Book Review: Rebel Rising

If you’re a fan of Rogue One, and of Jyn Erso in particular, you might want to get your hands on Rebel Rising, by Beth Revis.

This book chronicles the events of Jyn’s life from the time Krennic came for her father at eight years old, until the Alliance breaks her out of the Wobani prison camp. The narrative flashes back and forth between Jyn’s time with Saw (and other events after he abandoned her) and her time at the prison.

The first third of the book tells of her time with Saw, and we get a better picture of their relationship. When he rescues her from the cave, he tells her “I don’t know what to do with you, kid.” What he ends up doing is training her to fight, which is all to the good. But, although he becomes a sort of father-figure to Jyn, he’s not particularly good at it. He doesn’t coddle her. But it’s clear he cares for her.

Jyn’s time with Saw Gerrera paints a clearer picture of the man. He seems cold and unfeeling, but we learn that he once had a sister. She died years ago fighting against the Empire, but Saw was the one who had inadvertently caused her death. Since then, he’s closed himself off to any emotion except rage and a laser-focus commitment on destroying the Empire no matter what the cost. Instead of joining with others in a concerted effort to defeat the Empire, he’s become a terrorist.

Jyn is loyal to Saw (he came for her, after all), but even she internally questions his tactics. Still, he’s all she’s got, and his abandonment of her during a mission gone wrong is a traumatic blow. Saw knew that Jyn’s real identity as Galen Erso’s daughter would forever follow them, and put their various missions in danger. Turns out, even though Saw cared for her, he cared more for his crusade against the Empire.

After Saw’s abandonment, Jyn finds herself on a planet called Skuhl, where she comes to live with a woman named Akshaya and her son, Hadder. She comes to know a brief year of peace and happiness, and even has a little romance with Hadder, before both the Empire and her past shows up to ruin things once again.

After that, she becomes a wanderer, taking on jobs where she can as a codebreaker, not caring whether she works for the Imperials or for anyone who works against them. This proves to be her undoing, however, as she often gets caught between the two. She tries to remain neutral, while still following her conscience, which is a tricky thing in the galaxy just then.

Eventually, she gets double-crossed by the Imperials she’s working for, and gets sent to Wobani. The Wobani prison scenes gives us more insight into the conditions she lived under there, which is to say, soul-crushing. At one point, Jyn loses all hope, but it’s the memories of her mother (of whom she’s reminded of by the kyber crystal around her neck) that gets her through.

“Trust in the Force,” her mother had told her before she died, and Jyn interprets that as meaning, don’t give up hope. When the Alliance breaks her out of the prison, and presents their ultimatum (help us find your father or we’ll send you back to prison), she agrees. Obviously she doesn’t want to go back to Wobani, but it’s not necessarily to find her father at that point, either, or to help the Alliance. Her mother didn’t want her to give up hope. The last few paragraphs of the book sums up her decision:

“The last thing Papa had said was to trust him.

The last thing Mama had said was to trust the Force.

She wasn’t sure she could do either of those things, but for the first time since she was eight years old, she was willing to try.

…She looked out at the faces of the people around her. Expectant. She recognized something in their expressions that she had never expected to see again.

Hope.

She had thought her hope had died on Wobani. Snuffed out like a flame deprived of oxygen…But seeing these people, the way they still believed they had a chance–a chance hinged on her–rekindled that spark inside her she had thought died long ago.

She wouldn’t go down again for doing nothing.

They were giving her a chance. It wouldn’t change what had happened in the past. But maybe it would help change the future.” (Pgs 409-410).

Rebel Rising is a good story of Jyn Erso’s formative years, creating the person we see at the beginning of Rogue One. I think it may have been marketed as a YA novel, so the story is fairly straightforward, but still interesting enough to hold an adult fan’s interest. I will admit it’s a bit depressing; this girl just doesn’t get any breaks. Her life is hard, short, and ultimately tragic; but also triumphant. Recommended.

Friday Focus: Solo Novelization (Q’ira Part 2 + L-3)

That looks like a mathematical equation, but the Solo novelization, by Mur Lafferty, is perfect to discuss more about Q’ira, as well as L-3, in my Women of Star Wars series.

