May is always a special month for Star Wars fans. There’s Star Wars Day on May 4 (May the Fourth Be With You!), and there’s May 25, which is when Star Wars (before it was rebranded A New Hope) was first released into theaters in 1977. And this year, it’s a special anniversary since Star Wars is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
So it’s more than a little fitting that we go back to before it all began. This week sees the release of two new young adult novels set before the events of 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Both explore the backgrounds of specific characters from that film and shed more light on the events we see on screen.
Both are also great fun and well worth your time.
“The Force was with Chirrut. Baze knew that, believed it. Had seen it. There had been a time, once, when Baze had felt the Force with him, as well. Not anymore.”
In Guardians of the Whills, Greg Rucka tells a story featuring two of the standout characters from Rogue One: Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus. The book is set on Jedha, in the Holy City, during the months almost immediately before the film. The Empire is already occupying the city, the Temple of the Kyber is already closed, and Baze and Chirrut are already “without purpose” as Guardians.
Because of this, the book is very comfortable and feels like revisiting an old friend. The images easily come alive and dance in your head while you read. However, it’s also precisely because of this that the entire book sits in the shadow of events you know are inevitable. There’s a sadness and a sense of futility cast over everything.
“Before the Empire had arrived, there had been no real orphanage in the Holy City. Before the Empire had arrived, there had not been a true need for one.”
The story primarily focuses on Chirrut and Baze’s attempts to help and rescue a growing group of orphans. In an effort to secure aid, they team up with and fight alongside a local resistance group led by none other than Saw Gerrera.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Hold up! Didn’t Chirrut and Baze first meet Saw when they were captured and tossed in jail with Cassian and Bodhi?” That was my first thought, too. But then I went back and watched that scene in Rogue One. Chirrut and Baze never actually share a scene with Saw. And remember how relatively at ease they were in the prison cell? There’s a reason for that.
“So, if they already knew Saw and his gang, then why were they blindfolded and thrown in jail?” Well, obviously, they had a falling out. I’m not going to spoil the book for you, but it mostly has to do with the same reason Mon Mothma says the Rebellion as a whole had a falling out with Saw Gerrera. His tactics were…questionable.
‘But our way of life is gone, our culture is gone, our beliefs are gone. That’s what the Empire does. We were a republic that celebrated our differences, thousands and thousands of different worlds, peoples, lifestyles. Not anymore. There is one Empire. Either you are a part of it, or you are destroyed.”
Despite what we already know will take place on and to Jedha, Rucka still manages to tell a compelling story here. He perfectly captures Chirrut and Baze’s dialogue and relationship. They bicker like an old couple but are steadfastly devoted to each other. We get a glimpse into the roles played by Guardians and Disciples before the Imperial occupation. And we learn how Baze got that ridiculous gun. “Baze, that is a Morellian 35c repeater. It’s not even a blaster, you get me? It’s technically a cannon.”
And we get the further exploits of these guys:
Each chapter also begins with a quote from the Collected Poems, Prayers, and Meditations on the Force (edited by Kozem Pel, Disciple of the Whills). And if I’m being completely honest, I would buy that book in a heartbeat. The quotes Rucka writes/includes are all kinds of awesome.
“Don’t mistake his lack of eyesight for a lack of vision.”
In Rebel Rising, Beth Revis fills in the gap in Jyn’s story from when Saw rescued her as a child to when she is broken out of the Imperial prison on Wobani.
The story is told somewhat out of sequence in that Revis alternates between the monotony of Jyn’s time on Wobani with the main narrative of Jyn’s life prior to the events of Rogue One. We see an 8-year-old Jyn go with Saw Gerrera and begin her training. We follow a teenage Jyn become a lethal – but conflicted – member of Saw’s gang. (The book primarily focuses on her at 14-16 years old.)
Remember the scene in Rogue One when Jyn and Saw are reunited?
“The last time I saw you, you gave me a knife and loaded blaster and told me to wait in a bunker until daylight.”
“I knew you were safe.”
“You left me behind.”
“You were already the best soldier in my cadre.”
“I was 16!”
Revis gives us the entire story of what happened there. How she became the best soldier in his cadre. Why Saw left her behind. What happened to Jyn after that and how she learned to move on. Trust me, once you read Rebel Rising, you won’t be able to watch that scene or see their relationship in the same way.
We also get a much more complete view of Saw here, and it’s not exactly pretty. If there’s one takeaway from both of these books, it’s that Saw Gerrera will do whatever it takes to hurt the Empire. He won’t let anyone or anything stand in his way, and it’s because of him that the Rebellion is most often equated with terrorism. For Saw, there is no line to cross. Terrorism is a perfectly acceptable means to an end, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a last resort.
But not everyone agrees with him, and that’s why he operates on his own. From the outside.
“The resistance needs a martyr. A tragedy. Something so horrific that people can’t help but stand up and fight, too.”
The title of the book ostensibly refers to Jyn, but in a sense, it could also be generalized to imply that we’re looking at the beginnings of the Rebellion in general. Saw’s group is just one of many factions fighting the Empire. Though his tactics are the most extreme, he’s not alone. And Revis shows us see the seeds of a more organized (and effective) rebellion taking root. A Rebellion that Jyn will ultimately find herself at the forefront of.
If you connected with Jyn in Rogue One, then I absolutely recommend Rebel Rising. It fleshes out her character and makes her much more relatable. Much more human. We see (and feel) genuine emotions, inner struggles, and some of the many sacrifices she was forced to make during her brief life. We also learn how and where she got that scarf.
There’s also a line right at the end of the book that’s absolutely heartbreaking. Days later, and it’s still with me.
Keep your eyes peeled for a few Easter eggs, of course, including a surreptitious mention of Fulcrum.
“There was something comforting in pretending that there was nothing at all in the universe but her and the stars and the silence.”