interesting. (No spoilers, but read what her first cellmate does when she loses all hope, quite nasty!)
During the ‘then’ portions of the story, We learn that Saw keeps going away on missions and leaving Jyn behind, much to her annoyance, feeling she has a vital part to play in Saw’s life and missions. While not realising Saw is really protecting her, not only from the dangers out there, but from herself.
This builds up to a crescendo, as many other humans and creatures enter Jyn’s world, members of various cells working with Saw and other revolutionary factions in their ongoing war against the Empire. Many are on fact finding missions, but some take a more dangerous turn. Jyn doesn’t get too close to many of these people (with the exception of Maia, an alien who works with Saw) and has a total hatred of Reece, a human who also works with Saw.
Of course, Saw eventually relents and allows Jyn to take part in missions. Her first one almost leads to her death. However, with her skills at forging Imperial scan documents, Jyn becomes an important part of the team. Alas, her new companions start to become suspicious of her true identity (Some already know it) even though Saw explains to them that she is HIS daughter. This part of the book is entertaining enough. You get the feeling that some, if not all of these secondary characters will either die or turn out to be deceitful. I challenge you to realise who the traitor amongst them is from the first time we meet them in the book (It’s that obvious).
This also is where the book goes astray. Yes, its a Star Wars story. Yes, its entertaining. However, like later on in the book, it feels like whole chapters of narrative have been removed. Our journey with Jyn skips from her at aged 8 to her at aged 15 without much of a backward glance. There are only glancing references to events over the years that the book skips over. Sorry, but…
I WANT to know how she came to be so proficient with her weapons.
I WANT to know how she became so good at forging imperial documents. (To be fair, this is addressed somewhat in the book but not enough to my liking).
I WANT to know how she decided to show some trust in some of Saw’s crew.
We are shown the fateful moment that Saw abandons Jyn at age 16. This is somewhat insightful, but, again skips over the details in its rush to get to the next scenario. I’m sorry, but the reason Saw abandons her is, to me, unsatisfactory. Jyn’s the only one he can put his faith in, the only one that will always truly stand by his side, the only one that puts him back together, both physically and mentally, after he returns home with various injuries.
The film stated that Saw left her as many of his people knew Jyn’s true identity and wanted to use her as a hostage against the Empire, which he could not do. WHERE IS THIS IN THE BOOK? Saw leaves Jyn to her fate without a backward glance, in mortal danger, on a planet she has no chance of survival on. And he’s been protecting her, as a father would a child for many years, with love and attention? This doesn’t sit right with me at all.
Of course, Jyn does escape the planet. It’s here where the story settles down again and there is a good section where Jyn has a chance of being at peace, finally. She integrates herself with a decent mother and son who give her shelter, food and the chance of becoming a family. Jyn grabs this opportunity with both hands and here we see a touching side of her.
This part of the book, though hardly with any action at all, is superb. We already know Jyn’s fate. However, we can’t help wanting Jyn and this new “family” to live happily ever after. She even gets her first kiss! This did strike me as a young adult part, but it lends so much warmth and much needed feelings of hope for her.
Of course, this doesn’t last, and again, Jyn ends up running for her life. And here, again does the book starts to rush things. It hurtles towards its climax without much of a thought of what has gone before. Again, it seems like part of the book was removed to speed things along. Of course, this is a mistake. If only Beth Revis had allowed the narrative to be drawn out a bit more and to take its course getting to its final destination, then I think this book would be in my top 10. Its this desire to get through things and to tie it into the prison escape in the film that ultimately, in my opinion, lets the reader down.
We end the book, as it should, the meeting on Yavin IV. I did notice is a slight continuity mistake here, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book’s ending. It feels right, it feels like it should end here. It feels like a satisfying conclusion to the books events.
Beth Revis has crafted an entertaining book. I have to say I did enjoy reading it from cover to cover. Some of her ideas and descriptions of planets and alien life forms are both enchanting and the mark of a good writers imagination. Some of these ideas would suit a Star Wars film down to the ground or at least, to be included in a standalone film. It was great to read Jyn’s journey from child to adulthood. It is just a shame it rushes over things and doesn’t allow us to see more of what happened to Jyn over the course of her journey to the events of Rogue One.
This book is a missed opportunity to create a classic novel that will live in the mind for years to come. It’s not that its a bad book, its just sad that we, as readers do not get to see a fuller picture of such a dynamic character.