Poor Jyn Erso. She never stood a chance, did she? When I saw Rogue One, I figured it was merely life on her own during the height of the Empire that made Jyn so hesitant to trust, or to engage with the Rebellion. Hoo boy, I had no idea. This was a sad one, but we’re going to talk about it anyway: Rebel Rising, by Beth Revis.
After Director Krennic shows up at her family’s home and upends everything, Jyn is rescued by Saw Guerrera and taken to an isolated outpost. There, she is raised among his band of militant rebels, learning to fight and to forge documents for the group. She bears witness to Saw’s increasingly violent tactics and observes the cult of personality that has sprung up around him, all while wanting to be a part of the action.
When she is left behind after a mission to a refinery goes horribly wrong, she makes her way to Skuhl, a planet that considers itself too small to be tempting to the Empire where she is taken in by a woman named Akshaya and her teenage son Hadder. But Skuhle’s relaxed ways prove to be their undoing as the Empire soon takes over and Jyn finds herself on the run yet again, taking odd jobs and just barely scraping by.
3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
t1. The variety of political opinions
The default “political opinion” as presented in Star Wars, if you are not siding with the Empire, is that of the Rebel Alliance. Characters in these books are aware of these two as the two opposing forces during the Rebellion era.
While the Empire does naturally feature in this book, as far as “rebel” opinions go, the Alliance never gets a chance to speak for themselves.
This makes sense. After all, it’s a big galaxy, there are a lot of opinions. But there are two that really stood out to me as being different kinds of extreme, which I thought was really interesting: Saw’s and Akshaya’s.
We know from the movies and TV shows that Saw Guerrera is an extremist, and this book does nothing to dispel that idea. He doesn’t believe in being part of a larger movement, not seeing the point in it. He feels he can cover more ground and do more damage if his cell is small and he is the one calling the shots. But this level of anger and extremism completely blinds him. By the time we see him in this book, he has lost all perspective. Anyone who gets in his way is expendable, no matter how innocent. When Jyn points out that one of their missions was not going to send the message he wanted, and that it was just a murder mission, he replies that that’s the nature of war. He sees no issue with his approach because whatever he’s done, the Empire did it first. Not to go super hard with black and white discourse, but it almost makes me wonder if he realizes there is a clear right and wrong side in the conflict (he probably doesn’t. Both sides and all that).
By contrast, Akshaya, the woman who takes Jyn in after Saw leaves her behind, could use just a little bit of a wake up call. She continually insists that her homeworld is safe, and small, and insignificant. Even if the Empire did develop a presence there, they would have to play by their own rules. Despite her knowing that Jyn comes from a freedom fighting background, she won’t listen to any of Jyn’s warnings and winds up paying the price.
2. Jyn really doesn’t have the luxury of political opinions
When I first heard Jyn say “I’ve never had the luxury of political opinions” in Rogue One, it read like a kind of bravado. Whatever she actually believes, she isn’t about to spill it all to this room of Rebel strangers.
Then I read this book and realized that yeah, the poor thing really didn’t have the luxury of a political opinion of her own. She is taken in by Saw when she is very young and by default adopts his opinions. Then when she is no longer with his cadre, she never really gets the opportunity to form an opinion of her own, that isn’t some kind of holdover from what she learned with Saw. She may not agree with his methods, she definitely doesn’t agree with the Empire’s, but she also believes the Alliance is big and bloated and ineffective (despite very little evidence). All of this connected with a survival instinct that is now working overtime boils her opinions down to apathy, despite her ongoing sense of right vs wrong. For instance, she doesn’t believe in any cause, but she does believe in justice enough to mutiny onboard an Imperial vessel and free the 20 slaves being held there.
3. The party on Inusagi
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there are not enough parties in Star Wars. Parties are great. You’ve got your main cast there, everyone has a new outfit, there are stakes, there is tension, something is definitely going to go wrong. Sometimes, among all the stars and the wars, you just need a good party, you know?
This book has a party! Saw and his band infiltrate a sakoola blossom viewing party on Inusagi. The book describes the flowers as golden, but my brain kept defaulting to pink since the name sounds so similar to sakura (cherry blossom). Obviously this is Star Wars, so the party ends in horrific circumstances after Saw’s group basically murder everyone inside, imperial and bystander. But it was nice to be in an environment that wasn’t a vehicle or a dingy rebel hideout of some kind for a change. The descriptions of the outfits and environment were beautiful. We also got to see different political opinions all under one roof, barely restrained under a thin veneer of civility.
The party is also where someone explains the idea of a starbird to Jyn. The starbird serves as the logo for the rebel alliance, and is essentially a space phoenix, burning up inside the heart of a star and spreading across the galaxy, before reforming to live again. Which sounds an awful lot like the various rebellions, and is also a beautiful story.
4. Jyn and Saw’s relationship
It’s not that I think their relationship was poorly written. Quite the opposite actually. I think the book did a great job delving into how intense their pseudo-parent/child relationship was, and how that can affect a person. I also know that the needs of the film dictated how far Jyn could go in her journey. The book couldn’t very well have had her believe in the Alliance’s cause if that was the point of the first half of Rogue One.
And yet, knowing all this, it bothered me that someone as smart as Jyn could see Saw’s methods as being wrong, and not question anything else about what he told her.
He tells her when she’s a child that her father is a bastard, that he chose the Empire over her, that he’s actually friends with Krennic. Again, this is something we need her to believe all the way into the movie. But I don’t understand why she wouldn’t question this bit of information after she realizes how far Saw is willing to go for his cause. It’s as though she can’t fathom his methods going as far as him lying to her.
8 year old Jyn is sitting alone in a cave wishing she had her cuddly toy, then admonishes herself for being such a baby. After watching her mother die. That absolutely broke me.
How is it we have all these female heroes, and this book is the only time (to my recollection) that anyone even alludes to having a period?
On a mission to an Imperial vessel, Jyn is approached by a man identified by the narration as a scientist, despite him not saying anything to indicate his profession. The subtle way it jumps from “the man” to “the scientist” made me thing Jyn recognized his uniform as being one her dad used to wear.
One of Saw’s old associates takes up with the Rebel Alliance and uses the codeword “fulcrum” to elicit a response from Jyn. Though it gets no reaction from her here, I like that she will later be working with Cassian Andor, a Fulcrum agent
Saw telling little Jyn that not even the Empire would destroy an entire planet. Lol ok.
While we’re on the subject: All the books leading up to A New Hope either directly or indirectly refer to the construction of the Death Star. Given the sheer volume of resources that needed to be mined and built, it’s little wonder that it took them 20+ years to have the station fully operational. So my nitpick question is, how is it that the Empire has an almost fully complete Death Star 4 years after the destruction of the first? Were they building a backup just in case?