Book Reviews

Review: The Rise of Skywalker (Star Wars Novelization) by Rae Carson

Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker by Rae Carson

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

**This review contains spoilers**

For those of you who don’t know, May the Fourth is a day to celebrate Star Wars. And her at Julia’s Bookshelves, Star Wars is a main priority. I love Star Wars stories with my whole heart (even when they infuriate me), and I’m excited to spend another year dissecting this media. Last year, I reviewed The Last Jedi novelization. Go check that out first!

I would say that the biggest obstacle that this book faces is that it has to try and make sense of TROS film. A film that pushes back against the narrative supported by the second film, for reasons I can’t entirely discern. It is impossible to separate this book from the source material. This review will discuss the new information given in the book, but also the challenges of plot that come from the film and translate into the book.

Women & The Rise of Skywalker

I was excited to see a woman writer with Star Wars experience tackling this story because TROS has three young female characters that are not done justice. There’s the horribly pushed-aside Rose Tico, the underdeveloped Jannah, and Rey, who has a journey so horribly retconned that she’s got no clear path.

We get to see a bit more of Rose in the novel, but not much. The treatment of Rose is by far the worst example of how the film panders to “fans”. After all of the racist and mysoginistic attacks that Kelly Marie Tran endured, Star Wars had a choice to make. They could stand with her, or they could give in to those horrible “fans”. Rose only appearing for 76 seconds in TROS spoke bounds about the priorities of the massive franchise.

So this novel cannot fill all of the gaps of the film. Carson tells us a bit about what Rose was doing during this story, but we’re not able to see much of her outside of what the film tells us. It is a reminder that representation on screen and in related media is not enough. What the TROS novel and film needed was women in the writers room for these female characters and to help build the story overall.

There’s so much badass women-led sci-fi and fantasy out there! I will be checking out Rae Carson’s other work.

Rey’s Journey

The proper and frequent representation of women in action and adventure stories is immeasurably important. Star Wars gives us Rey, a woman who seemingly comes from no important lineage, and thrusts her into an epic story of fighting evil and defining herself. In the second installment of the sequel series, we are left with protagonist Rey having walked away from an offer to join Kylo Ren. Rey understands that the path for her is not Luke’s Jedi purity or Kylo Ren’s darkness. She needs to go on her own journey and make her own choices. I love this. I love seeing women in the center of these stories. I love that Rey was made to represent the fact that you can come from anywhere and be anyone and still be a hero.

But then things changed.

People thought she became powerful and skilled too fast. They didn’t understand why she was so strong with the Force. They didn’t buy a story quite similar to one that they had no issue believing with Luke Skywalker. The term “Mary Sue” was thrown around, and then the third film decided to spend more time proving Rey’s legitimacy than letting her internalize her own emotional arc.

Episode VIII tells us to “let the past die”, but then drags us into the past for an entire final installment. Rey’s lineage becomes the most important thing about her and she is not given the proper time to contend with how this news aligns with her identity.

Honestly, there wasn’t much that Rae Carson could do for Rey. She attempts to dig into her internalized world a bit but there isn’t much known to give.

In TROS, Rey tells Finn “People keep telling me they know me. I’m afraid no one does.” Her internal battle became overshadowed by this massive legacy thrust upon her. Her path becomes less about coming from nowhere and more about making a choice to not be what her lineage expects. An important message about agency, yes, but still a disappointing turn when put in larger context.

One new piece of information is that the suns Rey watches at the end of the story are, in fact, rising. I hope this can symbolically show a new era of representation for women in Star Wars.

Palpatine: Why?

The novel gives us some information on the magical Palpatine reappearance. I know people survive quite a lot in Star Wars, but personally he seemed dead to me by the time this film came out. And I think this is something almost every fan can agree on.

The book tells us that the Palpatine we see in TROS is, in fact, a clone with the original Palpatine’s spirit in it. Because who doesn’t love a patchwork-plot-device clone villain?

And if you’re like me, the first question you asked when you walked out of the theater was: when and how did Palpatine have children? No, seriously…. how did he….

