The final movie of the Skywalker saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker came out in December of 2019 to mixed reviews. Following a trend that was laid down for The Last Jedi, the novelization of the movie, subtitled “Expanded Edition” by Rae Carson came out several months later in March to avoid spoilers from the movie from being released early. It also allowed tweaks to the novel to better align with last minute changes to the movie by director J. J. Abrams.
I should lay out my own feelings for the movie and how that most likely influenced my feelings for the book. In my review for The Last Jedi, I stated that generally I detest novelizations of the Star Wars movies because overall, they haven’t really added much to the story. That changed with most of the Disney Star Wars movies, adding a lot of information that wasn’t in the movie. I also really enjoyed The Last Jedi, and therefore I was looking forward to the novelization and I wasn’t disappointed. I felt the novelization improved upon some of the shortcomings of the movie as well as added somethings that were just its own.
My feelings for The Rise of Skywalker are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I really, really did not like that movie. It is, in fact, the only Star Wars movie I have ever come out of actively disliking. Having seen it on opening day, I actually haven’t seen it a second time, despite owning the Blu-ray and it being readily available on Disney+. So, it might be understandable that I was a bit hesitant to wade into the novelization.
The novelization does have many things going for it — author Rae Carson was also the author of Most Wanted, a Solo: A Star Wars Story tie-in novel, a book that I greatly enjoyed. The novelization also had the benefit for me of knowing the plot twists and all the surprise moments from the movie, so I wasn’t coming in cold. But since I had only seen the movie once, and that was 10 months ago, I was cold enough on the story that it hopefully wouldn’t dampen my enjoyment of the book.
The story of The Rise of Skywalker follows the introduction of the Emperor, AKA Darth Sidious, AKA Sheev Palpatine, as the true mastermind behind the events of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. From here Kylo Ren is out hunting him down only to eventually find him with his massive fleet waiting to strike down everyone that stands in his way for a true galactic conquest. It’s up to the good guys, Rey, Finn, Poe, Leia, and all the others to stop him. Which they eventually do, eliminating Palpatine from the galaxy once and for all (hopefully).
Converting a movie to a book is tricky, especially adding dialogue from the movie with new dialogue needs to be seamless so that it doesn’t feel as if there are multiple authors. Luckily, the writing style of Rae Carson is fantastic, naturally mixing dialogue from the movie with new dialogue for the book, as well as including in-depth descriptions that felt as if I could see the movie in my mind.
Spoiler Warning: I will be going into some of the big reveals of the movie and how they were handled in the book. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, you should probably watch the movie first. Overall, there are no major spoilers for the book that aren’t in the movie, just some minor ones that fill in many of the gaps in the movie.
When watching the movie it felt to me that it was moving along at lightning pace for much of it. Jumping through the plot from A to D to F, skipping many plot points along the way to keep the story moving forward. The novelization fixed almost all of that. Carson was able to fill in the details between the major movie picture events. We got the missing B and C plot points in between A and D, and all the others. It was like she was able to smooth the curves between the jagged lines that made up the movie.
How did Zorii Bliss get off Kijimi? Explained quite extensively within the novel. What was the speech Palpatine gives that is mentioned in the opening crawl? Eventually revealed in the novel, although not right at the beginning. How did the Emperor return? Also explained (clone body, spirit transfer, very Dark Empire). And how is all of this tied into Rey, now Rey Palpatine? Also explained.
These explanations really do go a long way into fixing the problems I had with the movie. It wasn’t so herky jerky, and knowing that the big plot surprise, that Rey was the granddaughter of Palpatine, was already known, it was more in finding out how the story handled her than in any super surprising information.
There are also the major plot points the movie never wrapped up, like the “What was Finn trying to tell Rey?” thing. That was actually explained very well throughout the book, with an added discussion at the end that really wrapped it up. Finn was indeed Force sensitive, and that was what he was trying to tell her. What about the “Janna was really Lando’s daughter” angle? That actually was a bit different in the book. While rumors were spreading online that she was supposed to be Lando’s daughter, the book handled it as if Janna propelled Lando to help all of the missing kidnapped kids. I didn’t even get a small iota that she might be his daughter from this.
The book also helped me with Leia’s dialogue. It felt like they were talking around her in the movie — which they were, since they could only use pre-existing footage of Leia. But in the novel, Leia was able to actually come out with full, meaningful dialogue with Rey. We also got an expanded role for Rose, although not nearly enough.
Unfortunately, though, even with all that great stuff added into the book, there is really no fixing a broken script that this is based on (in my opinion). There were several instances from the movie that I hated that weren’t fixed for me in the book. People constantly asking Rey what her family name was, as if that matters at all in a galaxy full of people with single names, aliases, cultures, races, and genders that are practically innumerable. What does it really matter what her “family” name is, or even if she has one, to all these other people? And why did it all of the sudden become an issue for them? Did she routinely get asked what her last name was?
We also were given a more in-depth explanation for how Leia died in the movie. It turns out that the damage she sustained when she was blown out into space during The Last Jedi was too much for her and she was quickly weakening. It did get old though, how in the novel, she was constantly being pestered by Luke that it was time to just die. I could see it coming up maybe once, but it got old real quick, and drove me nuts. I felt Luke should have been more supportive of Leia in her attempts to train Rey and convert Ben, but nope.
As I do for most Star Wars books, I listened to the audiobook, read by Star Wars audiobook stalwart Marc Thompson. He did great, as usual. His Palpatine was spot on, and overall his performance was generally superb. My only issue would be that his Rey was very, very whiny. Based on the dialogue alone, I probably wouldn’t have conveyed quite a sense of despair that he did throughout much of the novel, to the point that it got tiresome.
My opinion about if you would like this book is greatly influenced by how you felt about the movie. Whatever score (out of 10) you would personably give the movie itself, I would add 3 points for the novelization. If you liked The Rise of Skywalker, and I know several people did, then this book is the one for you. There are no major changes from the movie to the book, only added material which everyone should enjoy. If you were on the fence about the movie, then this novel would also be for you, probably propelling you into actively liking the story that is presented. It smoothed out the flow of the movie, filling in missing details, and overall improved upon the story.
For me, this book helped. It made me more at peace with the story that was given and elevated the movie in my opinion. However, the plot points are still the plot points and there is no changing those from the skeleton of the story laid down by the movie. So overall, although I would prefer to divorce my opinion of the novelization from the movie, to be fair to the author, that really isn’t possible when the book hinges on the story elements laid down in the movie, and the novelization wasn’t strong enough to change the problems that were presented in the movie.
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