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Expanded Edition

I loved Solo: A Star Wars Story, and was eager to read the novelization in hopes of getting some more insight into the characters, and I wasn’t disappointed.

What I especially loved about the book was that it gave us more insight into the two female characters, Q’ira and L-3. There’s a scene in the movie where Q’ira engages L-3 in conversation while on the Millenium Falcon, and it’s expanded in the book to give us some more backstory to both characters.

“Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra from Solo: A Star Wars Story ”
Q’ira and L3

After L-3 quips that’s “It works,” referring to a possible relationship between her and Lando, she goes on to ask Q’ira what her story is. A flashback scene takes us into Q’ira’s memories after Han escaped Corellia while she didn’t. She’s brought back to Lady Proxima, and as she realizes she’ll have to stand in for Han’s crimes as well as her own, “Resentment, a seed planted in dry ground at the spaceport, got a little bit of water and began to squirm very slightly in her chest.” She’s glad he got out, but…she didn’t.

Lady Proxima sells her to a slave dealer, who eventually sells her to Dryden Voss. The first year was “hell” filled with escape attempts and beatings. But on her last attempt, he’s impressed enough to offer her a chance to use her potential and work for him. He teaches her Teras Kasi, a fighting style meant for nonforce users to use against Jedi. She’s not free, but she does gain some power, as in becoming his right hand. She has luxuries, she lives unshackled, and can take part in Crimson Dawn business. Nevertheless, “the chain that attached them wasn’t one of physical links, but something she knew could never break.”

L-3 intuits this, and asks her “What’s your restraining bolt?” The answer, of course, is Dryden Voss himself, and at the end of the book, Q’ira removes her restraining bolt by killing him.

Solo: A Star Wars Story | StarWars.com
L3-37

Q’ira asks L-3 about her story, and L-3 tells her that her first owner, after cleaning her sensors, forgot to put her restraining bolt back. She used the parts in his workshop to modify herself and download data, and left to look for work. Alas, no one wanted to hire her as an independent contractor rather than use as a droid slave. Until Lando. He took a chance on her, and they’d been flying together ever since, all the while L-3 never giving up on her quest to liberate any droid she could find.

I loved these two females having a “girl talk”, discussing the limited choices they could make within their constricted lives, and the nature of freedom and oppression. L-3 is actually freer than Q’ira: she’s there by her own choice, while Q’ira is beholden to Voss.

We get much more from L-3 when she’s plugged into the Millenium Falcon after her “death.” At first she resists, not wanting to become a slave to humans again, as a ship doing what they want her to do. But the Falcon talks to her and convinces her that it’s either meld with the ship and become one with it, or die. She can live on, and become part of something bigger.

I love, love, love that we get to hear the Falcon actually speak to L-3 (well, through its circuitry). It’s what we knew all along: the Millenium Falcon is a character in its own right. Once L-3 does merge with the ship, its character becomes a combination of concern, and even love, for its owner(s), a vast navigational knowledge, and a bit of sass. Sounds about right.

HALCON MILENARIO
The Falcon

We even get a scene of Lando talking to L-3 one last time once she’s plugged into the ship’s computer, which is touching. They trade jokes and insults before saying goodbye, and then her individual consciousness fades away into the Falcon. One last flicker thinks This is tolerable.

In the Epilogue, we get another scene that was not in the movie, but that was satisfying in that it connected to another Star Wars stand-alone: Rogue One.

Star Wars Authentics | Enfys Nest
Enfys Nest

The young woman who is Enfys Nest has travelled to meet with Saw Gerrera, to deliver all that coaxium she stole from the Crimson Dawn for her cause. She’s surprised that he brought along a girl, about eleven years old, with him: Jyn Erso.

He brought her along because he wants Jyn “to learn.” Seeing how young she is, Enfys, who is young herself at sixteen, removes her helmet so Jyn can see her. “They’re going to underestimate you,” she says to Jyn. “Make them regret it.”

As they all walk onto her shuttle to discuss the coaxium, Jyn whispers to Enfys, “He’s going to underestimate you,” referring to Saw. The last few lines of the book is:

Enfys smiled to herself. The girl learned fast. They might be in good hands after all.

This was a wonderful little bridge to Rogue One, and a great ending to a excellent novelization.