No need to theorize anymore, because it turns out Rey’s father is a “not-quite-identical” Palpatine clone that Palpatine considered a son.

But the how of Palpatine’s reappearance and connection to Rey does not give us a why it was necessary. Honestly, Rae Carson doesn’t have an answer for that. Because, as the person effectively translating this story from film to page, that wasn’t her choice. That question would better be directed at those who made the film.

Clarity for Finn

I talked quite a lot about the additional information given for Finn in my review of The Last Jedi Novelization. In this third installment, there’s a brief exchange added between Rey and Finn that solidifies that Finn is Force Sensitive. While this clarity was exciting, it also brings attention to the lackluster storyline given to an intriguing character such as Finn. With an amazing talent such as John Boyega filling a role with a fascinating origin story, it was frustrating to watch the character get tossed to secondary after the first film. Perhaps we’ll see more lightsaber-wielding Finn someday. Now there’s no questions about his Force sensitivity!

Gleaning Meaning From The Ending

Star Wars fans will know that the end of TROS (you know what I mean—that kiss) was met with totally divided receptions. Some fans were enthused. Others were infuriated. I’m gonna be honest, a big selling point for this book for me was the hope to glean some understanding of Rey’s internal world in that moment.

But does the book glean new information on this kiss? Does it define Rey’s feelings, solidify her internal narrative?

Not really, no.

This adaptation is careful. It is oh so careful of not using any language that will outrage the anti-romance fanbase. The kiss is described as a “kiss of gratitude”. And, really, how much more vague could you be? Personally, I think if you’re going to have two main characters in a film kiss, it makes sense to commit to the narrative that the kiss is borne of something related to joy or feeling or passion. So, okay, Rey is grateful for Kylo Ren’s help so she… kisses him? On the lips? Out of…. gratitude? Honestly, lean into it or don’t have it happen at all. Rey didn’t need a romantic relationship to have a satisfying ending, and bringing it into the storyline and throwing it away was strange. I mean, why did she kiss Kylo Ren and then go back to base camp and tell nobody about the experience?

Rae Carson delivers crumbs of context. After Kylo’s death, Carson writes:

“She did not mourn Kylo Ren. She would never mourn Kylo Ren. But she dearly would have loved the chance to get to know Ben Solo.”

Rae Carson, The Rise of Skywalker

This at least gives a little bit of closure. Carson writes a bit about the Force-bond, too.. Here is protagonist Rey searching for family, and she finds something in Kylo Ren.

“Knowing something in her head was different from knowing it in her heart. Rey had understood on some level that she wasn’t alone anymore, but now she knew it, and it was so wonderful it hurt. Tears filled her eyes. Loneliness was a kind of agony. But belonging was another.” 

Rae Carson, The Rise of Skywalker

And it feels so tragic. Tragic because that feeling of togetherness is fleeting with Kylo Ren’s death. Tragic that this strong, adventurous female protagonist is only given permission by the story to find love and community in a toxic scenario.

Carson leaves us lingering on the tragedy of what-ifs. What if Rey and Kylo had met earlier? What if Kylo had never been seduced to the dark side by Snoke? We will never know this story.

I think The Rise of Skywalker is a warning for what fan-pandering can become. You can have fantastic characters, a stellar cast, and an intriguing setup, but it feels certainly like Star Wars put profit over story here. They both satisfied the fans of romance and sided with those against it by not fleshing out anything beyond a kiss. They effectively removed a Woman of Color from the story after racist backlash about her plotline. They didn’t stick by their story—not the plot, not the characters, and not the opportunity right in front of them to create rich and fulfilling stories filled with representation from communities that are historically underrepresented in action, adventure, and science fiction media. What we’ve got in this plot is washy storytelling, and not even Rae Carson can make sense out of moments that are left deliberately vague.

But the lovely thing we can take away is the showcase of friendship and community in Star Wars. We are stronger when in unity. There is always hope. And I can’t wait to continue watching what new creatives in the Star Wars franchise bring to the table.

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