Biweekly Book Review: Skywalker: A Family At War

My heart is so full, y’all. I don’t even know where to start with this one. Perhaps along the lines of “Kristin Baver knocked this out of the damn park” because that is absolutely what happened here. I’m a fast reader but I usually like to take a couple of days to go through a book. I read this in a day.

When this book was first announced, I assumed it would be a coffee table, behind-the-scenes type deal. This may be on me for not reading the description. OK, fine, it’s totally on me.

When reviews and more information about Skywalker: A Family At War started coming out, I was less surprised to find out what it wasn’t – a behind-the-scenes coffee table book – and more surprised to find out what it was: an account of the Skywalker family written like a biography. Like an honest-to-goodness real life biography. There is nothing in the book that presents the information as fictional. As far as you, the reader, are concerned, everything here actually happened. The book even had two little clusters of glossy picture pages, captioned the way you’d see in a non-fiction book.

What Kristin Baver does in this book is take the story of the Skywalkers, both on screen and in all the canon ancillary material, and compile it in one place. She draws parallels across generations and provides context and motivation for every decision they make. As someone who has read a lot of the ancillary material, I never felt like she was retreading something I already knew. None of it was new information per se, but it was all presented in such a lovely, coherent well-woven family tapestry.

My heart is so damn full right now. Let’s get into it. I’m going to break it down the way the book does, into three sections.

Before we get into it, a note: this book was brilliantly executed and beautifully written. Any criticism I have (especially in part three) is aimed at the story and certain storytellers, and not in any way at the author, as I am aware she is retelling and contextualizing a story that has already been told.

The Father

This section is the longest in the book, and it’s also by far my favourite. No surprise there, since the prequels are my favourite trilogy. Best to go through this point-by-point:

Shmi Gets Her Due: Do you know how rare it is for Shmi Skywalker to get a mention, never mind actually be the topic of conversation? But this book begins – as it should – with her, and how she came to be on Tatooine. Now it’s true, most of her narrative is centred around her son, but I don’t think that’s inherently a bad thing. The book is all about drawing connections after all. She is also given space in the book expressly for her wants and feelings and that’s a hell of a lot more than she’s gotten anywhere else.

The Clone Wars: I don’t know why I thought the Clone Wars would be skipped over? Or at least rushed? They’re such a huge part of who Anakin is. But no, we get into this in detail. We’ve got Mortis, we’ve got Captain Rex (I squeed and then texted a friend about it. It’s fine), we’ve got the Rako Hardeen arc, we have AHSOKA FREAKING TANO. We’ve even got a mention of The Bad Batch. It was wonderful. Fabulous. 10/10. No notes.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan: OK, so I have an Obi-Wan bias. You all know this. But I find that people who love Qui-Gon tend to have some kind of weird disdain for Obi-Wan? Not the case here, thank the Force. Obi-Wan is actually given the kind of grace we don’t usually see in origin stories like this. Yes, the book doesn’t gloss over the ways in which he and Anakin struggled but it does also show him as a young man who is struggling immensely in his own right. He had to watch his Master, his mentor, his father figure die in his arms, and obviously that would mess a person up. He also assumed responsibility for a very emotionally vulnerable child before he was ready for that kind of role. And he was very hard on himself over it. He is given the space to be messy, yet sympathetic is what I’m trying to say. I do also think it’s funny that Anakin clings to Qui-Gon as the ideal Master even though he knew him for…um…3 days? And then Luke would later do the same with Obi-Wan under similar circumstances? Like father, like son.

Padmé: Needless to say, Padmé is given a lot of time in this section. But it isn’t just how she relates to Anakin’s story. She is, after all, a Skywalker in her own right by marriage. What does this mean? It means we get a look at her role during the Clone Wars in the Senate, her attempts to keep things under control, and yes, we ever get into her attempts to help Bail Organa and Mon Mothma get the origins of the Rebellion off the ground. If parallels are being drawn between Luke and his biological father, then they are also being drawn very clearly between Padmé and Leia. Though this is mentioned in the next section, and not in this, I find it very sweet that Bail and Breha Organa put up a statue to Padmé and tell Leia all about her, figuring that even though she can’t know that was her birth mother, she should still look up to her as a role model. Excuse me, there’s something in my eye.

If I haven’t mentioned Anakin explicitly, it’s because he’s the focal point of the whole section. Everything ties back to him in one way or another. He is the titular “Father” after all. But what I will say is that a wonderful parallel is drawn here between the grooming he suffers at Palpatine’s hands, and the same grooming that his grandson Ben would later face.