Monday Musings: Rogue One Novelization (Or, Jyn Part 2)

Star Wars : Rogue One

I just finished reading the Rogue One novelization by Alexander Freed, and I have to say, though I enjoyed it, I’m not sure if “book Jyn” is the same person as “movie Jyn.”

Here’s what I mean. The same events happen to her as in the movie, the same origins, and the same end. Everything’s the same on the outside. On the inside of Jyn’s mind and heart, however, I saw a different person than I saw onscreen.

In the movie, Jyn is an emotionally distant criminal with no allegiances. She’s hurt and bewildered by her mother’s death and her father’s and Saw’s abandonment. It makes her bitter and hardened, distrustful.

A mother’s gift

In the book, Jyn is not merely bitter–she’s a raging inferno of hate. She hates everyone and everything, but especially her father, Galen Erso. Seriously, if Jyn was a Force user, she’d have turned to the Dark Side almost immediately. She spits anger and hatred and distrust almost constantly, a tensed animal ready to spring into violence.

I was a little unsettled by this version of Jyn. While I perfectly understood it, it was at odds with the Jyn I saw portrayed by Felicity Jones onscreen. Maybe it’s Jones’ lovely face that made me feel there was more hurt and loneliness behind her heart than hatred. A silly tendency, maybe; but Jones is a wonderful actress, and I seriously doubt she misunderstood the character.

That means the author decided to go deep into Jyn’s psyche to tell the story, and what he apparently found there caused him to create a character that constantly wanted to blow things up. Kind of like an unhinged, female Poe Dameron.

I’m not saying Alexander Freed is a bad writer, or did the wrong thing. On the contrary, he created a pretty convincing psychology of Jyn based on what he knew of the character. In the book, Jyn is not only damaged by her past experiences, but traumatized. He thought about a sweet 8-year-old girl who watched her mother get murdered, her father leave with the Imperials, and who was then delivered into the hands of a violent guerilla extremist who had no interest in coddling her, despite his love for her–or even because of it. What kind of person does that create?

Someone who compartmentalizes her pain to survive, and stuffs all her emotions into a “dark cave” that she rarely explores. It’s the cave she hid inside as a child, waiting for someone to find her. Over the course of the book, that cave keeps opening up to her little by little, a bit of light here and there to illuminate everything she’s trying to deny or forget. When she sees the holographic message from her father, it puts her into a tailspin; she doesn’t know what to think of her father anymore:

My father is alive. My father is a traitor. My father is building a weapon to destroy worlds. My father is a hero. My father is a coward. My father is a bastard. Galen Erso is not my father. Galen Erso didn’t raise me…

Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso
Galen Erso: hero, coward, bastard, father

The girl’s a tad messed up. Who can blame her? However, over the course of the book, that dark cave of emotions keeps getting pried open more and more, until, at the end of the story, when she and Cassian and the Rogue One crew are on their way to get the Death Star plans come hell or high water, it’s wide open and illuminated. She’s accepted everything that’s in there, is at peace with it, and herself–she’s now a woman with a purpose, doing what she’s meant to do. When the end comes,

…The world grew brighter, emerald at first and then a clean, purifying white. In Jyn’s mind, the cave below the broken hatch was illuminated with the strength of a sun, and then the walls turned to dust and there was no longer a cave but only her spirit and heart and everything she had ever been: the daughter of Galen and Lyra and Saw, the angry fighter and the shattered prisoner and the champion and the friend.

Soon all those things, too, burned away, and Jyn Erso–finally at peace–became one with the Force.

At the end, book Jyn and movie Jyn are the same, and the differences don’t seem to matter too much.

I always enjoy reading the novelizations of the movies, because it gives us a chance to see into a character’s mind a little bit more than a movie can do. This one was more uncomfortable than most, but still worth a read.

Check out my Women of Star Wars post on Jyn Erso here.

Did you read the Rogue One novelization? What did you think? Comment below and we’ll talk about it!

Friday Focus: Jyn Erso-Reluctant Hero

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Here’s the latest installment of my Women of Star Wars series.

Jyn Erso from Rogue One is an interesting character to analyze, because she doesn’t initially align herself with either the Empire or the Alliance. Who is she and what does she want?

