Biweekly Book Review: The Last Jedi

I can’t believe we’re at the end of the novelizations (For now. I’ll get to The Rise of Skywalker sometime in the spring). I swear when I started this endeavour, I wasn’t expecting publishing to pick up the way it did. I definitely thought I would reach this point a lot sooner. But an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the books is nothing to be upset over.

It’s no secret how much I like The Last Jedi, and honestly reading this book only made me appreciate the film all the more. Overall, Jason Fry does a wonderful job of filling in character moments that were left open because there just wasn’t room for them on film, and of accentuating and emphasizing things we do see in the film to greater effect.

Incidentally, for more on all this, be sure to check out my podcast Space Waffles, as Jason Fry joined us for an interview back in August.

Alright, obligatory plug over, lets get into it.

Parts I Liked

All of it?

No seriously, the brilliance of this book is the way it functions as a coherent standalone novelization, and the way it ties so much new canon together. It’s not telling a brand new story, it’s recounting something the audience has already seen onscreen so it has that space to branch outwards and to connect to things like the Aftermath trilogy, or to Bloodline.

The biggest strength, I think, is where Jason Fry finds space to add in moments that the movie didn’t have time for. In adding more time with Paige Tico, her loss is felt all the more when we meet Rose later. By giving Connix more to do, we see why she would play such a large role in Poe’s mutiny later. She’s clearly a mover and shaker around here, and not just because her actress is Billie Lourd.

There are also longer beats focused around the central characters that add much more emotional gravitas to already emotional arcs.

The opening of the book is a dream that Luke is having about what would have happened if he’d never left Tatooine, stayed behind and married Cami. Let me tell you, reading a sample of this and encountering the words “Luke Skywalker’s wife” on the first page was…quite something. But in adding this in, it helps situate the reader within Luke’s headspace over the last few years. Losing his nephew because of his own actions? Of course he’d be asking himself what the point of it all was.

Then we have the story proper, which opens not with an escape from D’Qar but with Han Solo’s funeral. The Last Jedi is so go go go that Leia never really has time to grieve all she’s lost except for a couple of quiet beats before it all gets hectic again. But this was an important part of her life, and it’s great that she gets the chance to actually mourn here. I’m not the biggest proponent of the sequel trilogy movies focusing a lot of time of the original trilogy characters because it’s not their story, but they are still instrumental to the narrative of the next generation. Leia’s grief is not only at the loss of her husband, but at the knowledge that her son was the cause.

Another character whose arc helps serve that of the new generation is Luke. With more time to build him out, and more time to get inside his head, he feels every bit as fleshed out, human, fallible and noble as he does in the film. We also see the development of his relationship with Rey. There’s a particularly nice moment when Luke tells Rey a group of beings are set to attack the island and there’s nothing any of them can do to protect the caretakers. When she charges into battle, she finds that he was lying to her to test her, and there’s actually a party going on. Luke and Rey even share what Jason Fry called the “father daughter dance”, a holdover from an earlier draft.

Then, of course, there is the new generation. The new group of characters these movies were supposed to be about. Of particular note is the way Rey and Rose are written. A lot of time is given to their internal monologues, and to how they think and feel in every situation. The Last Jedi is a lot of very emotional beats and it’s where the characters grow the most. After having a very difficult time with these characters – Rey in particular – following the final third of their story, it was nice to be reminded of why I love them so much in the first place.

Parts I Wanted More Of

The Last Jedi is a huge ensemble piece. There are only so many scenes, but each of them is populated by several characters with an interesting enough story and perspective that the whole novel could be from any one of their points of view. I understand that.

That said, I wish we’d been given more time inside Finn’s head. This guy has just gone through a lot. Like a lot, and it would have been great to spend more time with him processing what that’s like. It’s not that his perspective is absent, but a little more would have been nice.

Random Thoughts – aka the Ben Solo corner

Before we get into Ben Solo: according to the book, that X-Wing in the water is straight up trashed. Rusted and useless. But you know, Luke having his hero moment in the middle of someone else’s arc for some reason apparently has the power to also clean the ship and make it functional again.

OK Ben Solo time. This book is, I swear, part of the reason I will forever maintain that it’s the ineptitude of one or two writers that killed Ben Solo. It was not a story decision that made any kind of sense to anyone with a competent ability to comprehend story.

Why else would so much time be devoted to his hesitation. Not to mention the entire paragraph that’s circulated so much I had it committed to memory long before I ever picked this book up. You know the one, about how little Ben wanted to be a pilot just like his dad when he grew up. To put something like that in there, then to end the saga the way you did, it just seems needlessly cruel.

It all seems so needlessly cruel in retrospect. I know novels take a backseat to the narrative presented onscreen. They are, for lack of a better word, “less official”. But with all the richness added to The Last Jedi – a movie that is already pretty rich on its own – via this novelization, for all of that to be overlooked, ignored or retconned in the subsequent instalment is ugly and cruel.

I loved this book, but in light of the end of the saga it wound up just being a painful, painful read.

I’ll definitely read it again though. I like to revisit media where the people telling the story actually gave a damn.

***

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