In this section, more than the other two, the structure is interesting to note. While the book does move in a vaguely linear fashion, each chapter is centred on one theme, meaning we jump back and forth along the same 3-4 year period quite a few times, so that each thematically linked sequence of events can proceed in order. It took me a minute to catch on to this, to the point where I spent an entire chapter and a half thinking Baver just…omitted Anakin and Padmé’s wedding. She didn’t, don’t worry.

The Twins

Of the sections in the book this one was the slowest to get through (which still isn’t saying much, I read the whole book in a day). It’s no knock on this part of the book, or the characters, or anything like that.

But because the Original Trilogy is…well…the originals, I feel like this territory is the most familiar. We’ve been over all this already.

My favourite parts were actually where Baver draws from the Marvel Comics runs and puts in reference to some of the more interesting arcs. Of particular interest was the reference to Greg Pak’s 2020 Darth Vader comics run because that includes Padmé’s handmaidens.

One thing this book did make me thinks is that we’re long overdue for a Leia: Princess of Alderaan style book about Luke’s teenage years, but who knows? Maybe we’ll get some of that in the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series.

The Dyad

This was the part I was most afraid of reading. If you’re a regular reader/know me from Twitter, you know how much I love Ben Solo, and what a hard time I’ve had with Rey since TROS made me feel like I don’t know her anymore. I still love her so much it hurts, but the nerve is very, very raw.

Knowing that this book was going to “canonize” storytelling choices that upset me so much I spent far too long crying myself to sleep (oh hush, as if you don’t have things that make you feel like that) was a hard pill to swallow. Even though others who felt much like I did told me that the book handled it well, it still took me some time to come around to the idea of reading it.

Holy shit, though. I’m so glad I did.

It’s so easy to dismiss Ben Solo out of hand as an irrational, angry, fascist boy, and in another author’s hands that might have happened. But Kristin Baver treats the character with such care, presenting a tragic backstory for exactly what it is: a tragedy. Also worth noting that while she does occasionally refer to him as Kylo Ren after his downfall, she does switch back to “Ben” in moments where his light shines through, clearly illustrating moments where he is fully in the throes of the Dark side’s influence and when his true character is breaking through.

With Rey, mention is made of her ancestry (which I still cannot stand), but it’s discrete enough that I can forget it’s there. It seriously lifts out so easily it’s almost comical. Baver does try to make more sense of who Rey’s father was (apparently he’s not a biological son, and not a clone, but somewhere in the middle?) but the term “grandfather” when referring to Papa Palpy still feels like too strong a word.

The unfortunate thing is that while Rey’s backstory starts off strong, it unfortunately falls into the same rut her onscreen presence does by the end, where her existence and motivation are informed entirely by everyone around her, with the exception of the Force Bond and her connection to her dyad. This part ties in very well with her growing strength within the Force and works very well. This isn’t an issue with how it’s written. There isn’t much there to work with. The stronger parts of her story, drawn from everything pre-Episode IX, are unfortunately tainted by association with where she ends up. But kudos to Kristin Baver for trying to salvage as much as humanly possible from that particular trash fire.

The more nonsensical parts of certain movies are glossed over or omitted entirely. For instance, no mention is made of Luke and Leia knowing she was a Palpatine all along. And this is a book that makes meticulous mention of small interactions and moments. But it’s left out here, because for it to come on the heels of Leia realizing that hiding dark ancestry from a vulnerable young person is a mistake would be ridiculous and hypocritical and hey, I’m glad at least someone is thinking of these things.

I still don’t like where Rey’s story ended up – neither the fact that she is a vessel for the expectations of others, nor her family history, nor her name – and the attempt to make it work here doesn’t really do it for me, even though it was done better than any other attempt I’ve seen. I’m also never going to be ok with a 30-year old with a tragic life dying right as things started to go right and he started on the path to healing. Until their story continues, the final film in the Skywalker Saga will remain unwatchable for me. Though it’s a bitter pill to swallow, this book actually makes it swallowable. This is unlike December 20, 2019, where the memory of the movie I had seen the night before was so nasty, I was violently ill at work and sent home early. Was that TMI?

We’re getting off topic.

Because this part is called “The Dyad”, a lot of time is spent on exactly that, on the connection the two of them have. This is by far the most sympathetic approach to their connection and interactions in movies 7-9 that I have seen from an official source (read: outside of fan fiction/twitter threads). I didn’t know I needed to have it confirmed that neither of them take a black and white view to their relationship/connection until I saw it here. It felt nice to know I wasn’t just seeing things.

Final Thoughts

Buy it. Buy it now. Or borrow it from the library. Either way. Do yourself a favour and read this book. There are so many extraneous details in various books that I’ve been screaming about for years, and people tell me it’s too much to keep track of? Well, no excuses, it’s all in one place now and it’s less than 300 pages long.

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