At the beginning of the film, I assumed that after witnessing the death of her mother at the hands of an Imperial, an Imperial who also took her father away, she’d naturally drift toward the Alliance. But no. When we first see her as an adult, she’s a criminal who is busted out of imprisonment by the Alliance for their own reasons.

My assumption was based on adult thinking; I forgot that as an 8-year old, Jyn might have understood things differently. All she knew was that she lost her parents to the Empire; and she was left in the hands of Saw Gerrera, an extremist formerly linked with the Alliance, who taught her how to survive, surely, but who also “abandoned” her. She trusts no one, and just lives day to day to survive.

I’ve read the Rogue One novelization, and it gets deeper into the character of Jyn. The book presents her as not just distrustful, but deeply damaged by these perceived abandonments; not only that, she spends many years hating her father. I’m going to delve deeper into the novelization in another post, but for now I’ll focus on Jyn as seen in the film.

Welcome Home

We don’t necessarily see that hate for Galen Erso in the film; what we see is a person who has endured many losses, who has had to fight to survive, and who has become bitter with that life. When her father says when she’s a child, “Whatever I do, I do because I love you. Say you understand,” and she replies, “Yes, Papa,” we know that an 8 year old can’t possibly understand what’s happening and why. The loss of her father is painful and bewildering, and she’s angry without understanding why.

When Saw Gerrera leaves her behind because she’s a liability for his group, he left her able to take care of herself. We, the audience, may understand it intellectually, but as a 15-year old, Jyn just sees it as another abandonment. Is it any wonder she has no particular allegiances?

When she agrees to help the Alliance, it’s because she has no choice, really, but we get the feeling that she needs to find her father, if only to get answers. This is a personal quest for Jyn; she’s not there because she hates the Empire, or has any sympathy for the Alliance. She probably hates them both, along with everyone else in the galaxy.

Things start to change for her once she sees her father’s hologram message. She understands a little more about him, what he’s done, and why. It brings up painful, almost paralyzing emotions, and Cassian must pull her away to escape the destruction of Jedha’s Holy City.

Witnessing that destruction, a mere fraction of what the Death Star can do, brings her father’s actions into focus, and she begins to understand the wider implications of such a weapon. It’s not just about her and her anger; it’s about that little girl she saved in Jedha’s plaza, a rescue reduced to nothing because she died anyway, vaporized along with her mother, and everyone else there. She witnesses Chirrut’s and Baze’s loss of their home. The Death Star has become horrifyingly real.

On Eadu, Galen Erso dies in her arms (from Alliance bombs, no less). His last words to her are “It has to be destroyed.” At this point, Jyn becomes determined to do just that–not for the Alliance, but to give her father’s death meaning. It’s still personal. Her father built the damn thing himself so he could secretly put a weakness inside it. This cost him his family, and caused Jyn to live the painful life she’d lived. It has to all mean something. She must finish the job, if she’s to have any kind of personal resolution.

"I'm not used to people sticking around when things go bad."

But it’s also not just personal anymore, either. Her confrontation with Cassian after Eadu moves her closer to this. She’s understandably upset when she learns he meant to kill her father all along. This perceived betrayal cuts deep, considering her trust issues. Cassian argues that he decided–on his own, against orders–not to pull the trigger. It’s not enough for Jyn, and she continues to harass him. He counters with, “You’re not the only one who’s lost everything.” Like her, he’s been suffering since he was a child. But, he says, “Some of us decided to do something about it.” Ouch.

June Wedding

She still grumbles, but it’s here that she’s beginning to come out of her own personal, painful bubble. Her faith in Cassian is restored when he gathers the Rogue One team after the Alliance Council decides against attack. The last third of the film shows Jyn being who she was meant to be: a woman with a purpose. She needs to destroy that Death Star not only to avenge her father and give his death meaning; not only to take back some power for herself after a life of powerlessness; but because it’s the right thing to do.

Jyn’s not looking to be a hero, but her sacrifice makes her one, along with the rest of the team. As she and Cassian watch their death approach, there’s sadness in her, certainly some fear, but no regret. She’s done what she’s meant to do.

How do you feel about Jyn’s character? Did she ring true for you? Comment below and we’ll talk about it!